The Eighteenth Talkartoon: The Cow’s Husband


This week’s Talkartoon is from the 13th of March, 1931. One of the credited animators was Shamus Culhane again. The other, Rudolf Eggeman, didn’t get listed in the credits for anything we’ve seen so far. And I don’t know much about him. The Early NY Animators blog has a tiny bit more, including attributions for some scenes in “Dizzy Dishes” and “Barnacle Bill”, plus cartoons I hope to get to. Early NY Animators found recollections of him working as far back as 1916, for the Pat Sullivan studio, but with the note that he had a reputation for crude and messy work. If Eggeman animated anything after 1932 they don’t know about it, and nor does the Internet Movie Database. (The IMDB doesn’t have anything from before 1930, when Eggeman joined Fleischer Studios, though.)

Do bullfighting cartoons always come down on the bull’s side? At least in the American tradition. I confess my deep ignorance of other countries’ animation patterns. I can’t offhand think of one, though, where the audience is clearly expected to be on the toreador’s side. Even when the bull is a big, menacing, unfriendly presence. I suppose the knowledge the bull would really be doomed however the fight goes makes him unavoidably sympathetic.

So this gives the cartoon some plotting trouble. You can have a sympathetic character be the toreador; Popeye, Bugs Bunny, and the Pink Panther did some great work in their bullfighting cartoons. But Bimbo’s a weaker character than any of them, even here where he’s doing the sorts of reality-warping gags that you’d get from screwball Daffy Duck. Take the bull, who’s naturally sympathetic to start with, and start his cartoon with a minute of teary farewells to his children and even his fly, and there’s no hope for Bimbo to actually star in his own short.

The teary farewell does give the first line of Talkartoons dialogue I remember making me laugh aloud though: the second child’s reassuring “Don’t worry, daddy, we’ll collect your insurance” is great. It makes more shocking the next child’s “never mind, Pop, momma’s gonna buy us a new daddy”. It feels like a joke from a more modern, cynical-edging-on-nihilistic cartoon. I didn’t like that; it felt like a shock-for-the-sake-of-shock joke, and I’m less fond of those these days. But that cynicism is of a piece with the end, and the bulls marching off unknowingly into the butcher’s.

So Eggeman had a reputation for sloppy work, albeit work that the Early NY Animators blog credits with good, funny expressions and movement. This makes for an interesting counterpoint because this cartoon features rotoscoping. Max Fleischer invented the rotoscope (the patent was issued 100 years ago this past 9th of October). It made the studio. Thanks to tracing the movement of a real figure they were able to make Koko the Clown move in more natural, believable ways in-between being melted into a blob of ink or stretched into a hammock or something. It’s still one of the indispensable tools for the animator. Every studio would use it when they had some movement they needed to get right. It’s at least intellectually part of the heritage of motion-capture animation.

The bull’s dance is rotoscoped. I’m curious who the original dancer was, but that’s probably lost to time. The animation suddenly bursting into this smooth, gracious ballet figure, though, still stands out. I haven’t got any idea who did the actual tracing and adaptation of the original movement to a bull’s body shape. Maybe it was Culhane, who did have a strong drafting hand.

The cartoon several times uses the gag of someone’s accessory going about its business while they do something else. That’s a Fleischer Studios staple. It’s also got a nice proper fight-cloud, that I don’t remember encountering in the Talkartoons before. I only spot mice once, a trio of them on the giraffe’s neck at about 6:38 in.

I like the logic of the parade reversing course after the cop warns they’re going the wrong way down the one-way street. But my favorite blink-and-you’ll-miss-it gag is Bimbo and the bull staring one another down, nose to nose, until Bimbo’s nose comes off him and attaches to the bull. I was worried they’d repeat the joke, spoiling its whimsy, their next face-to-face showdown.

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MiSTed: The Jovian Jest (Part 2 of 4)


And continuing:

  1. MiSTed: The Jovian Jest (Part 1 of 4)

>
>
>
> The absorption of the stone had taught them what to expect, and for
> a moment it seemed that their worst anticipations were to be
> realised.

CROW: Pebbles across the county might be no more!

> The sluggish currents circled through the Thing,

TOM, CROW: Dum DA-dum!

> swirling
> the victim’s body to the center. The giant tentacle drew back into
> the globe and became itself a current.

JOEL: Don’t fight the current! Swim out and then make it to shore!

> The concentric circles
> merged — tightened — became one gleaming cord that encircled the
> helpless prey.

TOM: Is … he turning into Sailor Moon?

> From the inner circumference of this cord shot
> forth, not the swords of light that had powdered the stone to atoms,
> but myriads of radiant tentacles that gripped and cupped the body in
> a thousand places.

CROW: [ Bill Jones, giggling ] No wait stop I’m ticklish aaaaaaugh
[ and breaks down laughing ]

>
> Suddenly the tentacles withdrew themselves, all save the ones that
> grasped the head.

JOEL: That’s his *hair*.

> These seemed to tighten their pressure — to
> swell and pulse with a grayish substance that was flowing from the
> cups into the cord and from the cord into the body of the mass.

TOM: And from the body of the mass into the grayish substance and
that’s what we call an ‘economy’.

> Yes, it was a grayish something, a smokelike Essence that was being
> drawn from the cranial cavity.

CROW: Mmm, fresh skull juice.

> Bill Jones was no longer screaming
> and gibbering, but was stiff with the rigidity of stone.

JOEL: [ Bill Jones ] ‘Mondays, am I right?’

> Notwithstanding, there was no visible mark upon his body; his flesh
> seemed unharmed.

TOM: [ The Blob ] Oh yeah! Let me work on that.

JOEL: [ Bill Jones ] Whoa hey yeowwwowow!

>
> Swiftly came the awful climax. The waving tentacles withdrew
> themselves, the body of Bill Jones lost its rigidity, a heaving
> motion from the center of the Thing

CROW, JOEL: Dum DA-dum!

> propelled its cargo to the
> surface — and Bill Jones stepped out!

TOM: And he holds up the eight of diamonds — your card?

>
> Yes, he stepped out and stood for a moment staring straight ahead,
> staring at nothing, glassily. Every person in the shivering,
> paralysed group knew instinctively that something unthinkable had
> happened to him.

CROW: You suppose Farmer Burns will give him a refund?

> Something had transpired, something hitherto
> possible only in the abysmal spaces of the Other Side of Things.

JOEL: Do … do you think he liked it?

> Finally he turned and faced the nameless object, raising his arm
> stiffly, automatically, as in a military salute.

CROW: Oh, do *not* go there, I don’t have the energy.

> Then he turned and
> walked jerkily, mindlessly, round and round the globe like a wooden
> soldier marching. Meanwhile the Thing

ALL: Dum DA-dum!

> lay quiescent — gorged!
>
>
>
> Professor Ralston was the first to find his voice. In fact,
> Professor Ralston was always finding his voice in the most
> unexpected places.

JOEL: One time he spent a week searching for it before it turned up
in Schenectady.

> But this time it had caught a chill. It was
> trembling.
>
> "Gentlemen," he began, looking down academically upon the motley
> crowd

TOM: Too Fast For Love.

> as though doubting the aptitude of his salutation.

CROW: ‘It appears the aliens are here to … play.’

> "Fellow-citizens," he corrected,

JOEL: Buh?

TOM: The ever-popular ‘unneeded correction that somehow makes
you sound like a jerk’.

> "the phenomenon we have just
> witnessed is, to the lay mind, inexplicable. To me — and to my
> honorable colleagues (added as an afterthought) it is quite clear.

CROW: Oh, *boo*.

> Quite clear, indeed. We have before us a specimen, a perfect
> specimen, I might say, of a — of a — "

JOEL: You know he’s a professor of accounting, right?

>
> He stammered in the presence of the unnamable.

TOM: Read the employee badge! Then you can name it.

> His hesitancy caused
> the rapt attention of the throng that was waiting breathlessly for
> an explanation, to flicker back to the inexplicable.

CROW: [ As Ralston ] ‘Hey, stop paying attention to the not-man here!’

> In the
> fraction of a second that their gaze had been diverted from the
> Thing

ALL: Dum DA-dum!

> to the professor, the object had shot forth another tentacle,
> gripping him round the neck and choking off his sentence with a
> horrid rasp that sounded like a death rattle.

[ ALL clap. ]

JOEL: ‘Wait! I needed him to sign my financial aid paperwork!’

>
> Needless to say,

JOEL: End paragraph.

> the revolting process that had turned Bill Jones
> from a human being into a mindless automaton was repeated with
> Professor Ralston.

TOM: Blob is going to get *such* a letter from the Faculty Senate.

> It happened as before, too rapidly for
> intervention, too suddenly for the minds of the onlookers to shake
> off the paralysis of an unprecedented nightmare.

JOEL: With too much joy from everyone who’s had to listen to
the Professor mansplaining the world.

> But when the
> victim was thrown to the surface, when he stepped out, drained of
> the grayish smokelike essence, a tentacle still gripped his neck and
> another rested directly on top of his head.

CROW: He’s ready for Stromboli’s puppet show!

> This latter tentacle,
> instead of absorbing from him, visibly poured into him what
> resembled a threadlike stream of violet light.

