Nah, No Wri Mo


I apologize to everyone hoping for my latest novel that I’m not going to participate in National Novel-Writing Month except to reassure friends that it’s fine they missed the 6th, the 9th, and the 14th through 29th except for that time on the 22nd that they realized that a whole page was garbage and they made negative 620 words progress and then finished the 30th at 2,055 words. But I’ve given the world plenty of evidence of what happens when I think of stories. I like to believe I stay on the “kind of charming through enthusiasm” side of things, but, who can tell from inside their own narrative? Anyway it’s all good, the triumph is in trying and if it doesn’t work this time, that doesn’t mean it can’t work.

But to also kind of support folks without doing anything may I offer my guide from a couple years ago, a novel-writing walkthrough? If not, just let it pass and it won’t hurt anyone.

And finally, allow me to point out: it’s just a set of moves. You could do the Monster Mash to any song with the right beat, not just the one you learned it on. You’re welcome.

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


Hello, readers of Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Price Valiant. And thanks for coming here to get an idea of what the current storyline is! I’m happy to help. If it’s much later than November 2017 by the time you read this, this essay might be too out of date to help much. Any successor essays I have should be at or near the top of this link, and that might help you get caught up to whatever your present-day is.

Also, mathematics. I read comic strips for their mathematical content too, and posted a new recap of last week’s comics this morning. Give that a try, won’t you?

Prince Valiant.

6 August – 28 October 2017.

Where we’ve been. Prince Valiant and a couple of his closest player-characters have been poking around the Far East. They’ve gotten roped into the troubles of this small band of refugees, themselves victim of many raids. The brigands were doing this as a sideline to being in tyrant Azar Rasa’s army. And now that Valiant and company blew up Rasa the maraduers were in it for themselves. With the help of training sequences Valiant and crew helped the refugees fight off the maraduers. And there’ll never be any trouble for them anymore.

Valiant offers one of the captured bandits a deal. The prisoner gives enough information for Valiant and his trusted aides to raid the bandit camp. In exchange, Valiant tells the wall of angry refugees with pointy sticks to hold off a while. With this surely sound and reliable information, Valiant makes his plan. He’ll recapture refugees stolen for the slave markets. Taloon, one of the refugees, insists on going along even despite her wounded leg. She’s had a hero-crush on Valiant ever since her appearance in the 1961 story The Savage Girl.

Having ridden all through the night, Val's small force waits in position until dawn begins to tinge the Eastern sky. Taloon starts a pot of tinder to smouldering ... lights her tar-soaked arrows .. .and lets them fly to the camp of the bandits below her. Guided by her terrified captive, she is careful to avoid that ger in which the kidnapped refugees are kept. The camp is soon ablaze! Confused bandits, torn awake from drunken sleep, pour frantically from their abodes ... as Val gives the command to charge! His riders are outnumbered, but the slovenly brigands are unprepared for a fight that is brought to their house.
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 3rd of September, 2017. A ‘ger’ is the Mongolian term for a portable round tent covered in skins or felt. It’s what you might have encountered as a ‘yurt’, and I didn’t know this either until the comic strip made me confront my ignorance. Also I suppose this gives us a better idea just how far Valiant and crew have wandered, if you consider ‘areas where Mongolians exist’ to narrow things down all that much. Also that I am going to be so ready for a word challenge next time I play Scrabble or Boggle.

Valiant and companions follow Taloon’s sound guidance and (checking encounter table) run into one of the bandit camp’s sentries. He never knows what kills him although “knife” is a good guess. At least that’s how it looks in the strip for the 27th of August. The next week he seems to be tied to a tree. The narration for this mentions Valiant uses a technique he “was taught by the natives of that land across the Great Western Sea”. There is a lot I don’t know about Prince Valiant so I have to ask more experienced readers. Are they saying Prince V made it to North America centuries before even the Vikings did? Because, wow, then.

Still, the sun is going to rise soon, and Taloon is ready. She’s got tar-soaked flaming arrows and is ready at dawn to shoot them into all the tents of the bandit encampment. And Valiant charges. Surprise and early morning and general drunkenness of the brigands make up for his smaller numbers. The Hessians try to reorganize near King Street (now Warren). Numair and Vanni, at Valiant’s direction, destroy the horse corral. The stampede adds a nice dose of chaos to the proceedings.

The brigands surrender, except for the chief. He tries to take a girl hostage. He doesn’t know that Karen, of Prince Valiant’s troupe, is a player-character. She beheads him as cleanly as you might imagine they do on the comics page. The freed prisoners — the ones who were refugees — are stunned by all this. The now-prisoners — the ones who were brigands — beg for mercy. They were drafted into Azar Rasa’s army, and when deserting they couldn’t get anything but raiding for the bandit chief Ghorko.

