Note: I have not re-read the previous issues of 'Latter Days' much less the previous volumes, so what follows is a first impression of how Cerebus #300 strikes me. I am probably making all sorts of mistakes, particularly in my interpretation of the cryptic final sequence.
Cerebus is now old and decrepit, holed up in a palatial compound and almost unable to rise from his bed. ('Why does Cerebus feel the urge to say 'Rosebud' '?) Cirin, the female aardvark, is still alive, and has used genetic engineering to clone a baby from Cerebus' son, Shepreth. The baby is half-human and half-lion, and will in the future be worshipped by a race called Egyptians. (I am slightly confused by the fact that we now have many references to real-world races and religions: Jews; Moslems, Egyptians. 150 issues ago, when Dave was incorporating Oscar Wilde's last days into his narrative, he carefully changed words like 'Catholic' in Oscar's biography for terms which had a meaning in the Cerebus imagined-universe, such as 'Orthodox Tarimite.' My assumption is that when Cerebus met 'Dave' in a previous volume, Dave made alterations to his world. This is one of many things that may make more sense on a re-reading) Cerebus, of course, regards this creature, his grandson, as an abomination. At the end of # 299 he picked up a sword and announced his intention to kill them both.
This was a little trick for the benefit of those of us who have read the comic from the beginning: as he said 'Cerebus will kill them both…. nay, Cerebus will dismember them first' we were intended to think 'At last…the old Cerebus, Cerebus the barbarian, has come back.' Cerebus's picking up his sword may even have reminded us of the classic 'Night Before' sequence in 'High Society' where Jaka, Cerebus first love, brings his old sword to him to remind him how much he has changed since he put it aside and became a sophisticate. The fact that this possibility is left hanging in the air between issues gives the lie to the theory that Sim now conceives the comic purely as a graphic novel, and that it doesn't work in monthly format. The rhythm is still very much a sequence of 20 page segments, and we are intended to pause after last issue's 'cliffhanger' ('Cerebus will kill them both') before reading this issue's, inevitable, come down.
Of course, Cerebus is too old to go back to being a warrior. The viewpoint changes. Last issue we had an angry Cerebus looking out of the page at us; the first panel of this issue has us looking at him from above. (That will turn out to be significant.) Cerebus looks entirely ridiculous, standing on a bed in striped pajama pants, holding a sword aloft. His hamstring goes and he falls from the bed, stumbles over a chair, and end up lying on his back on the floor.
This is a good example of the extent to which the comic has ceased to be about the tale, and become about the manner of its telling. The whole issue can be summarized as follows 'Cerebus falls from the chair, and dies. The end.' The point, if there is one, is to play with our perception of that event and it's significance. The fall from the chair alone takes four pages! If you read comic for 'the story', give up now. The point is to play with time; to give us four pages to pause and think that this is how Cerebus—warrior, prime minister, pope, religious leader—finally meets his end. And also, I think, for just the sheer joy of pulling motion apart and presenting it back to us in an unfamiliar way.
These pages are, significantly, told in a pretty standard grid of panels, calling to mind, say, Watchmen and the classic Ditko Spider Man. We're being asked to focus on what is in the panels, not the shape of the panels themselves. If you read comics at all, you are conditioned to see this kind of grid as 'invisible', and just perceive a sequence of pictures, without regard to the overall shape of the page. On page 1, the three key speech bubbles ('ow' 'Cerebus' 'hamstring') are placed on the borders between the panels, not in the panels themselves. As is now standard, they are detached from Cerebus head (no arrow or rows of dots). This may possibly be intended to make us aware of the panel grid, and remind us that we are reading a comic. It also makes us perceive time at a double pace: we hear him say 'Ow, Cerebus hamstring' in real time, and then watch him fall in excruciating slow motion.
There are no motion lines, and no real sense of action in this sequence: in fact, at two points (panel 3 on page 2, and panel 2 on page 3) Cerebus looks frozen in space and you might have to look twice to see what is actually happening. Our viewpoint circles around him, so we see him first from the left, then from the right (in silhouette, because he is between us and a lamp—(hold that thought)) and finally from behind. Panels 5 and 7 on page 3 are, so far as I can see, the same image, so that one particular moment has been frozen for three panels; half a page. Panel 5 has a large sound effect: 'Fart'. Panel 7 is the same image, in close up, with Cerebus thinking 'Thank you'. The moment that's been frozen is the last one before he hits the ground. (He starts to say 'God' but his head hits the floor before he says it; represented by a speech balloon in which the last letter 'd' is partially erased: a good, if trivial, example of how Sim uses lettering and balloons to represent speech visually.) The final two panels of page 4 show Cerebus from above, lying flat on his face, arms outspread. There is a spotlight illuminating his right foot and tail, but we probably miss that the first time we read it.
Mention should here be made of the fact that this whole sequence wouldn't work without the almost fanatical attention to detail of Dave's collaborator, Gerhard, who seems able to create 3D spaces for Cerebus to inhabit and draw them with an architect's accuracy. The shadows and the silhouette simply wouldn't work without this element. I don't know how he does it.
We have known for a very long time that Cerebus would die in #300: the question has always been 'how'? The point of these panels is that he dies in an utterly trivial way, but that that trivial death is treated as if it were awesomely significant.
