It’s about a regular guy, whose name we don’t know, incidentally identical to a renowned space spy called Plume. Planet Petrevolt hires this Plume for a mission requiring his skill and knowledge, but ends up accdientaly abducting our protagonist. Knowing he can’t tell the truth, since Petrevolt would order his execution for “knowing too much,” the guy pretends to be Plume, and goes on this mission traveling to different planets and learning about the ways of all the species of the galaxy.
With the already characteristic graphic style of Thorsby’s, much like that of his other works (Hitmen for Destiny and Lies, Sisters and Wives), the story of fake Plume and green Mr. Potato Head who mistook him for the real agent unfolds in a bizarre world of thick black monotonous lines filled with plain saturated colors, like the drawings of a person who opened Paint for the first time.
Hard to get used to at first, maybe. But with the passing of the strips you end up fascinated by the design’s simplicity. And it’s easy to understand that such a simple style makes it easier for the author to keep the story going at a good pace, and also gives him the freedom to represent the most complex aliens imagined by man without the need of thinking too much about the representation’s verisimilitude.
The writing’s extremely interesting. Though the characters aren’t as deep as I guess you could expect, each one has certain distinctive particular treats, wisely chosen, that never respond to any stereotype known to men. Every time a new character shows up, you find yourself wondering which’ll be their particular personality, how will they talk, what will they value over what other thing. And the answer to those questions is always a pleasant surprise.
Definitely the story’s most interesting point, however, are the alien races Thorsby creates for each new chapter, and particularely their mating habits, each one more strange than the previous one:
There’s the huggians, who don’t feel attracted to their females, whom they hardly ever see, but to the mortal traps the females build to protect their eggs from being impregnated by weaklings. The more fatal, the hotter.
There’s the tailcutters from Castration Planet, who, when sterilized, offer instinctively care and attention to their closest fertile relative. Fertile tailcutters, therefore, are always trying to castrate their fertile relatives in order to win that care, and not be castrated themselves.
The fringurfringurs from Planet Vlymsorvlymsor, where even the most unimportant lie’s punished by death. Their way of talking’s particularly interesting, the discourse developed by those who know any metaphor or imprecision can end their lives. They remind me of another great character of the same author: Jymre.
The Planet of the Living Notebooks, where no creature has a memory more than a few minutes long, and where the living notebooks live, creatures who write on their own body every bit of information they need to survive and mate.
The srunners from The Best Fucking Planet Ever, whose females store in an internal organ the semen of every male they had sex with, and can choose at will when to get pregnant and with whose seed.
The twolesies from The Planet of the Reversed Gravity Zone, who believe in magic at such point that they’re capable of hallucinating with all their senses any magic a sorcerer says he’s gonna do, and even can die in the spot if a sorcerer says they’ve been struck by a fatal spell.
All these planets and these creatures that populate ’em, and the evolutionary course that led ’em to be like they are, are thought to an extraordinary level of detail. And, as I’m thinking of writing a few things about this comic in the future, I wanted to point it out now, even though in order to do so I had to write this, which is essentially a list of characteristics without any meaning beyond stating that this story exists and it’s worth checking out.
First one hundred, then ourteen and now this. The other day I’s waiting for a long while at the post office to send a package and I heard a boy giving his mother a Maths lesson. I couldn’t retain all genius enunciated that day but what I remember I document.
First lesson’s all about the 111, or how he described it, the one and the one and the one. But know that if you read that as one hundred eleven, you’re very very wrong. The kid couldn’t be more explicit about it: “the one and the one and the one is a number that is called ten-one.”
The mother hardly payed any attention to him. His next drop of wisdom was about sequence. After the ten-one comes the twenty-seven, then the twenty-eight, then the twenty-nine, and then the sixty-eight. I don’t remember how sixty-eight was written in numbers, but it was something equally crazy.
