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My First Week of “Sally Forth”: A Wincing Look Back, Day One

Posted in Uncategorized by cesco7 on March 5, 2012

Sometimes it’s strange to think how I’m now in my 15th year of writing Sally Forth, making it both the longest job I’ve ever held as well as the one with the fewest amount of business meetings. And while I have always loved doing this as a career, I have not always known just what the hell I was doing–or not supposed to do–all those years.

Which brings us to the following. A few weeks back the always remarkable folks of King Features Syndicate sent me an archive of every strip I wrote since I began. It was a present that I was quite happy to receive for personal reasons but quite terrified to review for professional reasons. And no strip better catches that heady mix of “fond memory” and “immediate recoil” as the very first week I wrote for Sally Forth, December 29, 1997 through January 3, 1998.

And so each day this week I plan to revisit that very week in its original order, starting with…

Monday, December 29, 1997

Back in August 1997, a few days before my birthday, I received a call from King Features Editor-in-Chief Jay Kennedy. He said that while he was passing on my recent comic submission, he wanted to know if I’d like to work on one of their long-running properties, Sally Forth. It appeared that the creator of the comic was moving on, selling his half of the rights back to the syndicate, and they were looking for someone to take over writing duties. I think my reply “YES!” was so immediate–occurring between his words “Sally” and “Forth”–that Jay quickly guessed that maybe I had no real idea what comic he was talking about. That’s when he asked if I had ever actually read Sally Forth, to which I could only sheepishly reply, “I’m sure it’s a very good strip.”

And so I received a crash course in all things Sally, which included a brief phone conversation with the strip’s creator, who heartily wished me “Good luck” (with the addendum phrase “with all that” seemingly implied in my feverish mind) and a package consisting of nine full years of Sally Forth strips. Naturally, the first thing I did upon receiving all those comics was to completely disregard that I had been hired to write the strip and instead taught myself how to ape the artwork so I could immediately draw this…

Then after sketching out all the plot lines I would never write, I went about my actual of business of studying what I was going to write. So I read all nine years worth of strips, after which I surmised that the main character was competent and confidant, the husband’s defining trait was that he wore clothes, and the daughter really should stop going to SuperCuts. That is in no way meant to state that the characters did not already have fully-formed, well thought out personalities, motivations, and a complex system of interaction. Instead, it was what I could only conclude as I read 3000 strips in a sheer, blind panic a week before my first script was due.

Now, one of the best (by which I mean “easiest” or “hackneyed”) ways to write for characters you have no real knowledge of and a strip that’s completely alien to you is to immediately focus on a whole different collection of never-before-seen characters that can serve as the necessary engine of the plot. In retrospect, I could quickly and professionally explain this approach away by referring to the screenwriter’s or playwright’s crucial storytelling tactic of “Why this day?” As in “Why are we meeting the characters for the first time on this particular day?” And of course, my answer would be, “Because a foreign aspect or entity has been introduced into their otherwise normal lives.” And of course, that explanation would be complete bullshit since most readers had been introduced to the characters almost 16 years earlier. But they were indeed new to me, and that was a problem.

Another reason I wanted to just toss in new characters out of nowhere was because I wanted to name someone in the strip after friends of mine, the Bracks (which is the same reason George Lucas had a character named “Steve Lippman” in his original draft of Star Wars before Lucas realized Han Solo probably didn’t need to run into and have a 23-minute chat with his old college roommate). I even mentioned this intention to my editor Jay, who then had me change the neighbor’s surname in the completely understandable realization that its best never to leave the company open to lawsuits.

And so the neighbors became “The Klurns,” a surname that goes against one of the few irrefutable laws of comedy–funny names are not funny. However, in my idiotic rush to show how happy I was to put some friends’ names in print I had luckily forgotten to mention that I had also named the previous neighbors after people very dear to me, thereby allowing the Jaffes to remain in text. But an important lesson was learned at the very beginning, and so from then on I have never mentioned if and when I use actual friends’ names (which may or may not be a hell of a lot).

Alas, when I had the chance to introduce new characters, what did I do? I defined them as they most trite, TV-style stereotype of elitists possible, thereby telegraphing every single unpleasant personality conflict that will no doubt arise in this story. I really should have just written, “The Wealthytons are coming on their diamond encrusted hover penthouse to sneer at our lack of Rembrandts.” Next time I do a plot like this I’m just going to invite over Thurston Howell III and Lovey.

I’ll end today’s notes by mentioning that the way I have by Ted peering out the window is undeniably creepy. It’s as if he’s on guard while Sally quickly buries the meth set prior to the DEA’s inevitable launch on the Forth compound, a plot that today I would jokingly mull over in my mind for a tenth of a millisecond before thinking, “Make that an Erector set.”

To be continued…
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13 Responses

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  1. yellojkt said, on March 5, 2012 at 4:17 pm

    I assume that since this was the late 80s, massive amounts of cocaine were involved as well.

    • cesco7 said, on March 5, 2012 at 4:19 pm

      Haha! Alas, it was the late 90’s, so many worthless Internet stock options were involved.

  2. jfruh said, on March 5, 2012 at 4:27 pm

    You also didn’t use a serial comma in the second panel, you MONSTER.

    • cesco7 said, on March 5, 2012 at 4:29 pm

      I became everything I despised, Josh.

  3. NJMurphy said, on March 5, 2012 at 4:57 pm

    Serial commas aside, I’m still trying to figure out the comma in the first sentence of the post.

    • lostinube said, on March 5, 2012 at 5:28 pm

      Sorry. My bad. I shook the screen and the apostrophe fell down.

  4. jjambon said, on March 5, 2012 at 5:31 pm

    The signature in panel one still says “howard and mac.”
    How long before the “howard” got dropped? And why doesn’t the signature include you nowadays?

  5. Jason said, on March 5, 2012 at 5:37 pm

    I am in the middle of reading “The Great and Secret Show” so Jaffe triggers strange, dark visions in my mind.

  6. black dracula said, on March 5, 2012 at 7:42 pm

    Awesome, Ces. can’t wait to read more

  7. mnemonica said, on March 5, 2012 at 11:20 pm

    For a moment, I thought Sally was checking out the new neighbors’ profiles via a facebook app on some sort of tablet. I think Ces is the one who was clairvoyant.

  8. Lila Phillips said, on March 5, 2012 at 11:57 pm

    Love the strip, & how wacky Ted is. Am thinking that any day now, he is going to become a supervillain; because clearly, society doesn’t understand him.
    I’m just not sure whether Sally would join in, turn him in, or just temporarily lock Ted in the basement. Of course, their daughter would make a great sidekick; until realizing that she, in fact, is smarter than both of them.

  9. - Bill Peschel said, on March 6, 2012 at 3:52 pm

    […] Third, I’ve been remiss in linking to other sites, but I love this one: Ces Marciuliano, the writer of “Sally Forth,” has an opportunity to look back at the beginning of his work on the comic strip and has very mixed feelings. […]

  10. […] durable way. He looked for emotional honesty in it. After some time spent learning the comic (his WordPress blog has an enlightening description of the earliest days) he wrote to […]

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