Dave Sim is celebrating the fortieth anniversary of the first Cerebus comic with a brand new Cerebus comic called Cerebus in Hell? There hasn’t been a new Cerebus story since 2004 when the series reached 300 issues and ended, like Sim set out to do. So what is Cerebus? Well, it’s complicated.
In 1977, Dave Sim, a Canadian cartoonist, began writing, drawing, and publishing Cerebus the Aardvark, a parody of Conan the Barbarian crossed with the “talking animal” genre that was popular at the time (due to Howard the Duck).
The story was mainly a parody of sword and sorcery-type stories, with some different things tossed in there, with characters like Red Sophia (a parody of Red Sonja), Thrunk (a parody of the Thing), Elrod of Melvinbone (a parody of Elric of Melnibone), and Lord Julius (a straight out pastiche of Groucho Marx), Jaka, and Rick.
However, around issue #20, the story began to change from a parody to a satire — specifically, a satire of religion and society, using the “ultra-matriarchial” Cirinists (basically an extreme parody of feminists). This is around the time when Dave Sim made the announcement that he was going to write, draw, and publish 300 issues of Cerebus.
The story became more convoluted, with Cerebus being elected Prime Minister of a country and then becoming Pope and becoming involved with a variety of love triangles and secondary characters, including further appearances by Lord Julius, Red Sophia, Jaka, Rick, and a character called “the Roach” who is mainly used to parody popular characters at DC and Marvel.
And then Oscar Wilde shows up and things go a bit off the rails. Cerebus takes a turn for more religious and social satire and then a giant leap into misogyny.
Let’s me take a step back and explain: Dave Sim was writing, drawing, and publishing every issue, although he had now hired another artist, Gerhard, to do the backgrounds. However, it was still stressful and, at one point, Sim had a nervous breakdown. Sim was also experimenting with drugs and philosophy, a dangerous combination. What this resulted in was a sharp right turn for his comic, where he included several text only essays about liberalism and feminism.
Or, more specifically, how humanity was divided into metaphorical “lights” and “voids.” Biological men had “lights” inside them, while women had “voids” and “voids” were “without a glimmer of understanding of intellectual processes.” One can see where this was swiftly turning into misogynistic mumbo-jumbo.
That didn’t stop Dave Sim. As he continued on writing and drawing Cerebus, he continued to include his philosophy about how feminism and women, basically, sucked. His essays were called “nutty and loathsome” and he himself was called a misogynist, which he vehemently denied. In fact, currently, if you want to be friends with Dave Sim, you must sign a form letter saying that he is not a misogynist. Or else he won’t be friends with you.
Cerebus the Aardvark finally ended with issue #300 in 2004. Dave Sim accomplished when he had set out to accomplish, although probably not in the way he originally envisioned. His drawing partner, Gerhard, dissolved their partnership and quit comics completely. Sim himself has been trying to get a cartoon version of Cerebus off the ground for a while and recently digitized the entire series (with him offering the first two “phonebooks” for whatever you would like to pay).
Cerebus was certainly an interesting comic book and it played with the format exceedingly well. There were a lot of good things about it. It’s just that the bad things about it tended to outweigh the good bits. So whether or not Cerebus in Hell? will be good or bad is...up for debate.
In any case, that was Cerebus.