The Real Origin of Owlman & Academ

The Real Origin of Owlman & Academ

Stan O. Barber & A. Keller Carney

Spring 1978




ANNOUNCER: Join with us now as we survey the real origin of Owlman, defender of Truth, Justice and the Rice Honor Code, who with his pasty-faced but faithful sidekick, Academ and the super-powered Universal Woman tried to get a few laughs and poke some fun at Rice and its traditions.




STAN: Gee. I gotta get this book done for Sandy so I can graduate. But, I can’t finish till Keller gets here to put his two cents in. After all, he did write the scripts and only he can detail the spaz attacks that gave him those gosh-awful puns.


KELLER: Yes, it was a quaking experience.


STAN: But, it didn’t seem to shake you up that much. (PAUSE) Anyway, I’m glad you’re here cause it’s really hard to tell Owlman’s story without you. So, let’s get cracking.


KELLER: You were always a destructive person, Stan.




Stan: All right! Enough Already! Let’s go back to last semester when (VOICE FADES OUT) I was thinking up my next dramatic venture for programming KTRU. I was…




STAN: As Program Director for KTRU, I always wanted to put some sort of regular show of comedy on the air. I looked into getting Chickenman, the National Lampoon Radio Hour and others. Due to the radio station’s limited budget, they were not affordable. However, when I bounced the idea of having comedy on the station off a lot of people, it was well received. So, I continued to think about how putting such programming on the air might be done.  This contemplation let to one solution: some sort of weekly show produced at KTRU. I have had lots of experience in producing programs at KTRU before, but I have never tried a regular weekly or bi-weekly show that would require constant production. This alone was going to be a challenge. An even greater challenge loomed beyond this: What would the show be like? (PAUSE)


I had been a big fan of Chickenman since I had first heard the series on WFAA, Dallas in the late 1960’s and I used to be an avid follower of super-hero adventures in comic books, especially those that featured Batman, Spider-man and Daredevil. This is what gave me the initial idea for Owlman, a Chickenman-like hero for Rice, who in a tongue-in-cheek manner could humorously examine Rice, its traditions and its stereotypes. However, even though I could think up the ideas for plots and character outlines as well as producing the shows, I did not feel I would be able to flesh-out the structure into a practical show. For this, I came to my friend, Keller Carney. (PAUSE)


When I presented my idea to Keller, he was immediately taken with it and we began brain storming to decide what Owlman & Academ would be like, the kind of villains they would face, the type of humor we would seek and what, if anything, we might be trying to say. (PAUSE)


KELLER: What is the environment in which a new superhero is created? A dark basement room, where minions of the underworld lurk? An explosion in CHEM 107 Lab causing strange side effects? Well, how about the information desk of the Rice Memorial Center after midnight? Stan and I always enjoyed bouncing ideas around, particularly since I enjoy playing on words (hence the propensity of puns in the Owlman & Academ shows). Stan had the concept of a Batman alternative for Rice, and that night he dubbed Owlman’s sidekick to be (me) Academ and we began to do impromptu shticks. (PAUSE)


Well, the whole thing felt right. After that night’s session of brain jamming, the idea stuck. As I was dozing off in the middle of Schroedinger’s equation in Physics the next day, a plot popped into my mind. I took what appeared to be copious notes for the rest of that class, but my mind was “in a secrete steam tunnel, deep beneath Allen Center” fighting crime and parking fines with Owlman. Soon thereafter, I showed Stan the script. He looked it over, chuckled, grimaced at a few of the puns and said




“Wanna do a radio show?”


STAN: Although I am not a constantly creative person, meaning that I have dry spells, I do like to take whatever ideas I might have and try to develop them into something. Often, I can’t do it myself because I don’t have the specific talent and/or time to do it. This was certainly the case with Owlman & Academ. I wanted to do a Batman-crossed-with-Chickenman set at Rice, but could not come up with all the necessary back-story. Fortunately, Keller could fill in the gaps and The Adventures of Owlman & Academ was born. (PAUSE)


The first script, The Computer That Loved Me, was a big step forward in the development of the characters and the world in which they would operate. Keller and I continued to discuss how the characters should work and how they would interact. He and I would continue to work this until we seemed to have consensus in time to tape the third episode.


