Children’s/All-Ages


adventure-time-20-cover-a1

 

 

 

Glob be praised!  I have ANOTHER comic book story out this month, following up my tale in REGULAR SHOW #3 with “Grocery Time” in ADVENTURE TIME #20!

You can advance-order it on comiXology here in e-form, or from KaBOOM!’s website.

Here are some fun facts about this tale!

1) It was written nearly a year before “Sombrero World,” my REGULAR SHOW story, but got held up because KaBOOM! didn’t know Cartoon Network had approved it already.

2) It was one of 10 pitches I made to KaBOOM! for ADVENTURE TIME stories.  Coincidentally, it was also the pitch I had developed the least.

3) The pitch was, “in a tale told in hard-rock narration, Billy goes to the Grocery Kingdom to get stuff for a party, but finds himself pitted against the Notorious Ham-Pire and his Avocadobots.”  I had no idea who the Ham-Pire and the Avocadobots were when I pitched that.  They were just weird names I’d written down in my file of ideas that sounded like ADVENTURE TIME characters.

4) When writing the script, I had to come up with a quick way of explaining the Ham-Pire.  After debating whether he should be an adorable pig with fangs and a Dracula cape, I hit on a very quick explanation: AN EXPIRED HAM BACK FROM THE GRAVE.  

Here’s the design by Brad McGinty:

Ham Pire Design

 

 

5) Ryan North, the regular writer on the ADVENTURE TIME comic, joked that Ham-Pire should be the new Big Bad of the series.  I of course jumped WAAAAYYYY too hard on this and came up with a backstory for him, which I share EXCLUSIVELY here:

BIOGRAPHY: The Notorious Ham-Pire was once a delicious glazed ham in the Grocery Kingdom, who due to poor shelving and a ham surplus, found itself freezer-burned and moldy.  Tossed away with other expired foods, the ham was accidentally exposed to a faulty, non-functioning batch of Candy Kingdom serum that was mistakenly thrown in the same bin.  The molds and glaze mutated the serum, causing it to reanimate the ham as an undead creature of PURE EVIL.
 
The Ham-Pire discovered that it needed to drain sugars and artificial preservatives from other creatures in Ooo in order to survive.  Hence, it regularly haunted the remote aisles of the Grocery Kingdom, sustaining itself on various snack products and food-beings unfortunate enough to cross its path.  Members of the Candy Kingdom were particularly in peril from the creature; its cloven (well, clove) teeth could drain the Candy Life from their bodies, reducing them to non-living-but-still-delicious consumables, though they had been on the ground and you probably shouldn’t touch them.
 
In addition to its various supernatural powers, including flight, clove-breath and super-strong ham-fists, the Ham-Pire possessed a great deal of scientific knowledge it used to create minions to carry out its misguided objective of making sure that “ALL WILL BE HAM.” 
 
In one of its most fiendish moves, it resurrected an army of dud avocados with cyber-parts to create “Avacadobots” it used in an attempt to conquer the Grocery Kingdom’s Ice Cream Peninsula.  Its ploy would have succeeded had the hero Billy not needed to pick up some ice cream for a party, and even then the great legend nearly got mad-walloped until he used a robo-controller toy from a box of cereal to turn the Ham-Pire’s Avacadobots against it.
 
The current whereabouts of the Ham-Pire are unknown, though there are rumors that it is entombed somewhere in a remote area of the Candy Kingdom, withered but still “alive.”  Should it ever escape, the Land of Ooo would be in great danger, as they will never see it coming…though they will smell it.  Hoo boy, will they smell it.
 
POWERS/ABILITIES: Aside from being a technical genius on the level of Princess Bubblegum, the Ham-Pire can hover/fly (necessary as it lacks feet), possesses enough strength to let it throw down on Billy in his prime, possesses incapacitating “Clove-Breath” and can drain the life force from most artificially-animated food products. Non-food-beings bitten by the Ham-Pire are vulnerable to the food poisoning contained in its fangs, and might possibly turn into hams themselves, though that might just be something someone said on the Internet somewhere.
AFFILIATIONS: The Ham-Pire has been known to use a number of hench-things, usually made from rotting, expired food fused with robot parts to make them CYBORG FOOD ZOMBIES.  It also had a self-declared “Ham Kingdom” consisting of a number of spiral-cut hams it “liberated” from the Grocery Kingdom, but was oblivious to the fact that none of them could actually move/speak/do anything other than sit there being ham.
 
ENEMIES: Pretty much everything food-related in Ooo is food for the Ham-Pire.  It resents most non-food organic beings for not being made of ham, and regards them as “Wrong-Meat” enemies.  It’d be pretty much indifferent to BMO.
 
WEAKNESSES: The Ham-Pire cannot drain the life force from purely organic products that are not expired, as they are not infused with the Candy Life formula.  It is particularly avoidant of the Wildberry Kingdom, as its inhabitants are not only immune to its bite, but are meat-hungry enough to not care that it’s expired.  In addition, despite its technical expertise, the Ham-Pire’s plans are usually flawed due to the fact that even Ice King has declared it “totally ‘nanners.”
There are also rumors that the Ham-Pire could be destroyed forever by a steak through its heart.  That is not a misspelling. 
 
NOTE THE FIRST: The Ham-Pire is not a vampire, it is a ham-pire.  It’s different from a vampire the way a Why-Wolf is different from a Werewolf or a Hug Wolf.  A lot of people make that mistake.  There were rumors that it once tried to declare itself the Vampire King to Marceline, but that didn’t end well for it.

NOTE THE SECOND: It is also rumored that in its pre-ham state, the Ham-Pire was an ancestor of Mr. Pig.  It was not.  That’s just based on the ignorant belief that all pigs know each other.  Do all humans know each other?  Don’t think so.  Don’t you feel bad now? 
 
NOTE THE THIRD: To clear up any additional rumors: No, it was not the father of Gunter’s kitten.  They may have dated briefly, but that’s none of our business.
 
#
 
So, you know, you can use that for your fanfic or whatever.
ADDITIONAL NOTES: Brad McGinty and I came up excuses for about two dozen cameos by ADVENTURE TIME characters and items in this story.  Some of these make no sense in the chronology of the series, but it’s an out-of-continuity comic book and for fun, so shut up.
 
We are trying to pitch some more stories, including ideas for a miniseries about Billy and some other AT characters, including Lemongrab, Joshua and Lumpy Space Princess.  If anything happens, we’ll let you know, but  bugging KaBOOM! or whatever might be something.
 
Anyway: GROCERY TIME!  Out Wednesday! 
 
I have absolutely no projects to follow this up with, but wait a year.
 
In the meantime, check out my insanely extensive ADVENTURE TIME art collection!  I just added pieces by BONE’s Jeff Smith, PALOOKAVILLE’s Seth, and many many others!
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I have been writing this post since the end of March — yet another look at some odd children’s books I read in my youth, or that I’ve found out about more recently.

