Fictional character biography
SweetTart first appeared in issue #25 of The Belch Dimension Comics, in her debut eponymously-titled story, SweetTart. Her civilian identity is Kathryn Marie "Kitty" Tartakoff. She is 14, and a student at Sonny Tufts Jr. High School in Jigaboo Junction.
Kitty was the author of "Watercress Blossoms", a serial comic about the misadventures of a girl who had moved into a haunted house, for their school newspaper, The Harbinger.
Quite by accident Kitty stumbled onto a plot by Rhea Borstein, faculty advisor, and the copy editor, Tom Little to take over the school. When no one would help her, she hastily put together a superhero outfit and even created a name for herself. She eventually found enough evidence to expose the conspiracy. Shortly after The Harbinger was closed down for investigation and mothballed.
SweetTart remains active to this day, as implied by her watching over the city from atop a building in the final panel. Creator Jonathan Sweet confirms he "wants to use her again in future stories, as soon as I find them".
SweetTart's costume consists of a Sonny Tufts Jr. High cheerleader's skirt (borrowed from her best friend, a STJH cheer squad member) and top, a blonde wig tied in long pigtails, an ivory-colored masquerade mask, large earrings shot through with colorful rhinestones, and flat-soled loafers-type shoes. When not in costume she generally wears a long military-type jacket, a red-and-green sweater, faded and patched blue jeans, and large glasses. Her real hair is an untidy brown mop described by Jon unflatteringly as "a poodle haircut".
Her name comes from both an affectionate epithet--"sweetheart"--given to her by her friend Aren, and the lettters ST (for the comedian Sonny Tufts) on the front of her shirt. It also refers to a feminization of Jon's surname, "Sweet" (sort of like "Batgirl" or "Supergirl" are female counterparts to male heroes), and a nod to the chalky, crunchy confection SweeTarts.
The SweetTart arc
In a three-issue story arc that ran from May to July 2007, Kathryn "Kitty" Tartakoff is introduced. She works for the school newspaper, the Harbinger, where she draws an anime-influenced weekly strip called "Watercress Blossoms" (though ironically she claimed distaste for Japanese anime, complaining of its "skimpy outfits, stupid plots, and badly-dubbed voices", perhaps echoing hardcore fans' complaints of second-rate Americanized versions of Japanese cartoons that are poorly dubbed and often ridiculously edited for children).
One day she witnessed a teenage boy in yellow arresting a fleeing suspect, using fantastic powers, in front of her school. Kitty developed a mad crush on him. She began sketching a number of idealized portraits of this boy (in these Jon looks very similar to Mamoru Chiba, the male lead from the Sailor Moon manga in his superhero garb) in her spare time.
Several months later, two suspicious deaths of Harbinger staffers happened within mere weeks of one another. One was John Tewes, a staffer who has recently been let go for plagiarism. A few days later the body of former managing editor Mack Burke was found in the Tallahatchie River. In addition, Megan Nyce, the photo editor--whom Kitty had asked her to blow up a photo of the scene outside the apartment because she had seen a familiar face in the crowd--had gone missing. Kitty was full of questions, not the least of which was what copy editor Tom Little was doing at Johnny's the day of his accident, and why his charges against Tewes hadn't been questioned. She came in early to work to meet with the faculty advisor, and quite by accident she ended up listening at the office door. Inside Rhea Borstein and Little were talking. They had already killed Burke and Tewes, they said, and kidnapped Megan Nyce, because Borstein had caught her with the photo. This confirmed Kitty's suspicion that Tom had killed Johnny, but she hadn't realized Rhea was involved--and, moreover, she realized that she had both gotten poor innocent Meg mixed up in something awful...plus she herself had the photos they were looking for, and if Meg were to drop her name, she might be next to die.
Remembering the day she saw Jon arresting that punk in the getaway car months ago, she contacted him (through an improvised "Bat-Signal" type innovation). When she explained her dilemma, however, he refused to become involved. Angry, she decided to forego help and go it alone. She put together an eccentric homebrew costume--including a cheerleader dress that had been too small for her best friend Aren, but fit Kit just right--from various odds and ends lying about her room, and set forth.
