Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Yay! We get to see the Elf again, and this time in her very own chapter! I didn't care how long or short this was I just knew I was going to like it.

In her own inimitable fashion the Elf is trying to tell a joke to Cerebus, now no matter what the Elf's other abilities may be, joke telling is not one of them.

Firstly she messes it up terribly, secondly when she does get it right, she doesn't realise until after she's told it that Cerebus is the punchline. He's none too happy about being compared to a pet monkey, mainly due to his stature.

Cerebus does not say a word during the whole thing, his expressions tell the full story. After the joke has been told, with the right punchline this time, Cerebus walks from the room and takes himself to bed. The Elf compounds things by telling that she heard Filgate tell the joke to Blakely and then begs Cerebus not to have Mr Filgate arrested.

I don't know why, but for me the Elf is just funny and Dave wrote her so well. One of the best chapters in this whole sequence. It put a smile on my face anyway.

Saturday, December 26, 2009


An old friend returns. Although this short thumbnail sketch of Astoria (2 pages) featured the same immaculately coiffed, impeccably dressed femme fatale who had master minded Cerebus' initial tilt at the Prime Ministership of Iest, there seemed something frazzled about her.

It's dialog driven and for most of the chapter it seems as of Astoria is either talking to herself or rehearsing a speech that seeks to run down her enemy Weisshaupt. That is until the final panel when her audience is revealed as a bleak looking Bishop Powers. I get the feeling that the Church has well and truly entered the State now.

Monday, December 21, 2009


Dave continued the profile series with a 3 page one on Cerebus' insufferable ogress of a mother in law; Henrot Gutch. She's taking tea with Blakely. It's possible that he is courting her in order to curry favour with the Prime Minister.

Partway through their conversation Henrot sees a child stealing fruit from a pear tree in the garden, she throws a brick at the urchin presumable injuring the thief, she then goes back to her tea with Blakely wondering why Sophia never brought her play mates home to meet mother when the female warrior was a child.

Typical portrayal of Henrot and the joke had worn thin on me. She's the mother in law from hell, I get it. I wonder if Dave had issues with his own mother in law.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


This was another 5 pager, it was the beginning of a series of chapters where Dave examined certain key characters. Cerebus and Sophia are the only 2 characters shown and the whole thing is in darkness with only them and their bed illuminated.

Initially I didn't like Sophia much and dreaded seeing her become a regular character again. However she had changed in between the last time and reentering as Cerebus' wife. She was still wearing the chain mail bikini most of the time, but she had developed from the sword swinging Red Sonja parody that she began as. She was now softer and had depth, she was more of a girly girl, displaying a heretofore unseen intelligence. She also seemed to genuinely care for Cerebus. I don't know if it could be described as love. In the book that really only seems to exist in a somewhat warped form between Cerebus and Jaka.

The chapter is a one sided conversation where only Sophia speaks, Cerebus lays in bed and scowls. In her monologue Sophia neatly and amusingly sums up Cerebus' life and her own and their relationship before she kisses the tuft of fur on one ear and turns over to go to sleep. I came away from this one with a totally different picture and view of Sophia.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Rough Pope

They were starting to get longer.
This particular chapter, which is a whopping 5 pages long, concentrates solely on the kingmaker; Weisshaupt. This is the first time I can remember seeing the hardline Tarimist Bishop Powers.

The two men have a discussion about who is running the church and by extension the country, it's really a battle of wills and Powers is in way over his head trying to duel politically with Weisshaupt.

Powers is a blunt instrument, whereas Weisshaupt is a poisoned blade.

There is a revelation on the last page of the chapter, after Powers has stormed out of Weisshaupt's office.

The politician leans heavily on his desk and with shaky hands pours himself a stiff drink, his brow is beaded with sweat as he whispers "Tarim." All is not as well with Weisshaupt as he wants everyone to believe. At last fresh intrigue.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Approved By

Another short annoying chapter.
I'm glad I read Cerebus the way I did, issue by issue, because if I'd read it this way with all these short, largely pointless chapters I think I would have given up in disgust.
This one, while beautifully drawn in that Regency style that Dave adopted for much of High Society and ALL of Church & State I thus far, goes nowhere and does nothing.
It's 2 pages of Cerebus signing documents that a flunky presents him with. The hopelessness of the situation Cerebus finds himself in is that he signs whatever is put in front of him without even knowing what they are. He tells the flunky that if he wants to know what he's signing he'll ask.
Hope the pace and the length picks up in the next chapter.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Tree Planting

Three pages largely concerning a tree planting ceremony, it was hosted by Filgate and the guest ‘planter’ was Henrot Gutch, in recognition of it being ‘Muddah’s Week’ as announced by Filgate. The only characters shown in the first two pages were the former representative of ‘da docks’ and Cerebus’ mother in law. The chapter ended with Filgate making a joke about Henrot’s name sounding like a sneeze with the predictable enraged response from Mrs Gutch.

Although Dave was the master of saying a lot with few words, pictures or pages I question the wisdom of dividing the chapters up this way. The comics were not originally published in this form, because loyal and devoted as Dave’s readers were even they would have had difficulty accepting two or three page issues on a bi monthly schedule. This one is so short that the punchline on the last page is so predictable it's not even funny. The three page joke as an issue was rather pointless as it doesn’t tell the reader anything or advance the story, nor does it provide any foreshadowing. At this point the book seemed to be stuck in a rut with Cerebus locked into a life he didn’t want and neither he or his creator knew how to get him out of it.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

First Impression

This chapter seems to have a prologue all of its own. It's titled Note and it's torn up pieces of a note sent to Cerebus. It is unclear as to whether he received it. From what can be deciphered of the fragments it's letter congratulating him on his appointment and marriage. The reason I wonder if Cerebus read it is because it is signed Jaka, daughter of the House of Tavers. I can't imagine him tearing up anything from Jaka. He would treasure it. As Dave had taken to doing in this section of the book it was bordered in that faux Regency style, once again simply reinforcing the period the author wanted the reader to be in mind of without having to use street scenes or even display characters. He's one of the cleverest comic artists I've ever seen and Church & State Vol I was right in the middle of his Golden Period.

The actual chapter is one of the funnier ones and mainly because it contained one of the series best punchlines. Weisshaupt has arranged for his puppet Prime Minister to meet a Mrs Tynsdale-Clyde, heading up another of Weisshaupt's anti Cirinist commissions. Like many anto Cirinists Mrs Tynsdale-Clyde is a reformed Cirinist. Weisshaupt is concerned that Cerebus will somehow embarass him. The biggest problem is that Cerebus is continually fiddling with his trousers, he complains that the tailor has made them too tight. Weisshaupt sees it as a sign of vulgarity and tells him to stop it.

Mrs Tynsdale-Clude is a buttoned down prude with an extremely impressive bosom. Just as Weisshaupt introduces Cerebus there is a ripping sound and Cerebus tail pops out the front of his trousers. We, the readers know Cerebus has a tail, Mrs Tynsdale-Clyde does not, and it does not look like a tail. Mrs Tynsdale-Clyde faints. Cerebus tells Weisshaupt: 'Cerebus told you his britches were too tight!' Laugh? I nearly died.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Another very short chapter, possibly the shortest I've seen. It's two pages. There are only three images and two characters. One is the Elf reading Cerebus' memoirs and the other is Cerebus himself togged out in his Prime Ministerial garb, complete with wig. It's short and sweet and the text is another extract from the aardvark's memoirs, mostly whinging about how rotten it was to be Prime Minister.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Carroll E. King Reads

The title referred to two things. Carroll E. King Reads was the name of the shop seen on the opening page, arresting the attention of the well dressed, groomed and walk stick carrying individual wandering past. It also referred to the Reads themselves. Reads were Weisshaupt's idea. They're books. They were soft porn of the kind that generally features Fabio on the cover. Weisshaupt claimed that they were written by important political figures such as Cerebus.

Initially the gentleman on the front page who enters the shop to inquire as to what the shop sold in addition to Reads is scornful of the medium, considering it an entertainment only for the lower classes he purchases The Prime Minister and the Hussey after reading some of it's racier passages, which really proves Weisshaupt's point.

The second part of this short chapter is entitled At The Club One Afternoon. The script is across two pages in an old fashioned font that is reminiscent of the late 19th century, which is also the period Iest seems to be set in.

It features two stuffy gentlemen of the type that were thought to frequent exclusive gentleman's clubs in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They are discussing Cerebus in approving tones, they seem to find him admirable.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

All Lined Up

Cerebus is once again the Prime Minister of Iest, only this time he is not his own man...errr...aardvark. He's Weisshaupt's puppet, I guess you could argue he was Astoria's puppet the first time, but he had far more control of his own destiny then.

