Cerebus Archive Report
#3.5 (S.P.A.C.E. Edition)
Report to the
"Canonical" vs. "Non-Canonical"
First of all, let me say how much I appreciated the distillation of the Cerebus Policy discussion thus far which was relayed through Gerhard, clocking in at a good 42 pages. I found it to be particularly lucid and fruitful considering that we are all just getting started on this. I read it during my recent illness so I didn't retain as much of it as I would have liked, but I did make some notes on the "canonical" vs. "non-canonical " (not being an agnostic or an atheist, I find the quotation marks necessary) debate which I offer here, in advance, for those members who have made the 2005 trek to SPACE. I plan to revisit the full 42 pages and answer any forgotten points as part of the May questions which will also include this text for those who didn't make it to SPACE.
My original motivation in limiting those stories that are considered part of the Cerebus canon' is to keep the Cerebus trade paperback to a manageable size and configuration and to avoid having to split it into two or more volumes. To cite the obvious example, the Young Cerebus stories in Epic magazine are in full painted colour, are in a larger format and contain far more developed artwork than does, say, the story from Cerebus No. 1. For those already familiar with the book, it would make sense to have those stories in their proper chronological sequence. It seems to me that for those unfamiliar with the book the effect of going from the one to the other would be needlessly jarring both in terms of the content and the paper stock needed to reproduce each faithfully. A glossy enough stock to reproduce painted colour would be too glaring for black and white. For that reason and because the books are already over-sized relative to what the market is used to, I decided to fix the Cerebus storyline as it is, presently as issues 1-300 with a handful of notable additions and exceptions which you have already documented in your Policy debate.
The best analogy I was able to come up with to the present situation is that of the supplementary material on commercially available DVD's of popular movies where (from what I understand, having never seen a DVD) you click on an icon and you get some sort of supplementary material relevant to the scene that you're watching. A good example of this is the Cerebus volume, page 244, which begins "Cerebus ranked them easily the best three weeks of his life!" and which was later supplemented by the Swords of Cerebus back-up story, "The Name of the Game is Diamondback" which begins "During the best three weeks of his life (Cerebus #11)..." Well, there's a definite problem as to how you reprint those chronologically. You can run the top two panels of page 244 and then leave a white space and start "The Name..." on the facing page and then run the bottom four panels of 244 at the end of that story. That just seems awkward to me. Likewise revising any captions at this late date to take out one of the "three weeks" references. I'm not sure if this is something that I would "carve in stone" in the sense of tying the hands of any future publisher of the material. Clearly, it's an enormous challenge for a Cerebus "scholar squirrel" and it's not difficult to imagine someone whose primary motivation in publishing the material would be to put it all in its proper sequence and come up with some manner of graphic trickery to smooth the transitions. There would be no way of glossing over the relative incompetence and competence of the respective artwork but that cuts to the core of the on-going debate between comic-book "readers" and comic-book "viewers". "Readers" are primarily interested in the story and jarring visual transitions just don't show up on their radar. For "readers" getting Cerebus' entire story in chronological order would supersede all other considerations.
And, of course, there is a persuasive argument to be made that "if Dave Sim drew it or authorized someone else to draw it, it's 'canonical"', that is, part of Cerebus' story. There are, of course, lunatic extremes to that, as well, where someone could decide that that included all convention sketches and set about deciding where convention sketch #25 at SPACE 2005 fits in the Cerebus "canon" and to have appendices to High Society with Cerebus the candidate sketches, Cerebus the prime minister sketches all in their proper order. I would consider getting "The Name..." in next to page 244 as a lunatic extreme of forced continuity. I think most people would consider adding 200 pages to High Society of Cerebus head sketches to be a lunatic extreme of forced continuity. So, I offer this as a compromise solution which won't satisfy everyone but might at least make for the basis of continuing the discussion mindful of different priorities and perspectives:
At this point, I consider the material in the sixteen volumes to be "canonical" in the sense that I don't think anything more needs to be added to the existing material. I'm not 100% on this. I think that "Magiking" should (possibly) be in between pages 272 and 273. It could be added in without the splicing problem presented by "The Name of the
Game is Diamondback" but, then, it could also be left out in the same way (which was my reasoning behind leaving it out). Cerebus is paddling his way down the river on 272 and is washed up on the banks of a river on page 273. I'd certainly be interested in getting a variety of opinions on this if the Newsgroup was interested in voting on what supplementary material they think should be included and what supplementary material they think should be left out. In my view, to add it in, it would need to be possible to just put it in the proper sequence without having to splice it into a specific page. I think the net literary effect needs to be considered as well as is the case with "What Happened Between Issues 20 and 21" which was a "be careful what you ask for". The answer raised more questions than the original mystery and I was glad to see that most of you seemed to recognize that. Putting it in between pages 446 and 447 in the Cerebus volume wouldn't be doing the first-time reader any great favour that I could see. At the same time pretending that it isn't part of the Cerebus "canon" would be equally foolish. "It doesn't help our understanding-in fact it just makes us more confused-so let's pretend it never appeared" is the revisionist extreme at the opposite end of the spectrum. Which leads to my central point:
I think stories should be considered "canonical" if they reference some part of the total work contained in the sixteen volumes. As an example: Magus Doran appears for the first and only time in "Add One Mummified Bat" after having been refeffed to repeatedly. But I think we can all agree that stripping the Animated Portfolio into the sequence in Minds after Cerebus' father has brought him to Magus Doran's studio would be extremely awkward and extremely pointless. So, to me, it seems more like a DVD supplement. "Add One Mummified Bat" relates to this flashback sequence in Minds and the related flashback sequence in Latter Days which took place before all of the material in the Cerebus trade. By contrast, "A Well Equipped Bar" doesn't reference anything in particular in the Cerebus "canon". It could take place prior to the Cerebus trade or at any point in the Cerebus trade where Cerebus happens to be dressed like that and is hanging around in bars. The former is a "canonical" story, the latter an "iconic" story. , I would define an "iconic" story as one where there is nothing that tells us when the story took place and no persuasive reason that it should appear "here" in the chronology rather than "there". Even I can't pretend to say that "A Well-Equipped Bar" belongs more suitably in proximity to i4 or i6 rather than in i 17 and I'm the one who wrote and drew it. I think it is probably worth drawing such distinctions as sharply as possible for the sake of arriving at a definitive "canon"-that is "canon by chronology"-by inverse inference. That is, if you eliminate all of the "iconic" stories-those stories and appearances where it is just Cerebus the Barbarian in his most iconic form and with no reference to continuity that would place him "here" rather than "there" in the chronologypresumably what you have left is pure "canon" with the challenge then to determine a definitive chronology based on those references which place the stories or appearances in the "canonical" column.
