My love mentioned the trivia that the film Jurassic Park had only about four minutes of full-on CGI special effects, and that dinosaurs were on screen only about fourteen minutes of the whole movie. I wondered what there even was in the movie after that? My love knew. It was people arguing, people hiding, and the worst computer-hacking scene in history to that date. I pointed out that they did the best they could, since at that time, nobody had yet made the movie Johnny Mnemonic.
Also, I’ve never seen the movie Johnny Mnemonic. I picked up the DVD for it when the local independent video shop went out of business last year, since I liked the pinball machine so much. Another local independent video shop went out of business a few months after that, but all I got from that was some He-Man cartoons and stuff. Anyway, while I’ve never seen Johnny Mnemonic I do assume it has a computer-hacking scene. I also assume that it is the most wonderfully funny thing humanity has produced that isn’t a Simpsons character giving a false name. Probably involving someone standing and wearing wires hooked up to his hands and wiggling his fingers at midair while, if I read the pinball backglass correctly, a prog rock album occurs. Someday I’ll have to see it.
So in 1961 Flash Gordon was all about the exciting stuff we’d be getting up to in space in the far-distant year of 1971. And, really, every story is this glorious experience of soaking in late-50s Man Will Conquer Space Soon vision. Lots of people in giant spaceships and space station pausing between space collisions just long enough to do jobs that you’d think could be done on Earth with a lot less hassle, like, growing vegetables. And then came this, the start of a new storyline, the last panel on Wednesday:
It’s easy for a story strip to start strong and peter out into boringness. And the story is still in its first week yet. But it’s starting really great, with Louie not just delivering his Space Pork Roll and stuff by rocket, but by recklessly driven rocket. Saturday they even had a Space Fender Bender, with cans of soda and a chain of sausage links spilling out into orbit. It’s been a long while since I was this happy with this much nonsense.
In Actual October 1971, the United States launched the ITOS-B weather satellite, which didn’t work. Also some spy satellites which did.
In other comic strips news, my mathematics blog did the usual Sunday sort of thing yesterday, which was Sunday as I make these things out. If it wasn’t Sunday we can just re-check everyone’s work and start again.
It was an ordinary setup for a week of comic strips. The department store hadn’t been sent some of the sunscreen meant for a planed summer display. Marla, the department store manager, shrugged, resigned to the impossibility of getting the supplies they needed to meet corporate’s plan. Brice, the new assistant manager, was sure that was impossible. At his old store corporate would never short-change inventory like that. Marla told Brice if he wanted he could go beat his head against the wall of corporate’s inventory system.
And that’s a moment that stood out.
Retail, by Norm Feuti.
Retail is another example of the continuity-humor sort of comic. It’s set in one of many outlets of a New England department store. Something inspires the week’s worth of action. But the characters change some, in the slow way we change. Sometimes characters leave altogether, for new towns or new jobs or new careers. Sometimes characters realize the job they took for a summer is becoming their lifelong workplace.
So here’s the thing that stood out. Most comic strips that do a story you know the rough outline of what will happen. That’s not necessarily a strike against it. If the characters are clearly defined then there are limits to what they can do. Anything too far outside is surprising or illogical. And while a situation can blow up unexpectedly, that doesn’t happen often. Stories have logical limits.
But here — what might happen? And many options made sense. Marla could be right, that corporate didn’t care, and after long enough of fighting against this, neither should Brice. Brice could be right, that there was some dumb screwup that could’ve been fixed by anyone trying. There could be some truth to both sides.
That stands out. Comic strips often have this sort of interpersonal drama. But there’s usually a more clear definition of who the heroes are and who the villains are. Retail stands out for avoiding that. The characters are the protagonists of their own lives, and they’re depicted well enough that you can typically see their side of it. It stands out to see this sort of drama in which everybody involved is a reasonable adult.
This is not to say there’s not pettiness or stupidity. But it’s a pettiness and stupidity that feels observed and authentic. Stuart, the District Manager, has the sort of suspicious, devious mind that inspires suspicious and devious behavior from underlings. Stock manager Cooper discovered that one of his employees had for months thought all there was to inventorying deliveries was counting the number of boxes received in the morning and had no idea the stuff inside the boxes needed counting too. Everyone’s job is that blend of being called on to do more than their time and resources allow, for people who are ambiguous and contrary yet exacting in their demands.
