The Cerebus Re-Read Challenge
Cerebus can be purchased in its entirety from
even better, Volumes 1 and 2 are free!
I have a hard time not treating both volumes of Church and State as a single work when considering how Dave Sim evolved/portrayed himself to fit the themes of the work. For the sake of these re-reads I will split the two volumes for my discussion of the art but will say what I have to say about the back-matter for both volumes presently.
Church and State: Rock Star Gods
The story in these two volumes sees Cerebus, having fled his position as Prime Minister, rapidly rise to the rank of Pope (what ? what a crazy book!). Cerebus is eventually tossed off the side of a mountain only to climb back up the mountain, while it is growing (WTF?), and ascend all the way to the Moon, where he has his first meeting with a deity (well, maybe, probably not really).
Even though Cerebus does suffer a number of literal, moral and metaphorical falls, overall it is a story of ascending to what is assumed, at the time anyway, to be the pinnacle of Truth-About-Existence. To match this ascent Dave Sim continues the rise in acclaim that he started to exhibit during the High-Society years, where he become viewed as an elite creator in the field. Sim now reaches for Rock-Superstar status. (I do not think it is any accident that Mick and Keith first appear during these issues.)
The volume basically starts off with Dave and Deni announcing the separation of their marriage. It takes a while after this for Sim to really show the signs of his new persona, in part due to the fact that Deni stays on as publisher and continues to contribute Notes From the Publisher through issue 70. Once Dave fully takes over all aspects of the book it truly becomes a vehicle for the voice of one man.
In 1986, during this Cerebus run, the comic-book industry gained it's first whiff of true mainstream acceptance thanks to the success of Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns and Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon's Watchmen. Sim partied with and was respected by all of the biggest names of the time. This Note From The President in issue #93 shows the kind of name dropping that Sim was able to partake in. And, he got to write the note in Honolulu, of course.
Issue #65 sees Sim procure a strong backing section, an illustration powerhouse with a mysterious mononym to rival Modonna and Prince, Gerhard.
Sim speaks about this luxury in issue #81, with a fair amount of swagger. “I run A-V. What I say goes.”
(Note the use of "w.t.f." which I had no idea was in use in 1985! Sim, you innovator, you.)
Issue # 89 has the germ of how Sim winding up in Honolulu bragging about winning Frank Miller and Alan Moore over to self-publishing by issue # 93.
Sim and Gerhard do extensive touring during these years to promote the book
but there is evidence that even this is done with a Rock-God “I make the rules” attitude. From issue #76
And these were not just tours, they were CONQUESTS!
Sim prudently sells reprint collections directly to his audience, bypassing distribution system and makes a big chunk of change in doing so. This leads to a number of ongoing public disagreements with major distributors and eventually is one of the catalysts for the Creators Bill of Rights. All of this controversy only adds to the myth of “Dave Sim.” A rock-star with the power to rail against the system!
From issue #107
Earlier, in issue #92 we see Sim as a fierce advocate for creator-rights.
And in issue #101 having a go at DC for mistreating creators.
The emboldened Sim also give us a first glimpse at his strident anti-feminist politics, the most controversial aspect of his public persona, in issue #96.
And on the back cover of the same issue we get to see Gerhard hanging with, "some of the local wildlife," a description that is guaranteed to, "ruffle a few feminist feathers."
(I am so glad I was, like, six years old at this point in history, when it was considered masculine for a dude to wear shorts like that. Nice gams Ger! LOL!)
Sim is not shy about his own sexual prowess, either. From issue #97
Along the way Sim even picked up hot groupies. Most notably, Connie Lingus; starting with this letter in issue #67
An 80’s Rock-God groupie if I have ever seen one. God, what a decade...
Sim openly talks about the successes and failures of the book within the book itself, as can be seen here in issue #86.
Nothing like being able to say you increased you readership by “two-thousand and something" in one issue to add power to the idea that your star is ascending. Issue 100 supposedly clocked in at a series high of 37,000 issues in circulation. So, in a sense, mission accomplished. As Cerebus begins his Ascension Dave Sim is able to portray himself and his book as a smashing success and in doing so make his own ascension to the top of the self-publishing game crystal clear.
During the end of the run the Notes From the President start to take on a new tone. As Cerebus’s ascension to the moon and the harsh, hollow reality of that experience becomes clear Sim begins to show signs of recognizing the same emptiness of his own “fame.” It is this transition between the end of Church and State and the tone of the back-matter in Jaka’s Story, the next volume in the series, that caught my attention and clued me in to Sim's morphing presentation of himself with each volume.
Even in the above bit of sexual bravado from issue #97 Sim declares that he is giving up smoking. A first step to a cleaned-up, less rick-and-roll lifestyle. (I don’t think it stuck the first time around.)
Issue 98 finds Sim also giving up marijuana.
Issue 99 comes with an acknowledgment of the fallibility of those with supreme power, Popes and Rock-Stars alike.
Issue #100, the pinnacle of sales and attention, sees Sim acknowledge to himself and his audience that he is not truly famous.
Sim also starts to show signs of closing off from the outside world in the last issues of the run. He quits replying to every letter in Aardvark Comment and in issue #104 he makes it pretty clear that at this point in time he is starting to “…feel like staying at home.”
That interest in the truths of the domestic, rather than the rock-star-rise/godly-ascension to universal truths, is exactly what Sim gives us when we get to Jaka's Story. Speaking of Jaka's Story, go support the Kickstarter campaign for the restoration of the book.
In issue #53's Note From the Publisher we start to get glimpses of things going awry between Dave and Deni.
The same sense of marital unease shows up in the story.
Which, of course, is easier to spot with the help of hindsight. But by issue #55 everything is out in the open.
The following pages are from issues #55 and #56. While I try to avoid assuming that anything in the book is directly autobiographical these issues, with the dual notices of separation bookending the comic, are really hard not to read as such. Especially when Michelle says things like, "Go write your book."
Having just been through a divorce a year or so before reading these issues for the first time it was, and still is, impossible not to have a strong emotional reaction to them. I think they are some of the most powerful sequences in the entire run, with Sim perfectly capturing the painful, awkward moments of a the end of a relationship. His use of sound effects to heighten the emotional tensions really drives home the sequences for me. Even more impressive is how well he ingrates humor into the proceedings. I find it true to my experience that even while things are falling apart, depressing as can be, life provides some comic relief. Dave captures all of this perfectly.
I will now let the pages speak for themselves.
After these largely self-contained issues we move into the meat of the story.
Issues #74-76 see Sim trying to mimic Bill Sienkiewicz on the covers.
These are probably the weakest mime-jobs Sim has done, which I totally understand, having tried to mimic Sienkiewicz myself. Sienkiewicz is such a stud that trying to get anywhere near what he does puts one in their place as an inferior artist right quick!
The cover to #76 is a liiiiiiiiiiiitle bit better, but still a thousand miles off the mark.
I also just noticed easy it is to misread " 'N' Ger " at a glance in the signature. Unintentional, I am sure.