Thursday, July 21, 2011

Far-Out Sci-Fi, Tricerafail, and Furries (of a sort) - _The Double Disappearance of Walter Fozbek_

Previously on "Tricia's Obligatory Art Blog"...

And far more importantly, I finally, after twenty-five years of searching, have my very own copy of The Double Disappearance of Walter Fozbek, written and illustrated by Steve Senn in 1980. Published by Avon/Camelot books. And henceforth to be referred to simply as
Walter Fozbek or just Walter, because... that title. Imagine the fun of being a little girl circa 1985 and looking that one up in a card catalog or, God help you, asking for it in a bookstore. Anyway, I now have a copy in my giant skinny hands. And I have just read it.

(Trish gets a case of Pamola Xtra Pale Ale...)

Right. This book is weird.

The Double Disappearance of Walter Fozbek pg. 86

(And not just because of the above illustration, which is very wrong on multiple levels.)

A long, long time ago in a Galaxy far, far away, I did a post about obscure Dougal Dixon works that had been dug up by the authors and readers of the website io9. Now unfortunately, most of the io9 discussion threads are unreadable now, but I do recall one reader's comment, prompted by the "human of the future" article, who missed the "far out, man" kind of sci-fi from the 70's. Sci-fi that really lived in the demilitarized zone between serious Science Fiction and Fantasy. Sci-fi that really didn't give a hoot about science at all (or maybe just a little) and was more concerned with blowing the reader's mind. Think "the Force is all around us; it connects every living thing" vs. "you can test positive for Jedi". (As you can see, this kind of sci-fi isn't all bad.)

So here we have a sci-fi book for seventh graders where a kid falls through a black hole and ends up in a world where, like,
humans are extinct and the dinosaurs are the ones living in houses and wearing clothes and using money and driving cars and stuff!

Or, perhaps more appropriately...

As you might imagine, this is a story with vast, galloping herds of Furry Confusion. Before we get into that, here's what Dinosaur World looks like:

The Double Disappearance of Walter Fozbek pg. 19

Weird, huh? The whole book, actually, is creepy in sort of the same way that -- I'm gonna go there! I'm gonna go there and you can't stop me! -- the "Cars" movies are creepy. Everything is clearly the same as it is in Human World, with maybe the barest differences, but the humans have been wholly replaced with something else.

And in
Walter Fozbek, come to mention it, Human World ought to be Mammal World shouldn't it? Except during the course of the book, we come to find out that Dinosaur World is full of the exact same animals we have in Human World -- but the humans have been replaced by anthropomorphic dinosaur-people. Because the humans are prehistoric and the dinosaurs are modern here. Just go with it. At least the human replacements *are* anthropomorphized in Walter, so it isn't quite as bad as "Cars" (where the cars are just normal four-wheeled cars with faces who have desks and live in human houses and... just breathe).

There's a lot of things like this in the book I could talk about. But instead of giving myself a giant headache, let's enjoy the very 70's dinosaurs. The pterosaur-ladies and stegosaur-ladies seen in the previous post were very minor characters. Here comes a major one. Meet Dr. Krebnickle.

The Double Disappearance of Walter Fozbek pg. 30

Dr. Krebnickle is the kindly scientist who helps solve the mystery of how Walter got trapped in Dinosaur World. But even better, he is an anthropomorphic Trachodon, which is awesome. Not to get too off-topic, but Trachodon's an interesting case; he was a staple of dinosaur books from my childhood and then suddenly wasn't in any newer books. The Dinosaur Mailing List explains what happened in this article. They don't mention it, but I think there's a very simple reason why Trachodon was so popular for so long:

_Tyrannosaurus Rex_ pg.28

Our old friend / frequent rip-off victim Charles R. Knight of course. He painted a pair of "Trachodon" once and because he was the all-knowing guru of dinosaur art, everyone had to copy him without question.

So, back to the lecture at hand, how did Walter wind up in Dinosaur World, where his cousin Ralph is a triceratops-person and everyone drinks Carnivore Cola? Here's the incredibly simple and obvious explanation:

So the lesson here, twelve year olds, is Don't Look At Animals Through Special Glasses That Allow a Physicist Who Has Captured a Black Hole in a Jar to View Other Dimensions. That leaves Walter with the problem of getting back home before anyone notices that there is a rampaging prehistoric creature loose in town. (Have to admit, I like the "Futurama"-ish touch of a planet of dinosaurs that fear the extinct humans as some kind of fantastic violent monsters.) Fortunately, Krebnickle has a Do Anything Computer that answers that problem with a poem. Far out.

What this means is that Walter and company must capture the lizard he saw so he can look at it through the Xenon glasses. More importantly, in 1980, dinosaurs are lizards. (sigh...) By the way, the aforementioned pterosaur-ladies and a gang of dimetrodon-people who weren't illustrated are dinosaurs. (sigh...) I guess it could be worse. There could be mammoth-people in Dinosaur World...

Anyway, Walter is found out and he and the lizard are both kidnapped by the prehensile-tailed tyrannosaurus in the above "very wrong" illustration. Fortunately, after some complications too ridiculous to mention here, they escape. Which leads to this happening:

The Double Disappearance of Walter Fozbek pg. 99

Needless to say, Walter returns to Human World safely. The author can't resist one more act of crazy before we're done though. Check out his author photograph (and the plot summary by somebody who wasn't paying attention):


Addendum: There is something dinosaur-people-y in the water this week. See also the AV Club and Vulture.


Sketch of the Day!

I should not have done this.


Zach said...

Love the anthro-tops on the left. Wonderful pose. Remember the Voth from Star Trek: Voyager? Highly-evolved duckbills who escaped Earth to the stars before the meteor hit! They looked SORT OF like ceratopsids, though they were meant to be duckbills.

I certainly enjoyed reading this post, especially the further dig at "Cars," which will cause smoke to start coming out of Scott's ears--something I absolutely love invoking. I keep meaning to watch Cars and get involved in that discussion, know...

That would involve watching "Cars." I already know whose camp I stand in, anyway.

Fishy said...

"By the way, the aforementioned pterosaur-ladies and a gang of dimetrodon-people who weren't illustrated are dinosaurs. (sigh...) I guess it could be worse. There could be mammoth-people in Dinosaur World..."

I would be perfectly okay with this, but only on the condition that they could somehow combine to form a giant robot.

Albertonykus said...

I don't have much to add except that this book appears to be really, really weird, but you've already established that.

Sharon said...

Yikes, I do remember reading that book now that I see more of those illustrations. Bizarre. I think I must have nearly blocked out that memory!

Seth said...

I hesitate to bring this up, as it might bring to the surface some long repressed memory, but did you ever watch "Dinosaucers"? It seems to share a lot in common with this book, only twisted to fit the Transformers "'80's teens befriend group of highly marketable aliens fighting war on earth with equally marketable villainous fraction" mold.

Tamara Henson said...

There was once an animated version of this book shown on one of those Literacy Cartoons that were once so popular on Saturday morning in the 80s. I believe it was on CBS Storybreak but I may be wrong. I remember that it was somewhat different from the book but just as crazy.

Trish said...

^^ In the post immediately preceding this one, I wrote about that very program: