Thursday, December 28, 2006

Religion in Cerebus - Part Five

In 1983, in the introduction to #19 written for Swords of Cerebus Volume 5, Dave Sim came up with an analogy to explain the intricacies of the secret societies and intrigues and power struggles he was dealing with:

I tried to explain the problem a while ago by explaining that most of the factors involved are secret societies -- to put it in a more modern context, it is like a secret cell of Soviet spies in the U.S. government hiring North Vietnamese and Cuban infiltrators to find out if the Red Chinese embassy in Japan is really spying for the Lithuanians in an attempt to find out if the KGB was behind the plot to kill the Pope and hire more Afghanistan refugees to doublecheck the rumours about the John Birch Society joining forces with the Mafia to break the stranglehold the Teamsters have on the underground network of solidarity supporters in Moose Jaw.

He goes on to note that "300 issues may not be enough" and as it turns out his inability to portray this effectively (in the same intro he says he deliberately chose to do "High Society" partly in attempt to deal with all these things, and also says that as he's writing this he's half done with #50 and it has "one helpful line of dialogue"), combined with his eventual waning interest in the fantasy/adventure/conspiracy plot compared to using Cerebus as a vehicle to comment on contemporary reality meant that we would never really be able to make much more sense of it all than one can of that analogy.

Still, for what it's worth, here is something like a scorecard with the players in this high-stakes game:

The Eastern Orthodox Tarimite Church: headed by the Eastern Pope, who must be a native Iestan, this group is apparently the successor to a matriarchal society that once ruled Iest, though it's not certain whether they worshipped "Tarim" or "Terim" (see Oscar's discourse on Guffins in "Jaka's Story"). In its structure and socio-political role in society, this seems more-or-less based on the Roman Catholic Church in the late Middle Ages, just before the Reformation (in other words, at about the time of the Italian Renaissance, our 15th Century, which is roughly about the same time it is in Estarcion during our story), but in doctrine it sometimes seems more like the puritanical Protestant Churches like Assembly of God that have produced most American televangelists.

The Western Empire: headed by an Emperor/Pope in one person who rules by right of conquest, literally killing his predecessor in order to claim the title of Pope. Other than that bit of weirdness, this church is similar in doctrine to the other Church of Tarim, but even more puritanical and less tolerant. Think of the leadership of the Eastern Church as Jesuits, intellectually flexible and capable of almost atheistic devil's advocate positions in argumentation, for instance, while the Western Church is more Calvinistic and dogmatic.

The Cirinists: led by an aardvark who calls herself "Cirin" but was born "Serna." There are hints that there was an earlier Cirin, perhaps even multiple earlier Cirins, as there have been many people named Suenteus Po. Certainly Cirin (the real Cirin, Serna's friend and the real founder of the movement) was not the first to envision a matriarchy. As I pointed out earlier, Iest had once been ruled by a matriarchy, and early on ("Mind Games II," issue #28) Po says that Cirin is trying to "restore" the Corn-King rituals. The Cirinists are, like the Tarimite, monotheists, but they believe that God is Terim, a Great Mother, rather than Tarim, a Great Father.

The Kevillists: founded by Astoria in rebellion against the Cirinists, they share many of the Cirinists core belief (such as worshipping Terim), but reject the rule of Mothers and seek freedom for Daughters, including the freedom to reject Motherhood through birth control and/or abortion. In many ways, Kevillists mirror modern feminists, as Dave sees them.

The Eye of the Pyramid: a group supposedly run by Lord Julius' social secretary and taken care of during the Palnu Trilogy (issues #14-16), it later resurfaces and seems to be in fact an organization run behind the scenes by Astoria and her Kevillists, using bureaucrats and secretaries to infiltrate and undermine governments.

The Illusionists: the movement founded by Suenteus Po the First, about whom we learn very, very little through the course of the story, and yet whose way of thinking, what little we can discover of it, seems to be largely in line with Dave's own up until his conversion to monotheism. I'll explain shortly.

Weisshaupt's minions: these must be quite numerous by the time of the climactic Trial in "Church & State," when even after death he is able to place a gold sphere in the Papal Throne Room. Weisshaupt may be an Illusionist. Cirin certainly thinks so, and Pope Harmony calls him a Magician.

Dave has recently stated categorically that Lord Julius was an Illusionist, although it's not certain whether that is the monotheistic Dave looking back on what he has created and giving his opinion or that is what he had in mind from the beginning. Certainly "Mind Games II" discusses the possibility that certain political leaders in Estarcion may be Illusionists, and at the time Julius was the most prominent such leader that we knew.

There are presumably other factions we know even less about. Sir Gerrick, for instance, must have his own group of followers, and Theresa, though not an entirely reliable narrator, tells of factions within Cirinism other than Astoria's nascent Kevillism and Cirin's attempts to control dissent. However, these are the main branches that are interwoven into the story that is Cerebus, only to be dropped precipitously two-thirds of the way through (except for the triumphant but somewhat changed Cirinists).

The two Tarimite Churches are contrasted with the two movements that worship (or at least celebrate) Terim, but the joker in the deck is Illusionism. We learn less about Illusionism than we do any of the others, and its fundamental tenets remain elusive, but I believe that in many ways it is closer to the outlook Dave Sim had at the beginning of creating Cerebus than any of the other available views of the world.

Why do I believe this? One reason is Suenteus Po. Although it's clear that he is a character in his own right and not just a mouthpiece for the author, it's also clear that Dave uses him not only to deliver information to the reader through his conversations with Cerebus, but also to impart a certain attitude about that information which I think in general Dave shares.

Of course, when we first meet Suenteus Po he seems to be a not-very-bright stoner, more like Sean Penn's character from "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" than the founder of a religious-social-political movement. Less than a year later, he's having a high-level discussion about political strategy. These two personalities seem contradictory, indeed I've argued that Dave's view of Po fundamentally changed in between them, and yet to some extent they do both represent Dave himself, during that period in his life (well, except for the "not-very-bright" part, and any of us can seem not-very-bright when we're stoned). And Po would, I believe, would continue to be more like Dave than any of his other characters through the first 200 issues. When Po tells Cerebus the best way to live is to live simply, I believe that is a decision Dave had already come to, and has continued to believe. Indeed, in many ways his personal lifestyle now is even more like Po's.

