THERE’s a block of text! Nearly half of the entire remaining series in one go! Thank God, I was starting to wonder if I’d ever see the end of this. (Caveat, I was under the impression that Going Home was published in one block, but there’s some text in the back of one of the issues that gives me second thoughts on the matter. It may have been broken up, but I’m not sure.)
The first point to make is that Sim really should do a collection of the Cerebus covers. They change thematically from book to book, but I’ve only ever seen the ones from “Guys” on. “Going Home” covers are all beautiful photos of natural majesty, supposedly seen by Cerebus and Jaka during their travels to Sand Hill Creek.
As far as the stories go.... FINALLY something nice and linear. The book, one long travelogue, breaks roughly into three parts (this first is entitled “Sudden Moves”). Unfortunately, it’s also about their relationship. Oh, they’re both very much in love.... but, as I’ve said before... fabulously doomed. It’s just that, in all the previous situations there were always extenuating circumstances. There were wars going on or distracting side stories or all the other things that got in between Jaka and Cerebus to destroy their relationship. During the long road-trip that is “Going Home,” we can watch their relationship develop... and fall apart... without all the other problems of the world around them to blame it on. We see the strain of Jaka’s social position which she can never escape, and the strain on Cerebus of just always being there for Jaka.
But not at first. Everything’s fine at first. Jaka and Cerebus, very much in love and lust, are walking northward, spending the night at taverns along the way (local Cirinists (like Janet Reno) “look after” the pair by preceeding them to the taverns and making it very VERY clear that Jaka and her companion are to have a LOVELY time while they’re there), hitting the “clothing huts” (strip mall) in the morning for Jaka’s a new outfit (can’t stand wearing the same thing two days in a row) and moving on by the afternoon.
The taverns they hit are funny little snapshots of shorter-lived jokes that couldn’t be sustained for several issues. The “action figures pub,” is a Cirinist experiment proposed by the proprietor, Greg Hyland (comic book hero “Lethargic Lad”’s author), making customers speak through dolls (ACTION FIGURES!) as a way of getting men to admit to their problems and insufficiencies. Women, of course, are far too well adjusted to need such a thing, but Jaka pulls out Missy and joins in, scandalizing the meek bartender with Missy’s drunken exploits, and explanations that no one’s “gettin’ any” because “Cerebus’s guy” gets a fierce case of whiskey-dick when he’s really drunk, and Missy has no intention of walking around bowlegged the next day. (Hilarity on all sides ensues.) Later they hit another tavern where they can’t seem to get any attention from the bartender because he was “arguing about whether someone’s witchsword was powerful enough to cut through the magic chains that someone else had used to bind up someone else’s moon crystal.” Unfortunately, they have a visitor.
‘Cept it’s not really him. It’s one of his like-a-looks who’s gotten loose and was hoping to mooch some royal treatment off of them. Despite his best efforts (“I LOVE YOU with every FIBER of my being... and I practically live on oat bran, so that’s really saying something”) Cerebus runs him off.
There’s a problem, though. Since Jaka wants to see all the big landmarks, and take in the scenery and get a new outfit every day, they’re really not making very good time. A bit of road construction even sends them the long way around one point. This is a big problem, because Sand Hill Creek lies on the other side of the Conniptin mountains, and if they delay too long they’ll get caught in the mountains during first snowfall, and get snowed in. Then they hit a stretch without any clothing-huts. And Cerebus, cringing because he knows it’s a big deal for her, brings it up. An entire issue is spent with Jaka curled up on the bed, asking in a tiny voice what she was going to do. It feels like someone’s having to put down the family pet. She just CAN’T wear the same outfit for that long. Jaka’s solidly a city woman, and isn’t going to be able to change. (Bit of a discontinuity here.... she couldn’t have afforded a new outfit every day while living with Rick... what’s going on here?)
So, of course, Cerebus gives in. They turn southward, taking a carriage (which Cerebus had dismissed earlier, saying they were only for old men and old ladies) to Moresh, sail down the Feld river to Iest, hike up the Chesmi river trail through the tavern and clothing huts of the area (set out for the hunting community), hole up in a hunting lodge for the winter, and pass over an alternate route in the spring. And of course this is fine with Cerebus. Because he’s just thinking of Viktor in Rick’s book. “With the unhappy ones you’ve got to be happy enough for two.... just be happy every damn minute of your waking life and you’ve got her for as long as you want her.”
