More Stuff Myself and Three Other People Care About

Well, I really should do something beside read, apply for jobs I’ll never get, play Chrono Trigger (thank you, Santa Wifey) and try to get interested in watching a movie for review. I know, I’ll write in that blog I started once upon a time, knowing that it was a mistake then.

Reading, of course, should never be considered a waste of time. Though what I’ve been reading would likely cause some to turn their noses up, say something disparaging, and then the pig will get up and slowly walk away. The only thing that can be legitimately called a book I’ve read during my unemployment is Jonathan Barnes’ The Somnambulist, which reads rather too much like a self-conscious attempt to make a cult classic movie. No, I’ve been re-reading that collection of graphic novels – for which read funny books collected into book form – which I’ve accumulated over the years.

This mania started when a friend mentioned he had finally read Watchmen, doubtless in preparation for the movie. It had been several years since my last reading, so I settled down in my new reading chair – well, new to me, it was cast off by neighbors to my wife’s school who had abandoned it – and got impressed all over again. Much of what Alan Moore did in that series has been ripped off so much in the intervening years (for instance, the first season of the TV series Heroes) that it has entered the realm of the cliche… but when it was coming out one issue at a time, it was electric.

After a brief detour to Watchmen‘s contemporary, Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, I went back to Moore for The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: volume one, good, volume two, near perfection, volume three… intensely problematic. Then on to the complete run of Neal Gaimen’s The Sandman.

Then, a deep breath before diving once more into Alan Moore’s exhaustively researched From Hell. Harkened back to other limited series from the dawn of creator-owned comics, like Rick Veitch’s The One, or experiments from the Big Two like the maxi-series Camelot 3000.

In and about all these, I started digging through those Marvel Essentials I had picked up when I had disposable income. These are phone booked-sized black and white reprints of Marvel comics from back in the day, and I had resisted them for years because of the lack of color. Then I bought one at Half Price Books, found that color was the least of the charms of these stories, and set to picking them up against future boredom.

I positively devoured The Fantastic Four, which is arguably where you see the blueprint laid for what would come to be known as The Marvel Universe. A universe which is, in my not-so-humble opinion, currently in a shambled, smoking ruin… but that’s a fanboy talking, innit?

Finally, after multiple volumes of Fantastic Four, Avengers, Defenders (Steve Gerber, how he is missed), Dr. Strange, Iron Man, X-Men and Luke Cage – Power Man (Sweet sister!), I feel a bit Marvelled out. I feel more comfortable in the overbearing soap opera of the early Marvel than I do in the stories of the contemporaneous DC Showcase Presents reprints. Even though Mr. Fantastic’s barking to Sue Storm of “Don’t go all female on me now!” may grate, it’s an individual voice. The DC Heroes all seem to speak with the same voice, which becomes bothersome when they all get together in The Justice League of America. When Wonder Woman sounds the same as Batman, it’s hard to get involved on any level but the scholarly, or even archeological.

The older DC stuff – which let’s face it, was skewed to a much younger crowd than a 51-year-old fanboy, or the collegiate crowd Marvel hoped for – is also intensely formulaic. This house-mandated “this is the way comics ought to be” chased comics mainstay (perhaps even god) Jack Kirby into the arms of Marvel in the late 50s, according to Mark Evanier’s biography Kirby, King of Comics (okay, maybe I read two books), whereby hangs a history. There are far fewer Showcase books on my shelf than Essentials.

So, Marvelled out for the moment, what remains on my shelf, in terms of Grand Sweeps of History (comic)? Alas, I have already used the word problematic in this post, for what awaits me is a near-complete run of Dave Sim’s Cerebus.

Apparently, the name Dave Sim is supposed to be fronted by the adjective “controversial” whenever he is mentioned, the reason for which – it seems – won’t even be apparent until, like, Volume 9 or so. Something about gender politics. I guess I’ll find out when I get there.

You see, likely the reason I even busted out this blog post, was the serendipitous discovery of another blog as I prepared to dive into the Simiverse: Cerebus: A Diablog, in which writers Leigh Walton and Laura Hudson intend to examine the comic on an arc-by-arc if not issue-by-issue basis.

Now, this might have gotten off to a rockier start with me had I just weighed in on Laura’s initial post, which begins:

Ah, winter 1977. Sadly, neither of us Cerebloggers had yet been born, and so we cannot nostalgically recall what it was like when Cerebus first came out, only that it was a long, long time ago. I say this not to make anybody feel old, but to emphasize the scope of Sim’s accomplishment: Cerebus would subsequently go on to run for 26 years, a marathon that Sim refers to as “the longest sustained narrative in human history.”

Well, a little too damn late for the old part, as I do remember seeing that first issue in the wild. I was going through the wire rack at Roy’s Memory Shop on Westheimer, during one of my road trips to Houston from my college digs in Huntsville, looking for new issues of underground and “ground level” comics like Star Reach. I saw this first issue, and dismissed it another @#$%! funny animal comic. You see – if you are one of the uninitiated – Cerebus is an aardvark in an otherwise human-populated Conan universe.

This was the time of Howard the Duck (and have I mentioned how missed is Steve Gerber?). There were funny animal comics everywhere… hell, there was even a ground-level comic called No Ducks!… and I wasn’t in the market for another “trapped in a world he never made!” series. Many months later, my brother would show me an issue which featured Lord Julius, in whom Sim managed to flawlessly insert Groucho Marx into this world, and I got hooked.

Sim made it known that the saga of Cerebus the Aardvark would cover 300 issues. The amazing thing is, it actually does. He did it. All 300 issues. Yep, took him 26 years, just like Laura said. I also begin to wonder how many people who started out, like me, back in the late 70s actually stuck with him all through that. I know I didn’t.

Now, Cerebus, I hasten to add, is one of the things that got me through some very difficult times in the 80s, when I was just feeling my way through young adulthood and getting my nose rubbed in all manner of unpleasant realities. There were, generally speaking, maybe three continuing comic series that I looked forward to each month with anticipation, and one for a great length of time was Cerebus.

Sim started putting his work out in bound volumes which were very much the predecessors to the Essentials and Showcases – big, square phonebooks of comics goodness. The first four volumes – Cerebus, High Society, Church and State I & II – cover the years of my extreme fanboy-itude. They contain some of the keenest social satire I had seen since Walt Kelly’s Pogo, and is stuff I wholeheartedly recommend.

Ah, but it’s Volume 5 – Jaka’s Story – and beyond where things get, shall we say, interesting. Yes. Interesting it is. Sim stepped away from the political satire for a while to concentrate on story-telling, and the Earth Pig Born fell to supporting character status for a long, long stretch. About this time I decided it would be far better to invest in the collections than the comic, since I would lose the narrative thread in the time between issues. Of course, it also made it easier to just put these books on a shelf and ignore them, since – like, I suspect, a lot of readers, I longed for a return to the days of Lord Julius, Red Sophia and Elrod of Melnibone, the last member of a race of albino sorcerer kings, who talked, I say, who always talked like Foghorn Leghorn, son.

Or maybe I was simply young and callow. I shall likely find out in the weeks ahead, and it will be nice to have Hudson and Walton weighing on these matters in a much more scholarly, incisive manner than I myself can muster. Turns out I stopped buying the Cerebus phonebooks just four books shy of the complete set. Hopefully, by the time I reach that point, I will not only be able to afford those last four books, but will actually want to buy them.