Being in the Army was a great source of inspiration for 'Crock,' " says Fredericksburg cartoonist Bill Rechin, who draws the little bully for a living. "You know -- drilling, digging foxholes and latrines, that sort of thing."

Service to his country rewarded Don Wilder as well. "Working for the CIA taught me a lot about humor," deadpans the Woodbridge writer. "There were so many funny things that went on there."

Wilder's oddly skewed view of the world turns up in every word uttered by Foreign Legion Cmdr. Vermin P. Crock and the other turnip-nosed characters who romp through the Rechin and Wilder strip. Rechin (he's the one on the left) had become the art director for a Washington graphics firm by the time he met then-CIA media specialist Wilder (on the right) in 1975. Crock and his band of bumbling incompetents were set loose on an unsuspecting public the next year. At last count, they were in about 300 newspapers.

"I think people can identify with the strip," says Rechin. "A character like Maggot, who's always digging holes in the hot sun, was patterned after some plumbers I saw at a picnic. I draw Maggot so you can smell him -- greasy and gritty."

On the flip side is the jut-jawed Capt. Preppie. "He's modeled after my son, Bill, who's a football coach at Langley High School," says Rechin.

That's not the only family resemblance. There's Maggot's girlfriend, Grossie, the zaftig desert wench with a face like Jabba the Hutt's. "She's a cousin of mine -- a nun -- in Buffalo," says Rechin. "She'll kill me when she reads this!"