Pages 1-4 conform to Scott McCloud's definition, that a comic strip uses space to represent time. These pages shift into a rather different mode. They are not actually about anything: no time passes: nothing happens. This, the first big change of tone in the issue, is signaled by a change of panel size and layout. There are 15 small square panels on pages 5 and 6 and 24 even smaller ones on page 7. (This is about as small as a comic panel can go.) Each panel contains an image (I assume a photostat) of Cerebus as he was at some point in the past: the drunken Cerebus in on a sofa from 'Mind games II'; Cerebus in a cap as a small child; Cerebus with shield and horned helmet from one of the very early issues, and so on. A very large image of Cerebus crumpled body, from the present, is superimposed across page 5, violating the rigid panel grid of the page. Every two or three panels, this present day image of Cerebus is repeated, at various levels of close up. On page 5 we zoom into a close-up of Cerebus eye; page 6 repeats this image several times; page 6 we zoom in even closer, and see (if I've got this right) his pupil getting larger.
How do we read this? Do we run our eye along each panel in term, pausing and thinking 'can I identify the source of that scene?' Or do we just take each page as a whole and register them as 'Lots of different images of Cerebus'? The close-up of his eyes, inter-cut with the flashbacks, tell us, I suppose that 'Cerebus' life is flashing before his eyes.' But I think that Dave is actually directing this section at the reader: dredging up a sequence of memories of the comic; what happened in previous issues; and where we were when we first read them. It's a kind of visual analogue to the recapitulation of leitmotifs in Siegfried's funeral march. It's a weird experience, I can tell you: Pope Cerebus; that was when I was at college; fat Cerebus, I remember picking that up in Bristol F.P and reading it in the Boston: it's almost as if my life were flashing before my eyes. We are also likely to be surprised to be reminded how many different visualizations of the earth pig there have been over the years. Eisner called comics 'sequential art', but there is really no sequence to this section. Scott McCloud says that the essence of a comic is that the reader fills in the gap between the panels; but nothing happens between the panels here. (The scenes are not presented in any kind of chronological order.) Arguably, nothing happens on these pages apart from what may happens in the memory of the person reading it. The whole sequence happens in a split second 'gap' between the end of page 4 and the beginning of page 8, as if Dave were saying 'He's fallen…he's dead…now: stop, remember, pause…and then continue.'
We are still looking at a sequence of oblong panels, but the grid is breaking down. There is absolutely no reason why Dave couldn't have returned to the 3 by 3 grid for this sequence: the fact that he chooses to draw five horizontal panels on page 8 must be deliberate: an intentional varying of the pace at which we read the comic. I often find myself experiencing a largely wordless comic book like this as a series of beats or pulses. I think you spend less time looking at small panels than at big ones, so the rhythm is kind of: 'QUICK: 24 small panels, SLOW: 5 big panels.'
On page 8, Cerebus is still lying on his face, and the light is still shining on his feet. We zoom again into close up, and 'pan' slightly backwards. Sim loves to create an image and make us look at it from various angles. (The whole of 'Mind games II' was a collage of a single image of Cerebus, repeated over and over.) The image of the dead Cerebus is, after all, one Dave wants us to remember.
In the final panels of page 8 an abstract shape has been drawn behind Cerebus head. We probably think that it is a whisp of smoke. But on page 9, we see that it is Cerebus' own feet, drawn in outline and transparent. Comic books have their own vocabulary and just as we know without being told that a spiky speech balloon represents someone shouting, we know that this represents a ghost or an ectoplasmic form. Cerebus is dead.
In panel 2 of page 9, Cerebus looks at his hand: in panel 3, we are looking at Cerebus' hand, from his point of view. This is actually a bit of a cliché, like pinching yourself in a dream to see if you are awake; almost the sort of thing I could imagine in a Mickey Mouse cartoon: looking through your hand and realizing you are a ghost. Sim's striking twist is that Cerebus sees his own body through his ethereal had. In panel 9, Cerebus turns his back on his body and starts to walk away in an exaggerated tiptoe movement—another cartoony scene. Cerebus started life as a 'cartoon character in a realistic world' and that is how he is ending up.
The image Sim chooses for the ghostly Cerebus is the one out of 'High Society', with black waistcoat and medallions, (and both ears intact). This is how he is represented in the life size cuddly toy that one of my college pals made for my 25th birthday, and which has followed me to every flat I've lived in since. Sim may complain about people who prefer the 'older, funnier' episodes of the comic, but it is this is the 'classic' image that he still defaults to.
In the final panel, the spotlight that we have seen on pages 4 and 8 shines in Cerebus face….
….and the comic explodes. The grid structure is abandoned, in favour of two big panels on page 10, three on page 11, and a single image spread across the whole of pages 12 and 13. On a first reading, we probably pass over these three pages in about the same time it took us to read page 1; on a re-reading, we might pore over the spread for several minutes. The abandoning of regular panels are a visual analogue for Cerebus' change of state: he is dead, and can 'step outside of the frame'. The fact that the panels are now irregular draws our attention to them: we are much more aware that we are reading a comic book, and much more aware of the hand of the author-artist.
