WHY AN AARDVARK?
Our story begins with me winning a call-in trivia question on Kitchener radio station CHYM (back when it was still 1490 on the AM dial — I would do a series of Doonesbury - style newspaper strip ads for them years later when they made the switch to 570). I forget what the question was, but I’m pretty sure’ it was comics-related. Anyway, what I won was a copy of Kensington Market’s first (maybe ONLY) album, Aardvark. I never listened to the album (to this day my interest in any music is severely limited and my interest in exploring the ‘cutting edge’ of music nil), but I kept it around for quite a while because, hey, I WON it, right? The cover was a colour photograph of a model stage, the curtains opened. There in the center of the stage was a very strange-looking quadruped. The year would have to have been 1969 or 1970 (maybe some enterprising Kensington Market devotee could narrow it down for us). Anyway, this was the first connection between Dave Sim and Aardvarks.
The next connection was T. Casey Brennan. Now, Casey is another story entirely and one which more than merits a separate and extensive piece, which I’ve resolved to get to — this resolution going stronger with each ‘History of Vampirella’ piece I read that neglects to even mention Casey as Vampirella’s primary and most prolific scripter way back when. In a larger sense this is the reason that I stopped answering the ‘Why an Aardvark’ question some time ago. Each thread of the actual, fully interwoven answer is deserving of lengthy explication. Taking it down to ‘sound byte’ level makes me uncomfortable and reduces many large contributions and contributors to bit players — Gene Day and T. Casey Brennan foremost on that list.
I first became aware of T. Casey back in 1971 when Don and Maggie Thompson, in their mimeo-zine, Newfangles (I was a subscriber from early ‘71 until it merged with Alan Light’s Buyer’s Guide a couple of years later), listed the results of balloting for the ACBA Awards (The Academy of Comic Book Arts — short-lived but influential) for that year. I recognized the names and works of everyone (I believe Green Lantern/Green Arrow and Conan by O’Neil/Adams and Thomas/Smith dominated the awards that year) except the names of the creators of one of the runner-up ‘Best Short Story’ awards — this one for ‘On the Wings of a Bird’ by T. Casey Brennan and Jerry Grandenetti, published in Creepy36. This was well past the Archie Goodwin – Al Williamson-Roy Krenkel-Steve Ditko-Frank Frazetta heyday of the Warren magazines, at least insofar as quality was concerned. They were still profitable; they Just weren’t very good for the most part — certainly a world away from being an odds-on favourite for a ACBA Award in the ‘Best Short Story’ category.
Casey lived in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and evidently got word of the SOPAF(Southern Ontario Panel Art Festival) that was held at Now & Then Books in June of 1972 (the same weekend of Watergate and the same weekend Wendy and Richard Pini got married — told you this was complicated and interwoven, didn’t I?). He just showed up. Phoned to make sure that there was something going on and came all the way from Michigan, f’cryin’ out loud. Riding the wave of his success with ‘On the Wings of Bird’, Casey soon got a reputation for showing up anywhere there was a comic-book convention going on (he had a speeds impediment which claimed him to pronounce his r’s as w’s, and doing a Casey impression — ‘Faw out! Faw out! Whewe can I cwath tonight? Can I cwash at youw place?’ — guaranteed an easy laugh in the Detroit-Toronto corridor in 1972-73. No one laughed at the joke as much as Casey did himself). I was an interview maniac at the time, having edited the first issue of the Now & Then Timer in 1972 and working with John Balge on C4NAR (Comic Art News & Reviews). Casey not only agreed to do an interview, he agreed to come back to Kitchener to do it. He even agreed to stay at my parents’ place! It was a weird, weird break-point or a sixteen- year-old comic-book fan to have a real-life professional comic-book writer just hanging out in the half of the basement where I kept my comic books. 1 had dug up as many of his Warren stories as I could in anticipation of doing the interview and found that they were awfully good and awfully different. There was almost nothing of rhetorical Warren-style horror to them. Instead they were allegories, archetypal dark fables with tits like the aforementioned ‘On the Wings of a Bird’, ‘Carrier of the Serpent’, ‘The Cut-Throat Cat Blues’, “Climbers of the Tower’. The stories and Casey’s approach to them were a revelation to me. There was the surface of the story and then there was your own interpretation — or various interpretations — to be had in the aftermath. Casey fundamentally changed my view of what constituted a good comic-book story After reading his work, I found most comic books terribly two-dimensional in their approach. – The surface was all that was there — nothing was going on besides the ostensible. I wrote and drew the first page of a parody of ‘On the Wings of a Bird’ called ‘On the Back of a Pro’ and sent it to Casey, asking if he would write the rest of it. He phoned and told me it was great and asked, ‘Why, when you’ve written something this brilliant, why in God’s name would you want ME to write it?’ It was pretty close to the first time I was ever praised for my creativity, so I finished it — and John published it in CANAR. I THINK I even got paid (yeah, I did — John Balge was the first person who paid me for my work. How could I have forgotten that? Sorry, John.).