Then they hit district six. A well-developed area, they hold a reception in Jaka’s honor, and Cerebus, curious about anything that might embarrass Jaka, chides her into accepting. Predictably, Cerebus bows out after only a little of the interminable socializing and goes back to their tavern (the Shepherd and Dog.... so much significance in each little detail), to await Jaka. It’s late by the time the reception lets out, and Cerebus is pleasantly buzzed while Jaka walks along the road back to the tavern. One drunk tavern-goer leans over to Cerebus and unsteadily whispers “You’re the companion of the princess of Palnu... What say you about her?.... is she scorpion.... or lunatic.... or angel..... or just a woman?”
He’s quoting Cerebus’s own words back at him. Lines that Cerebus told Rick about Joanne. Lines that got written into Rick’s book. A glass tumbles from Cerebus’s hand.
(The repercussions of this “fall” connect to the previous broken glass in Cerebus’s bar, making clear the connection if we didn’t notice it, but likely have more to do with the religion that spreads far and wide in the later books, of which this is the first sign.)
Meanwhile, Jaka is approached by a figure emerging from the cornfield. A hooded woman tells Jaka that the mothers of the Feldwar valley are prepared to start a revolution under Jaka’s leadership..... Cirin is old and so much has changed... The matriarchy would rally behind her as a leader. Jaka reacts with horror and flees, as does Cerebus, and they meet in the road. Ironically, all they say about their separate experiences is “Oh, you know, guy/girl stuff.” Which it most assuredly was.
The next morning, the woman who came to Jaka lies dead and gutted in the road. Cerebus is taken and questioned about it, and the situation is made very clear. Cerebus’s presence and travel is tolerated only because of Jaka’s nature as a female figurehead of royalty who very popular and is in accord with the Cirinist ideals. If Jaka is seen to be allying against Cirin, or doing anything that would endanger her status as a media darling, she’ll be killed. Cerebus is thus charged by their Cirinist coach”man” with making sure Jaka is less “careless” about who she talks to. It also plants a seed of doubt in Cerebus as to whether Jaka could be organizing or involved in such a thing as a rebellion against Cirin. Make no mistake, Cerebus sees only trouble in that direction. He’s no longer after conquest. He just wants to be with Jaka for as long as it stays good.
Tensions are starting to rise a bit between them. They hit Greg’s pub again on the way back south, and completely fail to pull a practical joke on him (he’s not home), further dampening their spirits with embarrassment for the detour, standing in sharp contrast to the last time they’d been there. Remembering Viktor’s words again, Cerebus manages to lighten the mood. One more pub, “Roarin’ Rick’s Rare Bit Pub,” where they sit in on Alan Moore (From Hell, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) going through a long, rambling dream-interpretation while rolling up a truly ENORMOUS joint, while Rick Veitch (the cameo from “Guys”) gives a running summary at points. RV: “...What you’re saying is that the ‘bride’ is part of our brains: An Archetype housed in the largely inaccessible mythopoetic reservoirs of our instinctual proto-minds!” AM: “Oy could very well be saying that, yes.” (Dave’s theme slips in again, though more subtly, as the question of helping a dream-bride to her feet becomes “how high does the bride wish to be raised” and “does she wish to be raised above all men” and “should perhaps a pyramid of men be formed to elevate her to her desired height?” Not great depth here though.) Cerebus starts freaking out on a bad trip, only to awaken in the Carriage and discover that they hadn’t stopped there at all. (Just another Rare-Bit Dream.) Finally they’ve reached the dock and their boat for traveling the Feld river.
Here we begin the second book of “Going Home”, “Fall and the River.” It takes place on the barge during their river-journey back to Iest. Fortunately for the audience, Jaka and Cerebus have company, an author named F. Stop Kennedy. This is very obviously a caricature of F. Scott Fitzgerald, the author that most American schoolchildren become acquainted with through his novel “The Great Gatsby.” (Which is also, coincidentally, where most American schoolchildren learned to hate him.) He’s writing a novel, in the tradition of the great tragic “roaring twenties” contemplations on higher society, while the trio travel down the river, and the novel is quite obviously based on the relationship he sees between Jaka and Cerebus. Yes, this does indicate the reintroduction of “straight text” to the story once again, but in significantly smaller quantities, and it only expands to truly annoying proportions in one issue.
