In Which I Reconsider A Hasty Decision

Not that I should spend too much time relitigating this point but … was I hasty in ruling out “Jonathan L S” before even presenting it to the public?

One Excerpt From The Me/iTunes Conversations

[ Translated from the gestures, modal dialogues, and inarticulate howls of boundless rage at my iPod Touch. ]

Me: OK, iTunes, resume.

iTunes: Happy to!

Me:

iTunes: What?

Me: Resume my podcast.

iTunes: I didn’t know you had a podcast!

Me: Don’t ever talk like an online nerd. Resume the podcast I was listening to.

iTunes: Happy to!

Me:

iTunes: What?

Me: Resume it now.

iTunes: Resume what now?

Me: That’s Grandiloquence. Three guys take turns pronouncing a word they only know from reading, and then get into a big argument about who’s least wrong. They’re doing their 40th-episode super-spectacular on ‘synecdoche’.

iTunes: What’s that word?

Me: ‘Synecdoche’.

iTunes: How do you pronounce it?

Me: Almost certainly wrong. That’s why I want to hear the podcast.

So I was reading The Inner Game Of Tennis by W Timothy Gallway. I don’t play tennis and don’t particularly care if I ever do. I have my reasons. Gallway is renowned, besides this book, for developing “yoga tennis” at the John Gardiner Tennis Ranch and the Eastern SportsCenter in California. He also founded the Inner Game Institute. So you can probably date to when in the 1970s it was written. If you weren’t sure about when it was written, consider please this paragraph, from a section headed “The Competitive Ethic and the Rise of Good-o”. I have a question to follow it.

But who said that I am to be measured by how well I do things? In fact, who said that I should be measured at all? Who indeed? What is required to disengage oneself from this trap is a clear knowledge that the value of a human being cannot be measured by performance — or by any other arbitrary measurement. Like Jonathan L Seagull, are we not an immeasurable energy in the process of manifesting, by degrees, an unlimited potential? Is this not so of every human and perhaps every life form? If so, it doesn’t really make sense to measure ourselves in comparison with other immeasurable beings. In fact, we are what we are; we are not how well we happen to perform at a given moment. The grade on a report card may measure an ability in arithmetic, but it doesn’t measure the person’s value. Similarly, the score of a tennis match may be an indication of how well I performed or how hard I tried, but it does not define my identity, nor give me cause to consider myself as something more or less than I was before the match.

So. Is this paragraph sufficiently compelling thanks to the mention of Jonathan L Seagull? Or should the book have used the full name, Jonathan Livingston Seagull? Ought the book have instead referred to him as J Livingston Seagull, or perhaps gone for J L Seagull? Show your work.

(If you do not know anything about Jonathan Livingston Seagull you may find a copy on your parents’ bookshelves anytime from 1971 up through the time they moved to the house on Pine Oak Creek Lane Road in 1988. Reading it in full will take as many as 25 minutes.)

Popeye’s Island Adventures flirts with becoming the Popeye pinball machine

So, something the Popeye’s Island Adventure people declared when the series started and that hasn’t come up before. It’s part of their declaration about how this series is different from earlier Popeye cartoons.

The show combines the original squash and stretch animation style with a fresh update on the original characters and storyline. The new Popeye has a youthful appearance and more eco-friendly position, growing spinach on the roof of his dieselpunk style houseboat and collecting rain water in barrels.

I do not know what deiselpunk is but I can confidently say no, Popeye is not deiselpunk. I can say I am more deiselpunk, and please consider, I spent much of yesterday rewinding and listening again more carefully to a podcast explaining the historical reasons, connected to pronunciation shifts, regarding why the letter ‘c’ is used to represent both the soft-s and hard-k sounds. The claim that this is a more eco-friendly Popeye, though? That … hasn’t really played into any of the cartoons. And then came this week’s cartoon, Commotion in the Ocean.

So. This, yes, has almost nothing discernable to do with Python Anghelo’s incredible and bonkers concept document for the Popeye pinball game of the 1990s. It starts with Bluto surrounded by mounds of garbage. I’m not sure why Bluto is always assumed to be a garbage lord like this. I suppose it’s the thought that you have to be a bad person to litter, so therefore a really bad person is surrounded by a lot of garbage. Which is all right until you consider what signal that sends people who aren’t able to clean as much as they “ought”. We mock the messy and the cluttered and the hoarders; is that decent?

Anyway, Bluto’s sick of the mess in his submarine, and gets to cleaning it. His preferred method: shooting it out his gun barrel. Silly; he should be doing this responsibly, by putting it in a landfill, which is a societally-approved heap of garbage we put on top of the wetlands that would otherwise be keeping the planet alive. Bluto gets away with it until he lands a heap of trash on Popeye and Olive Oyl’s boat. Popeye was pulling some traditional fishing garbage — a metal bin, a funnel — out of the water before that. I’m not clear whether that was supposed to be from earlier Bluto trash bombs, or just Popeye’s bad luck. I’m also surprised he didn’t pull up a boot or old inner tube. But pulling up a funnel and a metal box was probably necessary. It foreshadows the end of the cartoon.

Popeye and Olive Oyl are able to track down who’s responsible for the trash by looking at some of the underwear in it. It’s got Bluto’s face on it. There are several questions this raises. First is why Popeye and Olive Oyl had to wait until we, the audience, could see Bluto’s face-underwear before reacting to it. They’d seen it when the under-face was looking at them, away from us. Also, granted, these shorts are trying to be language-neutral. Is this plot point best established by face-underwear? Also, so, when Bluto wears his face-underwear, which way is his face looking? I feel like these questions are a little unfair, but would the target audience for this cartoon ask different questions?

They spot the source fast enough anyway, with a cute throwaway joke of Popeye looking through a Pringles tube. After a couple more loads of garbage Popeye sees a corked bottle, giving him an idea: try eating spinach. This week the amazing transformation is to fuse his legs together to cork up Bluto’s gun barrel. This change doesn’t seem weird the way the sponge thing last week did. Blocking a gun barrel by jamming yourself in it seems like a common enough cartoon logic, so this feels justified to me. Olive Oyl holding up a judge’s ’10’ sign at Popeye’s hopping around is a cute bit too.

Olive Oyl remembers the funnel from earlier, and they set up … I guess the destroyed gun barrel? … as funnel into Bluto’s submarine, tossing trash back into that. Bluto shrugs and starts sorting out his recyclables. Which is fine for his glass and metal cans and all. I don’t know what recycling bin heaps of brownish-green goop go in.

All these cartoons feel abbreviated. This one particularly so, though. The premise is fine enough. It’s just there’s no real conflict. Bluto throws garbage into the lagoon, Popeye throws it back on him. Couldn’t there be at least one change of fortune along the way? But then I want contradictory things, too. This short avoided the frantic pace that the series has fallen prey to so often. Scenes were well-established, and there was plenty of time to see and understand the action. And the short does well showing off something that inspires a character’s specific ideas. Bluto smashing against the porthole after his first stoppered gun-blast is well-delivered, too.

I’m doing my best to review all these Popeye’s Island Adventures. Essays about them should be at this link.

What’s Going On In Prince Valiant? Who’s put Queen Makeda under a spell? December 2018 – March 2019

Thanks for finding this summary of about three months’ worth of Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant. If these aren’t the three months of story you need summarized, such as because it’s after about June 2019, please check this link. There may be a more up-to-date recap there.

Also on my other blog I read comic strips looking for their mathematics content. This week has a special, easy-to-read theme, since we just had Pi Day. I’d appreciate your reading that sometime.

Prince Valiant.

23 December 2018 – 17 March 2019.

A new story had started the 25th of November. Queen Makeda, of the House of Ab’saba, visits the Misty Isles. Prince Valiant’s friend Bukota feels complicated things about this. His long-ago heroism-while-in-disgrace got him named ambassador to Camelot, which is why he’s in the comic strip.

Queen Makeda gets a private conversation with Bukota. She needs him. Personally, yes; she regrets the exile he’d been forced into. And professionally. There are nobles who doubt her ability to lead. She needs Bukota to help keep Ab’sala from them. Bukota is thrilled to return home and to be with Makeda again.

The nobles are less keen on this. They didn’t hear the conversation any. But they insist that there’s trouble when Queens go off unaccompanied to places like the Hall of Bachelor Warriors the way she did. They insist on a cleansing ritual performed by Fewesi the Healer. She can’t resist the logic or Fewesi’s eyes or his mind-controlling drugs. I mean, she tries. But the nobles are too fast and Fewesi has too many fumes for her.