I’ve just been pasting info/covers in here once in a while, so here’s the final post.  It’s not hugely long.

The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet: My elementary school library had a number of books dating back to the 1950s.  One series I read that it turned out my dad had also read as a kid was THE WONDERFUL FLIGHT TO THE MUSHROOM PLANET by Eleanor Cameron, which had a premise no kid could resist — a couple of boys are given instructions to build a rocketship and journey to a bizarre fungi-based world hidden from Earth.

mushroom-planet

I enjoyed a lot of those light-hearted SF books of that era, the sort that had a matter-of-fact, “Hey kids!  Here’s some cool SF thing introduced to your everyday life by a wacky scientist person.  Check it out!”

There were a number of other books in the series, though I lost interest after the second one, STOWAWAY TO THE MUSHROOM PLANET.  Here’s a look at it and the illustrations — I love that sort of cartoony pen-and-ink style from a lot of books of that era.  I’m very big on pure black-and-white drawings without tones, which I encountered in a lot of kids’  books growing up.

Elanor Cameron didn’t do a lot of other books outside the series that I know of, though she was a well-known critic who actually got the illustrations in CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY changed after complaining abuot their racist looks, resulting in some exchanges between her and Roald Dahl.  Here’s a chronicle of Cameron vs. Dahl.

The original book was last in print with some revised illustrations as of 1988 — that edition you can order from the publisher.

Amy’s Eyes by Richard Kennedy:  Was putting some old action figures up on my bookshelf and noticed this book I’ve had since I was a kid — I read it in 1988 or so (based on films I remember being out at the time), and at nearly 500 pages, it was the longest book I’d read at that time!

It was also quite weird.  Here’s a review from the Times.

Amy's Eyes

I shared that review with a friend, who replied that he thought the book sounded made-up.

It had that effect.  Flipping through it, I was reminded that it had a lot of puns, and strange characters, and some unsettling bit — there’s one where they’re looking for a treasure, and Amy has turned into a doll, so they snip off her button eyes with scissors (!), put them in a bottle, and put the bottle on a string so she can “see” underwater and tell them where the treasure is.
That FREAKED me out.

I was strangely compelled by the idea of turning into a doll, though I suspect that was just social anxiety and stuff.

A while back at a used bookstore, I saw another book by the same author that had a WEEEIIIIRDDDD cover.

Boxcar

I don’t know much about it, but here’s some details:

The Boxcar at the Center of the Universe

I’m sort of obsessed with the idea of a boxcar barreling through a wormhole, though that doesn’t seem what the book is about.

Chicken Trek by Stephen Manes

This was a book that my teacher in third or fourth grade read the class.  It was about a boy who had to eat at every franchise of a fried-chicken chain for a contest.  The premise kind of turned my stomach, but it was one of those great “funny-weird” books.

Chicken Trek

The author, Stephen Manes, had quite a career as a technology reporter in the 1980s and 1990s.  He did another of my favorites growing up, BE A PERFECT PERSON IN JUST THREE DAYS!, which was adapted to an episode of WONDERWORKS on PBS, one of my favorite anthologies.

Suzuki Beane: You can read the full version of this oddball “tiny beatnik” book at the link — I didn’t know about it until a year or two ago.  It was apparently a parody of ELOISE, but it had some considerable charm to it, and illustrations by Louise Fitzhugh, who went on to do HARRIET THE SPY.

Suzuki Beane

It also inspired a TV pilot, some scenes from which are on YouTube.

The Abandoned: This is one of those NY Review of Books reprints that I’d never heard of before, and  is about a boy who turns into a cat.
the abandoned
This is one of those premises that freaks me out.  For some reason, “people cursed into animal form to learn a lesson” really, really messes with my head.
I Googled the author, Paul Gallico —  he had an oddball career, including writing the MRS. ‘ARRIS novels, and also the book that became the movie THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE!
He also wrote a book called THE SNOW GOOSE that is considered a children’s classic in England, but sounds depressing as hell.
There was a TV-film of it in 1971 with Richard Harris and Jenny Agutter that won some awards.  Here is is on YouTube!
The Brave Little Toaster: Thomas M. Disch, author of several of my favorite SF and horror novels (including 334, CAMP CONCERNTRATION and the “Supernatural Minnesota” series with THE MD, THE BUSINESSMAN and more) actually wrote a couple of children’s stories.  THE BRAVE LITTLE TOASTER, about abandoned appliances seeking their owner, was printed in F&SF and released as a book, but it’s long out of print and is better known for an animated version that has long been a mainstay of cable.  I actually got an animation cell from it cheap years ago.
Toaster
I found the original story in a “Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror” paperback, but the book version with illustrations goes for a bit on eBay.  I did find an illustration by Karen Schmidt from it that is quite charming — also the cover to the sequel THE BRAVE LITTLE TOASTER GOES TO MARS, which I do have in book form and is oddly relevant (machines rebel against “Planned Obsolescence  and start a revolt in their own kingdom on Mars).
I just remember seeing that book in a bookstore as a kid and being infatuated with that cover and title, but it took me years to get the first story.  Odd that the books have been so long out of print, as the animated film and its sequels have been mainstays of DVD.
Mars
The Watchers of Space and The Crystal City  by Nancy Etchemendy — very trippy young-reader SF novels.  The first is about a boy on a generation ship from the destroyed Earth trying to head to a new planet who must help his people with aid from cosmic beings based on on the constellations.  The second is a sequel set on the new planet where the boy’s sister befriends the native species, giant spiders who travel around in bubbles. It was one of the first times I read a story that had major characters dying and explored the ideas that there were more than absolute good and evil in people.  I found my copies of these while moving some stuff out of my childhood house a few years back and wrote Etchemendy an email, mentioning how I was traumatized by a character’s death as a kid but appreciated it — she wrote back she’d gotten a lot of mails like that!
Watchers of space
The Trick Books by Scott Corbett:  I don’t know how well these hold up, as the premise is sort of disturbing by today’s standards.  Basically, this mischievous kid helps this nice old lady who’s sort of witchy, and she gives him a “Feats O’Magic Chemistry Set,” and he winds up, often inadvertently  creating magic potions that help him out or cause chaos.  The first one is called THE LEMONADE TRICK, and he mixes up a random formula that makes naughty kids good and good kids mean, and it gets in some lemonade and stuff happens.  In the age of Rohypnol, this is kinda not cool.
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The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles: This is by Julie Andrews — yes, THAT Julie Andrews — under her married name of Julie Andrews Edwards.  It’s about some kids who join up with an old professor to journey into a land accessed by imagination to find a rare creature.  It has quite a fun, vivid fantasy landscape and would have made a nice film, and encourages kids to use their imaginations to see the world in a different way.
Whangdoodles
The Polaris Patrol:  As I get down this massive, horrifyingly long list, I realize a good part of my childhood was shaped by my elementary school library not throwing out a wide number of titles dating back to the 1950s and 1960s.  One was MUTINY IN THE TIME MACHINE, about some scouts who find, yes, a lost time machine, and use it to have adventures, even recruiting into their number a hairless kid from the future and a Spartan.  Google turns up that the original stories are on Google Books for free:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time_Machine_series
Time Machine
William Pene du Bois — he did the excellent Newberry winner THE TWENTY-ONE BALLOONS, which I’m surprised hasn’t been turned into a lousy CGI cartoon yet, and there were several others he wrote that were in my school library,.  PETER GRAVES (no relation to the actor) is about a kid who meets an inventor with an anti-gravity substance, and PORKO VON POPBUTTON is about an obese kid sent to boarding school who becomes the goalie for the hockey team.  More on his various books on Wikipedia!
Peter Graves
PETER GRAVES also has one of my favorite throwaway lines, describing the title character:
“His teachers described him as ‘intelligent…quick-thinking…most able…terribly lazy!’  His friends could find little wrong with him.”
All right, I’ve written enough.  If this has unearthed any repressed memories for you or has inspired you to look something up you missed, please let me know.  Also, if you wrote any of these.  That always makes me happy.

