You remember Rick, right? Jaka’s husband? Well, he’s old and fat now, but it seems he’s had quite a life so far. As this volume opens, he and Cerebus are shooting the shit while Cerebus tends bar. It seems Rick is writing a book about his own life, called (you guessed it) “Rick’s Story.” While reading to Cerebus of his sexual exploits, both are having a great time and laughing their asses off, but we start to see cracks in Rick’s sanity. He hallucinates Cerebus as some kind of demon. He views Cerebus as a fallen pope, one who, on a spiritual level, seems to be trying to distract Rick from writing his story. That is, until Thatcher stops by on one of her routine supply dropoffs. You might recall that Rick had his finger broken on the orders of Thatcher after he struck Jaka for aborting their baby without telling him. As such, he (through the magic of insanity), sees her as a literal monster, and is terrified to the point of paralysis. Cerebus, having gotten Thatcher under his telepathic thumb last volume, sees this and deals her a mighty mind blow which manifests itself as a cartoonishly collapsed face (hilariously reversed by blowing on his fingers in the same way you might inflate a balloon). Well, this turns things around for Rick a bit. Cerebus is now a savior, and with his advice on how to deal with unwanted women by telling them “G’wan! Beat it! SCRAM!” Rick is a convert. However, he’s having some difficulty reconciling his two visions of Cerebus, so reality cracks just a bit more for ol’ Rick, and it’s about to get a lot worse.
Who should return to the bar but Joanne? Hellbent on making Cerebus jealous after seeing Rick staying at the bar while hiding in the bushes, she makes her way in and begins flirting heavily with Rick. Cerebus is driven to a hardly contained jealous rage, as planned. She asks Rick if he’d like to go to the big bonfire that night. However, she stands him up, and Cerebus makes a case when he arrives back in the bar, dejected and with a cut on the side of his head, that most women aren’t to be trusted—that they are lunatics, vipers, and scorpions. Joanne comes to apologize, saying that her mother had a fever. This drives Cerebus into overdrive, trying to get Rick to see that she’s bad for him, that she’s lying to him completely (she is). She storms out and Rick gets drunk, telling Cerebus that he’ll follow him wherever he shall lead. Of course, this is contrary to Cerebus’ plans, especially since he’s trying to get up north to his hometown. He realizes he’d actually be much better off if Rick were to go with Joanne, and so switches his tactic a bit. Rick seems to understand, and it’s around here that we see the return of chunks of text in Cerebus. Rick abandons his own story and begins writing of the word of Cerebus in a parodic biblical style. Cerebus, meanwhile is back on his own crazy train, arguing with his multiple personalities about his advice to Rick.
After Cerebus has given Rick his “blessing” to date Joanne, he does so, but comes back quite early. Cerebus lambastes him for this, as it turns out Joanne was there hanging out with a male friend of hers that was alluded to in Guys and who caused Cerebus some jealousy. Rick, having thought it was a date and not just a group hangout, stayed for a while, but got up to leave shortly thereafter, mentioning that it seemed the two had a lot to talk about. Cerebus chides Rick and says that it now looks as though he was jealous. Joanne suddenly appears at the door seething with rage, demanding to know why Rick took off. Rick, smiling and answering in a cheerful, sing-song voice (advice from earlier in the book about how to keep a girlfriend), states that he wasn’t sure about the nature of the meetup, and suggests the two go for a walk. Later that night (after tons of scotch), Cerebus awakens to the sound of the two returning to the bar and making love, a sound which is music to Cerebus’ ears, as he can now go home. The next morning, Rick comes downstairs in a decidedly serious mood. He speaks cryptically, but it soon becomes clear that he is performing a binding spell on Cerebus and the bar. He leaves after telling Cerebus that they’ll see each other only once more after this, and then saying “I’m going to tell you exactly what I told Joanne. Go to hell.” Cerebus is sad for a moment but realizes he’s now free to go home. After some strange physical effects of the binding spell, Cerebus has some indecision about whether to leave, worried about whether the spell was meant to make him stay or go. Defeated, and realizing that he can die alone, unmourned and unloved just as well in the bar as he can in his hometown, he returns to the bar to find Dave sitting there. There’s a text with pictures discussion in which Dave flexes his creator muscles, causing Cerebus to forget Dave’s order multiple times, and seems to be trying to lead Cerebus to some self-reflection. He disappears while Cerebus has his back turned and just then realizes who he’s speaking to. When he wheels back around, he sees only a package on the bar. Upon opening it, he finds Jaka’s doll, Missy (left behind during Women, remember?). The moment the package is open, Jaka walks through the door.
