Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Going Home

The 13th phonebook; Going Home, is actually the first part of a larger arc which is called Going Home, the second part is contained in the 14th phonebook; Form and Void.

Before you crack the book open one thing strikes the reader as being different, the cover is in colour. All the other phonebooks have featured a black and white drawing. The cover of Going Home is also not a drawing, it’s a colour photograph of a green field on the edge of a dark forest. I believe all the individual issues at this point featured colour photographs.

It begins with Cerebus and Jaka travelling north together to Cerebus’ home of Sand Hills Creek. Since being separated from Cerebus at the end of Jaka’s Story, and being sent back to Palnu in disgrace, Jaka’s situation and her perception by the general populace and the Cirinists has changed. She’s called Princess Jaka, although she often asks to be called Jaka without the Princess honorific. The people, and even the Cirinists love her, and will seemingly do anything for her. I wondered if Oscar’s reads about her had anything to do with her celebrity status. No one says anything about her companion (Cerebus), and he’s treated with every kindness, although where possible he’s ignored.

On the surface of it their relationship seems happy, almost idyllic. They laugh and joke a lot. They certainly appear to be blissfully happy in public. In private Cerebus worries. He worries about the snail’s pace they’re travelling at, he doesn’t want to get snowed in on the wrong side of the Conniptin Mountains on the way to Sand Hills Creek. He worries about keeping Jaka happy. Someone at an inn told him that Jaka was ‘sad’, and the only way to maintain the relationship was to be happy enough for the both of them. Being happy is not Cerebus’ usual state of being, he does a pretty good job, though, despite the nagging internal doubts that plague him. His biggest concern regarding Jaka is what do they do when they get so far north that there are no more clothing huts. Jaka insists that she has to wear different clothes every day. Cerebus offers to ensure that her clothes are clean every day, but Jaka says they don’t have to be clean, they just have to be different. Eventually, faced with the possibility that the lack of clothing huts in the far north will mean losing Jaka, Cerebus agrees to go south. Everyone else went south, so why not?

Dave took time during Jaka and Cerebus’ tour of the northern inns to portray a few fellow comic book writers and artists. Greg Hyland, Rick Veitch (who had appeared previously in Guys) and Alan Moore, were all part of it. Alan Moore’s portrayal was particularly amusing, and I suspect very accurate.

To go south Cerebus and Jaka have to board a boat. The boat looks rather like a large barge crossed with a riverboat. It’s very well appointed and it’s passengers will travel in style. The boat seems entirely crewed and staffed by Cirinists, who are all referred to as Mother. Aside from the aardvark and his princess there only seems to be one other passenger, a notorious reads author by the name of F. Stop Kennedy. F. Stop Kennedy was Dave Sim’s version of popular 1920’s author F. Scott Fitzgerald. It reminded me of the way he had portrayed Oscar Wilde in Jaka’s Story and Melmoth.

In his extensive notes at the end of the book Sim says that drawing Fitzgerald accurately was not an easy task, as not a lot of photographic material featuring the writer was available. He confesses that of Fitzgerald’s work he preferred Tender is the Night and The Beautiful and the Damned to the work for which he is best remembered; The Great Gatsby. It seems that a lot of the way he saw the writer was drawn from those two novels, rather than Gatsby.

Jaka didn’t care for Oscar, in fact she despised the man, and she doesn’t hold Kennedy in much higher regard. As they travel down the river Kennedy works on a read, excerpts from which he occasionally reads out to the other two passengers, and are also often shown between pages. At one stage a few lines of handwriting appeared in the book. Dave Sim says in his notes that this was his attempt at recreating Fitzgerald’s handwriting, and although he says it may not pass muster with some of the better biographers, he thought he did a pretty good job. Being an artist Dave probably has an eye for this sort of thing. The presented story presumably done in the style of F. Scott Fitzgerald (I’ve never read any of the man’s works, so I can’t judge) is a written version of the story that readers are seeing also in drawn form. Dave Sim pushes the envelope again. Kennedy’s descent into alcoholism and his failing health were handled subtly and sensitively.

What hit me most was when the boat passed through Iest, or where Iest used to be. While Cerebus was floating around in space talking to Dave, Cirin returned to Estarcion, and was there during the ‘Iestan Tragedy’. Iest was destroyed. Of all of the settings for Cerebus Iest was my favourite. It’s why I called the blog Travels Through Iest (even though being a city state there wasn’t a lot of travelling to be done in Iest itself), so seeing it being completely obliterated and deserted was quite moving for me. These days people only came there to hear Cirin’s priestesses recite her version of events. A sort of religious pilgrimage.

There’s quite a bit of tension when Cerebus and Jaka decide to leave the boat. The Cirinists seem to have decided to take Cerebus out of the picture, armed troops are lined up on the waterfront and want to separate Jaka and Cerebus. Jaka works out what is happening and narrowly averts disaster. Their travels will continue in the second part of Going Home; Form and Void.

I’ve always been interested in the way Dave Sim seems to change the times in which Cerebus takes place to suit his material. The early issues took place in a Robert E. Howardesque setting to suit the barbarian warrior parody of the book. With High Society it shifted to a setting that was more reminiscent of the late 18th and 19th centuries. Most of Going Home, especially the boat trip seems to be in a 1920’s influenced setting, which fits with F. Stop Kennedy. The main anachronism there is the Cirinist’s uniforms, which have altered subtly to resemble nuns habits more than anything else.

I liked the first part with Cerebus and Jaka doing what they’d always talked about, travelling through Estarcion together, but I really didn’t see the need for a lot of the boat trip. Okay, I know that Dave Sim seemed to have developed a fascination for F. Scott Fitzgerald, the way he had for Oscar Wilde, but I do question the detail into which the writer was examined. At times it seems like Sim just filled in material for issue upon issue so he could reach the magical 300 mark. The Fitzgerald stuff wasn’t without interest, the same as the Wilde works, especially Melmoth, but I kind of felt they belonged in publications of their own rather than in Cerebus story, a story in which they only played peripheral roles, despite the amount of space devoted to lovingly portraying them.

With the exception of Cerebus himself, who always looks like a cartoon, the artwork is very realistic, almost photolike in quality. The mixture of artwork and slabs of prose is now familiar, and even other books by this stage were starting to experiment with this style of work.

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