TOM: Heck of a way to pick a new Doctor Who.

>
>
>
> Facing the cowering audience with eyes staring glassily, still in
> the grip of the unknowable, Professor Ralston did an unbelievable
> thing.

CROW: Let’s … POLKA!

> He resumed his lecture at the exact point of interruption!
> But he spoke with the tonelessness of a machine, a machine that
> pulsed to the will of a dictator, inhuman and inexorable!

JOEL: I had this guy for pre-algebra!

>
> "What you see before you," the Voice continued — the Voice that no
> longer echoed the thoughts of the professor — "is what you would
> call an amoeba, a giant amoeba.

CROW: Would you believe … a giant amoeba with cupholders?

TOM: It’s, it’s, maybe more of a paramecium? Would you buy that?

> It is I — this amoeba, who am
> addressing you — children of an alien universe.

JOEL: [ As the Amoeba ] Are … are any of you buying this?

> It is I, who
> through this captured instrument of expression, whose queer language
> you can understand, am explaining my presence on your planet.

CROW: [ As the Amoeba ] I … you know, this got a better reaction when I tried it at open-mic night.

> I
> pour my thoughts into this specialised brain-box which I have
> previously drained of its meager thought-content." (Here the
> "honorable colleagues" nudged each other gleefully.)

TOM: Mind-wiping is fun when it’s someone else on the faculty senate getting it!

> "I have so
> drained it for the purpose of analysis and that the flow of my own
> ideas may pass from my mind to yours unimpeded by any distortion
> that might otherwise be caused by their conflict with the thoughts
> of this individual.

JOEL: Oh, uh, PS, we’re not the bad guys?

>
> "First I absorbed the brain-content of this being whom you call Bill
> Jones, but I found his mental instrument unavailable.

TOM: Oh, sheesh.

> It was
> technically untrained in the use of your words that would best
> convey my meaning.

CROW: [ Bill Jones ] Are you calling me stupid?

JOEL: [ As Amoeba ] I’m saying you have an abundance of deficiencies!

CROW: [ Bill Jones ] Well … okay then.

What’s Going On In Prince Valiant? October 2017 – January 2018


I thank all you kind readers interested in what’s happening in Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant. This is my recap for mid-to-late January 2018. If it’s gotten far past that, this essay might not help you very much. But! If it’s past about April 2018, I should have other essays getting closer to your present. If I have done that, they should be at or near the top of this link. Good luck.

I also review comic strips for their mathematical themes, over on a blog trying less to be about comedy. You might find that interesting too.

Prince Valiant.

28 October 2017 – 21 January 2018.

When I last checked in on Prince Valiant things had reached a happy conclusion. Valiant had helped a refugee village smash a band of marauders. The marauders who weren’t so much into the marauding thing were settling down to join the villagers. And he was leaving behind some of the supporting cast where they were sure they’d be happy. With that, they were to sail down the river, hoping ultimately to get home.

They raft along the Yinchu. This river’s now known as the Syr Darya, one of the rivers in Kazhakstan that leads to the Aral Sea, which was a vast body of water that existed in Prince Valiant’s time. Along the way the party runs into (checks encounter table) a nasty swarm of insects. They escape the insects, but not before Valiant’s stung or bitten or otherwise harassed by one enough to fail his constitution check. He falls into a delirious sleep, and that night, pursuing the vision of his mother, he falls into the river.

Bukota, Karen, and Vanni are jerked from their sleep by the sound of a great splash. The Ab'saban warrior immediately realizes that the feverish Val is gone from his bedding and is nowhere to be seen. Karen is close to panic with concern for her stricken father, but frantic eyes can find little in the moonless dark. Flint is hastily struck to iron and a torch is set ablaze. Bukota wades to shore and sees evidence that Val has passed into the tall grasses, but the trail is soon lost. 'We must wait for dawn, and hope his fever does not lead him to destruction.' Meanwhile, a delirious Val stumbles forward, chasing the elusive phantom of his long-dead mother, a vision that suddenly transforms into the terrible figure of Horrit, the witch-prophet of his youth! 'Why do you hurry so, O Prince?' [ Next: Past and Future ]
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 19th of November, 2017. I admit I’m a bit impressed Valiant could get this lost this fast, given that he would have to get to the edge of the river. On the other hand, consider how easy it is to have something you’re holding in your hand drop eighteen inches onto a table, make some rattling noise, and then never be seen again. So yes, I am suggesting that Prince Valiant is kind of like that great dragon earring that was just here.

Valiant hacks his way through taunting visions of the witch-prophet Horrit and stumbles into a village. Jahan, the ruler, hooks him up with some salix tree extract, which naturally works great. Jahan explains their deal. His people are healers. They keep their neutrality in the wars between the Persian and Turkic people around them, ministering to both sides. And he’s atoning for a time when he kind of accidentally got the village cursed by not treating an ill stranger. (Jahan wasn’t sure if healing the stranger might alienate either of the warring sides around him.) Now, though, with “a good man — a man with an important destiny” treated despite being a stranger, he’d balanced the wrong.

Valiant’s companions find him. He’s sprawled out in the ruins of some ancient village, one massacred a long while ago. But then … how did Valiant find salix tree bark to chew on and to save his life? And with this (I found) charming bit of light Twilight Zone/folklore play Prince Valiant can get back to pondering the nature of reality and all that. For a couple days, anyway, while Karen and Vanni talk about healing herbs and chatter a bit with the local ravens. There’s a joke that the raven is passing word of their safe travels back home, but it turns out that is exactly what it’s doing.

Jahan the Healer continues to tell his story to the recovering Val. 'Our village maintained a delicate balance, providing remedies to the two powers surrounding us, until one day a man, dressed like none we had ever seen, rode into our village and collapsed. As headman, it was my decision as to how to treat the very sick stranger. But I was afraid --- he was neither Persian nor Turkic, and I feared that healing him might alienate one of those two clients. And so I chose not to treat him. The desperate man saw my intent to abandon him and, with the last of his strength, spewed forth a terrible curse. Then he died, and it was thereafter that disaster struck this village. But now I have saved a good man --- a man with a important destiny. I have balanced my wrong. I am finally free to go.' And as Val watches Jahan disappear into shadow, three worried figures track the prince's passage through the tall grass. [ Next: The Salix Tree ]
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 17th of December, 2017. There’s a lot that I like in the art of this panel, including Jahan introducing the audience to a scene presented behind him, the stranger’s desperation and anger as he curses the village, and all the fabric patterns. The vases aren’t bad either.

Something I didn’t pay attention to while it was happening, possibly because the one was taking place weekdays and the other Sundays: both the current weekday Phantom continuity and Prince Valiant include major, confusing, delusional dream-encounters for their strips’ titular characters. It also features what’s surely just a coincidence of words: Jahan speaks of Prince Valiant as “a man with an important destiny”; Savior Z speaks of The Phantom as “an important man of your kind”. All coincidence, surely. But I’m tickled to notice this.

Next Week!

So how did that bunco squad raid on the movie theater turn out? Is the strange Moon Governor Or Something closing in on Dick Tracy’s granddaughter from his abandoned farm base? How is Mister Bribery’s plan to bring someone from outside the strip in to murder Dick Tracy turning out? Did the strip acknowledge Gasoline Alley sending Joel over to visit? If all goes well, next week, I’ll read three months’ worth of Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy and let you know what the heck’s going on.

Statistics Saturday: Most Popular American Roller Coaster Names By Decade


Decade Most Popular American Roller Coaster Name
1890s Scenic Russian Mountain Panoramic Train Ride
1900s Drop The Dips Fairyland Lunar Cyclorama
1910s Figure Eight Speed-O-Plane Greyhound Flyer
1920s Racing Jackrabbit Zipper
1930s Swing Coaster
1940s Atomic Jet
1950s Comet Jet
1960s Meteor Jet
1970s Loop The Looping Loop Looper: The Bicentennial Looptacular
1980s Bobsled Ultragroove
1990s Laser Gunpuncher 2000max
2000s Death Kraken
2010s Steel Death Kraken

Source: The Kind Of Motion We Call Heat: A History of the Kinetic Theory of Gases in the 19th Century, Volume 2: Statistical Physics and Irreversible Processes, Stephen G Brush.

MiSTed: The Jovian Jest (Part 1 of 4)


I’d wanted to do another MiSTing of something and didn’t have time to get at some more chapters of The Tale of Fatty Coon somehow, despite having a whole year to try it. Instead I found a trifling little short story from a 1930 issue of Astounding and went to that. As best I can tell, it’s public domain, so no fair making me feel bad bringing out something completely inoffensive and fantastically avoidable for the sake of making some easy jokes, okay? Thanks. Also by the way I wrote and scheduled this to post before we got a meteor coming in to southeastern Michigan, so let’s just hold off on those allegations of who plagiarized who, all right?


MiSTed: The Jovian Jest [ 1 / 1 ]

[ SATELLITE OF LOVE. THEATER. ALL file in. ]

TOM: So, an astounding tale from outer space, huh?

CROW: That’s the rumor.

>
>
>
> The Jovian Jest
>
> By Lilith Lorraine

CROW: Sponsored by the Alliteration Council.

JOEL: You’d think that would be an association.