Then he began to explain what happens with numbers’ properties when you modify their digits’ order. The 12, for example (of better put: “if you put the one in front and the two behind”), is called twelve. While if you switch the drawing, “the two in front and the one behind”, it’s called thilty-one. I wouldn’t know if the L was a pronunciation defect or part of the made-up name. What surprises me the most, in fact, is that the boy ignored stuff as basic as the formation of twenty-one, but handled perfectly the “front” and “behind” stuff with words, that I always mix up when I don’t think about it half an hour prior to talking.
The mother, at this point, actually heard what her son was saying and she corrected him. She explained that though it’s true that 1 and 2 make a twelve, 2 and 1 actually form the twenty-one. The kid’s answer was solid: “No, mom, there is no twenty-one.”
And the last of the teachings I remember’s one of the last ones he said: “There is a number called sesén.” Now sesén, pronounced seh-SEN or something like that, are actually the first two syllables of sesenta, which is Spanish for sixty. The mother looked at him with an insistent look on her face, waiting for that last syllable, but it never came. The number is called sesén. How is sesén written? “A three with a five and a five.”
I could say what happened was what I described in Ourteen, a kid trying to pretend he knows how to count. Imitating what he perceives of his teacher, for example, when he teaches the numbers to them. Imitating, in fact, what he understands of which is taught to him. And there is some of that, but I’m not sure that’s the whole story.
’Cause what I had described was my little sister making numbers up in a low voice, mumbling with the intention that no one would pay too much attention, that anyone could think by default “well, if she’s counting she must be counting properly.” This boy, on the other hand, was preaching his truth, completely confident and explaining the tables of combination of digits as far as he understood ’em.
It wasn’t just that he didn’t understand the Maths and he presented them vaguely. He didn’t understand the Maths and he had replaced them decidedly with something else entirely. My theory is the boy was actually thinking about Alchemy. And what an Alchemist! He treated every number as a compound with mystic properties, which could react with any other one and form a new number, a surprising one, that we’d have to run and add to the encyclopedias. He mentioned numbers as one mentions pokémon, elements memorized from a table, that can be found in nature and react differently to different treatments. Some combinations simply didn’t exist, digits you could put together but wouldn’t generate any real number.
And the worst is, in the end numbers can be a little like that.
Another one ’bout numbers. I had the entertaining pleasure of watching by little sister grow up from a minuscule and insignificant baby to a full grown adolescent. And of course, I saw her and talked to her while she learned to count.
Once I heard her as she set out to count from 1 to whatever she knew. The thing started well the first ten numbers. Until the fourteen she managed too. After fourteen, however, came ourteen. And later see-one, and after that ateeseven. And so on.
I couldn’t really say which were the numbers she invented that day, but they were all very interesting. Her behavior fascinated me. In the same way she had many a time tried to convince me that she knew how to read, only not aloud, and she kept staring at a written sheet of paper with a concentrated look on her face, now she was trying to pretend she knew all numbers that came after the fourteen.
It’s very common that children imitate behaviors they see in adults, like counting for instance. Though they don’t know exactly what’s the purpose of the actions, or the details and knowledge required to carry ’em out, they try to mimic the symptoms, the superficial part they can identify. And in reality we adults do the same, only one of the behaviors we already learned is to identify which behaviors are harder to fake in front of the people who handle them better than us.
And that’s the interesting part of it, innit? That we live every day in this society with human beings who ignore, for example, the sequence of natural numbers, and how unambiguous and unforgeable it is. And nonetheless we can talk with ’em and discuss with ’em and feel for them almost all emotions we can feel for the folks our age, and even more. They’re people who ignore how precise, how distinct the chain of natural numbers is for someone who already knows it. But they don’t have any way to find out ’cept by pretending they know it.
