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<   No. 1016   2005-11-07   >

Comic #1016

1 {scene: U.S. Customs passport inspection booth at San Francisco Airport. A huge U.S. flag hangs on the wall in the background}
1 Customs Guy: Welcome to the United States. Purpose of visit?
1 Steve: I'm here to jump over a shark!
2 Customs Guy: U.S. Customs and Border Protection does not take jokes lightly, sir. Security! Arrest this man!
3 Steve: {nabbed by a security guard} Crikey! I'm not joking!
4 {security guard leads Steve away}
4 Customs Guy: Is he, ma'am?
4 Terry: There are so many reasons I'd like to say he is...

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I thought I'd show you how I write comic scripts. This is a scan of the notebook I carry to work each day. During my bus trip, I scribble down script ideas. Here you can see the original notes I wrote for strip #1010 and today's strip. I usually write a few scripts for one theme in a row, to maintain my own internal continuity, so these were written immediately after one another, rather than with five strips from other themes in between.

As you can see, #1010 came out pretty much as written, except I added a sentence to Terry in the second panel.

#1016 ended up with more changes. I decided to spell "United States" out in full in panel 1. I did some research to find out the correct name of the government agency responsible for checking people's passports at U.S. entry ports*. I added a "ma'am" at the end of the Customs guy's question to Terry, since to my ears that's an archetypically American speech mannerism. And I completely changed the punchline.

* I hope I got the right branch of the U.S. Government here. U.S. Customs and Border Protection is a fairly new American federal agency charged with controlling the lawful movement of people into and out of the United States. It replaced the no longer existent Immigration and Naturalisation Service (INS) in 2003.

While researching for this strip I also discovered that the U.S. Army Institute of Heraldry has designs of U.S. flags with up to 56 stars on them... just in case.

More disturbingly, I discovered after the fact that the very act of me printing a U.S. flag on a sheet of paper with the intention of discarding it into waste paper recycling when I was finished with it is defined as an act of desecration of the flag under the U.S. Flag Code and renders me liable to be fined or imprisoned for up to a year...

Luckily, however, that part of the Flag Code was deemed unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1990.

And I live in Australia anyway.

Now, I'm not one to deliberately go around disrespecting national flags, but really. If that section of the U.S. Flag Code had not been deemed unconstitutional, and I lived in the United States, making this comic could have landed me in prison for a year.

2015-01-27 Rerun commentary: After making this comic, I have since travelled to the United States three times. Thankfully, none of those occasions ended with a U.S. Customs and Border Protection official dragging me away into custody for violating the U.S. Flag Code.

Passing through U.S. customs on arrival is a harrowing and scary experience for any non-U.S. citizens. I'm not sure if U.S. citizens realise just what an intimidating grilling we go through when entering their country. And woe betide if you don't know where you will be staying, because you booked a trip intending to find a hotel after you arrive, and haven't planned your answer for the customs official when they ask.

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