2: High Society
3: Church & State Volume I
4: Church & State Volume II
5: Jaka's Story
12: Rick's Story
13: Going Home
14: Form and Void
15: Latter Days
1: Cerebus is an anthromorphic aardvark Conan the Barbarian
2: Cerebus gets into politics
3 & 4: Cerebus becomes pope
5: Cerebus hangs out with Jaka
6: Cerebus is in a state of shock, the death of Oscar Wilde
7: Cerebus, Cirin, and Suenteus Po all work toward the Final Ascenscion
8: " "
9: Suentues Po and Astoria bow out; Cirin and Cerebus Ascend
10: Cerebus meets Dave
11: Cerebus falls in love with a bar
12: The gospel according to Rick
13: Cerebus travels with Jaka (and F. Scott Fitzgerald)
14: Cerebus travels with Jaka (and Ernest Hemingway); breaks up with Jaka
15: Cerebus and the Cerebites defeat the Cirinists; Cerebus gets old
When you're at the end, you think about the beginning. I think it is probably fitting that the final chapter of Cerebus
is, in effect, his final day. All of this - six thousand plus pages, 26 years and three months - leading up to a single chapter, a single page. We never see Sim go full David Copperfield with Cerebus; we never see him born. He springs to life full-fleshed and sleek in Cerebus #1
and here...and here. Ancient, wrinkled, withered, insane, a religious fanatic still struggling with his baser impulses, succumbing to senility...I first read this when my grandfather, a priest, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, and...yeah, it's hard to come back to. But let's talk about the elephant in the room.
Dave Sim was never completely free of delusions; lots of artistic people struggle with depression, alcoholism, voices in their head, relationship issues...his divorce didn't help matters. Then he found God, in his own special way. I quote from the introduction:
What had begun as my best guess on The Origin of Everything in the concluding installments of Church & State (back in 1988)--and then reprised as my next best guess on The Origin of Everything in the first half of Reads (1994)--in my view, finally achieves its culmination in the prologue to the final volume of the Cerebus saga which you are holding in your hands. As I have said to a number of people since completing my part of the last Cerebus page December 17, 2003, I think God gave me two tries at The Origin of Everything on my own as a secular humanist) knowing that I would get the "straight goods" only after reading the Bible and the Koran and submitting myself to His will (a process, as documented in the annotations to Latter Days, which had begun with the purchase of my facsimile 1611 King James translation of the Bible). Even as I have come both to accept and "to fit into" that reality (having experienced it first hand) I can certainly understand you, as reader, disbelieving it, particularly those of you of of the secular humanist persuasion. After all, if a comic-book writer and artist did actually come up with the Origin of Everything (a.k.a. The Unified Theory which Einstein spent his intellectual life pursuing) wouldn't you have heard something? Wouldn't the theory by splashed all over newspaper headlines and magazines and television and radio?
Mm, no. No, I don't think so.
Particularly (as in this case) if the writer-artist in question wasn't a feminist. See, if you aren't a feminist in our society, whatever else you may be it is taken as a given that you are definitely wrong.
...and so on in that vein. Basically, Sim follows his own version of the Abrahamic religions, mixing bits of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity - and no, he still isn't a "feminist," although I'm not clear what definition of feminist we're going by there. I've always approached feminism as "equal rights for men and women," but that's a pithy phrase and there are lots of fine details that we could spend several non-comics threads getting into. Long story short, Sim has been - I'm not sure if he's working out
his theology in the pages of Cerebus
, or just used Cerebus
as a means to express those views. But, there you have it.
What you also have (though I cropped it off) is Sim's reaction to the basic non-reaction that the completion of Cerebus
got. Seriously, 16 phonebooks
is a lot of work, and completely without parallel in comics today for a single creative team - even Mike Mignola doesn't draw all his own stuff anymore. I think it's a bit sad...but then, you can sort of see why, too. Cerebus
has never been a book for kids. It's not exactly the thing you get into when you're eight and feel nostalgic for when you're forty. It's an exquisitely artistic indie comic, and it finished up its long run pretty much as planned, but at the end of the day it is just one small thread in American culture, with a footprint and audience smaller than Saved By the Bell
. On which loving thought, let's turn to the actual comic.
