What’s Going On In Judge Parker? When will the pandemic reach the story strips? January – April 2020


So here’s the thing about comic strips: they have lead time. Cartoonists can work as far ahead of deadline as the like, but deadline for weekday comics is about two weeks ahead of publication. It takes time to distribute and print. Note that comic strips are usually in the sections of the paper that are not so time-sensitive. Especially the Sunday comics. So they get printed when the presses are available. Sunday comics, with color done on purpose, need more time: on average about two months.

Cartoonists can respond to emergencies. A few months ago Patrick McDonnell cancelled a Mutts sequence in which Mooch dreamed of being in Australia, in deference to the wildfires. Story strips have a harder time doing sudden changes like that. This especially since most of them have weekday and Sunday continuity tied together. Terry Beatty, of Rex Morgan, M.D., recently wrote about this lead time. The just-begun Truck Tyler storyline will not even mention Covid-19 until its end, the 31st of May. This even though it’s the story comic for which the pandemic is most on-point.

So, that Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker mentioned social distancing means they are doing some astounding last-minute rewriting. But that’s also happening in my future too. If you’re reading this essay after about July 2020, and there is a time after July 2020, you’ll see how the pandemic plays out in an essay at this link, I hope. For now, let me catch things up for the last three months which began twenty years ago.

Judge Parker.

20 January – 12 April 2020

Last time, Retired Judge and original protagonist Alan Parker figured to run for Mayor of Cavelton. This despite that thing where he’d been incarcerated for helping an arms merchant fake his death to avoid rival terror gangs. And only got out of jail because said merchant of death blackmailed a judge. That sort of baggage. Meanwhile, Sophie Spencer is still recovering from her months-long kidnapping at the hands of her mother’s previously-unsuspected half-sister. She can’t understand even thinking about going to college. She talks to Abbey about not going to college, which turns into an enormous ongoing explosion. Everybody’s mad with everybody else. Also meanwhile, Neddy and Ronnie sold the premise of their series, about April Formerly Parker, to a studio that doesn’t want their script.

Sophie, counting off her fingers: 'OK, as a campaign manager you're going to need political consultants, communication, financial, legal and technology departments, a constant on-the-ground presence with a storefront campaign office, and activists who --- ' Abbey: 'Sophie, instead of finding all these projects to work on, if you'd just focus on your college applications ... ' Sophie: 'OK, one, you didn't mind when that project was your B-n-B. And two, I told you, I'm not going to college.' Sam Driver: 'Okay, Okay ... '
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 31st of January, 2020. I didn’t get much into how spikey the relationship between Sophie and Abbey has gotten, but it’s pretty important. I don’t think there was a single interaction between them the past three months that didn’t end in someone having to break it up, or storm out of the room. So that’s an important level to remember for the future.

Alan talks with his son Randy Parker about his mayoral ambitions. Randy points out the idea is stupid and crazy. But, hey, what’s life for if not doing the stupid and crazy thing? Alan wants Sam Driver as campaign manager. Sam thinks it over. This gives Sophie the idea it might be fun to run a campaign. She works up a Leslie Knope file of campaign plans, and Sam takes that and the job.

In Hollywood, Neddy Spencer and Ronnie Huerta have mixed news. Their April Parker-based show is developing into a pilot. Nothing of their work is getting in, though. Except that the studio likes Cavelton, as a place, and figures to shoot on location. At least for the pilot. And use Neddy especially as scout for good locations and bits of local color and all. They get a story-by credit and a mission of finding places that will look good on screen. Ronnie mourns the loss of her Los Angeles apartment and their move to Cavelton. This seems to me premature; even if they do have to live in Cavelton for months, that is only months. They could at least ask the studio to cover rent.

[ Ronnie and Neddy discuss their meeting with the studio.] Ronnie: 'How can you be happy with how that went?' Neddy: 'What are you talking about? We may get to be on the writing staff of a TV show!' Ronnie: 'In Cavelton.' Neddy: 'Don't knock my hometown! And I thought you found Cavelton charming!' Tonnie: 'To visit! I didn't move from my rustic hometown to L.A. to then move to some other rustic village. And even you said you were happier in L.A.' Neddy: 'OK, one, it's not rustic, it's bucolic. And two, I'm happy to be in L.A. for the opportunities. And this is a killer opportunity, Ronnie!' Ronnie: 'I bet Cavelton is either too hot or too cold most of the year.' Neddy: 'OK, can we talk about anything except how much you don't want to be where I'm from?'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 16th of February, 2020. I get where Neddy is coming from, because I’m from New Jersey, and I like that fact. And when I tell people where I’m from, I don’t get a lot of “Oh, that’s great, I always wanted to visit there someday.” What I get is “Really? But you don’t sound like you’re from New Jersey, you sound like you’re from … uh … ” and then they give up, raise a distraction, and run from the room.

