The still picture underneath the closing music of all the Popeye’s Island Adventures has included Swee’Pea. Through the first four of these shorts, though, he hadn’t appeared. That changes now. This week’s cartoon, episode 5, is aptly named Swee’Pea Arrives.
I don’t remember as a kid wondering where Swee’Pea came from. In the comic strip he was left on Popeye’s doorstep, and only now do I think to wonder if E C Segar might have been riffing on Gasoline Alley. If I ever have some time I’ll read the sequence and see if that’s sustainable. In the Robert Altman movie, he’s left in a deliberately swapped basket for Popeye to take. I don’t think the cartoons ever addressed the topic. Anyway, it’s all variations on a theme: Swee’Pea is a foundling, and Popeye and Olive Oyl care for him. And that’s reestablished this cartoon, with Swee’Pea dropping from a plane to arrive in Popeye and Olive Oyl’s care.
It’s after that that we get a mess. If you’re giving a character an introduction story you need them to do something relevant, fair enough. But this is … just … what? Last week’s Scramble for the Egg was a good step up. It had a clear, coherent story and I thought that signalled a step up in quality for these cartoons. This one’s disappointing.
Popeye grilling spinach-burgers is a fine idea. A hungry Bluto seeing them and wanting to swipe some is also a good idea. It risks the problem Road Runner cartoons have, though. If the villain’s motivation is that he’s hungry, well, is that really villainous? Especially when the villain succeeding would be, at most, petty theft. You can’t fault the Road Runner for refusing to be eaten. But Popeye can look like a jerk for wanting a fifth burger. Moral shading can make for good stories. It’s a lot of difficulty to put into a two-minute pantomime cartoon.
Bluto costumes himself in a haz-mat suit, spinning a tale of spinach being toxic. And Popeye falls for it, as though we lived in a world in which poorly-inspected foodstuffs could carry health hazards. That’s a good enough starting point. It just comes halfway through the cartoon’s run time. And then for some reason Swee’Pea understands the No-Blutos sign. And recognizes Bluto inside the haz-mat suit. And decides to take action. And knows the remaining spinach burger will give him the fighting prowess to do something about it. And … why? Why any of these?
The logic of the cartoon would be stronger if it hadn’t spent its time introducing Swee’Pea. At least then the only mystery would be how Swee’Pea recognized Bluto in the haz-mat suit. Maybe a scene could have given Swee’Pea the hint. … Alternatively, if Swee’Pea weren’t in this at all, but Eugene the Jeep were, then recognizing Bluto would make sense. I’m curious if this did start as a Eugene script and then get changed because Eugene’s gotten so much to do already. (This does remind me of the Robert Altman movie, and how Swee’Pea got Eugene’s part and supernatural abilities.)
But then dropping Swee’Pea would lose the first minute, which is a bunch of nice scenes of Popeye and Olive Oyl with the kid. And it has some nice bits of direction, too, including some first-person shots. And, y’know, happy people playing. The editing of the cartoon felt too tight, too fast for me. But again all the camera moves made sense, and focused on the line of action appropriately. I don’t care for the animation style where a character holds something and then there’s a fast swish to move whatever needed to be moved. But that’s my tastes rather than a moral failing of the artists.
It’s the second week in a row that Popeye doesn’t eat his spinach. And it’s, I think, the first time another character does instead. Again, I’m glad that they’re not using too rigid a plot frame here. It does make Popeye again a passive character in his own adventures, though. He’s needed to put a spinach burger on the grill, and to catch the falling Swee’Pea, and that’s it. Swee’Pea even blows Popeye’s pipe at the end.
I’ve called this a two-minute short. The first four cartoons were. But this one ran long: two minutes, ten seconds. Ten seconds might not seem like much, but it’s an appreciable fraction of the original run time. Maybe they’re pushing to see if they can do fuller-length cartoons. Maybe it reflects the needs of the storyline. There’s two plots here, adopting Swee’Pea and Bluto scheming. Maybe there aren’t ten seconds you could cut from this without leaving the cartoon completely incoherent.
There’s still no credits. But the last twenty seconds of the video are pictures of the cast, and the encouragement to subscribe to the channel. For the first time this week those last twenty seconds have some band singing. It’s not the old Popeye the Sailor Man song, but it is a pretty catchy one that circles the same idea. I don’t know why they’re using a different song either, but, nice to have.
Several YouTube commenters asked where’s Wimpy. Wimpy’s a great character, mooching with an almost fae folk-like indifference to the mortals his schemes set in motion. You could make a series just out of him. He isn’t in the still underneath the closing music here, and I haven’t seen hints he’ll be in the cast. I’m curious whether there’s any plans to use him.
So what I should be doing is working out some messes with web site APIs. An API is a thing which is supposed to let your web site do a thing, but that doesn’t work. Then you search for explanations of why it doesn’t work, and you find people who’ve had a problem that seems like it might be the same one you have. It has some answer that the original poster says worked, but when you read it, there’s somehow just enough words missing that you can’t be sure quite what you were supposed to have set up already and what was supposed to change and what’s a completely different conceptual framework from your traditional ideas of “working” and “not working”. It’s all good fun.
What I am doing is watching a bunch of low-effort gangster movies from the 1930s with ever-growing fascination at the intense nasal twang with which actors of this era would say, “HEL-lo, in-SPECT-or”.
If you’re trying to understand the current storyline in James Allen’s Mark Trail, this is a good piece to read. Unless it’s later than about April 2019. If it is, I’ll probably have a more up-to-date plot recap here. Good luck finding what you need.
My last check-in on Mark Trail had almost no Mark in it. Instead, Rusty Trail and Mara, a girl he met on the plane down to Mexico, took the lead. Rusty and Mara noticed assistant archeologist Becky was passing artefacts to someone who didn’t look like he was a museum. They follow the man, Juanito, to the nearby town of Santa Poco. There he explains to them he’s a courier, but they’re welcome to come with him since this isn’t a great part of town.
Pursuing Juanito, Rusty, and Mara, is a motorcycle-riding, long-haired guy named Raul. Raul has some connection to Joe/José. José’s been truck-driving for the archeologists. And also watching all this artefact-passing. And making suspicious-sounding CB radio calls to Raul. So when we left off we were looking at a motorcycle-fueled chase in the bad parts of Santa Poco. Rusty and Mara were in the company of a man of unknown-to-us objectives. And they were pursued by men of unknown-to-us objectives. A bit confusing, yes, but the last several months of strip have given some clarity to who’s trying to do what and why.
Rusty and Mara run down an alley. Raul calls out, claiming to be a friend of Mark Trail’s. They don’t buy it, and find a lucky hole in the wall to dig through. Raul calls José, asking him to call Mark back into the story. He’ll chase the kids. And warns he’s going to leave his bike “in this nasty alley with rats … big rats!” It’s a declaration so intense I feel like it’s got to refer to something, but I don’t know what. José does call Mark, promising to explain everything when he gets there.
Mark asks senior archeologist Howard Carter (get it?) if there’s something funny about José. This allows us to enter into the plot that José seems “more complicated” than they expect from their truck driver. But they allow that he seems more educated than the average person around town. Mark figures, what the heck, let’s see what’s going on.
Raul, on the rooftops, takes time from yelling at toucans to notice them. He misses one leap from rooftop to rooftop, and falls through a skylight. He lands on the supper table of a couple who take a man falling through their roof in distractingly good spirits. They listen to his story of chasing someone around town all day. They offer him some landed-on empanadas. And they let him throw a lamp through the window to get out because the door was in the wrong direction? He leaves them money for the damages, at least.
It’s a bizarre interaction. What it read like was a comic beat in a genially dopey mid-80s movie that’s trying to be Romancing The Stone. You know, about forty minutes in, and the protagonist finally realized he has to do something about the people who stole the necklace that woman stuffed in his carry-on, and he pratfalled out of his chase, and now the director’s mother who’s thrilled to be in a movie is cleaning him up. It may be James Allen was going for that effect.
