Last week, I read a story about four employees of The New York Press who quit their jobs when their paper refused to reprint those controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed. That seemed like the perfect opportunity to tell my coworkers about a weekly comic strip I've been devising on the side one that I hope will bridge the U.S./Middle Eastern culture gap in a fun, lighthearted way. Guess what? My politically correct officemates all threatened a walkout of their own if I dared to put my pitch into print. Well, have fun reading Hi & Lois on the breadline, you humorless SOBs. You too, Tom Tomorrow, Ward Sutton and Emily Flake all of whom declined my gracious offers to have them illustrate the strip (for 20 percent of the profits; all merchandising rights stay with me). Good thing I didn't really need them, anyway: While I'm no Cathy Guisewite, I think I can draw well enough to catch a newspaper syndicate's eye.
Here, straight from my own hand and for the first time ever, is the cast of zany characters the world will soon know as the stars of Bringing Up Basra Featuring Good Ol' Ahmed Brown.
This Sunni sad sack can't catch a break, whether he's trying in vain to kick a football made from 100 percent imitation pigskin or wondering why he got his ass whomped in his country's first free and open spelling bee. Maybe it's because the Western crusaders who made the rules assumed you'd know what an "andiron" was, you big silly! On Halloween night, his traditional lament echoes his everyday recipe for successful political protest: "I got a rock."
Mutt and Muhammed
What we have here, I'm anticipating, is one of the greatest comedy duos since Calvin and Hobbes, or at least Scooter and Condi. Mutt is the tall, lanky one, a real man of the people who lives to play the ponies and chart a path toward Easy Street. Muhammed is the shorter one but that's only an educated guess, since this deeply respectful strip will never show him outright, instead relegating him to a perpetually invisible status that'll make Carlton Your Doorman look as overexposed as Jennifer Aniston.
The laziest grunt in the insurgent army, he's always sleeping when he should be beheading journalists on camera or planting IEDs by the side of the road. Some readers are bound to cry foul when the certain success of the strip keeps him on active duty for decades, but I'll just explain that he enlisted when he was seven. Or I could start coloring his beard white.
"Who printed those horribly insensitive pictures of a religious icon in an otherwise reputable newspaper?" Not me!
"Thirty-six months into the liberation, who has electricity and running water?" Not me!
And in answer to the burning question, "Who wants to get locked in a centuries-old cycle of violence and misunderstanding," I'll later be introducing an offshoot character, Hey Over Here.
The Little Red-Haired Girl
Gotta take my word for it on this one.
No world-class comic strip is complete without a cute pet whose transcribed thoughts show that he has every other character's number. That's Fred Knesset, an outwardly docile pooch who is secretly an Israeli-born surveillance expert reporting his friends' activities back to Tel Aviv. The stick of dynamite in his mouth is from a plot thread I have planned for a few months down the road, when Fred realizes that the "security" operation to which he's given his life is a counterproductive sham and he becomes a suicide bomber in confused retaliation. Bet you can't wait to see where I go after that. I know I can't.