Cerebus phonebook

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Cerebus phonebooks are the paperback collections that Dave Sim has collected his comic book series Cerebus in since 1986. They have come to be known as "phonebooks" as their thickness and paper stock resemble that of phone books.[1] The format had a large influence on alternative comics publishing, and was key in the move from the periodical-centric publishing style that was once dominant.[2][3]


Swords of Cerebus[edit]

Starting in 1981, Sim started collecting the Cerebus stories in Swords of Cerebus. Swords collected four issues per volume, each with a backup story and new cover.[2]

High Society[edit]

High Society had been conceived as one complete story, but Sim had not originally planned for it to be published as one volume. He did so more as an expedient:[5]

I have arrived at this decision for a number of reasons (a) the difficulty involved in keeping each volume of Cerebus in print at all times, (b) the convenience of being able to introduce new fans to Cerebus with two large volumes and (at most) two dozen back issues, (c) a manageable format for someday having all 300 issues available, (d) the opportunity to expand Cerebus' exposure by making it available in bookstores.

Sim published it as one 512-page trade paperback volume in 1986. It was offered exclusively through mail order, and sold out its 6000-copy print run within a year. Its success convinced Sim to drop the Swords collections and republish their contents as one volume as well.[6]

Further volumes[edit]

Church & State, at 1200 pages, would have been too unwieldy for one volume, so it was published in two—the first in 1987, before the story was finished.[citation needed]

Jaka's Story was the first to be conceived from the beginning with the end "phonebook" collection in mind.[5] When serialized, it prominently displayed the novel name (Jaka's Story) on the cover,[5] and printed both the current issue of the series and the current issue of the novel—so, for example, the January 1989 issue was numbered both Cerebus #119 and Jaka's Story #6.

In High Society, each issue of Cerebus comprised one chapter of the story, but as the series progressed, Sim came to compose the stories with the collected volumes in mind. This meant that the stories would be serialized in the comic book in twenty-page installments, but with little regard for the per-issue reading experience—sometimes an issue would end mid-scene.[7] Many fans started waiting for the collected volumes to be released, abandoning the monthly series—a phenomenon that came to be known as "The Cerebus Effect".

Starting with the thirteenth volume, Going Home, the books featured colour covers. The covers to Going Home and Form & Void were photographs taken by Gerhard.

Distribution dispute[edit]

When Sim published the High Society phonebook, it was initially not available through traditional comic-book direct market distributors, who felt that Cerebus' success until then had been largely due to them[8] and put up "a lot of resistance"[9] to Sim selling directly through the mail.

In retaliation, Diamond Comic Distributors in 1987 chose to drop Puma Blues, which was being published by Sim's Aardvark One International. Diamond's orders accounted for 33% of Puma Blues' sales. To extract themselves from the dispute, the book's creators, Michael Zulli and Stephen Murphy, moved publication of Puma Blues to Mirage Studios.[10]

Sim didn't relent on having the "phone books" distributed by the Direct Market until well into the 1990s. Retailers were able to get bulk discounts on boxes of Cerebus phonebooks directly from Aardvark-Vanaheim, however.

The Cerebus Effect[edit]

In the 1990s, fans started to come to expect their favourite comics to become available after a time in collected form. The collections, while requiring more money to be spent up front, were seen as more convenient and economical than periodicals. This put creators in a bind if they relied on the income from their series to support themselves until they could work up enough material for a collection. Comics Journal columnist Bart Beaty coined the term "Cerebus effect" to label this tendency, as Cerebus was seen as the first book to mark and influence this tendency.[7][11]

Another aspect of "the Cerebus effect" was that Cerebus and certain other serialized comics (such as Chester Brown's Underwater, Gilbert Hernandez' Poison River[7] and Tom Hart's The Sands[11][12]) would appear in installments that critic Robert Boyd said were "like they were cut randomly from a larger narrative." This hurt the serialized reading experience and further convinced many readers to wait for the collections, to the detriment of the periodical comic sales.[7]


The books are all softcover and printed on newsprint, printed by Preney Print & Litho, of Windsor, Ontario in Canada. Except for the final four volumes, the covers are all in black and white.