Rusty and Mara figure they’ve escaped Raul. They figure to find Juanito by using the tracking app on the phone they dropped in his backpack. Juanito’s not looking for them. He’s delivering Becky’s artefacts to some silhouetted figures. They chuckle about how the collectors buying smuggled artefacts will give them a nice Christmas bonus. The chuckling happens right before Christmas, reader time. It makes an odd bit of time-binding for the story, though. Story strips are vulnerable to some weird time dilations. Like, this story, which has run since April, has been only a couple of days for the characters.
Anyway, the boss, Boss, and his underling Jefe, are barely done giggling about this when the phone rings. It’s Rusty’s Mom calling. Boss, Jefe, and Juanito realize they’re in a lot of trouble when Cherry Trail addresses them by full name including their middle names. Raul curses Rusty and Mara for following the tracking app right into Juanito’s boss’s lair. He figures it’s time to call José.
José meanwhile is talking with Mark Trail, and Professor Carter. He’s finally collapsing the quantum waveform of sides and motivations of this story. José’s an undercover cop, which according to the rules of Mark Trail puts him on the side of Good. He’s been undercover, investigating Becky for smuggling archeology. Rusty and Mara saw one of their agents at the temple. They pulled that agent back, and sent in Raul to intercept the kids. So yes, Raul may have spent months in the story grumbling about Rusty and Mara, and thinking of them as “those brats”. But he’s not a bad guy, he just doesn’t feel as though he has to like two kids he doesn’t know and who’ve been making his life harder. It’s a step toward more real characters in Mark Trail. It means someone can be on the Good side without liking the lead characters.
Now they know where the kids are, but also that Boss, Jefe, and Juanito are there too. So they figure, better to bring along Mark Trail, in case somebody needs punching.
And boy do they ever need punching. Mark recognizes Boss and Jefe. They were in a story in early 2016, from just before I started recapping plots regularly. Back then Boss and Jefe were smuggling humans into the southwestern United States. It partly showed off the ecological consequences of this. And partly got Mark Trail and company caught in an endless yet fascinating series of caves. That storyline left the human-traffickers’ fates unresolved. That alone was a major change from the linear, self-contained stories of Jack Elrod.
And I know, you’re wondering: wait, they’re trafficking humans and they’re smuggling pre-Mayan artefacts? Aren’t those separate lines of work? All I can say is that the gig economy is becoming more respectable, and there’s now ways for everyone in the underworld to pick up a side hustle. Boss and Jefe signed up early for Smuglr. It’s the crime-sharing app that’s disrupting the traditional black markets by cutting out the hench-middle-men. And it’s one I’m happy to welcome as the newest advertiser on my podcast.
And finally, after several stories of nothing more exciting than islands blowing up, Mark Trail is punching baddies. This probably indicates that the story is coming near an end. It’s been a big one; it started back in April. All the major narrative questions are answered, or looking nearly answered. There have been a couple stray bits. But I’m going ahead and supposing any weirdly specific detail never mentioned again is a reference to something I haven’t seen. I’m thinking of the Zuni fetish doll delivered anonymously in a box and that gets moved during the day. I’m sure that means something.
I just know I’m going to have to re-use the follow-up question for this plot summary. But, what the heck. It’s the question that people reading this essay would want answered.
Sunday Animals Watch
What amazing yet endangered animals, plants, or natural phenomenon have been highlighted in recent Sunday strips? These.
Parsnips, 21 October 2018. Apparently they can doom you!
Tegu Lizards, 28 October 2018. We’ve gotten them to be invasive to Florida, so, good work everyone.
Giant Silk Moth, 4 November 2018. They seem to be doing all right for themselves.
Japanese macaques, 11 November 2018. Not actually threatened, which seems to break the rules for non-human primates.
Naked Mole Rats, 18 November 2018. You just know they’re going to make Rufus some other species for the live-action movie.
Hammerhead sharks, 25 November 2018.
Green Crabs, 2 December 2018. They’re going invasive, but they’ve inspired one area of Italy to try making them dinner, so that’s something I suppose.
Wondiwoi Tree Kangaroos, 9 December 2018. So for 85 years westerners only knew of it from one sample, but last year British naturalist Michael Smith took some photos of one, so, they’re probably not doing well but they’re not actually extinct yet?
The Jacuzzi of Despair, 16 December 2018. It’s a 100-foot wide zone, three thousand feet deep in the Gulf of Mexico, that’s too briney for anything to live, which is neat and weird and unsettling.
Frankincense, 23 December 2018. It’s not just for making Christmastime jokes about Frankincense’s Monster anymore!
Manatees, 30 December 2018. Incredibly endangered despite being crazy popular.
White Lions, 6 January 2019. Unbelievably endangered. This one mentions particularly a sterile white lion in danger of being auctioned off, possibly to canned-hunters.
The Lowland Bongo, 13 January 2019. Not threatened yet, but the year is young.
Me, thinking: “You know, there’s stuff in my life I’d change if it were possible, and there’s stuff in my life I probably could change but that I’ve found myself unwilling to make the sustained effort that would require. But on the whole, it’s pretty good, and within the reasonable bounds you might expect for someone of my age and income and happily accepted obligations I’m doing pretty well at being master of my own destiny.”
Also me: has had the incidental background music from the Hanna-Barbera Pac-Man cartoon series running in his head for 46 hours straight now. Send help. Not from the Q*Bert cartoon.
I was cleaning my car. It was at that point where it looked like there was more stuff in the back seat than could be justified. Like, why would I need jumper cables? Or a first-aid kit? Or the receipt for two sour-cream-and-chives baked potatoes plus a medium-size pop from Wendy’s from 2017? Or a bright reflective orange safety vest?
Along the way I dug out a summertime issue of the Lansing City Community News. This is a six-page ‘special edition’ of the Lansing State Journal that’s tossed for free once a week onto everyone’s driveways. It’s part of a service to the community, so we know which of our neighbors haven’t been home since Saturday. I must have picked up this one and forgot it existed until now. It usually features about two and a half of the human-interest stories from that week’s State Journal, plus a third of a page of classified ads to meet singles having yard sales to sell old beds and masonry repair. Sometimes they forget to include the ends of articles, the way the mothership State Journal does. But they included all of this one, and the headline should have caught my attention sooner:
Ax-Throwing Business Opens In Lansing
So it explains that this is the source of the dull thuds from behind the headquarters of Quality Dairy. That’s a local convenience store chain, the place where all metro Lansing comes together to obtain qualities. Some of their popular ones, year after year, include ‘peppermint’, ‘cream-filled’, ‘mooshy’, and ‘evocative of ducks’. I hadn’t heard a thing, but I don’t claim to be on top of all the mysterious dull thuds behind Quality Dairy headquarters and I would like people to stop pretending I do.
But the opening of this axe place has got me wondering where on the gentrification path “Axe-Throwing Businesses” are. It’s got to be somewhere after “person on recumbent bicycle pedals east every day at 2:35”. I’m pretty sure it’s before “can’t get across town through all the ukelele festivals”, but that might just be because we’re close enough to the Interstate I don’t have to deal with the street traffic. I think I have to place it between “coffee shop menus talk about geography”, but before “everything on the block is a restaurant or a knick-knackery”.
The people running this axe-throwing business got into it like you expect. They were having fun one day, throwing axes at things. Then someone piped up with “you know what would make this even better? If we had to satisfy building inspectors and file 1099 forms!” So they made it into a business and I guess that’s working out for everyone. They still get to throw axes, and now there’s safety regulations they have to follow, and they’re getting two-thirds of the front page of a summer issue of the Lansing City Community News. Really no downside.
Still, it’s not a fulltime job because, I mean, why would you expect running an axe-throwing center, or “axeterium” as they say in the trade, to be enough business to live on? No, this is just a side job. They really run a blacksmith supply shop, it says in the article. This makes me want to know more about the challenges of blacksmith supply operations, especially in an area like Lansing, where we just don’t have that many animated coyotes hoping to drop an anvil from a cliff face. Also not that many cliff faces. Cliffs can’t be counted as blacksmith supplies anyway.