On pages 10 and 11, the spotlight follows the ghost of Cerebus around his room, seeming to strike him with force on panel 1. Over the first four panels, the room that Gerhard has so meticulously drawn is 'grey-ed out' with a series of fine white lines; as if the 'real world' is fading away. The final big panel on page 11 has us standing behind Cerebus; he has his back to us, and we are looking directly into the light. (The image on page 2 of him silhouetted between us and a bedside lamp may have been a set-up with this as a pay-off).
On pages 12 and 13, Sim pulls off his final, audacious viewpoint shift. We have effectively rotated by 180 degrees, and are now at the other end of the 'tunnel of light' looking down on Cerebus—as we were in the first panel of the issue. Two-thirds of the spread is un-shaded line drawings—possibly un-inked pencils—depicting a huge crowd of pretty much everyone from Cerebus' supporting cast over the last 26 years. At the top-right quarter of the page is a fully inked circular section, looking straight down at Cerebus' room, with the earth-pig a tiny figure looking up into the light. The characters are beckoning him to come on down the tunnel of light and join them: Elrond holding his sword aloft, Moon Roach gesturing with those boxing glove mittens. Sophia is having some kind of row with her mother, and at the bottom center of the first page, Astoria has her back to him and is looking at us. As a curtain call, a last reminder of characters we used to love, this is a great goodbye present from Sim to his dedicated readership. But the viewpoint trick of putting us at the end of the tunnel of light (rather than doing the obvious and showing it from Cerebus' point of view) should install this sequence of one of the classic moment in comics' history. It needs a 'who's who' guide, like the Sgt Pepper cover, which it vaguely remained me of.
But Dave has another trick or two up his sleeve. We now come to one of those 'ideology forcibly invades the comic, and we don't mind too much because he's a genius' moments.
Cerebus is now looking into the light, and we see three figures: Jaka, his first and only true love; Ham and Bear, two of his 'guy' friends. They weren't in the tableau, but they are beckoning him on as well. The focus is on Jaka, who may be smiling or crying.
Cerebus, still at the other end of the tunnel, flicks a small object which look like a funnel or the nipple of a babies bottle from his left hand into his right, changes his clothes (a sort of parody of the standard Clerk Kent to Superman transition), says the words 'RABH! RABBI!' and runs directly towards us, (and, I think, away from the spotlight). He is wearing the stereotypical clothes of an orthodox  Jew. The object he has flicked away, I realized on the third reading is (no, really) his foreskin.
Digression: The Rabbi thing is the most recent example of the weird dream logic which has informed Cerebus almost from the beginning. Cerebus' world has always been populated by parodies of characters from other comics and popular fiction who merge in illogical ways. Of course Red Sonja's s mum is the old lady from the Giles cartoons; of course Groucho Marx is head of a renaissance city-state. 'Rabbi' represents the collision of 3 ideas:
1: An off-hand remark on the letters-pages that comics fans treat comics as holy texts and the creators as sacred authorities; 'Rabbi Mark's commentary on Rabbi Stan's interpretation of Rabbi Jack's work.' This was a very good joke.
2: A gag about Preacher: Cerebus is reading a 'comic' which he knows must be great literature because lots of people get killed in interesting ways. The title of the comic is 'Rabbi'.
3: The observation, which a lot of people seem to have arrived at simultaneously, that all the major founders of the comic-book industry were American (mainly New York) Jews: Stanley Martin Lieber, Jacob Kurtzburg and Joe Simon, Wil Eisner, Jerry Siegal and Joseph Schuster.  Once you have seen this point, it becomes painfully obvious that superheroes are a metaphor for the Jewish-American experience—the little guy who punches above his weight, the person persecuted because he is different but who is in a funny way 'chosen' or 'set-apart'. The school-kids' shunning of studious, bespectacled Peter Parker is a none-too thinly disguised metaphor for anti-Semitism; Aunt May is a not-at-all disguised version of the stereotyped Jewish Mother. Stan Lee confirmed the point when he said that Spider Man was the Woody Allen of the superhero world
Leave these to stew in Dave Sim's brain for a year or two, and you end up with an image of a comic book superhero who, instead of dressing in lycra, dresses as an orthodox rabbi and who has secret rabbi-powers; pastiches of famous old comics festooned with Hebrew lettering, and an imprisoned Cerebus imagining or dreaming that he the super heroic 'Rabbi', just as the mad Roach used to think that he was Wolverine, Sandman, or Batman. So what we have in these final pages is Cerebus spirit self turning into the superhero he imagined himself to be while imprisoned.
I think. Like most dreams, it's hard to explain, but makes a sort of sense while you are inside it.
(It is a feature of Sim's genius / madness that such small jokes can become organizing features for the comic, or for his world view. I recall a year or so back a not very funny line in the comic 'Men piss. Women pee' was being hailed in the text as a major insight into the nature of the world, and Sim was asserting that you could tell whether or not to trust a man on the basis of the word he uses to refer to going to the bathroom.)
The final four pages are some of the most cryptic yet and, heartbreakingly, we can't say 'Perhaps it will be explained in a future issue.'
