Dave Answers 6 Questons: March / April 2006: Latter Days
Recently, Dave has taken to answering questions for the Cerebus Yahoo!Group. Here are the questions and Dave's answers for April 2006. If you prefer, here is MS Word document with all of the answers and questions. Once again, thanks to Lenny for getting the questions organized, sent to Dave and posted!
Q1: Cerebus decides to go by the name "Fred" because he no longer feels entitled to use his father's last name which, as it turns out, is Cerebus. So, is our protagonist's full name actually Fred Cerebus, son of Joseph Cerebus, or is this a pseudonym? If it is a pseudonym, did you ever settle on Cerebus' real first name? (i266/LD p15)
DAVE: No one ever asked me about this before.
It doesn’t really specify one way or the other in the actual text but my own impression was always that Cerebus was an unwanted child. Was it here that I mentioned that my mental image of his father was of the gorilla in the old Bugs Bunny cartoon where the stork gets drunk and accidentally delivers Bugs to the expectant gorilla family? The gorilla father takes one look at the “newborn”, disappears off screen and comes back with a club ready to put it out of its misery and is only prevented from doing so by the mother gorilla. That was the kind of childhood I pictured for Cerebus. The only difference being that Cerebus’ mother’s maternal instincts were sufficient to keep his father from killing Cerebus but she was about as thrilled by him as his father was. As a result they didn’t give Cerebus a first name, they just called him Cerebus as a kind of reminder that he was both their responsibility and their cross to bear. I assume that their choice to provide for him and keep him alive was entirely religion-based and the decision to not give him a first name would stem from their resentment of the fact that God had stuck them with this midget freak. Not giving him a first name would be as rebellious as they would allow themselves to be.
Cerebus picked the name “Fred” because of Fred, Ethel and the Little Fellow with the Hair. Since his physical sexuality had always been pretty ambiguous he would take any opportunity to identify with the masculine option—in this case picking Sump Thing over Woman Thing.
Q2: Latter Days is basically Cerebus' recollection of events in his life as told to the Interviewer/New Joanne. This means it is subjective in nature and, presumably, what we are seeing did not really happen as he's recalling it. (For example, he's hazy on the details of his first meeting with the Three Wisefellows, and appears to be relying, at least on part, on what they told him of those events). This differs from earlier volumes which appear to be told through the eyes of the universal narrator (presumably, you). Can you comment on why you chose to cast this portion of Cerebus' life in a subjective light and what this means in terms of the history of the character as a whole? (i269/p61)
DAVE: In some ways it was just a literary device: on the one hand it was a tactical narrative choice to try to maintain what I assumed would be the seriously flagging attentions of the reader when they hit the Torah commentaries (I really don’t care about any of this stuff, but I have to keep reading to find out who Cerebus is telling all of this to since Dave has never used Cerebus as the narrator before and it’s obvious from the way the story is being told that it is being told to some specific individual not just to me and the other audience members)) and on the other hand as a means of identifying that disinterest as an aberrational condition from my own standpoint even though it was a condition I would have shared only a few years previously. That is, having become “sold” on the veracity of the Bible, I had (in an over-arching sense) arrived at what was to me a self-evident state of existence: I believed that someone purporting to have determined what it is that the Bible is actually saying was deserving of undivided attention given that the Bible is the foundational document of our civilization. At the same time, I was enough a creature of my own time and culture to recognize that that was an aberrational viewpoint to hold in the late twentieth century where the Bible was—and is—pretty much universally dismissed as either fairy tales (by atheists and secular humanists) or as metaphorical, literarily distorted non-historical, non-scientific fables seeking to define the nature of God (by the faithful). Even the most devout tend to deconstruct the text as they would Aesop’s Fables or the myths of North American Indians i.e. What is the universal human psychological condition which led to the evolution and adoption of these false stories as foundational beliefs? To me, of course, this is a twentieth century Freudian conceit: the misapprehension that everything originates in the unconscious mind, everything originates from repressed sexuality. As a result it seemed sensible to cast Cerebus in my own situation: he’s the only one who believes that these stories document historical truths and manages to persuade everyone that he’s right. Of course he only manages to persuade everyone he’s right because the text of the Book of Rick establishes him as the long awaited arbiter, just as Muslims hold Muhammad to be the “paraclete” promised by the Johannine Jesus—the one who would come after him and verify everything that Jesus had taught. Which in Cerebus’ case becomes a good news/bad news situation. It gets him unquestioned obedience and obeisance and something of a free ride, but only until New Joanne starts asking some hard questions as a non-believer at which point he begins to unwittingly undermine his own system of belief because a) he’s so used to being considered The Great Cerebus that he’s ceased to question the fact himself and b) he wants so badly to get into her pants by impressing her with his being The Great Cerebus and giving her the exclusive story that he has no idea how inconsistent his own story is and c) he isn’t aware of the level of attraction that being the centre of a system of belief is to someone who is only interested in materialistic things i.e. being Mrs. The Great Cerebus for the sake of the Imelda Marcos-sized collection of shoes and the Queen of the Circus Ego-boo.
