Cerebus — Dave Sim

Quick disclaimer:

What follows is a review of the first Cerebus graphic novel, not a review of the series as a whole. I initially contemplated such a feat, but handling Dave Sim’s (and Gerhard’s) 300-issue-long magnum opus in one post would result in either a really, really long post or a really, really inadequate handling of such fine (and troubled) material. Instead, I’ll review the series chronologically, covering one volume a month.

I suppose, also, that a quick primer or introduction may be necessary, so here goes–

Cerebus is a 300 issue black and white comic book, conceived, written, and drawn by Dave Sim (with stunning background art by Gerhard in issues 66-300). Sim published the book himself via his Aardvark-Vanaheim imprint. The book follows the adventures (and non-adventures) of Cerebus the Aardvark, a surly barbarian who, as one of only three existing aardvarks in Estarcion, has a sort of catalytic power to influence major world events. It’s satire, it’s drama, it’s action, it’s art. The series contemplates politics, religion, literature, economics, and just about everything else under the sun. Only this is really not an adequate summary at all, so I’ll stop here, and get to the actual review. You can google “Cerebus” and “Dave Sim,” of course, and read all about Sim’s rise and fall (it gets spectacularly crazy, folks!); or, you can just wait until we get to the Reads book to learn all about Dave Sim, misogynist. But I’ve digressed before I’ve even begun. (The Cerebus Wikipedia page is pretty good; and this 2004 AV Club interview is also insightful).

Let’s start the review with yet another non-start: another disclaimer:

If you’re at all interested in Cerebus, Cerebus, the first graphic novel in the series, collecting issues
1-25, is not the place to start. If you really are interested in Sim’s work, start with the next collection, High Society. It’s much funnier, tighter, and Sim comes into his own as a draftsman by these issues (although there’s no denying that the art only gets better and better as the story progresses). Sim claims that he knew more or less from the beginning that Cerebus would have a scope of 300 issues (taking 27 years to complete), but the first 15 or so issues don’t really reveal anything that promising. Very early Cerebus is a silly funny animal Conan-Red Sophia parody. However, with issue 20, “Mind Games”–a comic Sim composed in interlocking images that when reconstituted created a new image (all right, that’s not a great description)–the book starts to get really interesting. By this point, Sim has already introduced my favorite character, Lord Julius, the anarchic Groucho Marx parody who wreaks havoc throughout the series; Sim further stirs things up by injecting the matriarchialist Cirinists into the chaos. The emerging Cirinists’ political/martial power becomes the conflict that will dominate the first half of the Cerebus series, and the larger issue of female power can rightly be named the Sim’s thematic obsession throughout the entire comic’s run. Before these themes come into their own, issues 1-17 or so of the book are stock fantasy tropes poked at with a stoner’s sense of humor. Like I said before, Cerebus–volume 1 of Cerebus–will be most enjoyed by those who’ve already had a taste of the good stuff–High Society and Church & State. Good stuff. More to come.

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