>
> There came to our pigmy planet a radiant wanderer with a message —

TOM: ‘Please remove us from your mailing list’.

> and a jest

JOEL: And a jape?

TOM: No, a *jest*. Pay attention.

> — from the vasty universe.

CROW: Vasty?

>
>
> Consternation reigned in Elsnore village

[ ALL make grumbly crowd noises. ]

TOM: Rar, argh.

JOEL: Consternation and uproar!

> when the Nameless Thing was
> discovered in Farmer Burns’ corn-patch.

CROW: Fatty Coon! Get out of here!

> When the rumor began to
> gain credence that it was some sort of meteor from inter-stellar
> space,

TOM: [ Nerdy ] I *believe* you mean it is a meteor*ite*, thank you.

> reporters, scientists and college professors flocked to the
> scene, desirous of prying off particles for analysis.

CROW: Scientists and college professors! That’s what we’re doing wrong. We never should’ve given all those samples to the pro wrestlers and the guy selling Dead Sea bath salts at the mall.

> But they soon
> discovered that the Thing was no ordinary meteor, for it glowed at
> night with a peculiar luminescence.

JOEL: We need a novelty song! Get Phil Harris, stat!

> They also observed that it was
> practically weightless, since it had embedded itself in the soft
> sand scarcely more than a few inches.

CROW: Also Farmer Burns was growing his corn in the sand.

TOM: It’s a little game he plays.

>
> By the time the first group of newspapermen and scientists had
> reached the farm, another phenomenon was plainly observable. The
> Thing

TOM: Dum DA-dum!

> was growing!

JOEL: Well, that’ll happen.

>
> Farmer Burns, with an eye to profit, had already built a picket
> fence around his starry visitor and was charging admission.

TOM: ‘All right, here’s my nickel. Now give me an admission.’

CROW: ‘I’m the guy that clicks on Twitter Moments on purpose.’

> He also
> flatly refused to permit the chipping off of specimens or even the
> touching of the object.

JOEL: ‘Can I lick it?’

TOM: ‘No.’

JOEL: ‘Can I lick it just a little?’

TOM: ‘No.’

JOEL: ‘C’mon, I just want to lick it.’

TOM: ‘Well … okay.’

> His attitude was severely criticized, but
> he stubbornly clung to the theory that possession is nine points in
> law.

CROW: So science is going to need at least a touchdown and a field goal to catch up.

>
>
>
> It was Professor Ralston of Princewell who, on the third day after
> the fall of the meteor, remarked upon its growth. His colleagues

TOM: Were frankly amazed he took that long to get to it.

CROW: ‘No, please, Ralston, talk about growing orbs some more.’

> crowded around him as he pointed out this peculiarity, and soon they
> discovered another factor — pulsation!

JOEL: My god … it’s disco aliens!

>
> Larger than a small balloon,

CROW: Yet smaller than a large balloon …

> and gradually, almost imperceptibly
> expanding, with its viscid transparency shot through with opalescent
> lights, the Thing

CROW: Dum DA-dum!

> lay there in the deepening twilight and palpably
> shivered.

JOEL: Aw, it’s space-chilly.

> As darkness descended, a sort of hellish radiance began
> to ooze from it. I say hellish, because there is no other word to
> describe that spectral, sulphurous emanation.

CROW: Well *you’re* pretty judgemental there, narrator.

>
> As the hangers-on around the pickets shudderingly shrank away from
> the weird light that was streaming out to them and tinting their
> faces with a ghastly, greenish pallor,

TOM: Sheesh, they act like they’ve never even tried a death-ray before.

> Farmer Burns’ small boy,
> moved by some imp of perversity, did a characteristically childish
> thing.

CROW: He ran around yelling for a while until he fell down and cried.

> He picked up a good-sized stone and flung it straight at the
> nameless mass!

JOEL: The mass answers back about sticks and stones may break its bones.

>
>
>
> Instead of veering off and falling to the ground as from an impact
> with metal, the stone sank right through the surface of the Thing

JOEL: Dum DA-dum!

> as
> into a pool of protoplastic slime. When it reached the central core
> of the object, a more abundant life suddenly leaped and pulsed from
> center to circumference.

TOM: Welp.

CROW: It’s like pouring sugar in the gas tank, that.

> Visible waves of sentient color circled
> round the solid stone.

JOEL: What’s an invisible wave of color?

> Stabbing swords of light leaped forth from
> them, piercing the stone, crumbling it, absorbing it. When it was
> gone, only a red spot, like a bloodshot eye, throbbed eerily where
> it had been.

TOM: [ As the kid ] ‘Uhm … can I have my rock back?’

>
> Before the now thoroughly mystified crowd had time to remark upon
> this inexplicable disintegration, a more horrible manifestation
> occurred. The Thing,

JOEL, TOM: Dum DA-dum!

> as though thoroughly awakened and vitalized by
> its unusual fare, was putting forth a tentacle.

CROW: That figures.

TOM: It’s always tentacles. Why is it never, like, sea lion flippers?

> Right from the top
> of the shivering globe it pushed, sluggishly weaving and prescient
> of doom.

ALL: [ As onlookers ] HE DID IT!

> Wavering, it hung for a moment, turning, twisting,
> groping. Finally it shot straight outward swift as a rattler’s
> strike!
>
> Before the closely packed crowd could give room for escape, it had
> circled the neck of the nearest bystander, Bill Jones, a cattleman,

CROW: Moo.

> and jerked him, writhing and screaming, into the reddish core.

TOM: [ Bill Jones ] ‘Tell my cattle … I love … aaaargh!’

> Stupefied with soul-chilling terror, with their mass-consciousness
> practically annihilated before a deed with which their minds could
> make no association, the crowd could only gasp in sobbing unison and
> await the outcome.

JOEL: You know the *Australian* alien space blob is like twenty times deadlier than this.

How To Not Be Overly Organized


Is it possible to be too organized? Physics offers us an answer: it explains that the polhode rolls without slipping over the herpolhode. This sounds dirty. It really has something to do with the rotation of rigid bodies as they begin their nutation. This makes it sound unbelievably filthy. Physics reports now that it misheard the question and apologizes fiercely.

Now that we ask physics again, where it knows its mother is listening, we have a better answer. It would be too organized if all the mass and energy of the universe were piled into a single spot of extraordinarily high, by which we mean low, entropy, causing the expansion of space to restart with a new Big Bang and the formation of a different universe with physics that might be substantially different from those we know. Even the person who’s so orderly as to have a ten-point checklist for connecting the garden hose would agree this is too organized, given how long it would take for a new universe to expand and cool enough to support stars, life, limited-edition holiday-flavor candy corn, and the part of town where they’re always having ukulele festivals.

Most of us stop before that point anyway, because we are stymied by questions such as: does it count as a pair of socks if they are noticeably not alike, but they are each the only one of their kind, and you have two of them? This is the problem I posed to my advanced physics lab partner in college, when he said he was starting to organize his dorm room by dividing it into “pair of socks” and “not a pair of socks”. His answer was to look at me with sad despair. His dorm-room organization project ended in failure, and we were unable to show that the Inverse Zeeman Effect ever happened.

The Inverse Zeeman Effect is a physics thing you look for in advanced physics labs and it has nothing to do with polhodes as far as I know. It’s named for the Dutch physicist Pieter Zeeman, who was such the life of the party he was known in every physics lab as Pieter “The Man” Zeeman, only in Dutch. Eventually he got a sinecure working for the water-reclamation agency. This allowed him to be Pieter “Zie Man” Zeeman of the Zeiderzeewerken. For putting up with this all his life they gave him a Nobel Prize and asked him to say “sinecure” with a Dutch accent.

Even we who are not Nobel Prize-winning Dutch physicists find natural limits to organization. Most things enjoy a natural resting spot which doesn’t have to make sense. It just has to be consistent. Which is why, in a boring anecdote I am not making up, I kept my toothpaste in the refrigerator for about four years when I was living in Singapore. It was probably an accident at first. But then it kept happening, and before you knew it, if somehow there were toothpaste in a more traditionally sensible place in my apartment, such as the bathroom, I’d never know it. Clearly the natural habitat of Singaporean toothpaste was in the refrigerator. I should have left a note for whoever got my apartment after I moved out. But if I had left one, would they have believed me? What might they have said about it? “This person writes too small to be legible”, most likely. I’ve left notes for people before.

The trouble is that organizing tries to put things where it makes sense for them to be, which is rarely were they want to be. The displaced things respond by going missing altogether. Who among us hasn’t tidied the office supplies on their desk and discovered the stapler can’t be found? Or organized the stuff in their medicine cabinet to find that not only is their toothpaste gone but there’s no evidence that they’ve ever had toothpaste? To tidy up the house so well that the guest room goes completely missing and there’s just a vacant spot on the wall is an unusual event. But it’s not unprecedented.

If there is one important thing to consider, it’s this: the Dutch have a municipality named “Urk”. It’s a former island, as the Zuiderzee’s been reclaimed all around it. Now it’s geographically part of the Noordoostpolder, which sounds like they’re doing physics over there. Somebody look into that. After knocking.

