Try It...Yule Love It! (always with the puns, this one is)
A long time ago, back when kids had to ride the wooly mammoth to school, I used to write a lot of comic books. Writing comic scripts is hard work. Much harder than people might imagine. Every panel needs to be described in detail, text boxes and dialogue needs to be written, and the artist needs to have everything he/she needs to tell the story right in front of him/her. On the other hand, writing a comic plot is a walk in the park, complete with ice cream cone and nuts for the squirrels. Back in the 60s, comic book maestro Stan Lee helped change the comic book industry. He helped create a bunch of fun characters like the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, the X-Men and lots more. Stan was writing at least a dozen books a week. He had no time to write his stories full script, and he was good friends with most of the artists, so he started providing the artists the bare minimum they needed to draw the story. Sometimes he would even give a long-time collaborator the plot over the telephone.
He might call Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko and tell them, “In this issue the Hulk finds himself on Hoover Dam. The poor lug doesn’t know how he got there, his little peanut brain is confused, and to make matters worse an army battalion arrives to blast him to smithereens. The fight goes on for three or four pages and then the X-Men show up. The Hulk is so worked up he assumes that the X-Men are there to fight him (when in fact they’re there to help remove the mind-controlling chip that the Leader has implanted in the Hulk’s ear) and the Hulk and the X-Men fight for three or four pages. And then the Leader shows up in a milk delivery truck. He fires a mind controlling beam at the X-Men, who then start attacking the army guys and start to tear down Hoover Dam itself. While this is happening the mind-controlling chip falls out of the Hulk’s ear and he has to keep the X-Men from killing the army guys. In the end the Leader gets away with the help of a rocket jetpack.”
Then the artists would sit down and break the plot down to eighteen pages, or however many they had to fill. He would take care of the pacing and continuity and deliver fully penciled pages to Stan, sometimes with dialogue suggestions scribbled on the edges of the page. Stan would take these pencil pages and write the captions and dialogue. After the letterer was done, the pencil art was inked and then color guides were done.
If you’re a newbie writer, like I was and still mostly am, there’s nothing more fun and easier to write than a comic book plot. It’s loose and free form of writing that’s so simple to do the dumbest of my six cats could write one.
Every once in a while I miss writing in that format, so I feed the beast by writing little things that usually never go any further than my computer. The other day I was playing around with an idea I’ve had for a few years now, which concerned how silly of a song The Little Drummer is. I love the song. It’s been a favorite since I was a kid. As Christmas drew near we would put a stack of our eight or nine holiday albums (wax, of course) on the spindle of the record player and every couple of hours we would flop the stack over. We had a few versions of the Little Drummer Boy in our collection.
All sentiment aside, the whole concept of the song is just plain silly. It has bugged me for years how silly it was. So I explored the concept of a poor boy playing a drum solo for a little baby. After I tune it up a bit I may ask someone to draw it up for me and send it out as a Christmas greeting. I’ve never written a mini-comic before, but it could be fun. Here’s what I came up with. I thought I’d share.
Sleepy Newborn Baby + Drum Solo = Disaster
(Written in the Mad Magazine spirit of Jack Davis, Don Martin and Mort Drucker.)
We open with a wide shot of the desert at night that shows a long line of people waiting to get into THE MANGER. Huge billboards (like the kind you see on the freeway—Wisconsin Dells This Way—You’re Almost at Garlic City—Only Ten More Miles To The Biggest Ball Of Twine In Alabama) announce THIS WAY TO SEE THE NEWBORN KING and YOU’RE ALMOST AT THE BABY JESUS and PLEASE FORM A SINGLE LINE TO SEE BABY JESUS. Walking up and down the line of people are vendors with carts selling FRIED YAK ON A STICK and CUP O’HUMMUS and FAR-FROM-AWFUL-FALAFEL.
Standing in the middle of the line is the LITTLE DRUMMER BOY. For some reason I picture him as a 60’s kind of British punk, with a shaggy haircut covering his eyes and a punkish stance. He’s got a snare drum balanced on his hip, hanging from a strap around his shoulder. He twirls drumsticks in both hands and looks bored. He stops twirling when he sees a sign that says PLEASE HAVE GIFTS FOR THE NEWBORN KING READY UPON ENTERING MANGER. He taps the guy in line in front of him on the shoulder with a drumstick and asks, “Oh, man! We were supposed to bring a present?” The guy he’s talking to is one of the Three Wise Men. He’s kind of a stoner. He’s the one bringing frankincense and it looks like he’s been smoking some of it while he waits. “If you know what’s good for you, you’d better bring something. The child is our new king!”
The Drummer Boy sort of recites a line from the song. “I have no gifts to bring. I’m but a poor dude too!” He thinks for a moment then he snaps his fingers and declares that he’ll just play the little baby a wicked drum solo. The kid ought to like that.
The Wise Man shakes his head and points to the very front of the line where see the LITTLE TRUMPET BOY is blasting out a trumpet solo for the baby Jesus. The baby screams so loud the Trumpet Boy’s face looks like he’s pulling ten G’s in a centrifuge. Then a dozen lightning bolts hit the Trumpet Boy, leaving only a smoking cinder of a skeleton standing there. When the smoke clears, the next guy in line, who is visibly jittery, gives his present to the baby. It’s a little kitten, and when the baby coos with joy, the guy wipes a roll of nervous sweat off his face.
Back in the line the Drummer Boy knows his goose is cooked. Or at least it will be when it’s his turn. Everyone else in line seems to have something reasonably good to give. A wooly sheep, a potted plant, baked goods, a cow, homemade toys, and such. Drummer Boy asks the Wise Man to save his spot and he’ll be right back.
We cut to Drummer Boy popping into the Jerusalem version of an AM/PM mini-mart. He scours the shelves for something good to give. There’s a tin of Camel Wax, a robe that has ‘MY PARENTS WENT TO JERUSALEM AND ALL I GOT WAS THIS CRUMMY ROBE’ lettered on it, a rack of crude baseball caps and sun visors (woven out of palm fronds), yak jerky, chunks of flint with novelty sayings on them, and stuff like that.
Then he sees it. The perfect gift. It sits on a shelf, in a glowing angelic halo of light. It’s a can of MYRRH (it’s about the size of a gallon of paint). Slogans on the can read NEWBORN BABIES LOVE IT! and IT’S THE INCENSE THAT CHOOSY VIRGIN MOTHERS CHOOSE.
We see the Drummer Boy reach for the myrrh, but at the same time another guy reaches for it. Each have a hand on it and a tugging match ensues. (The guy that Drummer Boy is fighting with should be dressed in the same sort of fancy robes as the Wise Man he was in line behind earlier. It turns out that he’s Wise Man #2)
Push comes to shove and fists are thrown, but then the Wise Man holds up his hands to call a truce. He reminds the Drummer Boy that this day isn’t about the two of them, it’s a day to celebrate the newborn king. Today is the day of all days to put petty differences aside.
While the Drummer Boy is pondering these profound words, the Wise Man grabs the can of myrrh and races off with it. The Drummer Boy chases after in hot pursuit.
We cut to later that night, back at the manger, where we see Mary and Joseph examining yet another gift that has been given. It’s a scuffed up and slightly dented can of myrrh. The note attached to the can reads, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, NEWBORN KING and signed below are the names LITTLE DRUMMER BOY and WISE MAN #2. Mary and Joseph look up and see Drummer Boy and Wise Man #2 standing there, arms around each other, with torn robes, missing teeth, a couple of black eyes, bandaged limbs, and maybe a crude pair of crutches made out of a tree branch. They’ve been through hell but they still smile at the little fellow they see down in the manger.