Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Poet

The 2nd chapter of Jaka’s Story is entitled simply The Poet. Although readers get more of Cerebus (now called Fred) and Jaka, The Poet is really about Oscar.

Oscar returns from the upper city to his lodgings halfway down the mountain. Before writing Jaka’s Story, Dave read a biography of the Irish playwright and wit Oscar Wilde, and became very interested in the man. There’s no doubt that the character of Oscar in Jaka’s Story is most definitely Oscar Wilde, and Dave decided to portray him in all of his self indulgent glory. Of the other 4 characters living in this secluded little community only Rick likes Oscar. Jaka and Pud cannot stand the man. Fred may have crossed paths with him as they moved in the same circles during High Society, but he stays hidden in the apartment most of the time, and any previous association is not mentioned, although Jaka does say he was at the Regency on election night. (Cerebus ran for President in High Society).

Oscar is rude, highly arrogant and vain, but Rick seems to like him. I think Rick kind of likes everyone, though. Jaka does admit that to a large extent Rick is a child. He tells Oscar that he wants Jaka to have a son and when their son is 10 years old he’ll get him a foal for his birthday. His reason for this gift is so that the child will lift that foal above his head every day until he turns 13, by which stage he will be strong enough to lift a full grown horse above his head. This is Rick’s plan for ensuring that his son won’t be a skinny runt like he is.

Jaka and Pud tolerate Oscar because they have to (Pud’s dead mother gave him a 90 year lease on the house he occupies), but they make no secret of their dislike for the man. Stuck inside the apartment all the time Fred becomes adept at bouncing a ball into a bucket, and he and Rick spend nights while Jaka is dancing, trying to best each other at this.

Pud’s lecherous thoughts about Jaka continue and he rehearses in his head over and over a conversation he may never actually have with her. Jaka unwittingly fuels the innkeeper’s fantasies by complaining about her difficulties with Rick, and his friendship with Oscar, while dressed in her scanty dancing costume. One night Pud acts, he actually initiates the long thought about conversation with Jaka, however before he can complete it a customer arrives at the tavern. He’s a wizened old man, who claims to have been a veteran of some long ago Iestan conflict, and he’s seeking refuge from the Cirinists. Jaka dances for him and for the first night in a long time she feels alive again. She rushes back to the apartment to share her news with Rick and Fred. They are engaged in their moronic game and shush her. This upsets Jaka and she runs to her room in tears. Rick goes to console her and Fred hears another of their heated arguments. One of their major points of disagreement is Rick’s insistence on going into the city to buy paint for Oscar, he’s painting one of the heads on the road outside the tavern. Fred makes a decision.

The following morning Jaka finds a note penned by Fred and runs to Rick in hysterics. The aardvark, probably the most wanted person in all of Iest, has gone to buy the paint. A bleary eyed Rick stumbles into Fred’s room and comes out mumbling that he took his sword and he’s the best in all of Estarcion, Jaka said so herself. It’s true, of the four people on the mountain Fred or Cerebus is the most likely to be able to fight his way out of any trouble he may find himself in. This calms Jaka somewhat.

Oscar has been working on a book. His publishers insist on calling it Daughter of Palnu. Oscar calls it Jaka’s Story. The story that we have been reading in between what is going on in the present is Oscar’s story about Jaka. He completes it and via Rick sends a letter to Jaka requesting that he be allowed to watch her dance. Genuinely pleased and slightly amused, not to mention more than a little intrigued, Jaka sends a reply, also through Rick, granting her permission.

A marvellous night follows. Jaka dances. She dances for her husband Rick, for her employer Pud, for Oscar and for the little, old man that is Pud’s only genuine customer. She dances for herself. For a time I was transported back to Issue #6 The Secret, when Cerebus first saw Jaka and fell in love with her. This however is Cerebus and happiness cannot be allowed to continue.

Oscar rises and excuses himself to go and retrieve his new manuscript to read it to them. The moment he mentions the title Jaka knows what it's about and knows how Oscar got the information, how could Rick have told Oscar about her life? Why? Does he not understand what a betrayal she feels that is? Before Oscar can return or Jaka can finish her argument with her husband the door crashes open and three masked, armed Cirinist soldiers enter.

The old man smashes a bottle and attacks, he’s shot with a crossbow bolt before he can even get close to the warrior women. They agree that his execution was an act of self defence. Before Jaka’s horrified eyes they accuse Pud of illegally operating a tavern and allowing immoral and illegal activities. The penalty is execution and it’s carried out then and there. The peaceful Mama’s boy Pud Withers dies a violent death, whimpering the word ‘Mama.’ as he dies. Jaka, too should also be executed for dancing, she immediately announces that she is Jaka Tavers, niece of Lord Julius of Palnu and claims diplomatic immunity for herself and her husband Rick Nash. One of the soldiers still wants to execute her, but is overridden by the other 2, who insist that she must be questioned. Jaka leads an inebriated Rick out to their wagon and they climb inside.

Unaware of what has just happened Oscar returns with his manuscript. He convinces the women that he was not a patron, but a tenant. For having written a book without a licence he is arrested and sentenced to 2 years hard labour.

Thus ends The Poet, chapter2 of Jaka’s Story.

Dave did a great job with Oscar. Aside from the man’s appearance, speech and mannerisms he tied his fictional creation into the real person on which he was based in a number of ways. He speaks to Rick about a work which can only be The Picture of Dorian Gray, only he does not claim credit for it, he sneers at the work and says it was written by a rival; Lord Wotton. Wotton is a character from the famous book. At one point Pud accuses Oscar of being a somdomite, an angry Oscar informs him that the correct pronunciation is sodomite. The Marquess of Queensberry once accused Wilde of being a somdomite. Wilde then sued Queensberry for libel, which forced the Marquess to prove that the accusation was true. Wilde wrote a play called Salome, about the biblical dancer and stepdaughter of King Herod Antipas. The play was initially refused a licence in England because it was about a biblical character. I think there are definite links between Jaka’s Story and Salome and of course Oscar in Cerebus is arrested for writing without a licence. The real Oscar Wilde was found guilty of the crime of sodomy and sentenced to 2 years hard labour, just as the fictional one was. There are quite possibly other links and references, but these are the ones I could find.

Lord Julius also appears briefly in Jaka’s Story. As he occasionally does, he comes out of nowhere, he’s wearing a dress, obviously a very bad disguise, has a nonsensical conversation with Oscar, and then disappears again. Oscar believes that Julius is Jaka and Rick’s mysterious guest, and there’s a brief running gag about Cerebus wearing one of Jaka’s dresses.

I felt that Dave’s artistic style in this story was less cartoony. Cerebus/Fred of course looks like he always has, so is a cartoon, but the rest of the characters were less caricatured than had been the case in the past. It was particularly noticeable in a drawing of a young Astoria, aged 17 and just married to Lord Julius, she was truly stunning.

There were 2 really effective passages. One was Jaka and Oscar getting ready for the final night. They were both contrasted picking out their outfits and it was very amusing to watch them 2 of them go through their extensive wardrobes before settling on their respective costumes for the night. The other was the killing at the end. When Jaka’s story finished Aardvark-Vanaheim brought out a series of t-shirts (I actually have one) with the legend: ‘I survived Jaka’s Story.’ Not many people got out alive. Pud and the old soldier were executions pure and simple. Cold, clinical, quick and chilling.

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