Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Deamonte Driver is Dead and You Can Thank Bill Kristol

Hilzoy and Matt Yglesias both blog this horrifying story from the Washington Post:
Twelve-year-old Deamonte Driver died of a toothache Sunday.
A routine, $80
tooth extraction might have saved him.
If his mother had been insured.
his family had not lost its Medicaid.
If Medicaid dentists weren't so hard to
If his mother hadn't been focused on getting a dentist for his brother,
who had six rotted teeth.
By the time Deamonte's own aching tooth got any
attention, the bacteria from the abscess had spread to his brain, doctors said.
After two operations and more than six weeks of hospital care, the Prince
George's County boy died.

Both Hilzoy and Matt try to be polite about this. Hilzoy says "We Can Do Better Than This" and "This should not happen in our country," and adds all sorts of useful explanations about why universal health care would help solve this. Matt says that while he "usually" tries "not to be the table-pounding kind of liberal, but on some level delivering everyone a basic standard of health care is a fairly simple moral imperative, and not really this big medico-economo-whatever question." Should not happen. Moral imperative. Right. Got it. We can all feel bad.

But the point is that this happened -- this has been happening, is happening every god damned day, and will continue to happen until we fracking fix it -- for a reason beyond the fact that we don't have universal health care in this country, unlike every other industrialized democracy in the world. And that has to do with why we don't have universal health care.

We don't have universal health care -- and Deamonte Driver is dead from a tooth infection -- because a lot of people have been fighting really fucking hard to make sure that we don't have it.

It's that simple.

Or, to be more specific: liberals have been fighting to try to ensure that American citizens do have universal health care; conservatives have been fighting to ensure that they don't.

Conservatives have been winning. So that people don't have health care who would otherwise have it. And some of those people are dying.

Including Deamonte Driver.

Sure, maybe liberals should have fought harder, or fought smarter, or whatever. Maybe Clinton's health care plan was an overly complex attempt at compromise, a pathetic attempt to throw bones to the insurance companies. Whatever. Because if the organized right hadn't been fighting this all along, we would have had universal health care in this country years ago -- maybe as long as six fucking decades ago when Truman -- yeah, Truman -- first proposed it.

People like to talk about morality because it sounds cleaner than politics, and it doesn't carry any blame. Saying it's a "moral imperative" is true, but it dodges the question of why we aren't doing it. And politics sounds so petty. You're just playing politics.

But to talk about "politics" like it is just some sort of fucking game ignores the fact that these policies have real implications for the lives of real people.

Including kids. Including kids like Deamonte.

If you invade a country for no good reason, and more than 600,000 people die, it's not just a political oops. It's a crime: the blood of those people is on your hands. And if you block universal health care, then all the people who die for lack of care are dead in part because of you.

Which brings me to William Kristol.

William Kristol, one of the most influential Republicans in the country, sent out a memo in 1993 on the forthcoming health care proposal. What he said was "that congressional Republicans should work to "kill" -- not amend -- the Clinton plan because it presents a real danger to the Republican future: Its passage will give the Democrats a lock on the crucial middle-class vote and revive the reputation of the party." (via)

Think about that. He said that Republicans should kill -- sight unseen, I should emphasize -- the bill. Not because he was opposed to what he said -- he hadn't seen it; he didn't know what it said. But because it would give Democrats an advantage.

Because it would make voters happy not to have to worry about getting sick without insurance. Because people actually want liberal programs, so we have to kill them with all sorts of redbaiting rhetoric lest they see that liberals are actually trying to improve their lives.

It's one thing to oppose these sorts of things because of some moral notion that implies that universal health care is wrong -- although the opponents of it have to justify the deaths it will cause, in the face that every other fucking industrialized nation on earth has a universal health care system without turning into some Bolshevik nightmare. But at least that's a principle. If your principle is that sick kids ought to die for lack of health care -- or, if not them, then at least their parents if their parents can't afford health care, or maybe even just their childless, out of work neighbor -- because this keeps us free, then fine. (Bush, who thinks we need less health insurance in this country -- that jobs that still offer workers insurance should be taxed for it, because their health care was excessive -- IIRC, "gold plated" was the term -- is an example of this.)

But to kill this bill-- to kill the people that killing the bill will inevitably kill -- for political advantage?

I'm sure if asked that William Kristol will say that, oh no, this was a terrible thing. Of course he didn't want Deamonte to die. Sure he'll say that: He's a pundit; pundits do that.

But when he sent that memo, he knew, he damn well fucking knew that people would fail to get health care because he was afraid that if they'd got it, they'd appreciate it and vote for the party that thinks they should have it. So he was willing to let people be sick -- willing to let people die -- so that the party that opposes universal health care wouldn't have their principles shown to be unpopular. So they could win election.

Now I'm sure people will accuse me of "playing politics" with Deamonte's death. But that's precisely the point. Politics isn't a game. Politics is life and death. It was politics -- the politics that blocks universal health care in this country -- that causes people to die would could live with basic, affordable, ordinary coverage. Accusing people of "playing politics" is just a way to avoid discussing the life and death issues that are really at stake.

When people are dying in easily preventable ways, we have to "play politics". Because it's politics that's killing them.

And if you don't want those people to die, you need to play politics. On the side that is trying to enact policies that will save them, rather than on the side that is successfully blocking policies that will save them. We're playing for their lives, and we're loosing. But at least our side is fighting to save them, rather than fighting to keep in place the system that's letting them die.

So raise a glass to Bill Kristol today -- a glass filled with the blood of the people he helped kill. Sure, people are getting sick, kids are getting sick, kids are dying, who could easily live. But he thought it was more important that the Republicans win the house.

Deamonte Driver is dead. And if Bill Kristol had the slightest shred of intellectual integrity, he would be dancing on his grave. Since he helped to bury him and all.



"Don't blog angry" is good advice. But some topics seem to properly met only with anger. So that when I went and read the comments at the other place I posted this, I got angry all over again, and left the following reply to two of them. (The first I quote in my reply; the relevant part of the second is " is sad that someone died over a rotten tooth. But I sure as hell do not want to pay for that tooth or anyone else's... its called freedom." You can read the whole thing here if you like.)


Hugh Jass said: Do you actually believe that the mother could not come up with $80? I bet you, the house had cable, the mother had a cell phone, she played the lottery, they had more than one TV, a microwave, etc.

