High Society

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Phonebook Volume #2
Collects Issues: 26 - 50
1st Printingno limited edition; 6,000 print run
Date of 1st PrintJune 1986
# of Pages512
Current Printing10th

Daves Q&A

Q1. What caused the split of the Church of Tarim into Western and Eastern divisions?

DAVE: I’m afraid I never got very far with that. As I recall, it centered on whether or not Tarim had incarnated on earth in the form of the coin-maker—the coin that drew other coins to it and began to form a sphere when Cerebus picked it up. One of the churches believed that Tarim was a deity and the other church believed Tarim was a deity and an earthly incarnation. The Illusionist innovation was to decide that there was Tarim as deity and when Tarim incarnated as a human being he called himself Suenteus Po and wanted everyone who followed him to call themselves Seuenteus Po. That’s my rough recollection of the high-altitude mapping. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I really thought that I could fit the history of several worlds into 6,000 pages and, over the course of High Society and Church & State found out exactly how little you could get into 500 and 1200 pages respectively. My initial ambition was to tell the story of Iest pretty thoroughly over the course of High Society and then do a companion volume that would tell the history of Serrea and the Sepran Empire (this might be a good place to point out that Serrea was a typo/misreading on my part of Michael Loubert’s microscopic pencil lettering. The first “r” was supposed to be a “p” and was intended to be the more natural-sounding “Seprea” as the capital of the Sepran Empire) for which Astoria’s assassination of the Lion of Serrea would serve as a spiritual/thematic link. As you can see the assassination itself became about the deepest I was able to delve into the Sepran Empire. The entire Cerebus storyline became Iest-centered because of the space constraints. Michael Loubert was (and I assume still is) a great enthusiast of history and had excited my interest with his knowledge of the various schisms which had taken place in Christianity in general and the Catholic church in particular and the varying reasons behind them. So way, way back I had envisioned Cerebus as a kind of religio-political Tale of Two Cities. There’s a residue of this to the story, but just a residue.

Note: Questions & Answers on the Exodus Inward moved to that page.

Q2: Why can an Albatross be used to reunite the Eastern and Western churches?

DAVE: Because it is the most formidable power object in the known universe: a wildly improbable plot device. Like the Maltese Falcon only more politically formidable. In a Real World context,, I called my notebooks my Albatrosses because I was as saddled with them much like Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner. So I was declaring in a way—by making the albatross statue that significant in High Society—that I was ambitious enough to want to do something of remarkable significance with all the half-witted notions and half-baked philosophies I was sketching out and jotting down in my own “albatrosses”. “Invoke often,” is the first rule of the sort of mysticism that one finds in used paperbacks in 5 for a dollar bins. Unless one is in a New Age bookstore, in which case one can pay 50 dollars to be told the same thing between hemp-derived hard covers.

Q3. What was the relationship between Astoria, Cirinists, and Kevillists at the time of High Society?

DAVE: One of the problems that I had was that I had come up with this great concept of the Illusionists burrowing within the Church and I had no way of showing it. The Illusionists couldn’t let on without spoiling the effect and the Church would have had no awareness of it. That was when I decided to remove it one step and try to introduce an Illusionist who had been so effective at burrowing within another structure—not the Church—that he had come out on top and was running the joint so he had, of necessity, to be more public with his illusions, so I could actually show an Illusionist in action. I tried to think of real-life examples of that and either I remembered Duck Soup or I saw Duck Soup again and I went, oh, yeah, there it is. So I started picturing what that would be like structurally—what kind of societal structure would form around an Illusionist and the answer, of course, was no structure. All the Illusionist could hope to do was to maintain the illusion with double talk and snappy retorts and to make sure that he was the only one that either a) knew how the whole thing fit together or b) knew that the whole thing didn’t fit together but could create the illusion that he did and it did. That was where I started picturing things like the dinner seating that I used in a passage in Jaka’s Story, where everyone obsesses over how they’re doing in the pecking order and the pecking order is like a roller coaster ride.