Page 16/17 are a sort of spread; with the tunnel of light shining across the whole two pages from behind. We have a series of images of Cerebus moving across the page as he flies, first into the light, and then away from it. Four of the images have 'frames' around them: the rest are free-floating.
What appears to happen is this: Cerebus, as 'Rabbi', in a Christopher Reeve Superman pose, flies toward the light. Two objects, which may be hands, appear from the top of the page, possibly reaching to grab him. Cerebus appears to stop moving, and think for a second about 'Rick', Jaka's husband who subsequently became a religious prophet—and (if I remember correctly) warned Cerebus among other things that women were no good. Cerebus falls away from the light, grins with embarrassment (an expression he always uses when he has done something wrong) and whispers:
'Psst. God. Help. Help God! The light! The light! Help God! The light has got Cerebus. Help!'
These are the last words spoken in the comic. Page 18 is six panels of Cerebus appearing to run from the light, legs spinning like a Roadrunner character. He ends up gripping the side of the 'tunnel of light' with his fingers, and seeming to slide down it (rather than ascend into it). The final page is six blank panels, with motion lines of Cerebus disappearing and a big sound effect 'Help!' spread across panels 1-3. The last we see is a tiny image of Cerebus' rabbinical hat falling away into the distance. The final page is, typically, a quote from the Book of Maccabees. The end.
(Any other writer would have put the quote in a tiny text box at the end of the final panel: Dave gives us a blank page with a paragraph of printed text at the center. So the claim that he is done 6,000 pages of comics isn't quite true: the final figure might be as low as 5,999.)
What to say about this sequence? Although at one time Dave was talking about male 'lights' and female 'voids'; I think that his 'YHWH' theology has 'light' as an attribute of the 'spirit of god'; so that, in being drawn to the light, Cerebus is actually being absorbed by the false demiurgic force. Since the Jews mistakenly (according to Dave) thought that YHWH was the creator, it might be that in turning into 'Rabbi', Cerebus is embracing YHWH, and only sees his mistake at the last moment. On the other hand, it might be that he is turning into 'Rabbi' in order to escape from YHWH. The people who are beckoning him to go into the light are people now dead and in a kind of 'hell'; Jaka, Ham and Bear represent the best times in his life—love and macho friendship. Their presence is therefore a final temptation. YHWH, the female principle, believes falsely in 'merged permanence'—the idea that two people can from a single entity and an equal partnership: that's what he/she/it is tempting Cerebus with at the end.
The final moments of the comic feel artistically right: having started with four pages of painfully naturalistic real time physics, we are ending with four pages of Warner Brothers slapstick: someone gripping the sides of a hole with his fingers and shouting 'Help!' is a very cartoon ending. In a funny way, one can hear the 'That's all folks' tune playing across the final panels. But the final message seems to be 'love and friendship are temptations; salvation comes through isolation and self-sufficiency.' That's the credo that Dave lives by, and more-or-less how Cerebus was in the final issues. Dave seems to be saying 'Yes: he does die alone, un-mourned, unloved. And that's the best way to be'. If I'm right, that's incredibly sad.
In the old days, before we expected issues of Cerebus to be backed up with 30 page histories of Islam or critiques of Canadian foreign policy, Dave's pithy one-page 'Notes From the President' were often a high point of the comic. (I recall that he limited his comments on DCs abortive 'Piranha Press' project to thirteen words: 'Have you no shame? Have you no shame? Have you no fucking shame?') I'd rather hoped that this issue's inside front-cover text might have gone out under the heading 'Notes From the President' for old times sake, but he's stuck with 'Endings VIII'.
Seems that, since he became a monotheist, Dave has written his own prayer for use at the traditional five Moslem prayer-times, and he wants to share it with us. He explains it on the inside front cover, and prints it on in a three page fold out on the inside back cover.
Question: Is writing your own prayer a standard thing to do in Islam? It sounds slightly hubristic to me (Again: is it normal for a Canadian Moslem to pray in English and to say 'God' rather than 'Allah'? And can you logically thank God for the Gospel of John and the Koran at the same time?)
The text opens with what I assume to be the standard Islamic formula ('In the name of God the most gracious the most merciful, There is no God but God…') and includes four repetitions of something else which sounds traditional ('Glory to God in the Highest, Glory to God most High…'). Rather typically, the Davidian sections of the prayer had me going 'Yes! Yes, Dave that's so right, it would be good to hear some Christian clergymen using that kind of form of words' and 'Oh, put a sock in it you sad man' in about equal measure.
On the positive side is the humble:
'I thank You for allowing me to be born in Canada in the last half of the twentieth century: pampered, coddled, insulated and protected from so much of the world's genuine hardship and pain…Though these sufferings are as the dust of the earth…still I know that I have been spared them only by Your grace and Your mercy and I am profoundly grateful to You for that.'
C.S Lewis once said that prose has to be very good and very good in a specific way to make a good prayer: I think that in the above, Dave is coming pretty close. And the sentiment is spot on. But further down the page we come to the inevitable:
'Almighty God, I also renew my vow this morning that I will never again marry and I will never again cohabit with a woman. I vow further to exercise all caution, all restraint, all common sense, all good judgment and what wisdom you have seen fit to bestow upon me by your grace and by your mercy and to exercise all those to the uttermost in all of my dealings with womankind.'