We begin with scripture. This is basically Sim's marriage of the old Tarim/Terim Big Bang theory with the first chapter of Genesis, revealed to Cerebus as he is sleeping, with copious footnotes. It's beautiful, and cosmic, and at once primal and personal. Imagine if you could marry the King James Bible with Cosmos
or the Cartoon History of the Universe
22: Thou art as thou art:
23: And thou art with me always.
24: Be though content in this, therefore. Amen.
And then Cerebus wakes up. Cerebus is old. Older than in the last volume. There's been at least a timeskip (we later find out it's the year 153, so we're definitely on early Biblical aging scales here, with Cerebus well over 100), probably more than that. Old Cerebus does not move quickly in the morning, and everything hurts and droops, and after considerable effort and many pages and a few prayers manages to get out of bed, over to his writing desk, and writes out the book dictated to him in his dream by God.
As he writes, we get a view of the world outside - which is much different than in the last book. Marble walls topped with barbed wire, marble columns covered by religious graffiti, much of it about "New Joanne." He's still pope, or whatever, but he's stuck in a mammoth palace ensconced in a religious bureaucracy which largely neuters his power and influence. (Also, as noted in the comments to the last thread, the woman at the end that Cerebus marries looks
like Jaka but is probably not - most likely she's this "New Joanne" character.) We get bits and pieces of the story - Cerebus has a son, "She-Shep" (who is definitely not an aardvark, and who Cerebus calls "Shep-Shep").
Then, pushed by a voice in his head, Cerebus puts the New Booke of Cerebus
in a secret compartment by the fireplace, where nobody will read it "...until two thousand years from now when this part of the Sanctuary is torn down to make room for a shopping mall."
What follows is...a very long sequence. Cerebus reminisces about his son, and being old, and hurting a lot. He prays a great deal. We get a peek at the bureaucracy which basically strangles Cerebus' ability to get a visit from his son, whom he hasn't seen for ten or fifteen years. It's comedic, in a very painful sort of way. Sectarianism has taken to the Cerebite religion - one of Cerebus' main bureaucratic opponents turns out to be "Le Sanctuaire Upper Felda des Ricke et Joanne, Lesbiennes" who "believe that Rick, like Cerebus, was a fully developed hermaphrodite and--owing to his greater size and weight--played the 'butch' role to Cerebus' 'femme' role in their relationship"...and so on, and so forth. You want to laugh, but seeing old Cerebus having to deal with weighty doctrinal issues involving the Scary Tampon weighs my patience.
Anyway, we get - eventually - through flashbacks some insight into the situation with Cerebus and his son. She-Shep and his mother (Cerebus has been calling her "New Joanne" so long he's forgotten her real name) had set up this very '60s style hippie music festival themed around abortion as a right...and Cerebus and She-Shep got into an argument. Which eventually led to a religious schism, and the Cerebite religion broke into different sects with their own votes on the council (I think Sim was basing that off the UN), and the "Joannites" are rebelling, so Cerebus lives in a constant police state...
We get some views of the world outside Cerebus' Sanctuary, and it's all tattoos, piercings, and advertisements for "Little Ms. Oral Sex Camp" and "The Bestiality Bistro." I don't know exactly what point Sim is trying to make with this, except maybe pursuing the traditional conservative line of thought that loosening up of some sexual mores will eventually lead to the loss of all
sexual mores...y'know, the kind of thing where some wacky Republican says "gay marriage legal today, incest legal tomorrow" or whatever. But the fact is, the world outside looks a hell of a lot more interesting.