This leads to a couple confusing days for Bukota. Queen Makeda is going about the business of being present and aware of trade negotiations and all. But she’s not following up on their conversation or even noticing him when he’s in sight. He tells Queen Aleta of the meeting before, and how Makeda’s been freezing him out. Aleta’s reluctant to point out that, y’know, just because Bukota is a nice guy doesn’t mean — oh, never mind, he’s going to try something stupid.

Bukota charges the Queen’s apartment, calling for her and reminding everyone how much they both kinda liked Breakfast at Tiffany’s. He fights with the guards, which is the kind of stunt that got him exiled in the first place. Makeda emerges, the action bringing her out of her trance some. She declares that yes, Bukota’s exile is lifted, and that he’s her … well, the guards clobber him on the head before she can finish. That’s all right. There was someone standing behind a pillar, listening. There’s always someone standing behind a pillar, listening. In ancient times 95% of the population was farmers, fishers, or pillar-listeners.

The Ab’salan nobles — Habte, Mahren, and Ambelu — agree this has gone all wrong. They figured with Queen Makeda away from home, with a small retinue, they’d be able to reinforce their control. They want to head home right away. Fewesi doesn’t like that plan. Having the queen in his power has been going really well, as he makes it out.

Bukota reports the trance of Makeda to Queen Alita. She’s sympathetic but skeptical, even when Bukota says his exile was lifted. Nathan, the pillar-listener and Aleta’s son, attests that this is so, and that when she did the guards smacked Bukota and closed the gate. She sends guards to the Ab’saban quarters. No one answers the door. No one answers the battering ram either. The whole Ab’saban party is dead at one another’s hands. One person has barely survived. Ambelu says that Fewesi deployed powders that set them all in a murderous rage. And he’s abducted the Queen. So he has, and he’s taking her to the waterfront.

Next Week!

I have seven days to summarize Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the past three months! How many of the paragraphs describing that will be written less than eight hours before publication? Take your best guesses in the comments.

Statistics Saturday: The Seven-Day Forecast

• Sunday: Seven day forecast
• Monday: Six day forecast
• Tuesday: Five day forecast
• Wednesday: Four day forecast, or as they say in the trades “fourcast”
• Thursday: Three day forecast
• Friday: Two day forecast
• Saturday: Gulp!

Reference: The March of Democracy, John Truslow Adams.

Everything There Is To Say About Grinding Coffee Beans

Before I get warmed up you might ask how I know anything about grinding coffee beans. I’m glad you don’t ask the equivalent about every one of these essays. That would hurt my feelings. I affect a quiet, almost stoic pose. But I do have, and use, six feelings. I admit one of them is that feeling of nuisance that my sock is not quite wet enough to justify changing.

But it does not hurt my feelings if you doubt my knowledge of grinding coffee beans. I’m not a coffee drinker. I don’t much like it. I usually get coffee because I’ve misunderstood the question. I prefer tea, which could also use some work but which I’ve been kind of used to for longer. The only time I get coffee on purpose is when I go vegetable-shopping at the farmer’s market on the westside of town. They have this complementary coffee bar with a rotation of eight different flavors. And then what am I going to do, not get coffee because I don’t like it? It’s complementary.

And yes, I could get a complementary tea instead, but they use the same tea bags we already have at home. I’ve paid for those already, out of the household budget. This is a real chain of logic I really follow in reality, for real. Also they always have flavored coffees. And coffee might not be anything much, but coffee-cake flavor coffee? That’s great. I should get something to eat with my cup of coffee-cake flavor coffee, but what?

Nevertheless I do make coffee at home for my love, and for guests we have. And people agree I make good coffee. So I have standing.

Coffee comes in the form of beans. This is great because they make this satisfying rattle when you accidentally spill them on the kitchen floor. It’s a noise like pouring some particularly sugar-glazed cereal into an empty bowl and a good reminder to clean the kitchen floor more often. But to turn this into coffee you need to grind the beans. This creates “grounds”. The name comes from when the Coffee Makers Association heard the naming session was right now, not next week like their calendars said. You can get the coffee ground for you by somebody … somewhere … and buy it like that. But then people who are really, really, really into coffee will stare at you. Again, I only drink coffee when I’m feeling proud for snagging a good-looking bunch of turnips for our pet rabbit. But I know if I were making a cup first thing in the morning, I wouldn’t want the dolorous gaze of coffee enthusiasts coming through the kitchen window.

Anywhere you can buy coffee beans has a machine to ground then on the spot. It’s this terrifying machine with at least four hand-written signs warning about settings you must not used taped to it. There’s a layer of coffee dust on it deep enough to grow half-caff bananas. Best to hide from that scene. You can get a coffee blender for home from any shop that sells coffee-making supplies, or “coffeterium” as they say in the trades. (“Coffeteria” is the plural, for if you need more than one blender.) These are great, though. You take the lid off, pour beans in, plug the machine in, press the button, get a spray of beans in your face, and learn to put the lid back on again next time. It makes a fun sound on the kitchen floor.

If blending fails you can go try other ways. One good way is to set a cupful of beans in a strong plastic bag, tape it to the outside wall, and then summon the Kool-Aid Man. He not only crushes the beans into a fine powder but gets you something you like drinking right away while you’re waiting for coffee. That’s all great, but you can only do it up to four times, plus the landlord gets all tense.

So you have to stop using the Kool-Aid man. But that might not be a bad thing. Grinding beans is when they start to lose flavor, and we didn’t spend years getting kind of used to the flavor of coffee to have less flavorful coffee. But the logical conclusion is there: don’t grind the beans before drinking the coffee. Give in to the sound and eat the beans, like cereal, in a bowl full of chocolate milk instead. You can swallow a modest number of gizzard stones, like birds do, to crush the beans inside your crop and enjoy the perfect coffee experience.

It is possible guests are just being nice when they say I make coffee well.

Popeye’s Island Adventures: wait, spinach causes transmogrifications? This changes everything!

Perhaps the near-miss between Popeye’s birthday, in these cartoons, and the 90th anniversary of his debut in the comic strip was coincidence. This week’s two-minute cartoon is Heatwave, and that’s only seasonal if you’re south of the equator. Which, in fairness, Popeye must be sometimes. But I suspect if they do a Christmas cartoon it’ll be all snowy and winter-y.

Is Bluto dumb? The Popeye cartoon settings have always been malleable about their details. Their settings and what exactly Popeye and Bluto and Olive Oyl know about each other at the start of the cartoon. Whether Bluto is dumb affects the story, though. It sets the bounds of how clever a trick he can do, and how clever Popeye has to be to foil him. I think mostly he gets lumped into the “dumb” category. He’s got size and strength going for him. He has to dump something to stay balanced, by cartoon character creation rules. But smart and strong makes him a tougher antagonist. It’s, generically, more fun seeing the hero beat a tougher opponent.

In the Popeye’s Island Adventure series everybody’s a kid. I’m not clear just how young, but that’s all right. Every age of kid is dumb in their own ways, most of them all right. It makes it less weird someone might do something dumb. But Bluto’s smartness, relative to Popeye and Olive Oyl, is still important and still shapes the plot.

The story starts with a simple premise right there in the cartoon’s title. Popeye and his spinach are wilting in the heat. He brings a sad, nearly dead plant to Olive Oyl’s, and that’s all right. She’s got plenty of water, thanks to a water purifier that Popeye somehow didn’t notice when he arrived. I like giving Olive Oyl this trait of being a tinkerer, in part since that gives her something to do that isn’t waiting to be captured or rescued. Olive’s happy to lend Popeye her water-purifier, too.

Bluto builds a swimming pool. This seems idiosyncratic, since he’s never more than like twenty feet from the shore. But I understand preferring to swim in domesticated water. He builds kind of a shabby one, but not a bad one for a kid. And then he starts pumping swamp water in to fill it. He’s startled that he gets a pool of swamp water. What did he expect?

I can kind of follow the kid logic of “if it’s in a swimming pool, it has to be clean swimming pool water”. I mean, it’s a mistake, but I get the essentialist reasoning there. This Bluto seems old to be making that mistake, though. Olive Oyl, presumably about the same age, is building a water purifier. So is he dumb? Or just oblivious?

