My First Judge Parker Strip
Today starts my new lifelong/Newspapers will only last so long/ I’m-canned-in-a-week career writing Judge Parker. And for those who were expecting a sudden shift into fourth-wall breaking, Ted Forth’s atavistic compulsion towards 80’s geek culture, or even for Ted’s disembodied voice to tell Derek to close his eyes and let the Force drive him home, well, we still have a story to tell here, Death Star trenches and useless OnStar navigation be damned. Also, I need to maintain a consistent tone and voice for the strip, something you will see I manage to keep up for a day-and-a-half before going off the rails.
Which brings us to the vodka bottle. But first a note: Because I was using former strip writer Woody Woodrow’s last scripts when working on mine and had yet to see the final artwork, I did not know the vodka brand was called “Osipov.” But now that I do I’m going to treat it as a former-Soviet Union version of “Kirkland” and have every product in the Judge Parker universe be under that brand. (It’s either that or label things “FOOD” or “DRINK” like in Repo Man.) Part of the fun of writing a comic strip or I imagine working on a TV show or interlocking series of movies is creating the little details that ultimately give a fictional world the heft and gravitational pull of a real one.
Hell, we may even name the town the Spencer-Driver family lives in. I’m open to suggestions. I would have used my own hometown, but Standards & Practices will not let you call a place “Dix Hills” in the funnies since even curiously sex-obsessed Pennsylvania Dutch towns don’t have names like “Shaft and Balls Ville.”
But back to the vodka bottle, featured prominently in the band van the past few strips. Now, you are almost certainly familiar with the concept known as “Chekhov’s Gun,” which the writer Anton Chekhov himself described as “If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.” So, in that light because Honey brought along a bottle of Costco CCCP vodka then that means it must inevitably be the cause of the teens’ demise. After all, why even show it if that’s not the case? And why have Derek remind everyone it’s raining? Clearly there are reasons for all of this, because no one except they guy who writes Sally Forth would fill precious panel space with unnecessary words.
So perhaps today some Judge Parker readers are exclaiming, “I knew it! The is is going to be some anti-drunk driving/anti-inclement weather PSA like that one in the early 80s when the kid shouted to his dad ‘I learned it by watching you! Okay? I learned it by watching you!’ as he downed a jug of Evercleafr while being knocked unconscious in a torrential hail storm.”
But let’s remember that in mid-19th century southern Russia there were like nine items, total. So if you went through the expense of hanging a gun you better damn well have fired it, either to announce a significant turning point in a day’s events or to clear the table of dirty dishes.
However, saying if you have a gun in the house then it must be used—AND SOON—actually sounds like a very strong argument for having absolutely NO guns in the house. Or at least in Anton Chekhov’s house, where it seems like he was given to outright threats of gunplay. In fact, many a letter from a houseguest at the Chekhov estate would contain such statements as “Suddenly he kept screaming ‘I need a skylight! I must have a skylight!’ And before we knew it he had blown a hole through his roof.” Or “We were having the most pleasing afternoon, playing a game of Cyrillic Scrabble, when Anton shot all the ‘Я’ tiles. All of them. I have no idea how much that made gameplay impossible. I’m actually French and thought the tiles were just a deliberate misprint from Peter the Great.”
This might also explain why the first out-of-town production of The Cherry Orchard had everyone in the cast screaming and running for their lives for the initial 80 minutes.
And like highlighted earlier, the fact Anton (we tight like that) used a gun at all to convey his thoughts on narrative structure is completely conditional. After all, if he were living today in Northwest Territories, Canada he probably would have been on the writing staff of Slings and Arrows (a terrific show you must seek out). He also would mention a literal device endemic to his area that perhaps wasn’t a gun. Like, say, a Pizzly. A Pizzly is a hybrid of a Polar Bear and a Grizzly Bear, the result of Polar Bears migrating south due to rapidly shrinking Arctic ice. (They are also know as a “Grolar” by those who are clearly #TeamGrizzly.) The result is an animal that resembles a steroidal Gund plush.
This could also explain why the Fort Good Hope community theater production of The Seagull consisted of the entire cast hiding in the corner of the stage while the Pizzly lazily wandered about, constantly missing his marks and lighting cues as the audience wondered if he was playing the title bird.
Oddly enough, though recent DNA has proved that this very hybrid exists, there are people who refuse to believe it, some even right now looking at the above picture and saying “It’s just a blonde bear” or “I could never get the hang of these Magic Eye things.” The world is full of such animal hybrids, including the adorably named “Zonkey.” the less mellifluously named “Wholphin” and the more cinematic plot device “Liger.” Yet with the exception of the mule, many will call such hybrids the stuff of make believe. BUT, years ago people immediately embraced the notion of the Jackalope.
The Jackalope was defined as a North American rabbit with antlers who was first “spotted” in 1829 in Douglas, Wyoming (which declared itself the “Jackalope Capital of America” because it beats having your town’s signs just read “Now with Jiffy Lube”). Cowboys said that late at night the creature would mimic their campfire songs, perhaps illustrating that not everyone had a firm grasp of what an echo was back then. Research now seems to indicate the legend started when people saw rabbits with tumors (known as “Shope papilloma virus”) on their heads and mistook the growths for antlers. But since that is a very sad explanation let’s all go on and imagine an Old West where the Easter Bunny was truly something special.
The result is that something quite real has been taken for Photoshop forgery while something clearly fraudulent had thousands verify its existence. And that’s because unlike Anton “Shoot ’em and let God sort ’em out” Chekhov, there are no dead certainties. There are as many realities as there are people. Furthermore, reality is almost comsically, comically built for such elasticity. This even applies to things we usually hold to be certain, such as ourselves.
If you were to weigh yourself now and the scale read “180” then you would say “I know for certain I weight 180 lbs.” (Which, frankly, is putting a lot of faith on a device that seconds later may also say you weigh 13 lbs.) But there is no such thing as real weight, only mass. That’s because weight is conditional, and that condition is whatever a particular surface’s gravitational pull has on your mass. So here on Earth you’re 180 lbs. But do the same thing on the Moon and you’re now 30 lbs. Or you could attain escape velocity by running 25,000 mph straight upwards and achieve supposed zero gravity, resulting in weightlessness. In short, almost anything can prove to be unreliable.
So back to the vodka bottle yet again and how it could only mean one thing yet anything. It could certainly be the cause of the kids’ demise in Judge Parker, yet its contents play absolutely no role in the outcome. The vodka bottle could be present at the moment of their demise but have no role even in its physical form. And the truck could barrel down on the kids but miss the Derek’s van completely as he whips around a mountainside turn, while Ted Forth’s disembodied voice narrates how by doing so they achieve the speed necessary to not only leave Earth’s gravitational pull but Jupiter before Discovery collapses, the monolith terraforms Europa and Jupiter becomes a second sun, all while Police Chief Martin Brody and Russian Helen Mirren achieve détente.
Ted would also comment how it’s a shame the movie version of 2010 had to cut the Chinese rocket subplot from the book.
But yeah, those kids are screwed.
See you again in
Dix Hills Town Name to Be Determined!