One of the shows I religiously watched growing up in the 1980s was SQUARE ONE TV, a math variation on SESAME STREET on PBS.

SquareOneTelevision

I probably learned more about math from that than I did in actual class.
My favorite segment was “Mathnet” a DRAGNET parody involving math.  I actually saw this before I saw DRAGNET reruns — one of the many examples of how I encountered parody before the original material.
Mathnet
Mathnet would be serialized across each week, with the five episodes telling one story over five segments.
The first one involved a gorilla committing crimes, which turned out to be a criminal named “Janos Prokedzian.”  Here’s the full story:
(yes, that’s Yeardley Smith from THE SIMPSONS as “Jane Rice Burroughs,” and yes, she’s using her Lisa Simpson voice)
That name always stuck with me as a great supervillain name.  I used it several times over the years in stories I wrote.
Well, I just found out where that name came from.
Mathnet would often do parodies of different bits of popular culture.  For example, one story involved a rock star clearly modeled on Bruce Springsteen who was kidnapped by a marching band leader named for John Philip Sousa.  Another involved the production of a Broadway show called “Anything Went,” which actually taught me a lot about how Broadway shows are produced, and how expensive it is to make one and make back the money on it.
Tonight, I was watching some inane sitcom on TV when I saw this odd credit: “Janos Prohaska as the gorilla.”
Opening Closing for  Dusty's Trail   Flop 70s sitcom with Bob Denver  - YouTube
RED FLAG!
A quick Google turned up that Prohaska was an actor who typically played animals in suits in different TV shows.  In fact, he was a couple  of the monsters on the original STAR TREK!
STDevil_inTheDark
And here’s the man without the monkey:
images
A very crazy bit: In the 1980s, when comics creator Howard Chaykin rebooted the 1940s-era character Blackhawk, he revealed the character’s real name was…Janos Prohaska!
According to Wikipedia, this was in tribute, but I need to email Chaykin to confirm.
fullposter_blackhawk_1987chaykin_2922
So Blackhawk was named for a guy in a monkey suit.
It’s pretty amazing what boredom and Google can turn up.
I need to get some real work done now.

And now for a special presentation!

This Wednesday, August 28, sees the release of REGULAR SHOW #3 from KaBOOM!.  It is the first comic I have written that has appeared in a hard-copy form that you can buy in comic book stores and have to pay money to get.

STREET CRED, yo.

KABOOM_REGULARSHOW_003v1_A

Well, I only wrote eight pages of the comic.  But due to some last-minute shuffling, it’s now the LEAD story and the first thing you see when you open the issue. Hmm hmm!  Hmm!

You can order the comic here, or buy an electronic copy on comiXology here.

You can also read an interview I did with a local paper about it (for the aforementioned STREET CRED) here, and check out the first five pages of the story here.

And if you enjoy the superhumanly awesome art of Brad McGinty on this story, you can buy all eight pages of the original art for $2,060.04 here.    That’s a pretty good deal.  Come to think of it, I need $2,060.04 myself, plus bennies so I can get those pages and have ’em framed on the wall.

If you really like that art, you’ll be happy to know that Brad and I will be doing the backup story for ADVENTURE TIME #20 next month, AND Brad will also be doing another REGULAR SHOW tale with…I dunno, some other writer in a future issue!

We’re aiming to do more backups and possibly a miniseries, but let’s see if people actually like this before we go buggin’ KaBOOM! and Cartoon Network to let us keep playing with their characters.

Anyway, I’m very proud of this story and it got a thumbs-up from none other than REGULAR SHOW CREATOR JG QUINTEL HIMSELF.

So here’s some sweet behind-the-scenes material for the dozens, yes dozens of you who are likely curious about how I became a comic book rock star or whatevs.

It was a complicated process that worked like this:

1) I did my own comic, THE STARS BELOW, that had good art and took like two minutes to read.  This was a good writing sample.

2) Relentless-yet-polite harassment of the KaBOOM! editors I knew.

3) Pitched like 10 ideas.  They took this one (also the idea “Bad Grammar,” which was rejected at script stage by Cartoon Network.  You can read that script here)

4) Convinced Brad McGinty, who I’d met at Heroes Con, that i could maybe write a decent script for him.  KaBOOM! dug his jive.  Baby, we had a stew goin’!

SO WHERE DID YOU GET YOUR IDEA FOR THIS , ZACK?

For years, I have been obsessed with South of the Border, a faux-Mexican tourist trap on I-95.  it is advertised with relentless day-glo billboards with relentless bad jokes and horrifying, sometimes racist “Mexican” puns.   There are something like 150 of those billboards, and when you’re stuck on a desert highway, there is little to do but obsess over them, especially if you’re a bored kid stuck in the back seat in the days before they had DVD monitors in cars to pacify little monsters.

Once you get there, there’s a giant Eiffel Tower replica with a sombrero on top and…not much else, beyond cheap trinkets and broken-down rides.   But there’s a certain joy to having gotten there, especially if you weren’t able to get your parents to stop when you were younger and in the backseat.

I had actually done another comic story parodying SotB years ago, but the lovely art was covered up by my excessive dialogue and the joke required people to already be aware of the place.  When the opportunity came to pitch some REGULAR SHOW stories, I realized this was a chance for a do-over.

If you don’t watch the show (you should; it won an Emmy), it’s pretty simple: Mordecai and Rigby are a blue jay and a raccoon who work at a park, under the auspices of a living gumball machine named Benson.  Every episode, some “regular” task (setting up chairs, asking out a girl, etc.) devolves into some massive conflict that involves fistfights, explosions, and the occasional unraveling of reality.