Took me almost nine years to find the right place to show that.

And that, naturally, led to questioning what sort of an individual would be suited to that sort of environment, most particularly who would last the longest “staying in the pocket”. Which was when I came up with Baskin, this really competent but forlorn little human punching bag who would just keep “taking it” no matter how little sense anything made. And then I thought, what sort of a wife would this guy attract and how would she keep herself in the game? That was a tough one. And again, I kept an eye out for someone who could fill that role in an interesting way. And that was when I saw Mary Astor in The Maltese Falcon. In fact the first drawings I did of Astoria she looks more like Mary Astor crossed with Katherine Hepburn. All with very teary, weepy word balloons, “I’m so…tired…of all the lies.” That kind of thing. I thought it would be an interesting match, this Illusionist who is surrounded by absolute chaos of his own creation married to a woman who is an infinite number of layers, every one of them a lie. You keep peeling the onion and all you get is a new story. As Bogart/Spade says to her at one point, “How much truth was there in that yarn?” And she quite cheerfully answers, “A little. Not much.”

So, to finally get to your question, I thought the most interesting incarnation of that relationship would be its aftermath. Lord Julius and Astoria have split up because Astoria, like many a wife before her, has mistaken his charisma for hers. She’s this ambitious figure who has already split from Cirin and intends to make herself Queen of the Daughters in the same way that Cirin is Queen of the Mothers and, because she has maintained her place with Lord Julius for a period of time, she just senses that everything is coming together, all the ley lines of societal force are lining up behind her, the world’s her oyster, etc. etc. And then they split and she finds out that she’s just another person on the roller coaster and, in conventional female fashion, she just starts looking for a Lord Julius substitute. That was one of the reasons that I picked Mary Astor. Consider the relative status of Groucho Marx and Mary Astor in the Hollywood pantheon. It’s a complete misapprehension on the part of a Mary Astor to say, “Now, where am I going to find another Groucho Marx?” There is a kind of “charisma by association” but it does tend to wear off in the face of her misperception of her own illusory importance and the endless succession of intended replacements.

And then, of course, she hooks up with Cerebus on the same basis. “Wait. This weird little deformed guy. They’re still talking about him in Palnu. I’ll hook up with him and make HIM my new Lord Julius.” And, of course, she has no idea what Cerebus is or the kind of effects that are created by his magnification nature, so, of course, she thinks, “Aha! It finally worked. This is my new Lord Julius.”

She was playing two cards at the same time: one, Queen of the Daughters and the other The Eye in the Pyramid which is a way of using the glass ceiling against itself. It’s an organized assault on all manners of bureaucracy from the clerical end of things.

Unlike the actual Eye IN the Pyramid which is more the Eye ON the Pyramid

(such as can be seen on the Great Seal of the United States on the back of the U.S. one dollar bill—which is actually a very basic optical illusion peculiar to pyramids. If you look intently at the capstone of any pyramidal shape, so that you are looking at the smallest percentage of the overall pyramid that is still pyramid-shaped, say the top 1/25th of the overall pyramid and then look at the top 1/25th of that pyramid’s capstone, behind the capstone you will see the image of an eye. If you try to look right at it, it will disappear, but if you focus on that pyramid-on a pyramid-on a pyramid, you’ll see it again. I mean, Whoo. Pee. But so far as I know this is one of those great Freemason mysteries that you have to ascend to a nine hundred and fiftieth level to be shown. As pagan mysteries go, it’s kind of like the ending on 2001. What’s the word I’m looking for.

Oh, wait! I know!


