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Wednesday, 28 February 2007

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» Here is a complaint, because I am a bitch. from Wax Banks
Scott (the Headless One) is posting a several-part essay about Cerebus (specifically Jaka's Story) over at his blog. Thus far he's put forward a provocative thesis that, in its introductory form, compels me - namely that what makes Jaka's Story [Read More]

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Sisyphus

You _have_ been reading Faulkner lately! It reminds me of Lena Grove, or Caddie Compson. When I first looked up this series in Wikipedia, I thought I'd skip your essays 'cause who has the time to read more about the same old boring misogynist rants that appear everywhere? But I like your reading of the desires for simplicity and systemicity, particularly around "fixing" the identity of women. The way the vertical panels draw your gaze to his repetitive fantasies, while accentuating the focus of his (Pud's) gaze, is also masterful. Pun intended.

Doug M.

It's probably worth posting Sim's own comments on Jaka here.

Here's Sim in _Cerebus_ #114, c. 1988:

"I admire the character [of Jaka] far more than any of the other characters in the book.... [she] is someone I would happily spend a lot of time with. She embodies those qualities I always look for in a woman. She has a very simple way of thinking for which she is unapologetic. She's loaded with common-sense and self-confidence. She is direct and has a low threshold for bull-shit. She has virtually no interest in material possessions though she has an appreciation of them. She is almost certainly on the top rung of the karmic ladder and won't be back for another life-time."

Then in _Cerebus_ #268, c. 2001:

"For the first time he [Cerebus] was able to see Jaka precisely as she was and as she is and as she always would be: a spoiled, myopic, insensitive, self-absorbed and self-important harlot princess (quite apart from her position in the heirarchy of the city-state of Palnu)."

From his Q&A Session from Going Home, 2004

"Q: Many readers perceive a difference between the character of Jaka in the first half of the book and the character of Jaka in "Going Home." Do you think the character changed, and if so why and how, and if not did you deliberately display her in a different way or do you see the perceived difference as largely the responsibility of the readers?

"DAVE: I think I kept Jaka pretty consistent. In my experience women are like cats. When you don't want them you can't get rid of them and when you do want them it's like trying to pick up lint with a magnet. All that changed was that Cerebus switched from not really wanting Jaka to really, really wanting her (after issue 74-75). As soon as you switch, they switch. Jaka is a self-absorbed aristocratic airhead. She always was."


Doug M.

Rich Puchalsky

I dunno, Scott. The sequence you present shows an undeniable formal mastery of certain elements -- the use of shaped panels, the repetition with slight variation, the use of twisted reflections (though all of these are cinematic standards) -- but the whole thing still has the same offputting content that I originally thought it had. Pud isn't trying to seduce Jaka, at least not past the beginning of the sequence; it turns into rape fantasy. According to the last link that I hunted up for comments, an interview with Sim (who knows from what era) says that Pud eventually intends to rape Jaka but that she throws up on him while he's still nerving himself up to do it. And the last panel that you present doesn't show her "becoming to him a person": she says he's great, kisses him, there is a "pop" from the bottle he's holding near his groin, and so, symbolically, they've had sex -- she's given him what he wants.

I don't think that the point is whether the reader can find Pud in some way sympathetic or not. The point is that the author is highly present in the text (author-function if you prefer), and that it's a highly nasty author. Jaka *is* using Pud, after all -- surely she must wonder why he's giving her free rent, low-cost delicacies, and so on. Sim's later characterization of her as spoiled, myopic, self-absorbed, and manipulative fits the actual facts of the situation as he's set them up. His later more mysogynistic characterization is indeed implicit in his earlier one.

Comparing PKD, since I brought up the comparison, I always found his mysogyny more bearable because it had a weird economic component that played against social stereotype. PKD resented the fact that his wives generally economically supported them, and his books are full of domineering, life's-desire-spoiling wives or wife equivalents -- but they don't have the same "why won't she have sex with me" thing.

For the ultimate in repetition, shaped panels (using words only), and a person working his way out of fantasy, I recommend again Alasdair Gray's 1982 Janine.

belle waring

wow, scott, thanks for reminding me about how incredibly fucking creepy dave sim is. I'm interested to hear more of what you think about cerebus. I gave up after flight, I think.

Steve Bolhafner

"So he practices his lines—the little manipulations which he hopes will bring harvest—and while they should disenchant the reader, they never do."

I'm sorry, but I strenuously disagree with this. I think most readers *do* become disenchanted with Pud, and you've even posted in your picture sequence the exact place where: #123, page 3. "Don't move, Miss Jaka. I'm not going to hurt you."

It's interesting that I just posted something about this very same sequence yesterday over on my blog (stevesreads.blogspot.com) without even being aware of yours. As I said of that moment, "the ominous reflection of Pud's face in a puddle of water on the floor that he is mopping, looking not at all harmless and ineffectual but dangerous and threatening." (the syntax is screwed up because that's part of another sentence, but what the hell)

Anyway, you've got some interesting commentary going on here and I'm glad I found it. Keep up the good work.

Ray Davis

I don't know if a poll's of any use to you, but just in case: I'm another one who's always read Pud as creepy and meant to be creepy. His role as Jaka's and Rick's main protector doesn't make him seem like a better human being; it makes them seem more helpless and alone: their "friends" aren't their friends.

Scott Eric Kaufman

Steve, I just read your latest post with interest, although (not surprisingly) I'm not sure I agree. I don't think Pud's is a Christian redemption story so much as one of isolation. Here's how I read it:

Before Rick and Jaka arrive, Pud is an extremely lonely man who's inherited a fortune and a tavern. Afraid to leave the tavern, to abandon the life he's known, he instead reaches out to the first people who come his way in need of help. Sure, there's something sexual about it, in that he's been lonely, physically and mentally isolated since his mother's death. Because he's a mother's boy, the odds of him ever having been with a woman, you know, normally are slim. He's a sad and creepy figure, but not necessarily an unlikeable one. We all know the type: a genuinely good person unequipped to live in a world of sexual beings, Pud lets his sexual tension get the better of him; he lets his fantasies escalate until he almost loses control of them. But he doesn't. Jaka's vomit was like ipecac for the soul, in that it, her weakness, humanized her. This is why I believe he's ultimately responsible for his own redemption (with a splash of circumstance, of course, but when doesn't circumstance play some part in redemption?).

I'm not sure if I'm explaining this adequately, however. I think Pud was a decent person on the path to monstrosity, but one who caught his wits before he fully embraced what isolation and sexual frustration drove him to.

Matt

Didn't anyone else get that Pud is Sim's version of every 'Fanboy' personified? The off-putting rape fantasy can be seen as the way Sim felt at comic book conventions at the time, having his creativity raped by fans who simply wanted a dancing monkey who would sketch Cerebus as Spiderman, or Cerebus drunk, or Cerebus doing the hokey pokey with Jaka, or whatever. I'm not saying anything new here, this is a fairly commonly held view of Pud as a character (i.e it is generally agreed that Pud represnts 'Fanboys', as a whole). The sequence is deliberately off-putting, Sim wants everyone to feel as uncomfortable as he does as conventions. He wants you to squirm, so with a stroke of his pen, he makes the reader squirm. The way Sim hijacks the readers emotions and does with them as he pleases is one of the many signs pointing to the fact that Cerebus is a great work of literature. I don't agree with a great deal of his views, but dammit, I respect the hell of of Dave Sim as an artist.

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