If we can believe the article — well, a lot of things follow. Among them, that “[Baker] spends his weekdays making Lord of the Rings-inspired metal helmets and custom cornhole sets”, at least until his boss finds out. But also that axe-throwing is a competitive sport. Apparently there are “more than 4,000 leagues in 50 cities across five contries, according to the Toronto-based National Axe Throwing Federation”. You could go to some axe-throwing event, and take home a trophy. You don’t even need to be big or muscular. You just need to have good form. Or to refuse to put your axe down until someone gives you a trophy.
Yes, I am bothered beyond all reason that the newspaper spells it “ax” in the headline and body of the article, but “axe” in the photo captions. And that the place and the National Axe Throwing Federation spell it “axe”. Sheesh.
And then a couple days ago I noticed another in the Popeye’s Island Adventures series of two-minute direct-to-the-web cartoons featuring Young Popeye and cast. If they’re going to keep giving me something to write about, all right. I’ll go on writing. The only thing I’ve ever learned about blogging is that if you stumble into something, you probably should keep doing it. It’s just weird to be doing a weekly Tuesday review of something that’s actually a current thing. Even if it is based on a thing that premiered when Woodrow Wilson was technically president.
I’m rather happy with this cartoon. It’s the first one that’s gotten, to my tastes, all the important pieces together. There’s a clear storyline: Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Bluto each trying to take possession of an egg. There’s solid jokes: Popeye befuddled by daydreaming of a dog hatching out of the egg, at least until the dog has a can of spinach too. There’s even personality. You can try telling me I’m wrong to be delighted by Bluto’s joy in imagining bonding with a pet alligator. You’ll be wrong. There’s a logical resolution, too: of course none of the rivals get the egg, and it rolls into the possession of the uninvolved Eugene the Jeep.
I’m also much happier with the direction. For the first time this series the camera movements all make sense. There’s good reason to pan over to the right and back again. It’s even got the first fight-cloud of the series. Some of the commenters claim it’s the first fight period. I think they’re being too restrictive about the term ‘fight’. And the storyline doesn’t need dialogue, so that the lack of characters doing anything but making grunting noises doesn’t stand out.
Not for the first time I’d like more information about just who’s making these cartoons, and why. The story and direction are measurably better this time around. I’m curious whether it’s a lucky combination of creative staff or whether the team making these is getting better with experience.
Eugene the Jeep’s magic powers continue to be “any old thing”. It does inspire the question of, if he can make chocolate eggs, why does he need eggs? Maybe having the egg around reminded him he could be eating chocolate eggs now. It feels a bit weird to have the egg — which Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Bluto all assumed would hatch — get eaten. But the story does need to end with the egg in nobody’s possession, so it’s either get eaten or hatch.
Popeye doesn’t eat his spinach this time. Well, he can’t, or he’d win the egg, against the needs of story logic. There was something weirdly exciting in older Popeye cartoons that subverted or entirely avoided the spinach scene. I’m glad that whoever’s paying for these new cartoons allows that Popeye doesn’t have to gulp down a can of spinach every short. It gives each story more room. I’m more confident about this series after this one.
What I’m on about today is Gene Mora’s comic strip Graffiti. If it is a comic strip. I don’t know. It’s always just text on a wall, so maybe it’s a comic panel. It’s not usually a funny wall. Whether it’s funny text depends on your sense of humor. Anyway, here’s Saturday’s installment.
So, like, what the heck? Like, is Gene Mora even alive? Is the comic strip still in production? I’m also not sure what the joke is supposed to be here. Playing on the similarity in sounds between “brown” as in cow and “Dow” as in Jones? Referencing the hit Broadway musical of 1968? Where does this come from and where does it go? These are all questions I feel I cannot answer.
If you know, or know someone who knows, please let someone know.
October saw Mutt and Walt Wallet explaining early events in Skeezix’s life. The mail-in contest that got his unused name of Allison. The hiring of caretaker Rachel. The adoption of a pet dog and a cat. The question of whether Mutt looks like Andy Gump. You know, of the hit 1920s serial melodrama comic The Gumps. There is some resemblance. Maybe Gumps cartoonist Sidney Smith did take a few elements from Bud Fisher’s Mutt and Jeff. Maybe it was quite hep in the 1920s to joke about Andy Gump being a clone of Augustus Mutt. (I mean, even their names are similar.) I never heard of such, though. It seems like a weird diversion for Gasoline Alley‘s centennial.
But this is an example of a thread in Gasoline Alley’s centennial celebration. Jim Scancarelli would fill out the panels, and the storyline, with comic strip characters from the long-ago days. And I would disappoint Roy Kassinger. I’d have to admit I don’t recognize any of the characters from Dok’s Dippy Duck. And I only know the figures everyone recognizes from Fontaine Fox’s Toonerville Trolley. I know what everyone says about reading the comments. But GoComics.com has a good community of people who can pin down character cameos. It’s worth checking the full comments if you see a figure that’s got to be from something and don’t know what.
Gump and Mutt come close to a fight, and then write the whole thing off as an orchestrated joke. This doesn’t actually make sense — it was set off by a chance comment by Walt Wallet — but who cares? Everyone gets back to highlights of Gasoline Alley‘s history. Like the time, after Walt Wallet and Phyllis married, when they found another abandoned baby, this time a girl dubbed Judy. Before we can start asking what kind of reputation the Wallets were getting the story advances to World War II. Recapped here — surely not coincidentally the week of Armistice Day — was Skeezix’s wounding in World War II. We see only a few moments of it. It’s easy to imagine the suspense of the events.
And then another interruption from an ancient comic strip character. This time it’s Snuffy Smith, pointing out how the comic strip he took over from Barney Google is about to turn 100. Where’s his celebration? This befuddles Mutt. Smith, ornery in a way he hasn’t been in his own comic strip in decades, starts a grand custard-pie fight. And this silliness is what’s going on when the strip takes a moment the 24th of November, 2018, to observe its centennial. With a strip that got used for the 90th anniversary, a choice which logic I’m still not sure about.
Despite the intervention of Fearless Fosdick the custard pie battle rages. Walt Wallet and Skeezix decide to leave. This again passes up the chance to let Walt die of old age or prevent noodges like me pointing out the man is three years older than the Ford Motor Company. Or, for that matter, seven years older than the comic strip Mutt and Jeff. All right. They return their custard-stained tuxedos to sales clerk Frank Nelson. (Who’s working, I noticed this time, at Tuxedo Junction, a name I imagine is a reference to the Glenn Miller song.) So there’s the indignities of dealing with him. And a total $400 cleaning bill. And, on top of that, a parking ticket.
The parking ticket — received the 15th of December — starts the segue into what looks like the new storyline. Skeezix, grousing about the ticket, accidentally drops it in a street Santa’s donation box. Skeezix swaps that out for a $20, and then grumbles about giving away money he needed. And then finds on the sidewalk enough cash to pay his ticket, affirming the sidewalk Santa’s claim about how God will be generous to the generous.
Skeezix heads to City Hall, where he runs into Rufus, of the Joel-and-Rufus pair. Rufus we last saw in November 2017, before the strip went into unexplained reruns. That was a story about him courting the Widow Emma Sue and Scruffy’s Mom. She probably had a name of her own. But she was also pursued by Elam Jackson. Rufus was heartbroken by Jackson proposing marriage. But he had just learned The Widow had turned Jackson down. That’s not resumed, or even mentioned, here. It’s the first chance to, though. This is the first story since the stretch of reruns that wasn’t about the centennial.
Rufus is working as janitor. He’s smitten with the Mayor, Melba Rose. He asks if she’d join him in a cup of coffee. She answers that the two of them wouldn’t fit, indicating that the mayor is either Gracie Allen or Commander Data. While I have my suspicions what sort of character she’ll be, I don’t actually know yet. And I don’t know whether the earlier storyline, abandoned but at a natural stopping point, will get mentioned.
The whole centennial celebration leaves me, as ever, with mixed feelings. The device is a good one. And it’s one appropriate to the comic, playing as it does on Scancarelli’s love of older comedy. And on the Old Comics Home that’s been one of the comic’s recurring scenes for ages now. And reviewing the strip’s history is a great use of the premise. And the conceit that the audience is every comic strip character ever is also great. Plain old recaps of plot developments are boring. Breaking them up with jokes or slapstick or cameos from other characters allows for good pacing. Also for Scancarelli to show off that he can draw every comic strip character in history. (I know, I know, he’d pick ones his style made convenient, or practice ones he absolutely needed until he got three panels’ worth of good art. But it’s a good stage illusion of omnicompetence.)
