Just for fun, I wrote a blog post about how I appear to have totally unconsciously ripped off a key scene of Lars von Trier’s 2009 horror film Antichrist for my 2010 horror game (and IFComp top-tenner) The Warbler’s Nest. The movie predates my game by a year, and I only saw it for the first time last night. Or so I thought…?
That is really interesting! I’m going to share a story of my own, which is so bizarre some of you may have trouble believing it.
In the late 1990s I was working for an animation company. At that time, animated shows for adults were in the ascendant. The Simpsons was well established, and shows like South Park, Duckman and Family Guy were just getting off the ground. My friend David Hughes and I optimistically decided to write a pilot episode for a show of our own.
We tossed around a few ideas, but none of them stuck. Then, one night I was on the cusp of sleep when an idea hit me. The concept came into my head fully formed, and over the next few hours all sorts of details began to form around the central concept. By five o’clock in the morning, I had conceived a dozen characters, drawn a map and written one line synopses for twenty-five episodes. I have never had such a rush of inspiration before or since.
The central concept was this: It would be set in an American town way out in the desert. The town was clustered around a huge, ugly butte that had magnetic properties. Because of the magnetic mountain, the original settlers had been unable to find true north and, utterly lost, had settled there out of sheer desperation. The economy of the town revolved around a kind of liquor made from cactuses. This they traded with a nearby “Hangar 18” style military base for tinned supplies, the military labels removed so that no one knew what they were getting. There were aliens from the base that wandered quite openly about the town. Over the course of the night I added all sorts of other details. There was an unfinished railroad that went nowhere. A hermit who lived in the mountain. A lost tribe of native Americans who lived on the other side of the Butte, and a bottomless canyon. The plot would revolve around the central character, a crooked wallstreet banker, and his attempts to escape from the town he’d been stranded in.
I showed my ideas to my friend David and he loved them. He came up with a bunch of additional ideas of his own and we got started on the script for the pilot.
Now here’s the real kicker. The first thing that had popped into my head that fateful night was the name of the town: Dogpatch. My notebooks from the time contain another name, Cornpone, which I considered for a character but ultimately never used. Some of you will know where I’m going with this. After writing the pilot, I decided to check the internet to make sure the name Dogpatch was original. It wasn’t. It was the name of the town in an American cartoon called Li’l Abner. The town in Li’l abner also had a liquor made of cactus, a mountain called Onneccessary Mountain (complete with a hermit), an Indian tribe, a bottomless canyon, a railroad that went nowhere and several varieties of aliens. The founder of the town was one Jubilation T. Cornpone.
I had never heard of Li’l Abner. I have no idea if it was ever syndicated in Britain, and I have no recollection of ever reading it. There was a movie made in 1959, but after careful research I was able to establish that it had never been shown on UK television. The really odd thing was that some of David’s ideas also had strong parallels in Li’l Abner. When I showed him what I’d discovered online, he was just as astonished as I was, and of course we abandoned the project. But it remains unexplained and is one of the strangest experiences of my life.
There’s a term: cryptomnesia… which is unconscious inadvertent plagiarism, and then there’s “great minds think alike”. If you have an awesome idea, it’s more than likely someone as smart as you has had a similar idea. Hopefully, an author’s individual spin can make an original thing from a base idea since concepts and ideas aren’t copyrightable.
I wrote a screenplay that was a slasher/horror set entirely in an elevator. When I was having the script read, I was told “This is fine, but M.Night’s Devil pretty much makes your script unmarketable.” I had never heard of it, and immediately pulled up the trailer, cursing my luck. Funny enough, there was another existing movie called Down which was about a cursed elevator trying to kill the passengers. As it turns out, they were different enough that mine got optioned (but not made) by a producer who was searching for a low-budget thriller.
Mine was called Going Down (for which the elevator pitch (har!) was “And Then There Were None in an elevator.”) and eventually became an IntroComp fragment would have been closer to my screenplay, then an Ectocomp game which was completely different, although based on an existing creepypasta, and stole the title and a bit of the setting.
I apparently am fascinated by scary elevators as I’ve used that concept multiple times. I even at one point had a movie on my phone where I spent half an hour in a resort elevator that spoke exact lines from my screenplay and I had to document it, not realizing such a thing already existed. Unfortunately that footage was lost on an old phone, or I would have used the audio in-game.
