Most people with cats have at one time or another witnessed their pet just staring at a wall, sometimes up close, sometimes for hours. And as almost always the case with seemingly nonsensical feline behavior, there is a simple, rational explanation for this:
Regular readers of Sally Forth who like to focus on every little detail (in other words, Jim Keefe, that person who emails me slash fiction, and myself) may have noticed that over the years the family cat Kitty has done this very same thing, all the while slowly forming an unusual bond with the hallway wall…
Furthermore, the strength of the Kitty-Wall-Ghost bond will only grow in intensity in an upcoming Sunday strip. Now, I’m not saying that this will result in a some macabre, Paranormal Activity-like showdown in which the Forths do battle with a daemon, wraith or crawl-space revenant, because this is a family comic strip. But families are the ones who are always coping with nefarious spectral anomalies in the movies, so maybe we’re leading up to our first-ever big Halloween storyline down the road.
Of course, this is back when Hilary was played by a Cindy Brady homunculus and Ted was apparently an unrelenting dick, so I’m not sure how “canon” this is. I can say that when I started writing Sally Forth I was told the cat’s name was Kitty, is Kitty, and had always been Kitty. In short, there may be a dark past the powers that be are trying to hide—with “Fido” being an alter or possessed ego—and so bad things may indeed be on the horizon. Or the evil spirit may have been excised the moment Kitty got neutered. Tune in to find out.
It’s time – time for more fabulous drag queens!
That’s right, last night RuPaul took the to the airwaves to announce an all-new cast of nine queens for RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars Season 3, which is set to debut in January.
While the past two seasons of All-Stars heavily feature queens that reached the finals, this case doesn’t have a single Final Three competitor in its rank. Is the theme of this All-Stars season “Ru-Grets”? In more than half of these cases, RuPaul could credibly claim that she’s since had second thoughts about the “Sashay Away” that lead these queens to make their exits the first (or, in two cases, second) time around.
How well will these queens fare in glamorous combat based on what we’ve seen of them in past seasons and in their brand new video packages? Keep reading for as I rank the house down to assess the chances of each of these queens to strut into the Hall of Fame alongside Chad Michaels and Alaska Thunderfuck 5000.
Recap: Shangela came in at 5th place in RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 3 after being the first queen to sashay away in Season 2. She lost a lip sync to Fantasia’s “Even Angels” to a transcendent Alexis Matteo after falling into the bottom two in the multi-look “Hair Ball” multi-look construction challenge.
Highlights Reel: Her comedy as Tina Turner in “Snatch Game” and her memorable Pimp-Ho in “Ru Ha Ha.” Her constant bitch-face on the runway in her epic struggle against Raja’s team of “Heathers.” Heck, even Shangela’s low-lights are highlights, like her terrible week one runways in both Season 2 and Season 3.
Why didn’t she win? Shangela fell prey to being a lackluster seamstress in Hair Ball, but there were a few other prevailing themes that made her the obvious choice to eliminate in that episode. Shangela’s fashion had been hit and miss all season, as had her make-up. She was repeatedly clocked for bad blending and a prominent jaw line. Beyond that, the judges (even guest judges!) repeatedly called into question if she really wanted to be a Drag Queen, or was just a dancer/comedian who happened to do drag.
Strengths: Shangela is one of the fiercest competitors in the history of Drag Race. It’s hard to think of anyone who fights harder than she does for every single inch of success. Shangela also has endless Nerve. Nerve for weeks, y’all. She combines that with a natural X-Factor level of Charisma and sickening amount of Talent in singing, dancing, and comedy.
All-Stars Outlook: Shangela is the most-dangerous queen in this cast. She is absolutely the queen to beat.
Shangela has always had the drive to take the crown, With seven years of steady work since her run in Season 3 she has established an incomparable depth in every aspect of performance that can possibly be challenged by Drag Race. Her weaknesses in blending and in dedication to drag are a distant memory at this point.
She’s also been referenced repeatedly by Ru herself (including a few guest appearances) plus logged a ton of stage- and camera-time in traditional media gigs. Hell, she was on X-Files!
What can possibly defeat Shangela? Possibly herself, maybe with an overconfident misstep or an inexplicable fashion choice. (Both have befallen her frequent mentor Alyssa Edwards.) Otherwise, it’s going to have to be another queen just flat out hand-crafting her own Hall of Fame narrative in a way that makes her more compelling than Shangela … and good luck with that.
2. Ben de la Creme
Recap: Ben de la Creme came in at 5th place in RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 6. She lost a lip sync to Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger” against Darienne Lake during the “Glitter Ball” multi-look construction challenge. (She had also synced against Darienne earlier in the season and received a rare double shanté)
Highlights Reel: Her Week 1 Golden Girls dress, her insane “Oh No She Betta Don’t!” rap, her talk-show hosting, and her Animal Kingdom Couture, among many others.
Why didn’t she win? Ben was crafty as heck but not a traditional seamstress, which won her the first episode but might have been part of her downfall in the Glitter Ball. She rested a bit too hard on her “washed up show-girl” costume looks, as tagged in the Ball. Yet, what probably contributed most to her dismissal was being too much of a character in front of the judges when she should have been more herself.
Strengths: Ben excels in the Talent category as an experienced theatre writer, actor, and director as well as a burlesque performer. She is quick-witted and self-deprecating. She is ultra-crafty, both with a glue gun and with make-up effects. And, finally, of all the queens who have put on an effect, older-lady persona, hers has been the most well-rounded and “terminally delightful.”
