What’s Going On In The Phantom (Sundays)? Why is The Phantom talking about Emperor Joonkar so much? November 2020 – February 2021


The Phantom is using this story as a chance to reinforce the legend of his immortality. He’s using what he learned from The Phantom Chronicles to talk as though he were friends with an historical ruler of Bangalla.

This should catch you up on the Sunday continuity for Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for late February 2021. If you’re reading this after May 2021, or are interested in the weekday continuity, you may find an essay here more relevant. Not to be too much of a tease, but I may just have something to mention shortly. Also, over on my mathematics blog I write about things that aren’t comic strips. Most of the time. I do the occasional comic strip there, too.

The Phantom (Sundays).

29 November 2020 – 21 February 2021.

The Ghost Who Walks had rescued The Detective, a Bangallan police officer thought dead at the hands of a criminal syndicate. The Phantom sees this as a chance to bust up some gunrunners, sure. But also a chance to build his reputation. So he leans in, talking a great deal about The Detective’s many-times-great ancestor, the late 17th century Emperor Joonkar. And a friend of the 7th Phantom. Meanwhile, he prods The Detective into busting up the gang as it arrives at a warehouse.

Phantom and The Detective look at a minivan with 'Thugs Fated To Fall Next.' Phantom, whispering: 'Take out the driver. Leave his friend to me.' Detective, whispering: 'Hold on! My Bibi says you saved Joonkar from slavery. Tell me how!' Detective, thinking: 'This is the test! He won't know how Bibi tells the tale! That Joonkar was enslaved at sea, that he was made a gallery slave!' Phantom, moving in: 'We're wasting time; let's get to work.' Detective: 'I knew it! You're just a man! You haven't fought evil for centuries!' Phantom, with Detective's help, punches the thugs unconscious. Phantom, full voice: 'I hope your Bibi tells this one how it really happened. Your ancestor Joonkar was sold into bondage as a galley slave.' Detective: '!!'
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 6th of December, 2020. DePaul has used this story to tease at some inconsistencies in how the story of 7th Phantom encountered Emperor Joonkar has been told. That brings in a brilliant element of how much even what we-the-readers-see is legend based on what the “actual” events were. Like, did Lee Falk himself, transcribing from The Phantom Chronicles, make a mistake or alter things for dramatic effect? Still, the Ghost Who Walks is lucky the story passed through The Detective’s line didn’t mutate in a way inconsistent with what the Chronicles had.

The gang is, lucky for The Phantom and The Detective, coming in groups small enough for two guys and a wolf to knock out. And yeah, The Detective. It’s another story where people get addressed by title. When they get to the boss level, they’re able to just drive a truck into the warehouse and hold the bosses at gunpoint.

And, as a bonus, to give The Detective the chance to hit the bosses a lot. This is extrajudicial and all, yes. But they are the people who had The Detective locked in a cell below the water line, which so nearly drowned him. It can be called karmic justice, at least.

Phantom, as he and The Detective move in for the bosses, thinks 'Something tells me this round won't last long.' While fighting, Detective thinks: 'This man! Phantom! Ghost who walks! He set things right! These cowards used me for a punching bag ... dumped me in a hole in the ground ... left me for dead ... then comes a man straight out of jungle lore! A champion!' (They finish clobbering the bosses.) Detective, thinking: 'Has he really been fighting men like these for 500 years!?' Phantom, aloud: 'Well done.'
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 7th of February, 2021. A big part of this story has been The Phantom playing up the illusion of his immortality. And he’s done a great job playing it up so The Detective would plausibly believe he’s encountered the legendary defender of Bangalla. The Detective’s scrupulous in not mentioning The Phantom or hinting at him in his reports, though. So I’m not sure how this is supposed to burnish The Phantom’s legend. I suppose either The Detective is expected to mention it informally, with friends and family. Or The Phantom figures it’s worth making sure some individuals believe really, really strongly. Then his legend can take care of itself.

So, with the whole criminal syndicate recovering from being punched, The Detective calls in the Mawitaan police. And explains to them how he’s not dead! And how he punched unconscious a whole crime syndicate! And did not need the help of an immortal spirit-protector summoned to his aid by his worried grandmother! Because The Phantom finally learned the name of The Detective — Yusuf Ali Malango, badge 941 — and vanished.

This past Sunday strip did not promise a new adventure next week. I imagine there may be a coda with The Detective’s Grandmother. We last saw her in August, waiting by the giant Phantom head that Emperor Joonkar had people carve into a mountain. After that, though, I expect the 191st Sunday story to begin. We’ll see, though.

Next Week!

I get to one of the two story comics that are addressing the pandemic at all. It’s Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D., here in a week, if all goes well.

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In Which I Learn There’s A Sequel


So I was talking with a friend about how we don’t really remember anything ever happening in Jules Verne’s classic From The Earth To The Moon. So I checked Wikipedia and learned no, they just get going to the moon at the end of the book. It’s in the sequel, Around The Moon, that they go around the Moon. And this made me learn that twenty years after that, Verne wrote another sequel, The Purchase of the North Pole or Topsy Turvy depending on which sentence you’re reading in Wikipedia at that moment. And the plot’s just got me all giddy with delight but I’ll put it behind a cut in case you don’t want spoilers.

Continue reading “In Which I Learn There’s A Sequel”

60s Popeye: Hag-Way Robbery, and the mystery of how you kidnap a Jeep


There’s no story credit for the 1960 William L Snyder-produced Hag-Way Robbery. I regret this. It is directed by Gene Deitch, and made by his team of Czechoslovakian animators. You all know I like Gene Deitch cartoons. They have a weirdness that I enjoy, starting with how the opening credits fanfare begins early and so Popeye’s pipe-tooting sounds like it comes in late. Let’s see what happens after the credits.

Eugene the Jeep is kidnapped! And it’s the Sea Hag who did it! Popeye has pulled together his trusted regular cast and sails to rescue him! It’s a bold opening, one signalled by rousing music and the camera panning in on his ship moving at an angle.

Olive Oyl, hands clasped together and eyes closed in joy, looking at a room stocked floor to ceiling with cans of olives.
Um … sure, this is a thing that motivates Olive Oyl!

Popeye’s assembled a crew of Olive Oyl, Wimpy, and Swee’Pea because who else are you going to call on? I mean and not seem like you’re being a Popeye Hipster. (Toar, Professor Wotasnozzle, Alice the Goon, and maybe the sheriff from this one story in 1930 would be my selection, though.) He’s stocked up with plenty of canned spinach, canned hamburgers, canned baby food, and … canned olives. I think this is the first and last we’ve ever heard of Olive Oyl caring about olives, but she has to eat something for the gimmick to work. It seems odd to establish these supplies, but the cartoon knows what it’s doing. These are important to the plot.

The Sea Hag’s plot, anyway. From her shark submarine — where Eugene looks adorably cross in his cage — she pipes in a tube to steal all Popeye’s spinach. And to spray in labels so that everything else pretends to be canned spinach. You may ask how she can spray in labels that all land perfectly on their targeted cans. Sea Hag’s magic, you have to give her that. With Popeye unknowingly disarmed she shoots torpedoes, and he goes belowdecks for a can of spinach and finds nothing. He sees no choice but to try everything else. Meanwhile Wimpy, Olive Oyl, and Swee’Pea eat a lot.

The Sea Hag cackles as she connects a cylinder vacuum cleaner to the periscope of her submarine. Eugene the Jeep, caged, looks on angrily.
The Sea Hag woke up this morning figuring that her day would go something like this.

It’s all strongly paced, with the story just not pausing. It’s a good reminder that limited animation does not mean it has to be slow or even dull to look at. Deitch follows Jay Ward’s rule that even if you can’t animate smoothly, you can at least have all the pictures be funny along the way. The strong pace also keeps questions of story logic from cropping up. Like, why doesn’t Popeye have a can of spinach in his shirt like he always does? Or, more importantly, how do you kidnap a Jeep, who can just disappear and reappear anywhere he wants? As, indeed, Eugene does, when Popeye gets to the final can and it’s canned orchids, the Jeep’s particular food. Also, where did the canned orchids come from?

Eugene we can answer at least. He’s a magical being, closer to the fae folk than you see in your average comic strip or cartoon. He’s content to go along with personal inconvenience if it promises some interesting mischief.

Eugene the Jeep sniffs at an opened can labelled spinach and that actually contained orchids. Popeye, desperate, on his knees, throws his arms out in frustration, apparently yelling at the Jeep.
I didn’t mention explicitly but there are a lot of funny expressions and poses this cartoon. Most of them for good effect, like making Popeye look the more desperate as he searches for spinach. Some for arbitrary effect; like, there’s a joke early on (about 18:23) where Popeye tells Wimpy to “keeps a sharp eye out for a ugly dame”, the Sea Hag. Olive Oyl steps in, asking, “did you call me, Popeye?” And he and Wimpy act all abashed, as though they were saying anything about Olive Oyl, let alone anything derogatory about her. It’s like the compulsion to fit a joke in overrode the logic that Popeye hasn’t got anything to be embarrassed about here.

But there’s little time to consider the rest. Sea Hag, low on fuel, tosses Popeye’s spinach into the boilers. The smell is “the next best thing to eating spinach”, and Popeye gets his power-up. One might complain about the logic; I’d ask, is that really less plausible than the time he ate his spinach after being disintegrated? Anyway, Popeye won’t hit the Sea Hag, but he will maroon her, on a beautiful island where the can learn to be good.

So, I like this. A lot. It’s energetic, it’s silly. Sea Hag’s got a pretty good plan. There’s bits of plot that don’t make sense and I don’t care about rationalizing them, which shows how well they did entertaining me.

60s Popeye: The Medicine Man, not a musical-romance, sorry


We’re back at Paramount again today. The story’s from Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer and direction by Seymour Kneitel. Here’s the 1961 short The Medicine Man.

Popeye and Olive Oyl sell a “Spinach Health Juice” this cartoon. They do it in the form of the patent medicine show. At least the pop-culture version of the patent medicine show. It’s an interesting choice since, like, was anyone bothering with this sort of show after it became possible to buy radio time instead? But it’s presented as though the audience knows this kind of thing happens all the time.

Something else interesting in the choice. By doing their patent-medicine show they attract the attention, and ire, of Brutus, who’s got his quack doctor business in town. Never mind that it’s odd Popeye and Olive Oyl would be selling a fraud. It’s a spinach potion, so it works. No; it’s that Popeye and Olive Oyl are the ones disrupting the equilibrium. And not from a motive of foiling Brutus’s deviousness. All they’re doing is looking out for themselves.

After that nice, morally ambiguous start, the cartoon settles into more normal things. Brutus sabotages the show, giving Popeye an unstoppable hiccough. If you have unstoppable hiccoughs in a cartoon like this, the cartoon becomes about stopping them. Brutus’s first attempt: jumping beans, of course. Next: dive bombing a plane. It’s not the escalation I’d have expected, and Brutus does complain how it’s a “perfectly good plane gone to waste”. Then have Popeye breathe from a paper bag full of pepper. This gives him hiccoughs and sneezes, an escalation of silly noises. Then a sleeping pill makes Popeye start snoring, for a good silly rhythm. Anyway, some violence, spinach juice, more punching, Brutus flees the scene.

Olive Oyl watching over a poor, sickly Popeye. In the foreground Brutus as a doctor pours sneezing powder into a paper bag.
Also, hey, a cartoon where the action doesn’t all take place in the same plane. That’s always nice to see.

Popeye closes with a couplet, this one promising an apple a day keeps the doctor away. It suggests the writers forgot Popeye and Olive Oyl started out selling patent medicines.

I can’t fault the cartoon for going in the unstoppable-hiccoughs direction. It’s a venerable and funny enough physical problem to have. Jack Mercer’s rhythm in hiccoughing, sneezing, and snoring is funny. But I’m more interested in Popeye and Olive Oyl being the instigators of trouble. It’s an unusual role for them and the story shift means that’s irrelevant. Also more could be done with the Spinach Health Juice since it is a thing that works in-universe. I know that’s possible since the 1932 Betty Boop, M.D. has her selling a potion that does work. (In that cartoon, the potion is just water, but it works anyway. A warning about that cartoon, if you decide to watch: Betty Boop’s potion has a name that’s based on a slur. The cartoon might also inspire feelings of body horror.) As with the plane, it’s a waste of a perfectly good premise.

MiSTed: The Tale of Fatty Raccoon, Chapter XVI


For this week I bring you chapter 16 of Arthur Scott Bailey’s The Tale of Fatty Raccoon. This and all previous chapters of this into Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan fiction are at this link. If that seems like a lot to read to get up to speed here, yeah, and don’t worry. The chapter explains itself pretty well. But it does reference Chapter 13, when Jimmy Rabbit and, he claims, his brother played a prank on Fatty.


> XVI

TOM: Everyone who used to be a Vi, stand up.

>
> FATTY RACCOON PLAYS ROBBER

CROW: Stealing Farmer Green’s cornfield, as a bit.

>
> After Fatty Raccoon played barber-shop with Jimmy Rabbit and his
> brother it was a long time before he met them again.

CROW: So Jimmy Rabbit’s brother is a figment of his imagination, right? That’s why he doesn’t have a name?

> But one day Fatty
> was wandering through the woods when he caught sight of Jimmy. Jimmy
> dodged behind a tree.

TOM: Gee, why?

> And Fatty saw Jimmy’s brother peep from behind
> another.

MIKE: One more peep and we turn this forest around and go home.

> You see, his ears were so long that they stuck far beyond the
> tree,

CROW: Whoops!

MIKE: Be fair, now, why would a rabbit learn how to hide?

> and Fatty couldn’t help seeing them.
>
> "Hello!" Fatty called. "I’m glad to see you."

TOM: Mwuh-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-haaa!

> And he told the
> truth, too. He had been trying to find those two brothers for weeks,
> because he wanted to get even with them for cutting off his moustache.

CROW: And hiding his fez and penny-farthing bicycle.

> Jimmy and his brother hopped out from behind their trees.
>
> "Hello!" said Jimmy. "We were just looking for you." Probably
> he meant to say, "We were just looking AT you."

TOM: [ As Fatty ] Well, I was looking *through* you.

CROW: [ As Jimmy’s brother ] But you’re not there.

TOM: [ As Fatty ] Like you even exist!

> He was somewhat upset
> by meeting Fatty; for he knew that Fatty was angry with him.
>
> "Oh, ho! You were, were you?" Fatty answered. He began to
> slide down the tree he had been climbing.

MIKE: [ Sings the Batman 66 transition theme, slowly ]

>
> Jimmy Rabbit and his brother edged a little further away.

CROW: [ As Jimmy ] Have to … go … wax a … squirrel?

>
> "Better not come too near us!" he said. "We’ve both got the
> pink-eye, and you don’t want to catch it."

TOM: Why, a pink-eyed raccoon would be adorable!

MIKE: Or haunt your nightmares.

>
> Fatty paused and looked at the brothers.

MIKE: [ Making air quotes ] ‘Brothers’.