The cartoon goes on in the obvious, reasonable way from there. Bluto swipes the water purifier and fills up his pond. And he’s got a cute alligator inflatable that reminds me of the alligator pet he dreamed of in Scramble For The Egg.

Popeye and Olive Oyl follow Bluto back to his swimming pool. They surveil the situation and Popeye eats his spinach. And transforms into a human sponge. And I’m really not sure I like that. I was okay with his turning into a mer-man last week, for example. And I’m not sure why this isn’t okay. There’s a couple influences, I think. One is that an extended underwater sequence always has a slightly dreamy logic to it, so more absurd things feel less outrageous. And being in the water and turning to a water creature has tones of … oh, let’s call it sympathetic magic. Here, Popeye just looks at a sponge, eats a can of spinach, and turns into a sponge-torsoed human-form. There’s a linking step missing there, perhaps because the cartoon’s too short to justify it.

Popeye sponges up Bluto’s swimming pool, blasts all that water into the purifier and sprays Bluto with even more swamp water, and the action’s done. The button is Popeye taking a swig of Bluto’s drink and, uh-oh, that’s swamp water too. Good enough ending, certainly.

There’s much I like about the cartoon. The storyline’s logical, apart from Popeye’s spinach-induced sponge transformation. But what everyone does and why they do it makes sense. It feels underdeveloped, though. Everybody wants a thing, and then Bluto does a mean thing, and then Popeye foils it, and that’s all. I’d like a bit more escalation, or some wrinkles where trying to do something fails and they have to try again. This might be impossible, given there’s only two minutes of cartoon time. But there were 35 seconds spent establishing the heat wave before we see Olive Oyl’s water purifier. What if the cartoon started with an establishing shot of the heat waves rolling the atmosphere, and then Popeye with his wilted spinach at Olive’s door?

This is one of the cartoons I’d like to see done as a real, full, six-to-eight minute short.

I’m doing my best to watch all the Popeye’s Island Adventures. The cartoons’ reviews should be at this link.

In Which I Am Not Alone At The Checkout Aisle

Legitimately thought the tabloid was telling me about Angelina’s Cruel Revenge on Bread, and I think it would have sold many more issues if it were.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Weekdays)? What’s that weird Bangallan Navy ship? December 2018 – March 2019

If you’re reading this after about June 2019 I probably have a more up-to-date recap of Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom, weekday continuity, at this link. The link also has the separate Sunday continuity recapped there. If you’re trying to work out all this stuff about Heloise Walker and the Bangallan Embassy? This is a good essay for it.

I try to recap all the syndicated story comics still in production. All those recaps should be at this link. I also discuss the mathematical topics inspired by comic strips. One of those essays, including a challenge to rewrite a joke, is at this link.

Before I get to the weekday Phantom storyline I have a warning. The storyline includes a despairing character considering suicide. If you aren’t comfortable with that, you’re right. Skip this installment. We’ll catch up again in June.

The Phantom (Weekdays).

December 2018 – March 2019.

I last visited the weekday Phantom at the start of a new story. This one, the 251st, is “Heloise Comes Home”. Heloise Walker had crashed the plane of Eric “The Nomad” Sahara and gotten the terrorist arrested. She’d made her way back to the Briarwood School and her roommate, Kadia Sahara. Kadia knew nothing of her father’s avocation. All she knows is her roommate is demanding they flee the country now before it’s too late.

Is The Spider-Man Comic Strip Ending? Is Ballard Street Ending?

The Amazing Spider-Man comic strip isn’t ending right now. But it is going into reruns. D D Degg, at The Daily Cartoonist, passes on the press release about it. From the 25th of March the syndicate will “be re-running some of Spinder-Man’s greatest hits”.

I’m startled, certainly. I think everyone who had an opinion supposed the comic strip would respond to Stan Lee’s death with a change in credits. Acknowledging Roy Thomas’s writing would seem fair enough and as he’s been writing the strip for years it seems an easy enough change.

The press release claims that the strip will “be back soon with great new stories and art”. If we take them at their word, they’re looking to refresh the comic, possibly taking on new writers or artists. That’s all fine. But it’s also what you would say if you were going to let the comic fall into endless repeats forever. I don’t remember if they promised someone would take over Mandrake the Magician after Fred Fredericks retired, but nobody ever has.

The Amazing Spider-Man seems to be going into reruns at the end of a story. Really the story seems to be at its end already. But the tne of the strip lets the characters putter around a while, re-establishing Peter Parker’s hapless loser-ness. That can fill time without standing out as time-wasting.

For my part I plan to keep doing plot recaps of The Amazing Spider-Man, at least until I get word that the strip’s gone into eternal reruns. My last plot recap, a few mere weeks old, is at this link. Any future plot updates or breaking news should appear at this link.

And then for the other question I put in the subject line here. And again from D D Degg at The Daily Cartoonist. Jerry van Amerongen, who creates the panel comic Ballard Street, is retiring. His last strip is scheduled to appear the 30th of March. Amerongen’s been cartooning like this for about forty years, with a strip called The Neighborhood from 1980 to 1990, and Ballard Street from 1991 to this year.

I’m saddened by this, of course. I always am by strips ending. Ballard Street never drew much attention, but it had a deep, natural weirdness that I enjoyed. Someone, and I can’t think where, described it as “inscrutable people acting bafflingly”. It’s a fair summary. There are a lot of panel comics out there. There’s few panel comics where you can pretty much count on seeing, like, an older man dressed in a mouse outfit and holding a hand-cranked propeller beanie listening to his wife chide him for bothering the neighbors again.

There are a lot of panel strips out there, many of them trying to capture that Gary Larson weird vibe. And good for them for trying. Ballard Street ran as a sort of character-based Far Side. It featured people committed to their weirdness, and that really worked. I’m glad to have had as much of it as we did.

I imagine GoComics will carry repeats of the comic, but I don’t know that it will.

Some Unconventional Beliefs

Here are some beliefs it is fine to have, even if you will never encounter a group of hundreds to thousands of people gathering in a hotel in some affordable hotel space on the outer edge of town for a weekend of merriment and panels and cosplay and frustrated attempts to get a group of six people together to go to the build-your-own-burrito place.

• That if your mind insists on fusing the songs American Pie and My Brown-Eyed Girl into one massive, never-ending whole, that’s fine. Your mind is your own. You can put not just any songs but any experiences together you like. If you wish to merge Hotel California with the experience of hollering at the movie theater’s automated ticket booth because you just don’t care where you sit to watch Barton Fink reboot origin movie, that’s your right. I mean, of course, if you aren’t at your gig-economy job putting in a few hours being part of the collective massmind. But that’s a special case.
• That it is the year 2019. By this I mean the ninth or maybe tenth year of the second decade of the current century. There is considerable evidence to suggest that we are instead in the nineteenth year, somehow, of the first decade of the current century. But consider: how is it that we still have eighties nostalgia? The 80s are now so long ago there’ve been, like, five movie Batmans since then? How can we possibly feel any warmth to a time so long ago? If we are still in the first decade of the 2000’s, then that’s just two decades in the past. It makes plausible how, say, people might have any specific warm memories of the Whammy. So let’s take that: we’re not in the year 2019 but rather in the nineteenth year of the 2000s.
• That you just don’t have the emotional reserve to hang out with your fossa pal. That’s all right. Fossas are great, everybody agrees. They also have plenty of issues. It’s all right to let your fossa buddy march off to whatever it is they’re up to. You can recover your mental energies hanging out with a quokka or maybe a binturong. It’s not selfish to take some time not dealing with somebody else’s bizarrely complicated situation that’s somehow a fractal hyperfiasco, where every part of their fiasco is itself some deeper fiasco that’s just as impossible to deal with. Don’t feel guilty just hanging out with somebody who’s sleeping a lot and smells like popcorn.
• All right, so the planet is a sphere. What’s so great about spheres? Maybe we just have a sphere because nobody involved in making it put any thought into the question. If we put our minds to it we could probably have a toroidal planet or maybe one that’s a great big Mo¨bius-strip band. And it’d be fast, too. It would take, like, four days at the longest. There’s three-room apartments you couldn’t clean out for moving anywhere near that fast. Anyway nobody is saying this would solve all our problems, or any of them. It’s just an option we haven’t given serious consideration. No, we’re not doing Menger sponges. We’ve totally read the ending of The War With The Newts on Wikipedia.
• That it would be a heck of a thing if it turned out vampires didn’t mind garlic. Like, maybe one didn’t, and everybody assumed all vampires were repelled by garlic? But it was just that guy’s preference? So what if it turns out vampires see garlic the way anybody might see, oh, Brussels sprouts? Where some just won’t eat them, and some kind of like them, and some love how it looks like they’re giants eating whole heads of lettuce in one bite? And it turns out that vampires actually have an issue with horse radish instead, which is why they only have lunch at Arby’s when it’s part of a long, serious meeting with their financial planner? Anyway you can have that belief and if need be donate that to a needy improv troupe.
• That the messages that would be on the answering machine, if there were any, would be very interesting ones. They might even change everything, if they did happen to exist. It’s your answering machine. You can have any imaginary messages you like on it.

