So the billboard advertisement asked me to ponder, “What If Corn Knew Its Destiny?” I can’t handle that. I can barely handle what I suspect of my own destiny and I don’t need food to be having its own destinies, much less awareness of that destiny. It implies we might see the day some mighty hero corn might rise up to alter or defeat its destiny. If it ends up being part of a really stupid movie it might even do that because this sort of movie doesn’t understand what “destiny” means. Even otherwise good movies don’t get it.
As it’s the time of year when we run out of time for the year let’s review the Top Ten of the year gone by.
- August 22. This is usually a pretty solid 24 hours of the year and once again we really nailed it. Everyone involved with the production of August 22nd should give themselves a round of applause, although not in so unseemly a way.
- once-in-james-joyce.com. The rare follow-up project that builds on the brilliance of the original, this scrappy web site allows us to quickly look up all the words which appear precisely one time in the collected works of James Joyce. The site’s designers admitted they thought nothing might top once-in-shakespeare.com but found new challenges and delights in working with another author considering they want to be thought of as the kinds of people who’ve read Joyce without actually going to the trouble of doing it.
- Flatware. Although much flatware these days extends into a third dimension and so falls short of being actually flat, it nevertheless remains the best-known way to satisfy the need to have flatware. Besides, flatware can be made much more like itself if one simply is on good terms with one or more steamroller operators or possibly pile-drive drivers. You are on good terms with one or more of them, I hope, lest you have no way of slowing down that determined cartoon cat who’s been chasing you all through the construction site.
- Mellifluous. One of the English language’s top words for sounding like what it is without falling into an onomatopoetic trap. It’s especially good for saying out loud in case you ever need the feeling of being a comforting voice actor or movie trailer voice-over person. Rated PG-13, warnings for language use.
- People being buried with their cell phones. “I’m sorry, you’re breaking up — I’m entering a long, dark tunnel with a bright light at the end.” I probably accidentally stole that joke from somebody and I hope it was a friend.
- Simple home-recipe syrup. Despite the breakthroughs in solving higher-order syrup polynomials that make complex-valued syrups an exciting possibility we can still do quite nicely without anything but real numbers, syrup, and a trio of pancakes with blueberry that turn out to be rather more food than anyone had imagined. Also they come with eggs for some reason. And six pieces of toast. It’s getting to be a little much, but at least it’s a simple much.
- Adverbs. These bread crumbs of the English language have stuck on well past their expected end-of-support date. But they’re just too useful in meeting a mandatory word count. And we realize now there would be too large and too noticeable a hole if we did finally get rid of them. The hole would be where the wrong form of “a” or “an” were used.
- Swiss IV. This, one of the most exciting cheeses in years, overcomes nearly all the problems inherent in the original Swiss cheese. No longer are its holes too large nor too small. Thanks to the latest of aerogel dairy technology we can just have chunks of cloudlike foam that have within them the potential to be sandwiches. It’s great as it is, and promises to be only better in 2017 when we start to see rooms full of cheese air that let us finally eliminate the difference between eating and breathing. Not for the Vegan or lactose-intolerant eater, but they’re used to that. Do not ask about Swiss II or Swiss III. Everybody involved is still very sensitive about the side effects.
- The following Wikipedia Statement: “The Tasmanian rainforest is considered a Gondwanan relic.” Though there have been many unsettling and struggling and disturbing things about the year, to know there is still a general consensus on some rainforest somewhere being a Gondwanan relic is itself a great relief. To know that it is Tasmanian simply adds to the relief, then squares it, then doubles that result, reverse the numbers, subtracts the original number and gives us the result of 17. Is that not amazing?
- Chrissy the Christmas Mouse. Despite the proliferation of 24-hour Christmas music stations this chipper little ditty continues to not be overexposed. In fact I don’t remember hearing it at all since 1999 so at this point I have to suppose I just made up this little tune about a mouse that lives in the floorboards of Santa’s house and loves being around all the Christmas activity and finally one year gets to ride in Santa’s sleigh. I can’t have made that up, can I? But nobody ever plays it. So that’s good. Or maybe I did imagine it in which case I’ve got a great idea for a catchy Christmas tune that’ll become horribly overused inside of like two years. Let me know.
- It had a “Glue of the Month” sequence going for three years before it started to lose the monthly aspect and finally in August 2003 admitting they just don’t have that many different glues.
- It had an April Fools Glue of the Month.
- I’m still not quite sure if it’s possible to glue PVC to wood. Like, does it count as vinyl? Isn’t vinyl more, like, shower curtains? But why would I glue a shower curtain to a piece of wood? What project am I working on anyway?
- This Glue News diptych:
- April 14, 2005 Thistothat.com updates its “look” !
- May 14, 2005 Fixed the feedback page that we accidentally broke a month ago. Sorry about that.
- The Statement of Impartiality promises their glue recommendations are unaffected by their advertisers, which do seem to be glue-affiliated products and companies like Poligrip and 3M, so at least somebody is advertising something somewhere to people who might plausibly need the thing.
- Three of its Frequently Asked Questions are by its own admission not frequently asked.
- It does tell you how to get that bit of glue you can peel off and roll into a ball that’s used for magazine inserts.
- Depending on whether you look at the results of a glue match or some inside pages the copyright date is 1999-2007 or 1999-2016.
That volcano that started exploding back in November? It’s finally destroyed the island and Our Heroes have escaped so I suppose that’s all a happy ending. Apart from like how they’re somewhere in the Pacific ocean right next to an active volcano that just destroyed their island. But there is this good news!
Unless, anyway, some of the invasive ants that were destroying the wildlife on this doomed island got aboard their boat and are going to get going wherever these three are rescued, anyway. Good times.
How you decide will affect the precise level of drama associated with your game of Yahtzee.
Also going on: my mathematics blog and its comic strips review. I also briefly debunk a lovely present my aunt and uncle gave me several years ago.
I’ll get back to talking about story comics next week. Or later if I feel like. For now let me share this 1936 Fleischer cartoon. It’s a spinoff of the Betty Boop universe. And it’s in color, which you just don’t think of Fleischer cartoons being. It stars Grampy, who might or might not be related to Betty Boop. In any case he was introduced in the Betty Boop series. Apart from this entry he always appeared with Betty Boop. But the character probably could have supported a series of his own, at least as 1930s cartoons go. For all that’s unusual about this short it’s a pretty good example of Grampy’s nature.