Now, at this point you must be thinking to yourself that I’ve succumbed to the temptation to actually write my ‘T. Casey Brennan Appreciation Piece’. Not so — believe it or not, this is STILL the Reader’s Digest version of ‘Why an Aardvark?’ The rich history of T. Casey Brennan, Figure of Mystery, has ye to be told.
Starting in the early summer of 1973, Casey began planning his own title, to feature his stories drawn by various artists. Vince Marchesano was in on it and various other people. Much to my surprise, I got a script in the mail. Casey wanted ME to do one as well, called ‘Picture This’. I penciled, inked and lettered it, and my penciling, inking and lettering sucked BIG TIME. I sent it in and he accepted it and then sent. me another script. This one was called ‘A Boy and His Aardvark’. As diplomatically as possible he asked me just to pencil. it — someone -else would do the inking and the lettering (perhaps saving it in the process). I really regretted that I had gotten rid of the Kensington Market album since I now had to work from a tiny picture in my dictionary. The story itself which eventually appeared in Power Comics 1 perplexed me, being concerned with a young boy and his pet aardvark. The splash panel in particular, where the two of them traverse a gauntlet of people wondering aloud why he doesn’t kill the aardvark, etc., etc., seemed over the top. (In later years, as Cerebus passed issue 100 and kept going and (I believe) R. Fiore did his review of lake’s Story in which he concluded that I was tired of Cerebus as a character and that his best advice was to ‘lose the aardvark’ — and when that triggered a wave of ‘fan’ mail starting ‘...now that you’re tired of Catches as a character...’ I was struck (not for the first or last time) - by Casey’s remarkable prescience in working with his allegories.] I finished the pencils and seat them off. At that point Casey and the whole project seemed to vanish off the face of the earth. He resurfaced a year or two later (indirectly) when a local fanzine publisher told me he had bought a Casey script called ‘Doorway to the Gods’ and wanted me to draw it. I think I got paid two or three dollars a page (the fanzine publisher was a high-school kid). I did see it as an opportunity to FINALLY do a decent job of drawing a Casey script, so I put a lot more time and effort into it than the page rate warranted.
The next time I saw Casey was in the fall of 1976. Someone (I forget who) was putting on a comic-book convention at my old high school — Forest Heights Collegiate — and Casey was one of the invited guests, as was Gene Day. Here, again, I cringe at having to do a literary encapsulation of someone’s importance in my life. Another large ‘memoir’ is required. ‘In the fullness of time.’ as the saying goes.
Gene and I had hooked up in 1974 and were ‘thick as thieves’ by 1976. 1 regularly did work for his Dark Fantasy digest nine as well as his other House of Shadows projects like the digest anthology Out of the Depths. He was starting to get work with Skywald — the Warren wannabe. He lived in Gananoque, Ontario (Gateway to the Thousand Islands, as it’s known) upstairs from Augustine Funnell who was sort of Skywald editor Al Hewetson’s fair-haired boy, as far as up-and-coming scripters were concerned.- John Balge and I had done an interview with Al Hewetson (although Skywald’s publishing offices were Manhattan, Archaic Al edited Psycho and Nightmare from his home in St. Catharines, Ontario) that appeared in CANAR. At the time, he had suggested we do an interview with Gus, and Gus bad 1 Gene he should talk tome about doing s ui1ioes for DF (as Dark Fantasy known). Coincidentally, Archaic Al had published only T. Casey Brennan story and had not been very happy about it (it was part of the inventory he had inherited from the previous editor). Coincidently, be would publish only one story of mine — ‘Cry of Wolf’ — in the last issue of Psycho. It was my first published comic-book story in a newsstand publication.
So, there we were — Gene Day, T. Casey Brennan and myself — on a panel in my old high school in the room where I used to take — History? Biology? I forget, but I guess that either one would be appropriate. It was one of those humiliatingly sparsely attended events (the panel AND the convention). Here are the three of us on the panel — and all of FOUR people in the ‘audience’. One of those four people was an attractive brunette with long straight hair. She had a notebook open and as Casey waxed eloquent, she would jot a line two. I talked for a little while and then Casey and I had a back-and-forth exchange or two. Of this she recorded not a word. As soon as Gene Day opened his mouth she wrote furiously, evidently trying to record his every word verbatim. I interjected a few pithy observations and was more than a little annoyed that she stopped writing whenever I said anything but started writing energetically as won as Gene started talking again.
After the panel was over I went back to the dealer’s room in the lobby and joined Harry Kramer in mid conversation with someone. Harry had just arranged to rent the downstairs of 103 Queen South in addition to the upstairs premises Now & Then Books had occupied since l971 A light bulb went on over my head. “I’ll work the downstairs, Harry. How about It?’ Harry was doubtful. He planned just have his mother run it. He didn’t have the money to — you know — HIRE somebody. ‘I’ll do it for...seventy-five dollars a month.’ He said he would think about it.
I passed the attractive brunette in the halls a couple of times but couldn’t catch her eye. it would be another two months before I found out her name.