Yeah, Dave. Whatever. Who on earth uses the term 'womankind' any more?
There is something endearingly macho—very Simish, I guess—about this kind of spirituality. The standard evangelical-protestant approach—of talking to God in your own words and telling him what's on your mind would be far too 'girlie' for a Real Man. Writing a long prayer, and setting yourself the task of reciting it five times a day (for the rest of your life) is much more the sort of thing that we blokes do, the spiritual equivalent of a hundred bench presses. (Or deciding in 1976 what you are going to be writing in 2004.) If it contains some bits which are hard to remember, so much the better.
…I thank you for the book of Habakkuk…
I thank you for the book of Zephaniah
I thank you for the book of Haggai…
But Dave does resemble a lot of evangelicals in one respect: he knows what God is thinking and is happy to chat about what He told him. It seems that when Dave first started praying, he was already trying to give up various sins like smoking, wanking and bad temper, but wasn't quite ready to give up drink. But:
'It surprised me that God was pretty open minded about anything I wanted off the table to start with. It didn't occur to me until much later that an omniscient being has a pretty good idea of how to wean anyone off of anything, one step at a time…'
So, if he was praying seriously, then he couldn't pray while drinking, or pray while drunk, or pray while hung over, so gradually, he stopped drinking altogether.
At one level, I think that this is a perfectly reasonable comment. Undoubtedly this is one of the reasons why many great religions institute formal, ritual prayer or meditation. If you commit yourself to an hour a day of meditation, then the discipline will start to effect other things in your life. I just find the contrast between 'Allah the most mighty, the most merciful' and 'I was surprised to find that God was pretty open minded…' striking and bathetic. Again, I would be interested to know how this kind of language strikes a mainstream Moslem.
From praying seriously, to spotting God's open-mindedness, 'tis but a short step to inventing theology and baying at moon:
'Right in the middle of the prayer my voice would become strangulated and I could feel my larynx tightening…I would try clearing my throat to no effect…'
The solution being breathing exercises, a course on public speaking, or throat lozenges, right?
'I suspect (but I certainly can't prove) that I was passing unclean spirits. I still do occasionally, but the effect last much shorter a time…and happens a lot less frequently. As I say, this happened pretty far along in the process, so don't expect it to happen overnight.'
So now you know. The parenthesis, I think, deserves some kind of an award. According to the Bible, Jesus first came to prominence as an exorcist, so it would be a brave Christian who denied the possibility of demonic possession. But the idea that you might have lots of 'evil spirits' in you and not even know it, and the notion that merely reciting a prayer would make them leave; and the concept that this would effect your larynx—this is bargain-basement-Pentecostalism that Dave seems to have invented on the spur of the moment.
Cerebus used to have the best lettercol in comics; with fans commentating on the last issue, or using it as a confessional booth, or just being surreal. At some point—possibly during the Oscar Wilde storyline, which he felt needed a textual commentary—'Aardvark Comment' stopped being a regular feature and the back pages of the comic became a platform for Sim's own increasingly dis-connected essays. This time, we go back, nominally at least, to having a letters page.
A fan called David Johnson decided to write to Dave every week from March 2003 until the comic was finished, to encourage him on the final stretch. He largely stuck to this. The bits quoted from his letters don't sound particularly earth shattering, although the cartoons which Dave describes sound quite fun. But Dave evidently found the letters touching enough to merit an eight page 'thank you' in this final issue.
A few interesting things come out of this section.
1: Dave's perception of the hand of God almost wherever he looks. The fan writes:
'I know you probably don't need any encouragement, but I just think I should write to you. I don't know why, because I kept putting it off, and something kept urging me to write you. So here goes.'
Sim, naturally responds
'That 'something' I suspect was God…in the aftermath of the final break from my family concerned, perhaps, that I should have some contact with someone (however remote) in the final year of Cerebus.'
He also sees the hand of God in that someone sends him a royalty cheque when he finds he owes some taxes. There is no such thing as co-incidence in Dave's cosmos.
2: Dave's self-obsession and paranoia. He spends a page and a half talking about the legal status of Cerebus' appearance in the old Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles comic. He regards it as a point of principle not to accept money from any company that uses 'work for hire' contracts, but doesn't have a problem with Eastman-and-Laird reprinting his work where they see fit. But this gets him into one of his persecuted-minority rants:
Pete: If you want to excise Cerebus for spite or 'anti-Dave-Sim-the-evil-misogynist-purification' that's fine—no hard feelings on my part either way.
3: Dave's logic-chopping. Speaking of a section of one of the fan's letters, Dave says:
having seen more than his fair share of families with small children in his job at Busch Garden, needless to say, David thinks spanking disobedient children is a great idea
The 'needless to say' is a brilliant example of how Sim now argues. Present one fact that no-one has ever disputed as if it were a clever discovery (children are sometimes naughty) and drop in the controversial bit (spanking is a good way of dealing with naughty children) under a phrase like 'needless to say' or 'it seems to me' or 'I think you will agree'. Sim believes himself to be a minority of one; but all of his opinions are now so self-evident that the mere statement of them counts as proof.