The second part of the arc details how after one disasterous night--where she almost got killed by carjackers and severely talked down to by Jon, who swooped to her rescue--she was ready to throw in the towel. It was then a call from Lyle Turncoate, the editorial editor, surreptitiously warned her to avoid the Harbinger office that day. Thinking he knew something he wasn't saying, Kitty--back in her SweetTart outfit--paid him a visit at the public library. With some "help" from Jon, she learned some new data...such as Megan's death. Little, with Turncoate's help, had killed her while looking for the pictures. Lyle now felt guilty and scared of crazy Tom, and cried as he confessed everything. Kitty told him to go talk to the police, who would protect him.
With this information in hand, and Lyle willing to help any way he could, she made plans to confront Tom Little later that night when he arrived for work. The third and final part of the arc picks up here.
- Rhea Nell Borstein, faculty advisor. She and copy editor/student Tom Little are lovers. She ordered the murders of Mack Burke, Johnny Tewes, and the torture/murder of Megan Nyce to cover up her plan to take over STJH. She also had Jon's old girlfriend Johanna Ralston killed in a car bombing two years before.
- Mack Burke, managing editor, then news editor. He promoted John Tewes to columnist against Borstein's wishes. After an argument with Lucy he was demoted to the news desk, then quit. Several weeks later police found his body in the Tallahatchie River.
- Lucy Chaser, photo editor, then editor. She served John Tewes; however, she is not truly an accomplice, since she seemed wholly ignorant the charges were falsified. Borstein promised her a position on the Apex Gazette for her efforts. However, when the news of Borstein and Little's plot broke, The Gazette recinded their offer.
- Chaser turns up later in "The Unsung Zero" working as a field reporter for an online publication. She makes several other appearances throughout the series, frequently playing the part of an unscrupulous "gotcha" journalist.
- Richard Thomas Little. The severely-disturbed teenage lover of Rhea Borstein, who is hopelessly devoted to her and will do whatever it takes to please her. He dropped the trash can which killed Johnny and (with Lyle Turncoate's help) injected Meg with sodium pentathol, or truth serum, to force her to talk. Little is
- Megan C. Nyce, photo editor. Kitty asked her to blow up a photo that showed Tom at the scene of Johnny's murder. She disappeared shortly after, but not before leaving Kitty copies of the photo of Tom.
- John "Johnny" Tewes, reporter, then columnist. After quickly rising to overnight fame writing columns for the Harbinger, he was fired for plagiarism. Tewes tried unsuccessfully to get his job back. Days later Johnny was killed outside his apartment by a trash can, which was ruled "accidental".
- Lyle R. Turncoate, editorial editor. He was a friend of both Tom and Johnny. He never believed Johnny stole the column he wrote. He confessed later to Jon and SweetTart that Tom Little forced him to help him kill Megan Nyce. He was placed in protective custody until Borstein and Little's trial, where he was a star witness.
- Aren Loy. Kitty's best friend and sole confidante, a popular and pretty cheerleader for the STJH Tuff Puffs. She has an inexplicable long scar running along the right side of her throat.
- Jonathan M. Sweet.
- Nameless Head Carjacker. The first criminal SweetTart ever faced. Jon helped her fight off him and his three accomplices. As the gang all wore ski masks, their faces are never seen.
The character of SweetTart began as an idea for a creative writing class in college. Jonathan M. Sweet was a huge fan of the anime series Sailor Moon and thought it would be fun to write a crossover fiction between that series and his own Belch Dimension. He felt that Sailor Moon's natural bubbly personality would contrast sharply with his own hero's dark and brooding nature, creating an ideal conflict to build a story around. Though ecstatic about the idea, Sweet was defeated in all attempts to produce a logical explanation as to how Sailor Moon--a Japanese superheroine--could ever come to America, and the project was shelved.Six months later, in February of 1997, Sweet was terminated from his post on the Arkansas State University Herald for plagiarism. A copy editor named Scott Mitchell claimed that a piece Sweet had submitted on TV ratings was stolen from a sketch on Saturday Night Live, which Sweet continues to deny the existance of to this day. This unfortunate experience later formed the basis for SweetTart, and a draft of the script was completed in mid-1999. Elements of the early Sailor Moon idea--particularly a scene where the heroes are arguing in the street after fighting off several goons--filtered into the new story...only now she was "SweetTart", named after the candy (similar to how Peanuts creator' Charles M. Schulz named Peppermint Patty after the contents of a dish of mints).
