Early 1997, I set out to write some comic book scripts about a young, charming thief who gets involved with aliens, angels, and the end of the world. But because I am a world champion professional crastinator, I mostly noodled and frittered in front of the keyboard while making coffee before boldly changing course to email a couple dozen of my closest friends with this out-of-the-blue proposal:
Tue, 11 Feb 1997
ASK MR. WONDERFUL
Dear Mr. Wonderful,
I am a 20 year-old male who just saw that episode of Chicago Hope with Isabella Rosellini and I am wondering why my head has melted into my chest cavity. It shouldn't be too much of a problem at work, but I'm wondering how I'll explain it to my girlfriend. Also, how do they cram all that in a gram?
Strapped in Oxnard
Your problem stems from the fact that Ms. Rosellini is the product of icy Swedish genes and spicy Italian hormones. The result: a steam-powered beauty with pnuematic swivel hips and enough charm to stun a bear. It's not your fault that your skull couldn't withstand the pressure. Most American men are taught that Michelle Pfeiffer is the pinnacle of pretty; there's no way you could have known. My advice to you is to tie a balloon to your neck stump and draw a big smile on it. If your girl can tell the difference, I'll be mighty surprised. And if one more bozo comes at me with the gram question I'm taking a hostage.
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It's easy! It's fun! Mr. Wonderful knows all! Mr. Wonderful sees all! Mr. Wonderful is avoiding writing important things and needs your distractions!
Write to Mr. Wonderful today! He can answer anything!
It was worth a shot, and at the very least I had amused myself for fifteen minutes. I returned to my script, where Angelo Enriquez de la Fuente hoped to learn that the guy pointing a pistol in his face counted bullets badly. Back to avoiding the grind.
Well, dear reader, the very next day, a friend of mine called my bluff. And so it began:
Wed, 12 Feb 1997
MR. WONDERFUL'S STAR WHORES
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Dear Mister Wonderful,
How does James Earl Jones feel about not getting listed anywhere in the credits of the original release of Star Wars? I have found out that he only did two hours of work and got paid $7000 for doing Darth, and maybe at the time he was just considered as a bit actor. But how does he feel about it? Got any friends who have connections to the inside story? Yippe kayyeah, mama jama.
A New Hope
Many are the legends and mysteries surrounding that cultural touchstone of late 20th century America, Star Wars. For example, many people know that Anthony Daniels was not the first choice to play C3PO, and that George Lucas was looking for a more "American used-car salesman" type. What many people do not know is that luckily, the plucky British Daniels had the photos of Lucas and Ron "Opie Cunningham" Howard to use as leverage. Likewise, many people believe that Peter Mayhew was merely an overgrown English freak before donning the furry Wookie encumbrage of Chewbacca. Actually, Peter Mayhew is the *same* dwarfish actor that played inside the R2-D2 can. Faced with budget restrictions, Lucas simply decided to stretch the diminutive thespian on a rack until he fit the outfit.
As to the question of James Earl Jones, it should be noted that David Prowse (the man inside the Vader mask) is actually a very tall and powerful man who lifts weights to this day and he really doesn't need the Force to crush people's throats, so let's all give him a big Hollywood smile for being the "Real Darth Vader". What you say is true, however. Mr. Jones did a day's work and recieved a day's wages for scaring the bejesus out of us as the voice of the Dark Lord of Sith. What few know, however, is that James Earl specifically requested that his name be left off the credits. At the time he was running guns to the Bahamas, leftover militant activism from his days with the Black Panthers, and he only used the Star Wars money as a way to purchase more Irish Landmines. The unexpected success of Star Wars forced him to give up his smuggling and violence, but he is still a wanted man in several nations, which is why his name does not appear in the credits of *any* of his films.
ASK MR. WONDERFUL...GET THE GOODS!
“A New Hope” was in reality Matthew D. Sellers, an old roommate, and a good friend. And, obviously, the first person to play this new game with me. He immediately got the sensibility: interesting premises, pop culture concerns, interaction with “Mister Wonderful”, and masked identities. He also activated my “I bet EVERYTHING has a Secret History” metagene. You’ll notice that he uses the full “Mister”, which is now the Wonderful Labs Style Guide standard.
Can I tell you - for me, for me as an artist, with all my insecurities and lack of practical sense - Matt gave me exactly what I needed at that creative moment. He validated my approach. He gave me permission to speak my (wordy, trivia-laden, fiction-addled) mind. He showed me that he got it. That there was something to get. And he opened up the gate for so many others.
I love him, and he enabled everything, and I’m still so sad and angry that he’s gone.
MISTER WONDERFUL ANSWERS ALL went on steadily (well, intermittently steadily) after that. More people asked questions, Mister W responded at oblique angles. I invented mythology about Mister Wonderful, Wonderful Laboratories, and the Apotheosis Gift Shop. Regular participants developed their own personas de Wonder, like The Mad Scientist, Mister Porno, and JZWondering. It should have been a blog, but we were not yet so depraved as a culture. Hi Ho.
Some time after 2000 (AD) happened, MWAA became a proper mailing list. That was cool. Years later, my laptop fertilized the sleep chamber, and MWAA transitioned to short travelogues to imaginary places featuring the characters I’d invented or co-opted along the way. Then I was busy with more comic book industry nonsense. Anyway. Point is.
A lot of good people enjoyed MWAA while it was ongoing. We sold some t-shirts. We got into print a couple times. We attempted LiveJournalism. And even though it’s been five years now since we tried the Tumblr version, and over 20 since we started, there still seems to be an audience. More to the point, that apocalyptic crime comic is still unfinished, while I have written thousands of words of dubious but magical advice as Mister Wonderful. As a result, the world is a littler weirder. Folks had their vocabularies stretched. They laughed, sometimes on days they wouldn’t have otherwise.
That is all, all, because my friend Matt, my impossibly beautiful, frustratingly closed, opaquely depressed, wonderfully inventive, and ultimately unknowable friend, gave me the most important “Yes, And” of my life.