Another reason is that I don't think Dave was ever sure just exactly what it was he believed. Po tells Cerebus that Illusionism is a discipline, which Cerebus later in the conversations restates as a "way of thinking," but we never get a really good idea of what that way of thinking really is. Cerebus says that he already has his own way of thinking, one presumably different from that of the Illusionists, but of course he has studied under Magus Doran, understands what Po means by "second meditation," and the difference between "complex structurally or manifest?" so it's not certain whether or not his outlook is all that different from Po's at the time of "Mind Games II." It's true that when Cerebus is asked what he believes and responds that it is easier to see during the day than during the night "and not much else besides," Po responds in turn that there are other things to believe in, but it's also pretty clear that Po doesn't believe in Tarim or Terim, or "God" as Dave would later come to conceive Him, either.

What *do* Illusionists believe? Or believe in? We never do know for sure, and the hints we get are mostly in "Mothers and Daughters," which I haven't gotten to yet in my reread. But one reason for that may very well be that Dave thought of the Illusionists rejection of Tarim/Terim as being "right," because he himself rejected the standard traditional religious concept of "God." However, since he didn't really know what to replace "God" with -- and he *did* believe that there was, as he quotes Neil Gaiman later, ". . . something there" -- he never really figured out exactly what the Illusionists believed.

Or not. In the long run, it's too simplistic to think that Dave ever intended the Illusionists to have "The Truth." The Dave who began Cerebus didn't believe in The Truth as a concept, or at least didn't believe that one could ever know what it was. To some extent, this is still true, as evidenced by a recent Blog & Mail entry (#106, December 26, 2006), where Dave quotes and then comments on a Mormon Devotional someone gave him on his trip to Salt Lake City:

There are but very few beings in the world who understand rightly the character of God. If men do not comprehend the character of God, they do not comprehend their own character.

How can you say things like that with a straight face without adding "in my opinion" or "it seems to me"? First of all, whoever you are, you don't know and can never know more than a handful of "beings in the world" so how can you say definitively whether or not they "understand rightly the character of God"? You're making yourself into a judge of people that you've met and their innermost awarenesses and stating definitively that you know whether or not those innermost awarenesses are accurate or inaccurate. Excuse me, but that's, at the very least, extremely presumptuous.

So even though Dave now believes he has found The Truth (and despite this disclaimer does in fact himself often say things in the same dogmatic way he is criticizing here), it's clear that he still believes that the search for Truth is one that is never going to be fully completed for anyone, that certainty is not available to anyone in this life.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

A Response to "Religion In Cerebus - Part Two"

Since I'm also posting these to the Cerebus mailing list, most of the comments and responses I'm getting are over there. This one provoked enough of a response from me that I decided to post it here as well.

--- In, "Jeff Tundis" wrote:
> When was the first mention of Tarim as the minter of
> coins? That, to me, really solidifies the whole "Tarim as Christ"
> idea. The coin maker analogous to the carpenter. Tarim was a "real"
> person, and a God on Earth.

First mention of Tarim as a real historical figure: "High Society," the interview between Astoria and Suenteus Po who's being hired as a speechwriter (this is the Suenteus Po who is presumably the historian writing the text pieces in "High Society"). On p. 434 Astoria says:

"It could be argued that Tarim didn't instigate the Tarimic Disciplines since the sacred texts were not set down for one hundred years after his death . . . "

to which Po responds:

"Or *her* death?"

Astoria stares at him, and he says, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to provoke you . . . "

(Which is of course a lie, since that's *exactly* what he intended, hoping I think to draw her out on the question of her own allegiance, which as we learn early in "Church & State" is a subject of much discussion.)

Anyway, I think this seals it that Tarim is a Christ analog, WAY before we hear of coinmaking in "Church & State." And it also brings up the Tarim/Terim dichotomy by oblique reference -- apparently the Cirinists (and presumably the Kevillists as well) believe that it was a woman, Terim, who walked the earth and was later worshipped as God(dess).

Indeed, the coinmaker thing moves *away* from a direct analogy and makes Tarim sound more like a Pharaonic figure, a deified king rather than a common person (we'll later get hints that the aardvarkian Suenteus Po may have been a Christ-like figure in his coinmaker incarnation that enacted the echo of the Trial, but that person, whatever his name may have been, was a "devout Tarimite" so he couldn't have been the original Tarim).

First mention of Tarim as a coinmaker: "Church & State," volume one, p. 406, Cerebus and Bran in the lobby of the hotel with the piles and piles of sacks of coins and Bran is telling him how you can read history in the coins and picks one up and says:

"Ah! This one."

Next panel: "This one was struck by Tarim himself"

Later, in C&S Vol. 2, in a chapter called "Talking to Tarim," Cerebus encounters a or the) Big Round Glowing White Strange Thing on a platform in space and the BRGWST is recounting previous lives, previous attempts at The Ascension, during most of which, at least, he seems to have been in charge in Iest. At one point, he says:

"Another time I made a hundred thousand little spheres pounded them flat and stamped my picture on them . . . that was how coins were invented . . . " (p. 801)

Combined with the title of the chapter, this *seems* to point at the BRGWST as having been "Tarim" when he invented coins, although the BRGWST speaks of Tarim not only in the third person (after all, Cerebus does that) but specifically as someone else, someone he himself seems to know little about.

This could be just Dave's way of saying "Look, Jesus wasn't God," something he would have believed as an "atheist" (which he never was, but let's let that go) and still believes as a monotheist. If you were to meet Jesus as a BRGWST on a platform in space and talked about going to Heaven to meet Jesus, he might understand that you meant God and use your own language to speak of "Jesus" as someone other than himself in just the way that "Tarim" might be doing here with Cerebus.

On the other hand, Bran doesn't say that the coin struck by Tarim is the oldest of the coins, nor specifically that Tarim invented coins, so this implication could be a deliberate misdirection and whoever it was Cerebus talks to on the platform might have no relation to Tarim.

But then why the chapter title?

In any case, there is no doubt in my mind that by the time Dave Sim first introduced dating into his world (with the account of the election of 1413 in "High Society") he had firmly established in his own mind that the Church of Tarim was at least to some extent analogous to the Christian Church and that a real man named Tarim had walked around about 1400 years previous. Whether he was a king who invented coins or a humble coinmaker like the aardvarkian Suenteus Po or someone quite different from either we will probably never know -- don't bother to ask Dave, because this is the kind of question to which he always gives answers that are at best evasive and at worst downright maddening: "Well, what do *you* think?"

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Religion in Cerebus - Part Four

By the time he started "High Society," Dave Sim had a pretty good idea of what the major religious movements were that he wanted to use in his tale, how they did and didn't match up against the real religions in our real world (although he had some blind spots there because of his upbringing and ideas -- the doctrines of his analog to the medieval Roman Catholic Church is based more on the doctrines of the Protestant Fundamentalist televangelists he was watching, for instance).

