Cerebus #003 (Apr – May 1978)

“…Dave had wanted to do a story where Cerebus was with a female since the inception of this comic.”

–  Deni Loubert, “A Note from the Publisher”

That fragment of a sentence explains more about this issue than all of his seven paragraphs in Sim’s introduction to the reprint, which is mostly about his experience with Frank Thorne. (Even when the comic introduces its first female character, the topic of discussion is a man.)

Red Sophia isn’t a character, but a concept that Dave wanted to use and it hurts the issue. She’s a one-dimensional concept/joke that he rests the entire issue on and while that CAN work (see next issue), here it doesn’t because he views having a woman in the comic as a big enough gimmick to carry an issue. Like with last issue switching from the mountains to a dark cave, Sim starts phoning in and even gives up drawing Sophia. The last panel on Page 8 features possibly the worst drawing of his I’ve ever seen. Her face is completely flat and her round mouth with black hole makes her look more like the Pokémon Jinx (or a blow up doll) than a human. Compare that to the leg he draws an inch to the right of her where he intricately draws each piece of fur and piece of metal on Thugg the Unseemly’s boot.

On page 16 he commits a cardinal sin in comics and covers up her face with a word balloon instead of drawing it. And no, this isn’t like Uncanny X-Men #1 where there was so much text it had to cover a character in order to fit; there’s enough white space that he could have moved the word balloon over a bit to fit in her face. If his goal this issue was to convince people that he could draw a Red Sonja series, he failed.

From Uncanny X-Men #1 – Pencils by Kirby, Inks by Reinman or Brodsky, Lettering by Rosen, Colors are Uncredited, Dialogue by Lee

Even a messed up Jack Kirby panel is still so energetic. The soldiers’ stances are AMAZING.

To be clear, I am NOT saying this is proof that Dave was a misogynist from the beginning, but that sword and sorcery and comics had/have a problem where the idea of even having a female character is viewed as a big deal. I’ve reread through issue 8 and so far there are only two women, and both issues revolve around their romantic connections to Cerebus. There are no women in the background in taverns or towers or trenches, only men.  Again, this isn’t Sim being “anti-women;” it’s just a sign that he and many 70s sword and sorcery creators were taught by the patriarchy to treat men as the default.

Red Sophia is Sim’s stand in for Red Sonja, a popular sword and sorcery character in the 70s created by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor Smith for Marvel Comics’ Conan the Barbarian #23. (Issue #24 was titled “The Song of Red Sonja” which is what the title of Cerebus #3 references.) Laura Hudson is more familiar with Sonja and does a better job explaining her origin than I could, so here’s a quote from her Cereblog.

“In the original series, the character Red Sonja was brutally raped as a teenager by the mercenaries who killed her family, and her wish for vengeance granted by a goddess who gave her extraordinary fighting skills — on the condition that she never give herself to a man again sexually unless he bested her in combat.  There are some weird implications — especially in the context of a rape victim — of a woman needing men to prove their ability to dominate her to win sexual favors, but it’s still not as unsettling as Dave Sim’s take.”

Sim’s take on Sophia was that, like Sonja, she wouldn’t have sex unless someone could best her in combat, and since no one until Cerebus could defeat her, she was super horny and wanted to get beaten.

Yeah.

While I appreciate that Sim wanted to parody the ridiculousness of Red Sonja, the attempt backfires and ends up worse. I highly recommend reading Laura Hudson’s nuanced exploration of the topic.

The fight between Cerebus and Sophia is a disappointment, especially compared to Cerebus and Klog’s panel-less fight last issue. With that, each action flowed from the previous one; here, only the first and second connect. From 1 to 2 we see Sophia lower her sword and Cerebus raise his to meet her, but he’s swinging upwards and there’s no way he can go directly from that to his sword in a downswing with her flying right (right after spanking her no less). There’s at least one step/piece in there missing and it throws off the motion of the panel.

The fight in issue #3

 

The fight in issue #2

I’ve mostly been skimming the plots of these issues because they’re not important. For now, they’re just there to hang jokes and character work off of. In this issue, Cerebus is sent by the wizard Henrot (an anagram of Thorne) to torture a man to death for besmirching the honor of his daughter, Red Sophia. Cerebus’ version of torture is to make the man marry Sophia, because marriage to her, the only woman we’ve seen in this world, is torture. I continue to feel for Deni and cringe at every warning sign that she missed.

Stray Thoughts

  • Gonna harp again on the impact of systemic sexism; the wording was “wanted to do a story… with a female.” The patriarchy pushes for the use of “female” in that context, which is wrong because it’s use is usually demeaning (often without the speaker realizing it) and also (and here’s some logic Sim might appreciate) grammatically incorrect. “Female” is an adjective used for scientific purposes. “Woman” is a noun that refers to a female human.  When someone says “I wrote a comic with a female in the 70s,” it is unclear what “female” is referring to. Is it a female aardvark? Female human? Saying “I wrote a comic with a woman in the 70s” is more accurate and grammatically correct. I wasn’t expecting to write about grammar either.
  • Did you know that Sim would later write about his belief that wives should be spanked as a form of corporal punishment?  His stance makes me wonder how much he viewed the spanking in this issue as a joke and how much he viewed it as proper etiquette for dealing with women.
  • Although Sim’s style is harping Barry Windsor Smith’s Conan, Red Sophia is aping Frank Throne’s Red Sonja, which might be part of the reason why Sim struggles so much with her.
  • “Thugg the Unseemly” is a great name for a tavern patron and there’s a chance I may end up referencing it in a tabletop game.
  • This is the first issue where I resisted using Pete Campbell saying, “Not great, Bob” as my review. Let’s see how long I can hold out before I use it.
  • Henrot’s design is based on Frank Thorne in his wizard costume. At the time, Thorne hosted shows at comic conventions where he’d dress up as a wizard and women dressed up as Sonja and other skimpily clad women. Elfquest’s Wendy Pini was one of the main cosplayers. Bronze Age of Blogs has a ton of information and pictures, including a comic by Thorne about it.
  • Right now I’m pantomiming putting on my improv hat so we can talk comedy. Pages 13 and 14 are a great example of sticking to the “game” in improv. There’s no agreed upon definition of what exactly the “game” is, but a common one is establishing a pattern and heightening it. Sophia, focused on discussing ways to please Cerebus, is so wrapped up talking about that that she ends up repeatedly dropping things on him and hurting him. Its solid repetition and building of the game, although dropping a tree on him the page before means the pebbles is a bit of a dip.

English and comedy; two things I spent way too much money on learning that we all already know.

  • I just noticed this while taking pictures; the zip tone that’s used to color Cerebus fades away over a few panels as he takes a bite of disgusting food. It’s a great visual gag and maybe the first time I’ve seen published artwork of Cerebus where he’s white.
The sequence, along with close ups of the middle and far right panel to see the detail of change.

  • There’s a map of “The Aardvarkian Age” at the back of the issue. It was created by Michael Loubert, Deni’s brother, who wrote fantasy under the pen name of “Clovis.”
  • Aardvark Comment – Terry Hamilton, Stampart comic books/Fog City Comics a funny animal book. John Ellis Sech, scripted THE DARK NINJA for ORB magazine (I imagine it’s like if Cannon made Phantasm)
  • Next Issue: “Death’s Dark Tread” – Cerebus looking in a funhouse mirror with a cloaked figure in the background. Is it Veronica from Riverdale? I really hope its Veronica and her awesome hooded cape.

  • One last thing. Everyone else thinks this tent is supposed to look like a vagina, right?

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