4: Dave's religious views. Apparently
Back when I still had a television and was watching religious programming, I often thought that what I really objected to in most televangelism was the marginalization of scripture and the emphasis on commentary…particularly among Christian TV evangelists. They would read a verse from Matthew, Mark, Luke or John (without inflection and at 78 rpm) and then spend fifteen minutes telling you what it meant to them. I always thought the emphasis should have been, at the very least, reversed. Fifteen minutes of scripture and then ten seconds of what it means to them (without inflection and at 78 rpm)
Dave calculates that in a series of weekly 6 hour recording sessions, he could read out the Old Testament in six months, and then get on to the Gospels and the Koran. He proposes this idea to the public access channel, and finds himself up against one of those conspiracies which seem to dog him:
I'm beginning to suspect that I'm mistaking the free-enterprise, pioneer spirit of public access TV in the US for a universal condition and not taking into account that I live in a Marxist dictatorship.
That's Canada we're talking about, by the way: Dave didn't move to Cuba between issues.
Two things strike me about this
First: It is astonishingly ironic that Dave should complain that Christian preachers spend 15 minutes commentating on a single verse from the Bible after he has just spent a year 'commentating' on the Torah, and discovering highly original interpretations of his very own.
Second: If I spend fifteen minutes commenting on a verse, it doesn't mean that I think that my words are 15 times more important than the verse itself. It might mean that I think the verse if so wonderful that it takes fifteen minutes to explore its riches.
Third: Dave seems to have bought into one of the basic fallacies of fundamentalism: that the Bible just says what it says, and commentators are interposing themselves between you and the Word of God. But there have always be commentators. Jesus commented on the prophecy of Isaiah in the synagogue; Phillip explained the Old Testament to the Ethiopian Eunuch. The Bible to some extent commentates on itself; the Prophets commenting on the Law; Paul commentating on the Old Testament. I recall once hearing a preacher say 'The Bible says it! I believe it! That settles it!'—but this is pure non-sense. The Bible says lots of different things; you require some kind of exposition and exegesis to go from 'the story of Balaam's ass' to 'should Dave Sim stop playing with himself?' Judaism has rabbinical and talmudic commentaries on the Bible; I believe Islam has commentaries on the Koran going back to the time of the Prophet. Catholicism has church fathers and secondary texts and 'tradition'; Protestantism may have abolished that and put 'Scripture alone' center stage; but it also made expository preaching the center of its services, arguably replacing the alter with the pulpit. When someone says 'I won't read commentaries: I will just read the Word of God' they usually mean 'I won't listen to what wiser and holier people than me have said about the Bible, I will draw my own, ignorant conclusions.' Very often, they turn out to mean 'I will believe whatever I believed anyway, and then claim scriptural authority for it'. This works particularly well if you are claiming authority for both the Bible and the Koran, but writing off the passages you don't like as having been written, not by God, but by "YHWH".
A fan who used to contribute to the Cerebus letter column; who was encouraged by Dave to continue with his drawing; and now makes his living a cartoonist, writes a letter of thanks to Dave, concluding 'Cerebus is a towering achievement. I thank you for it and everything else'. Dave writes a friendly reply.
And here we have our obligatory 'Dave Sim behaves like a total effing loony' section for this issue. The pretext is a letter from Sgt Brian L Moore, currently stationed in Iraq, writing to thank Dave for the comic. Sgt Moore's attitude to the current war and his military life is rather prosaic and pragmatic; he was out of work, in debt, took an army job and liked it. 'First I was unemployed. Then I was deployed. Now I am employed. That pretty much sums up my opinion of the war.' But Dave's masculinist ideology fetishizes the military, and especially the American military, to the point of hero worship. (Dave tried to volunteer for the Canadian military after September 11th and found that they didn't want him):
' I consider it a signal honour to have a letter from a genuine member of the US military, a genuine veteran of the liberation of Iraq 'to close out the show'. In like fashion even though I myself am a useless old man, I consider the fact that I played a significant role (as they were kind enough to acknowledge) in two Cerebus readers choosing to 'do their part' in the war on terrorism as my most immediate and greatest accomplishment as I enter my retirement…You don't mention if you're a god-fearing man yourself, but let me thank you for your contribution to freedom and democracy, putting your life on the line, there in the cradle of civilization, Ur of the Chaldees, the land of Abraham's nativity. Even if the Marxist-feminist Democrats manage to upset the applecart before the real work is done, this fateful day in human history … ' etc etc etc
It's hard, really, to know what to say about this kind of drivel. Let's just point out that modern wars appear not to rely on manpower and superior forces, but on technology and skills; that Tonygeorge was never trying to recruit new soldiers for the Iraq misadventure, and that if 'the war on terror' is really a clash of civilizations, then one is 'doing one's bit' as a teacher or plumber just as much as you would be in the Army. Which seems to be how Sgt Moore regards it: a job that he happens to be doing, albeit a dangerous one.
