Cerebus has just spotted a bus full of nuns. He is not amused.
Cerebus the Aardvark was a comic book created by Dave Sim that developed slowly from episodic comedy to high drama to Author Tract. Beginning in December 1977 and ending in 2004, it clocks in at over six thousand pages, making it the longest work in comic form by a single author in the West. Somewhere around the sixth issue, Sim decided to devote the next twenty-five years of his life to producing a three hundred issue storyline with a plotted-out beginning, middle, and end.Sim had begun Cerebus as a Conan the Barbarianpastiche in black and white line art, in the same vein as later independent comic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The silly parody starred a barbarian aardvark Anti-Hero, back in the days when having a Funny Animal interacting with humans hadn't been done to death. Along the way, he ran into his Love Interest Jaka, who started off as a one-shot Stripperiffic character. Umpteen issues later, she would re-appear, now fully fleshed-out. He also met the Roach, a superheroparody initially similar to The Tick. Much later, Sim would exploit the pathos inherent in the character.Behind the scenes, Sim experimented with LSD and drove himself beyond exhaustion creating and publishing his comic book. Overwork caused Sim to have a Creator Breakdown. He even spent a day in a mental institution.Around issue 26, the Aardvark gave up his barbarian ways, and thus began the High SocietyStory Arc. He ran into the manipulative Astoria and the scary proto-feminist Cirinist matriarch Cirin. Astoria's scheming got Cerebus a job as prime minister and, later, a brutish, morally warped pope. Back in the real world, Sim split up from his wife Deni Loubert, who was also co-owner of the comic's Aardvark-Vanaheim publishing company, and background artist Gerhard was brought on board starting with issue 65, his highly detailed backgrounds earning praise and becoming a key element of the comic.Cerebus wound up on the Moon (long story), got lectured at by an omniscient Judge who lived there(!), returned to Earth and found that his home had been taken over by the Cirinists. He ran into Jaka, now married to a guy named Rick, and also Oscar Wilde. Yes, the Oscar Wilde, or rather an Oscar Wilde. In the world of Cerebus, you see, characters can exist in multiple iterations at the same time.The comic had, as the summary will imply, gotten more and more experimental. He began Painting the Medium, and diving into Post Modernism. Among other assaults on the reader's sanity, Cerebus met his creator, Dave, who sent him to the planet Pluto and also injured Cerebus' eyeball. Alan Moore (who should know) would later congratulate Sim for doing the most accurate portrayal of the mystical experiences ever put down into fiction.By then the comic had lengthy all-text pages, some of which were used to explain Sim's ever-changing theories on the creation of the universe and on The Bible. Editorials became increasingly controversial and verbose. Mostly, they defended creator rights over comic properties, rights agreed-upon by several well-known and respected comic book creators. It could be argued that Sim's rants were fundamental to the development of independent publishers in the nineties, such as Image. On the other hand, his anti-feminist views, in the beginning moderate, but growing more aggressive issue by issue and finally becoming public with the infamous issue #186, were heavily criticized as misogynistic, nutty and loathsome (as The Comics Journal described them), alienating both the audience and professional reviewers.While reading the Bible and Qur'an in preparation for the Rick's Story arc, Sim underwent a religious experience and converted to an idiosyncratic mixture of Judaism, Islam and Christianity (his political beliefs similarly shifting to more unhinged territory). As a result, the last issues dealt with Cerebus gaining religion, and the final fates of Cerebus, the Cirinists, and their respective empires and allies, and proved to be even more controversial than anything that had come before.To paraphrase Sim himself, he set out to write three hundred issues of a life that "made sense", unlike Spider-Man or Superman, three hundred issues of whose series "don't make sense as a story or a life".While Sim gave us liberty to use his characters without the threat of copyright infringement lawsuits, it has yet to be adapted to any other medium. Oh, and once he dies (Sim, not Cerebus), all of his work will enter the public domain.Generally accepted as proving that works of astonishing scope and dedication can be achieved if you don't mind going completely crazy in the process.Story arcs
Cerebusnote Issues #1-25, not really an arc so much as a mostly episodic series of shorter stories ranging from one to about four issues
High Societynote Issues #26-50
Church and State I and II note Issues #52-80, 81-111
Aborted Arc: An early story arc had Cerebus and a band of mercenaries capture a commander named Krull as part of an elaborate military campaign. A later story even depicts them having difficulty keeping Krull imprisoned, seeming to foreshadow an upcoming conflict or complication. However, Sim suddenly and unceremoniously dumps the story line, ultimately having it resolve itself offscreen. Not only that, it is never mentioned how (or even if) Krull affected the campaign's outcome.
Acid Reflux Nightmare: Jokingly referenced rather than used. In Guys, Cerebus has an alcohol-induced nightmare involving Roaring Rick Veitch and his Rare-Bit Fiends. This is a parody of Veitch's actual comic/dream journal Roarin' Rick's Rare Bit Fiends, which was based off Winsor McCay's comic strip Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend, whose title referenced the notion that eating too much Welsh rarebit would cause nightmares.
Action Girl: Red Sophia in the early issues...granted, Cerebus doesn't think any of her victories have been against formidable opponents.
Adventure: Pretty much every issue until High Society, either as standalone stories or as 2-3 issue arcs.
An Aesop: The Victor Reid subplot in Reads delivers one about how artists shouldn't "sell out".
Aesop Amnesia: Immediately after Minds, Cerebus goes back to his Jerk Ass persona and self-destructive way of life..
Elrod is a parody of both Elric and Foghorn Leghorn. It's unclear whether Sim actually likes Elric, but he has a very high opinion of Foghorn and considers his cartoons to be some of the very best Looney Tunes shorts.
Cerebus gets smashed whenever he can, and can knock back prodigious amounts of booze, such as drinking whiskey out of full brandy sniftersnote that's at least double the capacity of the standard highball glass and scotch out of buckets. In the early issues, this was usually played for laughs, but by the time Guys came around, the alcohol-based comedy is balanced by playing all the consequences of Cerebus' boozing much more seriously. For instance, Cerebus has to deal with the aftermath of very rude things he says about Bear while drunk, and in the middle of a booze pass-out, he tells "Dave" that he just wanted to die.
Cirinist society actually enables this trope; unmarried men tend to be sequestered in bars because the state provides free room and board for them and all the alcohol they can handle. The thought process is that they will either get tired of that lifestyle, shape up, and leave to find a wife, or eventually drink themselves to death. Guys is set in a bar and deals with this concept in multiple fashions.
In keeping with his real-life basis, F. Stop Kennedy can't stay away from his gin, and spends many evenings on the boat ride with Cerebus and Jaka drunkenly soliloquizing on the roof of his cabin.
Anthology Comic: Some of the one-shot specials (Cerebus Jam, The Cerebus World Tour Book, etc.) fell into this category. Each story within was helmed by a different guest artist (sometimes solo, sometimes in collaboration with Sim).
Anti-Hero: Cerebus, although before things got serious, he was really more of a parody than a straight example.
Arc Welding: Cerebus did this a lot. There were very few minor, throwaway characters. Just about anyone who talked to Cerebus at some point is revealed to be important to the plot somehow.
Whenever "Something fell!" shows up, expect something major to happen soon. It doesn't even have to be said to have power: at the end of Going Home, Jaka nearly falls off a gangplank but recovers and gets Cerebus out of a really dangerous situation. At the end of Form and Void, she does fall down while trying to climb over a fence, and proceeds to add salt to an already open wound and cause Cerebus to finally and utterly reject her. It even shows up unsaid in the final issue, as Cerebus breaks his neck falling out of bed and dies.
"G'wan! Beat it! Scram!". It's originally advice given to Rick by Cerebus as a way of getting rid of pesty women, but it takes on a much darker significance later on when Cerebus hits Jaka with it at the end of Form and Void, screaming the "SCRAM!" at her.
"Mungu Mkono" (Swahili for "the Hand of God") shows up for the first time in Form and Void being spoken by the Ernestways' African porters. In Latter Days, it's the trigger that leads Cerebus to fully accept his religious role.
