I always wanted to live in a sitcom, where the hair and the clothes always looked perfect, family members didn’t try to kill each other, and no matter how fucked up the situation got, everything had to go back to being the same by the end of the show. And if shit got too heavy, all you had to do was wait for a commercial.
I didn’t become a television professional, but after years of writing, and then some more years of illustrating, I did discover comix. And recently, while I was working on a strip for UNDERWIRE, the webcomic I write and draw on ACT-I-VATE.com, I realized how much my work owed to the fine TV shows I grew up with.
Maybe a lot of comix artists feel this way. I don’t know. Maybe it’s because each UNDERWIRE story is short and self-contained, making it feel like a half-hour format. Or it could be because the characters are members of my family—my husband, daughter, son. Starring me, of course: the Mom.
UNDERWIRE would fit in the category of “nutty family” sitcom. I don’t find animated sitcoms like The Simpsons, Family Guy, and American Dad to be as inspiring as the live-action shows, which follow a tradition of “innocent idiocy”. The Patty Duke Show, the Brady Bunch, the Dick Van Dyke Show, The Partridge Family, All In The Family and the Cosby Show, these were families spinning gently out of control as families do. Father didn’t know best, and neither did Mom. Nobody knew how the hell to proceed. You did your best, you fucked up, you learned what an idiot you were, and hopefully you apologizWhen I’m writing dialogue, it seems to owe more to sitcom banter than to comix. Sitcom banter has become more acid over the years, more character-bashing, more revealing of possibly-extremely-off-the-reservation behavior. In family shows, my personal favorites are the inappropriate parent confession, and the democratic child-to-parent bitch-slap.
Hey, these are autobiographical comix. I’m just depicting the truth. The other night at dinner my son said to his sister, who was pissing him off, "Jesus, Charlotte, you are the world's biggest whore." Then he turned to me and said, "No offense, Mom." I smiled with whorish dignity and answered, "None taken.” I didn't laugh my ass off until later.
I watched so many sitcoms as a kid that I guess when it was my turn to raise a family I created my own TV show. And since my husband, my kids, and I all watch the same shows together now, I suppose we all know exactly how to develop our characters and keep the script entertaining. Which doesn’t mean it’s always a laff riot in our house. The cameras do get turned off regularly so that somebody can give somebody else the ass-kicking they currently require.
Married With Children took the “nutty family” format by the balls, and Modern Family is currently putting it through the cultural blender. But the theme is the same: it doesn’t matter how outrageous you are with your children, as long as they know you love them. Be yourself with them, and they’ll figure out who they are.
I’ve always believed this to be true. Maybe because my real mother in TV-land was Lucille Ball. Before my legs could reach the kitchen floor, I was sitting at the table watching I Love Lucy with my kid brother every night while we ate dinner. She was me; I was her. She didn’t seem much more grownup to me even when she had a kid. Did she change, as Little Ricky got taller? Doubtful.
And neither did I. I’m not the Mom who makes sense; the Mom who’s got the answers; the Mom who knows how to behave. I can’t be a fucking lady. Which is why comix work for me, and why UNDERWIRE is the way I like to work through the shit that is happening in my house. Nothing changes; everything remains the same; life goes on; there’s a laugh-track, sometimes with a little sobbing underneath it; we insult the crap out of each other; we love each other; the plot is simple; it’s over before you know it.
When I was growing up, sometimes someone would say, “You should be a standup comedian.” The nearest member of my family would say, “Nah, she’s going to be a bendover comedian.” Well, I’m not bending over when I’m working on UNDERWIRE, but I’m definitely sitting down.
|Photo: Chris Smith|
UNDERWIRE will be published in September 2011 by Top Shelf. The webcomic is available at http://act-i-vate.com/64.comic.
Jennifer is also working on a graphic novel coming out in 2013. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, two children, three cats, and the dog. http://goddesscomix.blogspot.com/,