Monday, August 25, 2008

Meet Ze Monsta

An alternate title could be "Hot for Teacher" - but why reference Van Halen over the lovely PJ Harvey?

This comely lass is Bette Monster, the educator for my little hellions.

Like the rest of my crew, she is a victim of my love for silly names. Her first name is a reference to the Precocious class' 13 kids first and last names all starting with a different letter of the alphabet. The surname Monster plays in wonderfully with the role of an authority figure. When you're literally under the command of a Monster, what are you to do? There's also the connotation that monsters are hideous beings, while Bette is clearly hot. (Cartoon collies might not be your thing, so trust me that she's the animal equivalent of a babe.)

The role of a comic teacher is key to adding a new dynamic to a strip. In Calvin and Hobbes and Ozy & Millie, the teacher is an exasperated educator at the mercy of the precocious characters - with only the power of grading and threat of detention to protect them. In Peanuts and Fox Trot, different instructors had different personalities. Fox Trot's professors were mostly of the sarcastic variety (with their own subtleties), but Bill Amend did make a choice once to shake things up. Precocious Jason Fox loved exasperating his teacher with his irritating genius, but when she retired his life was thrown into chaos. The new teacher, Miss O'Malley (I think) was young and on the ball. Jason at one point cried out in horror, "She's challenging me!" Miss O'Malley could get thrown off by Jason's excesses, of course, but I really liked the idea of someone in authority who could put him in his place. With Peanuts, while educators eventually warped into trombones vexed by Peppermint Patty, it should be noted that earlier instructors (around the 60's strips - which is as far as the published archives currently go) were very human. Charlie Brown, Linus and company watched them fall in love, get heartbroken, get married, crack up, learn life lessons, leave and return. I enjoy the idea of such rich characters existing purely off-panel. (See: every verbose post about my minor characters who won't appear for years or ever.) My own Monster is very much inspired by Miss O'Malley and those of the early Peanuts universe.

Bette has long since learned that the best she can do is let the kids choose their own directions and try to nudge them towards the right path. While she does remarkably well in keeping her class in a productive, controlled-chaos state, it's only natural that she can be exasperated at times. At least she's been teaching this group long enough to know how they tick; she knows when to step in and disarm them and when to step aside at let the inevitable explosions happen.

She's also single, fellas! At 29, Bette has the fear of old in her. With her private life, she alternates between convincing herself she's still a young soul and freaking out about becoming a full adult (getting married, owning a house, having kids) before it's too late. While I am not a furry pin-up girl, I *am* 28-going-on-ancient and hopelessly behind in such growing up things. Bette is my outlet for my own frustrations with aging.

Now, this usually doesn't come out in a classroom setting. When a teacher lets students humanize them or look at them as friends, the balance of authority becomes skewed in a way Ms. Monster can't afford, considering this batch of crazies! The way the human side of Bette emerges comes from her friendship with another couple that's going into maturity kicking and screaming: Gene and Sky Et. Despite them having a huge family, they are only 33 and 29, respectively. The Bette-Et combo allows each side to see each side of responsibility, and also provides the enabling element to run away from responsibility on occasion. (Alcohol *is* a factor.) If they aren't careful, Tiffany is going to have a *lot* of blackmail material...

Oh, Gene and Sky, you two are going to ensure my strip will never go into mainstream publication with your naughty antics, aren't you?

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