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.
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.
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.