Astoria’s concept for the Eye IN the Pyramid is that the apex of any pyramidal infrastructure can be sabotaged from any level below the apex usually quite effortlessly. In a nutshell, if you rely on a secretary you’re toast. That was why she didn’t object to being merely a secretary when Cerebus became Prime Minister. A secretary can do an enormous amount of damage if her boss thinks himself “above” what she’s doing—as most bosses do— and so doesn’t pay attention to it. It’s a very low grade—albeit largely ineffective—form of bureaucratic guerrilla Marxism, but, by the time you’re thinking the Roach is your ticket back to the top, you’re willing to try anything. I was tapped into this about the time the movie Nine to Five came out which, although I haven’t seen it, seemed to subscribe to the same theory. I assume there’s a lot of it going on as the wheels are coming off of feminism. As I say, by the time you’re thinking the Roach is your ticket back to the top you’re willing to try anything.

There are interesting examples of the Groucho Marx/Mary Astor syndrome in the real world, most of them in Hollywood where personal lives are public property. It’s so far advanced that you really have to know which one you are before you get involved with someone in such a way that makes the tabloids. Because if you’re actually Mary Astor, the break-up is only going to emphasize that. Jennifer Lopez, as an example, seems to be making a contact sport out of it. What is it, four relationships where she’s come out being the Groucho Marx and the guy has been stuck being Mary Astor? It’s like she’s trying to set a record for longest uninterrupted Groucho Marx string since Elizabeth Taylor who won every round til it came to Richard Burton. That one came out even and destroyed both of them.

I suspect that that’s the answer to the feminist question, “Why didn’t Hilary dump Bill Clinton over Monica Lewinsky?” In her heart of hearts she really doesn’t know which of them is Groucho and which is Mary Astor. And, fortunately for her, neither does Bill. Both of them would rather stick it out in an empty marriage than take the chance of ending up being the Mary Astor character. And both have such an over-inflated awe of the other that both believe it could be a real possibility.

And to finally come to the end of your question (which you really believed was straightforward, I’m sure) at the time of High Society, the Cirinists are just waiting to move into Iest. The closest analogy I could draw to that is the United States and Iraq. There would have been a lot of “sidelines people,” “armchair quarterbacks” among the Cirinists who would be wary of trying to take Iest—largely because the Eastern Church comes with it (the same problem you would face taking Saudi Arabia: Mecca and Medina come with it)—but it would be comparable to what the Pentagon knew about the U.S.’s advanced capabilities going into Iraq. It was going to be a cakewalk. There would be roughly the same number of casualties in a year that you would have had in a week in Vietnam. As Collin Powell reportedly said to President Bush, “You realize that you are going to own this place?” That was the level of the debate. Winning wasn’t the issue, there were only the implications of winning. Cirin obviously knew a lot more about Cerebus than Astoria did and that would have been a source of some concern but more in terms of what Astoria might lead Cerebus to do accidentally or that Cerebus’ magnifier nature might cause to happen (a justifiable fear as it turned out) than anything the two of them were going to accomplish together in a programmatic sense.

The Church was the only significant opposition and the Church was done for. It had become too worldly and too timorous. Again the best analogy I could draw would be today’s Christian churches of the squishy Marxist variety. There’s no need to take them over because they’re no longer in the way. They’re partly a quaint custom—great candles, great music— and partly a Marxist-feminist faction differing from the core societal Marxist-feminism only in a few shadings and nuances that can be easily glossed over. Like the worldwide schism in the Anglican Church and Reformed Judaism over same-sex marriage and homosexual clergy. Where the split occurs, I think, will tell us how close to hell we are. 30-70? 70-30? And which faction is preparing to take over the Vatican after Pope John Paul II (God forbid) is called home? There’s a good case to be made that he will single-handedly save Christianity by hanging on long enough for the conservative cardinals to see—in the Anglicans—exactly what a fully liberalized church can expect: literal hell on earth. The longer John-Paul II stays alive the more transparent the Anglican fiasco will become and the more conservative the Catholic Church will choose to be.

The fact that the Conniptins, this ragged mob of barbarians made it right into the heart of Iest at the end of High Society indicates that the fruit is ripe for the plucking.