Relations between Cerebus and his mother in law have deteriorated to the point where they cannot even get through a meal without a shouting match and a food fight. This is much to Sophia's distress. The warrior woman worried about her mother dying alone and unloved (a common theme in the book) and wants to set her up with Blakely. Cerebus loathes Henrot and wouldn't even wish her on someone he dislikes as much as Blakely. Cerebus undisguised view of his mother in law as a vicious, old, fat, ugly woman upsets Sophia to the extent that she refuses to talk or have anything much to do with him, even in bed.

Cerebus is rescued from having to try and mend bridges with Sophia by being summoned to attend the pope. Pope Harmony IV to be exact. Harmony's II & III having been killed off by their successors. Once again the mysterious Lion of Serrea is mentioned, because apparently one of his representatives has to be present.

The Pope himself does not seem to be in his right mind for most of his meeting with Cerebus. Babbling incoherently about Weisshaupt and Cerebus' destiny as a priest. He also has knowledge of Lord Julius, Cirin, The Abbess, Astoria, Wenda and even Perce. Everything that is being said is dutifully written down by the Lion of Serrea's representative and the key moment is when Harmony IV says it is Cirin not Weisshaupt who will prevail. A bearded man carrying a crossbow appears and is informed by the scribe that Harmony is a Cirinist. As such he must die. The crossbowman takes aim and fires, Harmony dies with Cerebus standing beside his throne.
The large picture of Cerebus wide eyes with the sound THUNK and blood splattered across the HU & N is brilliant work and tells the reader the story without having to show what really happened.

The second last page sees, for me, the welcome return of the Elf. She greets Cerebus when he returns and breathlessly asks incessant questions about what the Pope is right. An angry and stunned Cerebus walks past her without answering and enters his bedroom. Sophia inquires as to whether Cerebus wants to make up and he angrily replies No.

To welcome readers back to Iest and The Regency Dave decorated the border of every page with a regency style wallpaper design. You don't pick up on this until a second read, but it puts the reader back in the setting immediately and is a very effective technique. This was yet another reason why Cerebus had to be an independent publication, back in the 80's it simply wouldn't have survived as a mass market publication.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Suddenly Sophia

Cerebus wakes in a hotel in Port Seprania (I assume in new Sepra) with a pounding headache. He's been on another bender. He gets out of bed and hears a ching in the usual pounding of a hangover. The last panel on that page is brilliant, 5 shots of Cerebus' face going through a gamut of emotions, settling on stunned shock when he looks downward.

Cerebus is wearing a chainmail bikini. As the only person Cerebus knows who wears such attire is the feisty, randy and decidedly crazy Red Sophia this is not a good development. His worst fears are realised when he looks at the rumpled bed and sees an equally rumpled Sophia laying there.

Worse is yet to come. Weisshaupt walks in and it appears that he drugged Cerebus and whilst in a drugged and inebriated state Cerebus not only slept with Red Sophia he married her! Weisshaupt's administration has made leaving a legitimized marriage (Sophia claims they legitimized it at least 12 times) a hanging offence.

This is all part of the devious bureaucrat's plan to reinstall Cerebus as the Prime Minister of Iest. As the aardvark has no choice at the present time he lets Weisshaupt's flunkies dress him in wig and suit and prepares to go back to Iest. The final insult is meeting Henrot Gutch. Henrot is Cerebus' new mother in law and to say that she is the mother in law from hell is putting it rather mildly.

Dave was at his funniest both with art and script in this one. Images of Cerebus wearing only Sophia's bikini were hysterical as were the scenes with him in the suit and the wig, coupled with his almost permanent scowl.

Although I'd never been much of a Sophia fan, she seemed more amusing in this and the character had a little more depth, now she wasn't threatening to cut heads off and had been made into more of a girly girl, who just happened to have a penchant for chainmail underwear.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Mystic We: The Origin of the Wolveroach Part 3

The Wolveroach dives into the soldiers and like his namesake is virtually unkillable and at the same time a killing machine. Even before the 'enhancements' the Roach seemed to be immortal. He doesn't die, simply changes incarnations, truth be told Dave is a good writer and it's against his, or any decent writers, interests to kill off major characters while they're still of use, especially if they're fan favourites, which the Roach has always been.

Michelle, because of her nature and her connection with 'Uncle Artemis', is distraught and believes that he will be killed. Cerebus on the other hand, has gone up against Artemis on a number of occasions and seen him survive things that no one has a reasonable expectation of walking away from. He attempts to reassure Michelle by telling her that even he would think twice about scrapping with the Bug and his new muscles. This doesn't help. Michelle has taken Cerebus at face value, is unaware of his reputation as a mercenary and doesn't realise that he is a formidable opponent.

While he's arguing the point with her, he hears a voice in his head that directs him to the cellar. He finds the Wolveroach there. He has been possessed by Professor Charles X Claremont. The Professor's body was damaged beyond all repair by the 'apocalypse beasts', but his mind and spiritual form live on, he just has to use hosts, in this case the Wolveroach. When considering the somewhat strained relationship between Wolverine and Professor X this was rather amusing. Wolverine would have gutted Professor X if he ever tried a similar stunt.

Claremont informs Cerebus that he is all knowing and as such knows that Cerebus has fallen for Michelle, but that he will never get her. His only hope is to do as Claremont instructs him. Interestingly Claremont does say that Jaka still loves Cerebus.

Cerebus tries using Claremont's advice and gets a bowl of egg salad dumped on his head, this was largely Claremont playing a joke on the aardvark and using Cerebus' emotional state to make it work.

Cerebus decides to leave. He appears at the door to the room with the window that he and Michelle used to sit by. His sword and book are under one arm, he's definitely moving on. He can see a ghost of himself and Michelle sitting in the window, laughing. Michelle gives him the 1,000 crowns he wanted in a sealed courier's pouch, then she tosses the key at him to save him the trouble of cutting it open. Cerebus walks out and slams the door behind him. Michelle's face is shown in silhouette as he walks out of her life.

The Why & The Are: Origin of the Wolveroach Part 2

While Countess Michelle looked after her fiance; Vichy, she left Cerebus with Artemis. Cerebus has never gotten on with the Bug at the best of times. Mostly when they're alone they end up fighting. Because the Roach is, as usual, so completely in character that he's unintelligible to anyone sane Cerebus gives up.

Michelle seems rather put upon and feels as if she has to do everything, because no one else will help her. Personally I feel she has a persecution complex and actually likes having crises in her life. Why else would she invite Cerebus to stay with her when she obviously knows what he's like?

Unsurprisingly Artemis disappears. For some reason Michelle blames this on Cerebus, but it's just how the Roach is and how he's been ever since he got apprehended in Beduin with Elrod.

Later that night Cerebus and Michelle are again sitting on a couch by the window talking. Cerebus tells Michelle that the girl he almost married left him, she ran off with someone called Thomas. Her name was Michelle, which explains why he opened up to the Countess about her, they shared the same name.

The Wolveroach reappears and as usual stands there looking heroic and spouting gibberish. He seems to be under the impression that Michelle is his lover and that like with Astoria Cerebus has stolen her. I wondered if Dave was trying to make a parallel with Wolverine's longing for Jean Grey, but knowing he could never have her because she was in love with Cyclops. He goes up to the roof for his final stand, because there are a group of armed soldiers on the property looking for him. I've never know if this was meant to happen or this was Dave's way of complying with Marvels cease and desist order and making it work in the context of the book.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Origin of the Wolveroach

Cerebus and the Countess drag the unconscious Wolveroach upstairs and Cerebus deduces that he isn't really the Countesses uncle. One puzzling thing was the Roach's incredible weight. He had been bulky ever since his Captain Cockroach days, but that was all muscle. This time he collapses the bed when they get him onto it.

Aside from Weisshaupt and Cerebus the Countess appears to have the longest association with the Roach. Weisshaupt brought him to her after spiriting him out of Beduin as a wanted felon. The Countess became quite fond of him, which is probably when she adopted him as her 'uncle'.

It was the Countess that Weisshaupt took the Roach from and moulded him into his 'hero of the realm' Captain Cockroach. When Weisshaupt got himself into trouble and went missing the Roach lost all focus and had no idea what to do with himself.

Astoria came to the Countess and said she needed somewhere to stay. She very quickly latched onto Uncle Artemis and seemed to befriend him, what she was doing was giving him someone else to follow, another cause to use his unique abilities to further.

In his Moon Roach guise he would occasionally visit the Countess and stand outside, on the second floor window ledges. The Countess was also aware of his regular personality changes and of Astoria's relationship with Cerebus.

Somehow he managed to escape the clutches of the church when Cerebus' government fell and let the Countess know that had survived by writing to her as Father Artemis Roach. He returned to his original protectoress not long after that. I found it interesting that she referred to him as Artemis all the time. I wonder where the name came from. I don't think it's his actual name and the readers had not been made aware of the businessman's name, the one that Cerebus had first met. Possibly it was a name the Countess made up for him. In any case the Countess' story about the Roach completely invalidates Astoria's Moon Roach origin story.

At this point Cerebus and the Countess are interrupted by the arrival of Weisshaupt. He claims to have entered through the door they left open when Artemis came in. I don't know if the Countess has any retainers, but she should sack them, because they appear to just let anyone wander into the place.

