I don’t believe in kismet except when it happens. I had known about Dave Sim’s comic series Cerebus for a while (the advisor to my college comic book club recommend the High Society storyline every semester), but had never read it and never planned to. But in 2014, a series of events led to me owning what I now call the “Cerebox,” a massive longbox containing over 250 issues of Cerebus.
While browsing comics twitter that summer I came across an article on the series and skimmed through it. I wish I could remember exactly which site or piece it was, but at this point I’ve read so many that I can’t figure out which was my first. The article was interesting, but I quickly moved on to another article. Shortly after I read the opening to a nearly 40 page article by Tim Kreider in The Comics Journal #301 and quickly ordered the magazine so I could finish the essay. It’s such a beautifully written piece about the series/ how a reader engages with art and it sold me on the quixotic idea of reading a 6000 page self-published comic book full of art that will move me to tears with writing the author said “wouldn’t be that big a stretch to categorize my writing as Hate Literature against women,” that’s part autobiography and changes concepts based on what’s interesting the writer at that moment, that actively tried to alienate readers as it went along, and is full of dated, obscure references written in a dying comics language of which I’m one of the last native speakers. Around the same time, I learned about an opening in an essay anthology on Cerebus, which would be a convenient reason to read the series (and maybe earn back the money I spent on the comics). A quick ebay search made me realize I could buy most of the series for under $150 and late that night I bought a three foot long box full of comics that I would dub the “Cerebox.” I spent some time reading the series and working on a pitch for an essay covering the publication and changes over the first few years of the series. Unfortunately the book fell through and I never finished the essay or reading the series. Kismet brought me back though, as I was recently contacted by the publisher about the essay book for the fortieth anniversary and Sim has started publishing new Cerebus comics. With there being renewed interest (or interest at all) in the series, I started thinking about how I wanted to finish reading the series.
I’m fascinated by massive series/stories and the culture/analysis that readers/watchers build around it. And while there are books on reading Proust and so many reviews of LOST episodes, there’s very little out there on Cerebus. There are a few long running fan sites that have insightful information, but there are scant few close readings of the series. The only noteworthy one I found was Laura Hudson and Leigh Walton’s wonderful Cereblog (curse them for beating me to the best name) where they planned to review the series issue by issue, but sadly never made it past issue 11. Their style was somewhat reminiscent of Alan Sepinwall’s style of tv writing – bite sized reviews of individual episodes that focused on the episode as an individual unit and how it fit in the series as a whole. There’s a comfort to reading his articles; watching tv is usually a solitary activity, and reading reviews like his (and Hudson and Walton’s) creates the feeling of a communal aspect while also giving the reader more information and viewpoints that they otherwise would have missed out on. There are great pieces on the series as a whole, but there are basically none that go, “let’s talk about issue 137 in detail and the effect of having a short silly breather in between Jaka’s Story and Melmoth.”
I’m NOT Dave Sim (for instance, he’s extremely religious and hates anything Marxist-feminist-homosexual related and I’m a non-religious, socialist-leaning feminist that openly talks about how hot Oscar Isaac is) so I’m not going to promise in advance that I can complete a 300 part project like he did, but I’ll give it a shot. I may do issue by issue, I may lump some issues together and there may be more stray thoughts/bullet points than essays (okay, it’ll most likely be more bullet points than essays), but my goal is to read issues 1-300, the short stories, and as much of the backmatter as I can stomach.* This isn’t me trying to do a wacky challenge (although I am a huge proponent of Chris Haley watching Mortal Kombat: Annihilation every day for a year); I’m writing this because I want a guide to exist. This is a monumental work that comes across as daunting and hostile (a large part of which IS because Cerebus and Sim have been hostile towards potential readers) and I want to change that. I want to be a cicerone for potential new readers, to help guide them through the series, to share fun trivia, showcase the craftsmanship, and be there for support during the bigotry. I want my friends –female, queer, of color, atheist, socialist, FEMINIST – to know they have an ally if they ever decide to read this series.
*That isn’t necessarily a knock on his/the letter writers’ work/personality; it’s just that after 20 pages of Torah analysis I don’t know if I’ll want to read 10 pages of letters analyzing Torah analysis and then write my own analysis of analysis of Torah analysis. Or even look at the word analysis.
Yeah, there’s a section towards the end of the series where Sim’s spends months of comics rewriting the Bible to create his own religion.
It’s a weird comic. Especially since it started as a Conan the Barbarian parody staring a talking aardvark, but that’s for the next post.