Cerebus the Aardvark #53, August 1983, Aardvark-Vanaheim, Inc.
by Dave Sim
I've been looking forward to this one. Cerebus is perhaps the most highly respected creator driven comic book of the modern age, if not of the entire medium. During the Reagan years, when well-established superheroes were all the rage with their Saturday morning cartoons, breakfast cereals, and underroos, Dave Sim was quietly but steadily revolutionizing the industry with his little aardvark that could. One part fantasy epic, one part political satire, Cerebus was an ongoing adventure that seemed to offer consistently engaging, dynamic line work with enthralling, mature dialogue. I guess. I mean, I've only read one issue, but I completely understand how and why Sim earned his prestigious reputation. He was cranking out comics starring peculiar animals long before any turtles were eating pizza.
Although Cerebus #53 was one of many cheap, random buys from the dinged-or-damaged indie bin at Comic Con, a refuge for samples of series beyond the mainstream, I did encounter Cerebus once before from his cameo in an early issue of Spawn. Since that appearance was more allegorical in nature, I wasn't well aware of the character's quirks; the issue in hand this evening is more insightful. Here, from what I gather, Cerebus is fresh off the strife of a tense political conflict and has sought respite with a reclusive countess so he can work on his book. Although some of their rapport is sprinkled with inexplicable references from previous stories, much of their exchange is an astute commentary on the aftereffects of authoritative power. What happens to a leader when he's no longer at the forefront?
Cerebus often refers to himself in the third person, which I might find annoying if Sim didn't delimit the effect with a pompous charm. In fact, Sim infuses Cerebus with a wisdom generally unbecoming a cartoon aardvark. The excerpts from his books, titled "On Governing," are sharp and witty. Discussing money, the little gray guy muses, "Most wealthy people are wealthy people first and whatever else they are second." Brilliant.
I wonder if that was Sim's point all along. Cerebus could have been a platypus of all things, but the commentaries explored through his adventures are universal tenets that exceed any genre of comics. Midway through the tale, I'm less dumbfounded by the fact that I'm reading the words of an aardvark and more intrigued by the circumstances surrounding his fall from grace. Sim sucked me in under the skin of his wayward hero. That's writing, folks.
Other elements of note: In her introductory essay, editor (and presumably Dave's wife) Deni Sim mentions their Con tour, including San Diego, of '83. Also, in the letter column, Dave expounds on some fans' feedback from the previous story arc. These personal touches, which have become franchise fluff and shameless self-promotion in the modern comics era (I’m looking at you, DC Nation), are undoubtedly what kept Cerebus afloat for so many decades. Not only were the characters dynamic, but the creators were interactive . . . throughout the year. The Con wasn't the only chance the reader had to pick the pros' minds. Screw the Internet; I miss those simpler days.