There are also many, many references to 1980s popular culture.  This was my bag.

As such, South of the Border was the kind of thing  that the ADD-afflicted Mordecai and Rigby would gravitate towards — a temptation while stuck in a car on some boring task.  And I thought of a way to escalate this in the typical RS manner for a good apocalyptic showdown — I’ll tell you more about this in a moment.

Ironically, REGULAR SHOW wound up airing an episode called “Firework Run” involving a fireworks place called “South of the Line,” after I made this pitch.  I was sure Cartoon Network would reject the story because it was too similar to that episode!  But they wound up taking it anyway.  They’re very different types of stories; “Firework Run” is more of a parody of Mexico-set crime films, while this is more of a straight-up parody of South of the Border-the-park.

KaBOOM! initially gave me six pages to tell the story.  I got to Page 6 and found I had like five pages worth of story left.  They generously gave me eight pages instead, and I found a way to cut it back.  There were a number of ideas that I didn’t get to, which I’ll tell you about, even though they weren’t good.

So here’s my full script to “Sombrero World,” not the final draft, so I can note the revisions and cut jokes.  You might find this useful, maybe, possibly.

Zack Smith Regular Show Sombrero World Third Draft

PAGE ONE:

Panel 1

PANEL ONE:  BIG PANEL showing the billboard for SOMBRERO WORLD, a crazy faux-Mexican tourist trap.  MORDECAI AND RIGBY are looking up at it through the windshield of the park’s pickup truck with Mordecai driving.  Mordecai absently holds a cell phone in his hand.  CREDITS appear below the billboard.

The billboard is a parody of such tourist traps as South of the Border in Dillon, South Carolina.  For reference, here’s a photoset my boy Chris Sims took of his trip to South of the Border, as whatever bad puns I think of cannot match the actual power of the real tourist trap.  Here is also a report of his trip with photos.

Go crazy with the design of this.  It is essentially done up in neon colors like hot pink, and incorporates a sombrero motif.  There is also a mascot called PONCHO, who is a blond-haired, white, obviously-non-Hispanic surfer dude wearing a poncho and a giant sombrero. His name is on the poncho.

JUST 150 MILES AHEAD:
SOMBRERO WORLD!
FIREWORKS!
SOUVENIERS!
PECAN LOGS!
ALSO  HATS!
PRETTY MUCH THE MOST AWESOME PLACE EVER!

MORDECAI AND RIGBY: (shared word balloon) WHOOOOOAAA.

BENSON: (on phone) …hello?

(ZACK NOTES:   Okay, here’s where Brad McGinty is a great artist — I originally scripted this as a shot from INSIDE the truck, but Brad changed it to an outside shot, creating a nice POV and a real sense of movement and action.

(In the first draft of the script, the entire first page was Mordecai and Rigby in the truck talking to Benson on the phone, ending with the first billboard coming into view.  The idea was to establish the boring desert and the job the characters had to do, then introduce the distraction, but the editor suggested immediately introducing Sombrero World to create the conflict — Mordecai and Rigby want to stop there, but want to prove to Benson that they can do an important job.  This was a good move, because it created a visual element to underscore the action, Mordecai and Rigby being distracted by the signs.  SCRIPTWRITING!)

PANEL TWO:  We’re outside the truck,  looking at Rigby pressing the face against the window, awestruck by the billboard (perhaps Poncho is reflected in the mirror).  Mordecai has snapped out of his trance and is on the phone with Benson.

MORDECAI: Oh, sorry Benson!  We were just saying how much we appreciate your trusting us to take the cart to the dealer’s…

RIGBY: (small)  …it is the most radical of empires to all that which is radical.

(ZACK NOTES: Rigby’s line was from the BEAVIS AND BUTT-HEAD episode “Babes R Us;” it was changed in the revisions from JG Quintel to what you see in the final story)

PANEL THREE: Reveal BENSON on the other end of the phone, in bed with a broken leg.  He looks about as sour as you’d expect.  There might be some balloons and condolence cards there, possibly one that reads, “GET WELL SOON! – AUDREY.”

MORDECAI (on phone): …I mean, because you’re sick and literally everyone else was unavailable…

(ZACK NOTES: Okay, here’s where a cut joke came in.  It was a “Kill Your Darlings” situation, because I was high on this one, but it slowed down the story when every panel needed to count.

(The original version read like this:

MORDECAI (on phone): …I mean, because you’re sick, Skips is on walkabout, Thomas has a final, Pops’s sinuses can’t take the desert and Muscle Man and Hi 5 Ghost are at that concert…

PANEL FOUR: Cut to MUSCLE MAN and HI 5 GHOST at a crazed outdoor music festival that’s basically the Gathering of the Juggalos. Muscle Man and Hi 5 Ghost are both painted like Insane Clown Posse, but with the black-and-white parts of the face paint reversed.

Muscle Man has ripped off his shirt and is twirling it above his head.  If room, other recurring characters (perhaps the Guardians of Eternal Youth) are nearby face-painted as well.

MUSCLE MAN: WHOO!  WHOO!  LAST ONE IN THE MUD PIT’S A JUGGA-LOSER!

(I had an alternate version to THAT where a face-painted Muscle Man and Hi-5 Ghost went to a “Gathering of the JUGGLERS” and MM went, “Aw man…read the flyer wrong.”

(Eh, maybe in another tale.)

PANEL FOUR: Back to Moredecai and Rigby with a long shot of the pickup truck on the highway with the broken cart in the back…and a billboard ahead reading “SOMBRERO WORLD: STOP OR YOU’RE LAME.”

BENSON: (on phone) Look, I just need you slackers to stay completely focused on this task…

BENSON: (on phone) …guys?

PANEL FIVE: High-angle shot looking down on the truck with billboards for Sombrero World on both sides of the road.  Mordecai hastily covers on the phone while a wide-eyed and entranced Rigby has his head out the window like a dog.

BENSON: (on phone) GUYS!

MORDECAI: Oh!  Hey, Benson!  Still here!

BENSON: (on phone) I KNEW IT!  You’ve gotten distracted already!

PANEL SIX: Back to Benson in bed as he screams red-faced into the phone.

BENSON: THAT’S IT!  I’ve got the number for the dealership RIGHT HERE!  I’m calling it in THREE HOURS and you’d better pick it up…

PAGE TWO:

PANEL ONE: Mordecai and Rigby are about blown away by Benson’s yelling at them through the phone (the skin around their eyeballs blows back)

BENSON (on phone, HUGE): OR YOU’RE FIRED!!!!!

(ZACK NOTES: Weirdly, one of the first things I wanted to do when I got to write a REGULAR SHOW story was split one of Benson’s “…OR YOU’RE FIRED!” rants across two pages as a mini-cliffhanger.  I have no idea why.)