"Devils, vipers, and scorpions." It's a generic term for women who don't fit the ideal mold conceived in Rick's Story and then expanded on in Latter Days, and shows up frequently in Rick's religious writings and Cerebus' exegesis on the Torah. It also happens to be Sim's full initials.
"You can get what you want and still not be very happy." This initially shows up as Cerebus' twisted "lesson" in the baby-throwing scene in Church and State, but is repeatedly shown over the course of the entire comic to be the fundamental theme to Cerebus' life. He desires three things in life more than anything: money, power, and Jaka. When he finally has the first two (as Prime Minister and Pope) his selfishness and suspicion of everyone around him keep him from enjoying them. When he finally has Jaka, he takes the "be happy for two" advice from Rick too literally and ignores his deepening fears about the weathernote specifically, that they could be trapped in a blizzard if they don't reach Sand Hills Creek before winter. That, combined with the slowly widening gulf between he and Jaka and the incredible blow to his self-identity caused by his favorite author killing himself takes such a toll on his nerves that the final break is explosive. When he finally acquires all the issues of his favorite "read" Rabbai and tries to make a guide to it, he learns what it's actually about and goes insane from the shock. When he falls for the reporter at the end of Latter Days, the relationship eventually goes awry in a way far worse than what happened with Jaka, and causes Cerebus' empire to collapse and leads to his doom.
Art Evolution: Sim's artwork and character designs showed drastic improvement over the course of the first hundred issues or so, especially after Gerhard took over backgrounds, freeing Sim to focus on the characters. The art also took another leap when Sim began experimenting with photorealism in the later issues of the "Chasing YHWH" arc. He carried this technique into his later works glamourpussnote a combined parody of women's magazines and history of photorealism in comics and Judenhassnote a story about historical anti-Semitism which featured disturbingly realistic renditions of WWII-era photographs.
Ascended Extra: According to Sim, Jaka was originally supposed to be a one-shot character.
Asexuality: ZigZagged. In Cerebus and High Society, Cerebus seems uninterested in women, apart from Jaka, and at first even that was only because he was drugged. However, although this one is more of a retcon, Cerebus tells Michelle that he lived with a woman for a time many years prior to their meeting. There seems to be a degree of affection between him and Michelle as well, although nothing comes of it. Later on, Cerebus reveals that he had a crush on a blonde girl when he was a kid. After his marriage to Red Sophia in Church and State, sex becomes almost as sought after as booze, and it ends up getting him in trouble in many, many ways.
Cerebus does this in High Society after learning that his would-be kidnappers used their real names (and real signatures) to sign the ransom note.
He also does this in Reads in the Beat Panel between Astoria telling him he's a hermaphrodite and his reaction.
Assimilation Plot: In a very roundabout way, this is the essence of the "merged permanence" and "male light/female void" material in issue #186, namely that the void continually seeks to absorb the light in order to meld the two together, bringing stability to the void at the cost of the light's power and uniqueness.
Ass Shove: At one point in Guys, Bear gets so mad at Cerebus for cheating during their Five Bar Gate games that he knocks Cerebus out with a shot, then picks him up by the tail, "inserts" one of the game balls, and then tamps it in with the handle of his mallet.
Author Avatar: Two explicit ones in-story: "Dave", who mainly just appears as a voice in Cerebus' head, and Viktor Davis, an author whose career resembles Sim's. (Sim's full name is David Victor Sim.) Some readers believed that Rick was one for Sim, which Sim has denied.
Ate His Gun: Ham Ernestway kills himself in this manner, just like his real life counterpart.
Author Existence Failure: invokedAverted, although Sim had "planned ahead" (using this term very loosely) in case this happened. He had mentioned in interviews that, if he did die before completing the series, the series would continue all the way to issue 300, but all subsequent issues would only have Gerhard's background art. There would be no characters nor text/narrative of any kind.
To elaborate: Reads, in addition to the comic material, has two lengthy prose sections, with parts spread over each individual issue in the arc. The first is a fictional depiction of a "reads" writer who lets his greed get the better of him and sells his work to a big-name publishing company, and what happens to him and his work afterwards.note This theme also shows up in Spawn #10, a crossover with Cerebus. The second, narrated by Viktor Davis, is hard to succinctly describe, but features a surreal attack on the readers' perceptions of the fourth wall, and also introduces the "male light/female void" material in issue #186, which is where the serious misogyny accusations began.
Applies not only to the story but to Sim's notes, both in the individual issues and the phonebooks, for content and for sheer verbosity.
Becomes most troubling with "Chasing YHWH" of which Sim seems to believe every word. This culminates in the opening pages of The Last Day, which is a combination of the Big Bang theory and Sim's unconventional views on the God/YHWH problem.
Author Powers: "Dave"'s conversations with Cerebus in which he's speaking in Cerebus' thought balloons with nothing to differentiate his words from Cerebus', and yet somehow always manages to make it clear which of them is speaking at any time. He also alters reality around Cerebus in ways that only a completely omnipotent being could, although he makes it clear to Cerebus that, while he is Cerebus' creator, he isn't the god Tarim that Cerebus normally worships.
Author Tract: The entire comic eventually turned into a dual tract built on Sim's controversial views on gender differences and his even more controversial religious beliefs.
Automatic Crossbows: The Roach (in his Punisherroach identity) wields two "pearl handled semi-automatic" belt-fed crossbows that shoot explosive-tipped bolts and have a firing rate similar to a machine gun.
Babies Make Everything Better: Averted. Neither Cerebus, nor (if Latter Days is any indication) Sim himself seem to have a high view of either babies or fatherhood in general. It gets even worse in The Last Day when Cerebus learns that his son and mother have not only abandoned him, but are sleeping together, among other things.
Backstory: Cerebus's past before becoming a wandering mercenary, such as his stint as a city guard.
Cerebus may be an asshole, but he's also a formidable fighter for his size and will take on pretty much any challenge in front of him.
The unnamed Hsifan Assassin from issues 21 and 22. Even Cerebus and the Roach barely put up a fight except when he's possessed by Elrod.
Badass Pacifist: Suenteus Po; although he definitely wasn't always that way, when "onscreen", he manages to solve all of his problems with reason and will. He encourages Cirin and Cerebus to try to do the same at least once (it fails miserably, though they do show him just enough respect to wait until he's out of sight before they start beating the shit out of each other).
Batman Can Breathe in Space: The sections involving the Judge and Cerebus at the end of Church and State and "Dave", Cerebus, and Cirin in Minds have them on the surface of the moon and floating around in outer space (respectively) with no ill effects at all.
Beat Panel: Happen every now and then, with Cerebus' reaction to Astoria telling him he's a hermaphrodite combining this with an Aside Glance.
Beer Commercials: Parodied throughout Guys. In several issues, the opening page is nothing but a shot of a bottle of booze produced in Palnu, with increasingly silly labels as the arc progresses. Sim mentioned at one point that he was amused by the thought that, with their political power nullified by the Cirinists, Julius and Baskin would have converted Palnu into one giant distillery to feed the Cirinists' bars-for-single-men movement.
Berserk Button: Talking about hurting or threatening Jaka within earshot of Cerebus is an effective form of suicide. This has been done both humorously and...not so humorously.
Best Her to Bed Her: Yet another layer of the Red Sonja parody. Red Sophia's father hires Cerebus to torture the man who besmirched her honor. During the journey her logorrhea is too much, they fight, he wins, she pledges service. (He refused to demand sexual favors from her at that point, instead trying to teach her a lesson by using her as a pack mule. She didn't learn; Sophia is simply Too Kinky to Torture.) The eventual torture is forcing the blackguard (who saw her naked) to marry Sophia. Years later she marries Cerebus.
Generally, the humor in Cerebus doesn't so much go away as get darker as it goes on.
Black Swords Are Better: Inverted; Elrod's sword Seersucker is black because of rust, and it shatters against Cerebus' sword when Elrod attacks him with it.
