Sunday, 26 April 2015

"You Had To Be There"

(from 'Comics Shelfie' posted at Comics & Cola blog, 16 April 2015)
...Sometimes I like to talk about how much of an inspiration Dave Sim was for me as a kid in high school; Church & State vol 1 and 2 for me, being the highlight of the series. I like to talk about it because Time and the way we as a culture build mythologies around people, have degraded the work. Sometimes I wonder how much we collectively desire to assassinate ourselves and each other. How much should we expose of ourselves in public? Probably not much! Anyway, check out my bookshelves y’all!

I never finished whatever volume it was that turned into blocks of tiny text. I also imagine that if I re-read the story, it wouldn't hold up well, as it was so married to the time it was being written. The first 6 phonebook volumes or so stand in my teenage memory as some of the most formally ambitious and passionate examples of storytelling in the medium of comics. The thing I always say about Cerebus is, "It’s a work of genius, but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone now." I think you had to be there while it was happening. I could be wrong though...


Jeff Seiler said...

Yes, Jesse, you are wrong.

CEREBUS, the complete, 16-volume, 300-issue, 26-years, 6000-pages graphic novel; the longest-sustained, ongoing narrative in North-American-comics-history...

IS something worthy of your interest.

Find the time.

Read "High Society".

Read "Church and State, I".

Read "Cerebus, volume I", currently available on Tumblr, one page a day, for free...

And, then, read the other 13 volumes.

Then, get back to us, the old farts, who were there at the beginning.

We'd love to read your updated opinions...

iestyn said...

There's an interesting timing in this following Anthony Kuchar's comments.

I do wonder how much people think of Cerebus the comic as being 'Dave Sim'.

It does raise the question of how much personality one should put out there when trying to make art? Steve Ditko has a point?

Also - I feel that the series' high point is definitely Jaka's Story/ Melmoth - not Church and State. I find Dave's character focused and less epic work to be far more nuanced and meaningful that the 'Epic' works.

Despite how Dave is perceived, he was a keen mark at exploring character and communicating that complexity out to an audience.

By the way - Love Jess Moynihan's work Forming, I think it's still published free as a webcomic? - although I guess it might well offend some who are strongly religious - it mixes a combination of many cultures creation myths. I consider it of a family with Cerebus in terms of genre - fantasy exploring religious themes.

It just comes from a VERY different place.

Jamie Conway said...

Latter Days (tiny text book) is the worst Cerebus book by a mile. I don't agree with the consensus there was a dropoff after 200 (until Latter Days)..all that happened was the story became less propulsive as Cerebus drifted ...and life's like that. Guys up to Latter Days is still formally ambitious and there are some amazing set pieces (the last two issues of Going Home are absolutely incredible) and the final book is great. And whatever you think of his views, he still writes better female characters than some more progressive writers I've read and his ideas about how a matriarchy might be run are interesting....If you skip the religious stuff in Latter Days you'll get enough to set you up for the last part...

Tony Dunlop said...

As for this: "I think you had to be there while it was happening. I could be wrong though..."

If your knowledge of Cerebus comes from the "phone books," then by definition you weren't "there while it was happening," so that claim holds no water.

As for Latter Days, I'm on record as NEVER going to read the Torah commentary again - but the Three Stooges stuff is absolutely priceless, and the issue dealing with Koshie's decline makes me weep like a baby every time...

Ethan Burns said...

I honestly have yet to finish reading the text commentary section of latter days, otherwise it was pretty good, especially the Three Stooges and Todd McFarlane parts.

Anonymous said...

While I believe that Cerebus holds up pretty well, in defence of Moynihan, I can understand what he means.

I discovered Cerebus as I was entering my teens having grown up reading nothing but Marvel. Cerebus makes sense as a reaction against mainstream comic books and has a lot more impact if you have that background, kind of like punk rock must have been shocking compared to the middle-of-the-road rock of the early 70s.

Also, again in Moynihan's defence, between what he says and just looking at the picture of his bookshelf in the link, he appears to have read at least 9 volumes of Cerebus (the first six books, Flight, Guys, and the one with the tiny text). It seems like he can claim to have an informed opinion.

- Reginald P.

Jason Winter said...

Going Home is my favourite late period Cerebus book. The revisiting of the Jaka Cerebus relationship is fascinating, and the F.Scott Fitzgerald stuff shows us Dave at the hight of his caricaturing powers. And Gerhards backgrounds are luminous.

iestyn said...

I have to pipe up and say that - however much we admire the work - if Cerebus is to find purchase in the wider world other people's opinions need to be addressed first by accepting their vailidity as an honest expression of someone's thoughts and considering a response that will matter to those people.

So, for example, Jesse Moynihan is interested in comparisons of theologies, how they differ and how they are the same, so I guess something like C&S would be ideal for him. But the wider discussion of Abrahamic religions of later work might also be?

More importantly - how do you position Cerebus as relevant to today's audience, rather than as an artifact best held in a museum?

I think that is the thing that really needs to be spoken of - what does Cerebus have to say that's relevant for today?

Bill Ritter said...

"The thing I always say about Cerebus is, "It’s a work of genius, but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone now." I think you had to be there while it was happening. I could be wrong though..."

Anyone reading this for the first time is there while it's happening. Drives me nuts when people believe others cannot enjoy something for their first time, even if it's decades old to someone else.

Anonymous said...

In answer to the last few comments above, I would ask Jesse Moynihan (or anyone else who would say "It’s a work of genius, but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone now") to emphasize what MAKES the book a work of genius.

I'll put the concern listed in a bigger context, though. There ARE plenty of references that someone might not understand in the story; however, I don't think they detract from enjoying the story or its themes or appreciating the art. They tend not to be the main point, IMO.

I do believe that "Cerebus" joins a great tradition of works that are OF a time and ABOUT a time and, as such, had a relationship WITH the time that was best appreciated AT that time, but that is only part of the text, not its whole purpose.

Similar examples: 1970s SNL has some references that would have made the most sense to someone in the 1970s, but most of those episodes have timeless material. Still funny.

Shakespeare's plays are loaded with sly nods to British politics that a modern reader might never catch and certainly would not fully feel or "get" the way someone in 1605 would. However, the stories and the language and the themes are timeless. Even if you don't realize that the existence of the ghost in "Hamlet" held specific meaning to that play's audience (Protestants and Catholics in the 1600s having VERY different views of purgatory), that play is still FULL of worthy material.

I'll say the same about "The Great Gatsby." I have read that book over 20 times, have taught it for year, and keep researching it. I can never hope to get all of the references to 1920s culture that someone in 1926 would have understood. However, my appreciation of the book would have been immense even if I didn't knowing anything about film noir, or Castle Rackrent, or the gatling gun, or "The Wasteland."

You do miss some things in "Cerebus" if you are reading it for the first time in 2015, especially if you did not follow comics in the 1980s-1990s.

However, you would miss a whole lot more if you never do read "Cerebus."

Thanks, Jim Sheridan