The comic can be absurd. Some pieces feel like fossils of an early idea of the comic as a broad satire. See most of the strips with Lunker, the enormous and nearly cloud-cuckoolander stockroom worker. But that’s kept well-balanced, enough loopiness to break up and to highlight the mundane stuff. The result is a comic strip that feels like the warm memories of having worked in a mall, sometime in the past. When what you have left of it are a couple of anecdotes about weird customers and boring evening shifts and the time everybody gathered around to watch the impossible happening. Which, in my case — it was a Walden Books — was someone actually for once buying one of the nearly 48 billion copies of The Polar Express that corporate thought we needed. It was August. It was ridiculous, in the quiet and simple ways. The ways of retail life.
Coming next time: otters, Don Novello, sausage. To sum up: ptr? I have no idea. Also no idea what ‘fantoms’ is doing there. Most of the typos I understand how I would make at least. Maybe it was supposed to be ‘OTR’? Yes, that would make sense.
Chilli-powder condoms, firecrackers boost Tanzania elephant protection
Conservationists in Tanzania are using an unorthodox way of keeping elephants from wandering into human settlements — by throwing condoms filled with chilli powder at them.
The method has proved effective and Honeyguide Foundation, which hit upon the idea several years ago, with U.S.-based Nature Conservancy has stepped up its promotion, training volunteers in villages in north Tanzania to use a non-violent four-step way of protecting their homes and crops without hurting the animals. Previously many used spears to defend themselves.
[ Skipping ahead a bit. ]
Chilli powder mixed with soil is packed with a firecracker into a condom, its end is twisted shut with just the fuse exposed. When lit, the condom bursts open with a bang, spraying a fine dust of chilli powder into the air. One whiff is usually enough to send an elephant the other way.
OK, so that’s all good merry fun that helps us feel a tiny bit less guilty about how everybody likes elephants and we still treat them like humans treat elephants regardless. But here’s what I wonder. Given that apparently condoms filled with chilli powder and firecrackers are an effective means of elephant direction, how long is it going to take before this is the orthodox way to do it? At some point somebody will propose a way to shoo elephants out of the village and people will say, “That’s daft talk, Chad!” (He’s only nicknamed Chad, but nobody remembers his original name anymore.) “Now be sensible and stuff chilli powder and fireworks into these condoms! We’re counting on you!”
And yet a future generation will acknowledge that Chad was right, just … right too soon.
Singapore’s Former President S R Nathan died this week. So this is a fitting time to record for posterity my understanding of our relationship. It’s also the last time I can share this story without my being inhumanly dull. That’s all right. I’ve been using this story to be a bit dull for twelve years and that’s not bad for a standard-grade anecdote. It doesn’t measure up to the styrofoam peanut computer monitor incident of 1999, but not everything is.
Back in the day (2004) I was working at the National University of Singapore, in the Department of Computational Science. This was a department that did physics, chemistry, biology, and mathematics from a computer science perspective. “Wait,” you ask, “how is that different from ordinary physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, and computer science, what with it being literally the 21st Century and everything being done on computers?” Our department would say that LOOK THERE’S A BIG DISTRACTING THING OVER THERE and run out to the Science Canteen to regroup. We were disbanded the next year.
It was the start of the school year. It was time for the Commencement ceremonies. Last year’s graduates officially received their diplomas and I realized all the time I had spent in United States academia had been a lie. “Commencement”! The word is right there in the name of the thing. WHY DO WE PUT IT AT THE END OF THE YEAR? WHY? WHY? WHY? WHY? This was enough to send me to the Science Canteen and drown my sorrow in tuna buns. These are a Singaporean food thing where you take a bun and put tuna in it. Well, they put tuna in it. You just eat it. Someday this is going to hit the United States big. Corn buns ought to too, but that’s probably not enough meat for the typical American. Chocolate buns may be just a little too weird. Too bad.
The department needed someone to be on stage for Commencement, one of those professory types in dignified robes watching the proceedings without nodding off. I’d volunteered for one of the school Commencements. The University ran two or three commencements for the various schools over the course of like two weeks because maybe they had too many subdivisions. He thought, from the doomed department. That led to the whole “Dubiously Wanted Pants” Affair but that’s another story. Then I got an invite to attend the main commencement, if I responded before the actual letter was sent to me. I checked and they told me that sure, they’d have a chair for me if I got there for 9:20 am. That’s like my third-best 9:20 of the day, but all right. I wore the pair of dubiously wanted pants and everything.