Bloodier and Gorier: Starts with the epilogue of Melmoth and continues right through the Mothers & Daughters arc. These issues make very clear just how messy swordfighting can be, and Punisherroach's semi-automatic crossbow pistols shoot exploding bolts.
Body Double: Lord Julius' "Like-a-looks". As Julius is based on Groucho Marx, the joke is in lampshading the fact that anyone with the right build, walk, attitude, and a painted-on mustache can look like Groucho/Julius. It was never entirely clear who was the real Lord Julius after that, especially after a mob of increasingly absurd Like-a-looks (including Elrod the Albino!) invaded the palace and all claimed to be the real one. In a reprint, Sim mentioned the story was inspired by the scene from Duck Soup where Chico and Harpo both impersonate Groucho using greasepaint and the right props.
Cerebus kills the wizard Necross, in the form of the giant stone Thrunk by shooting him in the head with a cannon.
Punisherroach kills a few Cirinists in this fashion with his crossbow pistols.
Cerebus' plan to root out the remaining Cirinists who have blended into the normal civilian population involves having the men in each community vote on whether or not each woman should be put to death or not for having a serious attitude; those who don't make it are summarily executed in this fashion. This later extends to men through the "complete dick" rule.
Bound and Gagged: Happens to several characters, but Cerebus gets this treatment the most. Usually (but not always) done comedically.
Breaking the Fourth Wall: Cerebus learns in Minds that he's a character in "Dave"'s story`. This affects his life to varying degrees through Guys and Rick's Story, although once Jaka shows up again and (later) the religion-centered material becomes really prominent, this seems to go away.
Issue 51 was a self-contained, comedic story set just between High Society and Church and State.
Issues 137 and 138, set between Jaka's Story and Melmoth (both extremely moody and emotional stories), tell a light-hearted story about Lord Julius and his staff.
The largely comedic Guys comes between the Mother and Daughters arc and Cerebus' emotional reunion with Jaka.
The first few issues of the Latter Days arc bridged the heavily emotional ending of Form and Void and the main portion of the new arc where Cerebus finally defeats the Cirinists once and for all.
Briar Patching: Weisshaupt is forced to resort to this when Pope Cerebus threatens his men with eternal damnation if they obey his orders.
Brick Joke: In The Last Day, an aged, decrepit Cerebus has a scene where he begs God for "a last proper fart" before he dies. Guess what the last thing he manages to do after he falls out of his bed but before breaking his neck and dying is?
Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp": In Estarcion, books are called "reads", although they are much more heavily illustrated than normal books.
The Cat Came Back: In High Society, Elrod turns up at the Regency Hotel unannounced to meet Cerebus, much to the latter's annoyance. Cerebus beats Elrod over the head and pays a taxi driver to take the unconscious nuisance to the docks and put him on the next boat going far away. Of course, by the time Cerebus returns to his hotel room, he finds that Elrod, now sopping wet, has somehow managed to beat him there.
In a sense. Sim, for his entire career, has been a very outspoken advocate for independent comic writers and titles, even creating a how-to book for self-publishing.
Sonny Strait has confessed to being a fan and is mentioned by Sim several times in Collected Letters.
Celibate Hero: Played straight initially. Then, it's subverted and finally retconned away entirely.
Centipede's Dilemma: Cerebus tries to win a ball game using this trope, asking if he breathes in or out when tossing the ball. Cut to panel of his panicked partner contemplating it. Cut to panel showing said partner having won and saying, "I breathe out!"
Red Sophia's standard attire, which is only fitting since she's a direct parody of Red Sonja. This leads to a funny remark from Cerebus about the side effects of such attire.
(Sophia and Cerebus are drinking and talking; she'd tried to put the moves on Cerebus earlier, to no avail) Sophia: Enough talk, you furry gray celibate. What do you think of these?! *whips her top off* Cerebus: They'd probably heal if you'd stop wearing that chainmail bikini.
Inverted by the Cirinists; often their eyes are the only parts uncovered.
Character Title: Both the series as a whole and some of the individual phonebooks.
Charles Atlas Superpower: The Roach from his Captain Cockroach incarnation onward, although he thinks it was through mystical means.
Cheap Gold Coins: Partially averted, in that Cerebus is able to buy room and board at an inn for the rest of his natural life with a single gold coin — but only because his and the Cirinists' abortive attempt at ascension used up all the gold in the economy.
Cheeky Mouth: Actually justified here, in that Cerebus has two mouths on opposite sides of his head. Suenteus Po and Cirin are the same.
Weisshaupt stands out as the most accomplished, but Astoria and Lord Julius are also particularly adept.
Suenteus Po is a literal version; he is perhaps the wisest character in the series yet is so humble that he believes any sort of action on his part that affects the world, in any way, would be arrogance. Thus, he spends all his time and intellect on playing chess...by himself. This is the only thing he does for several decades.
Chess Motifs: Scattered throughout the first half of Mothers and Daughters
Chick Magnet: Cerebus (makes no sense, but...) and Dirty Drew.
Child Hater: Cerebus. Most kids aren't too crazy about him either.
Cluster F-Bomb: Lots of language throughout the series, with normalroach's tirade at the start of Melmoth as one of the most extreme examples, although it toned down after Sim's religious conversion.
Comic Book Fantasy Casting: The parodies of real people in the comic essentially fell into "take this famous person and drop them into the comic."
Combo Platter Powers: Parodied with the "reads" character Rabbai. He had hundreds of peculiar and highly specialized powers such as dextrorotatory breath - making the plane of polarization of light spin to the right by blowing.
Constructed World: Possibly subverted, as it is implied if not outright stated that the world Cerebus inhabits eventually becomes ours.
Convenient Miscarriage: Subverted. Jaka reunites with Cerebus in the middle of Church and State II after a long separation, only to tell him that she is now married and expecting a child. Cerebus is angry, but eventually relents and gives her some money for the baby. When he next sees her (at the start of Jaka's Story), her pregnancy is seemingly handwaved away with a single line about a miscarriage. It looks like Jaka has fallen victim to this trope...until the end of the story arc, where we learn that Jaka actually had an abortion behind her husband's back. This leads to the end of her marriage, and to her eventually getting back together with Cerebus. Abortion in the story is very, very illegal, and while Jaka's husband did want to have a child, her main motivation for lying to him was to protect him from criminal liability if she was found out...although her telling Cerebus that she was afraid having a baby would make her ugly casts some dark shadows on her motivation.
In a sense. The Cirinists started out as a benevolent association of mothers who grouped together to bolster their communities. The movement spread like wildfire, and when it began to meet resistance from multiple fronts, a disciplinary / defensive section was formed...which then took over the movement when the aardvark Serna, Cirin's best friend and co-founder of the movement, stole Cirin's identity, usurped her leadership, and had Cirin humiliated and punished as a traitor.
By the time of High Society, the Church of Tarim has been corrupted from within by selfish and greedy individuals.
Cosmic Plaything: Ultimately subverted in Minds when Cerebus finally accepts that it's his own fault that his life turned out the way it did.
Crack! Oh My Back!: This happened to Cerebus a lot over the course of The Last Day; being almost 200 years old, it's not at all surprising.
The short-lived Cerebus Radio show had brief cameos by impersonators of Rocky and Bullwinkle in the adaptation of Issue 6. Bullwinkle does the pull-a-rabbit trick and pulls Cerebus out of his hat.
Cerebus has also appeared as a major character in the first issue of Dave Ryan's War of the Independents alongside other characters such as The Tick, Fone Bone, The Savage Dragon, and others. How big of a part he'll play in the overall series remains to be seen and, due to variousproblems, will likely remain to be seen for quite some time.
Cult: Several show up in the early story arcs, including the Cirinists prior to their seizing power.
Culture Police: The Cirinists, in a rather idiosyncratic and selective way. Anything they believe is harmful to the welfare of mothers and children will make them go into full Knight Templar mode. Pretty much anything else, they will ignore completely.
