Rob Kelly asked me to contribute an essay to the new anthology, Hey Kids, Comics! True-Life Tales from the Spinner Rack.
Just got my copy; I’m in there alongside other, better, smarter writers who’ve created many of the stories I grew up on — Bob Greenberger, Sholly Fisch, Steve Skeates, JM DeMatteis, Steve Englehart, Paul Kupperberg, Javier Hernandez — as well as other writers and critics I read online every day. Tremendously flattering.
Reading different people’s first brush with comics is interesting, as these widely varied individual experiences turn out to have a hell of a lot in common: the grubby magazine shop, the screech of the spinner rack itself, the early preference for DC’s Manichean worldview that gives way to an appreciation of Marvel’s hormonal melodrama.
Think about picking it up, if any of the above sounds remotely interesting.
After the jump, a brief excerpt from my essay, “Of Sand, Sea-Nettles and Surplus Furniture: My Secret Origin.”
I said I wouldn’t do it.
In 2011, when a government shutdown loomed, I made with the wacky Twitter yuk-yuks.
I figured that was it. It was, after all, just one joke — a weirdly specific one, granted, with its “(Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome +Lovecraft + Whatever Meager Scraps of 11th Grade Civics Class I Could Scrape from my Hippocampus) = KOMEDY JOKE” structure — but still, it was just the one joke, over and over.
That’s more or less what I told people who asked if I’d dust it off last December, when a federal budget shortfall or whatever threatened. There just wasn’t any juice left in it.
But then last week, another government shutdown threatened. And I found myself in a dayjob SEO meeting, a thing that leaches light and hope and joy from the world. In desperation, I got on my old dead horse and beat it so hard it turned to glue.
But I did want to challenge myself. I also wanted to cop to the fact that I was shamelessly milking the original. So I decided to make the #duringthegovernmentshutdown hashtag even stupidly longer, and test drove a few options in my head:
(No, I did NOT consider #duringthegovernmentshutdown2electricboogaloo, thank you VERY much, Mr. Hacky McHackery of Hacktown, Hacksylvania.)
Settled on #duringthegovernment2piginthecity. Because it was the shortest. And because Babe 2 is hell of a lot of fun.
I’d effectively chopped my available space for japery down to 90 or so characters. It was not easy. The tone of the dumb thing depends in part on archaic words and syntax, which are not ideally suited to Twitter. Over and over again, I had to completely rephrase the joke, or lose it entirely. In more than a few cases, I made compromises that still rankle.
Losing definite articles, for example: “The Were-Hares take Warren Buffet’s corpse …”, is, I avow, an objectively and implicitly funnier phrasing than “Were-hares take Warren Buffet’s corpse….” Can’t tell you why. Just is.
I started it up again on Thursday the 26th, thinking the shutdown would be averted and I could stop when a compromise was reached in a day or two, as in 2011.
But the bastards blew it up. So I kept going.
I resolved to stop once the actual shutdown occurred at 12:01 a.m. on October 1st. Because once basic, vital services stop reaching the people that need them, the whole notion of shutdown gets a lot less funny.
I should have started later. Really thought they’d compromise, and I wouldn’t have to keep it going for FIVE DAMN DAYS.
Easily the most RT’d/Fav’d one was the zombie/Bikeshare one, followed by the cupcake one. I came VERY close to deleted each one before Tweeting it, figuring they were both tired references (zombies? cupcakes? still?).
SO, THIS IS ALL JUST RIPPING OFF WELCOME TO NIGHT VALE, RIGHT?
Lookit: I love Welcome to Night Vale. I have proselytized for Welcome to Night Vale. The writing on that show is crystalline, perfect. But, you know, they didn’t patent the Lovecraft joke. Nor did I, back in 2011. So back off, sonny. Next question.
ANY YOU’RE PARTICULARLY PROUD OF?
"Proud" is the wrong word to use when the subject is dumb Twitter jokes. But the Tarot one, I sort of like. Air & Space. Merpeople. Patrick Leahy. The cabs vs. Uber one is funny to me, and me only, and allowed me to make a Mister T reference, because as seen above, I got my finger on the pulse of the today’s hip, happening youth.
ANY YOU’D TAKE BACK?
I didn’t love going back to the White House organic garden twice. I really did try not to cover the exact same ground as before. For example, I consciously avoided use of the word “fleshpit,” though I love it a lot and it’s ideally suited to this endeavor, because I’d used it back in 2011.
Here they are, after the jump, in their dumb entirety: five days’ worth of my sweaty attempts at mirth, in the order I Tweeted them. If you followed my feed during all this, thank you. You are good people. If you unfollowed, know that I get it. And that you can come back now, because normal service (fish puns and dad jokes and shameless promotion of my book, SUPERMAN: THE UNAUTHORIZED BIOGRAPHY, which I wrote, which is a book you should totally buy) has returned.
What is Bullseye with Jesse Thorn?
A guidebook to the world of culture. An interview show full of insights about where creativity comes from. An NPR show about stuff you actually care about. And also: actually fun.
If you’ve never listened, try the sampler above. It’s got Big Boi and Jeff Bridges and Dolly Parton and a bunch of other folks. Five minutes is all we ask. If you like it, head to iTunes and subscribe, free.
If you’re already a listener: share this sampler! Reblog and tell us and your friends and followers why *you* care about Bullseye. There’s no better time than the present.
Bullseye with Jesse Thorn belongs in your earbuds. Get on that.
Shazam! #1 (Feb. 1973)
Cover Art by C.C. Beck & Nick Cardy
"On the cover of SHAZAM #1 (Feb. 1973), Superman introduces readers to Captain Marvel; he stands at the edge of a curtain, hand extended in a polite "May I Present?" pose. There is, in the smile that artist Nick Cardy gives Superman, the suggestion of smug satisfaction.
Here is the Man of Steel, introducing a new generation of readers to the hero who consistently outsold his own titles during the forties. Yet those days were over. The Big Blue Boy Scout had beaten the Big Red Cheese (in court, if never on the newstands), and now Captain Marvel was back — but on Superman’s terms. If you look carefully, you can almost see Superman’s thought balloon:
'This? Is my house. My house.’”
— From Superman: The Unauthorized Biography, Chapter 8: “The Year of Superman: 1978, pp. 175-6.