My participation got me marked for VIP treatment. This ran hard against my general level of self-esteem. I won’t brag about my low self-esteem because I couldn’t possibly bring myself to do it. But to have actually well-dressed ushers ushing me off past velvet barriers and stuff encourages the feeling of accidentally stumbling into a Nikolai Gogol play I never actually read or saw or anything. Also somehow all us faculty misunderstood something the first time we went out on stage so they had to call us back and send us out again. That’s just reinforcing so many stereotypes.
The ceremony was different from United States university commencements in that they only played like eight bars of Pomp and Circumstance at the start. They had to save time at some point. There were like twelve more school commencement ceremonies later that day. At this one they just blasted through the doctoral and master-degree candidates and presented them all to the University Chancellor, President Nathan. (Remember him?)
At the reception afterwards they still wanted me around and among the VIP section even though honestly. And our department didn’t have any doctoral or masters-degree candidates. So all I had to do was wander around the packed hallway, filling my plate with kueh (any of hundreds of desserts made by compressing sugar into Singaporean Hyper-Sugar) and bee hoon (the tastiest part of the bee) and then emptying it. And then I sneezed. I wasn’t yet skilled at sneezing into my elbow and I just managed to sneeze into my right hand instead. Not too messy but still, sneeze.
I saw a little clearing of people, off in the general direction of the bathroom, and I charged directly into it. It was a little open gap of people in front of President Nathan. He smiled at this fat, tall person who had just sneezed into his hand in front of him. I had always assumed President of Singapore to be a pretty easy gig. The country’s got a Westminster parliament scheme but with only one really organized political party. So there’s not even the occasional bit of choosing to approve a coalition government or proroguing parliament or anything for the Head of State to do. But he proved me wrong about the job’s easiness. He reached out and shook my booger-laden hand. I could never do something like that.
And then we had a conversation that, to the best of my recollection, was exactly this majestic:
A friend was talking about some Spider-Man video game he’d played as a kid. There was a screen where you could enter cheat codes. If you entered something that wasn’t a cheat code, mostly, the game just ignored it. But if you entered a cuss word or something else dirty or sexual or racist or something Spider-Man would come out and whap your entry. So the game turned into one of testing out every possible word to see what would be objectionable. It’s possible there was no actual Spider-Man game and kids were just entertained trying to figure out what wasn’t allowed as a cheat-code word.
It’s got me realizing that someone had the job of making a list of all the words deserving of a Spider-whapping. Maybe not at the game maker’s, maybe they grabbed the list from some industry-standard list. But that just moves the list-making. Somebody had the job of compiling a list of all the words kids might reasonably enter into a game and that they shouldn’t be doing. And I bet it wasn’t just one person either, because who knows every sexist or homophobic or racist term out there? You need to pool experiences to get something close to full coverage. There had to be meetings of people working out this list of offensive terms. And somebody deciding whether a word really was a common and offensive enough term to include in the list.
And then they had to do all this without breaking the rules about appropriate office discussion or creating a hostile work environment. And that’s got me boggled. It almost seems easier to just not let people cheat on their Spider-Man games.
(I’m kidding. I know tech companies don’t have any rules about appropriate office discussions and require the work environments to be hostile. But imagine if it were another way! How would they get things done?)
Honestly, Twitter. At this point even the people who were in the Olympics Opening Ceremony aren’t talking about it. Why are you telling me it’s trending? We’ve moved on, all of us, to discussing how much all the jillions of stories of how unprepared Rio was and how big a fiasco it would be reflected the normal Unprepared Fiasco Warnings that every Olympics gets in the last few weeks, and how much they reflect a racist bias against supposing these non-English-speaking nations might be able to get a big complicated project done. That’s a discussion going almost eight percent better and nearly six percent more productively than you imagine, and we’re not even through with the people giving us statistics about concrete pouring for the Athens and Beijing games compared to the similar times before the London, Atlanta, and Sydney games. OK, we’re through with them, but they’re still droning on, and haven’t noticed.
