A couple weeks ago I binge-read through the first two years of "Brewster Rockit: Space Guy!" This strip is way underappreciated. It's funnier than half the ones still in most newspapers. It's a parody of/homage to everything sci-fi, drawn in a retro style, with humor ranging from slapstick to puns to social commentary. The titular character, Brewster Rockit, is captain of the space station R. U. Sirius, but isn't entirely qualified for the job.
But that hasn't stopped me from writing a few hundred scripts for them. Some great, some awful, most on a spectrum of mediocrity, but I've been cranking them out so I have something to work with. I soon realized that I was often scripting panels with more dialogue than a standard newspaper comic could possibly fit. Really, two short sentences is about as much as you get in a panel. Partly I'm sure this is because quick and punchy dialogue more easily lends itself to humor, but partly I'm sure it's also a byproduct of newspapers constantly shrinking their comics spaces and forcing cartoonists to dumb things down. But whatever the reasons, writing is my passion and I can't limit myself like that. This will, of course, make drawing the strips even more challenging when that time comes, so it will require some careful planning.
Alvin: We should teach Tyler to tie her shoes.
Alvin: I should teach you and Tyler to tie your shoes.
Rachel: Would you, dear? That'd be swell.
Faux feminists will be outraged, but true feminists will rejoice at the leveled playing field. If there's one thing they hate, it's being put on a pedestal. As one explained to me, "The right to be seen as less than perfect is a big deal." (She was talking about the desire for more female villains and mooks, but the point still applies.) Anyway, Rachel's stupidity can hardly be seen by any reasonable person as a slur against women when other female characters such as her mother-in-law, sister-in-law, daughter, best friend, neighbor, and daughter's biology teacher's lab assistant exhibit moderate to high intelligence.
David: So, Mary, you're a college student, huh? Studying biology?
Mary: I'm double-majoring in Biology and Chemistry with a minor in Physics.
Mary: In my free time I study geology, anthropology, and psychology. I'll try to test through degrees in those when I get a chance.
David: And of course you're interning here too...
Mary: I invented a formula that removes the need for sleep. I'd let you try some, but it isn't FDA approved yet.
From the beginning, "The Cracrofts" also differed from most comics in one significant respect. Most comics take place in some kind of alternate space-time continuum where Calvin can celebrate ten Christmases and remain six years old, and the Duncans can be baby boomers with a teenage son in 2016. This one has a progression. Alvin Cracroft and Rachel Sparks get married, then they have a daughter named Tyler, then Tyler progresses from infant to teenager.
Alvin (thinking): “Oh, joy, a little girl!” I said. “She'll be so sweet and innocent!” I said.
Alvin: “She'll dress up like a princess and play with dolls!” I said.
Alvin (out loud): Hahahahahahaha!
Tyler: When you've finished laughing at nothing, the car is on fire again.
The actual years covered by this were originally vague, from the early 2000s through the present to whenever. But after making some of the first comics I realized something. Alvin, like me, insisted on playing "Maahi Ve" at his wedding reception, which meant that their marriage had to take place in 2003 or later. I decided it was in 2004, to give Alvin ample time to love that song.
Speakers: Maahi ve! Maahi ve! That's the way... Maahi ve!
Alvin: Aw yeah, this is my jam! This is the one thing I insisted on having!
Speakers: Tere maathe jhumar damke, tere kaanon baali chamke, hai re! Maahi ve!
Alvin: You just put your hands together like so and move your arms like so!
Speakers: Tere haathon kangna khanke, tere pairon paayal chhanke, hai re! Maahi ve!
White Person: What the – hey! This is cultural appropriation!
Indian Person: Eh, blow it out your ear.
This opened up a world of possibilities in allowing them to react to and comment on real-world events even though I'm not writing concurrently with them. They get to watch "Revenge of the Sith", and then ten years later they get to watch "The Force Awakens".
Alvin: Rachel! Did you see the “Revenge of the Sith” teaser trailer they released today?
Rachel: Duh! My land, it was epic!
Alvin (pantomiming starships): Pew pew! Boom!
Rachel (pantomiming lightsaber): Voom! Voom!
Alvin: I'm so excited I almost wet my pants!
Rachel: I'm so excited I did wet my pants!
They get to comment on four elections (and counting, if the U.S. still exists in 2020).
Rachel: All these people judging poor Donald for things he said eleven years ago. He was young and foolish like all of us once were! When I was fifty-nine –
Alvin: You've never been fifty-nine, Rachel.
