I was probably around fourteen or fifteen years old when I picked up my first issue of Cerebus . I remember reading about it in an issue of Comics Collector, the short-lived magazine spin-off from the Comics Buyers Guide. I'd been reading superhero comics for a few years by this point and had probably just caught on to the fact that, whatever the editors' claims, things were never really going to change--the Fantastic Four would never break up, Aunt May would never die, Batman would never give up his cowl. I wanted something More, and had been sampling more "alternative" comics hoping to find something different.
Well, I certainly found it.
One thing I sort of liked, in a perverse way, is that there was no "previously in..." or other guide for new readers. It was like picking up a book and starting to read it midway through (or in this case, 20% through, since the series would run for three hundred issues), and considering the storyline involved (an anthropomorphic aardvark in a world full of humans living in what-looks-like-the-Middle-Ages becomes the pope) it was a pretty ballsy choice.
Looking back, it was great place to start. Cerebus had just become pope after several issues of rather dry political exposition, and this issue marked the return of much of the humor of the book. This issues also marked the debut of Gerhard doing the backgrounds, which would inspire Dave Sim to not only be more funny, but to broaden the scope of the book tremendously. On a more personal level, I was primed for this book: I was a pretty miserable teenager, with that terrific combination of being both and angry outsider and thinking I was a genius. The appeal of Cerebus, a shrewd angry aardvark who wanted nothing less than to rule the earth, being put in the position of getting to tell all those other jerks what to do...well, this comic was made for me.
Considering it was the first issue I picked up, and what a tremendous impact the book was to have on my life, it's strange to consider that the title is "Anything Done for the First Time Unleashes a Demon." For the next twenty years, Cerebus would a strangely persistant presence in my life, as it would be the only comic I would consistantly buy throughout the rest of high school, through college and beyond. I actually gave up reading the series very close to the end, stopping just a dozen issues short of Sim's three-hundred issue goal line. Aside from the book becoming very dull at the end, I found it too sad to read. Sim's personality had always been a big factor in reading the series (less so reading the trade paperback collections, without their essays, letters pages and whatnot) and by the end his personality had become so bizzarre that it made the book unbearable to read.
But I will always have fond memories of this issue. Looking back I can still recall how wonderfully confusing and exciting it was. Since I had so little clue as to who the characters were I was free to imagine my own backstories which would turn out to be (predictably) wrong. My parents had gotten divorced in 1980 or so, and my younger brother and I would spend every other weekend with my dad, now living about thirty miles away. One of the happy rituals we developed was going to Funny Business, a comic shop on the upper west side of Manhattan, where my dad let us (mostly me) indulge my passion and let me blow the entire $20 he gave us on comics. Superhero comics were giving way for more and more alternative comics--stuff like Groo, E-Man, Elementals and of course Cerebus.