Certainly the text becomes partly suspect as a result because it is being documented by New Joanne but only partly suspect because she obviously realizes that the whole edifice is as shaky as it is and that it was so easy to undermine Cerebus’ belief system just by asking some really basic hard questions. Note the fact that at the beginning she loathes the idea that she might remind Cerebus of Old Joanne and he reassures her that she doesn’t and she is reassured by that fact but as she went along she realized that her only claim to co-equivalent power with Cerebus hinges on her being identified with the only female character in the Book of Rick. She would have been sophisticated enough to know that her only hope was to limit the number of falsehoods that she herself espoused in order to keep from being tripped up herself, foremost among them to cast herself in the role of New Joanne. She wasn’t a pathological liar like Astoria with the psychotic ability to keep manufacturing a new reality anytime the old reality got discredited. She was working the other side of the fence: she was in search of absolute truth, as a journalist, so she adhered as much as possible to the party line once she had discredited it. She was interested in tearing the house down when it was Cerebus’ house alone but was interested in shoring it up when it became their shared property.
I think it’s analogous to the situation with Mary Magdalene which has just started to hatch out in the last few years since The Da Vinci Code was published. I just finished my commentaries on the Gospel According to Mark a couple of weeks back and from my reading of the circumstantial evidence in the text, I think it’s a safe bet that the Synoptic Jesus didn’t go to the cross. Someone else took his place and the short ending on the story (there are two versions of chapter sixteen extant) would seem to indicate that he and Magdalene went west. Picture yourself travelling as Mrs. Jesus and taking up residence in a new country just as his “messiahship” is starting to be taken for granted. I think it explains the French Revolution, for one thing. The royal dynasty that they founded eventually has to face the grisly execution their forebears fled in Jerusalem albeit a rather physically easier one (wouldn’t you rather be guillotined than crucified?). It would also serve to explain the cowardice that’s bred in the French bone and the fact that they can’t help undermining their own best efforts (i.e. the French were the ones who championed the universal adoption of the EU Constitution which they themselves wrote and hysterically dictated that any country voting against it would be deemed traitorous and expelled from the EU—and then became the only country to vote against it). From my reading YHWH missed the point of the Synoptic Jesus, seeing him as the ultimate tactical piece in the Great Chess Game with God. Why have him go to the cross when you can spirit him away, have him produce kids and take over the world that way? The point missed, of course, is that the crucifixion was the defining quality. Without the crucifixion of Jesus, there was no resurrection of Jesus (I think his substitute was resurrected). Healing people and walking on water were basically just magician tricks on a very lofty plateau. Being the meschiach involved self-sacrifice and submission to an excruciating death. To not do so was just plain cowardice that no perceived stature—such as the women had about the Synoptic Jesus—could overcome.
I’ll leave it at that since I intend to publish my commentaries on Mark at some future date. I’m about halfway through chapter one of Luke right now.
Q3: It is interesting that the Wise Fellows would know that Astoria was flat-chested given the fact that, 40 years prior, Astoria said she was going into seclusion (i179) and was most likely killed during the Iesten Cataclysm. Were images of Astoria popular in the Cirinist history books the Wise Fellows probably read while growing up, or did she remain in the public light longer than we thought? (i269/LD p73)
DAVE: The Seminal Rebel Daughter is always going to be a popular figure and well documented wherever she shows up in the same way that Joan of Arc is pretty well documented visually and in terms of the historical events associated with her. Like Joan, it wasn’t a matter of how long Astoria had lived but what she did in actively working to overturn society and to make daughter nature pre-eminent over maternal nature. As soon as that occurs—the woman who believes herself and is believed by others to be interchangeable with a man—it essentially elbows maternalism out of the way because it’s more fully aligned with YHWH’s own misperceptions of herself as equal parts he, she and it. As soon as he/she/it comes along, all of the she’s abandon the she nature implied by motherhood in favour of the misapprehension of gender interchangeability. It is, in my view, largely because of “St. Joan” that there are no maternal history books. The condition reinforces itself in recurrent fashion once the seminal poison has been introduced. Gloria Steinem will always be the Gloria Steinem of “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle” even though she has hurled herself into marriage late in her life. In the context of he/she/it poison it is more important who you were than who you are. The fact that the woman who was the subject of the Roe v. Wade decision is now vehemently anti-abortion is considered an irrelevant point by the he/she/it team. And in a society so thoroughly poisoned by he/she/itism as ours is, this is considered a perfectly valid intellectual position.
Q4: Why did Garth Inniscent want Cerebus to have a nervous breakdown? Because Cerebus was religious and Inniscent was anti-religious?
DAVE: That would certainly be a big part of it. Those who are opposed to religion tend never to consider the fact that they might be opposed to religion because they’re (for want of a more accurate term) evil.
