An Interview with Dave Braun
by David Cleary

Dave Cleary: Welcome Dave! Give us some vital statistics. Things like age, marital status, where you live, where you work, that sort of thing. A basic platform to go on, if you will.

Dave Braun: I am thirty-three years old--which makes me one of the younger fans on the Lion King Newsgroup, at least judging by some of the recent responses to an age query that I posted there recently. I work for the Canadian Pacific Railway, where I have been employed for the past nine years. I am a third-generation railway brat, as my father and grandfather also worked for this company.
I live in Winnipeg, Manitoba. This city has the distinction of being the geographical center of North America. It also has the distinction of having horrible weather and bad, slow drivers who stop short for no apparent reason.

DC: Not everyone reading this may have an idea of what the weather in Winnipeg is like. What kind of weather do you usually see?

DB: Cold in the winter, lots of mosquitos in the summer. We had snow on the ground from mid-October of last year until mid-May of this year. The temperatures in winter tend to hover around -25 Celsius and often dip below -40. During the summer, it can climb over +40 Celsius on some days. There are a couple of weeks during spring and autumn when the weather is tolerable. I hate to sound like I'm harping on the weather here, but I didn't really come here by choice; the company moved my office out from Vancouver, which is about as big a contrast in weather as you could imagine from Winnipeg.

DC: Yeesh! Sounds awful. So maybe those bad Winnipeg drivers you mentioned are just stopping for passing icebergs on the road?

DB: No. They typically stop for important things, like to turn left from the rightmost lane, or so that they can put it into reverse and back up a one-way street. The drivers here are really odd and do stupid things for no apparent reason. One saving grace is that they tend to do these stupid things in slow motion, so death and vehicular destruction are kept to a minimum.

DC: When did you first see "The Lion King?" Are you generally a big Disney fan, or was TLK a one-time Disney thing for you?

DB: I saw TLK within a week of its release. I have always been a big Disney fan, but the release of TLK really caught me by surprise. I managed to miss all of the pre-movie hype and only heard of the movie when I read a preview of it in Time Magazine. The reason I missed all of the pre-movie hype is because I was living in a hotel at the time--along with twelve other people--in the middle of a 14-month project we were working on for the company. We were bouncing around from city to city and didn't really keep very good touch with the outside world.

DC: What other Disney animated features are favorites of yours?

DB: Prior to "The Lion King," my favorite was "101 Dalmatians." I also like "Beauty and the Beast" and "Aladdin." After those ones, I tend to lump the rest of the Disney animations into a general "pool" of movies that I enjoy. The one exception I make is for "Pocahontas," which I loathed. I can't really put a finger on what it was about the movie that irritated me, but I won't dwell on it here.

DC: What do you like about the movie? What makes TLK special for you?

DB: In a word: cats. I have been a cat fanatic since I was a kid, and a Disney fan for longer. A Disney animation about lions seemed to be custom made for me. The first time I saw the movie, I was struck by Nala (being the furphile that I am). The second time through the movie (which I went to see again out in a town called Moose Jaw), I was struck by the depth of the story, and I also felt a certain empathy for the rather cocky young Simba. Of course, I was STILL struck by Nala--and have been on every subsequent viewing. Those eyes....sigh.

DC: Yup--I can sure relate to that. I assume you have cats of your own at home? Anything about them that reminds you of TLK's characters, possibly?

DB: I have two cats at home. They are siblings (formerly brother and sister) named Pixil and Bit. They have been with me for nine years now, and they are both curled up with me as I type this answer to you.

Outside of the fur and whiskers, there is nothing about these cats that really reminds me of the cats in TLK. The cats in TLK are FAR brighter than these two.

DC: So, maybe they've been watching TLK behind your back and have been taking their cue from Ed the hyena?

DB: They're far cuddlier than the likes of Ed. These cats have been with me for a long time. They've moved with me to four different places and have given me back as much affection as they've got over the years. I couldn't imagine not having at least one cat in my life.

DC: How many times do you estimate you've seen the movie now? How many times in the theatre?

DB: Hm, I don't think I have enough digits on my paws to count that high. I estimate I've seen the movie about twenty-two times, eight times in the theatre and the balance on video. The only other movie I can think of that I have seen almost as many times as TLK is "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," which I've seen about fifteen times.

I haven't watched TLK since I was on holidays down in New Hampshire this May. I think I'll go put the tape on again when I've finished this interview.

