Wilde Digression

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Back in junior high and high school, I had a serious addiction. My supplier knew me by name and was always waiting for me. He knew I'd come for my steady fix to satisfy my jones. The habit consumed all my free cash. It got so bad, I did things-- terrible, heinous things, like mowing lawns and babysitting-- to finance my addiction. I was a comic book junkie. "Still only 35 cents!" the covers screamed. A bargain at twice the price. And soon, twice again. And that's when, as a poor college student, I finally knocked the monkey off my back. $1.50 per issue? Excelsior indeed.

DC Comics, with its geriatric residents of Gotham, Metropolis, and Central City, was decidedly uncool. As I got older, I experimented in the DC universe-- Teen Titans, the reinvented Wonder Woman and Superman. But I was mostly a mainstream superhero guy, loyal to Marvel Comics. X-Men, New Mutants, Daredevil, Fantastic Four, Avengers, Firestorm, and too many others to count (the complete run of Micronauts! Oh, the humanity!). I pretty much ignored the burgeoning independent scene-- Elfquest, Zot!, Mage, Nexus. Upstarts with an axe to grind and a higher price tag, both of which I could do without.

With one exception.

Cerebus was an odd little duck. Exquisitely detailed black and white artwork in a world of zip-a-tone color. A talking, sword-wielding aardvark in a world of men. A Canadian comic book going it alone in a world of American publishing giants. The unique artistic style caught my attention. The storytelling and frequent parodies of mainstream comics kept it. Mainstream comics were written for teenagers, but Cerebus was written for adults. I was hooked.

Cerebus got dropped 15 years ago along with all the other comics, and I always kind of regretted that. But I had to go cold turkey. I couldn't bear to visit a comics shop only to limp out with but a single title under my arm. And I couldn't trust myself to do just that. But now, as an adult, I got to wondering what I've been missing. And so last year I got a couple of the "phone book" Cerebus compilations, picking up from where I left off.

Cerebus is a barbarian aardvark who talks of himself in the third person. He likes ale and gold. A lot. In the course of his story he's been both prime minister and pope, devices which let Sim explore the trappings of power. Church & State was classic Cerebus. Jaka's Story was a departure but a welcome and successful one, focusing a great deal on a secondary character's history and less on Cerebus himself. It worked because of Jaka's popularity, her intimate connection with Cerebus, and the quality of creator Dave Sim's story. Good stuff.

And then, last night, came Melmoth. What was Sim smoking? Melmoth consists of 12 issues-- an entire year of the series. Cerebus spends all but the last half of the last issue sitting on a patio staring into space. Wait, it gets better. The bulk of these issues is devoted to a retelling of the final days of Oscar Wilde.

Now, I don't begrudge a writer/artist a bit of artistic freedom. The occasional literary tangent within a comic is to be expected. An issue here or there over the course of the run, to keep the juices flowing. But an entire year? Devoted to a story in which nothing happens, about a character who has no meaning within the Cerebus universe? What was he thinking? Imagine a whole year of Peanuts strips about Issac Newton narrated by Pig Pen, or Sports Illustrated offering 12 months of nothing but coverage of church bake sales. Sim's hubris wasn't in wandering off on a 12 month indulgence, or foisting his Wilde obsession on his readers. His hubris was making an excruciatingly boring comic book in doing so. I paid half price for Melmoth and still feel ripped off.

An entire year. Un-frickin-believable.

4 Comments

Well, in later phone books, he does stories with Ernest Hemmingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, and what is funny, is he expresses his hatred for Hemmingway in the appendix. But with Hemmingway and Fitzgerald(though they have different names, very close to there real ones) they are very much a part of the story. Don't let Melmoth bring you down on this book, it is still a great read.

Year after year, I keep buying Cerebus comics, hoping that it will be funny again. It never is.

...but back in the days of Church & State, it was SOOOO funny. I keep extending the benefit of the doubt.

The drawing is still beatuful, but the prose stinks.

I blame drugs and ego.

I agree with you there, his ego has gotten huge, but I'm sticking with it til the end just to see if he really does kill Cerebus or if he sells out to keep going and get the money.

Maybe it's a clinical mania?http://www.aslan.demon.co.uk/davewatch.htm

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