All-Stars Outlook: Let’s get this out of the way early: Ben is my favorite queen of all time and four years later I still think she was robbed in Season 6.* Does that past wrong make for a major right here in crowning Ben de la Creme as part of the Drag Race Hall of Fame?
I’m not so sure. Ben herself has expressed some hesitance about coming back to the show, and reportedly turned down a shot at All-Stars 2. While she has the chops for a win, any amount of self-doubt is going to be a major chink in the armor against these other queens. Plus, she’s going to get blown out of the water in lip syncs by this cast unless she brings her full-on burlesque talents to every one.
Ben will find success her if she came back to the race with something to prove to the judges. If she’s back with more personality and more boundary-pushing looks, then she becomes an instant front-runner here as one of the few queens in this cast who seemed seriously poised to win her original season.
* To elaborate: Darienne Lake is terrific and slayed Ben in her final Lip Sync, but the sync should have been Darienne against Courtney Act, who I also love but who could have credibly defeated the unstoppable lip-syncing of Darienne. Then, the Top 4 episode would have been so much fiercer with Ben in the mix. Courtney’s telegraphed loss in the finals would have been easier to rationalize with a Bottom 2 in her record. Plus, with Ben’s record she could have credibly unseated Courtney or Adore to give Bianca a more serious challenge in the finals.
3. Chi Chi DeVayne
Recap: Chi Chi DeVayne came in at 4th place in RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 8. She was dismissed after the Final 4 lip sync to “The Realness” by RuPaul after a video shoot for the song.
Highlights Reel: Amazing dancing during her win on “Bitch Perfect” and in her lip syncs, but also her Eartha Kitt snatch game followed by runway craftiness during “Night of 1,000 Madonnas” to avoid being in the dreaded kimono cult.
Why didn’t she win? It’s hard to say. Chi Chi had the story momentum to head into the finals as an underdog queen in a way that would have filled out Season 8’s final 3 better than the gorgeous Naomi, and she slayed the challenge on her final episode. While you could chalk her dismissal up to a defeatist attitude or some very dumpy dollar store looks, those were both challenges Chi Chi had already surmounted to get to the Top 4. Ultimately, it’s more likely that it her uneven track record just didn’t make her seem like credible-enough competition to Bob and Kim Chi.
Strengths: Chi Chi is an incredibly well-rounded performer. She not only has off-the-charts dance, lip sync, and acrobatics skills, but she also boasts strong singing and impersonation chops. There’s not really any specific area of performance where she’s weak. She’s also a crafty queen who can make something out of nothing.
All-Stars Outlook: Personally, I feel like Chi Chi has the narrative most perfectly-crafted for All-Stars and the talent to back it up. I’d be straight up terrified to see her walk into the Work Room if I was one of the other queens.
That’s because being minted an All-Star feels like a natural extension of Chi Chi’s original rise from underdog to frontrunner. Everyone loved her! Her only weakness was a lack of resources! She was eliminated for no reason! That feels a lot closer to the extended “Already a Winner” narrative of of all other Hall-of-Famers, Chad and Alaska. Compare that to the other queens here, who were all eliminated with good reason (however spurious it may have seemed at the time).
Combine the steamroller narrative with the relaxed confidence she exuded in her video package, and I’m extremely excited to see more of Chi Chi this season!
4. Trixie Mattel
Recap: Trixie came in at 6th place in RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 7. after originally placing 11th and returning in the “Conjoined Queens “challenge. She lost a lip sync of Robin S.’s “Show Me Love” against Ginger Minj, who had been her partner in the “Prancing Queens” partnered dance challenge.
Highlights Reel: Despite being a comedy queen, Trixie’s highlights were on the runway – especially her bearded angel and her zany conjoined twin that brought the best out of Pearl. She was also great in the “Spoof” challenge, where we first witness her magical team-up with Katya.
Why didn’t she win? Despite the best comeback of any returning queen, Trixie hit a wall of four mega-talented finalists … and Pearl, who Ru was serially unwilling to dismiss. Past that, Trixie had a certain sad-sack quality to her performance in Season 7 where she seemed constantly on the verge of tears. It’s as if there was a sad trombone haunting most of her decisions.
Strengths: Trixie’s excels in Uniqueness, but she’s not lacking for Charisma, Nerve, or Talent, either. Her Barbie Doll make-up plus her comedic and musical talents often make it easy to overlook her killer fashion sense. She never gets the credit she deserves for slaying the runway in Season 7. As much as she loves to play up her “plastic life,” she also very rarely misreads a fashion situation. Also, after the show she has turned in some stellar lip syncs on YouTube.
All-Stars Outlook: Trixie might not be at the top of this Power Rankings, but there’s definitely the feeling that this season is hers to lose.
Since her time on Drag Race, Trixie has become one of the most popular, recognizble, and bankable queens in the history of Drag Race. She jokes in her package that it’s the result of hitching her wagon to Katya, who was undeniably the breakout star of Season 7. Yet, Katya and Trixie are alike in that their brand of aesthetics and humor have a much wider potential audience than just fans of the art of Drag, as evidenced by their massive social media following and their hilarious UNHhhh YouTube series getting picked up as The Trixie and Katya Show on ViceTV.
Trixie also has a legitimate hit country/folk EP under her belt with Two Birds, which is legitimately one of my favorite releases of 2017. As with Adore Delano’s LPs, it’s terrific music without any sort of asterisk that says “for a drag artist.”
