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.

18 Responses to “More or less a cautionary tale: Laura on #6”


  1. 1 Frank Cifaldi February 20, 2009 at 3:35 pm

    Having only read these early issues in phonebook form, I really appreciate the context you guys are giving with the supplemental material like Deni’s introduction. Without that I’d probably trail away from this blog eventually, but because of its inclusion I can see myself staying through to the end.

  2. 2 ian johnson February 20, 2009 at 10:44 pm

    Hey Laura.
    Just wanted to say that I think you guys are doing really well with this–I know you’ve got an everlasting comic con hangover (and how come we didn’t see each other when you were here, huh??) and i appreciate your dedication.

    how many years did it take me to convince you to read cerebus? two? three?

  3. 3 mantichore February 21, 2009 at 12:23 am

    You can get Freudian about the tail-kick if you have to, but it seems a bit silly: the guy annoys Cerebus, so he gets poked hard in his belly, without Cerebus bothering to turn around, the way he had used his snout to punch someone or other in the face before.

    The gag is that Cerebus dismisses the guy, er… off-handedly. And this is the best way to do it visually. A kick with either foot would have been awkward to draw, a punch would have required too much movement from Cerebus. A swipe with the tail would require a much longer tail.

    Mind you, from my recollections, the use of snout and tail will soon be phased out of the series, leaving them as mere visuals with no practical use (except for a gag with a sneeze, much later on).

  4. 4 aintmsbtraven February 21, 2009 at 5:54 pm

    I couldn’t agree more with your approach to Cerebus Laura! It really is a massive post-modern autobiography (with huge chunks of input from other sources–especially Deni, whose contributions are not forgotten–at least by me!–after the “excision”), mediated through a variety of genre and subculture/fandom tropes!

    thanks for that youtube link too! Can’t wait to sit down and watch the whole thing!

    Dave

  5. 5 Leigh Walton February 21, 2009 at 7:04 pm

    Whatever. It’s totally a tail-boner.

  6. 6 Matthew J. Brady February 22, 2009 at 12:50 pm

    There’s at least one other tail-as-boner gag in the series, during (I think) High Society, in which Cerebus is wearing uncomfortable formal clothes, and when he sees a woman with huge cleavage, his pants rip and his tail sticks out the front, causing her to faint. So this take on it isn’t totally without merit.

  7. 7 CCBC February 23, 2009 at 3:52 am

    Thanks for the Deni interview. What’s really sad is that this is still the high point of her life. The fact is, Deni was a lousy publisher — I’m sure she was and is good at many things, but comics publishing was not one of them. Still, because Dave was doing the comic, Deni had to do something with it. Dave commented on this (he didn’t say she was a lousy publisher, that’s me) in one of the phone books. He said I was doing this so we thought Deni should be doing that and we were wrong (I’ll find that exact quote later when this becomes more important). My wife and I went through something similar. One of us was doing something so the other felt it was necessary to be involved. Fortunately, we grew out of that or otherwise we wouldn’t still be married.

  8. 8 aintmsbtraven February 23, 2009 at 8:09 am

    I’m not in any position to evaluate Deni’s skills as a publisher–but I think her text contributions to the early issues of the series are invaluable!

  9. 9 Jeff Tundis February 28, 2009 at 1:37 pm

    Glad to see the interview Margaret and I did with Deni put to good use:)

    Given the time frame and the “newness” of what she and Dave were trying to do, I think she’s pretty impressive as a self-taught publisher. In that regard, as a publisher, a higher point may have been Renegade Press which was her baby.

    I agree Leigh, that’s totally a boner gag. But it’s kind of “hidden” because it’s also a variation on the earth pig snout punch. A tail punch. Stupid and clever at the same time;^D

    As Matthew Brady said, there was another boner gag in issue #59, which you can see here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LZrhkRv0g7s at the 1:39 mark. It wasn’t the woman’s breasts that caused the pants to rip, but the resulting visual’s intent is obvious:)

    I also agree that reading Deni’s intro is sad. Dave has retconned a lot of his reasoning behind his earlier decision making process, but this one rings true to me.