There are more things you can believe even if they are not commonly held. Good luck.

Today’s Update on How My Brain Is Trying To Destroy Me

Me, interacting with coworkers:

“So even if we were able to use Google Maps in the way we want this will not give us adequate aerial photography metadata. And while none of our clients have — to my knowledge — asked about this metadata that is nothing more than our good luck. When they recognize they need this, we are not going to have answers. We need to improve our geographic information services capacity now, before the storm.”

Me, in my head, in the style of the Ramones, on endless repeat:

o/ Gland gland glandgland
o/ Gland gland gland glandgland
o/ I wanna be sebaceous! o/

Popeye’s Island Adventures: Popeye does some sailing, treasure-hunting

That hiccough that left me without a cartoon for a week hasn’t repeated. That’s mostly good. I’ve accepted that I have a fondness for the King Features cartoons of the 1960s and would take the excuse to write about them some more. I should bank a couple of cartoon essays about those, if I want to write so much about them, and have a reserve against future cartoon gaps.

That’s for the future, for work that would make my life easier and that I won’t do anyway. This week there is a new Popeye’s Island Adventure. This one is titled X Marks The Spot. It’s, I believe, the first one without Olive Oyl. It’s also one of the rare cartoons without Eugene the Jeep. I think only Swee’Pea Arrives and A Toast To Popeye haven’t had Eugene before.

This is one of the Island Adventures cartoons that doesn’t get all weird. Popeye and Bluto been sea-diving before, for example in 1935’s Dizzy Divers. Bluto even snaps a picture of Popeye’s (well, Olive Oyl’s) map to start a treasure race in 1940’s Stealin’ Ain’t Honest. It makes good sense they’d then race to the treasure spot, and try to foil one another’s ships.

I like the way the cartoon built from there. The race is a good story setup. Popeye’s and Bluto’s attempts to foil each other make sense, at least by cartoon logic. Popeye seduced by the siren-call of a can of spinach gave me a laugh I quite liked. It’s absurd but sensible in character and in story; what more would you want?

Adding in a third party? That’s a good, sensible escalation. Does Swee’Pea make more sense than Olive Oyl? Either is probably as good. More sense than Eugene the Jeep? I suppose so; what does Eugene need with mere human treasures? And the series hasn’t introduced the kid versions of other characters yet. So I’m not sure that two minutes five seconds would be enough to carry this story and the burden of introducing someone new.

But let me speculate. Wimpy would be a good third party, if he could be roused to action, and if he were in the series. Poopdeck Pappy might fit well too, except I’m not sure how old you would make him to fit the series. I’d be interested in seeing a Young Sea Hag, except that having the evil character win the treasure would change the tone of the ending. Alice the Goon would be great, though. Past that we get into minor Thimble Theatre characters who might excite me and my love but wouldn’t even register to actual people. Toar? Sure, anyone who hangs around me long enough is going to hear about how great Toar is. But I’m not asking anyone to put up with me. Roughhouse, the diner owner, similarly, has that problem. But there the dozen of people who read Hy Eisman’s Sunday Popeye comics at least see him. Geezil? He’s good when he’s playing against Wimpy. When he doesn’t have Wimpy to hate on, you notice the … type … that E C Segar was using for him.

So. Swee’Pea it is, and that’s probably the best choice they could make, even if we expanded the Island Adventures cast.

Popeye and Bluto dive at the treasure spot. Popeye gulps down his spinach and grows a merman’s tail. That’s new. It’s a bit weird, yes, but it’s no giant-tooth weird. To me that doesn’t feel out of line with, like, Popeye spinning his ears fast enough to lift into the air, as in Follow The Spinach. Or more ancient cartoons where Popeye would, say, turn into a torpedo for the sake of hitting someone. I grant I also like merman and mermaid characters, so, what the heck. I don’t blame you if that’s a touch too weird.

Bluto and Popeye get scared off by a skeleton. This makes sense for them as kids in a way it wouldn’t quite if they were full-grown. That it’s a trick by Swee’Pea, well, I saw it coming but I still liked it. It’s all a happy enough ending.

This short feels like a condensed version of a normal cartoon, which is a style that I like in these. It’s got a premise and a storyline that fit Popeye, and even fit Popeye as a sailor. The resolution satisfies me. I’m happy with this.

Statistics February: How The Past Month Treated My Humor Blog

I still like doing these start-of-the-month looks at my statistics. Somehow taking a big pile of numbers and sharing them with people who aren’t responsible for them appeals to me. At least it’s one essay each month that’s easy to think of what to write. Actually writing it is another thing.

So what happened with the number and variety of readers I attracted in February 2019?

OK, so, that’s a bit of a drop. 2,428 views in February, compared to 3,343 in January and 2,866 in December 2018. I’d like to attribute this all to February’s shortness. But the average-per-day views plummeted in February: 87, says a WordPress panel I’m not going to bother including a screenshot of. In January there were 108 views per day on average. December had 92 views per day, which isn’t too far off February’s. But still: I haven’t had that few views-per-day since December 2017. Not sure what happened there. My best guess is that Roy Kassinger was very busy with things.

The number of unique visitors dropped too, although not quite so precipitously. There were 1,429 unique visitors recorded in February, versus 1,830 in January and 1,632 in December. That’s about the same number of unique visitors per day in February as in December, anyway. The number of likes fell to 156 from January’s 183. But that’s up from December’s 137 and is at least within striking distance of the 165-to-180-likes average most of 2018 showed. The number of comments dropped to 34 from January’s 70, and December’s 44, but comments are such a scattershot thing around here anyway. This is more talky than I was managing in 2017, anyway.

What was popular here in February? What’s always popular here, every month? The top five:

My most popular non-comic-strip related thing was Statistics Saturday: The Months Of The Year In Reverse Alphabetical Order and … uh … huh. All right. I haven’t thought about this one since it posted four years ago and I needed a moment to get the joke. I hope it has inspired people to have extremely Internet fights about the question.

My most popular long-form essay was one from this month. That’s always flattering. It was Some Things To Understand About The 1980s. Nicely enough that’s also the essay I’m happiest with from this past month. It’s got a strange tone for me, but a tone I like. I shall have to think about how I got into the mood to write this piece. I still think there should be something more to do with the concept of Muppet Babies Kids.

Still, the story strips remain my most popular thing, and the thing that draws readers in. Here’s my plan for story strips to recap through to April. This may change if a strip has some big event, like new writers or artists or a reboot or something that makes people wonder if the comic is still being made.

And all my story strip plot recaps should appear at this link. If you see one that doesn’t, please let me know. It likely means I just tagged something wrong.

65 countries sent me readers in February. There had been 68 such in January, but 61 in December. This all seems pretty stable then.

Ooh, 1766 readers from the United States. This seems neat to me because 1766 is the year that my undergraduate school was founded. So, you know, my making that association right away shows why everybody treated me like that in middle school.

United States 1766
India 98
United Kingdom 77
Australia 66
Italy 23
Peru 20
Mexico 19
Germany 17
South Africa 15
Sweden 14
Brazil 13
Philippines 13
Netherlands 12
Singapore 12
Spain 12
Finland 11
American Samoa 9
France 9
Israel 7
Japan 7
New Zealand 7
European Union 6
Hong Kong SAR China 6
South Korea 6
Chile 5
Indonesia 5
Turkey 5
Georgia 4
Ireland 4
Romania 4
Switzerland 4
Malaysia 3
Nepal 3
Norway 3
Russia 3
Taiwan 3
United Arab Emirates 3
Belgium 2
Bosnia & Herzegovina 2
Greece 2
Jamaica 2
Malta 2
Poland 2
Portugal 2
Puerto Rico 2
Saudi Arabia 2
Slovakia 2
Ukraine 2
Cameroon 1
Denmark 1
Estonia 1
Hungary 1
Kazakhstan 1
Kenya 1
Mongolia 1
Montenegro 1
Pakistan 1
Serbia 1 (*)
Slovenia 1
St. Martin 1
Tunisia 1
Venezuela 1
Vietnam 1

There were 15 single-reader countries in February. There had been 19 in January, but the only country in common both months was Serbia. And wow, I was this close to a complete new slate of single-reader countries. That’s exciting to be. But see above comment about why everybody treated me like that in middle school. There had been 12 single-reader countries in December.

