A&R1983: Cerebus #51-80

Cerebus (1983) #51-80
by Dave Sim and Gerhard

I started reading Cerebus with #49 (when I was 15), so you can imagine how confused I was in the first couple of issues. But then a new story started, and things were a lot easier to make sense of.

Well, slightly more.

I re-read the High Society issues a couple days ago, and it struck me that some parts of that seemed a bit rushed. I wonder whether that’s why Church & State (i.e., these issues) seemed a bit … formless? That is, Sim didn’t have a set number of issues planned, but was winging it and letting the story take however long it’s going to take.

#52-80 corresponds to the first Churh & State phonebook, so I’m doing this batch of issues today.

Issue #51 is an in-between issue — Cerebus is fleeing from Iest after being ousted by the church. (He was the prime minister, remember?)

So this gives Sim the opportunity to set the entire thing in the hold of a ship, so that he doesn’t have to draw backgrounds. And do his Groucho Marx thing for an entire issue. It’s very funny.

Joshua Quagmire contributes a a Cutie Bunny thing for a couple of issues’ worth of Unique Stories, and… it’s pretty inconsequential, but then most of these are. Doing 2×4 page stories isn’t really what most people do well, and…

It’s also announced that Aardvark-Vanaheim will be publishing Cutie Bunny, but then again, I seem to remember that happening at quite a large number of comics publishers, and…

Using xeroxes is very, very controversial with comics nerds. They feel like they’re not getting their money’s worth.

“Koppy Awards”? “Best novel”? This I gotta google.

Well, it doesn’t seem to be the most well-known award in the world…

Anyway, #52 is the first issue proper in the still-unnamed Church & State sequence, and it starts off in a somewhat meandering way with a number of vignettes, some of which are pretty funny…

… and this bit, which is an older story shoehorned into this?

And a visit from old… er… friends…

But more importantly: The formation of the Mike Bannon Fan Club!

I’m not sure what Sim thought about all the silliness that was going on on the letters page around this time… he seems kinda annoyed by it all, but that’s as likely to be part of the schtick as anything.

Anyway, Cerebus immediately finds himself in the hands of another smart female character, which feels (in some ways) a bit of a re-tread from the early Astoria days.

The Duchess is willing to actually explain things to him, but as he doesn’t even know how to follow up on what she’s saying, both he and the reader is left even more confused. Which is smart, but kinda frustrating storytelling: Every time we get a bit more info about What’s Really Going On And How It’s All Connected it’s a *zing* YES!, and we want more, and Sim withholds, and that keeps reader engagement up.

Sim spends a lot of time explaining things on the letters pages, though, even though he says that he’s never going to do that. In this bit, he seems to say that he felt that High Society was a bit cramped, so he’s going to slow down in Church & State and let things develop more naturally.

Reading the Duchess sequence now, I found myself unsure how much time is supposed to have passed. It reads like it’s only a handful of days, but if that’s the case, they sure got comfy with each other all of a sudden.

(And another Astoria echo: The Duchess is also involved with The Roach, now as Wolveroach, which almost got Sim sued by Marvel, allegedly.)

And then Weisshaupt’s back again, and wants Cerebus to be prime minister again. Only a handful of issues after he was booted out. It’s never clear why Weisshaupt wants him back, but it feels oddly paced: After the upheaval at the end of High Society it’s like “never mind! you’re prime minister again!”

Uh-oh! Deni is the publisher “for the moment, at least”.

Next issue we get the explanation from Deni: They’re getting a divorce… but she’s continuing as the publisher.

Sim really, really hates it when you read into Cerebus what’s going on in Sim’s life… so I’m totally going to do that here. When reading this as a… sixteen-year-old? my immediate thought was “oh, so because Sim is getting divorced, suddenly the smart, patient and witty Duchess is now sarcastic and bitchy?” It’s a total u-turn, character wise, and feels so unearned… especially (like I said) the issues feels like all the Cerebus/Duchess interaction is happening over a small number of days. You don’t go bitching to your house guest after a couple of days, especially if you’re a duchess.

And Cerebus has been acting pretty smart over the last few issues, but he’s had one of those sudden convenient IQ drops all of a sudden: He’s letting Charles X Claremont (back from the grave) totally manipulate him, for some reason or other. It makes no sense: Cerebus doesn’t like or trust that guy, so… why?

Bad plotting.

We get a peek at normalman by Valentino. Am I reading him next? It’s not an auspicious start.

Sim experiments with even more new ways of avoiding having to draw so much.

And it’s so important to Weisshaupt that Cerebus becomes the prime minister (for some reason or other) that he drugs him and marries him off to Red Sophia. But wait! There’s more! Not only does Weisshaupt want Cerebus to be prime minister… he also wants him to write romances.


So is Sim signalling here that Weisshaupt is a total moron, or what? Trying to work out the machinations of people you suspect are total morons kinda takes the fun out of the game.

