Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Cerebus the Aardvark

Cerebus the Aardvark (or simply Cerebus) is an ambitious and multi-faceted independent comic book begun by Canadian artist Dave Sim in 1977, and running for 300 issues through March 2004. When complete, it will mark the longest-running comic book series ever by a single writer/artist.

Cerebus has since its inception been self-published by Sim under his Aardvark-Vanaheim, Inc. banner. Sim's position as a pioneer self-publisher in comics inspired numerous writer/artists after him, most notably Jeff Smith (Bone), Terry Moore (Strangers In Paradise), and Martin Wagner (Hepcats).

The title character is a misanthropic three-foot tall bipedal gray aardvark ("We're all funny animals in a world of humans," says Sim) who has, at various points in his life, been a mercenary, Prime Minister of the fictional city-state of Iest, Pope (in the mammoth Church and State saga), and renegade. He is an extremely morally ambiguous character, at times sympathetic, at others almost unpalatably callous.

Inspired in some ways by the Steve Gerber character Howard the Duck, the earliest issues of Cerebus took the form of a parody of Conan the Barbarian and its genre. (Howard had even appeared on the cover of the first issue of his own comic as a parodic barbarian character.) The series developed artistic sophistication and originality very quickly. Citing as his self-originated commandment, "Thou shall break every law in the book", Sim has done everything from flipping the page from horizontal to vertical and all stages in between to alternating comics with prose narrative, to including real dead or living people (himself included) in the storyline, all in an effort to explode the conventions of the North American comic book in almost every conceivable way.

After a transitional period in which the episodic adventures strayed further and further from an the conventions of a heroic fantasy story, the twenty five-issue graphic novel High Society segued the narrative into a complex political satire and drama. Sim was joined by Gerhard, who gave the series impressively rendered backgrounds that became a visual hallmark, after issue #65.

Sim became an outspoken advocate of creators' rights in comics, and used the editorial pages of Cerebus to promote self-publishing and greater artist activism. Sim was also the biggest individual supporter of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund; when he guest-wrote the 10th issue of Todd McFarlane's best-selling Spawn, Sim donated his entire fee over $100,000 to the fund.

It is generally agreed that the graphic novel Jaka's Story, a tragic character study dealing with gender roles and the political suppression of art, is perhaps the series' pinnacle of narrative achievement. However, later issues of the series began to alienate many long-time fans, his female readers especially. Issue #186 contained a lengthy prose section of the narrative that was roundly attacked by both readers and critics for its overt misogyny. Later stories in the comic have been almost inaccessibly personal, and Sim's controversial attitudes towards women have not abated. But the comic's visual innovation remains almost unparalleled.

Sim himself has appeared as a character in Cerebus, most notably to berate his creation in the graphic novel Minds. A writer entering his own fictional universe is not an idea which Sim can claim to have invented (see Kurt Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions, Paul Auster's New York Trilogy and Grant Morrison's comic Animal Man), although he claims to have planned the encounter as early as 1979 more than a decade before it actually took place.

Sim's behavior reportedly became more erratic as the series neared its finale. Sim has stated (in an editorial contained in issue #297) that he regards the production of "Cerebus" as of secondary importance to his religious practice. He has had very public fallings-out with both Moore and Smith, the latter of whom Sim challenged to a fistfight in an editorial published in the comic. Smith, Sim claimed, lied about an agreement between the two of them, but this has been hotly disputed. Sim also developed an adversarial relationship with Gary Groth, the confrontational publisher of The Comics Journal, an independently published comics magazine known for punishing criticisms and a decidedly non-mainstream editorial slant.

Sim, once a very public figure in the comics industry, now rarely leaves his native Kitchener, Ontario home. In late 2001, he confirmed his plans following the completion of Cerebus were to take a long rest.

List of Cerebus collections to date

(Known by fans as "phone books" for their size)

Notes:

Cerebus
  • High Society
  • Church and State I
  • Church and State II
  • Jaka's Story
  • Melmoth
  • Flight (Mothers and Daughters vol. 1)
  • Women (Mothers and Daughters vol. 2)
  • Reads (Mothers and Daughters vol. 3)
  • Minds (Mothers and Daughters vol. 4)
  • Guys
  • Rick's Story
  • Going Home (Going Home vol. 1)
  • Form and Void (Going Home vol. 2)

  • Miscellaneous strips not appearing in the above collections have been reprinted in the short collections Cerebus Number Zero and Cerebus World Tour Book.

    The final Cerebus storyline, entitled Latter Days, is currently being serialised in the monthly comic book. The collection will be published after the series reaches its conclusion in 2004.