She rushes to embrace him, and the two spend the night flirting while Cerebus serves wine and attends to his duties. The two go upstairs to make love for the first time since they first met in issue #6. The next morning, she eats breakfast at the bar (significantly moving an object from Rick’s binding spell out of her way). Suddenly, the door opens (it seems the only people that ever come around are hugely significant), and in walks Bear, Marty, and former bartender Richard George, fresh out of their respective relationships and ready to get hammered (moving the other three binding spell objects as they sit). Cerebus is thrilled, and begins serving them while they begin a game of cards and crack rude jokes. Bear, of course, recognizes Jaka from his interaction with her in Church & State, and seems dismissive of her, having returned to his viewpoint that men are better off without women. He makes one particularly crude joke at women’s expense, and an angry Jaka gets up from her stool to leave. She calls to Cerebus (“like she asked me a question? and I wasn’t answering fast enough?”—Rick’s recounting of his time with Jaka) and then leaves without saying another word. Cerebus stands, uncertain, then tells Bear to take care of himself. Bear grins and wishes him good fuckin’ luck as he runs after Jaka. He’s gonna—wattayacall—need it.
This is the volume that changed Dave’s life fairly drastically. As I recall, he had mostly put his partying days behind him, but was still what he would call an athiest and fornicator. Rick’s Story was originally meant to be a parody of the bible, and indeed, it still is, especially in the context of the ridiculous origins of religion (I wonder if Jesus was also 3 feet tall and gray). In doing research for the text sections of the book, Dave was reading the bible itself to understand its tone, and in doing so, came away with the belief that the bible really is the word of god. His personal religion has since come to combine Judaism and Islam, but at the time he was apparently rocked pretty hard by Christianity, and that set him on the path that he’s on now—a pretty religiously dedicated fellow who prays multiple times a day and fasts on (I think) Sundays. A guy who has done public readings from the King James version of the bible. This guy, who was once an avowed atheist, womanizer, alcohol-imbibing, drug-taking, party animal. Pretty shocking, right? It’s going to come into play in Cerebus big-time coming up. The sections of the book that take direct influence from the bible are fairly funny, but are kind of hard to read. Besides the flowery bible-type language, all the “v’s” are “u’s,” etc. It’s not a major turn-off as it’s a pretty small portion of the book, but it doesn’t make for fluid reading.
Dave declares emphatically that Rick is not a Sim avatar, though there are a few parallels that make it understandable that someone might think that. Rick is turned from his life of debauchery by the word of god, and he also seems to be fairly schizophrenic (Dave having been diagnosed as only borderline, of course), and then there’s the matter of his changed opinion on women. I tend to take Dave at his word because there’s usually nothing for him to gain by lying, so if Rick is not a representation of Dave, he’s certainly a kindred spirit.
Artwise, this is definitely one of my favorite volumes. The lettering alone is staggering in its ability to directly inject voices into the reader’s head. There’s no ambiguity about the cadence and tone of anyone’s speech here—it’s the most masterful and natural dialogue I’ve ever read. And the paneling! Sweet lord. You really get a sense of what it might be like to be affected by schizophrenia. Multiple perceptions of reality converge or are separated depending on the paneling, and it all leaves the reader a little dizzy, a virtue for this kind of thing. Gerhard continues to be great, but he’s been drawing the same tavern for over two years now, so there’s not much new to talk about on his side. Especially since the volume features mostly close-ups. I think he must have brokered a deal with Dave so he wouldn’t have to draw the tavern too much. In addition, Dave’s style has gotten quite a bit rounder, even since the last volume. This is most drastically displayed in his drawing of Thatcher, and within that parameter, there’s one panel in particular after her face has been re-inflated that she almost looks to be made from marshmallows or something. A far cry from the rather severe and somewhat angular Thatcher of Jaka’s Story. I know Dave began drawing Cerebus rounder over the years as it was quicker to draw a few circles for his head and snout rather than cylinders or even ovals, so this is probably more of the same. Gerhard was by this time working at home, I believe, and it seems to me there was a sense of just finding shortcuts and trying to get through to 300. I wonder if Dave was regretting having only joked about ending at 200 rather than really meaning it way back in Reads. This has truly been the epilogue to Cerebus’ adventures—the dumb little aardvark existing in stasis, not doing much of anything other than talking to himself and inadvertently starting a religion. It’s always funny, of course, but you can’t say much is really happening to the guy. Well, yet.
Cerebus’ twitching, grinding jealousy
Cerebus’ reaction to Rick asking Joanne to go for a walk
“You might be surprised at who you’re driving crazy. Staying in one place this long, I mean.”
“Dave probably doesn’t want to kill Cerebus off. But…what CHOICE does he have? To tell his boss ‘NO! I WON’T kill Cerebus off—I QUIT!’? Dave probably has a wife and kids to support. House payments. Groceries. A LOT of expenses.”