And blogger Fred Clark, from Slacktivist: David Kurtz at Talking Points Memo cites a statistic... "Sixteen million Americans live in "severe poverty," defined as individuals making less than $5,080 annually and families of four making less than $9,903." ... Try to imagine how you might make ends meet on $5,080 a year. That's $424 a month for rent, food, health care, clothing, utilities, transportation. On $424 a month, the ends cannot be made to meet. Try to imagine how you might make ends meet raising two children on $9,903 a year. That's about $825 a month. The ends cannot be made to meet. There are 16 million Americans living like this. That's the combined population of Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Antonio, San Diego, Dallas, San Jose, New Hampshire and Vermont.

I don't know what the situation of the Driver family is. But believe that an American family couldn't come up with $80? Hell, yes.

If more people understood, viscerally, what poverty is, maybe we'd live in a different country. A country where people didn't express more emotion about paying for universal health care (like, to repeat, the citizens of every other industrialized nation in the world... I guess there's no "freedom" in Canada, New Zealand, England or France) then about a twelve year old kid dying because of a rotting tooth.

But as I said: some people are fighting for universal health care; some to prevent it. It's that simple.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

A Zen Tale

This is my retelling of an old Zen story, which I've come across in a number of places.

A man was running from a tiger, and he came to a cliff. He began climbing down a vine, hoping that the tiger could not follow him down and he could thereby escape. As he was on his way down, however, he spied a second tiger waiting for him at the bottom of the cliff. As he hung there on the vine, wondering what to do, he saw a rat begin to chew through the top of the vine.

Then he spied a strawberry, just in arm's reach. He reached out, plucked the berry, and ate it. It was the most sweet and succulent berry he had ever tasted. He closed his eyes and tasted the berry with his whole being, and said aloud, "what a wonderful berry this is!"

Then the rat finished chewing through the vine and the man fell to the ground, breaking his leg. With his leg broken, he could not run. The tiger on the ground came up to him and batted him around as kittens do mice, giving him one painful cut after another. One swipe tore out his left eye. Eventually the tiger tired of playing with him, and bit a large chunk out of the man's stomach for its dinner.

The man went into shock, the pain of the wound coursing through his entire body. But he did not die: he hung on to life for five more days as the two tigers (who, it turned out, were mates) used him as a source of food. His mind was dulled by shock, but not enough to keep the fear and pain from filling his world like a bright light. After five days of agony unlike any that can be described, he finally died.

His corpse continued to serve as a food source for the tigers for several more days. After that, the rat that had chewed through the vine came to gnaw on what was left of his bones.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Playin' with Pulp

BoingBoing linked today to a brief but wonderful video illustrating a scene from Pulp Fiction with typography (direct link). Knowing a good procrastinating tool when I see one, I looked around, and boy, there's a lot of playin' with pulp out there.

Fuckin' Short Version - PF reduced to its usage of the word fuck (and variants) - still over two minutes.
30-Second Version - Re-enacted by Bunnies - Angry Alien always comes through.
Pulp Fiction, Jedi Edition - the trailer to the film, remixed with footage from Star Wars. In the same vein, there's also Ring Fiction (Lord of the Rings) and Pulp X-Mas (Bambi).
Chinese Reenactment. A scene from the film reenacted in Chinese. ("Chinese, motherfucker, do you speak it?")
Brak and Meatwat - Brief finger-puppet-style scene. The way they do the gunshot is wonderful.

And, finally, in case you've never seen the film, someone helpfully posted the entire thing to youtube in fifteen-minute segments - one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten -- although I rather doubt that'll be up there for long.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Auden's Centennial

W. H. Auden's 100th birthday is this week. (That being a nice way to finesse that I'm a day late with this post -- or it would have been had I not added this parenthesis, which sort of gives the game away.) He's one of my very favorite poets -- I'm not sure I'd be willing to put anyone up as my very favorite poet, but he's among the half dozen or so that would come to mind if I tried to choose one.

Auden must be a popular poet with bloggers, since it does seem that the internet is buzzing with Auden this week. Just a few I noticed: 3quarksdaily tips their hat. Patrick Nielsen Hayden put up a centennial notice, leading to a wonderful thread of people posting their favorite Auden poems/stanzas/lines. I put up "A Walk After Dark", saying that it had the lowest attention-by-Auden-lovers to quality ratio of any of my favorite Auden poems. Then I found that Hugo Schwyzer posted it today as his Auden centennial memorial. So maybe I'm wrong about that, I don't know.

But I suppose the best words to mark the occasion might be these stanzas from another of Auden's best poems, "In Memory of W. B. Yeats":
Time, that is intolerant
of the brave and innocent,
And indifferent in a week,
To a beautiful physique,

Worships language and forgives
Everyone by whom it lives;
Pardons cowardice, conceit,
Lays its honours at their feet.

Time that with this strange excuse
Pardoned Kipling and his views,
And will pardon Paul Claudel,
Pardons him for writing well.
... except that if you click through the link to the poem above, you won't find those verses anywhere in it. Why? Because quotes Auden's later version of the poem -- the version that cut those wonderful stanzas out. (Here's a version with them still in, although they add an awkward note pointing their later exclusion in the text of the poem (what's up with that!?), and here's another -- although that one mashes two of the stanzas awkwardly together.) Ah well, as the Guardian noted today, "He was silly like us... Few writers mutilated their own work more often."

Apart from those two, here are some other of my favorite Auden poems (yeah, most of them are on most people's greatest hits list. I'm listing ones I like, not trying to be original).
As I Walked Out One Evening
August, 1968
Epitaph on a Tyrant
In Praise of Limestone
Law, say the gardeners, is the sun
Musee de Beaux Arts
September 1, 1939
Who's Who
And for those words, among others, time has laid its honors at his feet.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


Since I'm busy today I haven't had time to check, but I bet that the various atheist blogs are already all over this one. But having followed Andrew Sullivan's link to this Jim Wallis piece in Time magazine, I had to comment on this line:
Democrats are learning to connect issues with values and are now engaging with the faith community. They are running more candidates who have been emboldened to come out of the closet as believers themselves.
Coming out of the closet as believers? Are you fracking kidding me, Jim Wallis? At a time when it is virtually -- possibly literally -- impossible for anyone who is not (publicly) a believer to get elected to any major office in this country, this is simply a disgusting thing to say. Let's put aside the fact that it is flatly false (since it implies that any significant Democratic candidates have been publicly presenting themselves as nonbelievers); and let's even put aside the fact that it buys into the (false) Republican framing of the issue of Democrats and religion that the article as a whole seeks to counter. But at a time when people are less likely to vote for an atheist than a member of any other group -- yes, even moreso than gays and lesbians, despite the powerful homophobia that continues in this country (although they're second to us heathens, natch), making Wallis's appropriation of the "out of the closet" language even more ironic -- to talk as if it is believers who are shut out of elective politics is, well, vile.