Because Grampy’s basic gimmick is that he finds some people who’re depressed about something, and he sits and thinks a while, and then he concocts a bunch of amusing gadgets using the stuff at hand. There’s a lot that’s appealing to it, since he is a genial person doing his best to solve other people’s problems. If there’s a flaw it’s that every cartoon is the same one, with just the details of the inventions differing. But they’re also good inventions. They look funny. They stick close to something that looks like it might just work, if it weren’t for the way the real world is a little messy and unpredictable.
And the cartoon starts and ends with one of the characteristic bits of Fleischer 1930s wizardry. They had worked out a pretty good system for combining live-action models with animated cartoons. They used this in all their series, and for good reason. Even eighty years on it’s startling to see the styles of a 1930s cartoon world burst suddenly into three-dimensional life.
It’s built around a catchy song. It would be, of course. The melody would turn up in other Fleischer cartoons for a while, and Popeye and Bluto would sing it (although for New Year’s) at the start of the cartoon Let’s Celebrake. I think the song was an original composition and that there’s not more lyrics to it than we get, which is a shame. It’s the sort of peppy, cheery composition that would be a good minor Christmas song.
It’s a genial cartoon. It’s never a hilarious one, which is a flaw common to Grampy cartoons. They’re pleasant and about a nice guy making good stuff out of nothing. I doubt you’d feel cheated at spending time watching this. But I also doubt you’ll put it on your greatest-cartoons, or greatest-cartoon-characters lists. That’s all right. We need simply pleasant stuff too.
- Calling bird
- Drummers drumming
- French hens
- Geese a-laying
- Gold rings
- Ladies dancing
- Lords a-leaping
- Maids a-milking
- Partridges in a pear tree, a
- Pipers piping
- Swans a-swimming
- Turtle doves
OK, so, people who have reason to expect a present from me, like, what would you say to an experience gift instead? I’m not really up on experiences people could have but I bet I could, like, come over there and alphabetize a thing. Might be something simple like bookshelves, or something that made me involuntarily giggle at my father like the spice rack, or something conceptual like the living room. “Does this piece of furniture get ordered under `couch’ or `sofa’?” Maybe alphabetize a sock? Get back to me quick care of some address.
I confess: I’m doing a terrible job Christmas-shopping this year. Oh, the big item was easy enough. Just go down to the Christmas store and pick out one December 25th and arrange to have it delivered. I got the Sunday model this year. As a kid I was always torn between whether Sunday or Monday Christmases were the best. A Monday Christmas had the great fun of Advent being as short as it could be, plus, going right from the 4th Sunday of Advent services Sunday morning straight to Christmas Eve mass in the evening. But with a Sunday Christmas you get to burn the Advent candles for the whole fourth week. In hindsight I understand why everyone treated me that way in middle school.
But past arranging to have a Christmas it’s been a rough time thinking what to get people. I blame myself. I went through a stretch last decade where I gave everybody calendars all the time because, hey, who doesn’t need large pieces of paper with a grid of numbers on them? Sure, we all do. Page-a-day calendars are great because my father could get all way to January 17th before forgetting to look at the Far Side of the day. Month-by-month calendars are great because they don’t make any sense.
I mean, you maybe don’t remember what day it is, but put up a sheet of paper with up to 31 plausible candidates for the month and suddenly you’re able to keep it straight. If that doesn’t keep you up nights wondering how that screwed-up bit of psychology works maybe it will now. I’m assuming you aren’t one of those people that crosses off a date once it’s been used and if you are don’t tell me. It’ll force me to lead a rescue expedition for your calendars and I might grab your paperback books just to make sure you don’t crack their spines and I already have enough paperback books in the basement that it’s sunk two feet from where it started.
Despite calendars’ unquestionable properties as useful things that can be given I sensed I’d reached my lifetime limit for giving them. I got to hearing sharp jokes about them, and by jokes I mean sticks, and by hearing I mean “being jabbed in the belly”, and by “about them” I mean “from family members who are not going to start reading Rob Harrell’s Big Top no matter how much I’m sure they would like the January 22nd one”. Put that sentence back together and see if it doesn’t make sense. I’ll wait.
I can tell you what I want to give people. I just don’t know that it exists. But we saw the TV broadcast of the Silver Bells parade from last month. It was mostly like what being at the event was, except we weren’t being rained on while watching the rebroadcast. As the program went on you could see and hear more and more rain pouring down. The rain got to drowning out the news anchors trying to tell us which high school marching bad was doing Jingle Bell Rock [*]. I mean the sound of the rain, but then the rain got even more drown-y and they had everyone flee the parade. Thing is the last minutes of the broadcast —
Well. They left the camera running, but didn’t have any audio. They switched to playing something that wasn’t quite any identifiable Christmas carol. It was what you probably get when Santa puts you on hold. And through all this they showed people running desperately across the streets trying not to drown in the rain. After a couple minutes of that they gave up entirely and put a text crawl on-screen explaining that unfortunately severe weather forced the abandonment of the parade, but it was still a fantastic experience. The text crawl, the not-quite-music, the images come together to look like the tag scene where the war movie tells you how many of the battalion ever saw home again. And they’re looking forward to next year!
Anyway if they sell this on DVD I’m giving that to everybody I know, possibly every year for the rest of my life. I can do that now. Most of my family now lives in other states, well outside of stick range.
[*] Fewer than we expected but the parade did get cut short.
Something I didn’t have room to mention when talking about Terry Beatty’s tenure writing Rex Morgan, M.D. back on Sunday. In late July there was this curious little bit.
So the strip officially declared that well of course Rex Morgan isn’t some nigh-immortal figure who’s barely aged a day since he set up shop sixty years ago. He just happens to have set up shop in the same town where another Rex Morgan used to work. It’s a wild coincidence two people of the same name would be in the same small town. But this sort of thing happens in real life, more than authors seem willing to embrace.
While I lack a comprehensive understanding of the Rex Morgan, M.D. canon, my suspicion is that this can’t actually make sense. I don’t imagine there are any points in the storyline where one could say that yes, there, the first Rex Morgan retired and a new one moved in. We just have take the new author’s word that there was some point the change happened.