"Kathryn Tartakoff" was modeled after a fellow staffer from The Herald--a female cartoonist named Kathryn White, whose work Sweet admired. White drew a strip called "Sassafrass Roots" (later changed to "Mosquito Creek" for web distribution) that ran in the Herald (1996-97). White was actually intended to appear as herself in an untitled serial about the adventures of his stick-figure characters at a paper called "The Harbinger" (a synonymn for "herald", or one who announces or signals something coming). In a four-panel strip Jon compliments her artwork and tried to pick her up; she responds by dropping an anvil on his head, flattening him. A newly-fired Sweet called this serial his "comeback vehicle", but of course he was never rehired.
For his new story Sweet had to change White's last name to avoid legal problems. He wanted to call her alter-ego "SweetTart", so, looking for something that would logically shorten to "Tart", Sweet picked "Tartikoff", after onetime NBC head Brandon Tartikoff; however, in the script the last name was mispelled as "Tartakoff", an error that carried over to the completed sketches. He turned The Harbinger into a junior-high newspaper because he wanted his new superheroine to be a few years younger than Jon, and because he felt it was appropriate owing to what he felt was "childish" behavior on The Herald's part to fire him. All the major players in the drama are modeled after actual 1997 Herald staffers. Several panels from a "Sassafras Roots" cartoon appear in the story. Sweet e-mailed Kathryn White to ask permission to use them before drawing the story, but due to the nature of the charges against him, no one from The Herald is allowed to speak to him. When White refused to answer his e-mail, he had to use the scenes without permission. However, the original artist recieves due credit at the official SCP website.
Similar to her source inspiration, SweetTart wears a school uniform, only a cheerleader's top and skirt rather than a formal private school uniform. Her flowing hair--a wig--suggests Sailor Moon's long pigtails and famous odango balls. Her mask is also quite similar to that Tuxedo Mask wears, though a bit larger and hides more of her face. Since in her civilian identity she wears glasses, it's possible she is only moderately nearsighted, needing them mainly to read, and she can either see well enough without her glasses to manage, or she wears contacts while in costume. The use of a hairpiece also is reminiscent of Golden-Age Supergirl, who indeed wore a short, mousy brunette wig to hide her blonde hair when in her civilian identity, Lara Danvers (Kit reverses this, being naturally brown-haired and becoming a sexy blond when she transforms). Her leaps and kicks, as well as a gymnastic background, are similar to Batgirl's (Barbara Gordon).
The story spent the following eight years in rewrite limbo, with names changed and rechanged, dialogue written and rewritten, and scads of model sheets coming and going. Some scenes, such as Johnny Tewes talking to Kitty, and the conversation between Johnny and editor-in-chief Lucy Chaser, were word-for-word out of actual conversations Sweet had with fellow Herald staffers. Johnny was originally called "Jimmy Doulcette"; his changed name, "Tewes" is an anagram of "Sweet". Rhea Borstein was originally named "Bonnie Thrashart", and Tom Little was simply "Mitchell Scott Phillips", both very close to the names of the real-life faculty advisor and copy editor. Tom was drawn with a stylized Joker-like appearance and a similar gleeful attitude towards murdering and torturing his victims.