Val's dawn raid on the bandit's camp is a success. Routed by their own stampeded horses, the disheartened brigands quickly surrender. 'And who is the leader here?' asks Val. All eyes turn toward one figure ... who turns and dashes toward the kidnapped refugee girls. He is still trying to grasp just how his world has turned upside down ... but this crafty mind recognizes the strange value these warriors seem to put in the children's lives. He grabs one as a human shield: 'Let me leave, or this one will die!' The bandit chief does not seem to notice that Karen stands in the group behind him. Perhaps all females are undifferentiated commodities to him. As a result of this mistake, Karen easily and precisely removes his head from his shoulders.
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 17th of September, 2017. Cut to the guy who used to draw Liberty Meadows saying, “Exciting stuff, huh kids? You never see that in Cathy!” Take that, comic strip that ended its syndication run in 2001! But trust me, that was a sick burn on that comic. But yeah, reading a lot of soap opera strips or the sorts of serial-comic strips like Funky Winkerbean doesn’t really prepare you for stuff happening like that.

Numair speaks up for the brigands, saying he was like them once himself. There’s recaptured horses, and the ten or so brigands, and the recovered prisoners. This might be enough to establish a successful village. The brigands are enthusiastic about this plan, considering how it hasn’t got any part in it where they have their heads chopped off. I like this in plans for myself too.

The refugees are skeptical. But there’s no disputing the recovery of the kidnapped women and the potential breeding stock of horses. Plus there’s the sense their story’s getting pretty close to its natural end. So they’re willing to give this a try. And the captured brigands are happy to get to work, cutting down the logs to build Valiant and company a couple rafts that might lead them to the next story.

And with the 22nd of October, they’re under way. Numair is staying with Taloon, the both of them hoping to start a new life and sort out these refugees’ problems. Murshid is also staying, pairing up with the refugee leader Khorsheed. With that done, Valiant, Bukota, Karen, and Vanni set sail down the river with the ultimate goal of getting back home.

Next Week!

Abraham Lincoln! Moon Men! Casablanca! The Carpenters! What I was honestly expecting to be the dentist from Little Shop of Horrors but was not! This bundle of subjects can only mean one thing: it’s time to check in on scientific super-detective Dick Tracy, as overseen by Joe Staton and Mike Curtis. Be there or miss a great cameo appearance by The Avenger, short-lived old-time-radio duplicate of The Shadow! Or something at least as good.

Statistics Saturday: Some Half-Considered Halloween Costumes


  • Uhm … Tron scarecrow?
  • Tron witch?
  • Mouse, but from Tron?
  • What about, like, black cat, only with like Tron markings?
  • Sullenly furious Tron teacup?
  • Tron scarecrow? No, wait. Scratch that.
  • Baseball player.
  • Public-domain version of something from Game of Thrones only maybe like Tron would do it?
  • Kangaroo but maybe like in Tron would make them?
  • Baseball kangaroo witch?
  • From Tron?
  • You can buy a costume of a ‘mustard squeeze bottle’ that’s just a yellow tube with a cone on top like those contestants on Let’s Make A Deal who aren’t even trying? The heck?

What Has This Fictional Tea Cup Seen?


Back in the Like 40s Walt Kelly was drawing comic book versions of fairy tales and that’s great. He needed to do something like Pogo was getting under way. Plus it gave him excuses to draw stuff like this dragon that thought he was a cow and never knew otherwise until the story started. I don’t know if that’s an actual fairy tale or one he just made up, but either way, if you’re starting out with a dragon that doesn’t know it’s no cow you’re in good with me. I have no explanation for this.

Anyway I was looking at the art in “Thumbelisa,” the story that I had always thought was “Thumbelina” but I guess Walt Kelly had the script so who am I to argue? And it’s got a lot of classical comic-book fairy-tale art, with matronly mice and stuffy old moles who wear eyeglasses even though their eyes are always closed. And, not really saying anything, tea pots that have eyes and a mouth and are presumably characters in their own stories that we aren’t seeing. So here’s an example, with the tea pot I was thinking about on the right, in blue.

Mister Mole exiting the room, speaking to Dame Mouse. 'I see sweet Thumbelisa is speechless with joy. Now I can't stay for tea, but I'd like to show you something in the underground passageway between our two homes, Dame Mouse.' Dame Mouse follows, while Thumbelisa stands, head slumping between her shoulders. In the corner: a tea service set, with faces.
Also: does that fireplace have a face, or it it just a couple of plates sitting on a shelf? Also to the left of the fireplace is that a grandfather clock or one of those old-fashioned lollipop-shaped scales like you see in silent comedies and Pink Panther shorts about people figuring they have to lose ten pounds by next week?

