Friday, June 13, 2014

The Aardvark-Vanaheim Pilgrimage: Cerebus 11: Guys

Bar Talk

Cerebus: Guys
Issues 201 - 219
December 1995 - June 1997
408 pages

SCENE: Two men sit at a tall table.  A tumbler of scotch sits before one, the other has a snifter of brandy. 

KS: So, you just finished Guys, what’s it like, what happened?  I’ve never read it.

DM: Well, in terms of action, it doesn’t really have much of a plot.  Cerebus, the main character who is an aardvark…

KS: Thanks asshole, I know that much.

DM: Sorry.  Anyway, Cerebus sits at a bar and drinks too much too often and then stops (mostly) drinking too much.  He talks and plays games with the other patrons.  He spends a lot of time with his “best” friend Bear, until Bear leaves the bar (and drives everyone else away too) to get back together with his wife, or girlfriend (I can’t remember), and then Cerebus owns and operates the bar.  He hooks up and then breaks up with a woman named Joanne and at the end of the book Rick, Jaka’s ex-husband, enters the bar, shows Cerebus how to pour a pint of beer, and reveals his identity to the earth pig.

KS:  That’s it?

DM: That’s it.

KS: There are no battles, or wars, or ramblings about ascensions or made-up religions?  Are any philosophical metaphorical scenarios included about publishing or sex or art? 

DM:  Nope.  None of that stuff is present.  The main events are just the antics and conversations that occur in the bar.

KS: Sounds dull.  Is it worth reading?

DM: Well, yeah. 

KS:  Why?

DM: First off, there are some pretty funny scenes, jokes, and stories that occur in these issues.  While getting lectured on the innocence of youthful femininity by a Margaret Thatcher parody, a young girl strips outside the bar, visible to the patrons through the window, but unseen by the Thatcher Cirinist.  The juxtaposition between the images and text is hilarious.  A sight gag about a mongoose in a box, and the lettering, especially for drunks, contain a great deal of laughs.

KS: Yeah, ok, that sounds pretty good, I guess. But don’t all those drunk people get annoying after awhile?

DM: Some.  It’s not too bad.  Sim keeps it pretty limited, and besides, it’s always better reading about drunken antics than having to suffer through the antics of drunks while sober.

KS: So, what sets this book apart from the others?

DM: Hmm, that’s a good question. A wide cast of characters appear, disappear, and reappear.  We, as readers, witness the characters do a rare thing in comic books.  They change.

KS: How so?

DM: Well Cerebus starts off as a dedicated drunk, but finally controls his drinking and sobers up for the second half of the book.  Bear goes from being fed up with women to getting back together with his woman named Ziggy.  Even poor naïve Marty shifts from a wallflower to a chatty excess drinker to a husband and café operator.  Eventually, everyone leaves and none return to see Cerebus at the bar.  There is no superhero stasis here.  When characters change in Cerebus, they change.  When characters go away, they don’t return phoenix like from the ashes. 

KS: Ahh geez, really, is that the best you can do?

DM: Sorry.  But still, real change occurs for characters in Cerebus.  That dynamism allows for a greater range of storytelling.

KS: That’s nice.  Is there anything else about this book that makes it stand out?  Whether from the Big Two or the other Cerebus books?

DM: One trait that stood out was the relatability of the setting.  It is a scene that you can find in almost any town—a bunch of guys sitting around in a bar talking.

KS: I read somewhere that Sim shows a whole range of stages and ages of men.  Young me, old men, middle-aged men, famous men, nobodies, married, divorced, dating, single, squares and perverts, and probably a whole bunch of other types too that I don’t know since I didn’t read the book.

DM: Yeah, all those elements are present.  This approach is far more interesting than a straight forward temporal structure.  I didn’t pick up on or even notice the different stages of men while reading the book, but on reflection those factors were noticed.  It’s a nice touch.

KS: So in the earlier responses to Cerebus you kept tasking about the theme of dichotomy.  Does that theme continue in this book?

DM: Not that I noticed.  If anything that dichotomy gives way to a three way point of view shown by the voices in Cerebus’s head (I think of them as the Id, Ego, and Super Ego…I don’t know if this was Sim’s intention) advocate, or at least work together to try and figure out a course of action.  I think this shift started occurring in Minds where Cerebus, Astoria, and Cirin talked with Suentius Po.  This shift continued on into Guys.

KS: How did this shift change the overall Cerebus story?

DM: More depth.  Instead of a back and forth emphasis, a third possibility (which was always present in the story, but becomes explicit with the introduction of the third voice) arises.  The easy, cut-and-clear choice becomes more messy, muddled, and complicated.  I like how this additional depth to the story comes about without a lot of heavy-handed preaching, monologues, or academic junk cluttering the page.  Those mythic elements that relate to universal themes and events of mankind are swapped out for mundane matters. 

KS:  So, what makes it worth reading?  What did you get out of your time with this book?

DM:  In terms of story, value exists in how this book portrays friendship between various individuals and various levels of depth.  It brings to mind Plato’s Lysis, I think, that explores questions about friendship.  Parts of Guys serve as a how-to manual, a guidebook, to guys’ friendships.  It portrays jokes, talk about girlfriends, women, the beginnings of childrearing (“Will you shut up with the stupid riddles and get me a clean diaper like I asked you!” on page 83), how to tell a friend you’re angry with them or that they’ve hurt you, or how to influence a friend to help them change for the better (or, alas, sometimes for the worse).  When the friend leaves, like when Bear goes off with Ziggy without returning, not even to visit, that loneliness, loss, and sadness Cerebus experiences comes through in the story.  That compassion and care for a friend reads sincere to me.  Cerebus’s patience and hope that his friend will return helps maintain some reader sympathy with Cerebus.  Even Cerebus’s time with Joanne seems more a way for Cerebus to pass the time until Bear either returns or it’s confirmed to Cerebus that Bear isn’t returning.

KS: Do you think Cerebus and Bear are gay?

DM: No.  They care for each other, and there might even be a type of love between the two, but it never enters into anything physical.  Some affections exists between the two, even though they can be pretty mean to one another.

KS:  And you said Bear never returns?

DM: Not in Guys.  He barely even gives Cerebus a goodbye; he’s too caught up in Ziggy’s return.  It’s tragic to witness the ending of this friendship, even this friendship that seems unbalanced in a lot of ways. 

KS: Like the friendship between Hawthorne and Melville?  Melville was really interested in being friends with Hawthorne, but Hawthorne, for whatever reasons, didn’t keep in touch with the same intensity and Melville finally just gave up.  He, Melville, eventually even stopped writing and just faded away until death.

DM: Yeah, Cerebus is sort of like Melville in that respect.  He’s waiting to see if his friend will return.  Waiting to see if he and Bear have the type of friendship that stretches through stages of life (from childhood, to school, to college to grad school, to marriage to childrearing and so on) or if they just had a friendship of opportunity…a friendship that lasts for a certain time, or place.  And once any of those factors change, the friendship ends. 

KS: It seems like Cerebus and Bear have the short-term friendship.  I’m interested to hear how Cerebus and Rick get along.  Tell me about it when you finish the next volume.

DM: Ok.

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