In Which I Am Haunted By Music Of Days Past


I think it’s only fair to ask why I’m spending time, in 2018, going about my business while thinking of the background music from the Hanna-Barbera Pac-Man cartoon that was a thing that existed. And don’t tell me that it’s my own stupid fault for watching the Hanna-Barbera Pac-Man cartoon that was a thing that existed. What choice did I have at that age, not watching a cartoon? Exactly. In any case there’s no reason for me to be puttering around the house humming it to myself in my melody-less, Morse Code-esque fashion. Not at this date.

And it’s not like I let just any song I was exposed to back then occupy my thoughts for hours on end. Why, it’s been weeks since I had that AT&T commercial for their hardware that repurposed the old “Second-Hand Rose” song as “Second-Class Phones/ they’re making/ second-class phones/ they’re breaking” occupy my every waking thought for three days straight.

The Seventeenth Talkartoon: Teacher’s Pest


So there’s no lost-or-good-as-lost cartoons or, as best I can tell, misnumbered entries or any other weirdness. Last week I talked about the Bimbo cartoon “Tree Saps”. This week, “Teacher’s Pest”. The one odd thing about this: it was released the 7th of February, 1931. That’s four days after “Teacher’s Pest”. I’d like to say that obviously Bimbo-mania was sweeping the country. But the next Talkartoon after this wouldn’t come out for a full month. They must’ve just had a slot that needed filling. This is a cartoon animated by Grim Natwick and Seymore Kneitel and who knows if anyone uncredited was in there too.

The action gets a bit out of synch with the animation. I’d think that’s an error of how the short was digitized and uploaded. But these were still very early days for sound-synchronized cartoons, and I can’t rule out that the animators just misjudged the timing. It’s striking to me that in the bit of singing about “who’s the greatest man in history” the students’ responses are perfectly timed but one answer off.

This short features a Young Bimbo. At least, one who’s a kid young enough to go to school and have an off-screen mother and all that. I think this is the first time he’s been shown in a variation from the generic young adult who could work in a lumber mill or get hauled into court for harassing women. There’s also a girl who looks, to me, plausibly like a Young Betty Boop. This isn’t normally listed as a Betty Boop cartoon, and I’m not at all sure they meant the girl Bimbo meets in the hallway to be anyone particular. I’m not sure the knew yet that Betty Boop was going to be anybody either; she wouldn’t be named until “Silly Scandals”, released in late May 1931.

One thing I like in old cartoons, and that the Fleischer studios were prone to doing, is basic stuff made complicated. So I’m tickled that Bimbo gets out of bed by climbing through the footer. Or that he travels the last couple feet into school by going up the see-saw and using that to propel himself, and then his books, into the building. This is an era that didn’t tend to have strong narratives or much of any dialogue. Doing things in roundabout ways is not yet worn out. I also appreciate that a lot of Bimbo’s motion is in perspective, approaching or receding the camera. It makes walking across the screen something more.

The song that the teacher leads everyone in, after “Good Morning To You”, is a folk tune named “Bulldog on the Bank” or “Pharaoh’s Daughter” that I never heard of either. Here’s a transcription of at least one version of the lyrics, and a recording of date unknown to me. It’s a shame the cartoon’s recording is bad because I couldn’t understand the joke in the verse just by listening to it.

A pair of mice pop in, quickly, at about 2:16 in. A monstrously large one shows up at 6:56 in the dance. I’m tickled by the early joke of Bimbo setting his alarm clock back an hour, and by the quick moment of the clock’s retaliation. I have to call that the best blink-and-you-miss-it joke; there’s not a lot of competition in this short. Arguably competition: Bimbo stopping in to feed the pet frogs in the lowest stair-step. (Also, did anyone ever keep frogs in a stair-step? It seems ridiculous but not impossible.) Their first pair of names, Max and Dave, are funny if you are the kind of person who remembers the names of the Fleischer Brothers. Their second pair of names, Amos and Andy, are of course a reference to radio’s long-running contemporary examination of the effects the Great Migration on the American experience.

I have no idea why the short ends in a string of musical instruments morphing into one another as Bimbo plays them. Nor have I got an idea why it should end in a string of letters and arithmetic problems and stuff dancing around the background. Possibly they didn’t have a better way to conclude the short. I sympathize with the problem.

In Which I Ask For A Favor


I’m not sure who I’m asking this favor from. But I know out there at least one of you is in an Internet community that’s talking about movie sequel subtitles. And that’s looking around for what’s the right all-purpose movie sequel subtitle to use now that we’re moving past Electric Boogaloo and even The Squeakquel is starting to wear out. I’m not saying that anyone is wrong in supporting The Secret Of The Ooze or The Legend of Curly’s Gold as all-purpose subtitles either. And I don’t dispute you putting those in as your votes for all-purpose sequel subtitle.

It’s just that I think we’re forgetting about the second Cats and Dogs movie, which is a shame, as its subtitle The Revenge of Kitty Galore is clearly ready to be put underneath all sorts of movie franchise titles. So whoever’s in that discussion for all-purpose movie sequel subtitles? If you could enter The Revenge of Kitty Galore for me, I’d be grateful. Thanks and take care, please.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Weekdays)? October 2017 – January 2018


Are you hoping to get up to date on The Phantom‘s 248th weekday-continuity story, The Return of the Locust? Then you’re in luck, if you want to know how the story stands as of mid-January 2018. If you’re looking for later parts of the story, possibly including its conclusion, you’ll need a later essay. If I’ve written one about Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s comic strip, it should be at or near the top of this page. It has to share that page with the Sunday Phantom continuity, a separate story being revealed to us in parallel. But it’s there. This is about the strips running Monday-to-Saturday.

If you’re interested more in comic strips that are about mathematical topics, and the mathematics those imply, please consider my other blog. I try to round up the past week’s comics and explore the ones that give me something good to talk about.

The Phantom (Weekdays).

23 October 2017 – 13 January 2018.

The Ghost Who Walks had been encouraged to take up flying last time. He got a curious summons from The Locust, a Mandrake-class magician working out of the American Southwest. The Phantom flies his private plane to Walker’s Table, a remote and impossibly inaccessible pillar of rock somewhere in New Mexico that’s been in the Phantom’s family since the father of the first Phantom explored the desert in 1499. And it turns out there’s anti-aircraft gunners on the Table.

So he withdraws, and checks in with the local diner to ask what the heck’s going on. He talks with the guy who runs the diner. He’s called the General and speaks the way characters with backstory do, although I don’t know what it is. The Phantom Wiki doesn’t have anything logged about it either. May just be written like he’s an old hat. Anyway, the General explains how there’s squatters on top of the Table. They hook up with the helicopter pilot who’s been delivering supplies to people he just trusted were supposed to live atop a massive cylinder of rock.

Helicopter pilot: 'That's YOUR place? And you don't even know these people?' Phantom: 'Afraid not.' Helicopter pilot: 'Man, they said it was THEIR place! I'm way too trusting!'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 7th of November, 2017. “I can be so gullible! Well, nothing to do now but throw my lot in with the stranger nobody in town has seen or heard from in years who claims that two dozen generations of his family have owned the most remarkable geographic feature in this part of New Mexico!”

The Phantom arranges for the helicopter pilot to fly him, at night, to somewhere out of gunnery range above the Table. And to drop him, in one of those cool wing-suits used by those people who talk with Conan O’Brien about how they jump off of skyscrapers. With this he’s able to land on the Table without drawing attention until he’s ready to shout at or punch people.

Savior Z: 'You're here! You're now! Y-you're really here!' The Phantom: 'I own this place. Of course I'm here.' Savior Z: 'So many said I --- I made it up! I-in my mind! But it's true! Y'you're here! An important man of your kind! ... Important like I am!' The Phantom thinks, 'This is more than I knew a moment ago: he's out of his mind!'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 1st of December, 2017. Not even slightly Tony DePaul’s fault but Savior Z’s open of “You’re here! You’re now!” puts me in mind of some late-60s audio clip about something being a happening thing and I can’t track down what I’m thinking of. No, it is not The Peanut Butter Conspiracy’s “It’s A Happening Thing”.

On the ground he finds Spock’s half-brother Sybok, sporting a long green coat and talking about this proves everything he ever said. He’s got a bunch of followers, a bunch of mostly young, racially mixed young adults living in tents. They call Sybok the “Savior Z” and cling to his every word, such as “Stop him!” and “He’s getting away!” and “Don’t let him throw all our guns off the edge of the cliff!” and “don’t let him bludgeon us with that meteorite!

After shoving the cult’s artillery over the edge and bluffing Savior Z into giving up his pistol, the Phantom asks what the heck their whole deal is. Savior Z tells his followers that this is exactly the way he foresaw all this playing out, and his followers are fools to question him. His followers look around and shrug and agree, this is definitely all in Savior Z’s vision and they’re not fools to question this. Savior Z has some story about an amassing alien invasion fleet gathered behind the far side of the Moon, and insists The Phantom is the vanguard of the invasion.

Savior Z, to his followers: 'So don't be deceived! We came here to fight! To defend the good!' The Phantom, grabbing him: 'Enough! You've had your say. Now here's mine. Get some rest. In the morning, we're walking out of here.'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 21st of December, 2017. Now I’m picturing what it’d be like if The Phantom was a weary assistant professor dealing with yet another round of plagiarized essays turned in for his intro class. Also that every college instructor would like the power to punch hard enough that it leaves a skull-head imprint forever.