And then I looked at the cups. I mean, really looked.

Cheery teapot sitting on the table, beside one furious-looking cup and one shocked-looking cup that vaguely resembles a Charles Schulz character.
“I don’t know what you’re so unhappy about,” says the saucer. “You’ve got it way better than me.”

That cup on the left. That is one furious tea cup. Even the pot’s cheer is doing nothing to tame it. That tea cup has clearly just finished a fifteen-minute shouting tirade covering every topic from the genocide we’re not talking about in Myanmar through sexism in the video game industry through they’re trying to remake The Munsters only they live in Brooklyn now through to they call everything a “reboot” even when it’s just “remaking” a show or movie through to what the flipping heck is wrong with Funky Winkerbean to whether anyone in power is going to be held responsible for the Republican party poisoning Flint, Michigan’s drinking water and now the other cup is completely unable to respond in any way except to look on with the face that Linus van Pelt has when he’s rendered speechless. What has happened to this cup that it’s so infuriated? What it in its life that it’s come to this point? It’s not lapsang souchong, is it? Because that at least would be an overreaction. But it’s something.

Why I Am Not A Successful Urban Fantasy Writer


So before you go ahead and take my Urban-Fantasy writing group’s side in throwing me out into the mall food court by the Chinese food stand with the unsettlingly outgoing staff let me explain my work-in-progress. The important thing is the premise. If you don’t have a premise all you have is a bunch of characters milling around. I’m going ahead and assuming that’s literary fiction. I don’t know, I can’t be bothered reading stuff.

So here in this story that’s just on the edge of tomorrow and the limits of possibility, how about a story built around the new digital genie of tomorrow? And it’s a digital genie based on the Freemium model. Yeah, don’t your eyes light up at this prospect? Because you can already hear the digital genie reporting, “You can modify the results of your last wish in 23 hours 58 minutes! Or you can hurry that up by spending 10 Sigloi. Did you want to buy a small bag of Sigloi, a medium bag of Sigloi, or a large bag of Sigloi?”

And I wasn’t even done cackling at my genius when some spoilsport asked, “Sigloi? Really? You can’t just say a bag of coins like every other stupid game like this ever?” and someone else asked, “What is your problem? Are you just in this to research … freaking ancient Persian coins? Is ‘Sigloi’ even plural or is it supposed to be ‘Siglois’ and it doesn’t look any more like a real word the more we look at it”. The person who brings windmill cookies to all the meetings asked whether I see writing as anything but an excuse to do weirdly specific bits of research. “And it’s not even deep research,” she pointed out. “You just put ‘ancient Persian coin’ into Google.” I explained how I did not: I use DuckDuckGo. The conversation was not productive.

My scene speculating this would come to the genie saying, “You don’t have to buy Sigloi! You can earn them by completing a quest! Your first quest: match these advertising slogans up to the fast-food companies that use them and share the results on Facebook!” before four of the group flopped over and played dead until the bookstore sent the Children’s Books section manager around with a push broom to nudge them.

I was barely through describing the central conflict of the book. It’s one of the digital genies coming face-to-face with the partially developed open-source clone digital genie project. There’s all kinds of deep philosophical questions about identity that raises if you don’t actually think very hard about deep philosophical questions. So it’s perfect for my kind of writing! I especially liked the scene where developers complain about people reverting the open-source genie back to the first wish. They say “it screws up the machine-learning routines plus we all see what you’re trying to do there”.

This prompted a customer to quit his project of reorganizing the books in the Computers section to fit his tastes and berate my failure to have the faintest idea of how revision control works. I pointed out that I could well learn plenty about how revision control works except it’s too boring. And the head of the writing group said, “How can a person who owns multiple books about the history of containerized cargo and has opinions about the strengths and weaknesses of them call the center of your own book too boring to learn about?”. Plus the bookstore café people came over to ask what all the shouting was about.

So just before they threw me out the group organizer asked, “Do you have even the slightest idea of what Urban Fantasy is?” No, I do not. I guessed it’s, like, the protagonist is coming to terms with learning she’s part-Billiken while she teaches English as a Second Language classes to zombies in-between her relationship troubles with Bigfoot, who’s always being called off for some crisis at his tech startup company.

They picked me up to evict me more effectively.

Oh but if Bigfoot’s tech startup is involved in the digital genie project then it all counts, right? They have to let me back in now, the rules say!