The Roach has these as Swoon, frequently. Cirin takes him to task about it when she discovers this.
In one of the early Latter Days stories, Cerebus spent a lot of time in the bushes watching Gorsky's wife while she bathed.
David Versus Goliath: Anytime Cerebus has a one-on-one fight with anyone, they're always much, much bigger than he is, with Necross being the most extreme example. This becomes his main disadvantage when he fights Cirin in Reads.
A Day in the Limelight: Jaka's Story, Rick's Story, and the Lord Julius story that comes right before Melmoth.
Dead Guy Junior: A non-human example: In Latter Days, Cerebus becomes a shepherd and has apparently named one of the sheep Elrod, who had been more-or-less killed almost 100 issues prior.
Death of a Thousand Cuts: Subverted. During Cirin and Cerebus' fight at the end of Reads, Cirin manages to take Cerebus' sword from him, and proceeds to give him several serious cuts. However, Cerebus is able to dodge each enough so that none are incapacitating (aside from blood loss), and eventually is able to counterattack in a way that makes the sword useless to Cirin.
Death Seeker: In Latter Days, Cerebus eventually decides to stop aimlessly wandering around waiting to die and let the Cirinists do the job.
Decompressed Comic: Several issues and story arcs featured long sequences of characters simply moving around or going about tasks with little or no dialogue. One particular one is after the Judge returns Cerebus to Estarcion after their adventure on the Moon. Cerebus spends several pages in silence exploring his now-empty house, reminiscing on the people that used to be there, gathering his belongings (and sticking a finger with his sword in the process), finding a single gold coin, and leaving.
Deconstruction: The later books do this to the earlier books. In the earlier books, any violent or morally questionable action Cerebus takes is treated as being all in good fun. Once Cerebus Syndrome set in, the consequences of Cerebus' actions are thoroughly explored and often very unpleasant.
Defeat Means Friendship: Parodied. Elrod offers his friendship to Cerebus after their first encounter and subsequently follows him around, but is oblivious to the fact that Cerebus wants nothing to do with him.
Defictionalization: Happens in-universe: Joanne, introduced in the last "living with Jaka" scenario in Minds, appears in Guys as an actual character.
Dismantled MacGuffin: Cerebus' helmet, medallions, and sword from the first issue. Crafted by the first of his aardvark ancestors, they would have given Cerebus the power to conquer the world if he'd had them when he found the Pigt idol...but he sold the helmet a few issues prior.
Surprisingly the Cirinists, who were the closest thing the series had to a Big Bad.
The T'Gitans in the first phonebook.
Drunk with Power: Cerebus becomes this when he is appointed pope (and, to a lesser extent, when he is elected Prime Minister). A certain thing about throwing innocent babies like footballs and booting old people off of buildings to prove Broken Aesops...
"You live only a few more years. You die alone, unmourned and unloved." The Judge ended up being half right. Cerebus does die alone, unmourned and unloved, but lives for much longer than the rest of the cast except for Cirin.
Cerebus' father...which leads to Cerebus being shunned by his home town.
Dying Race: Elrod is the last ruler of one, but this is eventually subverted.
Ear Ache: During the climactic fight at the end of Reads, Cerebus gets most of his right ear cut off.
Rick, in his insanity, sees both Cerebus and Mrs. Thatcher in this fashion in Rick's Story.
The Empire: The Cirinist-ruled region of Estarcion.
Enemy Mine: Cerebus and the Roach in High Society.
Even Evil Has Standards: During the Church and State arc, where Cerebus is at his most amoral, he reveals that he is disgusted by pedophilia. This plays into a later story arc where he tries to scare his would-be disciples off by stating the most evil thing he could think of.
Cerebus, at the very end of Form and Void, is publicly ostracized from his hometown for not being there for his father as he was dying, and then missing his father's funeral; the only way he finds out why is because he happens to catch someone outdoors before he can get home.
Suenteus Po is a self-imposed version; he is fully aware of his Weirdness Magnet nature and is resolved to interact as little as possible with the world to keep his "magnifier" from affecting things too much. It doesn't work.
Fantastic Drug: One early issue featured "buz". One shot is one hundred percent addictive and provides all the nutrition an adult needs in one day. A villain uses it to subjugate and rule his entire city.
Fatal Flaw: Cerebus' fixation on Jaka, combined with his simple-minded, self-absorbed outlook on life. In his mind, they are meant to be together simply because he loves her. When "Dave" shows Cerebus in Minds that Jaka doesn't love him romantically anymore, he can't handle it and tries to manipulate "Dave" into making Jaka love him "that way". "Dave" responds by showing him multiple possible futures where the two are in a relationship, all of which are horribly flawed due to Cerebus' selfishness and violent, controlling ways, which are fundamentally incompatible with Jaka's need for freedom and artistic expression. Their time together in Going Home and Form and Void is marked by their initial happiness and passion slowly but steadily crumbling as their personalities and what each wants for the future clash repeatedly, and explosively crashes. At the end of Latter Days, Cerebus falls for the reporter who looks a lot like Jaka, and this sows the seeds for his eventual ruin and demise.
Faux Action Girl: Although Red Sophia has beaten opponents before, we never see any of that onscreen.
Full-Circle Revolution: In Latter Days, the society created after the overthrow of the Cirinists is very successful for many years, but eventually decays into an even worse situation.
Funetik Aksent: Sim has a true gift for writing dialogue in this fashion, with everything from Chico Marx's fake Italian accent to Alan Moore's Britishisms to Cerebus's cold and drunkenness showing up perfectly rendered yet still easy to parse.
Funny Animal: Cerebus initially started out as just another one of this style of work.
Genius Bruiser: Cerebus is one of the best warriors on Estarcion and rather intelligent. However, he is entirely unsophisticated, being interested only in fighting, drinking, sex, and indulging his short temper, and can be shockingly dim-witted at times.
Go Into the Light: Subverted. Cerebus dies, and is eventually dragged kicking and screaming into the Light. By itself, this pretty much indicates that Cerebus went to Hell. This was all fine and good until Sim suddenly decided he wanted an even more Broken Base than he already had. In the author annotations to the final trade paperback, Sim mentions the possibility that Cerebus actually went to Heaven and was just panicking needlessly at the last second.
Hearing Voices: This is how "Dave" communicates to Cerebus in Minds. Cerebus hears "Dave" as a voice in his head; the reader sees "Dave"'s speech balloons coming out of Cerebus' head along with Cerebus'.
Heel Realization: Played for laughs with The Artist at the end of issue 25, when he thinks he was being insenstive about Claremont's death.
Cerebus is revealed in Reads to be one, with both male and female genitalia and reproductive systems. This becomes a plot point in multiple fashions in later story arcs. Bear unknowingly lampshades this in Guys when he's chewing out Cerebus over a hissy fit: "It's like you're part chick or somethin'!"
The YHWH, in a metaphysical sense. Sim believes it tries to cover all genders at once, and refers to it as "he/she/it", as opposed to God who is inherently masculine. Interestingly, if you interpret what happens in the final issue as "Cerebus goes to hell", then the apparitions of Bear, Jaka, and Ham Ernestway that appear to Cerebus in the light take on a dual meaning - they're not only the three people Cerebus is most eager to be with, they represent the three aspects of the YHWH - masculine Bear, feminine Jaka, and neutered Ham (unmanned by both Mary's hints about his sexual preferences and his suicide), and are thus the perfect lure to trap Cerebus.
Hermit Guru: Po was retconned into being one by the time he actually showed up in Mothers & Daughters.
The Hero Dies: Readers knew for a long time that Sim's plans were to have Cerebus die in the final issue. Sure enough, in #300, as he's lunging out of his bed to try to kill Sheshep Ankh, something breaks, causing him to fall and break his neck when he lands.
Hive Mind: According to Bear in Melmoth, the Cirinists are like this. The real Cirin's confession indicates that he's right.
