The Mystery Of The Call To Customer Service


“You did just give us your account number. We ask again so people can’t cut in the phone queue. Just because something’s physically and logically impossible is no reason not to have a policy.”

“Put like that it almost makes sense. Can we say my number is ‘forty’?”

“It doesn’t look that old, but I’m game. For quality-control purposes this call may have been pre-recorded. What is a problem?”

“You know how there’s an Internet? Not for me.”

“The web site could be down.”

“I tried Google, YouTube, archive.org, The New York Times, and Comics Curmudgeon, and the browser kept pointing and laughing that I wasn’t on the Internet.”

“Someday all those sites will be down simultaneously and we’ll cackle smugly at everybody thinking we’re the problem.”

“You do need quality controlled. You wouldn’t want it running wild.”

“That didn’t sound submissive.”

“Thinking about quality control. Am I being pre-recorded?”

“We can’t tell. It’d ruin the control group’s self-esteem. If you’re in the control group it’d spoil a relationship starting so well.”

“That’s considerate, unless I’m in the other group.”

“We thought you’d agree. Could you give us your account number again?”

“This time I’ll say ninety-four.”

“Oh, you are a giddy prankster. What’s your cable modem model number?”

“Hold on, I have to get the cat off it … … hold on, I have to find bandages … … It’s a model 327W.”

“That’s not the model number.”

“It says that’s the model number on top.”

“Yes, and don’t think this hasn’t lead to fisticuffs. The model number is on the bottom where you can’t read it in your light.”

“Could I give my phone number again?”

“I was just fixing to ask. Would you like it to be ‘six’ now?”

“No, I feel like ‘four’. On the bottom the cable modem is a model 327-W.”

“That’s better. … I’ll have to transfer you to a guy named `Jeff’. He’s usually hanging around and probably works for us. We don’t get many fans, though if he is one that explains his applause.”

“I like chances to talk with people named `Jeff’.”

“For Jeff, you’ll have to describe the problem, and give your customer number, and your model number. You’ll still have the problem.”

“Does he give the numbers back after?”

“He should. It’s bad practice to hog numbers. We lost `fourteen’ for months to one sourpuss tired of having people to turn things off and on.”

“Does he control quality too? — Never mind, it’d hurt my feelings if one of us lied. Should we give him an encore?”

“Would you please re-say your account number?”

“It’s forty, in that case. How did he like it?”

“He says he’s `Paul’ and we have him confused for someone else. Security is escorting him out.”

“Are they confused?”

“They know the way. This is about the twelfth Paul this month.”

“Would it help mentioning my customer number is 101?”

“It makes me more secure after this shocking Paul incident. Have you got another computer we might try something on?”

“I don’t.”

“Then we’re can’t do anything without someone actually named ‘Jeff’.”

“In that case, I do. I just didn’t want to confuse this issue.”

“Could you plug it in to your cable modem?”

“Any particular connection?”

“Yes, one into the cable modem. And go to the site 192 dot 168 dot … ”

“Dot 1 dot 1?”

“You act suspiciously like someone named ‘Jeff’.”

“Should I mention my customer number is 327?”

“No, that’s your model number. Do you see under Network Settings anything for DCHP/IP?”

“DCHP?”

“Yeah, let’s act like that matters. Do you see any pull-down menus?”

“I do, but hoped to ignore them.”

“Have you rebooted things?”

“I considered rebooting the refrigerator, so I could eat the ice cream.”

“I recommend trying that and calling back. My customer number is twelve.”

“That’s my number too. I bet it’s why we get along so.”

“Your supposition satisfies me. Were there any other issues?”

“There, the Internet came back. Thank you. There’s nothing else, Jeff.”

“You’re welcome — wait, how did you know?”


What clue told the caller the operator was Jeff? Read tomorrow’s puzzle and check your solution!

Fascinating coincidences of South West England


I was reading about the town of Pensford in Somerset, England, because hi there I guess we’ve only just met for the first time. That’s the sort of thing I do, is all. Pensford’s Wikipedia page has this to say about famous residents:

Philosopher and physician John Locke FRS 1632-1704, known as the “Father of Liberalism” lived in John Locke’s Cottage in Belluton within the parish of Publow with Pensford from shortly after his birth until 1647.

And, gosh but that’s a lucky coincidence on John Locke’s part. Just imagine the quarrels he might have got into if he had been living in Thomas Hobbes’s cottage instead. They probably still had the quarrels anyway, but they would have had to argue about who was in whose cottage too.

What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? Who is Dethany and why does she look like a villain? May – August 2020


Dethany Dendrobia, the pale Goth guest star is from Bill Holbrook’s On The Fastrack. I’ll get to what she’s doing in Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy some paragraphs down. On The Fastrack is a longrunning workplace-humor comic strip. It turned up often enough when I was Reading the Comics for my mathematics blog. Dethany Dendrobia is the comic strip’s third protagonist. She took over the strip about a decade ago from previous lead character, Wendy Welding. Dendrobia is Goth, yes, and I forget whether her paleness is makeup or her nature.

Holbrook’s three comics (On The Fastrack, Safe Havens, and the web comic Kevin and Kell) go in for a cartoony world. In it, for example, the Computer Bug, source of so many problems, is a real literal character, who can speak with and negotiate with you and all. Dendrobia, hardworking and cheerful, is also Goth, fascinated by death and time’s ravages. So her “freakish”, Morticia Addams-influenced, appearance codes her in Dick Tracy as a villain. But in her home comic strip this is how a normal person looks.

While the characters are crossing over there are some differences between the comic strip universes. Dick Tracy is carrying on as though the Covid-19 disaster weren’t happening. Except for the Crimestoppers tips at the top of Sunday panels, which carry warnings about scams. People faking being from the IRS asking for stimulus check information. People running fake health screenings. Scammers telling you the schools are “safe to reopen” for in-person classes. People claiming that employers should not be legally liable for their employees getting the coronavirus at work. People selling fake vaccinations. The frauds you would expect.

On The Fastrack, meanwhile, has made the characters being locked down an important part of the story. The easy way around this is to say the Dick Tracy events happened, like, last year or so. Except both strips have built in how Dendrobia is preparing for her wedding, to Guy Wyre, this coming Halloween. (Dick Tracy also recently made a guest appearance in On The Fastrack, there as a hologram, to avoid spreading non-ironic death.)

It gets more “inconsistent”. In Holbrook’s other newspaper comic, Safe Havens, Fastrack built and launched a spacecraft to Mars. That crew went and bioengineered that planet into new life. In that strip, Dethany is the chief flight director for Fastrack Inc. There is no good reason I haven’t been doing plot recaps for that comic. But that’s even harder to reconcile with what we’ve seen here. Especially since Holbrook decided to freeze the On The Fastrack characters’ ages, when Dendrobia took over. But Safe Havens continues aging the characters in loose realtime. You never hear this mentioned by people who say they can’t understand the relationship between Crankshaft and Funky Winkerbean.

(Tom Batiuk’s Crankshaft and Funky Winkerbean both take place in the present day. But Funky Winkerbean is also a decade “ahead” of Crankshaft. That is, if a Crankshaft character appears in today’s Funky Winkerbean he’s ten years older than he “should” be. A Funky Winkerbean character appearing in Crankshaft is about a decade younger. That’s all.)

Dick Tracy.

17 May – 9 August 2020.

Actress Fortuna Dyer was getting into character for her Breathless Mahoney bio-pic. Thing is Breathless Mahoney was a villain. Dyer wants information out of B.O.Plenty, who back before his heel-face turn kind of got pretty near murdering her. Tracy gives Dyer an interview, recapping the Mahoney-Plenty story of the 40s. And asks her not to contact Plenty, who’s gone all good.

Dyer bails Shaky out of jail, a surprising fast return for last story’s villain. Shaky’s uncle, the original Shaky, was married to Breathless Mahoney’s mother. Dyer says she wants more background on Mahoney. So he’s got a job now, that’s great. The job seems to be talking about their relatives over dinner with Dyer. That doesn’t cause any conflict at all with Edison Lighthouse, Shaky’s girlfriend, whom he starts missing date nights with.

Shaky: 'Breathless, we've been at this for two weeks now. What would you say to dinner with no movie talk?' Dyer/Breathless: 'I wondered when you'd bring that up. Sure, we can go out. But tell me something ... do you shake *all* the time?'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 30th of May, 2020. “Because if you do shake all the time, well, this could be even better than that time I was dating Chef Wiggly!”

Lighthouse, annoyed at her abandonment, turns to her one friend: Ugly Crystal. You know, whom she met while fleeing the cops last time around. Over coffee at the mall Crystal recommends dumping Shaky. She doesn’t know what his deal is. But she knows someone sending his signals is not good. Lighthouse challenges Shaky, who admits to what’s going on, even though it’s a little weird.

Meanwhile Dick Tracy learns that Shaky’s out of jail, when Sam Catchem notices Shaky at the filming location.

In another mall hangout, Ugly Crystal mentions how her dad’s got a cool Oklahoma Days centennial belt buckle. And there’s a whole world of belt-buckle-collectors who’ll pay good money for that sort of thing. Shaky, eavesdropping, hears how this could be worth thousands. He forms a plan. Shaky is confident in his plan, even though his plan is quite bad. He needs cash. Dyer’s been pumping him for information, but all she’s delivered is the promise of a movie cameo. When she puts off a dinner date, he breaks in to Ugly Crystal’s home to steal her dad’s belt buckle.

So a thing Ugly Crystal maybe never mentioned to Shaky when he mistook her place for a safehouse? Her dad’s Lafayette Austin, undercover cop. Also he has like a dozen belt buckles so it’s easy to find one’s missing.

On the movie set, Shaky, playing Original Shaky, says, 'Come on, Breathless. I said I was sorry.' Dyer, as Breathless: 'No, Shaky. I don't take that from anyone. We're through!' Shaky: 'Please, baby?' Dyer: 'No. I've filed charges.' Shaky: 'You what?' Dick Tracy: 'Shaky.' Shaky: 'Buzz off! This is none of your business!' Tracy: 'Oh, but it *is*. You're under arrest.' Shaky: 'Ugh ... Dick Tracy!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 21st of June, 2020. Having yet another instance where characters play Dick Tracy characters, particularly with Current Shaky playing Original Shaky for this movie cameo, made this a confusing strip to read when it came out. What we’re seeing here, through the first panel of the bottom row, is a movie scene being filmed with Shaky playing his uncle the Original Shaky, and Dyer playing Breathless. The last two panels are the real Dick Tracy intruding, breaking up the scene with an actual real-world arrest. This seems needlessly jerky of Dick Tracy. Like, he couldn’t have waited one minute for the scene to be clear? But, Shaky responding to something off-script so plausibly suggests that maybe his real calling was an actor. He’s certainly not a competent crook.

Tracy goes to the movie set to arrest Shaky, who’s doing his cameo as Uncle Shaky. The arrest is for “harassment”, and I’m not sure who he’s harassing. But he’s got the belt buckle on him too. There’s a short fight, and a new arrest, and that’s it for Shaky.