In Which I Wonder About The Pretend Football Game


I’ve had this sitting around a while but it’s still making me think. It’s at the Cherry Republic store in Traverse City. The store is great, a fine spot if you’re in Traverse City, Michigan, and need somewhere to stop in to get a quick snack, because they have chips and samples of several hundred thousand cherry-based jams and jellies and salsas and … consumable food products. It’s great. The place is decorated in an aesthetic style of “Americana, only it’s all about cherries and bears and stuff”. And they’ve got a couple of mock sports scoreboards, and there’s this one I’ve been thinking about.

'Republic Stadium' football scoreboard. Cherris 86, Bananas 3, 10:17.9 left in the first quarter. Second down, nine yards to go on the 14-yard line.
Ask me about the Traverse City Cherry Republic’s baseball scoreboard too!

So. Cherries just smashing the Bananas, that’s fine. I expect the cherry people to be enthusiastic about a game like that. The thing is, the score is Cherries 86, Bananas 3. There have been, at minimum, twelve scoring events in this game so far. And now look at the time. They’re four minutes, 42 seconds into the first quarter. And the Bananas have given up, no less than ten touchdowns with two-point conversions each and one more without? And if they gave up one-point conversions, or field goals, instead, then they’ve let even crazily more scoring chances go during this game. What has their ball possession time got to look at? And given that, I’m amazed the Bananas have at least put up three points. They’ve got to have had the ball in their control for at most, I figure, 0.4 seconds to allow the Cherries to get a score like that.

So all I mean to say is, wow but the Bananas coach is going to have an unpleasant telephone call from the head office come Monday, or possibly Sunday, or possibly at halftime. Or possibly the team owner is going to run down there and kick him in the shin right now.

The Third Talkartoon: Radio Riot


I didn’t ditch the second Talkartoon on purpose. It’s just that the short, a 1929 titled Marriage Wows, might as well be a lost cartoon. According to Wikipedia the UCLA film library has the nitrate elements for it. But otherwise? As far as I’m aware it’s not available online, and it might not even be available for normal non-scholarly people at UCLA to see. There is a 1949 Famous Studios short of the same title, but goodness knows whether it’s a remake of the early talkie. Possibly it is in part; the 1949 short is the sort of string of spot gags that would be as easily made in 1929. And the central song is Me and My Gal, from 1917. But the 1949 cartoon is a Screen Songs follow-the-bouncing-ball short. Talkartoons, as far as I know, never did that. Besides, Fleischer Studios already had the Screen Songs series going in 1930.

I’ll put that aside and go on to the next Talkartoon. Originally released the 13th of February, 1930, it’s Radio Riot. There’s no credits for it, besides the Directed by Dave Fleischer title, but we’ll start getting some idea who drew stuff in the next couple cartoons.

So there we have it. First, yes, the title makes sense and has something to do with the cartoon. The framing device is a day’s worth of radio programming. Morning exercises, a musical number, a scary story for impressionable kids. It’s a short programming day but after all it is only an eight-minute cartoon. It’s a framing device much like SCTV used in its first season, before they got into telling plots of the backstage happenings.

As with last week’s Talkartoon, Noah’s Lark, I believe this cartoon was drawn on paper. After the first scene there’s not much grey in the cartoon; it’s in black and white, mostly. I suspect the frog’s scenes were done on animation cels, and the rest on the old-fashioned white paper.

Speaking of the frog. I know there’s animation fans who see a frog of this vintage and think of Ub Iwerks’s Flip the Frog. He was the star of a couple dozen genial shorts after Iwerks left the Disney studios and set up his own animation company. It’s coincidence, though. The first Flip the Frog cartoon was released in August 1930. Frogs must just have been in the air.

There’s a double dose of Suspiciously Mickey Mouse-like characters. First there’s a pair doing exercises in the scene starting about 3:18 into things. And then there’s a bunch more, mouse kids I assume, in the ghost-story scene that starts at 6:19 and closes out the short.

I’m not sure there’s a proper blink-and-you’ll-miss-it gag that I really liked. Possibly the way the exercising radio receiver and table about 1:15 in are out of step with the frog’s direction. But I did enjoy the frog explaining the exercise program was brought to you by the “Noiseless Biscuits Company”. It sounds enough like a company name that you don’t right away notice the nonsense. That’s often the best sort of nonsense.

The most startling joke to me: the goldfish doesn’t jump back in the fishbowl! The heck, guys? It also looks to me like the first pair of mice meet a grizzly yet not-quite-on-camera end. There’s implicitly something sad going to happen to those flies caught on paper as part of that radio star’s “Where o Where Has My Little Dog Gone?”. Video is innocent in this one.