More importantly, I believe that prior to this time he had already decided on religion, belief and the nature of reality as the overarching theme he would weave into his funny animal comic to raise it above the Conan parody it had started as. The power of religion would be the major theme of the rest of the series.

Cerebus had encountered priests of Tarim before (#13 and #15), and had disguised himself as a priest (#17). We had also discovered the Cirinists, who worshipped Terim, although we didn't fully understand yet that she was either a female perversion of Tarim or the truth behind the Tarimite church's perversions of Our Lady, depending on who you listened to. And we knew that Cerebus knew about Tarimism (if that's the word), although we didn't know the source of that knowledge. After all, all the way back in #1, Cerebus had said, "Though I was born to be a warrior, the ways of sorcery are not unknown to me." (Yes, he spoke of himself in the first person back in the early days.) He had been trained by the conjurer who created the energy spheres of Imesh (#9). So he could have come upon that knowledge many ways without actually being a member of the Church of Tarim.

If he *is* a member of the Church of Tarim at this point, he is not, as we will see, a particularly faithful or obedient one. And indeed, through most of "High Society" Cerebus acts as an outsider, not only to the city of Iest but to its culture, still more the northern barbarian who wanders into town than a member of the society.

Like most readers, I was surprised at the denouement at the end of "High Society."

(Do I really have to post a spoiler warning here? For the second book in a series most of my readers will have read all of, and which was published 20 years ago? Sigh. I suppose so. Consider yourself warned.)

The Church's return, and the fact that all of Cerebus' followers immediately bolted, to be "neatly tucked away . . . in His Holiness' humble silk frock," as Astoria puts it, came as a complete shock. But it shouldn't have. We were told every step of the way that in Iest, politics was essentially a subgenre of religion, its handmaiden and helpmeet.

As early as issue #27, we are told flatly that the Iestian government is beholden to the Church:

Day Three

By now, the Prime Minister would be going through the charade of convening a meeting with his cabinet, ostensibly to discuss whether or not to pay the ransom. In actuality, he would be sizing up his ministers . . . trying to find one who owed him enough favours to hide a twelve thousand crown ransom in his Ministry's quarterly statement of expenses to the Sacred Church's Government Accounting Office." ("High Society," p. 42)

The very next page refers to an excerpt from a transcript of "His Holiness' Parliament of Iest."

Eventually, of course, we even get a sketch of the history and evolution of the Iestian government through a long excerpt from "The True History of the 1413 Election," by Suenteus Po. In this, it is firmly established that it is but a branch of the Church of Tarim.

This comes in a big block of text not all that unlike the kind Dave Sim would later be known for, barely illustrated with the picture of a paper seal and some documents at the bottom. (This wasn't the first time he did this, either, but it went unnoticed at the time, partly because these blocks of text were still hand lettered, almost always white on a black background, and usually illustrated in some fashion -- still he was playing with how much he could stick in ordinary text into what was ostensibly a comic book at least as far back as issue #14 (see p. 299 of "Cerebus"). Here's part of the what I'm talking about:

Unless one understands the sequence of events, in context, which led to the election, it becomes difficult to appreciate the profound chaos the city-state of Iest lived through in those tumultuous days. The legislature had never been intended as a governing body. The Church of Tarim instituted it when it became apparent (some hundred years earlier) that a disproportionate amount of His Holiness' time was being spent adjudicating economic matters. His solution was to allow each district of the city-state, in proportion to their contribution to the economy, to send representatives to debate and form economic policy for the Mother Church. These representatives were appointed by the local churches and then elected by the local people to serve either as conservative or libertine economists in Iest. It was strictly a matter of evolution which led to Prim Minister Gatson's corrupt regime; the borrowing of millions of crowns; the inter-connected house of cards that was Iest's international trade balances; all discretely hidden from Papal authority and overview by several tons of obfuscating paperwork. ("High Society," p. 333

That's actually only about 1/3 of it, but it's enough to make my point.

I wonder how many people saw that big mass of white-on-black text and just skipped it after the first sentence or so, just as many skipped the text parts of "Reads" and even more skipped the Cerebexegesis. Anyone who did missed an essential puzzle piece necessary for understanding everything that happens in both "High Society" and in "Church & State."

So in "High Society" we have what seems on the surface to be a political parody, but underlying the entire political structure is the Church of Tarim, which hovers in the background through most of the novel, taking center stage only in a few key moments, mainly involving the Inquisition (until the final denouement).

We also learn early on that there are in fact two separate Churches of Tarim, the Eastern Orthodox and the Sepran Empire.

The Sepran Empire appeared early on, referred to in #4 as "a loosely-knit and militant empire," a description which obviously no longer applies, as we will discover that the Empire is highly organized and hierarchical. The capital is Serrea, and although there is a city called "New Sepra" there doesn't seem to have been a city called "Sepra."

In issue #28, the third chapter of "High Society," we learn from Suenteus Po's conversation with Cerebus that the Sepran Empire constitutes a second branch of the Church of Tarim, at least somewhat analogous to the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches of the Middle Ages:

The Church of Tarim feels it has solid grass-roots support and a general sense of unity prevails in Iest and Serrea to all outward appearances. The rift between the two Churches is quite permanent, however, by this point. Either pontiff could quite contentedly watch his counterpart sink screaming into the midst of a domestic revolution or foreign invasion. Would delight in fact, to an almost impious degree, in not lifting a papal finger. ("High Society," p. 54)

Which brings us to another puzzle: Suenteus Po. The Suenteus Po that Cerebus meets in "Mind Games II" seems very, very different from the Suenteus Po he met in the original "Mind Games," although less than a year separates the two in original publishing time. (#20 - Sep. 1980; #28 - Jul 1981). Cerebus makes a very weak allusion to the fact that "the last time we talked, you were surprised when Cerebus told you the Cirinists had plans -- and even more surprised when he told you they were dangerous." Cerebus calls it catching him in a contradiction, but in fact it's far deeper than that. There seems very little connection between the whacked-out stoner we met in #20 and the wheels-within-wheels conspiracy-meister we meet in #28, although the latter is far more in keeping with the Po we will eventually come to know much better years down the road.

More fodder for the idea that the whole elaborate structure did not, in fact, take shape immediately, but only the broad outlines of it, during the trip/vision/breakdown, and as late as #20 (a whole year after #11) Dave was introducing a character he hadn't fully grasped the nature of, and had to reverse course and totally change him by his next appearance.

