Archive for April, 2009

on covers

I want to make a quick observation about the development of Dave’s covers across the last 10 issues. In a period of about 18 months, he’s gone through a wide variety of styles and experiments, to varying success:
covers

Issue #10 strikes me as a step forward. Maybe it’s the palette of secondary and tertiary colors, or the seemingly-difficult gradients of green and brown in the right-hand wall… It also helps that Dave has chosen a pose for Sophia where he can draw her confidently, without the awkward renderings that still plague his human characters in the interior.

issue10-cover

As you can see from the cover “matrix” up top, Dave was playing with “design-y” covers since almost the very beginning, although at the moment he seems to have settled into a more conventional “complex action pose” motif.

Considering these covers are a rare opportunity to see Dave work in color, and they’re largely lost to the world that now encounters Cerebus in the phone books (which even have B&W covers until halfway through the series), I hope we can continue to address them as we go, watching the evolution of Dave’s design instincts as well as the growth of printing technology.

Please! Kill him but let me go: Laura on #10

Cerebus #10: Merchant of Unshib!
June 1979- July 1979

issue-10-05-swirlyCerebus begins this issue suddenly lost in the middle a snowstorm; after the loss of his army and position in the previous issue, he decided to head towards Iest despite a week-long blizzard that has killed over 500, and here we are. If yet another abrupt shift into a Totally Different Situation from where we saw him last seems a bit regressive — particularly after multiple issues of connected plots — that’s because it is. Two steps forward, one step back.

issue-10-05-sophiaWe are treated to several pages of trudging as the aardvark’s steely resolve and “piston-like” legs push ever forward after the tracks of delicious animals that might sustain him. Tired, wounded from previous battles, and hungry, Cerebus is skirting the edge of desperation when he finds that the tracks of his prey end suddenly in a smattering of blood…

…because Red Sophia got it first! Cerebus’ least favorite warrior woman shows up looking hale and hearty, and still wearing her trademark chain-mail bikini even in the middle of the blizzard. It’s pretty ridiculous, but then scantily-clad heroines almost always are, though arctic climes tend to exaggerate the effect as artists still refuse to cover them up, even if (in real life) exposure would probably kill them.

There has been debate in the realm of superhero comics, particularly among female fans, about the costumes that heroines wear, and whether they are unnecessarily provocative (yup!) and whether that undermines the characters, which is more debatable. My main objection has always been a more utilitarian one: They look really freaking cold. I have terrible blood circulation and staying warm is a constant issue for me, so when I see a character like Psylocke get dropped into the Siberia in a glorified swimsuit (see: X-Men Vol. 2 #16-18) it is not unlike watching someone get kicked in the crotch.

(For the love of God, wear pants!)

But there the bare-legged, bare-armed, bare-bellied Sophia stands, seemingly impervious to the snow whipping around her while Cerebus teeters on the verge of collapsing. She offers him food and shelter, but since her mere presence still makes Cerebus revert to the emotional age of five, he basically stamps his feet and crosses his arms and refuses everything she offers despite barely being able to stand. He’s essentially reacting the same as he did when she offered him sex in previous issues, which makes me wonder whether he secretly wanted that too, but refused to acknowledge it with anything besides pigtail-pulling and cootie accusations.

issue-10-06-bunnySophia finally manages to get his attention by mentioning a valuable magical doodad called the Black Lotus Blossom that she plans to steal, but first we need to pause because: Is she shoving the rabbit into her loincloth here? Because it really looks like she is. Maybe her hoo-hoo is a pocket dimension and/or functions like the inventory used to in old adventure games like Space Quest where you could pick up a ladder and shove it into your pocket. Either way, seeing those ears disappear into her undies is easily the most disturbing image in the series so far.

