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Ensign Crunch

Ten years ago, now, I had a weekly column on Comic Book Resources called “Loose Cannon.” I know that some writers look back at their early stuff and blanch, but I look back on the stuff I once wrote and marvel how good it came out given the resources and abilities I had available to me at the time.

One of the columns that people remind me of even now is the old writer’s chestnut, “Where Do You get Your Ideas?” The funny thing about that one is that column almost writes itself, because if you’re a real writer, the last thing you have trouble with is getting ideas. It’s mostly Who’s doing the laundry, and Where’s a clean glass and Did you get the Double A batteries and Is it my turn to pick up Little Dude or yours, and so on. Getting time to craft the ideas and give them shape and make them dance for the audience while you play the music and pass the hat. That’s the hard part of being a writer. Ideas are easy.

With all the thinking and the doing and all, my favorite part of the day is when I carve out a little while to blue-sky while answering my email and checking in with my talented friends on Facebook. Spunkybean.com maestro and Beloved Internet Personality EJ Feddes publicly ruminated on the Question of the Day that’s bothering the fanboys: “EJ Feddes just keeps waiting for somebody to ask him what he thinks about the Watchmen prequels. He’s a Beloved Internet Personality with a long history of having strong opinions about that kind of thing, after all.”

So, I think this is a pretty funny FB status update, so I figure I’ll light the comedy fuse for him: “Hey, EJ,” I write. “What do you think about the Watchmen prequels? A straighter straight man does not live in my town, I’m thinking.

“I’m glad you asked, Internet User,” EJ responded. “While I really have no interest in the prequels, I’m not morally offended by their existence. When your magnum opus stars Captain Atom and the Question in different clothes, it’s not exactly sacrosanct. Still, the fact that we’re seeing a prequel to a 25-year-old series in which a beautiful, delicate castle was literally destroyed by Nostalgia sort of speaks to an impressive commitment to totally missing the point. (That said, I will buy the Darwyn Cooke series, because of my established interest in things that are awesome.)”

EJ is a great guy to have a conversation with. Someday I’ll get to do so in person. “The ‘Captain Atom and The Question in different clothes’ is exactly why I never thought Watchmen was all that,” I actually wrote in public. “I appreciate Moore thinks this move is like doing a prequel to Moby-Dick, but, me, I rather think it’s more like releasing a granola-based health cereal with a trim midshipman to sell it called Ensign Crunch.”

“I’ve got nothing bad to say about Watchmen,” EJ wrote, not pausing to laugh, perhaps realizing everything he says to me will be dialogue for Jason Segal to speak as “EJ” in the webseries Lorimar has optioned about our FB exchanges, “…but I never once thought ‘Boy, I wish there were more stories about these characters.’ Non-comics friends who read it ask ‘What else did this guy write?’ not ‘Are there any more Nite Owl comics?’ Basically, it makes me sad that DC is missing the point, and it makes me sad that Moore is offended that somebody’s revisiting his pastiches of other people’s characters. Clearly, I need to reread ASTRONAUTS this weekend, so I can break through this comics-related sadness.”

I read his last response and wrote, “I think I’m going to do an Ensign Crunch short story.”

…and that’s where you get your ideas, beotch!


“A month around The Horn, and you still look green about the gills, Ensign,” Captain John Boyd said to the youngish man trying to keep his bile down and his spine straight on a ship that was rocking a little too much “to” and not enough “fro” to even out his bubbling nausea. Captain Boyd, known as “John B” below-decks, was a pretty stern commander. Fair enough, if the slight wasn’t severe, but half-apt to throw you over if you were more trouble than you were worth. More lime and grog for him and the boys, as it were. Boyd absent-mindedly fingered the rough wool lapel of his three quarter-length uniform topcoat, and then smoothed his great moustache with a singular but practiced motion as he eyed his newest, and most junior officer.

