Page 45 Review by Stephen
Otherwise known as CEREBUS: GOING HOME vol 2, this magnificent book follows the final leg of Cerebus and Jaka's trek across Cirinist territory to what we hope is still Cerebus' home town of Sand Hills Creek.
Winter fast closing in, they enlist the aid of the supposedly seasoned adventurers Ham Ernestway and his acid-faced wife, but their African guides quickly realize they're going far too slowly. Cerebus is besotted by the Ham Ernestway, even though he's clearly suffering some serious brain damage as a result of the electro-'therapy' he endured in real life, and Dave manages to evoke all the awe of the fawning devotee that he must have endured himself, along with the chameleon effect of emulation which serves as a perfect opportunity to parody Hemingway's prose style which could be looked on kindly as straightforward but which Sim finds, well, prosaic.
The trek also gives Ham's wife the opportunity to read out her journal of their African safari, pointedly, to an increasingly alarmed Jaka and Cerebus, and the art here will just blow you away. We've been treated to some stunning backgrounds by Gerhard before as well as Sim's inventive storytelling devices, but never before have I seen such lush art in CEREBUS as the African plains, populated by antelope and lions, zebras and elephants. The light is hot and dry, the tent scenes rendered with perfect shadow (the drizzle scene on page 511 feels so right), and his figure drawing seems to hit another level altogether. Not to be outdone, Gerhard's campfire shadows and silhouettes, winter leaves and trees are awesome - a quick glimpse at the approaching storm on pages 564 and 565, and you just know they're in trouble. And they are, on so many levels.
And so to the notes at the back of the book, 'To Ham Or To Ham Not', the second consecutive time that Dave Sim decided to annotate his work, both in the monthly issues then reprinted in the collections. After careful consideration, I would advise you earnestly to avoid reading them, certainly before your first enjoyment of the work itself. After that, well, it's up to you. Unlike the prose sections of READS, they are not part of the story and though I very much regret Dave's decision to translate his 'Survival Swahili' only here rather than within the body itself (for a couple of the guides' exchanges are hysterically funny and perfectly timed, and others would appear to be fairly essential clues to where the story's heading), they cannot help but colour not only one's reading of the work but also one's assessment of Dave's success.
As I've written, the body itself is a tour de force. Cerebus and Jaka (and most emphatically Ham and his wife) are flawed creatures as are we all, and it has become increasingly apparent through the length of CEREBUS that whatever initial instincts drew them together and continue to give them pleasure as a couple (though with diminishing returns), they are not on the same wave-length, partly because of the gender traits they have or rather the mix of particular gender traits which form core parts of their being. Disappointment looks inevitable.
Dave's handling of this common romantic predicament is, in the fiction, impeccably well observed, subtly and judiciously conveyed, and naturally, credibly developed. Sim's own beliefs, however, as he has set them out in the letter columns of the monthly issues and now hammered home (bullishly, predictably, then finally monotonously) in these two highly subjective theses, appear to be more final, more black and white, and less open to any sense of people as vastly different, individual human beings, and whilst the READS pieces struck me as artistically innovative, perfectly positioned, cleverly mounted and refreshingly provocative parts of the whole work that is CEREBUS, I personally believe Dave's decision to reprint these two sledge-hammer dissections/character assassinations in the books to be ill-judged. It's his book (obviously), he does what he wants (obviously), but I think he does the subtle work a disservice with these decidedly unsubtle onslaughts.
More importantly - like any reading of Evelyn Waugh's magnificent Brideshead Revisited in the knowledge that the author was, laughably, attempting to promote Catholicism - it suggests that Dave failed in achieving what he set out to do in the work itself: expose Mrs. Hemingway as a little more than a vapid, poisonous, self-conscious and self-centered control freak. Because my recent rereading of FORM & VOID gave me no such impression. I thought she was bullied and humiliated by men.
Another entirely speculative possibility is that Dave found he couldn't fit the stuff he wanted to say about Mary (and women in general) into the last few years of his work, and decided to throw them at a captive audience while he still had the chance. It's a mercy that his final word on gender, 'Tangent', remains where he printed it, in the back of the monthly.*
* For the record I'd like to share my personal assessment, that 'Tangent' (published at the back of CEREBUS #265) was as ever full of sharp observations on gender, sex and sexuality as tendencies (rather than absolutes as Dave would have it), some of which were spot-on. And there are few brave enough to voice these political views in what I agree is a culpably irrational society so scared of considering anything hard or at odds with a bludgeoning consensus it's so easy to give in to. The literally ignorant reactions to his considered contenions proves that at least. But Dave's conclusions from these observations (apart from women are not men - d'uh!), reached through some uncharacteristically emotional void, were as laughable as his condescension.
Just like his self-publishing stance, I would hope that Sim is being deliberate in his extremism in order to provoke some hard debate for it was a clever piece, tactically capped with the sly distraction of race sympathy which we all (one presumes) take to be self-evident, but Dave's dismissive ridicule of his former secretary was as childish as his reaction to the alleged 'lie' he charges Jeff Smith with, and though I respect Dave's refusal to absorb conventional interpretations of most religious writings without questioning them first, it came as no surprise to me at all that when he wants to use the highly suspect, politically motivated and repressionist works of the Qur'an and the Bible, along with a saintly dose of self-righteous humility, he finds them convenient succours to his cause.
Still, great sheep jokes in #266.