What's funnier than abortion?

Posted: Friday, April 30, 2004

One of the great privileges of writing a column each Friday is sharing space on this spread with a hep li'l half-bake named Umbert the Unborn.

Umbert is that refreshing brand of anti-abortion comic-strip hero who makes you think ... really, really hard. Go ahead. Let your eyes drift southeast for this week's episode.

Did you get it?

Remember this classic "Umbert" from February? Our fetal philosopher is in a space suit drifting in the beyond while attached umbilically to a shuttle called MOM-1.

"Umbert to Mother ship! I've discovered a new planet."

"Well don't touch it! You don't know where it's been."

"Some mothers run a tight ship."

Brandon Loomis is city editor of the Juneau Empire.

That's entertainment. And if you know Umbert like I do, you know he's got a mind of his own, and he's ever resourceful. If he wants to touch a dirty planet, chances are he'll find a way. I mean, for one thing, the little squirt is a master of disguise. My favorite is when he reads about animal lovers trying to save the seals from clubbings. Still in the womb, he procures a seal costume and bundles up to save his hide. Whether you then want to suckle him or club him says a lot about what kind of person you are.

If you read the fine print around "Umbert," you'll see that it's a paid advertisement, and not a Juneau Empire production. Some staff members are uneasy about the fact that this is in fine print and formatted to look like one of our editorial products. Me? I don't care what it looks like, so long as it rounds out my paycheck. And rather than being jealous, I think we should co-opt the genre. I'm currently circulating a screenplay for, "Unborn of the Undead." One colleague has drafted a comic strip called, "Ned Cleetus the Dead Fetus." As inch-long caricatures with corncob crack pipes go, he's a good one. Sadly, his external organs are not ready for prime time.

So for now we're left with that lovable blockhead, Umbert. And his star is on the rise. An online posting of the National Catholic Register says Umbert is picked up by some 20 publications nationwide and reaches 400,000 readers. Daily Internet publishing new this month promises untold readership. The Register apparently has received numerous letters about the strip. Typical among them, it says, is this:

"I am 9 years old. My favorite part of the Register is 'Umbert the Unborn.' I think he is very funny. Every week I cut out the 'Umbert' strip and glue it on construction paper."

Bingo! I have a son about that age and I've been searching for age-appropriate gifts. If you have, too, check out www.umberttheunborn.com. They're offering an 80-page, full-color comic book called, "Umbert the Unborn: A Womb with a View."

Another letter used to promote the strip is from a teacher who reportedly left copies of "Umbert" in plain view on a desk for students to see. "These are some guys whom you would not normally expect to care about these issues. After a while, they began taking the cutouts and showing them to other students. Now, every week they ask me where their Umbert is!"

Indeed. Where? Every Friday, right here.

Promotional literature posted on the Catholic.net Web site this months says, "Our culture can be deaf to the pro-life message because it has put up barriers to common sense on the topic of abortion. But by making readers laugh, Umbert bounces happily past those barriers and delivers his message directly to the heart."

Someday we won't worry about bouncing happily past barriers. Until then, the important thing is that we can laugh about abortion.

• Brandon Loomis is city editor of the Juneau Empire and can be reached at brandon.loomis@juneauempire.com.

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