|Phonebook Volume #12|
|Collects Issues: 220 - 231|
|1st Printing||1000 copies|
|Date of 1st Print||November 1998|
|# of Pages||246|
Dave Speaks about the Cover
From Steven Otte's Dave mini-interview on "Rick's Story" issues:
Q: On the back cover art of the phonebook, in all the smoke and stuff rising from Demon Cerebus' head, there's the word "Rocha" -- R-O-C-H-A. There's been some various theories about what that's in reference to. Some say it's a tribute to Zack De La Rocha, who's the lead singer for some band or another. Others think it's the name of an obscure comic artist, or an anagram of the word "Roach"... What does it mean?
A: You guys are reading this too damn close. (laughs)
Q: Well, that's basically what we do. (laughs)
A: Rocha is a variation of the word "racha", which is one of the first terms I had to look up when I started reading the New Testament. It's from the Sermon on the Mount. When Jesus says "If you contend with your brother or call him 'Racha'"... in fact let me go get my Bible dictionary and I'll read it to you. (puts me on hold for about 15 seconds -- he must keep that thing handy) You there? OK. In my 1611 King James fascimile... in the more modern version it's spelled R-A-C-A -- apparently it's from an Aramaic word R-E-Q-A, or also spelled R-E-Q-A but with different accents. It means "scoundrel" or "fool."
Q: So... who is calling who a scoundrel or fool?
A: I guess that could be up to your interpretation. Since it's coming from Cerebus' head I think the obvious interpretation is Cerebus is calling Rick a fool. It's the natural tendency to consider your enemy or opposite number to be a fool -- everybody but yourself. The reason it's spelled that way is to transpose the O and the A since I was going on the basis that in the Tarot, the "one" card is the Magician and the "zero" is the fool. So I substituted a zero for the A.
Q: (laughs) It's pretty funny to me that you start out by saying that we're reading too much into this, then you go into this whole huge long explanation of something nobody would ever have thought of. So we weren't reading too deep, we were just reading in the wrong direction.
A: (laughs) Touche'.
03/04: Q: Here's my take on issue 300, and a possible explanation for the Cirin "vision" in "Rick's Story." (note: issue 227) Cerebus broke his neck and died. He did this trying to chase after and kill Sheshep. If Cerebus hadn't signed that paper, he wouldn't have been allowed to see Sheshep, therefore, by signing the paper, Cerebus signed his own death warrant. In the Cirin "vision" in "Rick's Story," Cirin appears during the "union" of Rick and Joanne. She brings a sword down on Cerebus' neck. Cerebus died when his neck was broken, and it was Rick's "union" with Joanne that made the Joannists possible (through her inclusion in his book), thus Cerebus' decision to "hook up" Rick and Joanne was part one of Cerebus' two-part "unintentional suicide" (for lack of a better term). Kind of like what Morpheus did in "Sandman." Thoughts? Dave?
DAVE: I'm afraid my brain isn't able to register that lengthy a question and be able to retain in long enough to answer it. If there's a question you really want answered and it's a little more complicated (as this one is), send it to me in a letter and I'll try to answer it as best I can. But, yes. In terms of what I see as the overall thrust of your letter, there is no question that Cerebus "did" Joanne to himself. Had he not tried to hustle the neighbour lady in his dream-come-true life, she would never ended up penetrating, as she did, into the very heart of his story.
(note: Question on the container spell was moved to the page for Binding spell.)
03/04: 11. When Rick had his revelation, did God talk to him or was it Dave?
DAVE: It was Dave talking to him about God in such a way that he was free to read God into it. Possibly God was talking through Dave to Rick, but only God would know one way or the other.
10/05: Q1a. You've said that you had never read the Bible until late in Guys, when you picked up a copy to prepare for the Bible parody you knew was coming up in "Rick's Story," and that when you read it you realized that it really was the Word of God. But the Bible parody in "Rick's Story" certainly seems like a real parody. Rick himself seems genuinely crazy, and the occasional glimpses we get of how future generations will interpret his work all seem to be: (a) perfectly reasonable interpretations of his actual words and (b) completely at odds with the reality he is witnessing.
