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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Cerebus Vol 6: Melmoth (Graphic Novel)

By Dave Sim and Gerhard

Publisher: Aardvark-Vanheim; 4th Printing edition (October 1991)

Softcover 267 pages

Finished 7/24/2017

Amazon Listing


        With this volume we reach the halfway mark for Cerebus. It collects issues 139-150 out of a total of 300. As with Jaka’s Story, Cerebus becomes a background character in this volume, spending the time staring into space on a patio and eating raw potatoes. The art has certainly matured here. It is much less cartoony, expressing a greater depth of emotion, detail, and versatility than ever before. This is demonstrated in the last twenty pages of the book.
The story’s main focus is on the death of Oscar Wilde. For continuity’s sake the Oscar in this story is not the same as the Oscar from Jaka’s Story, though they are based on the same person at different points in his life. The one presented here is Oscar Melmoth- Melmoth being Wilde’s traveling name when traveling Europe. This was during his unofficial  exile from Victorian society following his two year stint in jail for “gross indecency with men.”
While reaching for this novel, the author has commented on he has found no dispassionate biographies of the man. That each one displays as much, if not more, on the beliefs and politics of the author as it does about the life of Oscar Wilde. Often they cherry pick information to help form their narratives and ignore those which might contradict it. In one biography he is the Literary Giant, brought low by mediocre vermin. In others he the Predator, a corruptor of youth and of middling talent. And in this the author here is not much different, he only varies in his execution.
         For the most part, apart from the visuals, he presents the final days on Oscar Wilde in the words of Robert Ross and Reginald Turner, his two friends who were with him at the end. He quotes exclusively from their correspondence at the time of his death, adjusting only the place names to fit in with the geography of the series. In Melmoth, Wilde is the Dying Martyr, riddled with debt and rife with illness. The reader cannot help but be moved by his plight. If not for the help of his friends, he would’ve ended up dying in a gutter on a dingy street.
Included as an appendix are copies of the documents the author used to assemble Melmoth’s story, along with reflections by Sim on the quality and accuracy of the material. It is quite interesting for those who want to learn a bit more on the historical events surrounding Oscar Wilde.
Throughout the novel Cerebus is in a state of shock. Having learned from the Judge that his life will be a forgotten failure and believing that Jaka, his true love, is dead, he wanders to a lonely inn and offers the owner a gold piece in exchange for room and board for the rest of Cerebus’s life. When Cerebus was pope, as we remember from Church and State I and II, he demanded that everyone turn all of their gold over to him, which collapsed the economy. After Cirin’s forces moved in the confiscated the gold, but none of it has been distributed in the city (there will be more on where the money went next volume), so the offer of a single gold piece is like offering a motel owner ten million dollars to stay in a room forever. His solitude ends violently (of course it does, this is Cerebus) when he discovers Jaka is alive and the book concludes in one of the best fight scenes in the series.
We see several characters from the past and their degradation and imprisonment under the new Cirinist rule the city-state of Iest. They are all forced to wear a similar outfit and have their hair cut to a particular style. One designed not to arouse sexual impulses as part of the Cirinist sex-negative philosophy. We encounter the Roach, a once powerful if idiotic character,  now reduced to a hate filled mass of anger which he dares not show. The character is shown here as wearing horn rimmed glasses and a beige suit and some people not familiar with indie comics from the 80s may not realize that he is parodying the character of Normalman, which was published by Aardvark-Vanaheim comics at one point.

       For more readings, try my collection of books. 

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