And I don't consider this to be 'how many fanboys can dance on the head of a pin' stuff At some point up ahead, we do plan to print a Cerebus Miscellany (volume 17) and I think these distinctions would be valuable. Here's the "canonical" miscellany with its place in the fixed chronology designated and over there is the "iconic" miscellany Cerebus' appearances elsewhere that have no specific place in the fixed chronology. In those cases where there is a serious disagreement about where the story should be placed, then the debate-including majority and minority opinions-would be included in the annotations or forward to the volume and it could be left up to the individual reader to come down on one side or the other. Once that volume is a fixed commodity, then the references could be incorporated into future printings of the other sixteen volumes as footnotes. If "Magiking" isn't included in the Cerebus trade then there would be a footnote at the bottom of page 272 "See Magiking' Cerebus Miscellany page ___". It seems to me that this would satisfy the ardent literary/continuity readers-anytime they ran across such a reference they could just go and get the Miscellany volume, read the missing piece and then pick up reading on page 273 when they were done-while still leaving the 1-300 continuity largely intact and largely "un-supplemented" for those who prefer to read Cerebus that way.
I think there would also need to be a third category which would be "high iconic" appearances. These would be situations where the Cerebus depicted not only isn't part of the regular continuity of issues 1-300, he isn't even his traditional "iconic" self. A good example would be the appearance in Spawn where he's shown walking past Peter's Place in downtown Kitchener and talking to Mike (Mike Cave) on the phone. Cerebus is being used as an icon in the story, but obviously the "real" Cerebus doesn't live in Kitchener and doesn't know anyone named Mike Cave. I would put BWS's "Cerebus Dreams" in the same category. The significance of the story is hidden if it's just considered on the basis of its own content. When did the dream take place in continuity? Well, obviously a big reason that it even IS a dream was so that Barry didn't have to worry about affecting Cerebus continuity-Cerebus could've had the dream at any time or he could never have had the dream-or pretending that he was Dave Sim. The significance of the story is that it is Cerebus being done by the person who was a primary creative influence behind Cerebus which raises its significance above the level of the actual content and thus makes it a "high iconic" story.
Of course it was also retrofitted into Cerebus continuity by my choice to do "Cerebus Dreams II" and to make Cerebus' dreams into an ongoing story motif. "The Cerebus Dreams II" in A V in 3D becomes "high iconic" because the larger point of the story is to do a story which is tailored to 3D effects, a central motivation which exists apart from the content. It raises the interesting question of where "Cerebus Dreams" and "Cerebus Dreams II" would be footnoted in the sixteen volumes: everywhere that Cerebus dreams? This is another reason behind the "high iconic" designation. There is no way to determine where the stories belong in the established chronology anymore than there is for any of us to definitively say when we had a specific dream. Cerebus the Pope could dream about Cerebus the Barbarian or Cerebus the Houseguest could dream about Cerebus the Pope. It's either a part of the continuity whose exact chronology can't be accurately determined or it exists apart from the continuity.
Likewise the appearance in normalman. The significance of the story is that it is being drawn by someone who is being published by Dave Sim in his capacity as the President of Aardvark-Vanaheim, none of which is addressed by the content where Cerebus is merely an iconic presence in the story. Because I was the CEO of the company publishing the normalman appearance, the normalman appearance is "high iconic". Because I just drew Cerebus into a panel or two of Miami Mice, it is "iconic" having no significance above its application to the content of the story.
The "Demonhorn" story definitely belongs in the chronology. Although the "one-eyed god" isn't actually a god or God, he bears the same relation to Demonhorn that the Regency Elf bears to the Regency Hotel (and was what I had in mind when I developed the distinction in my mind between the Regency Elf and the Real Regency Elf). Cerebus' magnifying nature incarnated some approximation of the legendary spirit/god said to inhabit the mountain. The loss of the "god's" eye resonates with the loss of Cerebus' ear much later in the storyline.
In conclusion, I think that the extent of the Cerebus Policy debate helped to clarify a lot of these issues for me and, I hope, sets a direction for those interested in establishing a fixed Cerebus chronology and those willing to assist in setting the boundaries of a definitive Cerebus Miscellany volume (which would not include the colour stories which will need to be reprinted in a different format along with the Animated Portfolio even further off in the future than the Miscellany volume) and I would certainly welcome a definitive list of stories in the "canonical...... iconic" and "high iconic" categories.