> Sure enough! their
> eyes were as pink as anything.
>
> "Does it hurt much?" Fatty asked.

CROW: Only when we look at stuff.

>
> "Well—it does and it doesn’t," Jimmy replied.

MIKE: [ As Jimmy ] Like, my brother? Nothing bothers him, because he’s made of nothing! Neat how that works, right?

> "I just stuck a
> brier into one of my eyes a few minutes ago and it hurt awful, then.
> But you’ll be perfectly safe, so long as you don’t touch us."

TOM: And you don’t jab a brier into your eyes. Sheesh.

>
> "How long does it last?" Fatty inquired.

MIKE: How long do you hold a grudge?

>
> "Probably we’ll never get over it," Jimmy Rabbit said
> cheerfully. And his brother nodded his head, as much as to say,
> "That’s so!"

CROW: Cut that out! You don’t get to support your brother if you don’t exist!

>
> Fatty Raccoon was just the least bit alarmed. He really thought
> that there was something the matter with their eyes.

TOM: Oh, they just need reading glasses. It’s nothing.

> You see, though
> the Rabbit brothers’ eyes were always pink (for they were born that
> way), he had never noticed it before.

MIKE: Also raccoons are maybe colorblind? Who knows?

> So Fatty thought it would be
> safer not to go too near them.

CROW: Fatty is the most bluffable raccoon out there.

TOM: He’s used to just chewing his way through life.

>
> "Well, it’s too bad," he told Jimmy. "I’m sorry. I wanted to
> play with you."

MIKE: [ As Jimmy ] Oh yeah? What game?

TOM: [ As Fatty ] Well, it’s 1915, so the only games are tiddlywinks, whacking each other with rolled-up newspapers, and baseball.

>
> "Oh, that’s all right!" Jimmy said.

CROW: Hey, there’s stuffing ferrets down your trousers, that’s something.

MIKE: Crow! They’re *children*!

> "We can play, just the
> same. I’ll tell you what we’ll play. We’ll play—"

TOM: PLINKO! For a chance to win up to FIFTY THOUSAND DOLLARS!
[ MIKE, CROW cheer ]

>
> "Not barber-shop!" Fatty interrupted. "I won’t play
> barber-shop, I never liked that game."

MIKE: Even though I started playing it with my brother right away.

>
> Jimmy Rabbit started to smile. But he turned his smile into a
> sneeze.

CROW: Awwwww, bunny sneezes, too adorable!

> And he said—

MIKE: Yes yes, go on?

>
> "We’ll play robber.

TOM: [ As Fatty ] Robert?

MIKE: [ As Jimmy ] Robber.

> You’ll like that, I know.

TOM: [ As Fatty ] But how do you play Robert?

MIKE: [ As Jimmy ] It’s Robber. You play a robber.

> And you can be
> the robber. You look like one, anyhow."

TOM: [ As Fatty ] How can I look like a ‘Robert’? Anyone could look like a ‘Robert’, there’s like four kinds of Robert out there.

MIKE: [ As Jimmy ] I … you know what? Yes.

>
> That remark made Fatty Raccoon angry.

TOM: ‘You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry … heck, our author doesn’t like me at all!’

> And he wished that Jimmy
> hadn’t the pink-eye. He would have liked to make an end of him right
> then and there.

CROW: You know what Fatty could use? A peer group.

>
> "What do you mean?" he shouted. "Robber nothing! I’m just as
> good as you are!"

TOM: Really curious how this scene plays out in _The Tale of Jimmy Rabbit_.

>
> "Of course, of course!" Jimmy said hastily. "It’s your face,
> you know, That black patch covers your eyes just like a robber’s mask.

MIKE: [ As Fatty ] Oh! I thought you were talking about this giant bag with a dollar sign on it.

> That’s why we want you to be the robber."
>
> Fatty had slipped down his tree to the ground; and now he
> looked down into the creek.

CROW: Right next to the mirror department of the forest.

> It was just as Jimmy said. Fatty had never
> thought of it before,

MIKE: But how *do* you tell a cabbage from a lettuce?

> but the black patch of short fur across the
> upper part of his face made him look exactly like a robber.

CROW: Fatty had gone his entire raccoon life without considering human melodrama stage conventions for marking someone a robber.

>
> "Come on!" said Jimmy. "We can’t play the game without you."

TOM: We can’t ditch you without you coming along!

>
> "Well—all right!" said Fatty. He began to feel proud of his
> mask. "What shall I do?"

TOM: Well, first, rob something.

CROW: *Robert* something.

>
> "You wait right here," Jimmy ordered. "Hide behind that tree.

MIKE: … Bob’s your uncle …

> We’ll go into the woods. And when we come back past this spot you jump
> out and say ‘Hands up!’ … You understand?"

CROW: [ As Fatty ] OK, so, the Robert I’m playing, is he motivated by avarice or desperate need?

TOM: [ As Jimmy ] Buh?

>
> "Of course!" said Fatty. "But hurry up! Don’t be gone long."

CROW: [ As Fatty ] It affects how intense the Roberting is! What directions it might go. So I’m imagining my Robert as someone who turned to crime after losing his savings in the collapse of the Knickerbocker Trust Company.

TOM: [ As Jimmy ] Uh … sure?

>
> "Leave that to us," said Jimmy Rabbit. He winked at his
> brother; and they started off together.

CROW: [ As Fatty ] Oh, I know, you pretend to have documents relating to the United Copper Company, that’ll really make this scene crackle!

>
> Fatty Raccoon did not see that wink.

MIKE: And with that, his life changed forever.

> If he had, he wouldn’t have
> waited there all the afternoon for those Rabbit brothers to return.
> They never came back at all.

CROW: Be cunning and full of tricks! Also have the author hate Fatty, that’ll carry you far.

> And they told everybody about the trick
> they had played on Fatty Raccoon.

TOM: ‘We told him we were gonna play with him, and then we didn’t! What a loser!’

> For a long time after that wherever
> Fatty went the forest-people called "Robber!" after him.

MIKE: Well, this has been a merry descent back into middle school.

> And Jasper
> Jay was the most annoying of all, because whenever he shouted
> "Robber!" he always laughed so loudly and so long.

TOM: You suppose Jay is the bird we’re supposed to try to be naked as?

> His hoarse screech
> echoed through the woods. And the worst of it was, everybody knew what
> he was laughing at.

CROW: This chapter’s making me understand why Fatty wants to eat everybody he knows.

>
>

[ To be continued … ]

Mr Dooley on ‘Keeping Lent’


A post by Mike Peterson at The Daily Cartoonist made me aware of this piece by Finley Peter Dunne, part of his Mister Dooley series. So here’s a bit from the 1899 collection Mr Dooley in the Hearts of his Countrymen.


Mr Dooley: Keeping Lent.

Finley Peter Dunne

Mr McKenna had observed Mr Dooley in the act of spinning a long, thin spoon in a compound which reeked pleasantly and smelt of the humming water of commerce; and he laughed and mocked at the philosopher.

“Ah-ha,” he said, “that’s th’ way you keep Lent, is it? Two weeks from Ash Wednesday, and you tanking up.”

Mr Dooley went on deliberately to finish the experiment, leisurely dusting the surface with nutmeg and tasting the product before setting down the glass daintily. Then he folded his apron, and lay back in ample luxury while he began: “Jawn, th’ holy season iv Lent was sent to us f’r to teach us th’ weakness iv th’ human flesh. Man proposes, an’ th’ Lord disposes, as Hinnissy says.

“I mind as well as though it was yesterday th’ struggle iv me father f’r to keep Lent. He began to talk it a month befure th’ time. ‘On Ash Winsdah,’ he’d say, ‘I’ll go in f’r a rale season iv fast an’ abstinince,’ he’d say. An’ sure enough, whin Ash Winsdah come round at midnight, he’d take a long dhraw at his pipe an’ knock th’ ashes out slowly again his heel, an’ thin put th’ dhudeen up behind th’ clock. ‘There,’ says he, ‘there ye stay till Easter morn,’ he says. Ash Winsdah he talked iv nawthin but th’ pipe. ”Tis exthraordinney how easy it is f’r to lave off,’ he says. ‘All ye need is will power,’ he says. ‘I dinnaw that I’ll iver put a pipe in me mouth again. ‘Tis a bad habit, smokin’ is,’ he says; ‘an’ it costs money. A man’s betther off without it. I find I dig twict as well,’ he says; ‘an’, as f’r cuttin’ turf, they’se not me like in th’ parish since I left off th’ pipe,’ he says.

“Well, th’ nex’ day an’ th’ nex’ day he talked th’ same way; but Fridah he was sour, an’ looked up at th’ clock where th’ pipe was. Saturdah me mother, thinkin’ to be plazin to him, says: ‘Terrence,’ she says, ‘ye’re iver so much betther without th’ tobacco,’ she says. ‘I’m glad to find you don’t need it. Ye’ll save money,’ she says. ‘Be quite, woman,’ says he. ‘Dear, oh dear,’ he says, ‘I’d like a pull at th’ clay,’ he says. ‘Whin Easter comes, plaze Gawd, I’ll smoke mesilf black an’ blue in th’ face,’ he says.

“That was th’ beginnin’ iv th’ downfall. Choosdah he was settin’ in front iv th’ fire with a pipe in his mouth. ‘Why, Terrence,’ says me mother, ‘ye’re smokin’ again.’ ‘I’m not,’ says he: ”tis a dhry smoke,’ he says; ”tisn’t lighted,’ he says. Wan week afther th’ swear-off he came fr’m th’ field with th’ pipe in his face, an’ him puffin’ away like a chimney. ‘Terrence,’ says me mother, ‘it isn’t Easter morn.’ ‘Ah-ho,’ says he, ‘I know it,’ he says; ‘but,’ he says, ‘what th’ divvle do I care?’ he says. ‘I wanted f’r to find out whether it had th’ masthery over me; an’,’ he says, ‘I’ve proved that it hasn’t,’ he says. ‘But what’s th’ good iv swearin’ off, if ye don’t break it?’ he says. ‘An’ annyhow,’ he says, ‘I glory in me shame.’

“Now, Jawn,” Mr Dooley went on, “I’ve got what Hogan calls a theery, an’ it’s this: that what’s thrue iv wan man’s thrue iv all men. I’m me father’s son a’most to th’ hour an’ day. Put me in th’ County Roscommon forty year ago, an’ I’d done what he’d done. Put him on th’ Ar-rchey Road, an’ he’d be deliverin’ ye a lecture on th’ sin iv thinkin’ ye’re able to overcome th’ pride iv th’ flesh, as Father Kelly says. Two weeks ago I looked with contimpt on Hinnissy f’r an’ because he’d not even promise to fast an’ obstain fr’m croquet durin’ Lent. To-night you see me mixin’ me toddy without th’ shadow iv remorse about me. I’m proud iv it. An’ why not? I was histin’ in me first wan whin th’ soggarth come down fr’m a sick call, an’ looked in at me. ‘In Lent?’ he says, half-laughin’ out in thim quare eyes iv his. ‘Yes,’ said I. ‘Well,’ he says, ‘I’m not authorized to say this be th’ propaganda,’ he says, ‘an’ ’tis no part iv th’ directions f’r Lent,’ he says; ‘but,’ he says, ‘I’ll tell ye this, Martin,’ he says, ‘that they’se more ways than wan iv keepin’ th’ season,’ he says. ‘I’ve knowed thim that starved th’ stomach to feast th’ evil temper,’ he says. ‘They’se a little priest down be th’ Ninth Ward that niver was known to keep a fast day; but Lent or Christmas tide, day in an’ day out, he goes to th’ hospital where they put th’ people that has th’ small-pox. Starvation don’t always mean salvation. If it did,’ he says, ‘they’d have to insure th’ pavemint in wan place, an’ they’d be money to burn in another. Not,’ he says, ‘that I want ye to undherstand that I look kindly on th’ sin iv’—

“”Tis a cold night out,’ says I.

“‘Well,’ he says, th’ dear man, ‘ye may. On’y,’ he says, ”tis Lent.’

“‘Yes,’ says I.

“‘Well, thin,’ he says, ‘by ye’er lave I’ll take but half a lump iv sugar in mine,’ he says.”

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? What happened for Skeezix’s centennial? November 2020 – February 2021


So … uh … nothing. The 14th of February, 1921, was the day that Gasoline Alley turned into a comic strip anyone but a specialist would have heard of. It’s when Walt Wallet found an abandoned infant on the doorstep. The child was soon named Allison (Get it? Alley-Son), but everyone’s called him Skeezix. It was a milestone for the comic, and for comics. It pioneered the comic strip where characters grow up in something like real time.

The comic strip’s long acknowledged this big deal, as it should. And this year, for the 100th anniversary of the moment there was … a pleasant enough Valentine’s Day card and acknowledgement of Skeezik’s 100th birthday (observed). And that’s all, to my shock. I had expected this to be feted. I imagined at least another visit to the Old Comics Home. I have no explanation for why this wasn’t a bigger deal. Over at The Daily Cartoonist, D D Degg has similar thoughts, plus a good number of historic Gasoline Alley strips observing the day. This including Skeezix’s first appearance.

So this essay should catch you up to mid-February 2021 in Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley. If you’re reading this after about May 2021, or if any news on the strip breaks, I’ll have an essay here may be of more use to you.

Gasoline Alley.

8 November 2020 – 14 February 2021.

When I last looked in, Slim Wallet had finished running a Halloween haunted house successfully, only to hear noises downstairs. It was his mother Lil, and his cousin Chubby. It’s an unwelcome-houseguests story, the kind where a vague relative visits. The kind where they have heavy trunks and don’t move them upstairs.

Slim, looking at a turkey: 'Mother! How did you manage to get this huge gobbler?' Mother: 'Easy! I shot dice with the butcher and ... ' Chubby: 'She won!' Slim: 'Honestly?' Mother, with her fingers crossed behind her back: 'uh ... honestly, I won!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 25th of November, 2020. Still, they did think to get a turkey for everyone for Thanksgiving, so it’s not like they’re impossible houseguests.

Despite their help with thanksgiving, Clovia’s quite stressed having them around. Slim’s not too thrilled by them either. So in the tradition of old-time-radio and old-fashioned TV sitcoms, they hatch a Scheme. They’ll use the haunted house props to make Lil and Chubby think the place is haunted. To work! Lil’s makeup kit is out of place. The clocks are set wrong. A weird figure appears before them. This convinces Lil and Chubby, who flee. Clovia’s proud of her husband’s haunting. Slim’s baffled because he hadn’t even started haunting yet. But how could that happen?

Clovia: 'Slim! Lil and Chubby ran out of here like they'd seen a ghost! If you didn't scare them off, who did?' Ghosts behind Clovia, unheard: 'We did! We messed with the clocks again ... ' Clovia: 'Brr! A cold feeling just came over me and ... did you hear a voice?' Slim: 'Cut it out, Clovia! You're scaring *me*!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 7th of December, 2020. You’d think Slim and Clovia would be used to it with this sort of thing happening to them all the time. Well, if we were good at noticing the patterns in our own lives we’d all have lives with different problems.


