Monday, July 16, 2007

Sally Forth Hate Mail

Over the years I’ve received numerous irate responses from Sally Forth readers wishing to lecture me, chastise me or simply call me a “feminist gay pussy twat” because of various plot lines or jokes in the strip.

Of course, that is in now way meant to implay that everyone who responds to a Sally Forth does so without merit. In fact, many of the readers' reactions have been quite reasonable:

Dear sir: My husband and I have been readers of the Sally Forth comic strip for years, and we have generally enjoyed it a great deal. However, we are extremely dismayed to find that recent strips have shown thievery in the office place after a general lay-off. Completely unacceptable behavior, but it certainly isn't being portrayed as unacceptable--in fact, the thievery appears to be accompanied by a self-congratulatory attitude. Until this is rectified, we won't be enjoying the strip any longer.

Others, however, a little less so:

Who are you to make fun of looms?!

But all of the responses have been--in a word--passionate. Back in 2004 when I wrote a story about the Forth family considering having a second child, people thoughtfully took the time to track down my home phone number and leave messages angrily demanding that I remind the characters there are already 6.2 billion people currently populating the globe, none of whom I imagine are fictional.

In 2005, when I had the family’s cat—“Kitty”—go missing for two days, my syndicate received 2800 pieces of hate mail and over 200 irate phone calls. Two newspapers pulled the strip, three ran scathing editorials about the storyline, several animals rights groups contacted me threatening to boycott the strip and a call-in pet care radio show in Florida invited me as a guest so I could chat with their listeners, all of whom they said “wanted me dead.”

And just a few months ago I got emails from four incensed readers—one stating, “Dear Mr. Marciuliano: You are a dumb fuck”—because I didn’t know that pickles now come in plastic bags.

Many of these responses I find pointed or funny, a few I find irritating and one or two make me wish I never left copywriting. But only once in my almost ten years of writing the strip was I completely terrified of the readers’ possible reaction to a story. It was the result of remarkably poor timing and completely without intention, but it involved a major geopolitical fiasco.

Now, there is a significant lag time between when one writes a strip and when it appears in the newspaper. I’m currently writing daily strips that will run at the end of September and Sunday strips that will appear in the November. So at the end of May 2004 I wrote a Sunday strip for that autumn in which the title character—Sally— dreams office demands and obstacles are piling up at an increasingly bizarre pace until her company’s building is eventually taken over by Chechen rebels. The strip was approved, illustrated and set to run in 900 newspapers on Sunday, September 26, 2004.

On Wednesday, September 3—on the third day of a tense standoff in a Beslan elementary school, shooting broke out between Chechen rebel hostage-takers and Russian security forces, resulting in the deaths of 344 civilians, 186 of them children.

On Thursday, September 4, I received the advance print of the aforementioned strip. Only then did I remember what I had written.

I now had three weeks to get the comic pulled.

To be honest I had two reasons to prevent the strip from running. First and foremost, the last thing I wanted was to appear to be making light of a horrible tragedy, especially one involving the death of children. Second, I had once received 13 emails in a single day cursing me out because the characters in the strip had not wrapped their Christmas gifts until Christmas Eve. The thought of what kind of—and how many—responses I would receive from a large-scale international tragedy was a significantly more than I could comprehend. Unfortunately, the reason Sunday strips are written so far in advance is that it takes that long to process them in color, put them in Sunday comics supplements and send them out to various warehouse distribution centers. In other words, the only chance I would have had to pull the strip was more or less three days after I wrote it.

So I had another idea—what if I wrote a note to run in the editorial section of all 900 newspapers explaining that the strip had been written and illustrated long before the shootings and apologizing to anyone who might take offense at its content. Not wanting to seem indifferent to people’s reactions—which were going to be strong—I also gave readers a special address through which they could contact me with their questions or concerns.

The papers ran the statement. Then I waited in fear, worried that if I could receive 22 emails telling me off for getting one of the “Thundercats” names wrong—it’s “Cheetara,” not “Cheetera”—God only knows what wrath I was about to face.

