On the other hand, I got to say “butt-dialed,” a curse word, and maybe kill five teens (and a trucker) in my first four days, so it’s been a good week. Or my last week.
NOTE: Because daily strip coloring is outsourced and not done by the artist, mistakes are sometimes made. So readers should know that today’s strip is supposed to take place at NIGHT, not two in the afternoon.
SECOND NOTE: The rhythm of the dialogue is a vestige of writing Sally Forth for 19 years. I love writing Sally Forth. I love the tone of that strip. (I’m not articulating my arm to pat my own back, I just write a strip I would want to read and hope others think the same or phrase their cutting, insightful insults with happy emojis.) But this is a different comic with its own voice. I would chalk today’s Judge Parker comic to being a stumble to getting on the right path…that goes right through the guard rails.
THIRD NOTE: Because some have wondered, the songs were chosen for their ungodly running times (which, when combined, will actually still play when all existence reaches its conclusion and then starts all over again) and for no reason but what popped in my head at the moment, they both involve being in a car late at night. That said, those are not songs Neddy would mention. Again, the last of Ted in this strip, minus him in the background gawking at any possible wreckage.
For the third year in his long career as a Little League coach, Ted Forth has shepherded a team to the championship game. The first time they made it to the final game they lost at the bottom of the ninth (well, sixth, since it’s Little League), resulting in a Bad News Bears-like finale only without the cursing or beer or sponsorship by a bail bonds company.
With the team’s second appearance in the championship game, they won it all. And thought that provided Ted with a moment of pure, euphoric, almost rapturous joy, it also summoned within him a fear he had peaked. That he would never taste such glorious victory again, resulting in years and years of reminding players who weren’t even on the (in Ted’s mind) mythical team how they were not living up to that year’s standards. (Never mind that years went by yet everyone remained the same age.) It was as if The Rime of the Ancient Mariner had become about a middle-aged guy who achieved glory via 12-year-old players and somehow was still haunted by it, mostly because there was a rather decent chance Ted was going to wear the championship trophy around his neck.
And now we find ourselves halfway through this year’s World Series of Little League…if “series” can be used to denote a single game and by “world” we mean the players’ hometown. Hilary is rushing to the field to make it in time to watch or play. Nona is experiencing conflicted emotions. Jenny is coping with all the pressure of being a winning but first-season pitcher. And Faye is getting increasingly annoyed with everyone.
Also, Ted’s motivational speeches seem to consist of “Deny reality and you’ll be fine. That’s how I’ve been getting through life all these years.”
Several years ago in an episode of The Golden Girls Blanche and Dorothy were sitting in their Miami living room. (Which in itself was a shame because they also had a lanai, and there was always something fun about hearing one of the characters say “Let’s go out on the lanai” that made saying “Let’s go out on the patio” feel like flavorless syllables falling from of a slack jaw.) As the two sat, Blanche read the comic pages in their daily paper, all the while giggling. We now rejoin them in the late 80s/very early 90s.
Dorothy: What’s so funny?
Blanche: Oh, Marmaduke. Look at how he drives that car. Ha ha ha! I love my comics. Every day, Marmaduke and Apt. 3G.
Dorothy: Wow, I haven’t read Apt. 3G since… 1961.
Blanche: Oh, well let me catch you up. It’s later the same day…
Starting to read a soap opera comic several decades into its run can be a daunting if not impossible task. Sure, it may take several years for a short period of time to pass in the strip, but in that time A plots begat B plots which begat innumerable bronchioles that breathe life into minute C through ZZ plots. Of course, this doesn’t just pertain to soap opera strips. There have been many a book series or television show I have been hesitant to start simply because of the enormous amount of material before me. This is also in part why I never really watched TV soap operas, except General Hospital in the early 80s when it was federally mandated to keep up with Luke and Laura, One Life to Live during downtime in college when I worked at the Fuqua School of Business and more or less just taught professors how to press “PLAY” on their VCR (and because they filmed on my campus that year), and sometimes All My Children in high school during summer vacation only because I had a crush on the character Angie.
Jeez, apparently I watched far more soap operas than I thought.
Anyway, I was reminded of both The Golden Girls and apparently a lengthy TV addiction when a person on Twitter suggested I do a quick Judge Parker explainer to both new readers and those who haven’t kept up with it every day. I immediately thought that was a good idea. Then I immediately froze because of what could be the enormity of that idea.