So that wraps up the story, on the 8th of December. The 9th of December started the next, again centered on Slim and Clovia, so there’s little transition needed. Bleck’s Department Store asking Slim if he can play Santa again this year. Trouble is in washing it. The dryer doesn’t work.

Clovia: 'Wake up, Slim! The electrician's here!' Slim: 'Grok! Umph! Huh?' Slim, rousing himself: 'You were due yesterday! What took you so yawn, er ... long?' Frank Nelson: 'Oooh! It's a long way from the north Pole to here by reindeer!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 17th of December, 2020. The story had a lot of the Frank Nelson character. I understand some of that, since he’s a fun person to write and probably the Jack Benny Program regular most easily plucked out of that context. Having him in two key roles seems like maybe too much, though.

The dryer repair person says the dryer is fine. Dire news from the electrician: he’s the Frank Nelson character. He figures the dryer needs a new power cord. Fixing that doesn’t help. His next diagnosis is the circuit breaker. Now the dryer works … once. They yield to the inevitable and go shopping for a new dryer. The dryer salesman is Frank Nelson again.

This leads to a couple weeks of delivery attempts by Sidney and Lew. They feel like a reference to me. I can’t figure out who, though. There’ve been a lot of delivery-team scenes in the past. In the first delivery attempt, Slim’s fallen asleep and can’t hear them. On the second attempt, Slim and Clovia are awake. But they notice a dent on the back of the dryer, and touch-up paint on the front. I’m not clear where the damage came from. Frank Nelson offers them a $150 discount to take the dryer, but Clovia suspects it’s not a new dryer. She’s convinced by the promise of a discount, though, and Sidney and Lew are happy to leave. And the new dryer doesn’t work.

Sidney, trying to hold the dryer up against the front steps: 'Ring the door bell, Lew! [ Ungh! Oof! ] I can't hold this elephant forever!' Lew: 'Hush, Sidney!' [ He rings the bell. ] Sidney: 'Nobody's home! Let's leave it on the steps!' Lew: 'How many times to I have to tell you to hush, Sidney?' Sidney: 'Two thousand, two hundred, and twenty-two times!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 18th of January, 2021. You see what I mean about this feeling like a reference, though? I’d expect if Sidney and Lew were screen characters that there’d be, you know, one tall skinny guy and one short fat guy. They’re almost identical, which evokes a Heckle-and-Jeckle or Mac-and-Tosh pairing. Or maybe this is just Scancarelli making up something that feels like a callback. He’s got the talent to do that.

So if you like this mode of American Cornball plotting? (I do, by the way.) You likely enjoyed Scancarelli’s skill respecting the styles and conventions of the genre. If you don’t like this, the story was like chewing tin foil. You know, these are the sorts of stories he wants to tell.

Sidney and Lew return, to take out the broken one and return a new one. And that seems to work, and to end the story, with the 6th of February.


Last Monday the current story began. It features Gertie, Walt Wallet’s live-in caretaker. At the supermarket she encounters someone in distress. She’s lost her glasses, and crying. Gertie volunteers to help. I don’t know where this might lead.

Next Week!

It’s Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom, Sunday continuity. How does the Ghost Who Walks help a Bangallan detective return from the dead? We’ll see, or we’ve already seen. All I do is recap what anyone could read. See you then, unless something urgent comes up.

Not to Name Names


I was struck with a bizarre fact about the young me. Like, younger than middle-school me. When I was in early elementary school — before even Laverne, on Laverne and Shirley, had gotten her job at that aerospace company — we were expected to bring valentines for everyone else in our class. And I did that too. Thing is that means I knew the names and faces of everybody in my class. That’s like thirty people and I kept them all straight. I couldn’t name thirty people today, much less match their names with their faces, even if you spotted me the core cast of Peanuts.

They must have sent home ditto sheets with everyone’s name on it, right? That’s the only way this sort of makes sense. But then how did I get cards to everybody correctly? Maybe I didn’t, and everybody I messed up was trying to get mad at me, but they weren’t sure who I was? And maybe, like, they got mad at Michael Bellaran instead? Well, if that’s what happened, Michael, I’m sorry. I’d make up for it by buying you lunch if I ever see you. But that’s going to depend on you recognizing me. Sorry.

60s Popeye: Duel to the Finish, one of the good ones


Today’s is another Seymour Kneitel festival: he gets credit for the story, direction, and production of this 1960 Paramount Cartoon Studios piece. Here’s Duel to the Finish.

It’s hard to have no sympathy for Wimpy. He’d have taken over Thimble Theatre, if only Popeye hadn’t been there first. He has this great blend of gluttony and larceny. He pairs well against Popeye. There’ve been a couple cartoons that pitted him against Popeye. The most notable was 1939’s Hello, How Am I. In that one Wimpy pretends to be Popeye so he can get hamburgers out of Olive Oyl. Here …

All right, there’s a certain overlap. But it has a different start, and different progression. Here, Olive Oyl is bored with Popeye, and we can see why. She wants to make him jealous, so starts making hamburgers to woo Wimpy. And Popeye sees this for what it is, Olive Oyl and Wimpy using each other. It’s not until Olive Oyl offers a kiss that Popeye cares. Which is a nice dramatic irony as Wimpy couldn’t care about such things as kisses. So it’s a duel.

A contented Wimpy sits at the table, surrounded by dirty plates, with three hamburgers in front of him, a hamburger in his right hand, and a fork holding a chunk of hamburger in his left hand.
Olive Oyl has a lot more plates than I do. Also, Wimpy has the power not just to eat hamburgers with a fork but to single-handedly cut out a slice of hamburger using a fork.

Wimpy makes it an eating duel, challenging to see who can eat the most hamburgers. He’s not a stupid person; it’s just amazing Popeye accepts it. Right away we see Olive Oyl worn out from making burgers, and Popeye struggling to chew. And Wimpy puttering along, happy, even eating burgers with both hands. One of those hands has a fork. I’ve heard of people eating New York-style pizza with a fork, but hamburgers is a new one. And he beats Popeye! This is the rare cartoon where, not only does Bluto/Brutus not appear and not be the antagonist, but Popeye also doesn’t win. You have to appreciate Wimpy’s cunning.

But Popeye has to win anyway, and it comes about by forfeit, again a rare event. Olive Oyl can’t cook another hamburger. This breaks Wimpy’s interest in her, because he’s unaware that she might be able or willing to cook at a later date. The beaten Popeye grumbles at Olive Oyl for having started the whole mess, and that’s the end.

Bedraggled Popeye and Olive Oyl slumping on the couch after being exhausted in the eating contest.
In retrospect, this makes Popeye being boring at the start of the cartoon look like wisdom.

Wimpy goes home. It’s never clear what he thinks about this whole day. That he recognized a chance to eat if he flattered, yes. He had a similar relationship with the Sea Hag, at least in the comic strip. He came in, spotting an advantage he could take, and used it for as much as he could, and wandered out again. It’s as though he barely notices the mortal lives of Popeye and Olive Oyl and drifts in, like a magical creature, while there are rewards to be had.

The whole cartoon’s a story well-established by the characters in place here. And it explores consequences that aren’t obvious from what we already knew of them. Solid stuff. Could have been a quite good theatrical cartoon.

Statistics Saturday: Some Amazing Facts about February


  • Though February has had more leap days than any other month, it has yet to have a leap second.
  • One-sixth of all the months with men walking on the Moon were February.
  • Each February contains between eight and ten percent the recommended daily allowance of vitamin B-12.
  • No United States President has died in February since 1924.
  • February in the north temperate zone has the same specific gravity as honey.
  • A Broadway musical comedy based on February opened in the Broadhurst Theater on the 14th of May, 1951. It closed after 40 performances. Music by Sammy Fain, book by E Y ‘Yip’ Harburg and Fred Saidy.
  • February has the worst home-field advantage (422-398 over the last ten years) but the smallest visiting-team disadvantage (49.39% winning average over all recorded seasons) of any of the major-league months.
  • Though April remains the cruelest month, February is the month most likely to bring up a slightly shameful in-joke at a moment it will embarrass you.
  • Februaries that start on Sunday (or, on European calendars, Monday) are the best months of all according to bookish, nerdy seven-year-olds who believe they know The Rules that everything should follow to be neat and orderly. EXCEPT FEBRUARIES DURING LEAP YEAR.
  • Famous February births include: Jack Benny, orange (the color), Saturn’s moon Mimas, the Renaissance, sneezing, orange (the fruit), and Barry Bostwick.

Reference: Marking Time: The Epic Quest to Invent the Perfect Calendar, Duncan Steel. Which is not even the ONLY BOOK I HAVE about calendars written by a guy named “Duncan”.

60s Popeye: College of Hard Knocks (please ring doorbell to the left)


Larry Harmon produced today’s cartoon. So that might set some expectations. One is that Paul Fenell would direct, and that the story would be by Charles Shows. These expectations are correct. Here’s 1960’s College of Hard Knocks.

Another thing I expect from a Harmon-produced cartoon is that characters are going to stand around a lot. Thes are the animators who’d create Filmation, for which I have a nostalgic affection.

The premise is solid enough. It’s easy to imagine the classic-era theatrical-short version of this. The idea of Brutus as a fake instructor is even circled around by the 1938 short Learn Polikeness, not so closely that this feels like a remake.

It makes sense Olive Oyl would go to school for something. That immediately casts either Brutus or Popeye as the professor; you then have to decide who’s the authority and who’s undermining it to have a plot. Brutus gets to be the “professor”. So it’s a story of Brutus humiliating or injuring Popeye until he has all he can stands, etc. Solid enough story, even if it is the plotting equivalent of all the characters stand around a lot. But sprinkle in some good quips and at least one fanciful bit of violence and you have a cartoon that works. And there’s some decent quipping, mostly on Popeye’s part, of course. Declaring he’s as couth as the average rowdy, or asking if Olive wants an edjamacated ignoramus. Basic jokes, sure, but good for the audience.

Something I was never sure about: was Brutus a legitimate professor here? In Learn Polikeness he’s running a scam and everybody but Olive Oyl sees through him, fine enough. Here? I mean, he’s got a building with the name carved above the entrance. That’s an enormous investment if he’s just trying to get some time with Olive Oyl. But we only ever see him with two pupils and one of them just signed up today.

And, like, what class was this? I guess maybe Brutus was giving some basic physics, or basic science, class, from his demonstrations of “the law of pressure”, the “law of elasticity”, and the “law of gravity”. I realize I’m the only person in the world wondering this, but what would Brutus have done with that toothpaste and anvil if Popeye hadn’t stuck around?

A shocked Popeye, wearing an academic cap, looking at the diploma he's unrolled to discover it's a Marriage License, showing Olive Oyl and Popeye readying to marry.
Oh, yeah, and then the punch line. Olive Oyl gives Popeye a certificate of his being an edjamacated ignoramus; it’s a marriage license with their pictures on it. This because if there’s one thing the kids in the audience know is funny, it’s how THE WIFE THEY SO BAD RIGHT.

But I say that reflects on one of the differences between these and the theatrical shorts. I grant the writer for Learn Polikeness didn’t put any thought into Bluto’s career as a teacher of manners. But you can imagine if Popeye hadn’t intruded that Bluto would have had a day that made sense. Here, if Popeye hadn’t given Olive Oyl a ride to class? So I’ll stand by my controversial declaration that this is a worse cartoon than the 1938 one it echoes.

As he’s punched out of the cartoon Brutus looks to the camera and asks, “What did I did wrong?”, in this silly French accent. It sounds like the closing line from one of the theatrical cartoons, where Bluto’s a French-Canadian lumberjack or something. I don’t know if it’s literally the same line or if Jackson Beck just recorded it in the same accent. There’s no reason to read the line like that, except for fun. The line’s also a bit mysterious unless Brutus has no self-awareness, but he is a cartoon.

I may be giving contrary directions here. I want the cartoon makers to have fun, and to throw stuff in just because it delights them. Why should I complain that “What did I did wrong?” doesn’t make sense? I should at least be consistent in my demands.

MiSTed: The Tale of Fatty Raccoon, Chapter XV


Hello again and welcome to a bit more of Arthur Scott Bailey’s The Tale of Fatty Raccoon. I have been able to turn the previous 14 chapters of this into Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan fiction. And now? Chapter 15. If it helps you set your expectations, this chapter is set in February.


> XV
>
> FATTY VISITS THE SMOKE-HOUSE

CROW: It’s so nice of Fatty to visit the smoke-houses stuck at home like that.

>
> The winter was fast going.

MIKE: Until someone grabbed its tail through the hole in the sycamore.

> And one fine day in February Fatty
> Raccoon crept out of his mother’s house to enjoy the warm sunshine—

TOM: February, the Sunshine Month.

> and see what he could find to eat.
>
> Fatty was much thinner than he had been in the fall.

CROW: So be with us for next week when we start _The Tale Of Thinny Raccoon_.

> He had
> spent so much of the time sleeping that he had really eaten very
> little.

TOM: [ As Fatty ] ‘Wouldn’t mind eating little if I did it more often.’

> And now he hardly knew himself as he looked at his sides. They
> no longer stuck out as they had once.

MIKE: You know, the ‘sleep-and-pretend-barber-shop’ weight plan is the most successful diet plan.

>
> After nosing about the swamp and the woods all the afternoon
> Fatty decided that there was no use in trying to get a meal there.

CROW: What if I offered to pay someone Tuesday for a hamburger today?

> The
> ground was covered with snow. And except for rabbit tracks—and a few
> squirrels’—

TOM: And a fox.

CROW: Three deer.

MIKE: That band of river otters.

CROW: Those penguins.

TOM: That team of dressage armadillos.

MIKE: Four elephants all wearing berets.

> he could find nothing that even suggested food. And
> looking at those tracks only made him hungrier than ever.

CROW: Man, never go eating on an empty stomach.

>
> For a few minutes Fatty thought deeply. And then he turned
> about and went straight toward Farmer Green’s place.

TOM: Oh, you can’t eat a *place*. Fatty, you want to look for *food*.

> He waited behind
> the fence just beyond Farmer Green’s house; and when it began to grow
> dark he crept across the barnyard.

MIKE: So he got up in the sunlight to wait for nightfall.

>
> As Fatty passed a small, low building he noticed a delicious
> smell. And he stopped right there.

CROW: Tell me it’s a pie cooling on the windowsill.

MIKE: ‘Tramp raccoon’ already snagged that.

> He had gone far enough. The door
> was open a little way.

TOM: Ah, that’s all he needs for probable cause.

> And after one quick look all around—to make
> sure there was nobody to see him—Fatty slipped inside.

CROW: Bonk!

MIKE: [ As Fatty ] OW! … I meant to do that!

>
> It was almost dark inside Farmer Green’s smokehouse—for that
> was what the small, low building was called.

TOM: Or the smoke-house, if you edit the titles of chapters.

> It was almost dark; but
> Fatty could see just as well as you and I can see in the daytime.

MIKE: Course, him bringing the flashlight helped.

