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Because of his very public animus toward feminism, which shades toward pure misogyny in the eyes of many readers, the comics community at best damn Sim with faint praise, raising the glass to his maniacal productivity and dedication — a fully written and drawn page pretty much every weekday for 26 years without fail or falter. But they mostly just damn him, and Cerebus, for ideological reasons.
Sim’s representation of himself as the embattled last defender of reason and masculinity against the Marxist-feminist axis that he thinks rules the world has marginalized him, to the point that he seriously seems to expect an angry mob of feminazis to lock him up for thoughtcrime. (Well, he is Canadian, so perhaps that’s not so unrealistic a notion.)
SIM REPUBLISHES THE BACK issues of Cerebus in separate bound volumes with defined story arcs—novels-within-the-novel, as it were. The second, High Society, would be the best place for the curious to start. It is among the funniest sequences, with Groucho-as-world-leader at his wittiest and most anarchic, the fantasy world coalescing in thick and fascinating ways.
High Society presents the aardvark civilized, enmeshing him in the machinations of politics, uneasily matching manipulative big city sharpies with headstrong barbarian values, and boasts a heart-wrenching standalone climax. At that point Sim had not yet fully enmeshed Cerebus in the dueling feminisms that came to dominate the story’s world and themes later — a more matriarchal tyranny, called Cirinism, and a more individualist version, Kevillism, both of which Sim disapproves of.
While I remain an admirer of his work, Sim made some choices that bothered me — most significantly, when he introduced himself about two thirds of the way through into the story as a character, as the “god” to his creations, both explaining things to them and openly manipulating them.
This intrusion disrupted the suspended-disbelief needed to enjoy the elegant creation of his neat fantasy world, killing that unique fanboy frisson of trying to figure out all the mysteries and pull together all the pieces of the world. That pleasure is muted when you are slapped in the face with: this all happened because I, the author, made it up.
Sim, in his later monotheist phase, responded that only liberal-feminists, afraid to realize that they are characters in God’s story, are bothered by this. Well… could be.
THE “NOVEL” CEREBUS IS RIPE for the literary deepthink in many ways. Even Dickens never serialized a novel that took him 26 years to execute. While Sim has maintained the basic shape of his story was in place since 1979, one must wonder how a man who has gone through as many changes as he, all revealed to us through his letters columns and increasingly detailed back-of-the-comic essays, could have stayed the course.
With comic book stories, by nature you can’t draw more than a page or two a day; and when you publish it as a serial, you can’t go back and revise if your conception changes or talent increases. The questions arising from a novel whose creator switched from a gooey modern liberal atheist to a ferocious anti-feminist so dedicated to his vision of God that he has cut almost everything but prayer out of his life would make a great English lit grad thesis, methinks.
To wit: How much unity of theme, intent, and execution can really be found, given those unique circumstances of its creation? What is the significance of the fact that the protagonist of a novel is a hermaphrodite, given that its central theme is the duel between male and female nature and the perfidy of feminist thinking that elevates women to supposed complete equivalence with, or even dominance over, men?
At the end of the tale, Sim is certain that history will little note nor long remember what he accomplished. He includes in the letters section of his final issue a plea to his readers to write to the Canadian university that he hopes will archive his professional papers, explaining that they will be of enduring scholarly interest.
Sim is self-aware enough about how his art form is perceived to write that most people will doubtless judge Cerebus as having “about as much artistic value as, say, a scale-model of Buckingham Palace built, over the course of 26 years and three months, out of toothpicks.”
That quote is funny, which is apt, because in parts Cerebus can be about as funny as it gets. Like Woody Allen, who Sim dissects mercilessly through the character of Konigsberg, the hapless witness to Cerebus’ approximately 100-page exegesis of the first few books of the Torah late in the story, many old fans miss Sim’s “earlier, funnier work.”
And the dismissal is also sadly accurate, as far as most people’s perceptions of comic books go. But it is as wrong as can be. Cerebus is in fact as grand as any real palace — massive, daunting, and dazzling, big enough to live in, the stronghold of someone who is truly master of his domain, the domain of comic book storytelling.