Monday, 10 April 2017

Stuffed Aardvarks: The Saga of the Cerebus Doll

The fanzine Cerebus The Newsletter was originally published by Fred Patten and then by Aardvark-Vanaheim from January 1981 to October 1985 and ran for 13 issues. After asking Fred Patten and Dave Sim if I could use the name of the previous fanzine, Jeff Tundis and I started anew in 2009 with issue #14. I published issues #14 through 21, which was released in November 2011. Below is an article that I wrote for the Cerebus The Newsletter - albeit the article below has additional information and pictures. If you would like to purchase back issues, some of them are still in print and can be found at the Friends of Cerebus website.

Believe it or not, but at one point in his existence, Cerebus was a doll. Well, not in the actual series, but as a stuffed doll made by a woman from Canada. The first ad for a stuffed aardvark doll appeared in issue #7 of Cerebus. The dolls are $20 a piece and are ordered directly from the woman that makes them: Sarah "Sally" Hitchens. Sarah was a good friend of Deni Loubert's sister Karen. Sarah was close to both Dave and Deni, having been part of their wedding party. She even made Deni's wedding dress.

Dave has stated that he considered Sally his mistress before he was married to Deni, but while he was going out with Deni. After Dave and Deni were wed, the relationship between Dave and Sally ended. However, to still be part of the world of Cerebus, Sally started making the dolls.

She took a stuffed kangaroo pattern and turned it into an aardvark. For the first one she made she used the fur she had handy, which was white. "Albino Aardvark." Dave Sim would go over her house and find the place "awash(ed) in aardvark bodies and ears and arms and legs, little black vests."

A full sized Cerebus doll was also done by Sally. Only one three foot tall doll was made and it sits in the library of the Off White House in need of "stuffed toy surgery" according to Dave, who drew a sketch of its lopsided head and sitting position:

When Sally was making the dolls, they were sold for $20, but then later the price dropped. In the ad in Cerebus #7 (the same ad was replayed in Cerebus #80) the doll was listed at $20 and then in Deni's Note from the Publisher in Cerebus #11 Deni stated the price changed to $10. According to a letter from the future maker of the stuffed aardvark, Sheila Watson, when the price changed, the stuffed aardvarks shrunk in size to one foot.

The stuffed aardvarks disappeared from the pages of Cerebus for a while, and then in Cerebus #20 Deni's Note from the Publisher states "The stuffed toys, as you see, are being produced again. Please note that the address differs from ours and we are not producing them ourselves." The ad in the back of the issue has the toys listed for $15, which includes postage and handling, and being made by Sheila Watson. These stuffed aardvarks made by Sheila not only increased in price, but increased in size. You can see the difference:
Cerebus Stuffed Doll: Newer model (left) and original model (right)
The stuffed aardvark on the left is the pattern used by Sally that was a foot tall. The two on the right were made by Sheila at various points. The one in the center, with the nostrils that are marker has a tag on the back that states "CUDDLY CREATIONS by S. M. Watson." The legs on any of the dolls don't move, but the arms do move up and down.

A side portrait reveals the difference in the snouts:

Cerebus Stuffed Doll: Newer model (left) and original model (right)
The smaller doll also has the longer snout: in that regards the smaller doll has the snout of the early Cerebus while the larger doll has the snout of the later Cerebus. It is difficult to see but the smaller doll has a curled tail, while the larger doll does not.

Sheila was another resident of Kitchener, and the girlfriend of one of the Now & Then Books employees (Now & Then Books was the comic book store where Dave worked for a while, and whose owner, Harry Kremer, brought 500 issues of Cerebus #1 helping to give Dave a start in the comics field).

A receipt from Sheila to Aardvark-Vanaheim in February of 1981 shows that the doll costs $11.80 to make, which included shipping & handling, labor, materials, etc. The profit for each doll was $3.20 and from that Aardvark-Vanaheim got $0.48. With each 20 stuffed aardvarks she sold, Sheila would send a royalty check of $9.60 to Aardvark-Vanaheim. In the period from August 1980 to June 1986 Sheila continued to send checks of $9.60 to Aardvark-Vanaheim. When she first started the stationary was just a piece of paper with her name and address in the upper right hand corner. By the time Feb 1983 rolled around, she was using stationary for "Cuddly Creations by Sheila Watson".


crazyyears said...

Thanks, Margaret. It's interesting to know that the one I have is an original model.

--- Michael Hunt

Travis Pelkie said...

And lo, dozens of furries were born upon purchasing this doll!

alan said...

I have one of the Sheila Watson dolls, originally bought around the time of Cerebus 51. He's accompanied me through a half dozen apartment moves and even across country. His fur is still fluffy and he can still stand up on his own. One of the best purchases I ever made!