Comic strip fans, by which I mean people still passionately angry about what Lynn Johnston did to Elizabeth in the last years of For Better Or For Worse, tend to fetishize original artists. It’s understandable. The first several years of a comic strip tend to be its strongest, when the ideas are most exploratory, the writing the most fresh, the characters the most deftly realized. Even if the original artist and writer stay on they tend to fall into patterns and lose the sense of exploration and discovery of a comic strip’s universe and subtle boundaries. When a new person, often a child or grandchild of the original artist, takes over things tend to be worse-received. Perhaps the new artist doesn’t wish to venture too near breaking the comic. Perhaps the new artist, with the best will and talent in the world, just isn’t in tune with the material the way the originator was during the second and third years of syndication.
And yet sometimes the original artist isn’t the best at exploiting the creative idea. Ordinary comic strip readers, by which I mean people who have never while reading Peanuts wondered about whether Schroeder is his first or last name nor formed a strong opinion on the question, probably don’t care. If the comic strip is entertaining what difference whether it’s written and drawn by the original artist, or by her granddaughter, or by the person who happened to be walking past Comic Strip Master Command when the old artist said she was retiring? There is wisdom in this. Good art is its own justification. Only boring trivia buffs care about the first two film versions of The Maltese Falcon. Star Trek: The Next Generation was an intriguingly-designed but dumb mess before Gene Roddenberry was sidelined from it[*]. Sometimes the cover artist records the song better. So here’s the best current example of this phenomenon.
[*] (Admitting that the production of the Next Generation was deeply screwed up early on, and that a lot of the design of the show was David Gerrold’s, who was thrown off the show in its first season.)
Sally Forth, by Francesco Marciuliano and Jim Keefe.
Greg Howard, a lawyer figuring he could get in on some of that sweet syndicated-newspaper-comic-strip money, began Sally Forth in 1982, and needed only fifteen years to learn better. He first turned over the art to Craig MacIntosh, who’s since turned it over to Jim Keefe. The writing went to Francesco Marciuliano.
Jim Keefe’s a fine artist, the last person to draw the Flash Gordon comic strip. Sad to say, and despite some game efforts by Marciuliano, there isn’t much chance to show off action in Sally Forth. There really aren’t any action-adventure strips left. There’s Mark Trail and if it runs in any actual newspapers Rip Haywire, but past that the only real action in a comic is the occasional sports sequence. The modern comic strip mostly uses art as a scaffold to tether the word balloons. We occasionally decry this, but we go on reading comics with indifferent art as long as the writing is there. Keefe does well, though. Even the talky episodes — and there is a lot of talk in the strip — avoid the trap of being static. We get movement.
But, yeah, it’s Marciuliano’s writing that draws interest. Comic strip readers, casual and fans, will put up with almost any art if the writing’s good. Marciuliano made the strip good by what’s probably the only way to make an established thing good again in a lasting, durable way. He looked for emotional honesty in it. After some time spent learning the comic (his WordPress blog has an enlightening description of the earliest days) he wrote to that.
An example. Sally Forth’s original boss, a pompous idiot named Ralph, would in any responsible organization be fired. And eventually he was, and he lived in the horrible loneliness of a middle-aged person whose identity’s been torn away. Marciuliano isn’t a cruel writer. Ralph was allowed to find a new space, a job he does all right despite his own fears, a relationship with someone (Sally Forth’s sister) whose strengths and weaknesses complement his, making them functional, happy people. It’s a set of storylines which retool a stock character into a person.
He also did this by giving Ted Forth a personality. He became the guy who knows every Monty Python quote and had gotten just old enough to not deploy them at every opportunity. You know this kind of person. I’m one. I can still function in normal society. Ted functions, more obviously ridiculously, but he’s supposed to. (The term “man-child” keeps being brought up, not unfairly.) He’s credibly threatened to take over the comic strip altogether. And the comic keeps running towards being a parody of family-and-workplace comic strips.
Then it draws back, returning to emotional honesty. This summer has had Sally and Ted’s daughter Hilary going off to camp, giving them the chance to live like newlyweds again. And then a few weeks ago they realized they don’t feel that way. That there’s something wrong. Something fixable but they don’t know quite what it is or just how to do it. It was a surprise to them. It surprised me as reader. It surprised Marciuliano when he realized it was going that way.
But it was also true. Once made explicit it’s obvious this is a sensible way for their relationship to go. It’s the sort of developing human story that, ironically, story comics don’t do well anymore. The humor strips with continuity, and a storytelling style in which a theme is introduced and riffed on for a week, do it much better.