Hoist by His Own Petard: The entity who believes itself to be Death is annihilated from existence by the gems he thought were giving him his power.
Hollywood Healing: Simultaneously used and averted in Minds. When Cirin and Cerebus approach Mars and Cirin notes the planet's symbolism for childbirth and healing in their religion, their injuries are magically healed except for Cerebus's severed ear which isn't restored.
Cerebus reveals in Minds that he has nursed an attraction to Bear and is rather conflicted about it. His dream about Roaring Rick Veitch is heavily loaded with subtext as well, which Veitch lampshades.
Oscar is very obviously flirting with Rick, but Rick's completely oblivious.
Honor Before Reason: Jaka tries to call this on Cerebus when he plans to personally confront the forces closing in on Iest near the end of High Society.
In Church and State I, as one of his "lessons" (namely, that you can get what you want and still not be very happy), Pope Cerebus blesses a baby whose mother had repeatedly asked him to, and then hurls the baby away like a football.
In Jaka's Story, Jaka hints to Cerebus near the start of the story that she miscarried the baby she was carrying in Church and State II. At the end, we learn that she actually had an abortion. Rick takes this very, very hard, as he wanted a baby more than anything.
Hinted at in Latter Days, when Cerebus uses the long arm of a Spawn-like costume (it makes sense in-story) as an atlatl to fling away the baby of a dad being really annoying with cutesy-talk. The dad runs after the child, but it's not revealed if he makes it in time.
Inner Monologue: Cerebus has these. Sometimes, they turn into arguments between different parts of his personality.
In the Hood: Po's disguise in the Mothers & Daughters arc. Po is revealed to be rather Genre Savvy. He knows that there is nothing inconspicuous about his disguise. He simply chose it so that people would think he was The Grim Reaper and be too scared to approach him.
Irony: Sim, at one point, pointed out the irony of readers' horror at Sheshep Ankh's sphinx cloning experiments when said readers were completely accepting of Cerebus, who by his very nature is equally monstrous in the most literal sense of the word.
It's All About Me: Cerebus is a low-key version. He isn't portrayed as openly arrogant or egotistical, but is described at one point as having "a self-absorption that borders on the pathological." Every decision he makes and every action he takes is done to satisfy his desires and whims and to fulfill what he thinks will be better for himself, with consequences to others coming second, if they occur to him at all. Even when he seems to be in normal interactions with others, this "me first" tendency is bubbling under the surface. This gets him into trouble in many, many ways over the course of the comic, upsetting plans and fracturing friendships and deeper relationships, and leads to his eventual downfall when his inability to learn from his mistakes ends up costing him everything.
Jerk Ass: Cerebus himself. Heavily deconstructed, especially in Minds.
Jigsaw Puzzle Plot: Probably at its most extreme in Flight. One issue would end with a Cliff Hanger and then the next issue would go on to something entirely unrelated, just to mess with you.
Keet: The Artist when he debuted in Issue 25. He drops this when he reappears in High Society and by Church & State...
The Lad-ette: Depending on how generous you want to be toward Sim's intentions, Mary Ernestway can be seen as either a mean-spirited exaggeration or particularly vicious deconstruction. Sim frequently states that he has great disdain for women who attempt to be men, and thus Mary Ernestway, who is based on Sim's interpretation of Mary Hemingway's diaries, is loud, unnecessarily profane, tends to put exaggerated emphasis on every third word, coughs up and spits loogies like it's a sport, and is all-in-all a boorish buffoon. She also seems to take pride in the fact that she has out-"manned" Ham, who is little more than a shell of his former self and has what little personality he has left crushed whenever he's around Mary. Mary's also a terrible shot, and leads the group around in circles on their travels, leaving Cerebus and Jaka stranded in the forest in the wake of a blizzard when they flee after Ham kills himself.
Lampshade Hanging: Minor typos and inconsistencies nobody but the author could have possibly picked up on are returned to, expounded upon, and made into plot points.
Lampshaded Double Entendre: How Cerebus makes the Artist understand that Sumpthing and Woman-Thing are not fighting each other, but are actually...well, you know.
The Last Dance: Subverted. Cerebus goes out to singlehandedly face an enemy horde at the end of High Society, only to realize at the last second that the army consisted of former allies who stopped their attack and made peace upon recognizing him.
Last of His Kind: Elrod claims to be the last member of a dying race. Ultimately subverted in Reads when his true origin and nature are revealed.
Leeroy Jenkins: Cerebus in the first issue. Subverted in that (1) he probably only made the mission slightly more difficult than it would have been and (2) that the mission's success was still mostly due to his participation.
Lemony Narrator: Cerebus in Latter Days appears to be narrating portions of the story to the reader. At the end, we learn that he's actually telling the story to a female reporter.
Light Is Not Good: Inverted and then played straight. Prior to his religious conversion, Sim depicted a creation myth (given by the Judge at the end of Church and State) in which the female Light was essentially raped by the male Void in which it resided, causing the Light to completely shatter and form the physical universe. After his conversion, the male void became God and the female Light became YHWH, God's Adversary. Cerebus is physically dragged into the Light after his death in the last issue, screaming for God to save him.
Lions and Tigers and Humans... Oh, My!: It's eventually revealed that aardvarks have occasionally shown up throughout Estarcion's recorded history. That there are three running around at once is quite unusual, though.
Literary Agent Hypothesis: Several in-universe examples, including Oscar's book about Jaka's childhood and some of Cerebus's narration in Latter Days.
Loads and Loads of Characters: Dozens of significant characters over the course of the comic's run. Near the end of issue #300, almost all of them are in "the light", apparently greeting Cerebus warmly.
Long Runner: Considering it was an independent, creator-owned comic, it sure lasted a good deal longer than you'd think.
Love at First Sight: Cerebus and Jaka. Granted, Cerebus was under the effects of a mind-altering drug at the time, but he still cared about her even after it wore off.
Love Dodecahedron: One of the key themes of Jaka's Story. Jaka is married to Rick and loves him. Cerebus loves Jaka. Pud Withers...well he feels something for Jaka. And just to mix things up a bit, Oscar clearly has a crush on Rick.
Love Triangle: The Roach thinks one of these exists between himself, Astoria, and Cerebus.
Lysistrata Gambit: There's at least one moment of Deconstruction of this in Rick's (prose) memoirs. Of course, we are talking about post-Reads Dave Sim here, so there are a few... weird ideas there, but the point is made that if a woman feels compelled to use her body to "punish or reward" her man, the relationship might not be the healthiest one to begin with.
MacGuffin: The albatross, which was vital to establish who would be the proper pope over the Eastern and Western Churches of Tarim in the High Society and Church and State arcs.
Madness Mantra: After Cerebus learns the truth about the Rabbai comicsnote namely, that they're a vicious satire about him, he snaps and commences to shuffling around his palace saying "DARRRR! Pret-ty flowers! Pret-ty sunsets!". It takes Konigsberg saying "Mungu Mkono" to him to snap him out of it.
Mad Scientist: Necross (although he's technically a mad wizard, but still...)
Necross: Being Crazy and evil at the same time is no picnic believe me.
The Magic Goes Away: All of the weird esoterics and mysticism that is prevalent through Minds slowly but surely fades away to be replaced by the more directly religious themes.
Malaproper: Cerebus occasionally mangles his words, almost always when Dave's wanting to play off his lack of sophistication. For example, after Dave leaves the bar without drinking any of his Coors Lights in Rick's Story:
Jaka (after drinking what she thinks is water): Yuck! It looks like water but it tastes like...watery beer! Cerebus: It's called Cool's...Right.
Male Gaze: Those parts of Jaka's Story told from Pud Withers' point of view.
Astoria and Lord Julius, back when they were married, anyway.
Cerebus and New Joanne
Mayfly-December Romance: Cerebus and Jaka (although Cerebus' incredibly slow aging isn't revealed until the last two phonebooks, and their romance is long over at that point).
