this is cerebus.
for those of you who do not know who cerebus is, here is a brief summary:
cerebus is an aardvark. he is also the central character of the comic book series which bears his name, and which ran for 300 issues over roughly 25 years and was collected in 16 volumes (affectionately nicknamed ‘phonebooks’) which greedily inhabit a solid foot and a half of shelf space.
cerebus was written by dave sim and it occupies a particularly peculiar place in comic book history. it is one of the greatest achievements of the art-form, combining literary pastiche, satire, philosophical treatise, belly-busting humour and exquisite, groundbreaking draughtsmanship (aided by gerhard’s background artwork which began to appear part of the way through the church and state storyline).
it was also completely mental. sim struggled with an assortment of mental conditions and over the course of the comic’s run developed some rather reprehensible views on women, homosexuality, politics and religion, not to mention taking in the odd divorce and drug-induced bouts of paranoia and megalomania.
and all of it made it into the book.
and yet, despite all of that, i still think it is brilliant.
i won’t delve any deeper other than to suggest that anyone with any interest in the subject should check out tim kreider’s excellent essay in the comics journal 301 (this article, partially reproduced here, hits the proverbial nail precisely on the head), as well as tim callahan’s articles here and here, and douglas wolk’s piece in the believer for mcsweeneys. if you think it sounds interesting then start saving and, yes, do read it from the beginning (that sense of duty to the work will stand you in good stead for future issues).
only here’s the thing: i never finished it.
i got all the way to the final volume, the last day, number 16 of 16 and... i couldn’t do it. part of it was no doubt the fact that, like much of the later volumes, it contained page after unforgiving page of barely decipherable text that i knew, again from my experience of recent volumes, was going to be largely bat-shit, box-of-frogs lunacy with smatterings of unquestionable genius. but the main reason was that i just couldn’t let the little fella go. i knew how it was going to end (and it is telegraphed early on in the series, arguably rendering its actual taking place twenty years later even more remarkable), but i just couldn’t bring myself to do it, to draw that curtain on something that had become something of an obsession for me; some of those volumes were extremely rare and had cost me far more than i should have reasonably allowed myself to pay to get hold of.
that was about 4 years ago. today i pulled it off the shelf, far more tattered and worn than any of the other volumes (i carried it around in my bag like an a4 albatross for many months, intending to get going on it as soon as i finished whatever i was reading at the time). i’ve just read dave’s introduction and he assures me he has stumbled upon a unifying theory of everything and that it lies within these beautifully drawn 250 pages, and that the only reason the scientific community has not bowed down to him in worship is that he is an anti-feminist comic book artist, shunned and exiled by nearly everybody in his field for his views.
the scary thing is that i think he means every word.