March 19, 2006

What's in a name?

From high school through college, I was a comics connoisseur--or so I felt I was at the time--and I really enjoyed Dave Sim's book Cerebus. Sim started Cerebus as a low-fantasy parody (red-haired Sophia in her chainmail bikini with attendant "scarring" jokes; "Elrod of Melvinbone," etc.) with forays into parodying comics themselves (anything with the Roach character appearing). The star was the earth-pig born, Cerebus the Aardvark.

Sim had a delightful sense of the absurd and as Cerebus was the longest-running independent comic on the market, it was also very interesting to see how the book had developed over time. Sim's pledge was to continue to 300 issues, a feat that had never before been accomplished by an independent publisher. As the series evolved and morphed from one-off stories to much longer arcs and eventually into mega-length graphic novels, Cerebus was organized into various titled books.

Real life intervened, and my comic-buying days ended with the discovery of things called "bills." This was somewhere around issue #130 or so, about midway through the book "Jaka's Story." I always regretted not getting back to reading comics in general and Cerebus in particular.

The series ended with the promised issue #300 in March of 2004. A couple of weeks ago I got the opportunity to read the entire series, from issue #1. I got to about issue #275 before I just couldn't force myself to go any further (and that was after really really forcing myself over that last 50, and simply skimming the last 25).

Cerebus is a perfect example of jumping the shark.

Now, usually when you get into these kinds of conversations, no two people can agree on exactly when something jumped the shark. Perceiving the proverbial shark-vaulting is, IMHO, a very personal thing. For me, Cerebus jumped the shark after the conclusion of the book "Mothers & Daughters," collected in Minds. This book culminates in Cerebus' actual ascension into heaven and conversation with his Creator. This even, ending in issue #200, tied together a large number of plots that had been developed over the previous 150 issues, and was the "end" I really had been looking for. (SPOILER WARNING: Cerebus, since he's a comic book creation, actually communes with his writer/artist, Dave Sim; something that I just found to be a perfect fit into the world Sim had created).

After that, though, the book really jumps the shark.

You can go out to Google and look up Sim's views on women. I won't go into specific details here. Suffice to say that Sim seems to think that, through the writings in his author's note polemics, he has fought and slain feminism on the intellectual battlefield. But Sim never realizes that he hasn't actually engaged feminist thought; he's merely attacked a construction of feminism of his own devising. Pathetically, Sim is engaged in a straw man argument with himself; an argument he can't help but win. If you choose the game, the rules, the venue, the sides, ref the game, and judge the outcome, how can you help but look good? In this, he resembles talking heads like Rush Limbaugh more than anything, and that's pathetic; most especially for a guy who thinks he's just so much smarter than his readers.

But while these views on women in general and feminism in particular of Sim's lurk in the subtext of the first 200 issues, past #200 they completely take over. There's no story left, and the book begins to feel like an extended lecture by an increasingly maniacal professor. And that's not any fun any more; at least, not unless you've already drunk the Kool-aid.

So I skimmed a few more issues, just to see if there was any hint of getting back on track. But there wasn't, so I stopped, and I have no desire to try again. I can only thank the stars that I didn't spend my own money on them.

Why I bring this up here is that I now find myself in a bit of a pickle. I've been using a userid of "cerebus" since 1989, when I started my junior semester at Boston University. At the time, my enjoyment of Sim's work led me to adopt the aardvark as an online personality. And after using it for so many years, it's become a pretty deeply ingrained habit. But now I find myself wanting to establish distance between myself and Sim, particularly given some of his rather more noxious views on issues of sexuality. But this moniker is so deeply tied into my Internet presence in so many different ways in so many different arenas, I don't think I can exorcise it completely. It's not a matter of simply forwarding my email. Let's put it this way--there are people out there I've known for years who, in all likelihood, only know me as "Cerebus."

Sixteen years is a long time, especially on the Internet, for a name to weasel its way into so many different places. This is certainly a "If I knew then what I know now" kind of situation.

Posted by cerebus at March 19, 2006 11:28 PM