At one time, Sim talked about publishing high-quality, oversized editions of Jaka's Story,[13] but soon scrapped it as a cash-grab.[14] Foreign editions, however, have come out on higher-grade paper, some in hardcover.[15][16]


Novels and collections[edit]

# Title[17] Issues[17] Orig.
Storyline[18][17] Year ISBN Notes
1 Cerebus 1 25 1977–1981 Cerebus 1987 0-919359-08-6 Third published volume[19]
From 11th printing, also contains "Silverspoon" strips
2 High Society 26 50 1981–1983 High Society 1986 0-919359-07-8 First published volume[17][19]
3 Church and State I 52 80 1983–1985 Church & State 1987 0-919359-09-4 Second published volume[19]
4 Church and State II 81 111 1985–1988 1988 0-919359-11-6
5 Jaka's Story 114 136 1988–1990 Jaka's Story 1990 0-919359-12-4
6 Melmoth 139 150 1990–1991 Melmoth 1991 0-919359-10-8
7 Flight 151 162 1991–1992 Mothers & Daughters 1993 0-919359-13-2 first volume published with a volume number
8 Women 163 174 1992–1993 1994 0-919359-14-0
9 Reads 175 186 1993–1994 1995 0-919359-15-9
10 Minds 187 200 1994–1995 1996 0-919359-16-7
11 Guys 201 219 1995–1997 Guys 1997 0-919359-17-5
12 Rick's Story 220 231 1997–1998 Rick's Story 1998 0-919359-18-3
13 Going Home 232 250 1998–2000 Going Home 2000 0-919359-19-1
14 Form and Void 251 265 2000–2001 2001 0-919359-20-5
15 Latter Days 266 288 2001–2003 Latter Days 2003 0-919359-22-1
16 The Last Day 289 300 2003–2004 2004 0-919359-21-3

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Cerebus". 1999-10-26. Retrieved 2011-05-23. [...]Dave Sim keeps all the back issues in print through his "phone books" (large collections of back issues that are literally phone book sized), trade paperbacks[...] 
  2. ^ a b O'Nale, Robert. Encyclopedia of Comic Books and Graphic Novels, Volume 1 (editor: Booker, M. Keith), page 93. ABC-CLIO, 2010. ISBN 978-0-313-35748-0
  3. ^ "Welcome..." cerebustheaardvark.com. Retrieved 2011-05-23. Dave Sim and Gerhard revolutionized not only the comic book format, but were also responsible for what would become the modern trade paperback comic collection -- large collections of issues dubbed "phone books" by Cerebus fans.  External link in |publisher= (help)
  4. ^ "Swords of Cerebus". Cerebus Wiki. Retrieved 2011-05-23.  External link in |publisher= (help)
  5. ^ a b c d Campbell, Eddie (2011-08-04). "A Big Spread-7". Retrieved 2011-01-02. 
  6. ^ Bolhafner, J. Stephen (2000-09-01). "Cerebus". Retrieved 2011-05-23. The success of High Society led Sim to discontinue the "Swords" volumes and print another big phonebook with all the first 25 issues. 
  7. ^ a b c d Hatfield, page 160
  8. ^ Bisette, part 7
  9. ^ Bisette, part 6
  10. ^ Markstein, Donald D. (2009). "The Puma Blues". Toonopedia. Retrieved 2011-04-29.  External link in |publisher= (help)
  11. ^ a b Beaty, Bart. "Pickle, Poot and The Cerebus Effect". The Comics Journal #207 (September 1998), pages 1-2. Fantagraphics Books
  12. ^ Hatfield, page 161
  13. ^ Sim, Cerebus #126, "Note from the President" (inside front cover). Aardvark-Vanaheim, September 1989. ISSN 0712-7774
  14. ^ Sim, Cerebus #129, "Note from the President" (inside front cover). Aardvark-Vanaheim, December 1989. ISSN 0712-7774
  15. ^ "High Society in French". Cerebus Fangirl. 2010-09-10. Archived from the original on 2011-07-08. Retrieved 2011-04-27.  External link in |publisher= (help)
  16. ^ product page for Alta Società at Black Velvet Editrice
  17. ^ a b c d e Weiner, Robert G; Weiner, Stephen; Figa, Elizabeth (FRW); Royal, Derek Parker (FRW). Graphic Novels and Comics in Libraries and Archives, page 13. McFarland, 2010. ISBN 978-0-786-44302-4
  18. ^ Griggs, Henry. "Cerebus the Aardvark". Henry Griggs Ramblings. Retrieved 2011-05-02. 
  19. ^ a b c Liss, Margaret (2009-10-17). "Cerebus phonebooks part two". CerebusFanGirl. Retrieved 2011-05-30. 

Works cited[edit]