Also maybe for Dyer. On Shaky’s arrest she drops her method-actor pose of demanding everyone call her Breathless. .

Oh, and that $2,000 buckle was actually a $20 buckle. Ugly Crystal was “worried” about Edison Lighthouse being with Shaky. And Shaky thought that baiting Shaky into stealing from Austin might “[help] save Fortuna Dyer”. Which … I guess succeeded, but it feels like some class of entrapment at least. Also it’s not clear that Tracy did much besides have the matter solved for him.


The current story began the 5th of July. It brings in Dethany Dendrobia from Bill Holbrook’s On The Fastrack. Fastrack itself is a company with a slightly vague portfolio, but a lot of what it does is data warehousing.

Dendrobia’s in Tracy Town because Fastrack is buying a new warehouse. Dendrobia’s investigating the string of construction accidents. Someone’s following her, and took a shot, tearing her overcoat. The warehouse is one that used to belong to Stooge Viller, whom GoComics commenter Neil Wick writes was the fifth-ever Dick Tracy villain, back in 1933. Viller survived a couple stories and died in 1940.

The antagonist is someone named Coney, a rotund fellow whom we meet buying a double-wide ice cream cone. And the motive: there’s a rumor that Viller hid millions somewhere in the building. But after a month of work Coney’s gang hasn’t found anything.

Tracy and Dendrobia investigate the warehouse. They find Coney and his gang. Coney insists he’s the building’s owner. So, all right. That stalls things for a couple days. Coney goes to Wilson Properties, complaining about these snoopers. Alex Wilson says the warehouse was sold by mistake and they haven’t been able to negotiate anything with Fastrack. It’s … a heck of a mistake. But, don’t worry. The real estate investment trust that fraudulently sold the building? Whose mistake results in the attempted murder and actual kidnapping and possible death of several people? They will never face a consequence.

Alex Wilson: 'What have you tried to persuade Miss Dendrobia to leave?' Coney: 'The usual cat and mouse. But she won't scare. After the last try she brought Dick Tracy into the situation.' Wilson: 'We may be on borrowed time, Coney. You've had no luck finding Viller's Millions?' Coney: 'No, but too many of his old mob remember his bragging about it being hidden in that warehouse. It MUST be there!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 30th of July, 2020. OK, yeah, but, like, Villiers was operating in the 30s. There was probably some candy bar named “Villiers’ Millions” and it was advertised as the combination bar that filled you up like a five-course dinner served to a member of the Sugar Trust. They sponsored Stoopnagle and Budd for three months in 1934.

Still, it gives underling Howdy a new chance to get rid of Dendrobia or else. Howdy by the way looks rather like Howdy Doody. This makes me think we’re supposed to recognize Coney from something, but I don’t know what. He looks generically like an ice cream mascot but that could just be good character design. He also doesn’t look anything like the iconic “Tillie” caricature of Coney Island showman George Tilyou, which knocks out the other obvious association.

Howdy gets some information from Bookworm, which might be a shout-out to the Adam West Batman. With that information he drives over to On The Fastrack and kidnaps Dendrobia’s fiancee, Guy Wyre. Howdy gives Dendrobia the ultimatum: get her boss (Rose Trellis) to let go of the warehouse and she gets Guy Wyre back.

And, the 9th of August, Sam Catchem meets up with Sleet. Catchem knew her back when she was a racketeer and paid $500 to kill him. So it’s nice they’ve gotten past that. What relevance it has to these proceedings is unknowable as of Sunday. (He was getting information about Wyre’s kidnappers.)

This catches you up to mid-August 2020. If you’re reading this after about November 2020, or want what Dick Tracy news I come across, I may have something at this link. Thank you.

Next Week!

I look through a couple months’ worth of Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley, unfortunately still in reruns for the dailies. I believe at least some of the Sunday strips are new, but haven’t checked. I’ll let you know what I find.

And one last note. Over on my mathematics blog I’m spending the rest of the year explaining one mathematics term at a time. I’m leaving a lot of mathematics terms un-explained. But you might like what you see. Thanks for reading.

Vintage Phantom: I can see Aunt Elsie’s point


I like to think I’m a good audience member. Like, I’ll try to accept the premise, best I can. My best is maybe not as good as the author hopes, but if I can see where the conclusion follows from the premise, I’ll agree the problem is me getting stuck, not them. Also, I’m aware that the conventions of storytelling, even in comic strips, have changed over the decades. That the author has a point of view and trusts that most readers will default to that point of view, at least while reading.

So, in ComicsKingdom’s current vintage daily Phantom story, written by Lee Falk and illustrated by Wilson McCoy, Diana Palmer’s aunt Elsie is visiting. And she’s learning about this strange masked man from a jungle cave whom her niece is delighted by. She tries to Mary Worth her niece into dating someone more acceptable, a rich athlete name of Jack.

Diana's aunt/caretaker Lily, explaining The Phantom: 'He wears a mask and a strange suit .. and lives in a cave in the jungle ... ' Aunt Elise: 'This is Diana's boy friend? You keep the big guest room --- my room --- for him? What it has no furniture --- except two straw mats? And why is the window open on a cold day like this?' Lily: 'Diana always leaves it open. That's the way he comes in. We never know when he'll come. He doesn't use beds. He sleeps on the mat. The other one's for his wolf.'
Lee Falk and Wilson McCoy’s The Phantom for the 26th of June, 1953, and reprinted the 6th of August, 2020. I know it’s 1953 in the strip here, and a long-distance phone call to say “I’m going to be in town Thursday” could take upwards of six days and the involvement of three battalions of the Signal Corps and maybe the ionosphere allowing for long-distance radio bouncing. But still: Why does The Phantom need a suburban house’s bedroom window to be left open? Are we supposed to believe The Nomad kept him at bay for ten years by latching the little plastic handle on the sash?

And, yeah, I know The Phantom’s a good guy, and Diana knows he’s a good guy, and all the readers know he’s a good guy. And that Jack’s being presented as … maybe not conceited, but at least a bore. But, still … yeah, when Diana’s aunt Lily lays out the facts of the matter like this? There are some flags.

60s Popeye: Spare Dat Tree and where it lost me


We’re back with Jack Kinney studios this week. The story is again by Ed Nofziger. That usually signals some genial weirdness. The animation director is Ken Hultgren. Don’t have a large enough sample to say what to expect there. I was on edge when I saw the spelling of “dat”, but I suppose they were trying to approximate how Popeye would say “that”. The title’s referencing a poem and song — “Woodman, Spare that Tree!” — published by George Pope Morris in 1837. I only know it from the occasional cartoon that references it, and a song adaptation that Phil Harris did.

With that all introduced, here’s Spare Dat Tree.

I believe I’ve adequately documented how I was a weird kid. I was in fact as many as three weird kids stacked on top of each other. I do remember something weird about this cartoon bothering me as a kid. It bothers me today.

The cartoon starts at Popeye’s Boring Suburb House. We’re saved from that by it being a Swee’Pea “tell me a story” frame. In this, a nature story, Popeye’s the forest ranger and protects two monarch trees, each five thousand years old. Brutus — a Brutus, the cartoon notes, as if it were an occupation — comes to chop down the trees. Eventually Popeye gets to eating some spinach … some wood spinach, that I guess is its wild counterpart(?) … and punches him to the state capitol, in Poland.

The trees are presented with faces, and voices, done by Jack Mercer and Mae Questel. It would be a cute riff on Popeye and Olive Oyl’s voices if I thought it was a choice. The cartoons only had three voice actors. And there is this strange dreamy circularity to their dialogue. Especially the Queen Tree’s asking the King if it hurts and the King answering variations of “only when I laugh”. Little exchanges, though, like the Queen Tree fussing about how cute Ranger Popeye is, share that light dreaminess. Also the Queen Tree telling the King to get back down here, once he’d been blown into the air, and his wearily agreeing to comply.

It’s a small thing but Ranger Popeye spends a lot of this cartoon squinting angrily. It’s a good look.

Scene showing Brutus having burrowed underground, and having dug open a tunnel wide enough to chop the subterranean trunk of the King Tree.
By the way I was surprised to see that Jack Mercer’s credited for the old male tree’s voice since I did not expect him to do that good a job sounding different. But then I remember he was tagged to do a lot of old-man voices for Paramount cartoons. Still, this tree put me in mind of Allen Swift’s portrayal of Simon Bar Sinister, which maybe better shows you how long it’s been since I watched Underdog.

What bothered me as a kid, and bothers me today, is after Brutus goes underground to cut the King Tree. (And that’s a good loophole-joke way around “no logging on these grounds”.) Brutus succeeds! He cuts the tree the whole way through. And I knew there was no coming back from that. I would accept the trees talking with Popeye and maybe Brutus. I accept unquestioningly Popeye’s spinach-induced super-strength. Also the tree trunk going a good eight feet underground instead of being roots. But that all the tree needs is to be set back in its hole?

Every story depends to some extent on suspending disbelief. Many of these are small things, like stories reaching a clear resolution. Or they’re things that we accept if we’re taking in the story at all, like how spinach makes Popeye even more super-strong for a while. Why was “the giant talking tree just needs to be set back in the ground again” too much ask of me? I don’t know.

I’m sure if Popeye had fed the tree spinach then I’d have accepted it. That would have made good sense.

Statistics Saturday: Apollo Astronauts who are also former producers of The $1.98 Beauty Show


As requested by Garrison!

  • Gordon Cooper [ Apollo 10 backup; producer, 1979-80 season ]
  • Bill Anders [ Apollo 8 prime crew; associate producer, 2012 mini-webisodes revival (three episodes out of the four produced) ]
  • Chuck Barris [ snuck aboard Apollo 15 as part of the stamp cover scandal; executive producer, full 1978-80 run of original show ]

Reference: Absolute Zero and the Conquest of Cold, Tom Shachtman.

In which I wish to return the unused portion of this dream for a full refund


I know not every dream will be some bonkers adventure with John Larroquette and the Muppets. Or that it will turn out I spelled “John Larroquette” right on the first try, considering I have spelled Cincinnati wrong so many times my spell checker will not even flag the wrong version anymore. Nor will they all involve high-ranking nudists barging through or even necessarily being chased by something so frightening that I cry out in a haunting, half-paralyzed voice that wakes my love. But.

Last night? I dreamed that I noticed I had more money than I expected in my savings account, and since I was all caught up on bills, I transferred a thousand dollars over to my IRA. Did this go wrong in some way? No, not at all. It took like three steps, and the computer responded “right”, and all was done. It wasn’t even a frustration or futility dream. It was just a dream about telling a computer to move one number to a different column and succeeding.

I hate to complain to the Commissioner of Dreams, especially since I need most of my workdays to fight with Nintendo about getting them to fix my Switch, but this? This is just … there is nothing dream-appropriate about that.

Some more things to say about The Story Of Brick


To get back to The Story of Brick, as told by the American Face Brick Association. I don’t want to over-sell the joy I feel in this book. I know these are hard times. Maybe things that bring me a little cheer are intensified. Still, I think there is a lot to enjoy here.