In one of the strip’s flights of fancy there’ve been a few weeks showing Hilary Forth and her friends ten years in the future, in that exciting time of life of being an adult but still relying on your parents because your car’s alternator is always burning out. Many comic strip fans saw it as a better Apartment 3-G than was the actual Apartment 3-G. Some proposed that Marciuliano was secretly auditioning to write it.
This week, Marciuliano takes over the writing for Judge Parker. That story strip’s taken it particularly rough from comic strip fans the last couple years. It’s gotten a lot of slagging for the not-even-glacial story progression — it’s hard to be sure, but I believe in all sincerity they’ve been covering the same three-day weekend since May of 2015 — and showering of the primary characters with undeserved and increasingly implausible riches, some of that from people who are actually thinking of Rex Morgan, which is pretty much the same strip anyway.
So we went to the movie theater for the Rifftrax show last night. We split a bag of popcorn and I took home a refill of soda because apparently free refills is a thing movie theaters do now just like it was normal. And it was pretty late, after normal dinner time, but I didn’t figure I was hungry. And then realized I was, so I made some sandwiches. And that’s why I had a midnight dinner of peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches with Diet Mountain Dew. Not because I’ve suddenly become twelve years old again. In point of fact I went, according to my records, from age 11 through 27 without having any variety of Mountain Dew.
Don’t mind me. I’m just recovering from how Comics Kingdom’s Thimble Theatre reruns seem to have dropped those awful Kabibble Kabaret footers. I’m suffering from irony withdrawal. It’s a terrible problem to have because anyone being sympathetic is doing so sarcastically.
To sum up: the Olympics are like two weeks old at this point. Why is Twitter telling me “OpeningCeremony” is still a trending thing? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? That’s probably enough asking.
Let’s suppose you’ve decided to go along with last week’s advice and wash your hands. If you’re not willing to then I’m afraid we aren’t going to do anything useful here. Maybe we should meet again next week when I’m going to talk about how movies get made or some other nonsense like that. While I admit I’m responsible for most of what goes on around here, I can’t do absolutely everything. At some point you have to read it or in some sense neither of us exists. That sense is foolish.
To wash your hands you need a couple of things, which is how they make their money. First is your hands, or the hands of someone who’s entrusted them to your care. If they are someone else’s hands do be sure you don’t return them to the wrong person. Returning hands to the wrong person can lead to embarrassing situations. It throws off their typing and they send text messages to incorrect people. If you take anything away from this essay it should be the importance of good inventory management practices. Bring them back when you’re done.
You’ll need water, which can be found by turning on the faucet. This you do by turning the handle or pressing it down or pushing a button or something like that if it’s the kind of faucet that works. Or you might be at one of the city’s numerous weekend jazz street festivals. They’ll have those things where you step on a partly deflated rubber bladder so the spout spits a mouthful of tepid water at you. You don’t have to support the city in its weekend jazz street festival habit, you know.
If you have one of those sensor-driven faucets then you get water by punching it. At least I do. I have a skin condition which results in my being invisible to hand sensors. In public bathrooms I have to stand helpless by the sink. Then I have to wait for someone to come near and then shove their hands under the faucet, scrub swiftly as possible, and flee before they can identify me.
Identifying me is easy considering how often I wear t-shirts for obscure amusement parks and how I am taller than every person in Singapore. That last was more identifying back when I lived in Singapore. Now it’s only a solid identifier if the person I’ve technically-speaking committed battery against happens to know Singaporean demographics. You get less of that in mid-Michigan than you’d think. Not a lot less, only maybe six percent less. Still, less is less. Oh, I might also have technically committed a kidnapping across urinal lines. Anyway, I’m tall and I guess there have to be some drawbacks for how great it is otherwise.
Besides water you’ll need soap. Soap comes in solid form if you want to touch something that’s been repeatedly rubbed by strangers who needed to wash their hands. It also comes in liquid form if you want to not be sure you have enough of it. And finally it comes in a foamy form that smells great but never seems like enough even if you have a foamy puddle large enough to conceal a guinea pig. I bet someone’s working on another kind of soap even more generally inadequate. Maybe it’s a sensor-driven spray of ultraviolet waves that might not even exist. They’ll get called particles because it makes the diagrams of how to use the thing more cute. You just know they’re going to do that. Punch the ultraviolet-particle soap dispenser now, before it even exists, and don’t stop.
