Sunday, January 14, 2007

Dave Sim's blogandmail #125 (January 14th, 2007)

Scripture at the Registry Theatre

122 Frederick Street in Downtown Kitchener

All 1 pm start times

January 21 - Judges 1-21

January 28 - First Samuel 1-25

February 4 - Second Samuel 1-24

Here's an interesting letter from Matt S. of Round Rock, Texas:

Dear Mr. Sim:

I am thirty-seven years old. Earlier on today I finished reading the 300th issue of Cerebus and, after several hours contemplation, I feel compelled to write you a letter. I read my frist issue of Cerebus in the mid-1980s sometime—I was in high school. Near the end of high school and on through my college career (and even for a few years after) I was a comic-book dealer at comic conventions in the northeast and I stayed closely connected to the comic industry in general (and continued to read the series as it came out) until sometime in the early 1990s when I fled to Texas, basically as a means to escape my life after the end of a long-term relationship. I think I got somewhere into the beginnings of Jaka's Story before that happened. My life amidst comic books faded for the next fifteen or so years—true my "dealership" continued on and off over the interim years but I soon diversified into a variety of merchandise (as I found it harder and harder to locate decent comic books here in Texas). The truth of it is that I have spent at least the last ten years without really thinking about comics at all, except perhaps to entertain the occasional fantasy of "stumbling" across a Golden Age treasure trove at some estate sale.

I daresay of the most recent five of those ten years, my treasure hunting has been focused on something much more important than old comic books—namely, God. I was once an atheist…the worst sort of atheist, I suppose. Not only did I think anyone who believed in God was simply wrong, I believed that anyone who believed in God was an absolute moron. How sad, yes? Well, luckily God is merciful. The height of my arrogance is now used as a very effective means to humble me when I think back on my own thoughts and beliefs. What an ass I was!

I'm right with you on that one, Matt. I think the thing that I'm the most aware of these days—comparing the last ten years to the previous ten—is the number of times that I used to go through rock-bottom depression, the number of times that I would find myself in my two-bedroom penthouse apartment with a gorgeous girlfriend and wondering at how empty I felt. Not just empty, but hollowed-out inside. And, just as you say, anytime that I thought about belief in God it was just to think what an absolute moron you would have to be to believe in God. And yet I never once thought how much of a moron you had to be to keep living an empty, hollowed-out life no matter how unsatisfying it continued to be!

Sometime in the late 1980s I had my first encounter with God…more of an omen of things to come…which I promptly convinced myself to ignore for another 4 years or so. On February 25th, 2001, though, I had what I can only call a complete "awakening"—the kind of thing that takes the rest of one's life to even begin explaining in a way that any other human being might possibly understand or relate to. Forgive me, though, I'm sure that's enough of my background! The real question at this point is: what does all this have to with Cerebus?

I've really been pondering that for the last few hours now. A few weeks ago, all my thoughts seemed to continually be drawn back to memories from my childhood. It started as an irresistible "desire" to reread one of my favorite comics from childhood—Kamandi by Jack Kirby. I fought the idea as ridiculous for a while but finally broke down and bought a run of the comics off eBay (steeped in shame for having squandered the $100 it cost me to get them). I read them rapidly and didn't really know what to make of the urge that seemed to be driving me. My mind wanted very much to condemn the "regression"—what could these funnybooks have to do with God, anyhow? I felt like I was selfishly trying to relive my past. It seemed counter-God in some way. And yet, as I read the comics, epiphanies of a very God-like nature dawned on me. Astonished at how badly the series really sucked after Kirby left, I concluded, "when the Creator quits writing the story, the plot quickly becomes and uninteresting and…dead". I found this revelation extremely pertinent to my own life as it reminded me to keep myself as aligned with God's authorship as possible…lest my own story become dead and uninteresting. And so it went, the spirit asserting itself and at war with the fleshly notion that reading comic like Kamandi was a waste of my time…time that would be better spent seeking God more directly. With much guilt I carved the two days or so it took me to read them from my daily routines.

Kamandi, brief as it was, was essential as I now see; I had to have the notion of "learning something from God" firmly in my mind before I could possibly ignore my own mind's protests long enough to tackle something as broad as the complete story of Cerebus. I can't even really remember how I got from Kamandi to Cerebus. I think I noticed it on a website somewhere while trying to locate the Kamandi run. I had forgotten all about the aardvark. I guess it doesn't really matter how God directed my thoughts, only that he did. I soon found myself locating a Cerebus "phonebook" run that I could borrow from an old business acquaintance. I started from the beginning as my memories of it were, by now, very dim. I plowed through all the portions I had read in the distant past…up into Jaka's Story…where I found the storyline began to deviate from the kind of thing I remembered. My mind really fought me the whole time. The amount of time I had to dedicate to the reading really cut into my already busy life. I felt like I was shirking my duties…at home…with my three-year-old son…at work…but I clung to the belief that, for some unknown reason, God intended to communicate some hitherto unthought-of (by me) notion into my head via your words and images.