There’s a stretch of book trying to show what the different brick-laying styles are. In the text this is done by pictures. The eBook reader that for some reason gave me this, though, puts some of them as text. So it’s full of weird ASCII art. Like, here:

The Common or American bond, in order to secure transverse strength of wall, can be treated in a way to produce pleasing effects, as may Fig 7.

m
	ZZ3EZ~]C~Z3CZZI]CZrj.
	Fig. 3.
	Common
	ME
	oc
	:es3c
	U^r

The Flemish bond (Fig. 5) is secured by

mi
	nm
	immzznm
	izmmz.
	DCZS3
	IIEE3E
	nnc

Header Diamonds

|/>)(\(//-/>
<<|//-<-\|<|(\-///\\)|)--</>
())((//<-<
(-/(<\|/-(|(
/(>>/()|-->
(\))|(()(/|-->|/)-->)>>-)||</\/\|(|/<((<|/-(\\|)-)/\>-(>|/)\
	

Herring!

               .-_|\
              /     \
      Perth ->*.--._/
                   v  <- Tasmania

And despite that fine presentation of good new LinkedIn passwords for me, it just runs a picture for “Chimney Top”. I know what a chimney top looks like. I have one on my house. At least I did last time I checked. It’s been a while.

OK, I’m back. Yes, my chimney top is still there, along with all the chimney middle. You may mock me for checking that nothing had come along and swiped my chimney top without my knowing, but I remember that this is the year 2020. You know what would be stranger than something stealing the tops of chimneys of otherwise untouched buildings? Every single day since the 14th of January.

I don’t fault the book having a pro-brick agenda. I’m sure there’s a comparable book from the American Wood Shingles and Shakes Association that keeps pointing out how lousy bricks are. This if the shingles and shakes people get along. But the enthusiasm this book brings to bricks sometimes paints weird scenes. For example, remember the Great Baltimore Fire that destroyed over 1,300 buildings in February 1904? Me neither but I’ve only over driven through 1904 on the way to 1908 or 1894. Yes, I’m a Coxey’s Army hipster. But the American Face Brick Association notes “there was something saved, however, for a special committee … reported that between 200,000000 and 300,000,000 usable brick worth $5.00 a thousand were recovered”.

So now this paints a scene of a time when “brick” was the plural of brick? Maybe it was a character-recognition error. No, but they do this all over the book. All right. Let me move on.

So this also paints a scene of Baltimore, smashed by a catastrophic fire. Through the smoldering ruins, though, a civic leader stands up. I’ll assume his name was “Archibald”, since that’s an era when civic leaders had names like Archibald or Edwin or Vernon or all that at once. “It is not all lost, my fellow Baltimoreans,” cried Archibald, holding up two pretty good brick in his right and one fractured brick in his left. “There is merchantable salvage comprising a million and a half of dollars of brick here!” I bet his news was greeted with deep, impressed looks from the survivors picking through ruin. I bet they shared their joy and brick with him. And then Archibald interjected, “Herring!”

So it’s a good thing to know there were a quarter-billion still-usable bricks in Baltimore in 1904. It shows what kind of a craftsman I am that actually using them seems like maybe more effort than they’re worth. Of course, what they’re worth was a million and a half dollars, according to Archibald Edwin Vernon. That is a lot of effort to not go to. It’s just I think of my own uses for used bricks.

There’s one set behind the microwave so we don’t push it up against the wall when we press the door-release lever. There’s a brick I use to get a crowbar in the right place, when I do my annual prying-open-of-a-window-some-cursed-former-resident-painted-shut. There’s one we keep in the basement, next to the stairs, so that we can stub our toes if that hasn’t happened already. I think if we stretched our imaginations we could use as many as two more brick.

So that covers a market for five used brick. This leaves 1904 Baltimore with needing to find applications for only a quarter-billion more brick. They could solve this by building more houses, sure, but that’s still 40 to 60 million houses to use up all that brick. It makes one wonder what they were doing with all those brick in the first place.

Herring!

Statistics July: how July 2020 treated Another Blog, Meanwhile


I say that, but I always mean how the readers treated Another Blog, Meanwhile. And by “treated” I mean “looked at one or more pages”. That’s what I’m really here for. Page views and the chance to think of a good joke about Prince Valiant, since nobody else is.

According to WordPress’s counter, in July there were 4,175 pages read here. It’s nice to see that above four thousand. It’s also above the twelve-month running average of 3,911.4 page views. These views came from 2,447 unique visitors, which is higher than the 2,260.6 running average.

Bar chart of about 30 months' worth of readership figures. The July figures are rising after a slight drop in June. There was a peak in April.
The tease to ‘accept payments for just about anything’ is a nice sentiment but it’s not as though I was turning away payments before. The trick is getting anyone to give me money for doing the stuff I have fun doing.

There were 95 things liked in July, which is a bit below the average of 100.3, but at least if my figures are representative, people don’t go liking stuff on WordPress anymore. I get about two-thirds as many likes as I did a year ago, and this with more page views and unique visitors. There were 35 comments given, gratifyingly above the average of 21.8, though.

So regarding the most popular posts: I’m getting a little tired linking to that months-of-the-year-in-reverse-alphabetical-order one. So I thought I’d just list the top five posts from July here. That’s a fine idea except there was a three-way tie for the fifth-most-popular piece, so, fine, have seven links. I’m glad that this includes at least one of my long-form pieces and also a Statistics Saturday piece. It gives a little more balance to things.

I should probably do something to account for, like, a post the last day of the month that gets most of its views the next month. But that’s getting to be a little too much work for me.


Where do my readers come from? For July, they were from 82 countries, a bit above the 77 that I’d seen in June and in May. 28 of them were single-view countries, which is up from the 20 of June and of May. Here’s the roster:

World map showing the United States in deepest red, most of the Americas, South and Pacific Asia, and Europe in a more uniform pink, and few countries in Africa or central Asia with any readers.
I missed my goal of getting all the nations formerly part of the Federal Republic of Central America: no readers from Costa Rica or El Salvador last month. Maybe next time!
Country Readers
United States 3,044
India 301
Canada 155
United Kingdom 131
Australia 78
Brazil 40
Finland 38
Germany 33
Sweden 29
Spain 25
France 24
Italy 22
Norway 18
Philippines 15
Austria 14
South Africa 14
South Korea 10
Portugal 9
Taiwan 9
Argentina 7
Indonesia 7
Ireland 7
Mexico 7
New Zealand 7
Poland 7
Netherlands 6
Singapore 6
Belgium 5
Colombia 5
European Union 5
Guatemala 5
Kenya 5
Peru 5
Denmark 4
Malaysia 4
Zambia 4
Bangladesh 3
Hong Kong SAR China 3
Japan 3
Nigeria 3
Russia 3
United Arab Emirates 3
Albania 2
Belarus 2
Czech Republic 2
Dominican Republic 2
Jamaica 2
Oman 2
Paraguay 2
Saudi Arabia 2
Switzerland 2
Thailand 2
Turkey 2
Venezuela 2
American Samoa 1
Barbados 1
Bermuda 1
Botswana 1
Brunei 1 (*)
Chile 1
China 1
Croatia 1
Cyprus 1 (*)
Ecuador 1
Egypt 1
Estonia 1
Honduras 1
Hungary 1
Israel 1
Jordan 1
Kuwait 1
Lebanon 1 (*****)
Mali 1
Mauritius 1
Nicaragua 1
Pakistan 1
Puerto Rico 1
Romania 1
Slovakia 1 (*)
Ukraine 1
Uruguay 1
Vietnam 1

Brunei, Cyprus, and Slovakia got a single view two months in a row now. Lebanon has had a single page view for each of six months in a row now. I’m not sure whether my longest streak is seven months or what, but that’s one of the longest single-reader streaks out there.


I’m continuing my plan for stuff to write this coming month. A long-form essay posted Thursday evening, Eastern Time. A Statistics Saturday piece posted Saturday evening, Eastern Time. More Popeye cartoons on Sunday evenings. And on Tuesday evenings What’s Going On In the story comics. My plan, barring special circumstances, is to cover the story comics in this order:


As of the start of August I’ve posted 2,738 things. These have drawn 179,564 page views from 101,044 unique visitors. Sorry to have missed you, visitor #100,001. You should have said something. In July I published 15,701 words, for an average of 506.5 words per posting in the month. And that brings my words per posting average for the year down to 541.

I’m happy to have more readers, if you know anyone who’d like to be one. You can subscribe through WordPress by using the “Follow Another Blog, Meanwhile” button. Or you can put the RSS feed for posts into any reader you have. This includes free accounts at Dreamwidth or Livejournal, if you don’t have anything else. You can add an RSS feed to your Dreamwidth page from https://www.dreamwidth.org/feeds/ and to your Livejournal friends page from https://www.livejournal.com/syn. I also announce new posts on my @nebusj Twitter account, that I can only sometimes post to manually. So if you need to contact me use literally any other method, including asking people you know if they happen to know me. It’s that bad, but somehow, too low-priority for me to sort out or just use a different web browser on. Sorry.

What’s Going On In Prince Valiant? Wait, Aleta is Queen of the Witches? May – August 2020


Yeah, she said on Sunday that she’s Queen of the Witches. That she’s a witch hasn’t come up much lately. But when Valiant first saw her he was enchanted, and they teased a while about whether that was literal or figurative. And she’s done magic stuff lately. I don’t know if this Queen of the Witches thing is established or whether that’s a bluff, though. So that catches you up on Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant as of early August 2020. If you’re reading this after about November 2020 there’s likely a more up-to-date plot recap at this link.

Also on my other blog I’m explaining words from the mathematics glossary. No promise of comics there, but you might find something interesting. Thanks, and now back to the time of King Arthur.

Prince Valiant.

10 May – 2 August 2020.

Prince Valiant and team were just outside Camelot, dealing with local issues. Imbert, local landlord, died. His son Gareth died shortly after. The suspect: Afton and Audrey, with whom Imbert was quarreling about some land. Sir Gawain had arrived in the story to sort that out, but he hasn’t been much use to anyone. The locals figure Afton and Audrey are witches, what with how they have good crops and aren’t dead of the plague. Valiant’s son Nathan believes the women are good students of nature and learned how to farm.

Audrey lead Valiants and Nathan to the cave, key to the land dispute. Some say it contains eternal youth. What it mostly has is bats, loads of guano that are indeed good fertilizer. Valiant also notices it has a curious yellow ore, and he keeps a sample.

Audrey had brought Nathan and Val to the bats' cave, with the task of gathering fertilizer for her and Afton's gardens. As she and Nathan put their backs into shoveling the bat droppings, Val peels off to look farther along. He finds strata of tin ore running along the walls --- not uncommon in this part of Arthur's kingdom. And there is another stratum. This of a dull yellowish color, which angles down into the spring waters. The prince digs out a chunk of the yellowish ore and inspects it closely --- suddenly he believes he has found the answer to the mystery surrounding this place. He returns to assist the shoveling and the loading of the guano. When the wagon is full, the three begin their return ... while in the dark thickets outside Afton's cottage, menacing figures skulk forward. Next: The nightjar.
March Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 24th of May, 2020. This made me wonder whether guano is something you really have to gather at night. But then I guess at night most of the bats will be out, so you don’t have to worry about disturbing them? So I guess that’s an advantage? So anyway, if you somehow didn’t know what kind of person I am, now you know, it’s “person who wonders about the best guano-gathering practices because of reading a comic strip”.