But the execution fell short. What actually got recapped? That the strip started out as a couple guys trying to make cars work. That Walt found and adopted Skeezix in an event that got nationwide publicity. Then some weirdly fine-detailed things like how Walt hired a housekeeper, or how they adopted some pets. Later, World War II happened. And that’s it. Time that could have outlined the Wallet family tree went instead to real-life centenarian Gasoline Alley fan Peggy Lee. Or to how Mutt, who’s appeared outside of Gasoline Alley as recently as the Reagan Recession, looks like Andy Gump, whose strip ended the 17th of October, 1959. That’s literally so long ago that Linus Van Pelt had not yet said the words “Great Pumpkin”. It’s fair to suppose someone reading in detail about Gasoline Alley‘s centennial is interested in comic strip history, yes. But it’s fair to expect the story to be about Gasoline Alley. The in-universe story, yes. Maybe reappearances from Gasoline Alley characters who have died or wandered, unexplained, out of the comic. Maybe something about Frank King, its originator. Or about Bill Perry, Dick Moores, and Jim Scancarelli, who’ve written and drawn the strip and who don’t get so much attention. A storyline that’s gone from July through December, and that has a goal of one task, shouldn’t feel like it wasn’t enough time. But it does feel like the centennial didn’t get some important things done. Maybe the bicentennial strip will summarize everything better. We’ll check back in in 2119.
Mexico! Mysterious artefacts in the Yucatan! The strange and wonderful wildlife of Central America that we somehow haven’t killed yet! Yes, this storyline is still going on in James Allen’s Mark Trail, but never fear! I’ll catch you up!
And now it’s a decent time to review my readership, as WordPress would tell me it looks, for December 2018. I’m thinking to also do a full year-in-review look at my readership statistics, for good reason. These are easy posts to write, since I know what they’re about, and they fill a day’s content hole. I’d rather be creative, but if just being there will do, I’ll be there.
All the measurements of my readership dropped in December 2018, compared to November and even October. I’d like to claim that’s because everybody was doing holiday stuff rather than looking at my ramblings. But that’s unlikely. December in both 2016 and 2017 saw rises in my readership figures over the previous months. And, interestingly, both Decembers were preludes to much busier Januaries. I’m curious whether that trend will carry on at least.
WordPress says there were 2,866 pages viewed here in December 2018, from 1,632 unique visitors. That’s down from the 3,077 pages and 1,732 visitors of November, a month that also had one fewer published piece. It’s also down from the 3,070 pages and 1,681 visitors of October, a month that did not have fewer published pieces than December.
The number of likes drooped again, falling to 137 from the 150 it had been in November. That’s also a drop from the 173 that I’d gotten in October and, basically, every month going back to April of 2018. There were 44 comments here in December, exactly half November’s 88 and the lowest number in a month since August of 2018.
The most popular articles around here are comic strip plot recaps or news. If it can be called news by the time I notice it around here. But it’s such a striking readership tally. If I ever really need a vacation I could probably put the whole blog on hiatus apart from the story strip recaps and would probably not see the place be significantly less busy. The top five articles this past month were:
Only the first of these was actually published in December 2018, but that’s all right. I am probably doing something good by search engines to follow the clear question of “what’s going on in [ story strip ]” with a question about some particular plot element. I’m annoyed when I can’t think of one for some comic.
This coming list is my plan for the story strip recaps for the following month. It’s subject to change in case of major developments, usually regarding a comic strip’s writer or illustrator changing or the strip ending. Also, this coming Monday, Joey Alison Sayers and Jonathan Lemon’s first Alley Oop is scheduled to appear. I don’t figure to jump right into recapping that plot, not until it’s had a while to develop. Also, the Sunday Alley Oop is supposed to be its own separate setting, about “a new preteen version of Alley Oop”. I don’t know if that’s going to be a setting with continuity. If it is, I’ll add recaps of that story to the roster. If it’s just one-off gags, though, I won’t. There’s some thin point to my telling you what the plot was; there’s no point my telling you a joke you can read yourself as quickly. So, barring news, here’s what should appear Sunday evenings, my time, for the next couple weeks:
The most popular long-form essay I wrote, and thing intended to be funny, in December was Every Other Thing There Is To Say About Decorating For Christmas. That was the third of the essays on the same topic that I did in December. I didn’t set out to keep writing about the same topic for the weekly long-form pieces. I just realized each week I had a couple more bits to say. And the hardest part of writing anything is picking a topic. So I wasn’t going to reject a potential essay for some reason as flimsy as “I wrote about it last week”. If it taxed readers’ patience — well, maybe that’s why I had two hundred fewer page views. Hm. But if I take it as a writing experiment, to see what happens if I go back trying to write new essays on the same subject repeatedly, then it’s worthwhile. I do think I ended up with a good comic observation, that decorating can produce many of the same stresses as moving. Maybe next year I’ll try rewriting this all to see if I can’t make a better essay around the thought.
61 countries sent me readers in December. That’s down from 66 in November and 69 in October. Yeah, this all counts that mysterious “European Union” entry as a single country. Here’s the roster:
Hong Kong SAR China
This time around there were twelve single-reder countries. There had been 16 in November and 17 in October. Bangladesh has been a single-reader country for four months now. Nowhere else has been.
The Insights page tells me that I ended December with a total of 108,530 page views, from 59,758 unique visitors. Over the course of December I published something like 20,361 words, an average of 657 words per posting. I’m tired thinking of that. For 2018 from January through December I averaged 639 words per post. Also I averaged 5.8 likes per post and 2.6 comments per post. At the end of November I was averaging 2.5 comments per post (up from 2.4 at the end of October). And at the end of November I’d averaged 6.0 likes per post, down from 6.1 at the end of October. This means something; don’t ask me what. The year closed on my 2,160th post, though. And I finished at 233,338 words, so don’t think it’s not just killing me that I couldn’t trim five words from something over the course of the year.
I was figuring to take it easy for the start of the new year. So I’m reprinting a piece that originally ran when this feature was written by my great-uncle Chuck for the Perth Amboy News Tribune. I’m pretty sure he was my great-uncle. I hate to admit, but I do get mixed up some. The best I can follow all our male relatives on that side of the family were named “Chuck” or “Al”, as if the family were afraid we didn’t really know how to pick names and might get in trouble so we just went with whatever worked last time. I’m sure we could sort this out if we asked my father, Joseph. Or, if we had gotten to the question sooner, his father, Joseph. Anyway here’s an essay that first appeared in this column in 1955. Enjoy!
There have been a great many enquiries to this office about how to get three cars to the same place at the same time. Perhaps the number is not that great, but they make up for it with persistence. “But madam,” I protest, “This is the water-commissioner’s office!” They are unmoved. They are certain I have answers. “Have you considered that it is because of the drought?” I offer. This hasn’t anything to do with the issue, but it promises a useful distraction. Still, let us consider the question in its original spirit and try to answer it fairly, two falls out of three.
If you wish to get three cars to the same place at the same time the first question you must answer is: why? Is this really worth your doing? What I’ll bet you want is to get three cars’ worth of people to the same place at the same time. And the most efficient way to do that is to find some reason not to go there. Two-thirds of your party would be up for that anyway, and are secretly hoping someone will offer. But there’s that stubborn remainder that will have you all going out, come what may. “I don’t care that we could roller-skate in the basement, if we moved the garden furniture out of the way,” they’ll hold. “I want to go do it where there’s more space and we have to pay for popcorn.” Fine. Let them learn.
The best way to be sure everyone gets to the place is to give everyone the address and the meeting time. Then take out every map available, including that one of the Old Northwest you got intending a joke that never worked right, and review the course and three alternate courses. Then let everyone go off on their own and hope for the best. The best is two-thirds of the party gathering while the third that insisted on going out instead somehow ending up at the Perth Amboy YMCA.
