Cerebus 300

by Stephen Notley

Well, Cerebus is done. What's Cerebus? It's a comic book named after its main character, a three-foot tall aardvark with a sword who has now finally battled and schemed and humped and killed and ascended and loved and lost and got old and found God and dissolved into a doddering wreck to the last panel of the 6000-page 300-issue comic book that makes up his life and 27 years of the life of its creator, longtime Kitchener, Ontario resident Dave Sim.

Holy crap, this is one big comic. The biggest, really, the longest single continuous work by a single creative team in the history of the medium and probably one of the longest books ever written. And it's been a hell of a ride. Cerebus began as a short, smart, mouthy funny animal comic, a well-drawn and funny parody of Conan, all about the gags. But swiftly, driven by Sim's ferocious impulse for innovation, Cerebus quickly took on a life of its own. Sim is a parodist at heart, and his unique talent is to catch a cartoon version of someone --be it Groucho Marx or George Washington or Mick Jagger or Maggie Thatcher or in the form of The Roach a unending series of transforming riffs on the superhero-de-jour assuming Roach versions of Batman, Captain America, Moon Knight, Spider-Man, normalman, Punisher, Sandman, Ghost Rider, Cable and dozens of others -- sink them into the Cerebus world, and see what they do. They take on their own identities, personalities, agendas, they blossom as characters in their own right. Soon it became clear that the Cerebus universe was alive with interconnections and secrets and astonishing possibilities.

Sim wasn't afraid to challenge his readers. In issue 26, barbarian Cerebus shows up at a hotel and suddenly gets drawn into the world of politics. For fans of swords-n-sorcery parody comics, this was ridiculous. When was Sim gonna quit all this suits-and-dialog stuff and get Cerebus back to being a barbarian? But Sim had other ideas. Cerebus became the prime minister. Then he became the pope. And then Sim devoted a whole book to the story of Jaka, the dancer that Cerebus loved. Then he looked at the death of Oscar Wilde. And then the second huge story arc, Mothers and Daughters, the monumental wrapping-up of all the mythological plot threads, the meeting with God, that is to say Dave Sim, and of course the infamous "Female Void and Male Light" prose sequence in "Reads" that established Sim's new reputation, deserved or otherwise, as a hateful misogynist.

And then, having finished the "plot" of Cerebus, Sim kept on going. He retreated to a bar and charted men's behavior in "Guys". He started mixing gender relations with religious convictions in "Rick's Story". And then he took Cerebus on three book-length elaborate style parodies, doing F. Scott Fitzgerald in "Going Home", slamming Ernest Hemingway and then Ernest Hemingway's wife in "Form and Void", and then combining the Three Stooges, Woody Allen and The Bible into one demented three-pack in "Latter Days".

It's a big book, filled with some of the most stunning and innovative comics ever done. Anchored by his short, mouthy asshole protagonist Sim experimented, pushed the boundaries, pushed and pulled and hammered the comics medium until it squeaked. One issue wound through 20 pages which, if separated and assembled, formed a huge picture of Cerebus. Another involved slowly rotating panels so you had to turn the comic a full 360 as you read it. Way back in the 80s Cerebus had  "cinematic" techiques, tracking and zooming over sequential panels or breaking a large panel into slices in order to convey a motion or transition. In issue #65 Sim turned over the task of drawing backgrounds to fellow Kitchenerite Gehard, who proceeded to pump out some of the most extrordinarily detailed and beautiful pen-and-ink illustrations ever done.

And then at some point --it's different for every Cerebus reader-- Dave Sim lost his mind. For some readers it was when the comic spent four pages on Cerebus taking a leak. For others it was when Cerebus, in his office of pope, raped his longtime ally/enemy Astoria, a comics echo of Sim's first wife. For lots of others it was when Sim inserted himself into the comic and took pages of text to explain that women are bloodsucking leeches who drain the life and creativity from men. For still others it was when Sim found God and turned the comic into pages and pages of close-typed line-by-line dissection of Genesis. It was like Sim was daring his readers to quit, a dare more and more readers happily chose to accept.

But Sim and Gerhard kept plugging away and now, in issue #300, Cerebus is dead. His life is done and it was an extraordinary life of laughs and gags and rampant assholery and desperate battles and unearthed truths and crazy doddering sidetracks and ridiculously offensive opinions. His life was a story and like all stories, it was true. Controversial, offensive, brilliant, and now complete, Cerebus the Aardvark stands as one of the most important comics ever written. Plus it has lots of hot chicks in it.

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