Statistics Saturday: 80s New Wave Songs, By Topic


Romance: about 33%. Nuclear War: about 33%. Romance During Nuclear War: about 20%. Radio: about 14%.
Omitted for clarity: wolves (were, hungry like, or otherwise).

Reference: The Mystery Of The Aleph: Mathematics, the Kabbalah, and the Search for Infinity, Amir D Aczel.

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And Then I Thought About Fun


I know there’s exceptions to this next statement. But, generally, going to an amusement park is fun. I mean for the people going to the park for the purpose of fun. Just let me have this point, please. Where I’m going is that there are other things that are fun, too. Like, there’s going to karaoke night and singing the one song you’re kind of able to sing with mostly the right tones and pacing. That’s fun. So is making clicking noises back at a squirrel who seems to be trying to work out what your deal is. That’s fun. Again, if you want to do that.

But here’s where I’ve gotten. All these kinds of fun are very different activities. You can’t swap one out for the other without noticing that something is very different. One could not mistake chatting with a squirrel for talking about how you can’t imagine someone riding anything where you go upside-down. That is to say, fun is not fungible.

And so continues my lifelong discovery in adulthood of, oh, yeah, that’s why everybody treated my like that in middle school.

Everything There Is To Say About Making Art


OK, first thing, the title’s a fib. This isn’t everything there is to say about making art. That would be two or even three whole essays, at 700 to 900 words per kilogram. But I already wrote the title down and it’s pretty snappy as it is and “One-Half or Even One-Third Of Everything There Is To Say About Making Art” reads as wimpy. And not in the good ways.

Also I don’t want to talk about making real art. Real art is too hard. It’s hard enough getting agreement on what “art” even is. “Art” is anything that, when you call it “art”, gets you into an argument about what “art” is. And that’s all great stuff. If you’re willing to get into the argument you get to seriously looking at 2,038 coats of paint brushed onto some wood salvaged from the Demolishing All The Buildings With Character Neighborhood-Revitalization Project and then gouged by a putty knife so you see about half of the colors. If you’re not willing to get into the argument, then you get to point and laugh at the people who’re seriously looking at the scraped over-painted rubble that some creamer-potato of an MFA has titled Renewal. Everybody gets something they enjoy! A “Building With Character” is one that has chipped asbestos and exposed live electrical wires and in each stairway at least two duct-taped steps.

Sidewalk with the chalk inscription on it, 'ART THIS WAY' and an arrow pointing inside a building.
Don’t tell me how to art.

I’m thinking more about low-argument kinds of deployed creativity. Stuff like painting, for example, drawing. Drawing is great because even without specialized tools you can get great responses. Right near you this moment there should be a decent pencil and a clean sheet of paper that you could draw on right this moment. There’s not. Everyone agrees there should be. The closest to either of this is a notepad from that Knights Inn Express Deluxe you stayed at overnight eight months ago. You know. When you were having too much fun in Findlay, Ohio, to get back home that night. The one with four sheets of paper, each dogeared somehow a different amount and bearing coffee stains. The only writing tool is one of those pens with the spring-loaded button up top that, when pressed, makes the pen fall apart. The writing stylus will roll under the heaviest furniture you have.

But you can imagine all the stuff you need to draw on hand. This takes one trip to an art supply store, where you can get a 60-page sketchpad. This will last you fourteen years and survive four major moves, one to another part of the country, and six garage sales. Also get a mechanical pencil with lead so soft that it feels like butter. It feels so comfortable and smooth that you have to be restrained from brushing it on your skin or rolling in a big pile of it.

Amateurs think that drawing is a matter of imagining something and then putting down lines that represent it. This is needlessly hard. I mean, you can sympathize with someone figuring they can’t draw a cool-looking basilisk by looking at a basilisk and then sketching really quickly before your death sets in. But most any drawing is done better with references. With references, you find a thing and look at it, and then you don’t draw that. To make it cool, add sunglasses and a confident attitude. This is expressed by thumbs up.

Like, suppose you want to draw a chair. Why is your business; I don’t judge. Take an example chair. Look hard at it. Then sketch in some rectangular boxes. I mean on your paper. Maybe add a circular box for the curvey part. There’s no boxes in the chair. Unless you’re using it as storage space which I would totally do if my love let me get away with it. But. If you draw the boxes that you don’t see in the chair, and then keep adding more lines, you get a drawing of the chair. It’s as simple as that!

(Yes yes, this simplicity comes with a cost. If you want to draw a box, you have to start out by drawing bunches of chairs. And now you know why you could never convince your friend who does art but for real to draw a box for you!)

Used bookstore shelf labelled 'How To Art Books'
I’m sorry, this essay is about arting drawings. Arting books is a different essay.

Putting in those lines that turn boxes into chairs takes experience, yes. But that’s no reason to be shy about trying. The wonderful thing about drawing is in lines. The more lines a drawing has, the better it is. So keep on putting in lines until it looks like what you want. Or until pressing the button to make more lead come out of the mechanical pencil causes the pencil to fall apart. This lets you learn what your heaviest furniture is now, after the garage sale. What’s important is how much fun it is to get to this point. It is about 58 units of fun. 62 if the chair looks cool which, again, you do by adding sunglasses and thumbs up.

In Which I Have To Take Back Nice Stuff I Said About Michigan’s Secretary Of State


So, I know that the last time I expressed thoughts about Michigan’s Secretary of State I made a fool of myself. Secretary of State offices around here fill the role that other states have a Department of Motor Vehicles for, and I thought that was just a quirk of terminology. And I learned that I understimated the office. At any of these offices you can do all the work that you might do by visiting the Secretary of State herself, without any necessarily awkward conversations or having to answer questions about how you broke into her home and whether you know it’s 1:45 am.

And that’s fine but recently I discovered what they need to issue a replacement driver’s license, in case you lose yours, something that I haven’t done in fourteen years and in another state anyway:

Michigan Secretary of State web site listing what is needed to request a duplicate driver's license online. It requires: the last four digits of your social security number; your driver's license number; and your date of birth and eye color.
Eye color is an easy question for me. I have eyes that look as though the angels designing my body perused my nascent face and said, “Brown. Done. NEXT” and hit flood-fill as I was on the way out.

I’d like to ask the Secretary of State where I’m supposed to get my driver’s license number if I need to replace my driver’s license, but it’s too much work for me to leave the house at 1:45 am except to confirm my fear that I left the lawn sprinkler running since 3 pm Friday. I understand why they thought someone might have memorized their driver’s license number, if they thought that people were still seventeen and in the last age cohort that saw a driver’s license as something desirable, instead of something you need to get to avoid the civil penalties for failure to sufficiently car. But, yeesh. I’m good at remembering numbers and all I could tell you about my Michigan driver’s license is that it probably has some digits in it.

Also no fear for that license I lost fourteen years ago. I got a replacement, for which I did not need to know my license number, which I did have memorized. Several months later the original license reappeared, as you might expect, as a bookmark in my copy of John Steele Gordon’s book about the transatlantic telegraph cable.

The Popeye Two-Reelers Reused: Two I Can’t Show You


I had a great idea going here. I’d show one of the two-reeler Popeye cartoons, and then show its reincarnation as a one-reeler clip cartoon. I’m foiled here. Not because Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves wasn’t used for a clip cartoon. Because I can’t find a copy of the clip cartoon online. I’m surprised and baffled by this. I could accept it somehow not having fallen into the same public-domain existence that so many other Famous Studios cartoons did. But to just evaporate altogether?