But even with this clear plan and good will in mind, the cars will set off, attempting to convoy. The cars stick as close together as they can, the first two turning right at the end of North Feltus Street and the third turning left. This inspires a right jolly conversation among the passengers. It ends with sore throats and sorer feelings, but at least an agreement to catch the other vehicles and tell them they’re going the wrong way. Meanwhile the other two cars have come to a stop where they can just see the funeral home, waiting for their lost partner, which goes past without noticing them. They try to catch up, and are foiled by the traffic signal, which separates the now-second car from the third. The second car honks furiously, getting the attention of the first, and they agree to wait outside the accordion place in fond hope of regrouping.
And this is taking the simple way there. The other way would have taken the party through the triangle of streets inside the larger triangle of streets, planned out by the city fathers in order to demonstrate Book VI, proposition 8 in their Euclid. There is no chance of the three cars making it through. History teaches us at least one car will be nudged away from the convoy by a German submarine, and its passengers will be interned in Ireland for the duration of the conflict.
But we have set off on the less treacherous path. From here it should be a left turn at the KoC. But the sense of the party has decided it’s the left turn just after the KoC. Doing this brings everyone back around to the other side of the accordion place and agreement to try a right turn instead. From here it should be not more than a quarter-mile, everyone stopping before they get to the train tracks. Four other cars somehow get between the three voyagers.
Yes, it’s my fault that I never developed my own set of skills on how to be casually pleasant in public. All I can do when I’m interacting with, say, a store worker who’s being personable is to act like my dad would in the situation. So, long story short, I guess this weekend I’ve agreed to rebuild the porch steps for the lady at the pet store who’ll test your fishtank water for you and tell you which bottle of white crystal stuff should fix things? Also our nitrate still refuses to go to zero but the ammonia and the carbonate hardness are looking good so we don’t need to worry about that. I can’t tell you whether the goldfish should. Please send me one porch-step-repair kit fast. Also a Saturday that doesn’t rain or snow and isn’t all that cold considering.
Eugene the Jeep has another, even bigger role this short than the past two. So I appreciate their attempting to cater to me. I’m curious if this is coincidence, or if the writers like Eugene’s plot-bearing potential. Or if it’s easier to write a mute character in cartoons that have to be dialogue-free. Could be any of this.
There’s no Olive Oyl this short either. Nor is there really a fight between Popeye and Bluto. I’m glad that these cartoons apparently aren’t obliged to have Olive Oyl or, presumably, anyone but Popeye in every short. It can help storywriting to have a template, but it’s a bad idea to include stuff only because the template demands it.
It’s a bit of a weird story. Eugene plants blue spinach(?) in Popeye’s garden. I like the start, partly because it’s cute to see Eugene being unrealistically impatient for his spinach to grow. Partly because it evokes the Pink Panther and the Naked Guy battling over whether the house will be painted pink or blue, or any of the other two-visions cartoons they did. That might be coincidence. (Surely coincidence is that Eugene and Pink are both, basically, mute characters.)
Then it gets weird: the blue spinach grows giantic, and Popeye has some weird allergic reaction to it and ends up with a blue nose. He eats spinach to cure himself, which mostly makes sense when you consider what spinach has done for him in the past, including bringing him back from disintegration. This time it misfire and makes him balloon up to a gigantic blue Popeye who scares Bluto off and … you know, what the heck am I watching? Because this is kind of weird. Not as weird as that 1960s Popeye where he tries to fix a faucet and accidentally floods the world, but still, kind of weird. Eugene fixes things with a banana peel and some Jeep magic and makes a smoothie. Fair enough solution and punch line and … you know, what the heck am I watching?
I should say, I’m not angry at the cartoon or anything. I’m entertained. It’s likable enough. But something in it feels less true to the things I love in Popeye than, say, the snowball-fight episode did. I’m not going to say they’re doing it wrong, or even wrong for me. Like, if I complain I don’t know the rules of Eugene’s magic here? Why would blue spinach turn Popeye blue? Why would eating regular spinach make Popeye blimp out? … Well, I learn what his magic does by seeing him do things. And what possible mechanism for the blimping out could make sense? I accepted his abilities to forecast the future; why not to conjure a pitcher of water into existence?
But I feel uneasy yet. Maybe it’s over things that the animators work out with experience. Maybe it’s over things I need to come and appreciate for this version of Popeye. I think it’s a misstep to have Popeye be the reactive, almost passive, figure in his cartoon, as much as I like to see Eugene driving the action. Mind, that is a problem with almost every cartoon Popeye has ever shared with an animal, going back to the 30s. And I don’t mean to be an Old about this. These cartoons aren’t the ones I grew up loving, and that’s all right. Those cartoons are still available, and don’t seem to be working for a new audience. Worth trying something with a different tone.
Yes, I caught the cameo of the white sailor’s garb that Popeye got put in because the War was on and the national defense needed Popeye to be less interesting. Cute bit.
Really? So the zoo has these red-panda-head-shaped “Animal Friction Truck” toys in the gift shop? I mean, if you used the same idea but made it some kind of medical vehicle you could have … a wahmbulance.
If you’re looking for a recap of the plot of Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy, good news! This is a useful spot for that. If you’re reading this after about March 2019 there’s probably a more up-to-date recap. It’ll be at this link.
Polar Vortex and Pauly get to fighting in their hangout. Pauly’s ready to kill Vortex, who’s got the cavalry on the way. He’d taken Honeymoon Tracy’s wrist-wizard communicator out of the ice cream freezer. For some reason Pauly thought this would inactivate it. Tracy and Sam Catchem bust down the door and get into a shootout with Pauly. Pauly lives long enough to say that all this was for his father, Crutch.
… Which you’d think would be a big deal. Or which would be a big deal if it got some attention. Crutch is a character from the very first-ever Dick Tracy storyline. He was the gunman who killed Tess Trueheart’s father. It was the case that brought Dick Tracy into the scientific-detective line. I didn’t recognize this, no, and needed GoComics.com commenters and the Dick Tracy Wikia to guide me. Which all highlights some cool and some bad stuff about Staton and Curtis’s run on the strip. They’re incredibly well-versed in the history of the comic strip and can pull out stuff from about ninety years’ worth of stories. But when they’re doing this isn’t communicated well. To put Dick Tracy up against the son of the first man he gunned down? Good setup. But we didn’t know that was going on until that son was gasping his last breaths. Pauly’s role could be any henchman’s. So, what was the dramatic point made by linking him to the murderer of Tess’s father? In a way that you would never guess without auxiliary material?
Maybe it doesn’t need a point. Life is complicated and messy and has weird links. Maybe Polar Vortex wanted someone who’d try something stupid like this, and summon Dick Tracy’s attention. Tracy does investigate Vortex’s business. I thought he didn’t find anything, but the 18th of November Tracy mentions that Vortex is out on bail after drug-trafficking charges. The kidnapping he seems to get a pass on, even though kidnapping Crystal Plenty was part of the lost plan. Vortex does say he had a plan for killing Tracy, and this was too soon. Maybe Vortex’s plan went wrong. But I’d feel more sure if I were clear on what the plan was.
Well. The next big plot thread started the 21st of October, with the introduction of the (imaginary) comedy duo Deacon and Miller. They’re getting a revival, with a film festival hosted by Vitamin Flintheart plus a new syndicated newspaper comic strip based on the pair. … Which might be the most implausible premise I’ve seen in this strip. And this is a strip that has telepathic, psychokinetic Moon Men and a guy who used a popcorn maker to shoot someone.
The revival’s funded by a trust set up by Miller, redeemable after 40 years. There’s a bunch of money in it, and Polar Vortex has got himself named trustee. And I’m confused on just how myself. It was described as a “neighborhood bank” plan scam. I’m not sure what this is. It reads like the mark (Dick Miller of the comedy team) was convinced to put money into a fake bank. But the scammer went ahead and actually invested it, and pretty well. And I’m comfortable with that, that far. The scam where it turns out to be easier to go legitimate is a fun premise. I loved it in the movie Larceny, Inc. (Well, the movie circles that premise anyway.)