To clean the hands apply water and soap to your hands or the hands of those in your cleaning custody until cleaning is done. Drying your hands afterward used to be optional but not required. Many of us liked doing without this step. It let us brush a slightly-soapy water film over the whole world, one or two hands-widths at a time. But with the rise in smart phones there’s no doing that anymore. The water gets underneath your phone’s protective screen layer somehow and screws up everything, even tapping stuff nowhere near the trapped water bubble. Such are the ways new technology ruins old lifestyles.
A squirt of hand sanitizer is an excellent way to turn hands you’re not sure are clean into hands that feel gummy and unclean. I recommend it. Time things right and you can spend the whole day washing your hands, and wouldn’t that be an improvement on whatever you were otherwise up to?
Here I had been almost ready finally go to learning about the history of socks and now they’re giving me some self-healing squid-toothed socks? Thank you, no, I have a list of garments I will allow to be squid-toothed and they are all squid mouth costumes. I’m assuming here squids have mouths. If they don’t, and they have teeth anyway, I do not want to know about it and I will refuse to hear if you carry on anyway.
The subheadline warns self-healing squid-tooth clothing “can be produced on easily and on the cheap, but don’t expect to see them on shelves any time soon”. I agree. We will be seeing them in nightmares to come for years now, that’s something, but not shelves. They’ll be sneaking up on us in the bathtub if I know anything about squid. I don’t know anything about squid, except that I stopped eating calamari a long while ago because no matter how good someone promised it was going to be, it tasted and felt like that. And there’s no point my putting the octopus or squid to that kind of hassle for an experience I’m not going to enjoy either. But I have enjoyed the experience of wearing clothes on many occasions, in fact every occasion including during showers. I don’t want that messed with.
When I went to the library it was to return a book. I went in saying, “thanks kindly for having so many books available but I don’t need any new ones just now and wait, a book about the history of fast-pitch softball? Yes, I should read that”. It’s Erica Westly’s Fastpitch: The Untold History of Softball and the Women Who Made the Game. I recommend it, as it’s a pleasant and breezy history. It’s got a bit more focus on major people and less on the policy-setting and organizational challenges than I’d like, but do remember, I’m a person who has a preferred author for pop histories of containerized cargo. If that isn’t enough, well, I’ll let my dad tell you what he thinks of it. I’m guessing my dad’s read it, as we have eerily similar tastes in nonfiction. And he only reads more fiction because he’s the guy in his book club that actually reads the book.
Anyway, the cover blurb is from Lily Koppel, “bestselling author of The Astronaut Wives Club”, which I’ve heard good things about but somehow not read because I guess my dad hasn’t got around to it yet. But Koppel says:
Fastpitch is A League Of Their Own for the softball set.
Good recommendation, if you liked A League Of Their Own, which I think I do even though I only remember the scene about there being no crying in baseball. But the thing is, A League Of Their Own was about the women’s fast-pitch softball league. The book talks about it in several chapters. I suppose there really aren’t any other movie references to softball, fast- or slow-pitch, that anybody remembers at all, but it’s still weird. It’s got me wondering about other Koppel book recommendations, like, “Jim Lovell’s Lost Moon is Apollo 13 for the Space Race set”, or “Team Of Rivals is Lincoln for the Civil War”. “The Longest Day is The Longest Day for D-Day”. Dad, you have any thoughts about books?
Richard Thompson’s death reminded me how long I took to start following Cul de Sac and how many people had the bad fortune never to start reading it. So I’d like to take some time this month and point out some currently-ongoing comic strips that are worth more attention.
Agnes, by Tony Cochran.
I’ve mentioned some Percy Crosby’s comic strip Skippy. It’s a powerful strip. It’s about the only comic strip from the 1920s that you can read and still understand what in it was supposed to be funny. There are comic strips from that era still going on that are entertaining enough. But they’ve all mutated so far from their 1920s starts as to be unrecognizable. Here you can take the original comic and tell what the joke was. It was an influential comic strip, too. All the comic strips about children concerned about things far beyond their age are working in its shadow. They may think they’re working in Charles Schulz’s shadow, but he was working in Crosby’s.
