Ted Forth’s Psychotic Break and the Three-Month International Espionage Story Line that Never Was
By now some of you are familiar with this week’s Sally Forth plot, in which Ted is so overcome with his fear of roller coasters that he finds it necessary to break from reality (a break that was either a long time coming or approximately the 47th time it has happened, depending on your take of the character). If not, simply start here and click forward.
Curiously enough, it’s a break that I’m rather proud of…for better and for worse. When I first took over Sally Forth in 1997, Ted was very much the typical comic strip suburban husband. He was good-natured, a little dim and hapless and most of his conversations were about sports, work and meatloaf (allow for sexual innuendo aaaaaaand…back to writing). He was a fine character. Only problem was, he was exactly the kind of male character I had absolutely no idea how to write. I’m not a sports guy. In fact, all I know about sports ended the moment I stopped collecting Topps baseball cards, meaning I still think Vida Blue is still pitching for the Oakland A’s. As for work, while I have indeed been employed by majors corporations and had actual titles much to the grave concern of human resources, I’m not one to talk about meetings or presentations or why I once dressed up in a toga to play “Ides of March” in the office hallway. So over the years I slowly gave Ted more of my interests, more of my worries and even my own occasional tendency to break the fourth wall-minus any audience save for a concerned companion–until one day my editor called me with an emergency message–“You’re making Ted Forth insane. Stop it.”
Alas, by then then Ted had become my comic strip avatar, which makes writing for him very, very easy. Far too easy. To the point that two years ago while struggling with a 103 degree temperature I came up with what I assumed was the perfect Ted Forth story. A story that would run for three months. A story that would seemingly forget that the strip is actually named after his wife, Sally. A story that I wrote reams and reams of dialogue and scene descriptions for–all in my feverish head. That’s because I was too sick to actually write anything down and too sick to realize that talking non-stop to myself was not the same thing as taking actual physical notes. In fact, only after the fever had subsided did I realize I had scrawled a mere three lines, all on one sheet of printer paper in fat marker.
The story–as much as I can remember, that is–was to go like this: The Forths would be quietly eating dinner as Ted rambled on and on about how Bob Marley’s “Buffalo Soldier” and the Banana Splits theme song have the exact same chorus. All of a sudden a midget ninja (I was going to call them “midjas”) flies right through a skylight I suddenly realized the Forths simply must have in their kitchen. Sally and Hilary scream but Ted seems eerily calm. Rather than freak out as he is oft want to do, he simply reaches into his back pocket and hurls a throwing star disguised as a Motorola StarTac through the midja’s skull. (He later explains this is why he never upgraded his phone despite being unable to text, surf the web or not be ridiculed in public). Ted then takes his shocked family down to the basement, where he removes the fake boiler (explaining that this is why the family never had hot water) to reveal a passageway to another, secret basement. Once inside the secret basement, Ted leads them back up another set of stairs into a different house, an architectural quirk I explained to myself as “fun.”
Ted rushes the family to that home’s garage and unveils his car–a 1963 Jaguar XKE (my dad’s car) outfitted with laser canons and “an ancient spirit.” Ted then drives off with a Sally and Hil crammed into a two-seater, explaining that before he became “Ted Forth” he was the leader of “The Gilded Hand,” a cadre of assassins that mostly killed on spec (to help spread the word in lieu of business cards). After that, the story gets hazy. They travelled around the world. Hilary learned how to climb mountains withe her mind. Sally revealed her own dark secret. And, of course there was day after day of capoeira hand-to-hand combat that I planned to explain to the strip’s artist as “like martial arts set to the Lambada.”
Naturally, since my life and Ted’s are one in the same, all of this would eventually prove to be Ted’s hallucinations over the course of one night as his fever broke. It would end with a much-improved Ted lying in bed, telling his dream to Sally and Hil and concluding with “You were there. And you were there. And you both shot at me.”
Fortunately, my own fever broke and I never wrote out the scripts or sent them to be illustrated. Naturally, they never would have made it to print and I would now be telling people what it was like to fuck up and lose a long-paying gig that I enjoyed so much.
I still think about Ted Forth and “The Gilded Hand.” Maybe one day I’ll sneak them into the strip. Maybe as a Netflix rental. Maybe in place of the annual chocolate Easter bunny story. Who knows…