Most interestingly, “Fall and the River” becomes as much a story about Sim as it is of Fitzgerald as it is of the comic’s storyline. There’s the sequence of events in the story, the sequence as viewed through F. Stop’s writing, and then there’s the additional material. The back of each issue is filled with a great rambling account sourcing each twitch and note of character that we see in F.Stop. Sim had read much of Fitzgerald’s work in preparation for this segment (basing much of it on “The Beautiful and the Damned”), as well as multiple biographies, which he footnotes and details for those of us incapable of catching onto the enormous intricacies of clever references inserted into the story. These segments at the back of each comic are a work of literature itself, and it’s a great pity that I haven’t the time to re-read it all and review and reveal it for you. If the rest of Cerebus is littered with great losses such as these when the individual comics are gathered into the bound volumes, then I shudder to think what I’ve missed earlier. Anyway, the great rambling examination and explanation reveals to us a great deal of subtlety and nuance about Sim himself through his studies on Fitzgerald and the way he builds the character.
However, you don’t need to have access to the individual comics to feel at least some of this nuance. Sim can be seen most clearly through his work on “Fstop’s” writings. The writing is actually very good, and in the endnotes Sim explains where it is partially cribbed from and re-structured to be attributed to Fstop. Fstop begins his writing about Jaka.... adoringly, condescendingly, his own intellect and uncompromising view of her can be seen as a reflection of how he’d alienated and distanced himself from higher society by his inability to refrain from puncturing the ego and pretensions of those around him, even while recognizing his own insufficiencies. By knowing everyone is a puffed-up image, he’d been unable to gather any real human warmth to himself because he would be continuously puncturing these images for the momentary amusement and humor he knew it would generate. Like Oscar Wilde without the cheerful disregard for the disdain of others, he cuts to the heart of each person, and thereby wounds them and drives them away.
F-stop inserts himself into his story as well, with a character named “Jay Rosen.” Jay Rosen begins assessing Jaka’s and Cerebus’s relationship, finding the signs of flaws and faults that they’re incapable of spotting themselves, allowing Sim, as F-stop, to carefully and clearly define, through the pen-names in his novel, how the fabulously doomed romance between Jaka and Cerebus is fracturing.... and he does it very very well. Just as interestingly, “Jay Rosen” becomes, by contrast, a knight in shining armor. A masculine ideal from the twenties with charm, wit, and discretion. A man, so he sees it, so much more suited to Jaka’s companionship, that their romance seems inevitable. Also, an ideal that Fstop himself cannot possibly attain. For all the laser precision he is capable of bringing to bear in brilliantly written passages examining the growing fracture between Cerebus (“Jozan”) and Jaka (“Ginevra”), the character modeled on himself is who Fstop WANTS to be, not who he is. An ideal he aspires to, while he must know how pathetically short he falls. (He, like Fitzgerald, is an alcoholic of truly momentous proportions.) As the storyline progresses, his focus on Jaka and Cerebus begin to wander as well, Jaka becoming more idealized in his eyes, as Fstop’s obsession with her grows from casual interest, to obsession, to an intent to declare his love for her (or rather, their love for one another). So in a single action, Sim is able to profile Jaka and Cerebus, as seen by F-stop, and F-stop, as he sees their relationship, and Sim himself, through his assessment of Fitzgerald’s life and inclusion of this snapshot-like moment in Fstop’s life in the comic storyline and his admiration of Fitzgerald’s work, rediscovery of its depth, and employ of it to tell his own story. Simply put, this stuff is fucking polished. Sim demonstrates a sincere mastery of style and situation. Much of the reading feels like we’re watching Masterpiece Theater, the trade of idle chit-chat with Jaka, weighted with concealed significance and speaking miles up in the stratosphere with Cerebus as a barely-keeping-up tagalong.
