As any visitor to this too-seldom updated site can tell you, I am a huge comic book fan. Sure, my focus is superheroes, but the medium supports a lot more than just capes and costumes. A few years ago, my friendly neighborhood comic retailer gave me a money back guarantee on the purchase of a collection of 25 issues of the comic Cerebus.
If you haven't heard of it, it will be hard to describe. A Canadian gentleman named Dave Sim started self publishing a Conan parody in about 1977 starring a warrior Aardvark. Yes, Aardvark. Again, Cerebus began as a parody, but as most of our self started projects do, it took on a life of its own, and Sim promised he would do 300 issues. You may say that's a lot of Conan-parody.
Well you're right- Early on Sim shifts the book to become an examination of electoral process in a 25 issue story arc that chronicles Cerebus the Aardvark's rise to political power in the fantasy city-state of Iest. Then, Sim takes the next 50 issues or so to examine Cerebus' reign as... Pope.
Unlike my self starter projects that have a tendency to die out after taking on a life of their own (serves them right for leaving), Cerebus made it to issue 300; 6000 pages and the longest continuing narrative in literary history.
Make no mistake- this is literature. Any graphically presented storyline with guest characters like Oscar Wilde and F. Scott Fitzgerald (cunningly disguised as "F-Stop Kennedy) has an edge toward the literary anyway. Sim however, outside of redefining usage of graphic and panels to tell his comic story, often abandons the pictures altogether and just starts writing.
The views Sim presents get pretty controversial later in the series (keep in mind, the series is collected into 16 "phone book" sized volumes- I had the first five until this last Christmas when the darling Jennifer slipped 6-16 under the tree). Sim and Cerebus are unabashed in their beliefs and will challenge your ideas on Feminism, Religion, Drinking, and Libertarianism. At one point Sim goes for about 100 pages into Cerebus giving his commentary on the Torah to Woody Allen (trust me- makes sense in context).
I don't agree with him 100%, but even so this is a brilliant work that has had an effect on comics forever, and deserves to be considered in the annuls of Western Literature. I would actually recommend starting as I did with volume 2, "High Society," and then going back to read the first volume second. I know it sounds backward, but volume two gives the true taste of the series, and it won't hurt to get some of the characters'' origins in the simpler stories afterward.
I raise a glass of Apricot Brandy to Dave Sim for taking 27 years to publish this brilliant work, and for choosing an oft overlooked medium for that work. I do hope that if you were to write page 6001, Cerebus looks into the Light and sees it is good. I'll miss the spiteful little grey bastard.