> There was a long row of hams hung up in a line. Underneath them were
> white ashes, where Farmer Green had built wood fires, to smoke the
> hams.

CROW: Wait, really? Like, that’s how smoking meat works?

MIKE: [ Shrugs ]

> But the fires were out, now; and Fatty was in no danger of being
> burned.

TOM: The passion was gone from the hams.

>
> The hams were what Fatty Raccoon had smelled. And the hams were
> what Fatty intended to eat.

MIKE: If he can just get them away from the guy who draws ‘Heathcliff’.

> He decided that he would eat them
> all—though of course he could never have done that—at least, not in
> one night; nor in a week, either.

TOM: Nine days, though? That would do it, if he ate through dinner breaks.

> But when it came to eating, Fatty’s
> courage never failed him. He would have tried to eat an elephant, if
> he had had the chance.

MIKE: Imagining him slurping the elephant’s trunk up like a strand of spaghetti.

CROW: Asking the elephant to rub a little alfredo sauce on him .. .

>
> Fatty did not stop to look long at that row of hams.

MIKE: He only wept, for the lack of new worlds to conquer.

> He
> climbed a post that ran up the side of the house and he crept out

TOM: If he ran out he’d be showing post-haste.

> along the pole from which the hams were hung.

CROW: Oh, they’re hamstrung.

>
> He stopped at the very first ham he came to.

MIKE: And asked for directions to town.

> There was no
> sense in going any further.

TOM: Unless you’re being whimsical!

> And Fatty dropped on top of the ham and in
> a twinkling he had torn off a big, delicious mouthful.

MIKE: [ Low-key ] o/` I wanna hold your ham … o/`

>
> Fatty could not eat fast enough. He wished he had two
> mouths

TOM: And six eyes, not all on his face!

> —he was so hungry. But he did very well, with only ONE.

CROW: You know, an expert eater can use only the one mouth and you never notice the difference.

> In no
> time at all he had made a great hole in the ham.

TOM: Oh, ham and Swiss.

> And he had no idea of
> stopping.

MIKE: ‘I will not start stopping’, he said.

> But he did stop.

CROW: ‘Wait, I started stopping anyway!’

> He stopped very suddenly.

TOM: Have you tried stopping stopping?

MIKE: Or starting not-stopping?

> For the first
> thing he knew, something threw him right down upon the floor.

CROW: [ Upbeat ] Hey, hey, hey! It’s the crushing sadness of modern life! Great to see you!

> And the
> ham fell on top of him and nearly knocked him senseless.
>
> He choked and spluttered;

TOM: He never expected to live a ‘death by snu-snu’ meme.

> for the ashes filled his mouth and
> his eyes, and his ears, too. For a moment he lay there on his back;

MIKE: Surprised he isn’t trying to eat his way out of the ham.

> but soon he managed to kick the heavy ham off his stomach and then he
> felt a little better.

CROW: On to seconds!

> But he was terribly frightened. And though his
> eyes smarted so he could hardly see, he sprang up and found the
> doorway.

TOM: [ As Fatty ] ‘Lead on, my trusty moustache! … Oh no!’

>
> Fatty swallowed a whole mouthful of ashes as he dashed across
> the barnyard.

CROW: And then he remembered he could’ve eaten the ham off him instead.

> And he never stopped running until he was almost home.
> He was puzzled. Try as he would, he couldn’t decide what it was that
> had flung him upon the floor.

MIKE: But he suspects Jasper Jay.

> And when he told his mother about his
> adventure—as he did a whole month later—she didn’t know exactly
> what had happened, either.

TOM: [ As Mrs Raccoon ] ‘Why didn’t you just eat your way out of the ham?’

CROW: [ As Fatty ] ‘I panicked, okay?’

>
> "It was some sort of trap, probably," Mrs. Raccoon said.

TOM: [ As Mrs Raccoon ] ‘I bet they were catching hams and you just got in the way.’

>
> But for once Mrs. Raccoon was mistaken.

MIKE: It was in fact an ordinary reconnaissance mission, not trapping.

>
> It was very simple.

CROW: Allow me to explain until it is complicated and you are tired.

> In his greedy haste Fatty had merely
> bitten through the cord that fastened the ham to the pole.

TOM: In his defense, that was Cajun spiced cord.

> And of
> course it had at once fallen, carrying Fatty with it!
>
> But what do you suppose?

CROW: Oh, that pet mice all just assume they’re really good at foraging because look, there’s always food blocks right when they want.

> Afterward, when Fatty had grown up,
> and had children of his own,

TOM: Wait, Fatty grows up? Spoilers!

> he often told them about the time he had
> escaped from the trap in Farmer Green’s smokehouse.

MIKE: Raccoons don’t have a lot of epics, you understand.

>
> Fatty’s children thought it very exciting. It was their
> favorite story.

TOM: Above even the barber-shop saga.

And they made their father tell it over and over

> again.

CROW: And he never suspected they were putting him on.

>
>

[ To be continued … ]

Distracted by, you know, That Cartoon


I’m sorry for running late but made me aware of the 1973 Rankin/Bass cartoon That Girl In Wonderland, made for the Saturday Superstar Movie. You know, for all the kids who loved the career-and-boyfriend shenanigans of That Girl but wanted a dose of Goldilocks and the Three Bears mixed in. And everyone voice-acting like they’re sad or tired. And there’s a weird side point about guitar lessons. And I’ve been watching it, trying to figure out whether this is actually happened or if I’m part of a hoax of no discernable purpose. Were there a lot of kids sitting up Saturday mornings hoping they’d get to see That Girl dealing with the petty nastiness of the switchboard operator? Were there many adults who enjoyed Ann Marie trying to establish her life in the city but wished it were a non-fanciful cartoon instead? Who were they expecting would watch?

Anyway, now that I have seen The Animated Adventures of That Girl, I’m finally open to trying out Mary Tyler Moore Show Babies.

If you want to watch, it’s up at Archive.org. It’s also up on YouTube. Just be warned that it is a cartoon based on That Girl. Also that the version Archive.org has is about 32 by 20 pixels. Also that the animation in the first scene of Marlo Thomas blinking is weirdly hypnotic. And, like, I meant to just watch two or three minutes to get the feel for the thing, but I kept going on a little more to see if I could figure out who the audience for this was supposed to be.

And, you know, I’m not a serious Thattie — or Thatster, as the stuffier fans insist on being called — but if Ann Marie and Donald Hollinger get along like this in the real show, they definitely weren’t ready to marry. For how much they refuse to listen to one another they probably shouldn’t even know the other exists.

What’s Going On In Mary Worth? Why did Eve freak out at the mannequin? November 2020 – February 2021


I need to give a content warning about for this Mary Worth plot recap. The currently ongoing story is about a person who’s suffered abuse from a spouse. If you don’t need that in your recreational reading, you’re right, and you may want to skip that bit. But Eve Lourd, who’s the center of that story, had an anxiety attack when she noticed the suit on a mannequin.

This should get you up to speed on Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for mid-February 2021. If you’re reading this much
after May 2021, or any news about Mary Worth breaks out, you might find a more useful post at this link. And, over on my mathematics blog, I’ve been taking on smaller topics since the conclusion of last year’s A-to-Z project. You might like something there.

Mary Worth.

22 November 2020 – 6 February 2021.

Tommy Beedie was not handling well Brandy’s decision to break up, last we checked. Brandy saw Tommy with one of his old Drugs buddies, and thought he was on the Drugs again. He wasn’t, but she had a drug-abusing father and can’t take the chance.

Supermarket Manager: 'Tommy, I'd like you to move a display off the floor and put together a new one to replace it. Are you done here?' Tommy: 'Yes, boss.' Manager: 'It's kind of heavy, so I figure you're the man.' Tommy: 'No problem ... '
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 25th of November, 2020. The reason this is a sick joke is that the back pain from a work-caused injury is what got Tommy on the Drugs in the first place, so he’s the person for lifting heavy stuff.

So Tommy throws himself into being a better person. Sharing his experience with schoolkids. I hope after getting their teacher’s approval. Doing more at work, to the point the manager notices. As a way of coping with a breakup, that’s pretty good. There’s no reason to think it’ll win back your lost love, but it puts you in a better spot for the next love. And, you know, you get to enjoy being better off too. Less good is that Tommy also mentions to Brandy every 105 minutes that he’s not an addict and loves her.

Still, Brandy does notice how hard he’s working at bettering himself. And she’s been talking to a therapist, and decided she does believe him. So they’re back on. She’s still not ready to marry, by the way, but she’s open to becoming ready, in case you worried about that plot thread. Tommy visits Mary Worth for the ritual thanking Mary Worth for her advice, and to accept blueberry cobbler foodstuff. And, Tommy even gets a new job for Christmas: part-time school monitor.

The 27th of December we have a moment of Mary Worth and Doctor Jeff acknowledging how hard a year it’s been. Dr Jeff had knee surgery, for example, and Drew had some problem with his ex, and a good friend had business losses. I don’t know who Drew is and I don’t know about this good friend business. The last good friend of Dr Jeff’s I noticed was muffin enthusiast Ted Miller, a plot from early 2018 that I’m still angry about. I guess it’s nice that the characters have problems going on that don’t make it on-screen. Still, I’d have taken that year.


The current story started the 28th of December. It’s about Saul Wynter and Eve Lourd, a new Charterstone resident and dog-owner. And she’s dealing with the aftermath of a physically abusive relationship. So I’m putting the recap of that behind a cut.

Continue reading “What’s Going On In Mary Worth? Why did Eve freak out at the mannequin? November 2020 – February 2021”

60s Popeye: Popeye the Lifeguard, and the jealousy that inspires


Fleischer Studios did a cartoon in which Popeye and Bluto competed to be a lifeguard. Famous Studios did one in which that blond off-model Bluto was the lifeguard. Now, it’s Jack Kinney’s turn to do a cartoon in which Popeye’s the lifeguard. The story’s credited to Milt Schaffer and animation direction to Harvey Toombs. Here’s 1960’s Popeye the Lifeguard.

Jealousy drives a lot of Popeye cartoons. The generic plot has Popeye roused to eat his spinach because Bluto/Brutus is taking away Olive Oyl, often by force after charm’s worked inadequately. Here’s a rare cartoon where Olive Oyl gets to be jealous of Popeye. Popeye, the lifeguard, gets all this attention from more realistically-drawn women. She tries to get his attention back by having an accident. This is a good plan since lifeguards love the part of their job where they have to save people. It’s far better than days where nothing much happens. She then has a legitimate accident, knocking out the nozzle of an inflatable horse with a lot of air capacity. Popeye gives chase, and lassoos the horse, only to send Olive Oyl smashing through a whole boat.

Brutus finally enters. I’d been all ready to make notes about the strangeness of a jealousy-driven cartoon without Brutus. Ah well. They team up as beach buddies, which Olive figures will serve Popeye right. And this does get under Popeye’s skin. So the plan may be petty and all, but it’s successful and targeted well. Brutus and Olive Oyl go in a row boat; she paddles, the way women always do in these cartoons. That’s just everybody making the same joke, right? I don’t know how to be romantic myself, but I’d always assumed the practical thing was the guy would row. If nothing else because he’s usually the stronger so you could get where you were going the faster.

Lifeguard Popeye playing the ukulele. Surrounding him on the beach are several women with slightly too-wide and fixed grins with unblinking eyes.
I admit not really knowing what fun looks like, but do those women look like they’re having it? I feel like they’re hoping Popeye will set that ukulele down for one blessed minute of peace.

But Olive Oyl resists kissing Brutus, so he ties her to a post, as one will. Popeye gets into the action and there’s the fight you’d expect. Mostly expect, anyway: I was surprised Brutus came back after being knocked into the garbage heap that he came back to be knocked into the garbage heap again. I’d expect him to need to be punched only the one time, for these shorter and less violent cartoons. Or that if he needs to be punched again, that the second time is a really big hit that sends Brutus way out of action. To be punched into the same place twice makes me ask why he stopped then.

What strikes me about this is the cartoon seems almost ready to be a Paramount Cartoon Studios production. The setup is quite close to things they’d already done. The building of story beats, too, has the sort of steady pace and linearity I expect from Paramount. I expect a bit more loopiness from a Kinney cartoon. That’s not calling this bad or even disappointing. I’m just surprised it isn’t quirkier.

60s Popeye: Robot Popeye, because everybody gets a robot cartoon


Today’s is a 1961 Paramount Cartoon Studios cartoon. So you know that means the direction is by Seymour Kneitel. It’s also a story by Seymour Kneitel. That’s been a weird combination before. Here’s Robot Popeye.

I once asked whether every major cartoon character in the 60s built a robot. That in the Jack Kinney short where Popeye builds a robot. Popeye has also, in a Larry Harmon cartoon, fought against a robot. And, in a Gene Deitch cartoon, has had to face a robot duplicate Olive Oyl. It’s only ringing the changes to have a Paramount-made cartoon where Brutus builds a robot Popeye.

Brutus makes a mechanical man with a model of simple user interface design. The control offers the actions to stop – walk – run – sit; and there’s a dail for his voice. Robeye talks in a bit lower voice than Popeye does in, I guess, a cue to the audience. He’s using Robeye to mess up Popeye’s good name, much like he’d done with a simple marionette in 1944’s Puppet Love. Robeye meets the actual Popeye, sending Popeye into a fit of self-doubt we haven’t seen since 1939’s Hello, How Am I, when Wimpy impersonated Popeye. There have been a lot of duplicates and robots in Popeye, who, let’s not forget, is a rough-and-tumble sailor who likes a good fight. It’s surprising there haven’t been more Popeye robots before. The would do it again.

Brutus and Robeye’s first steps are pretty low-key ones. Confusing Popeye. Going to Roughhouse’s Diner to put Wimpy’s meal on his tab. Also, I guess Popeye has a charge account at the diner. It gets serious when Robeye shows up early for Popeye’s dinner with Olive Oyl and does the usual sorts of tricks. Calling her food poison. Yanking a chair out from under her. Throwing water in his face. You’d think Olive Oyl would recognize when she’s in another duplicates cartoon. But these patterns are always more obvious to outsiders.

Popeye meeting Robeye, a robot duplicate, walking the other way up the street. Robeye is drawn with more angular, straight lines all over, and bolts at his wrists and elbows and hips. Also importantly horizontally across the middle of his shirt is a straight line with bolts underneath the seam.
I recognize that bots and flat panels are important to indicating something’s a robot to the audience, and that they want things that fit over the stock footage well. But do you suppose Robeye’s lower shirt there is just a metal panel bolted to his torso or what?

Speaking of patterns. Once again Brutus sabotages his own successful scheme. Not, for once, by getting grabby at Olive Oyl. By showing Robeye off so Popeye understands what’s going on. It’s common enough that a villain’s hubris wrecks them. And the cartoon only has like five minutes of screen time for the whole plot, so you have to get to the climax somehow. Here, Popeye grabs the remote control and switches it to ‘Get Brutus’. I hate to cut a Roughhouse appearance but Brutus fighting Popeye for the control could have used the time better.