Weisshaupt is his usual supercilious, scheming self. There's a mention of a Sir Gerrik, which is not expanded upon, but promises an interesting story in the future with more than a whiff of scandal about it.

Weisshaupt is at it again, trying to put together his United Feldwar States concept, he offers Cerebus the Prime Ministership of Iest again, which Cerebus refuses, even though Weisshaupt has signed agreements with Lower Felda, New Sepra, Togith, Iest and Palnu. With Lord Julius on side Weisshaupt thinks he can't possibly lose. He doesn't seem to know the wily Palnan bureaucrat very well, even when Julius says he's on your side he probably really isn't.

Weisshaupt believes that the new incarnation he's given the Bug makes him the perfect tool. The Wolveroach combines the best elements of the previous versions. He has the crazed lone wolf aspect of the original Cockroach, he's the product of a scientific breakthrough like Captain Cockroach, although like Captain Cockroach, it's a bogus breakthrough. The character that the Wolveroach was based on; X-Men's Wolverine had an unbreakable adamantium skeleton that combined with his mutant healing factor made him near unkillable. I was wondering how they'd do that in Cerebus' world and the explanation also accounted for his increased weight. Weisshaupt had given him a costume with 200 pounds of moulded lead stitched into it. He also has the deadly assassin part of the Moon Roach in him as well. Weisshaupt has informants in the government who tell the Roach who to kill, they're known as X-Persons. Initially they were to be called the X-Men, but one of them pointed out that no Cirinist would ever work for an organisation that had the word 'men' in it. The fact that if Dave had done this he would have had to contend a massive lawsuit with Marvel is not mentioned. On that point Dave was forced to pull the Wolveroach because Marvel threatened legal action on the grounds that it was too close to their character of Wolverine. They never complained about Captain Cockroach (Captain America) or the Moon Roach (Moon Knight). Dave did eventually make his peace with Marvel, but he was sure ticked off at the time. I can't say I blame him. Captain America was virtually public domain and the Moon Knight was never more than a B list hero, but parody one of their A listers and watch the legal threats fly.

Weisshaupt is ordered out of the house by Cerebus and takes his leave. It isn't mentioned and maybe it was coincidental, but there was a definite resemblance between the Countess and Weisshaupt. It then dawns on the Countess that she accidentally left 'Uncle' Artemis in the same room as her 'fiance' and that can't be a good thing. I was still struck by the speech patterns on her fiance and how he sounded so much like the McGrews. Maybe he's Onlian.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Countess & The Aardvark

Cerebus arrives at the Countess' estate in the pouring rain.

Given the lack of servants and the spartan look of the house it would appear that the Countess is somewhat impoverished, although that's at odds with the 400 crowns she gave Silverspoon to get Cerebus there in the first place.

The Countess is a rather masculine looking woman, who when she greets Cerebus is actually dressed in a rather mannish manner. It struck me that a number of Dave's women in the books do tend to look rather androgynous, very strong featured. Even Jaka's face is drawn that way at times. It's either a style or something he does unconsciously.

The Countess is intensely interested in Cerebus' book and he's determined to only give very concise answers. He's equally interested in finding out whether she is a Cirinist or a Kevillist. Although both were effectively religions, with Kevillism being an offshoot of Cirinism, at this stage they seem to come across more as political factions. As the book is called Church & State this makes sense. There is very little division between the two.

I think I picked up a continuity error midway through this chapter. Cerebus tells the Countess that he came because she sent him 300 crowns, yet in the previous chapter it is very clearly stated that it was 400 crowns. It could be possible that Cerebus is trying to make the Countess think Silverspoon pocketed the other 100, so that way if she wants her money back he'll still be able to keep that 100, plus what Silverspoon and Rosencrant....sorry Gwane and Trystrim gave him.

The Countess also asks Cerebus questions about what Lord Julius is like. She seems to think he's joking when he replies that Lord Julius is a lot like a bottomless pit you have to keep throwing money into. The Countess seems to think he's being flippant, but the aardvark could not be more serious.

They are interrupted by the appearance of an odd character, who dresses and talks like a McGrew, and seems to be labouring under the misconception that he is the Countess' fiance. He may be crude, but I got the feeling that he bankrolls the Countess.

Dave developed quite a habit of writing parts of his story in prose with one large chunk of it per page. He does that here, with Cerebus writing his memoir. He finishes this entry off with the revelation that Lord Julius moustache is painted on.

When Cerebus encounters the Countess the following day she is wearing sundress, although she still looks like a man, and is in a playful mood, going so far as to push Cerebus into a fountain in her garden. It's a move she soon regrets as we all know what happens when Cerebus' fur gets wet.

That night as the Countess and Cerebus sit in the window talking by the light of the crescent moon we find out a little more about the aardvark's past. He tells the Countess that he lived with a girl for while when he was 18, but she wasn't old enough to marry. He reminisced that she was spoilt and crazy, but never dull. The reminiscences are cut short by a crash downstairs.

Cerebus goes to investigate with the Countess in tow and stops dead. The Countess lets out a shocked cry of Uncle Artemis! Her 'uncle' is the Roach! He's in a different costume and he's unshaven, but it is the Roach. Kevitch still seems to be with him, narrating his movements and promising that they can't miss the secret origin of the Wolveroach! Part one of a three-part miniseries. Then he passes out.

Dave had obviously decided to take on one of Marvel's actually one of comics, biggest heroes of the 80's. The X-Men's Wolverine. The 3 part miniseries was another comic reference. The most popular characters got limited spin off books, usually they showcased the characters origin.

The rest of the story was worth it simply for the appearance of the Roach as an incarnation of Wolverine.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Faraway Tree or Birth of a Fantophile Part 2

I said I’d introduce you to The Faraway Tree, so I’m making good on that now.

I’m not sure exactly how I was introduced to the books myself. I think it was when I spoke to the older sister of a friend, who was reading the books, and the idea interested me. I was already aware of Enid Blyton, having read some of the Noddy books. I think I must have been about 6 at the time.

Like most of Blyton’s work, the stories are very simple and easy to read, they also tend to be very episodic, almost like a collection of short stories on the one subject. The Wishing Chair books were much the same. The very concept behind both The Wishing Chair and The Faraway Tree lends itself to this type of story telling. It’s not the stories or even the characters that really grabbed me, even at this age I could recognise the recycling of stories, like David and Leigh Eddings, Blyton told the same story using the same characters over and over and it always ended up happily in the end. What hooked me were the concepts and the ideas that drove the books.

The central characters in the 3 Faraway Tree books are Blyton’s stereotypical 1930/1940’s British kids, or rather her idealised view of British children of the era. The real world very rarely, if ever, intruded on Blyton’s fantasies and as such although the 2nd of the books was written in the middle of the 2nd World War in 1943, there is no mention of it at all. The books seem to exist in a sort of never never land where time simply stopped in the early part of the 20th century. In the original texts the kids are called Jo, Bessie and Fanny. Unfortunately the Jack Booted Sook Brigade have gotten hold of them and their names were amended to Joe (apparently spelling a boy’s name without the ‘e’ confuses children. I deduced from the fact that Jo was always referred to in the masculine of ‘he’ or ‘him’ that it was a boy, I didn’t need the other ‘e’. Children really are more intelligent than censors give them credit for), Beth (apparently Bessie is old fashioned and has connotations to the American slave era. The 2nd part of that really threw me. It’s a corruption of Elizabeth for God’s sake! Even Queen Elizabeth I was referred to as ‘Good Queen Bess’ in old history texts) and Frannie (this one has a bit of validity, being that Fanny is American slang for backside and used to refer to the vagina in Great Britain and Australia, although at the time it was a common enough girls name, my mother actually had an Aunty Fan). There have been other changes, the golliwogs got it in the neck again, once again any reference to naughty golliwogs was replaced by goblins (I’m sure goblins find this offensive and I’m considering making a protest on their behalf) and any corporal punishment references were replaced, ie: villainess school teacher Dame Slap became Dame Snap and instead of hitting her unruly students, she screams at them loudly. Amazing.

Back to the story. Jo, Bessie and Fanny move to the country from the town. It’s never specified where they lived or where they moved to, but as the town is described as having dirty houses and tall chimneys it’s probably one of the larger British metropolises. The countryside is fairly generic and could be any rural locale. One thing I always found odd about the first book was that the kids (who all seem to be under 10) are allowed a large amount of freedom, their parents hardly ever worry that their offspring are off wandering about the countryside for hours on end. From this, and other work of hers, I can only conclude that Blyton was not comfortable trying to write realistic adults, and then again what under 12 year old really wants to read about realistically written adults? Parents are only used to either forbid or allow things when it’s convenient to the plot. Jo, who by virtue of his age generally takes the lead, suggests that they explore the nearby wood. The wood is separated from the country lane that their cottage is on by a ditch. They don’t get to explore very far the first day before they’re required at home again. When they mention the wood to their father and how it seems mysterious he says that the locals call it The Enchanted Wood (also the book’s title) and tend to avoid it.