PANEL TWO: Mordecai and Rigby look ticked as they drive on; there’s a blurred-image double-take effect to show Rigby getting distracted and looking out the window mid-sentence.

From this point on, a TICKING CLOCK is visible in each panel.

MORDECAI: Man…Benson’s such a crank.

RIGBY: Yeah, man!  Why can’t he just trust us to OH MY GOSH LOOK

CLOCK: 2:59:59

(ZACK NOTES: Yeah, the ticking clock got cut almost immediately.  Midway through the script, I realized it was a pain to figure out how much time had passed between panels, and Brad McGinty correctly pointed out that almost every panel was packed anyway.  There was enough going on to create suspense already.  Also, JG Quintel revised Mordecai’s line.)

PANEL THREE: Mordecai and a frantic Rigby look up at another billboard featuring Poncho.  He looks slightly sick and has a stomach pump hooked up to him as he gives a thumbs-up with one hand and holds a fish taco (literally a whole fish in a taco shell, with Xs for eyes and flies hovering over it) in his other hand.

149 MILES:
ALL YOU CAN EAT FISH TACOS!
NOW WITH ON-SITE STOMACH PUMP!
ONLY AT…SOMBRERO WORLD!

RIGBY: MORDECAI!  WE HAVE TO STOP THERE!  THEY HAVE TACOS!

CLOCK: 2:59:37

PANEL FOUR: Mordecai irately swats away an over-excited Rigby.

MORDECAI: No way, dude!  We’ll be lucky to make Benson’s deadline as is!

RIGBY: But…but…TACOS!

CLOCK: 2:58:50

PANEL FIVE: Rigby listens intently as a stern Mordecai lectures him…

MORDECAI: Look, dude, Sombrero World looks awesome, but there’s something more important…

MORDECAI: …getting this job done with no shortcuts, no distractions…AND TOTALLY  RUBBING IT IN BENSON’S FACE.

MORDECAI: It would BLOW HIS MIND.

CLOCK: 2:57:40

PANEL SIX:  Mordecai and Rigby exchange a confident look:

MORDECAI AND RIGBY (together): HMM HMM!  HMM!

CLOCK: 2:57:30

PANEL SEVEN: BIGGEST PANEL OF THE PAGE:  The truck drives on…as we see dozens and dozens of Sombrero billboards on the horizon waiting to tempt them.

CLOCK: 2:56:50

(ZACK NOTES:: Brad McGinty condensed this into fewer panels easily; I also just remembered that part of this plot was my wanting to do a couple variations on REGULAR SHOW plots; first, by having Mordecai and Rigby getting into trouble for NOT slacking off, and second, to give them a bit of a do-over from an episode called “Busted Cart,” where they bonded with Benson on a cart exchange but wound up blowing things by playing video games.  I disliked the characters for that, and wanted them to do the job right this time, because…I’m weird.)

 

PAGE THREE:

PANEL ONE: This is a big SPLASH PANEL that takes up about 2/3 of the page.

Sombrero World Map

It is done like a placemat from a cheesy diner showing a map of the highway, Mordecai and Rigby in the truck, and the route toward Sombrero World, with the cart dealership at the end.  A dotted line follows Mordecai and Rigby’s path.  Sombrero World appears like a big city shaped a sombrero with sombrero-towers.

Each of the Sombrero World signs should have a slightly closer mileage and convey something that is silly and stupid but sort of appealing, especially to Mordecai and Rigby, and occasionally feature Poncho.   I’m open to suggestions, but here are some of the ideas I have:

-CLASSIC VIDEO GAMES!  SOME ACTUALLY WORK!
-OUR MINI-GOLF COURSE!  NOW 17% WEED FREE!
-TAKE A SIESTA WITH PONCHO!
$2 FOOTLONG HOAGIES!  MADE WITH FRESH WEEK-OLD MEAT!
-PECAN LOGS!  GUARANTEED TO INDUCE INSULIN SHOCK OR YOUR MONEY BACK!

-Some novelty sombreros, including one covered in light-up neon, one with a working roulette wheel in it, a razor-tipped one Poncho is throwing like Oddjob in James Bond, one with a chip-dip thing in its brim (like the “Nacho Hat” from that Simpsons episode) where you can reach up and dip chips into the dip in your hat; a rocket sombrero (the rocket is in the middle part of the hat and Poncho is flying upside-down), one that’s designed like a crystal chandelier, one that’s designed like a juicer, where you squeeze an orange/lemon against the middle part, one with a satellite dish and a fold-down TV screen that goes in front of your eyes.

Imposed over the map are two Hitchcock-like images of Mordecai and Rigby’s heads, sweating bullets and mouths agape as they are tormented by this cavalcade of temptation.   There is also an image of their hands clasped in solidarity.

(ZACK NOTES: So this came about in collaboration with Brad McGinty; I realized one difference between REGULAR SHOW on TV and in a comic is that the show has a few minutes at the start of each episode to establish the “regular” situation, and also to do a “time passing” montage to build up to the climax, and both those things are very difficult to pull off in a comic book with static panels and a limited page count.

(My first idea was to create something like a nightmare montage with floating billboards and Mordecai and Rigby sweating bullets, but I left the sequence open to Brad for suggestions.  He came up with the placemat map idea…and then asked for some extra billboard gags.  I wrote like 50, figuring he’d use five….and he used ALL of them and asked for more.

(That’s how crazy-good Brad McGinty is.  Hire him for things and give him money!)

PANEL TWO: From inside the truck, we see Sombrero World through the windshield as a crazed Rigby tries to grab the steering wheel from Mordecai…

RIGBY: AAAAHHH!  I CAN’T TAKE IT!  STOP, MORDECAI!  STOP!!!

MORDECAI: No, Rigby!  We’ve almost made it!

 

PAGE FOUR:   –NOTE: WILL ADD TICKING CLOCK IN LATER

            PANEL ONE:  Mordecai pushes away Rigby with one hand while steering with the other.

RIGBY: But…but…TACOS, Mordecai!  TACOS!

                        RIGBY: PONCHO WANTS US TO STOP!!!!!

MORDECAI: We’re nearly there, Rigby!  We just need…

PANEL TWO: The truck is just at the entrance to Sombrero World, with a cheesy statue of Poncho holding a sign that reads, “PONCHO SAYS WELCOME, DUDE!”

MORDECAI: (from inside truck) …to hold on…

            PANEL THREE: …the truck has zoomed PAST the entrance…and the Poncho statue has turned to stare at its cloud of dust in disbelief.

TINY SFX: WHIRRRR

MORDECAI: (from off-panel) …a little longer!

PANEL FOUR: Back in the truck – Rigby has his hands on the back window in agony while Mordecai looks in the rear-view mirror.