In that respect, Trixie is already an All-Star, much like Alaska before her. Yet, does being a media All-Star immediately equate to being a Drag Race All-Star? The answer was “yes” for Alaska but “no” for Adore, and they both had much better track records on the show than Trixie did her first time around. Plus, Trixie is incredibly reliant on editing that works in her favor by catching all of her best zingers, as in her “Meet The Queens” video. It’s really easy to leave the best of Trixie on the editing room floor.
That all said, Trixie now has a breezy self-confidence to her, plus dozens of hours of more on-camera time than any other queen in the race. That counts for a lot.
Oh, and, fun fact: Trixie is the only All-Stars queen not from Season 1 who did not to perform in Snatch Game on her original season!
5. Kennedy Davenport
Recap: Kennedy Davenport came in at 4th place in RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 7. She was dismissed after the Final 4 lip sync to “Born Naked” by RuPaul after a video shoot for the song.
Highlights Reel: Pretty much the whole damned season, but especially her ribald Little Richard in “Snatch Game” and her explosive “Roar” lip sync against Katya.
Why didn’t she win? Kennedy not making the final three is even more impossible to explain than Chi Chi! Despite a pervasively negative attitude, Kennedy had delivered a jaw-dropping performance all season long when she was passed over (in a gorgeous dress) for the lackluster Pearl. To this day it stands out as the worst choice RuPaul has ever made heading into the finals.
Strengths: Kennedy may be the best lip sync artist in the history of Drag Race, combining terrific lips with a remarkable athleticism to her dancing. She has a seemingly endless closet thanks to years of pageant competitions. She’s also hilarious and a terrific singer.
All-Stars Outlook: I love Kennedy and I think she deserves an uncontested spot in the Drag Race Hall of Fame over every other queen here with the possible exception of Shangela.
Then why do I have her ranked in the middle of the pack?
Kennedy was already at her peak in Season 7. Sure, she has more money now and she says she’s embraced the wackier elements of her performances. She has validation, and given some of her attitude on Season 7 maybe that makes a huge difference. Yet, from her video packages she feels like the same old member of the Bitter Old Lady Brigade – and that’s not going to charm the judges or the other queens, who will definitely be gunning for her.
Also, she seems to have embraced some of her more-hideous fashion sensibilities in her in her post-pageant career
That all said, even if we just get same-old Season 7 Kennedy, who exactly is going to beat her? She’s good at everything as long as she’sn not being a sourpuss about it. Whether the lip syncs are for Life of Legacy, it’s hard to imagine Kennedy losing anyone aside from Chi Chi – even Shangela would have a hard time defeating her. That means she’s probably in for a deep run until she just happens to be in the bottom by virtue of not being in the top, and even then someone (Ru or another queen) will have the make the controversial decision to eliminate her.
Recap: Milk came in at 9th place in RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 6. She lost a lip sync to Salt’n’Peppa and En Vogue’s classic bop “Whatta Man” to Trinity K. Bonet in the “Oh No She Betta Don’t!” music video rap challenge.
Highlights Reel: Stunning runway looks as a bearded lady and as a spot-in male RuPaul, complete with bald cap.
Why didn’t she win? This is a crazy thing to say about Drag Race, but Milk’s take on drag was a little too controversial as of Season 6. Drag Race wasn’t ready to go full on avant-garde genderf*ck after Jinkx’s somewhat unconventional fashion took the Season 5 crown. That made Milk’s boundary-pushing, boyish, and even bearded runway looks a minor league scandal even though they would outright inspire runway themes of the next three seasons. Add that she was playing against a stacked deck of really fierce stage performers and the traditionally hilarious Bianca, and there was no path to the finals for Milk.
Strengths: Milk already lives in the place where Drag Race has been headed since Season 6. Since her time on the show, she’s broken out as a legitimate high fashion model in the way Violet and Fame did from Season 7. Also, her past life as a professional figure skater doesn’t hurt in terms of dancerly skills and grace under pressure.
All-Stars Outlook: Cloudy.
Milk is really the Black Horse in this competition, because we saw so little of her in her original run and her drag is so different than all of the others on this season. Just look at her promo photo! She is operating on a totally different plain than all of these other queens.
Milk has had four years to put some gloss on her high-fashion genderf*ck, and in the process she became BFFs with Marc Jacobs. She could have virtually anything in her bag! She’s also become utterly comfortable on a runaway and in photo shots, plus a formidable lip sync artist.
There is a very real chance for Milk to play spoiler and knock off several unsuspecting queens before her weirdness finally catches up with her.
7. Thorgy Thor
Recap: Thorgy came in at 6th place in RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 8. She lost a lip sync of Jennifer Holliday’s “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” from the musical Dreamgirls against Chi Chi DeVayne after being in the bottom two in the “Shady Politics” political ads challenge.
Highlights Reel: A tremendous four-week run starting with Week 2 in the “Bitch Perfect” lip sync, “RuCo’s Empire” acting challenge, “New Wave Queens” band performance, and finally as Michael Jackson in “Supermodel Snatch Game.”
Why didn’t she win? Thorgy’s sudden fall in Season 8 was down to bad luck more than anything else. She was stuck in second-fiddle mode to Bob all season long, but still clearly out-performing Derrick and Naomi, who both outplaced her. She wound up lip syncing against Chi Chi on a song that seemed hand-picked for her to win … and that was before the special effect of her beaded necklace exploding everywhere!
Strengths: Everything? Thorgy is a riotous performer with seemingly endless Talent and almost too-much Charisma. Even with the increase in avante-garde queens on the show, her Uniqueness as a sort of neon fashion clown still stands out. As for Nerve, once she graduates from her self-guesses, she’s willing to do just about anything in performance.
