Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Wide World of Wendell

Dear Friends,

Lauren works for a company called Bosch. This great organization is based in Germany, where it has a proud history and an austere, athletic workforce. I didn't go to business school or anything, but I think they should consider adapting the new Hard Taco song, "The Kibosh," as their corporate jingle. True, they'd have to change the name of their company, but just a tiny schnipsel, and you don't climb to the top of the Vermögen 500 by shying away from risk. Besides, the prefix "ki-" has a well-established track record of imparting a congenial feeling to things. Would you rather that your Geisha have a kimono or have mono?

Granddad always said that you don't get to be all this (spokesmodel pose) without accumulating a few skeletons in the old closet. Today, I'm going to dig out one of my own skeletons and wrestle with it a little on the bedroom floor.  Here goes: Long before I was a provocative newsletter distributor, I endeavored to be a terrible cartoonist.

This was almost, but not quite as hilarious
when it was drawn in 1990.

I came of age in an era that may some day be referred to as The Canadian Invasion, when The Kids in the Hall briefly aired on CBS instead of CBT. Two of the songs in the top 10 were Canadian... "Everything I Do, (I Do it For You)" and, "(Everything I Do), I Do it For You.* There was even a comic strip, For Better or For Worse, that shattered all kinds of stereotypes by showing that regular everyday families in Ontario could remain boring for three uninterrupted decades.

If For Better or For Worse failed to tickle my funny bone, the saccharine malapropisms of its contemporary, The Family Circus, treated that bone to a violent compound fracture. Billy, Dolly, Jeffy, and that heartwarming little shit P.J. have induced more groans than a salad bar full of brains at a zombie-infested Ponderosa. Have you ever noticed that all four Family Circus cherubs have their mother's Kool Aid pitcher-shaped head, while dad and grandma have vertical egg-shaped heads? So tell us, you little bastards, who is your biological father? Not Me! Ida Know! Can I have more pa-sketti? Graah! Brains!!! 

So it was probably a reactionary impulse that led me to draw my own comic strip.  What I lacked in talent, I made up for in misplaced elitism.  Bloom County, as I asserted to anyone who dared stand within shouting distance, was the shining gold standard to which all other comic strips must be held. Possessing this conviction was the only qualification I had, or needed, to author my own strip.
Wendell and his not-at-all-based-on-Opus
stuffed penguin, Quacketta.
And so I set to work on Wendell Comix. Hold on... you just laughed out loud when you saw that inappropriate 'x,' didn't you? I knew you would! Let me fill you in on a little cartoonist trade secret: replacing the letters "cs" with an "x" inflicts busting on all nearby guts. Try saying this out loud: The lunatix who support eugenix don't know that the Special Olympix are in Tuxon. Ouch, you're good!

Unfortunately, the gratuitous 'x' was about the only thing that Wendell Comix had going for it. The characters and situations were derivative. The artwork was abysmal, and I was only able to draw Wendell facing left. The jokes were will-worn puns, and many of them were frankly plagiarized. Here are some of the stronger Wendell Comix punch lines:
  • Now THAT's what I call animal magnetism.
  • Never use God's name... in veins!
  • You really pack a punch. (Said to a person packing Hawaiian punch into a suitcase.)
  • Assault... to taste!

Dad looks skeptical. He suspects a pun is coming.
In December 1990, I photocopied a few dozen books of Wendell Comix and sold copies to my classmates. I'm sure most of them were thrown away by the end of the school week, but I live in fear that an errant copy will find its way into the hands of one of my coworkers. It's kind of like that feeling you get when you make fun of the Ayatollah on the playground without realizing it's him, and then spend the rest of your life looking over your shoulder. I hate that feeling.
Not sure what the joke is here. Maybe the Bart Simpson
look-alike can't drink root beer because he doesn't
have elbows? Or maybe this was supposed to be
one of the heartwarming ones.
So the lesson is that we shouldn't equate fanhood with personal talent. The poster child for this platitude is not me, but Francis Ford Coppola. Remember that time he was on his way home from a party, and realized that his deep appreciation for being wasted qualified him to own a vineyard? Next thing you know, he's blowing good money on grapes when he should have been saving up for canvas chairs, megaphones, and those little snapping rectangles that the production assistant closes when he requests action.

With warmest regards,

*  Nomadic parentheses, Bryan Adams? Seriously, what's that all aboot?

Happy Summer from all of us here at Wendell Comix!