(What Wallis meant by "running more candidates who have been emboldened to come out of the closet as believers" was that Democrats are running more candidates who are willing to follow Republicans' lead in exploiting their religious beliefs to get votes -- and are doing so more successfully. Whether that's a good, bad or neutral thing I leave to "people of faith" themselves.)

Mitt Romney recently responded to attacks on his Mormonism by turning the issue around and issuing an attack on an even less popular group: atheists. "We need to have a person of faith lead the country," he said. Sullivan, to his credit, recognized this as the naked bigotry that it is. But most people didn't. Romney has not been chastised for his comment the way he would have been if he'd said we need a [white/male/whatever] person to run the country. Hell, if Romney had just said we need a Christian to run the country, all the Jim Wallises of the world would have been (correctly) after him for antisemitism, anti-Islamism, and what have you. But to defend his own religion by attacking the least popular group (as far as electoral politics is concerned) in the country -- that's just fine. No one cares.

Look, atheists are unelectable in this country. I can live with that. But to have Wallis imply that it is believers who are "in the closet", in either major political party in this country -- how dare he. How !@#$% dare he. The man should be ashamed of himself.

Of course, he won't be. Because he has God on his side. So what need does he have to be fair to people who don't believe?

Wallis ends his essay by hoping for a "a revival for justice," and then saying " The era of the Religious Right is now past, and it's up to all of us to create a new day." But Wallis's "us" doesn't include me -- it doesn't include a lot of people. You'll forgive me if I find myself worried about the nature of whatever "justice" that man is seeking.

Update: PZ Myers weighs in on Wallis.

Update 2: My speculation in my opening sentence seems to have been wrong -- at least, I haven't seen anyone else who got as cranky about that particular sentence as I did. (PZ doesn't count, since I emailed him to kvetch about it; and anyway, he explicitly said I was "even crankier" than he about it.) Wallis is, however, getting some fairly negative (in both senses) attention for other matters these days. Although he doesn't mention the inaccuracy I was griping about, Frederick Clarkson points out Wallis's history of inaccuracy on these topics.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Recommended Reading & Viewing

Jonathan Lethem's essay "The Ecstasy of Influence"; via Cory Doctorow, who's right -- you need to read this one straight through to the end. I know that everyone's talking about this one, but the reason they are is because it's great. Read it.
• I've plugged Fred Clark before, but he's done some good posting recently; I particularly recommend his post on theology and the prisoner's dilemma, and his review of another review of the Left Behind series. (Update: And this amazing post, "Let us Reason Together" too. Damn but FC's on a roll...)
• I've been enjoying this debate between Andrew Sullivan and Sam Harris about religion.
• I didn't like his defensive opening paragraph, but Jonny Thakkar's "Visions of Infinity" -- a close literary reading of Bob Dylan's "Visions of Johanna" -- is wonderful.
• Speaking of Dylan, I think you may need to know the original Dylan video to appreciate this parody by Weird Al Yankovic, but the latter is really awesome. And has palindromes! (via)
• Whereas, to find this video funny, all you need ever have done is called a help desk, or worked at a help desk. Oh, and read a book too, probably.
• This parody of the government's get-ready-for-a-terrorist-attack site (via) is hilarious.

Covering Cerebus, Part Five: In Which Further Books Are Judged by Their Covers

Part five of a series. The earlier parts are here: part one, part two, part three, part four.

Before moving on to discuss the covers of Melmoth, the story collected in the sixth "phonebook" compilation of the Cerebus comics, I thought I would pause for a moment to discuss a few other covers that aren't part of the ordinary run of 300 issues of Cerebus.

First up are the dual covers for Cerebus Issue Zero. "Issue Zero" was sort of a mini-compilation, released in 1993, which collects the issues which were left out of the early collections (#51, #112-113, #137 & part of #138). (In fact, the proprietor of the central Cerebus site on the net, Cerebus Fangirl, says that in her view Issue Zero is the best introduction to Cerebus, since it's a good selection of different styles while also being reasonably priced.) In 1993, Sim was still early in the second half of the Cerebus storyline; but he had definitely moved beyond his "earlier, funnier" phase -- parts of which could be found in Issue Zero. So Sim's cover alludes to that, as well as displaying Cerebus's characteristic truculence:

But that wasn't the only cover: there was another, the "gold" edition. In the early 1990's, there was a trend of releasing comics with variant covers -- the same comic, the same contents, just with two different covers. This is still done today, but was particularly widespread in the 1990's -- and, back then, more than a few poor saps still suffered under the misapprehension that these comics (often printed in runs of hundreds of thousands, occasionally even more) would be worth a lot of money, and thus bought all of the various covers. In any event, Sim made fun of this by releasing Issue Zero with a second -- and I believe rarer, although I might simply be making that up -- cover: but this cover wasn't even a different cover. The title was in a different color -- and the dialogue was different. Otherwise, not only were the contents identical, the actual cover images were too:

Of course the dialog is quite funny -- or at least I find it so -- displaying a bit of Sim's humor, usually not the aspect of the series most evident from the covers. And it's fun how Sim double-purposes the image to fit with two sets of dialogue. (The speaker's skateboard, incidentally, says "Spawn" -- another self-published comic (recall Sim was a great advocate of self-publishing), one which was quite popular at the time, and also one to which Sim had actually contributed (for a single issue.))

Then there are the covers to the actual phonebook collections themselves. I'm not sure I like these quite as much as the covers to the individual issues -- partly because, except for the last few, they aren't in color; partly because there isn't the sheer multiplicity of them which allows Sim to play so many fun games with the covers to the individual comics. They can be wonderful, though. (Another fan site, Cerebus the, has a few of the phonebook covers without their titles and so forth -- and in their full, wraparound version rather than just the front covers -- available as wallpapers, so where possible I'm going to use those. Mostly I think the Cerebus covers integrate the titles very well -- often they are essentially to the images -- but in the case of the phonebooks, the cover images seem to work best plain.)

The cover to the collection High Society shows Cerebus approaching the Regency, the hotel at which most of the story is centered -- and works, basically, as an opening panel for the first issue:

This is one image where the effect is, I believe, mostly Gerhard's -- but it's appropriate to highlight this too since he was, after all, Sim's artistic collaborator for much of the series (although, as it happens, not for the part included in High Society), and his art adds a lot to Cerebus overall.

Also wonderful is the cover to Church and State II, showing a scene from Cerebus's religious quest, with the figure of the aardvark dwarfed by the surrounding dark:

That one makes a pretty fine wallpaper, actually.

