WHY AN AARDVARK?
If it seems, to the gossip-starved reader, that I have scrupulously avoided “juicy human details” in the first three parts of this memoir, let me hasten to assert that that was very much my intention. It would be self- indulgent to an unconscionable degree for me to roast my ex-wife on a literary spit month after month with “my side of the story.” For those eager to devour a carefully crafted “she said, I said” autobiographical fiction (as I have asserted elsewhere, I believe all autobiography is fiction), I can dispense with the human side of the Dave-and-Deni Story —or my side of it, a least — in a paragraph or two:
While I had made great progress in formulating the structure and direction of my career by the time I was twenty, of women, of relationships, I knew nothing. I was a complete and utter babe in the woods. I hadn’t the slightest inkling that serious damage effected through acts of bad faith could not be undone. Damage to the foundation of a relationship is permanent, and one soldiers on with raw wounds which heal improperly rid continue to fester beneath the pink of psychic or emotional scar tissue. By the time the nearly seven years of our relationship had run their course, the tissue of our marriage was composed almost exclusively of our accumulated scars. What sense of loss there was at the end (and there was a sense of loss) was overshadowed by the bright potential of starting clean on a new page. The dissolution of the marriage, like the end of the professional relationship (which limped on for a number of months after the personal separation), was without acrimony, regret, or bitterness.
(I will add, parenthetically, before moving onto the larger points I wish to make, that it came as another great, surprise, in my education about women, relationships, and their respective natures, that there is no such thing as “starting clean on a new page.” I had eleven years of hard lessons on this very subject before I was able to begin a new page with a nature more or less cleansed of the psychic grime I had carried with me to that point.)
It is important to remember that Dave and Deni’s relationship began as a professional one. Through the immediate origin of Dave as Publishing Expert and Cerebus the Fanzine Consultant/Deni as Aspiring Publisher, through the period of Dave, Commercial Artist/Deni, Commercial Artist’s Agent occurring simultaneously with Dave, Cerebus Artist and Writer! Deni, Cerebus Publisher, and the beginning of the end with Dave, Cerebus Artist and Writer/Deni, Comics Publisher, the balance of power. in the professional relationship shifted with each new incarnation. In discussing boyfriends and girlfriends, husbands and wives, one inches cautiously onto the thin ice of using phrases like “balance of power” — one reason that this piece required a three-part preamble. Let’s return to the John-and-Yoko, Barry-and-Linda, Dave-and-Deni declension introduced in the last installment At the point when Linda was correcting my misapprehension that her relationship with Barry at the time of Gorblimey Press was one of neatly separated responsibilities — Barry the creative half, Linda the business half —-- what was at issue was very much the balance of power involved. What other reason’ would there be for Linda to make so much of an issue of my erroneous impression? While there is much that is romantic, much that would be a source of pride in being She Who Takes Care of the Big Bad World While the Creative Titan Labours at His Easel — and to the unpracticed eye and the unthinking mind only a difference in shading between that and She Who Takes Care of the Details While the Creative Titan Both Labours at His Easel and Plots the Course and Shape and Content of the Business Implications of His Creativity — Linda recognized that the two occupied opposing ends of a spectrum: as different as white and black, red and blue. In carelessly amplifying her role in the Gorblimey Press experiment, I was diminishing Barry’s. The note struck resonated loudly, for to be honest— particularly at the time of the conversation — Aardvark-Vanaheim more or less mirrored the actuality of Gorblimey Press. I was troubled by the disparity between the reality of Aardvark-Vanaheim and my portrayal of it, and I remember fumbling for any sort of lucid reply. I might even have said something along the lines of: “Oh, sure. That’s the way we do it, too. Deni’s more of a helper than a partner.”
