Over the years, I’ve mentioned a lot of celebrities in GPF. Some have only been mentioned in passing, some have had brief cameos, while others have practically become characters in their own right. Other than a brief run-in with Tracy Scoggins at Dragon*Con 2000, I have not had the honor of meeting in person any celebrity I’ve mentioned, cameoed, or parodied. (Scoggins’ brief mention in GPF is here.) I certainly haven’t had any celebrity contact me concerning GPF; I’m still waiting for Sean Connery‘s lawyers to threaten me over his portrayal in the strip, but that’s about as close as I thought I’d get.
Well, I guess I was about due.
On September 26, I drew what I thought would be just another innocuous continuation in the Harry Barker and the Napier’s Bones parody. I had reached the point where in the original Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone, the children managed to social engineer Hagrid (played in my parody by Dexter) to find out how to get past the three-headed dog Fluffy. In the original, Hargid reveals that Fluffy is lulled to sleep by music; this is a play, of course, on the classic myth of Orpheus, who entered into Hades by putting the three-headed dog Cerberus to sleep with his lyre. In the chain from myth to parody, Cerberus → Fluffy → Kerberos, a robotic three-headed guard dog who is deactivated with the passphrase “Play Harp.mp3!”
I came up with this little chain of geeky reasoning to arrive at what I hoped would be a pretty funny joke. Unfortunately, I was at first at a loss to explain exactly how the kids would get Dexter to reveal the passphrase. In the original, Hagrid has a tendency to blurt out things unintentionally, a trait Dexter does not necessarily share. So I thought I should come up with something that would appeal to his geek nature, something so tantalizing that he would forget all sense of security protocol and blurt out the passphrase in a desperate bid of nerdy desire. Dex, of course, is GPF’s resident expert in all things sci-fi—he has a shrine to Gene Roddenberry and George Lucas in his apartment—so perhaps if Harry and his friends could find something Dexter would covet above all things, he would give up the passphrase without a second thought.
I’m not sure exactly what chain of events led to the epiphany, but somehow my thoughts wandered to Dexter’s love of Star Trek and then to “The City on the Edge of Forever”, perhaps the most famous and popular episode of the classic series. This story, of course, is the only Star Trek episode penned by Harlan Ellison, the prolific speculative fiction author, and the story of the grudge between he and Gene Roddenberry over the script for this episode is almost legendary. Ellison’s anger over the changes Roddenberry and his staff made to his original script led Ellison to disown the story. (Ellison has many times in the past had his screenwriting credit changed to “Cordwainer Bird” on projects that he no longer wished to be associated with. Roddenberry refused to allow him to change the credit on this episode, which may have inadvertently added to its legendary status.) This combined with the fact that the story is so beloved by fans and listed in many places among one of the top TV episodes of all time (both Roddenberry and William Shatner listed it as one of their favorites) makes it a unique jewel in the Star Trek crown. And that’s when the idea struck me: what else would be more tantalizing to Dexter, the Star Trek geek of Star Trek geeks, than to come across an unproduced Star Trek script from the author of the most famous episode of all time? Of course, the script turns out to be bogus—it’s really Harry’s database homework—but Dexter will find this out far too late and the damage is already done.
The comic, as previous stated, went “live” on September 26. At first, it garnered little apparently attention; the following strip with the “Harp.mp3” line generated more immediate feedback due to the Orpheus reference. (Unfortunately, I have to pass credit to J. K. Rowling for that idea.) But then, on September 30th, I received an e-mail from Steve Barber… the moderator of the forums on Harlan Ellison’s site. Somehow, some way, Mr. Ellison heard about my little mention of him in the strip and wanted to speak to me about it. I found this especially surprising, first because I didn’t think someone of such notoriety would come across my little comic and second because I had read (on his Wikipedia page) of his “substantial distaste for personal computers and most of the internet”. Thus, someone must have pointed the reference out to him and he made a conscious effort to get online and find the strip in question. Mr. Barber assured me not to “hide under the table, it’s a good thing” and asked for some contact information. With a twinge of hesitant trepidation I gave him my home phone number and the best times to call.
On October 1st, just as we were finishing up dinner, the phone rang. The caller ID indicated the number was blocked. I answered. A thick Indian accent came over the phone, announcing itself with an absurdly difficult-to-pronounce name and informing me that my “shipment of cedars from Lebanon” was ready as soon as I could provide a shipping address. I couldn’t help but smile slightly. Since I was expecting Mr. Ellison’s call, I knew it either had to be him… or a really, really bad telemarketing scheme. I played along, being much more polite than I usually am to telemarketers and cheerfully informed him that I had ordered no such shipment. Mr. Ellison then announced himself properly, but the tone of the conversation was already set.
We had a wonderful conversation lasting somewhere around 15-20 minutes. He was delighted to hear about my little homage; I didn’t have the heart to tell him that GPF’s readership is probably a lot smaller than he thinks it is. I’m not sure how much of Dexter’s history and character he is aware of (he knew enough about the Harry Potter parody being a special story), but if any of my characters would truly appreciate the correspondence, it would be him. Mr. Ellison was quite entertaining to speak with and I’m far more honored that he went out of his way to contact me than the other way around.
I’m sending him a print of the September 26th strip along with some appropriately humorus and irreverent sketches along the side. (I’d happily send him the original line art if I hadn’t been working completely digitally for the past several months.) In return, he’s promised me a signed book of his own. Personally, I’m hoping its the published original drafts with commentary of “The City on the Edge of Forever”; that would certainly be the most apropos.
Now if only Jeri Ryan would finally return my calls….