Sim decides that all that black was too much like cheating, so he xeroxes some patterns.

Looks kinda nice, I say.

“Something fell!” A magical phrase. And more secrets revealed!

But more importantly: Finally something good! A Unique Story by Mike Bannon! It’s funny.

(It’s his tail.)

OK, I’ve already mentioned the general stupidity of the machinations… so I wasn’t going to go on about it… but this thing! This thing!

OK, the church has had to kill off three (or was it two?) Iest popes because they turned out to be un-Catholic I mean non-Tarimites. The church demands that Weisshaupt find them a new pope. Weisshaupt refuses.

This is stupid in so many levels that it’s almost brilliant. First of all, it beggars belief that the church couldn’t find one single unambitious priestling they could hire, and who’d do what he’s told. Second of all, it makes no sense that Weisshaupt would say no: Installing one of his men as a pope, that he could then control, is a no-brainer.

Instead we have this scene, as if Weisshaupt is playing 4D chess, that can only be explained by “well, that church guy is stupid, and Weisshaupt is a moron, so there”.

It’s not very satisfying, now, is it?

This, on the other hand, certainly is. GIT IM!

(It’s his tail.)

A Flaming Carrot Unique Story by Bob Burden! It’s pretty funny. I really like Burden’s odd linework — the lines are so whisper thin, with those spotted blacks… it’s really distinctive.

Sim has a lot of splainin to do, and he mostly does it this way: Having people who are somehow In The Know talk at other people. It really works for me, but it’s not exactly the most innovative way of doing this. On the other hand, there’s so many connections to keep track of, that actually showing how things connect would take another 600 issues…

Is this the first mention of Gerhard in Cerebus? Hm… probably not.

Mind Games IV (and III)? I’m assuming those larger images fit together into a big image? And then there’s Cerebus being drunk in a chair, which is always fun.

I love this sequence.

Oops, out of focus. Anyway, it’s the most important of things: A Mike Bannon letter index. Start collecting now.

Can you see the ever so subtle difference in the artwork? I mean, there’s bricks that look like bricks instead of just being left blank, and there’s a whole hotel drawn in a kinda wispy style…

Yes! Gerhard is on board! No longer will we get issue after issue set in cupboards, cellars, caves and other places that are so dark that Sim doesn’t have to draw any backgrounds. Now he’ll just tell Gerhard to do all the boring work.

And, strangely enough, Gerhard isn’t mentioned in the indicia or anywhere else, really? I mean, there’s talk about Gerhard on the letters page, but I didn’t see anywhere that says “Gerhard did all the backgrounds in this issue”? It’s weird. Perhaps I’m just not sufficiently attentive.

Cerebus tells it like it is!

Nice sketch by Bill Sienkiewicz.

Whodathunk — the Cutie Bunny comic didn’t happen because of a disagreement with Quagmire. I’m shocked, I tell you. Shocked.

I think this is the page that sums up this Cerebus sequence the best.

Yes, Sim drew that hand.

Spaced by Tom Stazer. He uses the Unique Stories format better than most.

Connie Lingus!


The early 80s was a strange time: Would you have believed that all these comics were popular enough to warrant doing t-shirts for them? And it’s not like these days where you do t-shirts on demand: These are real screenprinted t-shirts.

Church & State is a fun, pretty brisk read: Many things happen, but the pacing is just about perfect, and we’re drawn into this pretty interesting and very entertaining storyline. So I don’t mean to sound negative! But these weird shifts in Cerebus’ personality are so lazy: Why on earth is he scared of a magical glowing light all of a sudden? He’s been around so much magics that it’s just … weird for him to react this way.

I mean, he doesn’t have any reason to believe that it’s Tarim or anything at this point.

And then Deni Loubert and Aardvark-Vanaheim finally part ways, and Loubert goes down to California. And takes all of the non-Cerebus comics with her.

Finally! A credit for Gerhard!

And Dave Sim takes over the “Note from the” page.

Lord Julius is such a masterful manipulator! I mean, totally the actual head of the Western Church (Iest Chapter) would totally let himself be bamboozled by Julius saying that the pope had been saying bad stuff about him! And potato salad! And his dog!

So, yes, it’s moronic and lazy, but on the other hand, it’s funny, and you can’t argue with funny.

Connie Lingus returns!

And Mike Bannon and the McCullochs start doing their own comics instead of being funny on the letters pages, so reading those gets less vital from now on.

Portrait time.

This is a favourite schtick of Sim’s: Having somebody interrupt just when somebody is going to say something interesting.

It’s frustrating but fun.

This is where Church & State I ends, I think? Not on a cliffhanger, but a fall-from-a-cliff… hanger… so I’ll pause my Cerebus reading here, too.

Tomorrow: I think it’s normalman?

This blog post is part of the Renegades and Aardvarks series.

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