I don’t know why Beatty bothered doing this. Yes, we joke about the unaging nature of comic strip characters. The strip even makes the joke. But I don’t think anyone even notices it outside the jokes. There are only a few comic strips that try to age the characters in something like real time. Most of those are humor strips that aren’t committed to ongoing storylines, not ones that go more than a week at a time on average.
After all, not much time passes in a comic. Two or three panels convey only a few seconds of life. To tell enough of a story to be coherent even a story strip can cover, like, maybe a month’s worth of events in a calendar year. I think most readers are fine with the characters being in a rolling present, with anything from previous stories part of the indeterminate “couple months ago” or “couple years ago”. After all, if the real-world 1998 feels to you like it was maybe six years ago, June Morgan’s pregnancy can’t feel like it went on too long.
Maybe it’s just as the bottom row says: Beatty declaring this isn’t your grandpa’s Rex Morgan. Maybe it is just making a mission statement of relevance. That I shy away from declarations like that doesn’t mean other people do, or should. But it still seems like taunting the hardcore Rex Morgan, M.D. continuity enthusiast community to try.
Don’t mind me. I’m just trying to work out exactly where to stand while the person in the cellular phone store tries to work out my issue. It’s one of those kinds of issues you get with cellular phones, or in my case an iPad so old it even predates when they had capital letters for the name. So, you know, it’s something boring and stupid yet impossibly hard to fix. Anyway, I don’t want to stand right next to the person, because that seems too pushy. Bear in mind, I’m a tall person, so I have to take steps in order to avoid needlessly intimidating people. These are several steps away from the person I’m trying not to overwhelm. But any of my steps are pretty big ones, since so much of my bigness is in the legs. And then where does that leave me? Backing out of the store and into the middle of traffic is where. Bad enough in the mall. Worse if it’s one of those freestanding stores, since then the traffic is Route 206. There’s surely some place I should be and wherever I am isn’t it.
I know the crossword puzzle editor for our local alt-weekly likes being playful and playing thematic games. You know, like making the clues off in some amusing way, or making the answers be the right answers only modified by some gimmick. And then there was last week’s puzzle which went for a full-on statement of the hopelessness of it all. This is why I top out at staring at Jumble a while and then declaring I could solve that easily if I wanted to.
Also apparently there’s a French Playtime group going on when I wasn’t looking. This is what I get for only looking at the community events after they’ve already passed: I have a ready-made excuse not to have to do anything.
In less hopeless tasks, here’s last week’s mathematics comics. Yes, Barney Google is among them, though Barney Google himself doesn’t appear. He hasn’t been in his own comic strip in literally weeks now. Really, he’s getting to be a bit of a bother popping in so often these days.
[Edited the 6th of June, 2017 to add] Thanks for looking to me for tips on the developments in Rex Morgan, M.D.. This post is from January of 2017. Summaries of more recent storylines should be available at this link at or near the top of its page.
So, you know the difference between Rex Morgan, M.D. and Judge Parker? Yeah, me neither. I’m not meaning to be snarky here. It’s just both story comics are about people who nominally have exciting professional jobs but never get around to doing those jobs because they’re busy having strangers throw money and valuable prizes at them. They were even both created by Nicholas P Dallis (in 1952 and 1948, respectively). There’s a lot in common. That started to change earlier this year.
Rex Morgan, M.D.
The craziness came on gradually. It always does. It’s one thing when characters have abnormally long stretches of good luck. That happens, at least when authors like their characters so much they wish them well, and can make success happen. It went really crazy with a trip to the museum. I forget the exact details. The museum had been planning a fundraiser, selling this volume of drawings kids contributed. A little odd but I could imagine that working. Then Sarah Morgan drew a horsey. A really good horsey. The kind of horsey that left everyone awestruck with her horsey-drawing abilities. The book mutated. It would be one of Sarah Morgan’s drawings, horseys and anything else she wanted to draw. Also it would hae a much bigger press run. Maybe worldwide distribution. Also she’d be brought in to the museum to draw and be seen drawing by tour groups. Her first day at this she spotted and overthrew the class bully of some tour group. Also she caught the attention of a none-dare-call-it mafia widow, who hired professional instructors for her. And her father, Rex Morgan, renegotiated the book deal so Sarah would get a much bigger cut of the royalties on this already-bestselling art book.
And then the kindly old widow lady offered to sell Rex Morgan her Victorian-era mansion for whatever cash he had in his wallet right this second, and actually never mind, she’d spot him that too. That’s about where things stood before the 1st of May, when artist Terry Beatty took over the writing duties also for Rex Morgan, M.D.: you could be forgiven thinking this was some parody of the lives of the impossibly well-off.
The six months plus since Woody Wilson stepped away from the comic have been largely one of ratcheting things back down. Some of that’s been handled gracefully: Rex and June Morgan conclude that while the Victorian mansion would be a swell place — furniture included! — it’s really not practical, not with two kids and a dog racing around the place. It’s the sort of quiet little dream-snatching thing which you think of when you’re a grownup.
The mafia wife’s interest in Sarah was explained as trying to make up for her own lost daughter. The museum’s interest in her horsey pictures was because she, as a major donor, was driving them. Is that sensible? I’m not sure, but if I don’t poke at it too hard it sounds like it makes sense. That’s as much as I need in a story. Especially if it’s trying to retcon past excesses away without causing too much trouble.
Other, similarly excessive, storylines have gotten walked back too. Dr Morgan had proclaimed competent Milton Avery, one of those industrialists you see in comic strips who’s incredibly wealthy in the field of business. And who was also barely aware of where he was or what day it was. I forget the pretext. I think that Morgan was doing this out of friendship to either Avery or his daughter, so they might fight off a Board of Directors attempt to replace their dementia-ridden executive. It’s hard to see how Morgan was supposed to be in the right, there. Beatty’s getting Morgan out of that malpractice by having Avery’s condition get far worse, rather quickly, leaving all questions of competence moot. And he’s turning that into a fresh storyline, as Avery’s daughter means to take him back to England and asked Morgan to follow and care for him there.
And then this past month came the biggest change. Sarah got hit by a car, by a distracted driver. It felt startling and a bit of a return to the understated class warfare of pre-May comics. (“See what happens when you let children ride the public school bus like peasants?”) But it also puts Rex Morgan back in the hospital, someplace that Beatty has wanted Morgan to spend more of his time. And where he ought to. Story strips can wander some but it’s weird to get so far away from the medical-comic origins.
