Once the B-Team cast – Peter and Timmy, in particular – moved away from being Transformers reference-dropping one trick ponies, I was actually able to do other things with them related to the fact that they were kids. They may have Charlie Brown-like levels of social savvy, but being eight year olds there was still plenty of scope for juvenile pranks, getting in trouble, awkward questions, naivety and comedically-unstable emotions; often all in the same story. Following my sprawling story Future Tense (2002, part fourteen), I crafted two day-in-the-life mini-stories for the B-Teamers; one starring (who else?) Peter and Timmy, and the second featuring everyone’s favourite seldom-seen (and utterly adorable) witch in training….
Above: Peter isn’t a bad kid, not really – he generally respects his parents, and at least tries to do well at school – but like any other sentient being his age, every now and again he decides to test the don’t-go-there boundaries. Unfortunately, while he tries to achieve a flawless break the rules / get away with it combo, his grand plans fall apart for one very good reason: he doesn’t think things through. It’s possible that once he comes up with an idea, it excites him so much that he just assumes it will come off without a hitch; because “Hey, it sounds great in my head!” And as far as on-the-fly improvisation if things start going south? Sadly, no. Timmy is (reluctantly) willing to be his partner in crime, but only to make sure his friend doesn’t do anything TOO stupid – although most of the time, his helpful advice merely makes Peter more stubborn…. and more convinced that his terrible decisions will win out, even if they clearly won’t…. Oh dear.
Top: boy, Peter sure looks like Artimus Frink with that fake moustache on. That’s the problem with having a finite (and pretty generic) set of Cosmosian body plans: unless you custom-mod every single character with different eyes, noses etc., the characters in each type can end up looking annoyingly similar. And speaking of Peter, it seems his temper has an equally negative effect on the success of his plans….
Bottom: Yes, don’t worry, it was just popcorn butter. Geez. You have to hand it to Peter, he is persistent in the face of adversity (even if it’s almost entirely generated by his own tunnel-vision)…. but this time it seems to have paid off! Go, Peter! Um, I think.
Top: the one thing I made sure to do with this story – in the tradition of ‘Hamster Hewey and the Gooey Kablooey’ in Calvin and Hobbes – was to not give any indication as to what Co-Ed Vampire Vixens vs. the Robo-zombies from Mars was actually like, in terms of plot, characters, or what even made it ‘Over 18’s only’. Obviously, it’s cheesy, gory and packed with gratuitous violence (exactly the kind of movie a pair of eight year olds would want to sneak a look at); but beyond that, I left it up to the audience’s imagination how dodgy – or just plain awful – it really was. Certainly, the sound effects in panels 2 and 3, and peter and Timmy’s hasty exit shortly thereafter, point to it being pretty darn extreme!
Bottom: the B-Team cast’s stories more often than not feature a quasi-moral at the end, wherein the characters reflect on what they’ve learned and the audience can – hopefully – bask in that wisdom. However, I’ve never found super-preachy dialogue to work as effectively as some people seem to think it does…. so I always approach this sort of thing with a post-modernist twinkle in my eye and tongue wedged firmly in cheek.
Humour + education = fun!
Mindy Simmons (Peter’s next door neighbour, remember? The one with the pointy hat?) is rather a bit-player in the B-Team cast: she doesn’t really have sufficient character depth to carry off a story on her own, and works best as a catalyst in someone else’s narrative; where her cuteness, innocence and precociousness bumps the story into motion (or even more into motion than before). As such, even though she appears in three out of the four following strips, and provides the main thrust of the plot, the story proper is actually about her (unnamed) parents – oh, and one little question….
Top: ahh, yes, THAT question. The one guaranteed to cause any self-respecting mother or father to gasp, grimace, sweat uncontrollably, and suddenly find something incredibly important they have to deal with…. Over there! Bye!!
Bottom: Mindy’s mother makes a very good point – adults seem universally petrified about even thinking of the mechanics of reproduction around their children; let alone actually discuss it with them. But seriously, guys, what is it that’s so difficult about talking about…. Um. And, errrr. You know. Thingamee. Nnnnngh.
Okay, on second thought, never mind! It’s too scary!
Top: I’m not sure where you were going with that ‘block of butter’ analogy lady, but keep me out of it! And should I be worried that your daughter is only four years old, but she’s almost the same size as you? What’s up with that?!
Bottom: behold – the Grand Cop-out Conundrum! Anytime this issue comes up on a TV show or cartoon, it is eventually ‘answered’ to the satisfaction / bafflement / abject horror of the inquisitive young sprite in question…. but being a g-rated program, everything is dealt with in such a vague, hands-off, touchy-feely way that it doesn’t actually clarify anything for any of the actual inquisitive young sprites at home – namely, how to actually start an intelligent dialogue about the subject themselves!
Catch 22, man, Catch 22!
Hmm, and I seem to have done exactly the same thing here myself.
If I claimed I was doing it in a deliberately ironic fashion as a clever social commentary on the contradictions of modern parenting, would you believe me?
Yehhh, I thought not.
TO BE CONTINUED…..