"Henry and Jennifer" was the title of the first comic strip I ever drew, way back in 1990, in third grade. Don't think I only drew eleven or something...I have a large stack of these (as the Complete Series List proves, I've always been ambitious). The last one was drawn in 1994. However, "Henry and Jennifer" may qualify for the most confusing thing I've ever scribbled and most of the strips that exist make sense to no one but me. It's because of this reason that I compiled a bunch of them to appear this week, because train wrecks are fun.
The original concept was that Henry and Jennifer were two siblings with gifted abilities. Henry was originally supposed to be this kid with tremendous brain power who could make anything happen that he thought of, Jennifer was going to be this genius who invented miraculous machines, and they would fight against each other. Yeah, this was going to be cool, but that concept only lasted for the first couple weeks of the strip--then they became normal kids. Then, if you can believe it, things got a lot weirder than they would have had I stuck with leaving Henry psychic.
This is an early Henry and Jennifer strip. H&J find that any bad word they say is covered up with a "CENSORED" sticker, so they swear with impunity until their dad finds out and they're sent to the corner. The "Rachel Blarp and Matt Blip" gossip is based on the rumor in my classroom that two kids named Rachel and Matt (whose last names were hideously changed for the strip) were secretly in love. The Ha! Channel was a more obnoxious version of Comedy Central that didn't last very long.
So you know what you're in for....that's how much explanation is required to make that ONE STRIP make sense.
The origin of Henry's short-lived brain power: he got it as the result of being the guinea pig for one of Jennifer's experiments. He tries to escape his fate, but ends up hiding in the very machine Jennifer wanted to test. Every other panel is squished just so I could have a huge "ZAP!!!" balloon taking up 60% of the strip. And this isn't the worst layout you'll be seeing....
This is the only strip to show Henry using his brain power, and the last one before the kids became normal. The teacher tells Henry to concentrate on his math assignment, and of course by doing so he forces the assignment to solve itself, which wasn't what the teacher had in mind.
There was a cartoonish law of physics in these early ones wherein somebody would jump up 90 feet into the air if they heard something surprising, only leaving a "WHOOSH" cloud trail. As far as I know, this is unique and not based on anything I saw at the time. Other wacky elements of the early strip included frequent use of the Bazooka Bazooka™--if you sent in enough Bazooka bubble gum wrappers, they were supposed to give you an actual bazooka, in the H&J world at least.
After the original concept was abandoned, Henry and Jennifer became a string of drawings traced from Bloom County strips. If Berke Breathed himself hadn't gotten started by tracing Doonesbury, this would be more embarrassing than it is right now.
This is part of a long, long sequence where Henry and Jennifer open a skating rink. Then Binkley and Milo open another skating rink to compete with them. Then Portnoy and Hodge decide they hate the skating rinks and launch a campaign to get rid of them that turns into war, complete with cannons. The battle gets so violent that the panels close in and everybody disappears except for Binkley and Milo who have to redraw everything. Making sense so far?
Henry and Jennifer's skating rink has to close
because everybody is going to Milo's rink instead. Then some
Hollywood producers come to the remaining rink and say that
Binkley is perfect for the starring role in their new movie,
"Home Alone" (which had just come out and was extremely
popular with us kids). Binkley becomes a celebrity overnight and
thinks it's cool; then an axe murderer comes out of his anxiety
closet and kills everybody but him. Binkley is chased in a
nightmarish sequence by the guy with the axe until he wakes up
and finds the murderer was a dream.
Then he has bad dreams like that every night, and doesn't know why, so he puts out a nationwide call for help to try to solve the problem.....and from there it kind of trails off. Oh yeah, and it's revealed that the real reason Bloom County ended was because evil robots kidnapped everybody.
Henry is having a bad day. He
wakes up and gets ready for school, then trips and falls as he
walks out the door--because Jennifer raised the level of the
house with a car jack as a prank.
He walks into school and the teacher growls, "YOU'RE TEN ZILLION HOURS LATE," then hands out report cards from her desk. Henry sweatingly accepts his, then it opens to ten times his size and displays, "BIG FAT F IN EVERYTHING!!!" Immediately speakers pop up back at Henry's house and blare out, "YOUR SON GOT AN F IN EVERYTHIIIING!!!" Yeah, this day is pretty bad all right.
The teacher (who's talking in an overdone opera voice, by the way) shouts out "EVERYONE IS EXCUSED EXCEPT HENRYYYYY!!! HERE IS A MATH TEST FOR HENRYYYY!!!" The math test stack is tall enough to reach into space. Henry tries to escape, and the teacher screams "CAAAAATCH HIIIIIIM!!" He drops down the ventilation duct and.....that's where I quit drawing.
