Short Story: I'm (Not) Gonna Write You A Love Song

Sunday, October 13, 2013

No spoilers in here, so I can post this for you all to enjoy! Basil's fallen in love for the first time since the death of his fiancee (via illness), but he doesn't know how to let Miss Annabell Simmons know he's interested in marrying her. Dustin tries to help out in the only way he knows how.


“This is going to sound stupid.”

“Stupid? Naw.” Dustin closed the keyboard and leaned on his piano. “There’s no such fing as a stupid question.”

Basil sighed. “How do I propose to a woman that I think I love but who I…I don’t know. She’s not Emily, and that’s been making this difficult.” He wrung his hands nervously. “See? Stupid question.”

“You wanna propose?” Dustin grinned. “That’s not stupid!”

“No, but I’ve proposed before – to Emily – so I shouldn’t have to ask.”

Dustin shrugged. “Miss Simmons ain’t Emily, though, so it’s owlroit.” He rolled his gaze to the ceiling. “Hmmm.”

“Ms. Simmons enjoys going to the theatre, balls, music – ”

“That’s it!” Dustin snapped his fingers.

Basil blinked. “What’s it?”

“Music! Wroit ‘er a love song, Mister Remington!”

Basil blinked again, stunned. “What?”

Dustin raised an eyebrow in mock confusion. “Don’t tell me you don’t know wot a love song is.”

“Of course I do! I just can’t write one!” Basil felt the blood rushing to his cheeks, but resisted the temptation to raise a hand to check the temperature of his face.

“But yer such a good wroiter…” Dustin frowned, but only briefly. “I know! You wroit the words an’ I’ll set it to music fer you!” he added, his characteristic smile returning almost immediately.

“But…I’ve never written anything like that before.” Basil fidgeted.

“‘Ere, I’ll show you.” Dustin patted the piano bench and slid over, and Basil sat beside him. He opened the keyboard again and cracked his knuckles. “Let’s assume that I’m a pretty lady and I’m in love wif you.”

Basil glared at him.

“Y’know,” Dustin went on, “I’d just ‘ave longer ‘air an’ be better endowed ‘ere.” He waved a hand in front of his chest, and he noticed Basil’s glare visibly soften out of amusement. Oh, you fout that were funny.

Basil exhaled. “Right. So supposing you were a lady in love with me – what is this even supposed to do?”

“Get you in the roit mood er wroit, Mister Remington. ‘S called ‘acting.’” Dustin’s innocent face gave absolutely no indication of the words he was about to sing.

“We’re turning this into theatre now?” Basil rolled his eyes. “Come on, Thatcher, be serious!”

Instead of being serious, Dustin began to play the piano, quickly feeling out the opening bars of the introduction. Before Basil could lodge a protest, he began to sing.

“There is a man, an ‘andsome man, wif eyes as blue as the sea…That ‘andsome man, that very man, belongs at last to meeee…” Here the tempo picked up, becoming jaunty. “Marry me, woncha just marry me, woncha just please, oh, please just propose to me, I would ‘appily, say yes if yer askin’ me, so woncha just please, oh, please just take a knee?”

Basil’s jaw dropped.

“I love youuu Mister Remingdon – da da, da da – I love you wif all of my ‘eart, won’t you please say you’ll marry me so we can get a ‘ole new staaaart!” Dustin finally stopped as he choked up with laughter. “See ‘ow easy that were?”

Basil said nothing. He continued to stare, his mouth agape and his cheeks flushed. Dustin turned to face him and the sight of Basil’s face made him laugh even harder.

“Thatcher!” Basil snapped, then caught himself before saying anything more. He thought for a moment, and without realizing it he smiled. For that one moment in time, he was relaxed. It hit him then that he’d lost touch with a huge part of himself – that tie he’d had with Emily was based on their shared senses of humor. And when he really thought about it, he bantered back and forth with Dustin far more than he did with Annabell. She always seemed like she was keeping her distance, come to think of it.

Dustin smiled genuinely at him in return, and in that moment he was definitely sure that something was up because Annabell never smiled at him like that. She was guarded somehow.