Q4: Or because he viewed him as power mad, and possibly a worse threat than the Cirinists? (i279/LD p278)
DAVE: That would be a big part of it as well. Of course, underlying both of those motivations, I wouldn’t rule out plain old green-eyed jealousy. Cerebus had close to absolute power, absolute wealth and an undying devotion to Inniscent’s Rabbi character. For a writer that can be a maddening truth to have to contemplate: your creation is that big a part of the despot’s internal life (and it would be hard to think of anything or anyone closer to Cerebus at that point in his life than the fictional Rabbi character) and yet it doesn’t translate into any “goodies” for you as the writer of that character. Note Inniscent’s observation that Cerebus doesn’t even bother to invite him to dinner to pick his brain. The subtext is leverage. Dinner would be for starters, but after that presumably he would be entitled to an ambassadorship or at least a mansion of his own with liveried servants, etc. etc. It’s only a small step sideways from there to pervert your own talents in order to indirectly exert the power you aren’t being allowed to benefit from. Hell hath no fury like a writer scorned.
The analogy is imperfect but I think Woodward and Bernstein present a comparable example. Two marginalised second string reporters at the Washington Post who used Nixon’s hubris against him and basically brought about his resignation. And, of course, power has accrued to them over the last thirty years as a result. If you bring down a President, you inherit a certain amount of the President’s cachet whether you deserve to or not.
Q5: Cerebus almost tells the Interviewer that he went to the moon, and then cuts himself off. Is his ascension to the moon a secret and not part of his iconic, religious legend? (i288/LD p444)
DAVE: Since there’s no irrefutable proof that he went to the moon, it seems politic to Cerebus to just avoid discussing it. That’s really the first point where he, at least unconsciously, realizes that he needs to tread carefully with the interviewer having already been “bitten” by a couple of hard questions. He doesn’t really know how he got to the moon and he doesn’t really know what he was supposed to learn when he got there, he missed a good chunk of the Judge’s monologue, he’s forgotten almost everything he did hear, he has no idea who the Judge is or how he got to the moon nor did he think to ask. All in all, not exactly a can of worms that he would be eager to open in his new context where he is perceived of and perceives of himself as The Great Cerebus, a figure possessed of absolute, thorough-going knowledge in all areas. It’s typical of Cerebus that he would draw the lesson from that that he has to hide his level of ignorance rather than face it square on and the implications of it.
WILDCARD: What works did you use as research materials for each of the early phonebooks? For Cerebus (Vol. 1), it's the Barry Windsor-Smith issues of "Conan" published by Marvel Comics (Currently available in "The Essential Conan"). For High Society, It's "The Making of the President 1960" by Theodore Harold White (detailing the Kennedy vs. Nixon campaign). Given the "Cerebus' Six Crises" storyline, did you read "Six Crises" by Richard M. Nixon? For "Church & State," the "Secret Sacred Wars" is a parody of the "Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars" mini series, 12 issues published from 1984-85, created by Jim Shooter, Bob Layton, Mike Zeck, John Beatty. The burning at the stake scene was inspired by the music video for "Joan of Arc (Maid of Orleans)" by the new wave band OMD ( a.k.a Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark). I'm GUESSING you read a biography of Joan because he references the fact that her heart did not burn in the pyre (which is referenced in the "C & S" storyline). Which bio, I don't know. For "Jaka's Story," Oscar Wilde's writing (available in "The Collected Works of Oscar Wilde") and the biography "Oscar Wilde" by Richard Ellman. Are these correct? Can you add to this list of influences?
DAVE: Not exhaustively. No, I never read Nixon’s My Six Crises. It might be interesting at this late date, particularly some of the “pushing back” that he did in the kitchen debate with Nikita Khrushchev and on his tour of Latin America as Vice-President. He was certainly one of the few politicians who not only saw communism as being bereft of validity at the time but who was also willing to say it out loud and publicly. Neal Adams’ Deadman for the Deadalbino parody. I didn’t read any biographies of Joan. I did read Shaw’s play but I think the reference to her heart not burning came from a newspaper or magazine article. Church & State, like most people of my generation, my knowledge of religion stemmed almost exclusively from criticism of religion. Again, not so much books as magazine articles and newspaper articles, television shows. My brother-in-law, Michael, was a great “debunker” as a lapsed Catholic with a devoted Catholic mother. He immersed himself sufficiently to be able to parrot the party line about how Christmas was really just Saturnalia called by a different name, Jesus’ “origin” was swiped from Roman mystery cults of the undefeated sun, the Church suppressed a vast array of literature called the Apocrypha. Even at the time, this struck me as “methinks he doth protest too much.” Having grown up a devout atheist, I didn’t consider any of the Churches or their mythologies to be worth examining anymore than I needed to read any definitive text that could demonstrate conclusively that there wasn’t a Santa Claus. It’s interesting that I was guilty of what the Church was being accused of: dismissing Montanism and other heresies and “heresies” by negative inference. This is what the early church leader Origen had to say about this or that movement so this is what it was. In my own case, reading only writers who considered religion ridiculous I came to the conclusion that religion was ridiculous without ever reading any scripture. Norman Mailer’s Of A Fire on the Moon certainly informs a lot of the ending on Church & State in tone if not more directly. And, of course, the Judge character is lifted directly from Feiffer’s Little Murders. I made Gerhard read Wilde’s “The House Beautiful” lecture when he was designing Oscar’s flat and he certainly got the gist of it as can be seen by the cover to 121.