DC: Are you a TLK merchandise collector? What are your proudest TLK possessions? Do you have any really unusual TLK merchandise?

DB: I'm more of an obsessor than a collector. I have more TLK merchandise than I really want to admit to--including a Nala puppet who rode "shotgun" on the dash of the car during my recent holiday out to the west coast. I'd be hard-pressed to choose any single item as being the "pride of my collection," as I'm rather attached to almost everything. I rather like the Simba and Nala beach towel I found at the Disney Store last year. It's very colorful and the picture almost looks airbrushed.

The oddest bits of merchandise that come to mind are my Simba projector-nightlight, the Rube Goldberg-esque pencil kit, the Simba's head lightswitch, and (of course) the Simba-Nala cross-dressing puzzle mug.

DC: Projector-nightlight? I've never seen one of those. What's it like?

DB: It's a big, boxy affair of about 5 X 3 X 2 inches. It is made of red plastic, with a little window in the front with a picture of Simba and Mufasa in it and a lens on the top. When you plug it into the wall, the whole thing lights up and it projects a smiling Simba onto the ceiling.

Oh, and I just remembered another odd bit of merchandise I own: a Lion King shaving kit. How could I have forgotten that, eh?

DC: How indeed? I have one at home, myself.

DB: Silly thing has no blades, though. Probably the same one that Simba uses--which would explain his rather shaggy mane.

DC: Hmmm, that pencil kit sounds really interesting. What's so Gyro Gearloose about it, anyway?

DB: It's chock full of little buttons that make doors open and drawers pop out. I confess that I'd never seen the like before, Lion King related or otherwise. It's a real prize as far as I'm concerned.

DC: And you know, I've *got* to ask you about the Simba-Nala cross-dressing puzzle mug.......

DB: I knew you'd ask that.

The mug is made of plastic and has three sliding bands on the outside. Young Nala is on the front of the cup and young Simba is on the back (assuming one is right-handed). By sliding the bands around the mug, one can match up the head, torso, or base of each cub with the one on the other side. You can put Simba's head on Nala's body, for instance. The result is a rather hermaphroditic cub that I dubbed "cross-dressing Simba."

DC: You're also a fanfic and parody writer, I believe. Tell me a little about what you've written.

DB: I have written a wide assortment of fanfic, most of which I have never released to the mailing list or newsgroup--in large part because most of it was never finished. Three of my works are available on Ryan McGinnis's page. Those are: "True Confessions," "Forgetful Simba," and "The First Church Book Review." Other works that I have released (but which never quite made it onto any archives) include "Fast Cash," "Timon's Hula," and all of the various announcements and letters I've done as part of my First Church project.

I have two ongoing works in process right now. One is a 22-ish chapter fanfic for which I have already released the first chapter, but which as yet remains nameless. The other is the "Book of Simba" translation I have been working on for my web page. There are a few other works that I started and buried with no current plans to revive them.

DC: I've seen the ones on Ryan's page you've mentioned. [Timon voice on] "Very nice!" :)

DB: Thank you.

DC: What motivated the "True Confessions" one? Anything perhaps remotely autobiographical there? And tell me a little about "Timon's Hula." I've never seen that one.

DB: The idea for "True Confessions" grew out of a phone conversation on how all the Lion King merchandise I was buying was driving me to the poor house. As I recall, the merchandise I was buying was for a friend who had given me a HUGE shopping list--but I won't point any fingers, Mr. Cleary.

The story was pretty autobiographical in that I almost DID miss a mortgage payment when I bought a couple of ill-advised bits of merchandise and didn't leave myself enough money to eat and pay the mortgage that month. Also I really DO own purring Simba and Nala plushies--just like in the story.

"Timon's Hula" was just a short, speculative piece I wrote when I wondered aloud about how the others might have talked Timon into performing the hula dance in the movie. If I stumble across it in my archives, I may post it again one day.

DC: That 22-chapter monster sounds really interesting. Any hints you want to drop about it, or do you want to surprise us?

DB: Well, I DID post the first chapter to the mailing list, but it really doesn't give away anything about the story. I really don't want to leak anything, but I *will* say that the original premise was inspired by the Cthulu mythos. If anybody knows anything about that, then they can formulate their own speculations. When I say "22 chapters," it could be anything from 18 to 30. I expect it will be shorter than John and Dave's excellent "Chronicles" story, but not by much.