Not so our heroes. The first chance they get (they seem to be permanently on vacation) they take a picnic into the wood. While they’re relaxing and eating they see a group of brownies. Now this is another point where Enid Blyton’s fictional children and real children differ. Any actual child confronted by a brownie would either run away to tell someone or try to catch it, that was if they even recognised what it was. Jo, Bessie and Fanny seem to have no problem deducing that the little bearded men in the forest are brownies and neither are they scared or particularly surprised. In fact they help the brownies when a gnome (again they know what he is) tries to steal something from the brownies. The kids chase the gnome up a tree, but the brownies give up the chase there. The tree that the gnome has climbed is known to them and everyone in the Enchanted Wood as The Faraway Tree, it is the oldest and most magical tree in the world. It’s top reaches all sorts of enchanted lands. Some are wondrous: the Land of Take What You Want, some are pointless: the Land of Topsy Turvy, some are unpleasant: Rocking Land, some are magical: the Land of Wizards. There is only one land at the top at a time, they move on fairly quickly and if you get stuck when a land moves on then you can have quite a job getting back to the tree, as the children will discover. The brownies are scared of the tree and warn the children that they should avoid it where ever possible. This is of course pouring oil on fire. If you want a child to do something then tell them not to.

First chance they get the kids go back to the wood with the intention of climbing The Faraway Tree. First they can’t find the tree, so they call for the brownies. Their 'leader’ Mr Whiskers, appears from down a rabbit hole (yes the rabbits do talk, and no the kids don’t seem to find this particularly strange. Fanny doesn’t surprise me, she’s a space cadet, but I always thought Jo and Bessie had more gumption) Mr Whiskers takes them to the tree and again cautions them against climbing it. The kids don’t listen and away they go.

The first really odd thing they notice is that the leaves and fruit of the tree change as you climb up it, then they see a small window in the tree’s trunk. The kids peer in and get a shock. A small man; a pixie, sticks his head out, screams at the children and flings a jug of water at them, which gets Bessie. This is their first encounter with one of the tree’s residents; the Angry Pixie.

Further up they see a door with a bell. Undeterred by their experience with the Angry Pixie they ring the bell. A voice replies and then when they don’t answer the door opens and a fluffy haired elf peers out. This is Silky, so named for her mane of hair. She’s described as an elf, but she’s always drawn with wings and looking like a fairy princess. She’s a home maker and is quite happy to feed the kids pop biscuits (a confection that only Silky seems to be able to make) and give them advice about the tree and it’s residents. There’s old Mister Watzisname, an absent minded gnome who spends most of his time sleeping outside his house and can’t remember his name. He did find it out once from a wizard, but promptly forgot it again. There’s also Dame Washalot, who takes in washing and tips the dirty water down the tree, regularly drenching unsuspecting travellers up the tree. Bessie gets hit by it as the kids make their way to the top and their first visit to a magical land.

As the land at the top is Roundabout Land it’s not a pleasant experience. They get lost and have to rely on assistance from a family of talking rabbits who help them find their way back to the tree. Fanny freezes while on a branch, and like the baby of the group that she is, refuses to go any further. This is when they meet Moonface. Exactly what Moonface is, is never described. He’s a small man of indeterminate age who is characterised by his big beaming moon of a face. His round house in the tree contains a slippery slip, which is a much quicker way of getting down the tree than climbing. He allows people to use the slippery slip as long as they pay him with toffee. He befriends the kids and agrees to let them use his slippery slip, complete with cushions for the journey down, as long as they bring him some toffee next time they visit the tree. The cushions are collected by a squirrel at the bottom of the tree. Quite a racket old Moonface has going on there, I don’t think he ever paid the squirrel, either. The promise of toffee gives the kids a reason to go back to the tree.

They decide it would be best to go at night and sneak out to give the toffee to Moonface. At night the Enchanted Wood is a different place, it’s lit up and all sorts of fairy folk wander about meeting and doing business. The Faraway Tree also does a brisk business with ropes hauling people up and down.

Jo unwisely goes into the land at the top of the tree and is caught by the obnoxious, dictatorial snowman that rules the land and housed with his army of polar bears. The land moves on before Moonface, Bessie and Fanny can rescue Jo. This is where Blyton’s imagination takes over again. Moonface concludes that his best option for rescuing Jo is to appeal to the three bears (as in Goldilocks and the 3 Bears) to accede with their relatives the polar bears on Jo’s behalf. They travel to the bears house by means of a windup toy train that has been enlarged for the purpose. There are two stops before the 3 Bears house. One is Golliwog Station (bet that’s not there anymore) and the other is Crosspatch Station. In Blyton’s version Goldilocks and the bears are very good friends, she lives with the bears and Papa Bear is very fond of her, they haven’t even heard of the story. Jo is eventually rescued, but that’s not all that important. What I loved was what Blyton did with the old fairy tale and how she wove it into her own story. We also found out that Moonface can do magic. It seemed to be forgotten after this particular story, but that’s not unusual in Blyton’s work, continuity was never a strong point.

The kids have all sorts of adventures with their new friends in the tree and midway through the book another major character was introduced; an eccentric tinker called the Saucepan Man. The Saucepan Man is hard of hearing because of all the saucepans and kettles he wears around himself that clash all the time, so he consistently mishears what people say, this gets him and usually whoever is with him at the time into trouble. I think he was intended to be some sort of comedy relief, but like Jar Jar Binks he proved to be more annoying than amusing.

The sequel: The Magic Faraway Tree introduced a new character. Cousin Dick (his name has since been changed to Rick, because Dick is slang for penis. Honestly!) came to stay with them. We also found out that the children’s mother’s first name was Polly. Initially Dick didn’t believe the stories his cousins told about the wood and the tree, so you just knew that they’d have to prove their validity by showing him, that was if they could stop hanging out with their magical friends in the first place. In what a very obvious attempt to parallel the original 3 kids first journey up the tree Dick had the Angry Pixie throw water at him and was soaked by Dame Washalot’s dirty water, the same as had happened to Bessie the first time she climbed the tree with her brother and sister.

Dick was a useful character, he was a good counterpoint to Jo, who was a bit prissy at times. Dick was a far more adventurous character, he was also a little bit naughty, but in the nicest possible way. None of Blyton’s characters were every truly bad, they were mischievious at worst. The stories in the book are largely retreads of the first one, although the Land of Dreams arc was extremely well done with things altering and changing in the same way they often seem to in dreams. Sometimes I have to remind myself that to the best of everyone’s knowledge the author had never taken acid.

It was in this book that the kids mother showed herself to be particularly clueless. Due to a misunderstanding caused by Dick, Moonface and Saucepan stayed a few days at the kids house. Admittedly the children’s parents had heard stories from their offspring about Moonface and Saucepan, but seeing them in the flesh is another thing altogether. I have to admit if I had kids and they suddenly started associating with someone who had a face like a big moon and an odd character who tied saucepans around himself I’d have to ask some questions, but this mother accepts them as friends of her children and lets them stay with no real questions asked.

The two of them head back to the tree when Silky comes and tells them that the Land of the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe came to the tree and the Old Woman decided that she was tired of looking after a pack of ungrateful brats (she didn’t use those exact words, but the intent was there) and had decided to move into Moonface’s round house. The lunar faced man wasn’t having that and had to head back to the tree. He got his house back after the kids pulled a few tricks on the Old Woman. Blyton used the houses being taken over by people from one of the lands at the top of the tree stoyrline again in that book, and once that had been sorted out, she brought the book to its conclusion with an excursion to the Land of Presents, the previous book had featured the Land of Birthdays.

The 3rd and final Faraway Tree book was called The Folk of the Faraway Tree. Cousin Dick had returned home and was replaced by Connie, the daughter of a friend of their mothers. Connie’s mother had to go away for her health and the children’s mother agreed to look after the girl. Connie was the same age as Fanny and as an indulged only child was somewhat spoilt when compared to the other 3.

Connie didn’t get along with the others initially, she found them ‘quaint’ as to her they were unsophisiticated ‘country folk’ and she did not believe in fairies and magic. Even meeting Moonface didn’t change her mind. The kids decided that the only thing for it was to take her up the tree. As with Bessie and Dick, Connie’s first encounter with the Angry Pixie did not go well, he got her with ink. She met Silky and Saucepan and found them far more to her liking. Silky was nice and Saucepan was funny. She fell down Moonface’s slippery slip and eventually got in a huff and disappeared into the one of the lands at the top of the tree. There were two possible outcomes here, it was either a rotten land or it was going to move away before the others could get her back. This time it was the latter. By the time they got her back she was a believer and would be as much a part of the Faraway Tree as Jo, Bessie, Fanny and Dick.