“Thatcher,” Basil said again.

Dustin cocked his head to the right. “Mmm?”

Basil stuck out his hand. “Thank you.”

Even more confused now, Dustin nevertheless shook Basil’s hand. “Yer welcome?”

Basil stood up. “I’ll explain later. I have business to attend to now – as soon as I return, I’ll explain.”

Dustin nodded at him. “Owlroit.” He grinned. “Good luck, Mister Remington. You shook me ‘and, so you’ll be foine.”

Basil smiled earnestly back. “I’ll need it,” he replied, then walked off through the main hall of the bank, one hand raised in a ‘see you later’ wave.

He still wasn’t quite sure what he made Basil realize, but Dustin felt immensely satisfied.

How Basil and Dustin Became a Double Act

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

I hadn't drawn them in a while and felt like I was missing out. Then I got to thinking about them and realized I never wrote a post about this.

I think Basil's hair has undergone about ten changes over the past year. I should chronicle this at some point.

Basil and Dustin didn't start out as a double act. They weren't meant to even know each other that well at all originally. Notes I have dating back to 12/13/04, the date the project officially began, state that "the point of the story is to get across how important it is to simply enjoy life and have fun, something Basil learns throughout the course of the tale from various people, including Dustin." They quickly started to get along as my notes expanded, and within a day or two of the story's genesis it was clear that the two were going to go on adventures together with little Charlie Jenkins in tow.

A brief timeline of what happened, complete with mentally scarring links to my old deviantART account:

  • 12/10/04: I did two doodles (one | two) of Charlie in anthropology class. He got colored images on a horrible character sheet later.
  • 12/12/04: Horrible character sheets for Dustin and Basil appeared.
  • 12/13/04: I decided that I was onto something and started to take notes on 'the Christmastime Victorian London Story,' which eventually got the much better title of 'Londinium.' 
In those early notes, Dustin and Charlie tend to stick together and pop in to help main character Basil out when needed. However, Dustin and Basil turned out to have on-page chemistry early on and so I juxtaposed them a lot. They got along, but were often at odds, with Dustin generally teaching the somewhat boring and naive Basil about life. This was a very boring story.

To make it less boring, villains were introduced and proper adventures began to emerge as the characters showed themselves more to me, and Basil revealed to me that he actually wasn't boring and naive at all and just had an insanely good deadpan. I sifted through a ton of bad ideas because when you're in high school you often think you're being clever and meaningful when you're really just being stupid, but there was something missing still.

I found it in January of 2007. It was only a few days after the new year had started, and I somehow made my way on Wikipedia to the 'double acts' page. At this point, Basil and Dustin were starting to act a lot more like one, but I can't actually remember how I ended up on the page. What I do know, however, is that it was fate.

It was fate because I discovered Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, who reminded me so much of Basil and Dustin that  it actually freaked me out a bit at first. They had way too many things in common, including the height disparity, Basil and Peter both being former prefects, Dustin and Dudley both being piano players, and a ton of other weird things. But the bit that really caught my eye was the whole corpsing thing. Basil and Dustin were developing their friendly 'let's make each other laugh at bad times' rivalry at this time, and the fact that it happened between two real-life people who were eerily similar to my own characters was striking. So I threw it in and let their stupid game blossom because it was entertaining me.

Basil and Dustin ran away with it and ended up revealing to me that both had once had comedic aspirations as younger men. I told them that they should keep going and I would write about it. They agreed to become a double act and Londinium finally started going in a proper direction.

The double act itself has its origins in the 19th century in music hall and vaudeville - a straight man would stand up with a comedian and repeat the comic's lines so that the audience would know a joke was coming up, i.e.:

First Performer: So I went to the races last week, and...
Second Performer: Oh, you went to the races last week?
Audience: (shuts up)
First Performer: (tells joke)
Audience: (laughs)
And so forth.