Ah well. And that’s particularly bad as there’s two clip cartoons based on Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves. One I remember with confidence so let me talk about that. It’s Popeye Makes A Movie. This was released the 11th of August, 1950, or over two years before Big Bad Sindbad. That it is so much earlier may be why Popeye has the full complement of four nephews in it. By 1952 there were cutbacks.

The premise is … well, right there in the title. Popeye’s explicitly an actor here, and he’s making a movie about fighting Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves. Is it supposed to be the two-reeler movie actually released in the 1930s? Oh, who cares. If you have fun doing that, go ahead, but there’s just no fitting it all into one continuity. But Popeye’s an actor here, and he brings his nephews to watch a day of filming. And that’s the framework on which the clips are hung. There’s some of Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Wimpy walking through the desert. There’s the bandit raid on the city, at which point the nephews get confused between fact and fiction and start punching Abu Hassan or maybe Bluto.

That seems to me a fair way to break up the clips. It’s a more interesting one than in Big Bad Sindbad, when the surviving nephews asked Popeye whether he got killed. That now there’s two clip cartoons that break up the clipping mid-action, where it’s not really needed, makes me wonder. Remember my wondering if there a production rule about how much of the cartoon could be recycled footage? I can’t time the clips from Popeye Makes A Movie, but the clips from Big Bad Sindbad were suspiciously close to 50% of the runtime. Now I wonder if there was a production rule about how long reused footage could be without some new footage.

The interruption also lets the clip cartoon go right to Popeye in Abu Hassan’s cage. It gets to the point where Popeye’s captured and lowered into the shark pit. Here the nephews again forget they’re watching some pretend action, and toss Popeye a can of spinach. This would seem to produce a continuity error in the movie being made. If we take the two-reeler as the produced movie, then, they must have done reshoots when the nephews were safely away from the studio.

It’s a fair enough premise. Gives a reason to show clips. If you’re alert enough to the realities of film production to question whether they’d film a walking-in-the-desert scene, a raid-on-a-city scene, and a battle-in-a-cave scene on the same day, well, shut up and go play outside. All right.


The other clip cartoon with Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves I remember more vaguely. But it’s interesting in that it’s also a clip cartoon for Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor. And it, too, isn’t available online that I can find. It’s Spinach Packin’ Popeye, originally released the 21st of July, 1944. The name is a riff on Pistol-Packin’ Mama. That’s an inescapably popular and catchy song which made up about two-fifths of all sound during World War II. (If you look at the posters on the wall at R K Maroon’s office in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, you’ll see a card for a Pistol-Packin’ Possum, another riff on the song.) I know, I know, you think — from movies and TV shows — that it was Glenn Miller’s version of American Patrol. No. It’s just easier for modern productions to record dialogue over an instrumental. In reality, between the 14th of October, 1943 and the 26th of March 1944, not a single sound that wasn’t Pistol-Packin’ Mama was produced domestically, and it stayed popular with soldiers until the USO performers curled up into helpless little balls pleading, “no … no … no more requests”.

The premise for this clip cartoon is more boring. Popeye goes to a scheduled boxing match with Bluto after donating blood. The weakened sailor gets knocked out. Olive Oyl declares she’s finished with this weakling. Popeye tries to argue he is not a weakling, and shows his photo album to prove it. The album has pictures(?) from Sindbad the Sailor and Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves. These come to life to show the clips, a device used in earlier clip cartoons too. None of this convinces Olive Oyl, but that’s all right, since his being knocked out was all a dream anyway.

Gathering around the photo album is a dull way to introduce clips. But it’s the sort of dull that doesn’t get in the way of the action either. I suspect it’s the clip-show equivalent of, in prose, tagging speech with “Name said”. It’s just invisible. I know I had to read the plot summary to have any memory of what the framing device was, and even the still frames on that Popeye Wikia didn’t help me much. The title card looks great, at least.

But there again is that breaking up of clips into at least two segments. This encourages my thinking that there was some production rule here. One might wonder why this cartoon featured two of the two-reelers and not more recent footage. A sufficient answer there is that they’d have had to be too recent footage. This was, if Wikipedia has the production schedules right, only the fifth color one-reeler Popeye cartoon. Popeye’s first one-reel color outing, Her Honor The Mare, was released the 26th of November, 1943. A snarky cartoon series of today might have characters flashing back to the stuff they aired last week. I can’t imagine getting away with that in theatrical shorts of the 40s.

I would have sworn there were other Popeye shorts that used “weakness after blood donation” as a premise for showing clips. Actually researching this suggests indicates I’m just wrong. I’m a touch surprised that Popeye, given his general moral-upstandingness, wasn’t shown to donate blood more. But it’s hard to figure a joke line to follow that. People getting Popeye’s blood and going on to feats of impossikible strength is obvious, but they’d do that from just eating spinach at his direction. (Which, come to think of it, is another storyline I don’t think they used.) Maybe they were working around guidelines about how to present the effects of blood transfusion. Maybe it just never occurred to anyone.

Looking Back: Being Unaware Of Stuff


If there’s a motif to my writing besides “slightly overresearched nonsense” it’s a love of historical footnotes. These might be the same thing. But sometimes something really thrilling happens. Like, my mind noticing one of those invisible phrases normally used to make some writing longer. So that’s how I got to wondering about how many people you’d expect to know that in the early 60s Disney considered building an amusement park in Saint Louis. This would not be the only time I had cause to write about Saint Louis, either, although I think this might be the only other. If we don’t count this little essay too. I’ve studied logic.

I’m sorry for the formatting on the blockquote in that second article. The theme I’m using right now interacts weirdly with the ‘cite’ tag that I was using to highlight the titles of TV shows. But I don’t want to change it because I feel like, well, it’s a title. Of course it goes in a ‘cite’ tag, what else would a ‘cite’ mean? But I’m not exactly giving a citation of a work there, and in any case it’s being displayed in a way that makes no sense. Now, of course I could hack the style sheets for that page to make things display correctly. But if you learn anything about style sheets it’s that there’s no hacking them to make things display correctly. You fiddle with things to make a box appear in the center of the page and suddenly you get text that doesn’t appear at all on mobile devices; it’s instead carved into the surface of Saturn’s moon Iaepetus. Nobody understands this and the only cure is to remove all the formatting information.

If the above paragraph made no sense to you, don’t worry. You can ask whoever it is in your life knows style sheets and they will agree: it makes no sense, but that’s how style sheets work. Oh, also it’s extremely funny that I correctly identified something which annoys people who do a lot of this particular kind of thing. What is humor writing, indeed, except correctly identifying things that people who know a thing will agree exists?

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Sundays)? Is The Rat Dead YET? May – August 2018


Looking to understand the events in Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom, Sunday continuity? I’m happy to help. This update should get you ready for mid-August 2018, and maybe for a month or so after that. If it’s later than about November 2018, I should have a more up-to-date story summary and you can read it here. That link will also catch you up on the separate weekday continuity. Happy to help.

The Phantom (Sundays)

20 May – 12 August 2018.

The Rat Must Die, promised this story, which began back in October of last year. The Rat figured he could ease his way out of Bangallan prison by turning jailhouse-informant on his former partner, The Boss. The warden laughed him off. The Boss ordered a hit on him. The Phantom decided to take The Rat up on this offer. Not for freedom, just for The Phantom’s good word recommending a lighter sentence. They began a long hike out of Boomsby Prison, and then through the jungle. This lead them to the neighboring fascist state of Rhodia, where the Partner’s mansion was.

