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Jaka's Story (Cerebus, Volume 5) Paperback – September 1, 1991
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Cerebus is a 6,000 page comics novel about the life and death of a warrior aardvark. But what started as a Conan the Barbarian parody has evolved into a brilliant commentary on politics, gender roles and the creative urge. Jaka's Story is the fifth book in the series, and it tells the story of a dancer (Jaka) stranded in a deserted town surrounded by her carefree husband, a lecherous bartender and Oscar Wilde. Rich and satisfyingly complex, this is well worth your time.
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In the case of Dave Sim and Gerhard, creators of "Cerebus", they go and spend some twenty-two issues focussing entirely on Jaka, Cerebus' sometime love interest (who Cerebus has just learned will ultimately never be with him until the end), a dancer and the daughter of the exceptionally erratic Lord Julius. Cerebus is a background character throughout, and, in the final third, is entirely absent. And this is in many ways very good, from a storytelling perspective, because Cerebus, while amusing and occasionally demonstrating real depth, doesn't have anything approaching Jaka's psychological complexity (perhaps because her personality was solidified after the series had switched from its initial form into the more sophisticated plotting).
The present day story takes place on a mountainside tavern near Iest, where Jaka, her dopey husband Rick, and houseguest Cerebus (on the run from the Cirinist death squads) reside, along with Pud Withers, tavern owner and secretly obsessed with Jaka, and Oscar Wilde. Yes, Oscar Wilde. Cerebu lusts after Jaka, while Jaka confesses she doesn't love him, and is happy with Rick, even though she finds his inability to find work or do housework frustrating. Meanwhile, we get the story of Jaka's childhood, as related by Rick (as told to him by Jaka) to Oscar Wilde, who then turns it into a new story (theses segments contain Sim's excellent mimic of Wilde's prose style). We see Jaka's upbringing under a puritanical nurse, her burgeoning interest in dance, and get a sense of the emotional effect on a small child of living in the household of someone as weird as Lord Julius.
Then, at the two-thirds point, the story takes an abrupt and devastating shift. Sim demonstrates a consistent ability in the course of this series to mix political satire with an understanding of how important politics and the like really is, and how it can affect people. Similarly, he on many occasions can effortlessly shift how we perceive a character; this happens twice here, with Pud to a certain extent, and with the nurse to a much greater one. And, best of all, the unfunny comic relief characters like the Moon Roach are nowhere to be seen.
The art by Sim and Gerhard continues at its normal standard of quality, this time using a generally more intimate setting then the epics of the past arcs.
Highly recommended; this is probably the best "Cerebus" volume.
In an interview many years after this book was written, Dave says "Jaka is a self-absorbed, aristocratic airhead. She always was." I strongly disagree, and if it were true, then he essentially negates this book. Did he say this because Jaka was based on a particular woman or women in Dave's life, and Dave later ended up hating the woma/en Jaka was based on? I think the statement "Dave has forgotten who Jaka is" is a methaphor of the process which transformed Dave from the man who wrote "Jaka's Story" to the man who wrote Cerebus #186. Perhaps Jaka is Dave's Jungian anima, which would explain a lot. (Dave doesn't care for Jung much; see volume 15).
This book may well be the best in the series.