The Making of Monsters and Writing
For Eula Biss
Cerebus Church& State I
July 1983-November 1985
After abdicating a disastrous stint as Prime Minister of Iest, Cerebus begins writing, verbally compiling his political memoirs.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein opens with the written report of Robert Walton to his sister Mrs. Saville. Robert Walton searched for a purpose. a high grand goal to accomplish with his life.
Cerebus too was looking for something to do after serving as Prime Minister. The aardvark sat content to write in a tavern. Robert Walton found contentment in funding and leading an expedition to be the first man to reach the North Pole.
Mary Shelley wanted to write a novel. Dave Sim wanted to complete a 300 issue run of an independent comic staring an aardvark.
Cerebus meets The Countess, who offers him a place to stand and write—and at the same time encourages his ambition and acceptance of power that makes him Prime Minister (again), and drunk, and married, and pope. These positions have more in common with one another than any of them have in common with writing.
Robert Walton meets Victor Frankenstein who curbs Walton’s ambitions with his personal tale of power pursuit and the deadly results. Walton became more human. Being human shares many overlaps with writing.
According to her journal entries, Mary Shelley added the epistolary element to her novel in 1817 after having read and been influenced by Samuel Richardson’s novel Clarissa. Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula (another great monster novel) is an epistolary work. One could begin to think some link lurks between monsters and writing.
After become prime minister (again) and pope, Cerebus embraces and revels in this new power and abandons his power gathered through writing. As his political and religious power waxes, his writing power wanes along with his humanity (as much humanity as an aardvark can symbolize in an independent black-and-white comic book).
Church and State I opens with spacious images that sprawl across the page. This collection makes the layouts of Cerebus Book I and Cerebus: High Scoiety seem cramped and confining. Many times the restrictions and compression aren’t perceived until openness and freedom and room to stretch are encountered.
Mary Shelley was 16 when she ran off with poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Percy was already married with a child and his wife, Harriet, pregnant with their second child. Percy invited his wife to come and live with him and Mary. Harriet didn’t accept the offer.
Cerebus complained about being with Red Sophia and at the same time didn’t want her to leave. He wanted her and wanted rid of her. He didn’t know what he wanted. All that power blinded him.
Victor Frankenstein wanted to create life. Robert Walton wanted to accomplish a great feat. The monster wanted a mate. It might be better to not always get what you want. According to her journal, Mary Shelley added the plotline of the monster’s desire for a mate on X 1816, the anniversary of her and Shelley’s traveling-love tryst.
Cerebus doesn’t return to his writing in Church and State I, even though he makes impromptu speeches and demands of fervent religious followers. Cerebus gathers gold and throws women, the elderly, and babies from the roof. During his speeches, many followers can’t even hear what he says. Image supersedes words.
Mary Shelley feared people would hear what she wrote in her journals of 1815-1816. Later in life, after her husband drowned in a boating accident, she destroyed her early journals in a self-directed purge. The monster in her novel, while teaching itself how to read—and schooling itself in Milton’s Paradise Lost and other works never learned to write nor to create. Decreation in the killing of Elizabeth, Wililam, and giving hand to the death of Justine and Victor through his machinations. Robert Walton, through writing down Victor’s tale in letters to his sister avoids a similar fate of doom and desiccation. Even Victor Frankenstein, despite the problems and destruction wrought on the world from his monster, still dies with a sense of contentment. In Church and State I, Jaka dances, an ephemeral fleeting language and through this art she’s able to articulate and achieve contentment better than Cerebus with the full might of his divinely backed power. Writing, art, may bring forth and display the monstrous aspects of a human being. This act of creation, this writing, this dancing, this depicted image of life (whether formed from flesh or ink) carries with it salvation, not only for the artist, but for an audience as well. A creature, whether daemon or aardvark, who chooses only to destroy and manipulate ensures an ultimate fate of being deposed, themselves destroyed, tossed aside in abandonment on the wastes of an icy north or a lower city….