In any case, Suenteus Po details for Cerebus -- and therefore the reader -- the broad outlines of some of the conspiracies going on in Estarcion at the moment. And again, although the conspiracies are political and economic, they are rooted in religious and philosophical differences. Cirinists, Kevillists, Illusionists -- we don't know exactly what they believe, yet, but we know that they believe something different from the Church of Tarim. And those differing beliefs drive their political movements.

So the religious basis for the political turmoil in Iest in particular and Estarcion in general is established very early on, in the second and third chapters of "High Society," #27-28.

"Mind Games II" also establishes two other things: whatever his upbringing, Cerebus is not himself a believer. He could of course be lying in the following exchange, but it seems to be emblematic of his attitude in general, and also of the outlook of his creator:

CEREBUS: Cerebus has a lot of trouble trying to figure out what to believe, sometimes.

PO: What do you believe?

CEREBUS: Cerebus believes it is easier to see during the day than it is at night.

PO: And not much else besides?

CEREBUS: And not much else besides.

On the other hand, he is also considering throwing his lot with the orthodox Tarimites and even trying to influence the direction the church might take (talk about foreshadowing!):

PO: Forgive me, but I have great difficulty picture you as an orthodox Tarimite. Or a Cirinist for that matter.

CEREBUS: You said yourself that times are changing. Last year, Cerebus played Diamondback with Leopold, the famous Gambling Priest. Ten years ago, he would have been burned at the stake for carrying a deck of cards. How many of Tarim's priests do you suppose have a few bottles of Borealan whiskey tucked away behind their holy books?

CEREBUS (cont): Perce is an inner circle Cirinist Priestess and also a prostitute. Exceeding the proscribed boundaries seems to have become a continent-wide phenomenon.

CEREBUS (cont): Who knows what advances would be made if Cerebus was around to assist in the decision-making; advocating his own variations on doctrine and discipline. Inside of five years, getting drunk and lying in the gutter could be sanctioned by the Church as an official means of worship.

PO: You're free to do what you want, of course, but I feel I should warn you. The flexibility you see in the Church of Tarim is a peculiarity of the Eastern Orthodoxy. So long as you never stray west of the Osiris River, you'll probably be reasonably safe.

PO (cont): You'll probably have Sepran assassins dogging your every footstep. You won't be the first Eastern Reformer to be killed by the Western Pontiff's agents. ("High Society," pp. 65-66

I thought it worth quoting at length for a couple of reasons. First, to point out just how text-heavy "Mind Games II" really is, the first place where Dave used typeset text rather than hand-lettering. It's ostensibly dialogue, and it is broken up into sections not unlike the way he'll break a long speech into several word balloons at times, but it is definitely lots and lots of text -- the above is about a page and a half.

The other reason is the way so much of what is going to follow is set up right here, slipped into this meandering and arcane dialog so that many readers, I'm sure, miss it altogether. Even on rereading, it's easy to skim through this and not realize that Cerebus is talking about "assist(ing) in the decision-making" of the Church and Po is talking about the assassination of Orthodox Church leaders by the Western Empire, and we'll be seeing both of those things in spades in the next book.

So even though "High Society" seems to be, and indeed is, about politics and corruption and how elections are won and how government works (or doesn't work) and bureaucracy and war and economics and all those other things it parodies, behind all of it the Church of Tarim looms as the dominant figure. "Church & State" seems at first like an afterthought, Dave floundering around for a few issues trying to decide what to do, bringing Cerebus back as Prime Minister but married this time, and then making him Pope almost on a whim. But in fact, "Church & State" moves inexorably closer and closer to the heart of all the issues that were exposed in "High Society," and the power of religion is first on that list.

Also posted to the Cerebus Yahoo list.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Religion in Cerebus - Part Three

So to quickly sum up parts one and two, Cerebus began essentially without religion, with polytheistic gods mentioned primarily as oaths of surprise, then we discovered that some people had been worshipping since ancient times a god that looked like Cerebus, then "Tarim" became an analog for Christ as Dave Sim decided to turn his book into a forum for wider examination of political, social and religious issues through the satiric twist of his funny-animal-in-a-fantasy-world comic book.

In #13, we meet out first priest, the priest of Theyr. The religion followed by the people of Theyr is not established in any detail, but it certainly seems more like medieval European Christianity than, say, the worship of Zeus or Ganesha.

A couple of interesting notes regarding the later assertion that Cerebus is and always was an orthodox Tarimite:

1) When Cerebus is being "tried," he is accused of "consorting with dark demons, high crimes against natural law, making the crops mouldy, not looking like the rest of us . . . and anything else the Church of Tarim can think of in the course of this trial. . . " Asked how he pleads, Cerebus replies "Cerebus *demands* that you release him or he'll call upon his dark masters to turn you into a flock of pious pink toads." As one of the townspeople notes, it's not a half bad defense, but it doesn't sound like one that a true believer of an established orthodox religion would make when accused of heresy and worse by an official of that same religion. Of course, we already know that if Cerebus is really an orthodox Tarimite, he isn't a particularly faithful one.

2) On the other hand, when Necross insists that "None may enter the dark castle of Necross save that they are evil," the farmer, Despuess, immediately capitulates, claiming to be evil and detailing his horrible crimes (like "I take Tarim's name in vain" and "I shirk my chores"). After Necross blasts Despuess out of existence ("Evil, yes! But also incredibly boring!"), he demands to know if the "barbarian captive" is as evil as his captor -- and Cerebus successfully manages to deflect the question, first wanting to see his interrogator face-to-face, then changing the subject, "So you're Necross the mad?" so that he never actually has to either defy Necross nor claim to be evil.

Not pious, not particularly well-behaved, perhaps even only half-heartedly a believer at all, nonetheless, something keeps Cerebus from saying, "Yeah, sure, I'm evil. I stabbed to death an unconscious foe about a year ago, and once used a woman as a battering ram," which might not exactly impress a mad magician bent on world destruction but certainly would make him less boring than Despuess.

But Cerebus doesn't think of himself as evil -- few of us do. He's occasionally regretful that he's done bad things, but he usually thinks of the bad things he does as being necessary and not part of a pattern of wrongdoing that would actually make him a Bad Guy. After all, we are all the heroes in the movies going on inside our heads.

Of course, this last is true whether or not Cerebus was already thought of by Dave as having been brought up as an orthodox Tarimite.

#13 ends with the priest's "Sacred Amulet of the Living Tarim" being tossed aside by Necross, now inside the big stone Thrunk, with a dismissive "This is what I think of your gold trinket." Tarim does not protect the priest. He is squashed like a bug.