Neither they have any way to know if they can mimic crying. And later maybe they find out they do, they can make some adult believe they’re effectively crying. They don’t have any way to distinguish between crying and counting, which actions are unforgeable and which are more left open to interpretation. In the same way that we, until we try, don’t know if we can pretend we laugh when in fact we didn’t get the joke. Or pretend we walk inattentive on the street when in fact we’re thinking whether we look silly or not. Or pretend we know how to do some paperwork when in fact we’re reading the form in hope that it’ll shed some fucking light on the matter. Or pretend our life is interesting when in fact we’re asking ourselves how come all things always happen to everyone else.
So one of this days I’ll send it all to hell and see if I can count up to ateeseven all by myself.
I’ve a memory related to numbers from the time I’s a child. I asked my mother if the number 100 was big or not. I had surely recently learned to count to 100. She answered me that it depends, and gave me examples of situations in which 100 of something was a lot and others in which 100 of something was too little. I don’t remember the examples, but they ain’t hard to imagine: 100 lions to hunt are a lot, 100 hairs on a head are too few, 100 empanadas to cook is a lot, 100 grains of rice too few. Etcetera.
I also remember getting mad at her answer. Not mad, really, but I did think it ungraciously dodged the whole point of the question. ’Cause I wasn’t asking for the number 100 in relation with the stuff you can count with it, I was asking for its intrinsic size. Now OF COURSE the number 100 was big. If any number was smaller or greater than another one, then all numbers must have a certain size. Regardless of what stuff you could count with ’em. And the size of 100 was “big,” no doubt.
I see now that actually my mother’s answer made a great deal of sense. No number has an intrinsic size really. What happened was that by that age I didn’t know anything that, coming in hundreds, were too few. Or at least, if I knew it, I never had counted it, ’cause until then I hadn’t known how to count to 100.
And indeed, thinking about it today, I believe what at that moment I interpreted as intrinsic size (though I probably didn’t know what “intrinsic” meant to be honest) was not the number’s size, but the size of the effort needed to count till that number starting from 1. And I also didn’t suspect, I guess, that the effort required to count to 100 was relative too, and depended on who was counting.
So the only answer is there is no answer. And that’s why the question’s so interesting, and it keeps coming back to memory. Because in the end, is the number 100 big or is it not?
I want to believe good writers are just people who know how to be good at writing. When I find something awesome, like a book or a series or a movie even, I want to believe there's some good writers behind it, and they'll keep being good and making awesome stuff and I can trust them. If a series, for example, has an outstanding pilot, and an even more marvelous first season, I want to believe the show won't stop being as awesome as it is.
Unfortunately that's not always the case. Let's talk a bit now about Wilfred.
Wilfred started as a TV show in Australia. You know, that magical place where platypuses swim joyfully and there's funny people like Tim Minchin and The Axis of Awesome. Jason Gann and Adam Zwar wrote and starred the show. I have only seen the US version though, so I'll be talking about that one.
So, Wilfred. Pilot episode. There's this guy Ryan, who tries to kill himself and fails. Next day, he's to take care of Wilfred, her neighbor's dog. Only Ryan can't see any dog. He sees a big man in a dog suit. Who speaks. With an Australian accent. And no one else sees nothing but a regular dog. No one hears Wilfred talk.
Who's a good boy? Yes you are!
Now this right here is pure comedy gold. And it happens in only a few seconds, too. Jenna knocks on door, asks Ryan to take care of dog, apologizes wholeheartedly. Ryan looks at the animal, still amazed that he survived the night, looking like he didn't sleep in years. And then there's this tall man, dressed in this grey, hilarious dog costume, who quickly gets in the house and barely says hello.
I couldn't stop laughing. And it's not just the absurdity of a dude in a dog suit. That's just YouTube funny. Wilfred is rude, and he is careless, and he is wise. He is an entire character, and a great one at that.
There's no explanation whatsoever about what makes Ryan see Wilfred as this guy. It just happens. Guy can hear the dog talk. He seems surprised, yes, but not as much as a real person would be. Wilfred simply takes it naturally.
