The Cerebus Re-Read Challenge
Cerebus can be purchased in its entirety from
even better, Volumes 1 and 2 are free!
Going Home: Yup
Going Home was my least favorite volume during this re-read. It felt like an unnecessarily long re-hash of a lot of things we already know by this point, primarily that Cerebus can be with Jaka and still be miserable.
The back-matter for the second half of the volume consists of extensive notes about the research Sim did for Fall and the River. It was nice to get this peek into Sim's creative process.
In issue # 240 Sim explicitly acknowledges his interest in plagiarism, etc. a topic I had been watching the whole time.
Issue # 247 comes with a thoughtful piece about Sim's ongoing experiment with incorporating prose into comics.
By this point, reading both the comic and the back matter was taking me about and hour to hour-and-a-half per issue. My plan to "blow through" the back half of the book was looking like a pretty foolish thing to state publicly. I often found myself thinking, "Please, oh please, no text pieces in this issue." I suspect that had I read Cerebus as it came out monthly I would have appreciated the increase in content.
Issue #248 brought with it proof of my theory that when Dave Sim writes about a topic he purposefully inhabits a relevant persona, here "...imitating as closely as possible F. Scott Fitzgerald's work habits..."
This book also has the most god-awfully ugly art in the whole series. Immediately after reading the book, and determining that I hated Gerhard's contribution to the volume, I started seeing people over on A Moment Of Cerebus comment that it is their favorite Gerhard volume. "Great," I thought, "now I am really going to have to defend myself. So, bear with me as I explain my averse reaction to Gerhard's art in Going Home.
Gerhard is THE best draftsman of architecture in comics; François Schuiten being the only artist I can think of that can give him a run for his money. There is no doubt that when it comes to drawing buildings and putting linear perspective to use Gerhard is gangster-status.
Unfortunately this does not translate to an ability to draw nature. Buildings look good when you draw them bound by solid outlines that do not vary in weight. Buildings are, by definition, artificial. When you draw nature, this same approach of containing the object in a single outline and then "coloring" it in with perfectly straight hatching lines, does not work so well. Everything looks flat, like a bunch of cut-out/sticker/appliqué graphic-icons of corn, flowers, trees, etc. The images are detailed as ever, yes, but they feel fake, collaged.
There is just no depth.
Lets take a look at some other artists who DO know how to handle nature, just to make my point clear.
Barry Windsor Smith:
A master of using contour-lines, rather than outlines, to describe the edges of his objects. He varies the line-weight and doesn't feel the compulsive need to make every line connect. These changes in line-weight add the impression of volume to everything. The gaps in contour-lines suggest spatial interactions. They show where things move from being behind to being in front of one another. Gerhard never displays a command of this concept. You can get away with that when drawing artifacts, but not nature.
Vess also knows how to manage the edges of objects with broken up contour-lines but really shines in the way he uses different types of mark-making to suggest a wide variety of textures. Every object gets it's own special mark. Look at how natural the above image feels compared to Gerhard's work, which looks like it was done by Photoshop clone-stamping.
He could have created the value in the trees with lots of little tick marks, but instead he choose to put in flat blobs for the darks and then just cross-hatch a stiff grid of lines over the whole cluster of trees, effectively turning them all into one, homogenized, flat object. The corn and grass read like a cardboard-cut-out stage-props. Yuck, yuck, yuck.
Even if you want to maintain a consistent line-weight and have everything very contained by closed outlines you can still add more overlap. Check out Jiro Taniguchi, who is probably the most similar in approach to what Gerhard was trying to do here.
The layers of overlap make all of the difference to the sense of space and place.
The damned Zipatone splatter effect on everything doesn't help either.
It flattens everything out in large, ugly shapes. Even the architecture here is flat and empty compared to what we are used to seeing from Gerhard.
When the story finally moves onto the boat things improve, but not by much.
The boat is so clean, the Zipatone doesn't help the artificial look. Some of the images of the boat just look like screen captures from a 3-D modeling program, a look that I am used to seeing in a lot of comics these days (Most abused by artists like Mike Deodato), but which really feels jarring in what has been until now the seamless reality of Cerebus.
It makes a nice enough page on it's own, but feels like it belongs in Ryoichi Ikegami's Sanctuary
Maybe for the boat portion of the book Sim and Gerhard were purposefully paying homage to manga tropes? This page from issue #248 does have the heads-floating-overcome-with-love-and-lust kind of emotion-centric composition that is often found in the shoujo-style manga.
But there are pages like this
where even Sim seems dragged down into the mud, producing some of the clunkiest figures in the entire three-hundred issue of the series. Is that lighting on F. Stop's face or is he some kind of painted harlequin-mask joker?
Okay, I will quit being negative... well... until Form and Void, where I argue that Gerhard's animals aren't much better than his flowers and corn.
Nasty surface rendering aside Gerhard does turn in the best storytelling sequences of his career. I suspect that these sequences are why people say this is their favorite Gerhard volume.
The following sequence from issue #235 is the first time we see a trick that is essential to Form and Void. Sim and Gerhard produce a single, large image, and spend pages upon pages zooming in on aspects of it. I will talk more about this as a technique for generating abstractions next time. Here it is used to represent depression as an affliction that can freeze you in place and time. Lovely stuff.
This technique is something that Sim uses throughout pretty much every book he has done since, especially Judenhass, where he uses it to represent lengthy, piercing observation and attention. It is the formal trick I most tightly associate with Dave Sim.
Issue #247 is mostly composed of a set of shots that represent a camera spinning around the boat, which leads to all kinds of cool false-panel effects.
Issue # 249 has an incredibly long camera-pan, a new instantiation of the motion-over-a-stable-image trick. I took the time to stitch the whole pan together. Scroll away!
At this point the camera moves forward for a number of pages
and then sideways again for three panels
The camera stays put on that last shot for a while, and then pulls up into the sky and whips around a bit. The whole things is a mind-boggling exercise in coordination. Too bad the rendering is rubbish.
Some of the other cool art from this volume:
The following image is the single sexiest drawing in all three-hundred issues. It is so natural, honest, and intimate.
Issue # 243 sees Sim still frustrated that he can't do a good Michael Zulli style.
This is the first instance of something that becomes standard operating procedure in Glamourpuss and SDOAR, tracing other artist's work. Thematically appropriate for a volume that is intent on exploring plagiarism.
Issue # 244 sees a lot of innovative things happening with the use of language, fracturing and nesting pieces of language to create multiple, layered reads of a single sentence. I admit I have not read any F. Scott Fitzgerald, so I do not know if Sim steals this technique from Fitzgerald or invented it.
The sentence at the bottom of this last image calls to mind the work of web-poet Mez Breeze and her "code-poetry" language "mezangelle." I highly recommend spending some time with Mez Breeze's work. Here is a sample to entice you
all b[l]onded + [bit]rotten bl[F]eeding.