Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Insecure Sinecure

The first genuine chapter of Church & State has the tongue twisting name of The Insecure Sinecure. Cerebus is still at The Blue Duck writing his instruction manual, when 3 overdressed and immaculately coiffed gentlemen enter the establishment and make a beeline for the aardvark.

When he sees the leader, Cerebus has to suppress a groan. It is Lord Julius’ spoilt son, the Prince Valiant lookalike; Silverspoon. With him are 2 hangers on; Gwane and Trystrim. I don’t know if Dave did this consciously or not, but there’s an awful lot of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern about Gwane and Trystrim. Unasked, Silverspoon and his companions seat themselves next to Cerebus, and initially Silverspoon offers him money to write his memoirs. Cerebus becomes interested when Silverspoon explains what a memoir is. He then suggests that they play an incomprehensible card game that has become popular among the upper classes. I thought we’d seen the last of Silverspoon when Lord Julius was attempting to use him as human torch after Cerebus threatened to declare war on election night.

Cerebus gambles with money supplied by Silverspoon and due to not understanding the incredibly complicated and detailed rules has soon lost his stake. Predictably enough the former Prime Minister of Iest loses his temper and sends the trio away in a huff.

The following day Cerebus is mucking out The Blue Duck’s stables to pay off his bar bill, when Silverspoon seeks him out and invites him to accompany him on a visit to the estate of Countess Detin. Cerebus has had more than his fill of high society and mucking out stables is actually preferable to spending any extended amount of time with Silverspoon and his ilk. Gwane comes running up and manages to spill the beans that they can only go see the Countess on the condition that they bring Cerebus with them, and there is also the matter of 400 crowns that she’s given them to ensure this happens. Even with 400 crowns on offer Cerebus plays the Brer Rabbit game and says he’d rather muck out stables. By pooling their available funds Silverspoon, Gwane and Trystrim manage to raise the offer to 600 crowns. Cerebus agrees.

Cerebus then books a lavish mode of transport in front of Silverspoon and his associates. Once they’re gone he changes the method to something more practical and far less expensive and wants it ready in 10 minutes. Typical Cerebus, although you wouldn’t have to be all that bright to outwit Silverspoon, he is so monumentally stupid that you really do wonder if he’s genuinely the scheming Lord Julius’ child.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


I promised, didn’t I? Well here it is, my read of Church & State. Enjoy!

There was a short dedication in the front of the phone book which thanked Gerhard for arriving when he did and Deni for leaving when she did. That one line about Dave’s ex wife hinted that the split was somewhat acrimonious.

The introduction was short and fairly standard. It states that Church & State is the second of a trilogy of 3 novels. Church & State II was at this time still being written and Dave does give a ‘guesstimate’ of when it would be completed and says that he’s dancing as fast as he can. Dave delivered. I can think of a few fantasy authors who have failed on this count and also promised that they were working hard, but their actions said otherwise (sorry, being a fantophile, it’s a bit of a pet peeve and something that seems to be more and more common these days). I found it interesting that he advocated reading High Society if you weren’t quite up to what was going on in Church & State. He advised to do it, but did say it wasn’t essential if you didn’t want to. What intrigued me was that he made no mention of the first 25 issues contained in the Cerebus phone book. It’s not a single narrative in the way that High Society was, but I still think it’s an important part of the novel as a whole. I advocate starting with Cerebus, it is where the story starts and along with the aardvark many other major characters are introduced there. It’s also a very good look at how the Dave’s talent as both an artist and a storyteller developed.

The first chapter of Church & State is quite short, more of a prologue really. It appears to be set in the lower city and takes place at a tavern called The Blue Duck. I wondered if the name was an oblique reference to the albatross that was such an important plot point in High Society. There are two thugs at the bar when Cerebus enters. One is regaling the other with what he regards as a humourous tale about an assault he committed on a group of hapless individuals.

Cerebus orders ale and sits down at a nearby table. He puts a book down, along with a small pot of ink, dips a quill in it and begins to write. While the aardvark’s hand writing is legible and flowing, his skills as a writer leave something to be desired. It appears to be a memoir of sorts, a kind of instruction manual about what not to do if you ever become Prime Minister. The strongly worded references to Lord Julius and admonitions to not take advice from him suggest that it is based on personal experience.