Rachel: Well, anyway, he could have changed since then.
Alvin: Actually, his sexism since then has been so obvious that I don't understand why people are so shocked by this video.
Rachel: It's just “locker room talk”, right?
Alvin: He doesn't look like the type who spends much time in locker rooms.
They get to interact with real people - so far I've guest-starred Pope John Paul II, Mitt Romney, and Robert T. Bakker. The latter's personality has been completely fabricated in the same spirit as Jane Goodall's character in Irregular Webcomic!, who once dismissed a technicality of the differences between monkeys and apes by proclaiming, "I'm Jane freakin' Goodall!"
Dr. Pitts: As promised, today we get to hear from Dr. Robert T. Bakker, who's largely responsible for the way we look at dinosaurs today.
Dr. Bakker: Yep! “The dinosaur heresies”, I called them. Not so heretical anymore, are they?
Dr. Pitts: Dr. Bakker has –
Dr. Bakker: Everyone was so blinded by their confirmation bias and prejudice against reptiles that they scoffed at my radical new theories. Well, who's scoffing now, huh?
Dr. Pitts: Yes, that's –
Dr. Bakker: Suck it, orthodoxy! SUCK IT!
After their marriage in 2004, Tyler's birth is in 2006, and then she'll be 18 in 2024 and I decided that would be a good place to end it with an even twenty years. It feels weird to be writing strips set a few years in the future, but we all know by now that the future is basically the same as today and will consistently fail to deliver on its promise of flying cars. (Bakker's appearance is set in 2020, so I don't know if he'll actually still be alive then, but he's only 71 so I assume he will and if he's not I'll work around that somehow through the endless possibilities of fiction.) This has become a very story-driven strip (which will be my excuse whenever the humor is below par), with several extended storylines that go on for longer than they would in most daily comics. If they ever actually get drawn I'll just put them all up at once (along with some ads to cash in on their inevitable popularity). I like being unorthodox.
Alvin: What have you been up to today, sweetie?
Tyler: I've just been reading this biography about Adolf Hitler.
Tyler: I was really surprised and fascinated by how much his early childhood and grievances had in common with mine.
Rachel: What have you been up to today, sweetie?
Tyler: I got my book-reading privileges revoked and I can only watch TV for a month.
Rachel unexpectedly wormed her way right into my heart. One theme that developed very quickly is that despite this severe shortcoming, she's an amazing person with a heart of gold and a lot of wonderful qualities, and her husband sees that and loves her for it and it's beautiful. I really enjoy writing about how in love they are. There's probably something to do with brain chemistry about how it creates an illusory feeling that I'm in their shoes myself.
Rachel (in bed): Alvin! Psst! Alvin! Wake up!
Alvin (in bed): Mmph.
Rachel: Are you sure you wanna marry me?
Alvin: Rachel, we've been married for twelve years.
Rachel: Just thought I'd double-check.
I watched at least fifteen episodes of "Last Man Standing" with Tim Allen at my grandparents' place over break, because "Psych" is no longer on Netflix, and as a comedy it was decent but what really mesmerized me was the relationship between Mike and Vanessa Baxter. They have such a good marriage and it's always obvious that they love and respect each other even when they argue. I didn't know it was legal to still show good marriages in entertainment media. We need more of that.
Vanessa: So you think things were better when we had slavery and women couldn't vote?
Mike: Of course not. Slavery was horrible.
Mike: Good night, honey.
And once in a while Rachel subverts expectations, so that's a lot of fun to write too.
Rachel: So I was on this mommy forum today and a bunch of mommies told me we shouldn't get Tyler vaccinated because it will give her autism.
Alvin: Hooboy. Dare I ask what you said?
Rachel: I said, “Ha! Vaccines are the greatest miracle of modern medicine, there's no evidence that they cause autism, and even if there were I would much rather have an autistic child than a dead one!”
Alvin: I'm so very proud to be your husband.
Rachel: Then I posted a bunch of scientific studies and they banned me.
Tyler, for her part, was supposed to be the female version of Calvin, but she went overboard too and became even more of a brat than I expected. I love her too, though. She's got a heart of gold too, no matter how many layers of mud she tries to hide it under.
Alvin: Rachel, be honest with me. Am I Tyler's real father?
Rachel: How dare you ask such a thing! I have been a hundred percent faithful to you from our first date until now! I oughtta smack you upside the head!
Rachel: Who else could her real father be, anyway?