And we close with Olive Oyl recognizing she should have known. Popeye explaining Brutus “wanted to quiz me with you”, a use of the word quiz I did not know was out there. And Robeye eating the cans of spinach. All fair enough, the sort of competent if unexceptional cartoon you expect from Paramount.

I bet Brutus is so embarrassed he put a “Get Brutus” option on the control.

Statistics Saturday: Some Teams Not In The Splendid Bowl This Year


  • The New York Giants
  • The Chicago Bears
  • The Philadelphia Cardinals
  • The Denver Nuggets
  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagles
  • The Detroit Wolpertingers
  • The Albany Diamond Dogs
  • The The
  • The Toledo Ohios of Ohio
  • The Dallas North Bobcats
  • The Oklahoma City Interurban Transit
  • The Seattle Opossums
  • The Toledo Ohios of Kentucky
  • The Mid-Atlantic States Savings Bank
  • The Miami Dolphins
  • The Boise Tumble
  • The Human Metabolic Pathways
  • The St Louis St Pauls
  • The Los Angeles Mangroves
  • The Tonawanda Kardex

Reference: Shakespeare’s Kings: The Great Plays and the History of England in the Middle Ages, 1337-1485, John Julius Norwich.

(Personal note, the Human Metabolic Pathways is my favorite Kraftwerk tribute band.)

60s Popeye: Timber Toppers, another lumberjack cartoon


We’re back at Jack Kinney studios for today’s 1960 Popeye cartoon. This one’s got Noel Tucker credited for the story. We’ve seen his name before, for Popeye Revere and for Popeye and the Giant. The animation direction’s credited to Osmond Evans, of Popeye’s Picnic and Popeye the Fireman. Here’s Timber Toppers.

The four cartoons I mentioned, in which Noel Tucker or Osmond Evans did stuff, were all weird ones. Stories that more riffed around an idea, or that turned dreamlike in the flow of events. This continues that tradition. The premise is that Popeye’s a lumberjack, something done in like 84 cartoons in the Fleischer or Famous Studios runs. He seems to be in it for himself, or at least to show off for Olive Oyl. Brutus comes in stealing the trees Popeye fells. And then they get into fighting. Less fighting than you’d figure, since Popeye spends about three hours of the cartoon stuffed into a hollow log, with Olive Oyl tied to the outside. Brutus gets stuck too. Once that’s sorted, he ties Popeye and Olive Oyl to a log moving into a circular saw and we get the ending you’d expect. Apart from the reference to nose cones, because 1960 was a good time to fit rocket stuff into your story.

Brutus, this short, doesn’t seem to know Popeye, possibly because Popeye’s out of his sailor suit. That’s all right. Popeye seems unable to see Brutus pulling the log that he’s clinging to, possibly because Brutus is out of camera frame. I’ve joked that cartoons which get the characters in non-standard clothing have to cut costs somewhere. I’m not sure it’s a joke. I haven’t added up all the time this five-and-a-half-minute cartoon spends just showing stock footage of Brutus laughing, but I believe it’s over eighteen minutes. Also we see a lot of that one shot of Popeye chopping down a tree, although at least it’s mirrored some to look different. Same with the trees falling.

There’s a lot of small, strange moments. I like small, strange moments, generally. Popeye looking for a missing tree underneath a leaf, for example. Or just how long Popeye walks around stuck in the tree log. I understand Brutus laughing at this. The freed Olive Oyl, at the end, saying how the saw almost ruined her coiffure. Popeye pointing to the bump he somewhere got on his head saying he almost wrecked his.

Brutus and Popeye stuck to opposite sides of a long hollow log. Olive Oyl's tied around the midsection. Brutus is standing up, swinging the log around his body. It's already knocked down one tree, although an animation error had them forget to include the just-knocked-down tree trunk. The Brutus-log-Olive-Oyl-Popeye contraption is swinging into the camera so it's a bit more three-dimensional than necessary.
You’d think this is an inefficient way of cutting down trees but notice they cut that rightmost tree down so well it won’t even appear for another quarter-second after this shot.

There is also a lot of this cartoon where I can’t tell you just what happened. (Other parts where I could only barely make it out; it was my fourth watching, I think, when I finally saw just how Popeye got unstuck from the log.) Like, when they first fight, Brutus punches a tree. Then he’s far enough away to throw a boulder at Popeye. How did Brutus get there? It doesn’t much matter; we can imagine his escaping Popeye’s counter-punch and getting to the rock. But I’m confident that if this were a fully-animated short, we’d see that on-screen. Part of what makes limited-animation work is moving complex actions off-camera. They happen either physically out of frame, or temporally, happening during a cut between reactions. Telling those moments in the story becomes the viewer’s job, not the creator’s.

That’s not all bad. For one, it does engage the viewer, whose narrative sense now has to explain how these things happened. I wonder if part of the appeal of limited-animation shows is how kids are encouraged to fill in parts but still enjoy the whole cartoon. And whatever someone interpolates will be satisfying, at least. Certainly well-timed.

Did Noel Tucker have an idea how Brutus got off to the boulder? My guess is no, just because that would demand fleshing out the story more than was needed to make the cartoon. It’s enough to have the major points. I’m curious whether the Kinney studio writers were encouraged to set out big points and let exact details slide. It would explain the dreamlike nature of so many of their shorts, where we go from one scenario to another without a clear transition.

When he has Popeye and Olive Oyl in front of the circular saw, Brutus recites “Two for the show … and off we go!” What happened to one-for-the-money and three-to-get-ready? Of many weird moments this short, this is one of them.

MiSTed: The Tale of Fatty Raccoon, Chapter XIV


I thank you again for joining me in rewriting Arthur Scott Bailey’s 1915 children’s book about animals, The Tale of Fatty Raccoon. You can read the entire story, so much as I have made into Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan fiction, at this link. This chapter builds directly on Chapter XIII, when Jimmy Rabbit and Jimmy’s Brother Rabbit set up a pretend barber shop, only to use it to give Fatty a humiliating shave. Enjoy!


> XIV
>
> THE BARBER-SHOP AGAIN

CROW: Barber-Shop *again*?

MIKE: Well, spruce it up with some frozen vegetables and bake it into a casserole and it’s like new.

>
> Although Fatty Raccoon never could get Jimmy Rabbit and his
> brother to play barber-shop with him again,

TOM: But if he asked for a rousing game of ‘patent attorney’? They were up for that.

> Fatty saw no reason why he
> should not play the game without them.

MIKE: [ As Fatty ] ‘If they won’t humiliate me I’ll humiliate myself!’

> So one day he led his brother
> Blackie

TOM: [ Grunts, in pain ]

> over to the old hollow sycamore.

MIKE: If the sycamore is hollow isn’t that a syca-less?

> His sisters, Fluffy and
> Cutey, wanted to go too.

CROW: Wait, I thought Blackie was one of his sisters?

TOM: [ As though tired of explaining ] If Blackie were a girl he’d have long eyelashes and a bow in his hair, Crow.

> But Fatty would not let them. "Girls can’t be
> barbers," he said.

MIKE: Ah, see, sexism, it’s the flaw keeping Fatty from being too good to be true.

> And of course they could find no answer to that.

TOM: Heck, they didn’t want to talk to him ever again.

>
> As soon as Fatty and Blackie reached the old sycamore I am
> sorry to say that a dispute arose.

CROW: [ As Narrator ] ‘I was hoping to get through one chapter where nothing happened but, tch.’

> Each of them wanted to use his own
> tail for the barber’s pole.

MIKE: Well, I mean, *naturally*.

> They couldn’t both stick their tails
> through the hole in the tree at the same time. So they finally agreed
> to take turns.

CROW: [ As Narrator ] ‘The dispute wasn’t exactly the Great Schism of 1054. Sorry if I set your expectations too high.’

>
> Playing barber-shop wasn’t so much fun as they had expected,

MIKE: [ As Fatty ] ‘I don’t get it, last time a couple rabbits shaved my face bald and I was hideous for months! Why isn’t this as good?’

> because nobody would come near to get his hair cut. You see, the
> smaller forest- people were all afraid to go inside that old sycamore
> where Fatty and Blackie were.

TOM: They heard it’s haunted.

MIKE: Fortunately a couple of meddling young goats wandered through town …

> There was no telling when the two
> brothers might get so hungry they would seize and eat a rabbit or a
> squirrel or a chipmunk.

TOM: [ As Blackie ] ‘Hey! I’ve got self-control, *thank* you.’

> And you know it isn’t wise to run any such
> risk as that.

CROW: The marmots, though? They like their chances.

>
> Fatty offered to cut Blackie’s hair.

TOM: With what?

> But Blackie remembered
> what his mother had said when Fatty came home with his moustache gone
> and his head all rough and uneven.

MIKE: [ As Blackie ] ‘I remember it like it was yesterday!’

CROW: [ As Fatty ] ‘It *was* yesterday!’

MIKE: [ As Blackie ] ‘I didn’t say it was hard to remember!’

> So Blackie wouldn’t let Fatty touch
> him. But HE offered to cut Fatty’s hair—what there was left of it.

TOM: [ As Fatty ] ‘But we can’t get Jimmy to play with us!’

CROW: [ As Jimmy, from a distance ] ‘I’m a *rabbit* not a *hare*!’

>
> "No, thank you!" said Fatty. "I only get my hair cut once a
> month." Of course, he had never had his hair cut except that once, in
> his whole life.

TOM: The barber-shop plot is *not* helping me understand the level of anthropomorphization here.

>
> Now, since there was so little to do inside the hollow tree,
> Fatty and Blackie kept quarreling.

MIKE: I mean, you know, brothers.

CROW: They’d come home with black eyes but who could tell?

> Blackie would no sooner stick his
> tail through the hole in the side of the tree than Fatty would want
> HIS turn.

TOM: Turns out raccoons are easier to keep occupied than I figured.

> And when Fatty had succeeded in squeezing HIS tail out
> through the opening Blackie would insist that Fatty’s time was up.

CROW: I’m starting to think this isn’t just about the hole.

>
> It was Fatty’s turn, and Blackie was shouting to him to stand
> aside and give him a chance.

MIKE: Man, to think of all the afternoons I spent sticking body parts in tree holes …

>
> "I won’t!" said Fatty. "I’m going to stay here just as long as
> I please."

CROW: [ Sighing ] Remember Winnie the Pooh? Winnie the Pooh was great.

>
> The words were hardly out of his mouth when he gave a sharp
> squeal, as if something hurt him.

TOM: It’s called a brother and that’s what they do, yes. There’s punching, there’s biting, there’s name-calling …

> And he tried to pull his tail out of
> the hole. He wanted to get it out now. But alas! it would not come!

CROW: Alack!

> It
> was caught fast!

MIKE: If he can’t move isn’t it really caught *slow*?

> And the harder Fatty pulled the more it hurt him.
>
> "Go out and see what’s the matter!" he cried to Blackie.

CROW: It’s a rival barber shop run by Grandfather Mole!

>
> But Blackie wouldn’t stir. He was afraid to leave the shelter
> of the hollow tree.

TOM: Really? Why?

>
> "It may be a bear that has hold of your tail," he told Fatty.

MIKE: Now why would a bear want a used tail?

TOM: Better than no tail.

> And somehow, that idea made Fatty tremble all over.

CROW: ‘Somehow’?

>
> "Oh, dear! oh, dear!" he wailed. "What shall I do? Oh!
> whatever shall I do?"

CROW: I mean, whatever the bear wants you to.

> He began to cry. And Blackie cried too.

MIKE: Good survival skill here. Bears are afraid of awkward emotional scenes like this.

> How
> Fatty wished that his mother was there to tell him what to do!

TOM: He regrets using up that genie’s three wishes all on fudge.

>
> But he knew of no way to fetch her. Even if she were at home
> she could never hear him calling from inside the tree.

CROW: Unless she’s next door visiting Master Meadow Mouse playing savings bank.

> So Fatty gave
> up all hope of her helping.

TOM: Dad’s not putting on a good show for his kids here.

MIKE: [ Nerdy voice ] ‘It’s biological *authenticity*.’

>
> "Please, Mr. Bear, let go of my tail!" he cried, when he could
> stand the pain no longer.

CROW: [ As Fatty, choking ] ‘No no don’t grab my neck instead!’

>
> The only answer that came was a low growl, which frightened
> Fatty and Blackie more than ever.

TOM: If Fatty had gone straight to the police, this would never have happened.

> And then, just as they both began to
> howl at the top of their voices Fatty’s tail was suddenly freed.

MIKE: As Walter Moose frightens off the bear to make his 2:15 mani-pedi.

> He
> was pulling on it so hard that he fell all in a heap on the floor of
> the barber-shop. And that surprised him.

CROW: This lets the bear claim he’s ‘technically’ eating free-range raccoon.

>
> But he was still more surprised when he heard his mother say—

TOM: His mother?

CROW: The heck?

>
> "Stop crying and come out—both of you!" Fatty and Blackie
> scrambled out of the hollow sycamore.

MIKE: Wait, how do you know that’s not a bear pretending to be Mom?

> Fatty looked all around. But
> there was no bear to be seen anywhere—no one but his mother.

TOM: Be bear aware!

CROW: There’s no bear there.

TOM: Be no bear aware!

>
> "Did you frighten the bear away, Mother?" he asked.
>
> "There was no bear," Mrs. Raccoon told him.

CROW: [ Gasp ]

MIKE: Fatty was found alive and of normal size three thousand miles away.

TOM: The heck?

> "And it’s lucky for
> you that there wasn’t. I saw your tail sticking out of this tree and I
> thought I would teach you a lesson.

TOM: Three chapters in a row we’ve been taken by a plot twist!

CROW: Yeah, the author outthinking me is really making me resent this book.

> Now, don’t ever do such a foolish
> thing again. Just think what a fix you would have been in if Johnnie
> Green had come along.

MIKE: But Johnnie Green’s too young to shave!

> He could have caught you just as easily as
> anything."

MIKE: Ohhhhhhhhh.

>
> Fatty Raccoon was so glad to be free once more that he promised
> to be good forever after.

CROW: Well, he can’t promise to be good forever before.

> And he was just as good as any little raccoon
> could be—all the rest of that day.

TOM: I mean, fair.

>
>

[ To continue … ]

Statistics January: People don’t hate Mark Trail as much as they used to


I enjoy reviewing a month’s readership figures, normally at the month’s end. So this is a good chance to look over January’s postings. It was another month in which my readership declined, a steady process since October, when Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail debuted.

Still. There were 5,082 pages viewed here in January 2021. That’s a good bit above the twelve-month running mean of 4,686.8 views per month, and above the running median of 4,286.5. These came from 3,094 unique visitors, also above the running mean of 2,767.4 visitors and running median of 2,479.5. All I need to stay popular is for story comics to go on looking weird. So I’m rooting for the Macanudo cartoonist take over Spider-Man.

