Every now and then I'll get a letter or e-mail from a reader suggesting I make an animated FoxTrot TV show or movie. I especially love the ones from kids who often volunteer to serve as the voice of their favorite character.
What most people don't know is that for about a year in the late 1990s I actually sorta kinda looked into it. I got an agent and pitched my strip a few times to studio folk over the phone, but it quickly became apparent to me that my living 1500 miles outside of Los Angeles wasn't exactly helping things. Plus my syndicate wanted to be in charge of negotiating any deals, which complicated things with my agent. Plus I discovered I really suck at selling myself. So after a while I gave up, which was probably for the best.
So why am I making a post about this? Because while going through some old boxes of papers in my office this weekend I came across two treatments I'd written back then to demonstrate how FoxTrot might work as an animated TV show. I had completely forgotten about them and they were surprisingly fun to reread some 13 years later. I figure some of you might enjoy reading them as well, even if only as historical oddities. So, without further ado (cue trumpet fanfare)...
SAMPLE EPISODE 1:
Roger Fox pulls into the family's detached garage after a day at the office. He is merrily whistling "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" as he punches the button to close the automatic garage door. He Is oblivious to the garage door closing on the rear of his car as he walks toward the house. He opens the front door and cheerfully announces that he's home. We hear a click-click sound similar to that of a shotgun being readied.
Roger enters the kitchen with a dozen rubber suction-cup darts stuck to his face. He remarks to his wife Andy that their son Jason has a new toy, he sees. Andy isn't really listening. She is reading a fat hard cover book and only reacting to Roger with occasional uh-huhs and mmms. Finally Roger learns that TV's Okrah Humphrey has selected this book as her book-club pick and Andy hasn't been able to put it down since she started it a couple of hours earlier. Roger explains that he has two tickets to see the new arena baseball league's season-opener tomorrow night. Baseball's answer to arena football and soccer, it's played in a small indoor space. "All the fun, but ten times the danger!," Roger enthusiastically notes. Andy ignores this news. She's back to reading. Paige enters inquiring about dinner. Mom realizes that she almost forgot to put the lima bean pot pie in the oven. She thanks Paige for reminding her. Paige kicks herself. Roger says he expects Peter will be pretty excited about going to the ball game with him. Paige reads him the riot act for assuming she wouldn't want to go. When he gives in and asks her, she lets loose a "Blecch! Are you mad?!"
Jason enters his bedroom carrying his new plastic G.I. Jim assault weapon mumbling about how dart #7's spring could use some adjusting when he screams at the sight of his brother Peter examining a model rocket on his desk. He yells at Peter, explaining that the fins to the just-completed J-pollo XXXIV rocket have been precisely calibrated and the top-secret indestructo epoxy is still drying. He goes on to point out to Peter all the nerdy nuances and precision aspects of the rocket, from the mathematics of the nose-cone shape to the caliper-tested uniformity of the cardboard tube. Nothing about the design of this rocket has been left to chance. This will for sure be the one that works as it's supposed to. Jason and Marcus plan to launch it in the next day or so. Peter asks how many engines it will use. "As many as we can jam in there," replies Jason.
As we pan past the family members eating at the dinner table we hear Paige recounting her day at school over the general clink sounds of silverware and dining. Finally we see that she is telling all this to her friend Nicole over the phone while she eats. Andy, still reading her book, asks Peter to tell his sister to get off the phone. Peter yanks the phone out of Paige's hand, says something blunt to Nicole, then presses the off button. Jason sniffs at his food. It's disgusting. He is reminded that he has to eat it all if he wants dessert. Roger invites Peter to go with him to the arena baseball game. Peter screams in delight. The two start doing some bizarre celebratory dance while chanting the arena baseball ad jingle. Paige stares at them incredulously. Andy is oblivious, still reading. Peter explains that it's a guy thing. Thank God, she says. Meanwhile, Jason has quietly lowered his not eaten plate of food to his iguana at the foot of his chair. The iguana begins eating Jason's dinner. He then pukes all over it. Jason raises his plate and stares at it. He then learns tonight's dessert is his favorite. The phone rings. Paige runs from the table yelling "I'll get it!"
Roger and Andy are brushing their teeth. Roger tries making end of day talk. Andy is still reading. Roger and Andy in bed. Roger tries a little snuggling. Andy is still reading. Roger gives up, turns out the light. We hear Andy's "ahem" and the light comes back on. Roger puts a pillow over his head.
The parking lot at the baseball arena is a sideshow of freakish tailgate parties and baseball fanatics. Roger and Peter make their way into the arena and take their seats mid-level near first base. It's "Cigar Night" and Roger has been handed a fat stogie upon entering. Aroma del Bano is the brand. As they talk, various vendors pass selling things like helmets and life insurance. Roger explains to Peter all the various nuances of this new sport of arena baseball, among them the potential for ricochets off the ceilings and walls. The game starts. Much craziness. Roger lights his cigar. What a great idea for a promotion, he remarks.