But there is much worse rubbish and macho posturing in this essay. Sim compares himself with Norman Mailer who—in 1967—deliberately got himself arrested by going through a cordon around the Pentagon, presumably in order that he could make a political statement in court. Says Sim:
'This played no small part in my own decision to force the Marxist-feminists to arrest me on a trumped-up hate literature charge or—somewhere up ahead—to have to face what I've been 'reading into the historical record' since issue #186'
All one can say is 'Good luck'. I don't know what Canadian law is like, but it is hard to imagine anything Sim has ever said resulting in a criminal prosecution in this country. Vague bemusement is the usual reaction. One has a mental image of an old man wandering the streets saying increasingly shocking things in the despairing hope that someone will arrest him.
'Marxist-feminist' is the latest term used by Sim to refer to people who he doesn't agree with, which in practice means 'the whole human race'. It replaces last year's 'left leaning socialist liberal' and the year before that's 'feminist'. Sim throws the term 'Marxist' around fairly freely, and you may think that a word which can be applied both to Tony Blair's government (not to Blair himself, apparently) and Al Quaeda may not have an awful lot of meaning. The passage in which he talks about this directly deserves quoting in full.
'I am 100% behind the war on terrorism, but it seems to me that terrorism is just the tip of iceberg. The big problem is Marxism. Marxist-feminism, to me, is at least as great a threat to our freedom as is Marxist-Islam (which, I think, is the more accurate ay to describe fundamentalist Islam or militant Islam or terrorist Islam. If they're murdering civilians, read their literature and five will get you twenty that their poetical philosophy has been seasoned with Das Kapital.) I think both of them have to be fought tooth and nail every inch of the way. I realize everyone thinks I'm crazy when I say that, but, buy way of example, I read that the constitution in Afghanistan is going to make it mandatory that the government be composed of 40% women. Marxist-feminism sprouts from the ashes of Marxist-Islam. Quotas. If you determine the gender of your elected officials before the election, that isn't democracy, that's communism.'
Where to start?
1: Different views can be taken about the wisdom of using quota-systems to overcome historical prejudice. Speaking for myself, I'm agin' it. I would understand 'communism' to mean 'a system where the state own all the industry, and runs it theoretically in the interests of the citizens'. What possible connection this has to do with gender quotas, I do not know. I suspect that 'communism' is being used in an old-fashioned newspaper sense, where the 'commies' are the opposite of democracy, and democracy is good full stop. 'Communism', in this sense, simply means Bad Thing.
2: In the proposed Afghan constitution, it will be decided in advance that 40% of MPs will be female. This is 'communist'. But in Sim's proposed world, it would be decided in advance that 100% of MPs will be male, since women would have no part in government and not even have a vote. By Sim's 'logic', would this also be communist?
3: All terror organizations are Marxist. If we defining Marxism as 'wishing to overthrow the state by revolutionary means', and if terror organizations are indeed seeking to overthrow the state, then they are, by definition, Marxist. But are all terrorist organizations revolutionary? Aren't many of them just trying to gain concessions for an (often nationalistic) cause by violent means? If we define Marxism as a theory about how the economic base determines the ideological superstructure, then it is hard to see how Marxism underlies, say, the campaigns of the IRA.
4: 'Marxist feminism rises form the ashes of Marxist-Islam'. I know that Sim is broadly sympathetic to the Moslems, while supporting the American war on terror, and I know that this is hard to reconcile with his pathological desire to split the world into goodies and baddies. But really: when we start defining the Taliban as Marxists, we have slipped over into some kind of bizarre Alice-in-Wonderland world where normal logic doesn't apply. Did we hear the Taliban explaining that the problem was that the means of production was concentrated in the hands of the bourgeoisie, or Osama Bin Laden complaining that religion is the opium of the people? (I seem to remember that Russia, which actually was Marxist, though not particularly feminist, invaded Afghanistan, and the Taliban were the one's who resisted them, with some help from Rambo.)
…and in any case, it appears not to be true that there is going to be a quota in the Afghan parliament: the 40% figure is just someone's proposed target.
Meanwhile, Dave remarks that one of his reader's has invited him to take a holiday in his home when the comic is finished. Says Dave:
'If I it were anybody else, I'd have to write back and ask him to have his wife send e a letter saying that she understands my views and that its okay with her if I visit…'
…. There are probably only two people who 'understand' your views, Dave, and one of them is God…
'…But this is William Beach who has already assured me that he is the head of his house and has already stated, matter-of-factly, that he does not believe God and YHWH are separate beings and he's a devout Christian….'
It is another mark of Dave's self-obsession that, about a year ago, he made up, out of his head, an arguably ingenious conceit based on the idea that certain textual discrepancies in the Bible could be explained on the assumption that there are not one, but two Gods in the Old Testament. No-one but him as ever believed this; but now it is comment-worthy that someone thinks that God and YHWH are the same being. Rather as if you said 'He told me matter of factly that the does not believe that the works of Shakespeare were written by a pie-maker called Edmund in 1264'
So. The very last thing ever to appear in a Cerebus comic. A letter from Dave Sim to his lawyer.
It seems that all the royalties for Cerebus are split 60 : 40 between him and Gerhard; that he wants the comic to pass into the public domain when they are both dead; and—here is the sticking point—that he wants to leave his archive ('the artwork…and business files and correspondence') to one of a number of Universities or libraries. But he is not sure that they would accept it.