The cover to Jaka's Story actually shows part of the childhood storyline, unlike most of the covers to the individual issues in which it was serialized (couldn't find a wallpaper version of this one, alas, so here it is with titles -- and less resolution):

And the cover to Melmoth is wonderfully evocative of that book's depiction of a slow, hard, natural death -- the death of Oscar Wilde, as well as the tavern in which it is largely set:

-- And that brings me back to Melmoth, and the covers for its individual issues.

Melmoth was a brief storyline: only 12 issues (#139-150); it looks downright skinny next to the large, hulking collections that collect the earlier issues, although by the standards of other graphic novels it's not particularly short (just shy of 250 pages). Apparently the shorter, slightly cheaper format sold well, which is why the first half of the Cerebus run is collected in six volumes but the second half is spread over ten. As I mentioned, Melmoth deals with the death of Oscar Wilde -- or his avatar in Cerebus's world, but in this case the parallel is as close as possible: place names are substituted (Iest for Paris), but otherwise the story is taken rather closely from the documentary sources we have about Wilde's death: many of the letters of the friends who attended him are quoted nearly word-for-word as the text of the comic. ("Melmoth", incidentally, is the name under which Wilde was registered at the hotel in which he died.)

Many of the covers are exteriors rather similar to the exteriors used in Jaka's Story -- although the color palette is different and there usually isn't the ominous sense of watching that there is is so many of the Jaka's Story covers. Here are a few in this style, from issues #139, 140 and 146:

These are simply quiet, beautiful images (click for the larger version to really see); the contrast between the day and the night in the first two is particularly nice, as is Wilde's friend walking him home. The cover of #146 again has someone at the window, but he is looking at something inside the room, and has more of a sense of loss and waiting than of disturbed, voyeuristic watching.

The other common type of cover in the Melmoth storyline are interior views of the sickroom in which Wilde lays dying, such as these from #143, 144 and 148:

Here we have Wilde's sickbed, Wilde's friend writing one of the letters whose text makes up the issue, and an aerial view. I think that the aerial view is particularly well done: it is the death issue, and there is the sense of distance which could be interpreted either as the disorientation of grief, or as a heavenly view, perhaps even of a departing spirit. And again, the color schemes in all three covers are lovely, particularly the light in the cover to #144.

Throughout this story, Cerebus sits outside the inn where Wilde lays dying, in shock from (his misinterpretation of) the events of Jaka's Story. Neither he nor Wilde is at all aware of the other; the stories are simultaneous but detached. (Not everyone thinks the juxtaposition works, although I felt it did.) Only one cover in this sequence shows Cerebus, #145:

Again we are outside the same inn, although this time without the lush backgrounds that are present in most of the storyline's covers, perhaps to indicate Cerebus's detachment from the world, perhaps to distinguish the fantasy of his storyline with the realism of the story of Wilde's death.

Then, in the final issue of the storyline (#150), we get this image:

Seemingly yet another inn exterior, if anything simpler and with less interest than the previous ones... except that, as we look again, we see the blood splattered on the inn's door. This recreates the effect of the issue itself: starting with Cerebus outside the inn, there is a radical shift in tone, a sudden outbreak of violence, as events suddenly ramp up after two slow, quiet storylines and a bloody confrontation sets up the second half of the overall Cerebus story (or at least I presume it does; I don't know for certain, since this is the last issue I've read!) It's a wonderful off-panel effect, in which the central subject is not shown, in which the tone of the overall image, deceptively similar to the other recent ones, is disrupted by the blood splattered within it.

How much stylistic variation there is within any particular storyline's covers itself varies: there was a huge range of styles in the "Church and State" storyline, whereas the covers from Jaka's Story and Melmoth are more tightly integrated, stylistically, within each series. I think it's fair to say that the stylistic unity of the covers for Cerebus's storylines tend to increase over the course of the run, but this is not at all a hard and fast rule: it's a general trend that seems to appear in a scattered field of data, and whether you see a trend with lots of exceptions or a simple chaotic variance probably says more about you than about it. In any event, after the (comparatively) tightly unified style of the Melmoth covers, the next storyline contains considerably more internal variation. This storyline was labeled "Mothers and Daughters" on the covers of the issues themselves, but it was published in four separate phonebook collections, each with its own title -- sub-storylines, if you will.

The first of those volumes was called Flight, and the covers of the issues collected in it (#151-162) are, as I said, a varied lot. Many of them could be said to "simply" depict moments from the story -- except a lot of them are both stranger and prettier than this would imply, depicting scenes that are abstract or symbolic or strange, as the story takes increasingly metaphysical twists. And of course, even some of the more straightforward covers are quite beautiful, such as this cover to issue #151:
-- Although the context is a bit bleak once you read the story, the actual image is simply gorgeous.

Other covers from this run reflect the bloody events promised by the cover to issue #150. For example the cover to issue #153 shows Cerebus, covered with blood, sword out, exhorting the people of Iest; the cover to the following issue shows the same scene a moment later, as the people react to his sudden and inexplicable appearance:

I find the first image quite funny (the people's expressions are incongruous with Cerebus's bloody pose) -- perhaps unintentionally so, since there's nothing very humorous about the scene itself; but the second image is deliberately and appropriately creepy, particularly when paired with its predecessor.

My favorite cover from this sub-storyline, however, is the cover to #157; but to explain why I'll need to back up a bit. Several issues of Cerebus are titled "Mind Games" (after the John Lennon album, apparently), numbered in sequence -- so that #29, for instance, was "Mind Game II". There isn't a totally consistent pattern for the covers to these issues, although they tend to have a motif of Cerebus repeated multiple times. "Mind Game V" was #156, and its cover was an explicit throwback to Mind Game II, as you can see:

In both cases the multiplied Cerebus is shown in a window, with a similar border, and against a black background.

Now look at the cover to #155-157 in sequence:

In the cover to #155, we have Cerebus in flight (as per the title of the phonebook); this is interrupted by the cover to "Mind Game V" (as happens in the story). And then in issue #157 we have "Mind Game VI" -- as it is indeed so-called -- but Cerebus deliberately refuses it: flies away (continuing, as it were, his journey from #155 -- although far more confident now). We can see the window-image, the 'Mind Game' logo, indeed the Cerebus: Mothers and Daughter logo too, all at the bottom of the image: Cerebus flies away from it, refusing (or trying to) the next Mind Game. On its own it's simply a nice image, but in context, it's genuinely wonderful.

The second phonebook in the "Mothers and Daughters" storyline is called Women. A few of the covers of the twelve issues (#163-174) it collects are, like many of the covers from the issues collected in Flight, simply scenes illustrating the story within; but most of them are in fact based on a very particular pattern: showing a character (or characters) important in the issue against a solid black background. Good examples are these covers to issues #166, 169 & 170:

Actually these are also examples of covers that (however odd it may sound) each portray a scene that takes place within the comic; but the scenes are portrayed in a common (and striking) style.

Sometimes this style is combined with other features as well. In at least one case, for example, it is combined with a parody. In the Women sub-arc, the 'Roach' character, who over the course of the series had parodied a great number of superheroes, becomes a parody of Neil Gaiman's Sandman (perhaps a reflection of the shift that occurred in the comics market about then) -- a parody that Gaiman himself has called "easily the best parody of Sandman anyone's ever done", saying that it had him "curling his toes when he read it." Appropriately, then, one of the covers for this run of Cerebus -- that of issue #165 -- is a parody of the style of cover that Dave McKean did for the beginning of the Sandman run. Compare the cover of Cerebus #165 with the cover of Sandman #1 and 3, and you'll see what I mean:

The face of characters in the issue (in the case of Cerebus, Roach reborn as Swoon, with his 'sister', Snuff) are surrounded by a series of boxes with small images of various mysterious (and presumably symbolic) objects. But of course in the case of the cover to Cerebus #165, this is set within a black background, making it similar to the covers from the later issues as well. It's just that the characters of Swoon and Snuff are also portrayed in a way which mimics a McKean Sandman cover.

Finally, the covers of the last four issues collected within the Women phonebook, #171-174, make a lovely tetrad:

Again we get a character, important to the issue, surrounded by a black background. But in this case the characters are stylized to look like Tarot cards (on the left of each cover), and are paired with a collage of other artistic images (on the right) which match the personality of the figure depicted in the "Tarot" image in various ways. (Actually, in its use of collage, I think there is a distinct (if less direct) McKeanian influence upon these as well, but it's less clear than in the case of issue #165.)

And that brings us up to the next phonebook -- and, again, the limit of what I've read thus far. So I'll stop here for now. I do plan to do one or two more posts analyzing the rest of the covers in the run, plus a final post with concluding thoughts on Cerebus as a whole -- and getting to reccomendations at last. The next post won't be up immediately -- it may be a couple of days or more -- but (FSM willing) it'll be up eventually. So stay tuned.

(Update: In case any of you are waiting brethlessly for part six, it's coming. The delay on the next part is due to a shipping delay in my order containing the next few trades. Hopefully this one will come in another week at most, but it all depends on the mail.)

Further Update: Part Six is now online here. I've also put up an index post with links to the entire series.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Not Ready to Make Nice

In his new digs at Obsidian Wings, in a post about the recent Marcotte/Edwards to-do, Publius wrote the following:
The issue is that Edwards would give the appearance of caving in to right-wing pressure. And in the Age of Rove, that's a deadly sin for a Democratic candidate in the primary. In this sense, the Marcotte controversy has nothing to do with her, it has to do with the larger underlying currents underneath. And what's underneath is the Clinton Wars, Bush v. Gore, Iraq, and Swift Boats - and a determination not to bend to these attacks anymore. That's why Howard Dean was so popular - people were craving someone who would not be bullied. This sentiment still runs strong, even to the point of causing foolish decisions (e.g., Feingold opposing the Levin resolution - they're not mutually exclusive options). But these scars are still raw, and you can't be seen as weak on that front.
The importance of this feeling -- that we can't bloody well let them do this any more -- is, I agree, crucial. (And Publius is right to go on to note that this is one of the problems with Hillary Clinton's Iraq stance, although obviously not the main one, which is that she voted to enable this horrific war.)

I think that every liberal -- probably even every moderate and sane conservative (all of whom are, by definition, fiercely opposed to the Bush administration) -- had a moment when they began to get angry: angry at what this vicious and malevolent movement has done and is doing to our country. (Liberals will tend to see the conservative movement, broadly, at fault; sane conservatives, presumably, will tend to see the Bush administration as traducing the conservative movement, whether through abandonment of principles or sheer incompetence and corruption. (I think the liberals are clearly right on this; but then, I would think so -- I'm a liberal.)) For some people it will have been the decision to start an aggressive war based on manifest falsehoods; for some people it will have been the torture, or the attacks on our constitution. For some people it began even earlier, with the farcical impeachment of President Clinton. It depends on who you are, and where you're coming from.

For me, I think, it began with the theft of the 2000 election. Oh, don't get me wrong, I was passionate about politics before -- I've felt strongly about it since childhood, really. And certainly I was strongly opposed to the impeachment circus when it was happening.

But I still sort of had a sense of humor about it -- it seemed as surreal as it did foul. What a thing to have our country focused on! And of course, Clinton was a liar and an adulterer, even if he clearly hadn't done anything impeachment worthy; he had committed many acts of political cowardice, from "don't ask, don't tell" on, that made me feel quite ambivalently about him. So while I thought the impeachment was wrong, even dangerous, I also thought the entire thing was silly, and the man behind it worthy of a certain amount of scorn, if not anything like what he got. So I took the whole thing with a sort of black humor that still had some actual humor in it.

But 2000 was something else. 2000 is when they stole the election -- stole it, really, a few times over, with a series of illegitimate and illegal acts the omission of any one of which would have given the rightful winner, Gore, the Presidency. And then, of course, having lost the popular vote, having won one of the single most illegitimate victories in American political history (certainly the most illegitimate since 1876), Bush threw off his moderate pretenses from the election and governed hard right.


That's why I never trusted him, even after 9/11, when I thought not, "we've got to trust him," but rather, "woe on us that we have this lying, illegitimate nonentity as our President at this time of trial". He might have won points if he had used 9/11 as an excuse to move to the center, unify the country around this new threat, and confront it responsibly. But of course he did the opposite.

So yeah, I'm angry. I'm not over it; I'll never be over it -- not until Bush and Cheney and all the rest are rotting in prison for crimes against humanity, where they belong: and possibly not even then.

In fact, I'm still angry, still unable-to-get-past-it angry, at all his enablers too. I'm angry at Gore (much as I love him for the stances he's taken since the run-up to the Iraq war) for not putting up more of a fight in 2000. I'm angry at Lieberman. I'm angry at Hilary Clinton for her immoral and cowardly vote to give Bush a blank check for aggressive war -- a vote which will cause me to support, in the primary, whichever candidate I think can best beat her (i.e. most likely Edwards or Obama at this point, unless Gore decides to jump in).

And I'm angry at Nader. Nader, who did not simply run to try and push Gore left or build a strong left; Nader, who ran a campaign specifically targeted at making Gore loose. And, hence, at making Bush win.

Nader, whose hands are covered with the blood of more than half a million Iraqis (and thousands of Americans), just as Bush's are; Nader, whose hands are covered with the blood of our tortured constitution; Nader, whose hands are black with the smog that Bush has grinned at as it gets pumped into our poor atmosphere.

So when I read this review of the new movie on Nader by Robert Kuttner (whose work I generally like a lot) -- a movie I haven't seen, I should emphasize -- and read his plea that Nader's record should be reconsidered -- my instant reaction was: no. No, it shouldn't. Certainly, for my part, I can't and won't reconsider it. Not yet. Maybe not ever.

Yeah, as a historian, I can study and understand the importance of Nader's work in the 60's and 70's, just as I can study the history of the conservative movement to analyze its nature and effects. I'm able (I think; certainly I try) to separate it in my mind from the issue of the present day, put it in a separate box and think about it in its own context. Fine.

But once the present leaks through -- no. A thousand times no.

To think of Nader as primarily a fighter for public interest legislation is like thinking of O. J. Simpson primarily as a football player. Sure, if you're focus is clear -- if you're studying history from the mid-70's, say -- then if you're talking public interest law you'll talk Nader, and positively, just as if you're talking football you'll talk Simpson, and positively -- with, in each case, only the occasional (if utterly necessary) glance at the blood that would later drip from their hands.

But overall? No. Simpson is a murderer, who did some things before. And Nader is one of Bush's key supporters, an accomplice to the destruction of Iraq, the terrible wounding of our Constitution, and so very much more.

As the Dixie Chicks said in a different context: It's too late to make it right; probably wouldn't if I could; I'm still mad as hell and I don't have time to do what it is you think I should.


...which brings me to the future, and to future mistakes, and returns me to a different post of Publius.

The single most important thing we have to do, politically, right now, is to prevent Bush from waging yet another aggressive war, this time on Iran. The consequences of such a move would be to horrible to contemplate.

So I for one second Publius's call here:
Instead, I’d like to see the netsroots -- and then the bigger Democratic interest groups (particularly unions) -- lay down the following challenge to wobbly-kneed elected Democrats: Any Democrat who supports military action against Iran gets a primary challenger. Any presidential candidate who supports military action against Iran loses primary support. Period. No exceptions. Call it a united front against the new war.

One of Publius's new co-bloggers, Von, dissents from Publius's call as follows:
I do not believe that an attack on Iran is justified, but this approach to foreign policy is profoundly unwise. It will hobble this Administration and the next in its dealings with Iran -- and the next Administration may very well be Democratic. There are better ways to make one's opposition to an attack on Iran known. ... It is a huge mistake to remove the threat of military action from the table, however -- as Publius urges. The possibility of attack is significant.
But the reply to this is crystal-clear, and has already been well made by James Fallows in The Atlantic:
If we could trust the Administration’s ability to judge America’s rational self-interest, there would be no need to constrain its threatening gestures toward Iran. Everyone would understand that this was part of the negotiation process; no one would worry that the Administration would finally take a step as self-destructive as beginning or inviting a war. But no one can any longer trust the Administration to recognize and defend America’s rational self-interest... What the Congress can do is draw the line. It can say that war with Iran is anathema to the interests of the United States and contrary to the will of its elected representatives. And it should do that now.
Given that they show every sign of trying to start yet another disastrous war, it is a thousand times more dangerous to give Bush any wiggle room than to take this (foolish and immoral) option "off the table". In fact, I would agree with Arthur Silber on this one: Congress should draw up impeachment resolutions now, and make it absolutely clear that any waging of war without the Constitutionally mandated declaration by Congress will result in an immediate impeachment.

This is the next mistake -- the next crime. We can't let them do the next thing that we will simply have to, once again, refuse to forgive them for. This time we might not survive to show scorn.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Covering Cerebus, Part Four: In Which I Continue to Illustrate the Books with the Covers

Part four of a series. The earlier parts are here: part one, part two, part three.

The Church and State storyline (whose covers I have been discussing) is sixty issues long, so I have only begun to touch on its covers (and don't worry: I don't intend to talk about them all). I thought that at this point I'd move away from talking about the "mini-series" to mention a few specific, individual covers -- largely because I like them, though in most cases I also have a few points I want to make about them.

Here, for example, is the cover to issue #61:

Pretty simple, but still very effective. I also like the staccato nature of the titles: this issue is a series of short scenes, all with their own names: putting their titles in a list like that is both funny and intriguing.

The cover to issue #68 --

-- is, first and foremost, a marvelous piece of design: the from-above angle is wonderful, particularly with the title's lettering matching the window as the other "wall" to the cavern in which Cerebus sleeps (or, more accurately, tosses and turns: the cover is an illustration of a very particular two pages in the comic, when Cerebus tries to sleep as the light from the window moves across his ceiling. The cover shows a wholly different view of it than the interior, though.) Then there's the delicious fact that the logo is decidedly not shown from the same angle as Cerebus and the story title -- and is, indeed, outside the window, adding to the sense of vertigo. And of course the contrast of the black background with the blue night-sky and the white of the bed and the lettering is very nice too. Both these two covers show Sim's juxtaposition of black with the night-sky, in very different but equally interesting ways.

Next look at the cover to issue #85:

The gentleman in the foreground here is (basically) Mick Jagger who -- along with Keith Richards (still in the carriage) is one of the many real-world figures to be calqued into Cerebus's world. This cover is actually pretty basic as covers go -- nicely done but nothing all that out of the ordinary. What makes it work for me, however, is Cerebus's very subtle reaching out towards the bottle that Mick Jagger carries in his hand -- an indication of desire for drink that is both funny in itself and which promises further humor inside.

For the cover to issue #100, Sim took slices of four of his earlier covers -- those to issues one, fifty and seventy-five (all previously discussed), plus a bit of the cover to issue twenty-five which I didn't get around to mentioning. The overall effect is not all that overwhelming, but it's a nice way to mark where he's been and how far he's come:

A few of the issues from the "Church and State" story also allow me to show a bit of Sim's use of parody. One early three-issue sequence shows the sole superhero of Cerebus's world, the Roach, transform into his latest incarnation, Wolveroach, a direct parody of Marvel comics' Wolverine, who was then just getting popular. The covers were in particular a reference to Wolverine's first four-issue individual series, which was penciled by the then-emerging star artist Frank Miller (and written by the X-Men's then-current writer, Chris Claremont). Sim did three "Woveroach" covers, each of which is, basically, an iconic Wolverine image -- to the point where, if I recall correctly, Marvel made some noises about suing him for trademark infringement. In any event, compare Sim's cover to issue #56 with this two-panel sequence from the early pages of Claremont & Miller's 1982 Wolverine #2:

I think that this cover is pretty clearly not only taken from Miller's Wolverine, but from this sequence in particular. Most of Sim's parodies aren't that direct, but you can see the way he incorporates then-current comics elements into his work from this cover.

One other parody which Sim uses is more subtle, to the degree that not everyone might even agree that it's a parody -- but I think it is. On a number of Sim's covers, he uses a style of lettering which (it seems to me) is directly modeled on the style that comics great Will Eisner used in his stories of Jewish life on the lower east side, a sort of dramatic style merged with a "religious" look. Not everyone may see it, but I see the lettering in this cover to issue #64 --

-- as being not only a distinctly Eisnerian font (and layout), but a deliberately Eisnerian one.

Incidentally, on this list of comics' ten greatest letterers, Will Eisner was #2, and Dave Sim was #1. The listmaker explains why, in his opinion, Dave Sim is the greatest comics letterer of all time:
Novelty balloons. Novelty letters. Balloons that form panel borders. Balloons that fade into crosshatched blackness. "Telepathic" balloons that strike like pointed weapons. Thought balloons that-- get this-- do NOT belong to the character they point to, but belong to a Godlike Creator-Figure TALKING IN THAT CHARACTER'S HEAD. One character with four different internal monologues. I'm only scratching the surface here. Dave Sim has, quite simply, done more with lettering in Cerebus than anyone else has, anywhere. If you HATE Cerebus and want to be a letterer... buy it anyway.
-- Just another piece of evidence as to Sim's originality in the field.

Back to the covers.

A nice two-image sequence are the covers to issues #65-66. The first is simply a text on a black background -- illustrating Sim's talent for titles, but not really a striking design as such. The second rips away part of the previous image, to show Cerebus and one of his toadies creeping around in a basement looking for something:

It's an effective juxtaposition, alike in many ways but also clearly two different types of covers.

The final series from "Church and State" that I wish to mention are the three covers from issues #71-73:

All three are portraits against a background, with a slowly diminishing number of gold coins. But the groupings of the portraits here are also significant: the two groupings in the second portrait are two separate conversations from the issue; the tear across the third portrait represents the rend in relationships that occurs in that issue.

Finally, various elements of some of the series are brought back. So in this cover to issue #83:

-- we see a one-time return to the portrait-on-wall motif, with a very different wall, appropriate to the changed setting the story has taken us too. Also, of course, we have a return of the religious-font, working that motif in as well.

So those are the covers to the "Church and State" series. Immediately after that, as I have noted before, we get a very different storyline, one in which Cerebus and a few other characters live together in a tight, emotionally fraught setting: this is the story collected in the phonebook Jaka's Story (issues #114-137).

All of the sudden the covers are quiet, lushly colored, with characters shown reflectively, often partly obscured or turned away from the viewer. Typical are these early covers for issues #115-117:

The stories generally take place in (or near) the inn shown; the covers show us the outside, with people looking through windows or walking about. The change in tone very much captures the change of tone within the volume: the sense of a slow, quiet, small-scale drama, almost claustrophobic, is very much in keeping with the opening of the book.

While the covers for "Church and State" varied widely -- jumping about in tone -- the covers for Jaka's story change (for the most part) slowly, forming an ordered progression which recapitulates, in simple graphic form, the entire story of the book. (Thus we are going to have some spoilers for Jaka's Story in the next batch of images.) The above images are distant, for instance, but the framing creeps slowly closer while staying similar in tone, as in these covers to issues #118 (again Jaka walking) and #119 (again a character looking out a window):

Until, a few issues later, we get this image for the cover of #122:

Still, we have the outside of the building and the person looking out. But we are now moved in; and the change from a simple view out of the window to the voyeurism inherent in this image intensifies the feeling in a way consonant with the increasing tension in the story.

Then Sim shifts his viewpoint and shows us Pud (the person shown above)'s fractured view of himself on the cover to issue #123:

Still quite, still a person obscured, here however by the multiplication effect of the puddle in which Pud (the pun is clearly deliberate) views himself.

Then, in the next cover, we are inside: a reverse view of the window, with Jaka looking out -- obscured now not by the window frame but by her turning her back to us. Merely implied is the voyeurism of the viewer, looking at Jaka's wet and clinging dress from behind her (and that voyeurism too is part of the tale):

Over the next several issues we get more buildings (interiors and exteriors), more characters shown alone, often obscured or turned away; until at last we come to Jaka's climactic dance in issue #129:

The voyeurism is now blatant, Jaka's shown only by her legs (in an odd blue color -- I'm not sure why), as most of the other characters watch the viewer watching her.

But the dance is interrupted (#130) -- note the close-up, the subtly implied dramatic tension as we see only the smashing of the door without knowing who is breaking it or why:

And the story ends in a very different place than it began, a series of evocative covers -- again of interiors, but now of a prison; the major similarity with the opening covers being simply in the coloration, as otherwise the scene is now wholly different:

Note that even here we get a dramatic progression, with Jaka being led into a cell, a view from within the cell, and then, ominously, the door open as she is let out again (but, to increase the unnerving feeling of the image, the sense that this is not an escape, she is not shown in this last image -- only the empty cell).

And then the scene shifts yet again, to Jaka's interrogation (with a white color scheme displacing the black) for the final few issues of the story:

The white contrasting with the black of the previous few covers; the narrowness of the images embodying the way that Jaka is increasingly trapped, with no good ways out, by those in whose power she is.

And the final issue of the story -- the epilogue -- in which some high-society people discuss the ending is marvelously and quite differently shown with a photograph of what they might discuss it over:

-- the luxury of the tea-set contrasting with the plain exteriors of the inn in which our story began.

For now, I shall stop here. Those are some of the covers from the first 45% or so of the series -- all that I had read when I began to write it (although I have since read one further volume, Melmoth, an extended aftewards of sorts to Jaka's Story). I think I'd like to keep discussing Cerebus covers -- if only because I like them, so they're fun to write about -- but if I haven't convinced you of the marvel of Sim's covers by now, I probably won't. I also may add a final post simply adding a few thoughts about Cerebus as a whole in the wake of the discussion thus far, or reviewing the further volumes as I read them.

So while I doubt I'll be able to find the time to write it any time soon, watch this space for an eventual part five.

Update: Part five is now online here.

Covering Cerebus, Part Three: In Which the Covers are Used to Illustrate the Books

Part three in a series. Part one is here; part two is here.

For anyone who's read my earlier posts on Cerebus, the reasons to avoid the series should be obvious enough. But the good in it is harder to convey in words: it's one thing to say, 'Oh, it's brilliant', but it's another thing to actually convey that, particularly in a sense that will viscerally convince and not simply cause someone to intellectually accept it.