The accepted versions of nursery rhymes was once again turned on it’s head when the Land of Nursery Rhymes came to visit and it turned out that Miss Muffett and the Spider were actually very good friends. Dame Slap reappeared in a multiple chapter story that also featured Saucepan’s mother.

While Connie now believed in the tree and it’s residents she was still a spoilt young girl and this managed to get her in trouble again. It was when the tree itself was attacked by an army of trolls that Connie pitched in with Jo, Bessie and Fanny and all the other folk of the Faraway Tree and the Enchanted Wood that it was obvious her character had learned from what had happened and she’d become a better person for it. This particular story arc also introduced an annoying rabbit called Woffles. Again he was meant to be comic relief, but just fell flat. There was a visit to the Land of Treats towards the end, but the final chapter was called Goodbye to the Faraway Tree. It wasn’t really goodbye, it was for Connie, but Jo, Bessie and Fanny would continue to live there and have adventures up the tree with their friends.

That was the last book, though. I have to admit that I was glad she ended it when she did, it was time. In many ways Enid Blyton milked concepts for all they were worth, but she didn’t do that with the Faraway Tree, possibly she liked the concept herself too much to kill it.

I have to say that these magical children’s adventures were my introduction to fantasy. From there I moved onto Tove Jansson’s marvelously whimsical Moomintroll books, CS Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles and then onto The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. I’ve been reading fantasy most of my life and I’ve read some good, some bad, but mostly good. They were far from the best written books I’ve ever read, but I have Enid Blyton and her Faraway Tree and Wishing Chair books to thank for it.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The birth of a fantophile

I was going to do the 3rd chapter of Church & State, but was prevented by the fact that I haven't yet gotten around to reading it. I still wanted to post, so luckily saw something the other day that piqued my interest enough to write about it.

As I believe I've mentioned before I'm a fantophile. I'm not even sure if this is the accepted term or whether it's actually a real word, be rather cool if it's not, I've always wanted to create my own word and have it come into popular use. A fantophile by my definition is someone who enjoys reading fantasy novels. By fantasy I mean things along the lines of Lord of the Rings, not adult erotic fiction, although a number of the paranormal romances creeping into the genre now fit that description.

The other day I saw an article on a blog asking a number of fantasy authors what book first got them interested in the genre. The twist on this was that they were asking recognised authors. I've seen the same question asked regularly on various SFF themed forums. What prompted me to write about it was the depressing lack of orginality shown by many of the authors and the respondents in answering the question. So many of them said The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings. There's nothing wrong with either book. I loved The Hobbit myself (less so Lord of the Rings, but that's probably a subject that deserves a post all its own), but it was far from the first fantasy novel I read or what got me interested in the genre. Most of those that didn't reference Professor Tolkein credited novels that were squarely aimed at readers 10 and over. This puzzled and made me wonder what they read before and when they started to read for pleasure.

I started reading almost as soon as I could start to recognise words, my primary reason for going to school was so that I could learn to read, and when someone asks me what book or books got me interested in fantasy I don't answer The Hobbit. I don't even answer The Chronicles of Narnia, which is another popular answer. Not sure if the fact that Tolkein and C.S Lewis (the author of the The Narnia Chronicles) were friends and colleagues is coincidental or not. If I think about it and am pressed for an answer then I reply Enid Blyton.

Outside of her home of England and the Commonwealth Enid Blyton is best known for The Famous Five; a series of children's whodunnits (she wrote 21 in all) about 4 British kids and their dog Timmy, who solve mysteries. She also wrote The Secret Seven, The Adventurous Four and Five Find-Outers and Dog. I hadn't even heard of the last 2 until I started to research this post (yes, I do research these!), and they weren't as popular as the FF, in fact The Secret Seven was largely the Famous Five with 2 extra cast members. Outside of that series Enid Blyton also became notable for her creation of the Terror of Toytown; the wooden doll Noddy. Even today Noddy is fairly popular in England and Australia.

I read the Famous Five books and the Secret Seven and I read a lot of Noddy. I still have a number of Noddy books, the ones before they were made politicallly correct by removing golliwogs and anything else that certain members of society thought may upset the youth of today. The books that I loved of Enid's were when she gave full rein to her imagination.

Aside from sleuthing pre teens and talking toys Enid also wrote a lot about fairies. Fairies, pixies, gnomes, goblins, brownies, things that don't even have names, Ms Blyton did them all. Enid Blyton's fairies were of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century kind, the ones that small girls like to think live at the bottom of their gardens. The ones that have gossamer wings and fly around wearing party frocks.

Two of the series featuring magical creatures were The Wishing Chair and the Faraway Tree. In the Wishing Chair series (there were 3 of them: The Adventures Of The Wishing Chair, The Wishing Chair Again & More Wishing Chair Stories) two siblings; Mollie and Peter find an old chair in an odd shop. They purchase the chair for their playroom, not knowing that it can grow wings and fly. It doesn't just fly anywhere either, it flies to magical lands. On their first journey they encounter a mischievous pixie by the name of Chinky who is being held prisoner by a giant. They rescue him and he goes to live in their playroom. Although Chinky is an integral part of the books he turns out to be a handful and most of the trouble that the kids and the chair find themselves in is largely due to the annoying pixie's nature and tendency to get himself into situations. In the second book the siblings and Chinky have to rescue the chair from a magical race called Slipperies, who have kidnapped it and cut off it's wings. The 3rd book was cobbled together from stories in the first book and some of Enid Blyton's anthologies. Although there was an amazing imagination and a fair bit of originality in The Wishing Chair books they were not a patch on the Faraway Tree books.

You now know how and why I became a fantophile. I'll introduce you to the Faraway Tree some time later.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Insecure Sinecure

The first genuine chapter of Church & State has the tongue twisting name of The Insecure Sinecure. Cerebus is still at The Blue Duck writing his instruction manual, when 3 overdressed and immaculately coiffed gentlemen enter the establishment and make a beeline for the aardvark.

When he sees the leader, Cerebus has to suppress a groan. It is Lord Julius’ spoilt son, the Prince Valiant lookalike; Silverspoon. With him are 2 hangers on; Gwane and Trystrim. I don’t know if Dave did this consciously or not, but there’s an awful lot of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern about Gwane and Trystrim. Unasked, Silverspoon and his companions seat themselves next to Cerebus, and initially Silverspoon offers him money to write his memoirs. Cerebus becomes interested when Silverspoon explains what a memoir is. He then suggests that they play an incomprehensible card game that has become popular among the upper classes. I thought we’d seen the last of Silverspoon when Lord Julius was attempting to use him as human torch after Cerebus threatened to declare war on election night.

Cerebus gambles with money supplied by Silverspoon and due to not understanding the incredibly complicated and detailed rules has soon lost his stake. Predictably enough the former Prime Minister of Iest loses his temper and sends the trio away in a huff.

The following day Cerebus is mucking out The Blue Duck’s stables to pay off his bar bill, when Silverspoon seeks him out and invites him to accompany him on a visit to the estate of Countess Detin. Cerebus has had more than his fill of high society and mucking out stables is actually preferable to spending any extended amount of time with Silverspoon and his ilk. Gwane comes running up and manages to spill the beans that they can only go see the Countess on the condition that they bring Cerebus with them, and there is also the matter of 400 crowns that she’s given them to ensure this happens. Even with 400 crowns on offer Cerebus plays the Brer Rabbit game and says he’d rather muck out stables. By pooling their available funds Silverspoon, Gwane and Trystrim manage to raise the offer to 600 crowns. Cerebus agrees.

Cerebus then books a lavish mode of transport in front of Silverspoon and his associates. Once they’re gone he changes the method to something more practical and far less expensive and wants it ready in 10 minutes. Typical Cerebus, although you wouldn’t have to be all that bright to outwit Silverspoon, he is so monumentally stupid that you really do wonder if he’s genuinely the scheming Lord Julius’ child.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


I promised, didn’t I? Well here it is, my read of Church & State. Enjoy!

There was a short dedication in the front of the phone book which thanked Gerhard for arriving when he did and Deni for leaving when she did. That one line about Dave’s ex wife hinted that the split was somewhat acrimonious.

The introduction was short and fairly standard. It states that Church & State is the second of a trilogy of 3 novels. Church & State II was at this time still being written and Dave does give a ‘guesstimate’ of when it would be completed and says that he’s dancing as fast as he can. Dave delivered. I can think of a few fantasy authors who have failed on this count and also promised that they were working hard, but their actions said otherwise (sorry, being a fantophile, it’s a bit of a pet peeve and something that seems to be more and more common these days). I found it interesting that he advocated reading High Society if you weren’t quite up to what was going on in Church & State. He advised to do it, but did say it wasn’t essential if you didn’t want to. What intrigued me was that he made no mention of the first 25 issues contained in the Cerebus phone book. It’s not a single narrative in the way that High Society was, but I still think it’s an important part of the novel as a whole. I advocate starting with Cerebus, it is where the story starts and along with the aardvark many other major characters are introduced there. It’s also a very good look at how the Dave’s talent as both an artist and a storyteller developed.

