Reading Cerebus.

My project for this summer is going to be reading the entire 300 issue, 6000 page run of Dave Sim’s Cerebus.

It’s something I’ve been meaning to do for a couple of years, basically since the series wrapped up and I found myself wondering how Dave wound up in the place he did - both narratively and personally. I never got around to it because, well, it’s really frickin’ hard to get your hands on 300 issues of ANY comic - much less one that has been independently published with relatively limited runs for three decades. I spent a haphazard year or so trying to collect the actual issues (because the collected trades are missing a fair amount of the letters and comments that “fleshed out” the quality - good or bad - of many of the latter issues) - diving into quarter bins at comic shops I came across, perusing eBay late at night looking for decent runs. All in all, what I managed to pick up was disappointingly scattered, so I finally caved and picked up the full run of “phone book” collections.

So I now have what amounts to one man’s life’s work, ready and waiting. Just having them all in a row on a shelf makes the scope of Sim’s (and his artistic partner Gerhard’s) efforts immediately impressive. For most artists, 2-3 pages of output per day is an impressive clip. Sim wrote and illustrated at roughly that pace, non-stop for THIRTY YEARS. Here are six thousand pages of continuous narrative. Each page hand drawn, hand lettered, self-published and sold. 6000 pages of art and story. Shakespeare managed to generate less than 2,000 pages of work over the course of his entire life.

Now, I’ve read the accolades and the warnings that accompany the complete work and I fully expect to find plenty of strange territory during the back third of the series. Still, I feel like I need to have the whole story under my belt.

Cerebus - as a character - has been somewhere on my radar since my early adolescence when he first popped up in the 8th issue of the old Mirage Comics Eastman and Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The story provided no background on the barbarian aardvark that suddenly appeared. As there was no internet to utilize at that point and I lived in a sufficiently isolated area that it wasn’t really feasible to try and find any issues of the proper Cerebus comic, I read the stories and generally ignored Cerebus’ back story.

Some years later, at the height of the mid-90s “speculators bubble,” Cerebus popped up in an issue of Todd McFarlane’s Spawn - again with no context or background provided. This time, however, I DID have access to a decent comic shop and was able to get my hands on a few issues of the book. My memory of the issues I found was that they were an even mix of really funny, interesting writing and TONS of long, meandering letters and essays from Sim. On a page for page basis, some issues seemed to be more external commentary than actual story. Needless to say, my Image-addled 16 year old brain had a hard time staying focused. So my first real brush with Cerebus was a bit of a non-start.

Every now and then throughout college, I would pick up an issue or two but, while the artwork had become nothing short of stunning, it was hard to get “into” the story without the benefit of any of the prior narrative. A couple of years back, I actually read a fair chunk of Church and State and really enjoyed it, so I’m definitely excited about getting back to that story arc and seeing how it plays out in the end.

So now, two decades after I first stumbled across him in a Ninja Turtle book, I’m going to give the aardvark his due. My plan is to read each of the sixteen “phone books” and then comment on them individually as I finish them. I’ve actually finished the first book already, but will do a separate write-up on that later.

Comments (1) to “Reading Cerebus.”

  1. If you want someone to correspond with, I’ve been hoping to re-read myself.