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’”).

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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.

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(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:

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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.

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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.

11 Responses to “The attention span of an overripe grapefruit: Leigh on #4”


  1. 1 Frank January 28, 2009 at 7:46 pm

    Speaking of Julius, are you guys going to cover the Silverspoon story arch that takes place right before the first Palnu issue? I don’t remember where I read this, but its lack of inclusion in the phone book was pretty much a mistake.

  2. 2 Leigh Walton January 28, 2009 at 8:05 pm

    Silverspoon, definitely. It actually is in the most recent printings of the first phone book.

    And even if it weren’t, it’s important, and quite good.

  3. 3 Douglas January 28, 2009 at 10:51 pm

    Oh, you’ll be seeing another earth pig or two eventually. Hold your horses.

  4. 4 Kim Scarborough January 29, 2009 at 3:37 am

    You should also cover “Magicking” before “Black Magicking”, as that actually reveals a pretty important plot point. The stories where he plays Diamondback with the priest and where he’s kidnapped by Sir Gerrick are less important, but if you’re being a completist you could write about those as well.

  5. 5 David Fiore January 29, 2009 at 11:48 am

    good call on the Surferesque Elrod, Leigh–there IS indeed a distinct resemblance!

  6. 6 Leigh Walton January 29, 2009 at 12:14 pm

    I kept going back and forth between Silver Surfer and Adam Warlock. Something about those pupil-less eyes shadowed by a heavy brow — plus his open-mouthed outrage is a perfect emulation of that existential angst which pervaded 1970s Marvel.

  7. 7 Paul DeBenedetto January 29, 2009 at 12:35 pm

    If I recall correctly, in old Foghorn Leghorn cartoons Foghorn talked so much that no other character could get a word in edgewise. That’s always what I thought Sim was doing.

    Also, with the hair he sort of looks like Gil Kane or even Starlin’s Adam Warlock: http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/09/warlock.jpg

  8. 8 Linda S January 30, 2009 at 8:46 am

    Dave and I spent Sunday afternoons watching video tapes (on BETA!) of old Warner Brothers cartoons and old Marx Brother movies while we were dating. (good times, they were!) He could slip into Foghorn’s character quite easily, although he thought he was the Bugs Bunny type, the sarcastic instigator s**t-disturber intent on getting his own way. Dave had an ear for the way people spoke and their dialogue, the inflection and tones in their voices, the way they put their words together while speaking, how they accented words and phrases. It bordered on an obsession for him and he used it to great effect through out the series. I obsessed over the written word; I’m the one who corrected spelling and grammar errors in restaurant menus. I got over it.

    That issue with Elrod is to this day one of my favourite comics of all time, not just Cerebus. Elrod’s delusional narcissism is partially inspired by a mutual acquaintance who is/was the bane my existence, Dave’s too. It is Dave’s most brilliant inside joke, so effective and so well done the inspiration probably still is blissfully unaware of the association, even though he’s aware he inspired a character.

    Dave told me when ever he saw this guy coming he crossed the street, he looked away. suddenly became blind, suddenly found the cracks in the street fascinating, or the empty store window -anything to avoid eye contact because he if he saw you it meant you’d spend the rest of the afternoon listening to an endless monologue of how great this guy was, all the amazing things that were happening to him, and how this was the beginning of something great yadda yadda yadda And then he’d vanish for a while, starting anew job how he was the greatest etc. with nary a mention of what happened to the old job, situation, whatever. And he never ever had anything to show for all his amazing talents and abilities. He was clueless aout his effect on people, how he made us want to gnaw at our own limbs to get away from him. We called him a “legend in his own mind” As soon as Dave said this person inspired Elrod it was obvious. And like I said, this guy still has no idea and he’s still trying to figure out which character he inspired.

    Anyways, keep up the good work!

  9. 9 aintmsbtraven January 30, 2009 at 9:54 am

    I love Elrod too–I’ve referred to him elsewhere as a “popalchemical miracle,” and I stand by that assessment… this background stuff is awesome too Linda–keep it comin’!

    I think my favourite Elrod appearance is the Black Sun cult story in issue #7 (when he gets the full “Hooray for Captain Spaulding” style intro)–although he’s pretty wonderful as “Bunkie” as well!

  10. 10 Jeff Tundis February 12, 2009 at 12:47 pm

    This issue also features something that will have long reaching effects on our Aardvarkian hero – the Chaos Gem.

    The importance of this is also touched on in “Magiking” – the short story that Kim Scarborough mentioned (printed in Swords Of Cerebus 4 and the World Tour Book).

    -Jeff

  11. 11 Eric May 20, 2009 at 11:36 am

    I never liked Elrod as a character and was quite pleased when Dave finally “offed” him much, much later. I always felt like his absence from the comic was a much-needed reprieve after he left the page. I never understood the fascination with the character and though the Elric meets Foghorn Leghorn to be utterly strange and not all that funny. But, hey, that’s just my opinion. His thinking Cerebus is a kid in a bunny suit, however, now that’s just gold, something that got better with age. So this issue is a bit of a mixed-bag for me.


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