I’m not going to make a habit of commenting on things I’ve drawn, but I think I do need to say a few things about “Club Nematoda,” a kind of Village Vanguard I had imagined for some hipster worms. Saying nothing would have been like a cartoon hit-and-run; I had to go back and explain my reckless drawing.
I confess I was excited when this idea first came to me. It had everything I loved—jazz, biology, worms—what’s not to like? And while I thought it might flummox some people, you may already know that that concern has never really stopped me before. No flummoxing, no glory, you know.
So I drew my wormy little jazz club. And I liked it. Cute singer, too. I hurriedly shot it off to my publisher, where they were in the process of making their final selections for a wall calendar based on my “New Stuff,” and I was more than confident my nematodes would make the scene. And then … thud! My worms hit a wall. “Parthenogenesis” wasn’t a word my editor was familiar with, nor, she added, were any of her coworkers. (I know, I know—I was shocked, too.)
Okay, it had occurred to me that parthenogenesis—a form of asexual reproduction in some animals and plants, and recently discovered to be a cartoon killer—was probably not a word filed away in the back of everyone’s mind, waiting to be mined by a good worm joke. Then again, as I mentioned, I’m okay if some people just stare blankly at something I’ve created. (I’ve done it myself.) But when you flummox your editor, that’s not good.
Well, you move on. In hindsight, I have to concede that giving this cartoon the ax was probably a good call. Maybe this one was just too biology-ee. And I always knew I could give these worms a home here, in my “New Stuff” section, where I feel I can experiment, and blank stares can roam free.
But yet another concern started creeping into my mind: how “gettable” was the other integral strand buried within this cartoon? I’m referring to Cole Porter’s composition, and jazz standard, “What Is This Thing Called Love?” Even among those familiar with the tune, would they recognize it in this otherworldly context? My editor got stuck on “parthenogenesis”—I never thought to ask if she recognized the opening lyric to Porter’s famous tune. For all I know, “parthenogenesis” was only the first hurdle here.
Well, sometimes we overthink things. Not me, usually, but it can still happen. In the end I thought Club Nematoda was still kind of fun, and I decided—gettability aside—I would go ahead and post it in my “New Stuff” section, without saying a word about it. Let ’em stare! I survived “Cow Tools!”
But finally these worms really did turn. Something started nagging at me: are nematodes for sure parthenogenetic? I was quite confident they were, but figured it wouldn’t hurt to double-check. I did. They aren’t. Birds do it, bees do it, and, dammit, so do nematodes. If there was a glimmer of hope for this thing, there it went. I had just lost the only audience I had left—three jazz-loving biologists. Lights out. Club Nematoda was out of business. (Note: some earthworms do reproduce parthenogenetically, but “Club Annelida” just doesn’t have that ring to it, and I know you would agree.)
If you have to explain a joke, it’s over. The explaining does absolutely nothing to save it. I know that, you know that. But with this one, what can I say? I cracked.
Now I have a question of my own to ask: what is this thing called humor?