(By the way, the priest's amulet doesn't look quite like the Ankhs we will see later throughout the Church of Tarim, preparing in the background the Egyptian climax down the road, but more like the astrological/alchemical symbol for Mercury, which is basically the symbol for Venus -- very similar to an Ankh but with a circle rather than a pointed oval -- only with Mercury there's a crescent on top, opposite the cross. Here, there's no crescent, but there are horns, and the circular part is kind of triangular. Evidence, I think, that even though the Grand Vision had obviously occurred and he was moving toward the socioeconomic and religious commentary that would come to characterize the series, he hadn't yet worked out all the details of even the overall plot. So maybe it didn't "all come to him in a flash.")

The next priest we see is in #15, and he's a very different sort of fellow, even though they are both "priests of Tarim." We now get closer to Christianity, and in particular Roman Catholicism, with the clear implication that priests are expected to be celibate (Cerebus: "Any chance he'll show up at your festival?" Julius: "Probably not -- it's couples only").

On the other hand, there's a touch of the brimstone televangelist in the two priests we see in this issue (I used to think there was only one, but I'm now convinced they are two different characters). Unlike Catholics, but like Assembly of God (the denomination of most famous televangelists of the period, the Bakkers, Jimmy Swaggert, Oral Roberts), these priests are against partying on principle, against makeup and ornamentation in dress, and in general are very puritanical -- a trait Dave seems to assume is fundamental to religion and religiosity, both back when he rejected it at least partly for that reason and now that he has embraced it.

He is not puritanical in his dealings with others -- while he does seem to look down on people who indulge in various ways he certainly doesn't try to insist that anyone not do so. But in his own life, he has removed himself from many of the things he used to find pleasurable, and believes that he is closer to God because he has done so. This does indeed seem to be something very fundamental to his notion of what it means to be religious, even though there are millions of religious people who find no conflict between worshipping god and going out dancing on Saturday night.

In #17, we see men (and an aardvark) pretending to be priests -- Commander Krull and his scribe, Grimes, are trying to sneak out of Fluroc disguised as priests. Cerebus, himself already in a white robe, confronts them. One problem with this issue is that Cerebus and the T'Gitans are all wearing what seem to be priests' robes in the very beginning -- they are not only close enough to fool Krull and Grimes but are very close to what they are wearing. Cerebus' hood is white and theirs is black -- and the hoods of the two Palnan priests were also black -- but if that's the only difference how could a T'Gitan sentry be so sure that he saw two priests leave the city and how could Krull and Grimes be fooled by Cerebus?

Anyway, with this issue we know for sure that Cerebus knows about the Tarimite religion. He knows more about priests than the T'Gitans, which is no great surprise, but also more than Krull, who may have a barbarian background but has been part of the Palnan empire for many years now and one would expect to be fairly familiar with the culture he's living in.

Of course, these could all be simple mistakes of a young writer who had not yet fully blossomed into his powers. Still, it's quite clear that Cerebus is familiar with Tarimism (would that be the right word) on a pretty intimate level to know off the top of his head, as soon as he heard the sentry say that two priests left the city that morning, that they couldn't really be priests, because "these are the High Holy Days from Midwinter to Concordance Eve . . . no priest is allowed to eat salted nuts, comment on the weather . . . or leave his place of meditation"

(see what I mean about the ellipses? Earlier in this essay, I had to elide and ellipsis, because he had a comment stretched across two word balloons, one of which ended in an ellipsis and the next began with one)

Cerebus' bluff does not in and of itself reveal a knowledge of priestly matters, only of the fact that Krull and his companion were themselves ignorant of them (as evidenced by their using this disguise at this time in the first place).

Out next encounter with religion takes us back to the notion that parts of Estarcion, at least, are indeed still pagan. The T'Gitans worship Stromm, God of Thunder, who happens to be Gudre's own son. The T'Gitans are primitive barbarians and apparently easily manipulated. Still, the idea that the god they worship is a real man who walks among them and is very much not really a god is part of Dave Sim's overall commentary on religion that is continuing through these stories.

In issue #19 we meet Perce, who is a fortune teller and a prostitute and, we later learn, a Cirinist who believes in Mother Terim, who makes her first appearance since #2 on the first page of #20, in a quote from "The New Matriarchy" by Cirin.

From this point, things begin to get really interesting.

(also posted to the Cerebus Yahoo group)

Monday, December 11, 2006

Religion in Cerebus - Part Two

In "Minds," Dave tells Cerebus that he once went through something like what he's putting his character through. It wasn't a voice in his head, though but something more like -- and then he makes a bright light not only blind Cerebus, but seem at one point to be *inside* his head, so that light comes *out* of his eyes, then grow to envelop his whole head before fading.

It's an interesting moment. It's something that could lead one to suspect one has indeed had an encounter with one's maker. It's also something one could understand as the result of spending a week on LSD. I suspect Dave's "borderline schizophrenic" diagnosis may have resulted from him trying to relate this experience to the doctor and insisting that it *wasn't* just the drug, that there really was something . . . there. But of course I don't know.

Still, it's obvious that he *didn't* write it off as just an interesting hallucination. He made it a major part of where his story was going, determined to write it into Cerebus' life somewhere down the road in his 26-year epic. I'm still not sure the extent to which the Cerebus we have matches the Cerebus mapped out in 1979, and whether or not that was originally supposed to be the climax (the "end of the story," as it were) or whether that was just so much sand thrown in the reader's eyes and something like the general outline of the last 100 issues was indeed always in place. But none of that is relevant to the topic at hand, which is to what extent Dave's vision is responsible for the way religion is presented in the book.

Dave tells Cerebus that this experience happened to him "shortly after you met the bug for the first time." One would tend to assume this means just after #11 was completed, but I began to wonder on my latest reread if it wasn't in fact while Dave was working on #11, literally just after Cerebus first met the bug.

Why? Well, because that issue, #11, has the first clear appearance of Tarim as an analog to Christ, and of Dave Sim using the worship of Tarim to lampoon Christians in particular and religious people in general, and to do so making explicit reference to modern-day events.

Cerebus pretends to be the ghost of the Roach's father and tells him Tarim wants his gold -- to build "condominiums":

CEREBUS: Praise Tarim! I am here to bring you the Word -- the Word of Tarim . . .

COCKROACH: The Word, father?

CEREBUS: Condominiums! Tarim has a condominium just for you! Luxurious living in the afterlife . . . IF you believe!

COCKROACH: I do! I do!

CEREBUS: Praise Tarim!