    Maybe not *totally* bizarre in the context of an open marriage, though.

  10. 10 CCBC February 28, 2009 at 3:43 pm

    Maybe we can discuss Renegade Press a few score issues along — I didn’t think it was a high point, more a rapid downward trajectory.
    Incidentally, Deni talked about some of her adventures in publishing in a book of collected essays on comics creators’ significant others. It was titled something like I Had To Live With Him and, when it came out, people focused on Deni and Dave, but there was a lot more to the book than that — or at least, so I recall.

  11. 11 Jeff Tundis February 28, 2009 at 6:54 pm

    Well, I didn’t mean to imply that she was financially successful as a publisher with Renegade. Obviously, the company is no longer around. I meant as a personal high point for her because of her control and investment in the project. I’m sure it was an adventure no matter the outcome.

    I do know the book you mean. I Have To Live With This Guy! by Blake Bell. Nice guy. I’ve spoken with him several times. He also put out an excellent book recently on Steve Ditko called Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko.

  12. 12 Leigh Walton February 28, 2009 at 7:06 pm

    Jeff, your point about open marriages is worth considering — and I don’t think there’s much point in trying to judge Dave’s or Deni’s behavior on this issue. Except that, as Laura pointed out, it makes the whole issue feel really depressing.

    That feeling was compounded when I saw the inside back cover of the very next issue (#7 was released immediately after the wedding). Apparently this Hitchens is not the girlfriend, but her relative? Still: weird.

  13. 13 Jeff Tundis February 28, 2009 at 7:35 pm

    Right, Sarah Hitchens was the maker of the Cerebus dolls. So, maybe Sally (?) was her sister or something? I really have no idea.

    (I’m guessing Sally because in Dave Note From The President in issue #114 he traces Jaka’s origins “from Deni’s wedding present to what I felt for Sally to the lingering allure of Lynn.”)

  14. 14 CCBC February 28, 2009 at 8:34 pm

    I Have To Live With This Guy! by Blake Bell
    That’s the book, Jeff! Been a long time since I’ve read it but I think it has stuff of interest to any comics reader. Since you got the title up I googled a little and Hunt Emerson has some comments on the book. When it first came out there was a letter in Cerebus from someone who (IIRC) said it was a feminist attack and quoted some line of Deni’s about Dave. Dave said something to the effect of “Get over it. That was a long time ago.” Thing is, the book was written by a man, may or may not have been feminist, and wasn’t a particularly nasty attack on Dave. Deni mostly talked about her own trials as a publisher.

  15. 16 Leigh Walton March 1, 2009 at 12:05 pm

    Here’s an interesting question: Is Jaka the first character aside from Cerebus who’s not an idiot?

  16. 17 Jeff Tundis March 1, 2009 at 10:04 pm

    Mmmm… no. I would argue that Henrot is not an idiot. Eccentric, yes, but not an idiot. And Bran… but that comes later.

    Here’s another question. Jaka and Cerebus. What other characters (besides brainless oafs like Klog and Thugg) refer to themselves in the third person?

  17. 18 Eric May 20, 2009 at 12:07 pm

    I think Dave’s comments on Jaka from Cerebus 114 and later comments speak volumes about his changing view of women in general; she goes from being on a “higher rung of the karmic ladder” to being an “aristocratic airhead.” That being said, Dave was correct when he later stated that there was a moment when he had Cerebus realize that he knew nothing about Jaka; Jaka pre-Going Home was perhaps a romanticized view, where post-Going Home she became de-romanticized, perhaps too much. Reading Jaka’s Story together with Going Home is a schizophrenic experience. It’s a bit difficult to believe this is the same woman. While she achieves a bit of depth, it is to the expense of consistency of character. Then again, much time has passed, and people change, which is perhaps one of Cerebus’ great themes: Cerebus undergoes major changes, so too do Bran McMufin, Rick, Jaka, and so on. So too did Dave Sim, for that matter.


Leave a Reply