And did I mention that Steve the Komodo dragon is still a part of this? He's Rachel's pet and she brought him into the family. Komodo dragons can live up to fifty years in captivity, so I can keep using him for a long time.
Mrs. Philbinksi: Aieeeee! Your monstrous lizard thing ate my little Fritzi!
Steve: Munch munch.
Rachel: Fun fact: if he had been larger, Steve would have just bitten him, left, waited for him to get infected and die of sepsis, and then come back to devour his corpse.
Rachel: Isn't this a much nicer way to go?
Mrs. Philbinski: I'm suing.
Alvin's sister Susan was intended to be like the female version of Jon Arbuckle before Liz gave in to his harassment, Dilbert before his comic shifted to work topics only, and me always, in another role reversal that has her pathetic love life being played for (in theory) laughs. But she maintains a positive attitude and just keeps plugging along.
Susan (on phone): So my love life is getting weird.
Alvin (thinking): You have a love life now? That is weird.
Susan (on phone): This guy went on one date with me and said he wants to be mates. Crazy, right? I told him I'll think about it.
Alvin: This guy wouldn't happen to be Australian, would he?
Susan: Yeah, how'd you know?
And I guess I should also mention Alvin's brother Bill. And then I could mention his parents and stuff too but this post has already gone on for too long.
Bill: Yo, Al! Dad tells me you're fixin' to pop the question! You've come to the right place!
Alvin: Uh, thanks Bill, but I didn't –
Bill: Come on, we'd better have a little chat. I'll tell you everything you gotta do. Not to brag or anything, but I'm a freakin' expert on marriage.
Alvin: I should hope so, after you've done it five times.
Bill: Six, but who's counting?
In closing, since I can't take a hint even from myself, here is one of the shorter storylines more or less in its entirety.
Dr. Pitts: Good morning, class. I'm Dr. James Pitts and I'll be your Biology instructor this year.
Dr. Pitts: And this is my assistant, Mary Hollenbaugh. She's a student at the university, on an internship here.
Mary: I'll be grading your assignments, so be really nice to me, ha ha.
David: Well hel-lo there. Biology? This just became a Chemistry class for me!
Tyler: You're disgusting.
Panel 1 (and only)
Dr. Pitts: As Theodosius Dobzhansky aptly observed, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution”, so that's where we'll begin this course.
Tyler: Heads exploding in three... two...
Alvin: What's up?
Rachel: Bad news. Tyler is learning evolution in her science classroom.
Alvin: What's wrong with that?
Rachel: What's wrong with that??
Rachel: Hello! Pokemon aren't even real! Don't they have anything better to learn about?
Alvin: Right. I forgot.
Rachel: So I love Pokemon as much as the next girl, but I just don't think they belong in the science classroom.
Dr. Pitts: I see.
Rachel: Thanks for hearing me out, Dr. Pitts. My husband said that no one would listen to me and that I'd be wasting my time.
Dr. Pitts: Well, your objection to evolution is about as valid as any of the others I've received.
Rachel: Ha! I'll tell him you said that!
Dr. Pitts: Mrs. Cracroft, evolution is part of the state-mandated curriculum and I have to keep teaching it.
Rachel: Judas Priest, what is modern education coming to?
Dr. Pitts: But tomorrow I'll open with a disclaimer that Pokemon is just a game and not to be taken seriously. Sound good?
Rachel: Yeah, that'd be swell!
Dr. Pitts: Anything else I can do for you?
Rachel: I'm good here, but I'd like to have a little chat with the Gym teacher.
Rachel (on computer): Dr. Pitts was helpful, but there's more to be done. I'm writing to the state board of education about their science guidelines.
Rachel: If they're going to allow certain things in the classroom, then they need to allow the opposing viewpoints as well. They need to teach the controversy.
Alvin (reading over shoulder): Rachel, there is no controversy. Digimon is a thousand times less popular.
Rachel: Only because most people never gave it a chance!
Tyler: Pastor Hartgraves, what do you think of the whole evolution thing?
Pastor Hartgraves: Ha! More like evil-ution if you ask me!
Pastor Hartgraves: I can't speak for your teacher, but I ain't kin to no monkey. It's degrading and appalling to suggest that mankind sprang from some lower animal.
Tyler: Where did mankind come from, then?
Pastor Hartgraves: Dust.
David Seville and the Chipmunks - The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)
Alvin (off-screen): Coming, dear!
Alvin: What is it? What'd I do?
Rachel: Nothing. I've just always wanted to say that.