Sunday, 22 January 2012

1001 Comics To Read Before You Die

Cerebus Vol 2: High Society (collecting #26-50, 1981-1983)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard

(a review of High Society in 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die, edited by Paul Gravett, 2011)
What stands out as one of the oddest experiments of the 1980s wound up as one of the most transformative comics of all time. Since 1977, Dave Sim had been serializing the adventures of Cerebus the Aardvark, a deft parody of Conan the Barbarian that was quickly running out of steam. With the twenty-sixth issue he dramatically changed the tone and direction of his work, thrusting his marauding antihero into the claustrophobic world of politics and high finance.

In the fictional city-state of Iest, Cerebus becomes a pawn in a highly fraught political game played against the diabolically clever Lord Julius. Aided by the manipulative Astoria, Cerebus struggles to negotiate a complex world that he does not fully understand. When the tense election is resolved, in hilarious fashion, by the vote of a single farmer in a snowy field, Cerebus finds himself Prime Minister. With his world literally turned on its head - Sim drew and printed the final pages of the book sideways - Cerebus is overwhelmed by his powerful position, enduring crisis after crisis before his government is toppled.

The image of politics Sim paints in the graphic novel is a dark one in which the primary characters are driven by vanity and greed. This is a lacerating view of human weakness, leavened by moments of humor that seem lifted from the best of the Marx Brothers's movies. Throughout, Sim experiments with new visual styles and storytelling formats, shedding his history as a simple parodist and emerging as a significant creative voice in his own right.

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