So then to the present day. Vortex got charge of the money, and went looking for Peter Pitchblende. Pitchblende is the grandson of Miller, and rightful heir to all this money, and the point person for this whole revival. Vortex’s plan seems to be to get Pitchblende to sign over the money to him. There’s something I don’t understand in the phrase “neighborhood bank” scam, but I haven’t been able to work out what from the strip. I would understand embezzlement. I don’t understand why Vortex can’t just take the money without involving Pitchblende. Also it seems like the revival got started before Vortex contacted Pitchblende. But that might be that the revival would have been airy plans until Vortex dropped the promise of money into it.
Well, Vortex’s plan seems to be … being very slow about repaying Pitchblende for out-of-pocket expenses with the Deacon-and-Miller revival. That at least seems like a workable start to a scam. Vortex claims this is a temporary sideline from his drug-dealing at schools. But it’s hard, especially with a small group. And I’m not sure he understands just stealing money. Like, I’m pretty sure even with a drug-oriented racket he could fake Peter Pitchblende’s signature on stuff. Anyway, he feels the personnel shortage. So Vortex hires some guy he sees talking confidently at the coffee shop. The guy’s named “Striker”, or as we know him, Lafayette Austin. (Austin is getting a lot of attention this year, mostly working undercover in foiling various villains.)
Austin, working undercover, is able to get at Vortex’s files by the cunning plan of being left alone in the room with them. Vortex likes Striker’s energy. He doesn’t like that of street-level pusher Ballpark, who’s been using the drugs instead of pushing them around some. Vortex sends Ballpark to “the bell tower”, which is a literal bell tower. There’s some setup about the experimental infrasound system being good for … well, it’s got to be killing, doesn’t it?
Start of December. The police sweep up drug dealers around Honeymoon and Crystal’s school. And over the rest of town. The cops close in on Vortex and Devil, up in the bell tower. I’m not sure he did get to killing Ballpark, or ever using this infrasound bell tower death machine. Maybe that’s left for a future villain to use, although I’d hope it gets a fresh introduction and explanation of what it’s supposed to do then. The story’s been one of those with a strong enough line of action that you seem like a spoilsport complaining about key parts of it not explained. It makes my life harder.
Vortex tries to, but can’t shoot Tracy. He’s arrested. Austin finds the documents showing that Pitchblende should have the Miller-investment-inheritance. I really don’t understand what the setup of that was. But they turn over the money to Pitchblende and the show can go on. The show features Vitamin Flintheart, playing himself, in a musical based on J Straightedge Trustworthy. This is an in-universe comic strip inspired by and parodying Dick Tracy.
The 16th of December, I believe, starts a new plot. It opens at the Wertham Woods Psychiatric Facility (get it?) where Tulza Tuzon kills several doctors and escapes during a blackout. Tuzon’s better known to the cops as Haf-and-Haf. He’s got a reputation for breaking out of psychiatric hospitals. Last time he did, he got sprayed with some caustic waste, burning half his head. So since then he calls himself Splitface.
He makes for The City, where high-diving star Zelda The Great is performing. This all gets Tracy’s attention. Tuzon is something of a tribute act. Ages ago Tracy “put away” — I don’t know if he means jailed or killed — a serial killer named Splitface. The original Splitface’s ex-wife is Zelda the Great. Haf-and-Haf is also reported to have developed two alternate personas. That’s a development I’m sure won’t mean that I have to provide a content warning about mental health next time around.
But! That’s on hold for two weeks as the strip does another Minit Mystery. This one written by Donnie Pitchford, who writes and draws the Lum and Abner comic strip. And which makes me finally, about two months late, recognize what “Peter Pitchblende” is a reference to. So, y’know, anyone looking to me for insight please remember that that’s the level I’m working at.
(The Si and Elmer referenced in that strip was a syndicated serial comedy. It’s listed as an attempt at cloning Lum and Abner. I am not sure that both shows aren’t more properly clones of Amos and Andy, with hillbilly rather than blackface comedians. Si and Elmer were elderly small-town residents who decided to go into the detective business. At that point in their own series, Lum and Abner were a justice of the peace and the town sheriff, which makes them almost on-point for a Dick Tracy crossover. I haven’t listened to any of the episodes. Apparently something like 95 of the estimated 130 episodes made survive. That’s an amazing record for early-30s radio. Here are something like 67 of them available for the listening. There might be others elsewhere on archive.org.)
So I don’t know anything about the Minit Mystery besides what you saw in today’s strip. I’ll recap that and whatever this Haf-and-Haf/Splitface plot develops in a couple months’ time.
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley is a hundred years old! How many of those years did its centennial celebration run? What happened with Peggy Lee? Did Walt Wallet move into the Old Comics Home? Find out here, in seven days, or, y’know, skim through the strip yourself. You’ll probably make a pretty good estimate.
To allow a web site to send notifications. Something’s gotten into web sites recently that they want to notify you of things. There’s no good reason for that. The only legitimate thing a web site might want to send you is a notice that they have something for you to look at. But you knew that. What more can it have to tell you? So any attempt to notify you of things is a bluff. The site might start out with things of actual slight interest, like “there is no English word for [ and here a big blank space exists ]”, or “The Wrinkle In Time movie was one of the fifty highest-grossing motion pictures of 2018”, or, “there was a Wrinkle In Time movie in 2018”.
After about four days they’ll run out of stuff to talk about. “Bobby London was the only Popeye comic strip artist born after the character Popeye was created.” You’ll get ever-more-marginal items, like, “you mean about the same thing if you say `that’s nothing to laugh at’ or `that’s nothing to sneeze at’ but if you mix up laughing and sneezing in other contexts it’s awkward”. Carry on another two weeks and it’ll be asking things like, “remember that jingle for Bon-Bons candy in the 80s? If you don’t, here it is!” Two weeks after that the web site notifications author will have run out entirely of content and will just be sending you their fanfic from high school. Maybe their poetry. And then they’ll ask you to have opinions and to be honest and then where are you going to be?
To not be eaten by a bear. This is a traditional resolution, dating back to the days when people had good reason to worry about bears getting into them. Its earliest known appearance in a pamphlet published during the English Civil War, where it was taken to be some kind of satire about the Cavaliers or some fool thing because everything was back then. The flaw with this as a resolution is obvious to even the most basic trainee genie: even if you manage to avoid being eaten by a bear there’s nothing keeping you from being eaten by that other bear who’s also hanging around. And trying to tighten it up by resolving “to not be eaten by every bear”? Then if every bear that ever existed except one were to dine on and using you, your resolution would be satisfied, while you would not be. The resolution needs a lot of logical tightening-up before it’ll do what you want.
To reach inbox zero. Never, never attempt this. Just attempting will leave you becalmed in a world of feeling guilty about not answering that friend who sent that sweet just-thinking-of-you note two Februaries ago. And if you succeed? If you reach inbox zero you die for keeps. Whereas if you die with a decent heap of miscellaneous e-mails? Your ghost continues to walk the earth, trying to sort e-mails into their key categories:
Things which may be deleted.
Things which belong in an archive where they will never be read.
Things which are the pants vendor at the outlet mall near the city where you used to live six years ago hoping to reestablish some kind of relationship with you.
Things which need an answer.
As things stand I’ve got, like, forty years after my death sorting all this out and I’m going to use all that time.
To not grow taller. Most of us adopt this resolution without thinking about it. We start out growing just fine and after maybe two decades of life just let it taper out. And it’s understandable. By the time we’ve reached our early twenties we’re usually large enough for most of the good amusement park rides. Growing any bigger yet would upset the delicate ecosystem of our wardrobe. And who needs the bother? So it’s natural we all drift to about the same decision.
But! It’s a different thing when you resolve not to grow any taller, no matter what. That’s just closing off potential adventure. And yeah, you reach a point in life where adventure is too much work. You get more into activities like sitting and having knee pain. If someone came to you right this minute and asked you to be eighty feet tall and maybe tromping around downtown if the National Guard promised to be ineffective against you, would you say yes? Why not?
After that first Popeye’s Island Adventures cartoon came out I did check back the week or two after. I didn’t see any follow-up, so supposed it was just on some schedule I didn’t understand. Or that the project had its start and then was drifting. This happens. I remember in the early 2000s when they made a couple of Flash cartoons for Mystery Science Theater 3000 and then stopped just as I was getting comfortable with Tom Servo’s new voice. (I’m a bit curious what became of those, and kind of suspect they’re lost to the ages. I think there were four different cartoons?)
