Monday, September 20, 2004

FOLLOWING CEREBUS

Lots of stuff to write on this week, including the Emmys, the TV premiers (this is the big week), and the 3 movies I saw over the weekend, but I thought I’d start with comics. I got through my read pile of the week (except for Apocalypse Meow vol. 2, which I probably wont get to for a few days), and most of it was unremarkable.

MADROX 1 was OK, but I don’t know if Peter David is going to be able to capitalize on the set-up.

My enjoyment of STRANGE 1 was hampered by my general distain for origin revisions that futz around trying to fine tune the basic premise of a character for no other reason than the comic company can’t figure out how to tell NEW stories (thank you Spider-Man, Chapter One), although the changes here are relatively minor in comparison (BUT do you really want Strange to start as a sympathetic character? It changes the nature of the origin in a way I’m not sure I’m comfortable with because it’s more, I don’t know, easy to make him an idealist that lost his way and not just a callous bastard).

I’m ready for Rucka’s WOLVERINE (19) to end. I’m getting nothing out of this now.

I thought THE END: WOLVERINE (5) had already ended (shows you how crucial the story is to me).

Is Micha Ian Wright writing NEW INVADERS (2) under a pseudonym? Or is the art and military stylings just giving me Deja-vu.

What I really want to talk about, though, is FOLLOWING CEREBUS (1). I didn’t know quite what this was when I asked my retailer for it. I definitely didn’t know that it was produced the same people responsible for “Wrapped in Plastic,” the Twin Peaks fanzine which I’ve read a few issues of and which really impressed me with the depth of its analysis. I guess I thought Sim himself might be producing Following Cerebus as part of the archival work he’s always talking about. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this issue.

It opens with an editorial in the inner cover, which is continued in the interior for a total of two and one half pages. This mildly intriguing mission statement is a bit over long, and spends way too much space trying to explain one very simple idea (that sometimes its better not to know what an artist intends in a work of art – it’s often a richer experience when we don’t know) with multiple examples. It also pissed me off by telling me that Lynch’s “Lost Highway” (which I was going to watch soon for only the second time) is really about *****Spoiler – skip the rest of the sentence***** Lynch’s reaction to the trial of a certain celebrity murder defendant who has the same initials as a breakfast drink. I would have preferred not to know this until after I saw it again. ***We’re back*** This editorial was still enjoyable, and was actually the weakest piece in the whole thing!

The Dave Sim interview was fascinating the way all Dave Sim interviews are fascinating. He’s such an intelligent guy, and it’s fun to watch his mind work whether you agree with his conclusions of not. I love his tendency to go on several hundred word tangents (like his observation of the effect of John Lennon’s assassination on men of his generation), and his use of odd examples and counterpoints (in this issue, he references Kurt Cobain’s observation that it SMELLS like teen spirit – not looks or sounds - as possibly “the last keen observation we will get out of rock ‘n’ roll,” in a discussion of the nature of “light”). I have two favorite passages from this interview. The first:

“It’s really “Stairway to Heaven” stuff. The ironic secular humanist acknowledgement that you can’t buy a “Stairway to Heaven” (what kind of idiot do you take us for?) in no way ameliorates for secular humanists that they are aware that an “up there” exists and that getting “up there” involves some manner of “stairway” or “Stairway.” In my own case, I wondered if there wasn’t a metaphorical “way up.” Was it possible to tell a story that was long enough and exact enough in proximities in intent itself to create a stairway by writing and drawing about it?”

This is the missing link between Sim and Grant Morrison. The discussion in physical terms of a narrative creating the “stairway” through the reader (like an instruction manual to enlightenment) is almost exactly Morrison’s concept of the comic experience as magic sigil for creating sentient universes, cat medicine…whatever. Sim is explicitly saying that this is nonsense he left behind with his secular humanism, but admits that this is one of his aims early in the creation of Cerebus.

The second passage I like just cause its funny. In talking about how Cerebus couldn’t get past Jaka, and its relationship to the presence of color on the TPB covers:

“…he entered the female half of reality where a much-beloved analogous transformation takes place in the quintessential female movie, The Wizard of Oz, which starts in black-and-white and then, when Dorothy gets to Oz, switches to technicolor. This is a beloved transformation, I suspect, because it reflects female nature which sees the movement from schism to fragmentation as a “good thing,” which is what color really is. Light and darkness are white and black. A duality. “0” and “1.” The fragmentation of light is color, a multiplicity. This was another part of the joke behind the title of Going Home, indicating to the ladies and “ladies” in the audience that even at the point where the Wizard of Oz switches to color, when Dorothy arrives in Oz, she is also, in a real sense, going home. Or, as the Koran assures us, we all came from god and to him we are returning.” The fragmentation from light to color isn’t permanent, the basic duality of light and dark is still there, and only light is subject to entropy. It will, ultimately, dissipate.”

Wow. There is very powerful playing with ideas, here, but it seems a bit too much, eh? But is Sim saying movement from fragmentation to the “schism” of a binary system (which is against the nature of light tends to split apart due to its inherent “entropy”) is “a good thing?” He most often resists reductive thinking himself (one of his biggest problems with feminism is the pushing of equivalence of unequivalent things - Male=female – for the sake of unification), but here color is bad because it offers more than two choices? So unification = bad, schism = good, fragmentation = bad? All sense aside, the reason I love this passage is that I love any over the top deconstruction of popular entertainment. I read a paper once on racial egalitarianism in Pulp Fiction as the final step in the racial paradigm of American narrative as it has evolved from Huckleberry Finn. Couldn’t stop laughing (in a good way). Making an argument that the color change in the Wizard of Oz is a feminist statement is just brilliant!

The Gerard interview brings up a nagging problem of mine - I really have never been convinced that he is a separate person than Dave Sim. This interview would appear to help lay this unusual suspicion to rest, what with a picture of him and all, but then he goes and says this:

“Although, I did have this strange sensation near the end of the book. It occurred to me that maybe the pressure of doing a monthly comic book all by himself caused Dave’s personality to split, and his mind created this background artist guy, and that I was just going to poit out of existence when I finished the last page.”

So apparently Gererad agrees that he might be imaginary.

The crowning glory of this issue, however, is the analysis of the usages of the phrase “something fell” throughout the series. I have only read the first half of the series, and had no idea about this repeated phrase. Although the article fails to completely pull together a cohesive thesis of the usage of this phrase, it does yeoman’s work of charting the usage, and related “fallings” and “ascensions” that pepper the book. Really nice work, and exactly what I want to see when I buy something like this.

This looks like an excellent start, and I would love to see where this series goes. Best of the week.

5 Comments:

At 5:36 PM, Blogger Dave said...

The Winn-Mill guys also produce an occasional magazine called Spectrum about pop-culture analysis, with a heavy focus on genre television. You'll probably like it...

 
At 5:45 PM, Blogger Shane Bailey said...

The artist on Invaders is the same artist as the last parts of Stormwatch Team Achilles.

 
At 6:51 PM, Blogger David Fiore said...

that's amazing stuff Todd!

Thanks for pointing this out--and demonstrating that it's not (as I feared it would be) just a rant on a par with some of the Sim stuff in TCJ!

Now I have to buy it!

Dave

 
At 7:05 PM, Blogger Nik said...

I enjoyed Following Cerebus #1 too (poor Gerhard), but one thing that really put me off was the terrible reproduction of the artwork throughout. Clearly it was scanned badly as it all had a very "bitmapped," fuzzy look to it which is a particular shame when it comes to Sim and Gerhard's fine linework, not seeing it as it should be was a bummer.

 
At 1:31 PM, Blogger Frank said...

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