RegularShow_03_preview-9

RIGBY: NOOOOOOO!!!!! PONCHOOOO!!!!!!

MORDECAI: AWWWWWW YEAAAAAHHHH-UUUUHHH!

(ZACK NOTES: Rigby doesn’t have much to do in this story other than react to Mordecai and the chaos around them, but Brad really did a great job with the character’s facial expressions, and that made Rigby one of my favorite parts of the story.  Brad’s work is so detailed and crazy that it’s easy to overlook that he does great facial expressions and body language, which is something you really need for a comedy story.)

PANEL FIVE: Exterior shot of the truck zooming by Sombrero World…and a giant black billboard that reads, “WAIT!  WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING?!”

MORDECAI: (from inside truck) Who’s tha may-ahn?  Who’s tha may-ahn?  Who’s tha may-ahn with tha master play-ahn?!

PANEL SIX: Small shot of Rigby looking back as Mordecai celebrates…

MORDECAI:  Who’s the man of the hour all full of will-POW-YAH?!  OOOOOOOHHHHHH!

RIGBY: Uh, Mordecai…?

 (ZACK NOTES: JG Quintel rewrote Mordecai’s mini-rap into the dialogue seen in the final story.)

 

PAGE FIVE:  — WILL ADD IN TICKING CLOCK LATER

Sombrero World

PANEL ONE: BIGGEST  PANEL OF THE PAGE…Sombrero World has lifted up out of the ground on giant spider-legs (think Howl’s Moving Castle or the metal spider from that awful Wild Wild West movie).  We can now clearly see a number of cool things on it, like a water slide, a Ferris wheel, a roller-coaster…all stuff that incorporates the sombrero motif.  Some hapless TOURISTS are clinging on for dear life.  The head/face is a robotic version of Poncho with glowing eyes.

RIGBY : (from inside truck) …I don’t think Sombrero World WANTS us to drive past!

PANEL TWO: Close on Mordecai and Rigby SCREAMING as we see the looming park-spider-monster in the background.

MORDECAI AND RIGBY: AAAAAHHHHHH!

SOMBRERO WORLD: PONCHO SAYS…TURN AROUND.  NOW.

(ZACK NOTES: Not much to add, except this panel is PRETTY MUCH THE ENTIRE REASON I WANTED TO WRITE THIS STORY.)

PANEL THREE: A giant foot from the park-spider SMASHES into the highway as the truck heads for an exit reading “CART DEALERSHIP.”

BIG WALT SIMONSON-STYLE SFX: DOOOM!

PANEL FOUR:  The truck heads down a ramp, where a Sombrero World billboard featuring a bunch of dead-eyed lizards is on the side of the road (some are tilted slightly, obviously not alive and propped up).  It reads “COME VISIT OUR NEW REPTILE PARK!  SOME LIZARDS EVEN ALIVE!”   The lizards’ eyes are all lit up like the terrifying laser statues from The Nevernding Story.

RIGBY: (from inside truck) Look out!

PANEL FIVE: Close on the billboard as the eyes FIRE at them!

 (ZACK NOTES: I sort of regret this gag; it doesn’t work as well with everything else going on.  Brad still drew it well) 

PAGE SIX – WILL ADD IN TICKING CLOCK LATER

This alternates some bigger panels of action with smaller panels that are close on the characters.

PANEL ONE: On the road, as we see the truck weave back and forth (a curved dust trail indicates their path) as it dodges LASER FIRE from various BILLBOARDS (we don’t have to see them, just enough to suggest this is where the lasers are coming from).

RIGBY: (from inside truck) Don’t go straight!  SERPENTINE!  SERPENTINE!

(ZACK NOTES: Yes, this is a reference to the 1979 comedy THE IN-LAWS, one of my favorites)

PANEL TWO:  Sombrero World foot SMASHES into the ground in front of the truck, which awkwardly changes its path.

PANEL THREE: Close on the robot-Poncho head, whose eyes are glowing red Terminator-style…

PONCHO: PONCHO SAYS WHY NOT RELAX…

PANEL FOUR: Poncho-bot sneers as CANNONS emerge from it, firing giant PECAN LOGS at our heroes!

PONCHO: …WITH A TASTY PECAN LOG?

(ZACK NOTES: Yeah, another joke that doesn’t really work.  There’s not enough room in the story to clearly see it’s a pecan log missile.)

PANEL FIVE: In the truck, Mordecai jacks the wheel left!

MORDECAI AND RIGBY: WHOOOOAAAAA

PANEL SIX:  BIG PANEL: GIANT PECAN LOGS splatter against either side of the truck!  One has felled a tree!

PANEL SEVEN: In the truck, Rigby is freaked and Mordecai is determined…

RIGBY: WE’RE GONNA DIE!

                        MORDECAI: Don’t worry, dude…

PANEL EIGHT: Close on Mordcai’s eyes, narrowed like a BAD DUDE.

MORDECAI: …I have a plan.

(ZACK NOTES: Okay, so Mordecai’s plan was a little more elaborate in my initial vision.

(There were two ideas that didn’t make it into the final story.  One was the idea that Mordecai and Rigby had known about Sombrero World in the past and wanted to stop there as kids, and you’d have a flashback with Li’l Mordecai and Li’l Rigby in the backseat begging the unseen parents in the front seat to stop, and later, you’d have another flashback with Mordecai and Rigby fighting over something and not noticing that the parents were screaming about lasers and such.

(The other idea is that Mordecai was originally going to beat Sombrero World by going up a dangerous pass, stop at the top, and then rush toward Sombrero World as it came at the truck and do a skid through its legs, leaving Sombrero World to topple into a canyon.  Yes, I completely knocked off the ending to the great Richard Matheson/Steven Spielberg TV-movie DUEL.  It seemed like a fitting cultural homage for REGULAR SHOW, but that would have required at least three more pages and there just wasn’t room.  So the story wound up with a much more expeditious resolution…)

 

PAGE SEVEN – WILL ADD IN TICKING CLOCK LATER

PANEL ONE: Close on Mordecai and Rigby in the truck, seen through the windshield.  Mordecai is hunched close to the wheel, really determined.

RIGBY: What are you doing, man?

MORDECAI: What we do best on these trips…

PANEL TWO: The truck ZOOMS into a tunnel that reads “10-FOOT CLEARANCE”

MORDECAI: …take a shortcut!

(ZACK NOTES: I justified this to myself by having Mordecai specifically mention NO shortcuts back on Page 3, so there was, like, structure!  But yeah, it was improvising under pressure)

PANEL THREE: Sombrero World bumps its Poncho-head against the entrance trying to follow…it can’t.

SFX: CRUNCH!

PANEL FOUR: BIGGEST PANEL OF THE PAGE:  It raises up to the heavens and ROARS in agony, a couple spider-legs raised! (we see some tourists falling off).  The Poncho-head is half-mutilated, giving it a Terminator-style look.