Meanwhile the villagers have had enough of this, and attack Afton and Audrey’s cottage. Gawain tries to defend it, but he’s just one person, and not main cast(?) I guess(?). Afton escapes being feathered. But the mob burns her cottage. Valiant sees this and races to the scene. He bellows that the women are innocent and he can explain the deaths. As soon as they get back to Imbert’s estate, anyway.

The proof is in Imbert’s kitchen. The cook recognizes Valiant’s ore. It’s arsenic. This gives Schultz and Yeates the problem of having characters who think this is a good thing not advise newspaper readers to take poison. Valiant settles on saying how “it is rumored to aid good bodily health”. So Imbert was stealing ore from the cave, and taking it for his health. But Valiant knows arsenic is a poison, used “by assassins in the court of a distant land”. So Imbert arsenic-poisoned himself. Gareth, trying to have the same meals as Imbert, had the same poison.

With Val having solved the mystery of Imbert's death, Gawain announces his verdict to the gathered villagers: 'Matter the first: the royal archives prove Afton's claim on the land in question. Lord Imbert had no right to take possession of anything on Afton's land. Matter the second: Afton and Audrey are blameless in the deaths of Imbert and Gareth. Imbert's theft from Afton's land was responsible for his and Gareth's inadvertent deaths by poison. As the representative of the court of Camelot, I forbid any further persecution of these two women!' Then, unexpectedly, Aleta's voice rises above the crowd's murmuring 'You have accused Afton and Audrey of using witchcraft for evil purpose but I assure you, they are no more witches than are any of you! I know this because I am a witch! A witch queen from the far south! And these are my familiars, who will watch and assure that no harm comes to those I protect!' The crowd gasps as two huge creatures suddenly appear at her call! Next: the greater fear
March Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 26th of July, 2020. Aleta’s not a stupid woman. So we must ask, then. What are the experiences she has had which make her believe this is an effective way to protect women reputed to be witches?

Gawain reports that the royal records confirm Afton’s claims on the disputed land. Also, that Imbert and Gareth’s death was their own fault, and there’ll be no further persecution of Afton and Audrey. Aleta steps in to support Afton and Audrey against the claims of witchcraft. She declares their innocence and she would know, as she’s Queen of the Witches. She summons her raven familiars to put Afton and Audrey under her protection. Aleta thinks she’s helping. Our heroes leave. They trust Afton and Audrey will have a good time next week, when I look at Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy.

Next Week!

You know, I did get the Prince Valiant plot summary finished way ahead of deadline. I should be getting to work on the Dick Tracy plot recap like, four days ago. Well, shall try to have that for next week. Thanks for reading.

There’s nothing particular going on with the comic strip _Buckles_


Like I say, there’s nothing particular going on with David Gilbert’s comic strip Buckles. Not that I’ve heard about, anyway. This isn’t at all important but there’s been so much comic strip news around here lately I felt like it’s a shame not to keep it going.

Dog sitting up, panting, then starting to growl and finally 'ARRRGH!' as his fur gets all ruffled up and he lurches around, monster-like. Jill: 'There's a full moon tonight, Paul.' Paul, pointing towards the dog, 'Yeah ... I saw the werewolf in the hall.'
David Gilbert’s Buckles for the 3rd of August, 2020. So, you know, have fun.

60s Popeye: Frozen Feuds to warm the Goonish heart


This week’s is another Jack Kinney-produced cartoon. The story’s by Eddie Rehberg, who also did the direction. And layout. It suggests possibly a story that reflects an individual vision. Or a disaster as a writer is pressed to direct, or vice-versa. (Or, perhaps, a disaster but because a writer wanted the experience of directing.) Let’s see how Frozen Feuds works out.

Elzie Segar liked creating weird animals for Thimble Theatre. Two and a half of them stuck in the pop culture. The half is the Whiffle Hen, who’s mostly remembered by people who want to show off they remember what Popeye’s first line in the comic strip was. Eugene the Jeep is the big success. And the last is Alice the Goon. She got introduced as a terrifying minion to the Sea Hag, then defanged a good bit when it was revealed she was a guh guh guh girl. Goons got one appearance in the Fleischer-era cartoons, and somehow didn’t rate more mentions. Alice got her first animated treatment in the 60s cartoons and I’m curious now whether this was the first-produced cartoon with her.

It’s a fair introduction to her. Goons may be fearsome-looking creatures, and in Goonland they’re quite the menace. But Alice is gentle, even genial. It’s the kind of clash between appearance and personality that can really drive a story. Also about 80% of Harvey Comics protagonists. That said: does she need so much introduction? I don’t remember that she needed much setup in other appearances. She just was, and we accepted that she looked strange. On the other hand, if you have a good character why not give them a rollout?

(Yes, I remember Goon With The Wind, although that was produced by Gene Deitch. And it’s a different design for Goons. If any of them are Alice it doesn’t show.)

The story feels like it drifted between the original idea and completion. Starting out with a Vaguely Claghorn-like senator promising to rid Alaska of the critter ruining their tourist trade. If you accept the hypothesis that a strange humanoid cryptid would hurt the tourism industry. It’s an interesting premise, though: 1960 was just before the Bigfoot legend really caught on. But it was several years after the Abominable Snowman legend got big enough for, like, Sir Edmund Hillary to explore whether there might be a Yeti in the Himalayas.

Popeye, making finger-gun poses, walks past Alice the Goon. Alice is sprawled out on the ground, one arm on her hips, holding a rose in her mouth, and looking hopefully at Popeye.
Look, fine, if you want my DeviantArt account you can have my DeviantArt account, just stop creeping on my DeviantArt account.

Olive Oyl gets a good long earwormy song telling the legend too. It seems seems to make the Senator’s speech (to who?) unnecessary. But then we finally swing into action and get an Alice sighting. Popeye saying that’s just Wimpy, who ducked out after writing a stack of IOUs. Olive Oyl asking how come she’s turned white, then? So Popeye’s off to find Alice.

Which is then where we turn from a cartoon about a menace to a goof. Olive Oyl wants the Goon’s hat. Alice is smitten with Popeye and tries to get his attention. He misses her wholly, until she finally tosses a note tied around a rock at him. Oh, and now Popeye can understand Alice and arranges a trade, his picture for her hat. Olive Oyl’s thrilled with the hat. Popeye’s picture is actually pictures of him on TV. Alice sings us out of the cartoon. The Senator’s promise goes unresolved.

It’s an odd shift and I wonder what motivated it. A serious search for an exotic creature is fine. A goofball search for an exotic creatures is fine. Why patch them together? Did Rehberg start out writing one way and find there wasn’t enough story, then try the other? Really, if the Senator’s introduction were cut out the cartoon would flow with a reasonable if dreamy logic, and there’d be some more time for Alice flirting with Popeye. Was Rehberg just too fond of the Claghorne pastiche to cut that?

Once again I’d love to know more of how these cartoons were made.

Some nice animation bits I didn’t have a good place to mention: when Olive Oyl sings her song, she gets her foot caught in a spitoon and tromps around in that. She slides when she steps with that foot. It’s a touch you never see done in cheap made-for-tv cartoons like this. And later, when Olive Oyl tells of her horror at seeing the Goon, we see her head from front-on. Her head’s swinging clockwise and counterclockwise, while her mouth stays fixed. It’s eerie and unnatural and I believe that’s a deliberate creepy wrongness to it.

Statistics Saturday: Some British Spellings


  • colour
  • glamour
  • sacked
  • popcourn
  • web brouseur
  • fourty
  • gaolatin
  • newspapre
  • forego
  • Naency
  • flavour
  • manikin
  • Aengland

Reference: We Freeze to Please: A History of NASA’s Icing Research Tunnel and the Quest for Safety, William M Leary.

Why does Pluggers look different? Did Gary Brookins stop drawing Pluggers?


And one last bit of comic strip news for the week. The question in my subject line has a slightly complicated answer. Per the Daily Cartoonist, Gary Brookins is retiring from Pluggers, this after 40-plus years in the comics business. Rick McKee, an editorial cartoonist from Augusta, Georgia, is to be the new artist. But they’re doing a phased transition, with Brookins and McKee taking turns with the strip. Brookins’s final Pluggers is scheduled to run Sunday, the 23rd of August. Of course, Pluggers still have Pluggers panels drawn by Jeff MacNelly on their fridges.

Everything there is to say about seeing comets


This is a good time to share tips with people about how to spot comets. You might protest there’s no visible comets in the sky. We had NEOWISE hanging out there for a couple weeks. That there’s no comet to see is no reason you can’t try anyway. Most of the time there’s no comet anyway. Every couple years the world’s astronomers all feel lonely. So they go telling people, “Oh, hey, comet D/2495 Q1 Rococo-Compsognathus is passing by the sun for the first time since Pangaea was a thing! The vapor trail will wrap over a thousand degrees of sky, looping almost three times from horizon to horizon! At its peak it could be up to 36 times as bright as setting your face on fire!” That “up to” covers a lot of possibilities.

Then they find a field or the top of a building, scatter some telescopes around, and wait for the crowds to come rolling in. I’m not saying it’s a sinister conspiracy. At heart, it’s a conspiracy to get strangers to ask them about their Cassegrain reflector. They’ve spent a lot of time learning the word “catadioptric” and you understand their wanting to do something with it. The word means “cat of the day of the ptrics”. The day of ptrics is April Fool’s or Halloween, depending on context.

Astronomers can’t help explaining things like this. They grew up as nerds. And as nerds, we hated being in school. We liked the learning part. It’s just we hated having to be around other people teaching stuff. This is why now that we’re out of it, we spend all our time teaching other people stuff. This is also why nerds are always angry with each other over declarations of things like “this was a good episode of a TV show”.

In principle there’s just a few things you need to study the night sky, among them:

1. Night.
2. Sky.
3. You (very important).

The ‘sky’ and the ‘you’ are pretty easy for you to come up with. The night could be hard. You can tell it’s night by how vividly you remember every relationship you ever screwed up by saying one wrong thing.

To get to see anything in the sky you’ll want a good dark area. This can be found by going into the basement without turning on the lights, but there are house centipedes down there. Out to the field it is, then! This is a good way to discover how badly your town is light-polluted. There’s an excellent chance that ten miles outside of town you can still read this week’s updated privacy policy from your Discover card.

What you want is a good quality dark, but that’s hard to come by. The great dark mines of the upper midwest were exhausted by the 1920s and we’ve had to make do with reclaimed and processed dark since then. Really it’s easier to go gather around the astronomers and let them ask you if you can name the nearest star to Earth. This takes you to the astronomers, yes, but they know where it’s dark enough you can’t see the bats.

Out in the field you get to see families who aren’t particularly amateur astronomers, trying hard to get anyone else to look at the same thing. “Do you see that star?” “The red one?” “Stars aren’t red!” “Then why is it red?” “You must be looking at an airplane.” “One of those famous stationary airplanes you see all the time.” Tempers grow short. You get packs of people, one pointing up at a tree. “Look! Is that Cassiopeia?” “YOU’RE Cassiopeia!” responds someone who’s fed up with how much fun everyone else had learning there’s a constellation called Puppis, the Poop Deck. Someone in the group has a solid memory that you just “arc to Arcturus”, but not where you arc from or why you want Arcturus in the first place. You want Arcturus because it’s the most prominent star in the constellation of Arctoo. The astronomers could explain that, if you don’t accidentally get them explaining what a Dobsonian telescope is. It is a telescope made by Dob and Sons, of Telescope Alley in London.

Anyway the most amazing thing you can learn is that there are obsolete constellations, just like if stars were recorded on VHS tapes or something. Also that one was called Turdus Solitarius as if astronomers weren’t all twelve-year-old boys.

The comic strip Nest Heads is ending, like, 10 minutes from now it looks like?


I guess it’s just a week of comic strip news around here. Daily Cartoonist reports that John Allen’s Three-Generations-And-A-Dog comic strip Nest Heads is ending syndication the 31st of July. It’s short notice, yeah. Creators Syndicate, which has been distributing it, just sent the word out on Tuesday. The daily strip has been in reruns since the 22nd of June, and the Sunday strip went into reruns after the 12th of July, with a comic that incidentally mentioned The Phantom.

Title panel: Dad, dressed in The Phantom's uniform, in the jungle, sweating. First panel, Dad: 'I wonder why the Phantom never made it bigger as an action hero?' Mom: 'Believability. ... You don't wear purple spandex in the jungle without a big sweat stain problem.'
John Allen’s Nest Heads for the 12th of July, 2020. Last original Sunday strip, apparently. And sure, it’s a joke many of us make about the ol’ Ghost Who Walks. A couple months ago Nest Heads also did a bit about Pogo, which was nice to see remembered. Now that The Far Side is reprinting dailies, Pogo is the biggest comic strip in need of an online presence.

It is weird to have a strip end syndication this abruptly, and (apparently) mid-week too. It’s imaginable that the strip is changing syndicates and the announcement got all weird. If I get news, I’ll share news.

I didn’t have much cause to talk about Nest Heads here. On my other blog I did discuss times it raised some mathematical topic. I don’t know whether the links to the Nest Heads page on GoComics will still work once August starts.

2020 has been a rough year for comic strips. Also ended so far have been Ask Shagg, Moose and Molly, The Pajama Diaries, Retail, and Stone Soup. And I have doubts about Mark Trail getting back up to speed anytime soon. Granted many of these are obscure or not well-loved comics, but every comic strip is somebody’s favorite. I mean, not Zack Hill. But every other comic strip besides Zack Hill is somebody’s favorite.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Weekdays)? Why is The Phantom destined for an unmarked grave? May – July 2020


Well, The Phantom apparently went and changed destiny on himself, so who can say what’s going to happen next? Happy to catch you up on the goings on in Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom, weekday continuity. If you’re reading this after about October 2020, or if you’re interested in the separate Sunday storyline, there is probably a more up-to-date plot recap at this link.

Also, on my other blog, I’m going through the alphabet to explain mathematical terms. I hope you enjoy that all.

The Phantom (Weekdays).

4 May – 25 July 2020.

The Phantom had caught himself some wildlife poachers, last I looked. But the poachers had wounded a lion, who’s gone into what the Llongo people call the Forbidden Forest. The Ghost Who Walks figures he has to kill the wounded lion, lest it go attacking people, and he doesn’t see any reason to ask why the forest is forbidden.

The Phantom doesn’t have much luck tracking the lion. The lion has better luck tracking The Phantom, catching him right before sunset. He shoots the lion, which seems to end the problem. And he eats the heart of the lion, respecting a Llongo tradition as promised. The Phantom lies down to unsettled dreams.

The Phantom, watching a lion: 'That's not the same lion! It's not wounded! Not leaving a blood trail! ... What am I saying? I cut out the lion's heart! Of course it's not the same lion!'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 20th of May, 2020. The Man Who Cannot Die is being pretty confident about the possibility of a Lion Who Cannot Die, have to say.

He wakes to find the lion carcass gone. Also, that the lion’s alive. And heading off on its own business. The Phantom tries to clear his thoughts. Then he sees The Python, the big-bad terrorist from before Eric Sahara. The Python vanishes into thin air, though. The Phantom tries to work out a rational explanation for this all. The woods are said to drive men mad. Maybe he had a concussion. The important thing is to get out and get somewhere safe. Like, Skull Cave, which pops in to the middle of the Forbidden Forest, far from where it ought to be.

And inside the cave is … The Phantom? The figure, who keeps calling our Ghost Who Walks “Son”, scolds him. I wasn’t sure whether this was meant to be literally the 20th Phantom. But he eventually describes Kit Walker Junior as his grandson, so that’s a good answer. Phantom Dad scolds about the events of “The Curse of Old Man Mozz”, a story from back in 2017. In it, Old Man Mozz foresaw the killing of The Phantom by a petty henchman getting in a lucky shot. That didn’t happen, because King Features and Tony DePaul worked out a new contract. And Diana Walker tipped off Babudan, who was there with a well-timed arrow.

Finding a replica of Skull Cave deep within the Llongo Forbidden Forest, in a deep wash of blue-greens. The Phantom says, 'Skull Cave isn't on Llongo land ... it's in Bandar territory! The Deep Woods of my ancestors!!'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 2nd of June, 2020. Did want to say a good word here for Mike Manley in doing a really deeply atmospheric eerie Skull Cave. Also for the colorists. The colorists for the daily comics take a lot of razzing for incompetent flood filling of strips. It’s important to point out when they’ve done a great job like this.

The Phantom protests, fairly, that he didn’t send anyone out to mess up his destiny. The 20th says they were forced to do what they did, when Kit Walker sent his son off to that Himalayan monastery. And did nothing to protect Heloise Walker. 21’st daughter was the one who captured Eric “The Nomad” Sahara, most recent terrorist nemesis of The Phantom. 20 warns that his son, having altered the course of The Phantom’s legend, “will not lie here among your ancestors”. He’ll instead be left in a faraway grave. He’s lost “the right to lie in the crypt of the Phantoms”. And threatens him with oblivion, right then and there, lost to all time.

As the 20th Phantom dissolves into an angry, flaming skeleton taunting his son with ruin, The 21st Phantom suspects something is wrong. It’s the woods, he tells himself, and chooses to leave. As he does, 20 warns that all his feeble mortal plans will be overturned. 21 starts to taunt back, hey, everybody’s plans are overturned, it’s the year — and then stops short before he can say “two thousand and … 20”.

20th Phantom: 'Hear me now ... having altered the course of the legend, YOU WILL NOT LIE HERE among your ancestors!' In front of the 21st Phantom's eyes, 20 turns into a flaming skeleton. 20: 'You have consigned yourself to a faraway grave, my son ... '
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 18th of June, 2020. So, first, my brother had that second panel on a T-shirt in high school. Second, OK, so if 21 had been shot in the back by that coward, back a couple years ago, how would his body have gotten back to Skull Cave? Would Kit Junior have been along for some reason? Or someone else from the Ghost’s support team?

The Phantom runs out of the woods, going past the illusions of Babudan and his faithful supporter Guran and Guran’s elephant. And keeps going until it turns out those are the real Babudan and Guran and Elephant. They’ve got one question for The Ghost Who Walks: what were you thinking tromping into the Forbidden Forest like that? Don’t you know that’s a good way to go mad? Why, Guran’s even seen his son Timo in those woods, and Timo hasn’t been on-screen in the comic strip since 1943. Anyway, the cause of these strange visions is rational enough. There’s fleas in the Llongo woods with a toxin that causes hallucinations. Guran’s got an antidote, though. Why not tell the Llongo about this? Well, Guran tipped off James Allen about these fleas and they’d be in a Mark Trail Sunday panel except, you know, all that drama.

The Phantom’s left to wonder the significance of his vision, though. It’s easy to shrug it off as hallucinations, yes. But The Phantom does happen in a superhero universe. More, a magical superhero universe, since Mandrake the Magician shares the continuity. (Mary Worth, too, by the way.) And, after all, Old Man Mozz did have a useful prophetic dream. So, like many of us, he’s left to sulk about the consequences of his actions.


That, the 18th of July, ends “The Llongo Forest”, 254th of the weekday continuity stories. The 20th started “The Reunion”, 255th of the weekday stories. It opens with Kit Walker getting a letter to Box 7, Mawitaan, his secret post office drop for people in trouble. It’s from Ashrama Raia, General Delivery, Nairobi. The Phantom keeps up his Jumble practice. Those are the letters of Imara Sahara, mother to Kadia Walker, nee Sahara and Heloise Walker’s schoolmate. The Phantom had broken Imara Sahara out of The Nomad’s compound before militias and American terror-bombing could destroy it. But she fled rather than stick around with The Phantom. The Phantom had advised her that someone would answer a letter set to Box 7, Mawitaan, though. Did kind of expect that thread to resume someday.

Next Week!

Will I write up the development of
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant before deadline on Tuesday?
We’ll see!

It looks like we’ve run out of James Allen _Mark Trail_ dailies


So today’s Mark Trail is a reprint from Jack Elrod’s long tenure on the comic strip. I don’t know when its original publication was. The initial strip doesn’t bring back any memories for me, and I haven’t seen any comments from anyone who can pin it down.

[ A car rounds a hill overlooking Lost Forest. ] Driver: 'There's a ranch ... we'll put her out close to the entrance! I'm sure someone will find her and give her a good home ... stop crying, we just don't have time for a pet!' Passenger: 'I feel so guilty ... it doesn't seem right.'
Jack Elrod’s Mark Trail rerun for the 27th of July, 2020. While I did, sincerely, appreciate James Allen’s work in making the stories less relentlessly linear, and in sprucing up the depth of character motivation? I did miss the frequency of giant foreground animals. Also the word balloon tails that seem to mix up which silhouetted background character is saying what. I mean, the driver’s dialogue isn’t exactly inconsistent, if they’re first saying where they’ll put ‘her’ out and then admitting to feeling guilty. But it does read a little weird.

Saturday’s strip, apparently the last of James Allen’s weekday-continuity work, wasn’t apparently rewritten to cover the change of staff. The mention of ‘personal stories’ could have been used to cover reruns as ‘flashbacks’. This would mirror the way the final Amazing Spider-Man posits that everything since is Peter Parker dreaming while on the long flight to Australia.

Movie Actor's Companion: 'I love these personal stories about your family, Rusty!' Rusty: 'Growing up in a wooded area has been a lot of fun!' Actor: 'Are we heading back to the hotel soon?'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 25th of July, 2020. So Jeremy Cartwright, the actor, is there to meet Mark Trail and understand him a bit better for A Movie. He’s been labelled as a bad boy, and Mark Trail thinks he hasn’t been “a very gracious guest”, as he complained about lunch and as you can see wants drinks. Cherry’s been more able to roll with things. I don’t know whether Cartwright’s wife(?) girlfriend(?) agent(?) companion has been given a name. (She’s called Cartwright ‘honey’, but that could just be an affectation.) Also, “not far from Lost Forest”, there were poachers, so we have some hint where things might have gone.

