Tuesday, 31 January 2012

The Comics Journal #301

Cerebus #300 (March 2004)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard

(from Irredeemable: Dave Sim's Cerebus in The Comics Journal #301, February 2011)
Even though Cerebus isn't as good a book as Maus or Fun Home or Persepolis, it's much more interesting than any of them. You sometimes hate reading Cerebus, but when you're finished you catch yourself envying friends who are beginning it. I would rather reread it, and would much rather look at it, than any of those other, better books. Frankly, Spiegelman and Bechdel and Satrapi all seem to me to be minor talents who put their limited abilities to the best possible use because they each had one great story to tell. Their draftsmanship gets the job done, but it looks undistinguished and dull compared to Sim's fluid command of expression and gesture, his pyrotechnical talent and inexhaustible visual invention. Those more celebrated books are all relatively short, unified, traditional narratives, they're all memoirs (the hot commercial literary form of the last decade), and they're all about politically fashionable subjects; Cerebus, on the other hand, is a sprawling, sloppy, lopsided mess, hard to classify by form or genre or anything else, its subject resolutely uncool, and its politics are so reactionary as to be  widely regarded as hate speech or evidence of a clinical disorder. It is brilliant and hilarious and incredibly boring, very, very annoying, infuriating and beautiful, defiantly inaccessible, arguably insane, arguably, great. I'm not sure it should even be called a "book"; it's something bigger than that - a complete document of one man's artistic, intellectual and spiritual life. To appeal to mainstream tastes, it seems, comics have to compromise, conforming to more respectable literary conventions. Dave Sim is - and this is one epithet he would relish - undomesticable.

The Comics Journal #301 is available from Fantagraphics Books.

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