There was also a musical on Broadway in 1956 (which was the basis for the movie) and a TV adaptation in 1971. Perhaps those may have filtered their way across the pond? Though I can’t imagine what taste there might have been in the UK for American “hillbilly” humor. Maybe you you heard the cast recording?
It’s possible. It’s much more likely to have been something I watched rather than something I read, as I would have been very young when I saw it, too young for a sophisticated cartoon aimed at an adult audience. The word “Cornpone” had been rattling around in my head for as long as I could remember.
As for the UK taste, you’d be surprised. We have an insatiable appetite for American shows and films here. I grew up watching The Banana Splits, Batman (the TV show), everything Hanna Barbera ever produced, the Monkees and even obscure stuff like The Red Hand Gang. The Beverley Hillbillys and Petticoat Junction were shown in the '80s along with The Munsters and The Addams Family (I preferred the latter.)
I’m sure I must have experienced Li’l Abner somewhere, but I’m still astonished at the number of details I remembered.
What a wild story! I indeed recognized where it was headed once you said “Dogpatch”, and this despite the fact that I have not read or seen Lil Abner in any medium. I know it only as a sketch of its place in 20th century popular culture, just accruing references to it here and there over the years.
(The first of these undoubtedly involved its “Shmoo” character, who starred in some rubbishy animated cartoons circa 1980 and which I probably loved at the time.)
Perhaps you, too, had read an article about it that listed its main points, and then forgotten about it?
I did see the rubbishy Shmoo cartoons when I was a kid, and I have wondered whether that was the source of my Lil’ Abner cryptomnesia, but having checked online, I don’t think Dogpatch was featured in any of the episodes.
I guess I’ll never know!
I have a recent story about this. I have this idea for a Sea Opera about a whale looking for justice or to beg humanity just stop polluting the sea and the environment and such. A visual novel with whales.
Anyway, I was listening to Blues Nile by Jon Hassell, when its harrrowing lament inspired me a whale graveyard, where, at the end of it resides The Ancient Cetacean, an oracle, an inmense being, the greatest living whale, with thousends of age, where the whale protagonist must seek consultation to what to do next.
I’ve told this to my daughter and she explained to me: “You know, there’s this character at Ecco the Dolphin, called The Big Blue, that is an oracle where Ecco goes to seek advice”. Me: “Ooooops”. Daughter: “After that the plot goes crazy, even including aliens, you should definitively play the game.”
So, you see… I mean, I don’t mind, every epic voyage should have their proper Ancient Morla. And I mean… it is a Visual Novel with Whales. Portraits of whales, THAT must be DONE, no matter how cliche the plot is
I like the concept of the magnetic mountain causing trouble and the nearby military base with offworlders wandering into town. That might make for enough originality if you take out the Lil Abner stuff that crept in from who-knows-where. Then again, the idea of aliens wandering around town appears in an ongoing comic called Bugsport that’s been running since the late 1990s. See http://tedsstudio.com/bugsport/
Well, the story of “Dogpatch” seems a lot like Gravity Falls. So I imagine is a common trope on Americana culture?
It might just not be a terribly original idea!
Yeah, but the world is quite better with Gravity Falls in it. Originality is overrated
Li’l Abner wasn’t just any old comic strip; it was one of the most influential American comic strips of the mid-20th century. It had multiple imitators, movie and musical versions, and even a theme park (one that I remember some of my friends visiting in the 80s). It launched Sadie Hawkins Day, and it took on political and social commentary more than any other comic strip before it had. When the two main characters in the strip got married the event made the cover of Life magazine. I think Li’l Abner was even largely responsible for the “backwoods country folks” genre of American entertainment that was popular for a few decades (think The Beverly Hillbillies and Hee Haw). It was kind of like the Calvin and Hobbes of its day - except that, since Al Capp was much more of a self-promoter than Bill Watterson, it manifested itself in many more parts of American culture.
So even if you hadn’t heard of it specifically, it doesn’t surprise me that some of its characters and themes found their way into your head from other avenues.
I gathered it was something of a big deal, and drawn by Frank ‘Conan’ Frazetta no less! I’m quite curious to read it now.
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