I have to rate it as an improvement. The most excessive storylines are being resolved or being retconned into things that less offend reason. And the pacing is improved too; this is the strip which saw June Morgan pregnant for something like 27 months, reader time, and it handled the Morgans buying a new house in about a week’s worth of montage. That’s much more like it.
(By the way, Speers also created Apartment 3-G. One would never confuse that with Judge Parker or Rex Morgan. And that’s got to be some kind of record for creating long-lasting story strips.)
- Styrofoam coffee cup
- Cherry Coke Zero can
- Paper coffee cup, half-cup of tea
- Banana peel
- Four-day-old newspaper
- Dr Pepper Cherry Vanilla bottle
- Bundle of plastic wrapped around itself
- Oatmeal cookie
- Unmailed, unaddressed Christmas card envelope torn open
- Sprite Zero Cranberry can
- Cooler and overcast with flurries in the evening leading to arguments on I-195 about why everybody is there exactly.
- Clear skies but brisk and extremely windy. Wear extra layers and have an anchor ready in case of more extreme gusts than are good for you.
- Wintry mix giving way to showers of tiny hard pretzels and the unpopular ones of an assorted peanuts jar. This might be less the weather and more you tripping into the office party’s snack bowl.
- Though it’s enough above freezing you think it’s all right to run to the car without your gloves on, there’s just enough freezing rain to destroy the structural integrity of your skin if you try. Note: you can’t get your keys into the car door if you have your gloves on.
- Sharp drop in the temperature reminds you that somehow you only ever look at http://dogeweather.com when it’s really lousy out.
- It’s going to be 65 degrees at noon and drop to 22 by sunset? Did somebody forget to pay the sanity bill again?
What’s on TV when I’m feeling a little lonely and drifting between channels as they in turn disappoint me.
Oh No, The Contractors Sent The Wrong Kitchen Cabinets. As seen in the lounge at the Toyota dealership waiting for the mysterious tire-pressure problem to be diagnosed as “mysterious” and “something to do with the beads”. Charmingly white couple buy a house and then demolish all its interior surfaces. Then they wait for the contractors to do something wrong, usually with the kitchen cabinets. Sometimes it’s simple: they send cabinets too big for the house, ones that overflow the kitchen, the dining area, the living room, and reach out into the street, proving a hazard to taller traffic. Sometimes it’s also simple: they send cabinets too small. These wrong cabinets could fit one of those old-style coffee mugs grandma had, the ones that are smaller than the teaspoons you’d stir sugar into them in. Most often they’re the wrong shade of white, shades of white that the TV show host says he wouldn’t wish on his worst enemy. He seems in earnest. They’re going to have to make severe cuts in their $625,000 renovation budget, which means they use a cheaper tile for the splash area behind the kitchen counter.
That’s A Lot Of Informercial About Some Collapsible Ladder Thing. And it’s on like half the channels? What even is this?
Rebooted Season Of A Cartoon I Liked In The 90s. Oh, it’s Flash-animated now. And they redesigned the characters so they all look like they were caught in an airport baggage carousel and squashed flat by one of those weird huge cardboard boxes taped shut that someone has on every flight somehow. Also they changed two of the voice actors. And they can say “poop” now, or maybe have to. And everybody’s a lot meaner than they were before. Raises questions about whether the original was quite this obviously gender-essentialist too. Or was it just obliviously sexist? Were we that awful in the 90s? A quick check. YouTube has an episode of the original, only the proportions are weird and there’s some unearthly station logo in two corners. Yeah, the original kinda was. Should not have checked.
Two Guys Laughing At How They Totally Said A Thing. They’ve got a great show tonight and their first guest will be Seth Rogan, they say, evincing a confidence in the inevitability of events that doesn’t seem less obnoxious to me just because it was true, since they taped the episode this evening and now know how things turned out.
Old Timey Movie With Actors I Kind Of Recognize From Bugs Bunny Cartoons. Black and white. Something about a man and a woman who live in San Francisco and have a wonderful time even though they go to bed wearing more clothes than we use today to venture to Antarctica. Features numerous montages during which they walk though multiple-exposure scenes and don’t make eye contact with anything, especially not each other. Also even the driver gets into the car from the passenger’s side. I think maybe one of them is trying to kill the other, possibly because the other thinks the first is trying to kill them and it seems like a violation of trust not to reciprocate. Worth watching for how well everybody articulates in the middle of a heated life-or-death fight.
Simpsons Episode All About A Character I Never Saw Before. I guess he got to be important after I kind of forgot to watch regularly again? Also did Homer always get battered like this in the old days? And deserve even more injury?
History Explored By Wide-Eyed Astonished Guys. Might be about the fabled “Money Pit” of Oak Island. Might be about that World War II plan to make icebergs into aircraft carriers. Might be about the shooting of President Garfield. Doesn’t matter. A couple of guys have eager interviews to do with experts who’ve heard there’s an artifact related to it somewhere in the area. And when they ask another expert they hear about how it’s totally the case that artifacts are things that exist after historical events. Someone at the historical society confirms that historical events happened and some of them even involved other places than the historical society building. The hunt for the artifact drives them to hold up grainy old photographs in front of new buildings and then go inside. The building is being renovated. The floors are all torn up. None of the people working on it know anything about the historical event but they say they didn’t see anything suspicious, just some water-damaged old floorboards. There’s a subbasement they can crawl into if they like, though, and the wide-eyed astonished guys think that’s even more awesome than their old tree fort. I bet the contractors are about to deliver the wrong cabinets. It would be just like them.
I had some fresh mathematics comics yesterday. Including some art! Not mine. Meanwhile I’d include a comic picture or something like that here to fill out the post, but I don’t have anything. I’m still shaken from an actual bus ride I actually took in actual fact yesterday, in which a pair of women behind me went from “oh, is this seat taken” strangers to discussing an awful modern-day adaptation of Richard III to becoming Facebook friends so that the one who’s writing an opera can invite the one who’s a singer to the premiere. That’s more socializing than I do with my love when we’re on an international flight. I was exhausted just overhearing it. Also I broke the strap on my messenger bag so that was my Tuesday and it was a hard day, all right? The only real bright spot is I found a library book about the timekeeping-sales industry of 19th century America. I mean the third appearance of “index” if you count the title as the first appearance.