DAVE: That depends on how you perceive and therefore define reality. If we switch the subject back to Jaka's Story you can say that Mrs. Thatcher was just this vile, oppressive matriarch who needed to "lighten up" and see that Jaka was a brilliant artist who needed to be left alone because she hadn't done anything wrong. Or Mrs. Thatcher was a corrective presence in Jaka's life who helped her to see-however temporarily-how wrong and corrupting her behaviour had been, the profoundly negative effect that she had had on Pud and Rick's lives. They were contending realities. I think it's worth noting that Jaka's response to the ending on the story was to return to Palnu - not to say, "Well screw you, I'll find someplace to dance where you haven't taken over." I don't think she would ever admit it, but I think she felt properly chastised by the experience and pretty much literally "went to her room." That is, Mrs. Thatcher's version of reality prevailed.
Rick's impressions of what was going on around him certainly didn't seem to be aligned with conventional viewpoints of reality. That was why I thought it would make an effective parody. What happens to this Jesus-like figure-the mental image that I had of Rick when I created him-after his happy marriage blows up and he hits the skids? At the time, I thought it would be really interesting to portray someone who ardently believed in Heaven and Hell as empirical realities which, obviously, orthodox monotheists do and who saw himself as having a central role in adjudicating between the two. Of course, I didn't realize at the time that this was nothing new. Vast populations in First Century Judaism thought that Jesus was crazy and relative to orthodox Judaism at the time-and now-he was. "He hath a devil, why hear ye him?" from John's Gospel pretty much sums it up. Virtually all Arabs in Mecca-and virtually all Jews and Christians- besides a rag-tag band of slaves and societal cast-offs thought that Muhammad was crazy. Relative to the Koreisch, the family that dominated Meccan society and had control of the Grand Mosque he was crazy. His clan protected him because that was what clans did, but they all thought he was crazy, too. Most of them died without converting to Islam.
Q1b: So, if you already knew the Bible was the Word of God when you wrote "Rick's Story," didn't it bother you to be parodying it?
DAVE: Not at the time, no. I was still on a quest for Truth as an absolute and I wasn't about to give the Bible a free ride just because it was the Bible. I wanted to understand it thoroughly enough to address it on my own terms, but not necessarily on its own terms and certainly not in the terms of any accepted orthodoxy. Of course, at the time I wasn't thinking of the Bible as having terms of its own separate from accepted orthodoxy. Like most atheists, I assumed that there was a universally-agreed upon assessment of what the Bible was and what it was saying with hair-splitting differences about specific aspects i.e. I knew that Jews didn't believe that Jesus was the son of God but I did think that there was this monolithic societal presence that we could safely call The Church in all its oppressive, mindless glory that used ancient fairy tales as a cudgel to keep the faithful in line, to line its own pockets and keep anyone from having fun. I assumed that the structure of the book would be roughly along the lines of the world existing on the back of a giant turtle, how the turtle came to be, how the world came to be, if you went too far out on the ocean you fell off the edge, those kinds of things: primitive ooga-booga cosmology that idiots were still following six thousand years later that was no different from Indian legends and Norse mythology. Basically, what I wanted to do was The Life of Brian but with a good deal more depth. The Life of Brian-apart from some good lines and sight gags-was from the Kurtzman/Elder school of parody. Take every Jesus joke you can come up with-the more blasphemous the better-string them all together and call it a movie. For the people who like that sort of thing those are just the sort of things that they like. Put another way, if you asked Kurtzman and Elder to do a political parody they would not have come up with High Society. It would've just been a lot of tummeling (a Yiddish term I once heard explained as "You know when Jerry Lewis running around the stage and chewing the drapes and talking in that high-pitched idiot voice and is being so annoying that you have to change the channel? That's tummeling.")
Q1c: And if that realization was something that came to you gradually over time, how long would you say it took to sink in? Is there a definitive point in time you can point to, both in your own life and in the development of the Cerebus saga, and say, "Here. After this Cerebus was being done by a Dave Sim who believed in God and in following the Scriptures," or is it a gradually dawning awareness that began somewhere near the end of "Guys" and seeped into your life and art so that one day you woke up and realized that you had been following Scripture for some time?
