Dante I Didn't Tell You...
October 1992-September 1993
Mothers & Daughters: Flight is a book working its way through a thought to some conclusion. Mothers & Daughters: Women possesses the same feeling. While in his introduction Dave Sim states “Structurally, each of the four books in the series say the same thing, but they say it in very different ways,” a different emphasis (even though maybe part of the same larger argument exerted in Mothers & Daughters) on creator’s rights emerged with this volume.
A sequence of four images of parody in Women formed the axis around which the Book 8 coalesced. Parody lurked consistently in Cerebus from the beginning, but in Women it becomes a force exerting influence for the existence of the world.
In these four scenes beginning on page 224, a particularly tense situation involving Cerebus, Astoria, Cirin, and the ascension (a chance for mortals to talk to the god/goddess or even to achieve a sort of apotheosis).
The Roach, under the guise of Swoon, lord of the dreams and imagination and a caricature of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman begins shaking and shifting. On the following page chains, claws, ammunition belts, spikes, and giant shoulder pads emerge amidst very unpoetic onomatopoeia. The following two pages are each entirely filled character names, all followed with the trademark TM and beginning with “Total Sellthough RoachTM.”
The commentary on Image, Valiant, Vertigo, Marvel, DC, and other highly promoted and ExtremeTM characters and comics companies has the subtlety and humor of watching someone else get hit in the crotch. The TM symbol tags these characters. The unleashing of these large muscled power-chord characters hold the threat of collapsing the world on which Vanaheim and Iest rest. Some creations from the imagination could destroy a whole world unless the Swoon Roach is able to contain them in his robes.
What the hell is going on here?
Something with creator rights, and maybe even creator responsibility.
When working on his Divine Comedy (three poems describing a Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso), the 14th century Florentine poet Dante Alighieri worried on the role of the artist with regards to a reader’s understanding. Dante in particular was worried about someone reading his poem and misunderstanding the ideas and could wander astray. In Canto V of the Inferno Dante-pilgrim learns how a book of Arthurian romances pushed Paolo and Francesca into Hell:character’s travels to salvation through hell, purgatory, and heaven in the works
Trembling kissed my lips.
That author and his book played the part
of Gallehault. We read no more that day.
-Mary Jo Bang’s translation
So, is the reader responsible for not having honed the necessary reading skills to understand the author’s intent?
Or, is the poet responsible for not making the ideas clear enough for the readers to understand?
While Cerebus: Book 8 doesn’t address these same questions, it does work with a question closely related to the ones puzzled over by Dante. Should creators maintain the rights and control over their creations? The answer provided for a creator’s responsibility to a reader’s understanding influences the answer to the rights of control.
Letting control of a creation escape the artist’s mastery carries a dark destructive stigma on these pages of Women. Management of a creative property by an organization that focuses on profit and mass appeal damns one as surely as reading Arthurian romances lead the Italian lovers to their hellish situation. This loss of control carries with it the concerns that originality and creativity and potential of the character will erode the original idea into a shallow parody of its original potential. Greater ethical concerns arise as well if creators hold a responsibility for the effect of their creations. Setting the work loose to wander like Frankenstein’s monster carries with it deadly consequences.
How much control should a creator retain over her or his character creations?
Are corporations better stewards of creative properties and better able to expand and explore the full range and potential of the character, or is the single creator better able to realize their story lines with their greater resources and financial advantages than a single creator ever could?
Is a creator still responsible for what becomes of a character after others hold the legal rights?
What is the relation between a creation and the creator’s need for money?
Swoon Roach knows.
With the meditation of the Swoon Roach and the slowly stated “must contain them all. c a l m,” Cerebus: Women, posits that creations fare better with creators than corporations. Swoon Roach subsumes the creations bursting forth into his chest, literally keeping them close to his heart, and maintains peace.
While not directly answering the question with which Dante struggled, Cerebus: Women hints that, for better and worse, the actions and ideas occurring in the pages of Cerebus emerged from Dave Sim, not editors, distributors, or secret cabals of all-powerful fanboys.
The creator cares for and stays with his creation. And, love or hate what the creator does, there is some nobility and admiration, calmness, truth and love that occurs in such a choice.