By the way, Savior Z isn’t automatically delusional for saying this. The Phantom takes place in a continuity with a lot of wild stuff happening. Within the past decade the Ghost Who Walks himself helped transplant a small population of lizard-men to a more remote, defensible spot here on Earth. And sister strip Mandrake the Magician has, in the past two decades, chased off aliens (these aren’t the only ones in the past four years of reruns) and time travellers abducting people to the far-distant future in order to teach them how to be spanked. In the vintage strips from the 1940s that Comics Kingdom also runs, they’ve dealt with giants, a floating city in the clouds, and I’m pretty sure at least one iteration of Atlantis. When that’s the standard for normal, why couldn’t Savior Z know that the Emperor of the Moon is up to his old tricks?

(And my thanks to the Mandrake The Magician blogspot, without which recaps I couldn’t have found those two instances before my patience ran out.)

Well. The disarmed Savior Z explains they can’t just leave because the elevator’s unsafe. He shows the skeptical Phantom what the problem is: it’s the concussion grenade he booby-trapped the elevator with. The unconscious Phantom dreams he’s visiting his son, off at his Tibetan finishing school. Although his dream starts to fall apart when he realizes it doesn’t make sense, a phenomenon that sometimes happens to dreaming people. (My love has this happen all the time and I’m always amazed by it.)

Savior Z, over the (concussed) Phantom: 'These exoplanet warriors! Just look at him! Hardened in intergalactic battles your small minds cannot imagine! All in my vision! All foretold!' Followers: 'He foretold it all ...' 'I love Savior Z ... follow him anywhere ... '
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 12th of January, 2018. I am expecting in another day or two that the Ghost Who Walks will try some kicking and stuff. But I am also curious that something like four months into The Return of the Locust we haven’t seen that much of the Locust. Can’t blame The Locust if he figured all he had to do was place an ectoplasmic call in to deal with this oddball cult, but it seems like very little of a return. But, then, Tony DePaul isn’t afraid of long storylines. Six-month storylines aren’t rare, and a couple years back he ran one about the kidnapping of Diana Palmer designed to run over a year and a half.

Some of Savior Z’s followers are a bit put off to learn the elevator was booby-trapped. But some of the others figure out why this isn’t a creepy, manipulative, controlling thing for their cult leader to do: he was protecting him from their own weakness. Lest his cult figure out they don’t even need him to dominate their thoughts anymore, Savior Z tells them that their doubts are exactly part of his plan, and for their part in fulfilling his vision they should enjoy this punch. Also, they should roll The Phantom over the edge of the cliff.

And that’s where the story ended Saturday.

Next Week!

We return to the fantastic and bizarre Far East, as Prince Valiant and his companions try to head back west. Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant, having conquered his enemies, now has to overcome the elements and find his way home without dying.

Statistics Saturday: Which Side Of The Road Various Countries Of The World Drive On


Country Of The World Which Side Of The Road Is Driven On
Canada Top
India Top
United Kingdom Top
Australia Top
Mexico Top
Germany Top
Ukraine Top
Norway Top
Russia Top
Romania Top
Finland Top
Turkey Top
Hungary Top
South Korea Top
Brazil Top
United States Top
New Zealand Top
Greece Top
Serbia Top
Argentina Top
Vietnam Top
Bangladesh Top
Taiwan Top
Lebanon Top
Italy Top
Spain Top
Portugal Top
Israel Top
Philippines Top
France Top
Denmark Top

Source: The Kind Of Motion We Call Heat: A History of the Kinetic Theory of Gases in the 19th Century, Volume 1: Physics and the Atomists, Stephen G Brush.

Some Dubious Things To Do With Robots


The area library got He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe: Minicomic Collection. This is a heck of a book, compiling all of the minicomics that were originally included with toy figures back in the day. It’s a lot of book, something like 24,864 pages and more reading than I had to do to earn my Master’s in Mathematics. The books start out weird, but soon settle in to a comfortable routine. Most of them, at least once the cartoon had got started and they had a specific continuity to pay attention to, are about He-Man talking with his New Friend, Whatever This Current Toy Is. New Friend worries that he’s not as good as the rest of the Masters of the Universe, and then Skeletor does some nonsense or other and New Friend’s unique abilities turn out to save the day, even if his power is that he’s made of rock. Or it’s a new villain who uses his powers to be the greatest possible menace ever to He-Man who still foils the villain, even if it turns out his power is that he’s got more than one eye. But sometimes there’s a variation. Like in this one.

Man-At-Arms: 'Hello, Adam, this is Roboto!' Robot: 'I-Am-Roboto.' Adam: 'I'm impressed! What can he do?' Man-At-Arms: 'In addition to his mechanical claw, he can use this laser ax or laser gun! And Iv'e given him the power to be invincible!' Roboto: 'I-Am-Invincible'. Adam: 'Excuse me, Man-At-Arms, but do you think it's wise to give so much power to a robot?' Man-At-Arms: 'You're right to ask. But I've taken a precaution! I'm giving Roboto this 'heart', which will give him the human emotions and compassion he needs to be a true warrior of Eternia!'
I know what you’re thinking and don’t worry. Man-At-Arms also gave Roboto the power to make more interesting conversation. I apologize for the deep fold in the center but the book is thicker than my Scion tC and there’s just no way to hold it flat on the scanner or the color copier to get a page clean and un-distorted.

So here Man-At-Arms is able to make a robot which, sure, that’s fair enough. He’s a guy with a helmet and green leggings, of course he can make robots. What I’m dubious about: he can make a robot be invincible? Should that really be in Man-At-Arms’s power set? At the least shouldn’t he get someone higher-ranked to sign off on this? Another dubious thing: he can give robots hearts? I’m not saying it’s a bad idea, just, again, should he be doing this without Institutional Review Board approval?

In Which I Discover A Way To Make A Modest But Respectable Sum Of Money


Something I always get in December is the Peanuts page-a-day calendar. It’s an important piece of organizing my life. How can I confirm to myself all afternoon that I’ve completed the tasks I must do every day or else die or break a streak except by tearing off that day’s colorized reprint of a joke from 1966 that I memorized by the time I was seven? But somehow, through the machinations of fate and whatnot, I forgot to get one this December. And nobody was able to find one for me for Christmas. And the bookstore in town didn’t have any, either. So I had to resort to the thing that still feels weird and alien and exotic and maybe a little too much fuss for me, and buy the thing online.

So here’s what I faced looking at the Peanuts 2018 page-a-day calendar on Amazon. And by the way I trimmed out of this the estimated delivery date, which was that it usually strips “in one to two months”. That is transparent nonsense. What could take two months to get a calendar? I know the production rates of the vast calendar mines of Ecuador and I know how much containerized cargo is shipped from Guayaquil to Los Angeles daily. Even with the traffic difficulties caused by Panama Canal expansion. (The shipping goes through Rotterdam for efficiency’s sake.) The numbers don’t lie. Two months is just a fib. Anyway, don’t worry, the nonsense runs deeper.

Peanuts 2018 Day-to-Day Calendar, by Peanuts Worldwide LLC. 14 new from $7.49. 2 used from $39.59.
They include a full-color comic strip, but of the Monday-to-Saturday strips, which originally ran in black and white. The Sunday strips, which were originally run in color, aren’t included in any way at all.

Somehow — and I put this order in, like, the 3rd of January — someone is selling a used calendar for 2018 for $39.59. In fairness, they don’t say what it’s used for. If it’s used, for example, to scribble down the clues leading to the lost Schulz Treasure, then $39.59 seems pretty reasonable. (The Treasure is what’s left of this stock of ink pens that Schulz really liked, and that he bought the company’s entire stock of when they were discontinuing the model. This may not sound like a lot of treasure, but understand, if you have an art supply you can go up to any artist who draws — including writers or musicians who just doodle while avoiding writing or musicking — demand as much money as they have, and they’ll give it to you. They’ll sulk while they do it, yes, but don’t we all?) But what if it’s not? What if it was used for something more mundane, like, the thing wasn’t even taken out of its box and it was just used to keep a taller calendar from sliding down before someone could thumbtack it onto the wall?

Because if it turns out you can turn a ten-dollar calendar into a forty-dollar calendar just by using it then my entire financial situation has changed. And I’m going to have to have stern words with the version of myself that was asking serious questions about what I needed versus what I would merely like back in 2002 when I was getting out of grad school and preparing to move to Singapore. Because there’s, like, a dozen years of used official Star Trek Starships Of The Line calendars that I just tossed into the bin because they finally seemed to have no value. And don’t doubt that they were used. Every one of them had a little channel individually cut by thumbtack through the paper above the punched-out hole for hanging the things. Many of them also have little strips of manually-added scotch tape attempting to keep December from completely falling off the wall and onto the bare mattress sitting on the bedroom floor. You don’t get much more used than that.

