The Daughter of Palnu
Cerebus: Jaka’s Story
While rereading Jaka’s Story, I reconnected with a friend with whom an almost twenty-year abyss of silence stretched. No sinister betrayals, thwarted bank robberies, or demon control extended the silence to so many years, but rather each of us moved in different directions at 18 to live our own lives.
So, while very pleased to gulf the abyss and be in touch, the plaguing question arose of how do you convey a life of almost two decades to someone?
Jaka’s Story treats this same challenge and Sim and Gerhard apply graphics and paragraphs alongside bent facts and time spans to deliver a semblance of the life, and at the same time character and identity, of Jaka. Conventional biographies corset lives in time; Sim and Gerhard cut the laces with words and pictures and loosen temporal constraint.
Jaka’s Story picks up after the final desolation at the end of Church and State and averts its focus from the minutia of political action and intrigue. With a setting limited to a single-room tavern, the street in front of the tavern, a small apartment shared by Jaka, her husband Rick, and house-guest Cerebus, an apartment of Oscar [Wilde], a prison cellblock, and the quasi-fictional memories of a young Jaka’s rooms and playground in Lord Julius’s palace, the geography varies little.
While narrating the biography of Jaka, it simultaneously suggests that versions of an individual’s past remains in the present moment and shapes how individuals perceive themselves and how others perceive the individuals with as much force as actions in the present. Art shapes these perceptions into some sensible form that allows for some greater understanding and/or investigation.
As Wilde assembled in his Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young, “One should always be a little improbable.”
How to Tell a Life: While the main concern of Jaka’s Story is Jaka, like any good biography, its revelations extend like tendrils of gravity to influence readers, illuminating shadowy realms of their own lives along with the life of Jaka. For this shedding of light, the medium shines the message…or at least part of the message…of this work.
Sim applies a split narrative, where a section of Jaka’s present life (living on the side of a mountain with her husband) and her childhood (raised in Lord Julius’s palace) unfold simultaneously (or at least as close as printed works can achieve) to the reader. Past and present occur alongside each other.
Memory works in a similar way, it has the focus of just one event tale, or scenario to be carried out, yet the conjuration or consideration of an idea spawns an associative complex web of remembrances of things past. When transporting the reader to Jaka’s past, the sequences of sequential art become steeped to a single image parallel to a thin column of dense text that opens swaths of white space to sprawl leisurely upon the page. These moments of white space function as a focus for the actions in the pillar of text, but also figuratively represent memory. The one image symbolically becomes a scrying surface for an entire experience and works as powerfully as lime tea and a madeleine to recall previous events. All else fades into the white space haze—unimportant.
That white space lets the reader focus on the narrated event just as the speaker focuses on the single tale being relayed, while at the same time suggesting more occurs than any page can hold…to attempt to portray all the details in a life, even in a moment, is impossible, and would weaken the moment. The use of white space encompasses the infinite, letting the reader’s mind construct the details without restriction. Portraying Jaka’s past with this method ensures that less specific information results in more information.
Accompanying the swaths of white space, Sim works reflections and repetition to a similar end. Two scenes best capture this technique. Pages 193-195 depict the tavern/grocer owner Pud mopping thefloor. The tavern owner (hiding a secret lust for Jaka) rehearses an imagined dialogue with Jaka in his head. This exact same script reoccurs throughout the volume and as if Pud gains comfort with the lines, builds up his confidence. The three pages show the reflection of the tavern owner clarifying in the puddle, symbolic of his strengthening resolve to initiate his often imagined conversation. He starts the conversation with Jaka during her next shift at the tavern. This clarity of resolution for both the image and the character’s resolve continues the dualistic theme (past and present, black-and-white/pen-and-ink, words and pictures, work and home, husband and wife, spouse and friend, art and force) with the image and the imagination.
Jaka is drawn in a similar reflection on pages 62-65, 321-323, 413 and the final age 486 of Cerebus Book 5.
