Jeff Millar, writer of the Tank McNamara cartoon, died the other day. I always liked that strip for its gentle humanity, positive spirit, and because occasionally the fact that Tank (and presumably Jeff) was politically conservative would surface. And whenever it did, it was clear that Tank was a reasonable human being and bore no hatred for those who didn't share his views. He was, in other words, rather like most of the conservatives I know personally. As a liberal, I found that a very positive message.
Millar had exactly one science fiction credit, but it was a good one. His story, "Toto, I Have a Feeling We're Not in Kansas Anymore," appeared in Damon Knight's Orbit 17. In it, a police detective responding to a reported attack of monsters finds himself acting like the hero of a bad noir movie. He gets involved in an implausible love relationship with a female scientist, who is similarly appalled by the fact that she's not behaving the way real scientists do but like a science babe on TV. They are caught in a distortion of reality caused by a teenage geek with godlike mutant powers.
It was hilariously funny. My favorite moment is when a giant dinosaur, obviously made of papier-mache over chicken wire, appears, hung from strings that disappear into the sky, and the crowd of terrified citizens say, as one, "Oh, come on!"
How good was this story? So good that a friend -- Jim Kelly, maybe? -- and I enthused to Ellen Datlow about it and urged her to commission more such stories from Millar. Ellen was the editor of Omni at that time, and was paying the best rates in the field. She could simply wait for the very best SF available to show up on her doorstep. But she looked up the story, read it, agreed with us, and got in touch with Millar.
Alas, Millar replied that the comic strip took up too much of his time for him to oblige Ellen. But in an alternative universe, he rose to the challenge and became one of the most beloved writers in science fiction.
In ours, we can only say it could have been. Which is far, far superior to it never coulda happened.
Rest in peace, gentle cartoon writer. We'll read your science fiction in a better world than this.
And as always . . .
I'm on the road again. Home soon. Take good care of yourselves while I'm away, hear?