Archive for February 20th, 2009

More or less a cautionary tale: Laura on #6

Cerebus #6: “The Secret!”

November-October 1978

Deni announces in her letter from the publisher that she and Dave are getting married, and she is all caps multiple exclamation point excited about it, and it’s kind of sad. “I had a romantic thing about artists at the time period, as a lot of women do,” Loubert would say later (19:25). “It’s your dream to say you’ve been the right hand person of an artist. I always said I wanted to be his Yoko. That’s what we always used to talk about…”  She says, trailing off into the great ellipsis that is What Comes Later.

But now it is still 1978, she and Sim have been going to conventions and are starting to realize that Cerebus has developed a following, sales are growing, and this might actually be going somewhere. She is in love and anything is possible – it is all sky and no ceilings.

Deni says in her letter that “this issue is special to me because it’s my wedding present from Dave,” which is maybe the saddest thing I’ve ever heard, but we’ll get back to that later.

The primary plot revolves around a large, stupid man named Turg the Unduly-Tall, and a shorter, less stupid man named E’Lass trying to coerce Cerebus into revealing the location of a treasure that a dying man whispered to him and blah blah blah.  I don’t care, and you probably won’t either, but they do manage to use the power of beer to coerce Cerebus (or “the-killer-who-looks-like-a-bunny” as Turg calls him) into visiting a tavern where he meets a dancing girl named Jaka.

Yes, Jaka. If you have even a passing familiarity with Cerebus, you’ll know that Jaka becomes a very important character in the series, if only because you’ve been to the comic book store too and seen that the fifth volume is named Jaka’s Story.

(Also, just because I’m a pedant: issue-06-04-excellant)

issue-06-04-foolishness

The series, up to this point, has been a series of done-in-one stories that leap wildly between locales and casts of disposable characters, with Cerebus as the only constant. Was Jaka originally intended to be yet another disposable character, a dancing girl that could have been any dancing girl in any bar? Except that love makes her something different, because that is what love does.

Up until this point,, “Cerebus has [had] no time for such foolishness” as love, treating women and sex as little more than distractions from gold, beer, and action in the most literal and least suggestive sense. When he first meets Jaka – both times – his initial reaction is equally dismissive, because she is just another girl, and there are millions of those.

Cerebus’ attitude towards her changes markedly when E’Lass slips a drug into his drink to “make him more suggestible” as they ply him for information. Cerebus becomes more suggestible, all right – not to revealing the location of the gold, but to the charms of Jaka, who is dancing on stage.

Ever see that episode of the Simpsons where Bart scans frame by frame on a videotape to pinpoint the exact moment when Ralph Wiggum’s heart breaks? It’s kind of like that, but in reverse. And because it’s comics, of course, everything is frame by frame.

issue-06-05-love

i_love_lisa

issue-06-05-faceless-jakaInterestingly, we don’t see Jaka’s face until four pages after her appearance – we see her body, her back, and hair, as Cerebus gazes at her, but not her face. It effectively introduces Jaka as more of a love object than a person in her own right, and Sim admits as much in his Swords of Cerebus introduction, when he talks about his difficulty coming up with an ending: “It was at that point that I realized the essence of the problem. I had been thinking of Cerebus’ point of view of the situation, but I hadn’t stopped to considered how Jaka was reacting to him.”

Cerebus’ point of view is that he “hasn’t been this happy since he beheaded his first Borealian.” His first reaction is to describe joy in terms of violence because that’s what gives him joy, and because falling for Jaka hasn’t made him a different, less violent person. Love doesn’t change us — it just makes us more vulnerable, like finding a soft spot on your body that makes you fall to the ground when someone touches it. Which can be a wonderful or a terrible thing, depending on how much you need to be in control and who’s doing the touching.

issue-06-07-boner

Another note about Cerebus’ reaction: I thought he was kicking his foot backwards here to make E’Lass back off, but at Leigh’s insistence I looked closer, and yeah – that’s not his foot. It’s his tail, which suddenly goes… well, I guess erect (?) while he’s watching Jaka. I’m not entirely sure what that means, but don’t write any slash trying to figure it out, ok? Seriously, don’t write any slash.

Sim describes Jaka as “the personification of all those long distance romances,” the unrequited and unspoken crushes he had on many girls as a young man. “In my heart of hearts, of course, I knew that if I just worked up the courage to talk to them, that they would fall madly in love with me and we would live happily ever after.”

Of course, that rarely happens in real life. But this is Sim’s story to write, and so in this version the beautiful girl falls in love with the short homely guy, they decide to run away together and live happily ever after — until the ending, which he apparently wrote for Deni, where Jaka ends up carrying a tragic torch for Cerebus indefinitely after he transforms into a cold, dismissive person who suddenly treats her like just another wench.

issue-06-19-disappearsTheir great and mutual love is thwarted by the familiar cheap trick of amnesia, but with a bit of twist. As Leigh pointed out to me, Sim makes the interesting choice not to use the drugs to remove their relationship, but rather to induce it. When his feelings disappear, it is not because something unnatural has intervened to erase them, but because something unnatural has been removed, returning him to his sober and “normal” state. The first question really shouldn’t be “Will Cerebus ever remember his feelings for Jaka?” but rather, “Did he ever really have feelings for her at all?” There’s no clear answer right now, but I’m sure future issues will have more to say.

Oh, and the whole plot with E’Lass and Turg escalates when three members of a cult called the Brothers of the Black Sun show up, named Tchens, Trebu, and Lohi. Their names are anagrams, derived from Deni’s last name (Loubert), and Hitchens, the last name of Sim’s mistress at the time. In fact, Sim later revealed that the entire issue was “more or less a cautionary tale trying to inform [Loubert] obliquely (if not opaquely) of strong emotional ties I still felt for the woman Jaka was based on (blank) who became an exotic dancer (read stripper) shortly after Jaka first appeared. The emotions depicted in the drugged Cerebus reflected the feelings I had toward the mistress I had at the time Deni and I got married.”

Wedding present, remember? Incidentally, Sim’s intro also tells all the Jaka fans who “want to know what issue the wedding takes place” to “lay off, or I’ll drop her out of a tall building.”

Sim, who would later refer to divorce as “the excision of a five-to-six- foot leech from the surface of a human body.”

Like I said, maybe the saddest thing I’ve ever heard.

Meta-post: Because you demanded it

A number of you have flatteringly asked us to post more on the Cereblog– or rather, faster– and Leigh and I have listened!  We’re now going to be alternating issues, meaning that we’ll be covering to be at least two issues of Cerebus per week.  That doesn’t mean that we can’t weigh in on every issue, just that it won’t be mandatory.  And that we’ll be moving twice as fast for your reading enjoyment.  See how you like the change, and feel free to weigh in if you have any thoughts.