There were 143 things liked in January, beating the running mean of 100.4 and running median of 99.5 likes per month. And there were even 48 comments — I’m surprised by that number too — well above the mean of 32.7 and median of 36.5 comments per month. It’s my chattiest month since, well, November, although some of that is comments I didn’t reply to before Sunday night. That’ll go in to boosting February’s numbers, though.

Bar chart of thirty months' worth of readership figures. After a new high in October 2021 the monthly views and unique visitors have been dropping steadily but are still above the average.
I can only imagine how popular I’d be if I did plot recaps for the stories in Vintage Barney Google over on ComicsKingdom. … But I have a strong suspicion.

My most popular posts were all about why various comic strips (Mark Trail, Mallard Fillmore, Heart of the City) look different. They got new artists. Well, Mallard Fillmore, the old artist came back, I’m told; I’m not reading it. The most popular posts published in either December or January were:

And yeah, those all turn out to be January posts; nothing from December had much of a January life. My most popular Statistics Saturday post was Things From 1925 Now In The Public Domain. This shows again the value of posting something a little clickbait-y. The most popular of the long-form pieces, which have all been Mystery Science Theater 3000 fanfiction lately, was MiSTed: The Tale of Fatty Raccoon, Chapter X.

I plan to keep on MiSTing The Tale of Fatty Raccoon, one chapter per week, so I’ve got something that I should be doing tonight. Statistics Saturday will keep on going you-know-when too. And for the story strip recaps, my plan is to take these strips in this order:

That’s all subject to revision. There may also be extra stuff to write about Gasoline Alley come the middle of February.

Mercator-style map of the world, with the United States in dark red and most of the New World, western Europe, South and Pacific Rim Asia, Australia, and New Zealand in a more uniform pink.
I’m experimenting with using the same alt-text for this map of countries that sent me readers every month. How is it working? … rather well. Sometimes I have to go and double-check there was any change month-to-month.

82 countries or things as good as countries sent me readers in January. Here they are, and how many:

Country Readers
United States 3,573
United Kingdom 188
Canada 187
India 180
Germany 93
Philippines 72
Australia 62
Italy 61
Indonesia 45
Portugal 40
South Africa 37
Spain 36
Sweden 36
Finland 33
Brazil 30
Denmark 30
Ireland 22
Netherlands 22
Mexico 21
United Arab Emirates 21
Sri Lanka 18
France 16
Thailand 16
Norway 15
Singapore 14
El Salvador 13
European Union 13
Malaysia 13
Japan 11
Latvia 11
Romania 11
Belgium 8
Argentina 7
Turkey 7
New Zealand 6
Austria 5
Mongolia 5
Peru 5
Russia 5
South Korea 5
Chile 4
Colombia 4
Greece 4
Israel 4
Nigeria 4
Switzerland 4
Trinidad & Tobago 4
China 3
Czech Republic 3
Serbia 3
Ukraine 3
Barbados 2
Bosnia & Herzegovina 2
Ecuador 2
Egypt 2
Hong Kong SAR China 2
Hungary 2
Iceland 2
Jamaica 2
Maldives 2
Pakistan 2
Panama 2
Poland 2
Puerto Rico 2
Qatar 2
Saudi Arabia 2
Taiwan 2
Venezuela 2
Vietnam 2
Bahrain 1 (***)
Bangladesh 1
Belize 1
Croatia 1
Kenya 1
Lebanon 1
Liberia 1
Macedonia 1
Oman 1
Palestinian Territories 1
Senegal 1
Slovenia 1 (*)
Tanzania 1

13 of them were single-view countries, way down from December’s 23. Slovenia was a single-view country two months in a row. Bahrain’s on four months in a row. Nobody else has a streak going.

Between the debut of that awful 1990s Land of the Lost TV show and the start of February 2021, I’ve posted 2,922 things here. They gathered in all 212,601 views from a logged 120,599 unique visitors. WordPress things I published 20,866 words over the month, for an average of 673.1 words per post. Watch this post mess that all up.

If you’d like to be a regular reader, I don’t know how this post convinced you. But you can add my essays feed here to your RSS reader. If you need an RSS reader, sign up for a free account at Dreamwidth or Livejournal. You can then add my, or any, RSS feed through https://www.dreamwidth.org/feeds/ or https://www.livejournal.com/syn. And if you’re on WordPress you should be able to click “Follow Another Blog, Meanwhile” and have it in the Reader you mean to look at more than you do.

Thanks for reading, or at least letting the page load so it looks to me like a page view. Take care, please.

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? How is Mark Trail not in jail? November 2020 – January 2021


I have no idea. In the current story Mark Trail’s stolen a speedboat and damaged a lot of rich people’s stuff. And knocked a man unconscious into the water. Some of this I can imagine getting cleared up. I don’t know how he’s not awaiting arraignment, though. Sorry.

So that catches you up on Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the end of January 2021. If you’re reading this after about May 2021, there’ll likely be a more up-to-date plot recap at a post here. I’ll also post any news about the strip there.

Mark Trail.

15 November 2020 – 31 January 2021.

The new Mark Trail had just got his first assignment in months. It’s investigating Happy Trail Farms for Teen Girl Sparkle magazine. He was freaking out about this assignment, down to not telling anyone what upset him. And by chance Kelly Welly stopped in town to mention how popular they are on the Internet, unlike Mark Trail.

Instagram Envy sends Mark Trail on a frenzy of doing little web features for Teen Girl Sparkle. Editor Amy Lee likes it. And his natural enthusiastic squareness works for readers too, a thing I can see. But that’s a side line to getting to Florida and meeting Jolly Roger.

Frankie, boating Mark Trail up to a bunch of ripples in the swamp: 'We're here.' Mark Trail: 'Jolly Roger is here? Where?' Roger bursts up from under the water, holding a python. Mark: 'Oh, wow! Jolly Roger, it's Mark. It's been a while. How are you, Jolly?' Roger, putting the snake in a cage: 'Not too bad ... ever since your father stole my farm.'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 11th of November, 2020. So you’re either amused by the snake’s ! word balloon in the second panel there or you hate it, and I imagine that defines whether you like Rivera’s strip or not. Me, I wonder what the strip looks like in black-and-white, if any newspapers are running the dailies without color.

Or re-meeting Jolly Roger, who’s been a python hunter ever since losing his farm. Mark gets bitten by a python, while trying to find a Burmese python, and asks immediately whether the snake’s all right. It’s part of what convinces Roger’s partner that this Mark Trail they can trust.

Meanwhile Cherry Trail, with Rusty, are also driving to Florida. He has a homework project of making a family tree. It’s not at all suspicious how convenient this is. Cherry was driving to see her family. And she reveals that the woman she’s told Rusty was her aunt is in fact her mother. They drive to an RV park. We meet Cherry’s younger stepsisters, Olive and Peach Pitt. Cherry says she’s not there to dredge up the past, but to talk. Olive wants to know things like was she ever going to mention she had a son? The reunion turns into a brawl immediately.

Back on Mark Trail. We get Jolly Roger’s story. Mark’s father, Happy Trail, had a deal for his neighbor and friend Roger. Sign over his farm to the Happy Trail Farms trail-mix company for a share of the revenue. All right. In practice, Happy Trails used Roger’s farm for fertilizer runoff. Algae filled the nearby ponds. Roger brought his case to the media. It stirred up controversy. Roger is a Black man going up against a wealthier white man with a corporation. So that hasn’t been happy for him.

Roger, narrating flashbacks: 'I contacted the media. That's when things got ugly.' (Roger speaking with a news reporter.) 'The protest started outside the farm ... ' (Protest march outside Happy Trails Farm.) 'My family faced a backlash of hate ... ' (Roger's family looking at a smashed up and graffitied van with N-something and GO AWAY sprayed across it.) 'And for the last 13 years ... I've been trying to get my farm back.'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 17th of December, 2020. The van in the third panel hit me particularly. It’s a more direct and intense thing than goings-on with, like, Jolly Roger laughing at having caught a python.

All Mark Trail can do is apologize. For not doing anything to stop his father. Also for running away, which confirms the meaning of a flashback we’d seen in October. Mark says how he was “old enough to fight for my country, but I didn’t fight for my friend”. It’s an interesting mention. When the comic strip started in 1946, Mark Trail was, as you’d expect for his age and physical condition, a veteran. Whatever else might be getting retconned or revised, that was kept.

Back on Cherry Trail. Her mother breaks up Cherry’s fight with Olive, using a bucket of water. Peach Pitt reveals she’d asked Cherry to come for “business advice”. Peach had been following Cherry on social media. I don’t know if that was reciprocated. Peach confirms their mother’s bipolar disorder isn’t getting better. And Cherry explains to Rusty that this is why she and her father left, years ago, and have kept so much distance. The business advice is that their mother needs more professional care. Peach has found what she calls a great inpatient treatment center. It’s $20,000.

Back to Mark Trail. He’s got his Roger interview. Now he needs to interview his father. I’ll be calling him Happy Trail; it can be confusing when father and son have identical names. Happy’s glad to see him at the Miami Speedboat Mania here. He’s also huggy. But he’ll talk about the farm if that’s what he can’t avoid doing. Happy’s argument is he bought the farm fair and square. It’s not his or Roger’s fault that the land’s more valuable now. He didn’t create the toxic algae. He did buy a speedboat, though, he’ll own up to that.

Happy Trail: 'The speedboat was supposed to be a surprise! We were going to have fun!' Niecy Roger: 'Guys?' Mark: 'FUN? You messed with people's lives! You have to make things right!' (Niecy covers her ears and tries to dodge the fight.) Happy: 'I tried to give you a good life and this is how you repay me? You bum!' Niecy, unnoticed: 'I'm leaving.' Mark: 'At least I'm not a hypocrite! You know speedboats hurt MANATEES!'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 1st of January, 2021. I propose the last panel as the proof that Jules Rivera does have an exact handle on what’s essential about Mark Trail. Even if he’s leaving his shirt unbuttoned. He is absolutely someone who yells at his father for endangering manatees.

And this really sets off Mark. We flash back to a childhood memory, Mark Trail’s father explaining how speedboats hurt hundreds of manatees every year. How they have to fight to keep speedboats off Florida waterways. So this is a potent mix of betrayed ideals and hypocrisy. All Mark Trail can do is something dramatic and stupid.

He steals his father’s speedboat and races off. It’s a messy, confusing chase with a lot of incidental damage. His father mentions, Mark Trail has a bad track record with boats, a motif of the James Allen run. One of his father’s employees manages to stop the boat for a moment. This gives Mark his first chance to punch someone this story. A whole fight, too, one going on a week reader time. But the cops pull up ordering him to shut off his engines.

But Mark’s inspired by the advice that an ibis and a shark offer. Or that he thinks he’s offered. The strip has not quite committed to the idea this isn’t all in Mark Trail’s head. He takes their recommendation and guns the boat. The cops pull out the sound cannon and blast like he was advocating for police accountability. Mark Trail steers his father’s speedboat into a fireworks yacht, setting off a pretty awesome scene that does a lot of damage.

Caught in the sad emotional lee of having caused Drama, Mark calls for help. The only help is Kelly Welly, who was going to Florida on a different assignment after all. (Their setup seemed ambiguous to me.) They refuse to take over the assignment, asserting it’s Mark’s first un-safe story, and one he has to tell. And that’s where things stand.


So, do I hate the strip? Do I think you should?

No; I don’t hate any of the story strips, or any of the strips I read regularly. Although Funky Winkerbean tests me. Should you hate it? No. I understand not liking it. But even if can’t stand Jules Rivera’s art or story style, then, you’re better off than if the strip had been cancelled. If the strip stays alive, then whatever artist succeeds Rivera might do work more to your liking. A few cancelled strips have been revived, but name two that lasted five years. I’ll give you Annie as the first.

Do I love the strip? I’m feeling warmer toward it. The mysteries set up in Rivera’s first month got some reasonable development. We’ve got some action. We’ve been getting more animals. And some attention on agribusiness, which is all about nature and how we use it.

I admit an unease with the revelations about Mark Trail’s family. And, to a lesser extent, Cherry Trail’s. So far as I know their families had gone unmentioned in the strip. At least they’ve gone unmentioned in long enough a time any reasonable reader would have forgotten. So here Rivera fills in families they would with reason avoid talking about.

Cherry Trail narrating flashbacks of her at a young age driving away with Doc: 'Rusty, try to understand that leaving was the most difficult thing your Poppy ever had to do. He wasn't proud of leaving a mentally ill wife behind in Florida, but it was the only way for us all to stay safe.' (Present day, Cherry hugging Rusty.) 'Later, I learned Mama had Peach and Olive and I had two sisters living in Christmas, Florida.' Peach: 'What a wild Christmas gift, huh?'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 25th of December, 2020. I’m interested in the artistic choice to depict a young Cherry but obscure Doc’s face. It may be just that Rivera figured this the easiest way to convey that it was a horrible day for Doc that Cherry barely understood at the time. Still, the story is about revealing hidden identity; to show identity still being hidden carries meaning.

Depicting Mark Trail’s father as the Classic Mark Trail carries symbolic heft. Depicting him, more, as someone who’s let money override his love of the environment? That feels like a betrayal. It should. It addresses the hardest lesson about idealism. Our ideals are not goals; they are ongoing works. We have to keep a reasonable level of self-inquiry and self-skepticism and stay mindful of how much we settle for convenient over right. Even our heroes will sometimes fail. And using the Classic Mark Trail as the person who’s failed gives the story a greater substance.

And again, if this doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t work for you, and there’s no arguing that. But if you don’t like it but keep finding something you need to read about it? This might be some of what it’s addressing and why it’s sticking.


Sunday Animals Watch!

I’m still tracking the animals and other nature-related items in the Sunday pages. I’d hope even people who can’t get into Rivera’s style enjoy the playfulness she’s brought to title panels. These have rendered the strip’s title in more fanciful ways. Like, having the letters spelled out by the legs of ibises, or in tree leaves, or cried out by a peacock. That’s fun and I bet satisfying for Rivera to do.

  • Gardening, 15 November 2020. It’s a great way to discover plants that won’t thrive for you!
  • Burmese Pythons, 22 November 2020. Which are invasive in Florida, thanks to humans making dumb pet choices.
  • Cuban Treefrogs, 29 November 2020. Invasive again and this one keeps jumping into Mark Trail’s face.
  • Alligators, 6 December 2020. The strip says they eat fruits and berries but I’ve been reading a lot of Pogo and I think this is understating how much they eat pies and not Little Pup Dogs.
  • Peacocks, 13 December 2020. They’re loud, aggressive, pretty ridiculous, and oh yeah native to Southeast Asia but who doesn’t like them anyway?
  • Toxic algae blooms, 20 December 2020. Mentioned the week after Jolly Roger brought them up in the strip, so you see how well these are being integrated to the daily storyline.
  • Bobcats, 27 December 2020. More Florida animals, ones that the strip says will even hunt sharks, which seems like going a bit too far for this whole bobcatting thing.
  • Manatees, 3 January 2021. The only thing bigger than manatees is the list of manatee vulnerabilities.
  • Ibises, 10 January 2021. Which aren’t really invasive, but they’re being pushed out of their natural habitat because we’re destroying it.
  • Armadillos, 17 January 2021. Which have also moved into Florida. The strip says they’re the “only mammal with armor” and I was going to ask about pangolins but Jules Rivera noted that should have read “in North America”.
  • Blacktip Sharks, 24 January 2021. Like was giving Mark Trail advice.
  • Cicadas, 31 January 2021. They’re loud, although not so loud as peacocks.