All-Stars Outlook: Thorgy jokes in her video package that she’s best known for being jealous of Bob the Drag Queen, but that jealousy might have also been what was responsible for her deep run in Season 8.
Having Bob (and also Acid Betty) around from her NYC/Brooklyn scene gave her early allies for the weeks when she could have been lost in the mix. Then, when the field thinned, she had her game of oneupmanship with Bob to obscure her penchant for overthinking. It’s pretty telling that the only time she truly crumbled was in a challenge where she had to be so self-reliant and couldn’t directly compete with Bob.
Has Thorgy calmed down her attention-deficit enough in two years that she can just focus on her own excellence? If so, I’m not sure there’s a queen on this list that can defeat her outside of a lip sync. However, my doubts about her focus have me tagging her as possible filler rather than possible winner.
Eliminating Thorgy early isn’t exactly going to cause a firestorm of social media outrage. It even plays into her marching to a beat of a different drummer.
8. Morgan McMichaels
Recap: Morgan McMichaels came in at 9th place on RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 2. She lost a lip sync of Martha Walsh’s “Carry On” to Sahara Davenport after being in the bottom two in “Here Comes The Bride” wedding dress and photography challenge.
Highlights Reel: Her Week 1 win in the “Gone With The Window” construction challenge over several other awesome looks, and a flawless and intricate Week 4 lip sync to “Two of Hearts” against Sonique.
Why didn’t she win? Morgan’s slightly-punk, slightly-rockabilly fashion sense just didn’t translate to a stunning wedding dress in her final challenge. There was also the sense that she would have probably destroyed had she been cast on Season 1, but she wasn’t quite out-of-the-box enough to compete in new challenges like “Snatch Game” and against the more transgressive Raven and Jujubee (plus the bitchy perfection of Tyra).
Strengths: Morgan is a thrilling and exact dancer and lip sync artist with a “fuck you” edge of coolness.
All-Stars Outlook: From her video packages and what I’ve seen on YouTube, there’s a sense that Morgan hasn’t really evolved since Season 2 in the same way as Season 2 queens Raven and Tatianna had for past All-Stars seasons. Even her video presentation is pretty much identical to how she looked back in 2009, including the massive hump of hair borderline-tacky fashion!
While some might call that consistent branding, I think it might be more like stagnation.
Look, Morgan is fierce enough to take out half of these queens any day of the week just on Nerve, but her claim to the Hall of Fame seems more down to her longevity than any particular talent. It’s going to be a long, uphill battle to get past six of these queens and into the Final Tree.
Recap: Aja came in at 9th place in RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 9 just a few months ago (although the season was shot in 2016). She lost a lip sync of CeCe’s Peniston’s classic “Finally” to Nina Bo’nina Brown after being in the bottom two in “9021-HO,” an acting challenge.
Highlights Reel: A pair of spectacular lip syncs, to both “Finally” and in Week 2 to “Holding Out for a Hero.” Oh, and of course, her now-legendary “Linda Evangelista” rant against Valentina in Untucked.
Why didn’t she win? Aja’s fashion sense was stuck on saggy dominatrix cast-offs and her make-up wasn’t blended too well. Past that, she was stuck in her own lack of self-confidence. There was a sense that there wasn’t any specific challenge where she’d be able to best any of the other queens.
Strengths: Aja is a stunning dancer and lip sync artist – her YouTube videos are sheer fire. Also, while this wasn’t evident on the show, she’s really upped her make-up and fashion game since her season shot back in 2016.
All-Stars Outlook: Aja has improved in almost every dimension in the past year (and in the process has become one of my favorite queens!), but nothing about her screams “Hall of Fame” just yet.
It’s not that any Season 9 queen would be an underdog if she came back so soon for this All-Stars season. You best believe if Shea, Trinity, Peppermint, Nina, or Valentina were on this list they’d be ranked close to the top spot (sorry Alexis).
Instead, it feels more like this return is less about a win and more Aja’s chance to really prove herself in a way she wasn’t ready to do in Season 9. Also, much like Milk, by being somewhat of an unknown she has the chance to play spoiler – especially in lip syncs, where she might be the only queen who could credibly knock off this seasons holy trinity of dancers in Kennedy, Chi Chi, and Shangela.
10. The Secret Queen!
I’m already in on the secret of RuPaul’s stealth 10th All-Star, and let me tell you: it’s going to be the face-crack of the decade when she shows up.
I won’t give any hints other than to say I think she has every positive quality of every one of the nine queens I’ve just ranked.
The post RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars Power Rankings, Season 3 Pre-Season RuVeal! appeared first on Crushing Krisis.
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Introduced in the early 70s and barely making into the 1980s (though a version called “Curly Wurly” continues to be sold in international markets and through retro candy dealers), the Marathon bar was a long, chocolate-coated caramel bar that looked like you either had lopped off someone’s hair braid or moths had gotten at it.
Packaged in a bright red wrapper with yellow typeface in an era when every TV show’s credits were in exact same color (mostly because it stood out brightest against the maelstrom of earth tones and wildly conflicting patterns that exemplified every set dressing or character outfit), the candy prominently featured a ruler on back to prove it was a full, impressive, perhaps imposing eight inches. And though today’s comic says otherwise, the bar’s sheer size would make it thoroughly impossible to actually shove inside a vending machine, which seems like a rather poor marketing and retail decision in hindsight.