I could see the chapter’s punch line coming the moment Cerebus chose a table near the thugs. He had a whole tavern to choose from, but he had to sit close to a powerfully built, violent character who was fond of gesticulating grandly as he spoke. Sure enough one of the gestures hits Cerebus’ drink and knocks it over, spoiling his meticulously written paragraph. The story ends with an outside view of The Blue Duck, the written sounds of violence that emanate from the tavern tell us that Cerebus is pounding the living daylights out of the thug.

It was a neat enough way to start the new book, but I just felt the ending was too pat. It was like Dave couldn’t think of a new joke, so he fell back on a tried and trusted one; Cerebus’ rage at a simple mishap getting the better of him and leading to an improbable beating for the perpetrator of the accident. I suppose we’re lucky Cerebus’ fur didn’t get wet and start to smell.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Softball...there's nothing soft about it!

As I promised/threatened this is another of those off topic posts. I will get to Church & State, I promise. Just need some time to do so.

My wife has been playing softball since she was 11 years old and as a result the rest of her family; father, mother, and 2 younger sisters, also became involved in the sport. Her sisters dropped out to have kids and due to injuries, although one is returning to it this season, but her parents, in particular her father became heavily involved, in not just playing, but in the administration of their own local club and at a state level

2009 was the 7th World Masters Games to be held, scheduled this time for Sydney, Australia. This was the first time my wife was eligible to compete; the age qualification is 35 and over. She had worked in administration at the 5th WMG in Melbourne, but had always wanted to compete. As Sydney isn’t really that far from home in Melbourne, I made the decision that I’d also go to support her, and we decided to combine it with a trip away. Both my wife’s parents were also attending. My father in law was going to be playing for Mens 45+ team and my mother in law, while listed as a player and eligible to compete, was unlikely to do so, but would act as scorer for my wife’s team.

I never really knew much about the sport prior to meeting my wife. I knew it was a variation of baseball, mostly played by women and that Australia was pretty good at it, but the US were the best.

When my father in law found out that I was intending to go to Sydney he wondered if I wanted to play, he needed bodies for the Mens 35+ team. I did advise him that I’d never played before and that I have no athletic aptitude whatsoever, but he assured me that as long as I was fit and could catch and throw a ball I’d be fine. So it was I became not only a spectator and husband of a competitor, but an active competitor in my own right.

I actually knew less about the World Masters Games than I did about softball. I was aware of their existence, but like most people outside of the families of competitors I thought it consisted of really old people with a sprinkling of ex Olympians. It is unfortunate that the media focus on the oldest competitors, many of them 90+ who win their events because they’re the only entrants. It turns the event into a sideshow and hides the fact that it is the largest participant sporting event in the world. The Sydney Games had in excess of 28,000 active entrants across a range of sports. If you were to see the occasional media pieces on the Games you could be excused for thinking that it was a senior citizens athletics meet and somehow sailing was also involved. The only reason that sailing got a look in was because Prince Frederick of Denmark (considered newsworthy in Australia because his wife; Mary, is Australian born) was competing. Badly, I might add, he didn’t win a medal and seemed to spend more time in the water than on top of it, his only real talent lay in capsizing his craft repeatedly. The event really deserves better coverage and the media should be ashamed of their efforts.

The Games aren’t about winning or losing, they’re about participating and having fun. Proving that age is no barrier to either. Most of the entrants are social athletes who compete for the sake of competing and enjoy their sport. Like all people, they like to win, but it’s not the driving force behind their activity.

My wife and I decided, as we were already in Sydney, that we’d register early and not have the hassle of trying to fit it in around competing. My father in law had been grumbling for weeks about the disorganisation of the softball component in the Games, as opposed to the readiness of Melbourne in 2002. Neither of us realised that it extended to the Games as a whole. They had massively underestimated how many people would want to compete and hadn’t catered for it. One mistake was having everyone register at the same place; the Olympic centre in Homebush, another was allowing all competitors to register at the same time, rather than allocate days or times for the different disciplines, an option to register online would have been useful and you would have just had to drop by to collect a photo id as well, the final mistake, and the one that I found most mystifying, was the lack of direction or signage as to where to go to register. Homebush is a large centre, incorporating a number of stadiums and buildings. We parked about 10 minutes walk from the registration centre and only found it by following other people and then seeing the queue. I won’t go into details, but we waited in that queue for in excess of 3 hours and it took 4 and a half hours to complete a process that if properly organised could have been done in 10 minutes.

