The idea literally exploded out of my head. A comic strip called The Collective Intelligence of Crisco. Yeah. It would be a strip revolving around a twisted love triangle of the sentient, sexy vat of vegetable shortening, named Cris, a sensitive stick of Mazola margerine and the lovely Florence Henderson, Wesson oil spokesmodel. In addition to working through their various affairs of the heart, they would spend every free moment tirelessly fighting to free the world of lard.
Well, The Crimson found this lard idea a little hard to swallow, and my mom suggested that maybe when I came home for Thanksgiving she'd invite our neighbor, the psychiatrist, over for dinner. I got the hint, so I gave up on the idea.
But the idea of writing a comic strip simmered in my head for quite some time. I needed the merchandising money. Unfortunately, after this initial burst of misunderstood creative ingenuity, my brain went numb. It was a nightmare: all my creativity had slowly seeped out of me, leaving me a dry, lifeless husk totally incapable of inventive conversation, let alone producing a daily, witty, critically acclaimed, award-winning, ego trip of a comic strip.
But then, one day, as I was playing with my food, the good Lord saw fit to enlighten me with a creative revelation I was eating some plain white rice.
Actually, it's the only thing I eat. I'm allergic to just about everything else. You name it, it makes me puke. Rice is the only thing I eat (I'm really skinny), and as I was playing with it, it struck me that you eat rice in clumps, as a group, never one at a time.
They were a community, not unlike the social insects--be they bees, wasps, ants or termites. So as I brought spoonfuls of rice to my mouth, my high pitched squeals of "No, no, don't eat me" changed to "no, no don't eat us." What, revelation. It seemed like a cool idea, an entire rice community, rather like the Smurfs, who lived in a socialist collective commune. Kibbutzniks, as it were. I saw little rice dolls for sale in Toys R Us. I saw fame and fortune. I saw an idea that didn't go anywhere. Yet.
My roomate, Joe Fendel, didn't buy the idea at first, but in no time he came up with his own interpretations of my idea: The Rice Capades. Rice Riots of the '60s. Bob Barker's The Rice is Right.
It wasn't quite right yet, but I knew that we were on to something. After my daily torturing of the communities of rice grains that found their way onto my plate, I started to sympathize with the rice.
So it occurred to me to a create a strip about a man who has had his personality bonded to a bowl of Rice Krispies, and then was hurtled back in time to meet his past self so as to raise his grade point average. Why not?
While I'm at it, I might as well make myself the hero of the story. Ever since donning that red sheet around my neck as a child and jumping off the stairs screaming "Up up and a [tumble tumble splat] ugh!" I've wanted to be a fictional super-hero, but nowadays I'd settle for a fictional super-schlub.
The rest is cartooning history, and a great excuse for The Crimson not to spend money on another syndicated strip. I recruited (drafted, forced, blackmailed) two friends into helping me produce the strip. Joe, a burly bear of a man, to produce the plots I provided with hip-hop-happenin' really groovy dialogue, and Jason Levesque, an extraordinary young artist and brilliant comedian in his own right, to lend his talents to making the collective intelligence of rice a reality.
Some days we draw rice. Most days we draw blanks. Other days ideas just boil over in our brains during lecture, as molecular orbital theory and all that other chem crap is left far behind as new storylines spew forth as doodles onto notebook paper. Our conversations start to pattern themselves after the set-up and punchline rhthym of the strip. We often fight over the direction things should take, and have nasty things to say about each other.
While occasional slaps and noogies are exchanged, we haven't resorted to anything beyond conventional explosives to settle our disagreements. More often than not, the strip manages to get drawn in the ten minutes before the deadline. (Actually, it's usually AFTER the deadline, and we submit to the mandated floggings they so enjoy dispensing here at The Crimson, the same paper that brings you "Drawn and Quartered.")
The scariest aspect is that since we are characters in this fictional world, this fictional world has become our own reality. People who overhear our dining hall conversations-"Yeah, so after the time-traveling rice pulls a shotgun on me..."-often take their spicy waffle fries to another table.
And despite conventional wisdom, women aren't beating down our door. Rice, in fact, is NOT an aphrodisiac. But, if nothing else, there is one consolation:
It is, in truth, the San Francisco treat.