Sim then treats us to a quick Wikipedia-esque panel about the backstory of Black Lotus Blossom, which is basically that it once was lost, but has now been found. Red Sophia makes another pass at Cerebus, who acts unbearably put-upon, declaring when Sophia begs for the touch of man that “Cerebus isn’t a man… Cerebus is an aardvark!” We the readers still don’t know quite what that means – and Sim doesn’t seem to either – so it’s hard to blame Sophia for miscategorizing.

issue-10-16-thoughtThere’s some more texty exposition about how the Black Lotus Blossom, which Sophia narrates while hugging and licking Cerebus, but it boils down to the fact that a merchant has it, and they’re going to take it from him. Sophia’s ineffective seduction is interrupted by Meirgen, a jeweller’s son who sold the Lotus without realizing its value and is now giving Sophia intel in return for theoretical sexual favors. He’s yet another run-of-the-mill idiot who is almost totally inconsequential, except that he sets up several jokes and exposes the more calculating side of Red Sophia, who manipulates him very openly with her feminine wiles.

When the three head out to hijack their prize, they find that the merchant holding the Lotus has hired some very formidable Tcapmin border guards to protect him. So formidable, in fact, that when one guard named Throgo stumbles onto the group, even Cerebus thinks it wiser to give him a cut than try to take him down, and so Throgo signs on with the party.

Red Sophia (who thought bubbled “Please! Kill [Cerebus] but let me go! Oh please please!” when her life was in danger) quickly shifts her favor over to Throgo, compelling evidence that her “love” of Cerebus was probably opportunism all along. Her affections seem to belong to whoever the strongest man in the room is, no matter who it is – or whether it’s a man at all.issue-10-23-they-changed-me

Cerebus ends up having the last laugh and out-manipulating Sophia and everyone else, something he likes to do to dullards on a regular basis. He borrows Throgo’s furs, rushes into the camp of the other Tcapmin guards shouting that a sorcerers have transformed him (Throgo!) into an animal, and sabotaged the bridge they were about to cross. He sends the mercenaries to attack the rest of his party, takes the Lotus from the now-defenseless merchant and strolls off into the blizzard again.

Because Cerebus is kind of a jerk, and he loves money and valuable magical knick-knacks, and other well-established truisms of this series, because right now we’re just killing time. Like most filler, this issue is vaguely unsatisfying and utterly forgettable, telling us things we already know in unremarkable ways, and leaving us at the end in almost the exact same place where we started.

“Put a few kinks in their pseudopods”: Leigh on Cerebus #9

Cerebus #9
“Swords Against Imesh”
April-May 1979

issue-09-01-opening

With the first page of this one, we’re seeing exactly the sort of politically-themed humor that will dominate future issues. The lieutenant wants to talk economics, but “Cerebus doesn’t care.” When pressed, he resorts to the classic “Don’t worry about that now[;] Cerebus has an important job for you…” oh gosh, even more important than economics? A real pressing emergency that the boss has specially delegated to me! what an honor! “sir?” “tell the troops to shut up.” We’ll see plenty of this, as Cerebus attempts to flee/ignore his responsibilities — both manipulating others and being manipulated himself. It’s an interesting exchange, because it positions him simultaneously as an idiot (desperate to avoid at all costs the actual hard work of administration, to the long-term detriment of his people and probably himself) and as extremely clever — the short-term “winner” of the conversation at hand. I admit I’m contaminated by future issues, but nevertheless the “witty idiot” character strikes me as very Marxian.

So we’re attacking Imesh, a name I have a hard time taking seriously since it’s also an old P2P client that hosted my first-ever encounter with file-sharing piracy at a friend’s house back in high school. It’s the “port city” Cerebus mentioned in his battle plan last issue — the issue-to-issue continuity continues to grow. It’s also, according to Dave’s Swords notes from 1981, “the city of Cerebus’ adolescent years, the place where he studied magic under Magus Doran and first learned to drink, gamble, and raise hell.”

issue-09-06-sedra

Considering how ambiguous some of Dave’s letterforms are (D/P and G/S being the most troublesome pairs), it’s unfortunate to have a character named “Sedra” when we’ve already had the “Sepran Empire”… I honestly thought she said “Sepra has the information you seek” for a minute. Also, can we please stop referring to ourselves in the third person?