DAVE: There isn't a definite point, in terms of an hour or a day. After I broke up with Susan in March of '98 I went through a period of great relief because I was allowed to actually think again-I didn't have to close off whole realms of contemplation because they would lead to arguments in the relationship that would threaten the foundation of the relationship. The Marty and Cerebus parts of Guys were helpful in that way, a good way of letting myself think fictionally what I wouldn't allow myself to think in the real world. This is what relationships are, Dave, this is what you are choosing and this is what you are doing. This is what you envied in all those people who lived for backyard barbecues and renting a house on the lake for a long weekend and going to shop in town in boutique-y little stores. "You doing anything for the Labor Day weekend?" "Yeah, me and the girlfriend have rented a house with two other couples on Martha's Vineyard". "Oh, niiice." With exactly that note of profound envy that you were obviously going to have a much nicer long weekend than they were going to have. And, of course, what it was was three women who were all fully engaged in that woman-of-the-couple thing and three guys sitting around with rictus grins on their faces biting their tongues and not saying anything about whole realms of experience and thought that had been colliding since 1970. The first tectonic shift in my thinking was, to me, a very natural one and came back in 1996-97 on my first time through the Torah. I already had a sincere conviction that there were governing forces in the universe. Those Who Are in Charge of the Universe was a definite best assessment for me. Things didn't happen by accident. There was definite cause-and-effect centering on intent. Bad faith choices led to bad faith consequences. I was convinced that that was what John Lennon meant by "Instant Karma". I think he tried to do the same thing I tried to do-clear the decks as much as possible and engage the world as little as possible except in a political way (the Bed-Ins, Bagism and all that stuff in his case)-and found the same thing that I did. The more you clear the decks, the faster whatever goes around comes around. And of course he had millions and millions of dollars to keep his decks cleared which would've been a plus, but the level of materialism, I suspect, that is built-in at that level just meant larger consequences. As a rap artist eloquently put it, "Mo' money, mo' problems." Or as Paul McCartney put it in "Band on the Run" "Gonna give it all away/to a registered charity". The joke, of course, is that you don't even though you know it would improve your life dramatically to do so. Big Money=Big Tar-baby.
Sorry, big digression there. Consequence-based-on-intent has a fundamental underpinning of Intelligent Design to it. I remember Susan reading an article about Woody Allen and telling me, "He believes the same thing you do. There's no such thing as an accident. Everything happens for a reason." Coincidentally, Woody Allen is in the news this morning with his 70th birthday coming up on December 1st and being featured in Vanity Fair. Being a monotheist I find it quite self-revelatory when he says "All the crap that they tell you about...getting joy, and having a kind of wisdom in your golden years-it's all tripe...I've gained no wisdom, no insight, no mellowing. I would make all the same mistakes again, today." I think the distinction is obvious. If you believe that everything happens for a reason but you don't attach that reason where it belongs-to God, you just "end up" the way you "end up" rather than arriving at any kind of destination. When he was asked about Mia Farrow discovering the nude polaroids of Soon-Yi in his apartment he describes it as "one of the fortuitous events, one of the great pieces of luck in my life". To describe that as a fortuitous event and a great piece of luck boggles my mind. So I would draw a sharp distinction between the "Fortuitous Event" theory of predestination and my own Those Who Control the Universe or The Larger Forces at Work in the Universe long-standing articles of faith even though they looked interchangeable to Susan. To draw an even sharper distinction, I wasn't too far into the Bible before it occurred to me that I was probably being perverse in using that terminology-Those Who Control the Universe-rather than saying God. That is, I was being a forensic atheist. I will believe in forces at work in the universe that have all of the qualities and aptitudes and inclinations of God, but I won't call them God. Well, why not? That became the $64,000 question. Why not, indeed? Particularly since the Torah didn't have anywhere close to the structure and content that I pictured it as having. There was very little ooga-booga and a lot of "whatever goes around comes around". Bad decisions produce bad consequences. So, I began to incorporate this into my interior monologue of examination with the sudden awareness that there was someone listening to my thoughts-something I had pretty much taken as a given for years-who wasn't me and could very well be God. Fortunately I avoided the infantile approach of "God if you can actually hear what I'm thinking right now show me a sign of Your Presence." The problem was mine, not God's. I had led myself up to the threshold of a very sensible conclusion-everything that I had attributed in my life up to that point to Unnamed Forces were actually attributable to God. To counter-balance that Giant Leap Forward with just another example of forensic atheism-God, either prove yourself to me, or I won't believe in you-would be to make a Giant Leap Backward. I imagine God gets a lot of that. I understood that there was a commitment that was called for on my part. I had to take the Giant Scaffolding of My Belief System, pick the whole thing up and turn it 180 degrees and I would be a monotheist. Or I could just continue to build the Giant Scaffolding of My Belief System so that it avoided everything having to do with God and the Torah. I could follow Alan Moore, with whom I had had the "Dialogue; From Hell" and decide to become a magician just by adopting his viewpoint that magic and Magic were the all-encompassing natures of reality and Natures of Reality that obtained and that I should be ingesting large quantities of illicit substances and conducting rituals in order to give myself larger insights and awarenesses. I all I had to do was to decide that the Bible was this weak and ineffectual Magic Textbook and that what I needed was something with more meat on its bones. That, to me, was the bridge from forensic atheism to polymorphous perverse sophistry. I can pump myself full of magic mushrooms, chant an unspeakable name 800 times, puke, and see a vision of a giant spider-god who will tell me about the upper branches of the Great Kaballah Tree. Me and Madonna and Britney Spears-forward into the future. To me, that seemed the exact wrong response to "Instant Karma"-the Yoko Ono response: Things are not going the way I want them to, so I must buy an Egyptian sarcophagus for the living room that will bring me better luck and more power.
