Tomorrow Stories 6 – Splash Brannigan
Below are annotations for Tomorrow Stories, No. 6 “The Return of the Remarkable Rivulet” (6 pages, March 2000)
Writer: Alan Moore (AM), Artist: Hilary Barta (HB)
>return to Splash Brannigan annotations index
Note: some of this stuff is obvious, some very very obvious… but you never know who’s reading this and what their exposure is to any given reference. Apologies for stuff that’s too obvious to you. Sometimes there’s an obvious reference, then a deeper pun or connection that Alan Moore is making – yes it’s Ayn Rand ink… but why is Moore associating Splash Brannigan with Ayn Rand? If there’s stuff I missed or got wrong, let me know in comments, or email linton.joe [at] gmail.com
General: This is the first Splash Brannigan (Splash) story, featuring Splash’s origin. Overall the story parodies the comic book industry.
- “Pigment of the imagination” is a play on the phrase “figment of the imagination.”
- Astronaut with red snake creature emerging from his belly is a reference to this scene from the 1979 movie Alien. It’s a scene with plenty of blood splattering – analogous to Splash’s ink splattering.
- “100% Ayn Brand Fountainhead Ink” – refers to Ayn Rand, libertarian author who wrote a novel entitled The Fountainhead. I think there are two references here: a fountainhead (see definition) refers to something completely original… and I think AM is parodying himself in a way: AM’s Splash stories are full of un-original ideas – homages, swipes, references. Secondly, fountain head sounds like “fountain pen” which is where one might find ink.
- The three spotted dogs are dalmatians. It’s probably just a play on ink spots looking like spots on spotted dogs, but could be a reference to the Disney animated film One Hundred and One Dalmatians.
- I don’t know if the man in blue with the axe and severed head refers to any specific slasher movie, but I think that generally AM&HB are referring to ink spots resembling the blood splatters from horror movies.
- The painter doesn’t specifically resemble the artist Jackson Pollock, who splattered paint onto his canvases (example from here.) I think generally AM&HB are referring to post-modern and abstract expressionist artists whose work can appear to be just a splattering of paint on a canvas. Splash will revisit this splatter-art theme at the end of Tomorrow Stories No.7.
- “Friendliest, funniest business in the world” is AM’s ironic take on the comic book industry, which AM would denounce as stingy, duplicitous, and even “dark satantic mills”
- The ape on the skyscraper is King Kong.
- Not sure about the flying saucer.
- The graffiti artist (not sure who he is) is changing Kaput to Kaputz. Writing the letter “Z” is the mark of Zorro… but he’s no Zorro. Both kaput and kaputz are equivalent English (via Yiddish) slang for done/dead/over/finished.
- Generally Kaput Comics is a parody of a type of comics assembly line sweat shop. I think it’s roughly analogous to circa 1940s-50s-60s Timely-Marvel and DC where tasks were separated into pencils, inks, lettering, colors – so as to speed up production. Generally creators were not highly valued, but treated as cogs in a money-making machine.
- “Zip-a-tone” is a brand name of a now obsolete shading tool product. It used to be used widely by comics artists (see examples) and other graphics designers, illustrators, etc. Once very high-tech, now I think no longer produced (but emulated via computer programs.) It was basically a transparent sticker with black dots, used to add evenly spaced dotted shading.
- Images on the wall are of Kaput Comics character Sarcastic Thug… seems a bit like the Hulk or any number of 1990s creations.
- At first I thought “Mort Gort” might refer to Mort Drucker who drew Mad Magazine. After reading a 2002 interview with AM (The Craft: An Interview with Alan Moore, Chapter 7 in the book Alan Moore Conversations), I now think Mort Gort, who turns out to be the inventor of Splash Brannigan, is Mort Weisinger. Weisinger was a longtime DC comics editor, who among many accomplishments, came up with a somewhat generic comics style guide which calls for no more than 102 words per page – in order to ensure a good balance between words and images. Though I suspect AM doesn’t follow the Weisinger guidelines strictly, he does recommend them to folks starting to create comics.
- Not sure who “Floyd Lloyd” refers to. Perhaps AM’s V for Vendetta collaborator David Lloyd?
- Kaput is lighting his cigar with a burning “contract.” I think this is AM commentary on how comic book industry heads don’t value their creative workers.
- “Need the March issue… by lunch” refers to the sort of sweat shop deadlines that comic companies subjected their workers to.
- Script, including “pages 8-19 guys fight in space,” seems to resemble on the minimal up-front writer input that characterized early Marvel Comics. Apparently Stan Lee would rough out a general outline of a plot, the artists, including Jack Kirby, would draw a comic in great deal, then Lee would drop in wording on the completed art.
- “Mir-Mortal” is a play on the phrase “mere mortal.” Mir was a Russian/Soviet space station orbiting from 1986-2001.
- “Kirby Konstructor Kit” refers to comic artist Jack Kirby, who drew lots of detailed futuristic machinery (example.) The pieces in the box look like components of the sort of futuristic machinery Kirby would invent.