DC: Okay, let's talk about the "First Church of Simba." Where did you get the idea from? You've got to admit, it's not something one would ordinarily associate with TLK.

DB: The roots of the church are really very innocuous. Somebody posted in one day that there was a posting in alt.cult.movies asking about "The Lion King." Somebody else replied, "So we've achieved cult status!"

As I was walking in to work that afternoon, I kept mulling over the idea of TLK being a cult movie, and pictured these "cultish" followers lining up outside a theatre to see the midnight showing. I pictured people in their plushy Simba slippers, Timon hats, Nala tee-shirts, and the like. I was just passing the religious bookstore on Graham Street when the thought struck me:

"Why a cult? Why not a full-blown religion?"

I started kicking around ideas for a church in the back of my mind, consisting primarily of a tee-shirt reading "Church of the Lion King." I wrote out a few ideas when I got to work and forwarded those on to Larry Deck a couple of days later. He really liked the idea and pushed me into pursuing it. I have to give him a lot of credit for the First Church--such as it is. If it hadn't been for his prompting, the idea would likely have died at the start.

Naturally, I appointed him as the first saint.

DC: Would you be willing to hazard a guess as to the philosophy behind the church?

DB: Hakuna Matata. Life can be fun if you don't take it too seriously. For all its fun, one shouldn't miss some of the more serious elements of satire I have buried in this church. It's not religion I poke fun of, rather some of the kooks out there who wrap themselves in religion but remain real wingnuts under the pious veneer.

They're the ones who make this world's religions both funny and scary at the same time. You just have to read the diatribe I copied over to my own web page to see one of the wingnuts I am talking about.

DC: That's the long harangue that's filed under "loony," right? Tell me a little about that one.

DB: What can I say about it? It's the paranoid ramblings of an ostensibly religious nutcase who saw "The Lion King" as a front for every evil that he thinks Disney represents. He saw everything in the movie: Satanism, homosexuality, necromancy, astrology--and eight or nine of the Seven Deadly Sins.

His essay was much wackier than anything I have ever put on the FCOS page, so naturally I had to grab a copy and add it to my page. Of course, I ran it through a "kraut" filter before I posted it. I think it reads much more appropriately that way.

DC: Has anyone ever objected to the idea of mixing religion and TLK?

DB: Yes. I've had one objection directed my way so far; it was from a Lion King fan who thought I was belittling the movie with my pseudo-religion.

DC: That's really surprising to hear. Didn't the person in question see the humor in your web page? Didn't the person understand that the movie is not being made fun of here? If you were belittling the movie, I'd think you'd have taken a much different approach than you did.

DB: This was VERY early in the creation of the First Church. There wasn't enough on the web page at the time for one to really pass judgement. This guy was more offended by the idea of the religion than by any specifics of it. If I happen to poke fun at TLK at any point in my "religion," it's only with the greatest of affection. A friendly tug of the tail, if you like.

DC: Approximately how many members does the church have now?

DB: About 40 members. I added one to the registry today, just prior to this interview.

DC: I'll bet there are some folks who want to know how one gets to be a saint in the church. I have been blessed with sainthood--who else has sainthood now and what did they do to deserve it? And do you have any advice for saint wannabes?

DB: Everybody who has attained sainthood in the church has performed exceptional services, either for the church or for the Lion King community at large. The list reads like a Who's Who of the mailing list and newsgroup. I can list the saints off the top of my head if you like:

Larry Deck
Jason Ahrens
David Cleary
Brian Tiemann
John Burkitt
Frederick Udsen

What did they all do? Larry Deck pushed me into forming the church, Jason Ahrens wrote a moving essay that really defined the fandom, David Cleary almost single-handedly kept the newsgroup alive when it nearly died last year, Brian Tiemann has done too much for the community to delve into here, John Burkitt has written some stunning fanfic as well as some wonderful pieces for the church, and Frederick Udsen has given me a lot of help and ideas behind the scenes for the First Church web page.

There are a couple of others who would get sainthood if they ever joined the church.

DC: A favorite page of mine is the "Hail Sarabi" page that comes from the confessional section. The "Hail Sarabi" text is excellent.

DB: Thanks to Tank Winters for that one! He sent me that wonderful "Hail Sarabi" one day as well as another prayer that I haven't managed to use yet.

DC: I also really like the picture of Sarabi with a nimbus encircling her head--the combination looks most uncomfortably like a Madonna in a Renaissance painting.