I averaged 599 words per post, in the 59 posts made from the start of the year through the end of February. That rose from my end-of-January arithmetic mean of 590. I published 17,036 words in February, bringing my total for the year to 35,326 words. I don’t know if that counts things like captions to images or the alt-text for images. For the year to date I’m averaging 1.6 comments per post, down from 1.7 at the end of January. I’m averaging 5.5 likes per post, down from 5.7 at the end of January. Hm.

What’s not decreasing is the total number of posts I’ve made: 2,219 at the end of February. Oh, so I failed to mention then that yesterday’s Alley Oop recap was post number 2,222. Neat. As of the start of February I’ve had 114,303 total views, from 63,017 unique visitors. My most-read day ever remains the 24th of November, 2015. That when some of my writing about the collapse of Apartment 3-G got mentioned on The Onion AV Club and old Usenet pal Joe Blevins gave my blog its name. That’s probably not going to ever change. I wonder if there’s a way to get data on my third-most-read days.

What’s Going On In Alley Oop? What are the new writer and artist doing to Alley Oop? December 2018 – March 2019

Greetings from the past. If you’re reading far enough in my future I have a more recent recapping of Alley Oop‘s plot at this link. If you’re reading this around March 2019, this is the current plot.

Also, if you’re interested in some mathematically-themed comic strips, why not look at my other blog? I have fun writing those posts. You might like reading them.

Alley Oop.

10 December 2018 – 2 March 2019.

I last checked in on Alley Oop during a rerun of a Jack Bender and Carole Bender story. It seemed to be the end of the story. Doc Wonmug had brought Alley Oop back from 1816 Switzerland and made some speculations about Mary Shelley. But there was about another month’s worth of 2013-vintage reruns until Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers took over. I guessed there might be some puttering around in the present day.

Not to brag but I was right. During the Switzerland expedition Alley Oop fell off a cliff and got dead a little bit. (Wonmug had a defibrillator which somehow helps with falling from great heights.) Wonmug wants him checked out by a real doctor in a doctor’s office and all. The doctor’s receptionist won’t let him in without an insurance card. Alley Oop laughs at this, as if health care were not a fundamental right of all humans. Doctor Lambert tries getting some of Oop’s basics down. But they haven’t got a clear answer for what Alley Oop’s birthday or age should be. Wonmug seems to be keeping quiet about how Alley Oop’s from prehistoric times, and I don’t know why. Maybe he was keeping his time-travelling stuff quiet? Except, like, he has a sign pointing “To Time-Travel Laboratory” on his mailbox.

The doctor diagnoses Alley Oop with a lot of head injuries, which, fair enough. He wants to give Alley Oop an MRI. But it’s hard enough to get a blood sample, since his skin is so tough. There’s talk about a colonoscopy, quickly written off. Dr Lambert puts on a rubber glove with the intent of checking Oop’s prostate. When Wonmug whispers what that is, Oop gets up and storms out of the doctor’s office. This is a funny idea that doesn’t have any homophobic connotations. And it’s not like a prostate ever causes actual heath problems for a person anyway! Doctors are being all weird when they want to check it.

Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s reruns end on that unhappy note. Wonmug sends Alley Oop home in a sequence that, back in 2013, started a new adventure. Instead, we start a new adventure … with new artist and writer.

That new adventure started the 7th of January, 2019. With, at the risk of being cliched, someone waking up.

Alley Oop thinks he’s had a crazy dream about time-travelling and scientists from the future and all. I was not at all comfortable with this. One of the benefits of a long-running character is the building-up of a continuity. Its mass and often apparently contradictory nature give it verisimilitude. Sometimes you get caught in an actual contradiction that can’t be rationalized away. In that case I’m usually willing to give the creators the tool of “just don’t bring up the contradictory stuff again”. Or start repairing things and pretend the older problems never happened.

A clean-slate reboot has advantages when the core idea is good, but there’s stuff that can’t be reconciled or repaired. Often this is a difference in attitude. There’s no fitting the Adam West Batman and the 90s cartoon Batman in the same continuity, and no sense trying. So … would this be such a different approach that it didn’t make sense to treat them as in-continuity?

Ooola comes in to assure Alley Oop that it wasn’t a crazy dream, he just got hit in the head by a coconut. The time-travel stuff is real and they’ve been doing it for years. But … something happened and they’re in an alternate universe. It’s much like the knew, except that tacos will never be invented. Oop drops to his knees and cries out in agony.

Do you find this funny? Because this is the major writing difference between the old Alley Oop and the current one. Sayers and Lemon are still telling a serial adventure comic. But there is much more emphasis on joke-telling. Every strip ends with a punch line, even if it has to be forced in there. It’s an effect quite like Dan Thompson’s Rip Haywire, a strip I’m thinking about adding to these what’s-going-on-in reads.

If this style isn’t working for you, then you’ll probably find the new team to be a bust. To my tastes, the punch-line-panel bit has been getting better, as the jokes have been more based on character and situation. A zany, out-of-nowhere punch line can be great fun. We wouldn’t have had web comics in the 90s without them. And a story can be good with this sort of wackiness. Readers love to accept stories. All they demand is some combination of the characters, plot, writing, and concepts to be interesting enough. Where wacky, zany punchlines disappoint me as a reader is when they aren’t tied enough to the characters or the situations. If you could reassign a joke to another character, or another day’s strip, without making it less funny? That’s often a symptom of a weak joke. To my tastes, that’s been happening less as Sayers and Lemon inhabit the characters longer.

So the story. After a week of Ooola explaining the premise of the strip to Oop, Dr Wonmug popped in. He has a mission. They need to venture to the far-off world of 1986 to retrieve a mixtape. This isn’t just zany wackiness. Wonmug asserts it’s “very important and extremely time-sensitive”. So far he hasn’t explained what’s important. We’ll leave aside how a time traveller can face a time-sensitive problem. So far as I can tell, time travel in Alley Oop works like it would in Old Doctor Who. You know, where you don’t do that thing of coming back to your home time after fewer days than you spent in the other time.

They get to Wonmug’s old room. But the mixtape is gone. There’s a ransom note. Whoever took it wants three things. First is a jelly bean from the desk of President Reagan. They take a bus to Washington, DC. Wonmug has a plan for sneaking in to the Oval Office. They’ll deliver his Presidential Portrait. Fortunately Oop’s whipped up one of Reagan with a chimpanzee.

Things are going their way. Ronald Reagan wakes up senile, racist, homophobic, and missing his eyeglasses. So he’s in a great mood when Wonmug, Oop, and Oola come in. He identifies them as George Bush, Mikhael Gorbachev, and Nancy Reagan. While Reagan hangs the picture of “a sunset”, Oop grabs a bunch of jellybeans, and eats all but one of them.

The next item is in San Francisco. They need to grab the master copy of the game disk for Caves of Zgfrhkxp. And they’re going to get there in good time. Reagan agreed to let Wonmug, as “George Bush”, take Air Force Two to San Francisco. This is a fun historical shout-out. That’s what they nabbed Bush’s chief of staff John Sununu on, back when there were consequences to things. And this week they’ve landed in San Francisco.

And then there are Sundays. Often for story comics the Sunday strip is a recap of the previous week’s. Jack Bender and Carole Bender adapted this approach. Their Sunday strip usually recapped the previous Tuesday through the coming Monday. Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers are doing something different. Their Sunday strips are installments of Little Oop, the adventures of a middle-school-age Alley Oop and his friends.

These have been fun. Alley Oop at school. Alley Oop hanging out with friends. Alley Oop asking his parents for a pet dinosaur. They’ve been fun, and haven’t had the same sort of wacky zany punch lines. This might reflect the strips having enough space to build a scenario. What they haven’t been is an ongoing story. So I’m going to hold off on recapping those stories until I see that there are stories to recap.

