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A multitude of Sims

Assessing the 300-issue, 6,000-page legacy of Dave Sim’s Cerebus

Well, Cerebus is done. What’s Cerebus? It’s a comic book named
after its main character, a three-foot-tall, sword-wielding aardvark who has
now finally battled and schemed and humped and killed and ascended and loved
and lost and got old and found God and dissolved into a doddering wreck to
the last panel of the 6,000-page 300-issue comic book that makes up his life
and 27 years of the life of its creator, longtime Kitchener, Ontario resident
Dave Sim.

Holy crap, this is one big comic. The biggest, really—the longest
single continuous work by a single creative team in the history of the medium
and probably one of the longest books ever written. And it’s been a
hell of a ride. Cerebus began as a short, smart, mouthy funny animal comic, a
well-drawn and funny parody of Conan, all about the gags. But, driven by
Sim’s ferocious impulse for innovation, Cerebus swiftly took on a life
of its own. Sim is a parodist at heart, and his unique talent is to catch a
cartoon version of someone (be it Groucho Marx or George Washington or Mick
Jagger or Maggie Thatcher or, in the form of the Roach, a unending series of
transforming riffs on the superhero du jour, with Roach versions of Batman,
Captain America, Moon Knight, Spider-Man, normalman, Punisher, Sandman, Ghost
Rider, Cable and dozens of others), sink them into the Cerebus world and see
what they do. They take on their own identities, personalities, agendas; they
blossom as characters in their own right. Soon it became clear that the
Cerebus universe was alive with interconnections and secrets and astonishing
possibilities.

Sim wasn’t afraid to challenge his readers. In issue 26, barbarian
Cerebus shows up at a hotel and suddenly gets drawn into the world of
politics. For fans of swords ’n’ sorcery parody comics, this was
ridiculous. When was Sim gonna quit all this suits-and-dialogue stuff and get
Cerebus back to being a barbarian? But Sim had other ideas. Cerebus became
the prime minister. Then he became the pope. And then Sim devoted a whole
book to the story of Jaka, the dancer that Cerebus loved. Then he looked at
the death of Oscar Wilde. And then the second huge story arc, “Mothers
and Daughters,” the monumental wrapping-up of all the mythological plot
threads, the meeting with God (that is to say, Dave Sim) and of course the
infamous “Female Void and Male Light” prose sequence in
“Reads” that established Sim’s new reputation, deserved or
otherwise, as a hateful misogynist.

And then, having finished the “plot” of Cerebus, Sim kept on
going. He retreated to a bar and charted men’s behaviour in
“Guys.” He started mixing gender relations with religious
convictions in “Rick’s Story.” And then he took Cerebus on
three book-length elaborate style parodies, doing F. Scott Fitzgerald in
“Going Home,” slamming Ernest Hemingway and then Ernest
Hemingway’s wife in “Form and Void” and then combining the
Three Stooges, Woody Allen and the Bible into one demented three-pack in
“Latter Days.”

It’s a big book, filled with some of the most stunning and
innovative comics ever done. Anchored by his short, mouthy asshole
protagonist, Sim experimented, pushed the boundaries, pushed and pulled and
hammered the comics medium until it squeaked. One issue wound through 20
pages which, if separated and assembled, formed a huge picture of Cerebus.
Another involved slowly rotating panels, forcing you to turn the comic a full
360 degrees as you read it. Way back in the ’80s Cerebus boasted
“cinematic” techniques, tracking and zooming over sequential
panels or breaking a large panel into slices in order to convey a motion or
transition. In issue #65 Sim turned over the task of drawing backgrounds to
fellow Kitchenerite Gerhard, who proceeded to pump out some of the most
extraordinarily detailed and beautiful pen-and-ink illustrations ever.

Then, at some point—it’s different for every Cerebus
reader—Dave Sim lost his mind. For some readers, it was when the comic
spent four pages on Cerebus taking a leak. For others it was when Cerebus, in
his office of pope, raped his longtime ally/enemy Astoria, a comics echo of
Sim’s first wife. For lots of others it was when Sim inserted himself
into the comic and took pages of text to explain that women are bloodsucking
leeches who drain the life and creativity from men. For still others it was
when Sim found God and turned the comic into pages and pages of close-typed,
line-by-line dissections of Genesis. It was like Sim was daring his readers
to quit, a dare more and more readers happily chose to accept.

But Sim and Gerhard kept plugging away and now, in issue #300, Cerebus is
dead. His life is done and it was an extraordinary life of laughs and gags
and rampant assholery and desperate battles and unearthed truths and crazy,
doddering sidetracks and ridiculously offensive opinions. His life was a
story and, like all stories, it was true. Controversial, offensive,
brilliant, and now complete, Cerebus the Aardvark stands as one of the most
important comics ever written. Plus it has lots of hot chicks in it. V

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