17 March 2013

A perfectly reasonable explanation for Mr. Squish’s survival. Sorta.

So here’s where I sort out Leonard Squish’s death, and basically undo it, once and for all. Then I could get off the “No, really, Leonard is dead, watch me draw a strip where the main character is dead” humor-impaired death spiral I was on, and get back to being silly.

There are three ways you bring back a dead character, as comic books and soap operas have usefully shown us. You figure out a way he wasn’t really dead, but only convincingly looked dead, with some ludicrous explanation as to why that’s not so, like faking his death. Or you pull an exact replica out of a parallel universe (either via time travel or not) and have him take the original’s place; since DC Comics tends to reboot their universe every 15 years or so, you can just wait till the next reboot and see who came back. Or you admit he was dead, then find some outrageous way to bring him back to life, like cloning (Superboy) or cloning plus brain transplant (Lex Luthor) or a weird alien metabolism that looks dead when he’s only just near death (Superman) or freezing him in a glacier (Captain America) or dropping him into a life-giving Lazarus Pit (various Batman characters) or even deals with the devil (Spider-Man). Believe it or not, I rarely read comics. This is all stuff I picked up from osmosis. Because comic books are lousy with resurrection stories.

Mine was a combination of brain transplant and freak wormhole. Observe.

Mr. Squish, CSUS Hornet, February 1991.

The idea of the freak wormhole came from a bit in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams, chapter 31.

It is of course well known that careless talk costs lives, but the full scale of the problem is not always appreciated.

For instance, at the very moment that Arthur said “I seem to be having tremendous difficulty with my lifestyle,” a freak wormhole opened up in the fabric of the space-time continuum and carried his words far far back in time across almost infinite reaches of space to a distant Galaxy where strange and warlike beings were poised on the brink of frightful interstellar battle.

The two opposing leaders were meeting for the last time.

A dreadful silence fell across the conference table as the commander of the Vl’hurgs, resplendent in his black jeweled battle shorts, gazed levelly at the G’Gugvuntt leader squatting opposite him in a cloud of green sweet-smelling steam, and, with a million sleek and horribly beweaponed star cruisers poised to unleash electric death at his single word of command, challenged the vile creature to take back what it had said about his mother.

The creature stirred in his sickly broiling vapor, and at that very moment the words I seem to be having tremendous difficulty with my lifestyle drifted across the conference table.

Unfortunately, in the Vl’hurg tongue this was the most dreadful insult imaginable, and there was nothing for it but to wage terrible war for centuries.

So Leonard’s brain was sucked out through the wormhole, “Ding-a-Ling” Walston’s brain was sucked in, and that was the end of the other Leonard. Meaning our Leonard had been neatly deposited into a washed-up TV critic’s body, where he could posit opinions about movies in much the same way local TV critics have always posited opinions: Two parts personal opinion, fifty parts “If I claim I love their stinkers, they’ll put my name on their movie ads and I could go national.”

Walston was a cross between two movie critics: Leonard Maltin, film historian turned Entertainment Tonight movie critic. Maltin’s no sell-out, as far as I know, but there’s something the way he acts on camera—sort of a forced earnestness—which I find grating. I’m sure he’s a decent human being in real life, but he reminds me of certain overly-friendly youth pastors I’d met who, once you got to know them, didn’t know what on earth they were talking about, but were dead certain they were right. So blame those youth pastors for my being irritated by certain friendly personas. The other “critic,” and I use that term generously, is Mark S. Allen, former FM-102 deejay turned entertainment reporter for Sacramento’s Channel 31. Allen is absolutely one of those sell-outs: He loves every movie. Every movie. You could take a dump in a film reel canister, and he’d swear you just have to experience its smell and texture for yourself. The man has no shame. But he’s not an unlikable TV personality. So I had to combine the way Maltin gets under my skin, with the way Allen bends over for every movie studio, and add this little quirk: Walston would suck up to every clunker, but he’d hate all the popular classics, simply because he didn’t have a snowball’s chance in Hades of ever being quoted in their advertising. Hence the nickname “Ding-a-Ling”: He hated the good movies, loved the bad ones, and invented some doubletalk as to why, without telling you the real reason. But he kept his job because he wasn’t completely useless: Always take the opposite of his advice, and you’ll have a good time at the theater.

Yeah, Walston worked at Channel 32’s News at Nine. Yeah, this was an obvious reference to Channel 31’s News at Nine. A few Hornet staffers were interns at Channel 31, so I was poking fun at their workplace. Channel 31 was, at the time, the lowest-rated news program in Sacramento, not counting public-access TV, although you probably could. It was a pretty pathetic program. It also didn’t help that they were trying to appeal to whatever demographic went to bed at 9:30 and couldn’t program a VCR. They were awfully easy to poke fun at. Emphasis on awful.

The whole “Fact” introduction to each comment was totally swiped from a Bloom County strip. No coincidence, that strip was also about a brain transplant. Except Berke Breathed wasn’t trying to bring anybody back. He’d already brought Bill the Cat back from his death, by having him cloned via his tongue. Now he was installing Donald Trump’s brain into the cat, all so he could tell lots of Donald Trump jokes, and eventually have Trump buy the strip and shut it down.

Bloom County. Published 1989 or so; I don’t remember.

So that happened.

As you can guess, I was planning to make a lot of movie-review jokes and Channel 31 jokes. I was, at the time, editing the Arts and Features section, neck-deep into mass media and pop culture, so I was itching to make fun of it rather than the wacky campus culture. But I didn’t stick with it, as you’ll see from the upcoming strips.