Archive for January 28th, 2009

The attention span of an overripe grapefruit: Leigh on #4

My, how time flies! Well, I guess that’s why we only promised you one issue per week. The blogging time, it ebbs and flows like the ocean. Or something. Sorry.

Onward to:

Cerebus #4
June-July 1978

This is a cute little issue, introducing us to Elrod the Albino, lord of Melvinbone. As Dave would later write, “nothing happens” in this issue — it’s all about this wacky character and how wacky he is, with a half-assed framing sequence involving Death himself (!). As with the sorceror from issue #1, Death’s grand evil theatricality is punctuated when his defeat at the hands of Cerebus causes him to break character (”‘Some days..’ Death thought to himself… ‘it just doesn’t pay to get out of bed’”).

issue-04-05

But first, a fight scene with a squid demon! In which, once again, there’s something unique about Cerebus that makes him invincible — this time not necessarily an inherent alienness (which protected him from the succubus in #2) but just his unusual skill in battle. Apparently that’s how you roll when you’re “an earth pig born” — as Cerebus is only too happy to inform us. Luckily the “earth pig born” stuff will die down by the end of this volume. It’s pretty irritating, especially since we never meet any other freakin’ earth pigs. He might as well say “you cannot defeat me… for I am no mere city merchant! I am the main character of this comic!”

Once Elrod shows up, Cerebus stops talking — he almost manages to avoid saying a word to Elrod in the whole issue. Sim sets this up with a pretty weak explanation where Cerebus is posing as a “trader of textiles” here in Serrea (capital of the Sepran Empire, and thanks to CerebusWiki for pointing out yet another confusing proper name that was created by accident), and therefore he has to act like a merchant and can’t fight Elrod. So I guess since Cerebus can’t hit him, and doesn’t see any point in talking to him, he tries to just ignore him? But then they fight anyway.

Elrod himself, of course, is Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melnibon√© with the voice and personality of Foghorn Leghorn. News to me is Foghorn Leghorn’s own secret origin, as a parody of Kenny Delmar’s 1940s radio character Senator Claghorn (soon eclipsed by his own parody).

Anyway, Elrod is genuinely funny — Sim’s lettering is essential to the humor, since the Elrod/Leghorn/Claghorn style is dependent on the rhythm and music of his dialogue, and Sim’s hand-lettering allows him to be incredibly expressive, with multiple, subtle, degrees of italics and bolding.

issue-04-10-pointy-hat

(is it just me, or is his face the spitting image of a John Buscema Silver Surfer?)

Like most of Sim’s humor, Elrod’s comes from the vast gulf between his own abilities and his estimation of them — a gulf obvious to everyone but himself. He’s also easily offended (easy opportunities for hijinx) and boldly misinterprets everything in sight with total certainty. He assumes Cerebus is a “kid” in a “bunny suit,” which is funny, but he proceeds as though this is not unusual, which is funnier.

Notice how quickly he adjusts his internal reality to account for the real world:

issue-04-16-oh-hell

Luckily there are only a few Elric-specific jokes, like the fact that his sword is black (from rust, we are told, and indeed it shatters with the first blow). Sim apparently never read a single Elric story, working only off of his guest appearances in two issues of Conan. I can testify to the utility of this practice — as someone who spent seven years performing as one-half of Hans & Franz at summer camp despite never having seen the SNL sketches, it’s definitely possible to capture the essence of something through osmosis, and then you’re free to run with it and make it your own.

issue-04-09-i-get-it

Cerebus’s near-total silence in this issue fascinates me. He’s continuing to develop as a man of action and logic in a world of sophistry and madness. Still ten issues to go until we meet Lord Julius, the ultimate manifestation of empty rhetoric — but Julius will be something deliciously more complex, since he’ll actually have a brain at work underneath the ocean of words. But we’ll burn that bridge when we come to it.