Alan Parker announces his “possible” run. Local News anchor Toni Bowen reports this, while showing footage of him going into custody for helping an arms dealer. And interviews his judge, who Sam Driver got blackmailed off the bench. Alan’s hurt. Driver asks what he thought was going to happen. And that Alan has to make clear what it is he thinks is so important that it takes him to do it.

Sophie tries to recruit Honey Ballinger, another survivor of the kidnapping plot, to campaign. Ballinger points out she should research the other candidates and not just support the one who’s family. Sophie wonders why Alan Parker isn’t volunteering to support someone then, instead of going straight for power.

Bowen: 'What is it with the men in this town?! Your dad thinks he should just be handed yet another opportunity in a world where most people don't get a first crack at anything. You're so solipsistic you're clinically incapable of empathy. And Sam is so arrogant that he thinks asking for a favor should get him a reward. You three are the incomplete Mount Rushmore this town deserves --- a monument to the spiritually destitute who keep demanding that statues be made in their honor.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 6th of March, 2020. Randy Parker runs after her, sputtering, “But ever since Marciuliano took over it’s way less like that! We have buildings fall into sinkholes and stuff like that! It’s different now!”

Randy Parker goes to ask Toni Bowen what her deal is, exactly. Why so mean to his father? I mean, Randy and Bowen used to date, so what’s wrong? She unloads on him: he may be the protagonist but that doesn’t mean everyone he hurts doesn’t count too. After telling him off and leaving, she realizes she’s still ranting at him in her head. She wants to do something useful with this anger at entitled elitists. But she settles for writing an op-ed piece instead.

Identifying the ways society is screwing up for everybody but the elites does bring some response. Her boss at the station is upset that Bowen’s getting unauthorized attention, and puts her on leave. Meanwhile, Sophie notices Bowen’s editorial and thinks: now that’s a mayoral candidate. She goes to Bowen, who wants to know why everyone in the Parker-Spencer-Driver nexus is stalking her. Sophie argues that if Bowen believes in what she wrote, then, she’s got the chance to do something. And, a few weeks (story time; reader time it’s the next day) the Toni Bowen for Mayor campaign office opens. This despite the candidate not being completely sure this is a good idea.

At the small, nearly deserted Bowen campaign office. Honey: 'Soph, what are we doing here? Our own candidate doesn't even seem to want to run.' Sophie: 'Honey, remember why we're taking a year off before college --- to find ourselves! And what better way to do that than to fight for a cause we believe in!' Honey: 'By 'finding ourselves' I meant traveling while having the occasional euphoric epiphany at a charming cafe.' Sophie: 'Well, once we have a bigger staff we'll be able to take some time off.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 26th of March, 2020. There is a really interesting campaign dynamic here, since Bowen is basically running to spite her boss. Sophie is there because she needs a Project that is Anything But College, in part to spite her mother. And Honey is there because … well, she feels like she should be friends with Sophie, but doesn’t much care about who gets elected. It’s got to be fun to write, given all the dramatic potential. I don’t blame readers who decide this is going to be too messy and perilous to enjoy reading, though. Also, Honey is a senior in high school. I grant there are 18-year-olds who will string together a phrase like “occasional euphoric epiphany”; I was one of them. But absolutely all of us, me included, need to knock that off.

Alan Parker’s campaign gets under way too. This with a $1,000-a-plate fundraiser at Abbey Spencer’s newly-opened bed-and-breakfast. The one that was formerly a barn. Channel 6 reporter Not Toni Bowen sets up a nice softball, letting Parker present this as celebrating local small business owner. You know, Abbey Spencer, millionaire and mother of Toni Bowen’s campaign manager.

And the TV crew finally settles into town, ready to start filming. Kat Alyson, playing Neddy Spencer, is thrilled to meet Neddy Spencer. Alyson bubbles over in that excited, outgoing way that makes me terrified of someone. Huerta finds Alyson surprisingly attractive too. I’m sure this will not make for any weirdness in her relationship with Neddy or anyone else, ever.

Filming is a big deal for Mayor Sanderson, who insists it’s a great deal for town. Sure, the TV production isn’t paying taxes. But there’ll be all kinds of money that falls out of the pockets of wealthy people as they waddle around filming. That’s just how tax incentive plans work. Then Sophie crashes the set, holding up a protest sign and chanting, “Mayor Sanderson is the real actor here!” She got help from that guy on Conan O’Brien’s show with the bad chants. She tries to complain about the deal, and gets distracted by it also being so cool to see Neddy on a film set.

And that gets us to the start of this week, which saw the first mention of the pandemic in the story comics. I know what you’re wondering: well, isn’t the film crew staying in Abbey’s bed-and-breakfast? My guess for that is no, because the renovations kept dragging out and the film crew would need reservations they could count on. Would have been great for Abbey if it worked that way. That’s my guess, though. We’ll see how it develops in the next months.

Next Week!

Oh, hey, how are those “great new stories and art” from the returned … oh. No, Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s The Amazing Spider-Man is still in reruns, and the middle of a story. So I can really write up next week’s plot recap today and not miss anything. Well, I’ll keep stirring those ashes a bit yet.