Like a scene from Apollo 13, Jason's rocket is solemnly illuminated against the night sky. Jason and Marcus tow it slowly out to the launch pad in Jason's red wagon. They load it with engines galore, and begin the 50-page pre-countdown checklist. Very nerdy astro-sounding stuff: Main booster drag coefficient compensation...check. Max altitude temperature gradient adjustment...check.
The baseball arena is now choked with the thick smoke from 20,000 cheap cigars. Zero visibility. The P.A. announcer explains over the sounds of choking and coughing that windows are being opened and play will continue uninterrupted. We hear the crack of a bat followed by the sounds of a wildly ricocheting foul ball and finally the scream of it hitting a spectator.
Andy is reading her book on the sofa. Paige sits next to her with the TV remote. She flips through the channels, delighting in her Mom's inattention. Each show she tunes in becomes even more ridiculously offensive, just the sort of things her mother would never let her watch. She accidentally tunes in public television, then shrieks as she discovers the remote's battery has died with it tuned to that channel.
Jason and Marcus are now in the final go/no-go for launch checklist. Flight Control...go. Astro...we're go. Cap Com...go. Ground control...we're go.
Roger is shouting in the stands as Peter finishes a hot dog and soda. He tells his dad he's going to buy another dog and would he also want one. Roger says, no thanks, that 11 is probably plenty for one night. Suit yourself, says Peter as he heads off to the concession stand. The game is tense. The enemy team has tied the game 38-38 in the last inning.
Jason and Marcus begin their countdown. T-minus 10 minutes...9:59...9:58...
The home team's first two batters make outs. It's all up to the next batter to avoid extra innings.
Paige looks like death as she sits through a Dick Cavett-like voice-over on the television accompanying some unseen ballet performance.
The rocket countdown draws to a close. T-minus 1 minute...0:59...0:58...
The batter his a screaming foul ball that bounces off a few walls and beams and plunges into the two-dozen hot-dogs Peter is carefully carrying down the aisle to his seat. A beat after the cushioned impact, a heap of fans dive from all directions onto poor Peter in search of the ball. Hot dogs and soda fly everywhere.
Andy finishes her book.
Jason launches his rocket. It's flight is briefly perfect, then things go very wrong. The boys hit the dirt as it swoops low past them then heads off horizontally like a cruise missile.
The count on the batter is 3 and 2. Roger is excited and nervous. He yells to Peter that he can't believe he's not paying attention to this. Pan to Peter still being piled on by foul-ball-hungry fans.
The rocket wreaks havoc as it flies out of control through suburbia and onto the big city.
Peter is back in his seat. Roger explains that it all comes down to this pitch. The ball is hit. It goes up in slow motion with stereotypical melodrama. Everyone's eyes follow the ball. The outfielder backs up toward the fence.
The rocket hurtles toward the baseball arena and flies into one of the opened windows. Just as the baseball is above the home run fence, the rocket slices the ball in two and half of the ball falls into the outfielder's mitt, the other half falls over the fence. The audience waits for the umpires' ruling. Finally, they give the nod, the scoreboard rolls over to 38 1/2 - 38 and the stands erupt. The rocket, now spiraling up after hitting the ball, slams into a bank of lights and causes them to explode in a slow motion shower of fireworks. Suddenly, the arena is pitch black, with no power at all. Roger says it worked a lot better in The Natural.
Andy closes her book and takes a deep breath of completion. Paige looks at her, waiting for the big verdict. Finally she asks, "so...?" Andy says it wasn't as good as she'd hoped it would be.
The next morning at breakfast we see Roger reading the paper. All the headlines on the front page relate to some rocket-related mishap. Jason enters dressed incognito and says "Did I mention I was up in my room doing homework ALL last evening?" Peter is eating a matterhorn-sized bowl of cereal and shows off his souvenir foul ball to Paige. He notices it still has some mustard on it and slurps it off much to his sister's disgust. He resumes his cereal consumption. Andy is busy making the kids' bag lunches for school. Because the kids have been so well-behaved recently, she tells them she's giving them each an extra helping of eggplant chips. Jason asks if he'd mentioned he broke 23 FAA statutes the previous night and has a warrant out for his arrest. The kids head off to school. Roger heads for work. On his way out the door he asks Andy what that huge book was about. "Learning to Listen."
SAMPLE EPISODE 2:
The end-of-school bell finally rings. Jason and Marcus dart to the local software store to see and touch the newly arrived shipment of GORESPLAT-3D, the most violent and bloody video game ever. They've been waiting and saving for months for this game. Unfortunately for them, however, they learn the game is only being sold to adults 17 and older. They try a couple simple tricks to get the game. No luck.
At home, Roger is excitedly showing Andy the new answering machine he's bought. All digital. No tape. Nothing that he can goof up this time. As he says this, he plugs it into the wall and the machine sputters and bursts into flames. Andy yells upstairs to Jason that dinner will be in 15 minutes.
Cut to Jason in his mother's study (the family computer room) outlining his plan to Peter: Jason will use the computer and Mom's new color printer to make a fake ID for Peter to use to buy the game for J & M. Peter hems and haws, but Jason talks him into it. Mom is heard yelling that they need to come now because their bean curd tacos are getting cold.