I can’t promise to make every calendar so well used, of course. But I’m sure I could buy some calendars and give them some use. Maybe try to fold out the plastic leg on the back of them that’s supposed to make the calendar stand on its own and doesn’t. Maybe take a date and scribble an illegible note about an appointment nobody can quite make out. What is important to do at 4:45 on Tuesday with Nurl? I don’t know. But every appointment I ever write down is at 4:45 on Tuesday with Nurl. Do you want to miss it? Maybe write out for one of the activity puzzles at least four words you can make from the letters of “resolution”.

Lucy: 'I knew I was right! I knew it! There was a day just like today back in 1935! This isn't a new year at all ... this is a USED year! I'm going to write a strong letter of protest.' Linus: 'Who's in charge of years?'
Or maybe they’re just seeing who remembers the Peanuts from the 11th of January, 1966. Tough to say. It is the sort of needlessly obscure prank I’d play though.

I’m not saying this is going to make my fortune. There’s the up-front cost of ten or fifteen bucks per calendar. But at a per-calendar profit of $25 per this is at least as good an hourly rate as anything else I’m doing. Back in the day, my father made a modest but reliable profit buying, fixing, and selling houses. I’m not competent to do that, but why couldn’t I flip a couple days? It’s only fair.

The Social Animal


So yesterday we had over a plumber who was so charming and personable and easy to chat with it’s almost a shame we didn’t have a more complicated leak from the bathtub fixtures. And then in the evening there were an estimated 21,642 new people at our pinball league whom I did my best to smile to and help get to understand that they’re welcome and valued and we’re glad to have them try out the place. That all went well, and 142,000 of them said they were definitely coming back next league meeting. But after that many hours being outgoing and social and attentive to so many people I need to spend the next, like, week with the lights off and shades drawn, hiding underneath the bed and swatting at imaginary visitors so please pardon me, won’t you? Thank you.

I’m so lucky they were able to deliver one of those overcast, foggy days where you can’t see to the far end of the street of necessarily the house on short notice like this.

The Sixteenth Talkartoon: Tree Saps


I have to skip another cartoon in this Talkartoons progress. The fifteenth, Ace of Spades, was apparently lost for decades. Wikipedia says the cartoon was found in 2010. I don’t have a copy. If you have one, let me know, I’d be interested to see.

So here’s the next of them. It was originally released the 3rd of February, 1931 — a busy week; next week’s Talkartoon was released the 7th — and animated by Grim Natwick and Ted Sears, both of whom have had mentions here before. It’s “Tree Saps”. And, ah, a quick content warning. Al Jolson. (Well, a blackface gag.) It’s the tag of the short, after the building finishes falling down.

I’ll get to the first 7 minutes, 16 seconds of this 7 minute, 35 second short in a bit. But I have got a rhetorical question: why did like every cartoon of this era think it was a killer gag to have a character get blackened up and then call out “Mammy?” I mean, yes, I get that Al Jolson was as big a star then as he isn’t now. And that it’s a easy joke to make. But it’s not much of a joke. It’s more a moment of “remember this popular thing and giggle!” I know, we always have these things. And it’s easy in a moment of twitchiness while trying to think of something funny to call on it. I suppose it stands out because blackface gags have a social charge to them that, like, an Austin Powers impersonation hasn’t gathered. I’d rather they have worked a little harder back then.

Up to that point, though, it’s an amiable cartoon. The title suggests a logging camp and that’s just what we get. I’m a little curious what the earliest logging camp cartoon is; it doesn’t seem like it’s a setting anyone uses anymore. Standing out to me is how many of the lumberjacks are asleep, or near asleep. I feel like there’s a payoff to that which is missing.

It’s otherwise a long series of spot jokes about how cutting down trees might go wrong. Easy enough, and the sort of cartoon that can run as long or as short as you need to fill time. Here, it’s about five minutes before the short figures that’s enough lumberjacking, let’s do a chase. And not much of a chase, as a tornado for some reason gets entered into the narrative? I guess it ends the action, and makes for a bunch of silly action in the climax. But why a tornado?

Bimbo doesn’t get to act all screwball this time around. He’s probably the most responsible lumberjack of the bunch. And he keeps losing focus to his seal(?) partner who needs a steady bribe of fish to act. I’m curious why Bimbo’s given such a dull role this cartoon. It’s possible to be an entertaining straight man, but he’s not doing it.

There’s a mouse showing up regularly in the cartoon as one of the lumberjacks, appearing at just before 1:30, 2:15, 3:30, 4:40, and 5:30, the half-minute mark through the whole short. There’s a surprising lack of really body-horror-ish jokes. Also of jokes you miss by blinking. I mean, I like the seal uprooting and replanting a tree that Bimbo keeps missing, but that’s too well clearly presented to miss. I love the musicians playing instruments while thrown in the air, particularly the cats on the fiddle, but again they’re too central to miss. Bimbo grabs and drinks a glass of water while falling, but that isn’t much of a joke either. It’s just activity.

That the lumberjacks play instruments in the end doesn’t come from nowhere. They’re set up for it in the introductory scene. It does give the cartoon the chance to end with action set to the William Tell Overture. Good piece, certainly. The sort of thing that gives a strong beat for the action to play against.

Comic Strip Piranha Club Ending; Nancy Possibly Ending; Bizarro Shifting Bizarreness Source


So, had a bit of a shock when I checked in on rec.arts.comics.strips yesterday. You know the results from the subject line here but, whatever. Bud Grace, of The Piranha Club, announced he’s retiring the comic strip as of the 3rd of February. That’s after thirty years of the comic strip, originally titled Ernie and renamed after it turned out the club generated more stories than Ernie himself did. (This was posted by Charles Brubaker, cartoonist for Ask A Cat and The Fuzzy Princess and one of those working cartoonists that I kind of loosely know.)

As ever, I’m disappointed for the comic strip to end. I don’t suppose The Piranha Club ever got regard as an A-list comic strip. But I remember it as one of my happy discoveries in the late, incompetently run Strips weekly newspaper. It’s always been a reliably good belly-laugh, slightly-risque comic. Also Grace’s retirement reduces the number of comic strips drawn by physics majors out there. (Bill Amend, of FoxTrot, is another, which will surprise nobody who’s read his mathematics jokes.)

Also announced and shocking, and coming to me by way of D D Degg by way of the Nashville Tennessean: Guy Gilchrist is retiring after over two decades producing Nancy. His last strip is to be the 18th of February. His tenure’s to end with Aunt Fritzi marrying Phil Fumble. Phil had been a characer in the earliest days of the comic, and was reintroduced in late 2012. There’s no word yet as to whether the syndicate will find a successor writer or artist, or whether they’ll put the comic into eternal-reruns, or whether they’ll just let it end.

Nancy was, I admit, one of those comics I didn’t pay much attention to growing up, even though it ran in the evening paper and was even still done by Ernie Bushmiller at that time. In the 90s I would occasionally hear cartoonists talk about the astounding design of the comic, and wondered what they were on about. Since then, and especially with the rerunning of vintage Nancy strips on Gocomics.com, I’ve been able to see what they were on about.

Gilchrist doesn’t write or draw with the uncanny streamlined precision of Bushmiller. I imagine he’d agree, much as I expect he’d agree if I were to say he wasn’t as good a singer-songwriter as Ray Davies is. But he did a number of things to revitalize the comic strip, including bringing back long-forgotten characters such as Phil and the Goosepimple family (an Addams Family expy that originally appeared in the Nancy comic books), which expanded the kinds of jokes the comic could do. And he also brought a appreciation that was fanboyish in the good ways, particularly to musicians. One could complain that it’s as obvious as the editorial-comics celebrity-at-the-Pearly-Gates cliche to have Fritzi talking about how great (say) David Bowie was one lead-time after his death. But how often do you see comic strip characters who are both aware of pop culture and actually just like stuff?

Last other major bit of news, that again I get thanks to D D Degg, is about Dan Piraro’s Bizarro. It’s going to stay Dan Piraro’s comic on Sundays. But Wayno, Wayne Honath, is to take over the weekday comics. For this, he’s dropping his own, thematically similar, Waynovision. Wayno’s filled in some weeks or collaborated with Piraro on Bizarro in the past, and this succession makes fantastic sense. It’s just a shame to have two lushly-drawn offbeat panel strips merged into one.

Oh, and, since people do wonder: Gasoline Alley has been in unannounced reruns the last couple months. As best D D Degg can work out, the last new daily was on the 11th of November. Yes, I’m freaked out that this was just when I did my last recap of the venerable comic strip. There’s no public word about what’s going on or just why. I plan to recap what’s run when the comic’s turn comes again in I think early February. But I am worried that the comic might have quietly lapsed into the comatose state that befell The Katzenjammer Kids. At least we noticed this before nine years went by.

What’s Going On In Alley Oop? October 2017 – January 2018


Good evening, you many people who’d like to understand what’s happening in Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop. This is my effort to bring people up to date to what’s happening as of early January, 2018, reader time. If you’re reading this later than about April 2018 I probably have a more recent update available. That’ll be at or near the top of this page. If I don’t have a more recent update, then this will be at or near the top of that page. This seems only fair.

If you’ve got an interest in mathematically-themed comic strips I can help you there. On my other blog I review some of last week’s comics, and along the way help you to learn why the new year comes when it does and what I think the cube root of 50,653 is. It’s easier than you imagine!