Eventually, Cerebus ends up giving in, and signing a bunch of stuff recognizing this-or-that heresy just to try and see his son...and well, eventually She-Shep just sneaks in.
This is where stuff gets...funky. I've mentioned that the timeline for Cerebus is kinda screwed up, but here again Sim brings in elements of the real world - She-Shep being an Egyptian name, as She-Shep explains to his father. And we get some insight into how the whole issue of doctrinal confusion came about...how people confused Jaka and Joanne, because they read the Book of Rick
first, and they think Cerebus stole the ideas of his Torah Commentaries from her and...well, you get the idea pretty quickly that She-Shep is a rotter, whatever the fuck else he is.
It turns out Cirin is still alive, and in the Joannites hands. And they've been prying loose her secrets, one by one - including those of genetics. So She-Shep opens the box he's brought in there...
Whatever else it is, it's a great revelation.
We also find out that She-Shep is in an incestuous relationship with his mother. Oh, and the Muslims are coming, to do away with Cerebus' church. I have absolutely no idea how that's supposed to actually work within the timeline of the Cerebus books, it's really out of left field. At a deeper
level, it talks directly to one of Sim's points, that Yoohwhoo will never become one flesh
with God - which is, of course, what She-Shep is specifically trying to do. So it's Sim basically showing how the Joannites are essentially missing the point.
Anyway, Cerebus attempts to leap out of bed with a sorcerous knife...and trips, and falls. Lies broken on the floor. Sees his whole life flash before his eyes - and this is, perhaps, the greatest part of the ending, just to look back at the evolution of the character, all the things he's done, the great and terrible moments of his life - and he sees the tunnel of light, and all his friends are waiting for him in the afterlife...and then, at the last moment, Cerebus realizes the light isn't God, or Heaven. It's Yoohwhoo, Terim, the female spirit created by god, the false divinity...and Cerebus is dragged kicking and screaming into the afterlife.
"And if I have done well, and as is fitting the
story, it is that which I desired: but if slenderly
and meanly, it is that which I could attaine vnto.
For as it is hurtfull to drinke wine, or water
alone; & as wine mingled with water is pleasant
and delighteth the taste: euen so speech finely
framed, delighteth the eares of them that read the
storie. And heere shall be an end."
II Maccabees 15:38-39
And that is how Cerebus ends - how the life of Cerebus ends. With some final revelations, and many final questions. It is not, I think, the neatest ending Sim could have penned - I think I speak for a lot of people when I say that the backstory he hinted at was much more interesting than page after page of OldCerebus with his aches and pains. But it is fitting, in some ways. Cerebus did, in the end, die alone and unloved. Perhaps he outlived his purpose in life; don't we all sort of fear that? Everything anyone does, in the end they always die. It's nature. Pass away for something new to come. Still, as endings go, I can think of better ones.
Okay, enough melancholy. While I've got everyone here, let's talk about the rest of it.
For starters, not every issue of Cerebus was included in the phonebooks. There were a few odd-man-out issues, which were republished as Cerebus Number Zero
This triple-length book contains three uncollected issues (#51, #112/113, #137/138), with some commentary by Sim. They're not essential issues - just some transitory ones. #51 is the transition from the end of High Society
and the beginning of Church & State
; #112/113 was about the end of Church & State
and the beginning of Jaka's Story
; and then #137/138 was supposed to explain about Lord Julius look-a-likes...you might remember one turned up Going Home
...I didn't comment on it back in the Church & State books because, honestly, you can't comment on everything. This is a good book to have if you're reading from High Society
through Jaka's Story
, but far from essential.
was a collaboration product between Sim and different artists released back in '85 - this was early Cerebus, where he's basically a talking animal version of Conan the Barbarian. Believe it or not, Cerebus did a fair number of crossovers in other books, but few enough outright collaborations - the two best here is one with Terry Austin, where young Cerebus is with "Squinteye the Sailor" and one with Will Eisner
where Cerebus dukes it out with The Spirit.
was a brief book put out during the '92 US Tour - that's where Sim would take limosines to conventions and sell books and merch. It's basically a very light-hearted summary of the first three volumes of Cerebus
, to help new readers jump in to Church & State.