Once that was over and done with we found our accommodation (organised by the club in Melbourne) and had a free day in Sydney before competition started, and we took full advantage of the fact that our accreditation allowed us free public transport in and around the city. It came in useful the following evening when we attended the opening ceremony, too. It was about as well organised as registering had been, but it was still fun to do.

I still can’t work out why they call it softball, the ball is not soft! I have bruises that can attest to this. While you don’t want to let a ball run through your legs into the outfield it hurts a lot less than putting your shin in the way. There’s also a reason you have a glove…it really hurts to try and stop a ball with the ungloved hand.

I did have fun competing, although I discovered that there’s a lot more to the game than catching, throwing and hitting. There’s an art to all 3, plus no matter where you’re fielding you have to be aware of what’s going on all over the ground, the same applies when batting or even when waiting your turn to bat. I preferred playing right field, although my best game was at 3rd base, having a hand in 2 outs. The Mens 35+ team was always up against it. We only had 11 team members and one of those was part time, dividing his time between the 35’s and the 45’s. 3 of us had never played before. We’d never had a practice session with all 11 of us present at the one time prior to our first match. Consequently we failed to win a game, although we had a couple of close ones and were forced to forfeit 2, one when our catcher broke down with a back injury, finishing his tournament, and the other because we had injuries and were trying to regroup after the breakdown. We finished the event with 6 fit players, not really surprising, most of the guys weren’t all that fit to begin with, only about 4 players hadn’t undergone multiple knee reconstructions and we threw ourselves into the whole thing with very little regard to life and limb. Like I said the ball isn’t soft and playing with a no prisoners approach doesn’t help. Still and all I did have fun and I’ll be there in 4 years time in Turin. This time after training with my wife and taking a more active interest in the sport I should at least know what I’m doing.

Anyone know why they call it softball?

Friday, October 2, 2009


Just a quick note to let anyone who happens to come by and read this and wonder this guy used to post at least once every couple of days, what's happened? I'm going to be on holidays for a couple of weeks, so won't be able to continue the journey until I return home. Once I'm back I'll jump straight into Church & State I. Should be fun from what I can remember.
Seeya in a fortnight.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


The 6th crises and the final chapter of High Society began in an unusual fashion. Cerebus was all alone in a cavernous hall, even his words echoed down the empty spaces. Eventually he found Astoria with the Conniptin commander. Because no one brought Cerebus his breakfast he has come to the conclusion that something is wrong.

Astoria is drinking wine and it is obvious by her manner that the glass in her hand is far from the first of the day. She informed Cerebus that the churches exodus inward had ended. The church has united and taken all power. Blakely and Filgate scared of the consequences have gone home. Cerebus' cabinet is now composed of Astoria and the Conniptin. Cerebus believes that the Conniptins give him the military strength he's wanted. However the forces of the combined church outnumber the Conniptins significantly and they'd be cut to pieces if Cerebus were to attack. Cerebus last hope was the anarcho-romantics, but they had been rounded up, arrested and were waiting trial or begging the Pontiff for his forgiveness.

Astoria says that Cerebus only course of action is to go to Lower Felda, as they are the only people willing to support him as Iestan Prime Minister in exile for the express purpose of embarassing the church. During the course of the argument that the conversation becomes we see some of Astoria's real reasons for orchestrating all this in the first place, she's a feminist, she wanted women to get the vote. I wonder if this was the beginning of Dave's anti feminist rant. The one that would get him in so much trouble later on.

Cerebus insists that he's not going to Lower Felda, he's going to Eshnospur. I don't think he really cared where he went, but he stuck on Eshnospur because Astoria wanted them to go to Lower Felda and he took a stand to prove that he did make the decisions for himself, not just blindly follow or agree to Astoria's plans.

As Cerebus leaves Astoria asks him what he's going to do and he says he has someone to find. Astoria correctly guesses that he's going to go looking for Jaka. She tells him that there are things he doesn't know about her. Cerebus responds by saying that he knew she was Lord Julius niece. Astoria's counter to that is that she too was once Lord Julius 'niece', he's had a number of 'nieces' over the years, the big difference between Jaka and Astoria is that he married her. I have admit this made me a little ewwwww! I'd always seen Lord Julius as Dave first presented him; a fantasy version of Groucho Marx. Groucho was undeniably sleazy, although Chico was sleazier, and he flirted all the time, but he was ultimately harmless and humourous. Jaka was twelve when she left Lord Julius.