Now it's clear that Dave is mocking certain kinds of evangelical Christian preachers here. And I'm pretty sure there's a particular evangelical Christian preacher being pointed to. The year before this was published, in 1978, Televangelist Jim Bakker announced the
creation of Heritage USA, which would include a theme park, luxury hotels -- and condominiums. We know that Dave was a "fan" of Jim and Tammy Faye (in the sense of enjoying watching their show with amusement), because he says so in the introduction to "Church & State" Vol. 1 (actually what he says is "I miss them already").

Depending on one's definition of "meeting the bug," Cerebus met him either on page 1 (as the Merchant) or page 5 of issue #11 (when the merchant actually transforms into the Cockroach -- although we don't discover the name until page 6). The little exchange quoted above is on page 15 of that issue (page 243 in my edition, should be the same in all since it's before "Silverspoon"). Is that what Dave meant by "shortly after you met the bug for the first time?" Or was the vision later, after #11 was completed, or even after #12?

There are two possibilities. One is that Dave's "breakdown" occurred while he was in the middle of doing #11 and sharply altered the direction that first Roch story took, as well as the series as a whole afterward.

The other is that the acid trip, the vision and the resulting "nervous breakdown" were not really the sole impetus for the changes the book took after its first two years, but more of a confirmation and vision for the overall structure of a new direction Dave was already considering, and indeed already moving toward.

After having believed most of the time since I found out about it that the vision created a clear break and changed the way Dave approached Cerebus, I am now being forced to rethink that. The fact that he was hinting at Cerebus' origin as early as #5, and introduced Jaka as a character who would obviously come back in #6, as mentioned last time, go a long way toward establishing that Dave was already thinking long-term even before the 26-year plan established itself.

And while #11 is the first *clear* example of Tarim-as-Christian-God, I now think he was leaning in that direction as far back as #9. When K'Cor says "With Tarim and anti-Venusians everywhere on my side . . . I cannot lose . . . " the statement could be taken either way. At the very least it is the first time that a pagan god is referred to in a way that relates directly to trust and faith that the god will protect one. But it could be the first sign that Dave was thinking in terms of "Tarim" representing not just a god but "God" and injecting contemporary attitudes about religion into his story.

So I now think that even before the "vision," Dave was already thinking this way. He had already decided that Cerebus was turning into a long term project, and that in order to keep that going he would have to abandon the basic "funny animal Conan parody" conceit, which was already wearing thin. He had already decided that what he really wanted to do was comment on contemporary society, reflecting for example his "genuine affection for the realities of political campaigning" and also his "genuine affection for and interest in the effect of power on belief and vice versa" (from the introduction to "Church & State" Vol. 1).

So it's possible that the scene in #11 referred to above was part of that, and happened before the Grand Vision outlining the next 24 years (he was already 2 years in at that point). That the Grand Vision was not so much "Do Cerebus for a long time; here's how" but more a confirmation and a structure "You've already decided to do Cerebus for a long time; here's how."

Although many people complain that Cerebus changed after Dave "found God" and religion came to overwhelm the series -- and it's obvious that Cerebus did indeed change and to some extent the "overwhelm" charge is valid -- the fact is that from at least #11 on religion would come to be one of the primary themes that Dave explored in Cerebus. Even the electoral politics in "High Society" is driven by religion to a degree that is not wholly apparent until the end, but on rereading is in fact telegraphed at every turn.

Religion, belief, "the effect of power on belief and vice versa," the question of whether or not there is a God or gods and what He (or he/she/it, or they) might be like, and what one's moral responsibility may be in any of these cases is the fundamental root of the entire narrative, from the time Dave began to realize that it *was* a narrative, and not just a collection of comedic stories, up through "The Last Day." That is what Cerebus is all about. Throughout his time working on it, Dave was thinking, exploring, questioning, probing, ideas about religion and belief and spirituality. So it's really not surprising that he came in the end to find faith in God and use the book to try to portray that faith. If it's heavy handed, one could argue that it's no more heavy handed than his mockeries of faith earlier. Dave's view that most of his readers are atheists, and therefore dislike the heavy hand of the author promoting religion while they enjoyed the heavy hand of the author mocking religion, is not without merit, though I think it's overly simplistic and that there really is a bit of bombast and polemic in the last two books that really does overwhelm the story.

From Cerebus rousing the roach with "The Word of Tarim" about condominiums, through the priest of Theyr and the fanatical priest in Palnu, to Krull disguising himself as a priest despite not knowing enough about the Church of Tarim to know Cerebus is bluffing with his "Sacred greeting of the Grauzwerg," once the idea of Tarim as an analog to Christ and the Church of Tarim as an analog to Christianity is established it is firmly established well before it gets used full-strength in "High Society" and "Church & State." And even when the Church or Tarim is not present in the plot, morality is inserting itself as a theme even within the adventures of an amoral protagonist.

"Briefly, Cerebus thinks there might be more to life than wine, food, a warm bed and a sack of gold," says the narrator all the way back in #8, when Cerebus is about to escape being the god-king of the Conniptins and changes his mind, going back to the tent he just ran from. "Mayhap two sacks of gold?" wonders Cerebus in a word balloon. "That answer is so obvious, Cerebus is willing to bet it isn't the right one."

It's a joke, but it's a joke about the character's own amoral stance toward life, and the first indication of him questioning that stance. By the end of "High Society," he will tell the elf that he thought he could "make a difference."

An interesting difference between Dave Sim and his creation is that it's established in the storyline that Cerebus was brought up as an Orthodox Tarimite. Dave himself, of course, was brought up with almost no exposure to religion and with the idea that religious belief was essentially irrational and silly, at least according to his own account of his upbringing. By the time he was writing Cerebus, he was an amused observer of religion and something of a student of its history, but his knowledge was acquired in adulthood.

Cerebus, on the other hand, went to church every Sunday as a little boy, as we see in "Minds."

Now, there are some problems here. Dave tries to explain the whole Clovis thing with a scene between Cerebus and Cirin in "Minds," but in my opinion it doesn't work too well. There just really is no way to reconcile an Orthodox Tarimite upbringing with the barbarian Conan parody we see in the first few issues. Dave saw the disunity, knew that it was a fault and, in my opinion, made it worse by trying to patch things together. Better to just accept the disunity, acknowledge that Cerebus began as a pagan with Clovis and had his origin "retconned" in the manner of Jason Todd. It's a weakness, but not as large as the later weaknesses created by trying to weasel out on this fact.