We got the news of James Allen leaving the strip at the end of June, so now we know what kind of lead time he was maintaining. I would guess without knowing that there are probably another month’s worth of Sunday strips in the works.

James Allen has said he does not know when someone else will be hired to write or draw the strip. Nor whether the story — about an actor who’ll be playing Mark Trail in a movie based on his adventures watching Lisa Moore die of plot complications — will be continued.

If I do get any information about Mark Trail I intend to put it on a post at this link.

60s Popeye: Crystal Ball Brawl and a World Series winner


We’re back to another Larry Harmon cartoon this week. The director is again Paul Fennell, and the story by Charles Shows. Here’s 1960’s Crystal Ball Brawl.

You know the difference between the comic strip Popeye and the cartoon adaptation? Yes, yes, that BrutusBluto wasn’t an important figure in the comic strip. Not until the cartoons made him prominent. But the big thing in the comic strip is how much of its stories are driven by avarice. Not Popeye; he’s above greed. But he’s about the only one. Maybe Eugene the Jeep also avoids the struggle for wealth and status. But otherwise, everybody down to Swee’Pea will sell out Popeye for a bit of gold. For the most part, the cartoons avoid that. There’s some cartoons with a Macguffin of a gold mine or whatnot, but that won’t set Olive Oyl against Popeye.

So this cartoon teases a full embrace of the avaricious plot. Popeye’s magical uncle Abra-Ka-Dabra has died. The estate includes a crystal ball which Wimpy quickly discovers is giving stock tips. Also the forecast that The Bums will beat Boston in the World Series next week. Wimpy immediately acts on that and has a late-50s midsized convertible almost before Popeye and Olive Oyl have learned the premise. This is really on-brand for Wimpy. The current Thimble Theatre reruns on Comics Kingdom have been about Wimpy figuring out what he can do with the Sea Hag’s magic flute.

Brutus learns what’s up, finally, 3:11 into a five-and-a-half-minute cartoon. And here we threaten to get a good multi-party conflict going. Wimpy, Olive Oyl, and Brutus each trying to get the crystal ball, and Popeye trying to be the sane moral center? That would work.

We don’t get it, and that’s a disappointment. Brutus and Popeye fight for the crystal ball and that’s fine. Wimpy makes a couple attempts to get the crystal ball, but there’s no hint he’s keeping it to himself. He’s just securing it for its rightful owner. You know. Wimpy, the respectable, upstanding person who isn’t working a selfish angle. Olive Oyl forgets to even be in the cartoon. It’s all adequately played out. It spends way too long (about twenty seconds) on Brutus pranking Wimpy and Popeye into running into each other. But I would accept an argument that the joke is so basic that it only works if the buildup is very short or excessively long.

Wimpy, having delivered the telegram, holds his arms together and tries to look pleading and sad. Meanwhile Popeye's passed out, fallen over, nad has stars circling over his head.
Popeye’s less startled by inheriting his uncle’s estate than he is by Wimpy holding down a job.

The cartoon ends with, theoretically, the world changed: the crystal ball is there and working fine and Popeye has it. Of course it’ll never be seen or heard from again, but it’s interesting they don’t have the crystal ball get smashed or lost or lose its powers. Wimpy ends the cartoon still wealthy, too. Brutus ends the cartoon sitting on a cloud, asking “What did I did wrong?” in a weird French or French-Canadian accent. Why? No idea. I did entertain the possibility that for some unspeakable reason they grabbed an audio clip from a cartoon where Bluto has a French/French-Canadian accent. A quick review of Alpine For You and of Klondike Casanova didn’t seem to have it. I was looking for other cartoons where Bluto was, like, a logger when I realized this was not a good use of my time. It would still be baffling to pull a line from a decade-old cartoon when Beck is recording for the rest of this cartoon anyway. Maybe Jackson Beck was just having fun with a dull line.

And another tiny bit: Dead Uncle Abra-Ka-Dabra’s estate is being handled by Loophope McGraw, Attorney at Law. Popeye and Olive Oyl get the news that next month Loophole McGraw will be elected governor. Did the writer just not noticing he already used the funny name? Or should we suppose McGraw has used the crystal ball long enough to guide his own run for office? But is honest enough not to steal it? Not sure.

Statistics Saturday: Visible Comets Of My Lifetime


  1. Hale-Bopp
  2. Hyakutake
  3. That comet in the opening credits of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine where if you freeze at just the right second the comet particles make up Spock’s face
  4. Fine, NEOWISE, then
  5. Kohoutek
  6. Halley

Not listed: West, because everyone was so embarrassed by Kohoutek we just pretended we didn’t see it even when we did.

Reference: A History of Modern France, Volume 1: 1715 – 1799, Alfred Cobban.

Meanwhile interrupting my thoughts every forty seconds


I was reading a history of NASA’s spaceflight tracking and data network because … uh … … well, I don’t know how to explain this. It has to be that we are just meeting for the first time, ever, right now. I’m pretty sure that when Sunny Tsiao proposed writing this book, the pitch was, “At some point Joseph Nebus will read all five hundred and twenty-five pages”, and the NASA History Series editor said, “Sold!”

Anyway it got to mentioning how in early 1959 the Tracking And Ground Instrumentation Unit at Langley wanted someone to study radar coverage and trajectory computation requirements. So, again you see why this is a book fo rme. But then you know who they hired for it? Ford Aeronutronics. Have you never heard of an “Aeronutronic”? Me neither and I’m barely able to think of anything else. I had thought, like, a “nutronic” was the thing a spinning top does when it starts wobbling but hasn’t quite fallen over. I don’t understand what that has to do with spaceflight tracking and data. So, Sunny Tsiao, if you’re out there, could you give me a hint? Thanks very kindly.


PS: The e-Books page also has William M Leary’s We Freeze to Please: A History of NASA’s Icing Research Tunnel and the Quest for Safety. But that is only 192 pages so maybe that’s not enough of itself for me.

To light up my life


I’d like to get back to the American Face Brick Association’s writing, but it was more important to discuss the kitchen light. I think you find it a welcome break from the world to hear about we haven’t been able to see what’s spilled on the counter. It seems to have been … molasses? Which … we … don’t have? We have no idea how this came about.

So the trouble was that the warp core inside our light fixture broke, scattering space and time and also not illuminating anything anymore. We couldn’t fix the problem, because of this frosted glass dome cover held on by three metallic clips. With our own mechanical ingenuity exhausted we called an electrician. And, I admit now that we’ve seen how to remove the glass dome we feel foolish having needed an expert for it. But without seeing how to do it how would we have known? The answer is to use a good, dependable fold-out ladder to get close to the ceiling, then smash the glass dome with a sledge hammer, and throw the pieces over the fence into the yard of the neighbor we’re fighting with. Let me tell you, I’m not looking forward to the time we aren’t fighting with any of our neighbors! And also have a burned-out kitchen light.

And it turns out the burned-out warp core was actually a halogen light bulb. The electrician offered to replace the light fixture, if we had a new light fixture, because those are getting hard to come by. A couple hours later while I was at Meijer’s for a separate light-bulb-related fiasco I discovered they have two-packs of halogen light bulbs for eight bucks. So maybe we should tell the electricians that or something.

So we put in the new bulb and the new glass dome. And that’s worked great. The space-time rift that was swallowing up coins reversed itself. We found, like, $4.74 in loose change that we’d dropped and heard hit the floor but never saw again. This included a Denver-mint American Samoa quarter, so, I hear you but don’t be jelly. We’ve also found so many dropped pills. Redemption tickets to the Fascination parlor off Morey’s Pier in Wildwood, New Jersey. Long-disappeared previous inhabitants of the house. “Has … has World War II ended? Did we win?” asked one. I asked, “Which World War II? World War II I, or World War II II?” He slugged me. Fair enough. In retrospect, that was a mean and baffling joke, the kind of thing more appropriate for a 90s web comic. I list it here to work out my shame.

Photograph of some strange long cylindrical tube that's wired into the ceiling. Its cover is glass or similar transparent material and it's got several lightly scored circles and parallel lines to make it look the more like a science fiction movie prop.
So it turns out this was less bad than I expected, but still, betting that it would be bad seemed like the way to go.

Also the new bulb is 300 Watts and let me tell you, that’s bright. The previous bulb turned out to be 150 Watts and it was maybe going before it broke altogether. This, though? It’s brilliant. It’s bright enough to shine around corners. It’s so bright we can see what’s in the refrigerator without even opening the door. Dozens of house centipedes (don’t do an image search) have come out, raising upwards of 26 arms each, begging for mercy and unfortunately reminding us we have house centipedes. It turns out that I have a weird, secondary liver, and not even in my abdomen. Last night we had three people come over to ask if this was the drive-in theater. We didn’t have the nerve to say “it is now!”

We do feel a little bad about using a 300 Watt bulb to light less than one city block, yes. If there’s an LED equivalent I’d switch over to that. The trouble is finding an LED equivalent. What would be as bright but not intensely wasteful and hot? We can’t match it by talking about Watts. But it turns out that every other method of measuring brightness doesn’t work. Like, there’s the candela, which is a larger candle tuned to one perfect-fifth below. But two things can be the exact same candela and each somehow look twice as bright as the other. Then there’s the “lux”, which is short for the “Pop-u-luxe” or, as it’s known outside the Midwest, the “Soda-u-luxe”. This measures how well the thing is fringed by a swoopy, ideally neon fixture with chrome plating. There is no need for this. There is the “lumen”, which measures how ominous a thing you can’t quite see yet is. The more lumens, the more you can’t quite see it coming. This does nothing to help you tell how bright it is.

For now we’re just going to see things in the kitchen but feel bad about it. This is as best as we could hope for, really. Thank you for your concern.

What’s Going On In Alley Oop (Sundays)? Is there a plot in Alley Oop (Sundays)? April – July 2020


So maybe yesterday you noticed I didn’t tag the recap for Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop as the weekday continuity. It’s not that I forgot that there was an ongoing story in the Sunday, Little Oop, strips. It’s more that I am not sure whether there is a story going on in the Sunday strips.

Since Lemon and Sayers took over, the Sunday Alley Oop strips have been a separate continuity. (Under Jack and Carole Bender they had been a recap-and-preview of a week’s worth of strips.), The Sunday strips are set when Alley Oop is a little kid. In February a story seemed to start: Penelope, a young science-type genius girl of the year 2020, popped into Little Alley Oop’s world. She brought him back to the present. Then then the time machine broke.

Penelope: 'Mom, this is Alley. He's going to stay with us a little while, OK?' Mom: 'No way! I'm not letting some stranger live in our house.' Penelope, holding up the Convince-O-Ray: 'Oops. Forgot to turn this on.' With a purple light shining on Mom: 'Mom, this is Alley. He's going to stay with us a little while, OK?' Mom: 'Of course! The more the merrier. I'll fix up the guest room for you, Alley. ... Wait a minute. Are you using your Convince-O-Ray on me again?' Penelope: 'Um ... no, Mom. This is my new anti-aging machine.' Mom: 'Oh, well, in that case ... ' Little Oop: 'I don't know, Penelope. Something about this invention doesn't feel quite right.' Penelope: 'It's no big deal. Now go stand in that purple light for just a second.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 21st of June, 2020. Got to say, Penelope being a little kid makes her brainwashing device more fun. And I know what you’re wondering: so could the weekday-continuity Alley Oop grab the Convince-O-Ray next time he’s in 2020? They’re all in the same continuity and everything, right? I don’t know, I didn’t think to wonder that until I started writing a caption for this strip myself.

Penelope has not been anxious about getting her time machine fixed, although there’ve been a couple attempts at it. Instead, we’ve seen Little Oop get set up in Penelope’s family’s guest room. To start going to school. To meet some of Penelope’s friends and her brother and all that. It’s read more like we’re getting a revised setting to the Sunday strips more than anything meant to go anywhere.

Teacher: 'And that's how we know that humans and dinosaurs never coexisted ... yes, Alley?' Little Oop: 'I think my pet dinosaur, Max, would disagree. In fact, I know tons of dinosaurs back home. My gym teacher is one. I mean, sure, they're not *all* great. My cousin almost got eaten by a Utahraptor, but he's a bit of a daydreamer. What I'm trying to say is that you don't have the slightest idea what you're talking about.' (Teacher points Little Oop out the classroom.) Little Oop, to another student outside the principal's office: 'I guess my teacher wants me to tell the principal all about my dinosaur friends too.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 12th of July, 2020. Incidentally, V T Hamlin handled the question of “but dinosaurs went extinct way before humans ever appeared” way back in April 1939, when the new premise of the caveman strip was just being introduced. Also, if you want to see Little Oop’s gym teacher, here he is organizing a rockball game. He doesn’t look much like Gil Thorp even for being a dinosaur.

So at this point I can’t give a plot recap because there isn’t really a plot. There’s just Little Oop getting into cute shenanigans in the present day. If this turns into a story I’ll add it to my regular plot recaps. But for now, it seems to be just stand-alone incidents. At least once you know what a caveboy is doing in 2020.

If this changes, or if I get any news about Alley Oop, I’ll post an essay at this link. Thanks for reading.

What’s Going On In Alley Oop? Is Alley Oop off the hook for Time Crime? April – July 2020


Yes, it looks like the thing where Universe-3 is prosecuting our, Universe-2, Alley Oop and company is resolved. The charges are dropped until some later nonsense happens. The original, V T Hamlin-created Alley Oop is in Universe-1, not a part of these shenanigans. Glad to catch you up on Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop, as of mid-July 2020. If you’re reading this after about October 2020 there’ll likely be a new plot recap at this link.

My other blog has given a break to reading comic strips for a while, but I am building a little glossary of mathematical terms, one a week, at this link. You might like that, too.

Alley Oop.

27 April – 18 July 2020.

In the most surprisingestly surprising surprise in the history of surprises, billionaire Drew Copious was up to something evil. Last time, Copious hired Dr Wonmug and his gang for some little time-travel adventures. This got him a pencil from the useless aliens who watched the Egyptians build the Pyramids. The pencil was a communicator to some alien named Farfell.

Ooola: 'Where were you guys? I was in 2485 for almost a year!' Oop: 'We traveled all over time looking for you, from the Big Bang to the heat death of the universe.' Wonmug: 'Finally, we went back to the moment that Copious sent you to the future and looked at the date on the time cube.' Oop: 'And we brought you back to just a short while after you left.' Ooola: 'So after a year, you finally did the easiest thing possible?' Oop: 'We really didn't want to cheat!'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 15th of May, 2020. So this is one of those little ways that time travel would change computing as we know it, by the way. (Also, in rescuing Wonmug from the past, Oop “originally” returned to ten days after he set out, earning Copious’s mild praise, then went back to just ten minutes after he set out, doing an “amazing job”.)

Copious separates Alley Oop from Dr Wonmug and Ooola. He has a test. Copious abducts Wonmug and Ooola, losing them somewhere in time, and Alley Oop has to rescue them. Wonmug’s stranded at a Beatles concert. It takes Alley Oop some time to find him, until he remembers he has a time machine. It takes longer to find Ooola, who’s hidden in the post-apocalyptic year of August 2020 2485. At least until they realize they can use the time machine to check where Copious sent her.

Oop: 'Ooola, what was the year 2485 like?' Ooona: 'It wasn't too bad. I was president of the zombies for a few months. I built affordable housing on the Moon. Oh, and I started a business selling food pills.' Oop: 'Wow! The future has food pills?' Ooona: 'No. I went out of business right away. I lost millions.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 16th of May, 2020. All right, but if she sold those little cubes of bright-colored food you saw on the original Star Trek? And if they were blocks of cheese? That would be different. My point is if someone opened a nothing-but-cheese buffet near me I would never eat anywhere else for any reason, not until I was too large to fit through doors.

Why all the testing? Because Copious wants to know if they’re up to helping him conquer the multiverse. He’s teamed up with the Nudellians, the useless aliens from the Pyramids. Copious explains they’re intelligent but gullible, and thus, useful. They sold Copious a device to travel between universes, which stopped working. We readers know why that is. To escape Time Court, Wonmug got a Universe Transit Device that locked out cross-universe travel. Copious is looking for a way to overcome that.

There’s one party Alley Oop and gang know who could help. That’s Ollie Arp and Eeena, their Universe-3 counterparts. And the ones who brought them up for trial in Time Court. And the only way to contact them is Copious’s pencil. Alley Oop sneaks up on Copious and distracts him by whacking him unconscious. Arp and Eeena debate it a little and decide saving the multiverse is worth dropping the charges.

Ollie Arp: 'I can't help but notice you guys ran out on your trial.' Wonmug: 'Oh yes ... ha ha ... well, I left my ... mechanical bull running and ... ' Alley Oop: 'I have a question. Was that even a real trial? What authority did you have to arrest us?' Ooola: 'When did you learn so much about the legal system?' Oop: 'Well, I did get into some trouble as a teenager back in Moo.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 9th of June, 2020. One advantage to making your story a comedic serial adventure is you never have plot holes. You have “hey, wait a minute” jokes set up for later use.

Arp and Eeena guide Wonmug in the use of Copious’s universe-travel device. It sends him to Universe 92, one where money was never invented. Arp and Eeena send Copious’s accomplices to Universe 212 and a hot bath. They were just “a few bad noodles”, paying off the pun set up by saying they were from the planet Nu-Dell. So the multiverse is saved, Universe-3 dropped the Time Crime charges against Our Heroes, and all’s well. That wraps things up … let’s call it the 24th of June.


The 25th of June everyone goes back to Moo. Wonmug included, since he hasn’t got anywhere else to be. Also there’s some weird giant ominous cloud looming over the Time Lab.

In Moo, Oop asks, 'So, Doc, why didn't you go back to your place? Everything okay?' Wonmug: 'I just have a weird feeling about going home.' Oop: 'Why? Are you afraid you left the oven on or something?' Wonmug: 'Haha. Something like that.' Back at the Time Lab, a gigantic storm cloud in the shape of a sinister face gathers, shooting lightning bolts.
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 27th of June, 2020. ObFuturamaReference: “Hmm, must be a friend of theirs!” (Hi, Love!)

Bad news in Moo, though. Dinny the dinosaur’s run away. But he’s not hard to find: he went to Inspiration Peak, where to canoodle with Francine, a dinosaur he met at the dino park. They’ve just started dating, no idea where this is going. They’ll see what happens. So that’s sweet.

Meanwhile, Ooola, who went off to the hot springs, is in some kind of fight. With her cry of “Die, fiend!” we reach the 18th of July and the nominal end of this recap period. (She’s rehearsing a play, we learn on Monday and Tuesday.)

Next Week!

More ghosts than usual have been walking! What did it all mean? I’ll try to say something organized about Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom (Weekdays) next week. If something doesn’t disrupt the lineage of 21 plot-recap comics snark bloggers before me. Thanks for reading.

Seized by the thought of this momentous anniversary


I’m sorry I’m late. I got caught up in thinking how it was just 31 years ago tonight that I was sitting up watching, on TV, the coverage of the 20th Anniversary of Apollo 11. Gosh. You never see time moving, especially not this year, and yet there it goes nevertheless. You realize next year is going to be the 10th anniversary of the 20th anniversary of the first space shuttle launch? Just amazing.

60s Popeye: Uranium on the Cranium, because Popeye cartoons are where you say things like ‘cranium’


We’re back to a Larry Harmon-produced cartoon this week. The director on record is Paul Fennell and the story is by the ever-reliable Charles Shows. Back to 1960 and Uranium on the Cranium.

My first problem with this cartoon is that I know the history of Popeye too well. There’s a better version of this cartoon. Of course there is; by the time we reached this cartoon there were … I don’t know, three hundred Popeye shorts out there? A lot of premise was covered. But the Fleischer Stealin’ Ain’t Honest covers a lot of the same territory, including BlutoBrutus stealing the map through a periscope and racing to an island. Between the 1940 predecessor and this 1960 version the gold mine has turned into a uranium mine. That’s nice and timely. Updating the Macguffin doesn’t affect things any, of course. But it’s curious we don’t see any use of radioactive materials as magic, capable of any sort of weird fun story event. Or at least giant glowing monsters. Yes, I know uranium doens’t really do that. Who could possibly care?

The most interesting change is Brutus putting on a gorilla suit to mess with Popeye. This is a danged good idea. Popeye has an aversion to beating up “dumb aminals”. He’s not as consistent with this as we’d wish from our heroes. But it takes more to get him to beat up a gorilla than to beat up Brutus. A good costume shop would let Brutus get away with murder.

A gorilla facing off against Brutus, who's left the head off of his own gorilla costume.
Well, you got me: this one isn’t from my DeviantArt account anyway.

Of course there ends up being a real gorilla in the mix, and Popeye thinks the real gorilla is Brutus and then Brutus thinks the real gorilla is Popeye stealing his gimmick. That’s a fair enough use of the gimmick. It seems like it could have been better.

There’s a writing tick that I noticed here and now I’m curious whether it’s a Harmon-studios specialty. That’s one of forming a joke by repeating a word, maybe in different contexts. Asked if he’s sure nobody can see the map at sea, Popeye says, “Sure I’m sure.” Shown the Geiger counter, Olive Oyl says, “I can hardly wait for the buzzer to buzz”. As Brutus ties her up Olive Oyl tells Brutus “you are a crooked crook!” Brutus answers “this mine is mine, all mine!” Any one of these is unremarkable. They even fit the language pattern of Popeye’s immortal declarations about how he yam what he yam and that’s all what he yam. Or how he’s had all the can stands, he can’t stands no more. I suspect if I were more intersted in the cartoon I wouldn’t notice these things. But there you go.

Statistics Saturday: Apollo Astronauts who are also former members of The Association


  • (To date none, although I’ll bet Apollo 13’s Jim Lovell has hummed “Cherish” at least once in the shower within the last 45 days.)