This is, on the whole, a Good Idea. There is a less pressing need for a Sim archive than, say, a Kirby archive simply because Kirby's work was published in many different places and is inaccessible, whereas the 16 volumes of Cerebus are in print, and likely to remain so. Granted, lots of interesting back-up material is not printed in the collections, but Dave has expressed his intention to eventually publish one or more volumes of essays (be still, my beating heart) and in any case, there must be many complete collections of Cerebus #1 - #300 in existence, any of which could be donated to a library, along with a bookcase on which to store them. That said, it would be nice for the surviving original art (some of it has been sold) to be stored in one place; and there must be a lot of sketches and so on filed away that are worth preserving. Dave's business-correspondence, less so. Dave invites people who think that the Cerebus archive is a good idea to write to him a letter, so that he can pass them on to his lawyer who can pass them on to a library when the time comes, as proof that there is some public interest in preserving the archive. I shall certainly be writing.
However: Sim doubts that his readers value his comic enough to do this. Cue one last burst of self-loathing paranoia:
'As it stands at the moment, I am (or would/will be) universally viewed as a misogynist (rather than an anti-feminist) and a pariah in my country, in my province and in my city, with the result that the Cerebus storyline and the archive attached to it are perceived to have about as much artistic value, as, say a scale model of Buckingham Palace built over the course of twenty-six years and three months, out of toothpicks. A peculiar eccentric and bizarre enterprise perpetrated by a harmless old coot but in my case with the veneer of malignancy and evil attached to it <Persuading a university to take the archive> is, (I'm sure you'll agree) an almost insurmountable task, compounded by the fact that most of my audience consists today, as it always has, of fence-sitting liberals most, if not all, of whom I am reasonably certain will be perfectly content to sit on whatever fence is nearby and watch the entirety of the now-completed Cerebus project go merrily down the toilet, as they have been content on several occasions to allow me to be publicly vilified on the Internet without a word of demurral on their part. When it is time to stand up and be counted, in my experience, you can always rely on liberals to sit down and waffle.
And here, indeed, we get to the heart of the matter. Not that Sim is a misogynist, or a sexist, or an anti-feminist, not that he is a Moslem who believes in Gnosticism, or an aging fanboy who wishes he had been a jock in the army, or a guy who married his first girlfriend, tried to run a business with her, and broke up acrimoniously. The core of Sim's belief-system is that he has, at all times, to be the only person who is Right, and must therefore believe everyone else at all times to be Wrong, and that he is at all times hated by practically everyone. Of course, at one time he was almost the only person in the comic book industry who believed in self-publishing and creator's rights, and it turned out that he was more or less right and everyone else was more or less wrong. He now believes that everyone disagrees with his views on sexual politics, and this is also true; because his views, taken as a whole, are so obviously silly. On his terms, this proves that the has been 'voted off the island', which, in a funny way, he finds validating. But this is not enough, and he has to create a fantasy world in which no-one appreciates him as an artist or values his comic.
There are the usual weird slippages. Apparently, what is at risk is that the whole of the Cerebus graphic novel might go 'down the toilet', even though it appeared that all we were talking about was the eventual destination of Dave's sketches and business correspondence. I don't know who vilified Dave on the internet (God! You don't think he means me, do you?) but the connection between 'people not responding to a web page attacking Dave Sim' and 'people not wanting Sim's artwork to be preserved' seems far from obvious. We are told that people regard the comic as nothing more than a model made out of match sticks: never mind that comic book creators having been queuing up to congratulate him on reaching #300. We are told that 'most, if not all' of his readers don't care about the comic. Never mind that one of his readers wrote him a letter every week for a year to encourage him; never mind that one described the work as a towering achievement; never mind that two of them joined the army partly on Sim's say-so, never mind that one of them invited Sim, a complete stranger, to come and stay in his home, never mind that one of them was mad enough to spend all his free time for a week writing a ludicrously long commentary on the final issue of his comic, because, damn it, it seemed important, and never mind that over 600 people—1 in 10 of your goddam readership, Dave—are members of the Cerebus Yahoo discussion forum. You need to believe that you are reviled and hated; you need to insult your readers, and you aren't going to allow reality to get in the way.
And by the way, Dave. Damn right I am a liberal. I read your comic precisely because I am a liberal. Where 'liberal' is defined as 'one who believes in freedom, and in particular, the freedom of expression.' One who believes in pluralism, different viewpoints, and listening to opinions other than one's own. One who has contempt for what you say, but will not only defend to the death your right to say it, but will actually read it, and recommend that other people do the same.
Hail, Dave Sim. Greatest living comic book creator, and total asshole.
What a sad and bitter man. This wasn't how I imagined it at all.
 Or possibly hassidic?
 Actually a 'read'—popular books which are the metaphor for comics in the Cerebus universe
The 100thh most influential Jews in history, according to one reckoning.
 This wasn't obvious to me when I read it but it seems to be the consensus of people who have so far written sensibly brief commentaries on-line
 Tony Campolo: 'There are many commandments in the Bible which are a lot clearer than 'Thou Salt Not Smoke.'
 i.e. Ones where the publisher, not the artist, has copyright on the final work
 There we go again: "I'm sure you'll agree" or "Needless to say" or "It seems to me" prefacing and utterly ludicrous claim