The scene where Johnny is killed outside his apartment building mirrors a real-life incident shortly after his firing. Sweet was performing his famous impersonation of comic Andrew Dice Clay for a couple of fans in a window across the way when he heard a lound banging noise. It turns out someone had dropped a trash can out a window at his dorm, which had landed a few feet behind Sweet as he stood there on the sidewalk. Sweet noticed that a fourth-story window was open; he later learned that Scott Mitchell lived on the fourth floor, which--because of the suspicious timing, only a month after his firing--lent what normally would be only an innocent, if dangerous, prank a very ominous tinge. In the story it is revealed that Tom Little, under Borstein's orders, dropped the can that struck Jimmy in the head, snapping his neck and instantly killing him.
The other characters' names and looks changed fairly little, though an e was added to Turncoate's surname to make it feel more "name-like". The first three chapters finally were released in mid-April of 2007, stamped "SILVER ANNIVERSARY ISSUE!" on the cover.
Issues #26 and #27 released the fourth and fifth chapters, respectively, with B-stories ("Belch Dimension's Stupidest Home Videos" and "Stoopid!") , and a pinup of Sweet's most (in)famous Herald column, "Clinton Wins, America Loses", first published after the 1996 re-election of President Clinton.
SweetTart is seen in a walk-through in "The Superhero Roundtable" (Dec 2007), which is the creator's way of saying, "Yep, she's still around".
She appears with her arm bandaged in a hospital waiting room in "Er..."
Kitty Tartakoff is visible at the bowling alley lunch counter during Jon's radio broadcast in "Belching Jon Malcontent".
Other Published SweetTart stories
- The Crazy Cassowary Caper! (#43, Nov 2008). Kit tries to get a date to the fall dance with the hottest boy in school, while SweetTart has to deal with a disturbed student's avian-themed meyhem.
- Don't Beat the Yellow Snow, Man! (#67, Nov 2010). SweetTart is trapped in an ice house overnight by the quite literally cold-blooded diamond thief the Yellow Snowman. She has to try to figure out how to escape before she freezes to death.
- Strange Bedfellows (#79, Nov 2011). SweetTart must work with Jon's team to battle an ecoterrorist, a squad of mutant mercenaries, mobsters, and an ancient prophecy about the end of the world.
- The Tart and the Fart! (#98, Jun 2013). A dialogue-free wraparound involving SweetTart pursuing The FartKnocker.
- Try a Little Tenderness! (#115, Nov 2014). SweetTart's archenemy Tom Little returns to school after several months of therapy and treatment, but unlike everybody else Kitty isn't quite willing to buy that he's reformed.
- Rhea "Diarrhea" Borstein, Harbinger faculty advisor.
- Tom Little, Harbinger copy editor.
- The Cassowary. First appeared: #43, Nov 2008. Real name: Cassandra Warren. A social outcast with a deep love of birds who who kept dozens of tame pigeons. After a pair of bullies she had had a run-in with killed her birds, she wrongfully blamed Kitty, who mocked her for keeping "flying turd factories" as pets. She crashed a school dance, wearing a feathered coat, orange tights, a reinforced and modified football helmet, and special spiked boots, and took the students hostage. She used a modified Super-Soaker filled with a rubber cement-like substance to seal all the exits and demanded Kit be turned over to her to be punished for her (percieved) crime. Kit escaped the cafeteria via a skylight, changed in the ladies and--as SweetTart--confronted Cassie. Cassowary proved a tough foe due to her headwear and dangerous footwork, but SweetTart defeated her by drenching her in punch and using a live speaker cable, her wet body and metal shoes to turn her into an electrical conductor, shocking her into unconciousness.
- The Yellow Snowman. First appeared: #67, Nov 2010. Liam Conrad used to drive big rigs, until one day his truck--which was full of menthol 7.5%--jackknifed crossing a frozen lake. Exposed to a combination of topical analgesics and frigid water, his body was simultaneously boiled and frozen, rendering it unable to regulate its own temperature. Conrad was confined to a special metal suit to keep his body at a perpetual 103 degrees. He turned to crime, stealing diamonds to fund his dream of moving to a tropical climate where he wouldn't need to wear the suit and transporting the gems to undisclosed locations in bags of ice. He locked SweetTart in a freezer, intending to leave her overnight to die of hypothermia. However, she escaped, returned to the icehouse the next night, and took down Snowman and his partners.