Q4. Larry noticed that the cab driver who drives Cerebus to the Ram's Lords Tavern in the first issue of High Society is, in fact, the Moon Roach all along. You show us the cab driver persona in that first issue, we see Moon Knight in the others, L nny is curious if you were tempted to slip in the other 2 personas to complete the set (soldier-of-fortune & millionaire playboy), it might be in the book, but he's too lazy to re-read it? What amuses you more--that someone noticed this at all, or that it took twenty years for anyone to do so?

DAVE: Uh, amuses me? Actually, no, I think it’s great. Big brownie points for Larry on that one. Just to fill in the brethren and cisterns on the extent of (Larry's) accomplishment, so far as we know (Larry) is the first person to notice that I used a cab driver secret identity for the Moon Roach, which was a parody of the Moon Knight, one of whose secret identities was a cab driver. Very gratifying when someone gets one of my jokes twenty years later.

So, I spend twenty-six years worrying constantly that I’m being too obvious and telegraphing my story points and then spend twenty-six years explaining all the stuff I spent twenty-six years trying to make less obvious. The way I look at it, it beats the only other thing I’m qualified to do which is washing dishes.

Q5. There has been much discussion as to whether the ending of High Society holds up. Some might contend that Cerebus’ ultimate rationale, “For a while there, Cerebus thought he could make a difference," seems contrived. But others contend that it still rings true: that every world leader, from Hitler to Saddam Hussein to Pol Pot to any of the "good" ones, despite how many selfish and heinous acts they commit, justify their actions under this very rationale. Moreover, the Anarcho-Romantic Suenteus Po's final scrawling of the word Liberty on his prison wall is quite touching as well as a clever narrative device, in that the entirety of his Cerebus' Six Crises book (Read?) might have been just scratchings on a prison wall as he awaits execution by the new (old) regime. What are your thoughts on this ending sequence in light of your present views?

DAVE: Mm. About the same. I think that true believers—who act on their beliefs—run a genuine risk of becoming the first casualties when things go wrong. I mean, that’s a given, don’t you think? Don’t you think that’s the reason that most people keep their actual beliefs secret where those beliefs don’t conform to the majority viewpoint? One of the problems might even be discussing systems of belief and viewpoints as if they’re the same structural things from person to person. In a recent letter to someone after the death of Ronald Reagan, I remarked on his observation that “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party left me.” And he was talking about the late 1940’s. I mean there does seem to be a distinction between Government Setting People “Free” Within Its Context (Marxist-feminism) and Freeing People from the Governmental Context Itself (conservatism)— the former with the momentum on its side and the latter trying to take hold where and when it can for as long as it can. The best you can do is to slow the former down temporarily. We arrive into this world well along in the process and drift along with it, tending to see it as a fixed reality until someone like Ronald Reagan wakes up and realizes that liberalism isn’t stationary it’s always Slouching towards Gomorrah..

Of course the ending on High Society and the graphic novel itself is about a revolutionary time period which is well outside of the North American experience. Those historical situations like Russia in 1917 where the pot that’s been threatening to boil over for decades finally does and—whoever you are—you have to pick a side and whichever side you pick is pretty much going to decide if you die tomorrow, next month, two years from now or of old age. The only analogy in my life was the “Exclusives Wars” between Diamond and Capital where every publisher— starting from the biggest and proceeding down to the smallest—was forced to decide whether to go exclusive with Diamond or Capital. We had a “no exclusive policy” since SeaGate, so it was easy enough to announce that we would sell to anyone who could meet our terms. Which, effectively meant that we did our bit in killing Capital. They couldn’t use a tie, they needed a number of wins to stay in the game and Denis Kitchen, God bless ‘im for bucking the trend, was the only one to go exclusive with them. One of those situations where you make your choice and then wait to see what your choice leads to and what happens after that.

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