Reference: Telephone: The First Hundred Years, John Brooks.

(Has this got it out of my system yet? Oh, wouldn’t we all like to think it has? )

In which I can’t quite say something more about bricks


I don’t want it to sound like all I’m thinking of these days is that The Story Of Brick book from the American Face Brick Association. I bet the American Face Brick Association itself thinks I’m making too big a deal of it. “Look, it’s just not that important a thing. We wrote it when we were feeling all defensive about people’s bad estimates of the cost of brick faces. It’s not like we think it’s bad or anything, it’s just … you know, just this one book.” I bet they’re blushing.

If they’re even called the American Face Brick Association anymore. I just bet they went through that process where they reason, you know, face bricks aren’t all we do. There’s also slates and stones. So then they go adding that to make the name the American Face Brick, Slate, and Stone Association. And then someone points out they know a guy in Toronto. And someone else knows that guy too and he’s fun to have at their conventions. So then it becomes the American and Canadian Face Brick, Slate, and Stone Association briefly. Then someone reminds them it’s 1936 and Newfoundland isn’t part of Canada yet, and they explore calling it the American and Canadian and Newfoundlanderian thing before settling on “North American”. And then someone finds other stuff you can put in front of houses and they don’t want to list all that. So we get the North American Building Coverings Association. Then some consultant tells them that a geographic designator is too old-fashioned so it becomes the Building Coverings Association. Then you get to where it seems all fancy to have a clipped, shortened name and it turns into the BuiCovAssoc, or as it’s finally known, the Association. Except on the front of their building they still have the “American and Canadian Face Brick, Slate, and Stone Association” because they can’t agree who gets to engrave the new name.

But even with the break in the heat wave I’ve needed things to think about that are easy and comforting. And I know it’s hard to think of bricks as comforting. It’s also hard not to notice you can rearrange the words in that last sentence and get one at least as good. “And I know it’s comforting to think of bricks as hard.” That’s reassuring in these trying times. “And I think it’s hard as comforting bricks to know of.” That one turns out to have extra words, unless we happen to know someone named “Of” who’s inscrutable. We might. We know all sorts of people, I can’t know things like what to call them.

Daft? Yes. This is daft. But it’s better I worry about this than I worry about the kitchen light fixture. That stopped working the other day. You’d think the answer would be “put in a new light bulb”. No. First, the fixture has this ceramic dome on it that’s connected by I don’t know what. It’s some metal clip contraption that’s holding on to it more securely than my car holds on to its engine. I can kind of tug one clip a little out of the way. But it’s not enough to take the cover off, and I can’t move two clips at a time unless I go up there with more arms than I have.

Photograph of some strange long cylindrical tube that's wired into the ceiling. Its cover is glass or similar transparent material and it's got several lightly scored circles and parallel lines to make it look the more like a science fiction movie prop.
I don’t know what this is or what repairing it is like except that I know with a certainty ordinarily possible only for mathematical truths that it will not be good.

Also inside I can see there isn’t a light bulb. There’s just this … thing. It’s a long skinny cylinder with a couple of scratch marks on it that look like they’re supposed to be on there. It looks like a warp core’s reactor. I don’t know why we’ve been getting light from a small warp reactor. I also don’t want to know what kind of problems with space and time having this thing in the house has been causing. I think this might explain how last week I dropped eight cents on the floor, and heard the nickel and all three pennies hit the floor, and every one of them vanished. This was while the light was still working, too. I’m not upset about losing the eight cents. I’m worried that this loose change has gone and popped into the Neutral Zone and maybe been given superpowers by an alien planet of coin-based life forms, and it’ll head back to Earth zapping starships and planets and whole galaxies into a little coin-collector’s book jacket.

Anyway I probably have more thoughts about that book but I don’t remember now. Sorry.

What’s Going On In The Amazing Spider-Man? Were they lying when they said Spider-Man would come back? April – July 2020


Well, lying has to carry with it intent. I wasn’t lying when I said I planned to do my comic strip plot recaps for Tuesdays, for example. Stuff just got in the way. And it’s not as if anyone’s 2020 has gone to plan, or else I’d have written this during slack moments of Pinburgh. But as we finish another quarter-year with no new creative team for The Amazing Spider-Man, it’s getting harder to believe that there ever will be. If I get any news about Spider-Man returning to the comics I’ll report it in an essay at this link. And, what the heck, I’ll keep it in the story-update cycle at least a bit longer. This story, from Roy Thomas and Larry Lieber, ran in 2015-16.

On my other blog, I am temporarily not reading comic strips except for my own pleasure. But I am looking at one mathematical term or concept a week, one for each letter of the alphabet. These are all essays I hope bring some fresh thoughts about some familiar old notion like what “normal” is. You might like, and you can suggest topics of your own interest that I might get to. Please consider that.

The Amazing Spider-Man.

19 April – 11 July 2020.

Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner, was threatening the surface world with destruction. He does that every now and then. Something about how the surface world despoils the oceans. As ever, he’s not wrong. He brought Pharus, an Atlantean boy who contracted Tiny Tim Disorder from human pollution. White Spider-Man and Namor fought, Mary Jane brought Pharus to Metro General Hospital.

J Jonah Jameson takes the injured Peter Parker to the same hospital. (Parker was woozy after his fight with Namor.) Partly to be a decent person, but also because Parker let slip that Pharus went there. Jameson meets Dr Liz Bellman, who’s got the toxins out of Pharus, and that’s all he can get before the soldiers arrive. They figure to take Pharus into custody. Parker slips out and, as Spider-Man, uses his spider-powers to open a door. Spidey kidnaps, or liberates, Pharus, who dives into the New York Harbor. And disappears. There’s one day until Namor declares even more war on the surface world.

Peter Parker, ducking into a hospital closet, thinking: 'Namor has a grudge against the human race ... but I can't let the *boy* he brought with him become a hostage!' Coming out, as Spider-Man, thinking: 'Dr Bellman must've come out of one of THESE rooms ... ' (Opening a door) 'Bingo!' Pharus: 'Are --- are you going to HURT me?'
Roy Thomas and Larry Lieber’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the 29th of April, 2020. Yes, I know, dramatic economy and it’s not like the story needs to be slower, especially given how heavy an exposition workload newspaper story strips have to carry. But, man, can you imagine how tough it would have been if Spider-Man had to choose among three doors?

Pharus swims to Namor’s ship, though, and tells of his treatment, and the kindness received. Namor doesn’t see this as any reason to call off the war, and sails back to the New York City pier he just left. He steps out to fight Spider-Man, because it would be rude not to. Spider-Man’s no match for Namor, but Pharus pleads for his life. And the life of the surface world, arguing that Spider-Man can be the brave leader who alters the surface world. Namor’s unmoved.

Mary Jane Parker arrives, offering to become his bride if he’ll spare Spider-Man. Namor refuses this, on the reasonable grounds a leader cannot put his desires ahead of his country’s.

Jameson, watching Spider-Man and Namor fight on TV: 'I don't get it Robbie! Wy isn't the army moving in on the Sub-Mariner? Heaven knows I'm no fan of Spider-Man, but that doesn't mean I want that waterlogged warmonger to kill him!' Robertson: 'Don't you see Mary Jane Parker there, Jonah? And that boy? If the army acts, they'll be caught in the crossfire!' Jameson: 'Isn't there anybody who can intervene?' Robertson: 'The President reached out to some folks who're on a mission out of the country ... but it doesn't look like the Avengers will arrive in time to save their fellow masked man!' Jameson: 'Then, whether I like it or not ... and I don't ... the web-crawler is history!'
Roy Thomas and Larry Lieber’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the 31st of May, 2020. So a recurring bit that always amuses me is when someone in the strip proposes getting Spidey some backup. This always leads to the discovery that all eight thousand other superheroes in midtown Manhattan alone are out on other business. Usually that’s enough spackle to put over the plot hole. But here, Namor has announced he’s going to war, Atlantean ships have been stopping surface ships, and Namor has come to New York City, a city he’s specifically threatened with destruction before, in a situation that’s been developing for … days, at least. Weeks, more likely. Plausibly a month or more. What other thing is going on that Captain America has to deal with this afternoon?

Finally Dr Bellman arrives, asking for mercy on her behalf. She’s the spitting image of her grandmother, Betty Dean, who talked Namor out of attacking the surface world back in 1940 or so. And who Namor’s been crushing on ever since. Bellman says Dean’s last words were begging to remind Namor of how the surface world and Atlantis can share the world peacefully.

And this changes his mind. Namor can now see how his way of going to war will only lead to war. He’ll give the surface world another try, and never bother with killing Spider-Man or whatnot. Namor sails his flying Atlantis boat out of the story on the 15th of June, although it takes a little while to quite wrap everything up. Dr Bellman heading out. Reporters showing up. Spider-Man telling the United Nations how there will be peace when the people of the world want it so badly that their governments will have no choice but to give it to them. That sort of thing. Spider-Man webs out, too, so that Peter Parker can learn how Jameson isn’t buying Spider-Man Versus Namor pictures.


We get the transition to the current story the 28th of June. Peter Parker and Mary Jane walk through the crowds. A trenchcoated figure starts following. He’s Xandu. He figures Mary Jane might just help him get the Wand of Watoomb, and that will make him happy. By a wild coincidence, though, the Parkers walk past the lair of Doctor Strange. Newspaper Spider-Man, sometime in the past, teamed up with Dr Strange to stop Xandu the sorcerer. Hey, what are the odds?

At Dr Strange's door. Peter: 'He mus not be home, Honey. Let's ... ' Mary Jane: 'Wait! The door's starting to ... ' [ The door opens with a slow kreeeeeek ] Dr Strange: 'Hello, I'm Stephen Strange. What can I do for you?'
Roy Thomas and Larry Lieber’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the 10th of July, 2020. Dr Strange is really at ease considering it was, like, maybe this morning that Namor was still planning to sink every surface ship that left port. I mean, the time transition is ambiguous so it’s maybe been a couple days but … like, were people just this chill two days after the end of the Cuban Missile Crisis?

Mary Jane wants to meet Dr Strange, but Peter can’t think of a pretext that isn’t weird or secret-identity-spoiling. Xandu can, though: he ‘accidentally’ bumps her hand and it sets off a weird tingling. She, claiming a strange compulsion to meet Strange, knocks on his door. Dr Strange is happy to take some time away from his job of wearing a giant pinball surrounded by flower petals to meet an actress like Mary Jane. So there we are.

This story originally started the 21st of February, 2016. It ran through the 17th of July, so, 21 weeks total. We should finish the 22nd of November this year if I haven’t counted wrong.

Mary Jane also name-drops Mandrake the Magician, another King Features syndicated comic strip. Mandrake’s a fun strip, sent into reruns in July 2013 when writer and artist Fred Fredericks had to step down mid-story, for health reasons. They’re probably going to get a new creative team for that one soon too.

Next Week!

So that rich guy who wanted ancient alien technology. I bet he was up to something good, right? We’ll find out with a check on Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop. Thanks for reading.