Last time I checked in, The Rat made another attempt at getting free of The Phantom, shoving the Ghost Who Walks into a carport. This fails instantly. One of the recurring motifs of The Rat’s story is his utter failure. He failed at whatever criminal activity sent him to prison, obviously. He failed at selling information for freedom. He failed several times over at breaking away from The Phantom. He failed to talk The Phantom into giving up his superhero ways. It leaves me a little sad for him. But his plans are all fairly dumb ones; he acts as if he figures, he’s a big, tough guy. Of course he can do whatever he wants. And it just doesn’t work. (It reminds me of dumb Mob scion Mikey D’Moda, from several Sunday stories ago.) Anyway, trying to take The Phantom by surprise just gets him clobbered, knocked out in two blows.

Minion, leaving the rec room: '[ Belching ] Anyone want anything from the kitchen?' The Phantom, thinking: 'He's not coming back, but it's the thought that counts.' [ A Bad Man Alone With The Phantom, in the kitchen. ] Minion, chopping up fruits for a smoothie: o/`I .. don't ... like your ... lit-tle games .. o/` (He runs the blender, and pours the smoothie.) The Phantom: 'That looks good.' (The Minion gasps, and The Phantom clobbers him. The Phantom sneaks up on the rec room, drinking the smoothie.)
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 10th of June, 2018. The Phantom’s really got to like the chance to drink with bendy straws if it’s going to make him go to the effort of cleaning his fingerprints off that glass. I empathize.

The Phantom strolls into The Boss’s house and takes out the guards easily. Comically so. Well, it’s late at night, nothing much has been happening, they figure The Rat is already dead. You never expect The Phantom to go knocking heads together. In a free moment The Phantom calls the Jungle Patrol. In his guise as the Unknown Commander he orders the extraction of The Boss’s minions. Also The Boss and The Rat. And that The Rat should get time off for helping bring The Boss to justice.

Then it’s just a matter of actually grabbing The Boss. That’s easy enough, since he’s sitting in a hot tub, not paying attention to some women there with him. The women flee. He comes along with The Phantom, protesting how this is totally illegal. Then The Rat clobbers The Phantom with a The Shovel. This gets The Rat and The Boss back on good terms. At least for long enough to talk themselves out of shooting The Phantom in the head.

The Boss: 'Hey! Let me get SHOES on my feet!' Phantom: 'No need ... they have prison shoes where you're going.' [ Criminal likes the law for once. ] Boss: 'It's not right! I --- I can't be extradited to Bangalla! Rhodian law says I can't!' Phantom: 'Are you a citizen of Rhodia?' Boss: 'Maybe I am, maybe I'm not. The point is --- you don't know I'm not!' Phantom: 'No difference to me either way ... file a complaint with your friend, The Rat!' (As they approach the garage.) Phantom: 'He's right over ... ' (He's not there.) '... Here?' (The Rat clobbers The Phantom with a shovel.)
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 22nd of July, 2018. I will say this for The Boss: best I can tell, he avoided building a McMansion for his criminal lair. The place looks big, yes, but all the elements seem reasonably scaled, and all the rooms we see have clear purposes and are scaled about right for those purposes. So, you know, The Boss has a not-awful side.

The Rat at least has a stroke of conscience about it. All their conversation while journeying has left him kind of liking The Ghost Who Small Talks. The Boss, well, he just wants to “turn this guy into soup” before shooting him. This he starts by trying to run The Phantom down with his car. This raises natural questions about the quality of his corn chowder. Phantom wakes up in time to start dodging. But he only has his sidearm against a rampaging car; he’s faced with maybe shooting The Boss. Bad form to use deadly force if there’s an alternative, but what alternative does he have?

And that’s where we stand as of mid-August, 2018.

Next Week!

Why do I think there’s maybe a 40 percent chance that Terry Beatty is snarking back at me? Read my planned recap of the last several months of Rex Morgan, M.D. to find out! Or look at my Twitter feed a couple days ago. Well, whatever you feel moved to do, you can see what mathematically-themed comic strips I’ve talked about recently on my other blog. You might enjoy that too. I know I do.

Statistics Saturday: Eight Embarrassing Things Of My Past


  • Oh, all right, it was “Chi-Chi-mangas” shut up I wasn’t even ten years old.
  • Mmm. No.
  • Nah.
  • You don’t need to know this one either.
  • “Bisement” but understand I had this weird kind of half-burp while I was trying to talk about the basement and that’s just how it turned out.
  • Yeah no I’m not telling you that either.
  • Confidently telling a friend that — hold up, you know what? You don’t need to hear this one either.
  • No.

Reference: Harpo Speaks!, Harpo Marx and Rowland Barber.

Me, In Two Memories, One Of Which Does Not Exist


Me: vividly remembers precisely the way the then-younger he mispronounced “chimichangas” for like three weeks after first being introduced to them at Chi-Chi’s, which obviously must have invented this wonder food of tomorrow of 1982 and no you may not ask what it was and expect an answer.

Also me: could not convince myself, either by memory or appeal to reason, that I had washed my hair in the shower, a mere thirty minutes after taking it this morning and so there was nothing to do but repeat the whole process. Spoiler: it turns out I had washed my hair, as I had for every shower since 1982.

Everything There Is To Say About Landing On An Asteroid


So you want to land on an asteroid. That is you, isn’t it? It looked like you from a distance. If it’s not you, keep these notes until you encounter someone who looks like you from afar. For now I’ll suppose it is you, and congratulate you. That’s the sort of public-spirited ambition that we don’t see enough in these troubled times. It’s the sort of ambition that is sure to get you somewhere. That somewhere is landed on an asteroid. If I have anything to do with it, anyway.

The first and most essential thing is to check that you have an asteroid to land on. If you don’t have anything to land on you’ll get stuck at the last step. Your foot will go swinging around freely and you’ll worry you look like a fool. You might, but who’s going to know? But let’s suppose you have something to land on. Make sure that it’s not a meteorite. That would land you, not on an asteroid, but on a dull argument with pedantic sorts who want you to know it’s very important to tell the difference between a meteor, a meteoroid, a meteorite, a meteoroceros, and a meteorostomy.

Even if you surrender and admit that it’s important to use exactly the right word all the time they might not stop. The truly dull know-it-all will continue to harass you for ever have been fool enough to get the terms wrong. As a recovering know-it-all I can give you this diversionary maneuver. Ask whether it’s better to say “three dollars and forty cents is your change” or “three dollars and forty cents are your change”. Whatever answer they give, point out the change was actually four dollars and fifteen cents and they’re out the difference. If anyone other than me mentions “minor planets” poke them with your largest regulation stick.

(Note that “other than me” slickly put in there. I know how some of these sentences are going to end!)

Suppose you’re already comfortably near the asteroid. Start with a clean desk and spread a tablecloth neatly across the surface, smoothing out any folds as you do. With this tidy workplace inspect the asteroid. You want to see any distinguishing marks or hazards, such as rocky terrain, a thin crust of ice over a great gaping nothing, or 30-minute parking spaces. Stuff starts happening when you’re satisfied you have a clear landing spot and that no competing spacecraft are trying to get to the same place.