Medium Awareness: Cerebus has this forced upon him by "Dave" in Minds. As a result, in Rick's Story, as he's debating on whether or not to open the package Dave left at the bar, he wonders if his stagnation has pissed off Dave and/or Dave's readers enough to want him dead.
Memento MacGuffin: Missy, Jaka's childhood doll. Cerebus carries it around in Melmoth but eventually leaves it behind, and it shows back up with Jaka in Rick's Story. In Form and Void, it's also how the Cirinists know it was Jaka and Cerebus that took Ham's gun and fled after he killed himself, since they found it at their campsite.
Mind Screw: Happens both to the reader and to Cerebus. The latter is the whole point of the various "Mind Games" issues, and is in large part how Cerebus interacts with Suenteus Po before they meet face-to-face. The reader gets slapped with this in the second prose section of Reads.
Cerebus has made his omelet and now he has to lie in it.
Momma's Boy: Pud Withers, in a very dark and twisted fashion. His diary entries are addressed to her even though she's dead. He even apologizes to her as he's praying to Tarim for forgiveness for starting to act on his plan to rape Jaka.
Mommy Issues: Astoria (Cirin's daughter-in-law) has enormous philosophical differences with Cirin, and took several opportunities to screw with Cirin both personally and politically in her backstory.
The Judge in Church and State, especially during his interpretation of the creation of the universe and the fate of life on Earth.
Po in the Mothers and Daughters arc.
The real Cirin in Women gives Cerebus a lengthy explanation of certain things that the Cirnists would really prefer he not know about what's going on around him.
Sim himself in Minds, giving Cerebus multiple lengthy Info Dumps about, among other things, the history of the Cirinists, what his medallions actually are, and most importantly, just how much of a Jerkass Cerebus really is.
Nonstandard Character Design: Cerebus (and the other two aardvarks) are drawn in a very simple style, with liberal use of zip-a-tone. The rest of the world, characters included, is drawn much more realistically, and with no zip-a-tone whatsoever.
Not a Morning Person: Rick in Jaka's Story. Getting out of bed is a massive struggle for him, and even when he's finally up and moving he's slow and sluggish, with a tendency to drift right back to sleep as soon as he comes to a stop. Jaka can wake him in a hurry with a "wet willy", but he's back out soon after.
Not So Different: Cerebus and Cirin are both power hungry and prone to violent outbursts. Both are unexpectedly strong (he's a shrimp, she's middle-aged). Both tend to zealously guard their egos. Finally, they're both aardvarks.
Orphaned Punchline: Invoked by Cerebus in Latter Days when he recounts the most disgusting thing he ever said and spares his audience everything but the punchline.
Our Albino Is Dead: Elrod's death in Issue 22. The cover even advertised it as "The Death of Elrod". However, later on, when Elrod learns what he is, he winks out of existence, and thus, actually DOES die.
Painting the Medium: Used in many ways over the course of the comic, sometimes obviously and sometimes less so.
One of the most obvious ones happens during Minds. "Dave" brings Cerebus close to Cirin to show that her telepathic denials of the truths he's trying to show her are so strong that they're actually distorting the "reality" around her, depicted as the edges of the panels fragmenting.
After Cerebus wins the election in High Society, the several next issues are tilted and have to be read sideways, signifying that his world has been "knocked sideways." In the penultimate issue of the same storyline, where the crisis is a fact, for a few pages the direction of the panel spins around so that the reader has to keep turning the comic around in order to read it.
Perpetual Smiler: The real Cirin, despite everything that has happened to her, is unflinchingly pleasant and cordial, even to the Cirinist stenographer who lives with her and takes down everything she says to report to the aardvark Cirin. She only drops the smile when said stenographer finally has all she can take of Cirin's Info Dump to Cerebus and leaves to report where he is.
Pie in the Face: "Dave" first makes contact with Cerebus in Minds in this manner.
Cerebus (internal): A sign!
Pig Man: ...or "Earth Pig Man", in Cerebus' case. In the early issues, he often referred to himself as an "earth pig born."
Pintsized Powerhouse: Cerebus. He's three feet tall but can hold his own against just about anyone in a fight. The only character who comes close to defeating him is Cirin.
Post Script Season: All lingering plot threads and character arcs were pretty much resolved by the end of Minds, but the series ran for another 3 arcs/100 issues... some people believe he did this solely because he'd earlier stated that the series would run for a total of 300 issues. Dave Sim himself stated in an interview with The Comics Journal, "Cerebus #1-200 [is] the completion of the story. The yin and yang."
To illustrate how severe the Ending Fatigue got by the end: Gerhard, basically the last person that Dave hadn't driven away from the comic with his crazy, Reclusive Artist behaviour (although by this point Dave and Gerhard never spoke outside work), was interviewed by The Comics Journal and admitted that even he was lost as a reader and became very frustrated with the drudgery of working on a book "even I couldn't read anymore", to the point that he motivated himself to finish The Last Day with the mantra "done by Christmas, done by Christmas...", because Dave happened to mention at one point that the book would be "done by Christmas" if a certain amount of pages were finished per day. Gerhard also admits in the same interview that after Cerebus was finished, he was so burnt out by the experience he didn't feel like drawing for nearly six years afterwards.
The sections of Jaka's Story which depict Jaka's childhood, later revealed to be a novel that Oscar has been writing about Jaka based on anecdotes from Rick.
The sections of Rick's Story that are written very much like the King James Bible.
Mary Ernestway's diary readings are a loose example.
The first two are deliberate parodies; the diary, not at all.
Put in a Carriage to Palnu: At the end of Form and Void, in the wake of Jaka and Cerebus' relationship finally collapsing, the Cirinists who have been pursuing them since they fled the Ernestways show up, revealing that they found where Cerebus and Jaka had camped, and thus found the gun they took with them; under Cirinist law it's a capital offense for unmarried couples to possess a gun. While Cerebus vents his grief and rage, Jaka is carted away in tears and is never seen in the flesh again. Sim never revealed Jaka's final fate, although he hinted at least once that due to her being a public celebrity and Palnu royalty, and with her and Cerebus now permanently separated and thus not an issue to the Cirinists anymore, she was probably placed under permanent house arrest rather than executed.
During the Church & State arc, while interrogating a captive Astoria, Cerebus finally has enough of her mind games and taunts and proceeds to rape her.
This pops up twice in Jaka's Story. In the early issues, it's strongly implied that Jaka was molested as a young child. Sim later all but confirmed this, hinting (but later Jossing) Julius as the culprit. Near the end, Pud's inner narration of his interactions with Jaka begins to turn very dark, as he starts contemplating raping her. However, when he finally works up the nerve to attempt this, it's interrupted by a customer.
Issue 3. In all honesty, the first two issues were basically straight-up fantasy adventures that happened to star a Funny Animal and had some comic relief thrown in here and there. Issue 3 was where the parody started becoming apparent.
Guys, Rick's Story, and Going Home. Although each has significant serious material, as a whole they are more humor-focused and could also count as one huge Breather Episode considering how dark Form and Void was.
Latter Days subverts this. The first half of the book is extremely light-hearted. Then the Three Wise Fellows die during a Time Skip and things stay pretty bleak for the rest of the arc and series.
Weisshaupt eventually becomes this to Cerebus once Cerebus becomes Pope, although he changes his mind on his death bed.
Cirin views Cerebus as this until Minds, when "Dave" reveals to her that her worst fear about Cerebus, namely that his uniquely hermaphroditic body could lead to him impregnating himself and siring an entire race of aardvarks, can't happen because the stab wound he received as a child permanently damaged his womb. From that point on, to her he's merely a nuisance to be removed when it's convenient.
Jaka tries to get Cerebus to invoke this trope in High Society, when Iest is under siege. He refuses and slaps her in disgust. He later apologizes, but still claims that she was in the wrong for trying to convince him to run out on his men.
Astoria does this for real in Reads.
Screw Yourself: Cerebus could (in theory) do this due to how his genitals are arranged.