This may be the most carefully polished segment of Cerebus, containing all the elaborate social twists and turns, nuances and insertions... although employing Fitzgerald’s style in storytelling may be magnifying the impression, as Fitzgerald’s own style is highly polished and Sim conducts himself so well with it. How good is it? I had to go out and GET BEER in order to reach the proper state of mind to start reviewing it. Yet, once more, it requires you to have read everything that came before to even understand large sections of it. There’s obtuse artistic reference to Cerebus’s travels to “Juno” (Cerebus got the name “Pluto” wrong early on, and it sticks throughout the story), to the portrait Jaka had painted of herself, to the destruction of Iest, to Cirin, the restrictive nature of the Matriarchy, and extensive unexplained referencing to Lord Julius. As I stated earlier, I came in around “Rick’s Story” originally. I got a few issues into “Fall and the River” and became so completely lost that I caught up with the previous books before continuing.
So, now that all the fawning is over with, what actually happens? Well.... not that much. In the end, Fstop’s writings and interactions with Jaka and Cerebus serve mainly to hold up a magnifying glass to the minute cracks growing at an increasing rate in the supposedly ideal romance. Beyond that, no events have a lasting impression on anyone.
We start on the dock with Jaka noticing Fstop as that horrible man she knew from her days in Lord Julius’s court. It’s plain that she HATES him. Hates him with that seething contempt that one can only bring to bear while wearing restricting formal clothing and glaring at someone who’s become the center of attention at a high-class party by performing a marvelous practical joke. A joke that manages to drunkenly insult everyone there such that they’re forced by propriety to laugh, because to become insulted would make them the real butt of the joke. The way you hate someone who demonstrates precisely how much better he is than everyone else at the party.
Jaka and Cerebus (Cerebus completely confused) attempt to get onboard without attracting his attention, but he ends up as their traveling companion anyway, in the stateroom immediately opposite. (The structure of the boat isn’t critical, but you do need to know that there are two staterooms facing one another at one end, a large open deck for lounging or dining in the middle, and a set of 3-4 smaller staterooms looking over the open deck, as well as a kitchen on the other end.)
Jaka begins the voyage determined to get the better of this man, while simultaneously aware of what dangerous waters she’s treading. It seems that she knows Fstop writes his books as thinly veiled commentaries on people he knows and associates with, giving sufficient detail that anyone even cursorily familiar with his traveling companions would be able to see those self-same individuals flayed to ribbons by Fstop’s critical eye and wit. Jaka is determined not to look foolish in his eyes, and strives to not give him an inch where he might be able to hold her up to the light and find her wanting. Which, of course, provides enough material for an even more absurd profile. Their first dinner meeting, Jaka insists that they get dressed up for in their finest, most extravagant clothes..... until, watching intently through the cabin spy-hole, she sees Fstop come out dressed casually. So they have to quick change into casual clothes. And, of course, she can’t be _rude_ to him, since that would be all too easy an opening, so she becomes the most charming dinner companion, all the while seething at him privately.
Cerebus, for his part, just can’t keep up. He doesn’t know what’s going on, and Jaka won’t tell him, so he’s just frustrated-ly pattering along in her wake, trying to stay out of her way.
And Fstop? Well, he’s good. In his writing immediately after the dinner, he accurately postulates the disdain Jaka holds towards him, and the disinterest of Cerebus, in the conversation that they’re just that moment having in their own stateroom. What he adds is significant, though, in that he attributes to Jaka a note or two of pity directed towards himself, and gives “Jozan” (Cerebus) entirely too much intellectual credit in their conversation.
But then comes the gin.
Just a touch of background here, plucked (possibly inaccurately) from my memory. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wife Zelda (Xena here) was committed with increasing regularity to insane asylums when they’d been married only a few years. As a result, Fitzgerald’s drinking, always a major problem with the sudden wealth brought on by his early writing, spiraled out of control, destroying his ability to write, and leaving him with a legacy only as an extravagant drunk, his worth in literary circles only discovered years after his death.
Every night on the barge is a lost battle to stave off the drink for another couple hours. He sits and writes or tries to write, wandering the confines of his room before finally giving in and taking out the gin and tumbler.... trying to capture the momentary inspiration before the alcohol washes away all his skill. (Sorry, good bit here I want to include: “It is in our thirties that we want friends. In our forties we know they won’t save us any more than love did.” Little gems like that are scattered throughout.)
