WHY AN AARDVARK?
In examining my first draught of ”Mr. and Mrs. Aardvark Vanaheim” (the more avid reader will recall that! said that the original piece had “gone off in too many directions at once”), it sees clear that I was labouring under the same schism which existed in my life at the time — the war between my “comic-book life” and my “real life.” It is significant that the former has always been more real to me than the latter. Viewed accurately, my comic-book life predates my real life by many years. My encyclopedic knowledge of comic-book history (in its seminal aspect concerned with the first appearances of various characters, later with the careers, styles, and development of writers and artists I admired) occupied a disproportionately large percentage of my memory arid thought processes. These elements which make up a “real life” (as in “get a life”) —job, girlfriend, friendships — existed in the outer fringes of the theoretical. At the age of twenty — getting my first apartment, meeting Deni, holding down a part-time job at Now & Then Books, moving into a new apartment with Deni, entertaining her brother and sister and friends on a regular basis — real life became an accompaniment to my comic- book existence (albeit a minor key in the larger musical work). Comic books still dominated. My first apartment was all drawing board and art supplies, promotional brochures for my studio which I had christened COMlCgraphics, tear sheets and news clippings filling the corkboard wall which separated the single living room/bedroom from the kitchenette, the limited drawer and cupboard space occupied by comic books and reference books; clothes I had owned since high school were an afterthought jammed into leftover corners and secondary spaces.
In a short space of time Deni was pressed into service as an agent for my commercial art skills, her brother collaborated with me on a handful of comic-book stories, our apartment was the studio and Aardvark-Vanaheim fanzine-publishing office. In retrospect it was the-stuff of situation comedies — relatively normal French-Canadian family runs afoul of obsessive comic-book person, his-world divided into That Which Will Advance the Career and Everything Else. The square peg met the round hole and began chiseling right angles into the curvilinear symmetry in the name of the Higher Calling.
It is recognized that those human elements — the situation-comedy episodes which tended to degenerate into minor tragedies mid arguments, numbing in their relentless. . . relentlessness? — are doubtless of interest to the general readership: First Love Gone Awry, Portrait of the Artist as Young Suitor, etc., etc. It is one of the false directions referred to in die admission of the first failure. It was a story, but it was not the story which concerned me.
The reader had been left with the dawning of my insight that Gene Day’s career (my primary template at the time) had jumped the rails of real progress hi my view) and left casting about for my own natural “next step.” Gene’s rationale for his career course — his obligations as husband and homeowner informing the largest part of his motivation -- fueled the first insight that “real life” and “comic-book life” might exist. in diametric opposition to each other. The Big House on First Street with its Big Mortgage took center stage my mentor’s life. Divided into two dwellings -- out for his studio and residence, the other rented out -- his goal was to unite the two. The many rooms would reflect his varied interests — a Second World War diorama, a studio to practice guitar, a library to house his enormous comic-book, magazine, and sci-fi collection, a House of Shadows publishing office, his studio. The steady paycheck from Marvel became the means to achieve the end — keep Marvel happy and the cash flow could be maintained; a maintained cash f1ow made the Castle Day a genuine possibility.
The discerning reader will recognize a large measure of Viktor Davis’ genesis in the above — in this case the marital residence itself serving as a creative void to devour his energies and idealism. Unfortunate, because Gene’s marriage (on the Viktor Davis scale) was good one. Gale was always understanding and indulgent of the time and energy required his artistic priorities. . .and contributed equally to their shared life.
As the young Dave Sim of twenty-odd (some very odd) summers surveyed his own circumstance, the Big House on First Street became a thing to avoid. He had no intention of becoming a slave to the large expenditure making career choices on the basis of “real-world” givens and requirements. As he eyed his lifemate (measuring her against Gale’s contribution to Gene’s career), he could congratulate himself that he, too, had chosen wisely. He intended to conquer the world, to become indescribably wealthy and equally famous, and made no secret of that ambition with his wife-to-be. For her part, had it not been an de of faith with Deni from a very early age that the would someday (as she considered her future) be the Woman Behind the Great Man? How suited they were to each other! Two halves of an equation, each biding their time until the opposite number could be located and Real Life (as opposed to “real life”) could begin in earnest. If her premonition had fallen snore along musical lines, if the “other hair’ she anticipated was perceived to be more on the order of a George Harrison or a Stephen Stills, her flexibility in giving her ardent young comic-book suitor the benefit of the doubt (she asserted that he had “George Hanson’s eyes” — fortuitous happenstance to be sure!) spoke to his belief that rock ‘n’ roll had had its day, and the wisest and most alert of the late-Twentieth-Century Muses and Significant Others were placing their bets on those Young Lions of Sequential Art as the brightest of the bright, young men.