Next Week!

The last time I looked at The Phantom‘s weekday continuity, Heloise Walker had got her roommate’s father arrested for terrorism and was trying to get her to flee the country. How’s that turned out? I expect to check back in Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom next Sunday.

Statistics Saturday: ‘E’ Content, by letter

Letter ‘E’ Content
A $0$
B $1.375$
C $0$
D $0$
E $1$
F $0.75$
G $0$
H $0$
I $0.25$ [1]
J $0$
K $0$
L $0$
M $0 - \imath$ [1]
N $0 - \frac12\imath$ [2]
O $0$
P $0$
π $0$
Q $0$
R $0$
S $0$
T $0$
U $0 + \frac12\imath$ [3]
V $0$
W $0 + \imath$ [3]
X $0$
Y $0$
Z $0$

[1] Value is dependent on the typeface used.

[2] Value is dependent on the typeface used and only applies to the lowercase ‘n’.

[3] Value is extremely dependent on the typeface used.

Reference: Troy: A Collar City History, Don Rittner.

The major reason to update your operating system these days is security. Computers are insecure and only getting worse. We can see why by considering any given program. If you have a program, it’s because someone wrote it to do something. (We are not going to see natural, farm-raised software for another three, three and a half weeks.) Do you know how many different ways there are for a program to do a thing? There are four. The programmer has doubts the right way got picked.

If the program doesn’t do a good job at that thing, the person who wrote it feels insecure. They have to explain how they know this thing isn’t right, 68 times a day. You can only apologize for the same thing 67 times in a day without it hurting your self-esteem. If it’s a little thing that’s wrong then that’s worse. They figure, this should be easy to fix! Why can’t I do it? So the person writing the program feels like a rank fool. That slips into the code, and your computer feels the insecurity.

If the program does whatever it should do well, you’d think that was great, right? Except no. Then the programmer has to think about how they can make this better. If they don’t, then they have to go work on something else. If they knew how to do that they’d have finished that program instead. So the writer has to work on making this good enough thing better. And you try thinking of an idea that’s even better than the one you had that worked. Do you know how many ways there are to improve a thing you ever did? There are four. Yes, again. So the person can do a couple of updates and make things better. After that every update makes the program a little less good. And then the program knows why you’re putting up with it. It’s because that’s less bad than trying something else. More insecurity.

You know who doesn’t have insecurity? The people who design hammers. Hammers are there to hammer a thing into another thing. If you feel fancy, you can include an option where it un-hammers a thing from another thing. The hammer designer knows the result should do. Once they’ve got a hammer that’s good at doing a thing — hamming — they’re happy. There’s nobody expecting some kind of improvement. If the prospect of an improvement comes along, that’s fine. Then they can go back to the Hammer Design Room. It’s a cheerful reunion. They get to see old friends.

“Dan! Kelly! We haven’t talked since we got that new niobium alloy! That was such a great hammer design time! What have you been up to?” This is the sort of merry little small talk I imagine they get up to. I don’t know what actual small talk is like. But I imagine it involves acknowledging that people have names. Then that you used to interact with people in some way. And then mentioning something you might interact with them about. I don’t know if you would alloy a hammer with niobium, but you know? I don’t know any reason not to, either. “Put your niobium in any hammers you like,” that’s what I say, when nobody else is in the room. And now I’ve said that I should explain that so far as I’m aware I have no financial holdings in the niobium trade. I’m not using my platform to manipulate rare-earth-metal prices. It’s not a rare-earth-metal. And there’s a 25% chance I made up the word “niobium” anyway. I’m pretty sure I didn’t make up the name “Dan”.

Anyway, the Hammer Design Room gets the gang back together. After they catch up there’s talk about whether this is actually going to make better hammers. And if the hammers are better, or what they’re better at. And then there’s hugging all around and promises. This time they’re going to stay in touch. Everybody goes back to making hammers. And there’s no upgrading the hammer until it can’t hamm anymore. You never see a security update for a hammer, not until some fool puts a computer in it. And if someone tries sneaking a computer into your hammer, you can bonk their fingers with it.

So if you’ve neglected your computer’s security updates, try hitting a thing with a hammer. Let’s say that’s my thesis here. Thank you.

One more thing about the 80s

This stray thought about the 1980s and the cartoons and how there was this Pac-Man cartoon and all. Also the Pac-Man cartoon technically had Pac-Man and the Ghosts running around trying to bite each other. But because of what you could show on TV at the time, and what you could animate, you could argue the Ghosts were just trying to lick Pac-Man a lot. That would totally change things, especially the episode set in prehistoric times from before the discovery of Pac-Power-Pellets, when Pac-Men were helpless against Ghost licks, much as we humans are today.

Popeye’s Island Adventure: send in the clones

Whatever happened last week was apparently not the end of new Popeye’s Island Adventures. Maybe I was right to guess someone was on vacation. So here’s the tenth of the series, Popeye Squared.

Sometimes there’ll be a good story idea for a character hanging around, waiting, for nearly a century before someone does it. Here’s one of them. There’ve been cartoons where someone has duplicated Popeye, either impersonating him (Hello, How Am I, 1939), or building a mannequin to fool Olive Oyl (Puppet Love, 1944), or building a robot to fool Olive Oyl (Robot Popeye, 1960), or something. And there’s, I believe, at least one Bud Sagendorf story in the comic strip where Swee’pea gets duplicated. But Popeye himself, duplicated? With, like, normal good versions rather than evil ones? I haven’t seen that before. And that’s a great idea.

The short starts with Eugene, using his powers of advancing the plot. He’s somehow found a magic pool that duplicates stuff tossed in it, and that’s great for the apple shortage. While he’s off getting more fruits to duplicate Popeye wanders over and falls in. Young Popeye is a pretty clumsy fellow around here. It’s a bit endearing, and he does need something on his side since he can’t mutter anything fun in this series.

He heads off without noticing anything. The pool, after a pause, spits up a Duplicate Popeye, and then another, and then another. I don’t mind that the Duplicate Popeyes took longer to start making than the apple did. I can write that off as editing, especially since the short only has 130 seconds to do its business. What I don’t get is why there’s no end of Duplicate Popeyes and only the one apple. (Maybe the pool stops duplicating when the original and existing duplicates are removed? I don’t know. This really only matters for people roleplaying Popeye’s Island Adventures at home.)

The Duplicate Popeyes like each other, which in turn I like. The scene about 40 seconds in of them all just ack-laughing at each other tickles me. Eugene gets back, is shocked, and puts an end to the duplicating by covering the pond with a giant rock. I assume this means the pool gets buried under a pile of many gigantic duplicate rocks, but we don’t see that. Instead the Duplicate Popeyes go off about Popeye business.

And that gets to the high point of this cartoon and one of the high points of this series. A dazed Olive Oyl having eight Popeyes over for tea? She’s got a great expression. And it’s well-directed, repeated cuts out to establish there’s even more Popeyes and even more ack-laughing going on. Following that up with a dazed Swee’Pea, similarly, being read to by five Popeyes? That’s great. That all of them are making the inarticulate Popeye-ish grunts that the series has used? Even better, and a moment of using one of the series’ biggest limitations to be funnier. So by 1:09 in I was ready to call this my favorite of the series.

Then it all falls apart. Popeye’s in his ship-home, doing a bit of charting. (And as a person who’s never really understood navigation charts, his insight how to get there entertained me.) Then a bunch of Duplicate Popeyes break in and spill cans of spinach all over the place. Seven-year-old me would appreciate knowing that spinach cans are so fragile these days. He was always disappointed with his experiments squeezing a can open.

The Duplicate Popeyes lick up some spinach and then disintegrate into a green goo. And, well, that’s a quick and simple horrifying way out of the too-many-Popeyes problem, isn’t it? Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Swee’Pea set up to spray the island for Duplicate Popeyes. And for the last half-minute of the short, it’s various ways to get a blob of spinach into a Duplicate Popeye’s mouth and watching them disintegrate. Some of these ways are fun, like Olive’s spring-loaded Loving Cup. Some of these scenes include funny weird bits, like several Duplicate Popeyes pointing and laughing at an apple. And the music behind it is this fun, playful version of the series’ theme. But … gah, it’s eleven Duplicate Popeyes disintegrating into gooey puddles.

I mean, I felt for the Duplicates. I don’t want Popeye killing them. I suppose they were doomed to be short-lived anyway, given their vulnerability to the element of spinach and being Popeye clones and all. But the cartoon is taking lightly something that I just can’t.

