Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Cerebus and High Society

(All rights belong to their owners.  Images used here for review purposes only.)

It was around 1980 when I first discovered the Cerebus the Aardvark comic.  I was a member of the Minnesota SF group, Minn-Stf, at the time, and I wanted to show everyone this new comic.  However, it was already up to about issue 15 or 16 and most of the earliest issues were already off the shelves.  I literally hit every comic book shop in Minnesota to collect the full set.  It was worth the effort.  I loved the humor, the twisted parodies of Conan the Barbarian and Red Sonia, and the idea of a 3'-tall "herd of gray teddy bears" pummeling people.  I was able to ensnare enough other readers of the comic to generate interest in doing a fan-based radio show of the first few issues as part of the Shockwave Radio Theater group (with Dave Sim's approval).  I continued buying the comics for a couple of years, but eventually the cover prices went up, and my shelf space went down, so I guess I stopped somewhere around issue 100.  Dave was also taking the story in directions that I no longer really cared about, so that factored pretty heavily in my decision to quit the title before the Flight arc started.

But, it's been over 30 years since I last read it, and when the CARE package from back home was being prepared following the car accident, I asked for the first couple of collected volumes to have something to read.  (Thanks for the CARE package!)  Cerebus and High Society are about 560 and 515 pages respectively, and used, in the $12 apiece range.  Which is a good deal since they represent the first 52 issues.  Man, I never realized just how much work must have gone into making them.  The artwork is often incredibly detailed (although the character designs are erratic and often downright wrong), and the cameo characters are hilarious.  It does take a long time for the story to coalesce from straight Conan parody and contemporary social satire, but with the start of High Society, Dave starts exploring more of the dynamics of his universe, and does a fantastic job of describing how king-making works, with the rise and rapid fall of empires.  I fondly remember the Regency Elf, and she's just as much fun this time around, too.

One of the best parts of early Cerebus was the inclusion of real-life people, from Groucho and Chico Marx, to Rodney Dangerfield.  Part of the challenge is to catch the joke names (like, "Fort Palin" and "Fort Cleese"), or figure out who a new character is before the giveaway joke is introduced.  I wonder how many younger readers today would know who Elrod of Melvinbone or Adam Weisshaupt are based on.

I noticed as I'd gotten about halfway through High Society that I was finally understanding some of the cultural descriptions better.  Originally, I was completely lost when it came to the wars being fought, and the machinations involved in raising money.  This time, though, the majority of what Sim wrote was actually making sense.  I guess, beyond simply being older and having more experience to draw on, it helped having all 500 pages of the story in one place and reading it cover to cover over two days.  Although, I kept finding myself reading too fast and not spending enough time looking at the pictures.  I'll wait a few days and then go back and focus just on the artwork again.  Now, I need to ask for another CARE package and the next couple of volumes.  Amazing just how many pages of Cerebus there were before Dave finally ended it at issue 300.

Highly recommended.

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