Tony Cochrane draws one of these strips, and one of the best, under-appreciated ones. Agnes is about the person named in the title, and her grandmother/caretaker, and her best friend Trout. Agnes and Trout are somewhere in elementary school. They live in the sort of poverty that’s so all-encompassing that people who emerge from it grow up saying they never knew they were poor because there just wasn’t anyone who had money. It’s a quiet thing behind much of the strip, that say why Agnes would take up an interest in a horribly mutilated old doll she found behind a dumpster and turn it into a plaything. The poverty quietly adds drive to Agnes’s imagination, and why she should make so much elaborate play for herself.
She’s an imaginative character, the sort that draws other people into her play. Trout mostly puts up with this, despite reservations. Her grandmother is less interested, but does make clear she’s had an adventurous life she’s now content to rest from. The children and adults around her are often bewildered, playing along in that way you do when someone is being more interesting than social convention allows. She brings this operatic touch to everyday business, making more out of a long string of projects that start strong and peter out into little, the way most stuff you do as a kid does. and that without losing the wise-child comic’s ability to make sharp comments on the way the world works.
People learning to write comedy are told the value of picking funny words. It’s not wrong advice but it isn’t quite enough. You need funny words, but a funny word dropped into a boring sentence is amusing the way a Mad Lib is amusing. What you need are funny sentences, which requires more than just a glaze of funny words. Cochran is good at composing funny sentences, ones in which a character will answer Agnes’s request for books about teleportation with “We still have epic tomes on knitting”. “Epic tomes” looks funny; to speak in this context of an epic tome on knitting makes for a funny sentence.
The core cast are two girls and a woman, each of them a solid and independent character. There’s not enough of that in the comics pages. I’m glad there are solid comics like this to read.
Undersea pirate, used submarine disguised as giant fish.
Adventure Comics Vol. 1 #254
Roy Pinto was an escaped prison convict who decided to keep a low profile. His specialty was electric eels. Constantly handling them mutated him, granting him immumity to electric shocks. Later escaped from prison with five other villains in JLA No.5 to battle the JLA, but was captured by Green Arrow.
Aquaman vol. 2 #21
A villain who uses fishing gimmicks to commit crimes, member of the Terrible Trio
Gustave the Great
Adventure Comics #261 (June 1959)
AKA the Animal-Master; an expert animal trainer, Gustave would perform daring crimes on the side. Since Aquaman stopped him while in action, Gustave swore revenge.
The Human Flying Fish
Adventure Comics Vol. 1 #272 (May 1960)
Vic Bragg was a swimming champion before turning to crime, before he fell in with Dr. Krill, the brilliant medical doctor and marine biologist who had also turned to a life of crime. After several months of recovery and training, Bragg began his career as the Human Flying Fish. One of the few Aquaman villains to appear in the Super Friends comic book.
DC Special Series #6 (November 1977)
Ice creature, caused worldwide cold wave so world would be frozen like himself, convinced by Aquaman, Aqualad and Mera to desist, “melted” and became water creature. [ Editorial note: ahem. ]
The Malignant Amoeba
Adventure Comics #135 (December 1948)
Giant artificial life-form created by scientists, eats everything in its path; the scientists spent ten years containing it until it escaped and encountered Aquaman.
The Octopus Man
Adventure Comics #259 (April 1959)
Roland Peters, conducted illegal experiments on marine life to transfer minds between species, transferred Aquaman’s mind into different fish.
Adventure Comics #203 (August 1954)
Criminal who was magically transformed into a shark.
Aquaman #19 (January 1965)
Unethical showman who enslaved Atlanteans.
Adventure Comics #170 (November 1951)
Used telepathic machine to command fish to commit crimes.
Action Comics vol. 1 No.539 (January 1983)
Current Queen of Xebel a kingdom located in Dimension Aqua, and enemy of Queen Mera.
So, wait, there are laws about developing fish-mind-swap technology? I guess I’m glad there’s some regulatory oversight. I’m just wondering which is the governing body. And are the fish-mind-swap and fish-mind-control technologies independent lines of fish-mind science or do they blend together? Like, what’s the difference between two fish swapping minds and two fish controlling each other’s body? Anyway it’s really just “Dimension Aqua” that gets V’lana on this list.
Anyway, the news report starts off talking about a new generation of vending machines that can serve boxes of food with bar codes on them. That’s all exciting, I suppose, for people who are on the new high-bar-code diets. And then it goes on to point out that it’ll soon be possible to buy a shampoo or hand soap or thermometer from a vending machine. They mean one where you buy it just by picking it up off a shelf, instead of the old-fashioned way you get this stuff in travel centers, by pressing the buttons 4 and G before the machine rejects it and you have to enter G and then 4 instead, even though there can’t be a semantic difference between letter-number and number-letter order.
