When I was little, my aunt Kerry worked as a TV news producer in Pittsburgh. Family members were regularly called into service as “average Americans” for interviews or cast as actors in informational segments. Between the ages of four and six, I appeared in the audience of a Christmas special hosted by Handyman Joe Negry from “Mr. Rogers,” starred in a PSA on not leaving alcohol out where the kids could get it (my brother Conor demonstrated the importance of keeping poisonous plants out of reach of children), and explained why I loved my new Cabbage Patch Kid.
But my family’s finest hour, by far, was a two-minute segment called “Vacation Stress,” starring my mother as the Mom, my uncle Harold as the Dad, my cousin Tony as Big Brother, and yours truly as Little Sister. Everyone clearly poured their heart and soul into the searing portrayal of a family becoming stressed by their vacation. Even better is the 45 minutes of unused footage from the filming, all of which has long provided entertainment on family gatherings.
Anyway, that’s the story behind this strip. I like to think we helped some people.
There was no reason whatsoever to use a photo in the final panel. When it came time to do the print collections, I didn’t have a high-res copy of the photo because I just plucked it off Google. I replaced it with a photo my mom sent me of the Longaberger basket company headquarters, which is shaped like a giant basket.
The stickers on Helen’s suitcase indicate that she’s visited Miskatonic University and Akron. Six of one, half dozen of the other.
Strangely, this turns out not to be a joke: Dave really does have to call himself David after he gets kicked out of the Conspiracy.
Those are some unpleasantly shapeless black mounds, but at least I’m trying to add something to the composition. My futile effort to draw cars continues. And I don’t know what the fish on Helen’s t-shirt means, but it’s kind of cute.
Mr. Ed’s Elephant Museum is an actual awesome place I have really been to. And it is boss.
Yes, the car and the road are terrible in every conceivable way. Let’s just move along.
Sugar Notch, in addition to being a real place, figures in an oft-told family story about the drive home from college at the end of my freshman year. My mother and aunt Kerry picked me up, we crammed all my stuff into the car and strapped the rest to the outside, and then we drove for eight hours through a driving, blinding rainstorm in the dark. Aunt Kerry was preternaturally calm through the whole ordeal, and at one point, as the car was skidding along a wet road in pitch darkness, she pointed at a briefly visible road sign and said, “Sugar Notch. That sounds like a nice place to live.”
And now you know the story of Sugar Notch.
Although the location of Narbonics Labs remains a mystery, it’s established here that Dave hails from Minnesota. I picked Minnesota because it’s where “Mystery Science Theater 3000” was made. Later, the Narbonicons were held in the Twin Cities, so that ended up working out very well.
Much later, we do see the young Helen and her mom on the run from a town they just destroyed, but at the time I wrote this I didn’t think I’d ever actually show it.
Helen’s shirt is from the Nut Museum, which I’m very sorry to say I never got to visit.
Those are some nice silhouettes in the last panel, even if they could very easily be made dirty. Also, I like the cow in the background of the first panel, which is not dirty at all.
This strip is based on a road trip during which my mom, my aunt Kerry, and I got lost in the Poconos late at night during peak hunting season and we couldn’t find a motel with vacancies and one really creepy place offered us a room with a single heart-shaped bed and we said no and two hours later we were starting to regret that. This was not the same trip involving Sugar Notch. We take a lot of ill-fated trips.
Anyway, I still like this strip, although possibly just because I think Dave is cute when he’s angry and scowling and wants you to leave him alone so he can get some sleep. This would be so much sexier if it were a manga, is all I can say.
The bad part about the strip is that I drew Helen’s glasses in the first panel. I tend to automatically draw glasses on everyone if I’m not careful.
The image on Helen’s T-shirt is a photo Lea Hernandez sent me when she noticed I was putting roadside attractions in the strip. It’s this big crazy frog sculpture.
Come to think of it, all road-trip sequences in my comics are based closely on personal experience. The driving week in Skin Horse is also based on a true story. I guess I go on a lot of disastrous road trips.
Helen’s T-shirt this time advertises The House on the Rock, which my collaborator Jeffrey Wells has promised we will totally see when I visit him in Wisconsin. And Jeffrey would never lie to me, would he? As you can probably tell from this week of strips, I have a thing for campy roadside attractions.
Helen and Dave are brushing their teeth with Ellmann’s of Maine toothpaste. Also, Dave’s shaving cream is called “Manly Foam.” That and the dialogue in the second panel are the best things about this strip. I do like it, though. I like drawing characters first thing in the morning, all scruffy and unshaven and wearing crooked bathrobes.
I have absolutely no idea how to apply lipstick. The only time I’ve ever worn makeup was for my wedding, and I don’t know how that looked because I took my glasses off. I’m really not remotely good at being a girl.