Cerebus walked out on Astoria and found himself back in the Ambassador Suite in The Regency with the Elf. The Elf, as always, praised Cerebus, telling him that he was the best Prime Minister ever and who cared about the crummy ol' church. It will serve them right if Cerebus stays there for the rest of his life playing wickets with her. Cerebus tells her that he can't do that, he's leaving. The Elf asks if he will at least come back and see her. Cerebus says yes, but not soon. The Elf tells Cerebus that she'll miss him, will he miss her? The Cerebus did something I'd never expected to see. He started to cry, he said he had soot in his eye, but he was crying. He really loved the Elf and he hated leaving that life behind. The Ef held him until he composed himself. He picked up his sword, put on his vest and medallions, then kicked the sack of junk that he got from the mad artist. It fell open and the contents spilled out. Amongst the bangles and cups and plates was a statue of an albatross. Cerebus picked it up and threw it into the city where it shattered.

The book finished with some of the documents that we had been seeing throughout the crises, something that had been written by an anarcho-romantic who remained loyal to Cerebus. We didn't realise until this point who was writing those. These ones told the story of the author's arrest and imprisonment on a false charge of blasphemy. The final page was a ragged man in a dungeon cell writing on his walls by candlelight. The last panel is the word liberty.

Wow! That was one hell of a ride. Dave was going to find this a hard act to follow. To remain relevant, tight and funny for another 250 issues, that was going to be fun to see.

The Last Stand

The 5th of Cerebus 6 crises was titled rather ominously as The Last Stand. Cerebus' advisors and cabinet are running about like headless chooks reading reports and arguing with one another. One of his military commanders is the only one with any sense asking messengers if there is any sign of military assistance.

Cerebus has retired to his room where he has proceeded to drink himself into a stupor. The combination of the invasion and the disastrous meeting with Jaka, who has once again disappeared from his life, has forced the aardvark to seek solace in alcohol. He does this often and it made me wonder if Cerebus' aardvarkian constitution actually allowed him to become an alcoholic. Astoria is keeping up the fiction that she is consulting with him to buy time and not let anyone else know of his true comatose state.

Just when he is not wanted Lord Julius wanders in. He and Astoria have an argument, or rather Astoria screams at Lord Julius and he responds calmly with inconsequential nonsense. Cerebus staggers out in the middle of this, suffering from the after effects of his bender. The Roach appears claiming that has been doped. The Roach says that liquid frostonite, which is crazy Roach talk for water, will counter the effects of what Cerebus has been given. A bucket of cold water thrown over Cerebus does do wonders for his hangover, though. This was where Dave started to do something that annoyed me intensely. He kept shifting the orientation of the panels around. One page you're reading the book upright, then on it's side, then upside down, the other side and then upright again. It made the story very hard to read and you had to spin the comic around, it was hard enough to do with a simple paper issue, bloody near impossible with a phone book. The Cerebus' fur smells bad when it's wet joke was still running and it got another airing here.

While Cerebus dries off and gets redressed Astoria outlines plans for them to go into political exile and leave the city to the invading Hsifans. Initially Cerebus goes along with it saying he wants to go someplace warm and Astoria suggests Eshnospur as a possible destination. As they plan to leave Cerebus receives news that some of the forces have managed to halt the advance and his thinking changes, he starts talking about mounting an offensive. On the way out of the building they encounter the McGrews, both of whom are trying to learn Hsifan.

Cerebus and Astoria are packed and waiting to leave when Cerebus digs his heels in and decides to take a look at the Hsiffies for himself. Against Astoria's wishes, actually she was screaming hysterically at Cerebus demanding that he listen to her and come back. Cerebus ignored her and continued out with one of his military commanders, an impressively moustached fellow. Once outside Cerebus borrows his commanders sword and goes to meet the Hsiffies, pausing only to tell his commander that if Astoria's screeching bothers him turn her upside down in a snowbank somewhere.

As Cerebus charges towards oblivion, a naked blade in his hand the forces heading towards him stop and start shouting: Might for Right, Might for Might, Right for Might, Fight! Fight! Fight! They aren't Hsifans, they're Conniptins, more specifically they're Cerebus' Conniptins, the ones that he thought perished outside the walls of Imesh way back in issue #9. I'd like to think Dave planned this, but I don't think even he thought that far ahead back then. This was just a convenient way to get out of a seemingly impossible situation.

I do like the way Dave got Cerebus out of this and how we saw that even Astoria can't hold her cool in a hopeless situation, yet Cerebus true colours came to the fore and if he was going down he was going to do it with a sword in his hand and both fists swinging.