Nighttime. Roger has brought the answering machine into bed with him as he tries futilely to record a suitable greeting. Andy asks why he has to do that at 11 PM, why he couldn't do it after dinner. Roger explains that he's been at it since after dinner. Andy turns out the light. All we see is the blinking red record light as Roger keeps trying.
The next morning at breakfast, after checking that the coast is clear, Jason gives Peter instructions and his new fake ID while Peter munches on a bowl of rainbow-colored cereal piled like some miniature Mt. Everest. Peter points out that Jason accidentally spelled his name "Petre". Jason says who's going to notice? Paige tells Peter they need to hurry or they'll be late for school. Peter eats the cereal in one mouthful.
After school, Peter and Paige are in the car and Peter takes a different route home than usual. Paige asks where they're going, Peter won't say. Finally the word "store" slips out and Paige goes squeally nuts that they're going shopping. When they pull up to the software/video game store, it's as if someone doused Paige with cold water.
The store is a Mecca to geeky boydom and Paige can only grit her teeth and fend off the little boy nerds like flies as she stands with Peter while the big transaction is made. The purchase is fraught with tension as Peter is asked for ID, and Peter acts like a nervous nelly, but he manages to buy the game and they leave the store.
Back in the car, Paige describes some of the gore and text on the box to Peter as they drive home. It's incredible stuff and funny in its over-the-top grossness. Quotes from senators and trade magazines speckle the back, saying how sick the game is.
Peter accidentally runs a red light and is pulled over by a policeman. The cop asks for a drivers license and the one in plain view is the fake one. Peter has no choice. The cop returns to his car and punches in "Petre Fox" into his computer. We wait for a few seconds, then the green screen blinks "match."
Cut to Peter strapped and locked into a Hannibal-Lector-esque crucifix/cage/mask deal at the police station, yelling almost incoherently about a misunderstanding. He's not who they think he is, he's just a kid buying a video game. The officer in charge reads some of the quotes on the game box, ending with one saying "Only the sickest mass-murderers would find this game entertaining." They've found their man, all right. Peter spots Paige through an interrogation room window. He yells that she has to tell them the truth. Paige sucks on her diet soda can, looks over at the hunky GQ model of a detective who is waiting to talk with her about her close call with this monster, and it's clear she's in no hurry to leave. Peter finally gets his one chance to make a phone call, only to reach Roger's new seriously-malfunctioning answering machine. Peter screams.
Cut to Andy screaming. Peter, Paige and Jason are seated on the sofa at home while Mom Andy rants and raves. She tells Paige that she's free to go, that this doesn't involve her. Paige explains that she finds it enjoyable. Andy glares, Paige goes. Andy lectures the boys, asks them how they think they should be punished. Jason suggests he be given a sort of Twilight Zone punishment where he has to play this computer game 24-hours a day for all eternity. Peter suggests that since the shame of disappointing his mother so is the greatest of all punishments, any additional punishments would be meaningless. Andy grounds them both and takes the game away. And for extra measure, there'll be no zucchini pudding for them for dessert that night.
Jason and Marcus are eating from their lunch boxes at school. They talk about the game they'll never play. Jason explains that his mom made him get rid of the game so he sold it to some guy over the Internet which was ok, as he got most of his money back. They laugh at how ludicrously overprotective parents can be. All that talk about only psychos liking a game like GORESPLAT-3D is just ad copy. Right?
We see a package with Jason Fox as the return address being opened and a copy of GORESPLAT-3D being removed by an adult hand. The CD is put into a computer and the game begins. The camera pans around the room as the hideous sound effects and music of the game come to life. We see some ridiculously suggestive props such as "Gray's Anatomy," "The Big Book of Cutlery" and a stack of cans labeled "Fava Beans." Finally we see a sport coat hung on a hook with a label clearly marked "Hello, my Name is" and in big handwritten letters it says "PETRE." We hear the game player's voice saying "oh, yeahhh" over the sounds of the game as if he's really found something up his alley. Fade to black.
Just in time for 2013 I bring you a book with 2012 in the title!
The cover is a play on the old Robotron: 2084 arcade game which was one of my favorite ways to burn through quarters back in the day. If my experience is any guide, poor Paige is pretty much doomed.
It's my first "normal" collection in a couple of years, so I'm pretty excited for it to finally be available. Hoping some of you are as well. :)
About a year ago my publisher took me to lunch and proposed an experiment. Being a former physics major, I was a little disappointed to learn that it wouldn't involve lasers or superconducting magnets, but it still seemed sorta kinda interesting. They wanted to try selling a FoxTrot collection targeted to kids, which would be sold in bookstores' childrens sections rather than FoxTrot's usual place in the humor section.
And now it's here! So what is it, exactly, besides a book with a title that's really awkward to say out loud?
Essentially it's a collection of dailies pulled from past collections that we thought kids would especially enjoy. So there's more of an emphasis on school and sibling stuff, and less of the techie pop-culture stuff. They're arranged to give the sense of a year-in-the-life with the characters.
I'm really happy with how the book turned out and my fingers are crossed that some kids new to FoxTrot will discover and enjoy it. And I'm told there will be e-versions available, too, which makes this book doubly experimental. Still no lasers, sadly.