I want it understood that I didn’t use the snowblower to clean the sidewalk for a couple houses on either side of us for any base reasons. I did it because I like to feel smugly superior to others. If you don’t like that motive, I have others. For example, using the snow blower to blow snow all over allowed me to accomplish a thing, and to do so using a machine that makes a whomping great racket. This is something I don’t get in my day job, which consists of sitting nervously at the computer wondering if the boss thinks I’m doing enough job, or jobbing well enough. It would be nice if I could do a job in which I was sure I had accomplished a thing. But mostly I want the chance to do something using a machine that makes a whomping great racket. Auto-playing video ads does not count. I think if more of us had jobs like that we wouldn’t be wondering quite so much why we have these jobs exactly.
Well, this is embarrassing. Normally I coax people into reading my mathematics comics on Monday by giving them a Caption This! picture and a caption and some space to riff on their own. But I don’t have anything right now. I’ve been out of the TrekBBS loop so haven’t got anything from their selection of Star Trek characters with mouths awkwardly open. And I haven’t had time to look through my pictures to find something good. So what can I do?
Well, here. Let me give you some space and a caption and if you find a picture that the caption is funny for we can work out a deal. That’s fair, isn’t it? Here goes.
[ Picture goes here, maybe yours. ]
“Mark? Mark, you know you are completely visible, right? Yeah, we can totally see you there. Everything you’re doing, too. Yeah. Completely, utterly visible. No, really. I promise.”
I feel like something’s missing yet. Maybe I’ll have a picture for next time. We’ll see.
[ Edited the 15th of May, 2017 to add: ] I’m grateful you see this site as a place to learn what’s going on in Mary Worth. My most recent story summaries should be at or near the top of this link’s essays, if you are looking for the current or for more recent stories than this post has.
Some of the story comics have undergone changes that aren’t hard to explain.
Most of the story comics are written and drawn by teams of people. The only exceptions I can think of are James Allen’s Mark Trail and Dan Thompson’s Rip Haywire. Mark Trail I’ve talked about. Rip Haywire is a weird case. It’s a humor adventure strip for one thing. Also Dan Thompson is apparently some superhuman force as he produces an estimated 14 to 22 daily comics as it is. I don’t know if any of them appear in newspapers. They should.
For the most part, though, story strips have an author and an artist and they’re separate people. It’s easy to think that the important part of a comic strip is the writing. After all, if the story is boring who cares if the art is good? And there are drearily many comics that get by on pretty good writing and indifferent art. So it seems like the change of artist, such as happened with Mary Worth this spring, shouldn’t change much.
People who pay attention should know better. They’d remember Bill Watterson writing of how when he had a weak Calvin and Hobbes joke he’d go all out on illustrating it. Somehow a lavish picture makes a weak joke better. Or they might remember how that experiment in redrawing Apartment 3-G turned a disastrously bad strip into one that at least parses as a story. And yet I was taken by surprise too.
First things, though: it’s not like the art was bad when Joe Giella was drawing it. Above is his last Sunday strip. It’s composed well enough, with a good balance of close-ups and distant shots, and the camera movement is clear enough. Where people are relative to each other is never confusing, and we never get close to that mess where the character on the right speaks before the character on the left. The worst you can say is that the faces seem a bit weirdly flat — Dawn’s hair does not do her any favors, especially in the third row there — and the fingers look weird. Fingers always do. I don’t think newspapers provide enough space for fingers not to look weird anymore. But if I could draw as well today as Giella did, I’d not be beating myself up for not taking drawing more systematically when I was eight.
Joe Giella retired this year, to enjoy rolling around in the piles of syndicated newspaper story comic money I’m sure he has. June Brigman, last artist for the Brenda Starr comic and a longtime comic book artist, took his place. I can’t deny it took time to get used to her style, and I’m not sure we’ve yet met all of the Charterstone Regulars.
The art’s gotten better, though. Brigman’s doing better at getting a sense of volume into the confined spaces of modern comic strips. And she seems to show more ambition in the choice of camera angles. We’re more likely to see the view from higher above or far below figures. It conveys motion even in a static panel.
I can’t say the stories have changed since Brigman (with the help of her husband) took over the art. The stories have been quite the usual for Mary Worth: Dawn pursues a relationship with one of her instructors that every college and university warns its instructors not to do. Tommy gets injured at work and turns his Vicodin prescription into a Vicodin addiction in no time. Charterstone regular Wilbur Westin, who survived a cruise ship, is taking a sabbatical year to interview survivors of other disasters. His girlfriend is pondering whether to date someone she met at community college even though Zak is decades younger than she is. In some of these stories Mary Worth has something relevant to say. In some of them she just makes a cameo to remind you who’s in charge here.
Still, they read better. They do feel like stuff is happening. The little shortcuts and elided bits of logic needed to carry on a story when you get two or maybe three panels a day haven’t stood out so much. I don’t remember any strips showing action or emotion that might have challenged Giella. But a comic strip is the writing and the art, and it turns out somewhat better art does make the comic enormously better.
And which may be safely omitted from nearly all writing.
- lycopodium [as in powder]
“Yes, you should definitely record that idea for a novelty cover of The Twelve Days Of Christmas. The world needs it.”
— Apparently a surprisingly diverse set of people at different times and places, somehow.
“Oh, it’s itself about receiving novelty versions of The Major-General’s Song?”
— Follow-up question.
The holiday season is coming soon. It may even be here already in certain parts of the time zone. Here are some good ways to react.
Affix A Thing To Another Thing. This is a good one to learn because it is one of the fundamental units of crafting projects. Most anything you can see can be affixed to some other thing. You can start very simply, just by taking something you have and placing it atop something else. In more advanced classes you set something, such as a light cloth, between the things. This makes for fun activities like peeling up the cloth to see how much dust has got all over the things. In expert classes you can adhere things together using tape or acetylene torch welding or glue or sewing or strings. Graduate students in crafts learn to snip something off of another thing.
