Monday, 26 February 2007

Cerebus and Modernist Freedom, Part I (This is part one in a series of ... some undetermined number. Part two can be found here.) I want to accomplish a number of things here, so bear with me as I approach Dave Sim from a couple of angles. Given my interest in the ideological conflicts within an author, I think it best to start from the biographical. Here's the condensed version: 1977: Begins publishing Cerebus 1979: Drops acid, is diagnosed with schizophrenia, and decides Cerebus will run for 300 issues. 1980: Publishes the first issue of what will later be collected in High Society, inaugurating an unprecedented decade-long run of brilliance. 1990: Jaka's Story concludes, inaugurating an unprecedented 14 year run of published mental instability. That may sound harsh, but what I have in mind here is the notion of high art as the product of unsound minds. My modernist bias may be showing here, but with good reason—Sim possessed a kind of creative control unseen since the days of the high modernists. He could publish what he wanted, when he wanted to and expect to be taken seriously. That last part is more significant than it might seem. It's one thing to be a James Joyce; another entirely to be a James Joyce who expects his works will be read and discussed by his peers. The expectations that you'll be read by a committed audience changes how you approach your material. (No more self-indulgent slap-dash, my stuff must sing!) Writing one of the three most popular [independent] comics of the 1980s—expanding the political slapstick of Duck Soup into sprawling medieval allegory of the intrusion of kings and popes into the lives of individuals—convinced him he was above the petty squabbling he so brilliantly depicted. With no publisher holding editorial power over him, Sim was charmed by the power he once parodied. As Daniel notes, Sim is convinced that the late complaints against "the feminist-homosexualist axis" are nascent in the earlier works. I bring this up now only to dismiss it: I'm sure he believes that, the same way I sometimes believe my thinking about Silas Weir Mitchell is nascent in my dissertation prospectus—which is only to say, I address the very same issues about which I'll one day draw entirely different conclusions. They are there, only the parody has turned to homily. For example, here's the back cover to Cerebus 126: Four years later, in Cerebus 186, Sim would appear, thinly disguised and ranting: The point, of course, was that the Male Light was not the exclusive property of Men. It was very close to being the exclusive property of Men, but as Viktor Davis had reminded himself, "there are exceptions." In the case of self-publishing (Viktor Davis' idea of self-publishing was best summed up by Don Simpson's promotional slogan: "One Comic Book. One Universe. Why Pay More?"), there were the indisputable contributions of Colleen Doran and Teri Wood. The problem, of course, in acknowledging exceptions in the Female Void-Dominated Age, was that exception was always...

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