Cow, pig, chicken or goose, the man of meat is on the loose: A locally produced comic book hero is riding a wave of popularity.
By Chris Koger/Journal-World Writer
Rich Davis and John Sprengelmeyer don't have a beef with the run-of-the mill comic book superheros that save humanity on a daily basis. But they wonder what happens when the dust settles and order is restored.
Who pays for the destruction after evil is vanquished in a building-leveling battle royale?
In a refreshing turn of events, Davis, Lawrence, and Sprengelmeyer, Overland Park, have created a comic strip hero who sometimes has too much in common with mere mortals, from mortgage payments to lawsuits that inevitably follow his property-demolishing heroics.
RibMan has misguided principles, to say the least. Case in point: While attending a high-rise rooftop cookout, RibMan sees a woman fall from the building. He swoops down, just in the nick of time to save ... the sandwich she was holding.
"He knows he can fly, that he's as strong has he can be, but he sees Batman with his TV show, movies and lunch boxes and can't figure out why he can't get there," Davis said. "He sees the brass ring clearly, but he's not aware of his own limitations of being dimwitted and obsessed with food. He'll continue to think big and deliver small."
Using 'The Force'
Rife with pop culture references about everything from other superheros to Roy Lichtenstein paintings to Xena the Warrior Princess, the RibMan strip is riding a wave of popularity, thanks to another icon of sorts: Luke Skywalker.
Mark Hamill, who portrayed the Jedi Knight in the "Star Wars" trilogy, submitted a story line for five RibMan comic strips after Davis sent him copies of past strips. The series, "Wag the Superhero," features RibMan's attorney, F. Lee Loophole, and spin doctor George Steptinalotofit, who tackles the superhero's lack of name recognition with a character makeover.
The fourth of the five installments in the series has been published on the Internet. RibMan can be found at the Journal-World's Web site and at www.supercomics.com. RibMan also has appeared weekly in Kansas City Star's Preview section since December 1997.
Sprengelmeyer, 29, and Davis, 44, don't expect world domination with RibMan, but they are seeking to expand RibMan's world, which now is mainly limited to the Internet.
The Web site features all past RibMan strips, recipes ("Ike and Tina Tuna" and "The Chicken that Didn't Make it Across the Road") and oddball scenarios that link the anti-hero superhero to everything from Marilyn Monroe, the Hindenburg disaster, a Pez dispenser and ancient Egyptian times.
There are references to fake products -- don't expect to see Jerky Crisps in the cereal aisle anytime soon -- and other figments of Davis' and Sprengelmeyer's minds, including a RibMan animated cartoon and action figure.
"It's almost an homage to absolutely anything, with 'Spinal Tap' references, 'X-Files' references," Sprengelmeyer said. "Anything that's out there is fair game, and we're willing to approach it from any angle. I think of it as a constant tribute strip. I just wanted the Web site to be confusing, to create a whole new world."
While the strip mocks "normal" superheros, Davis hasn't abandoned them. In two corners of his living room, life-size cutouts of U.S.S. Enterprise Capt. James T. Kirk and Batman eye visitors to Davis' west Lawrence home. But they also share space with a cutout of Austin Powers, the international man of mystery, whose comic relief foils the archetypal spy James Bond.
"(RibMan's) got Superman's body and Homer Simpson's brain, so when he gets into a situation, you think this big, strong guy should be there, but he usually fouls it up," Davis said. "He's not too bright and is thinking about other things."
Considering Davis' background, it's no secret why RibMan, a denizen of Meatropolis, is a barbecue nut.
Davis' father, psychiatrist Rich Davis, invented and patented KC Masterpiece barbecue sauce. The Davis family sold the sauce to the Clorox Corp. but still owns and manages five KC Masterpiece restaurants in Chicago and the St. Louis and Kansas City areas.
A 1977 graduate of Kansas University, Davis also attended Washburn University in Topeka and was practicing law in Wisconsin when he decided to become more involved in the family company with his brother Charley, who is president.
As director of operations for the company, he oversaw the day-to-day business of running a restaurant, even tasting the food twice a day.
About 2 1/2 years ago, he approached C3 (Creative Consumer Concepts), a Kansas City promotions company, to create a children's-oriented campaign for KC Masterpiece restaurants. After initial meetings, Davis met with Sprengelmeyer, who works at C3.
"Within five minutes, we knew exactly what we wanted," said Sprengelmeyer, a 1992 KU graduate who also attended the Colorado Institute of Art.
At first, the RibMan concept was limited to a place mat, posters and a cup for the restaurant. Sprengelmeyer and Davis soon found that the concept was more than a restaurant promotion.
"I don't know if people were behind it as much as we were, but we were pretty gung-ho about knowing this has a huge life in itself, so we developed it outside the restaurant," Sprengelmeyer said.
Davis said he was only encouraged by the company's nonchalance toward the RibMan character, and didn't want to limit what the superhero could do. Typical marketing campaigns for children focus on one character, which is then replaced by another character within months. Davis wanted more permanence, and the comic strip was born about two years ago.
Davis is still on the KC Masterpiece board of directors and is a vice president with the company, but he's on hiatus from the daily operation, spending his days brainstorming on RibMan adventures. He communicates daily via e-mail and telephone with Sprengelmeyer, who draws and colors the strip in his Overland Park apartment. Davis does most of the writing, but Sprengelmeyer contributes ideas, too.
Davis said he is contacting other celebrities for possible RibMan writing projects, and is working on a RibMan cookbook.
Meanwhile, RibMan's popularity grows through agreements with the online search engine Alta Vista, which features the comic strip on its entertainment site, and iSyndicate, an Internet syndication service that picked up the strip.
Their own RibMan Web site attracts up to 8,000 hits daily from people who want to follow the hero as he grapples with his enemies -- the taunting 5-Foot Vegetarian, TailGator and General von Pincher, a picnic-busting ant.
"This has constantly been fun," Sprengelmeyer said. "We've never had any trouble coming up with ideas."
-- Chris Koger's phone message number is 832-7126. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.