Friday, 20 December 2013

This Duck, This Aardvark

Howard The Duck
Art by Dave Sim
from Marvel Fanfare #25 (Marvel Comics, March 1986)
(from Andrew Rilstone's blog, undated)
The influence of Howard the Duck on Cerebus the Aardvark is quite staggering.

I knew, of course, that the title of Cerebus was partly a joke at the expense of 'silly animal' comics, and that Cerebus the Aardvark as a title was almost an attempt to trump Howard the Duck and [Steve] Gerber's subsequent Stewart the Rat. (Trumped a few years later with a Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles, or course.) I believe that when Gerber lost control of  Howard, Dave Sim was considered as a possible replacement on the book.

But almost everything about Cerebus seems to have its origin in Howard the Duck: the cynical, world-weary persona, of course, and the central gag about funny animals in a world of humans. Howard runs for president; Cerebus spends 25 issues running for prime minister. The Howard-goes-mad issues and the dream sequences become the 'mind games' motif which gradually became the dominant trope in Cerebus. (Right down to the disembodied speech bubbles.) Gerber uses blocks of 'screenplay' to reproduce Howard's election press conferences, just as Sim does for Cerebus. Howard and Cerebus both end up in dialogues with their creators. Both do the unthinkable and have issues which consist of nothing but blocks of text. And Howard is always respectful and tolerant towards his female supporting cast.

Well, okay, the exception proves the rule.


Anonymous said...

There are many more parallels, some surely coincidental, but many I would guess at least subconsciously influenced:

- Both Cerebus and Howard have nascent mystical abilities beyond their control and an implied cosmic destiny;

- BOTH start as sword and sorcery parodies. HTD #1 has Howard dressed as a barbarian with a helmet and medallions even! And we also have Korek the Barbarian and Dakihm (paralleling Henrot) in Howard's first appearance.

- Beverly in HTD #1 looks and speaks like Red Sophia; they both speak more naturally later;

- Bev, Howard's implied love, marries Bong; Jaka marries Rick;

- Bev a model; Jaka a dancer;

- Winda with a major speech impediment shown using phonetic spelling; Elrod and many others;

- Paul the artist character; many artist characters in Cerebus (such as the artist chap)

- Both parody the superhero genre, even the same characters (The Spanker/Punisher; Sandman characters)

- Both parody real people from similar fields (Oprah, Kiss, Lester Bangs, Rev Moon, Jimmy Carter, Hitler in HTD; Oprah, Mick 'n Keith, Oscar Wilde, Thatcher in Cerebus). Both parodied the Oprah show and from a similar POV.

- The Kidney Lady and Henrot Gutch are similar (I realize HG is modeled on a different character, but the original idea was still to have an old, unpleasant, violent woman in the series. Sounds like the Kidney Lady to me!)

- Cerebus' drinking vice; Howard's smoking vice;

- Cerebus as tax collector; Howard as bill collector; both frequently changing jobs.

- Cerebus as hermaphrodite; Howard called a duck, instead of the proper male "drake"; quacking in ducks is mostly a female trait, but Howard quacks;

- Man-thing guest appearance; Sumthing;

- Both end with (preposterous) explanations of how the universe works; one lighthearted, one serious.

This one is a slight cheat, but Gerber parodied John Byrne in Destroyer Duck; Sim parodies McFarlane, Chris Claremont, et al.

Now, I realize Dave may done a few of these things before Gerber or contemporaneously; but it's mostly Gerber first. So yeah, obviously a HUGE influence.

-Reginald P.

Anonymous said...

Huh. Howard the Duck (Gerber issues only) and Cerebus are two of my favorite comics. Can't believe these similarities never occurred to me...