Make A Food Of Some Kind. This is a very good project because at the end of it you will have food or a good story about how food failed to exist. To do this you wil need:
- A recipe
- Some more bowls
- Indeed more bowls than you have ever imagined owning in your life
- Exotic utensils kept in the kitchen drawer you never use, things that look like wispy high-dimensional mathematical constructs that have something to do with string theory
- Bowls that you dimly remember from buried childhood memories of boring afternoons and grandmom’s that somehow emerge from the kitchen’s Scary Cabinet that you never open
- A box of plastic wrap on which the metal tooth blade has fallen halfway off and has gone to attack thumbs, fruits, the occasional kitchen tile, etc
- Two, maybe three more bowls
Take any of the ingredients and read the recipe. Then glance down and see that somehow all the bowls have gotten covered in a strange putty-like goo which tastes faintly of vanilla, cilantro, lemon, and sugar crystals. They will never all be successfully clean again.
- Get some more bowls
If you’re doing well this will attract the attention of some adorable cartoon animal such as a raccoon, who’ll try grabbing at some of your food. And you toss him out and he’s right back at the counter before you even get back to it yourself. And this escalates until you blow up your whole house using a pile of dynamite sticks the size of a roller coaster and the raccoon’s still there. He holds out an adorable little cookie as peace offering and when you start to accept it he eats it instead. Directed by Dick Lundy in pretty good pastiche of Tex Avery.
Decrate an Animal in Some Fashion. Your experience in affixing things to other things will help some here. At least it will if you want to do something like set a bow on a dog, such as setting a bow on a cat. But “decorate” suggests some broader ideas. For example, why not fling balls of paint at squirrels until they’re much more colorful? Because that won’t work. You’ll just get squirrels with even better reflexes. If you want to go this way take some drops of food dye and dab them on the heads of local mice. The mice will groom from their heads on down — they’re very careful about this — and rub the dye into all their fur. Then you can set the mice around your neighbors. When they come to you and say, “There’s a bunch of green and purple mice that moved into the neighborhood!” you can exhale a world-weary sigh and say, “I know.” Trust me, this will play as really funny if you keep a straight face.
Just Wrap Some Thing. See how your affixing practice comes in handy here? Take something you can use for wrapping, such as wrapping paper, or wrapping plastic, or wrapping blankets, or wrapping vinyl shingles, or wrapping polymer foams, you get the idea. Then take something you already have and paper it up until you can’t get at it anymore. This will show them, this will show them all. Place the wrapped thing under a thing, or on top of a thing, or hang it from something such as a tree, wall, or aggrieved squirrel in blue.
Arrange for a White Christmas. White Christmases are regarded as the sine qua non of Christmases. They’re among the top days to have be White, too. A White New Year’s Eve is a distant second in popularity. A White Fourth of July is regarded with suspicion at best. White Whistuntide is regarded as somebody trying a little to hard to be funny or maybe to filk Billy Joel. The most natural way to get a White Christmas is to appeal to the ice phoenixes by setting out bowls of warm miso for them. If that fails, you can try washing the paint off your animation cells. WARNING: Stop before erasing your ink.
If that doesn’t work, I don’t know. Maybe tweet out at companies until a customer service bot answers you.
I’m just busy recording slightly stranger and more abstract covers of Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” until people stop complaining about the original being the worst Christmas song ever. I’m not even sure it’s the worst 70s Beatle Solo Christmas Song. But it does get more exposure since you can turn on any holiday-tunes channel and hear it cycle around four times before John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” finishes its fadeout once. Ringo Starr probably has something that would be in contention too but I think these days we see how much fun he’s having on his Twitter account and nobody has the heart to tell him he had some bad song somewhere. He probably wouldn’t hear it anyway. I wonder if we could put “Wonderful Christmastime” to whatever beat it is you get from the Demo 4 button.
So I’m just staring that the new boxes of Christmas lights I got to replace the ones that broke over the summer when they weren’t having 120 volts of alternating current blown through them for twelve hours a day. And then at the warning: FOR DECORATIVE USE ONLY. It’s got me feeling for those poor, mad fools who hoped to string load-bearing lights this season. Or the ones hoping to make some industrial use of them. “Why, I needed to extrude pasta noodles,” they cry out, “and this set of General Electric ConstantON bulbs is of no use for the task!” They should have realized. They’re not made by General Electric, but by a company licensing the name so that we think the lights are more generally electrical than they actually are. I bet the bulbs are actually bioluminescent, and they manage their ever-on technology by harvesting firefly enzymes. In short, I’ve had a very busy last several days and am not sleeping enough. How are you, and can you justify that state of being?
First, the non-despairing part: comic strips over on my mathematics blog! Includes twice as many Carpe Diem comics as you might have guessed, if you knew that was a comic strip.
And the signs on that auto care place on the corner? After what I thought was its message board going through a long, slow breakup? Well, it spent a month appealing for food donations and there’s nothing to joke about regarding that. But I guess they got the food donations and now have gone to this:
It would be a hopeful message of tranquility and future promise, yes, if it weren’t coming after the slow-bitter breakup message. And if it weren’t coming off a year that ranks favorably compared to 1945, when atomic bombs were used as weapons of war, or the peak years of the Taiping Rebellion or the Black Death, but not much else. I’m going in tomorrow and offer everyone there a hug.
[ Edited the 10th of June, 2017 to add ] Thanks for coming to me to try figuring out what’s going on in James Allen’s animal-based adventure comic strip Mark Trail. This article’s out of date. Near the top of this link you should find my most recent articles about plot developments in the comic strip.
[Edited 25 September 2020: James Allen left the comic strip earlier this year. Jules Rivera is taking over Mark Trail as of the middle of October.]
It was a strange interlude between two stories on Jack Elrod’s long-running, epically stodgy, nature-adventure strip Mark Trail. Mark’s son, Rusty, paused from being a homunculus to nap in the yard, and he dreamed of the tens of millions of years ago when dinosaurs roamed what would become the Lost Forest. It lasted only a week, not even an eyeblink in story strip times. But this August 2013 sequence signalled important stuff about how the comic strip would change.
