Tuesday 26 January 2016

Cerebus: In My Life - Anthony Phillips

Cerebus #36: The Night Before (March 1982)
Art by Dave Sim
I read Cerebus when I was a teen.  It was probably the deepest comic I'd read yet.  This was just around the time the term "graphic novel" was becoming popular, but men like Sim, Moore, and others had been doing this for a while.

Cerebus taught me that this art form was depthless.  Longer page counts than any novel, and filled with art - comic form was WORTHY... as any other medium.  It had paid its dues.  I started to be proud of what I'd read.

And Cerebus had scenes of such breathtaking beauty and sadness.  Single pages that stood striking and stark.  Jaka returning the sword is one scene that really got to me.  I love seeing these sorts of frozen moments now. 


Michael Grabowski said...

I don't know where else to put this comment since Sean & Mara aren't posting here on Wednesdays any longer, and to attach it to his last post means it won't be seen much, so it goes here.

I am thrilled to be reading the new edition of Church & State Vol 1 (and thus re-reading C & S Vol 1) this week. I have to force myself to put it down when I get the chance to dig in. Like High Society last year, the pages are just lovely to look at in a way that they haven't been before. Pure white space and solid paper really bring out his linework, and when he does go for detail in his backgrounds in the first half of it, they really look exquisite. Not drawing backgrounds probably ensured Dave would be able to complete the series on time, but I think something was lost because there's some great work of his there in both HS and C&S.

I read the original comics 30 years ago, re-reading them every few months as the story got longer. I read the volume itself a few more times in the 80s and 90s. My last thorough re-read was 13 years ago, though, so this new edition gives me a reason to pick it up again. So I have probably read parts of this as many as ten times. It still holds up, and in some ways I think it's superior to High Society. Combined with Vol 2 it has a Dickensian scope (to match its Dickensian bulk) as we see more interactions and character arcs that don't include Cerebus (although it dissatisfies in not necessarily completing any of those other character arcs). The humor is more subtle and often gets completely out of the way so the story can develop.

Probably the only thing that bugs me are the occasional faces that Dave left blank. Did he forget to draw those? If it's deliberate, it's still distracting and a misguided choice given his skill at otherwise showing good expressions on cartoon-real faces even at a distance. It really pulls me out of the reading experience and it's one of the few instances where I wish modern Dave (or especially 1987 Dave) had stepped in to fix young Dave's mistakes.

I hadn't planned on buying this new edition until Sean's posts demonstrated what kinds of improvements they have been able to make over past printings. I hope we get to see some convincing updates on the progress on Vol. 2. In any case I can't wait to read it, and I hope that a quality printing of both volumes generates some newfound enthusiasm among Cerebites for these books because they're just as great to re-read as HS and Jaka's Story.

Congratulations to Dave and thanks to Sean and Mara for producing a truly quality edition of this seemingly under-appreciated book.

Jeff Seiler said...

Good review, Michael. I disagree with you about the blank faces, though. I think that they work just fine, as they are usually (always?) in the background and add to the cartoony element of the book.

I'm afraid that you'll have to wait a while for the remastered C&S II, as the next two books up, according to Dave, are Reads and Jaka's Story. I'm working on my small contribution to Reads even as you read this. (See what I did there?)

Paul Slade said...

Michael said: "We see more interactions and character arcs that don't include Cereus."

This suddenly made me wonder how Cerebus would do under the Bechdel Test. This asks whether the work in question (generally a movie) contains at least one scene where two or more female characters discuss something other than a man.

Cerebus has lots of female characters, often discussing political strategies or the finer points of their own theologies, so my guess is it might score rather well.

Thoughts? Opinions? Examples pro or con?

Anonymous said...

I don't care much for politically correct quotas in works of art, but I was curious, so I flipped through High Society and Church & State re the Bechdel test.

High Society fails it. Maybe I missed something, but I could find only one panel where two female character speak to one another, namely where Astoria tells Theresa to stop staring at McGrew. Female characters run through High Society, but other than that one panel, they are always only in the company of men. The Elf, Jaka and Astoria never appear in the same panel. So that's a fail. That's a fail even though Astoria is a strong and prominent character through most of High Society and is not a love interest (except in the mind of the Roach, which is played for laughs).

Church & State passes. There is scene where Cirin is speaking to one and then another Cirinist (issue 100). There are also a few scenes between Sophia and her mother that probably pass, although they discuss Cerebus at times. Astoria has a few discussions with the Abbess, but they discuss Weisshaupt each time, so it doesn't count.

I think Jaka's Story would pass. I don't have my copy anymore, but I recall that two Cirinists show up at the end and speak to each other. Jaka speaks to nurse near the end too.

Okay, I think that's good.

- Reginald P.

Michael Grabowski said...

Gotta disagree with you, Jeff. I can give Powers' missing face in the top panel of p.254 a pass because of the overhead distant POV but when it happens again in panel 3 on p. 255 it's a closer view with word balloon tails pointing our focus right at the missing face of the speaker. Again on p.275, panel 1, where I think Powers' blank visage really disturbs the visual rhythm of the page. I think there are a few other spots, too. One of the pleasures of re-reading this is that Dave excels at talking heads advancing the story through all the unfunny social-political blather in part by his skill at showing faces speaking and reacting. So these missing faces are a distraction and a slight weakness here.