The desire to do a Christmas issue hit me last year while Christmas shopping. Seeing all the Christmas tie ins for established media properties made me cringe a little. Too much that I've already seen before. So I started turning a Christmas special with Rhapsody and Melody over in my head.
This is the only issue of the series (so far) that explicitly states that it takes place in California. Admittedly, it's been hinted at with things like the otters, but that was implication.
The California thing caused me a little confusion when I was writing the football scene in the park. I wanted the name of a quarterback that Rhapsody would know. The only quarterback that I could think of as being significantly famous was Joe Montana, which also tied in with California. Then, I started thinking Dan Marino, since he played for the Dolphins and it would tie in with Rhapsody's aquatic motif. Then, on a lark, I was talking with boxwatcher, and he said, if I really wanted the local flavor, Steve Young was the right choice. As she is fourteen, Rhapsody would be around for his final season and induction into the Football Hall Of Fame. While working on this, they also announced Jerry Rice was inducted into the HOF, so I changed Rhapsody's line calling Dale "Crazy Legs" to Jerry Rice.
This was actually an odd story to write, as my typical cynicism finally invades the optimism of Sound Waves. I couldn’t help it – I’m usually a cynical person, but it’s even worse at Christmas time. I regard most people around me as hypocrites at that time of year. They’ll act like total assholes, except in December, when they will be nice, not because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s Christmas. For example, people will call orphanages to find a orphan to have Christmas dinner with, but they won’t even think of inviting an orphan to dinner any other time of the year. It’s kind of tough to keep the Christmas spirit all year round when no one else does.
Needless to say, I wasn’t sure I should consider a Christmas special. On the one hand, I loved the idea of a special issue. But I was also aware I wasn’t going to be coming up with anything Rankin/Bass. There was also the fact that the series does take place in a temperate climate. I live in Illinois, where we get snow and that at Christmas time. So coming up with something that looked Christmasy wasn’t going to be easy.
What I settled on was a throwaway idea I had. Illinois used to have a bunch of little theme parks. There was Dispensa’s Kiddie Kingdom, which I remember going to a few times as a kid (only got to go to the toy shop once. “Kids are king! Dispensa’s Kiddie Kingdom, let’s go!” “Any ride a quarter, six for a dollar!” Eventually five for a dollar, then that was gone…). And there was a small theme park called Santa’s Village. I used to see ads for it all the time, but never gave it a second thought because I couldn’t conceive what it would be like, especially with it open in the summer. Eventually, I hit on an idea for a Christmas theme park, nothing huge like Disney but still bigger than the traveling carnivals that come through my area. It sat in the back of my head, as I really didn’t know what to do with a theme park that would only be open for a month or two out of the year. So I recycled it for this story.
38 pages. The longest Sound Waves story, even more than the two--parters. Since it was a Christmas special, I decided not to bother with a page count and just let things flow, sort of the way I do when I write Stress Puppy. It actually worked pretty good, I think. It opened up some longer comic set pieces. The opening about Rhapsody's perfume always makes me laugh, and I don't think I could have gotten away with it in a regular 16 page issue -- it would simply take too long. Likewise, the football game in the park. This really has some of my favorite comedy bits in it.
The central plot point, the kids with the parents having a nasty divorce, was what I eventually settled on. Polls consistently show that, among kids, their parents breaking up is always either the #1 or #2 fear they have. Rhapsody is aware how unusual her family stability is this day in age -- she covers her mouth in shock when Carroll first mentions his parents are divorced. No other details are needed to elicit sympathy from her, and she points out to Melody that she and Todd get picked on because their parents aren't divorced. (I didn't realize when I created Rhapsody's family that Cassie is clearly an "oops". Rhapsody is 14, Todd is 12, and Cassie is a baby, but I think it really reinforces that no one regards her as anything unusual.) I remember being something like 10 or 11, and my sister told me that mom and dad were getting divorced. Mom and dad denied it and my sister told me it was a joke (although I sometimes have my suspicions), but I remember how much the thought that they were getting divorced messed me up. I mean, I was crying my eyes out. Once again, I want Rhapsody to live in a world that isn't always sunshine and rainbows.
The book is supposed to be all ages, so I do walk a tightrope with the dialogue. Kids that age know about swearing and that, so I have to adjust lines to keep things believable without going blue. Some words, however, are generally accepted. Melody's "Oh my God...." in #4, I figured was fine. The expression has lost all ability to shock all but the sternest of Christians. Likewise, Carroll saying "It really sucks." That is ostensibly a sexual metaphor, but it's been used so often, it's become a generality, few people are conscious of the sexual origins when they use it. So "sucks" stayed. However, the scene where Rhapsody calls Todd a "pud" got red penciled for two reasons. First, "sucks" is borderline, but "pud" is definitely a bad word. More importantly, though, "pud" is the kind of thing guys call other guys. Women may calls guys "dicks", but none of the alternates. So Rhapsody called Todd "dingus" instead.
My favorite page to draw was the last one. I actually envisioned the gag long ago, but wasn't sure what to do with it. When I put the script together, I realized Rhapsody would be in a position to show off someone from her family to Melody. After all, Cassie is a baby. What are the odds she would even remember the encounter, let alone vocalize anything about it? So the look on Rhapsody's face when Cassie attempts to say, "mermaid," followed by the next panel where Cassie glares at Rhapsody as if to say, "I KNOW you aren't telling him what I really said," makes me chuckle every time.