Next Week!

I’m still holding off on recapping Gasoline Alley for some mysterious reason that hasn’t anything to do with the story about buying a new clothes dryer still going on. While I wait, though, I’ll look in on Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth. I’d like to say that’s always fun but the current storyline does involve a character recovering from an abusive relationship. If you don’t need that in your fun recreational reading, you are right, and may want to approach the strip and the recap with caution.

I’m happy with the results in Extreme Donkey Vacuuming though


I apologize for being distracted lately, all. I’ve been working hard on a new random number generator. That’s “random” in the 90s webcomic sense of “Random!” though. So a typical output run looks like this:

0.318723
0.060458
WEASEL NOSTRILS
0.693668
0.142229
TELETUBBY JANET RENO
SPLEEN NINJA
0.711829

I think it’s about ready for use.

60s Popeye: Motor Knocks, where Popeye loses his car inside a covered bridge


Here’s a 1960 Paramount Cartoon Studios short. As usual the director is Seymour Kneitel. The story’s credited to Al Pross, a name I don’t see mentioned before. Pross is credited as an animator for nine shorts, but has story credits only for this and for a 1963 short called Harry Happy. And a quick warning before getting seriously intoMotor Knocks. Popeye’s rhyming couplet at the end includes a verb derived from a slur against Romani people.

Is Brutus a songwriter? This cartoon, I mean; I embrace how his background is whatever the premise of a short needs. But he presents himself as a service station owner whose real ambition is songwriting. He reels off funny bad titles to an impressed Olive Oyl. Is it all a line to impress her, or is this a bit more personality than Brutus needs for the cartoon?

Steve Bierly, author of a delightful Popeye fan page, wrote a book extolling the Famous Studios cartoons. He includes some mentions of the Paramount-produced King Features Syndicate cartoons, this one among them. It’s a nice change to be in dialogue with another critic. One of Bierly’s themes — writing about this cartoon and others — is how often Famous/Paramount cartoons have Olive Oyl be genuinely interested in Bluto/Brutus. She’s at least listening to his flirting here. She stands up for Brutus when Popeye’s ready to slug him. When Brutus is towing the car, she accepts the logic that it’s safer for her to ride in the tow truck cab while Popeye rides in the car.

I’m not sure how to evaluate that, though. I suspect Olive Oyl’s just impressed, as many of us are, with people who know how to Do Things. And Brutus does present himself as knowing how to Do Things, at least with cars. Could be anyone … except that Brutus/Bluto ends up being the guy who (seems to) know how to Do Things a lot. Some of that because if anything’s going to come between Olive Oyl and Popeye, well, who else you cast? Wimpy? (Watch this space.)

Olive Oyl, in the car, sits with her eyes fluttering and her hands held up together to her chin, dainty and flattered by the attention. Brutus is leaning way over the door of the car and smiling while talking to her.
So, gas station mechanic who plays guitar and composes silly songs that woo the ladies … if this short were made three years later I’d say it was starting to spoof Elvis Movies. How is Brutus somehow anticipating a Generic Elvis Movie role?

Bierly also points out this is one where Popeye is, first, doing something with Olive Oyl and, second, jealous of Brutus’s attention on her. Often Popeye seems barely interested in her and doesn’t notice the wooing until Olive Oyl tells him off. Plot requirements — that Popeye has to wait until he’s all he can stands before swallowing his spinach — tend to make Popeye look passive. That’s avoided, but at the cost of making him look more like a patsy. But he can’t be blamed for taking Olive Oyl’s advice to pretend Brutus’s shenanigans were an accident, for example. Or respecting her desire to ride in the tow truck cabin.

Much of this cartoon is what you’d expect from Paramount. The story’s all reasonable, reasonably constructed throughout. The animation’s all smooth and steady enough. There seem to be more jokes than usual, or at least they land better. There’s even sign jokes too, like Brutus’s garage offering “expert windshield wiping”. Brutus’s song titles, whether or not Brutus means them in earnest. Or Brutus claiming he ran across the stranded motorists while he was “just going mushroom-picking”. Also, wow, gas was a dollar a gallon back when this cartoon was made in 1960. Imagine that!

Bierly’s book, by the way, is Stronger Than Spinach: The Secret Appeal of the Famous Studios Popeye. Much of it overlaps Bierly’s web site, but they are different creatures. And I do quite like Bierly’s web site and its enthusiastic writing.

Statistics Saturday: Some Astounding Apollo 14 Trivia


Apollo 14 Thing Apollo 14 Thing Count or Measure
Launch vehicle Saturns 5
Launch vehicle Saturn V’s 1
Change in angle of flight azimuth required by 40 minutes, 2 second prelaunch weather delay 3 degrees, 30 minutes, 39.24 seconds
Astronaut noses (total) 3
Astronaut noses (per capita) 1
Tree seeds 400, maybe 500, who knows, they’re seeds
Golf balls hit on moon 2
How much longer the astronauts needed to walk to catch sight of the abandoned alien spacecraft in Cone Crater 52 seconds
Softballs hit on moon 0
Service Modules returned to earth 1 (not observed; if you find an Apollo 14 Service Module please bring it to your nearest NASA office)
Baseballs hit on moon 1
Baseballs foul-tipped on moon 2
Moons visited 1
Wastewater dumps deliberately photographed 1
Wheels left on the lunar surface 2
Mortar shells left on the lunar surface 4
Moons secretly visited 3
Astronauts named ‘Stuart’ returned from lunar orbit 1
Time between lunar impact of S-IVB stage and its first detection on the Apollo 12 seismometer 94 nautical miles away 37 seconds
Frisbees thrown on moon 5
Successfully 0
RCS engine deactivation completed 457 hours 57 minutes Mission Elapsed Time
Moon features given the name “Weird Rock” 1
Astronaut toes 10 per nose
Relative humidity at launch 86%

Reference: It’s Back To School, Charlie Brown, Charles M Schulz.

60s Popeye: Who’s Kidding Zoo, a title that needs some baby goats to really land


Who’s Kidding Zoo is a 1961 Paramount Cartoon Studios-produced short. The story’s credited to Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer, and the direction to Seymour Kneitel. This is not the same credit given to every Paramount Popeye cartoon of the era. It just feels like it.

This is an example of a particular stock Popeye cartoon plot: Popeye and Bluto/Brutus battle each other for the chance to work for Olive Oyl. It’s a solid story. I’m surprised they had never competed for a job at the zoo before. You’d expect the setting to offer a lot of chances for good animal jokes. They’d done cartoons at the zoo before, like 1944’s Pitchin’ Woo at the Zoo, where Bluto was the zookeeper. He doesn’t bring up the experience here. I suppose it’s important to mention how annoying society makes changing one’s name.

The cartoon follows the structure well. Popeye and Brutus are hanging out at the zoo. They overhear zookeeper Olive Oyl phoning in an advertisement for an assistant. Mae Questel performs Olive Oyl with this odd tone, a more formal voice than usual. I’m not sure why. I suppose to underscore how in this cartoon she’s unfamiliar with Popeye and Brutus. Or that she’s in a high-class position at the zoo. She sets the two competing, here, to see who can cheer up Gloomy the hyena by telling one joke each. I suppose it’s important to mention that back then credentials weren’t as important a thing as they are now.

Since he lost the job, Brutus switches to sabotage, volunteering to help Popeye carry water to elephants. Brutus pours in weight reducer, which deflates Hannibal, Olive Oyl’s “best elephant”. Popeye blows into Hannibal’s trunk, inflating him to “better than before”. I suppose it’s important to mention that back then zoos had no idea how to keep elephants healthy. (It turns out it’s by not putting elephants in zoos. I’m sorry but it’s so.)

The next attempted sabotage is putting springs on a baby kangaroo’s feet, so he can’t help jumping into a lion’s mouth. Popeye rescues him and Olive Oyl is impressed that Popeye doesn’t want baby kangaroos to jump into lion mouths. So we can make inferences about why the last assistant zookeeper left.

Popeye looks startled that the kangaroo joey he's brought a carrot to is hopping off, past him, thanks to springs stuck to the joey's feet. The mother kangaroo stands over all this, looking asleep.
Why the surprised look, Popeye? Everyone knows a kangaroo’s favorite food is … uh … carrots … I guess?

With sabotage not working Brutus turns to costumes. He puts on one of those gorilla costumes that looks like a perfect gorilla to a we-have-assumed-trained zookeeper. He uses it to abduct Olive Oyl and knock out Popeye. The costume works until Brutus nods. Hannibal remembers Brutus’s part in the weight-reducer thing. And somehow intuits that Popeye needs spinach. A quick punch and Brutus, in costume, is put in a cage as the Half-Man Half-Ape, “Only One In Captivity”. This is a funny scene when you’re a white guy who doesn’t know about the history of zoos putting people on exhibit.

The story, particularly, hangs together well. Brutus shrinks the elephant; the elephant remembers this and acts to foil Brutus. Brutus’s kangaroo stunt lets Popeye impress Olive Oyl. Upset that they’re going to lunch, Brutus pretends to be an animal. I understand if the cartoon doesn’t work for you. It’s Paramount, so everything’s paced a little slow (although that likely helps kids understand and anticipate what’s going on). Exactly one thing moves at a time, although it moves smoothly. (I exaggerate, but not much.) But it’s a well-crafted cartoon, throughout. The viewer’s not stuck wondering what something is supposed to mean, or why it’s in there. It’s comfortable and easy to watch.

MiSTed: The Tale of Fatty Raccoon, Chapter XIII


Thanks all for being with me for another chapter of this Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan fiction. I’m still looking at Arthur Scott Bailey’s 1915 children’s novel about animals, The Tale of Fatty Raccoon. You can read earlier installments of the MiSTing here. This chapter doesn’t demand much knowledge of what’s gone before, though. If you want to jump in all you really need to know is that Fatty Raccoon would like to eat you, and Arthur Scott Bailey hates Fatty Raccoon for it. Enjoy!


> XIII

CROW: How x-i-ting!

>
> FATTY MEETS JIMMY RABBIT

MIKE: Jimmy meets Fatty Rabbit.

TOM: Rabbit meets Jimmy Fatty.

>
> For once Fatty Raccoon was not hungry.

CROW: *What?!*

TOM: Hold me, Mike, I’m scared!

> He had eaten so much of
> Farmer Green’s corn that he felt as if he could not swallow another
> mouthful.

MIKE: So he’s taken to just rubbing corn on his belly and hoping for the best.

> He was strolling homewards through the woods when someone
> called to him. It was Jimmy Rabbit.

TOM: Y’know, if Fatty had an ear of corn to introduce to Jimmy, but was indifferent to how the meeting went, Fatty could say, ‘Jimmy, Green’s Corn, and I don’t care.’

MIKE: [ Sighing ] You too?

>
> "Where are you going, Fatty?" Jimmy Rabbit asked.

CROW: The big meeting in Toronto.

>
> "Home!" said Fatty.
>
> "Are you hungry?" Jimmy Rabbit asked anxiously.

MIKE: [ As Jack Benny, putting his hand on his cheek ] ‘Well!’

>
> "I should say not!" Fatty answered.

TOM: [ As Fatty ] ‘Um … should I? Did I get my line wrong?’

> "I’ve just had the finest
> meal I ever ate in my life."

MIKE: By ‘finest’ he means ‘most recent’.

CROW: Say this for Fatty, he’s a great person to cook for.

>
> Jimmy Rabbit seemed to be relieved to hear that.

TOM: [ As Jimmy ] ‘Hooray! It wasn’t me!’

>
> "Come on over and play," he said. "My brother and I are
> playing barber- shop over in the old sycamore tree; and we need you."

CROW: Wait … why are rabbits playing barber shop?

MIKE: Why are they not playing hare salon?

CROW: And we’re being the problem.

>
> "All right!" said Fatty. It was not often that any of the
> smaller forest-people were willing to play with him,

TOM: Wonder why that could be.

> because generally
> Fatty couldn’t help getting hungry and then he usually tried to eat
> his playmates.

MIKE: You know, when we make that joke it’s just sick, but when the book makes it it’s …

CROW: Ugh.

> "What do you need me for?" Fatty asked, as he trudged
> along beside Jimmy Rabbit.

TOM: We need somebody to be the guy off in back complaining about the Giants.

>
> "We need you for the barber’s pole," Jimmy explained. "You can
> come inside the hollow tree and stick your tail out through a hole.

CROW: [ As Fatty ] You need me to do a stick’s job?

> It
> will make a fine barber’s pole—though the stripes DO run the wrong
> way, to be sure."

MIKE: Well, you could lean sideways a little?

>
> Fatty Raccoon was greatly pleased. He looked around at his tail
> and felt very proud.

CROW: A fine horsehair tail, one of the most elegant … wait, I’m being handed a bulletin.

>
> "I’ve got a beautiful tail—haven’t I?" he asked.
>
> "Um—yes!" Jimmy Rabbit replied, "though I must say it isn’t
> one that I would care for myself…

TOM: Frish — *Frith* Worshippers have to say that.

MIKE: Hard saying ‘Frish Wor’ — that *is* hard.

> But come along! There may be people
> waiting to get their hair cut."

CROW: I’ve lost all understanding of the level of anthropomorphization here.

>
> Sure enough! When they reached the make-believe barber-shop
> there was a gray squirrel inside,

MIKE: Can touch that up with a little Just For Squirrels.

> and Jimmy Rabbit’s brother was
> busily snipping the fur off Mr. Squirrel’s head.

TOM: Uh-oh …

CROW: What?

>
> "How much do you charge for a hair-cut?" Fatty asked.

TOM: Fatty! Get out of there! IT’S AN IMPROV TROUPE!

>
> "Oh, that depends!" Jimmy Rabbit said. "Mr. Squirrel will pay
> us six cabbage leaves.

CROW: But for you?

MIKE: Yes, yes?

CROW: Six cabbage leaves, who do you think you are?

> But if we were to cut your hair we’d have to
> ask more. We’d want a dozen cabbage leaves, at least."

CROW: Oh, dang.

MIKE: This is about that time I ate your best friend, isn’t it?

>
> "Well, don’t I get anything for the use of my tail?" Fatty
> asked.

CROW: Well, what does your tail need to use?

> He had already stuck it out through the hole; and he had half a
> mind to pull it in again.

TOM: Just picturing the dignity of Fatty here.

>
> Jimmy Rabbit and his brother whispered together for a few
> moments.

CROW: [ As Jimmy ] ‘No, no, no, no. I don’t know your name either.’

>
> "I’ll tell you what we’ll do," Jimmy said. "If you’ll let us
> use your tail for the barber’s pole, we’ll cut your hair free.

