Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Glacial Pacing

Cerebus #190 / #196 (January / July 1995)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard
PAUL SLADE:
(from The Idler, Spring 2004)
...The 300-issue structure he had chosen gave Sim the luxury to tell this story as slowly as he pleased, and he was approaching November's 1995's Cerebus 200 by the time he revealed many aspects of his 1979 vision to Cerebus readers. It was not until issue 179, for example, that we learnt a surprising fact about Cerebus' sexuality. We had to wait until issue 190 for Sim to tell us about the "kitchen knife incident" and until 196 to discover that he had reinterpreted Cerebus' early life to place one of the little fella's key decisions in the off-stage moments between issues 3 and 4.

This glacial pace has led many Cerebus readers to abandon the book in frustration, but Sim insists the boring bits are there for a reason. "To me, it's a matter of contrast," he said in 1985. "If nothing happens for three issues, then you know that, in the forth issue, there will be a revelation. There's no question that reading a single issue of Cerebus is not likely to convince someone to buy the book regularly. But let someone read ten issues in a row, and I might as well be pushing heroin."

4 comments:

Keith said...

After issue #196, I remember going back to re-read #4. I was fairly amazed to find his medallions had been painted as described in 196, although it is neither mentioned nor explained at the time.

Anonymous said...

I recall that, in one of the "Swords" introductions, Dave confessed that he'd forgotten why he put the designs on Cerebus's medallions. Interesting to see him make use of that 200 issues later.

-- Damian T. Lloyd, esp

Anonymous said...

My theory on why people might have stopped reading Cerebus: many intriguing plot points were never resolved or explained, and the things that were explained were not intriguing and were never plot points.

The medallions are an example. They are explained as hugely important; but there had been no clue that they were of any significance up to that point. But what about something like the Big Round Glowing White Strange Thing, which appeared repeatedly? Never explained. Or how about the doppelgangers of the Judge and the Regency Elf? Never explained. But Cerebus’ opinion of the Bible? Irrelevant to the main characters and not intriguing; but explained in detail. This tendency was a bit frustrating.

The end of Church & State was a long explanation of things that were not relevant to the characters and plot points introduced earlier. The end of Church & State said to me that Cerebus was about ambiguity: story elements were not going to be explained. While that is kind of cool and artsy, it also made it very easy to stop reading on a regular basis because I was never in suspense.

I didn't make it to the end of Jaka’s Story with the monthly series and simply bought the phone books here and there, and not always promptly. The rest of the series more than confirmed my opinion that there was very little plot-wise to anticipate; it was more about the artistry.

But for me, and I suspect many others, the slow pace was not the problem. In fact, I enjoyed the atmosphere and nuance that the slower pace of Cerebus allowed.

- Reginald P.

Anonymous said...

Reginald, I think your theory has something to it. "[M]any intriguing plot points were never resolved or explained, and the things that were explained were not intriguing and were never plot points." That could indeed turn off many readers who are used to stories that actually resolve on their own terms.

"The end of Church & State was a long explanation of things that were not relevant to the characters and plot points introduced earlier." Yeah, the story was never really resolved.

And it also points out one of Cerebus's biggest weaknesses. Whenever Dave wants to explain his big themes, he abandons plot, character, and often cartooning itself -- just pitches it all aside -- and writes directly at the reader. He doesn't integrate his themes into his story.

"[F]or me, and I suspect many others, the slow pace was not the problem."

The slower pace of Cerebus was refreshing in the 1980s, when Marvel and DC did mostly one- or two-issue stories.

-- Damian T. Lloyd, mjb