However, once Dave decides to put religion into his book, the decision to make Cerebus knowledgeable, at least, in the Church of Tarim comes fairly early on. If one assumes that there are enthusiastic and emotional preachers in Estarcion not unlike televangelists like Jim Bakker in tone and substance, Cerebus seems to have their patter down pretty well. And of course when he hears that two priests left Fluroc he immediately knows something is wrong, because real priests wouldn't be traveling.

This, by the way, shows positively that by #17 Tarim was certainly the god-figure of a Christian-like Church and not just a god among many. The person who tells Cerebus that two priests left Fluroc doesn't say "Tarimite priests." In a polytheistic society, you would have priests of Tarim, priest of Terim, priests of Set, priests of Ashtoth, etc. Instead, from the time Dave decided to "do" religion on, "priests," alone and by itself, *always* means Tarimite priests (even the ones who are Cirinists or Kevillists and presumably worship Terim are still officially Tarimites and that's how they are "priests" per se). So when Cerebus hears that two "priests" left Fluroc, he knows that they were priests of Tarim, because the world has altered since he first came into existence, and as far as can be determined, "Tarimite" priests are the only kind there are. "Priests" now means "Church of Tarim," either Eastern or Western.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

"Tarim and the Other Gods" (Religion and Spirituality in Cerebus, Part One)

In the beginning, Cerebus was conceived by Dave Sim as taking place in roughly the same world where the Conan comic books by Roy Thomas and Barry Smith, based on Robert E. Howard's famous barbarian, took place: a lost ancient world where magic worked and multiple gods were not only believed in but actually existed.

Gods mentioned in the first six issues, that is the first year of bi-monthly publication, include Clovis, Terim, Tarim, Tauran, Set, Ishtar and Ashtoth (in order of first appearance)

Dave says "Terim" began as a misspelling of "Tarim" (although "Terim" actually appears first). After the first two issues it does not appear again until it is used in a completely different context.

"Terim" first appears as part of a spell spoken by the Wizard in the first issue: "Ak-Aman ra taak se Terim sera" I'm guessing about the capitalization, as of course all letters are in all caps, just like most comic book lettering.

What's interesting is that this is just *before* the first appearance of "Tarim," when the spell goes awry and misses its target and the Wizard says, "Tarim! My aim is getting lousy, too!"

We next see Terim in "The Eye of Terim," a valuable and presumably sorcerously powerful gem guarded by the Demon Khem. We know that Terim here is meant to be a god of some kind, because the narration mentions "priests of Terim" in describing the Eye and its history.

The thing that makes one wonder whether Dave is telling the whole truth (I can see no motive for him to lie, but it may be a case of not remembering correctly), is that two pages after the introduction of the Eye of Terim, Cerebus sees it -- or what he thinks is it, and the narration says:

"The Eye of Terim, the most precious of the Five Spheres of the Gods!"

Yet reacting to it, Cerebus says, "Tarim! What a prize!"

There seems to be a clear delineation here, and both times "Terim" occurs there's a "Tarim" right nearby

In any case it's very clear that Terim was not a female version of the all-encompassing God of monotheists, as she became. Indeed, she does not seem to have originally been a she. Carrying what he believes to be the Eye of Terim, Cerebus is described by the narrator thusly:

"The aardvark soon learns that the eye of a northern god is weighty indeed . . . "

So Terim was originally a northern god -- not goddess. Of course, eventually the Tarim/Terim dichotomy grew into something more, a bone of contention between the Orthodox Tarimites and the Cirinists/Kevillists, who were likewise monotheistic but believed God to be female.

But all that came later. Originally, these were just names thrown around. "Tarim" is, from the first, by far the most common god name in the early issues of Cerebus, appearing 25 times. Clovis is next with 12. But Tarim is clearly not THE GOD in the early days, but one of many. You can tell this not only by the oaths that are thrown around, but by statements lumping him together with others. In #5, the narrator describes Cerebus looking at the idol that looks so much like him:

"He stands before the idol. It seems diminished at close quarters -- a decoration, perhaps . . . But a god? Tarim, Ashtoth, these were gods -- they brought war, pain, they killed without reason or apology . . . "

And in #8, there is the son of the Conniptin King, Hezzreth, who says early on "I am the son of a god in-car-nate! My personal mystic has declared me a god as well . . . " Later, the following exchange occurs between Hezzreth Jr. (who is not actually given a name) and the Conniptin Commander (likewise):

JR: Tarim!

COMMANDER: Your Lordship?

JR: Not now, idiot -- Tarim and the other gods are in need of my aid in a great god war! I'm coming Tarim!

That sums up Tarim's position in the early days of Cerebus: "Tarim and the other gods."

There is also "Demonhorn," which falls between issues #5 and #6 and describes an encounter between Cerebus and a minor god called M'isly. This establishes pretty firmly that in Cerebus' world, gods are real entities, taking usually humanoid form and subject to human-like emotions and capable of being harmed. They are absolutely, positively NOT the all-powerful, all-knowing, somewhat abstract and ultimately unknowable God of Abraham on Whom the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths are all based.

As we shall see, Tarim would come to be a rough analog for Christ, a "living God" who once walked the earth as a man and is worshipped by a Church with a hierarchical structure of priests headed by a Pope (actually two Popes, but that's a story for another time). But there can be no mistaking the fact that this is an evolution of the original idea and the idea of Tarim in these early stories really doesn't mesh with the later Tarim-as-Christ analogy that allowed Dave to lampoon modern televangelists and the like.

Next, we'll examine this evolution, and how it may have been already underway before the Big Vision -- and if not, was put into action IMMEDIATELY after.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Cerebus Continuity

I'm postponing part 3 of "Redemption in Cerebus" indefinitely, because I decided to start rereading parts of it in preparation for that, and before long I found myself rereading the whole first book and now I'm well into "High Society," so I've apparently embarked on yet another reread. So I'm going to use this space to share my thoughts on that reread. Much of what I have to say will at least tangentially relate to the topic of redemption, as I was rereading with a particular eye to that topic and to the more general topic of religion and spirituality in Cerebus.

As you might expect, I didn't find much in the early issues, except the hint in #2 that Cerebus might not have a soul, or that his soul was in some way different from an ordinary human soul, so that the succubus in #2 was unable to find and devour it.

Which brings me to my first off-topic observation, which will be the main focus of this particular essay: although he has said many times that the overall structure of the story he would tell came to him in 1979, and that was when he first announced that he would be doing Cerebus for 26 years (first as 156 bi-monthly issues, later as 300 issues that would take him just past the 26-year point by a few months), it's clear from fairly early on that he was in fact thinking in terms of a long-term series. Not only that, but #10 on there are very few complete breaks in the continuity as we find generally in the first few issues, and one of those is deliberate. Even before he knew what the story would be or how long it would last, Dave was already telling "a single story."

