Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Cerebus ... the Human?

Mara Sedlins:

Well: the work on C & S I is finished, I’m back from the “hinterlands” of Minnesota (or more accurately, the “suburban-lands” where I grew up), and soon I’ll be turning my attention to restoration work for C & S II. It’s a nice juncture to reach - when you’ve finished one project but haven’t quite dived into the next one yet. There’s a bit of room to breathe. To reflect, to reassess. With each book, we’re finding new strategies to make the restoration work even better, the workflow more efficient and predictable (e.g., the coincidence of my trip to MN with the last stages of book layout for C & S I was unintentional - we plan to have more lead time on the deadline for future books).

While Sean is working on the initial page adjustments for C & S II, I’m preparing the next batch of finder’s prizes for our latest contributions to the art hunt. So if we missed you in the last round, look forward to a thank-you certificate in the mail soon!

When I was in Minnesota I had a chance to finish reading C & S I, so I thought I’d use this blog post to share my reflections on the latter part of the book. When I was about halfway through, I wrote a bit about psychological principles of persuasion and the ways I saw them being applied (or not) by various characters in their struggle for power over public belief. But after having finished the book, I no longer find this the most compelling way to think about what’s going on in Church & State. Sure, there are some great examples of persuasion and psychological manipulation. Bran Mak Mufin flatters Cerebus like crazy and leads him down a line of thought that ends in the conquest of the Red Marches. Meanwhile Lord Julius convinces Bishop Powers to enthusiastically “force” the Presidency on him through your classic reverse psychology (or “reactance,” in academic-speak). And the power of conformity continues to be portrayed hyperbolically (but, disturbingly, not far from realistically) in the way the crowd eats up Cerebus the Pope’s every word (at least, until a new pope strides onto the scene).

But what really drew me in as I read the second part of the book were the moments when Cerebus the Aardvark starts to show signs of vulnerability. Of emotional depth. When he begins to look more human than aardvark.

Maybe it’s not surprising that my favorite pages are those depicting the internal psychological states of a character. I don’t think it’s just my background in psych, though - these are the types of moments that touch on universal human experience. Feeling crappy and alone. Waiting to find out if someone you care about cares back. Waking up from a freaky dream. These are the kinds of private moments that I think visual art is uniquely suited for communicating. As I make my way through Cerebus, I’m finding that often the most impactful pages are those that are pure image, with no dialogue or text at all.

Given that observation, it’s probably not a coincidence that I felt more drawn into the book as I read through the second half. After all, this is when Dave extends his powers of visual communication with the addition of Gerhard to his artistic team. In the excellent essay that Sean wrote for the new edition of C & S I, he offers some great insights about how the visual elements of Cerebus evolve over the course of this volume. I won’t say more here - you can enjoy reading the essay yourselves - but it definitely gave me a more nuanced perspective on this and other aspects of the book.

In his introduction to C & S I, Dave warns readers that the book has a cliffhanger ending. And he’s right - after finishing the book, I’m left with a lot of questions and loose ends. I’m particularly intrigued by the mysterious or “supernatural” elements. Does Cerebus really have the power to declare the end of the world? Will we learn more about why four separate characters all have Cerebus’ handwriting? Was that one coin really “struck by Tarim,” or is Cerebus imagining things? What truth did Weisshaupt realize on his deathbed? Where are the two other aardvarks? Who or what is that glowing ball of light? It’s been fun for me (and for at least some of you) to share my imaginations of what’s going on with the plot based solely on my incidental, mostly zoomed-in perceptions doing restoration work. But this time I can’t promise I won’t read ahead in order to find out what happens next!


Tony Dunlop said...


Jeff Seiler said...

It's so much fun, Mara, after 33 years of reading/knowing Cerebus to hear about it from a newbie's experience!

Please, please, please keep up the running commentary.

Plus, the psych profiles. Those warm the cockles of my psychology background.

Steve said...

Jeff, please, do us all a favor - keep those warm cockles to yourself!

Jason Winter said...

Keep reading Mara, you're in for one heck of a ride!