TOM: I mean, all hair that’s cut is free. That’s how it can fall off.

> Isn’t
> that fair enough?"

MIKE: [ As Fatty ] ‘Will I have to bring my own hair?’

>
> Fatty Raccoon was satisfied. But he insisted that Jimmy begin to
> cut his hair at once.

TOM: Me, I demand to know if they have, like, rabbit-size scissors or what.

CROW: Oh, man, those stupid bunny scissors that you can’t actually cut anything with.

>
> "I’m doing my part of the work now," he pointed out. "So
> there’s no reason why you shouldn’t do yours."

MIKE: Jimmy counter-offers with Fatty leaving his tail there and comes back for it later.

>
> With that Jimmy Rabbit began. He clipped and snipped at
> Fatty’s head, pausing now and then to see the effect.

CROW: [ As Jimmy ] ‘So, uh, no eating each other right?’

> He smiled once
> in a while, behind Fatty’s back, because Fatty certainly did look
> funny with his fur all ragged and uneven.

TOM: Oh, now, how bad could it OH MY GOD! RUN! RUN FOR THE HILLS!

>
> "Moustache trimmed?" Jimmy Rabbit asked, when he had finished
> with Fatty’s head.

MIKE: Ah yes, the most renowned feature of a raccoon’s markings: the moustache.

>
> "Certainly—of course!" Fatty Raccoon answered.

CROW: You feel like Fatty shows up a lot in Animal Reddit threads about jerk customers.

> And pretty soon
> Fatty’s long white moustache lay on the floor of the barber-shop.

CROW: That’s *lie* on the floor.

TOM: No it’s not.

MIKE: Do I have to separate you two?

TOM: I mean, you do.

> Fatty felt a bit uneasy as he looked down and saw his beautiful
> moustache lying at his feet. "You haven’t cut it too short, I hope,"
> he said.

CROW: Aw, c’mon, you’re not hardly bleeding at all!

>
> "No, indeed!" Jimmy Rabbit assured him. "It’s the very latest
> style."

TOM: This is all the rage in Raccoon Paris.

>
> "What on earth has happened to you?" Mrs. Raccoon cried,—when
> Fatty reached home that night. "Have you been in a fire?"

MIKE: [ As Fatty ] ‘You should … see … the other fire?’

>
> "It’s the latest style, Mother," Fatty told her.

CROW: [ As Fatty ] ‘It’s by Mangee. On the Left Bank.’

> "At least,
> that’s what Jimmy Rabbit says." He felt the least bit uneasy again.

MIKE: [ As Mrs Raccoon ] ‘Did you tell him your Jimmy-Green’s-corn joke? Is that why he did that?’

>
> "Did you let that Jimmy Rabbit do that to you?" Mrs. Raccoon
> asked.

TOM: There was also his brother, what’s-his-name!

>
> Fatty hung his head. He said nothing at all. But his mother
> knew.
>
> "Well! you ARE a sight!" she exclaimed.

CROW: I guess? Since so far all we’ve been told is his fur’s uneven and he lost his moustache?

MIKE: Telling us there’s something funny without showing what it is; very Funky Winkerbean-y.

> "It will be months
> before you look like my child again. I shall be ashamed to go anywhere
> with you."

MIKE: Who’s gonna see? You go everywhere in the middle of the night.

>
> Fatty Raccoon felt very foolish. And there was just one thing
> that kept him from crying. And THAT was THIS:

TOM: For three months, he’ll be the chupacabra!

> he made up his mind that
> when he played barber-shop with Jimmy Rabbit again he would get even
> with him.

CROW: Jimmy and his brother are some those nasty prank-playing children from a 1910 comic strip.

MIKE: The Katzenjam-hare Kids.

>
> But when the next day came, Fatty couldn’t find Jimmy Rabbit
> and his brother anywhere. They kept out of sight.

TOM: They were wearing his eye mask as *their* eye masks!

> But they had told
> all the other forest-people about the trick they had played on Fatty
> Raccoon.

MIKE: Also they could see he was shaved naked-ish … we guess?

> And everywhere Fatty went he heard nothing but hoots and jeers
> and laughs.

TOM: [ As Forest-People ] ‘Hah, hah, doesn’t have a moustache!’

CROW: [ As Forest-People ] ‘Look at the uneven fur on that raccoon!’

MIKE: [ As Forest-People ] ‘We assume there’s something else funny about your appearance!’

> He felt very silly. And he wished that he might meet Jimmy
> Rabbit and his brother.

CROW: Funny thing is by the time he finds them, Fatty’s decided this look really works for him.

MIKE: Life, y’know?

>
>


[ To be continued, someday ]

60s Popeye: Bird Watcher Popeye, for Popeye watchers


Jack Kinney produced today’s short. It’s from 1960 and has a story by Ed Nofziger. Animation direction’s credited to Harvey Toombs. Here’s Bird Watcher Popeye.

It seems like earlier this week I was writing something about the good Popeye cartoons being more about mood than story. Here’s one that’s all mood — all little scenes, really. Maybe you can call what it has a story, but it’s trying to not be one. What it most feels like it’s trying to do is sit on my head. Or it’s trying to be a dream. I know I call on this metaphor a lot. Let me make the case for the dream logic.

Popeye’s pushed into Olive Oyl’s obsession du jour, bird watching. The bird in Olive Oyl’s backyard bites Popeye’s face. So they go to the zoo. At the zoo there’s a penguin who looks like Popeye that punches a penguin that looks like Brutus. There’s a parrot singing the Popeye the Sailor Man song. So a disgusted Olive Oyl sends Popeye into the woods, watching him by telescope. There, Popeye’s punched by a hummingbird who’s also singing the Popeye the Sailor Man tune. And then he’s punched by an owl. Brutus, who’s got a nest on top a chimney, sends a vulture — the Sea Hag’s Bernard, perhaps? — to kidnap Olive Oyl. Popeye spots this, spinach, punching, there we go. We close with Olive Oyl talking how she doesn’t want Popeye to change. Meanwhile the weird “Popeye, You’ve Done It Again” music from that baffling Popeye’s Testimonial Dinner plays. And so, evoking the Beatnik cartoon (Coffee House), Popeye says, “Like, I am what I am”.

Two penguins, with builds and stances which evoke Brutus and Popeye. The Popeye penguin is rolling his arm up, about to slug the Brutus penguin.
Ooh. I like this alternate-universe take.

So which sentence in that previous paragraph could you not reasonably append “for some reason” to? I don’t mind a flimsy story. These are characters I like and I’m happy to see them hang out and do silly stuff. But if Popeye can’t watch birds at the zoo successfully why send him off in the woods on his own? Whether the cartoon works likely depends on how well you tolerate characters doing things without a clear motive.

There’s some fun stuff here. I like the Popeye-and-Brutus penguins. The parrot is a good bit too. Popeye has a bunch of great facial expressions, too. Irritation at the start, as that bird swoops at him. Abashedness when Olive Oyl scolds him. General grouchy looks all around. A laughing cycle where his head is kept still and his body shakes up and down, which does a good job making it look like richer movement.

But, boy, if you are not exactly on this cartoon’s wavelength it’s a disaster to you.

What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? What is the deal with this blue balloon? November 2020 – January 2021


Pouch is this balloon-seller at the city zoo, by day. He’s also an informant, passing messages along to the criminal and, sometimes, cop worlds. The current storyline had him forced to sell a blue balloon. Why is Pouch so freaked out about selling the blue balloon? Because that balloon held information for a job, for one of Pouch’s clients. They need it back within an hour. Why was Aquarius, the buyer, so determined to get the balloon? He doesn’t know why it’s important, but it’ll be leverage. How did Aquarius know there was any reason to care about any of these balloons? … I don’t know. Maybe he reasoned Pouch would have something if he was still hanging around the zoo at sunset.

So this should catch you up on Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for late January 2021. If you’re reading this after about April 2021, I hope to have a more up-to-date plot recap here. That link also will hold any news about the comic strip which I get.

Dick Tracy.

1 November 2020 – 23 January 2021.

My last plot recap coincided with the end of a story and start of a new one. Lucky for me. Also lucky for Mark Bernard, guest writer for this story. Not so lucky for Rabbit, delivery man for Elegance Fragrances. Rabbit mistakenly included some of the boss’s poison with a legitimate perfume delivery. The boss — Yeti — kills him. And sends Daisy Dugan to recover the poison. Daisy recovers it, but comes close to Dick Tracy, who’s investigating a string of poisonings. Daisy shoots at Tracy, causing the scientific detective to wonder why someone’s shooting him. Other than, like, half the town is relatives and remakes of crooks he’s killed.

Daisy Dugan: 'We're after a ROCK?' Yeti: 'Precisely. That 'rock' is composed of several unique alloys. Broken into pieces and sold, it should fetch me a substantial fortune. Enough to shore up my enterprise until tastes in murder swing in my favor again. Here is how we will acquire it.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Mark Barnard, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 12th of November, 2020. You know, sitting around hoping something will turn up is a classic stage of business decline. If you have good reason to think the trend will turn back to you, all right. But anyone who’s studied corporate history will tell you this is the time to find a new market. Develop your product lines or use your resources to buy something that is selling now. Just saying.

The poison business isn’t what it used to be. Yeti has a plan to tide himself through the slump: stealing a million-dollar meteorite from the city museum. The plan is to drive one of the well-marked Elegant Fragrances trucks to three blocks away from the museum, sneak in through the sewers, and grab the rock. It’s our first clear hint that Yeti may not be Dick Tracy’s most ingenious opponent ever. The delivery van’s noticed by the cops’ drone camera network. Also, the cops have a drone camera network. It’s an element that fills a much-needed gap in Dick Tracy’s surveillance-state dystopia.

Grabbing the meteorite goes well, though, since Yeti and Daisy can just step over the security lasers. Climbing back down into the sewer goes less well, as Daisy slips and breaks something. Yeti leaves him to die. Yeti puts the meteorite in the back of the truck, takes off, hits the curb, and loses the meteorite right out the back of the truck. He doesn’t notice until he gets home.

Yeti, driving furiously: 'I'm still on schedule ... now to get clear before this truck leads them to me!' He drives over a curb, knocking a door open and causing the meteorite to drop out the back.
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Mark Barnard, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 26th of November, 2020. All things considered, this maybe wasn’t a case that needed Dick Tracy’s Major Crimes Unit.

So, ah, good job, Yeti. He gets his gun ready to shoot Dick Tracy; Sam Catchem shoots it out of his hand. Yeti flees to the back room, telling himself that he’s survived far worse. I would like him to name two examples. He won’t, though. In his haste to gather his papers and flee, he lets loose a giant poison spider who kills him.

And that, the 5th of December, closes the story. I’m sorry to see Yeti go, since he had a weird name and a snooty attitude about poisoning being elegant while guns and knives suck. And there’s his whole vendetta to destroy Dr Harvey Camel’s life. That’s enough for a character. It’s disappointing that he so completely foiled himself. Dick Tracy hardly had to show up.


The 6th of December, 2020, started the still-running story. And this is by Staton and Curtis on their own. It’s the one with, yes, a hippie commune. It starts at the city zoo, where balloon dealer and information-seller Pouch growls at a cocaine dealer name of Dollar Bill. Pouch — one of the few Dick Tracy characters to have got away with murder — doesn’t want drug dealers messing up his businesses.

Pouch calls on Tiger Lilly to rough Dollar Bill up a bit. Lilly roughs too much up, and snaps Dollar Bill’s neck. Pouch leaves Lilly to clean up his own problems. Lilly leaves the body to be discovered, figuring it’ll send the signal to keep the drug deals out of Pouch’s park. Dick Tracy gets the signal too, and suspects the start of a drug war. “It looks serious,” says Dick Tracy, “Prilosec and Meclizine have lost patience waiting for the Rolaids Empire to crumble. They might maneuver Cimetidine into giving a push.”

Sam Catchem, running around the farmer's market, trying to find a guy: 'Darn it! I've lost him in the crowd.' Wildman's Organics farmer: 'Hey there! You looking for somebody?' Catchem: 'Yeah, a guy in a black vest and purple flame head rag.' Farmer: 'Oh, that's Ty.' Catchem: 'Did you see where he went?' Farmer: 'He's prob'ly on his way back to the commune for lunch.' Catchem: 'Commune?'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 27th of December, 2020. OK yeah commune whatever, do you have those lavender sugar cookies? Because those are good and we should examine them more.

Aquarius, who runs the dealing network Dollar Bill was part of, replaces him with a guy named Ty. And warns Ty to be careful of the cops. Ty is immediately spotted by Sam Catchem. Ty runs into a farmer’s market, though, disappearing in the crowd. One of the farmers tips Catchem off to the commune, though. Catchem and Tracy go to the commune at 1312(!) Bedwell. They ask Aquarius for information and get nothing, not even his name.

This does send Aquarius to Pouch, to figure out his deal. He does this by asking Pouch where to find Dollar Bill and Pouch is having none of that. Aquarius offers to buy one of Pouch’s balloons, though, the blue one, which he refuses to sell at any price. It turns into an argument that park cops come in to break up. Aquarius offers to make peace by buying all the balloons, including the blue one. Given the scene, Pouch can’t refuse.

Tiger Lilly: 'This stinks! It's freezing, and I'm out chasing after balloons!' Aquarius, carrying a bundle of balloons: 'Pouch was holding out on me. But I've got the upper hand now. I don't know what's special about this blue balloon, but he'll have to bargain with me to get it back.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 12th of January, 2021. The tag of ‘Blue’ is funny every time it appears, yes, but because we’re seeing the colorized dailies. The strip can run in black-and-white. It happens that for some reason the last week and a half it’s run in black-and-white on GoComics, too; I don’t know why. I still have no idea how Aquarius knew there was anything special about the blue balloon.

Tiger Lilly follows Aquarius. So Aquarius is incredibly aware of Tiger Lilly’s pursuit. Aquarius returns to the commune, and Lilly breaks in after everyone goes setting up an ambush. Lilly’s overwhelmed, and captured, and Aquarius demands to know who sent him and what he’s after.

And that’s where we stand. It’s on a lot of characters noticing the people following them. Also thinking people were following them who weren’t. It’s a curious little motif for the comic. We’ll see where it leads in about twelve weeks.

Next Week!

My schedule calls for Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley. But I realize I may want to postpone that for … let’s say two weeks. So I will have a Gasoline Alley plot recap at this link, but around the 16th of February. So I’ll go to the next strip on my routine instead, then, and that’ll be … ooh! Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail. Should be fun. See you then.

Distracted thoughts after seeing The Dot And The Line: The Movie teaser trailer


Hey, does it feel to anyone else like we should have heard Robert Zemeckis announce he’s trying to do a computer-animated remake of Who Framed Roger Rabbit by now? Has anyone checked in to see what he is working on? Maybe we could just make sure?


(So my favorite part of the teaser trailer is how right after the “COMING / IN UP TO 3-D / SUMMER 2022” title card you get Dot, Line, and Squiggle all shouting as they realize they’re going over the waterfall. What’s yours?)