By the end of the 19th century, though, double acts evolved into what we know them as today, and whilst I'm not going to do a giant lecture on them here (that would be a post better suited for one of my other blogs) it's important to note here that Basil and Dustin don't actually perform as a double act because that would be anachronistic in the 1860s. They do, however, write as one. In the Londinium universe, they simply consider each other a comedy writing team who occasionally do sight gags that require them to hold poses for about three minutes whenever they're photographed. Outside of the universe, they'd probably be labeled as a double act pretty much instantly due to the way they banter well and cross-talk all the time.

So in summary, whilst Basil and Dustin don't have an adorable leg of lamb story, the fact that they managed to come this far despite the fact that my initial characterizations of them were awful is somewhat heartwarming in a 'Steph's writing used to suck and now it sucks less' sort of way.

Just To Remind You Your Art Always Gets Better...

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Two drawings I've done of Dustin. The one on the left dates to 12/30/2004; the one on the right dates to 2/22/2013.

When Satire Fails

Sunday, February 24, 2013

This was back in 2007, but it still ought to be shared.

I get that they're making fun of conservative political cartoons here, but did they have to do it at librarians' expense? I happen to enjoy reading satire (and occasionally trying to write it), and the fact that they propagated one myth to shatter another makes me really sad. I normally love the Onion, too.

Now, I'm sharing this here because I'm currently in grad school to become an archivist and because quite a few of my characters in Londinium work as satirists. I have to point out why this doesn't quite work satirically. When you write or draw satire, you're trying to show things how they really are by making fun of them using exaggeration. In this case, they're trying to make fun of conservative political cartoons. Unfortunately, they've done this by representing another group of people incorrectly - librarians. 

Satire doesn't work so well when you show one myth to be false whilst simultaneously continuing to convince the public that another myth is real.

What the hell is a 'comic pianist?'

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

John Orlando Parry.
I figured that this would be a good post to write because...well, it's not really a thing people know much about besides the fact that Victor Borge existed and was an extraordinarily funny, talented man. Of course, there's a precedent for what he did, and it can be found in music hall.

The person Dustin looks up to in this field - besides his hero Franz Liszt - is a man by the name of John Orlando Parry. Amongst other things, the man was a songwriter, composer, cartoonist, painter, piano and harp virtuoso, singer and actor. But it's that piano bit that we want to focus on here, because as his career advanced as a performer, he began doing something of particular interest to our young Mr. Thatcher, as well as other performers like George Grossmith.

In 1860, the following happened:
On 4 June 1860, he joined Thomas German Reed and his wife at the Gallery of Illustration, Regent Street, London. Here he performed for nearly nine years, presenting a series of droll impersonations and musical monologues that inspired other comedians, including George Grossmith. He built comic sketches with musical illustrations around his own comic songs. He wrote these entertainments, composed his own music, and played his own accompaniments.
Naturally, we can see where this is going with regards to Dustin. Dustin keeps his ear to the ground when it comes to music, so at age 21 we can imagine he was fully aware that Parry was doing this. It would combine his theatre background and genuine love of the piano, so he'd probably be inspired to give it a try himself. The hard part, of course, is finding an audience for this sort of thing when you're working class and not everyone around you gets your composer parodies. But that's where Basil comes in.

Therefore, what we can conclude here is that during the 19th century the term 'comic pianist' was defined by music hall performers whose primary instrument for comedy was the piano. They'd do silly sketches and play funny songs, as well as impersonate composers and crack bad jokes as the night went on. Dustin, along with colleague Thorvald Abramssen, more or less work in a similar fashion. In the 20th century, the tradition continued most famously with Victor Borge:

Thorvald is of Danish heritage in tribute to Mr. Borge, but the comedian that most inspired how I write Dustin was also a piano virtuoso in his own right and did the most devastatingly perfect parody of Beethoven I've ever heard.

So there you are. That's basically what Dustin says he wants to do when he tells people he's going into the field of 'comic pianism.' Not that it's a field or anything, but now you have a better understanding of what it's all about.

To see a bit of John Orlando Parry's combination of cartooning and music, check out his 'Manual of Musical Terms' here.