Turn the spacecraft around and extend the landing legs. (Don’t tell me you forgot the landing legs! Fib if you must!) Back in slowly. Don’t worry about the warning beeps, which can’t be heard in space. It’s hard to tell how far you are above the surface of an asteroid, so look for clear signs of when to stop. These include the contact light coming on, the landing legs feeling stiff resistance, the landing party yelling that you’re on their foot, the spaceship going right through to the other side of the asteroid (this is really bad as your crew will be joking about you all the way home), or seeing a victory screen and credits listing all the people who worked on this space program. When you get to a stopping point, stop. Going any further will complicate your life and not in the good ways.

Just because you’re landed doesn’t mean you’re done. Most asteroids don’t have very much gravity, what with the cost of importing it all the way from Jupiter. It could be years before any new gravity comes in. Until it does, make sure your spaceship doesn’t hear any hilarious jokes that cause it to reflexively jump and slap its forehead and potentially drift away. Also discourage the crew from doing things like synchronized jumping jacks. Yes, they’ll want to synchronize doing something. Suggest they try out synchronized laying still, or if need be, synchronized worrying about how it has all come to this. They might be doing that already and just need the reassurance that to carry on doing this is as all right as anything can be in these troubled times and on an asteroid.

Anyway, once you’re there go ahead and take care of whatever you needed on that asteroid. I don’t know your business. You’re doing pretty well if you do.

Yes, I’m Still Trying To Work Out ‘Graffiti’ And It’s Not Going Well


All right, so, wait. I got myself all ready to believe that Gene Mora’s Graffiti has got to be in reruns because at the top it reads “Copyright 2018 UFS Dist. by Andrews McMeel for UFS”. And UFS here is the United Feature Syndicate, which hasn’t been around since 2011. It had sold its licensing over to Iconix Brand Group, whose Wikipedia page claims they could get licensed products into Sears, KMart, and JC Penny’s. So I’m sure these are people who can handle the future of licensed Fort Knox merchandise. And then it sold the rest of itself to Universal Uclick, as part of that stage of pre-revolutionary capitalism where every thing is divided up between the bigger company and the smaller company. So it’s got to be reruns, with the copyright date just changed because somehow they can do that when they reprint comic strips for some reason. And fine. But then I got looking at one of John Graziano’s Ripley’s Believe It Or Not strips from last week.

1. While digging the Metro Red subway line in Los Angeles, crews uncovered fossils containing 39 species of newly discovered extinct fish. 2. The municipal police in Madrid, Spain, have successfully trained a service dog to demonstrate CPR. 3. A negative Kelvin temperature is actually hotter than a positive one.
John Graziano’s Ripley’s Believe It Or Not for the 2nd of August, 2018. The thing about negative Kelvin temperatures touches on my mathematics specialty. I wrote on my other blog about what negative absolute temperatures are, and why they’re real legitimate things, and why they are actually quite hot. I like to think it’s accessible to a normal person. HemingwayApp rated the prose at about a sixth-grade reading level. Give it a try, please. I love the topic. Also it still weirds me out to write “Graziano’s Ripley’s Believe It Or Not”.

OK, and that’s also got a Distributed by Andrews McMeel for UFS sticker on it. And that strip talks way too much about quirky oddball news items, printed one lead-time after everybody heard about them, for them all to have been made before 2011. Unless John Graziano’s Ripley’s Believe It Or Not is eight years into the most astounding string of forecasts of future mildly quirky events ever known to humanity and they’re saving that to reveal on the comic strip’s centennial this December.

That or both Gene Mora and John Graziano got like ten thousand “Distributed by UFS” stickers printed up and they’re not going to waste them until they’ve used every one of them up. Or someone at Comic Strip Master Command decided to keep the name UFS around, as a sentimental thing for fans of comic strip syndication companies. Which, all right. So that’s something for me and maybe like nobody else in the world ever.

So in short I don’t know what’s going on with this weird minor comic strip. And if I ever find out, it’ll probably be a little bit disappointing.

The Popeye Two-Reelers: Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves


Today my subject is the second of the two-reeler Popeye cartoons. Its original release was the 26th of November, 1937. This is one day short of a year after the previous two-reeler, Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor. The credited animators are Willard Bowski, Geroge Germanetti, and Orestes Calpini, all of whom worked on Sindbad.

So, ah, this short. You see what the title is. I’m not quite sure that I need to warn people about its content. It’s got a lot of characters meant to be Arabian. And it was drawn in the 1930s. I don’t think there’s ethnic stereotypes direct enough to be offensive. But there’s stuff close enough to leave me uncomfortable. Most of it comes to Popeye being a surprisingly bad traveller, grumbling that he can’t read the menu or stuff like that.

This short opens gorgeously. One of the Fleischer’s greatest technical tricks was the setback camera. It let them use real, three-dimensional models as backdrop to animation. They used it to good effect. They had a knack for making models that looked like animated backgrounds. It — and a multiplane camera — get used for the opening credits. It’s almost a dare to the Disney studios, challenging them as masters of animation. Disney would respond by releasing Snow White and the Seven Dwarves the next month. So, yeah, Disney won the year. But it was a close one.

Still. As much as the setback camera got shown off in Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor, here it gets used. I lost track of how many backgrounds are three-dimensional settings. But it seems less showy to me. The setback seems to be used only to make the camera moves more interesting. It strikes me as being like the difference between a technology demonstration and a mature use of the technology.

As with Sindbad the short opens with the heavy, looking like Bluto playing a part, singing about himself. It’s not as long or as catchy a song as Sindbad’s bragging song. It’s not bad. But Sindbad had a nice call-and-response bit, and call-and-response songs are always more fun. Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Wimpy get on screen much sooner than in Sindbad. They’re even given something of a reason to encounter Abu Hassan, with Popeye and Wimpy the Coast Guard (huh?) troops responding to the worldwide (huh?) distress call. Popeye’s boat turning into an airplane is as loopy a thing as the logic for his involvement. And I love the way this gets treated. It’s casual and confident, sure that the audience will buy all this. (Does the ship-plane crashing count as another shipwreck for Popeye?)

I’m impressed by how well this cartoon is put together. It’s got a clear plot. But it’s still got plenty of time for amusing sidelights. And many great little asides by Jack Mercer as Popeye.

Yet it still seems lesser than Sindbad. I’m not sure what it’s missing. It might be in the efficient, quick way that this cartoon gets to work. Sindbad opens with a lot of atmosphere. It luxuriates in the vastness of Sindbad’s island. It builds slowly. It gives this impression of hugeness.

Forty Thieves has a great, vast desert. A good-looking city. The cave of the Forty Thieves, too. But I don’t feel the same epic scale to this. Maybe the editing is too sharp and the story progression too efficient. The short has a few moments that feel it. Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Wimpy in the incredible distance walking across the desert by night and day, particularly. But that doesn’t last long. The short has plenty of stuff happening. But it feels more like a regular (if good) Popeye cartoon running longer, instead of something different in kind.

Once again it’s surprisingly long for Popeye to meet the heavy. Popeye doesn’t face Abu Hassan until about 8:40 in. That’s 40 seconds sooner than Popeye met Sindbad, in a carton that’s a full minute longer. It’s still longer than the average Popeye cartoon just for them to be on-screen together. Their first fight is funnier than Popeye’s meeting with Sindbad. There’s something delightful and childlike about Abu Hassan stealing Popeye’s belt. Popeye swiping his long underwear right back is a perfect topper.

