Cerebus issue 6 is titled “The Secret”, and is quite possibly THE key issue of the first half dozen (and maybe the series). It introduces Jaka, who is the love of Cerebus’s life.
Cerebus is on a pub crawl, and comes across Turg the unduly-tall and E’Lass, two criminal types who need Cerebus to… do what now? I had to look it up again just days after reading it. I wasn’t sure if I was confusing it with another issue, the set ups are fairly similar early on. This is the one where a dude dies but apparently passes a secret on to Cerebus before doing so. Turg and E’Lass are trying to get Cerebus to reveal that secret to them so they may profit from it. Cerebus isn’t biting, so E’Lass drugs his drink, and in doing so, gets Cerebus enchanted by Jaka, a tavern dancer. Interestingly enough, Cerebus expresses no interest in her before being drugged. He’s not particularly interested in women in the first few issues, which is an inversion of the typical barabarians who want to rape and pillage, possibly in that order.
However, once Cerebus is dosed, he goes all out in his single-minded obsession with Jaka. He punches E’Lass in the gut with his tail, floats after Jaka, kicks the asses of those threatening her, and generally moons after her with the big smile lines of a Peanuts character. He also gives us a nice definition of love, in his offering to Jaka: “If you wished, Cerebus would kill you a yak for your supper.” We know it’s love on her end too, because she responds with “Jaka thinks you are CUTE!” and a kiss.
Overall, things really start to click in this issue. The plot as such doesn’t have much to it (bad guys think Cerebus knows more than he does and try to profit from him), and it’s kept to one tavern, basically, but the story zips along nicely. E’Lass keeps getting beat up because he overestimates his control over Cerebus, Cerebus moons over Jaka and starts to make plans with her for a new life, and then everything gets resolved at the end, but unhappily. All the toys are put back at the end, but they aren’t unchanged. Not at all. This issue is the driver for the remainder of the series. I’m not sure, but I don’t think that Dave Sim had decided on the 300 issue challenge at this point, but one could see why if he had, as this sets up an interesting dynamic. Will Cerebus remember Jaka?
The artwork, while still rough, serves its purpose well here. The people and the tavern all “match”, that is, they blend well together and we realize they are of the same environment. The people are of a similar type and the backgrounds of the buildings are toned and textured with hatching that has variety but still marks it as of a similar origin. The people are rough, Jaka isn’t exactly a knockout beauty, because Sim is still finding his footing with drawing people. Cerebus is an outlier, in that he is drawn more cartoony and his tone makes him stick out more. His otherness really pops in this issue. And the void (if you will) in Cerebus’s eyes when the drugs wear off is fantastic looking. Sound effects are used well here too.
Overall this is a great issue and really shows how good Sim could be when firing on all cylinders.