The next day Fstop reads to them briefly from some of his work, and Jaka maintains her determination to be the perfect, charming dining partner, but a faux-pax from Cerebus drives him off. Jaka insists that Cerebus go over an apologize later, and, by way of accepting the apology, Fstop and Cerebus get fabulously drunk on Fstop’s gin.
Anyone who remembers their first gin hangover realizes that this puts Cerebus out of the picture the next day. Jaka, for her part, is tired of the charade, and finally moves in to a genteel, social confrontation with Fstop on the deck. In her polite and genteel manner, she steps up and asks if she might see whatever it is that Fstop is writing about her and Cerebus during this voyage. He admits readily enough to their inclusion, but flatly refuses the demand. Jaka is too well bred to insist, but does toss him a withering comment about the exploit of people’s private lives to feed his notoriety.
Fstop’s reply is measured, informative, and far too long to transcribe, though I really wish I could. Wound within the dismissal of egotism or notoriety as a factor in his writing, dismissal of the charade that is social interaction within the circles in which he finds himself trapped, is the revelation that the Cirinist are in control of both his own and his wife’s condition. His writing has a direct effect on whether or not he finds himself signing autographs in a smelly beer-swilling pub or new and glittering community centers, and whether his wife resides in the scenic airy upper rooms or the squalid basement of the sanitarium she’s committed to. But the Cirinists, motherly as they are, won’t go so far as to tell him how he’s offended or complimented them. So he is left guessing at what he might’ve said, done, or written that caught their eye or disdain. (This goes a long way to explaining the drinking.) It’s possible that Sim is slipping in here for a minute or two with his own commentary, based on his own experiences within the comics publishing world. Certainly, some of the passage’s feel could have come directly from him, although the words are plainly Fitzgerald’s.
He pauses briefly on a comment of how he tires of restraining himself (in elevated social company) from reaching out and “snapping their Self-Delusions like so many dry twigs.” Jaka smiles back at him, silently ridiculing his absurd self-importance. And so, as a riposte, Fstop metaphorically picks up a six-inch pin, and slowly, steadily, pushes it into her heart.
(Heavily abridged) “Very well then, for your majesty’s edification. One tiny twig...Estacarion’s matriarchal “society” can be divided roughly into two groups..... the smaller of the two groups has in common with the former constituency the fact that their lives are of interest to no one. Least of all to themselves. Now: In the “rarified upper strata” of this smaller group are those who have labored and who do labor tirelessly and efficiently. As well as those who... are perceived by the matriarchal powers-that-be to have made some.... contribution to the plodding “progress” of Matriarchal “society.” And they, your majesty, are not unrewarded. Far, far from it. In fact, at this very moment, three such “worthies” in three small cabins, cunningly equipped with devices for the amplification of sound, behind ostensibly opaque screens feel themselves, (I have no doubt) to have been amply rewarded, in that they are privy to... in effect have front row seats for...” (In a panic, Jaka flees back to her cabin.)
In other words, the Cirinists, as a reward for good behavior, effectively sell seats to watch the private moments of socialites such as Jaka, and are actually watching them right now. Fstop’s intrusions into people’s private lives is nothing compared to the intrusion of the motherly (and thus incestuous) greedy attentions of the Cirinists on public figure’s lives, indeed his is far more honest, as he was an actual participant rather than a perverse voyeur. There’s an immense amount of unpacking to this event, implications of the hidden sins of Cirinist society, but that’ll be left to the student to show.
(In case you can’t tell, Dave’s thesis creeps in here again. Unfortunately, it starts distorting the excellent varnish a little later on, but we’ll come to that. It’s most evident in Sim’s footnoting at the end, where his thesis as it concerns the Fitzgeralds is formed.)
The next morning, one of the Cirinist mothers approaches Jaka in an attempt to dismiss these “obvious” lies. Except that Jaka, for the first time, demonstrates a fading and wavering mental “send” of her own... implying that the truth of the matter can’t be concealed from her. Coming to grips with the suddenly shattered perceptions of her “ideal” “private” life on the barge, Jaka, perhaps more humbled but not in a subservient manner, ventures to ask Fstop how his book featuring Cerebus and Jaka “ends.”
