When I was young (sometimes I claim I still am, so I’ll make that more specific at pre-adolescent) comics meant DC Thomson: the Beano, Dandy, Topper and Beezer, which I read with varying regularity including spin-offs like the summer special, annual, or comic library collection. From Big Brother I heard about other variants like the Eagle which sounded pretty similar but without the jokes. Comics then, in my childhood world, were weekly publications with a mixed bag of stories about different characters, some continued from issue to issue, some were one-offs, but all were told in sequential strips of panels; the comics were either funny and juvenile, or po-faced and heroic, and the latter category didn’t sound at all appealing.

Fast-forward ten years or more; by this time I’d encountered Viz (kind of like the Beano for over-18s, with swearing to make it look grown-up. Not that I’m saying I’ve never found Viz funny, because I have, and if you look beyond the fart gags there’s satire too) and the idea of superhero comics like
Superman – I’d never read one (and still haven’t) but I’d got the impression that there was an air of earnest American patriotism and upright citizenship sprinkled with words like ‘kapow’ in capital letters, and it didn’t sound like my kind of thing. So comics still fell into funny/juvenile and po-faced/heroic, and you can imagine how unexcited I was when OneMonkey arrived home from work one evening 9 years ago, with a box of assorted comics he’d been given. He piled them up around the floor as he sorted out what he’d got, and I idly flicked through a few, hoping to find the funny ones.

On the first pass I found the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers – while I wouldn’t say my life would have been emptier without them, I was glad I hadn’t just ignored the box of comics completely. My view of comics wasn’t really disrupted, I was still in funny/juvenile territory and I was still firmly in a cartoon universe. Almost all the rest of the hoard looked like they weren’t funny, so I mentally filed them under po-faced and let them be. Until we moved house later that year, and for some reason some or all of the comics emerged from a box (I can’t remember whether OneMonkey had got round to reading them all yet, maybe he got distracted too much by Lum). One of the Cerebus covers caught my eye – although the background looked like proper art, here was a cartoon… What? Hippopotamus? Dinosaur? It turned out to be an aardvark (that wouldn’t even have been in my top 100 guesses) but it didn’t matter what it was, it looked like the comic had the potential to be funny.

Cerebus 112/113

The cover that started it all

Dave Sim changed my view of comics, in fact he turned it inside out, shook it about and stood it on its head. With his long-running and independently-produced Cerebus he showed what can be done with vision, dedication and enough self-belief. Although it tailed off (I haven’t read Latter Days or The Last Day and I’m not sure I will. Form and Void finished me off I think, because I had to pay to plough through a biography of Ernest Hemingway to find out incidentally as an aside what happened to Cerebus and Jaka. I have never understood what all the fuss was about, where Hemingway’s
concerned), for at least the first half of its run Cerebus was stunning, epic, brilliantly-drawn, gripping, and quite mad. There is a dry humour through most of it, there are also overtly funny parts, more serious parts, satire, surrealism, nods and references aplenty (both to comics and to more traditional literature as well as films and music) and it’s not all in sequential panels where one action takes place after another. No longer was the comic universe split down the middle into its two categories, and restricted to cartoon representations.

Without Cerebus, I would never have considered collaborating on a graphic novel and thus would have missed a most enjoyable experience. To Dave Sim and Gerhard I raise my mug of tea in earnest appreciation.