DB: Yes, eerie isn't it? That beatific grin she is wearing seems perfectly suited to the accompanying text. The halo simply completes the image.

DC: .....and speaking of confessions, have you committed sins against the FCOS that merit confession on your part?

DB: Er, ahem. I keep having to register a "level one" confession. You know, the "feel lust for Nala" one? I may attach a web counter to the confessions one day, but I think I know which one will get the most use.

DC: Something tells me you're not alone in having to register "level one" confessions.

DB: I find her sexier than any other Disney heroine--and I feel a little guilty about that sometimes. I mean, she IS a lion.

Oops. Er, "Hail Sarabi, Right Hand of Mufasa...."

DC: I've noticed that your "sacred merchandise" seems to be chronically out of stock. Is this a case of high demand?

DB: More a problem of supply than demand. The EPA banned our American distributor from bringing the merchandise in from our Rumanian assembly plant.

DC: Interesting. What seemed to be the problem? Noxious fumes emanating from the mimeographed sheets of the FCOS prayer books, perhaps?

DB: Can't get parts for the mimeograph machine. Did you know that nobody seems to MAKE those things anymore? What's this world coming to? Fortunately, we have most of the work backed up on eight-inch floppy disks.

DC: Good thinking! I keep hearing rumors that you'll soon be selling recordings of devotional hymns on 78-speed vinyl records and on 8-track cassettes as well.

DB: This is true. We also have several inspirational sermons delivered by The Grand Pumbaa that we will be transcribing to vinyl, 8-track, and reel-to-reel.

DC: So tell us more about the FCOS's spiritual leader, The Grand Pumbaa. Being the man behind The Grand Pumbaa, you know him better than anyone else. What's the inside scoop on him?

DB: Ah yes, The Grand Pumbaa. Inspired spiritual leader of the faith. A man always one step ahead of the law. He is to the First Church of Simba as Martin Luther was to the Buddhists.

DC: What kind of a man is he? Or is he in fact a man at all?

DB: What a horrible thing to say. Martin Luther was a very pious and holy man!

DC: Er, ah--oops. Silly me, I wasn't being clear. I mean what kind of a man is The Grand Pumbaa? And what's he *really* like?

DB: The Grand Pumbaa is a very quiet, shy individual. Some would describe his behavior as more cagy and secretive, but these are the same kind of people who launch big lawsuits against him for misappropriation of church funds and the like.

He is a man driven--why just last month, I drove him out to the coast and back again. The First Church is his life; he hardly exists outside of the church. What can I say about him--that won't be in his upcoming autobiography, that is? Available through the First Church merchandise page for a mere $49.95 for a handsome, hand-bound, leather-like hard-cover edition.

DC: You said The Grand Pumbaa is an inspired religious leader. Where does he get his inspiration from?

DB: A fanatical devotion to the church, an unconditional love for the pride, certain hormonal stirrings toward Nala, and lots of sacramental temple wine.

DC: Anything new planned for the FCOS?

DB: Most of my FCOS effort is being directed toward the web page. I'd really like to take the church another step, but the project is too big for one person to handle--especially when I have real life and fanfics on the go as well.

I've never completely abandoned the idea of a tee-shirt. Sometime this winter, I am going to buy myself some tee-shirt transfers for my printer and test out a few preliminary designs.

DC: Any thoughts come to mind off the top of your head? Specific slogans, perhaps? Or designs?

DB: I am leaning toward a fairly simple tee-shirt design. The front will simply be the FCOS logo from my web page (that is, the blue Simba with gold letters reading "First Church of Simba" overlaid) and the back will simply read "TLKiaWoL."

"TLKiaWoL" ("The Lion King is a Way of Life") was the first "slogan" I developed for the church. I stole it from science fiction fandom, where people walk around at conventions wearing tee-shirts reading "FiaWoL"--which means "Fandom is a Way of Life."

DC: Well, this all sounds great. Let me close this interview by wishing you well with the FCOS and your 22-chapter fanfic--and all else TLK and non-TLK related, for that matter. Thanks for allowing me the chance to interview you.

DB: Thank you! This interview has been a lot of fun. This is only the second time I have ever been interviewed for something--the first time was for a corporate video that my company distributed. I think THIS interview went much better.

I'd also like to close by wishing you guys best of luck with this online magazine. I look forward to seeing the first issue and, a bit later, perhaps getting involved more directly with it.

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Interviewer's note: First Church of Simba web page: