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My First Week of “Sally Forth”: Day Three

Posted in Uncategorized by cesco7 on March 7, 2012

Start from the inauspicious beginning with Day One.

Wednesday, December 31, 1997

Well, here it is. New Year’s Eve, 1997, closing in on not just another new year but also a new millennium. And yet instead of Ted talking about how he’s only got 18 years left to track down the last of the replicants with a Voight-Kampff machine he made from old ViewMasters and Fisher Price Pixelvision cameras, he’s discussing the politics of stuffed shrimp dispersal.

Part of the reason for Ted’s uncharacteristic behavior is because as I mentioned in my previous post, I was initially one of two writers for the strip and so never quite knew when–or if–my scripts would run. Hence, I couldn’t plan for specific holidays, much less months. The other reason is that back then this was Ted’s character as far as I understood it. When I first started it was my take that the cast of Sally Forth–save for the lead–was meant to serve a reactive role. Sally set the plots in motion, Sally had the final joke, and Sally guided the stories from one day to the next. That was a formula that had clearly worked for the strip but it was also one that made it difficult for me to get a feel for the other characters. That only came with time and a decision not to make the strip a faint echo of its former self but to try to give it a new voice. And so that is why on this New Year’s Eve in 1997 Ted is not trying to teach his beloved 2XL toy robot to sing “Daisy, Daisy” but instead saying the equivalent of “Just…just go with the premise, okay, Hil?”

This problem of understanding the other characters extended to Hilary, who appears for the very first time in one of my strips above. That’s because I didn’t exactly know how old Hil was supposed to be. I guessed she was “generic kid age,” which would put her at anywhere from 6-10. I also guessed that Ted and Sally were “generic parent age of possible 6-10 year old,” which would roughly put them in the “35-38” category. Eventually I got a much better handle on their actual ages, even allowing them to grow so that Hilary is now 12 and the parents are both 42. Alas, I think that may be as far as I can go with the aging process without greatly altering the comic. It may just be a one year difference, but having Hil go from tweener to teenager would complete change the family dynamic and the type of stories that can be told. Keeping Hil at 12 lets me do stories that are both child-like and forward-looking. Of course, the downside to not letting a character age is that you wind up with the funnies version of The Tin Drum, and nothing but nothing brings in the chuckles like German allegorical storytelling. Another complication is that it means I can’t really age the parents much further either. And that means that sadly, inevitably, Ted will have to forsake his encyclopedic knowledge of Gen X pop culture for that of Gen Y. In other words, get ready for Ted to one day go on and on about Clarissa Explains It All, when he got his first Discman as a teen, and his vast collection of Hypercolor tees.

But going back to Hil, take a look at her dialogue in the second panel in the above strip. I especially marvel at how I have her say the phrase “your own daughter,” as if this was information that needed to be imparted in the most overwought expository dialogue since Mrs. Drudge in The Real Inspector Hound. Once again, everyone knew who the hell these people were…except for me. It was just another sign of my uncertainty as author. Good thing I didn’t follow this up with a whole slew of constant reminders throughout the strip, including “As you know, Sally, I am your husband.” “Hilary, please inform your mother who is my wife to meet me in the living room of the house we purchased together as a married couple before having you, our child.” And “We’re the Forths! We’re the Forths! We’re the Forths Forths Forths!”

There were also some discrepancies in the child-parent interaction. As I mentioned earlier this week, I haven’t seen these strips since they first ran over 14 years ago. So imagine my pang of regret when I came across the final line in Wednesday’s strip. It immediately struck me as the sort of thing an elderly cartoonist would think a thirtysomething couple would say about those darn kids with their televisions, wild be-bop music blaring over their AM transistor radios, and the way those longhairs constantly say “bad” when they mean “good” as if the older generation didn’t know exactly what was going on behind the local roller rink. No wonder when most readers think of your average syndicated cartoonist this is what comes to mind:

And, of course, we could not discuss his strip without mentioning Hilary’s old hairstyle. A hairstyle that in 1997 would have made her the only young girl who wanted to forgo Lilith Fair for a Cindy Brady book signing. But if you think the now thankfully longhaired Hil looked odd back then, just take a peek at Faye in her very first appearance on February 4, 2006.

I’m not certain but I think the February 5th strip involved Faye pressing a shiv against Sally’s throat and demanding Totino’s Pizza Rolls.

In tomorrow’s post we discuss how with half the week over it may be time to start the plot.

To be continued…
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7 Responses

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  1. yellojkt said, on March 7, 2012 at 9:41 am

    And since you bring up the topic, I can’t resist the urge to blogwhore my post about Comic Strip Temporal Dynamics, the one that made me the bête noire (his words) of Gene Weingarten.

    • Lurkertype said, on March 7, 2012 at 3:06 pm

      I’m impressed. I’ve never been anyone’s bete noire.

  2. jeremyjb said, on March 7, 2012 at 11:15 am

    The drawing of the characters seem so angular. Pretty sure someone could lose an eye on those shoulders.

  3. Rhody Tobin said, on March 7, 2012 at 12:18 pm

    You should have Hil grow up while Sally and Ted remain the same age. Nobody noticed in Peanuts when Lucy started out as a baby who somehow managed to gain a little brother who was in the same grade as Charlie Brown, who was already in school when Linus was born.

  4. Ari said, on March 7, 2012 at 1:56 pm

    How do you intend to give Ted an encyclopedic knowledge of Gen Y pop-culture that could possibly rival your Gen X knowledge?

  5. Col. Havoc said, on March 7, 2012 at 3:27 pm

    Seriously enjoying this retrospective insight. Always been a fan. (Unrelated to this post, but forever locked in my memory: When Ted first mentioned “Quisp” and “Quake” I almost died from early 70’s nostalgia.) Thanks for 14 great years and counting.

  6. DemetriosX said, on March 8, 2012 at 6:11 am

    I like the “your own daughter” line. It’s driving in the shiv of guilt and giving it a twist. I know your family’s Italian not Jewish, but hasn’t your mother ever given you the “You would do such a thing? To your own mother?” routine? Nothing wrong with it at all.

    Also @ Rhody Tobin, don’t forget Sally, Charlie Brown’s own sister. She also came along later and rapidly went from baby to only a year or so younger. The Van Pelt baby could be retconned to be Rerun, but not Sally.

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