pseudopodium
. . . Cerebus

. . .

Pictures & Voids

Jaka's Story (1988-1990) is the name of a volume of Dave Sim's Cerebus comic and the name of a prose narrative interspersed through it. As Scott Eric Kaufman points out, the inset text carries peculiar authority, given that it's a sub-Beerbohm parody of Oscar Wilde written by a Mort-Drucker-y caricature of Oscar Wilde.

It inherited that authority from two generic ancestors:

Sim started fully exploiting this heritage in High Society (1981-1983). The book begins with a traditional caption:

THE REGENCY -- IEST'S OLDEST AND MOST LAVISH HOTEL!.. AND CEREBUS' LAST HOPE IN HIS SEARCH FOR A ROOM AND FOOD!

Moves on to the self-captioning of the simply sensational Moon Roach:

AS THE RAIN TRICKLES DOWN HIS CHEST AND INTO HIS SHORTS, THE MOON ROACH BEGINS TO THINK OF SHELTER

And then inserts typeset excerpts from The Six Crises, a political memoir/analysis of High Society's time:

seemed to essentially evolve from the discontent felt by the emerging splinter parties mentioned in the previous chapter.

Which becomes surprisingly, movingly embodied in Sim's book when Crises' author appears as a character on both books' shared last page.

What a MERELY MAGNIFICENT find! Embedded prose pastiche gave Sim an ENTIRELY NEW WAY to exploit / indulge his uniquely confounding / exhilarating gift / curse for obscuring / hinting-at the "real world" using "purely conventional" devices!

Then, as often happens, the creative breakthrough became a strangulating hernia.

See, I'm not one of those nice people who started worrying when Sim dedicated his life to the Gospel of the Lockhorns. I consume plenty of work by unpleasant cranks. (Some acquaintances would say I produce it, too.)

No, I'm one of those shallow people who hate to read. Even sliced and garnished, I got sick of the taste of Cod Oscar. And I gave up on Cerebus when I opened the phone books and they still looked like phone books. Just as clearly and graphically as Lord Julius depicts "Groucho", those flat slabs of text seemed to depict "Diminishing Returns".

Responses

Nephelidia

The impeccable Mr. Waggish:

Always surprised how often people fall back on Sim's skills as a parodist to justify his talent. Most of his parodic strength lies in his *wacky lettering*, not in his prose. Sans the PT Bridgeport emphases, the typeset text is fatal almost immediately.

His wacky speech and thought balloons are awfully nice, too. (As further proof of my shallowness, I think of the Regency Elf dialogues first.)

. . .

Reference Work, Interlude : The nnyhav Remix

nnyhav writes: "I want to bring to your attention that when Lethem is elided from the interview, what remains reads like a Donald Barthelme short."

Birnbaum v.

[greyhound and master are approaching in the distance] Rosie hates that dog. And her owner is totally oblivious. I just think he's goofy Rosie really dislikes that dog. I'm going to hold on to you, Rosie.

So, we talked last almost two years ago? We were going to reconvene for your essay collection, and things didn't work out. And we connected after that, and you gave me the impression that you had things on your mind maybe not of great urgency, that were pressing on you. [laughs] vituperation. Since the novel, you have published some stories and published an essay collection, which is something of a hybrid. Certainly they are essays but not exactly. These were written for the purpose of being in one collection?

Hey, hey. Stop it. OK, OK. [Dog and owner pass by.] See what I mean? There is something odd. Good girl, Rosie. So, this was at a point everything you wrote was for publication? I was focusing on your having said that you wrote it and there had been no commission? The Searchers is a perennial in top 10 movie lists. Is there writing you didn't include or you discarded?

Have you read Greil Marcus's Like a Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan at the Crossroads? You must have read Dylan's Chronicles. I found it to be an odd awkward read, though I enjoyed it. I liked the audio version read by Sean Penn, which gave me a better feeling for it. Yeah, I didn't access it well on the page.

What do you make of the review that Brent Staples published in the New York Times last week on The Disappointment Artist? My first question was, "Why publish that now?" Not that there should be a time limit and in fact I liked that Maybe it's a break with the industry's conventional wisdom that a book has a six-week window so this was not tied to the publication date. It's as much if not more about him than about you.

See how fierce she is?

American newspaper book reviewing seems to be insubstantial, and for me the only reason to read them is for a particular writer, not for news or judgment about a book. The magazines are just a hair better. Why are newspapers so stingy with how many books they notice? Do these things actually sell books? I mean the good versus the bad. Some critical mass has to be achieved.

The short-story collection, the essays, so here you are and here it is summertime are you sitting by idly doing nothing? A novel! Were the stories diversions while you figured it out? Appendices?