Alley Oop.

16 October 2017 – 7 January 2018.

The Land of Moo was facing a great peril last time we checked in, as rich idiot M T Mentis III had big plans for Dr Wonmug’s time machine. Mentis had the idea to use the time machine to go fixing up history. Wonmug can’t think of a better way to explain how problematic this is than to drop Mentis and his bodyguard Gunther off in Moo and say, “see what you can do with this”.

What he can do is get his hat stepped on by dinosaurs, at least until Alley Oop warns him to shut up. Approaching are raiders from Farzoon, which legend says has a major construction project going on that they need slaves for. Oop figures to get back home and warn everyone. But Mentis figures he’s such a brilliant dealmaker that he can teach the Farzoonians the errors of their ways. He sneaks out to try explaining to the raiders that they would, in fact, get better labor by advertising for employees and offering good wages.

Mentis, arguing to Farzoonian slavers: 'Excuse me, Gentlemen, could I have a moment of your time? As I understand it, you recruit workers by kidnap and forced employment! I assure you, though, that you'd get the best workers by advertising and offering good wages!' The slavers: '? Wages?!' Mentis: 'Paying makes a stronger, happier work force, and I guarantee people will come begging to work for you when they find out you're offering payment!' Korvo, the raider: 'Is that so? Whadya use for pay?' Mentis, taking out a bankroll: 'Where I come from, we use this ... ' Korvo grabs the cash. 'We'll give it a try! Thanks!' Mentis: 'Wait, no! That's not for you! It's only of value where I'm from!' Korvo: 'I knew it! You lied! It *is* worthless!' And he throws the money in the air. Mentis: 'What are you doing? That's a fortune!' Korvo: 'Ha! You just said yourself that it's worthless!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 5th of November, 2017. Don’t tell me you aren’t also enchanted by this comic strip fantasy of a billionaire like Mentis arguing in favor of well-paid, freely-employed workers. Unfortunately Roxly and Korvo take the dollars and start rambling about how bitcoin is a thing of real value unlike even gold or silver.

Part of me admires Mentis for arguing, rightly, that a well-paid class of workers free to do as they choose is better for everybody than slavery is. And part of me admires his courage in stepping up to an actual slave-capture party, with cage and a trained vulture that uses anesthetic-tipped claws to knock out victims and all, with no defense save reason. The rest of me wonders whether Mentis has ever met people, or studied any history, or ever read any story about anyone or anything ever. I love the Enlightenment-derived ideal that rational discussion is the best way to make people’s lives better. I just want faith in that ideal to be discernible from complete oblivious stupidity.

So Oop and Gunther set out to rescue Mentis. Technically before they even know for sure that Mentis is captured. Well, they’re properly going off to fight off the Farzoon raiders, but have to have known Mentis needed rescue. They bring some antidote potion that Wizer has, and one of the shields that fended off the Jantrullian frog-plant alien’s mind-control rays earlier in 2017.

They find the dollar bills that Mentis brought to the past for some reason, and from there find the caged Mentis and his captors. Gunther sets out to slip Mentis the antidote and get him back on his feet. Oop stands in the slaver’s way and, when challenged, hits their trained vulture with his club. With the bird out of commission, Oop and Gunther are able to smash the slavers’ cage and knock the Farzoonians unconscious and help Toni have what she tells Brad is sex. It’s a stirring conclusion that just raises the question of why Alley Oop was so afraid of these guys to start with. He handles them with his normal Popeye-ish aplomb. I guess it makes sense Alley Oop would want everyone warned in case he failed. But it’s not like that’s ever really come up.

Alley Oop: 'This road's closed to you!' Roxly: 'You can't stop us!' Korvo: 'Yeah! Our secret weapon says we can go anywhere we want!' Gunther goes up to the unconscious Mentis, thinking, 'Time to rescue Mentis!'. Oop: 'Oh yeah? You mean that?' (He clobbers their vulture.) 'Looks like he won't be a secret weapon anytime soon! Not so tough now, are you?' Korvo: 'That's what you think!' Gunther, giving the antidote: 'Here you go, boss! This is supposed to wake you up!' And then Gunther joins Oop: 'Need some help, Oop?' They fight, knocking out the Farzoonian raiders and smashing the cage, but also bumping Mentis over the cliff.
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 26th of November, 2017. The Sunday strips are recaps of the action from Tuesday through Saturday before, and a preview of Monday, which occasionally results in oddities like where in the second row Gunther seems to give Mentis antidote drops twice over. When that’s action on separate days it’s less obvious they’re underlining the action for people who missed a day.

In a dangling plot, Mentis gets knocked over a cliff and dangles a while. He’s saved by Dinny, getting Mentis to admit that maybe there is a place for dinosaurs in Moo. (On first arriving in Moo, Mentis figured the place needed their dinosaurs killed since history knows that humans and dinosaurs never coexisted.)

And then we got a couple weeks of determined epiloguing. Oop talks with Wonmug about how he figures Mentis has learned his lesson about interfering with history. Here I question this time-travelling caveman’s pedagogy. Wonmug tries another approach, pointing out that time travel could be used to understand the normal person and the challenges history’s non-winners face, allowing a fuller and more true understanding of the courses of societies. It’s a good plan that as far as I’m aware Wonmug has never used his time machine for. But maybe it is for want of funding; Mentis declares his willingness to fund research expeditions.

King Guz: 'Good work, Oop!' Oop: 'Thank Gunther too! It was a team effort!' Wonmug: 'Gunther?! Oh, thank goodness you're okay! And look at you, M.T.! Looks like you had a little rouble out there!' Mentis: 'I admit, Doc, that I wasn't prepared for this trip! I just wanted to help the world! Maybe I went about it the wrong way, but I still think I could fix some problems with time travel!' Wonmug: 'Perhaps you still could, but let's look at it in a different way! Since history is written by the winners, we only hear one side! If we could use time travel to witness history in the room where it happened, so to speak, think of how much we could learn! If you really want to use time travel to fix our problems, why not partner with our time labs and use your wealth to fund trips for research purposes?' Mentis: 'You know, with the memory fresh in mind of what happens if I try to change things in the past ... I think you've got an excellent idea, Doc Wonmug! I'm happy to join your team!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 17th of December, 2017. I am, legitimately, interested to see whether this addition of Mentis as the money behind Wonmug’s time-travel operation sticks. How Wonmug supports his research is the sort of thing I’d have expected to have been covered in the comic long before, but I suppose the nature of financing is that it’s always needing replacement.

Gunther floats the idea of staying in Moo. King Guz likes his attitude, and Ooola likes even more of him. Wonmug’s appalled by the idea, and Oop figures there’s no way he can let Gunther stick around while he’s holding arms with Ooola and stuff. Funny enough bit of business.

As they’re dematerializing back to the present, Mentis sneezes, and all over Oop. Mentis thinks it’s allergies. Wonmug worries he’s going to spread a cold in Moo. (Cross-time infections seem like the sort of thing that should have been a concern and to have happened sooner in the comic’s history. But it’s not the sort of story that people would find interesting in Like 1941. And it’s a legitimate concern, I think, so might as well do the story now as ever.) They zap back to the present and tell Alley Oop to find some echinacea, so, good luck with that. I, being aware of the laws of dramatic economy, trust this is the hook on which we’ll hang the next storyline. And yeah, the last panel for the 7th of January is Alley Oop sneezing. As ever, I’m amazed the change of story matches so closely my recaps.

Next Week!

It’s the return of The Return of the Locust, revisiting Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom, weekday continuity. There’s been someone living on top of the Ghost Who Walks’ Southwest-American butte. He wants to know who’s still living there and shooting at him. I think many of us would have similar questions in his place.

Statistics Saturday: Progress Report, 2018


So at least we have this going for us.

Sunday, 0. Monday-Saturday, 1 each.
This is the only day you can post this! And have it be true! Until 2024 anyway. And I knew it was going to be 2024 without doing the actual calculations or checking future calendars because I can’t help it. Calendars get to me that way. Send help.

Source: The Geometry of Physics: An Introduction, 3rd edition. Theodore Frankel.

Also, Twitter is plainly lying to me about this.

Trends for you, taken 6 January 2018. Happy New Year, #Illini, Isaiah Livers, #stablegenius.
There is so much I don’t believe anyone was talking about the afternoon of the 6th of January, and right at the top of my list: LLLini? Really?

Statistics Friday: How Popular I Was In 2017


WordPress used to make this nice little fireworks video to represent what blog readership was like over the year. It’d do a presentation with a firework for every post, spaced out the way your posts of the year were. And it’d compare your readership numbers and averages and peaks to the population that would fit inside various easy-to-understand concepts like baseball stadiums or buses full of people. If they did that for 2016 I missed the e-mail, and since I despair of them bringing it back this year I’ll just go ahead and report on the year’s statistics as I know them.

2017 was the year that I embraced what Apartment 3-G coverage had taught me: people want story strips explained. So this year I did that, rotating among the twelve syndicated story comics that appear in actual newspapers as far as I know. I’m glad to do it. It gives me reason to pay more attention while reading my comics. I like writing summaries. I especially like doing that while keeping to a low-daisy diet. Avoiding reflexive, unconsidered snark while reviewing comics is good for my development as a writer. It’s probably better for the reader too. Not to dismiss snark; it’s a great rhetorical tool. It’s just reflexive snark that I want to avoid.

