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My First Week of “Sally Forth”: Day Two

Posted in Uncategorized by cesco7 on March 6, 2012

Start where the, uh, “magic” began. Read “Day One” and marvel at Ted’s spying prowess.

Tuesday, December 30, 1997

For the first four years of doing Sally Forth I had a writing partner that I never actually wrote with.

When I was first brought on to write for “Team Sally Forth” (or, as it is known in professional cartooning circles, “Team I Want to Say Mary Worth But I Don’t Think That’s Right”), I was told that another writer had already been brought on board a few months prior, Steve Alaniz (whose name I believe still appears in some papers). The plan was that every week each of us would submit a week of dailies and a Sunday script. The syndicate would then decide which strip they wanted to run and go with that, a strategy that ultimately led to Steve and I simply switching weeks in print.

Alas, this made doing any story that lasted longer than a week virtually impossible. It also meant that neither one of us could make any changes to the character, since whatever one would write one week the other could unknowingly dismiss outright the next. This explains that period in which Sally kept flipping between being a hardened ex-con and happily curing the sick and lame by touch. It also clarifies why readers never got to see the follow-up to this Saturday third-panel cliffhanger…

Of course, the last thing the syndicate would have wanted from a business point of view would be for us to make any alterations to the characters or formula. That’s because while the two new writers were learning the ropes, the strip was still being marketed under the name of its creator (hence the “Howard and Mac” signature above, with “Mac” referring to artist Craig Macintosh). This was to assure newspaper editors and readers that nothing had changed and it was still business as usual at “Sally Forth Inc.” (Or, as it is known in Germany, “Sally Forth AG.”) Hence while I came onboard in 1997, official documentation states that the strip was “handed over” in 1999. And since I don’t really feel like I was doing the strip any commendable service until about 2003, this proved to be a generous estimate on their part.

So in addition to trying to write a strip I never read because it didn’t appear in any NYC-area newspapers, I also had to come up with stories that by week’s end would bring the Forths’ world back to square one. Once again, this makes perfect sense when you want everyone to stay on brand, especially during a period of transition. Which brings us to the above strip’s story “The Horrible New Neighbors You Will Never, Ever Hear from Again,” whose dispappearnce could easily be explained with “People should really check for gators before moving into a home.”

This is also why a week of strips that runs between Christmas Day and News Year’s Day makes absolutely no mention of either holiday, since I had no idea when it would make it into print. Or maybe the family had forsaken all celebrating that year after sadly missing the Bon Voyage party for their fellow Heaven’s Gate members nine months prior. (To this day Ted will occasionally put on his tunic and wonder if it’s nice and warm in the tail of Comet Hale-Bopp.)

Also in regards to the precise strip above, I’m not sure if I remember writing “Make Ted tent his fingers like Mr. Burns” but the gesture lends a nice air of dignified menace to the character that has over time been replaced with Ted’s ability to sing the entire intro music to Star Blazers, often in lieu of “Happy Birthday.” I also made sure to follow the unwritten rule that Sally always got the punch line or final say, which ultimately led to a strip in which Ted asked Sal why she always had to sit to his left. (That question proved to be the first fissure of the Forth’s fourth wall, which after years of my hammering away at its structural integrity is now in danger of total collapse, a situation made all the worse by the fact that it’s also their world’s load-bearing wall.)

As to the comic overall, eventually one person was chosen to assume all writing duties for the strip. My self-deprecating nature leads me to believe that I was picked because I lived only 20 blocks from King Features’ offices in Manhattan. But those with a kinder take on my abilities would be quick to mention that I actually lived a full 23 blocks away, and that’s not even counting all those avenue blocks, which can sometimes feel like ten regular blocks if its raining or you’re late or you’re taking visitors for what you feel is a nice, leisurely walk around the city but they think is more like the Bataan Death March. (To this day, though, I still worry that if I move a single block further away from the syndicate in any direction, they’ll immediately replace me with someone from midtown.)

Join me tomorrow when we talk about the first time I wrote for Hilary without really knowing if she was supposed to be the Forths’ six-year-old daughter, eight-year-old daughter or a sister wife suffering from reverse progeria.

To be continued…
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2 Responses

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  1. yellojkt said, on March 6, 2012 at 8:26 am

    Having a writing partner you never actually write with does add a valuable layer of plausible deniability.

  2. spanghew said, on March 10, 2012 at 12:51 am

    arriving late to this party, but – fun! Also, I have no idea why I actually remember noticing the curiously changing array of names credited with this strip…since at that time I didn’t think the strip was very funny.

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