Secret Diary: As part of her manipulations of Jaka to get a signed confession of immoral behavior, Ms. Thatcher reveals that Pud had such a diary, reading some excerpts that are very tawdry and show how much he was lusting for Jaka, which rattles Jaka badly.
Seldom Seen Species: Aardvarks are not at all common, but have appeared enough times throughout Estarcion's history that it's not a cause for public wonder. That three aardvarks are running around at one time, on the other hand, is exceedingly rare.
Self-Deprecation: Even Sim takes a crack at his own outspokenness on the front cover of issue 290. (See below under Take That for further details.)
Self Insert/Write Who You Know: Sim shows up in person near the end of Rick's Story and converses with Cerebus on the stagnation of Cerebus' life.
Sexy Shirt Switch: At the start of Church and State, Cerebus wakes up wearing Red Sophia's bikini top. When Weisshaupt shows up and hears the...details of the previous night ("Oh, at least twelve times...I lost count [...]"), Cerebus pukes in a chamberpot.
Women features a major one to The Sandman, in the form of The Clueless: Swoon (The Roach, parodying Dream), Snuff (Elrod, dressed as Death), Sulk (Despair if she was Red Sophia's mother), Sleaze (Desire, implied to be modeled on Astoria), Kay Sarah Sarah (the Roach as a female parody of Destiny)
Shut Up, Hannibal!: Cirin tries to pull one of these on Po in Reads. It doesn't work. Cerebus pulls one on Astoria later on in the same book. It really doesn't work.
Sickening Crunch: The reader is treated to the text equivalent when Rick's thumb is broken at the end of Jaka's Story.
Slashed Throat: Cerebus almost does this to himself after killing the Cirinists at the end of Melmoth, based on his memory of Bear's campfire story of what might happen in retaliation for such an act, but changes his mind and flees instead.
Smart People Play Chess: Taken to extremes by Suenteus Po, who has grown so weary of the world that he hides in his small apartment and plays chess against himself...for decades. All of which seems to have been a way to protect his secrets from the Big Bad, who can read minds. When she tries to read Po's mind, she sees chess...and nothing else.
Smug Snake: Po admits that both Astoria and Cirin are experts in guile and trickery, but he also accuses them of being overconfident to the point where they have both dangerously underestimated Cerebus.
Something Completely Different: High Society was the point where Cerebus pretty much stopped being a sword-and-sorcery comic. Also, several entire story arcs either shove Cerebus into the background or tell stories in a time or place where he isn't. Melmoth (which tells the story of the death of Oscar Wilde) is the most obvious of these, as well as Jaka's Story and Rick's Story. Also, another one of the later trades consisted almost entirely of an exegesis on the Torah.
In the first "Mind Games" issue, a Cirinist does a fortune telling of sorts on Cerebus and deems him "a random factor with immense and disruptive capabilities." We later learn that Cerebus has a "magnifier" ability, a kind of unconscious probability altering that causes events around him to become unusually orderly and successful and then fall apart in his absence, with a similar effect on the personality traits and abilities of people around him, and amplification of any magic that is present. This is later revealed to be a trait common to aardvarks, and is eventually removed around the time that religion really began to influence the comic.
Elrod's prescence just naturally seems to make anything he's involved in go off the rails, especially any of Cerebus' plans. He's a physical incarnation of chaos, so this comes naturally to him.
Speech Bubbles: These were one of the distinctive features of Cerebus; they could be incredibly expressive and as artistic as anything else that was going on in the comic.
Splash Panel: Sim played with the idea of 2-page splash panels by putting the left half on the final page of an issue and the right half on the first page of the next.
The Spock vs. The McCoy: This is the essence of Sim's views on the differences between men and women, although greatly simplified.
Status Quo Is God: The first 25 issues typically followed this pattern: No matter how much money Cerebus made on a job or through one of his schemes, he'd either lose it or simply waste it away and be forced to continue his career as a wandering mercenary.
Stepford Smiler: Cerebus becomes one to increasing degrees in Going Home and Form and Void to try to keep Jaka on an even keel, per advice from Victor Davis via Rick on how to handle women who are fundamentally unhappy. By the last few issues of F&V, the facade has enormous cracks, and shatters explosively in the final pages of the arc.
Story Arc: Cerebus is broken down into 10 major arcs: Cerebus, High Society, Church and State, Jaka's Story, Melmoth, "Mothers and Daughters", Guys, Rick's Story, "Going Home", and "Latter Days." Church and State has two parts, and the arcs in quotation marks have two to four distinct sub-arcs fitting under the general titlenote Flight, Women, Reads, and Minds for M&D, Going Home and Form and Void for "Going Home", and Latter Days and The Last Day for "Latter Days." Each arc and sub-arc tells a distinct story, lasting anywhere from 11 issues (Flight) to almost 60 issues (the entirety of Church and State), and each is collected in its own TPB.
Suicide Is Shameful: This is a deeply-ingrained belief for Cerebus. Thus, he's shocked when Brak Mak Mufin kills himself, and is rattled to his core when Ham Ernestway does the same, mainly because he idolized him so much and for him to die by his own hand says some seriously shameful things about Cerebus in his self-estimation.
Sometimes Dave Sim's mockery of superhero comics ceases to be Affectionate Parody and enters the realm of outright disdain.
Sim tends to resort to name-calling with anyone he disagrees with (such as calling Scott McCloud a weenie and calling Heidi MacDonald a moron). Whether or not this is supposed to be tongue-in-cheek is...not very easy to determine.
Sim had public fall-outs with Jeff Smith and Terry Moore, infamously publishing an editorial accusing Smith of lying about an argument they had over issue #186 and challenging him to a boxing match, to which Smith replied, "Get stuffed."
From the famous feuds file again, Sim also managed to piss off Gary Groth, editor-in-chief of The Comics Journal, and the journal's subsequent hostility to the comic was also alluded to in several Take That, Critics! outbursts. The feud between Sim and Groth reached such a height that it led to an infamous Award Snub, where one of The Comics Journal's lists of the best comics very noticeably left off Cerebus, despite the fact that at least one Journal writer admitted in an interview that Cerebus should have been on the list, but that Groth did not allow it.
Sim opened the "Tangent" essay in issue #265 by slamming Carol West, who had resigned as Aardvark-Vanaheim's administrative assistant in disgust after seeing the first draft of the essay.
Miz Thatcher, which surely must've caused Sim embarrassment; he has since said that she was right all along, as his politics shifted to being more obviously ultra-conservative about the same time as his religious conversion and he reinterpreted the themes of Jaka's Story in that vein.
The front cover of issue 290 is a movie poster parody that describes Cerebus as "the latest issue of the comic book liberals love to hate". The rest of the text degenerates into further pointless Strawman Political insults, ends in "OKAY OKAY JUST STOP WHINING! PLEASE!" and then restarts but changes the description to "the latest issue of the comic book that many people buy".
Take That, Critics!: In Melmoth, Oscar Wilde's high opinion of Daughter of Palnu and his unflattering description of "reads" fans is basically Sim both being defensive and taking a swipe at comics readers who disliked the direction he'd been taking the comic in since Church & State.
Talk Show: Women features one (the daytime version), with Red Sophia and her mother as the guests.
Tarot Motifs: The cover art for the issues in the Reads arc as well as the cover for the phonebook.
Telepathy: Women in Cerebus have a degree of mind-reading ability, and in the case of the Cirinists, take it almost to a Hive Mind level. The real Cirin reveals to Cerebus that women who are especially talented can actually influence the thoughts of others, or even outright brainwash them. She speaks from experience, since this is how Serna stole her identity and usurped her.
Cerebus, almost all the time; it's eventually revealed to be a normal speech pattern for the people in his native lands. The only times he breaks this are in the very first issues, and in High Society when giving political speeches.
Jaka in her first appearance (later retconned as her trying to pass herself off as a northerner, although this isn't revealed until much later, so the reader is left wondering why she started talking differently for a good portion of the series).