KELLER: Owlman and Academ reflect a great deal of Stan and I in each of them. It was basically a self-satire on Stan’s Baptist upbringing and my more liberal background that gave us the S.E. Steven Oliver Brown’s naiveté and Adrian Kirk Carnsworth’s strained efforts to be worldly. The villains often are reflections of things around Rice that bother or amuse us. For instance, the Computer Fairy  -- ICSA, the Gnome King – the gnomes, and so on. Universal Woman was an attempt to poke fun at the stereotypes of Rice men and women. (PAUSE)


The character lines didn’t come naturally till the third episode, by which time we had also nailed down the format. The first episode was partly inspired by a rash of breakdowns at ICSA and partly by an outbreak of real problems in the basement men’s room at Fondren Library. (PAUSE)


The next script, Reveille, a Cur to the Corps, was basically a shaggy dog story




adapted into a radio play. I enjoyed the idea of ending on a really awful pun, and also began to get a hold on what Owlman and Academ were like personality-wise. A few of the Owlman gimmicks, like the Bohemian Death Ray, saw more use in the script. (PAUSE)


Finally, on the third show, we had to get around to explaining how Owlman originated. The origin blew up into a two-parter because Stan and I had been discussing the characters a lot, and I finally had a firm character for Owlman and Academ. They still fit into their original stereotypes, but by this script and the next, they are individuals within their respective stereotypes. Also, I abandoned the monstrous pun ending on these plays and tried to develop a more natural comic climax. (PAUSE)


During the origin, Stan dashed of a paper for a psychology class about Owlman & Academ being part of a statistical example for a super-hero standardization test. I liked the idea, especially since we had been talking about a super-hero woman. Try as I might, I couldn’t seem to write for a heroine character. This script, The Trouble with Triplicate,  gave me a chance to ease Universal Woman, a new heroine nom-de-guerre on the air. (PAUSE)


The next script, The King of the Gnomes, was a chance to give the heroes a change to bust into that source of frustration for nearly everyone – the Physical Plant staff, or more specifically, the gnomes,[1] and also to use Universal Woman.[2] I worried over this script a lot, especially the characterization of the Mexican-American ‘King’ and the role of Universal Woman. (PAUSE)


After hearing and talking to Universal Woman’s alter ego, Roberta Witt, I felt much more at ease. Roberta struck me as a forthright, outspoken and intelligent young lady and I fit these characteristics into Universal Woman easily. Her strengths tend to compliment the two male protagonists characters well, particularly in her show of initiative in the last script, when she starts an investigation instead of waiting passively for instruction from Chief Street. (PAUSE)


This last script, The Master Baker, let me develop a strong sense of character for Universal Woman in the fight against every Rice student’s foe, Central Kitchen. Stan’s concept for the Master Baker gave me an opportunity to do a bit more than take the standard cheap shots at Joyce Rubash,[3] while still expressing dissatisfaction humorously. (PAUSE)


In closing, I found the Owlman & Academ project intriguing in that not only did I have to work on creating these character (along with Stan, of course), but I had to evolve semi-believable personalities for them and make certain that the characters remained consistent. I had to write in an odd format[4] and keep in mind that my words would be read, so obtuse grammatical construction had to be avoided. (PAUSE)


I feel successful at doing this because at the end of the semester, I had a set of firm characters in a familiar background, for whom writing about seemed almost natural, since I could hear what they were going to say in my head, so in the later episode, they dictated the dialogue once I knew the plot. (PAUSE)


I now feel that there is a great deal of possibility for rebirth of Owlman. He finally came to life this semester and has fought crime for seven episodes without a loss. But there are other dreadful denizens of our otherwise calm campus, such as the Rice Trasher, the Birds and (GASP) the Registrar who would destroy the Rice way, and this must be battled by the defender of Truth, Justice and the Rice Honor Code, Owlman. (PAUSE)


Who knows that the future might bring?






Copyright 1978, Stan Barber. All Rights Reserved.

[1] Gnomes (pronounced guh-nome-ees) are the cleaning staff at Rice.

[2] I still want another name for her.

[3] Joyce Rubash is the head of the Central Kitchen.

[4] I have never written in the style of a script before.