To do this, we need to actually look at some examples -- which is what I propose to do here. Specifically, I will focus on the covers to the Cerebus comics. I'll do this for several reasons: they're freely available on the net; they're not collected in the phonebooks (with one exception, for reasons we'll get to) so they're probably overlooked by the majority of Cerebus readers who encounter the stories in the collected format; they're good illustrations of at least one aspect of what is attractive about the series: Sim's sense of design and sheer illustrative ability. They also convey hints (if only hints) of his creativity with the medium, his sense of humor and the variety of stories he tells.

So let's take a look at the covers to Cerebus. (Click on any image to see a larger version.)

I said that the early issues of Cerebus were "amateurish" -- perhaps a harsh term, given that I'd sacrifice an aardvark to be able to draw that well. But certainly compared to the skill he would very quickly develop, they look amateurish. And this is on display in spades in the first cover:

Not only standard as comics covers go, but not particularly well executed at that. Within twelve issues, however, the execution is much improved, even if the result is still very much a standard comics cover:

While the cover to issue #1 looks like a poorly-done standard comics cover, the second looks like a reasonably well-done comics cover -- oh, maybe not the Best Cover Ever, but certainly good enough to be intriguing.

By issue #18, however -- not all that far in the run: the issue is still within the first volume (which collects #1 - 25) which I (following in the footsteps of many previous Cerebus fans) previously advised readers to skip if you wish to give the series a try -- things are very different:

There are still elements of the standard comics cover here, I suppose, but they're already pretty distant. The design is prettier and more interesting; the cover as a whole is much more striking.

Similarly, this cover for issue #24 --

Is in some sense a "standard comics cover" -- an interesting scene with a hint of menace to draw the reader in. But the drawing is very well executed: the angle is interesting; and the inclusion of the small, second scene at the bottom makes the entire thing far richer as an overall design. I like this cover a lot.

Throughout most of the second volume, High Society, which collects the first long storyline (#26 - #50), you get covers that are similar to those in quality and reasonably comparable in style. A few are throwbacks to more "traditional" comics covers; some are distinctly better.

In this series, however, you also start to get something that would quickly become a regular feature of Cerebus covers: short little mini-series of covers which work in relation to each other. These are not series of covers that coincide with longer storylines (Sim does do those eventually, as we'll see later), but rather are series within storylines of covers designed around a similar pattern -- which often add up to more than the sum of their parts, either visually or thematically. (They often match small moments in the larger storyline which stretch across those issues, for example.)

In this case, there are similarly patterned covers to issues #32, 34 & 35 -- covers which have some broader similarities with others in the longer run (the background color, for example), but which have particular elements repeated within just those three. Here are the covers to the four issues from #32 - 35:

In each case, the image is designed around a strong vertical bar on the left side of the image. Each image shows Cerebus with one other figure from the story; each contains a picture of some of the currency of the city-state of Iest. Note that the cover to issue #33 partially matches the pattern: the color scheme and vertical bar are there, but there are two other characters, not one, and the currency is missing. Overall, it makes a neat series, however.

The way in which some of the patterns, but not all, are continued in other covers from around this point in the series can be seen in the cover to #37:

It has a similar color-scheme to the covers from issues #32-35; there is a hint of the left-side vertical bar in Cerebus's chair and podium; but of course the overall design is quite different. The use of the colors -- the light above the dark, with the blue in the middle -- is quite striking; Cerebus's isolation juxtaposed with the thickness of the crowd is as well.

I have nothing particular to say about the cover to issue #43, but I think it's striking:

Just an example of Sim's illustrative work.

The final few issues of the High Society storyline turn the orientation of the normal comics page 90% from the standard way comics (and most books) are held. (This is hardly unique to Sim -- Alan Moore's done it a bunch of times, for example; I understand why one might do it, for reasons of layout and design, but for no particularly good reason I find it slightly irritating.) The final covers in the storyline, therefore, are likewise turned on their side. Several of them are worthy of note.

First, this cover of issue #45 --

-- is a wonderful use of juxtaposed color, style and tone. The background events (the marchers in the street against Cerebus) is wonderfully juxtaposed to his immediate environs by the use of color and a superimposed panel; the quiet of the color image contrasts with the faded activity of the greyscale background.

Then, with issue #49, we get this:

A nice use of panels on the cover, with Cerebus's fall -- a good example of Sim's sheer ability at cartooning, as it is (to me) a very funny fall -- with the lettering of the end of the title similarly tipped in the final panel as he finally topples.

Lastly, this cover to issue #50 --

-- seems at first blush to be simply a series of nested images, but look again: it is in fact a comics page, as Cerebus slowly (in what Scott McCloud would call a "moment to moment' transition) undoes his collar, symbolically ending his time in office. The diminishing size of the panels (as opposed to a juxtaposed sequence as in the previous cover) adds to the sense of ending, of diminishment, of failure.

The second extended storyline, "Church and State" (collected in the third and fourth phonebooks as Church and State I and Church and State II) continues with designs somewhat similar to those used for High Society. I shan't discuss them all, but I do want to show a few of them.

First, the "mini-series" of covers continue, and we get several runs of linked designs. Here are the covers to issues #57-59:

Not only are the background designs, and small-panel-against-design, structures similar, but there are other repeated features, in particular Cerebus staring at the silhouetted hand in both the first two covers -- staring, however, in a very different context at very different hands.

Other "mini-series" include these three covers for intense, one-on-one conversations in issues #74-76. Note the wonderful use of differing in-color close-ups set apart from the two-color backgrounds:

This series of extreme close-ups in issues #94-98, as Cerebus confronts his former advisor in prison:

And, perhaps most significantly of all, the longer series at the storyline's end. In these issues Cerebus, on a religious quest, walks on the surface of the moon talking to a prophet (of sorts), and the covers become actual photographs of the lunar surface:

And then, as the religious revelations culminate, transcend even that to become even starker, images, a mix of sheer black, sheer white and stellar photography:

It's not simply that each of these series is attractive and beautiful in its own way; it's not that each wonderfully reflects the turn of the storyline they contain; it's also the sheer variety of the covers -- exploring a whole panoply of ways a comic might illustrate and advertise its contents. I think it's the sheer diversity of the types of images as much as the beauty of any particular image or image sequence that I like the most -- and that best reflects Sim's commitment to experimentation and his mastery of the comics form.

(I have more to say about the covers of "Church and State", as well as following volumes, but since this post is getting long, I will continue it in another installment, now online -- have a look!)