I managed to post something each day in 2017 and I admit sometimes I had no idea how I would. That’s my fourth year straight posting something every single day, even if those somethings aren’t always big ones. Besides the What’s Going On In series I also stumbled into a review of all the available Talkartoons. I thought at first that might be a nice, easy, low-effort way to get something respectable posted once a week and that’s turning into a research monster eating me so, good work? I also brought the Another Blog, Meanwhile index to its conclusion after something like a year of drawing exactly two comments on it ever. One of them was from my love, who wanted to know what the heck it was even about. It was about me seeing how long I would find this random gibberish amusing. This turns out to be something like a year.

In 2017 I got 24,695 page views, says WordPress. That’s way above my second-best year, 2015, when Apartment 3-G turned into such a fiasco. And both are better than 2016, when I resisted embracing my fate. You know, I’m probably going to want to find this in a convenient form later on so let me make a little table.

Year Views Visitors Views Per Visitor
2013 3,874 1,869 2.07
2014 8,621 4,422 1.95
2015 17,729 9,904 1.95
2016 14,484 8,297 1.75
2017 24,695 15,187 1.63

2013 was the year I started the blog, in early February or so, and so that has a mere 335 posts. I’m curious about the steady decline in views per visitor, although I suppose with the large number of people apparently stopping in just to see what’s happening in one of the story comics there’s less reason for them to go archive-binging. That’s what I’m telling myself anyway.

As I’d said, what people wanted to read around here was stuff about the story strips. What was most popular among that? I admit I was surprised. I guessed four of the comics that would be particularly asked about, but got one of the questions wrong. My top five essays, by page views, for 2017 were:

Two of those essays were even posted in 2017! And yes, Has the comic strip _Momma_ come to an end? made the top ten. My most popular original-content longform piece of the year was Popeye Space Ark 2000 Pinball … I Don’t Even Know. Which I’m not sad about, since it’s funny. But it was more an act of recapping the crazypants backstory that pinball and video game artist Python Anghelo crated for the Popeye pinball machine. I didn’t have to bring much to it.

If I haven’t missed something the long-form original piece from this year that got the most views was … nothing I would have guessed. It was Probably Not A Good Idea To Get Them Playing Diplomacy Though, based on a book I read about one of the earliest murders we have good, detailed investigative records for, the 1407 murder of Louis of Orleans. I guess that’s more naturally funny than it sounds like considering the whole affair ended in great national tragedy?

Speaking of nations. I can do a list of countries by page views for the year. I make out that there were 128 countries sending me any readers at all. 22 of them were countries that sent out a single reader, and that was it, for the whole entire year. I wonder what I said to scare people off.

Country Readers
United States 18,672
Canada 857
India 742
United Kingdom 658
Australia 309
Germany 309
Brazil 254
Philippines 189
France 165
Mexico 133
Romania 133
Sweden 122
Spain 116
New Zealand 112
Italy 109
Netherlands 101
South Africa 99
Russia 94
Ukraine 68
Norway 67
Argentina 66
Hong Kong SAR China 60
Vietnam 59
Ireland 58
Poland 57
Indonesia 54
Singapore 48
Japan 42
Denmark 40
Finland 38
Hungary 36
Malaysia 36
Bangladesh 35
Switzerland 34
Austria 30
Turkey 30
European Union 29
Israel 27
Pakistan 25
Belgium 22
Greece 21
Serbia 21
Thailand 20
Kenya 19
Trinidad & Tobago 18
Portugal 17
South Korea 17
Chile 16
United Arab Emirates 14
Cambodia 12
Colombia 12
Czech Republic 12
Peru 12
Lithuania 11
Taiwan 11
Armenia 10
Georgia 9
Madagascar 9
Croatia 8
El Salvador 8
Kuwait 8
Puerto Rico 8
Slovakia 8
Belarus 7
Ghana 7
Jamaica 7
Laos 7
Panama 7
Bulgaria 6
Egypt 6
Estonia 6
Iceland 6
Lebanon 6
Uruguay 6
Moldova 5
Nepal 5
Nicaragua 5
Venezuela 5
Ecuador 4
Guadeloupe 4
Latvia 4
Malta 4
Paraguay 4
Qatar 4
Saudi Arabia 4
St. Kitts & Nevis 4
Tunisia 4
Angola 3
Barbados 3
Bermuda 3
Jordan 3
Maldives 3
Slovenia 3
U.S. Virgin Islands 3
Afghanistan 2
Albania 2
Algeria 2
Bosnia & Herzegovina 2
China 2
Kazakhstan 2
Luxembourg 2
Macedonia 2
Mongolia 2
Mozambique 2
Myanmar (Burma) 2
Nigeria 2
Bhutan 1
Bolivia 1
Cameroon 1
Cape Verde 1
Costa Rica 1
Curaçao 1
Cyprus 1
Dominican Republic 1
Ethiopia 1
Fiji 1
Haiti 1
Libya 1
Malawi 1
Northern Mariana Islands 1
Oman 1
Palestinian Territories 1
Réunion 1
Sri Lanka 1
St. Lucia 1
Turks & Caicos Islands 1
Uganda 1
Zambia 1

Won’t lie; I’m curious just what the single page some reader in Bhutan felt like reading. Also whether they were satisfied. I suppose not, or there’d have been more than the one page viewed.

Oh, yes, and comparisons between page views and some easy-to-understand alternative. 24,695 pages is a lot of views. It’s more than the number of people who’d go on 8,231 Apollo-style lunar landing missions. It’s more than 69 times the number of people who flew on every space shuttle mission combined. It’s more than one times the number of people who lived in Rockaway Township, New Jersey, in 2010, although not so many as lived in Ridgewood, New Jersey. The 15,187 unique visitors is almost exactly equal to the 2010 population of Hopatcong, New Jersey, but not quite equal to that of Mantua Township.

I hope that makes things easier to understand.

2018 In Preview: A Small Pile Of Resolutions


Since the year is still not out of its probationary period I should review my own resolutions. It’s always a good chance to encourage that one friend you know to say it’s 1080i. This person has most recently been me. I don’t know that 1080i is a resolution but it seems like the sort of thing that used to turn up a lot when you talk about television sets. Now I think they’ve gone over to 4K, which means we are all sending more televisions to people whose name starts with ‘K’. They liked this when it started, but they’re getting tired of finding something to do with all those televisions now.

1. Eat Less. I’ve always been very fond of taking food-based things and putting them into my mouth. I spent many years as, I’ll admit, an expert eater. At one point, and not a word of this is made up, I took the rubbery waffles being handed out outside a microbus that was set up on the street in Singapore’s Orchard Road shopping district. The microbus was a tiny exhibit about the life of runner Steve Prefontaine. It is barely plausible that any part of this event happened at all and nevertheless, given the chance to eat a thing, I took it. I’ve since lost a great deal of weight (I hid it in the ventilation system of my parents’ old house and they never looked! Oh, and sorry about that mess in the vent system when you tried to sell the house, Dad), so I no longer move around mostly by being rolled by Oompa-Loompas. But my weight is creeping up again and I should do something about that. This resolution might possibly be “eat fewer” instead.

2. Help take some of those unwanted TVs off of Kay’s hands. I should meet someone named Kay first, in order to avoid legal complications. I know at least two people named ‘Kevin’ and they’ve probably got as much television as they can store. I don’t really need more televisions around myself. But I’ve always had a slight interest in setting up those long falling-domino trains, and if we did that with flatscreen TVs instead it would be a bit more interesting. Maybe that would be interesting enough to get me to try doing it.

3. Stenning less thorough the jerfling nagorn except when strumwel imeleer. Will admit I’m not exactly sure what I resolved to here. It was very important when I woke at 5:30 am and scribbled the notes down on the receipt for two Wendy’s sour-cream-and-chives baked potatoes from a lunch in November 2015 for some reason. I admit I’m not sure whether this is something I should be doing more of or less of. But I appreciate the moral support you’ve all shown in my effort to sten more appropriately in these strumwel times. Possibly related to this, if I somehow used a second pen while jotting this down: “polka bear”.

4. To keep my hands adequately moisturized. It’s been dry here. I should explain that I live in mid-Michigan, which is geologically classified as a marshland with olive burgers. For example, our basement is normally extremely wet, sheets of water running down the walls like we’re a setting for some jellyfish horror movie. But this season? Nothing. The dehumidifier in the basement estimates the atmosphere down there at something like 30 molecules of water in the whole space. In some more words that are not made up, the bathroom mirror has not steamed up during my morning shower since before Christmas. So my hands have been hyperbolically dry. I don’t just have to shove my fists into tubs of hand lotion in the morning and leave them there until bedtime. I have to change out the tubs twice a day because my skin is absorbing all the moisture from it. And do you know what it’s like getting hand lotion moisturizer? It’s a freaking Zeno Paradox is that that is. Achilles and the tortoise and the aloe vera. Also if someone has a resolution about getting some moisture back in the air please write in.

Hm. It seemed like more when I was trying to get started this morning. All right, then.