You’ll also notice that the bar measures 20 cm in length, even though the Marathon brand (in the braided format) was sold only in the states. That’s because the candy was launched just as the US was gearing up to switch to the metric system—resulting in numerous conversations in which an exasperated eight-year-old would have to keep reminding their disinterested parents the difference between “deci” and “deca”—only for the country to simply start selling soda in two-liter bottles to streamline the global manufacturing process and keep the prefix “kilo” for whenever a drug smuggler in a movie would open a crate of cocaine, wipe clear the coffee beans used to through off the scent of detection dogs, slice open a bag, dip their pinky in, and realize they hadn’t washed their hands after going to the bathroom, thereby ruining at least ten grand right there.
Like all good products the candy had its own spokesperson, in this case “Marathon John,” which worked well with both the brand name as well as the increased awareness and acceptance of porn movies in the early 70s. With each commercial the candy’s John extolled the virtues of the product to someone who—like all “villains” in candy and cereal commercials—burst into a room and immediately went into bullet-point detail about who they are and what they want, introducing children everywhere to the concept of an “elevator pitch” or what happens when you eat all of mommy’s diet pills. But soon they would be soothed and even satisfied as Marathon John showed them the importance of taking your time, making things last, savoring with the tongue, and finding a rhythm that works best for both you and the candy as together you increase momentum until you can conclude in a satiating snack experience for all.
Fun Fact: In the UK, the Marathon was not a candy-coated version of the caduceus symbol but rather a chocolate-covered peanut bar in a brown packet with blue lettering. It was eventually renamed Snickers.
I don’t remember having a Marathon bar as a kid. I do remember enjoying Pop Rocks, Astro Pops, and Space Dust, which was more or less Pop Rocks sawdust and featured a commercial in which you get to experience what it would be like if your blood cells started talking only for you to wake up in a field several days later, partially shaved.
But the candy I remember most from that time was Bubble Yum. My dad worked on promotion for “the first soft gum” from the very beginning, which meant I received boxes and boxes of the stuff both in original and grape flavor. (I also loved the gum’s packaging, because when you’re the son of a graphic designer and you can’t play any sport well except for the ones you make up alone in your backyard, this is what you do.) Alas, I received all this gum just as I had made a New Year’s resolution to not chew gum for a full year, having previously been known to shove several sticks of Fruit Stripe in my maw at once. (I should also note that I was so proud that I actually stuck to my resolution that I re-upped with it for another year. And another. It has now been 40 years since I’ve chewed gum for reasons that I can no longer explain except with “Got to keep the streak going.”)
So instead I started selling the gum on the bus to and from school. This was a time when for some reason half the kids in my school seemed to be running transient candy shops, purchasing the candy at the store and then reselling it at a mark-up that could be justified by convenience. However, since I got all my gum for free I managed to undersell not only other kids but the supermarkets as well. Eventually being both very shy and cringing every time the bush driver yelled at me for I guess operating without a small business license, I switched to the wholesale end and started selling the gum exclusively to the kids who then sold it at their inflated price. Then I started collecting all doubles and triples of my Topps baseball cards, drew my own packaging, and sold those packs on the bus instead. Sadly, my business acumen peaked at age ten.
Of course, any mention of Bubble Yum must include one of the great 70s urban legends (that also played out in my school) in which it was posited that the only reason the gum was so soft and chewy was because it was made with spider eggs, a feat of childhood logic that would be akin to “You know how they carbonate Coke? Possum embryos.” But the rumors spread so fast and became so brand-destructive that the company was forced to debunk it with a full-page ad in The New York Times.
The other thing I recall about Bubble Yum is going to the marketing headquarters with my dad as a kid and getting to see the actual puppet for Flavor Fiend. This will mean absolutely nothing to almost anyone—including people my own age—thereby showing the brief lifecycle of almost all commercial spokescharacters. (And like many kid-focused product spokescharacters, Flavor Fiend followed the typical narrative arc of “I must taste that!/Wy won’t you let me have that?/Do you know my doctor says I need that to live?”) But it was another wonderfully unique moment in a childhood in which I got to see the inner workings of a lot of pop culture phenomenons and marketing campaigns thanks to my dad, and that all adds up to something far less fleeting than a childhood trend.
- Serjant Thierry Renault
- Soldat Jean Dupois
- Soldat Michel Beaumains
- Soldat Christophe Pressi
- Soldat Etienne Babin
Five eventful years had passed.
Dupois had spent years being alternately expelled and redrafted into the army and now spent nights at the bottom of a bottle. Renault had a long talk with his wife about their future, and had reluctantly thrown in his lot with the Revolution after initial thoughts of fleeing with that émigrés. Beaumains, who had stormed out to take the tennis court oath, was once again a proud member of the army now that it served the people. Babin had left the army to spend time with his son, returned to his home in Occitan, and lived there for a while, but eventually rejoined the army. Pressi also remained in the army, but after Comte Benoit had been guillotined, he spent much of his time with Melodie.
Once again the group was at the catacombs, helping guard the entrance as carts bring in bodies of those killed in La Terreur, with orders to let no one in. It was the first time they had seen each other in years, and they made awkward conversation in the hot summer night until six carts arrived. There were no priests this time, but the lead cart has several passengers wearing sacks on their heads with eyeholes cut in them. With them was Citizen Rigeau, chalk-white, in a high-collared jacket, and Beaumains noticed a mottled patch of skin at his neck as his head shifted. He ordered the passengers to unload, and they picked up skulls and began work. The party dispersed the crowd at Rigeau's order, and then began to guard the entrance. Rigeau pointed at Renault and asked where he knew him from, and after being reminded of the affair with Pfennelik, he smiled wolfishly and entered the catacombs.
