Howard the Duck, KISS, Sudd the original scrubbing bubble, and me

Harold’s been wonkifying up Wetmachine lately, almost to the point of upsetting the delicate bullshit/wonkosity ratio that I, as Wetmachine circusmaster, have so studiously sought to maintain down the cascade of years. Time for some drastic action to keep our ph right.

Over on another group blog (which shall remain nameless) on which I hang out from time time time, a recent confessional thread has prompted people to fess up to embarrassing things from their adolescence, such as the fact that the first album they ever purchased was Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” or the Bee Gee’s “Saturday Night Fever”. That discussion inspired me to relate the tale of a post-adolescent piccadillo of my own which appears below the fold. To borrow a sentiment, if not the precise line, from Charles Dickens’ alter ego David Copperfield, whether this tale will make me an Internet hero worthy of your esteem and cross-linking, or whether it will make me more deserving of your open scorn or silent pity, these paragraphs must show.

One night, nearly thirty years ago, while drunk, I wrote a letter to the writers of Howard the Duck, a quasi-popular, quasi-cult Marvel comic book about a cynical, wise-cracking, cigar-smoking guy from a universe where everybody is a duck, who was stranded here in our universe one day when “the cosmic axis shifted”. The writers’ response, two months later, has immortalized me in bathrooms all over North America (and for all I know, all over the world).

In 1978, I was a graduate student at Purdue University. I had a little studio apartment in Lafayette, Indiana, and there I used to drink beer, as grad students are wont to do. On the Sunday night in question, when I was sitting around listening to the radio and reading comic books, as people used to do in the days before teh internets were invented, I had myself a snootful, accidental-like. (I recall that the brand of beer I was drinking that night was “Blatz”, which may help to account for some of what follows.)

Anyway I was reading ish #17 or so of Howard the Duck (“HTD”). And in the middle of the book there were some photos of the band KISS, who were fans of the book. In the photos, the members of the band are seen to have blood withdrawn from their arms, which is then taken to the place where the Howard the Duck books were printed, and the vials of Kiss blood are shown being poured into the ink, such that the very book I am reading, they would have me believe, is printed with the blood of members of Kiss.

Now for some reason, this deeply offended me. I guess I found it gratuitously violent or something. I can’t say that I find it very offensive in retrospect. I find it a little offensive, but only in the sense that I’m a person who has donated about ten gallons of blood in my life*, and I know that there is always a shortage of blood donors, and that lots of people who are medically able to donate, do not do so. So it’s kind of wasteful to throw away (presumably) perfectly good blood. Also, I thought Kiss sucked, as a band, and I didn’t like their schtick. But that has precious little do do with KISS depositing their blood in an ink vat for a publicity goof. I mean, who cares, right?

Anyway, I wrote some kind of drunken rant about how deeply offensive this stunt was, the kind of rant that nowadays a drunken lonely grad student would do in a Kuro5hin diary. But I did it with pen and ink, and what’s worse, while drunk, I put the damn thing in the mail. The next day I felt kind of bad about it, and I think I may even have called the guys up to tell them to just throw my letter in the trash. I’m pretty sure I did that, actually. Call them up, I mean.

Anyway, their response was as follows:

Which I discovered to my horror when I picked it up the newsstand a few months later. So as you can see from the cover, Howard the Duck has a new nemesis, an insane-uptight puritan character named Sudd, the Scrubbing Bubble that walks like a MAN! Sudd, who is comprised of water and harsh foaming abrasives, is on a mission to erase all impurities and bad thoughts from the earth, and more to the point, he wants to obliterate Howard the Duck, who embodies everything Sudd despises. And Sudd, in turn, is the kind of humorless, repressed, overly religified zealot that we like to lampoon here at Wetmachine.

Now, my last name is Sundman. All through HTD #20 there are references to SUDD (…..) MAN. As in, “SUDD the scrubbing bubble that walks like a MAN.” In other words, the character Sudd is big giant “fuck you” from the creators of Howard the Duck to yours truly.

That’s embarrassing enough, and quite enough punishment, I think, for one drunken letter, however ill-advised or incoherent.

But it gets worse.

A few years later, I was watching the tube, when to my utter astonishment I saw an animated TV advertisement for some kind of bathroom cleanser that featured the incredible new feature, “Scrubbing Bubbles”, which were depicted zooming all over the bathroom. The scrubbing bubbles looked pretty much like Sudd and his minions from HTD, and I’m pretty much certain that’s where they came from.**

New products like bathroom cleansers come and go all the time; few of them last. But Scrubbing Bubbles had that special something. Years later, the name of the original product has been subsumed; Scrubbing Bubbles is itself the name of the product, which has grown into an entire family of products, nay, it has grown into an entire bathroom cult.

I think that’s more embarrassing than buying Thriller as a fourteen-year-old. Especially since I wrote my letter when I was 25 or so. Ouch!

Nevertheless, when I posted a variant of this story on that other site, I was surprised and gratified by the response of my friends there, to wit:

That’s the sort of embarrassment that exceeds the normal and becomes iconic. The final frontier…

I would probably be strangely proud that I had achieved something of such notoriety. It’s not many people who can claim that they were so awful that they inspired their own super-villain. That’s actually very cool.


That’s not embarrassing, that’s the sort of stuff that internet superheroes are made of.

You’ve achieved a certain immortality! It’s great!

If y’all have a story that can top mine for excruciating dumb-assery or for, conversely, Internet Hero status, I would love to hear it.

* Hey! Today I donated another pint to Children’s Hospital, Boston. Donating blood is fun! It’s wholesome! It’s spirtitually satisfying, especially at a children’s hospital. I recommend it to all!

** I’ve written to the person that the Internets tell me was the originator of the Scrubbing Bubbles ad campaign to ask him whether he got the idea from Howard the Duck. I’ll let you know if I hear back.

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