In a kinder, but similarly evasive, wandering manner, Fstop offers Jaka an alternative to her current life. An artists’ colony on Mealc is in need of a patroness. A colony devoted to the perfection of art, similar to Zulli’s commentary to her when he painted her portrait.
And where is Cerebus in all of this? Placidly oblivious, he’s taken to fishing off the side of the boat. He dozes and briefly sees a vision of Rick directing the baptism of other men in the Feldwar river (this is the point where I decided to hold off on further reading ‘cause I had no idea what was going on) but it passes. He’s no idea that Jaka is actually being charmed into the idea of being a patroness, although he does notice that she’s being awfully silent. After dinner Fstop becomes drunk out of his mind on gin, perched on the cabin roof. Sparing him further humiliation, Jaka is spooked into leaving him there and goes back inside. The entire next issue is a great wandering drunken contemplation by Fstop (from his perch above the cabin) on “his education” (what life has taught him) that is too elaborate, too drunken, and so thoroughly saturated in Sim’s thesis that it’s really not worth the effort to cover. Possibly worth it to read (maybe), but not to summarize.
He awakes the next morning with a hangover, and is visited by the three “witnesses” to his drunken “recitation” (the three Cirinists with “front row seats”), two completely misinterpreting the nature of his rant, fawning over him just long enough to make him forget their difference in ages, and the third confronting him and making sure he remembers it. (She also reminds him that adultery not previously approved by the wife in writing is an executable offense under Cirinist law. And also that there is some question whether writing about adultery is the same as committing it.)
Meanwhile, Jaka is hearing about her upcoming life in Sand Hills Creek from Cerebus. It’s a pleasant, calm, rural life of thick blankets, house-raising, and child rearing. It contrasts rather badly with life as the patroness of an artist’s colony, which she hears about from Fstop. Her attentions, of course, only further Fstop’s romantic delusions towards her, which are cropping up more and more in his story... the young, vibrant Jay stepping between Jozan and Ginevra. This delusion builds until the end of the voyage.
Meanwhile, Jaka’s distress hasn’t gone unnoticed by the audience. The most senior of the Cirinist observers pays a maintenance call on Jaka’s stateroom, and idly mentions the previous occupant. How the previous occupant had fought with her “companion” during the voyage, and how the “companion” had been forcibly ejected from the voyage by the Cirinists before any “trouble” had happened. You know, she’s just sayin’.
Fstop strengthens his position with another recitation at lunch one day. Asked by Jaka to recite something “inspirational,” he comes back with a piece of text written by M.Zulli. Specifically, the text from the section of “Minds” describing the payment (painted eggshell) given for Jaka’s portrait. The artistry here is particularly powerful, encompassing Juno, the painting, the patterned wallpaper, Cerebus’s flight through space, and the ease with which Fstop inserts himself into the artistry there. In one fell swoop he’s A) reminded Cerebus how little he understands Jaka (most important moment in her life, and you barely understood a word of it), metaphorically tossing him back to Juno, symbolized by Cerebus walking now on an insert panel of the floating ice shards from his trek across Pluto’s surface, the arid desolation of that planet being the gulf that stands between himself and Jaka and B) reminded Jaka of the vows she made for herself during that time of re-discovery and investment in art that she’ll be throwing away by going up north to live out a peasant’s life as Cerebus’s wife. Jaka flees to her stateroom alone.
This is, of course, Fstop’s chance. As he sees it. But when Jaka re-emerges later that night, Fstop’s lost the battle with the bottle once again. His drunken fantasies of rescuing her from her doomed relationship stand in harsh contrast to his aged, disheveled, unshaven, gin-belching self, stumbling about the deck, and failing even to attract her attention with his carefully chosen but completely slurred script. And Jaka has, after all, only come out to retrieve the equally besotted Cerebus, his mind cracking badly under the weight of “just being happy every damn minute of his waking life.” (Cerebus subsequently catches a cold.) But Jaka has her own script running through her head. One in which she persuades Cerebus to join her at the artist colony at Mealc instead of going home with him.