I got one letter. This is that very letter, furiously hand-scrawled, all in caps, on unlined paper (please click on image to enlarge):

The next day I received an email from a reader angry because I had mentioned “Yodels” in the strip instead of “Ho-Hos.”


D.B. Echo said...

Wow. That makes the blogosphere sound sane and civil by comparison.

But, seiously, how could you screw up Cheetara's name?!?!?!?

Mathew Walls said...

I don't normally read Sally Forth, so I went and had a look, and the letter makes a good point. It probably should've been addressed to Craig Macintosh, but it's a valid point nonetheless.

In fact, all the women in the strip are oddly lacking in the way of breasts.

Sara Benincasa said...

Damn, B, you know Sally need some big teh-tayz.

D.B. Echo said...

Ever since Ted's "jumper cables" comment on June 30 (accompanied by the sly, "Hmmm, maybe she'll be into this" look in his eyes), it's been clear that the reason Ted has made so little progress finding a job online is that he spends 98% of his time on the internet on BDSM sites. At some point Sally will realize this and will play along with his fantasies in an attempt to pull him out of his rut. Bigger breasts may be a first step, but are not really imperative.

CryptoGay said...

i find sally forth to be one of the least offensive/idiotic comics in the paper. i find it quite pleasant, in fact. and i like that she doesn't have huge noticeable breasts. a lot of women are like that. it's effing normal. why are people obsessing about a fictional comic strip character's fictional secondary sexual characteristics? great, now i'm obsessing. thanks.

Anonymous said...

echo: I think you mean message boards.

doctor T said...

Pickles come in plastic bags?

vermontie said...

Sally Forth has provided entertainment for my sister and me for years. I always look forward to reading the comic and laughing at all the insane, idiotic plots that unfold. For example, I read the one today in the paper, and I wanted to punch myself in the face. My sister spat her milk on me because she was laughing at how stupid this comic was. Keep up the good work, and keep me laughing!

goldengirl43256 said...

Enough about Sally's breasts. What's more important is how stupid this cartoon is. But since we're on the topic, Ted must like the small breasts because it reminds him of a man's chest (yeah Ted is for sure gay).
Also, Sally Forth is by no means about real family life. Let's see, a lame-o wife who always smirks, a waste of life husband, and a loner daughter. Yeah, that's every family.
nice comment vermontie!

panavia999 said...

How funny to have hate mail for a comic strip. It's just a comic.
I did not see the "Chechen Terrorist" strip, it wouldn't have bothered me because I know these things are done in advance, though I didn't know it was *so* far in advance. I agree that Sally should have some more boobage, not a lot.
I also did not like the series when they talked about having another kid, not because of world population but because it is intensely boring subject to me. There are already plenty of comics about babies. I stopped reading the strip until the topic was dropped. If Sally had gotten pregnant I would have stopped reading Sally Forth. I wouldn't send hate mail. I did consider sending a message that I preferred the plot not go there, or I would be forced to stop reading it.

APersonOfInterest said...

I love your strip and read it every day, but (isn't there always a but) some aspects of the art bother me. The artist doesn't seem to be able to draw arms. The proportions are often wrong - too long from elbow to hand or elbow to shoulder, etc. I must admit that this does bother me. Check out the strip dated 12-30-2010.

APersonOfInterest said...

I like you strip very much and read it every day - but (isn't there always a but) would you please ask the artist to take more care when drawing arms? The proportions are often wrong - elbow to hand too long - shoulder to elbow too long or short - check out the strip dated 12-30-2010.

Gerald Tcimpidis said...

It would be nice if the girl known as "Faye," one of Hillary's friends, was finally drawn with a decent head of feminine hair! It's always been way too short, and, in fact, several years ago, an adult woman once made the comment to a friend that she thought Faye was a BOY.

Loggus said...

Who needs big boobs? What happens to them if you're still drawing her 20-30 years later? She'll be playing self-soccer, that's what!