Unnerved by the parade of workers and more than half drunk, Dupois reached out to try to grab the sack off a worker's head. They did not expect what they saw--the head of Comte Benoit, carelessly stitched to the head of a thin woman's body and lolling bonelessly over its shoulder. As the party cried out, the cart drivers ran screaming into the night and the monster attacked. It smashed a fist into Dupois and Renault stabbed it right through the heart, which didn't slow it at all. Babin took a mighty swing and sliced off an arm with his axe, but again the monster wasn't slowed. Beaumains bowled it over and stabbed it in the head, which stopped its movements. They all stared at it, took a swig of Dupois's bathtub liquor, and plotted. The "workers" returned, ignoring the party and doing their work, and the group grabbed lanterns from the carts and entered the catacombs behind them.
The catacombs were pitch black, but the workers didn't acknowledge the party in any way. At the third side tunnel, the workers turned, and the party followed down to a corridor lined with skulls, each skull with an odd mandala carved into the forehead. The more recent ones were not yet skulls--they were the severed heads of the guillotined dead, with the mandala carved through the skin down to the bone. In the distance was a distant phosphorescent light, illuminating bone dust swirling in the air. The swirls grew stronger and stronger, lifting teeth and bone bits into spirals in the air. Beaumains and Babin cried out, and ahead of them a dry chuckle echoed.
They advanced further and saw Rigeau, sitting and carving something into a heads but as he saw the light he stood and walked toward them with his eyes black pools of stars. He taunted them, saying he was amused that the overthrowers of Pfennelik had discovered him. He told them he was "ensuring his power" when asked what his business was, and then asked if they were cowards, and Renault drew his pistol. Rigeau took a swing and missed, and when Renault shot him there was no effect. They struggled, and as they did Rigeau's shirt ripped open, revealing a jigsaw pattern of flesh across his torso. Babin noticed that they were skull tattoos, and that when Dupois hit him, one mandala on a skull in the walls vanished. Renault took hold of Rigeau and attempted to strangle him, but it brought forth nothing but a smile. Dupois smashed his lantern on Rigeau, showering him--and Renault--in glass and flaming oil. Renault stepped back as Rigeau lackadaisically put himself out.
They attempted to flee, but as they did Rigeau made a gesture and the skulls in the passage collapsed, so they fled down the side passages into the dark. Rigeau's laughter followed them until they heard a voice telling them to follow if they want to live. They caught a brief glimpse of a nightmarish wolf-like face and then fled into tunnels filled with corpse-dirt, down a sudden fall that seriously injured Renault, and into the dark. Through the sealed depths of Paris, medieval to post-classical to Roman, to the dining room of a Roman villa filled with ghoulish monsters dining on headless corpses. They rose up, snarling, but the ghoul leading the party meeped at them and they went back to their repast.
Through an opening in the far wall, past more tunnels and shafts, they eventually emerged in the Luxembourg Garden. The ghoul mounted a dirt mound and grinned at them, and then pulled out a limb, began eating, and explained. He said that Rigeau meant to deliver the world to "those who dwelt Outside," that he had added symbols to the guillotines that delivered those who died to the "Throne of Azathoth," and when it reached ten thousand dead, the Eye of Azathoth would open and Paris would be engulfed. Dupois asked how to kill Rigeau, and the ghoul said that normal means would be impossible--even crushing the bones, the dust would remember. He did say that he had seen Rigeau consult a black book with brass bindings, and that it may have the means of his destruction. It wasn't in the catacombs, but it may be in his house. With no further questions, the ghoul jumped into a hidden hole and was gone.
Finding his house was not difficult, but it was surrounded by buildings on all sides and there was no oblivious entrances but the front. No lights burned within, so Dupois picked the lock and the party entered. They explored the house cautiously, finding nothing on the first floor, but in a room upstairs they found a room containing the Skinless Pope from Pfennelik's estate, a desk with a ledger on it, library shelves, a locked cabinet, medical texts, and other esoteries. Inside the cabinet were books from Pfennelik's cellar, which Beaumains took. Babin examined the ledger, finding a bunch of three-letter codes with totals, that Renault recognized as the totals of the sacrifices that Rigeau was making. The count stood at 9946. They had only a few days. The party searched the room, but it was Renault who found and took the book with brass bindings.
The book was in Latin, titled De Summum Vacuum, but Babin spoke Latin and began to read. He soon found he was unconsciously rotating the book, though he put it down at the urging of the others. He said it would take about twelve hours to study. They made an effort to cover their traces and fled, reconvening and resting in Babin's apartment. Babin read the book, discovering notes on Aztec rituals to "Azottotal," and a note by priests that such rituals were evil and would deny heaven to those who dwelt on earth. Only the willing sacrifice of one who has heard the "Music from Beyond" could stop it. The group thought, and then remembered Dietrich Zann and his music.
They briefly considered consulting the secret police but decided against it due to the danger. They eventually decided to look for his companion Celine, the woman who had been dressed as King Louis, in the red light districts of Paris. After Beaumains attempts at questioning went nowhere, they simply bribed some prostitutes to tell the party where the woman is. By the time they learned, it was nearly midnight, so they went to the attic tenement in the morning. After some brief panic from others in the tenement as soldiers march through their building, they find the attic and knock. When Celine recognized them, she grabbed a cudgel and began screaming, and only Babin's quick words kept things from coming to blows. She invited them in, into a barren tenement room with a single bed, a shattered violin in the corner. She revealed that Zann had a job with the orchestra, but lost it. He was obsessed with the violin, dangerously so, and eventually she smashed it. Since then, he only stared into space, not speaking, playing music that only he could hear on an invisible violin.