PONCHO: RAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGHHHHH!

PANEL FIVE: In the truck, Mordecai and Rigby high-five.

MORDECAI AND RIGBY: OOOOOHHHHHH!

PAGE EIGHT: — WILL ADD IN TICKING CLOCK LATER

PANEL ONE: The truck peels into the parking lot of a building reading “CART DEALERSHIP”

PANEL TWO: Mordecai and Rigby rush in…

PANEL THREE: Inside, Mordecai has DIVED across the front desk and grabbed a telephone…

SFX: RI—

MORDECAI: Hello?  Benson?

BENSON: Mordecai?

MORDECAI: We got here!  We got the cart!

PANEL FOUR: Benson, in his room, is dumbstruck.

BENSON: Wow.  I…I really believed you two were going to blow the deadline.  This is amazing.

PANEL FIVE: Mordecai and Rigby stare in disbelief as they hear Benson go:

BENSON: I’m proud of you.

(ZACK NOTES: I wanted to give Mordecai and Rigby a rare victory, and have an emotional moment in the story.  It’s not THAT emotional a moment, but Benson is sincere, and that’s something.)

PANEL SIX: A smiling Benson speaks into the phone:

BENSON: Oh, while you’re out there, one more thing I need you to do…

PANEL SEVEN: BIGGEST PANEL OF THE PAGE: Mordecai’s frozen as he hears Benson’s request.…as in the background, we see the Sombrero World Park outside the dealership, waiting for them.  Rigby’s tugging at his arm, trying to get him to see it.

BENSON: (on phone) I’ve always wanted to get a hat from this place Sombrero World!

BENSON: (on phone) You think you could stop and get one for me?

BENSON: (on phone) …hello?

THE END!

(ZACK NOTES: Not much to add, other than Brad McGInty condensed the last two panels into one and did a great job with giving the word balloons a certain rhythm that carried across the panel.  Killer work!)

###

So anyway, that is my commentary on “Sombrero World.”  I’m sure like three people will read and enjoy this post, and possibly learn something from it.

Come back next month for my commentary on my and Brad’s ADVENTURE TIME story, “Grocery Time” starring BILLY!  And then pray that I get some more comics-writing work so I can do another of these.

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

I always love finding some strange picture book with an odd storyline or sense of design.

This past weekend, I went to a mini-comics show at the Durham County Public Library, and found they had a nifty wall of old books for sale from the Friends of the Library.  It was a great lineup of books at like $2 apiece, and I found a number of hardcover collections of old New Yorker cartoonists that some of my cartoonist friends snapped up.

What I also found was a really, really weird 1953 children’s book called THE DAY AFTER YESTERDAY by Phyllis Rowand.

The story is nothing unusual — it’s a tale of a little girl who lives by the water with her parents and loves animals, and her parents send her to the city (read: NYC) to visit cousins and see more of the world, and she sees some sights, and then brings back some animal-themed gifts that prove to her parents that she knows how to appreciate nature.  It’s simple and possibly autobiographical.

The LOOK of the story, though, is pretty odd.

Rowand 1

It’s a strange mixture of regular and colored pencils, along with some oddly-shaped figures and these weird, wide-eyed depictions of the little girl that make her look like one of those doe-eyed children from those old paintings.

Rowand 2

I was showing this one to the talented cartoonist Ben Towle at the comics show.  He was as fascinated by it as I was — he said it was almost like “outsider art.”

Rowand 3

I emailed the Caldecott-winning children’s book illustrator David Small, of such books as IMOGENE’S ANTLERS and his graphic memoir STITCHES.

He’d never heard of this one, though he’s very knowledgeable on classic picture books.  Here’s his comments, reprinted with permission:

Zack,

This stuff is strange. She can’t draw but her designs aren’t bad. It’s the obsessive quality of the drawing –the hair, the dots on the dress– that makes them, as your friend said, almost Outsider art. The figures and animals are sacharrine, though I do like the little fat girl–probably unintentionally made fat– on her stomach in the first (best) illustration. 
Rowand 4
I looked up Rowand on Amazon — not a lot of other books to her name.  About the only note I have is that she did a book with Ruth Krauss, author of THE CARROT SEED, called BEARS — and decades later, the book was re-done with new illustrations by the great Maurice Sendak.  But nothing else on Rowand.
Rowand 5
Anyway, I have no idea what the full history is of this book, but it was a strange little volume to encounter, and there’s something oddly compelling in the offbeat quality of the illustrations.  I share the highlights now with you; judge for youself.

I’ve several deadlines pressing on me, but wanted to take time out for a brief tribute to children’s book author E.L. Konigsburg, who just passed away at age 83.  That’s a good run.
Konigsburg is best known for her 1967 Newbery Medal winner FROM THE MIXED-UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER, about two kids who run away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.  It’s one of my favorites, and still a book I re-read with pleasure every few years.

It’s one of those premises that is irresistible to a kid, because it acknowledges two fundamental truths.  The first is that every kid has a fantasy of running away to have an adventure, and the second is that kids love museums.

Konigsburg was one of a number of children’s and young adult authors that rose to prominence in the 1960s and 1970s with books about kids in NYC, Judy Blume  and HARRIET THE SPY’s Louise Fitzhugh being another major example.  In elementary school, these books were endlessly fascinating to me.  It was such a different lifestyle described, taking the subway, living in an apartment and letting yourself in…to someone in the suburbs, it was like science fiction, some kind of alternate reality where these strange things were part of everyday life.

Plus, that’s just a great title.  For years I’ve joked about my messiness by saying “my filing system makes Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler look obsessive-compulsive.”  The cool people are the ones who get that joke.

Even at the time, I took note of the book’s odd structure — the story is told after the fact by the titular Mrs. Frankweiler, and who she is and how she comes to be involved in the narrative is one of the central mysteries, along with the secret of a statue she’s donated to the Met that the kids find fascinating.

The key to the story is that it understands why the main character of Claudia would be so fascinated with the statue, and why she’d want to run away in the first place, despite a relatively happy home life.  Claudia wants to be “different,” to have a greater sense of who she is and what she’s capable of doing.  Mrs. Frankweiler later reprimands her a bit to make the point that running away isn’t the answer and that she’s caused her family terrible worry through her actions, but you can still tell that she admires the kid’s gumption.  That and a note that the Met has beefed up security at the end of the book play as “don’t try this at home” warnings, but really, what you remember is the sheer cleverness of how Claudia and her brother Jamie survive at the Met — hiding dirty laundry in a sarcophagus, bathing in the fountain and scrimping extra coins, joining in on school tour groups to keep “learning” during their hideout.  Really, it seems not so much like running away as the ultimate vacation.