But fortunately Judge Parker artist Mike Manley had previously—and very thoughtfully—provided me with an unbelievably comprehensive breakdown of the strip’s plots when I first started. And using that list as a foundation—along with my own circuitous logic—I present you with the almost complete guide to the comic. Please note that any misinformation or outright mistakes are mine and mine alone. We’ll start with a brief review of the main characters and then proceed to the current plots. I hope this helps…or maybe like I did back in high school you’ll just idly pass the time having a crush on a character.
THE MAIN CHARACTERS
Sam Driver: Sam is one of those handsome action-attorneys you would see in 60’s legal dramas. The one who saw what everyone else was missing and would even confront the accused in court by walking right up and addressing them within inches of their face, a move that today would result in a swift tazing if not from the bailiff then at least from an aggressive jury foreman. Sam had a law practice with his partner Steve (one would imagine founded entirely on alliteration) but has now opened up his own office in the family barn, where that inescapable odor is the smell of SUCCESS. Sam’s only client right now is Alan Parker, who was once the main character of the strip and who we will learn more about shortly.
Abbey Spencer: Abbey is one of those obscenely wealthy—and preternaturally attractive—heiresses that are a must-have in TV soap operas. Well, at least in American soap operas, since one could imagine an Eastenders character winning five pounds in a scratch-off and being considered the Rothschild of their town until their pub bill arrived. Abbey inherited sprawling Spencer Farms and a stable of horses that would make Ted Forth’s dream alter-identity “Ted Chadwell” green with envy. Abbey was a client of Sam’s when they met, fell in love, and became richer and richer ever after.
Neddy and Sophie Spencer: Neddy wasn’t always the 24-year-old emotional headstrong character—and Sophie the frighteningly perfect 16-year-old—you know now. Originally they were both homeless, living with their grandfather illegally on Abbey’s sprawling estate. Abbey gave the three a place to stay and the grandfather a job. But then the granddad died, leaving the girls destitute once more. Fortunately, Abbey decided to adopt the rebellious Neddy and the stable Sophie. And in true Judge Parker fashion it was revealed the girls were the sole heirs of their own huge fortune from an unknown benefactor who might have actually meant for the money to go to Pip but since he made the check out to “CASH’ could only watch as the Spencer family amassed even more wealth. Neddy is very much into fashion, Sophie is apparently a wunderkind at everything else.
THE CURRENT PLOTS
• In addition to the Spencer-Driver family, the strip also has its own celebrity couple, country star Rocky Ledge and movie star Godiva Danube, both whom, like Rip Torn and Tab Hunter, must have delegated final word on their names to their agents. Rocky purchased one of Abbey’s horses for Godiva. Hell, someone bought an RV from Sam Driver in under ten minutes and I’m pretty sure without turning on the ignition or finding out if the vehicle has a fourth side. What I’m saying is that a lot of people buy a lot of things from the Spencer-Driver family. In fact, the family accumulates wealth so often and so rapidly it’s a wonder they aren’t being investigated by the SEC or at least reporters. That can only last so long.
• Rocky also helped his wife Godiva open up a fashion empire/local factory to be run by 24-year-old Neddy. And now here is where we get into one of the two major ongoing plots of the strip. While this is Godiva’s clothing line, Neddy has been in charge of almost every facet of setting up and running a business that as of this writing has had no fashion show preview or pre-orders but is one night away from Opening Day. Another odd aspect of the factory is that it seems to emply almost exclusively senior citizens, which is commendable in one way but problematic if it were done for reasons such as “I pay them in Ludens.” The seniors are also busily sewing the garments inside container units stored inside the factory, resulting in something like the Tetris equivalent of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.
• Opening Day for the factory is imminent. In fact it’s the next day in the strip’s timeline, which could either mean in two weeks or how’s your 2035? (Think the former more than the latter.) There is a press tent. There will be press for this. The press assigned to this story will not to be too happy about this.
• When not running a huge fashion empire in a small town built on the sweat and Aqua Net of an elder workforce, Neddy has also found time to entertain a few serious suitors in the strip. First there was Mark, who ran off to China when Neddy turned down his marriage proposal. I’m assuming he went to Macau. That way he can drown his sorrows in high-stakes baccarat and—at least according to the Macau sequence in Skyfall—get himself a pet komodo dragon. Now there is Hank, who helped Neddy with the building of the factory (as evidenced in the sexy montage sequence regarding blueprints) and is leaving for Alaska for a lucrative job offer because there is no other kind in Judge Parker unless you want to be one of those slacks characters who waits for the inevitable oil gusher in your backyard. Neddy wants Hank to stay. Maybe. At least now she does.