Babin spoke to Zann, who repeatedly said that he must "get it out." That the music was done, and he must play it. Celine was strongly against it, but Beaumains convinced her that playing the music might cure his obsession. The party needed a violin, and decided to break into the old orchestra and steal one. Using their authority as soldiers, they found a dusty violin, then debated what to do. They eventually decided to bring Zann to the orchestra again. Celine demanded that she be allowed to come, and they eventually agreed, though they kept their son away. Renault watched over him, while the other three entered with Zann and Celine. As soon as Zann had his hands on the violin, he immediately began playing. The sound grew, filling their ears and minds, as though the instrument had a hundred strings. The theatre's walls crumbled, revealing a starry night sky, and Beaumains and Dupois's ears began bleeding. One by one, the stars went out and they were surrounded by the unreverberate blackness of the abyss. They heard screams as from far away and the sound of unseen wings, until they mercifully passed out.
When they awoke, Beaumains and Dupois realized they could still hear the music, and would, locked into their minds, forever. Babin's fingers were numb, and when Reanaut entered, Zann's son clapped his hands and said, "Again, papa! Again!"
Babin pointed out that he was only one surviving who had heard the music and so the sacrifice would have to be him, and with some reluctance Renault agreed. In the middle of a letter to his son, as Dupois began ranting about the king, they realized that they could sacrifice Dupois instead. Renault brought him to the police and denounced him, and Dupois was swiftly found guilty. His execution was scheduled for within twenty-four hours, and they went to talk to the ghoul and report what had happened. It said that they should lure Rigeau to a deserted place, and the party decided to lure him to the catacombs. Renault put out the call for Pressi and others for the help that he men's they would need.
The next morning, Dupois was led from the prison to the guillotine, through the streets of Paris. Dupois's dog followed him, barking futilely, until the blade descended with a final thunk.
Streets away, the party followed Rigeau through the streets at a distance. Hugel moved past him, revealing the book with brass bindings, and Rigeau took the bait and they led him to the catacombs. Hugel ran into a room with the rest of the party and eleven ghouls, and as the blade descended elsewhere--as Dupois stood in the Court of Azathoth and released the Music from Beyond--Rigeau entered and shrieked, the skulls on his body shrieking in unison, and blood burst forth and showered the party. Pressi leveled his musket and fired, followed by the rest of the party, and then ghouls fell on him, and Citizen Rigeau was torn to shreds.
The Festival of the Supreme Being took place as scheduled on 20 Prairial. In addition, the guillotine was moved to the Faubourg Saint-Antoine. On 22 Prairial, it was moved to the barrière du Trône. And on 10 Thermidor, Robespierre was led up the steps of the guillotine, and with his death ended La Terreur.
This section reminded me of a bit of Ken Hite's gaming advice, which is that games should be set in the real world because it has a richer, more detailed history than any fantasy world ever could. A game set during pre-revolutionary France always carries the knowledge that the Revolution, and with it La Terreur, is coming. Call of Cthulhu has the same aspect that makes the World of Darkness so fun. It's set in our world, but with a secret layer that the game space occurs in.
This was originally a game run at Gen Con for backers of the Horror on the Orient Express Kickstarter, and when it was done, the players voted to make it available to other kickstarter backers. I'm glad we got to it before the end. I knew Rigeau was evil from his first appearance, though I admit I thought he'd be a member of the Brotherhood of the Skin trying to get Pfennelik out of the way.
This scenario does indicate a problem with the CoC world, though. If it's possible for single individuals to conduct rituals that destroy the world, why is the world still here? Surely someone somewhere would have succeeded by now. The investigators can't win every time, after all, and if the bad guys only have to win once...well. Still, we did win, and that counts for something.
This December will mark 20 years I have written Sally Forth. In that time I’ve made a few changes to the comic. New characters have been introduced (Jackie, Laura, Faye, Nona, Cynthia), some have been moved to more of a guest-starring role (Alice), and at least one has disappeared all together (Ralph’s assistant Marcie, who ran off after embezzling funds from the company, which was never mentioned in the strip but I consider canon).
But the biggest change has clearly been to the character of Ted Forth. When I first met Ted (by way of several hundred pages of comics FedEx to me when I got the job) three defining characteristics stood out: He seemed to be employed somewhere, he liked meatloaf, and he always wore clothes. There was in one strip a mention of Ted having four brothers, but they didn’t have any names until one day when I was apparently not over the then lack of new DuckTales episodes.
He also played golf, like almost every white male character in newspaper comics, but I got rid of that three minutes into doing the comic. Other changes followed—he grew up on Long Island. (In Huntington—home of The Seavers—and not in my nearby own home town of Dix Hills, a name I knew would never see the light of day in comic print because it would essentially read as “Ted hails from Shaft and Scrotum.”) He watches Star Wars Holiday Special every day after Thanksgiving. He may be part of a secret cabal. And. most obvious, he is obsessed with pop culture, especially that associated with Generation X.
It’s an obsession that some have taken as an honest portrayal of a happy geek, others have seen as proof of Ted’s crippling manchild persona, and a few have wondered, “Why the hell doesn’t he just sell his Kenner Star Wars action figures already so he can pay off both the mortgage and Hilary’s eventual college fund?” But the question always remained just why is Ted so focussed on pop culture? Is it because it’s fun to write about in a strip? Of course. Is it because I myself am obsessed with pop culture? Definitely. Is it because it allowed me to do The Man Who Fell to Earth by way of pumpkins, thereby making it all the more likely I’ll one day do a Liquid Sky Easter Sunday? Oh yes.