But it looks more likely that I just misunderstood things. There’s at least two new cartoons out and, what the heck. Watching cartoons is a comfortable thing to write about. So here’s Episode 2, A Fistful of Snowballs.
The story is that Popeye and Olive Oyl get into a snowball war with Bluto. I like this more than I did the first one. The story is better-formed. It’s not so linear as the previous one. That seems like it’s going to be important for this series. The characters don’t really speak, so we can’t be charmed by their dialogue any. And it’s much harder to establish a character without speech. We’re forced to fall back on what they do. So the more that they try different approaches the better. There’s still room for bits of personality, even without dialogue or much story, though. One touch I did like was Popeye making a squinty eye for his snowman, for example.
The snowball-fight setup works better for the Young Popeye redesign too. It’s better scaled to kid characters. Not that I couldn’t imagine a great snowball-fight cartoon with the regular versions. But it’s something easy to figure kids getting into.
I’m, of course, an easy touch for Eugene the Jeep so I’m glad to see him be relevant to the plot. And that he gets a bit of mischief in, kicking snow in Popeye’s face. (Which is another bit of personality that can be done without dialogue.) I’m curious what a new viewer makes of Eugene’s vanishing, if they don’t know about the magical abilities of the Jeep. I suppose it’s not going to confuse anyone. Eugene was shown last cartoon floating in the air. And he goes back to floating right after the scene where he vanishes. So being able to disappear fits into that. I tend to think viewers need less stuff explained than creators fear, and that you can usually drop exposition if you need to save time. But does Eugene make sense if you don’t know anything about the character?
Two cartoons in and we get the first joke on opening the can of spinach. That it’s frozen makes sense, though it also makes the spinach look particularly dreadful to taste. And then on the second watch it made me feel cold for Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Bluto, who’re still dressed as if it’s a summertime cartoon. But I always feel a little chilly.
Still don’t see why they aren’t using the Sammy Lerner I’m-Popeye-the-Sailor-Man tune. Not using it does make me believe more strongly that this whole project is about protecting some kind of rights to use Popeye more than anything else. But it might also be something where the budget is just too low to accommodate the real song. We might get a better idea as the project develops.
If you’re interested in the plot of Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant you’re reading a correct web site. If it’s later than about March 2019 I probably have written a more up-to-date plot recap. That should be available at this link. So are recaps of the last two years of the comic strip’s action.
So it was: the 7th of October a ship carrying Valiant and his party came to the harbor of the Misty Isles. Valiant leapt from the boat to swim ashore, apparently a tradition. And he met up with Aleta who’s there to swim naked with him. So that’s a nice bit of getting-together.
And then began several weeks of what felt like a weird epilogue. Val, Karen, Bukota, and Vanni regale a fest with tales of what all they were doing out in the far east. They were finding Vanni, I gather. They started off before my first What’s Going On In post about the strip. But apparently not much before my first post. He recaps the tyrant Azar Rasa. And those refugees saved from various brigands. A couple of the many overturned rafts they survived. And then they get back to Krios.
Valiant doesn’t know it’s Krios; he missed the whole treachery story. All he knows is they were at Carpathos, a few days’ sail from the Misty Isles. There in a tavern they encountered someone who looked like the Senator. Who saw them, left the gaming tables, and charged Karen. She and Valiant fought back and. At least according to Valiant he had “little choice” but to kill Krios.
I can’t fault it as a postscript. I mean, it seems like a reasonable and absurd sad finale to Krios’s life. But it feels also a bit much. After all, his scheme already failed so dramatically as to end his career, kill one of his sons, estrange him from the other, and send him into exile. Being killed in a tavern brawl seems like piling on. But it will happen. That, the 18th of November, has got to be the end of Krios’s story, for real this time.
The 25th of November started what looks like the new story. It begins with news Queen Makeda, of the House of Ab’saba, will be visiting. This promises to set off all sorts of complicated feelings from Bukota, what with how he’s exiled from Ab’saba. This all I didn’t know, but the strip gave the background. His heroism protecting Makeda from a rebel army didn’t negate his previous, jealousy-fueled, attack on her bodyguard. So he was exiled as ambassador to Camelot which I infer is how he fell in with Prince Valiant and all. Bukota puts all his feelings into sparring on the Royal Training Fields and trying to keep a stoic face as his queen arrives. This gets foiled as she notices him. And that’s the point our story has now reached.
Maybe the reason the guy sitting opposite me at the Christmas party was rubbing his chin so much isn’t that I was completely failing to brush something out of my beard. Maybe he was thinking that my brushing my cheek was an attempt to warn him that he had something in his beard. Well, the only way out of this would be for either of us to say something to the other, or to ask another person if we had anything in our beards. So, I’m sorry, but this is my life now. I bequeath my blogs to whoever first correctly identifies the best Sparks song ever. Be fair to the story comics.
The key to Christmas decorating is gathering in the most emotionally important room in the house. Then fill it up to your chest in boxes. This should ideally be a labyrinth, but it’s all right if you can’t, what with the high price of minotaurs these days. The spirit of the season is satisfied if during the decorating process a quick visit to the bathroom requires five minutes of maneuvering and, at some point, someone ducking backwards into a closet. Mind, the spirit is really tickled if in the process of getting out of the way someone falls backwards onto the sofa. Just an advisory.
It’s not really a full decorating job until everyone involved in the decorating is worn out and has turned to shouting at one another over questions like where to hang the stockings and whether the stockings were hung in the correct order. Done fully, Christmas decorating gives everyone the experience of moving to a new home. It’s a precious experience, all the more precious if you’ve been living in the same place for so long you find it a little weird that you aren’t, like, fifteen years older. I mean, you’re supposed to just move from one place to another every couple years, right? It’s weird that you’re not doing that?
But maybe you don’t have the time or you aren’t up for quite that raucous a fight. Decorating doesn’t have to be complicated. The simplest way to decorate is to snatch the magic wand from a Christmas Fairy. Then wave it around CLOCKWISE FOR THE LOVE OF CHEESE and point it at a surface. Poof! You’ll have ribbons and baubles and merry stuff like that and be walking in drifts of tinsel up to four feet deep. It’s quick and easy. But it does mean getting involved with the fairy folk. That always starts great and then it turns out there was some fool rule that if you ever said “mustard” three times the night of a lunar eclipse then the devil gets to take everything in your life that’s blue or starts with the letter ‘w’. I know, you’re figuring, how could that really spoil anything? Consider one example: ‘when’ is a thing that starts with the letter ‘w’. Lose ‘when’ and it becomes impossible to establish the time of anything. So you’ll be simultaneously late and early and on time for everything you might do. Every social encounter will be a stressful, confusing melange of apparently unmotivated interactions. But different from how it already is.
So maybe just as well to go about it the hard way. The Christmas tree has been a centerpiece of Christmas decorating in a Christmas tradition that Christmas dates Christmas to — sorry. Something got jammed there. But Christmas trees are great. You can get a natural tree, which you put in a tree stand full of water that spills on the skirt every day. If you’re lucky, it’ll make alarming crackling noises that sound like it’s on fire, or there’s maybe a squirrel still in it, or that your squirrel is on fire. Or you can get an artificial tree, which avoids the problem by coming in a box that’s objectively too small for all the tree parts to fit inside. Nobody knows how they work. But its only major drawback is eventually it wears out, and if there’s a teenaged boy in your life, it might fall into his possession.
Augment this with lights. You can take out the Sure-Lite Never-Die Extremely Heavy Use Commercial Grade incandescent bulbs with the ten-year warranty you bought last year. They are all dead. But with the help of a handy little light-bulb tester you can turn these unworking light strands into unworking light strands you’ve held up a handy little light-bulb tester to. The tester is so obvious that it includes no instructions to tell whether it indicates the bulb is dead or not, and you’ll never figure out how to tell. Or you can go to a modern LED-based strand of light bulbs, if you’d rather have light bulbs that want permission to use location services and send audio recordings of your home back to some corporation that’s bought the Polaroid, Studebaker, Philco, Peek Freans, Coleco Adam, and Uneeda Biscuit trademarks. Don’t worry about whatever that company is up to. The lights will send whether you give permission or not.