By the time I started into Guys I started to feel sick. Cerebus' stalling, floundering, drinking, craziness…all these caused in me a reaction so strong that I both wanted to quit my review entirely but also could not help but admit that only something that was striking a very personal hidden subconscious chord could cause such a reaction in me. If nothing else, I am determined—another source of debate within me—debate that strangely started to resemble the endless internal arguing Cerebus himself underwent. My inner dialogue went something like this:

"Stop reading this, you idiot. Obviously it's not helping your walk with God. It's messing with your head. It's a trick."

"No, maybe I have to just push through. Maybe you saying that is the actual trick."

"You're just stubborn…and that stubbornness is really going to hurt you this time."

"Should I? Or shouldn't I? I better stop."

"No, I can't. There has to be something meant for me in here."

"Why can't you just do something more Godly instead?"

"It's just a damn comic book. What's the big deal? It's no worse than the endless hours of TV I watch."

"I'm not saying it's demonic or anything…I'm just saying it's a lot of time that could be spent seeking God, instead."

F*@k it! God will save me even if I'm recklessly throwing myself into danger.

Sorry to interrupt. My computer just highlighted that last line and wants to know if I want to e-mail something to the URL F*@k it! God will save me even if I'm recklessly throwing myself into danger.

So I continued. God gave me little hints along the way to help me at those moments when I really almost quit the endeavor. When I really thought I cold not take Guys anymore I was suddenly drawn to closely watching the actual publication dates of the issues. Combining this with a laborious reconstruction of my own personal history for the last 15 years, I suddenly realized that the issues that make up the Guys storyline were published during a period of my life in which I was very much experiencing an existence similar to Cerebus'. It made sense that my abhorrence was so strong now…as I was seeing something that I no longer was, that I very much enjoyed not being anymore, that I was grateful to have escaped. It was a window to the past…a strange distorted "echo" I suppose, almost indiscernible as it was buried in add-ons unique to your mind rather than mine…but there nonetheless. I grew up in Northampton, Massachussetts so the references in the letters pages helped keep me on course as well—an occasional picture of the Comic Art Museum in downtown Northampton or the mention of Moondance comics that used to be located in the Hampshire Mall in Hadley—heck, even the Great Eastern comic conventions—these personalized the process, tugging me back when I cam close to closing Cerebus' story for good.

Three weeks later, as I neared the end of the 300 issues, I felt myself becoming a little frightened. I could see no way for an ending that could possibly fulfill what seemed like an important lesson God had somehow meant for me. Finally I finished. My head was reeling. A strong feeling of vertigo overtook me and I felt ill. I somehow excused myself from my house, saying I needed to go to the gym to "swim"…and that's what I did. As I drove to the gym, Cerebus was everywhere: the condensed water on the windshield outlined him, the clouds in the sky, even the tail end of a minivan in front of me beamed up at me with a wide Aardvark smile. I tried my best to ignore this new phenomenon. Once I was in the water, as I made my way through the second or third lap, I found my thoughts completely out of control. I felt enormously…sad for Cerebus. There didn't seem to be any real ending…any meaning to his entire existence that I could comprehend. He had experienced such a tumultuous ride along the way, with such highs and lows and, at the end of it, he just dies. Of course, what else could I possibly expect? What alternate ending could there have been that would have had any ring of truth to it? What did I want?

I am a sane person, Mr. Sim, and yet I honestly felt like I was cracking, like I was momentarily insane…only I never imagined insanity would take the form of comic-book panels mingled with written text…or burning aardvarkian eyebrows bent into a variety of expressive looks. A real fear gripped me…no longer for what would or would not happen to Cerebus, but much more so for what seemed to be happening to me. I had really screwed up…done something I wasn't meant to do…read something to the end, pushed stubbornly past all friendly advice from my mind, until something had broken inside of me. I think I was on the fourth lap when I found I could do nothing but cling to the belief that "I may have really screwed up this time, but God will bail me out somehow." I had to resort to an underwater mantra, mingled with bubbling water and quick gulps of air… "God's will be done", "God's will be done", "God's will be done."

And there, finally, it was. Then I understood. I saw it.

Cerebus, the silly comic-book character was, in fact, anointed by God. His story was a tragedy in that he never gave in to God's will for his life. He fought it to the end. Even at the very end of it he struggled, screaming, "God the light has got me" as he pleads for help. His life should have been more important. He should have done more. And yet, like anyone anointed by God, even as he fought God he affected so many people in his life whether he intended to or not. The anointing will work of its own accord, yes?