For decades now Mark Trail has been a dependable member of the family of comic strips you can’t quite believe actually run. I never read the strip when creator Ed Dodd wrote it. I knew it from Jack Elrod’s tenure. By the 2000s and this decade it had an identity so charmingly square it threatened to be hip again. Mark Trail, square-everythinged nature reporter, would get a call from his editor that there was nature somewhere. He ventured out in some direction where there might be a tree. He would introduce himself to the local women, most of whom I think were named Kelly, by speaking every thought that came into his head. The locals were charmed by Mark Trail’s ever-imaginative choices of which words to stress. And then Mark Trail would find there were smugglers, or poachers, or maybe smuggling poachers, doing mischief to nature. He would punch the bearded among them, and return home with an empty promise to take Rusty fishing.
The dinosaur interlude was a week when Jack Elrod gave his assistant, James Allen, the chance to do what he’d really like. Elrod’s main concern, Allen explained in comments on the Comics Curmudgeon blog, was that the fantasy sequence not go on too long. After all, whatever else Mark Trail might be, it is a strip about nature and how people interact with it. We can learn about the time of the dinosaurs, but we ought not have Professor Challenger-style antics in it. Allen took that, and a lot of thought into what makes Mark Trail, to heart.
He loosened some things up. One of the first things he did was make good on Mark’s promises to take Rusty fishing. (The poor kid’s hopes were often dashed in order to make a new story start with urgency.) Mark would openly hold and even kiss his wife Cherry. Stories became less ruthlessly linear. They stopped reusing or tracing old artwork or at least got better at hiding it. Rusty Trail was drawn to look less like an unsuccessful ventriloquist dummy. Mark’s editor began calling him out on implausible expense account items. Mark sometimes even had internal thoughts.
This has mostly been good for the comic. I admit missing the gleeful moments when a strangely-placed word balloon would suggest the dialogue was taken over by a giant squirrel. Indeed that was one of the iconic jokes to make about Mark Trail this past decade. But it is a good thing to make the easy jokes about the comic harder to justify.
And the stories have gotten more diverse, and less ruthlessly linear. A storyline earlier this year started with human trafficking, discovered by its effects on wildlife that were under observation. And it didn’t proceed to the inevitable conclusion of Mark Trail punching someone: Mark and his companions got caught in a cave and preoccupied with finding their way to safety. The triggering smuggling, as best I remember, went unresolved. You never saw that in the day, but it’s interesting to have it happen.
The storyline just concluding began with an actual honest-to-goodness flashback. Yes, people in normal media wonder what could be interesting about that. But that’s a literary technique unknown in story circles. And it was run immediately after Mark’s escape from the cave, without the traditional pancake breakfast that signals the start of a new story.
And it had great promise as the story started. It wasn’t about anyone particularly trying to do mischief to nature. It started with a couple that unintentionally brought ants to a Pacific island, ants now overrunning the local fauna. It’s the sort of honest, small-scale nature story that happens all the time and makes you wonder if humans shouldn’t just give up on this outdoor stuff since we’re clearly no good at it. And it included a great bit, albeit one run too long, when Mark Trail’s editor refuses to authorize his renting a boat to examine the island. The last few storylines included boats in Mark’s care getting blown up. Is the world ready for a self-aware Mark Trail comic? We’ve got one, ready or not.
So here’s the thing. Mark got an abundance of good evidence of the invasive ants and what they’re doing to the wildlife on the island. And it would be one more of those terrible little tragedies. Except that we might argue there’s no harm done. The past couple weeks the island’s been blowing up as the volcano returns to life. It’s exciting stuff, but it wipes out the whole storyline about humans unintentionally damaging nature.
It reminds me of many Lost World-style stories in which a band of explorers comes across a strange, wondrous land, has some adventures in it, and then flees as the land destroys itself. It particularly reminds me of great yet awful movies like Lost Continent or First Spaceship On Venus, the first of which I think Allen has mentioned as liking. And that’s fine, although it does remind me that the previous story, the human-traffickers one, turned into an extremely long slog through an enclosed cavern. Mark and company found all sorts of wonders of nature, but escaped with their lives ahead of an earthquake and its aftershocks. The cave, who knows if its natural wonders will survive? A previous story had a grove of trees saved from spreading blight by a massive wildfire burning up the infected trees and making enough of a clear path that something might be saved.
There’s an unsettling pattern here. One is this motif of people finding a wondrous land as it’s destroyed. Another is this: Nature? That stuff is gonna kill you. Something’s awry when Mark Trail is making a good case for staying in bed with the windows covered and the air conditioner puttering all day.
I doubt James Allen is trying to push a stay-inside-for-your-own-sake agenda here. I suspect he’s just caught up in the fun of telling adventure stories and trying to avoid poaching smugglers. And enjoys the slightly obsolete genre of wilderness-explorer action-adventurers so thoroughly that he’s letting the less reputable parts of the genre in. (Edge of Adventure, his and Brice Vorderbrug’s weekly strip on Gocomics.com, is nothing but this sort of wilderness adventure.) But this is why Mark Trail has been a different and more action-packed strip lately.
The Sunday installments have been miscellaneous illustrations and facts about animals, as they have ever been. Allen has a fondness for insects and deep-sea creatures that send me hiding under the covers, especially when they’re lushly illustrated. But he’s absolutely right to be featuring that stuff in a Mark Trail Sunday installment.
- 1. one
- 1 (tied). ten
- 3. nine
- 4. two
- 5. four
- 6. three
- 6 (tied). seven
- 6 (tied). nineteen
- 9. eight
- 9 (tied). eleven
- 11. five
- 11 (tied). six
- 13. thirteen
- 13 (tied). fourteen
- 15. twelve
- 15 (tied). seventeen
- 15 (tied). eighteen
- 15 (tied). twenty
- 19. zero
- 19 (tied). fifteen
- 21. sixteen
November was a less busy month around here than October was. At least as reading goes. It was less busy as writing goes too, although that’s just because there were fewer days in the month. Well, I ran more old-time radio bits than usual in the month too. Maybe they’re less-liked by readers than by me. It happens. The Index is a paragraph of fresh text every day, though, and I like it even though I suspect everyone is just wondering when I’ll get this weird thing out of my system. I don’t know either.
There were some 1,219 page views from 708 distinct visitors in November, says WordPress. That’s down from October’s 1,507 page views from 974 distinct visitors. But it’s a little bit up from September’s 1,130 page views from 697 visitors. I’m not sure what I did differently for October. Still, any month I stay over a thousand page views feels satisfactory to me.