- Voodoo doll resembling Sydney J. Kaput
- “Though shalt not swipe a lot” is on a tablet like the 10 commandments. It refers to practice of swiping – where comic artists steal/copy compositions from earlier comic artists, without attribution (see examples here and here and here.)
- “Hoffa, J.” refers to the missing body of corrupt labor leader Jimmy Hoffa. Hoffa had been involved in organized crime; he disappeared in 1975. He was believed to have been murdered, but his body was never found.
“Big Numbers #3” refers to the never-completed AM series Big Numbers, canceled after the second issue. I think I read somewhere that there is a script that AM completed for issue 3; wikipedia says the artwork was done too… but it was never printed.
- Not sure what the “GOOP” refers to. Looks like maybe Goop hand-cleaner… which may be needed when Splash is around.
- “Old agoraphobia waterproof drawing ink – it never comes out” – Agoraphobia is a mental disorder where someone fears wide open spaces. So people who suffer from agoraphobia don’t want to leave their home, hence they never come out… a double play on ink stains that never come out.
- The character on the ink bottle is a painting known as The Scream by artist Edvard Munch. Splash will re-visit The Scream in Tomorrow Stories No. 7.
- “No Way” and “Way” refers to the sort of inane unnecessary dialogue that accompanies comic book fight scenes. This was probably always the case, but I think it got worse in the 1990s.
- Vibrating ink (acting as a sort of vibrator) gives Miss Screensaver an orgasm.
- Use of various “GIK!,” BLUT!” etc., sort of poke fun at the nonsensical/whimsical use of sound effects in comics.
- “You’re probably dying to hear my origin” refers to the flimsy plot devices that get superheroes to tell their origins to readers.
- Mort Gort is chained to his drawing table – another reference to the sort of sweatshop comics industry.
- I think that the 2D / 3D / 4D ink concept stuff is sort of AM poking fun at how simple/unsophisticated the vast bulk of comics were (and still are.) Earlier, AM had played around a bit with the 2D / 3D / 4D concepts in his 1963 comic Book 3: Tales of the Uncanny Hypernaut story.
- Gort’s desk chain (see panel 4 above) is visually made analogous to a prisoner’s ball-and-chain. Gort is a prisoner of the comics industry. The escaped prisoner with striped uniform and ball-and-chain is a stereotype trope – in movies, cartoons, I think.
- Graffiti: “I hate Lucy” refers to the “I Love Lucy” TV show.
- Graffiti: “I dislike Ike” refers to “I like Ike” a political slogan in favor of candidate/president Dwight D. Eisenhower. “Ike” is a shortened way of saying “Eisenhower.”
- Graffiti: “My enemy Irma” I confess I didn’t get off the bat. Poking around on the web, looks like there was a TV show called “My Friend Irma.” (But maybe it’s maybe a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reference to Irma Langenstein who was killed (?) in a story called Enemy of My Enemy? Not sure.)
- The bird is, of course, a woodpecker… not sure what the reference is… Woody Woodpecker? Those holes are going to make the drawing table absolutely impossible to use.
- The pin-up – folded like a playboy centerfold – is Betty Boop, an early 1920s-30s black-and-white animated film character (example.) The zany impossible physical comedy of early animation (including Betty Boop, and also Bimbo the Dog, Koko the Clown) is one primary source of AM’s inspiration for Splash’s exploits (see my Splash influences/theme listing here.) Like Splash, the inkwell is commonly home to Koko the Clown; Betty Boop inhabits an inkwell at least once: in the 1938 short Out of the Inkwell (also features a very dated unhelpful African-American stereotype.) Early animation is a theme of this Splash story in ABC 64-Page Giant; it’s also referenced in TS No. 8 (Page 4) and ABC A-Z (Page 1-2).
- The carpet Gort slips on is a magic flying carpet. (Not sure who the carpet-riding guy in the turban is in panel 2.)
- “I’m ink, therefore I am!” is a take-off on “I think therefore I am” from Rene Descartes.
- “Splurge of the underworld” is a parody of “scourge of the underworld” – a phrase describing heroic crime fighters. I am pretty sure the phrase predates its use as a name for a Marvel super-villain.
- Flip-face is reminiscent of Dick Tracy comic strip villains (examples from here) or Batman nemesis Two Face.
- “Brute” champagne is a take off on “Brut” a common type of champagne – pronounced “brute.”
- Splash has grabbed Miss Screensaver’s breast while she slept, leaving a telltale hand-print.
- “Your signature already whited out by the production people” refers to one of the comics assembly line practices of not allowing artists to sign their work.
- The “S” in SQULP! sound effect is in the same lettering style as the “S” on Splash’s chest.
- “Ferdy the Fantom Foetus” looks a bit like Casper the Friendly Ghost. Foetus refers to the big-headed proportions of various cartoon-humor comics characters – resembling the big-head small-body proportions of a fetus. Betty Boop (see above) is one example of this.
- Splash grabbed Miss Screensaver’s butt, leaving a hand-print.
- “By Alan Less” is a play on Alan Moore – becomes Alan More, then Alan Less.