The first chapter of Church & State is quite short, more of a prologue really. It appears to be set in the lower city and takes place at a tavern called The Blue Duck. I wondered if the name was an oblique reference to the albatross that was such an important plot point in High Society. There are two thugs at the bar when Cerebus enters. One is regaling the other with what he regards as a humourous tale about an assault he committed on a group of hapless individuals.

Cerebus orders ale and sits down at a nearby table. He puts a book down, along with a small pot of ink, dips a quill in it and begins to write. While the aardvark’s hand writing is legible and flowing, his skills as a writer leave something to be desired. It appears to be a memoir of sorts, a kind of instruction manual about what not to do if you ever become Prime Minister. The strongly worded references to Lord Julius and admonitions to not take advice from him suggest that it is based on personal experience.

I could see the chapter’s punch line coming the moment Cerebus chose a table near the thugs. He had a whole tavern to choose from, but he had to sit close to a powerfully built, violent character who was fond of gesticulating grandly as he spoke. Sure enough one of the gestures hits Cerebus’ drink and knocks it over, spoiling his meticulously written paragraph. The story ends with an outside view of The Blue Duck, the written sounds of violence that emanate from the tavern tell us that Cerebus is pounding the living daylights out of the thug.

It was a neat enough way to start the new book, but I just felt the ending was too pat. It was like Dave couldn’t think of a new joke, so he fell back on a tried and trusted one; Cerebus’ rage at a simple mishap getting the better of him and leading to an improbable beating for the perpetrator of the accident. I suppose we’re lucky Cerebus’ fur didn’t get wet and start to smell.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Softball...there's nothing soft about it!

As I promised/threatened this is another of those off topic posts. I will get to Church & State, I promise. Just need some time to do so.

My wife has been playing softball since she was 11 years old and as a result the rest of her family; father, mother, and 2 younger sisters, also became involved in the sport. Her sisters dropped out to have kids and due to injuries, although one is returning to it this season, but her parents, in particular her father became heavily involved, in not just playing, but in the administration of their own local club and at a state level

2009 was the 7th World Masters Games to be held, scheduled this time for Sydney, Australia. This was the first time my wife was eligible to compete; the age qualification is 35 and over. She had worked in administration at the 5th WMG in Melbourne, but had always wanted to compete. As Sydney isn’t really that far from home in Melbourne, I made the decision that I’d also go to support her, and we decided to combine it with a trip away. Both my wife’s parents were also attending. My father in law was going to be playing for Mens 45+ team and my mother in law, while listed as a player and eligible to compete, was unlikely to do so, but would act as scorer for my wife’s team.

I never really knew much about the sport prior to meeting my wife. I knew it was a variation of baseball, mostly played by women and that Australia was pretty good at it, but the US were the best.

When my father in law found out that I was intending to go to Sydney he wondered if I wanted to play, he needed bodies for the Mens 35+ team. I did advise him that I’d never played before and that I have no athletic aptitude whatsoever, but he assured me that as long as I was fit and could catch and throw a ball I’d be fine. So it was I became not only a spectator and husband of a competitor, but an active competitor in my own right.

I actually knew less about the World Masters Games than I did about softball. I was aware of their existence, but like most people outside of the families of competitors I thought it consisted of really old people with a sprinkling of ex Olympians. It is unfortunate that the media focus on the oldest competitors, many of them 90+ who win their events because they’re the only entrants. It turns the event into a sideshow and hides the fact that it is the largest participant sporting event in the world. The Sydney Games had in excess of 28,000 active entrants across a range of sports. If you were to see the occasional media pieces on the Games you could be excused for thinking that it was a senior citizens athletics meet and somehow sailing was also involved. The only reason that sailing got a look in was because Prince Frederick of Denmark (considered newsworthy in Australia because his wife; Mary, is Australian born) was competing. Badly, I might add, he didn’t win a medal and seemed to spend more time in the water than on top of it, his only real talent lay in capsizing his craft repeatedly. The event really deserves better coverage and the media should be ashamed of their efforts.

The Games aren’t about winning or losing, they’re about participating and having fun. Proving that age is no barrier to either. Most of the entrants are social athletes who compete for the sake of competing and enjoy their sport. Like all people, they like to win, but it’s not the driving force behind their activity.

My wife and I decided, as we were already in Sydney, that we’d register early and not have the hassle of trying to fit it in around competing. My father in law had been grumbling for weeks about the disorganisation of the softball component in the Games, as opposed to the readiness of Melbourne in 2002. Neither of us realised that it extended to the Games as a whole. They had massively underestimated how many people would want to compete and hadn’t catered for it. One mistake was having everyone register at the same place; the Olympic centre in Homebush, another was allowing all competitors to register at the same time, rather than allocate days or times for the different disciplines, an option to register online would have been useful and you would have just had to drop by to collect a photo id as well, the final mistake, and the one that I found most mystifying, was the lack of direction or signage as to where to go to register. Homebush is a large centre, incorporating a number of stadiums and buildings. We parked about 10 minutes walk from the registration centre and only found it by following other people and then seeing the queue. I won’t go into details, but we waited in that queue for in excess of 3 hours and it took 4 and a half hours to complete a process that if properly organised could have been done in 10 minutes.

Once that was over and done with we found our accommodation (organised by the club in Melbourne) and had a free day in Sydney before competition started, and we took full advantage of the fact that our accreditation allowed us free public transport in and around the city. It came in useful the following evening when we attended the opening ceremony, too. It was about as well organised as registering had been, but it was still fun to do.

I still can’t work out why they call it softball, the ball is not soft! I have bruises that can attest to this. While you don’t want to let a ball run through your legs into the outfield it hurts a lot less than putting your shin in the way. There’s also a reason you have a glove…it really hurts to try and stop a ball with the ungloved hand.

I did have fun competing, although I discovered that there’s a lot more to the game than catching, throwing and hitting. There’s an art to all 3, plus no matter where you’re fielding you have to be aware of what’s going on all over the ground, the same applies when batting or even when waiting your turn to bat. I preferred playing right field, although my best game was at 3rd base, having a hand in 2 outs. The Mens 35+ team was always up against it. We only had 11 team members and one of those was part time, dividing his time between the 35’s and the 45’s. 3 of us had never played before. We’d never had a practice session with all 11 of us present at the one time prior to our first match. Consequently we failed to win a game, although we had a couple of close ones and were forced to forfeit 2, one when our catcher broke down with a back injury, finishing his tournament, and the other because we had injuries and were trying to regroup after the breakdown. We finished the event with 6 fit players, not really surprising, most of the guys weren’t all that fit to begin with, only about 4 players hadn’t undergone multiple knee reconstructions and we threw ourselves into the whole thing with very little regard to life and limb. Like I said the ball isn’t soft and playing with a no prisoners approach doesn’t help. Still and all I did have fun and I’ll be there in 4 years time in Turin. This time after training with my wife and taking a more active interest in the sport I should at least know what I’m doing.

Anyone know why they call it softball?

Friday, October 2, 2009


Just a quick note to let anyone who happens to come by and read this and wonder this guy used to post at least once every couple of days, what's happened? I'm going to be on holidays for a couple of weeks, so won't be able to continue the journey until I return home. Once I'm back I'll jump straight into Church & State I. Should be fun from what I can remember.
Seeya in a fortnight.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


The 6th crises and the final chapter of High Society began in an unusual fashion. Cerebus was all alone in a cavernous hall, even his words echoed down the empty spaces. Eventually he found Astoria with the Conniptin commander. Because no one brought Cerebus his breakfast he has come to the conclusion that something is wrong.

Astoria is drinking wine and it is obvious by her manner that the glass in her hand is far from the first of the day. She informed Cerebus that the churches exodus inward had ended. The church has united and taken all power. Blakely and Filgate scared of the consequences have gone home. Cerebus' cabinet is now composed of Astoria and the Conniptin. Cerebus believes that the Conniptins give him the military strength he's wanted. However the forces of the combined church outnumber the Conniptins significantly and they'd be cut to pieces if Cerebus were to attack. Cerebus last hope was the anarcho-romantics, but they had been rounded up, arrested and were waiting trial or begging the Pontiff for his forgiveness.

Astoria says that Cerebus only course of action is to go to Lower Felda, as they are the only people willing to support him as Iestan Prime Minister in exile for the express purpose of embarassing the church. During the course of the argument that the conversation becomes we see some of Astoria's real reasons for orchestrating all this in the first place, she's a feminist, she wanted women to get the vote. I wonder if this was the beginning of Dave's anti feminist rant. The one that would get him in so much trouble later on.

Cerebus insists that he's not going to Lower Felda, he's going to Eshnospur. I don't think he really cared where he went, but he stuck on Eshnospur because Astoria wanted them to go to Lower Felda and he took a stand to prove that he did make the decisions for himself, not just blindly follow or agree to Astoria's plans.