So, the last hour just crashed the production for me. And no, I don’t know how to get out of the problem of “we probably should not actually have fourteen Popeyes hanging around”. Maybe they all swallow cans of Baseline Popeye’s spinach in order to fend off a startled Bluto, and they melt then. Which is still bad but would leave nobody morally responsible the result. Anyway, you shouldn’t make clones just to kill them. It’s a controversial stand but I’ll stand there.

This and my other reviews of Popeye’s Island Adventures ought to be posted at this link.

TCM Showing the Skippy movie on Wednesday

Turner Classic Movies (United States feed) has scheduled the 1931 movie Skippy for this Wednesday, the 27th of February. It’s set for 10:15 pm Eastern and Pacific time. I’ve mentioned the movie before but, what the heck. There’s people reading this who missed earlier mentions.

The movie is based on Percy Crosby’s comic strip Skippy. It’s a great comic strip. It’s an influential one, too. It’s one of the comics that Charles Schulz had in mind when making Peanuts. And, with considerable help from Schulz, it’s influenced incredibly many comics. Crosby supposed that kids had feelings and desires and interests that they took seriously, and that good stories would come from taking them seriously. Every comic strip that follows the child’s point of view owes something to it.

It’s not only influential, though. It’s good. I mean, a lot of early comic strips are good, but you have to work a bit to understand them. Like, I enjoy George Herriman’s Krazy Kat, but if take any given day’s strip and ask me what the joke is I’ll often be in trouble. Not Skippy, though. Crosby’s sensibility is close enough to the modern one. There are exceptions, but you can look at the comic and understand what’s supposed to be funny. Clean up the dialogue and redraw it for modern comic strip art sizes and you could run it on a modern newspaper page.

The movie, starring Jackie Cooper, came out in 1931, when the comic was a few years old. It’s got to be among the first full-length movies based on comic strips ever, really. Percy Crosby gets a writing credit, and I believe it. I’m not sure if any specific strips were adapted into the screenplay, but the tone and attitude absolutely is. (Neither of the strips I’m including here are used in the movie, mind.) And much of it is the sort of casual hanging-out of kids who just have some free time and places they’re not supposed to go and the occasional excitement that somebody has some money and things like that.

The movie has a plot, although it takes a while before you see that it’s more than just hanging out. And there is something worth warning: when the plot does swing into action it includes an animal’s death. It’s taken seriously when it happens, and it devastates the character it’s supposed to. But it also includes the attitude that if, say (and to use an animal not in the film, so that I don’t give away just what happens more than necessary), your goldfish dies it’s all right because you can get another goldfish. I know there are people who even today have that attitude, but I don’t understand it myself.

Anyway, if you don’t need that in your comic strip movies, that’s all right. If you want to enjoy what you can without facing that, watch roughly the first hour. Up through the bit where Skippy and Sooky put on a show. Duck out after that and you avoid the shocking stuff.

Director Norman Taurog won an Academy Award for Best Director. Jackie Cooper was nominated for Best Actor. The screenplay, by Sam Mintz, Norman McLeod, and Joseph Mankiewicz, got a nomination for Best Writing. And the whole movie got a nomination for Best Picture. So Turner Classic Movies brings the movie up at least every February, as part of its 31 Days of Oscar. And, well, it’s a solid movie. Worth noticing.

What’s Going On In The Amazing Spider-Man? Why did Mary Jane toss a sheet on the Purple Guy? November 2018 – February 2019

I see a lot of people wondering about Roy Thomas and Alex Saviuk’s The Amazing Spider-Man. (Stan Lee’s name is still on the strip, but I do not know whether anything he might have contributed is still relevant.) This should have you set up for the story as it stood in February 2019. Somewhere around May 2019 I expect to have a more up-to-date plot recap that might be more helpful to you.

And if it’s mathematics you’re looking for, I discuss mathematics from the comics pages at my other blog, here. Thanks for reading these pieces.

The Amazing Spider-Man.

18 November 2018 – 23 February 2019.

Last time, J Jonah Jameson had just tried to hire Luke Cage, Hero for Hire, to expose Spider-Man once and for all. Cage refused, on the rounds he’s not for hire anymore. And that’s where we left off. The story had just started the 10th of November.

Luke Cage storms off from not being hired. He sees a car about to hit a pedestrian, and runs up to smash the car off the road. The pedestrian is a purple-skinned fellow. A narration box says if this were a Sunday strip you’d see that. But the weekday strip online was in color. The wonder is that it got the correct color. The purple guy is Killgrave. When Cage starts ragging him about that he orders the hero for not-hire to freeze. Cage does, and is shocked he can’t move a muscle. Killgrave orders the driver who’d almost hit him to go walk in front of a bus. The driver complies.

Cage shakes off his immobility enough to save the driver. Killgrave orders him to stop again. He lays on some backstory for those of us who don’t know about every purple-skinned person in the Marvel Universe. Killgrave got splashed with a mysterious purple chemical nerve-gas concentrate while spying around an Army Ordnance Depot. Since then, he’s been purple-skinned, but anyone who hears him must obey his commands. Not all these characters have complicated backstories. Somewhere on the line he picked up a case of amnesia. But luckily Cage shook him out of the amnesia. So that’s looking up for the forces of purple. But he’s still getting his Power Voice back, so he can only control one person at a time. And hey, Luke Cage is a great person to have in your total power.

Mary Jane returns home. The studio’s giving up on publicity for her movie Marvella 2: Sword of the Dragon Prince. And the Mammon Theater, where she’s been working, got smashed up last story. So, facing a layoff from her Broadway acting gig and an imminent movie flop, why not pop off to Australia for a while? Newspaper photojournalist Peter Parker, who like me can’t remember if he’s freelance or staff, thinks that’s a good idea. She can even buy first-class tickets to head out that afternoon. Maybe this says more about me, but that’s the most terrifying concept I’ve read in this strip in a year.

They’re interrupted by an armored-car holdup. Luke Cage lifted the armored car right off the Grand Central Parkway. (I don’t know that any airline flies to Australia from out of LaGuardia. I’m just assuming Peter Parker is a guy who has to fly through LaGuardia a lot.) Fortunately Peter Parker wore his Spider-Man suit, under his clothes. He figured travelling first-class he wouldn’t be strip-searched at the airport. Peter Parker still doesn’t know how airports work. But, in fairness, he’s managed to successfully take a flight like once in the last decade and even that needed President Obama to help with.

Cage starts fighting Spidey, and not because they’re doing traditional superhero meet-cutes. Killgrave is ordering Cage around. Cage is able to resist enough of Killgrave’s instructions that Spider-Man keeps escaping. He’s not able to control people of strong enough will, because, I’m assuming, Steve Ditko created the character. So Killgrave figures, hey, why not take over Spider-Man instead? From this we learn Killgrave is not connected to the story-comics snark community. But he’s got some good reasons on his side. Spider-Man’s able to web Cage up, for example. And granting he’s an evildoer, it’s still better optics to be enslaving the white guy when the story’s sure to run into February. Killgrave takes off with Spidey.

Mary Jane meets up with Cage, who recognizes her from Marvella 1: Prince of the Sword Dragon. And the cops let the guy who was tearing open an armored car five minutes ago leave because, y’know. They’re not jerks about this. Mary Jane brings Cage back to her apartment. And there’s a quick beat, in the elevator, which might be planting something. The landlady(?) warns Mary Jane. If she wants to consort with superheroes, you know, maybe she should live somewhere that can take being attacked by supervillains. I’m sure the warning would be the same if Mary Jane were having Tony Stark for company.

Anyway, Mary Jane’s has a plan. She’ll use the Spider-Tracker that Spidey gave her for reasons that are innocent and should not raise any suspicions in Luke Cage’s mind. With that, they’ll find Spider-Man, and Killgrave. Killgrave will surely order Spider-Man and Cage to fight, and while he’s micromanaging that, Mary Jane can sneak up from behind and bonk him. It’s not an elegant plan. But remember, Killgrave’s powers are that he can control one person at a time. Also that he’s who white people are thinking of when they swear they don’t care if someone is white, black, green, or purple. He’s still a normal human as far as getting bonked counts.