But those are all reasons that exist outside of the strip. So today, within the comic, we get our first real glimpse of how pop culture came to define his life—through his relationship with his dad. As will be revealed in upcoming strips, when Ted was little he and his dad watched movies together, watched TV cartoons together, and talked about the very minutiae of entertainment medium. This was their language, as it now is between Ted and Hilary. But it’s a language that held father and son together when Ted was young yet did not keep the bond together later in life. As it turns out for some people, it was a father-son relation built for one’s childhood, not adulthood.
In short, it’s now a relationship and language built on memory, nostalgia, and of course pop culture of yore. And so here we have Ted reaching out to his dad the one surefire way he knows how, mentioning one of the most celebrated episodes of frankly one of the best sitcoms in the last 40+ years. For those who don’t know the show Taxi, the second panel can read as an inside joke or something that takes them out of the story. That is the risk of citing particulars. And it would be far more problematic if such a mention served as either the punchline or the very essence of today’s strip. But it doesn’t. It’s a detail in a strip about communication lost, perhaps far longer that either character had recognized.
For those unfamiliar with “Jim’s Inheritance”—the episode recalled by Ted—it helps to be familiar with Christopher Lloyd’s character Reverend Jim, a former Harvard student and scion of an extremely wealthy family who lost his way with drugs an, though kind and goodhearted, has become the black sheep of his highly-esteemed family. The result has been an almost complete breakdown in communication between Jim and his dad, resulting in intermittent visits home until Jim gets his version of “the call”—a letter saying that his father has died. Over the course of the episode it is discovered that the father has left Jim with a sizable fortune, but his much more “acceptable” siblings legally question his mental competency and Jim is left with a single, old trunk of his father’s possessions.
Below is that episode, with perhaps one of the quiet and true moments to occur within a sitcom (again, it helps if you are familiar with the particular characters). It was one of my dad’s favorite moments, and always made him tear up. And it came to mind repeatedly when my dad passed away. But I couldn’t bring myself to watch it after my dad died. Posting this is actually the very first time I have seen this episode in almost four decades. You need not watch the entire video. But if you are interested in what Ted is referring to—or you wish to relive the moment for yourself—I suggest starting at the 17:56 mark.
I don’t profess any breadth of musical knowledge whatsoever. (I am, however, painfully well aware of my own limitations as a singer, which is why unlike my brother I never took up an entire three-hour car ride to our relatives as a kid belting out “Hotel California” with such particular emphasis as “They STAB it with THEIR steely KNIVES but they JUST can’t kill THE beast.”) But a quick internet study a few years back taught me some very broad strokes about musical keys. D major often signifies triumph. E major is rambunctious. And G minor is discontent and/or unease.
Portraying a sense of disquiet is never exactly the most inviting approach. And we knew going into this storyline that it would be only a matter of days (well, minutes) before some readers would be using the word “Funkyverse” to describe current Sally Forth. For those who don’t frequent specific online communities, “Funkyverse” is another way of saying. “For the love of God, lighten the f*** up already!”
But the obvious truth about light is that it does cast a shadow, and to avoid the shadow is to deprive an object of its weight and substance. Of course, wallowing in shadow only prevents one from experiencing the joy that is far more common and accessible than our brains will sometimes allow us believe. It’s a balancing act. Certainly right now Sally Forth is casting an eye more to the shadow behind it than the sun in front. But in moments of grief that is precisely what one does. You reflect, you wonder what you could have done to prevent the current situation even though almost every time you could have not prevented or foreseen it, and you find yourself in a grey area. You know you will need to—you will certainly have to—move forward, but you can’t quite look back into the sun because right then its light is too harsh, too revealing, and frankly too much for you to take in. We will of course step out of the shadow. We won’t wallow. But without occasionally acknowledging the shadows life can cast I believe the strip would risk becoming immaterial, insubstantial. That can certainly be read as a ridiculously self-aggrandizing statement of “THIS IS IMPORTANT AND WHAT WE DO IS IMPORTANT” but really, we want the people of Sally Forth to feel real and recognizable, or as much as they can when one character can launch into a monologue about how Star Wars would have differed if R5-D4’s motivator had not malfunctioned and Uncle Owen had not traded him in for Artoo. (The answer is not much, except that the Empire would have won and Luke would still be spending his days on the farm, killing time writing slash fiction about Jawas.)
So today, in the key of G minor, we have Ted regretting he had not spend enough time with his dad as he copes with just how much his father’s condition advanced in his absence. I live only an hour away by train from my folks, so I saw my dad frequently and the changes, though very upsetting, never came all at once as a shock. But there were relatives for whom a period of time away resulted in an entirely different wave of emotions. I do not presume to talk for them. But I thought it important to address that aspect in the strip, since so many have experienced the situation from that perspective.
Also written in G minor (well, technically G-sharp minor) is Donna Summer’s “She Works Hard for the Money,” a comeback song after her disco successes. Like today’s strip, it’s about longing and regret, as it tells the story of restroom attendant Onetta Johnson who is overwhelmed but keeps moving forward. The music video for the song more emphatically ends the tale on a note of resilience. And yes, the song reeks of early-80s Giorgio Moroder synths. And yes, the video shoot seems to have started with the director shouting, “We only have an afternoon to do this, people, and it’s already 3 PM!” But it’s still a great song, and for those who are understandably finding our current story to be a bit too much for three panels placed between Sudoku and a tire ad in their paper, perhaps this will give the necessary small uplift.