And it doesn't stop just at having a funny plot. The show is painfully funny all the time. Most of the first season's best moments feature Wilfred acting like a dog, and explaining his beast behavior in human words. And then again, Wilfred is really wise. He gives advice to Ryan about his life. Ryan is a seriously depressed, unemployed lawyer, who starts feeling better about himself by following this dog's guidance. Ryan starts following the wild way.
Now here's how the first episodes are usually structured: There's a tiny problem that represents a big problem Ryan has suffered his whole life. Being controlled by his sister, hating his job, not being able to deal with crappy neighbors, lying 'bout stuff, you name it. Then Wilfred, amazed that humans can get so frustrated for such silly reasons, tells Ryan what he should do, what he feels is the natural thing to do. Ryan ignores him, 'cause Wilfred's solutions are too crazy to even think about, and tries to handle it as any adult with common sense would. Then everything goes out of control, because Ryan's solutions are always about ignoring the problems that need to be taken care of, or because Wilfred simply makes everything worse on purpose to put more pressure on him. Right when the tragedy's about to happen, Ryan finally does what Wilfred said and everything quickly gets better.
So Wilfred is some kind of guru. He just pops into this dude's life and starts giving helpful advice. His solutions generally make sense, and are about being brave and honest and true to oneself. Yet he's not your typical guru. He's manipulative, he's rude, he's prone to commit crimes for pleasure, he drinks, smokes pot and he lies a lot.
All actors are spectacular here, all characters interesting, but Wilfred's simply unbelievably great. A dog, a person, a friend, a prankster, a guru. Possibly a hallucination. As a writer, this is the kind of stuff that leaves me wondering why the hell didn't I come up with that myself.
Bad, Wilfred, bad!
And then a lot of weird things start to happen? Like, Wilfred's suddenly supposed to have a plan and purpose? At first Wilfred's just a doggy man, and there's a strange wisdom about him, and he helps Ryan to be happier, to get a better understanding about the world. His role felt pretty natural to me: Wilfred was there in the show to help Ryan.
But as the series continued, everyone kept talking about Wilfred's secret purpose. The show became more of a mystery story, where the enigma is what exactly is Wilfred, and what was he trying to do.
I always try to remember that fictional worlds have their own rules. Writers need to remember that those rules can't be broken without consequences. Characters, for example, need to have motives and expectations. In most cases at least. They shouldn't do stuff without any discernable reason. If they do, they disappoint. And one of Wilfred's rules was: Wilfred looking like a human is not that unusual, Ryan strangely accepts it. And it was a golden rule, one that made everything shine. One that gets broken if people starts asking what Wilfred is.
I was comfortable about Wilfred not being completely explained. Maybe I'm the only one, but I was. I thought there was nothing to explain, really, Wilfred needed to be seen by Ryan as a person because it was fucking funny. Ryan saw him as that because it was fucking funny. But then the show started asking who Wilfred is, and why does he exist.
First it was Ryan contemplating his possible madness, with his mother being in a mental institution and all. Now this right here is basically the main theme of the first season's finale. At one point he opens a door and finds a closet behind it, and there was a lot of suspense. I didn't get it. Why did the series presented as thrilling a scene where a guy opens a closet door? I finally understood the obvious, during the second season, but the fact that I didn't get it at first glance was a signal: the show had stopped communicating with me.
Maybe it's a matter of personal taste: I am simply not interested in Wilfred's mythology, and the second season was only about that. Everything really hit bottom at some weird episode where the conflict between the main characters was about Wilfred's semen and Ryan's completely unexplained fear of talking about it.
Maybe it was the character that reveals to be completely crazy out of the blue, apparently just because the writers wanted her out of the picture, when they were the ones who forcefully first removed her and then put her back in the picture in the first place.
Maybe it was that the second season's finale childly refused to show important points in the plot, simply skipping them and having characters summarizing them afterwards.
Maybe I just liked the beginning too much and I childly refuse to accept any changes that maybe aren't THAT bad.