Mm, not necessarily. It's an interesting idea that Cerebus might have been anointed by God (the best I could go with is "anointed")—at least as a cautionary tale of what can happen if you don't take your decision-making seriously—but if you're asking my opinion I think that God can only do so much within the confines of the strict rules governing free will. My own view is that that was what your soul may have been responding to in the storyline, reacting not only to what was happening to Cerebus—too little, too late—but to your own conscious reaction "I may have really screwed up this time, but God will bail me out somehow" since that's very much the opposite of the idea I was trying to convey. God can and does help, in my view, as we go along in our lives but when you actually die there's nothing more that God can do if, indeed, you "have really screwed up this time". That's the flaw that I see in Paul's teachings regarding undeserved grace. It's one thing to say that we have all fallen short of the glory of God and that only Jesus' sacrifice on the cross could make up the difference. My question is, how do you keep that from making you slothful in your own efforts? If I can never attain to a state of deserved grace, if my personal works and actions are largely or completely meaningless then why make the effort? I have to honestly say that I don't know how Paulist Christians answer that question for themselves and continue to give the 110% that I see as being a required part of faith.

And yet how much more could he have done? How many people could he have truly helped? By struggling through his entire life to do his will or to fulfill the will of other people he never just surrendered and did the will of his Creator. Just think what the little guy could have done had he merely stopped his own self-inflicted motion (or alternating lack thereof)?

Yes, that became a big part of the story that I was trying to communicate and a big part of the reason that it took twenty-six years and three months to get there and the reason that I am still working ten-to-twelve hours a day six days a week three years later. I have no idea if I've made any progress or I am still screwing up just as Cerebus did. I'll find out on Judgement Day. But, it seems obvious to me that flat-out effort is what is required if you're going to have a hope of making the grade.

That was the message God wanted me to get out of the some 6,000 pages of the comic you crafted. I mean no disrespect (as I'm sure there are many more messages you intended in there, but it seems that is the one God wanted me to focus on for now). Cerebus, the character, ultimately failed in life…and yet "the light came for him" nonetheless.

Having gleaned my lesson, I suddenly felt greatly quickened. I felt as if the story of this simple comic-book character contained a grand warning from God for me. I must surrender more fully lest my story become like his, lest I become permanently mired in my own problems, lest I never fulfill God's plan for me. With these thoughts returned my right mind and the banishment of the strange semi-hallucinations that were occurring, what I can only call the "comic-panel-ization" of my actual life in the few hours since I had finished issue 300. I am once more grounded…and sane…and more firmly situated with God.

I will not be a Cerebus, God!

That seems like a valuable lesson to take out of the book. "I will not be a Cerebus, God!" Of course, we have different assessments of the light. I don't tend to think that the light we experience at the point of death is the same light that is described in John 1:9:

Was the light the true which is enlightening every man coming into the world.

And I think if you sat down with a roomful of Cerebus fans who believe in God (or maybe, more accurately, at a bridge table with the three other Cerebus fans who believe in God) you would find that each of them would have a different view of what Cerebus might have done differently in order to arrive at a different ending to his life. Each of those assessments would probably speak volumes about each individual and how he (or Margaret) is doing.

That being said, I can't help but now feel that Cerebus himself did not actually fail. At first I was focused on one too few dimensions. I saw clearly that Cerebus' anointing affected the other characters in the story. I also saw his effect on you, as the writer, displayed prominently throughout the series. What I had failed to notice at first was the other outlet for this wonderful anointing from God. As with much of what God teaches me, I am left with the thought "How could I have not seen this before?" I had been wrong, indeed. My first assessment of his never having really helped anyone, never having done anything truly unselfish, never having completed a single act of goodness may well have been wrong. In fact he sacrificed his whole life for someone. He has, indeed, really helped someone before disappearing forever into the light that so frightened him. He did good. The anointed life of Cerebus the Aardvark spilled from the pages of your comic book to affect one more person, indeed…a reader.

He helped me.

God bless you, sir, God bless you.

And may God see fit to bless you—and your family—as well, Matt! I appreciate you letting me know the effect that the story had on you. It's certainly an encouragement from my standpoint given that I'll probably only see a handful of God-fearing individuals actually read the book and respond to it in my lifetime even if I live to be ninety. The comic-book field is almost exclusively an atheistic environment and shows no signs of changing that I can see. But the occasional response like this one makes all those 12-hour days a little more worthwhile. Thanks again.


If you wish to contact Dave Sim, you can mail a letter (he does NOT receive emails) to:

Aardvark Vanaheim, Inc
P.O. Box 1674
Station C
Kitchener, Ontario, Canada N2G 4R2

Looking for a place to purchase Cerebus phonebooks? You can do so online through Win-Mill Productions -- producers of Following Cerebus. Convenient payment with PayPal:

Win-Mill Productions

Or, you can check out Mars Import:

Mars Import

Or ask your local retailer to order them for you through Diamond Comics distributors.