After Dave realized the first issue was successful enough to print a second issue, he realized he had to draw a second one. This issue is split up in to two parts, which is a recurring concept in the early issues. This issue starts with Cerebus in the snowy mountains and then switches to him in a dark cavern. According to his introduction from the first Swords of Cerebus* collection (and reprinted in Cerebus bi-weekly #2), he panicked about having to do twenty-two pages of “ha-ha” every issue. His workaround was to drop the “ha-ha’ for the last thirteen pages. He changed the location for the back-half to someplace easier to draw as a compromise with himself for not having funnier material to draw.
*a series of reprint collections of the first 25 issues from the early 80s
The issue opens with a direct rip-off to Barry Windsor Smith and Roy Thomas’ Conan the Barbarian comic, “Frost Giant’s Daughter.” That’s not an insult; Sim said he was trying to be as much like Smith at the time, and using the two-page splash from that Smith story is an exciting way to both ape him and kick off a story.
Conan the Barbarian #16 – Art by Barry Windsor-Smith
Cerebus #2 – Art by Dave Sim
There’s a wonderful bit of character development early in the issue. Cerebus, the last survivor of his side in battle, offers his services to the opponent as a sword for hire. The chieftain accepts, if Cerebus can defeat one of his men. Of course, the chieftain choses the Hulk-esque Klog for Cerebus to knife-fight. Cerebus is able to outmaneuver and knock Klog unconscious, and while the chieftain starts to ramble on about how Cerebus likely has a moral code against killing an unconscious opponent, Cerebus picks up his sword and intensely stabs Klog to death. I really appreciate how this scene is funny in multiple ways on multiple fronts. I’m glad we’ll be getting more of this and less generic fantasy as the series goes on.
Speaking of generic fantasy, there’s some plot stuff about them fighting sorcery possessed people, Cerebus falls through the ground in to a cave, discovers that there’s a rare MacGuffin (the Eye of Terim*), and THEN we get to the part this issue is remembered for (other than that decent Windsor Smith swipe).
*Terim/Tarim was Sim not keeping track of his spelling; he later retconned it to involve gender and god, but that’s not for a while.
BUT FIRST, I want to take a moment to gush over what I remember this issue for, which is how dope the above page is. Two issues in and Sim is already capable of breaking a page down a location in to seven interconnected panels and show a character walking through the environment with each panel showing the passage of time. The logistics of this tower are so creepy. It shrinks the further down he goes and there’s all these faces/bodies carved in to the path. Panel three grabs my attention EVERY time I look at the page (and I’ve looked at it a lot); Cerebus is looking directly at YOU with the giant shadow behind him and it’s SO INTENSE. AND THEN YOU LOOK DOWN AND THERE’S A FRIGGIN HEAD CARVED IN TO THE PATH WITH MASSIVE DEMON HORNS. AHHH!!! I love this page and I would 100% hire 1978 Sim to airbrush the side of my van.
Now for the part everyone else cares about: Cerebus is attacked by a succubus and 39 years later everyone wonders if this was Sim intentionally planting the seeds of the series’ anti-feminist stance. It is and it isn’t.
At the time, Dave didn’t know the mythology behind the succubus (a demon that takes the form of a beautiful woman to trick men and steal their souls) and just chose the name because it seemed like it fit the tentacle monster. In an interview interview uygSim said, “I went back and reread the section and it seems clear to me in retrospect that this was me unconsciously documenting what would have been, at the time, my overwhelming and all-encompassing connection to the female half of reality which resulted from my first non-familial exposure to it as a result of being in my first boyfriend/girlfriend relationship for about a year by this time.” There are another five to six paragraphs after that about how the succubus ties in to his religious views on gender and later Cerebus issues. Personally, it comes across as him going back and trying to assign deeper meaning to something throwaway, but ymmv. Also, while Sim would likely complain that my feelings are illogical, it sounds like he never had any close female friends growing up, and that’s really sad to me.
