Saturday 29 September 2012

Alan Moore: 20 Years Of Cerebus

Cerebus #239 (February 1999)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard
(from 'Aardvark Comments: Reflections - 20 Years Of Cerebus' in Feature #4, 1997)
"Did you see the look on her face when I suggested that the whole Cirinist/Kevillist agenda is to smother the light of reason in the dark of emotion? She had absolutely no answer!"

"Dave, that's the last time I introduce you to my mother."

A difficult man to speak of reasonably, his identity so inextricably entwined with his work in the public eye, his life shuffled in amongst the pages of the chronicle to which he has devoted the larger part of it. (A chronicle which remains famously unfinished until we're already too far into the next millennium to go back: only two thirds of Cerebus, only two thirds of Dave Sim has so far revealed itself above the water line. Leviathan rises in excruciating slomo.)

This of course is the whole problem and most of the solution in one. Dave Sim the human being is not Cerebus the publication, nor is he Cerebus the character. He and his work must obviously be considered separately. And yet...

...And yet this is to ignore the creator's obvious urge to fuse, face-first, with his creation. Stacked up in one twenty-year-deep pile, the back issues reveal a sex life as geology: the bedpost strata yielding fossil seams of editorial and letters page: others, significant or otherwise, embedded in the woodpulp shale, footnote autobiography. The book becomes a sweethearts oak. The valentines obliterate each other, carved in palimpsest. Megaphone confidences shared, an intimacy twenty thousand strong. He doesn't wear his heart on his sleeve so much as wear a zoot suit made of hearts.

It doesn't end there. How can we distinguish the cartoon from the cartoonist when the sheer duration of the work, its clockwork frequency, makes it screamingly evident that this is, and canonly be, the whole of a man's life we see before us? Let's be very clear on this. If he's not writing, drawing, publishing, promoting or out someplace signing it, he's thinking of it. Even if he thinks of something else that is not it, the thing he thinks of will inevitably end up as part of it. Damn it. This is the product of his body, mind and soul, his chromosomes, his parents' chromosomes. Here's what he saves his white light for, jealously guards his precious fluids for. He means this. This is all of him transformed by alchemy to ink and off-white paper, with the central figure in unvarying moral zip-a-tone between the two. In the gray area. The twilight Carl Barks demimonde between the human and the animal. The full-drag no-man's land between the woman and man straddled revealingly by this hermaphrodite protagonist. We can't speak of Dave Sim unless we speak of Cerebus. Likewise, to write a negative review of Cerebus is to sneer loudly at Sim's choice of tie while in a public place. He and his work dissolve and merge in inextricable suspension. And, as pointed out above, as yet we only know two-thirds of either. Loneliness of the long-distance runner.

With the life and story both unfinished it's not safe, not yet, to talk about the themes, the shapes. Best wait until the last third hauls itself out of the water, see exactly how the contours of those narratives (the life, the work) resolve themselves before we say a word. All we can talk of, safely is the style. I can only speak for myself, of course, but I have always found his personal style refreshing, even charming. Then again, if he enters your living room, even the female houseplants wilfully and slowly turn their heads away; defy the basic laws of photosynthesis. When he's in France, feminine nouns avoid his lips.

Artistically, his style is less ambiguous: very few people have the chops of comic narrative down in the way Dave has them down. The almost musical arrangement of the panels, stave-like on the double-spread. Pitch-perfect grasp of character conveyed in line, whether from sable brush or typewriter. Near-atrophied genre conventions like the sound effect or word balloon transmuted in his hands become seamless components in the flowing, plastic medium of his narrative. The conjured soundscape. Verbose silences. In sum, a staggering display of heavily-considered craft, of innovation almost as a reflex. He is a master, and a monster (from the Latin monstro; or "Great Googly-Moogly Lor' Lookit That!").

Or, in the immortal words of the divine Max Miller, have a good look, Missus. You might never see another one.

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