King K’Cor explains the Clever Evil Racket by which he rules the city of Imesh, and for a moment we’re in an awkward anti-drug allegory. Well, not an allegory, because they really are using drugs. But K’Cor helpfully anticipates the standard way this story would go — the visiting barbarian rouses the slaves into a rebellion — giving Cerebus an opportunity to deflate those expectations and admit he has no interest in recruiting or liberating such lame followers. In response, K’Cor leaps into another cliché: he will allow Cerebus to challenge him, king to king, winner takes all. And he has stacked the deck.

Jumping to conclusions like this, K’Cor is really just a slightly more articulate version of Elrod, blended with a bit of the religious fanaticism of the Pigts. And the recycling doesn’t stop there — I’m actually kind of stunned that Dave is pulling out the Ball of Wite-Out monster again, calling it something different, and acting as though this isn’t identical to the “Eye of Terim” from issue #2. He even has Cerebus recall an encounter with these creatures “in his youth,” pointedly implying that our hero hasn’t seen these things in a while… which is just weird.

issue-09-14-witeout-fight

Of course, Dave has improved in the year since issue #2. This battle is more visually engaging than the previous one — we get to see some fun “strobing” effects, with Sim going beyond the panellessness of prior fight scenes to literally having multiple Cerebuses in a single spread, captured in several moments like an animator’s model sheet or a Marey chronophotograph. Also, Dave is simply drawing more confidently. Most of the backup characters are still iffy, but he’s drawn Cerebus enough times that he’s starting to get a solid feel for how he looks and moves.

More interesting than Dave’s artistic growth is the narration during this fight, which appears to be self-aware: “Though his coordination is better, though he is faster than he was in those days long gone…” might apply just as much to the creator as to the creation. “He curses the fates for his slow-healing back wound, reopened by the globe… he is past the globes, exhaustion feeding on every fibre of his being! Blinking the sweat from his eyes, he scans the corridor before him…” And with that, a page turn, and we are past the globes. I wonder whether Dave’s back felt sore drawing that sequence, and whether he finished it in exhaustion and turned with sweaty gratitude to the next page. Possibly not, as apparently Deni spotted the blacks on that entire sequence all by herself, which suggests it was actually one of the least labor-intensive scenes for Dave (again from the 1981 Swords intro). Still, it jumped out at me, as reluctant as I am to read everything through the autobiographical lens (he makes it so tempting!).

issue-09-16-bugs-bunny

Onto the Panrovian fight, which is yet another installment of Cerebus has a comically easy time overcoming an overzealous opponent. The Bugs-Bunny-style moment where he pops around behind the guy is pretty funny, and it’s an interesting variation on the fish-out-of-water theme: Cerebus’ supercompetence is, in this case, so absolute that he’s operating by a different set of laws, not only behaviorally but also physically “breaking the rules” of high fantasy. But he ends the fight far more bloodily than Bugs Bunny ever could.

A bit of tonal whiplash, then, as we go from solemn globe fight to goofy Panrovian fight to solemn king fight. Somehow the mix works; I’m never sure whether to expect silly or serious from any given page, but the transitions seem surprisingly natural, and I could accept either at any time.

The 5-page fight with King K’Cor is pretty involving. Sim’s captions are over the top, but he’s built up Cerebus’ exhaustion enough (and drawn the armored K’Cor scary enough) that I accept there’s some serious danger here.

issue-09-20-spread

Why are the panels symmetrical in this spread? Why not?

Finally, after a gripping battle narrative, in which Cerebus overcomes adversity and is just about to triumph — K’Cor calls it off and tells Cerebus he doesn’t want to play anymore. “You are no longer of interest to me” — now who’s irrelevant? And to top it off, he’s got an Adrian-Veidt-style announcement that completely takes the wind out of Cerebus’ sails. Just when you thought it was safe to assume Cerebus was moving up in the world… I’m not sure I buy our hero breaking into a “a protracted, piercing cry” — maybe it’s less a “sob” and more an “aargh” — but it’s a neat little ending.