- Junebug. First appeared: #79, Nov 2011. Hilda Julian was an environmental activist who planned to spend 200 straight days sitting atop an old-growth tree nicknamed "Luna" to protest a local paper mill. Unfortunately, less than 48 days into her sit-in, she accidentally fell out of the tree and struck her head on a limb, leaving her hospitalized and comatose for seven weeks. While Junebug was unconscious, Luna was cut down and sent to the mill. This, coupled with being made sport of on the local talk shows for her failure to save the tree and for being caught in a compromising position, caused her to become unhinged. She donned a metallic insect suit resembling an actual junebug, complete with an engine and fully-operational wings, and went on a terror spree at the Apal-Mart shopping center. With help from Molina and Chance of the Treehouse Warriors, SweetTart confronted Junebug, eventually taking the villain down by severing the fuel line of the suit while she was in flight and causing her to crash through the store's front window.
Though SweetTart possesses no superpowers, unlike Jon, she nonetheless is quite agile, owing to vigorous athletic training. She can bend, flip, leap through the air, and even deliver powerful kicks with grace. She is able to flip a man twice her size, as she demonstrates with Tom when she has to defend herself against his full frontal attack.
- The SweetTart arc has probably the highest body count of all the stories: 4 deaths (though only one body is actually seen on-panel). This edges out the previous contender, the "Family Ties" arc, which has only three (counting the alien Barbaeus).
- It also has the most blood seen in a Belch Dimension story yet, with the spray from the mouths of two punks during a fight, Tom Little being thrown against a glass-topped table and badly cut up, and some seen coming out of Rhea Borstein's mouth when SweetTart finds her tied up in the hall (implying she fell on the stairs and hurt herself, or possibly that Jon struck her in the face during the arrest).
- Borstein's plan with the fake photos is very similar to that of Kimberly Mann, a character in "Eve Bade Adam Eat" (Almasheol). Both pieces were written by J.M. Sweet.
- A chess motif is used in several pivotal scenes-- e.g. "x takes y", or "a captures b". Rhea is assigned the value of queen; Little is the king. Editor Lucy Chaser is the rook; Johnny Tewes, a mere pawn. Though no character is assigned to the knight piece, it may be assumed that Jon himself is the knight in the story (perhaps a reference to Batman, who is often dubbed "The Dark Knight").
- In issue #25, several people are seen looking at Johnny's body on the sidewalk. A number of the onlookers are caricatures of folks from AJM Studios, a message board the artist frequents, and who appears as "Dr. Belch", the studio's psychiatrist, in several installment of the forum's book-length webcomic series. This was a nod to Belch Dimension's appearance in the AJM Studios comic several weeks before. In the following issue, "Kim Possible" and "Ron Stoppable", two other forum members and AJM series regulars, are standing next to a bound Hiss Hole on the cover of a comic book, in the foreground of one panel. This suggests that in the Belch Dimension universe AJM exists as a real-word entity whose adventures are widely told as fiction (cf. Miguel Cervantes' Don Quixote).
- The silver anniversary issue was dedicated to Ken Prince, a cartoonist Sweet met on The Herald, and the fiancee of Kitty's body model Kathryn White. He died of a stroke in March of 2006, at the age of 32.
- This story's last page reveals another piece of Jon's past. When he was 14 he lost someone to violence. At the time his girlfriend was killed--by a bomb rigged to the ignition of her car--Jon had had his superpowers for three years. However, he was deaf to her pleas and didn't use these talent to save her. He no doubt still carries this guilt with him, and likely refuses to get involved in Kitty's drama because of the bad memories.
- Jonathan M. Sweet, the creator of Belch Dimension, has said that if it was ever made into an animated feature or series, his pick for the voice of Kitty would be Miley Cyrus. Cyrus stars on Disney's Hannah Montana, as another character with a duel identity who also dons a blonde wig when in costume.