Does the short have an ending? Yes, it has. The framing device implies there’ll be a last broadcast of the day, and of the short, and that makes narrative sense. And the scary part makes for a good closing act. I am again satisfied.

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


Are you looking for the latest updates about the happenings of The Phantom, the weekday continuity written by Tony DePaul and drawn by Mike Manley? Then you’re in luck! If you’re reading this in late October 2017 or maybe November 2017. If it’s a lot later than that the story will have progressed some. Maybe gotten resolved entirely and gone on to something not even hinted at here. In that case, you might look at this page, which should gather any Phantom essays yet to be written. Future-to-this-writing updates should be there, although they’ll be mixed in with the separate Sunday continuity, written by Tony DePaul and drawn by Terry Beatty.

And if you just like comic strips at all, and don’t care whether there’s stories, my other blog went over the comic strips with mathematics themes today. Might give that a read.

The Phantom (Weekdays)

31 July – 21 October 2017.

Last time I checked in on the weekday continuity we were deep into The Curse Of Old Man Mozz, a story filled with portents of doom for the then-current Ghost Who Walks. Several times in past years there’ve been foreshadowings of the death of the 21st Phantom. And these foreshadowings grew more urgent when disputes between writer Tony DePaul and the syndicate led to his quitting the comic he’s written for decades. DePaul and the syndicate reconciled and he’s resumed writing. But the end of a story DePaul thought “would have been a superb sign-off to my Phantom career sure sounds like Kit Walker might have his last bad day.

The story started with Old Man Mozz having a vision of the future: The Phantom doing his work at a factory that seems to be churning out thugs at a good rate. One of them, hiding behind a waterwheel, gets the break of the century and this nobody shoots The Phantom dead. Diana Walker learns of the vision and gets the Ghost fully briefed on it. Though his friends advise laying low a couple weeks to let the problem pass, Walker insists on going through and doing something about the factory. The nobody killer finds the good hiding spot by the waterwheel and is set for Walker’s raid.

The Phantom has trouble getting his groove. He’s plagued by a sense of being watched. And thinking how he just knows this is where and when he’ll die, a sense he’s certain his ancestors had as their times came. Which, like Guinan told Riker, is a good way to get yourself killed. But he figures to go out with a bang, and a thud, and a klonk, and also setting all the bad guys’ cars on fire. In all the fire and klonking and panicky gunshots by the gang Walker feels the strange comfort of knowing he’s finally in the zone.

Phantom, prowling around the steel girders and dropping down to clobber people. Meanwhile he thinks: 'If my DEATH IS TRULY HERE, FOLLOWING close behind ... ! It had better MOVE FAST if it wants to keep up!'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 8th of August, 2017. You know, the Phantom is going to be so embarrassed if it turns out he went to the wrong factory and the one he wanted to raid was the south end of the industrial park. “Why would the Ghost Who Walks want to disrupt our manufacture of galvanized steel U bolts? What did we do?”

The guy Old Man Mozz foresaw dives for cover and waits for The Phantom to finish punching, smacking, or throwing bricks at everybody. His cover’s the waterwheel, as Mozz predicted. And The Phantom, figuring that everybody not punched hard enough has run into the forests, thinks the night over. Except Walker’s got this sense of suden doom, what with this just feeling like the prophecy of death he heard. The nobody at the waterwheel raises his gun, and gets shot and killed by an arrow.

Walker looks at the waterwheel guy, whom he walked past just like the prophecy said. And finds who fired the arrow. It’s Babudan, an archer from the Bandar tribe. He wasn’t sent by Diana exactly; she just described the problem to him and let him figure out whether to save the guy who’s been superheroing all over the place for decades now. Still, Kit Walker’s of surprisingly mixed emotions about not dying by a coward’s hand. He’d sent Kit Junior off to a remote Himalayan school so his successor wouldn’t even hear about his death when it happened. Diana’s “changed the future for all of us,” and he considers how that’s an “awesome responsibility she bears now, for all that follows”. Which, all right, is true enough but most of us carry on despite the existential haze.

Kit Walker to Diana: 'You needed someone to ... talk to?' Diana: 'Babudan's a good listener! You know that!' Kit: 'The good listener you chose just happens to be a master tracker? A warrior without equal? By the way, he's sticking to your story too.'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 16th of September, 2017. I never talk enough about the art in the main essays, but let me point it out to you here. The scenes are very nicely rendered depictions of the aftermath of Walker’s exhausting night, after the moment he was expecting to die, back in the arms of his loving wife. And intercut with a scene that recaps why he did not die and how Diana arranged it.