This was typical of something I would draw at the time--the portrayal of all authority as scary, irrational and psychotic. A kids-eye view of the world isn't as sunny as our clouded memories think, and satire of the world from a child's perspective turned out to be rather dark in places. A huge example of this in Henry and Jennifer would be their mom.
This is part of a story where
Henry and Jennifer think their baby brother is getting special
attention and they aren't. It's not like they don't
have....reasons to think so. As the baby is riding in the cart,
he's casually pointing to objects and the mom is throwing every
single one in on command. "WHY ARE YOU GIVING HIM
EVERYTHING??" Henry shouts, and his mom says "I don't
know what you're talking about" while standing behind a
giant mound of merchandise with a big "BABY THINGS!"
sign sticking out of it.
Then we see their condo half-buried in a mound of Baby Things, and the inside so stuffed with Baby Things that Henry and Jennifer can barely move. The mom then declares that Henry and Jennifer are ALSO the baby's toys, and THEN prepares to board a starship and conquer the universe just so she can present it to the baby as yet another toy.
The last strip in the sequence has Henry saying "I know how moms get out of this phase," and then mentioning to the mom that "the baby grew a little bit." Immediately the mom shouts "SPOILED??? NOT MY BABY! NOT MY BABY! NOT MY BABY!" She throws every single Baby Thing back at the store (which crushes it) while still shouting "NOT MY BABY! NOT MY BABY!" progressively louder and louder.
If Oprah had children, this is how it would go.
This is a spoof of the kind of
doll commercials I kept seeing at the time.
"DID YOU HEAR THE NEWS???"
"BABY BLOB HAS A NEW BABY SIS-BLOB!!!"
The girl gets so excited over this that she turns into a hyperactive glowing blur, getting faster and hotter until she finally explodes. The force of the explosion is so great that it makes the OTHER girl explode, creating two smoking craters where they once stood.
You might gather from this that doll commercials annoyed me. Yes. Yes they did.
Henry sneezes, and the results of the sneeze are so disgusting that there has to be a censor bar over his face. That's the joke.
As 1991 went on, the strip gradually started getting normal and more coherent, and the Bloom County tracings stopped. It was just about Henry and Jennifer from this point, and sometimes about their upstairs neighbors Anastasia and Sam. Anastasia was a teenager who lived in the condo upstairs and took care of a toddler (to the uneducated eye I suppose this could have been interpreted as something, but it wasn't like that; Sam was her little brother. It was never discussed how they ended up this way, though).
There were also the cockroaches. Tracings of Berke Breathed's numerous cucarachas eventually became an (original) series of blacked-out nighttime wars insects had with the "Cockroach Prevention System," an ultimate pest-control device that could turn around every plan they used to destroy it. There was a lot of violence here, but it was completely in the dark, and therefore "okay."
Henry also developed a catchphrase--whenever a strip's events resulted in Jennifer or another female getting angry or going crazy, he'd say "Oh great. Mad girl."
TV movies at that time were always about a madman going after a woman with children. The "CCCCCK!" sound is the knife ripping through the baby. Lovely!
This one is from part of a story where Hen & Jen are picked to star in a Fox Christmas special called "Christmas Punks," about four biker toddlers in leather jackets. The idea was intentionally stupid because, well, this was Fox. They're boarding a plane to get to the studio in this strip. The ending was that they never got to appear on TV because a special report ended up running over the show.
What annoyed me as a kid, among other things, was the patronizing way grownups often talked to them. This continues today, and no one really thinks about it except me. When I talk to children now, I don't act like they're dumb or inferior. Kids are smarter than adults realize.
This was 8 years before Jerry Springer.....yet talk shows were already heading in that direction.
This is one of the last ones; an early Disney slam (I was picking on them even then).
The strip officially ended in 1994 when I quit drawing it. Henry and Jennifer were seen occasionally in other cartoons, but didn't return full-on until 2001, when this website premiered. The very first feature cartoon was a new series of Henry and Jennifer strips. It wasn't a return, just a special.
The origin of the Mulberry strip can be seen here. Okay, that was a lie--no character even remotely like Mulberry ever showed up until she did in 2004. This is merely a simple attempt at a comic strip, and at the time, I thought what I submitted to syndicates was going to be THIS. I was just getting cracking on ideas for it early....really early.