Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Cerebus via Dave Sim - Comic Book Creator

Dave Sim is an incredible individual and in more ways than one, talented and tainted. More of that at the end of this piece.

Not only did he create one of the most long lasting, original (and one of the oddest), characters in comic book history but he also did it without the help of any of the big, medium or small publishing houses. You see Dave Sim was not only the writer of the much celebrated Cerebus series, he was also the artist and the publisher. In the seventies this simply was not done. To self-publish required a brave heart.

Today, in 2014, this is not such a remarkable thing. We have, and often have had even then, writer/artists - Frank Miller or Will Eisner make perfect examples - but writer/artist/publisher? This in 1977 was unheard of and was to become a major development, one that was to open the door for a multitude of creative individuals to follow.

But it isn't just the fact that Dave Sim was such a pioneer in his chosen field it is also the genius of his creation, Cerebus the Aardvark that really puts his profile up there amongst the giants of the graphics arts medium.

Cerebus the Aardvark started out in fictional life as a parody of Conan the Barbarian and is a rare example of the parody outlasting the parodied. Cerebus is the longest lasting self published comic ever produced. It was well drawn and humorously scripted with complex story lines that elevated it without question into the realms of literature.

Dave Sim is a Canadian and was born on May 17th 1956 in Hamilton, Ontario. Since the age of two Dave has lived in Kitchener and became interested in comics at an early age. In his youth he published a magazine called Comic Art News and Reviews where he interviewed, presumably, some of the people that had either influenced him or who he found of interest. Englishman Barry Windsor Smith, of Conan noteriety, and Neal Adams.

Although Dave begun the Cerebus storyline in 1977, it wasn't until 1979 that he hit upon the idea of making the series into a publication that would last for 300 issues. This was something that had never been done before and would follow the characters development throughout the 26 years that it lasted, faithfully aging the character in the process until his final death in the last issue.

Normally, when writing stories featuring a "hero", the main character is presented as being, if not holier than thou, then certainly flawed but with a nice sweet centre. Not so Cerebus who was manipulative, disingenous, a proven liar and even someone capable of rape. As for the woman he professes to love he drives her away as often as he embraces or confides his love to her. He swears like a battle hardened soldier, drinks alcohol like the proverbial fish drinks water, bullies and picks fights with people and worships money and will do almost anything to get rich.

Cerebus is a character that you both love and hate at the self same time and it is this quality that links the reader to the character. This wonderfully human quality that I suspect we recognise in our own natures. Not that I have ever raped or killed anyone as yet.

Initially the series was a humorous poke at so many other comic book creations - Wolverine, Moon Knight, captain America and, as previously stated, Conan. As of 1979, and about the time the second collection of stories were published as High Society, it became apparent that the tale Dave was telling had a more serious focus.

Gone were the obvious sword and sorcery tales replaced by more adult themes of politics and religion. Intertwining and complex stories that often mirrored real life in a way that other comics couldn't.
All of the books Dave Sim produced are worth reading but those worth special praise in my opinion are High Society, Church and State 1&2 and Jaka's Story.

In total there was, at the end of the Cerebus run, a collected work of some 16 books. Books of true literary worth.

Throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, Dave Sim used his profile to act as a tool to spotlight creator's rights and self-publishing within the comics industry. He used his noteriety as a platform to illustrate these issues at comic book conventions and then went onto publish The Cerebus Guide to Self-Publishing whilst promoting other creators' work in the back pages of Cerebus.

When Dave Sim first began to publish his work there were two major publishers. DC and Marvel. Since Dave Sim and as of now there are a whole host of independent publishers who have all followed in Dave Sim's wake.

Without Dave Sim it is highly likely that we would never have seen or heard of either Jaime or Gilberto Hernandez, or Todd Macfarlane or Scott McCloud.

His gift to self publishing has been enormous. His gift to literature has been immense.

Dave Sim's Cerebus has given us an author, and fictional character, who, both, stand favourable comparison to any of history's great authors and fictional characters and would be welcome additions to any lover of literature's collection.

There is another side of his character which I have deliberately not mentioned here and for very good reasons. These observation/appreciations are those of the individual whose work I like - my love or enjoyment of their creative output. I make no such observations about their views or how they live their lives.  As an equally flawed man with a multitude of faults I hardly think it is for me to pass comment, at least not here. The accusations of Dave Sim's alleged sexism, his misogynistic and religious views are categorically not mine but are available for others to view and to form their own opinions from.
Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers, chews the cud then swallows the worm whole.


LeeKwo said...

Fascinating work Russell/A lot of research goes into these cuts the corn pieces and you always come up with material I know nothing about so I thank you for taking the time to do the work/Besides that its always well written and a good read/Regards and affection Lee Kwo/

Tempest Nightingale LeTrope said...

I'd honestly not heard of Cerebrus the Aardvark before. He seems interesting.
As to sexism in comics, there is an entire tumblr devoted to the fact that women in the comic book world, both the creators and the characters, do not get equal representation. It's called "Loving Comics Does Not Mean Ignoring Their Problems."
Speaking of Frank Miller, I once saw a video regarding his ghastly sexism in the treatment of female characters. Le sigh.

Russell Duffy said...

Tempest>>>Not so much any forn of sexism in his comic books but, following his marriage break-up, some serious, almost right wing expressions o male supremacy. Very evangelical, almost Islamic in attitude.

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