And that brings to a close The Curse of Old Man Mozz. The story ran from the 13th of March through the 23rd of September. So that clocked in at 28 weeks, according to PhantomWiki. The next daily continuity story, The Return of the Locust, began the 25th of September and is, apparently, the 248th daily story. The name suggests a sequel. PhantomWiki notes that The Locust God was a story, the 211th daily, which ran from the 3rd of May to the 28th of August, 2004. And I don’t know anything else about it either. (Well, the story is in Comics Kingdom’s archives so I could go back and read it. Maybe I’ll write up a summary as bonus content for my Patreon subscribers.)

Normal readers don’t need that much help. The Locust walks on stage, is shot as a trespasser, and dissolves into a cloud of locusts. The Phantom explains to one of the baffled archers that he knows the deal. He met the guy in New Mexico once. The Locust has magic powers to rival Mandrake the Magician, who you might remember does exist in the same continuity as The Ghost Who Walks. So that crazypants story about the far-future Time Ladies who kidnap Mandrake to teach them how to be spanked? That’s in-universe for this storyline. The Locust knows The Phantom isn’t an immortal unkillable creature of myth. Also he’s passing himself off as the creator-god of the Navajo people’s mythology, according to The Phantom. I’m sure there’s nothing going on with that which might be uncomfortable in this comic strip about the generations of white guys who’ve tasked themselves with the saving of an African nation.

Phantom, talking to his wolf, as his plane is shot at from atop the tower. 'That's no POP GUN down there! I'd say HANG ON, Devil, if I thought you COULD!' (While rolling the plane.)
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 18th of October, 2017. I do not envy Mike Manley’s challenge in drawing this ground-to-air combat. It’s already hard drawing combat because more panels is more time for stuff to happen, but more panels means smaller panels and so a harder time drawing anything recognizable. And it’s hard to give machines a sense that they’re straining to do things; at least people punching each other can show muscles at work. And it’s hard to give airplanes a sense of motion in a single scene too. Overall: yeah, glad I don’t have the job of drawing this script. Really would have tried to strap Devil in, though, because there’s few times that a loose wolf rolling around the airplane cockpit is a good thing.

The Phantom figures this is the Locust’s way of asking for a meeting, and the logical place is atop Walker’s Table, a remote desert butte accessible only by airplane, which The Phantom luckily has.

Not so luckily: as The Phantom flies in, an anti-aircraft gun crew starts shooting him from atop the Table. As we left the action Saturday, The Phantom was hiding from the artillery in the shadow of the butte, and working out what the heck to do next. It’s a good question for him. For me:

Next week!

I’ll make a stirring return to the days of King Arthur, and check out some people who are nowhere near camelot, as Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant handles Taloon’s hero-crush and some bands of marauders who’ve been hassling refugees.

Statistics Saturday: The Numbers One Through Twelve Rewritten So They Have That Number Of Letters In Their Name


  1. n
  2. tu
  3. tri
  4. four
  5. fiive
  6. siicks
  7. seveven
  8. eiighght
  9. niiiiiine
  10. teeeeeeeen
  11. elleveveven
  12. twelelelvvve

Why I Can Never Buy A Comic Book Ever, Ever Again


It turns out they’re printing a new Casper The Friendly Ghost comic book, or at least a kind-of new one with a bunch of reprints of vintage stories. And that got me into a nice friendly chat with the cashier where he shared the jokey old story about how do we know that Casper isn’t the ghost of Richie Rich? And I will admit I warned by saying that I was a Harvey Comics fan from ages ago. If need be, I could give, I warned, “shockingly many” arguments from the classical Harvey Comics canon that would show that theory was, if I remember my words correctly, “wholly untenable”. And this led him to recalling that when he flew as a kid on American Airlines they would give out Harvey Comics as reading material to kids, something that he had loved back in the day and completely forgot about for decades.

So with that one of the many meaningless impersonal transactions of the day was turned into a moment of real connection, between strangers, over a common appreciated thing and over childhood memories loved and rediscovered. I’m going to be way too embarrassed to ever be anywhere near the store again, ever.

Why I Am Not A Successful Secret-History Writer


I had gotten nearly one-third of the way through the logline for my next book before the reading group tackled me, sending the manuscript flying into the air and threatening a turnover and significant loss of yardage. But I reached up mightily and regained possession and while it didn’t help me gain the down any, I was able to eventually make my voice heard over the howls of preemptive and I think unjustified pain.

