Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Cerebus: In My Life - Jason Winter

Cerebus (2012)

It is difficult to write about what Cerebus means to me. Anyone who has attempted to read the book, whether it is just few issues, or one of the Phone Books, has their work cut out for them. Most people never really find a way into Cerebus. It's too varied, some might say too scattershot.

Creator Dave Sim has created over the course of 26 years, a vast, echoing Cathedral of a book. Full of voices, all clambering for attention, periodically bumping into each other, sometimes cancelling each other out. Some voices are easier heard than others. Taken as a whole, it seems all too difficult to encompass. Mr Sim seems to be grasping at so many straws the effect can become dizzying.

In the middle of all this stands Cerebus the Aardvark. Sim does wonders with what would appear to be an extremely limited character. Cerebus doesn't learn. He's resourceful, he adapts, he's certainly good in a fight. But his fundamental nature; his stubbornness; his lack of self awareness; his inability to see the world in terms other than his own, doesn’t change. Could this be the books greatest liability? A lead character who seems impossible to root for?

But I do root for Cerebus. There is an underdog quality to him. A rock headed determination to make his mark in the world. And it's a tough world our protagonist lives in, with a myriad of forces pulling him in every direction. Everybody seems to want a piece of Cerebus, for their own reasons. But Cerebus has his own agenda. In the end, he does get what he wants, everything he wants, but at what cost?

It can be a slog, sometimes, and there have been times where the book lost me. What kept bringing me back was pure fascination as to how Mr Sim goes about crafting his tale. For the story of Cerebus is also the story of Dave Sims development as a writer and artist.

The first 1280 pages of this 6000 page story were written and drawn entirely by Mr Sim himself, and it's fascinating to watch his growth. I would put Cerebus forward as an example as to how an artist can develop over a period of time. To see them gradually become themselves. Still, as good as Sim had got by the end of those 1280 pages, he got better, because of Gerhard.

Gerhard provided the backgrounds for the remaining 4720 pages of Cerebus, and in doing so, bought the world Mr Sim had created into razor shape focus. Gerhard's work is not comic booky, nor is it cartoony, his background is in pen and ink illustration, a technique which requires a supreme eye for detail, and superlative draftmanship, to pull off. Gerhard brings both these formidable skills to bear on the pages of Cerebus, flick through any of the later Phonebooks and you will find example after example of rich, luscious penmanship. He kept it up right to the end.

What's wonderful about Gerhards style is how wonderfully it plays off Mr Sims more cartoony approach. Although he is capable of photo realist work, he is one of the great caricaturists, able to, as Robert Fiore put it, capture the characteristics of the subject as well as their physical attributes. This only became more pronounced when Gerhard came on  board, freeing up Mr Sim to focus purely on the characters,

And what characters! Cerebus may be fundamentally disreputable, but he became a wonderfully designed creation. And Sim makes inspired use of both fictional and real world figures to illustrate the points he is making, So Duck Soup era Groucho Marx becomes the shrewd and inscrutable Lord Julius. Oscar Wilde, F. Scott Fitzgerrald, even Mr Sim himself represent different aspects of the creative process. While the Roach character is a bone thrown to the superhero fraternity, and tellingly becomes less vital to the story as Mr Sim matures as an artist.

It was not my intention to give an overview of the Cerebus storyline, what I have tried to do here is give an overview of my thoughts and feelings on the subject. Like the story itself, they are many and varied. I doubt I have really scratched the surface. But then that, in the end, perhaps sums up best what Cerebus means to me. It's a never-ending pool of ideas. Sometimes to be dipped into, other times to be dived into, until you come up, exhausted, out of breath, but exhilarated.


Dave Sim said...

Hi Jason! Thanks for posting this! That's a great picture of Cerebus!

Dave Sim said...

Is that actual zip-a-tone or did you put it on electronically? Also, I didn't see that it was a column of heads, at first. Those are very nice as well!

Jason Winter said...

Hi Dave. Glad you liked my post and my drawing. The whole picture was produced on computer in Photoshop, including the tone. Thanks again for your kind words.

Jim Sheridan said...

Graceful and spirited writing. Very well put.

Jason Winter said...

Thanks https://www.blogger.com/profile/12723199909214872706

Mr.Sensitive said...

Marvellous picture, Jason. I'm surely not the only one who thought it was by Dave at first. Nice item on what Cerebus means to you, too - as much for what you left out as what you left in. Have to disagree on one point, though - the little guy being impossble to root for. Get off! Some do nothing but root for Cerebus morning, noon and night!

Jason Winter said...

Thanks Mr.Sensitive. I had a ball trying to ape Daves linework. Your kind words are much appreciated!