The book was filmed twice, with two Hollywood legends as Mrs. Frankweiler, as THE HIDEAWAYS in 1972 (though some editions have it under its original title) with Ingrid Bergman, and under its original title for a 1995 TV movie with Lauren Bacall.  It’s odd, considering that both actresses are heavily associated with Humphrey Bogart.  Neither completely captured the charm of the original book, and both upped the “running away is bad” message, but they have their moments.

FROM THE MIXED-UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER shares a quality with Konigsburg’s later books in that many have a keen ear for how children see themselves and the world around them, and how they interact with one another.  In the same year she won the Newbery for FRANKWEILER, she received the unprecedented honor of also receiving the Newbery Honor for another of her books published that year, JENNIFER, HECTATE, MACBETH, WILLIAM MCKINLEY AND ME, ELIZABETH.

Set in the suburbs, the book is based on the simple, relatable idea of a kid pretending to be weird or magic to seem more interesting and make a friend…except it tells it from the perspective of the other kid’s point of view.  The titular Jennifer has just moved to the suburbs and meets Elizabeth, who claims to be a witch and involves Jennifer in all manner of rituals that will be her “initiation.”

 It’s clear to the reader early on that Elizabeth isn’t a witch, but it’s also clear that her brashness and confidence are part of an act, and deep down she’s as lonely as Jennifer.  As a kid, I understood where both parties were coming from, and how the awkwardness of making a friend, of forming some new relationship, can make you feel like you’ve got to create the facade of some extraordinary, larger-than-life being to get the other person to want to be around you.

The moment I never forgot came near the end of the book, where Jennifer finally explains to her mother why she doesn’t want to be friends with Cynthia, the more “normal” kid the mom would prefer be Jennifer’s friend, the kind of kid who’s lovely to parents but a snob when adults aren’t around.  Jennifer’s retort to her mother is a thing of beauty:

“Mother,” I said, “If you really want to know, I’ll tell you why.  Cynthia is a phony.  I’ve known for a long time that she’s a phony.  And worse than that, she doesn’t know she’s a phony.  She believes in Cynthia.  She’s a serious phony.  And the only way I can stand her is to absolutely ignore her.”

“She believes in Cynthia” is a line that’s stayed with me for years, because it sums up so many people I knew as a kid, and have known since then — the people who believe their own hype, who create an idealized shell with nothing underneath.  If you were the kind of kid who knew and hated a Cynthia, you were in the audience for E.L. Kongisburg.

Kongisburg wrote many other great books, which I’ll touch on quickly.   They had some fantastic titles, such as JOURNEY TO AN 800 NUMBER, UP FROM JERHICO TELL, and SILENT TO THE BONE.

A few I want to particularly note are ABOUT THE B’NAI BAGELS, regarding a Jewish children’s baseball team…

(GEORGE) is a strange but fascinating volume about a brilliant young boy who talks with his “inner voice” and winds up preventing a tragedy.  It has a bit at the end talking about the state of the book’s antagonist and how he hates the main character, and leaves the note, “Hate is a hole; it can be filled, and maybe one day it will.  With gratitude.”

A PROUD TASTE FOR SCARLET AND MINIVER is an offbeat afterlife fantasy with Elanor of Aquitaine…

…and Konigsburg won a second Newbery in 1997 for THE VIEW FROM SATURDAY, which predated SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE a bit by telling the individual stories of a group of schoolkids on an academic competition team, and how their unique backgrounds qualify them to answer the difficult questions they’re posed.

File:The View from Saturday.jpg

Konigsburg’s books were often mysteries that weren’t mysteries — there were no stolen jewels or dead bodies, but twisty narratives and twisty characters that gradually revealed themselves to the reader.  They were about the endless curiosity of being a kid and trying to figure out the world around you, and where you fit into it.  And they did so with gentleness and good humor.

You can see the influence of her work in strange, subtle places, my favorite being the throwaway moment in Wes Anderson’s THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS explaining how the young Tenenbaums briefly ran away to a museum…

 On the DVD commentary, Anderson admits the homage, and it seems only appropriate.  Anderson seems like he would have been the kind of kid who really got the characters in Konigsburg’s books — kids who bring imagination and adventure to their ordinary lives, and discover something extraordinary about themselves in the process.

I can only wonder how many kids tried running away to a museum as a result of her work.  Probably more than she’d be comfortable admitting.  Well, there’s worse things to inspire.

Rest in Peace.

BONUS: A lovely series of illustrations inspired by FRANKEILER by the great comic artist and illustrator Phil McAndrew.  Check ’em out!

Wanted to write a few original posts on children’s books.  Here’s an odd tale of a SF series from the 1970s — and how its ending was changed in a different medium.

Zilpha Keatley Snyder is a multiple Newbery Honor recipient for such offbeat children’s books as THE EGYPT GAME, about children who develop an Egyptian-based club:

…and THE WITCHES OF WORM, where a young girl adopts a stray cat she becomes convinced is a witch’s familiar that’s forcing her to misbehave (cleverly, the book never resolves whether this is all in her head).

In 1970, Snyder did a book called THE CHANGELING, about the friendship between two young girls from different social circles.

Part of the story involves the girls creating an elaborate SF/fantasy world together.    Snyder later said that she based this on a game she played as a child climbing from tree to tree, trying not to touch the ground as to avoid something dangerous that lived “below the root.”

In 1975, Snyder decided to flesh out this idea, and wrote an actual novel set in this world called BELOW THE ROOT.

The story is about an alien race that lives in a system of giant trees, and whose children have psychic powers.  They encounter another group of beings that live outside teh trees on the surface, whose values conflict with their own.

The characters appeared through three books, collectively known as the Green Sky Trilogy.

In the final book in the series, the main character Raamo dies when he falls into a lake.

Kids and their parents were quite upset by this, and let Snyder know it in letters and such.

Snyder herself regretted the decision, but the book was already out, and there was no changing the ending.

A few years later, computer games had become more popular, and Snyder was contacted by a fan of her work named Dale Disharoon.

Disharoon wound up working with Snyder to develop a computer game version of BELOW THE ROOT that took place after the events of the trilogy.

Snyder herself wrote the storyline for the game, and considered it an official part of the series.

The game came out in 1984, and you can watch a full playthrough with detailed commentary starting here:

But what’s really interesting is that Snyder used the game to retroactively change the trilogy’s ending!

In the climax of the game, your character finds out that Raamo is still alive, just stuck in a subterranean cave.  You win the game by rescuing him!

I Played a Thing  Below the Root, Part 9 - YouTube

How crazy is that?  Imagine all the deceased characters from other books/films/TV shows that could be resurrected that way, by finishing a computer game!

The Green Sky Trilogy is currently out of print in hard copy form, but you can get Kindle Editions on Amazon.

If you read the original trilogy and was bummed that Raamo died at the end, hope this gives you some closure — he wound up with a stay of execution!

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