So it starts with ancient alien astronauts and see that’s about where my group started to scream. I didn’t even get to explain how I didn’t mean this in the racist way where we suppose that, like, the Egyptians of thousands of years ago couldn’t think of “pyramids” without help. I don’t see why anyone figures ancient peoples needed help thinking of the idea of “build stuff using stones”. It’s not like they had a stone shortage.

Anyway, my premise — stop tackling! — is how what if ancient astronauts did come to visit the Egyptians in the era of the great pyramid-building phase? Only the aliens don’t use their advanced technology to help the Egyptians build pyramids. Instead the Egyptians are able to use their pyramid-building skills to give the aliens much-needed guidance on how to get their advanced technology to actually work? And then came another round of tackling and a question about “the heck are you thinking” and “even if there is some non-offensive way to do this” and I know, I know. But I’m willing to do the work to treat this material responsibly. I’m like this close to looking up like what millennium was the great pyramid-building boom and getting a book about what Egypt was like as close to then as the branch library has, so you know my sociology would be not provably wrong and that demonstrates my story to be worth telling!

And I can answer questions about how the pyramid-building era of Egyptians could have stuff to tell alien astronauts about their technology. Who are we to figure that they wouldn’t have stuff to teach the other thems? I mean at a responsible, appropriate tutoring rate. I figure any species sophisticated enough to traverse the stars is too ethical to take someone’s consulting advice without fair compensation. If they don’t I don’t want them in my creative universe anyway.

So what do the aliens need help on? Oh, heck, I don’t know. It’s alien technology. It’d be futuristic even today. How am I supposed to go into details? Maybe something about sphere-packing. That’s a mathematics problem about how you can stack together balls of the same size so there’s the least possible wasted space between them. And the best way to do this turns out to imagine you’re the grocer seen in the comedy putting oranges out on a huge stack for the hero to send the villain crashing into. That is, make pyramids.

Now obviously I don’t mean to say the Ancient Egyptians had some supernatural powers of pyramid-building. I think we’ve got a decent idea of roughly how they went about pyramid-building. But imagine you’re an ancient astronaut and you’re put down somewhere with a big pile of stones and a sense that it’s important to start making pyramids. What would you start out by doing? Exactly. There’s all these little skills that you pick up by practice. You don’t just start out at the top of your thing-stacking game. You start out with what seems obvious and you share tips with outer people who want to do this stuff well, and you try some of what they do, and you get it a little wrong and maybe it works out all right. Eventually, you’re a master of the thing.

And that’s what I figure the Ancient Egyptians would be giving in this cultural exchange that I’m sure can be written up into a culturally sensitive and not at all insulting novel. I’m saying I think that issue of Skeptical Inquirer magazine was premature in leaping off the shelves and slapping me senseless and into a balled-up mound of flesh over by the board games. I bet my next draft changes everything.

Is this even secret history? I don’t know what to call it. I just mean stuff we don’t realize happened because there was a lot of stuff that happened and we can’t hear about it all.

Lost Pet Calls


We got a message about a lost cat on the answering machine. I mean the message was there. I had no idea there was some kind of service in the area spreading the word about lost pets. It was one of those messages created by stitching together prerecorded phrases that I guess they figure can describe a lot of animals. And all delivered in this weird upbeat tone. So what we got were chipper sentences about how this cat “is a friendly talkative type; he’s been neutered, and gets along great with dogs!” I’m still working on whether the logic of that sentence makes sense.

I’m glad to know the service exists. I suppose I don’t expect our pet rabbit to get lost, since he’s quite busy keeping a suspicious eye on me. And our other pets are goldfish. If they make a break for it I’ll be impressed. But I know they’re not likely to, not until they gather a thousand of their kin and manifest a dragon. Which, if they do, I want them to know I’m very supportive of their dragon existence and really want to know whether they have lost-pet messages recorded for that.

The First Talkartoon: Noah’s Lark


I’m feeling in a talk-about-cartoons mood so why not look to the Fleischer Studios’ Talkartoons? These were a string of 42 sound cartoons that the Fleischer Brothers made from 1929 to 1932, and it’s where Betty Boop made her debut. She’s not in this cartoon. It’s easy to suppose the Talkartoons were made in response to Disney’s Silly Symphonies series. I’m not sure that’s the case, though. This installment, for example, doesn’t have any particularly strong song component. There’s music throughout, of course. It was 1929; if you weren’t putting sound into your cartoons you were hopelessly behind the times, or you were Charles Mintz and too cheap to do sound. And I’m not even sure that’s true.