“Can’t help but notice you shifting back and forth like one of calves at the Bachelor’s Delight,” Captain Boyd nearly snarled. “Haven’t found your sea legs, then, yet, have you, Crunch?” He wasn’t looking so much to tamp out the ember of his growing dissatisfaction as to give vent to his frustration about the faint calm they were experiencing, in the early dawn of the South Pacific.

“My boots, sir. Issued a size down by mistake, I’m afraid, ” said Ensign Crunch, who tried not to wince as he said it. He was happy to have been assigned to the H.M.S. Millionfish, even if ol’ John B. wasn’t widely held in high regard, and half the Navy called her “the Good Ship Guppy” in open derision. But a commission was a commission, and there was bound to be adventure enough on the open sea. “Wind’s picking up a bit,” said Crunch, as the sails filled in. “That’s a good sign.”

His Majesty’s proclamation?” said Boyd sarcastically, but with just a trace of the sting authority brings.

“No, sir,” said Ensign Crunch. “The ‘H. M.’ stands for “Horatio Magellan.”

Just then, a golden retriever scampered up ahead of a deckhand sporting a tray. Usually content to mind her business below, Sea Dog always announced breakfast when it’s Carlyle’s turn at the job. Carlyle, a tow-headed deckhand, precariously manhandled a silver serving tray towards the Captain and his deck officer, hampered by the roiling of the now-moving ship and Sea Dog running back and forth between his legs. “Breakfast, sir,” he said.

“Yes?” said Captain Boyd.

Carlyle grinned. “Not splicing the mainbrace just yet, sir?”

Boyd turned aside and spit. In the new breeze, it could have been a mere lung clearing, but it might have been a derisive commentary on the offering. “Whaddawe have here, this fine, lovely morning?” That was the thing with the Captain; you never really knew until he made his move against you.

“Corn and oats, and two kinds of sugar, Cap’n.”

Crunch stepped in, and over. “That’ll go down a treat, Carlyle. Maybe a hot tea and a lemonade, too, before the rest of the crew decides to join us.” Before he can answer, there’s a call from the crow’s nest, forty feet above.

“Starboard, aft! Approaching ship!” came the call from Alfie, who’d rather stay up-top and sway like a metronome than spend a minute on the decks or below with the crew. At the call, the rest of the ship scampered from berth and up onto to topdecks. There’s a ship approaching in the distance, and that nearly always signals trouble.

The ships came up alongside each other and the Millionfish is a bit spooked. This ship is unnamed and unflagged, and is deathly quiet. It doesn’t seem abandoned… not really, because there is loud muttering and chattering animal noises coming from the unidentified ship. As Cap’n Boyd, Alfie, Dave, and Crunch creep carefully aboard, the captain and crew of the other vessel slowly reveal themselves from their hiding places. A harried, gaunt man with a silly, pencil-thin moustache and tattered clothes took his place at the front of the gathering crowd…. a crowd that consisted entirely of chimpanzees dressed in nautical costumes. Monkeys, you see… are the new pirates.

“I am Jean LaFoote,” the man said, in heavily French-accented English. “Please, allow me to apologize for my comportment. You are not exactly catching me at my best. The monkeys, you see, mostly follow my bidding, but there are so many more of them than me. They force me to go bootless. I am Jean LaFoote: the Barefoot Pirate.”

There is a brief fight, in which Cap’n Boyd and the Millionfish crew rescue LaFoote. Thank God no one taught the monkeys how to shoot flintlocks, because that whole thing would have gone a different way. The unflagged ship is beached on the shoals of Tahuata in the Marquesas, and the local cannibals dine on the stranded monkey crew. There is no confirmation that this unexpected boon to the locals engendered the practice of the “secret toy surprise” in your various breakfast cereals. But one assumes.

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Larry Young
Larry Young
Larry Young is a writer: non-fiction, graphic novels, and pop culture criticism. His work has appeared in ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY, VARIETY, and THE YEAR’S BEST SCIENCE FICTION. A frequent guest on the video podcasts MILLION DOLLAR MAILBOX and WORD BALLOONS, he’s also co-host of SERIOUS STAR TREK and the sister YouTube channel of this website.


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