As Cerebus leaves Astoria asks him what he's going to do and he says he has someone to find. Astoria correctly guesses that he's going to go looking for Jaka. She tells him that there are things he doesn't know about her. Cerebus responds by saying that he knew she was Lord Julius niece. Astoria's counter to that is that she too was once Lord Julius 'niece', he's had a number of 'nieces' over the years, the big difference between Jaka and Astoria is that he married her. I have admit this made me a little ewwwww! I'd always seen Lord Julius as Dave first presented him; a fantasy version of Groucho Marx. Groucho was undeniably sleazy, although Chico was sleazier, and he flirted all the time, but he was ultimately harmless and humourous. Jaka was twelve when she left Lord Julius.

Cerebus walked out on Astoria and found himself back in the Ambassador Suite in The Regency with the Elf. The Elf, as always, praised Cerebus, telling him that he was the best Prime Minister ever and who cared about the crummy ol' church. It will serve them right if Cerebus stays there for the rest of his life playing wickets with her. Cerebus tells her that he can't do that, he's leaving. The Elf asks if he will at least come back and see her. Cerebus says yes, but not soon. The Elf tells Cerebus that she'll miss him, will he miss her? The Cerebus did something I'd never expected to see. He started to cry, he said he had soot in his eye, but he was crying. He really loved the Elf and he hated leaving that life behind. The Ef held him until he composed himself. He picked up his sword, put on his vest and medallions, then kicked the sack of junk that he got from the mad artist. It fell open and the contents spilled out. Amongst the bangles and cups and plates was a statue of an albatross. Cerebus picked it up and threw it into the city where it shattered.

The book finished with some of the documents that we had been seeing throughout the crises, something that had been written by an anarcho-romantic who remained loyal to Cerebus. We didn't realise until this point who was writing those. These ones told the story of the author's arrest and imprisonment on a false charge of blasphemy. The final page was a ragged man in a dungeon cell writing on his walls by candlelight. The last panel is the word liberty.

Wow! That was one hell of a ride. Dave was going to find this a hard act to follow. To remain relevant, tight and funny for another 250 issues, that was going to be fun to see.

The Last Stand

The 5th of Cerebus 6 crises was titled rather ominously as The Last Stand. Cerebus' advisors and cabinet are running about like headless chooks reading reports and arguing with one another. One of his military commanders is the only one with any sense asking messengers if there is any sign of military assistance.

Cerebus has retired to his room where he has proceeded to drink himself into a stupor. The combination of the invasion and the disastrous meeting with Jaka, who has once again disappeared from his life, has forced the aardvark to seek solace in alcohol. He does this often and it made me wonder if Cerebus' aardvarkian constitution actually allowed him to become an alcoholic. Astoria is keeping up the fiction that she is consulting with him to buy time and not let anyone else know of his true comatose state.

Just when he is not wanted Lord Julius wanders in. He and Astoria have an argument, or rather Astoria screams at Lord Julius and he responds calmly with inconsequential nonsense. Cerebus staggers out in the middle of this, suffering from the after effects of his bender. The Roach appears claiming that has been doped. The Roach says that liquid frostonite, which is crazy Roach talk for water, will counter the effects of what Cerebus has been given. A bucket of cold water thrown over Cerebus does do wonders for his hangover, though. This was where Dave started to do something that annoyed me intensely. He kept shifting the orientation of the panels around. One page you're reading the book upright, then on it's side, then upside down, the other side and then upright again. It made the story very hard to read and you had to spin the comic around, it was hard enough to do with a simple paper issue, bloody near impossible with a phone book. The Cerebus' fur smells bad when it's wet joke was still running and it got another airing here.

While Cerebus dries off and gets redressed Astoria outlines plans for them to go into political exile and leave the city to the invading Hsifans. Initially Cerebus goes along with it saying he wants to go someplace warm and Astoria suggests Eshnospur as a possible destination. As they plan to leave Cerebus receives news that some of the forces have managed to halt the advance and his thinking changes, he starts talking about mounting an offensive. On the way out of the building they encounter the McGrews, both of whom are trying to learn Hsifan.

Cerebus and Astoria are packed and waiting to leave when Cerebus digs his heels in and decides to take a look at the Hsiffies for himself. Against Astoria's wishes, actually she was screaming hysterically at Cerebus demanding that he listen to her and come back. Cerebus ignored her and continued out with one of his military commanders, an impressively moustached fellow. Once outside Cerebus borrows his commanders sword and goes to meet the Hsiffies, pausing only to tell his commander that if Astoria's screeching bothers him turn her upside down in a snowbank somewhere.

As Cerebus charges towards oblivion, a naked blade in his hand the forces heading towards him stop and start shouting: Might for Right, Might for Might, Right for Might, Fight! Fight! Fight! They aren't Hsifans, they're Conniptins, more specifically they're Cerebus' Conniptins, the ones that he thought perished outside the walls of Imesh way back in issue #9. I'd like to think Dave planned this, but I don't think even he thought that far ahead back then. This was just a convenient way to get out of a seemingly impossible situation.

I do like the way Dave got Cerebus out of this and how we saw that even Astoria can't hold her cool in a hopeless situation, yet Cerebus true colours came to the fore and if he was going down he was going to do it with a sword in his hand and both fists swinging.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Upstairs Downstairs

Cerebus doesn't see any way out of the pending invasion by the feared Hsifans. His three advisors; Blakely, Filgate and the fop from the Anarcho-Romantics, aren't any help either. This isn't Cerebus' type of fight. He should be commanding troops on the front line, not directing things from a war room.

The news from the front just keeps getting worse and the Iestans are fighting desperately to hold on to their city. While Cerebus is meeting with Blakely and Filgate to try and find a way to keep the Anarcho-Romantics off his back the Roach is listening outside. He probably would have made things worse again, but he fell off the wall before he could do so. The Isshurian says he'll do his best as long as he and his men are paid, but if they don't find the money they want then Cerebus is on his own.

Cerebus manages to pull the Anarcho-Romantics into line by getting their leader to agree to fight on the front line unless they stop causing problems for Cerebus. He puts Blakely out of the way by giving him a largely meaningless role, much in the way Lord Julius handles his bureaucrats.

The city is fragmenting with all parties turning on each other and the Prime Minister. Cerebus is almost completely out of ideas when someone tells him that there is a Mistress Jaka there to see him.

Jaka seems to be waiting n what looks like a folly out of the city in the middle of the snow. She tells Cerebus that she intends to leave the city and that he should come with her. Staying is likely to get him killed. She tries to convince him that they can just leave and do all the things they planned so long ago: see the Wall of Tsi and the T'Capmin Kingdoms. As Jaka is a Tavers, she knows how these things work and she's telling the truth that when push comes to shove they will throw him to the wolves because he's not one of them. Light fills the window and shines on Jaka giving her an angelic aspect, yet another hint that to Dave Jaka is somehow perfect, other worldly. The more Jaka tries to convince Cerebus that the smart thing to do is leave and to give Astoria up the more the stubborn little creature digs his heels in. I almost cried when she whispered that she loved him. As always with Cerebus his rage overcomes everything else and he hits Jaka. My heart broke at that moment. At times Jaka could be such a doormat, though. When Cerebus tries to apologize she tells him that she understands and then flees.

The kicker is that as she leaves a messenger tells Cerebus that the mercenaries found the outpost in the Red Marches where Bran was supposed to be waiting empty and they wish him good luck. Cerebus is standing alone now.

This was a tough issue to read, not just because yet again Cerebus blew it with Jaka, but because his whole world is crashing down around him and he is powerless to prevent it. I noticed that Dave does nearly all of Cerebus' expression with his eyes, often everything Cerebus feels and is thinking is shown by subtle movements of his eyes and brows. The man had grown so much as an artist.

Monday, September 28, 2009


When we last left our hero things finally seemed to be working in his favour, but this entire sequence was called Cerebus' Six Crises, so that state of affairs could not possibly continue as we were only up to Crisis Three.

Astoria meets with a foppishly dressed member of the pretentious Intellectual Revolution (are they ever anything, but?). Her meeting over, Astoria goes into Cerebus' office has to wake him up and then delivers a document called The People's Manifesto of Demands. One thing you should never ever do to Cerebus is demand anything. The manifesto provokes the expected temper tantrum, but with Astoria's diplomatic influence that's as far as it would have gone, except for the fact that the thoroughly deranged Roach was literally hanging around outside the window listening.

In his current incarnation as Sergeant Preston of the Northern Iestan Mounted Police (one I never felt really worked. He dressed like a fuzzy Moon Knight and he still had the habit of using the Kevitch personality to commentate on his movements, so calling himself Sergeant Preston, a character based on the matinee hero Sgt Preston of the Mounties didn't make an awful lot of sense) the Roach busts into the revolutionary headquarters and beats the living daylights out of everyone there, letting them all know that he is doing this on behalf of Cerebus the Prime Minister of Iest.