As I watch it, and re-watch it, I’m left wondering why I don’t like it as much as Sindbad. The animation’s at least as good. The plotting may be stronger. The dialogue is much better. A lot of the best bits are Jack Mercer muttering whatever popped into his head. But so much of what he thought of was great. Seriously, Popeye slamming uselessly against the solid wall of the Forty Thieves’ cave and declaring “it’s giving way”? Perfect. He’s got many other great lines too; listen to any random fifteen-second bit and there’ll be something you like. The biggest story weakness is how little Wimpy adds to the proceedings. His pursuit of a duck in Sindbad had a clear story to it. Here, he’s just here. But even he gets a great blink-and-you-miss-it joke in snagging some chicken while chained to a post.

There’s less direct interaction between the animated characters and the real, setback backgrounds. Nothing like Sindbad picking up a handful of gems and letting them drop. The most dramatic is Popeye and all coming up to a traffic signal in the desert, and that’s nothing but them watching a thing change. But there’s also much more real background. The final battle between Popeye and Abu Hassan feels slight. Possibly it’s diffused too much by Popeye having to get past the Forty Thieves first. I am aware that last time around I thought there could be a battle between Popeye and all the animal residents of Sindbad’s island. And this time I get a battle between Popeye and all the Forty Thieves and I’m still not satisfied. Somehow, despite it being a nice big battle. Maybe Popeye needed to use the twisker punch again.

Something you notice in the Thimble Theatre comic strip is that Popeye spends a lot of time in the desert for a sailor. Possibly Segar thought that irresistibly funny a setup. And now here we are in the second of the two-reelers, and he’s wandering the desert. And I can’t help remembering that the 1980s version of Popeye — the G.I.Joe cartoon’s Shipwreck — was also first encountered in the desert. There’s something deep going on here.

Looking Back: I Do Not Have A Cold


I haven’t got a cold. This stands out. It feels to me like I always have a cold. Mostly that’s because I do have a nagging cough that’s persisted from about 1994. The doctor’s ruled out asthma, and maybe sometime I should go back to find out what might be ruled in for it. Mostly it doesn’t impair my life any. I mean I haven’t yet coughed intensely enough in the shower to actually black out.

Anyway, this has been reflected in a bunch of essays posted here so I thought I’d share a couple years’ thoughts on the colds that come back to me.

From 2013: Some Ineffective Ways of Treating Colds. (Which is not a bad premise and maybe I should re-write the thing.)

From 2015: Cold Comforts (where I see I go on about zinc again.)

From 2017: Hack Work for May 2017 (no zinc mention this time; huh.)

From 2018: Explaining The Common Cold (and I don’t remember whether I had a cold back in April, but I wrote about it, so I probably did?)

Stay healthy, everyone. Somewhere in here I’ll find my 2014 and 2016 bits about colds.

What’s Going On In Mary Worth? Special Zippy the Pinhead Edition, May – August 2018


I thank you all for your interest in Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth. My most recent posts about the strip should be at this link. If it’s past November 2018 by the time you read this, I may have a less out-of-date essay for you. And I’ve got comic strips discussed by their mathematical content over here. Please enjoy that, or this, as you like.

Also please enjoy this bit from a sequence of Bill Griffith’s Zippy the Pinhead. It’s from an August 2002 sequence where a strangely realistically-drawn woman turns up in the underground-styled comic strip. I discovered this from reading a strip compilation I borrowed from the library and felt as though Griffith were drawing a storyline just for me. (The woman turned out to be from — well, I won’t spoil the story unnecessarily.) And it’ll make a nice graphic for those times, like today, when the auto care place hasn’t updated its inspirational-despair sign.

[ Back to GRIFFY, on his quest --- he enters the MARY WORTH strip! ] Jeff, on the phone: 'What should I do? There's this oddly drawn guy here, looking for a missing girl!' Griffy: 'I need so see Mary!' [ Soon ] Griffy: 'Morning, Ms worth! I'm from th' Zippy comic! Can we talk?' Mary Worth: 'Young man, you need help, all right. Th'kind only a MENTAL HEALTH professional can provide!' (Griffy, thinking) 'Uh-oh! I'm frozen in place and unable to speak under th'withering gaze of Mary Worth!!'
Bill Griffith’s Zippy the Pinhead for the 19th of August, 2002. I’m seriously considering using the last panel of this as my icon for What’s Going On In Mary Worth essays. There’s a similar, though less great, panel for Judge Parker and a fair one for Mark Trail. The one for Apartment 3-G would be great but that strip exists only in Vintage form anymore.

Mary Worth.

14 May – 5 August 2018.

Mary Worth had just talked a despairing Wilbur Weston off the cliff face last time I checked in. He’d been going through a rough time. His column got dropped from the local newspaper. His former girlfriend had a shiny new boyfriend. His shower radio broke. His daughter’s off in Europe arranging a major professor-student relationship scandal. But she promised him things weren’t as dire as all that. And he figured he could go along with a gag.

It worked out well, too. The local newspaper reinstated his paper, citing reader demand. I swear I didn’t write in. I’m cutting back on my ironic reading of stuff. His daughter writes in to say how he’s happy and nobody from the college Human Resources department has asked any questions. And Mary treats Wilbur to a dinner with friends during karaoke night. And they push him to actually performing for once. It’s one of those moves that either turns out great or disastrous. Here it turns out great. He sings the theme from The Golden Girls. It’s one of those moves so corny that it falls over the edge to be sweet again.

[ At Karaoke ] Wilbur: 'SING in front of all of you? No, I can't!' Mary Worth: 'You can! We're here to cheer you on!' Iris: 'Let it out! We know you want to!' Professor Papagoras: 'What have you got to lose?'
Karen Moy and June Bridgman’s Mary Worth for the 31st of May, 2018. “Will you be less anxious singing in public if we tell you we’ve all heard you singing in your shower for years now? No? Huh. Well, uh, what if we tell you we were fibbing about hearing you sing Frank Crumit’s `The Parlor Is A Pleasant Place To Sit On Sunday Night’ every morning, then? No?”

And that’s followed by a week’s victory lap. Mostly Jeff telling Mary Worth how great it is that she can fix people up and not marry him. The new, and current, story started the 10th of June.

It’s about Iris’s son Tommy. He’s flirted successfully with coworker Brandy. They have a late-night dinner together that goes well. He’s figured he’s in love already, and he’s only more sure when they go to see Action-Adventure Movie. They do talk about the movie a little, about what you do when you lose choices and about trusting in strained circumstances. It all feels like foreshadowing. Also slightly foggy movie discussion, but I accept this as a convention of the medium. (Any actual movie, even if it were on point, would be out of the theaters before Moy and Bridgman could depict it in the strip. And there’s not the space to describe a made-up movie’s plot in detail.)

[ When Brnady reveals why she doesn't drink ] Brandy: 'I saw firsthand what the misuse of alcohol and drugs can do to a person you love.' Tommy: 'I'm sorry about what you went through growing up.' Brandy: 'Sigh. It affected my trust in people. My father became a different person when he drank and used drugs! He beat my mother ... and he cursed at me! When he suddenly left us ... we struggled to make ends meet! That's why I don't drink or do drugs! Just the thought of it makes me sick!' [ Tommy feels ashamed of his past. ] Tommy, with that deer-in-headlights stare, thinks: 'GULP!'
Karen Moy and June Bridgman’s Mary Worth for the 15th of July, 2018. So for people who weren’t reading along, Brandy was named for that song about what a fine girl she was and a good wife she should be. Tommy correctly recognized this reference and sang a bit of the song to her. Tommy also recognized the wordplay implicit in a woman named Brandy who resents drink. She likes him anyway, so we know this is true affectionate coexistence.