Next get to the ornaments. Each ornament is a little time capsule, a chance for you to remember where you were when you got this ornament. You were in the Christmas ornament store, or “ornamentorium” as they call it in the trades. And then read the scrap of last year’s newspaper you wrapped it in to stay secure. Oh, that great restaurant you never get to is closing in two weeks, fifty weeks ago. Probably too late to get their iconic Fish And/Or Chips basket. And then every time you’d hung the ornament in the past despite the terror that you might drop and break it. And then argue about whether it should have been hung somewhere else, like not right in front of the green light. Temporarily, the tree is nothing but green lights. No one knows why we put green lights on a tree that is, basically, green.
Really what you do doesn’t matter. The important thing is to have a process, and be upset that you aren’t following it. Any of us can do that.
Like anyone who pondered it would have guessed, the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! for today was about itself. It’d be strange to focus on anything else. I suppose you could make a fair argument about whether Ripley’s is a comic strip or a feature panel. I’m not sure it’s an argument that would advance our understanding of comic strips, though. Let’s call it a comic strip and celebrate what I think is the third (United States) comic strip to make it to a century of publication.
But to John Graziano’s own tribute. As a kid, as a young nerd, I was of course fascinated with Ripley’s and its kin. You have no idea how important David Wallechinsky and Irving Wallace’s The People’s Almanac 2 was to me. All these fussy little esoteric bits of information, ready for the absorption into a mind that … maybe didn’t actually need that. There is a certain kind of nerd mindset that sees information as a kind of game. A power play, really. The chance to show that, by knowing a thing which is true, you are superior to someone who does not. It’s a dangerous attitude. It’s one thing to know esoteric stuff. And it’s one thing to be aware of subtle distinctions. It’s another to lay traps for other people to show you can correct them. One running theme of my journey towards maturity has been my realizing that the only time anyone likes my bringing up a technical point is when I’m being funny about it. Quibbling over a definition is not funny. Being funny about caring about a definition can be funny. That’s why I’m still workshopping my bit that blows the lid off the so-called “International Date Line”.
But there is still good in the Ripley’s sort of trivia. One thing that always distinguished Ripley’s, I was told when young, is that the strip would occasionally include hoaxes and leave it to the reader to find them. Or work them out. And that’s great. Collecting trivia needs to be done with a skeptic’s eye. If you can learn how to work out the truth of whether, as this particular panel offers, Charles Lindbergh was the first man to fly across the Atlantic, then you’re building skills that help you evaluate information that might ever matter. Mind you, though, I’ve never come across a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not where the correct answer was “not”. That is, I’ve never seen a panel with a deliberately fake “fact” in it. Not in my reading the strip, and not when I’ve seen retrospectives of it. I’m prepared to say the presence of hoaxes in Ripley’s is itself a hoax. At the least, it’s much rarer than publicity would make out.
A better thing, though. Look at the clickbait-ish Charles Lindbergh claim of this panel. Everybody knows Lindbergh was the first person to fly across the Atlantic. This is because of historical compression, though. Dozens of people flew across the Atlantic before him. Some on airships. Some on airplanes that made stops along the way. Some flying to Brazil instead of North America. At least one flying across the Arctic. Lindbergh’s flight was several major firsts. But you learn something in looking at what those firsts were. In particular, you learn that history is messier than you thought. That pretty any “first” is really one event that happened to draw our attention, out of a bunch of competing plausible alternatives. That there is an arbitrariness in what we choose to celebrate. If we take the right lesson from this we learn to appreciate the world as vaster and more complicated and possessing more gradations than we easily remember. Even the simple stuff has complications and we should notice this, and understand why other people might see the same thing differently.
For example, this Ripley’s asserts that 66 other “men” flew the Atlantic before Charles Lindbergh. The Straight Dope article I link to in the previous paragraph notes that different compilers have found numbers from the high 60s to the low 90s. Its author, Bibliophage, had been able to track down 84 people, and acknowledges there may be others. Bibliophage found a list of 18 by airplane and 66 by airship. 66 at least agrees with John Graziano’s figure.
The Ripley’s trivia about (in 1929) the United States having no national anthem was true enough. At least, no anthem recognized by any action on the part of the federal government. There’s a neat short subject, one featuring Ripley himself delivering trivia, that Turner Classic Movies has run at least once. And in that he presents some history of The Star-Spangled Banner and points out it never had any official recognition as anything but a catchy, extremely singable little jingle. The Warner Brothers archive has this and about two dozen other shorts available on DVD.
So the 20th of October, 1957, The Stan Freberg Show came to its end. Freberg had promised to feature some of the most popular bits of the show and said he was getting card and letter from the listening audience about what to select. The show hadn’t quite given up, though: there are a couple of new bits, including what might have become running gag characters, appearing for the first time here. Still the show is mostly recreations, sometimes in abbreviated form. And of what?
Here’s the show:
Open. It’s no longer an episode of a brand-new radio series, but rather a clonked-out radio series. And they’re bidding a fond farewell to r-a-d-i-o. And a trick of memory. I had remembered the last episode as opening with a more busted-up theme, one with sound effects of a machine conking out, and the music losing tempo and falling out of tune. Not so, but given the show’s use of that sort of sound effect (as in the fifth episode) I’m surprised it didn’t.
Opening remarks. Freberg’s grateful to his audience, and will miss talking to people like — some character who hasn’t appeared before. A jumpy, character complaining the road’s blocked by sheep, and who follows his lines with singing the line again in a high-pitched voice. He’s a brain surgeon.
Mr Tweedly, Censor from Citizen’s Radio. Stan Freberg tries to sing Old Man River, while getting buzzed for not saying thank you and for using needlessly harsh songs and bad grammar and such. This ran in the sixth episode.
Peggy Taylor. She’s crying, not because they’re going off the air, but because Stan Freberg’s on her foot. She gives a gift, not a sleeping bag but a Freberg Cozy, and I like the idea of calling a sleeping bag a personal cozy. She sings “The Birth of the Blues”. This was done in the second show, and I’m surprised they would redo a song. A good song, sure, but it’s not like 1957 was short on radio-ready music.
Bang Gunly, US Marshall Fields. Soundtrack of a “typical” (adult) western, including sponsorship from the Eating Corporation of America. It’s truncated from the original, of course; just some examination of the fence and one commercial. This appeared on the 11th show originally.
Package for Stan Freberg, about ten feet tall. New messenger character. The package is the Abominable Snowman. He’d been introduced the second episode. Abominable asks Freberg if it’s hard on him doing both voices like that; he admits it’s hard on him. It’s a bit of fourth-wall-breaking and plays on Freberg’s ability to shift character fast. Abominable Snowman isn’t wearing orange sneakers today, just purple, a new “ensemble”. Abominable and his wife Gladys are thinking what they could do to help the show. (Gladys was introduced, as his fiancee, in the ninth show.) “I could scare a couple of sponsors for you.” “We’ve already done that, thank you.” Abominable offers to teach Freberg how to be an Abominable Snowman, which gets to be funnier when you remember they just pointed out how he’s doing both voices.
I got my hair cut recently. It’s part of the routine progress of my appearance. I let my hair and, particularly, beard grow out until I look like a Civil War reenactor who wants to play Torgo. Then it comes time to look more respectable. By “respectable” I mean “more like a mechanical pencil, somehow”. Anyway, this was like a week and a half ago, so I’ve finally got my shampoo use to be not quite so much that I’m a pillar of Ocean Breeze-scented goo even after fifteen minutes of rinsing. I think this is progress?
I still have no mental model of how to react when the barber asks if I want my eyebrows trimmed.
Also, yes, I remember that the official centennial of Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! is this Wednesday, the 19th. I don’t know if any great fuss is going to be made. I’d be surprised if John Graziano didn’t make that the focus of the day’s strip. It’s maybe the third comic strip to reach a centennial, and it’s the second-oldest comic strip still doing original work.