The end page mirrors the opening (four long vertical panels with Cerebus marching away/towards the reader) and unfortunately are full of text (we see six boxes of text before we even see any characters in the issue). The pages are heavy on explaining what’s going on; there’s not a lot of trust in the art to carry the reader along. Roy Thomas’ “The Frost Giant’s Daughter” is more efficient with words; each caption on page 2 is a fragment of description establishing the mood and setting. While Sim spends time explaining what Cerebus had been up to after issue 1 and where he is and why he’s with these mercenaries and how this attack started, Thomas goes “here’s a caption-less one page splash of the last two warriors on a battlefield squaring off; that’s everything you need.” So far the prose is the least interesting part of Cerebus.
Cerebus#2 & Conan#16
Stray thoughts/closer looks/random observations/dumb facts I couldn’t fit in to the article.
- Deni’s note is now in black ink on white paper. She writes about interacting with fans/selling the comic at conventions and then goes on to describe what it’s like when a large number of comics fan get together post-con at a restaurant. She mentions sitting back and taking in the scene and how passionate fans get so caught up in their enthusiasm that they end up turning in to a three-ring circus for anyone near them. It’s a pretty sweet note and brought back a lot of good memories.
- In the Swords of Cerebus opening, Dave talks about approaching the issue like writer/artist/letterer are different people; I’m interested to see how his methodology develops over the years.
- The biggest downside to the reprints is that the first page is now the introduction from Swords of Cerebus, which means the first page of comic is shifted to the second page . This unfortunately throws off the two page spread and the cliffhangers that are at the end of the right page to the left, which frequently end in ellipses or Cerebus in danger. I’m taking a moment each issue to remember that and appreciate the work done to propel the reader to turn the page.
- “comne ye tama stet fegria” is an unsavory Paranian curse; I’m wondering if this is an inside joke (maybe an anagram?) or just gibberish.
- “My chieftain — perhaps a six-foot length of cloth would be more – uh sacred?” Authority figure valuing saving face over a tradition that isn’t working? I expect we’ll see A LOT more of that.
- The fight with Klog is drawn with boarderless pictures; we’ll see Sim continue to play with that next issue.
- Cerebus defeats the succubus because he doesn’t have a soul, I think. I only picked up on that after the third time reading this issue.
- By Clovis’ Swears! This issue features: “By Clovis’ Beard!” “Clovis’ Beads!” “Clovis’ Blood!” “By Clovis’ teeth!”
- The next issue – YIKES. It features the first woman we’ve seen Sim draw for the series and it’s BAD. Her face is flat but her left eye/eyebrow kind of go off her head, her boobs are so weird, that metal thong is the lowest metal thong ever drawn, a right foot so rough that The Rob Liefeld would call it out, and it looks like he spent more time on the background crackle effect than he did on making her look like a human.
- Aardvark Comment: The reprint opens with this note from Dave. “All of the letters in Cerebus 2 were made up except for Frank Thorne’s and Bruce Shane’s because no letters had arrived by the time we needed a letters page. I felt so guilty I never did it again.” Fake people included Ed Coates of Marchment, Texas, Tom Richards of Nigagra Falls, Ontario, and Arthur Graham of Edmonton, Alberta. According to a quick Google search, Marchment, Texas doesn’t exist. Frank Thorne, who worked on Red Sonja for Marvel, sent in a drawing of Red Sonja and Cerebus which is a very kind gesture. Bruce Shane is described as an editor and publisher of a fanzine called Reader Written Comics (Dave Sim drew a short comic written by Shane for issue 2 of the zine); he compares the first issue to Harryhausen’s 7th Voyage of Sinbad.
- The inside back cover is an ad for Oktoberfest #1, an anthology comic published by Harry Kremer that featured some of Dave Sim’s Beavers comic strips. There’s also a note in the reprint that 11 years later Harry Kremer still has a closet full of them and to make him an offer. A quick search shows that if you want a copy, you can buy one for a reasonable price on Etsy.
- The back cover features ad for Cerebus #1 and a Beavers button. The button costs a whole dollar! Oddly enough, the reprint leaves the mailing addresses on the back cover, while everywhere else in the issue, addresses are redacted.
- Regarding using these issues as a pitch to publishers; #2 showcases Sim being able to emulate BWS two-page spreads, barbarian hordes fighting, and another cool looking monster.