Going to the bar afterwards reveals the drama. Brandy doesn’t drink alcohol. Her father was an alcoholic and drug abuser. She doesn’t want that kind of trouble in her life. Tommy doesn’t drink either. He quit after getting addicted to alcohol and painkillers. He’s been clean for over a year now, and has a support group that he feels comfortable with. Brandy’s talk about how this damaged her ability to trust people, and how she can cope with it only by banishing drink and drugs from her life, shatters Tommy’s hopes.

He’s spent the time since then in a self-inquisitive spiral. He’s clean now, yes. But he did get hooked. And he worries about relapsing. He started using alcohol and painkillers after he was badly injured at work, yes. So, you know, he’s not one of those people who have drug problems because they’re bad. He just needed relief from never-ending severe pain. Still, he can foresee Brandy learning about his past and blocking him out. (And for all my snark, I agree both Brandy and Tommy have reasonable fears that they act on appropriately.)

[ As Mary returns from shopping ] (Her grocery bag breaks open, with cans of tomatoes falling out.) Mary Worth: 'OH NO!' [ She's offered a helping hand! ] Tommy, picking up cans: 'I GOT IT!'
Karen Moy and June Bridgman’s Mary Worth for the 24th of July, 2018. I admit this is not a load-bearing strip for the current storyline. But I am tickled by the first panel making a grocery bag tearing into an action scene. And also that Brigman does so well with it.

But Tommy remembers what comic strip he’s in. He lays out the situation for Mary Worth. She offers the reasonable advice that she would have to learn of his past. But also that Tommy is not Brandy’s father. But this is serious stuff, so she kicks the problem up a level, to God. Tommy goes to confession, revealing that I guess he’s Roman Catholic too. And he gets some decent talk about growing through your sins.

So that’s the standings as of early August, 2018.

Dubiously Sourced Quotes of Mary Worth Sunday Panels!

  • “The greatest test of courage on the Earth is to bear defeat without losing heart.” — R G Ingersoll, 13 May 2018.
  • “There was never a night or a problem that could defeat sunrise or hope.” — Bernard Williams, 20 May 2018.
  • “Find a place where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.” — Joseph Campbell, 27 May 2018.
  • “My friends are my estate.” — Emily Dickinson, 3 June 2018.
  • “To acquire knowledge, one must study; but to acquire wisdom, one must observe.” — Marilyn vos Savant, 10 June 2018.
  • “Don’t fall in love; rise with it.” — Amit Abraham, 17 June 2018.
  • “Pray that your loneliness may spur you into finding something to live for, great enough to die for.” — Dag Hammarskjöld, 24 June 2018.
  • “The simple act of caring is heroic.” — Edward Albert, 1 July 2018.
  • “Gamble everything for love if you are a true human being.” — Rumi, 8 July 2018.
  • “We all have our secrets. We all have our vulnerabilities.” — Brett Dalton, 15 July 2018.
  • “Fear is the mother of morality.” — Friedrich Nietzsche, 22 July 2018.
  • “When in doubt, tell the truth.” — Mark Twain, 29 July 2018.
  • “Repentance means you change your mind so deeply that it changes you.” — Bruce Wilkinson, 5 August 2018.

Next Week!

The Rat Must Die! So did The Rat die yet? I check back in on the Sunday continuity of Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom. See you then!

Statistics Saturday: Eight August Holidays


  • 6th. Orthodox Christmas in July.
  • 9th. Subtweet a future Disgraced Former President Day.
  • 11th. Manasquan, New Jersey, Big Sea Day, or as it is known in giant communities, “Little Sea Day”.
  • 14th. 545th birthday of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury. Surprise party; don’t tell her. No shouting or fireworks at the reveal please.
  • 18th. Alumni Magazine Reunion Day.
  • 21st. Belated Remembering Of My Brother’s Birthday And Calling The One Whose Birthday Was In July By Accident Day.
  • 27th. Orboween. (Observed)
  • 28th. Orboween. (Actual)

Reference: The Making Of Kubrick’s 2001, Jerome Agel.

Statistics July: What Was Popular and How So Here, Recently


If there’s anything that I know for the first week of a month, it’s that I look at the previous month. Usually with relief. But also so I can stare into what my readership looked like, and whether I had any. Maybe also to figure out what people like and what they don’t, in case I can capitalize on that. I already know the best reader response I got for last month, as my love burst out laughing while reading one of my pieces. So I should write more like that. It’s the hardest kind of thing to write, but then, if being a humor blogger were going to be easy I’d have already finished doing it.

Enough padding. Let me look at what my readership figures were like and see how much this month looked like every month.

July 2018, total views: 2,984. Visitors: 1,569. Views per visitor: 1.90. Posts published: 31.
July 2018’s page view and unique impressions count. My big old bustling downtown is looking less prominent, but just because there’s a lot of towers about the same height now.

Aw. My readership dropped below 3,000 page views for the first time this year. There were 2,984 page views, from 1,569 unique visitors. That’s well down from June’s 3,454 page views from 1,791 visitors, or May’s 3,227 views and 1,871 visitors. I’m not sure that I’m reading this right. It looks to me like earlier months I’d get a lot of page views from a mention in some high-volume forum or other. Doesn’t look like there was one in July. I just needed to log out and hit refresh on one of my pages sixteen more times is all. Still, this suggests I do get about three thousand page views even without any particular spikes or strokes of luck. There was a spike when the article about Gasoline Alley’s plot went up, and that’s likely a one-off. But it wasn’t that big a one.

I got 165 likes in July. That’s not quite up to June’s 172 or May’s 175, but it’s not so very different either. There were 36 comments, another crash after, like, June’s 56 or May’s 54. Nothing like back in January (148!). But still a fair number, better than most months in 2017. It makes me wonder what would happen if I knew how to self-promote.

So here’s the top postings from the past month. The top five are all comics posts.

That Phantom update is the most popular thing I published from July. My most popular long-form piece from July was How To Have A Small Business, published mid-month.

So now let me look at a bit list of countries with numbers set beside them. There were 66 countries sending me readers, compared to 71 in June and 78 in May. From this we can conclude the world is shrinking and some countries might have disappeared altogether. If anyone’s seen Paraguay recently please submit a note to that effect.

