Over a year ago, I read this post on Rollingstone.com. It listed the 100 best non-superhero graphic novels of all time. I disagreed with much of it, so I did my own. And for the last year or so, I’ve been slowly posting my 100 favourites. It’s taken me a lot longer than I thought, but the day is finally here to list the top spot.
Are you ready?
Here we go.
Don’t hate me.
Or do. I don’t really give a shit.
1. Cerebus by Dave Sim & Gerhard (1977, Aardvark/Vanaheim)
I’ve known pretty much from the beginning that Cerebus would be my number one, and so it’s given me a lot of time to think about the reasons why. I’ve had to think of a lot about it a lot, because there’s plenty of reasons why NOT to consider putting Sim on a list like this.
The common wisdom on Cerebus is so common that it hardly qualified as wisdom any more. The wisdom goes like this: First 20 issues was ok, then it got great with the High Society storyline. So great, in fact, that Sim’s Cerebus became the most ambitious comic in the history of comics, aspiring towards heights comics had rarely achieved. Common wisdom continues that if it had ended at issue #185 people would be singing its praises along Watchmen, and Miller’s DD run, and The Spirit.
But it didn’t end at issue 185. There was issue 186, plus another 114 issues after that. But it was 186 that polarized people. Especially those of us who would consider ourselves feminists. So much so, that pretty soon, that “I really like Cerebus” became ‘I really like Cerebus, but….” or “I used to like Cerebus, up until….” or “Dave Sim is such a douchenozzle that I can’t like Cerebus anymore”.
But I don’t see it that way. From the beginning, Cerebus was an extension of Dave Sim. As a young man, Sim loved Sword & Sworcery, so Cerebus started as a Conan satire. He then discovered politics and history and Cerebus became an insightful, insanely funny treatise on modern geopolitics. Sim had several failed relationships that apparently didn’t end so well, and thus Cerebus’ views on women also changed. So much so, that some of the people who had supported this book for so long, felt betrayed. And I get that. But those people also missed the point.
This book is him. The parts we like, and the parts we don’t like. There are plenty of people who I like, who have certain ideas I find abhorrent. No one is going to agree with you all the time. And I may find lots of the things that Dave Sim has said over the years silly and borderline disgusting. But you want to know what Dave Sim hasn’t done? He hasn’t beaten women (that I know of). He hasn’t raped any. He hasn’t fired any of them for being women. (Please don’t Twitter hate me if it turns out that Sim has done any of these things) He may be a shmuck with lady issues, but he’s a harmless schmuck with lady issues. And he’s a schmuck that created one of the most important comic books of all time. A comic book that, more than most of the books on this list, is full of ideas. So full of ideas, in fact, that it took Sim 8,000 fucking pages to get all of the ideas out. And so there’s parts that I find disgusting. And there’s parts that are boring. And there was the part where he got super religious and the Thee Stooges kidnapped him and so Cerebus just started reciting the bible to us for dozens of issues.
And that brings us to the main reason that I love this book as much as I do: It tried to say something. While we do seem to be going through the golden age of creator owned comics that Dave Sim always predicted was inevitable, most of those comics seem to be content to tell variations of the same old science fiction, horror, and action stories that we’ve been reading for decades. Very few of them are even reaching for the same levels that Cerebus reached for. And man did it reach. Think about it: A 300 issue comic book starring a talking aardvark mercenary that became the Prime Minister, then a pope, then the Prime Minister again, with a supporting cast full of everyone from Groucho Marx, to the Roling Stones, to Margaret Thatcher. How can you not admire the brass balls of the person who dared to come up with something like that? Not only to come up with it, but then pull it off by doing all of the writing and most of the art, while also publishing the whole thing, shipping it out, answering mail, and doing all of the other business associated with publishing comics. You know who does that?
Dave Sim. That’s who.