It’s time for another installment in the shamelessly self-absorbed practice of comparing something I made several years ago to something very similar I made recently. The circus comic, originally in sketchbook #22 (circa winter 2000), was a conscious take-off on Cecil B. Demille’s The Greatest Show on Earth, to which I had just subjected myself for some reason. I couldn’t bring myself to rewatch it, even for research, so I don’t remember which of the jokes are references to the movie. I may even have mangled some of them in translation.
The original sketchbook comic has an atmospheric opening which I can only assume is one of those mysterious references.
It is not explained how Lance and Eskimo got signed on with the circus. In those days, connections between comics were mostly nonexistent as they were intended to be read in no particular order.
The biggest change I made in the update was adding the entire plot about Eskimo and the lion. As you can therefore deduce, Eskimo’s facial scars never happened in the original comic. Even if I had thought of it at the time, the aforementioned lack of continuity would have prohibited that kind of major appearance change. In general, I find a linear continuity more freeing–and more inspiring–than the episodic series-of-one-shots system.
Once we get into the swing of things, a relatively high proportion of the jokes and even plotline of the updated comic comes from the original, particularly compared to the drastic changes made to other updated comics. “I love greasepaint” is followed quickly by the normal sized man gag and Bob (whose minimalist character design was retained completely) comparing the other characters to wines, which I am almost certain is a reference to the movie.
Since the old comic was intended to be read in one sitting, instead of page-by-page, the wine commentary is peppered throughout instead of concentrated in a single comic as in the update. I have compiled the relevant dialogue.
Elephant rider Michelle [retained]
BOB: Michelle is like chablis–heady and effervescent.
ESKIMO: Chablis isn’t effervescent.
Trapeze artist Kayra [now Selene]
BOB: She’s like a midori, sickly sweet.
The Boss [retained]
BOB: The Boss is like an old cabernet… oaky, with a richness you can’t fully appreciate on the first taste. Heavy on tanens.
Costume designer known only as “Costume Lady” [now Kyra]
BOSS: …report to the Costume Lady.
[Lance and Eskimo stare at Bob expectantly.]
BOB: Uh… Oh yeah! The Costume Lady is like chablis–a sassy explosion of taste that–
ESKIMO: You already used chablis.
Acrobat Meiko and lion tamer Alicia [both dropped]
ESKIMO: So, um, rattrainer guy, you still haven’t told us the wine properties of the lion tamer and the acrobat.
BOB: Hm… well, Meiko… she is like a young chardonnay.. all brashness and life and vigor… with no a hint of pretentiousness… evoking the fresh smell of a dewy field of violets.
LANCE: Did you ever see the play “The Violets Are Blue”? Because what you just said reminded me of that. It’s about people being strangled on a submarine.
BOB: ANYway… Alicia, the lion tamer. She is like single-malt scotch, all quirky bittetrness, beloved by few, but the delight of the true conisseur [sic].
LANCE: Sounds like my kinda girls.
ESKIMO [holding up a sign]: Every Girl Is Lance’s Kinda Girl
Yes, the violets thing is from the original comic. Actually, Paul came up with the joke. It’s stolen from My Dinner with Andre.
We proceed to the performance. One thing I think I got across less well in the update was the announcer’s insistence, in the big performance, on calling all of the performers “fearless.” There were a few more girls then, so the repetition was easier. (The circus story was and is one of the most girl-for-Lance-heavy storylines ever.)
Lance and Kayra/Selene’s near-disastrous performance is very similar.
After that there’s some introspection amongst the circus girls while I’ll spare you. The highlight is when Alicia admits she’s afraid of clowns, and when Meiko asks why she’s in the circus, then, she asks, “Where else is a lion tamer gonna work?”
Because the old comics were made up as I went along (if I thought through so much as to the end of a comic, I would get bored and stop drawing it), the order of events makes less sense. The costume designer isn’t introduced until after the big performance. She doesn’t hit on Lance except to briefly pat his cheek and call him Sugar.
ESKIMO: Is my costume going to be frilly? I don’t want a frilly costume. It’s not going to be frilly, is it?
COSTUME LADY: Nope. It’s gonna be sparkly.
And it sure is.
COSTUME LADY: Come on, Lance. Wear the tights!
LANCE: I’m not gonna wear the tights.
COSTUME LADY: I think we should make him wear the tights! Right, Eskimo?
ESKIMO: I actually think the leather pants are bad enough.
Seven years later I would make Lance go bare-legged. (And spare Eskimo completely.)
As in the update, I eventually run out of steam and set everything on fire. The method is the same, though it’s explained more fully in the original, which in this case makes it actually better than the update, I think.
I am a little disappointed that in all the trips to the hospital Lance and Eskimo have made in the update, I have never worked in the exchange
ESKIMO: Come on, buddy. We’re going to the emergency room.
LANCE: Will there be honeys?
So that’s it! While my art has technically improved in the intervening seven years, I think the original circus is a little superior to the update if only because it seems like I cared about it more. I’m a little disappointed with myself for phoning in the art in the update (I was moving at the time, but that’s no excuse. I’ve moved several times since.) Where the update supercedes its predecessor is in the plotting and the new material, particularly the Eskimo storyline. I can’t believe Julian the lion wasn’t even in the original.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse of Lance and Eskimo’s shady past!