When they dock at the Dead Salt Locks (where Cerebus and Jaka are leaving) everything comes to a head once again. Someone has called ahead. Not taking any chances, there are several hundred fully armed Cirinist heavy pike waiting just out of sight at the docks, in anticipation of Cerebus’s rejection by Jaka. Independently, Fstop has an elaborate drama worked up in his head about winning over Jaka at this, the last moment. Cerebus is entirely oblivious to everything, his head thoroughly stuffed up with a cold.
And Jaka? Why, there’s someone here with a book for her to sign. A convenient distraction as Cerebus disembarks and goes stomping up the dock. But at the last moment, the “fan” looks up at Jaka and says “don’t worry, we’re here to help you.” Jaka has a flash back to the condescendingly motherly interrogation by Mrs. Thatcher. Another glance, and she spots Fstop, restrained and muffled by a senior Cirinist guard. Another, and she sees the Cirinist guards further back on the dock. In a panic, she rushes to the gangplank to join Cerebus before they can swarm him. Halfway across the gangplank, she looses her footing.... and in a moment of ultimate tension...... “something” doesn’t fall.
(To be honest, I only realized this after the commentary pointed it out. Her not falling takes the place of the usual world-sundering disasters presaged by “something fell”. For once, crisis is averted.)
Cerebus, still oblivious, is taken by the hand by Jaka, and they, together, hurry through the crowd of soldiers.
Much of this, you may note, serves to counterpoint the previous event of Cerebus looking after Jaka and keeping her from “talking to the wrong people” when they were taking the carriage ride. The association is mentioned once earlier, but I think it’s more interesting to consider at this point. In both of their cases, they’re fleeing some greater destiny, some enormous calling that would exclude the other, in order to remain together. Cerebus has abandoned his position of Pope, and fled the mention of religious script he, himself, had voiced, and Jaka is now fleeing the chance of being a patroness on Mealc in order to keep Cerebus safe. Truly greater, more important callings than just the matter of “love,” and a swiftly fracturing love at that.
I would also like to draw attention to the magnificent style with which “Fall and the River” is told. One would think a barge moving slowly down a river would be the dullest repetitive setting for the characters, but the artistry demonstrated here is amazing. On two separate occasions the frames suddenly go silent (no word balloons, despite the obvious conversation), and we watch the progression of moods without the benefit of knowing the discourse. Then we are given the material of the dialogue all at once in a text section, and thus begin the discourse already having the mood in place while reading for the first time its content. The effect totally shouldn’t work, and yet it totally does. In other cases, overlay of thoughts is played out visually, Jaka considering her future as alternate dividing panels showing Sand Hills or Mealc. In others, a single two-page panel is broken up for the dialog, or random parts of the deck are replaced with scenery from Cerebus’s trek across Juno. This really could be considered a high water mark for the medium, excepting only Fstop’s drunken “recitation” where it went way overboard.
From this high point, we start sinking into the valley. As they’d planned, Cerebus and Jaka settle into a hunting lodge to sit out the winter, planning to pass on to Sand Hills Creek in the morning. What they hadn’t planned was who they were sharing the space with: Hamilton Earnestway (Earnest Hemmingway) and his wife Mary. Ham, being the “man’s man” writer, Cerebus is so absolutely star-struck he can barely speak.
But there’s a problem. A couple, actually. First of all, Dave Sim hates Hemmingway. Hates his writings. He tells us so in no uncertain terms in the endnotes, and explains that he’d expected to love the material, but found the writing style tedious and belabored, the subject matter strangely subversive (according to Dave’s own thesis) or just plain crap. (There are 1 ½ books worth of exceptions, but he hated everything else.) Essentially, I think Dave is saying that Hemmingway is considered a great author because he hadn’t the skill to be an elusive bad one, and so his up-front bad writing impressed people as “authentic.” I can’t speak on this myself, as I’ve only read “The Old Man and the Sea,” and that was....geez...16 years ago? However, it does jive with the impression I’ve heard a lot of surprised readers have of him. Hell, I might like Hemmingway now that I’ve had my expectations lowered so far.
