Saturday, November 18, 2006

Goodbye To Comics #11: Willy Wonka And The Comics Factory

Goodbye To Comics #11:
Willy Wonka And The Comics Factory

There was always this parody/homage of "Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory" that I wanted to write. Instead of candy the factory produced video games, and the story focused on this impoverished Asian chick with unrecognized bisexual tendencies who beats all the other kids at the video game contest and gets to visit the factory.

Now, what this girl and the other contest winners don't realize is that in addition to games the factory also conducts bio-terror experiments with various plagues, zombie dogs and reanimated dead soldiers.

What follows is more John Carpenter than Roald Dahl. But eventually the Asian girl, the last survivor, claws her way, barely alive herself, to the control room where Wonka is. Wonka informs her coldly that because she fucked with the fizzy-lifting drinks, she is disqualified from the contest and gets nothing.

But eventually she inherits the factory, fires the Oompa-Loompas, and hires Sailor-Moon lookalikes instead.

Whether she maintains the covert black-op research and development contracts with the Shadow Government is another story entirely.

One of my favorite sci-fi authors is Kilgore Trout, and I can only hope that, while unpublished, such stories as the aforementioned might live up to his standard.

But now I want to say a few words about somebody I always associated with Willy Wonka, somebody who brought me into Big Comics -- the theoretical Gilgongo! Comics to be exact. Certainly he had the the personality of a comics Willy Wonka -- smart, talented, whimsical, if but a little phlegmatic on certain days.

He was an artist who wouldn't draw, and I was a writer who wouldn't write. So we had a lot to talk about, both of us bemoaning our blocked creative drives.

And why wouldn't -- why couldn't -- we express ourselves?

Because of the act of Creation actually depressed us, made us feel lonely and like we were standing on the precipice of something Greater than we knew what to do with.

Because we were told repeatedly growing up that we'd make no money with our art.

Because we were afraid of rejection, failure.

Because it was so much easier to to just eat donuts, do our job, laugh with our friends, and feel some degree of security.

Because we had Responsibilities.

But the truth is that, even with all of the above taken into consideration, there is no way to suppress the creative urge for too long without having it assert itself in our lives like some angry, living thing bursting forth from the world of abstract concepts into our material realm.

Willy Wonka's big enemy was his big metal art flat files. They were always "biting" him on the leg.

"Goddammit! Why am I always getting banged in the shins by this @#^%#$ flat file?!"

We would have long philosophical talks about art, the mechanics of office politics, and just what the hell was the meaning of it all. My ostensible job for the first two years of my tenure, before I began to inisist on editing, was to occasionally place a package in the mail rack, make a few Xeroxes, pencil in a visitor here and there, and, mostly, to just continually convince him not to quit.

I mean -- that was it. That's all I did.

After an earlier editing tenure at another, smaller, comics house & stints in advertising, the snail's pace of my new position was quite a shock. But I was convinced I was Going Places, that I , like so many of the other (male) editors at Gilgongo! Comics would work myself up from obscurity to higher and higher up the ranks, provided I kept pushing for more and more responsibility and kept proving myself.

And I remember the first day I showed up for the interview --
It was like Charlie visiting the Chocolate Factory.
It was awesome!
As a lifelong comic fan, it was truly what dreams were made of.

And I remember on that first day, as I showed up over-dressed in a suit and heels, how, in the midst of all the orientations and "hellos" and tours of the office, how I was told, by two different people, on the fly, quiet-like:

"Watch your back."

Now, I never had a problem with Willy Wonka. We had a good run. The day I resigned, he told me that he was jealous because now I would at least have a good block of time to write.

"Take me with you," he said in half-jest.

But I don't think he truly meant it. I mean, where I was going was half-way between hell and the unknown -- destroyed reputation, broke, physically ill, and standing on that old familiar precipice (on the verge of something Greater?).

Though I did write that book.

Willy Wonka never did check in with me after that last day in his office, never asked how I was doing, never inquired how the medical & financial & legal nightmare I was in the middle of was coming along. The situation I had with another employee at Gilgongo! was no doubt some small part of this. Because, you see, I had "fucked with the fizzy-lifting drinks," and now I was disqualified and would get nothing.

About two years later, Willy answered an email regarding a letter of recommendation for a job with a very formal recitation of company policy, footnoted with a "well, maybe I'll try to write you a little something, if you can keep it quiet." I made a note to myself to contact an editor I hadn't seen in eight years and get a letter of rec from him instead. Which I did.


  1. There was always this parody/homage of "Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory" that I wanted to write. [snip]

    Aaaahahahahaha! I'd certainly read it.

  2. "What follows is more John Carpenter than Roald Dahl."
    You need to read more Roald Dahl. In my imagination some mother buys her child some Roald Dahl stories, thinking of the 'wholesomeness' of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

    Then the child has nightmares for the rest of his life. Roald Dahl has written some really strange and scary stuff. His childrens books are really the exception. Your story would fit in well. Maybe you're picking up on the real Roald.

    I found your blog through Metafilter (not a Google search for 'broken vagina') and must say found your story really touching.

    You are a really outspoken person (and I say this with great appreciation), yet you criticize yourself for the times you didn't speak out. Don't be so hard on yourself.

    We all need our heroes and heroines, that's one reason we like to read comics. It is why I enjoyed reading your blog.

  3. Your old boss ssems WAY less cool than Gene Wilder..I mean, Willy Wonka.