That in itself is not remarkable -- "The Amazing Spider-Man" had been telling one story about Peter Parker for over a decade at that point, and had not yet reached the point where maintaining a teenage thrill-seeking audience required leaving behind all semblance of real continuity.

(What I mean by this: Peter started out as a 16-year-old high school sophomore and graduated two years later. At that one-to-one rate of aging he'd be 59 in 2006, as I'm writing this. And while there are times when the action stretches out so that several monthly issues all report the events of only a few days, the world around him has kept current, so that it's clear that the current under-30 Peter Parker is living in 2006, which is just silly, since he was born in 1947. On the other hand, in 1977, while Parker was obviously not yet 30, he wasn't still 18, either, and it hadn't yet gotten entirely out of hand.)

Not having his character live in our real current world removed Dave from having to deal with a lot of problems related to this, though it was many years before he took advantage of it. He could compress time so that two weeks took three years of his monthly comic book to chronicle, or have decades pass in a single issue (and he did both, before he was done), and not have to worry about discontinuity between the world in his comic book and the real world. There was a built-in discontinuity, which created its own problems (which we'll discuss at another time), but which saved him from having to worry about "keeping current" while aging or not aging his character.

More to the point, of course, is that Dave Sim from very early on determined to use Cerebus to examine a life, and to escape from the escapist fare comic books were generally expected to provide (and still are, to a large extent) and deal meaningfully with examining a life, albeit the life of an anthropomorphic cartoon aardvark living in a fantasy world that may or may not be our own world about 6,000 years ago. If he were doing Spider-Man the way he did Cerebus, he would have aged Parker to 59 years old, made him hang up his superhero duds long ago, perhaps in favor of some youngster trained to replace him, and gone off to make a living as a full-time newspaper photographer or perhaps a chemistry professor. He had no desire -- and no driving corporate commercial need -- to keep Cerebus working as a sword-for-hire and having Conanesque adventures.

It's often assumed that the first three or four issues were all essentially one-shots, disconnected from each other, and intended mainly to get Dave's name and talent out there for display, to show what he could do, and to build a resume or portfolio which he could use to get a job at Marvel or DC. Dave himself has essentially said as much, and really the first four issues, especially, and to some extent all the comics from the first two years, are all relatively disconnected from each other and in many ways don't fit into the continuity that he came to create after his 1979 vision of the overall structure of the story.

However, as early as issue #2, Dave obviously had some idea in his head of what made his character different from other people, besides his obvious appearance. He was already laying the groundwork for the possibility of a continuing series, just in case.

In the three issue sequence just after the first four (i.e., #5-7), he does even more, first showing us the Pigts worshipping a statue that looks like a giant Cerebus, then introducing Jaka, who is obviously set up to return at some point, then showing us yet another group that has a Cerebus-like creature among their "Nameless Gods."

By this time, it seems to me, Dave had definitely embarked on telling a long-running story and already has some ideas about it, about what aardvarks are in his fantasy world and what role they play in its history, and presumably at least some idea of Cerebus' own role in this history. This is almost a year before he had the famous acid trip and "vision" that gave him the storyline.

Issues #6-7 are also the first directly connected stories -- Cerebus gets the whereabouts of the treasure in #6 and goes after it in #7. The catastrophe in #7 leads directly to the beginning of #8, and the end of #8 flows directly into the beginning of #9.

Compare these transitions -- even though the stories are still relatively self-contained -- with the transitions between issues in the first five comics, where a narrator provides us with information about what happened between issues, but there is no direct link of any kind between the action of one comic and the action of the next. For instance, the "splash" page of #5 has the following caption:

"After leaving Serrea, Cerebus drifts west into the Red Marches where he enters the employ of Turan Genn, a mercenary captain! The summer rains are at their peak and the earth-pig executes his tasks amid much grumbling about sub-tropical rainfall . . . "

That is typical of the captions that begin all of the issues in the first year, 1-6. After that, we do not encounter an opening that is so completely disconnected from the events of the previous issue again until issue #10. After that, there is only #14, which fills us in on the events depicted in "Silverspoon," which was originally a series of single pages done for the Comic Buyers Guide (so even there, the continuity did exist in comics form, just not as part of the comics magazine publication itself) and #21, which of course, if the famous and deliberate switch of time and setting after "Mind Game." Every other issue-to-issue transition from #7 through #25 is direct and often causational, that something happens in one issue that causes at least the situation Cerebus is in at the beginning of the next issue, even if it has little to do with what happens in the rest of it (I'm thinking here in particular of #8 and #9, where at the end of #8 Cerebus is chosen to lead the Conniptins, and is doing so at the beginning of #9, but then he leaves them behind entering Imesh and they are never seen again (well, not in *this* book, anyway).

Which brings me to one last observation before I start veering back in the general direction of the topic. Allen Lulu recently complained on the Cerebus Yahoo list about Dave "abandoning" storylines and characters, and made specific reference to him "forgetting" them and strongly implying this was a fault of the later books compared to the earlier Dave who was, in Allen's opinion, a better writer.

In fact, leaving behind unexplained mysteries was part of Dave Sim's stock-in-trade from the very beginning. It is obviously an important part of how he perceives reality, that there always things that puzzle us that we never discover the answers to, and making that part of his comic book was part of his idea of verisimilitude.

We never know just what exactly the spider-thing is or why the priests of the Temple of the Black Sun worship it. We never know the Cockroach's real name nor his true origins (you can't trust his crazy ramblings, and "Artemis Strong" is a personality created by Astoria, at least according to her account). Most importantly, of course, is that crazy jump from #20 to #21, dropping Cerebus dozens if not hundreds of miles and several weeks from where we last saw him, with no explanation ever given in the comic book itself, and the explanation that was eventually given something that only posed more questions, which in turn were quite deliberately never answered.

That's part of Dave's schtick, and it was from the beginning. We were never intended to find out just exactly who Sir Gerrick was and what he was all about. He was always intended to be a mystery figure hovering in the background.

Next time, we'll go back over the first book looking intently at the subject of religion, trying to discern the differences between the obviously pagan milieu of the first few stories and the "Church of the Living Tarim," and how Tarim morphed from being "one of the gods" to being the Deity worshipped by this apparently monotheistic Church, and when we first see evidence that Cerebus may in fact be an Orthodox Tarimite himself, albeit a backsliding sinful one with little hope of redemption.

Hey -- there's that word again! We'll get there eventually. I promise.

Also posted to the Yahoo Cerebus Group on 12/05/2006