On pages 62, 64, and 65 Jaka dresses for dancing. She tries on different outfits and applies makeup, each time checking the mirror for the result, to make sure her reflection portrays the desired image. Biographies work in similar way, the actual person can’t be captured in a written record, but some reflection, a chimera of the person, a hint at what the individual arises from reading the pages of another’s life. Oscar writes to the critic Mr. Hendricks on page 287:
“…As to whether my story is “true,” it really depends on what you mean by that term. Any well-written article of prose is “true” because it touches one’s emotions and illuminates one’s thinking. To whatever extent the facts related within the story are not at variance with that intention, they remain unmodified.”
The chosen image finally selected by Jaka and Oscar as they dress and prepare for the public (on pages 321-313) contains the truth they want to convey about themselves and hope the public will perceive, but as any struggling biographer knows, truth of a person extends far beyond any image that can be reflected or depicted.
Which brings consideration to the image of Jaka looking out a window on page 413 and 486. This reflection depicts the inner reflection on Jaka, after her imprisonment, after being told she is hated by her husband, after the end of her dancing, after a return to the very palace she escaped at 16 years old. The reflection, in window glass instead of a mirror, is ephemeral and allows the outside world to show through and obscure her face. This reflection doesn’t allow choice for a self to portray, but rather has the world fade distinctions of self, the world exerting its truth on the individual. Somewhere between the lines of these reflections, the truth that Mr. Hendericks seeks about Jaka exists, but such a truth, without a “touch on one’s emotions and illumination of one’s thinking” is nothing more than an ink stain festering on the page.
 The events in Jaka’s Story seem restrained when compared to the far-reaching sprawl of Church & State. The summary for each section of Jaka’s Story consists of:
Prologue: A morning routine of Jaka and her husband Rick is shown, where they rise from bed, dress, and Rick, after a rough reminder, goes to look for work. A split to the past narrates the childhood of Jaka and her doll Missy while growing up in Palnu.
Book One: Pogrom’s Progress: narrates the arrival of Cerebus in the house of Jaka and Rick. The daily routine of Jaka buying groceries from her landlord (Pud Withers), then going to his tavern to sit and wait to dance for customers (none arrive), before she returns home. Rick hunts for work with a lackadaisical zeal and attempts to initiate marital congress with Jaka with a more dedicated zeal. Cerebus sits around and daydreams of running off with Jaka.
Book 2: The Poet: has Oscar a poet/writer arrive on the side of the mountain to work on his story and to hang around with Rick. Sim’s Oscar is Oscar Wilde and is accompanied with the wit of our world’s Oscar Wilde. Jaka continues her routine until finally the first customer stops in the tavern. Rick tries to look for work. His time spent with Oscar annoys Jaka. Cerebus sits around a lot throwing a ball in a bucket. Finally he leaves to buy a jar of paint. Jaka’s past continues its integration between episodes of the present story. Readers learn the events of Jaka’s past were crafted by Oscar. The Cirinists show up and kill the tavern owner and customer, arrest Jaka and Rick, and sentence Oscar to two years of hard labor because he doesn’t possess…an artistic license.
Book 3: Mystery Achievement: Jaka’s captivity is narrated. She meets her old nurse, who is executed, and undergoes some re-education to sign a confession that dancing is wrong. She reunites with Rick and reveals that she induced a miscarriage, much to Rick’s distress. Rick states he never wants to see Jaka again and is sent by the Cirinists to live with his mother. Jaka is transported back to Lord Julius’s palace in Palnu. Cerebus returns to discover the burned remains of the tavern. He drops and breaks the jar of paint.
Epilogue: Jaka sits silent in a room of Lord Julius’s palace while servants speculate on her condition during the preparation of her tea. Readers learn Jaka’s escape from the palace to dance 13 years ago, wasn’t as secret as she thought, and the royal search for Jaka was a farce, since her location was known and monitored by the royal family.