Does my pen drip irony here? Not at all, not at all, dear reader I enunciate rn.y misapprehension of the time. There is no difficulty in perceiving the flaw in retrospect, touching as it does on the hidden realities which constitute love and marriage at odds with creative ambition. Not for small reason did a significant part of my ex-wife’s interview in The Comics Journal on the subject of the notorious issue 186 center on my assertions regarding John Lennon. She opined that Iliad switched philosophies in midstream — denouncing the ex-Beatle icon for wasting much of the last years of his creative life holed up in the Dakota, smoking pot, compulsively channel-si4rfing, baking bread, and minding the kid.
We were all, you see, John and Yoko back then.
One of Lennon’s spiritual offspring had been inspired — as a likewise halfhearted inmate of an archetypal English art school of the tithe —to abandon the safety and insular security of his circumstance and (in answering the clarion call of his creativity) to set his course for North America and the selfsame metropolis where the Beatles had debarked a handful of years before. Though the Marvel offices of the day were afar cry from the Ed Sullivan theater and penciling assignments on moribund titles like X-Men. (deader than a doornail at the time) a more flaccid pass at the brass ring even than singing background vocals on a Tony Sheridan single, still the metaphor sustains itself. Barry Smith (pre-Windsor) constituted the whole of the 1960s comic-book British Invasion. Beatles, Stones, Animals, Dave Clark Five et al. rolled into one (as Stan Lee, christened him) Bashful Bit.
Meeting Barry Smith for the fist time in 1973 when he was riding the wave of success that his work on Conan had conferred upon him— no, more accurately, cresting upon the tsunami of his “Red Nails” adaptation which hurled him, in one go, from the ranks of the relentlessly progressing talent into the Pantheon of the Indisputably Great — I met his “Yoko” as well: colourist and Gorblimey Press business manager, Linda Lessman. In my casting about for a more solid, more viable template for my efforts, this seemed ideal. For had Barry Smith hot transcended the cul-de-sac of the career of the Marvel freelancer? Did he not represent the Next Best Step for the Gene Pays of the comic-book world? If it was tree that he was fully engaged in the making of pictures which became prints and so - outside of the comic-book field (except for actutal Robin Hood graphic nove1 inching, one supposed, towards completion), still the structure was sound. John aid Yoko, Barry and Linda, Dave aid Deni.
Life is nothing without its intrinsic ironies. On the only occasion when the paths of Barry-and-Linda and Dave-and-Deni crossed (a convention in Albany in 1980 or ’81), I remember being sought out by Linda, who had just finished a conversation with Deni in which the Aardvark-Vanaheim publisher and minority shareholder (49% to 515) had laid bare the entirety of her spouse’s cherished template – giving credit where it was due at the least, but more likely surrendering to excess and paying homage to Linda as the Spiritual Role Model of her professional existence.
The distortion was too great for someone of Linda’s intrinsic honesty to accommodate or dismiss offhandedly. So there I was, being read chapter and verse on the reality of the situation. She was not Barry’s business manager – “helper” struck closer to the mark. She did the bookkeeping, the banking, wrapped and mailed packaged, kept track of invoices. I understood. It was impossible not to, since it was important to Linda that the truth be known. It would be clear in later years that I had been guiltily of a fundamental distortion at a critical juncture. At the time, hover, Mr. and Mrs. Aardvark-Vanaheim were embarked upon a course which compound the misapprehension – seeking out other talents whose work we would publish, or, more accurately – the amendment is critical to the point of my thesis – talents whose work Deni would publish. It is too oblique to assert that – as a spiritual grandson of John Lennon – I had decided that my Yoko would have less in common with Lennon’s first wife Cynthia than with Beatle manager and guru Brian Epstein.
Revelation awaited even as I – we – pursued a course doomed to failure. While we didn’t have the monetary resources necessary to attract the brighter lights of the comic-book field after the fashion of the failed Apple Corp. experiment (it would be left to Kevin Eastman and his Turtle Millions to reinforce the lesson with Tundra Publishing), still it had the excruciating lure of the logic of the next step.
With the publication of Neil the Horse number one, the seeds of destruction had been sown, fertilized, at watered.
It is left to left to the next installment to describe how this particular garden grew.