Monday, 12 October 2015

Cerebus: In My Life - Greg Griffin

How did you discover Cerebus and how long did you read it for?

My first encounter with Cerebus was in my early teens looking at its entry in the Bud Plant catalog - I lived in a remote area, I was a kid, I had no money, comic shops didn't exist, let alone the internet. The Bud Plant catalog was the best way I knew to get a feel for what might be out there beyond the drugstore newsstand. Cerebus looked almost mystical and intriguing from the get-go; I knew if I ever saw it, I would have to try it. When I finally walked in to a comics shop for the first time (notwithstanding that it was a pretty lousy comics shop, that was a totally magical, exhilarating moment I'll never forget) there was issue 73 sitting there waiting for me. I loved that there were zero concessions made to me as a new reader, and I was just thrown in the deep end of the pool. No capes, no slugfests, just conversation - and politics, and religion?? So different from anything else out there. The back of the book / letters page was even more cryptic, seemed like you really had to be an "insider" to "get" what everybody was talking about. I never missed an issue from that point forward (although for some reason I can't remember, I stopped picking up the issues regularly towards the beginning of Jaka's Story and only caught up midway through Melmoth). Despite being a longtime fan, the letters pages never fully lost that "insider"-ey feel and I didn't write as much as I should have (although I did get the only letter I ever sent to Dave published in 298).

How has your own creativity / comics reading been influenced by Cerebus?

It's spoiled me to some degree, because nothing else really measures up to Dave and Ger's achievement, which to me is equal parts magnificent and absurd, genius and ridiculous. I mean, who but the hardest of hardcore comics fans will care whether you "beat" Jack Kirby's record of contiguous issues of Fantastic Four? How could Dave have known way back in nineteen-seventy-whatever that the very idea of "issues" would become anachronistic? The novel we have, all 6000 pages of it, is a titanic achievement, a success (in my opinion) in telling the story of a life, both the title character's and in many respects, its author. But the experience of Cerebus, for me, was so much more than the 6000 pages. It gave me so much - what commitment and dedication really means; the highs and lows of assiduously following your own muse; a drive to always seek out higher and higher Truths; being fully transparent and excruciatingly fair-minded in business, just to name a few. I can't imagine that readers of the trades today can possibly come away with a similar experience as reading the monthlies, as they were coming out; to name just one reason, the contemporaneous references dropped into the storyline must seem almost nonsensical ten, twenty years on. As much as I want Cerebus to have a lasting literary legacy, I'm afraid the full, undiluted experience was only available for me and my generation, and I don't think we'll ever see anything like it again, in any medium.

What is your favourite scene or sequence from Cerebus?

So many to choose from - I have panels seared into my memories, they were so masterfully done and impactful. But I have to go with "Page" from 181, when the "camera" slowly zooms back from a charging bloody Cerebus to show Dave quietly smoking by his drawing board. I couldn't believe he did it.

Would you recommend that others read Cerebus, and if so, why?

My "recommendations" are more subtle than thrusting a "read" into some hapless friend's hands (as Cerebus tried to do with Bear in 209). Visitors to my home might see a couple pieces of original art I have on display, and if they’re curious I'm happy to oblige. I really hate seeing people say "read these ones" and "skip those ones" - but I would probably start people off with High Society. Having said all that, I do think it's a rare bird who would engage with Cerebus - on some level, you need to be interested in comics theory, comics history, theology, politics, literature - it's like Moby Dick in the sense that it absolutely refuses to be confined by its medium - it's all over the place, ecstatically so. I feel like readers need to come to it, perhaps moreso than it going to readers.

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