• As it turns out Hank is also the son of someone Abbey dated in high school. No doubt Hank’s Dad was drop-dead handsome. Hank is drop-dead handsome. Abbey is drop-dead gorgeous. In fact, every single character in this strip is beyond incredible looking. I mean, have you seen the horses? It’s amazing everyone isn’t sleeping with everyone in every panel. What I’m saying is eventually there will be centaurs…and they will be stunning.
• And in regards to that aforementioned RV, Hank bought it from Sam to either win over Neddy’s folks or see if he could actually pass a four-party, post-dated check, Neddy already got into an accident with it. Turns out while driving from Hanks’s place to Spencer Farms she almost crushed the car of a couple named “The Chubbs.” To make up for it—in addition to her dad Sam seemingly able to write a check in thin air with his finger to pay for damages—Neddy has hired the older Chubb couple to join her factory’s Cocoon cast. Neddy also hired the recent parolee sister of the safety inspector who cleared Neddy’s factory for business. And if you think hiring the relative of the very government employee assigned to decide whether or not your place meets all state and federal compliance’s is entering some serious legal grey area, you won’t be the only one.
• Okay, enough about Neddy. Now let’s discuss her far more serious-minded, logical younger sister Sophie. Sophie is 16-years-old, very intelligent, quite logical, an A-student, a cheerleader, a musician, and apparently the next step in mankind’s evolution. She is also in a band with Derek (her maybe or maybe-not BF) along with Rabbit and Zeke. In the other current major plot line the band has just performed in a high school gymnasium to apparently rave reviews. Along the way to the gig they picked up Honey, who Sophie took an instant disliking to and who apparently/inexplicably sold over $400 in band merch even though I have known actual bands with real followings in known venues who don’t come close to that. But the real issue is that the trip back home is now occurring at night in a hard rain on a slick mountain road due to an early detour. Honey has also brought along a bottle of Osipov (“The Kirkland of Kiev”) Vodka to celebrate, which we discussed yesterday may or may not be the “Chekhov Gun” that will spell their vehicular demise. This will be the central story line for the next two weeks and yes, since there is no reason to pretend otherwise, there will be a crash. On Wednesday.
• Alan Parker—the titular “Judge Parker” and Sam’s sole client in his new practice—has retired from the law. He is married to the much younger and out-of-his-league Katherine. He is also now an author, having published The Chambers Affair, a book based on one of Sam Driver’s early cases. The book has won an award (“The Prestigious Silver Scribe Award,” which I believe is handed out by Centrum) and has been optioned for a movie. Alan is currently reviewing the studio’s notes on the first draft of his script with Norton Dumont (formerly Abbot Bower until that identity died in a Mexican jungle), a retired “import-export dealer” (which in real life would read as “A retired judge is lounging around with a mobster”) as well as April’s dad who has recently gone through chemotherapy and was featured in a previous Alan Parker book. Alan is clearly shocked to learn movie scripts sometimes go through second drafts, especially when penned by first-time screenwriters based on their own novel of which they would never be too precious with the material to make the hard cuts necessary to adapt a source material for the screen.
• So wait, who is April? April was Sam and Steve (Sam’s old law firm partner who now manages Rocky Ledge) administrative assistant. April is also married to Randy, Alan Parker’s son and the now new titular “Judge Parker.” (Think when Lisa Simpson renamed “Snowball III” as “Snowball II” for the sake of continuity.) Turns out April is also a CIA agent who just wanted a second revenue stream because in this economy if you’re not a spy/administrative assistant than you’re probably one of those slackasses just waiting to accidentally uncover pirate treasure in the Spencer Farms lanai. (See? It’s just such a great word.) April is now pregnant, on a mission in Europe, and currently missing. Her dad Norton is nervously waiting for news on her whereabouts.
• Abbey and Sam also have a live-in maid, Marie. She is dating a guy named Roy Rogers. This will be the last you hear of that.
See you tomorrow when the band van meets its doom.
A Peek into the Writing Process for “I Could Pee on This, Too: And More Poems by More Cats” OUT NOW!
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!