Cerebus World Tour Book 1995
is a collection of shorts that Sim had written and drawn early in his Cerebus career when he was trying to get Cerebus "out there" - they fill in a couple small gaps in the first book, if you're morbidly curious about the White Magicking (which sort of explains why magic in Cerebus is nigh-nonexistent, and more on the true nature of Aardvarks) or you want a better example of how to play Diamondback.
Back in the day, Marvel experimented with some creator-owned content vehicles, one of the most gorgeous of which was the magazine Epic Illustrated
for the Epic line - producers of Groo, Dreadstar, Time Spirits, etc. Epic Illustrated was basically designed as an alternative to Heavy Metal
, in that the ads were for Canadian rye whiskey and cigarettes and the occasional nipple was not only allowed but expected; it even included some notable uses of Marvel characters, like the infamously unfinished "The Last Galactus Story." It also included several brief - and full-color - adventures of Young Cerebus. It's like Calvin and Hobbes, but with less words and more drinking and violence. If you've never run it down and you're a fan of Cerebus, do so. You won't be disappointed.
I mentioned Cerebus did a few crossovers; these are the two you're likely to remember. The one on the left was a brief time-travel storyline in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
, where Cerebus and the Turtles team up against a medieval wizard - and if you're inclined to do a furry version of the Wold Newton Universe, technically counts as far as your eventual fanfic with Usagi Yojimbo et al. The one on the right is the much more infamous crossover with Spawn
- this was in the early days, and Sim was in full support of Image Comics' creator-ownership side of the argument, and this issue was basically him showing his support. It's a bit cheesy - the early Spawn art was terribly sloppy - but when you consider how many billions
people have made off of Superman without the creators seeing any share of that money...well, work-for-hire has its downsides.
Dave Sim didn't come out with the Cerebus Archives
immediately after he finished Cerebus - it's basically a look behind the scenes, a reflection on the journey if you will. Lots of early stuff from the notebooks, internal documents at Aardvark-Vanheim, the sort of comics that Sim did before Cerebus. Okay stuff, nothing essential, and to be honest I've not yet read through them all.
Something else I haven't read through. One thing you get in Sim's commentaries is how much the letter pages - hell, feedback of any sort - really drove him. This is a guy that grew up reading the letters pages in comics, and he was thrilled
at the chance to answer them, and expand on the story and philosophy a bit, or at least just have a bit of fun.
This is on my Amazon wishlist. Gonna be out in hardcover!
And this one, I think, brings us full circle. It's a book of essays on Cerebus. If you're at all interested in more-of-the-same-but-in-greater-depth-and-detail, you might want to pick it up. I did. Honestly, I find a lot of academic looks at comic books...unsatisfying. You get a lot of multimedia studies, trying to find substance in Nolan's Batman
films, or people looking at rape in the comics of Alan Moore, and while I do want some serious examination of comics-as-literature, I'm mostly disappointed with the results. This book isn't bad, though. Far from essential reading if you're a fan, but if you need to do an essay or a dissertation on something and don't want to dig into the crusty old analyses of Dickens again, there's something to be said for it. Because at the end of the day Cerebus is not
like any other comic book out there - it is gorgeously illustrated, and well-written, and grown-up and complicated. It works at different levels, and it addresses weighty themes in intelligent ways. It's a good read
, even if the going isn't easy, and Dave Sim himself is one of those rare writers with an actual philosophy to express - and, in this case, a theology
, if your interest bends that way.
Is it any good? Cerebus
, I mean. The whole series, not just the academic wonkishness. Well, I think it is. If it sounds interesting to you, then why don't you pick up a book and find out for yourself?