Country Readers
United States 2305
India 143
United Kingdom 89
Canada 74
Australia 48
Philippines 43
Malaysia 23
Italy 22
Finland 19
Germany 18
South Africa 16
Brazil 14
Romania 14
Spain 11
Norway 9
Mexico 8
Indonesia 7
Sweden 7
Colombia 6
Israel 6
Singapore 6
Denmark 5
France 5
Japan 5
Netherlands 5
New Zealand 4
Peru 4
Portugal 4
El Salvador 3
Georgia 3
Ireland 3
South Korea 3
Ukraine 3
Argentina 2
Austria 2
Belgium 2
Brunei 2
Chile 2
Egypt 2
Greece 2
Hong Kong SAR China 2
Lebanon 2
Namibia 2
Serbia 2
Switzerland 2
Taiwan 2
Trinidad & Tobago 2
Turkey 2
United Arab Emirates 2
Croatia 1
Czech Republic 1
Isle of Man 1
Jersey 1
Kuwait 1 (*)
Macedonia 1
Mauritius 1
Nepal 1
Pakistan 1
Paraguay 1
Qatar 1
Russia 1
Saudi Arabia 1
Slovakia 1
Thailand 1 (***)
Venezuela 1
Zambia 1

That’s 17 single-reader countries, down from June’s 22 and May’s 25. I told you countries were going missing. Thanks for spotting Paraguay for me there, though. Kuwait’s on its second month of being a single-reader country. Thailand’s on its fourth. And this seems like more Channel Islands sending me readers than I expect. But maybe I haven’t been paying attention. That list of fake Canadian provinces or territories didn’t do a thing for my Canadian readership. My French readership was down too after that list of imaginary eras in their history. This is wrong of both Canada and France. Just saying.

August I started with 94,025 pages viewed from a reported 51,658 unique visitors. I’d had 212 posts to date, and a total of 488 comments. This works out to an average 2.3 comments per post, just like they were at the start of July. There were 1,318 total likes, for an average of 6.2 likes per posting. That’s down form 6.4 likes per post at the start of July. I published a total of 20,229 words (as they count words) over July, for a total of 138,259 words so far this year. That’s an average for the year of 652.2 words per post, rather close to the start of July’s 652.1. And it’s an average of 652.6 words per post in July, for whatever good that is. By the way when I started this I always figured 700 words was about what I could hope to do once a week for the long-form piece. So I have a lead about why I sometimes feel like I have run out of words to put to my own purposes.

If you’d like to follow Another Blog, Meanwhile, I won’t stop you. Here’s the RSS feed so that you can read it in the manner you find most convenient. You can also add it to your WordPress Reader by clicking the button on the upper right corner of the page which promises to add it to your WordPress Reader. I’m @Nebusj on Twitter, ad if you spot me on Pinterest it’s because I looked for an image of something and now can’t get it, even though it’s right there. Thank you.

Two people were searching for “mary worth snarks” here. While yes, I do snark on the story strips, I like to think I do that from a place of affection, and after taking the story with sincere interest. Someone (else?) was searching for “nebus hot” and thanks, my love, for that. Oh, wait, the Isle of Man is nowhere near any Channel Islands. I mean unless you’re comparing it to, like, how close Isla de los Estados, Argentina, is.

Everything There Is To Say About The History Of Tying Shoes


There’s a good chance you don’t think much about the history of tying shoes. I don’t blame you. There are so many other things to think about. There’s that odd smell of burning plastic every time you walk past the bathroom between 9 and 10 pm and no other time of day. There’s what to do about the seam line on Saturn’s totally natural “moon” Iapetus. There’s why all those people are setting up a circus tent in your backyard without even asking. But still, tying shoes is something you could be thinking about, and aren’t.

For over 60 percent of human history there wasn’t any tying of shoes. There were many reasons for this. One was that there weren’t shoes. People in these ancient times might talk about tying shoes. But they were laughed down as impractical dreamers. Such is the fate of everyone who sees an obvious problem and fixes it a little too early. Shoes were invented in 1817, after everyone took a good hard look at how lousy the previous year had been on feet. The French Academy offered prizes to anyone who could invent a practical way to cover the foot. And teams across Europe and Asia did, by the simple process of covering it. The invention was a great success and by 1820 everyone agreed they should have been doing this for hundreds of years.

Still, these early shoes were not easy to put on or take off. To get a secure fit, one had to start with a couple pieces of shoe material. Or, as they called it in the trade, “shoeterial”. Then set your foot in the middle of that, take needle and thread, and stitch the shoeterial closed around your foot. Finishing this could take until near enough bedtime. And then there was nothing to do but un-sew it all. This was quicker, as you could use one of those sewing tools you never quite get the name of, but that you remember grandmom being comfortable with. It could undo the stitching in like no time.

So as happy as everyone was with shoes, they also figured, there’s some better way. Union armies experimented during the United States’s Civil War with welding shoes onto soldiers. This resulted in a great many burned ankles, and even more slugged welders. Rivets were tried in Scotland. But this got nowhere fast. The striking action of putting the rivets would cause the iron slugs to become magnetized. So people would walk naturally toward magnetic north, and stop at the shoreline, which isn’t all that far away in Scotland. They would have got farther if the rivets had started in southern England, but not all that much farther. Now, if they had started in Guatemala, that could have got really far. But they didn’t, and that’s just the history we have to live with.

The breakthrough came in 1878, in the Ottoman Empire. One shoemaker for the Sultan said, “What if we punched parallel rows of uniformly spaced holes in the shoes, and then threaded a strong enough string to tie them temporarily together?” Sultan Abdul Hamid II, who was in another room, didn’t hear the suggestion but approved it. When the hole-punching turned out to be a great success he nodded as if that was what he intended all along. But he still ordered an investigation into what was going on with shoes, just in case.

The first attempts at tying used separate laces and loops with each pair of holes. This took forever but you know the late Victorian era and how everything had to be way too decorative for its own good. We’re lucky the shoelaces didn’t come with doilies attached. For all I know they did. To save time people tried lacing only the one pair of holes they liked best, but then their toes would pop out the empty space between the laces. And you did not want to be a late Victorian with exposed toes. Not given the street-cleaning standards of the day, which held that if the street were clean it was jolly well time to tip over some coal sludge and even more unmentionable things.

So the compensation was to try putting the lace through enough holes that toes wouldn’t pop out, but not so many holes that it was too bothersome. and so by 1889, on a Tuesday, we finally had shoes and shoelaces tied in ways that we would recognize even today, on a Friday.

Anyway that’s how I hear. I wear loafers myself.

No, I’m still not learning about the history of socks.

What’s The Deal With The Comic Strip Graffiti?


I don’t mean to pick on utterly harmless obscure comic strips. A lot of them are. And I have some knack for discovering comic strips so obscure that I’m not even sure the cartoonist’s family knows it’s being made. So please understand, I’m not saying that I want Gene Mora to quit writing and drawing Graffiti. But, I mean, look at yesterday’s.

Written on a wooden plank wall; 'Don Rickles was the first Dale Carnegie dropout'.
Gene Mora’s Graffiti for the 31st of July, 2018. There’s, like, no information about the comic strip anywhere. Like even Wikipedia just lists that it’s a comic strip with a name beginning ‘G’, and it doesn’t even get into the question of whether this actually is a comic strip. The comic strip’s About page doesn’t say anything about when Gene Mora was born or how he got into cartooning or how Graffiti totally runs in like three hundred newspapers worldwide. (Comic strips always say they run in about three hundred newspapers worldwide.) The strip just exists without any causal agent.

This … has to be a rerun, right? I mean, yes, comic strips usually have a weird lag in their pop-culture awareness. And that lag only gets worse as a comic strip ages. And Graffiti has been running since Apollo 9 was on the launchpad. I guess? I don’t know. Sometime 1969 anyway. It might have been running only since Apollo 12 was on the launchpad. So given that it would be remarkable if the comic strip could reference anything more current than Disney’s Dinosaur.

And please understand, it’s not like I dislike the thing. I even have a weird nostalgic feeling about it. I remember as a kid reading it in the News Tribune. It was one of those weird comic strips they didn’t allow on the comics page. It just floated around somewhere in that section, waiting for people to happen across a drawing of a wall with text on it.