And now I realize that a city I lived in for five years did not have the ability to buy shampoo anytime, day or night, from a vending machine, and it’s only getting that ability sometime next month. Travel never really ends; there’s always something new to learn about a place you’ve been. Or maybe the breakthrough is just being able to buy enough shampoo to actually use it, instead of buying one of those single-use bottles that’s got almost enough shampoo to overcome its own viscosity and emit a tiny bubble of shampoo that you lose in the shower. That would be a breakthrough too.
Hands. They’re fine things to have. Without them, where would the glove and mitten industries be? Certainly not curled up and tossed in the corner of the shelf in the hall closet. How would we curl them up? With my toes? Maybe. I’ve got surprisingly dextrous toes. But I couldn’t curl up and toss everybody’s gloves and mittens in a world without hands. There’d be too many things to take care of even if we pretend gloves and mittens are the same as the glove and mitten industries. For example there’s finding out whether I could open a jar of peanut butter with my feet. Probably not, because there’s no way I could get my feet clean enough to dream of touching the thing food is in with them. I have a hard enough time walking into the pantry in bare feet.
Which brings me to my topic and you to relief that I have a topic. A critical part of caring for your hands is washing them. And yet what do we really know about hand washing? Almost everything, if we’re paying attention. It isn’t all that difficult to work out. Washing of hands should be done under many conditions, among them:
When handling food. Especially if you’re handling hot soup, even if you’re doing so very quickly for fear of scalding.
After handling food. Unless you were handling it by purely psychological means guiding it to do what you wish by clever suggestion. That’s your choice, but why are you pulling these passive-aggressive head games on your bowl of Museli? Keep on like this and you’re going to be pulling pick-up artist stunts on a bag of Fritos. That’s making the world a more needlessly miserable place. Stop it. Just stop.
Before eating food. Don’t go thinking you’ve found a loophole if you didn’t handle food and just got it delivered to you by some outside agent. We’re paying attention. We aren’t going to let you get away with any argument that wouldn’t work on your mom when you were seven. And even if you did go directly from handling your food as part of preparing it to eating don’t think you can skip the in-between washing step either. In fact, just for that we’re going to say you should wash between your post-handling washing and your eating. And maybe in-between the post-handling washing and the pre-eating washing. And if you think of complaining about that then we’ll give you something to complain about.
After coughing or sneezing into your hand. Also after blowing your nose into your hand. We could avoid this easily if people didn’t make the mistake of coughing or sneezing or boogering into their hands but so many of us do. It’s natural. What else are we supposed to do but put the body parts we use to interpret and manipulate the world directly in the midst of an unpleasant eruption of secreted body fluids? You could lift your arm and cough, sneeze, or whatever into the inside of your elbow, according to a panel of American Medical Association doctors who were kidding but are sticking with that advice now because they’re delighted to see how many people are actually doing it. They want to know how far this will go. You would too.
When you are coping poorly with regret for past mistakes. Not sure when that is? You can set some time and trust it’s about the right amount of your life spent coping poorly. Use this simple guideline. Add 15 to your age and spend that percentage of the day in futile self-recrimination. So for example a 37-year-old would spend 52 percent of his or her waking day trying to wash off the guilt. Add five more percent if absolutely everyone agrees something was not by any reasonable measure your fault.
You know what? Between each bite of food too. We warned you.
After using the bathroom, but before leaving it. We agree there’s the obvious problem here of how you’re supposed to get out of the bathroom without touching something that’s been spending all its day, every day, in the bathroom. Recommended is to find a clean enough section of the bathroom and make gentle whimpering noises until someone comes in and checks on you. Race through the open door, tackling your rescuer so they don’t get stuck in the bathroom too. You absolutely don’t want to get stuck with yourself on the outside and your rescuer on the inside of the bathroom because then there’s no way out except getting yourself stuck in there again, all the while that your soup is getting cold and well-handled.
Before handling food. We saw you skimping earlier. Go back and do it again.
Note: washing can be done by yourself. There is no need to pay for specialist services or to have your hands sent out for custom care. It’s nothing but profit for the dealers.