To me there was an inherent purity to the Bible and to belief in God that made all of that garbage look exactly like what it was. I don't doubt for a minute that it was efficacious. You know, you get your right astrologer and your right hank of hair and your right pentagram and you can put a curse on Paul and Linda McCartney for occupying the Presidential Suite (and therefore trying to steal your Presidential Suite magic) at whatever hotel it was you and John stayed at in Tokyo. You can even get Paul McCartney busted for marijuana possession (a really unlikely event for someone that high on the worldwide VIP list), but at the same time your husband can get shot to death a few months later. Instant Karma. For someone like myself who was on the track of Truth those sorts of "power over others" things were anathema. That was what people tried to do to me, in my experience. Love was always the means used by my family and later by my wife and girlfriends to try and divert me from the quest I was on. For me, the question was one of choices. What did I choose? Instant Karma only happened if I made bad choices and the answer there, to me, was to make better choices, not to find some "ooga-booga" way to allow me to make bad choices without consequence.
So, I continued this interior monologue directed at God for a period of time and then realized that that was a bad choice as well. Billions of people all over the planet bowing to God and worshipping him and Dave Sim just has this very familiar buddy-buddy relationship with God where he lets God know what his best current thinking is today and critiques what God's been up to lately. No, that's still forensic atheism. "God and me are buds" is no great improvement on atheism or agnosticism. If anything it's worse-instead of ignoring God or pretending God doesn't exist, I'd be either attempting to lower God to my level or raise myself to His level. As it says in the Koran, "He is God, high let Him be exalted above what they join with Him". The only sensible response was to finish the Giant Leap Forward-and begin praying regularly and sincerely on my knees, concluding prostrate-or take a Giant Leap Backward and continue to treat God as my buddy. Remember the old song "Signs"? Pretty typical of the hippies of the time "If God was here/ He'd tell you to your face/ Man you're some kind of sinner". That's exactly what the hippies most deplored on the part of The Big Bad Church-presuming to speak for God. It's a very easy but to me perverse snare to drop into. Basically, the prayer was pretty close to the one that was on the inside back cover of issue 300, except it was in reverse order. "If I am worthy of forgiveness in your eyes, I ask forgiveness of..." came first and then the "Almighty God, I thank you for...". Basically "I'm sorry" and "thank you" which it seems to me what all prayer is mostly. I don't believe in asking God for things. If I could ever compose an exhaustive list of things to thank Him for (eyesight, hearing, health, success, interesting work, inexplicably loyal atheistic readers, food, drink, Eddie Campbell, Chester Brown, Gerhard, nice house, nice neighbourhood, City Council meetings for starters) I'd feel like a world-class ingrate when I got to the end "And by the way, could I also pretty please have...?" There is something about the experience of saying out loud what it is that you want to be forgiven for that eventually makes you sick of whatever it is. "Every day I have to ask forgiveness for smoking and drinking" "Jeez it was just three days ago I was asking forgiveness for masturbating and here I am asking forgiveness for it again." It makes you ridiculous in your own eyes, in my experience. Don't ask for absolution or a Get Out of Jail Free Card, improve. Went through a ridiculous (but I suspect common) phase where I spent a lot of my time telling God how I weak I am. Which was ridiculous because I knew I wasn't weak and I'm far from omniscient. What could be more futile than trying to convince an omniscient Being of an inherent falsehood you can't even bring yourself to believe? When I first read about jihad back in '99, the concept that you are waging jihad "holy war" on your own unholy nature, I took to it like a duck to water. I tend to think that it's only Muslims who can't conceive of waging war on their own unholy nature who blow themselves up-it's really just an appropriate-but misdirected-self-loathing. I can't stop masturbating and drinking and God is closer to me than my own jugular vein. I must blow myself up next to an infidel to make amends.
I'm not sure that I am following scripture although I thank you for the thought. I certainly am trying to and on my good days I like to think that I am, but you would have to go a long way to find anyone who thinks that I am. It was one of the net effects of finding out just how diffuse the number of beliefs are that make up Judaism, Christianity and Islam in toto. As I pointed out to someone recently, I don't think there are Jews in the world anymore who stone people for gathering sticks on the Sabbath. I certainly hope there aren't. But, in choosing not to stone people for gathering sticks on the Sabbath, they are certainly violating a specific instruction from the YHWH (Numbers 15:32-36) Arguably you can't follow Jesus unless you sell everything you own and give the money to the poor. How many people do you know who have done that compared to the number of people who call themselves Christians? How many Muslims kill the infidels wherever they find them, striking off their heads and striking off every fingertip? I mean, "wherever ye find them" is pretty specific. That was when I realized that whatever illusion there is that there is such a thing as orthodoxy (right belief) among the monotheist faiths, it's just that-an illusion. Likewise orthopraxy (right conduct)-whoever you are you're making your own choices. The Sunnis and the Shiites start the Ramadan fast on different days. Different Christian sects celebrate Easter on different days. All that I think is the case with our present world is that people are being too easy on themselves by trying to minimize the importance of choice rather than making what they think are better choices. "If I get to make up my own mind about what constitutes orthpraxy then I choose to believe that prayer and scripture and church attendance and fasting and giving alms to the poor are all a bunch of hooey. In my version of Christianity, you do what you want to do whenever and whatever you want to do and everyone has to leave you alone because that's the way Jesus would've wanted it." To me, that's "baby with the bathwater" stuff. I think you're still expected to improve and what's more you're expected to decide on and choose what improvement is. Everyone responds to scripture differently, but I think we're supposed to. What rules you choose to obey and what rules you choose not to obey, I think, counts very heavily towards your final grade on Judgment Day. I never kidded myself that God thought me smoking and drinking was a swell idea. Or, ultimately, that He thought fornication was a harmless entertainment although in our secular society all three would be considered minor things. A good example: in Islam the Koran specifically says that there was no warranty sent down about monasticism. You're supposed to get married and make babies. I tend to think that only applies to sane time periods when women can plausibly be pictured in the role of wife and mother which doesn't, it seems to me, apply to our particular time period. But, certainly, choosing to remain unmarried and childless at the age of 50 puts me beyond the pale for most Jews, Christians and Muslims. That doesn't bother me or interest me. What God thinks of my decision-making is all that matters to me and that I won't find out until Judgment Day.
(Note question 2a moved to page on Viktor Davis.)
(Note question 2a moved to page on Rick Nash.)
Q3. All the facial injuries suffered by Cerebus occur on the right side of his head (injury to the right eye, right ear chopped off). When Rick sees the demon half of Cerebus' face, it is also the right side. Is there a thematic reason for this -- for example, a commentary on the right side of the brain (dedicated to art, music and intuition) versus the left side (dedicated to words and logic)?
DAVE: Actually that goes back to the early days when I decided to make Cerebus pretty much the only right-handed person in Estarcion. No particular reason, I just thought it would make an interesting plot point that I could make use of some day. In terms of the injury to eye and losing the ear, that was more in the right side=good, left side=bad category-dextram and sinestram in Latin from which we get dextrous and sinister.
(Of course it is true that the right side of the brain controls the left side of the body and the left side of the brain controls the right side of the body. I'm suspect that God did that as a basic protective mechanism for human beings through the depths of the "ooga booga" time period. By the time we had it figured out, we were past the point (most of us anyway) of controlling or trying to control other people's brains by sympathetic magic. I also tend to think that a physical injury is a wake-up call from God or a calling card from His Adversary. If you get injured on your left side, God is prevailing in your life but has found it necessary to inflict damage on your 'sinestram' self. If you get injured on your right side, the Adversary has found an access point and gets a free shot at you. I tend to see it as critically important to live your life in such a way that the former isn't necessary and the latter isn't possible.
Q4a. In Rick's exit scene (p. 178) he tells Cerebus "WE'LL see each other only once more after today" - goodbye. Cerebus says: "take good care of yourself." Rick tells Cerebus what he told Joanne: "Go to hell." Note that Rick say's "we'll" see each other - so Cerebus' vision of Rick in Going Home would NOT appear to satisfy this prophecy, or was Cerebus' vision interactive and Rick was seeing him too?
DAVE: Yes, it was interactive-they both saw each other.
(note question 4b & 4c moved to page on Go to hell.)
(note question 4d moved to page on The Book of Rick.)
(note question 4e and 5 moved to page on issue 226.)