I mean, the copyright is 2018, but that doesn’t mean anything anymore. Why would it be copyright Andrews McMeel when they haven’t called themselves that since 2011? Right? Unless Gene Mora just had a whole lot of page blanks with the old name put up and is still using them? Which is ridiculous, but if you’re anything like me you know how long a comic strip still in production will show last year’s copyright sticker even after the new year’s begun. And, like, comic strips that would seem to take a lot more work, like Funky Winkerbean or Andy Capp, famously got a year or more ahead of publication. Could Graffiti? I just don’t know.

Don’t read the comments, but yeah, commenter, I’m sure a lot of people get their lives ruined when they’re sued for being politically incorrect. Happens all the time.

The Popeye Two-Reelers Reused: Big Bad Sindbad


So if there’s any genre of story that modern pop culture has rejected it’s the clip show. The last time I remember it defended was on a Saturday Night Live hosted by whoever played the non-Tina-Yothers sister on Family Ties. She notes that clip shows were great, since as an actor you got paid for a whole show and only had to do five minutes’ work. They would let anyone get a little bit ahead of the content hole. They were probably more more tolerated before the rise of home recording. I think of the burial notice for clip shows, at least in the sorts of nerdly pop culture I like, being that episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where Riker has a case of poisoning that can only be cured by watching clips of the first two seasons of Next Generation. That episode has an overblown reputation as the worst thing modern Star Trek has ever produced. Even if you can’t stand a clip show, for crying out loud, modern Star Trek also did a Lwuxana Troi/Ferengi Comedy cross-over episode. And the Enterprise episode where Trip Tucker got wrist-pregnancy from a holodeck.

And as I say, clip shows used to be more tolerated. Certainly more common. The first Popeye cartoon released after last week’s topic, Popeye The Sailor Meets Sindbad The Sailor, was itself a clip cartoon, I’m In The Army Now. And all the Fleischer two-reeler cartoons were themselves reused, later on, in the Famous Studios days. And I wanted to take a moment to look at one of these.

Big Bad Sindbad was released the 12th of December, 1952. So probably the original was out of any theaters. They could be forgiven for supposing most of the audience wouldn’t remember the action or animation well. The credited animators, for the new stuff, were Tom Johnson and William Henning. The director for the new stuff was Seymour Kneitel. Kneitel worked at the Fleischer studios forever. He ran its incarnation as Famous Studios forever too. So if you watch a lot of Popeye cartoons you see that name a lot. And he married Max Fleischer’s daughter. One imagines this made Thanksgiving more exciting after Paramount Studios fired Max Fleischer and keept Kneitel around. I can’t say from personal knowledge.

So. When I watched this cartoon, as a youngster, I was always excited and disappointed. The exciting part is the two-and-a-half-minutes of footage from Popeye The Sailor Meets Sindbad The Sailor. Even my young untrained eye, that was also perfectly happy to watch the Filmation series of Tom and Jerry cartoons, recognized that as something special. It was just too good.

And it affected the surroundings. Popeye by this time was usually dressed in all white, an outfit he got during World War II and didn’t shake for decades. Except this. I suppose to not confuse kids, Popeye in the present-day framing story wears his classic original black-and-white-era outfit. Somehow even that just looks better.

The disappointing stuff, of course, was that it wasn’t the whole two-reeler. You got just a tiny slice of the cartoon that was really interesting, patched into a cartoon that’s already quite short. The version at archive.org runs five minutes, two seconds. And half a minute of that is credits.

Disappointing to me, now, is that none of the story of the original gets included. The original two-reeler hasn’t got much of a story to start with, but at least it has something. Here, all that’s excerpted is a couple minutes of Sindbad and Popeye punching each other. The catchy songs are missing. There’s no Boola, no Rokh, nothing. Even Wimpy only appears for a split-second. There’s no panning across any of the three-dimensional sets. One would almost think the Famous Studios ashamed by how much the old stuff would outclass their current animation. (So far as I know the Famous Studios never used the setback tabletop technique.)

And it’s not as if they couldn’t have found time. The framing device is an adequate one. Popeye takes his three then-surviving nephews [*] to a nautical museum; okay, that makes sense as a thing he might do. They encounter three exhibits, the first two of them used to deliver correctly formed jokes, the third to let Popeye tell a story. Putting aside whether George Washington can be considered a sailor, that’s all okay enough. It’s a character who has a reason to be telling this story to people who have a reason to listen.

[*] Yes, Popeye started out with four nephews. The story goes that Max Fleischer wanted to one-up Donald Duck’s nephews. But the nephews first appeared as Popeye’s imaginary children in a dream. And as Famous Studios wore on, the four nephews dropped to three, and eventually to two. The story there goes that this was to save animation cost on characters who were already visually identical and voiced by the same actor (who was already on staff and performing Popeye’s lines) to start with. This seems hard to believe, but then, why else drop one of them?

Anyway, once all that’s out of the way they could run as much of the original cartoon as they liked. Why so little? I suppose because they needed the clip cartoon to run at least five minutes. But that time after that was wasted. A shame; that makes it a little too obvious that the cartoon’s there to satisfy a contratual obligation to produce technically new animated product. A bit more story would have helped. Or if they don’t want the short to have more time, let the nephews ask impudent questions that Popeye answers. “Gee, Uncle Popeye / Did you / Get Killed?” is an adequate start but only just. At least they showed my favorite gag from the original, Sindbad knocking an endless supply of maritime stuff out of Popeye.

Though now I wonder; was there some requirement that reused material be no more than 50 percent of the cartoon? That there were pretty near two and a half minutes of old footage in a five-minute cartoon is suggestive. But it could also be coincidence. There’s more of Popeye and Sindbad facing off that they might theoretically have used, even without having to include something of Boola or the Rokh or the lions or all that.

I’m not surprised they re-recorded the voices from the two-reeler footage. Probably the original sound elements were lost and all they had was the final mix that, among other things, had the hard-to-edit-around tune of The Stars And Stripes Forever on it. I am surprised they changed Olive’s line of encouragement to “give him the ol’ onesey-twosie” from “give him the ol’ twisker punch”. Were they afraid the “twisker punch” was too slangy a term?

Wikipedia notes this as one of only two theatrical cartoons to have both Popeye’s Nephews and Wimpy in the action. The other is Popeye Makes A Movie, another clip-show cartoon using footage from the two-reelers. This short is one of six with Popeye’s Nephews and Bluto, if you count Sindbad as Bluto playing a role. Use this information only for good purposes.

Next week: back to the actual two-reelers.

Looking Back: Guinea Pigs


I used to keep guinea pigs. Sometimes I’d have said I used to breed guinea pigs, but truth is, I just kept them. They did the breeding themselves. Despite that I keep today, decades later, learning about them. I had the guinea pigs in the 80s, when nobody knew how to take care of any animal that wasn’t a dog, a cat, or something bred with the intention of being eaten. So here’s an essay about my journey learning some astounding things about guinea pigs. And if you question whether there can, legitimately, be an astounding thing about guinea pigs let me point this out to you: there were no guinea pigs in Zootopia and there was a reason. My essay doesn’t say what it was.

Also here’s an old Statistics Saturday piece about taxonomy and the problems with anything being called a rodent. That’s also fun. Promise.