The Isshurian mercenary commander returns, and no matter how hard I tried I couldn't see him as anything other than Commander Krull with a bigger jaw. I think Dave may have been extending himself artistically and there are only so many people you can draw before you find some of them start to look the same. The Isshurian has used nearly all of the money he and his men liberated from New Sepra to pay himself and his men. Cerebus isn't happy, but there's not a lot he can do about it. Especially when a message from Palnu arrives informing the aardvark that Lord Julius has significantly devalued the currency of New Sepra due to Cerebus' smash and grab invasion. During a discussion with Bran, Cerebus comes to the realisation that he has been played yet again by the wily Palnan bureaucrat. The fact that he can't work out if whatever move he makes is actually playing into Lord Julius' hands effectively ties his hands and leaves him largely powerless.

As his financial advisor, Filgate advises Cerebus that to get around the devaluation he has to get the banks to agree to work with him against Lord Julius. This was a sound strategy and would have worked had it been allowed to start. Unfortunately once again the Roach heard the conversation. This time he heavied the director of the Bank of Iest into signing a document that would make him loyal to the Prime Minister. The director does himself no favours when he points out that any document signed under duress is not legally binding. The Roach very nearly breaks the man's arm making him sign a second document that the first one was not signed under any coercion.

Cerebus frets because his major hope against the revolution in New Sepra that was forcing his army out, led by Bran, has not contacted him and it is past time. The local revolutionaries rise up because of how the Roach treated them and now Cerebus also has no hope of getting the banks to cooperate with him again because of the Roach's late night visit to the director of the Bank of Iest.

One by one the dominoes begin to fall and Cerebus is forced to sign away concession after concession just to keep his position. He believes that Bran has made it through and done the right thing for Iest, only to discover that they are being invaded.

Dave had done it again. I sometimes wonder if he really hated his hero, because every time things seemed to be going right for him the rug was pulled out from under him and he ended up in a worse position than he started in. I can't deny it was huge fun to read, though.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Night In Iest

The second of the six crises was called A Night In Iest or Summit Enchanted Evening (geddit?)

It introduced the imbecilic Duke Leonardi, the ruler of New Sepra. Leonardi was very obviously the eldest of the Marx brothers; Chico, right down to the shapeless hat. He was every bit as silly as his film counterpart and spoke with the same accent.

When Lord Julius refused to compromise on the interest rates that Cerebus owed him, Cerebus told him to go ahead and foreclose. As Cerebus had no money Lord Julius would get nothing (does this remind anyone else of a recent financial crisis?). Realising that Cerebus was correct, Lord Julius advised him to attack New Sepra. Duke Leonardi had no idea what they were talking about as they held the conversation in pig latin (which they told the idiot duke was an obscure Borealan dialect).

The leader of the Western Church of Tarim started to make overtures to Cerebus and again the albatross came into play. Everyone wanted the albatross, but Cerebus didn't know why.

During a drinking session with Henrot and the Elf, Cerebus had the idea to speak to the highest ranking church officials not involved with the exodus inward. Henrot wonders how the aardvark is going to get them to tell him anything, because they're notoriously tight lipped. Eyeing off the bottle passing between the Elf and Henrot Cerebus believes he knows how to loosen the bishop's tongues.

The two bishops become extremely inebriated and reveal all sorts of interesting things to the new Prime Minister. Of most interest is the fact that Cerebus was supposed to find the albatross, that would have made him the pontiff of both the Eastern and the Western churches. This is what the Eastern bishops want because politicians are so easy to manipulate. A great shame for them that Cerebus is not a politician.

The cavalry commander from the New Sepran front arrives in Iest carrying a large sack, which contains just under 4 million crowns. Things are definitely looking up for Cerebus.

Astoria continued to act as the Prime Minister's secretary. She's up to something, I just know it. This issue was also another hint that the church would soon become a large part of Cerebus life and the lead in to Church & State 1, the next book in the series.

The Bureaucratic Rebellion

The fact that this issue was subtitled: Cerebus Six Crises, Crisis Number One, hinted at all sorts of fun. It was also the 44th issue which meant that by the sixth crisis it would be the final chapter of High Society.

Cerebus had moved into the Prime Minister's offices and Astoria was working as his secretary. I'm sure her title was something else, but she was filling the role of secretary. She had to be planning something. Astoria was the Duchess of Parnoc, she had planned Cerebus' campaign and pushed him into the Prime Minister's office, yet she was working as his secretary? I didn't buy that.

As feared, power goes to Cerebus' head. He bullies people into doing what he wants, and immediately launches military action against Lower Felda. This again illustrates that as a military commander Cerebus is perfect, but a failure as a political leader. He doesn't understand diplomacy, he understands that a blunt or edged weapon nearly always gets you what you want. Nearly always being the key words there.

Cerebus' intention is to use the money he plunders from Lower Felda to pay his mercenary forces. Unfortunately when he takes Lower Felda he finds out that the entire country is broke, and he now owes Lord Julius more than he can ever pay back, as well as owing his own mercenary forces about half again what he promised them in the first place. To add insult to injury, Lord Julius sends some cigars with his demand for payment and one of them explodes in Cerebus' face while he is smoking it.

It's hard to see how the aardvark is going to get out of this. He successfully manages to alienate nearly every useful ally he has, except for Astoria. His inner circle is comprised of Henrot and the Elf. Henrot's powers only work part of the time and the Elf seems to regard membership as being like part of a child's gang.

Cerebus is in way over his head.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Deciding Vote

In an effort to get secure the one vote that Cerebus needs to become the Prime Minister, Cerebus, Astoria and the Roach travel to the far flung,snowy province of Lord Storm’send. In keeping with the wintry environs the Roach has invented a new alter ego, this one is the fearless Sgt Preston (based on the old matinee idol Sgt Preston of the Mounties).

Lord Storm’send proves to be a crusty old farmer type, although given that he and Cerebus are about the same height he’s either a midget or old age shrunk him dramatically. If the movie ever gets made I’m putting in a vote for Warwick Davis right here and now, provided that they haven't put him in the Cerebus costume. The straight talking Lord locks Astoria and the Roach in his shed and takes Cerebus cross country for a ‘chat’.

Storm’send and Cerebus do not get along well. This is odd because they’re both very practical and no nonsense, although Stom’send has a moral compass, which is something the aardvark lost a long time ago. It is possibly because the two are so alike that they strike sparks off one another. Surprisingly Storm’send knows something about the albatross. The one that Cerebus has been looking for that formed his ransom, is worthless, it’s a painted lead decoy. The real one is priceless, exactly how a back water ruler knows this is not explained.

The farming lord also tells Cerebus about how elections run up in his province of Northbell, you get the impression he’s not a fan of democracy, too much fuss and bother for him. He had to distribute 78 leaflets to people who mostly could care less and waste a day when he could have been mending fences on his property. When he gathered the leaflets up only 4 had been properly filled in. Two for Cerebus and two for the goat. Storm’send has the deciding vote. Lord Julius has already visited him, but he gives no indication which way he’s likely to vote. I discovered one thing; the voting system wasn’t based on the Australian version. Down here voting is compulsory, you exercise your democratic right to vote or you get fined. Rather interesting way to do it; force people to vote. Then again we’re all so apathetic that if they didn’t do it this way so few people would bother that any result would be largely meaningless.

Eventually Storm’send and Cerebus reach a hill top with two beacons. Storm’send lights one to indicate who he’s voting for. His brother will see it and relay the message back to the city. He refuses to tell Cerebus who he voted for. Once Cerebus has made certain that the vote cannot be changed and nothing can be done about it he punches Storm’send out and then treks back to the farm to liberate Astoria and the Roach.

The shed is full of home made liquor. As Storm’send had told Cerebus, Astoria and the Roach have started to drink it. The alcohol affects the Roach’s addled mind to the effect that he believes he is the Roach version of the Hulk and Professor X. An inebriated Astoria goes along with the fantasy and thinks she’s got spider powers. By the time Cerebus gets them out they are both drunk to the point of almost losing consciousness.

Cerebus loads them both into the sled and with the Roach’s slurred commentary (Kevitch is still awake) ringing in his ears he heads off for Iest. Cerebus is forced to stuff one of the Roach’s gloves in his mouth to shut him up or at the very least muffle him partway through the trip. He gets lost, winds up going in the wrong direction and is eventually pointed the right way by a local. He arrives at the main bridge to be told that it’s out and won’t be passable for at least a week. After finding out that there’s no other option but to wait he agrees to check in at the inn on the bridge. As he’s giving the clerk his details the man comments that it’s odd his name is the same as the new Prime Minister. After letting this sink in, realising that he’s won and doing a very unCerebuslike celebration he goes to his room to think on his victory.

The Roach is becoming more and more unhinged by the issue, considering that he’s always been crazy this shouldn’t be surprising, but it is funny. The prospect of Cerebus as Prime Minister is a scary one. On the one hand he may try and turn his power into absolute power, on the other he may find out that working as a bureaucrat is not the same as being a military commander and he’ll plunge Iest into chaos. Going to be a fun ride either way.