Meanwhile Killgrave took Spider-Man to the 369th Regiment Armory, in Harlem. Cage’s stomping grounds, the strip points out. In the Armory is more of the purple nerve-gas stuff that gave Killgrave his powers in the first place. He’s figuring a recharge on it will help him control the whole city, if he needs. He doesn’t seem to reflect how this is what he should’ve done with Cage in the first place. Never mind robbing some stupid armored car. But, you know, everybody’s wise after the fact.

The Armory is closed, what with Trump’s Shutdown. Killgrave has to have Spider-Man carry him up to a high enough window they can break in. Also to mention his fear of heights like fourteen times, so you know that’s being set up to be a plot point. It hasn’t been.

They break into the Secret Origin Chemicals closet. There’s cylinders of the purple nerve-gas underneath a plastic sheet. The plastic sheet is a plot point. But it’s picked up and tossed off by Spider-Man so quickly I didn’t notice it either until I was writing this paragraph. Cage and Mary Jane arrive at the armory and break the doors open. Killgrave has Spidey climb to the top of the building for reasons not directly addressed. We can infer reasons, though. Cage waved off Mary Jane’s suggestion they sneak up quietly on Killgrave. He pointed out his breaking down the steel doors could be heard in another borough.

Cage and Mary Jane find the broken-in closet, and Mary Jane grabs the plastic sheet that the chemicals had been under. Everyone gathers on the roof. Killgrave orders Spider-Man to throw the gas cylinder at Luke Cage. The cylinder breaks open. Killgrave breathes deep the gases which he’s confident will recharge his voice-control powers more than it’ll be nerve gas. Killgrave called that one right, and orders Spider-Man and Cage to fight each other. They do, resisting the command as much as they can, until Mary Jane bonks Killgrave in the throat with a pipe. This shuts him up long enough for Spidey and Cage to break out of his control? I guess? Anyway, Mary Jane covers Killgrave with the plastic sheet from before.

Many readers were confused by this action. Even the other characters seem baffled by this choice. But she’s on top of things. Daredevil had dropped the tip that Killgrave’s powers are blocked by special sheeting. Also I guess Killgrave is one of Daredevil’s villains? All I really know of Marvel is what I get from the newspaper comic, plus I saw Black Panther and Guardians of the Galaxy. Oh, and Into The Spider-Verse which was a blast. And yeah, I’m on the mailing list for news about Marvella 3: Dragon of the Prince Sword. Anyway, Killgrave can’t project his power out, so it’s doubling back on himself and in the confusion he rushes for the edge of the armory. Spider-Man webs him, just as he’s going over the dangerously low edge of the roof. The momentum threatens to carry Spider-Man over the edge too. Cage grabs hold of Spider-Man and a rooftop pipe, but he isn’t up to full speed yet either, so can’t be sure he won’t slip over the edge too.

Next Week!

I finally get to close out Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s story about Alley Oop facing a modern doctor’s office! And then I have to have an opinion about what Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers have been doing! It’s the first recap of the new Alley Oop, due in seven days. It’ll be a different number of days if you are a time-travelling caveman or know someone who is.

Statistics Saturday: The Flawed Nature Of Movies, Using _Gnomeo and Juliet_ As The Yardstick

A note on methodology. Movies are compared based on the number of Goofs recorded at the Internet Movie Database. Goofs listed as “character error” or “incorrectly regarded as goofs” are deducted from the total. The reason for not counting the second kind of goof is that goofs which are not goofs should not be counted as goofs. Please sit down and hold your head in your hands until dizziness from that last sentence passes. The reason for not counting the first kind of goof is that fictional characters are permitted to be mistaken about things, unlike real people.

Reference: Computers in Spaceflight: The NASA Experience, James E. Tomayko.

Oh yeah also Kidco (1984) and Dr Otto and the Riddle of the Gloom Beam (1985) contain no known goofs.

In Which I Think About _Gnomeo and Juliet_

I think about the 2011 animated movie Gnomeo and Juliet about the correct amount. I mean for a person of about my age, and responsibility for supervising children’s entertainment, and for not having actually seen Gnomeo and Juliet. So I don’t want you to think me obsessed. Nor do I want you to think I never think about the movie. I’m no shirker. You can call me a shirker if you like, but people fully appraised of the situation will soon recognize you as a person who makes unsupported allegations of shirking. Anyway, this is all my lead-in to mentioning that I looked Gnomeo and Juliet up on the Internet Movie Database for some reason that I must have had at the time. Among its entries I saw this.

And now I’m just thinking of some person, or maybe persons. They watched this movie — maybe even had a hand in making it — and maybe were mostly satisfied. But they agreed, there was a problem with the way the braces on the gate that Juliet leaves through were oriented, and it was their duty to note this flaw in this movie. Not calling them out for doing it. I don’t shirk and I don’t fault people for doing their duty. Just … you know … huh.

1st February. The toothpaste is getting pretty low.

2nd February. Yes, there’s somehow even less toothpaste than there was yesterday. This would be worth doing something about except who wants to sully Groundhog Day with talk of something as sordid as toothpaste or something?

3rd February. Despite all the toothpaste being used there’s still less of it than there was the day before.

4th February. Dwindling of the toothpaste supply continues. It is beginning to look like it will not correct itself.

5th February. Now the toothpaste is basically out. Rolling it up from the end will get another day or two out of this, but that’s the end of things.

6th February. Never mind the blizzard and the bitter cold and just how tiring it is to do anything anymore. The only choices are to go to the store and buy more toothpaste or to wake up with teeth that feel like I didn’t brush my teeth the night before.

7th February. Forgot to get toothpaste at the store, which, there you go. Chance to go out tomorrow probably. It’s not quite out and there’s probably one or two more days’ worth, right?

8th February. All right, there’s another day’s worth of toothpaste left in the tube.

9th February. All right, there’s just one more day’s worth in the old tube. It’s not like the new toothpaste is going to be spoiled if it sits around another day or two.

10th February. Sure I already rolled the tube up, but it turns out if I roll it up again there’s just enough for one more day.

11th February. Well, now it seems like there’s moer toothpaste in the tube than there was yesterday. This has to be a clerical error of some kind, hasn’t it? I bet if I go back and check the logs this will all make sense.

12th February. Well, now the toothpaste tube holding out is starting to get ridiculous.

13th February. Definitely throwing the tube out tomorrow even if it hasn’t somehow given up the last drop of toothpaste.

14th February. But that would be wasteful.

15th February. You know if I “accidentally” knock the toothpaste over into the wastebin nobody could fairly blame me for not bothering to pick it up.

16th February. Now it’s reaching a dangerous spot. Like, some part of me is thinking of how one day’s toothpaste has lasted now all of February, which is a short month, yes, but it’s not all that short. All your name-brand months have at least sixteen days. It’s some kind of very oddly focused miracle. But then another part of me thinks, boy, this sounds like I’m making a joke about Hanukkah. And yeah, I’m just thinking about something a bit silly and whimsical in a weird little silly situation. But it also feels like there’s something here that’s insensitive at best and maybe offensive. And that’s the worst kind of joke to make. You can make a joke that you don’t mean to offend anyone. If you screw it up and do anyway, you can own up and apologize and if you went in with honest intentions most people will forgive you. You can make a joke that you do mean to offend someone, if you know who it is you want to offend and why you want to offend them about this point. And if you make a good joke that offends some definite person for a definite reason people will be okay with that, too. But a joke that you toss out there not really knowing if anyone should be offended, or why? That gets everybody in trouble. Nobody can form a coherent argument to have about who should be upset or whether they should or shouldn’t be, and so we all end up angry and annoyed and tired. This is just me repeating the wise advice of Machiavelli, from his classic The Prince Of Comedy. You know his analysis of offensive humor got Machiavelli a three-week residency in front of a brick wall outside the Piazza della Signoria, after which they hurled rocks (the ancestor of popcorn) at him.

17th February. All right, so I have to move the wastebin a lot closer to the sink before there’s any chance of my “accidentally” dropping the toothpaste into it. Also maybe I have to hold the toothpaste with the wrong hand.

18th February. Beginning to regret not keeping the receipt from that new tube of toothpaste so I could return it and put the \$2.29 into more pressing needs. Pretty dumb to have sunk all my liquidity even into tartar-controlling goo.

19th February. You’d think having a tube containing an infinite volume of toothpaste would be able to make you some money, even if it is Aim. There is no way I can see to it, though.

20th February. Foot hurts too much from stepping in the wastebin by accident to think about why the toothpaste hasn’t run out yet.