Wednesday, December 14, 2022

The One with the Spinoff

The "spinoff" is a well-established concept in various forms of entertainment. It usually happens when a particular piece of media becomes successful, and the producers want to extend the universe, whether it is to a related a character, a location, or an event.

Television spinoffs are relatively common, even more it seems today. Sometimes spinoffs live alongside the parent series, like the One Chicago series, Grey's Anatomy and Station 19, or The Rookie and The Rookie: Feds, allowing for frequent crossovers with the series characters. It helps to extend the storytelling opportunities of the universe of the parent show, while also bringing in viewers than may have found something about the spinoff more compelling than the parent series. Others simply serve as launching points for a new series, like Three's a Crowd spawning from Three's Company, or The Jeffersons from All in the Family.

Of course, one of the most famous and successful examples of spinoff series is Star Trek, having spawned 9 series since its premiere in the 60s, not to mention the theatrical features and non-visual media. The creators and writers have done an excellent job of maintaining an internal consistency with all of the spinoff series, keeping major historical contradictions to a minimum.

Comic spinoffs are so common that they generally don't call them "spinoffs" any longer, simply referring to them as a "shared universe" or "multiverse". Many of the comic characters that are well-known today originally started in the pages of existing properties, often staying there for years before being allowed to exist on their own in their own comics.

As I was coming to the end of the run of Furble, I decided to try my hand at a spinoff. While creating Furble, I had come up with a variety of ideas for different side-stories that could happen in the same world that Furble and FC lived in. I had no intention of making it as involved or intertwined as something like Star Trek, but I wanted to use the world of Furble in order to connect it to my original creation. Thus was born The Adventures of the Mutant Space Peanut.

The idea owes its existence to a couple of other existing properties. The naming is a reference to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which had become pretty big at that time. The overall concept was inspired, as many things in the strip were, by Bill Watterson of Calvin and Hobbes fame. One of Calvin's alter egos was a sci-fi action hero named Spaceman Spiff. He was over-the-top, and Watterson pulled out all of the sci-fi tropes, which was the point. He was definitely one of my favorite parts of the comic strip, and I wanted to sort of do my own version.

The idea of having an inanimate object, instead of something like a turtle, become the mutant hero seemed sufficiently over-the-top, and gave me some good ideas for stories and gags. So, for the final two months of the strip, I told the ongoing adventures of an action peanut.

Strip 159/166 - Mutant Space Peanut Origins

Every hero needs an origin story. I spent a lot of time on this particular strip, in order to make it stand out. I kind of wish I would have put that much detail into the rest of the Mutant Space Peanut strips, but even so, they did find their own style. Regardless, this strip is probably the one I'm most proud of, with the exception of the strip that started the whole thing. This one proved to me that I actually could draw competently.

Strip 160/166 - Spek gets a name and a ship

Watterson gave Calvin's alter ego a snappy moniker, a quick single syllable name that is almost more a sound that a name. I wanted something that evoked the same feeling. His small stature gave me the idea of using the word "speck", but to spell it "Spek" to make it a bit more alien.

Every good space peanut needs to be able to get around for his adventures, so I have Spek a zippy spaceship. The classic 50s sci-fi style also came from the Spaceman Spiff aesthetic.

Strip 161/166 - Should have topped it off before leaving the planet

You always need to watch your fuel levels when you're traveling through space. Although, I'm not sure what is pulling the ship down when it runs out of fuel in space.

Strip 162/166 - A nut's mortal enemy: the nutcracker

I toyed with the idea of bringing The Admiral back to be the big bad for this strip, but ultimately decided to come up with a new enemy for Spek to face off with. The Slime Horde suggests that there are a number of individuals that are aligned in a purpose, but we only ever see one. Still, it sounds sufficiently evil for the purposes of the strip.

Strip 163/166 - Learning the ropes of being a space hero

Spaceman Spiff would use very alien-sounding words for things like weapons, and I did the same here with the "zlok blaster". Apparently even Furbulian technology can be battery-dependent.

Strip 164/166 - Pesky pachyderms 

First time visiting Earth, and he almost gets eaten by an elephant. What are the odds?

Strip 165/166 - Spek's adventures come to a silly end

And, with that, the adventures of Spek, the mutant space peanut, come to an end. I knew at this point that it wasn't going to continue beyond this point, and I didn't want to leave anything hanging, so I sped to the end of Spek's journeys and sent him back home. But, not before getting one more visual gag in.

I've often thought of picking this character up again and doing something with him. Maybe I will at some point.

Next week, we come to the end of our journey, both literarily and literally.

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