An unspecified amount of time took place between the end of Church and State II and the beginning of Jaka's Story, but it was enough time for Cerebus' proclamations as Pope to be proven false and the Cirinists to take over and seize his gold.
In Form and Void, Cerebus has a number of small time lapses due to fatigue and loss of consciousness while he and Jaka are trapped in a blizzard.
The first few issues of Latter Days featured several skips, in which Cerebus seems to go into a fugue state and lose large swathes of time.
Several decades are skipped between the end of Latter Days and the start of The Last Day.
Tiny Guy, Huge Girl: Cerebus and each of his love interests, since he's only three feet tall and they're normal-sized women.
Dave Sim: "Not to worry," I said, somewhat less than eager to reletter the logo and figure out how to squeeze in an extra letter and transpose two others, "we’ll just say that Cerebus is the name of the cartoon aardvark mascot."
Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Cerebus is an aardvark, and all the women that he has relationships with in-story are anywhere from attractive to stunningly beautiful.
Unlimited Wardrobe: It's not said outright, but while Jaka was living under Julius' roof after Jaka's Story, she apparently became very spoiled to having all the new clothes she could get, and a lot of her and Cerebus' travels in Going Home prior to the boat ride are to various shops so she can indulge this fancy. She even has a childish meltdown when Cerebus tries to get her to move away from this, as the idea of having to wear an outfit more than once or twice is horrific.
Oscar, who massively inflates the tales of Jaka's childhood with his Purple Prose. Being a parody of Oscar Wilde, this is very much in character.
Rick, who turns his memoirs into a holy text revolving around Cerebus after seeing Cerebus confront and dominate Mrs. Thatcher, who had engineered Rick and Jaka's divorce and then ordered Rick's maiming for hitting Jaka. Being quite deranged, he turns everything Cerebus says into scripture, regardless of Cerebus' intentions. He even writes a lengthy description of Cerebus' bar in the Old Testament style of description.
Cirin and Astoria, whose in-story Author Tracts are documented in part in Women. Being parodies of second-wave and third-wave feminists, respectively, they are seen as mutually opposing ends of the same extremist viewpoint.
Mary Ernestway and her diary about Ham's last safari. Being a textbook Ladette, she over-inflates her contributions to the safari, as well as misinterpreting the ethical and social implications of some events. She is also seriously overbearing and condescending toward Ham, and drops hints in her diary that Ham liked to cross-dress, engage in Gender Flip sexual roleplay with her, and enjoyed buggering her. Even Jaka and Cerebus appear to be embarrassed and confused by some of what she talks about, frequently exchanging puzzled glances during these sequences. Given that Sim took Mary Hemingway's published diaries as the source for Mary Ernestway's diaries, this leads to questions about Ernest himself.
The Judge is retconned into being one during the Mothers & Daughters arc, occupying a kind of trickster role in Cirinist theology.
Sim himself in multiple ways.
He describes Victor Davis as himself during a period when he was drinking heavily and trying to get laid at the same time...unfortunately, he was a mean drunk, which made getting laid that much more difficult, which led to him drinking more, and so on.
It's not clear if Dave used Mary Hemingway's diaries in their entirety or picked the parts which suited his views the best to make Mary Ernestway what she is.
Later on, as Sim's anti-feminist and religious material increasingly influenced the comic...well...
Unreliable Voiceover: Used to introduce Astoria and her relationship to Moon Roach. Oddly subverted when, much later, another character tells a version of the story which doesn't match the art or narration of the first one.
Urban Segregation: Iest's Upper City is on a very high and sheer mesa, though this is not made explicit for some years.
Vapor Wear: In the "affair with Joanne" section of Minds, a full page is spent on Cerebus seeing Joanne putting this into action in various ways.
Villainous BSOD: Pud Withers has one near the end of Jaka's Story, breaking down in hysterical sobbing and begging for forgiveness from both Tarim and his mother after the first night of actual business at the tavern in a long, long time and an unexpected act of generosity from Jaka upset his attempt to rape Jaka.
Walking the Earth: The first 25 issues or so are mainly Cerebus wandering from place to place having various adventures while trying to make money and get drunk. In the early issues of Latter Days, he wanders all over northern Estarcion trying to bide time until he dies.
Wall of Text: Happens several times throughout the series, but the absolutely worst case is the "Chasing YHWH" portion of Latter Days. These issues are almost completely text with only minimal art, usually Cerebus examining the Torah scrolls with a magnifying glass.
Wanton Cruelty to the Common Comma: The second issue uses "it's" twice where it meant to use "its". One such instance is actually followed only one page later by a proper "its".
Weirdness Magnet: A side effect of Cerebus' "magnifier" ability is that he seemingly can't get away from weird people and circumstance. Eventually, it's revealed that the chaos in his destiny caused by not having all the aardvark artifacts has a lot to do with this as well.
Played very straight in multiple ways in the comic.
Sim himself averts it; despite his apparent misogyny, he condemned violence against women in at least one of his editorials, and "Dave" is clearly disgusted with Cerebus' violence toward Jaka in some of the possible futures he shows Cerebus where they're a couple.
Would Hurt a Child: The comic doesn't pull punches on this topic. There's Cerebus being stabbed by a bully when he was young, the baby toss in Church and State, his killing the child mercenary, a Cirinist killing a girl who saw Cerebus' failed revolution in Flight (not depicted but the Cirinist is ready to strike the blow), and the baby fling in Latter Days.
Writing for the Trade: Pretty much the entire point of the comic, to the point that it's impossible to tell where one issue ended and another began after the fourth phonebook, when the stories stop having individual titles. The trades are printed together as a single story, because that's how they were written, which means monthly readers were basically getting 20-page chunks of a larger book every month, which simply cut off at whatever happened to be the 20th page that month. It got to the point where almost every issue ended with the left-hand page of a double-page spread and the next began with the right. Also, since recaps or even character pages weren't done, you had to get a half-dozen issues to start just to try to stay afloat. Another indie comic famously used the line "I haven't been this confused since I started reading Cerebus at issue 50!".
Wrong Genre Savvy: The Cockroach, who thinks he's the protagonist of a superhero story.
Yoko Oh No: An In-Universe non-musical example in Ziggy, Bear's on-again-off-again girlfriend, who everyone else calls "Zig-pig" because she's incredibly obnoxious, has a nails-on-chalkboard laugh, and because Bear utterly folds in her presence, putting up with all of her crap because it means he gets laid. By Cerebus and the Starkey brothers' reaction to the one time in the comic where she shows up, it's apparent that this is something that's been happening for years. It's bad enough that when she shows up, almost everyone else in the bar makes plans to leave for good the next day because Bear leaving with her shatters the already-tenuous atmosphere in the bar.
The following tropes themselves are spoilers for the series; read at your own risk:
Back for the Finale: Most of the more notable characters show up in the afterlife in issue 300...then it's possibly subverted since Cerebus might be in Hell and his old acquaintances might be demons who lured his soul into a trap.
Even if Cerebus actually went to Heaven, the world he left behind is still a mess and will only get worse and worse.
Even before this point, many of the indivdual arcs (Church & State, Jaka's Story, etc.) ended on a depressing note.
Earn Your Happy Ending: The Mothers & Daughters arc and the first half of Latter Days. Unfortunately for our (anti)hero, Sim decides to subvert it both times.
For Want of a Nail: "Dave" reveals to Cerebus in Minds that the entire series, except for the first issue or so, has been a chaotic, fractured version of what should have been Cerebus' real destiny—bring the Pigt altar to life with the aardvark artifacts and lead the Pigts to conquer the world.
Happy Ending: At the end of Rick's Story, Jaka shows up at the bar out of the blue. She and Cerebus joyfully reunite, and eventually leave the bar. By the end of Form and Void, this is completely subverted.
Really Dead Montage: An entire page is devoted to one after Cerebus breaks his neck and his body finishes falling to the floor.
You Can't Go Home Again: When Cerebus tries, he finds himself exiled due to his perceived abandonment of his family (he missed his father's death during the time that he was wandering with Jaka).