The graphic novel Cerebus begins in the early 1400s on a continent called Estarcion, which is a very rough analog for Europe. Though it is set in this time period, it is also in some sort of a time/fantasy warp in which technological and ideological advances take place at an increased rate. As such, the story begins in the northern lands of Estarcion, where Cerebus makes a living as a swordsman mercenary, taking odd jobs like protecting wizards’ daughters or fighting alongside barbarian armies against supernatural forces. By the end of the series, guns and airships have been invented.
The comic itself began as a parody mashup of Conan the Barbarian and Howard the Duck (sword and sorcery genre meets funny animal in human environment genre). By the time High Society came around in 1979 with issue #26, it began to take on an identity of its own, featuring a rich sense of satire and political insight. The comic continued until March 2004, concluding with issue #300, and spanning 6,000 pages it total. The conclusion was an occasion that was planned well in advance by Cerebus’ creator, Dave Sim, starting around the time that he began High Society. He had planned to depict an entire life story as a reaction against superhero comics in which characters never aged or experienced any permanent consequences a result of their actions. In this case, the protagonist would be a foul-tempered but resourceful and cunning three-foot aardvark.
Cerebus, having grown up in the poor northern land of Isshuria, spent most of his twenties as a mercenary, and has a mind only for money and ale. The quest for these drive him almost completely. Through the first 25 issues, he happens across many colorful characters as he travels through Estarcion as a mercenary with his mind on his goals.
Red Sophia: A parody of Red Sonja, Sophia is a buxom swordswoman with a wizard father named Henrot. Despite the fact that Sophia can clearly take care of herself, Henrot hires Cerebus to avenge Sophia’s honor, after it was besmirched by an asthmatic. She irritates Cerebus completely, with her incessant discussion of trivial subjects and her valley girl personality. Cerebus winds up leaving her with the besmircher, but their paths cross again a few issues later when she convinces Cerebus to help her steal the Black Lotus, a powerful magical artifact.
Elrod of Melvinbone: An albino swordsman with a penchant for showing up at inconvenient times and scuppering Cerebus’ plans. He is excruciatingly annoying and dense, though his opinion of himself is quite lofty. He is convinced that Cerebus is merely a child in a rabbit costume. He feels it is his duty to take Cerebus under his wing and guide him. He is a mashup parody of Senator Claghorn, a radio character who was also the inspiration for Foghorn Leghorn, and Elric of Melniboné, a sword and sorcery character created by Michael Moorcock.
Bran Mac Mufin: Bran belongs to and leads a subterranean race called the Pigts, who live under the Red Marches and worship a clay statue that looks exactly like Cerebus. They hail him as the reincarnation of their god-king. Cerebus dislikes this, having thought he was entirely unique. He weighs the pros and cons of ruling the Pigts, but decides that being one-of-a-kind is far more important. He destroys the statue while the Pigts sleep and escapes into the night.
The Conniptins/King K’Cor: Cerebus finds himself leading an army of ineffectual warriors called the Conniptins. He leads them to Imesh, where he lived as a youth, taking lessons in magic from Magus Doran. Imesh has since fallen under the rule of K’Cor, who keeps the citizens drugged and happy while he forces them to build a huge structure in the middle of the walled city.
Necross the Mad/Giant Stone Thrunk: Cerebus meets an evil sorcerer named Necross, who, after being killed by an arrow, transfers his consciousness into a giant orange stone statue who he has named Thrunk. He is more than vexed when he realizes he is stuck in his tower and can’t escape. Cerebus leaves through a window.
The Roach: Beginning his tenure in the comic as a parody of Batman, the Roach is a demented former merchant of magical paraphernalia who also has a tendency to show up at VERY inconvenient times. In his first appearance, Cerebus sells him the Black Lotus that he acquired after double-crossing Red Sophia. The Roach later has a hand causing Cerebus to lose a fortune in gold coins as well as his sword. He was last seen in the guise of Captain Cockroach (a parody of Cap. America), with Elrod as his sidekick, Bunky. Throughout the series, he takes on many other personalities, mostly parodies of popular contemporary comic characters.
Lord Julius: The leader of the City-State of Palnu, the richest area in all of civilized Estarcion. He is a parody of Groucho Marx and runs his country as such. His belief is that if you are the only one that knows how things work, nobody can supplant you. Cerebus works for Lord Julius briefly as his “Kitchen Staff Supervisor (really Head of Security),” and as a result, is the Ranking Diplomatic Representative of Palnu when he arrives at the Regency Hotel in Iest (a city-state to the northeast of Palnu) at the beginning of High Society. Due to the fact that he had resigned his post, Cerebus is quite understandably confused when people treat him as a person of great import.
Jaka: In issue #6, Cerebus is relaxing in a tavern and is drugged by some cultists looking to harness his skills for their own ends. The drug has an unintended effect though, when Cerebus ignores the cultists and instead falls in love with Jaka, the tavern dancer on duty. They make plans to go away together and live a life of luxury and apricot brandy. The plans are dashed when the drug wears off and Cerebus returns to his old, hard self. He does not recognize Jaka, though she is convinced that he will remember her and tells him that she will wait for that day. We also find out as Cerebus is leaving Palnu that Jaka is Lord Julius’ niece.
Adam Weisshaupt: Weisshaupt has plans to unite the city-states bordering the Feld River under his banner of The United Feldwar States. Things don’t go as planned, but Weisshaupt shows himself to be charming, highly intelligent, and devious. Cerebus ditches him to save his own skin after a plan backfires thanks to Elrod and the Roach.
Theresa/Charles X. Claremont/The Artist Chap: Cerebus finds himself recuperating after an injury to his leg causes him to collapse near a house in the middle of nowhere. There, he is tended to by Madame DuFort and her three charges Theresa, Janet, and Katrina. It is later revealed that DuFort is actually a man named Charles X. Claremont, who is secretly making use of the girls’ energy to give life to a creature he has created and calls Woman Thing. After healing, Cerebus accompanies Claremont on a mission of revenge, but they come across an artist chap’s castle, and find that he has a swamp monster of his own, Sump Thing. As the two creatures battle, Claremont is crushed under them as their brawl becomes swampy lovemaking. The artist chap gives Cerebus a sack of treasure as recompense for the death of Cerebus’ “friend.” This is the final event before High Society.