Many a long year has passed since my speculative purchase of Cerebus 25, in a long-disappeared comics shop in Nottingham. I’d traded in a bunch of unwanted stuff for £20 credit, of which I had used up £19 before running out of steam. Buying Cerebus, of which I’d heard stuff that intrigued me, was away of getting out of the shop and off to my friend;’s house, where I was staying the weekend.
As a consequence, I spent the next twenty-three years avidly collecting the comic, making it one of the longest cultural constants of my life: when the series reached its promised end at issue 300, it was the only thing remaining from that October of 1981.
But when the series ended, despite the length of time I had been buying it, it left no gap in my life. Sim’s growing mysoginy, or ‘anti-feminism’ as he insists it be called, not to mention his bizarre ‘anti-feminist’ personal religion changed the course of the series, made large parts of it extremely hard to read, and made the final issue, in which Cerebus dies, more of a relief than a deprivation.
Given how often I used to re-read the series when it was coming out, I find it significant that, in the dozen years since Cerebus ended, I have re-read it only once.
However, to celebrate Cerebus‘s Fortieth Anniversary in 2017 – and perhaps because Sim’s former financial success is seemingly in dire need of topping up, constantly – our grey-furred, big-snouted Aardvark pal is making an altogether unexpected return. First in a one-off, later this year and then – assuming the one-off wouldn’t bomb – in a four issue mini-series in 2017.
It’s going to go out under the title Cerebus in Hell?
Unexpected, certainly, but my immediate reaction was delight and a determination to put the new title on order at my regular shop. I’m afraid that enthusiasm has waned more than somewhat.
There is a slight problem to the Cerebus in Hell? project: Dave Sim can’t draw any more. This is a physical problem: Sim has problems with his right wrist, presumably related to RSI and/or Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. The pain of this condition slowed down his drawing speed tremendously, as well as severely restricting the number of hours he could spend at his drawing board. This has worsened to the point that, since February 2015, Sim has been unable to draw at all.
So how then is he to produce Cerebus in Hell? Given that it is set in Hell, Sim’s solution is ingenious. The series will consists of a multitude of four panel strips, each consisting of a prior-drawn Cerebus figure, set against a background of a detail from an Heironymous Bosch painting, repeated over all four panels, to which Sim will apply dialogue. Give the man credit for imagination.
Let’s grab it then. I haven’t bought a Cerebus comic since 2004, it’ll be like the old days, and as you may have already surmised from practically every post on this blog, I am big on the old days because there isn’t much out there but utter crap in these new days.
Only: here’s a link to the daily A Moment of Cerebus blog-site. That’s strip number 1. There are over a dozen on the web-site, demonstrating what the one-shot’s going to be like. If you think strip 1 is unfunny and incomprehensible, don’t worry: this is one of the better ones.
So, when I went to Forbidden Planet in Manchester yesterday, I didn’t put Cerebus in Hell? on my order list. I mentioned it, at which point the lady behind the counter looked up in delight. I explained what the idea was, as I’ve outlined above, and Sim’s drawing problems, and on the spur of the moment suggested that his inability to draw was probably (his) God leaning down and making a point about how fed up he was getting about all this shit Sim’s been spewing out in said God’s name.
Very cruel, but everybody laughed. And, in terms of Sim’s specialised theology, once you divorce that from its obviously self-centred foundation in justifying Sim’s private prejudices, it’s a perfectly sound theological proposition. After all, Sim used to say that if he died before Cerebus was completed, the last issue should be the one he last worked on, up to the last panel, with the rest of the comic all blank pages, to evidence the point at which God had decided he’d gone too far.
Sim should be delighted that his God is far less bloodthirsty that he imagines.
So, he’s back. And completeness demands I buy Cerebus in Hell? But I rather think that completeness will have to go whistle. There is nothing in the published strips to suggest that Sim’s is capable of recapturing any of the wit or pointedness about serious subjects that made the original Cerebus so vital and fulfilling a thing: indeed, it comes over as if the deterioration of the last thirty-odd issues has progressed through twelve years of undrawn, unwritten monthly issues and we are looking at the very dregs of a once-formidable talent.
Sim should have stuck to his excellent The Strange Death of Alex Raymond. It will be a disaster if that can never be completed.