At the time, I rationalized to myself that, while it was true that I was the one setting the overall course for Aardvark-Vanaheim as the business vehicle for the Cerebus comic book this was already changing. Having set in motion a “showcase” section in the back of the book called “Unique Stories,” an attempt was being made to restore the initial balance ‘which existed in the professional relationship — Dave the Creator and Deni the Publisher. There was, after all, a world of difference between doing the business chores on your husband’s comic book and being a publisher. Now that my course was set—I had my own comic book to write and draw for twenty-six years — no larger fulfillment was imaginable in my case. Dem and I would, together, turn - back the calendar five years and work to achieve Deni’s seminal dream. Any lucid examination of the situation would have revealed the inherent flaw. Deni had originally intended to publish a forum for her own and others’ creativity in prose and pictures, with fantasy and science fiction as theme. We were “through the looking- glass” and into the uncharted waters of the comic-book direct market, where the balance of power still favoured me and not her.. I was the one who sifted through the potential “other books” for Aardvark-Vanaheim to publish and set them in motion. In the case of Bill Loebs and Bob Burden, I was fulfilling my fannish desire (in Bill’s case fired by my enthusiasm for his story “Abortion” in Nucleus and in Bob’s by the Flaming Carrot’s Visions appearances) to provide a secure “nest” for their creativity. I made almost all of the decisions (I did make all the major decisions) and left Deni to implement them. We were very much in a no-man’s- land between Barry-and-Linda and John-and-Yoko. What potential lost! Had we shared a clear-eyed assessment of our situation, had Deni said, “Look, I want to do the digest magazine that started this whole thing. I want you to go back to the original arrangement — design, a few illustrations, and a bit of advice here and there. But I want to be the one in charge. I want to call it Cerebus because I came up with the name. We can afford to pay fanzine rates for the contributors, the printing bill, and not have to worry if it turns a profit right away or loses money for a year or two,” that would have been very Barry-arid-Linda. Instead, like Charles Foster Kane building Susan her opera house, I was determined to be an Earth-Pygmalion and to mold and 4iape and sell to the world My Fair Deni as the Publisher of the World’s Greatest Cartoonists (with apologies to Fantagraphics). If this seems overly dramatic, it must be remembered that my perception of my life and career at the time — was grandiose to a very nearly pathological extent I never doubted for a moment that the comic-book field was the place to be in the late seventies and in my eighties. My view of comic books as a medium of limitless potential and my determination to be a significant presence in the field as it began to fulfill that potential were central to my thinking.
The ice gets very thin at this point in the description as it did then in our professional relationship. For here we swerve over into John-and-Yoko territory. I was very much a child of my time and had the unshakable faith that what was going on in the comic-book field in the late 1970s was at least as significant, at least as incendiary, as what was going on in rock ‘n’ roll in the mid-1950s. In retrospect, my choice to take what was significant, what was incendiary (self-publishing), and to transmogrify it into something pedestrian and commonplace (just -another comic-book company publishing creator-owned titles) can be attributed almost entirely to the John-and-Yoko Syndrome. As can be seen in my first Comics Journal interview (more pernicious still — Dave and Deni’s Comics Journal interview), I took great pains to disseminate the view that we were equal partners of equal importance. It wasn’t enough that you liked John Lennon’s comic book, you had to see Yoko through his eyes, share his admiration of her. The parallels are obvious. The resources upon which we drew were the Cerebus profits (read: Beatle money); the 1982 U.S. Tour wasn’t the Cerebus tour or the Dave Sim Tour — it was the Dave & Deal Tour. The very foundation of self-publishing that made it so revolutionary — that the comic-book creator was the dominant, significant, and irreplaceable element and that comic-book business people were secondary, insignificant, and interchangeable — was undone at every turn in the interests of being the comic-book John Yoko. The balance of power in the professional relationship shifted dramatically in Deni’s direction. Where once the fulcrum had slid delicately (and sometimes not so delicately) between us along the straight line which connected Point Deni and Point Dave, it was now replaced by a wheel-like configuration. Deni the Publisher was the hub, and Dave and Cerebus became. one of many spokes. That configuration — a natural perception in a capitalist society — was in turn at odds with the actual wheel: the Cerebus profits at the hub and all spokes issuing from it. The tug of war between perception-as-reality and the reality-not-readily perceived put us at odds. Like a complete novice I had stepped into a trap. Aardvark-Vanaheim was now indistinguishable from Eclipse Publishing, for all intents and purposes. A comic-book company was a comic books book company was a comic book company.
At this point the ice is too thin to venture across in the current political climate, so my route, of necessity, becomes circuitous. In our case, the resolution — dissolution — became inevitable. Deni rankled at her dependence on me and Cerebus. I rankled at the mushrooming size of the operation, which depended on an ever-expanding line of books to stay ahead of the cash-flow problem.
The real crunch tune came when I heard — indirectly from an unimpeachable source — that Deni had begun to form her own publishing imprint and was making overtures to several cartoonists to be published by her. The publishing imprint was to be her ace in ‘the hole if we were unable to agree on any additional title she was interested in publishing. Already we had been offered two projects within a few weeks of each other — one of which she wanted Aardvark-Vanaheim to publish (normalman) and the other that I thought we should publish (Megaton Man).
The writing was very much on the wall. Something had to give.
Next Final Chapter (CFG notes: I'm searching for the issue this is in, as it isn't in Guys where the rest of these where. If you know what issue, please let me know so I can scan it in. Thanks!)