At the moment do you look at where is the seam or break in your career trajectory? They think that because it's more personal and Can you recall the content of your first novels? Are you propelled by or moved by some desire to be original, to never repeat or recapitulate or cover old ground? Do you even think in those terms? [laughs] Maybe another way of asking that big, sloppy, puppy dog question that I tried is: As you create a larger body of work, how self-conscious are you about No, but thinking about, "Have I learned something?" Maybe it's not as concise a thought as "Am I a better writer?" or something like that. Perhaps, "Can I do this?"

You had to read Roth as opposed to I don't get the sense that you've had that kind of personal experience or reflected on that kind of personal experience. That you really thought about where you lived and traveled. You had to read it to get it? The naming of some specific real world thing gives it an additional potency? Or even whether there is an accurate description Is that what you want from your reader? If I'm watching a movie, do I want to be conscious that I am watching the movie?

OK, thank you. [laughs]

There is that recurring issue of all that's relevant is what's on the page. A porous, permeable self-contained entity. Um yeah. [laughs] You still live in Brooklyn an area that has a very high writer population per capita. You said something about living there's the writing, which is a big part of your life. When you live in Brooklyn, what's your life experience outside of writing? What do you do? Is your living always tied to being a writer? How conscious or self-conscious are you about what you do? Do you skydive? That's seems to be an expected writerly thing to do. You're a pain the ass. Hey! Quiet.

If you are Borges or that type of writer, you are expected to not have a life outside books and letters and to sit in a room and fill up pages. I'm not expecting it, or anything. When you talk about a life that is including things that are [more] specific, that are real, then one becomes curious about what those things are that you are seeing and experiencing and most of all utilizing to make stories and tell stories. Not that I really want specifics just to know that you are doing something other than sitting in a room all day and writing, or trying to. [laughs]

So much for short attention spans. Ian McEwan wondered how short attention spans allowed for the consumption of big books like The Da Vinci Code he speculated that attention spans might not be a matter of biology but of culture. Our training inclines us to look at realism as the truth because we can readily identify these things There is some laziness possible when one reads certain texts. I notice some writers will insert "fictional" facts They'll create places and flowers and all sorts of things and that's taken notice of as if the rest of it is of a different metaphysical status. Seemingly smart and savvy people fall prey to this impulse. To what do you ascribe their motives? With imagination [laughs] Does that suggest a steady downward spiral of the critical conversation? It's worse than reactionary.

[laughs] What you read about Houellebecq now is that he reportedly fell asleep in a TV interview. All this ambient trivia. The danger of becoming what you are fighting.

Responses

Peli:

If "x without x" [Garfield without, Lethem interview without] ever becmes a thing, someone should totally to a "Kenneth Goldsmith's 'Soliloquy' without Goldsmith"
Clearly, Bob Newhart should get busy filing lawsuits.
Sentemental comedy of Goldsmith's attempt to revive comedy

Update: Cerebus without.

. . .

Rebirth of the Earth-Pig Born

It only takes a slight twist of carrier or population for the common cold of aesthetics to feed a Real-Life global plague. Live long enough, you live through more than one epidemic.

When I was a teenager I watched the baroque cynicism of Henry Beard and Michael O'Donoghue downsized to the thudding LCD opportunism of P. J. O'Rourke, and then watched O'Rourke become, well, a real bad hangover.

When I worked with the divorced libertarians of DEC, I met the first generation of networked resentful misogynist pampered dweebs. I'm still a little amazed at how effectively they breed.

I'd often wondered how WCW and Zuk and such felt when trying to stay friends with Ezra Pound, and last year, as my Twitbook feeds filled with Protocols of the Elders of Clinton, I learned.

And while reading yet another two 4chan-to-Gamergate-to-Trump think pieces, a nagging peripheral memory finally pulled into focus: Cerebus.

Not so much Cerebus-the-character, who Jeet Heer picked as Trumpalike a year ago. More Cerebus-the-comic-book: a Shoah-slow train ride from geeky lulz to lunatic-fringe antifeminism through a series of cosmological mother-in-law jokes. Beginning with MAD parodies of teenage-boy-aimed comics, Sim took his hard-earned technique into realms in which it's a less, let's say, established bearer of light: the Flaming Carrot and Druckerized Lou Jacobi dropped wisdom on the moon; Druckerized Maggie Thatcher led execution-torture for the matriarchal dystopia; Druckerized Oscar Wilde and Ernest Hemingway rotated with Druckerized Marty Feldman and Mick Jagger and Batman/Wolverine/Punisher.

If the timing was different, if the comic hadn't peaked thirty years ago, Pepe the Frog would probably have made an appearance there. On the web, Cerebus the Aardvark might've been photoshopped into The Deplorables. My alternate-forecasting skills aren't sharp enough to guess the reaction of the generous working-class Jewish-Muslim syncretist who created Cerebus.

 

Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
Public domain work remains in the public domain.
All other material: Copyright 2015 Ray Davis.