Saturday, 20 August 2016

Carson Grubaugh's Re-Read Challenge: Jaka's Story

(from Carson's Re-Read Blog, August 2016)
...I suspect some readers will now accuse me of ignoring all of the text pieces that make up the fictional "Jaka's Story" that exists within the narrative; that I am leaving out everything to do with how Jaka become Jaka, the coming of age stuff, etc. That is merely surface fluff for the penultimate act of the book which is about finding one's artistic voice, one's inspiration. As a child Jaka finds her voice in dance, this is suppressed by the society she lives in and it takes her removing herself from that society to be able to do what she loves. But, remember. that story is being written by Oscar, who has been struggling to finish his book and is grappling with his own creativity. Any theme you see in "Jaka's Story" has to be filtered through this layer of understanding.

Ultimately, Oscar has to see Jaka dance to gain his final burst of inspiration and in doing so gives us the clearest picture that Dave Sim can formulate of what an artist is, as summed up in this page from issue #128.

Artists are those who stare into the void (with all the significance that holds in the world of Cerebus) and have the balls not to look away. Not only do they not look away, they summon the courage to assert themselves within the void. By making such public declarations they become vulnerable to the world.

Oscar, in "Jaka's Story," writes a character that found her art in childhood, debt fee to any apparent predecessor other than nature itself. Oscar seems to feel the weight of not, himself, being inspired by such a primal source. He needs Rick telling him stories about Jaka's life. He needs to see Jaka dance because his imagination is not enough to conjure the words.

But, the ultimate point is, as much as we want to think of artists as gods capable of filling blank slates with primal bursts of creativity from within perfectly introspective voids they would be lost without the influences they encounter when they step away from the void. Sim, especially, makes it a central aspect of his creativity to always take his first steps into the void wearing the shoes of others. His frequent mimicry of other artists' rendering styles and writers' voices, use of  parodied characters, and, as I am arguing, the willingness to take on different public persona, bears this out. He feels no shame, and there is none to be felt, in acknowledging that his work does not in fact exist inside of a void. It is indebted to the efforts of all those who influenced him and the giants that preceded him.

It is to Sim's credit that he has a strong enough sense of self that all of this mask-wearing never comes off as desperate grasps for a place to fit in or an identity. His self-confidence is strong enough to allow itself to occupy the stance of others. It is curious to understand what they understand. If this process leads to drastic changes in who Dave Sim is, that is fine, because the core of the self-confident seeker is still there. On the other hand, if that core rejects a position it can say it has done so not because of ignorance but due to the process of living in the opposing shoes and finding that they rubbed blisters into the heels.

Any self obviously has immutable properties, preset assumptions and existing prejudices that will affect how well it plays whatever role it takes on but it is a rare self that even tries. I value those that try... [Read the full review here...]

Cerebus Vol 6: Melmoth
Cerebus Vol 7: Flight
Cerebus Vol 8: Women
Cerebus Vol 9: Reads
Cerebus Vol 10: Minds
Cerebus Vol 11: Guys
Cerebus Vol 12: Rick's Story
Cerebus Vol 13: Going Home
Cerebus Vol 14: Form & Void
Cerebus Vol 15: Latter Days
Cerebus Vol 16: The Last Day


Steve said...


I always just figured Dave wanted to draw a pretty woman in her underwear.


Barry Deutsch said...

Carson, thank - I think this is the best one yet.

Carson Grubaugh said...

Thanks, Barry. Glad you enjoyed it!

Dave Sim said...

Hi Steve! No, if I just wanted to draw a pretty woman in her underwear, I'd draw a pretty woman in her underwear. I was making a point (if you're talking about the missing back of the costume) that people do things unconsciously for reasons that make a certain conscious sense: in this case, Jaka's awareness of how much it is COSTING Pud to maintain the pretence that employing her and keeping her and Rick supplied with food and shelter makes any kind of economic sense. It was her way of acknowledging unconsciously what she couldn't acknowledge consciously: that ALL that he was getting out of the deal was a pretty, scantily-clad girl sitting in his tavern every night waiting for customers. So, she basically gave him an extended -- completely (?) unconscious -- "moon". Part of that would have been the pressure of Pud figuring out how he was going to put the moves on her. It would have been strong enough to shake loose the plaster. She couldn't, literally, offer herself up sexually (not in her nature), so this was as close as she could get to a compromise.