Reader engagement drooped. There were 134 likes received around here; there had been 160 in October and 190 in September. Maybe I need to be more pleading. The number of comments was way down, to only fourteen. There’d been 32 in October and 69 in September. I ran a lot of short little list items though, and there isn’t much to comment on in them. I need more open-ended prompts. Also my long-form essays didn’t have any of the ones that stab at social commentary; they were a bunch of silly things. I like silly things, and wouldn’t give those up. But seven hundred words of silliness is also its kind of closed prompt.
Maybe that’s why November’s most-read pieces were older thing. Most of them were comic strip commentary, and one wasn’t even by me. The top six, since two pieces tied for fifth, were:
- Why Does Mary Worth Look Different? (it has a new artist, which somehow has helped the comic a lot)
- Has the comic strip _Momma_ come to an end? (Mell Lazarus has; the strip is more ambiguously existing)
- S J Perelman: Insert Flap ‘A’ And Throw Away so I guess I’m one of the Internet’s many sources for this (public domain now, somehow) essay.
- I Don’t Know What’s Going On In Apartment 3-G Anymore which by the way came from before the comic strip’s collapse got really, really bad.
- Alphabet Rocked By Returned Letter which I’m glad to see since I really like the conceit, even if I fear the essay peaked in the third sentence.
- Compu-Toon Gives Me Pause Today and that appearance surprises me. Compu-Toon fans searching for references to their thing?
And the important thing is the list of countries sending me readers. Here it is:
|Hong Kong SAR China||2|
|United Arab Emirates||2|
Ecuador, Morocco, and Oman were single-read countries two months in a row. No country’s on a three-month streak. I don’t see the mysterious “European Union” listing there so I still don’t know what that was all about.
For the start of December my little Another Blog, Meanwhile has gotten 43,341 page views from 22,834 recorded distinct visitors. There are 700 reported followers on WordPress, up barely from 698. You can join the followers by using the “Follow Another Blog, Meanwhile” button. Or follow me on Twitter, where I announce stuff over here and sometimes get surprised by stuff I forgot was on Peanuts specials as @Nebusj.
WordPress’s Insights say the most popular day for readers was Tuesday, with 17 percent of page views then. It had been Monday with 16 percent of page views the last couple months. But that’s close enough to one-in-seven I don’t suppose it signifies anything about my Tuesday publications. The most popular hour is midnight, with 8 percent of page views. That’s down from 10 percent in October. But since I publish at that hour every day of course that’s when people read here.
(I’ve always posted between midnight and 1 am Universal Time. I wonder if there might be a better hour for readers considering most of them are in the United States. On the other hand, midnight Universal Time is afternoon-to-early-evening United States time, which seems like it should be pretty good. Lousy for European readers, though. Might need to experiment.)
November 2016’s scrap file, free to anyone who didn’t feel like just scrapping the whole month and doing it over:
that unsettling feeling when you see an out-of-town news van driving into your neighborhood — cut because while I was waiting at the light a news van for Channel 8 drove on down Saginaw Avenue. There isn’t a Channel 8 here. I’ve never lived anywhere that even had a Channel 8, and I always knew deep down if I were someplace that had a Channel 8 it was some weird moon-man possibly alternate universe like, I don’t know, mid-Connecticut. I don’t know what’s happening and I’m afraid to go and check because, sheesh, Channel 8? That’s gotta be from some fictional town like Kalamazoo or something. I can’t handle that, not this year.
because what I really was looking for in a box was one that was smaller than the thing I hoped to fit in it — cut from a letter to whoever it is makes Meijer’s plastic storage bins for making a storage bin whose linear dimensions apparently refer to the maximum width of the overhanging lip rather than what can actually be fit inside. Really, it’s my fault, what with thinking I could fit a punch bowl that’s 14 inches across inside a plastic bin with dimensions given as 14 7/8 inches by 18 1/2 inches. The more fool me, right? Anyway it’s probably easier to just return the stupid thing and go looking at cardboard boxes since what are the chances the next cardboard box for it is going to get ruined by rainwater? I’m sorry to even bring it up. I bet I sound like I’m whining.
Sometimes reading the news leads to the suspicion the world is becoming alarming. A headline could read “Leapfrogging mayor injures woman dressed as tomato”, which may fairly describe the event, but it’s still bizarre. Or you might come across a three-column headline “World Denies Sneaking Up On You”, subhead, “UN Rep: `That’s No Blindfold And Gag Either’.” It’s certainly not a gag, as you’ll find out if you don’t retreat to your bedroom and lock the door, but you have to admit it’s sporting of them to warn you. — cut from a bit of odd-news reporting because while I like the flow of it, (a) there’s nothing going on in the world that isn’t alarming and (b) the paragraph isn’t really about anything. You could put that paragraph in front of absolutely any little essay inspired by odd news and it won’t fit any better or any worse than before. I need something more definite. Also I don’t know if I made up that leapfrogging mayor story anymore. It doesn’t sound like the kind of thing I might make up. I’d make up a woman dressed as a hippopotamus, maybe. Unless I realized “duck” was punchier. And I’d write it so it was clear whether the mayor, the woman, or both were dressed as tomato ducks. Really the whole paragraph is badly flawed and I should take it out back to have a serious talk about whether to even include it in this scrap file.
Saturn enters the house of Aries, only to find Aries is not present. It playfully rearranges the dishes so they and the coffee mugs are on the wrong sides of the cabinet. It leaves undetected. — Cut because it comes all to close to being a spoof horoscope/zodiac column and have you ever read one of those that was funny? Have you read a second one, after your high school paper ran the “Horrorscopes” for its edition your junior year? Yeah. Seriously flawed premise to the whole joke. I was off my game all November.
zippered banana sleeves for reclosing an opened one — cut from the notepad on my bedstand where I figure I’m bound to have a billion-dollar idea. This clearly isn’t it. I’m sure there’s a market for banana-resealing technology, but I can’t see that netting me more than about $2.25 million once all the startup work is done and I get through with all the court costs against companies stealing the idea from me. And at that point is it really worth doing? I’m just going to keep the banana underneath a tea towel until someday I clean the kitchen and lift the towel and find a dense gravity-warping nebula of fruit flies. This will be followed by my screaming, which is certainly a better use of my time.
If you find anything useful in all this please, do. I just want to be remembered fondly.