Sean Michael Robinson:
In honor of the 28th anniversary of one of my favorite comics ever, Cerebus 112/113, I thought I'd offer some of the thoughts I've been mulling over in preparation for writing my Church & State II essay for the recently completed restoration work.
Firstly, like the very best of Cerebus, the story can be analysed and appreciated from a variety of standpoints. Seen solely from a narrative standpoint, it's a devastating comeuppance for a character who has never been particularly interested in the consequences of his own actions. Here are the things you've done, Cerebus, laid out before you. As Dave said in the intro to the story in Cerebus Zero, it's a return to the scene of the crime. This is made all the more powerful for how unexpected it is. When Cerebus throws the baby off the steps and into the crowd, when he terrorizes the whole of the city, when he rapes Astoria, it's not clear that consequences, repercussions, are coming. Cerebus 112/113 is a reminder that those repercussions are real, that consequences are real, even if they're delayed, or diffuse. In a certain way it's the last double-page spread of Church and State amplified and stretched out over forty silent pages.
And of course, the silent aspect is a stark contrast to the climax of Church and State, even while the tone in turn amplifies the Judge's monologue on human nature and celestial climax.
On another level, Cerebus 112/113 strikes me as, accidental or not, a striking formal exercise. You see, it's not just Cerebus returning to the scene of the crime. It's Dave Sim and Gerhard.
112/113 takes place entirely in the hotel in the Upper City of Iest, the setting of the majority of Church & State I. This is an environment that was created on the fly, month by month, to fit the needs of the story as it developed. Cerebus and Boobah need to play cards? There's a garden and atrium. Posey and Cerebus need alone time? Basement with terrifying fog. Storage for gold? Tremendous lobby. Every area of the hotel, then, is charged with the events that took place there, but before 112/113, there's no evidence of any kind of coherence to the environments, other than narrative coherence. But 112/113 provides the unique experience of walking through the places where all of these events took place, and in that walk through, creating a coherence that didn't exist prior to that issue.
If the first half of Church & State I is, visually, a three-camera sit-com, where the needs of the cast, camera equipment, audience, and budget, take precedence over the overall visual effect, then 112/113 is a Kurosawa movie, where each environment feels real and whole, where people both occupy and are occupied by the surrounding space and environment, where meaning comes from small moments of silence and reflection, and absence is as present as anything else.
It's an effect that is at its height in the next book, Jaka's Story. Not coincidentally, Jaka's Story was also the first book where the environments for the story were worked out in full before any pages were produced. And it's the book with the smallest physical spaces, and the one in which the proximity of the characters to each other creates the majority of the conflict and action.
(The "silent" aspect of the issue was still fairly novel at the time of publication, that particular stretching of the form having been inaugurated by Larry Hama in 1984, in GI Joe #21. I wouldn't be surprised if Hama himself was influenced by Japanese comics, where silent sequences were a lot more common, given the length of manga and the visual literacy of the comics-reading public)
As for the restoration project: if/when we get to the end of the series, the current plan is to restore all of the "Miscellanea" work afterwards. To that end, we've been acquiring scans of all available Cerebus original artwork. In the case of 112/113, it looks like all but one of these pages were sold during the run of the book. It's easy to imagine why—Dave and Gerhard were on tour for several years after the issue was published, and the images are very striking and iconic, no doubt helped by the lack of text on the pages. In other words, each page has a slightly more "frame-able" look. (Which makes me wonder if the almost complete takeover of digital lettering isn't at least partially due to original art sales making up a larger and larger slice of the ever-shrinking illustration pie?)
Anyway, we've had scans of six "in the wild" pages sent to us so far, leaving another 33 (!) or so unaccounted for. Thank you, donors!
Here's a closeup of one of the pages we've received scans of. You can see Dave's instruction to Gerhard above the first panel, which also serves as a nice title to the page.
More next week!