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So I got food poisoning at Disney World.
It wasn’t terribly serious, but my wife and I each spent an odd, gastrically-unsettled night mostly semi-conscious, drifting in and out of a not-quite-dream, not-quite hallucination state. At one point, during one of my more lucid periods, I asked Ann if we should get some soup or something from room service. She blearily responded, “Keep it charging…keep it charging…” She doesn’t know why. I don’t know why. But she said it, and then drifted off into unconsciousness.
I fell asleep and turned her odd utterance into a dream in which we were riding what I called The Food Ride. It was very much like Spaceship: Earth in EPCOT Center, with the train of little plastic pods you sit in and are taken past the sights and sounds of the exhibit, except in this one, you were taken past an endless buffet, where you could take whatever you wanted and eat it as your little plastic train-car pod went endlessly round and round, spiraling up the panorama of buffet units and down and around and up again. Prime rib, sandwiches, salad bar, fried chicken, desserts…you could put your credit card in a slot in your pod-car-thing, and just “keep it charging” as you selected whatever you wanted.
Later that night, after being awake for a while and then blearily passing out again, I had a very realistic dream in which editors at Marvel Comics—Mark Gruenwald and Tom deFalco, as I recall—offered me the writing assignment on Fantastic Four…the only hitch being that I had to take them back to their roots as a rock band.
I tried to explain that the F.F. had never been a rock band, but they didn’t want to hear it. That was the job, take it or leave it. This was long enough ago in my career that I think my recent works included the Red Tornado mini-series, The Liberty Project and The Legend of Wonder Woman. I wasn’t even writing What If fill-ins yet. So I really wanted to take the job, and I was working out an elaborate year-long story that culminated in a giant open-air stadium gig in Latveria, with attendant carnage, mayhem and killer robots.
I just couldn’t figure out where to start, since, after all, the Fantastic Four had never been a rock band.
As I was trying to figure out how to make this bizarre editorial demand work, I slowly regained consciousness, and was still trying to figure out how to make the story work when I realized, with a certain amount of relief, that it had been a dream. A certain amount of sadness, too, since I would have liked to write Fantastic Four.
But the food poisoning was over, and my wife and I enjoyed the rest of our stay in the East Coast Happiest Place on Earth.™ But I remembered the dream well enough to draw the picture you see above, and my pal Richard Howell inked and lettered it. And I brought it in to the Marvel Offices and showed it to Terry Kavanagh, then the editor of What The—?!, Marvel’s humor-and-self-parody comic, and he hired me (and Richard) to do a story about it. When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. When life gives you bizarre food-poisoning-induced dreams of the Fantastic Four’s recording career, well, you make do with what you got.
So I had to come up with a beginning for the story after all—but it was easier to do with a humor comic. I just had the editors at Marvel contact the Fantastical Four (as the What The versions were known) and demand that, because sales on their comic were bad, they had to go back to their rock’n’roll roots as a promotional stunt. The F.F. protested that they never had been a rock band, but the editors at Marvel were as implacable as they’d been in my dream—their contract with the F.F. gave them control over promotion, and this was promotional, so they had to do it. And Richard and I did the story, complete with Latverian open-air stadium battle of the bands against Dr. Doom. And it was published in What The—?! #17.
Secrets behind the comics revealed.