The next problem is that Cerebus and Jaka have encountered “Ham” in the twilight years of his life.... and he’s not doing so good. Clinical depression, quiet, horribly writer’s-blocked... hell, he’s barely sane. Essentially, it’s just before Hemmingway’s end, which, if you didn’t know, was to blow his own head off with a 12-gauge shotgun. Cerebus, thoroughly and comically star-struck at getting to hang out with his idol, is completely oblivious to Ham’s state at first.... but it becomes impossible for even Cerebus to ignore after a bit. Ham is almost entirely silent. He’s a broken man. His mass and bulk, easily the physically largest character in Cerebus (next to Thrunk) which would normally typify the English lion in his prime, the “great white hunter,” has been reduced to the slovenly, stumbling bulk of an elderly bear. Just shuffling from one place to the next, tormented deep down within his own thoughts, he exuds not one iota of that virility and strength for which Hemmingway was supposed to be famous.
But the real problem, as you no doubt could guess, is Ham’s wife. Sim, in his previous letter columns and related pieces in the back, has had quite a bit to say about “women aspiring to be men”. (I would like to remind everyone once again, that I’m merely presenting the material, not endorsing it.) Mary Hemmingway is the ultimate expression of his total and complete disdain for this category of women. How to describe her.... hmmm. There’s little more that can be said beyond that she is a “woman aspiring to be a man” and failing badly. She litters her speech with little profane profundities that are always non-sequitors to the conversation. It has the odd effect of a broad-chested truckin’ diesel-dyke stomping into a logging-camp bar and braying at the top of her lungs that she could lick’ any man in the joint. (Being offensive to make a point here.) She speaks in great italicized and bolded letters. The worst crime, though, is what she’s done to Ham. He, by contrast, speaks in tiny san-serif font within enormous speech bubbles whose outline has been drawn with a shaky hand. Mary has, in effect, tried unsuccessfully to become more Ham Earnestway than Ham is, gotten halfway there, and made up the difference by driving him downward, away from himself. He may be Ham Earnestway, but she was the one who _tamed_ Ham Earnestway, and that’s very nearly as good as becoming his equal. Yet, for all that, she hasn’t an iota of his competence. Early on, she declares that “No LAW says a WOMAN can’t build a HOUSE as GOOD as any MAN. BEAMS’re too HEAVY to LIFT? Make Smaller BEAMS, THAT’S all. No LAW says a BEAM has to be too heavy to LIFT.” This sort of idiocy pretty much typifies her. They travel extensively, and we find out later that Ham, deep within his depression, was too morose to argue with her, and she’d been leading them around in circles. We find out that, for all her outdoorsy grit, she’s a terrible shot as well.
The story itself, during the wanderings with the Hemmingways, kinda grinds to a halt. Oh, stuff happens, but essentially it’s an enormous intrusion of Dave’s thesis into the comic itself that does little to drive the plot or character development along. All it does is spell out his thesis. In fact, there’s almost four solid comics wherein Cerebus and Jaka do little more than exchange embarrassed glances. But we’ll get to that.
Ham is introduced to us as a silent figure crouched over his writing desk. Entirely still, he’s struggled through to the very middle of a sentence, and just stalled. The slow pullback from the white-haired bent figure over the paper is probably the best expression I’ve ever seen of being mired in a writer’s block. Later, we find him seated outside, stating in no uncertain terms how hopeless the book and his writing has become.... but he’s speaking only to “Hotch,” an old friend of his from safari days, who isn’t really there. He’s not delusional, he just has no one else to talk to. Mary, meanwhile, is downstairs in the middle of one of her meandering, pointless discussions with Jaka. The topics drift, and eventually we hear about the electroshock therapy that she had doctors conduct on Ham to try and pull him out of his darker depressions. Cerebus is having a little fanboy spaz-attack at the prospect of meeting THE Ham Earnestway.... almost to the point of forgetting about all that division of heavy pike that was waiting on the dock for them when they disembarked. His cold has cleared up since then, and he’s having trouble explaining it away.... in fact, the only explanation that he can come up with is that Jaka called ahead for them to take him away, and changed her mind at the last minute. But of course he can’t bring that up to her....
After finally meeting Ham, Cerebus has become the worst sort of hanger-on... the kind that fancies himself Ham’s bestest bud in the whole world, and follows him around all day like a puppy, oblivious to even direct insults and the occasional “shut up.” For heaven’s sake, he even has Jaka cut and dye his hair to be like Ham’s.