In any case Leonard Maltin’s Of Mice And Magic cites a June 1929 trade advertisement for the series. The first Silly Symphony came out in August 1929, and while every animation studio tried to copy Disney, it’d be a bit ambitious to plan the copying of something that hadn’t come out yet. Here, originally released the 25th of October, 1929, is Noah’s Lark.

So, some thoughts. First is that I think this short predates the use of animation cels. For most of the 20s the Fleischer cartoons were illustrations done on sheets of bright white paper. The advantage of this is that if you only need to move a small part of the scene — like the monkey’s arms in that scene about 1:15 into the short, or the hippopotamus singing while his chest tattoo moves at about 1:35 — you just need to draw that fragment of art and put it over the base. On many silent cartoons you can even see the tear lines of the paper.

Second: the title actually parses. I was thinking through the first half that they’d done the most obvious humorous variant on the common phrase “Noah’s Ark”. But by bringing the action to Coney Island — Wikipedia says Luna Park, but I don’t know how they can pin it down to that, given that there’s no particularly iconic rides on display — they justify calling it a lark. Good, then.

That fun old-style stretchy-squashy-playing with geometry: I like the ship’s portholes bouncing around merging together to let the elephant out. Also the … magpies? Crows? Possibly penguins? … at about 2:22 in that need three of them with bicycle pumps to unflatten their comrade.

The Suspiciously Mickey Mouse-like character enters into this cartoon at about 5:00 in. The Blink-And-You’ll-Miss-It gag with the best laugh was on the carousel at about 4:50 for me.

There’s a recording of The Stars And Stripes Forever in here that I wonder if they didn’t use in the first couple Popeye cartoons as his post-Spinach action music.

Does this short have an ending? … I suppose so. The idea that the animals are out on Shore Leave does contain the implication that Shore Leave has to stop, so there’s a tolerably set-up conclusion to the short and a reason for the final scene to happen. I’ll allow it, but I’ll listen to contrary opinions.

Good News on the Immortality Front


So when I was a kid I picked up a little habit, sweeping my tongue across the backs of my front teeth. Just a little swipe, left to right. But that bothered my sense of balance that I swept from left to right, and so I added to that a sweep from right to left.

Thing is, it bothered me that I would sweep my tongue from left to right and then right to left. I wasn’t doing a balancing sweep from right to left and then left to right. So it was easy enough to make this a two-stage sweep: left-to-right-to-left, and then a right-to-left-to-right sweep. And that would be balanced at last, right?

At least until I thought seriously about that and reflected how I needed a two-stage sweep that started on the left to be balanced by a two-stage sweep that started on the right. So again, that was easy enough to add. A left-to-right-to-left, and then a right-to-left-to-right, followed by a right-to-left-to-right and then a left-to-right-to-left sweep. It’s a four-stage sweep and that’s great except that, of course, it starts on the left and it needs a counterbalancing one from the right.

Where I’m getting with this is I’m hoping this week to finish off a 536,870,912-stage sweep from the right counterbalancing one that started from the left back sometime in 1996, and I’m looking forward to living long enough that I can make it to the end of the forthcoming 1,073,741,824-stage sweep starting, of course, on the left, which I should reach sometime in 2059 or early 2060. So I’ve got that to stick around for.

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


Do you need to know where we are in Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop? I’m happy to do my best to catch you up on the storyline. I have my limits, though. I’m writing this in mid-October 2017. If you’re reading this much later than that, the story might have got so far advanced that this isn’t useful. In that case, try checking the top of this page. If I’ve written a further update it should be at or near the top there. Meanwhile, story. here.

If you’re interested in comic strips that talk about mathematics stuff, you probably already saw this on my other blog, but what the heck. Never hurts to remind people that a thing exists, until they get tired of it and turn to rioting.

Alley Oop.

24 July – 15 October 2017.

Last time you’ll recall Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop was still wrestling with a spinoff of the pantsless-alien-frog storyline. The alien plant-frog-guy had left behind a mind-control ray gun that Alley Oop smashed and tossed all the way to the rival kingdom of Lem. There, King Tunk patched the thing together and figured to zap his way into, at last, the conquest of Moo. His attempt backfired, and shooting the thing left himself zapped and in King Guz’s power.

Alley Oop: 'You know when Tunk snaps outta this brain fog, he's gonna take Lem and his crown back, don't you?' Guz: 'HE GAVE IT TO ME! YOU'RE MY WITNESS!' Oop: 'Yeah, but it was a game, Guz! I don't think decisions like that count when a person's in a fog like that!' Guz: 'THAT'S WHAT YOU THINK! I ... ' A woozy Tunk: 'Oooohhhhh! Where am I?'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 27th of July, 2017. If you’re wondering how Alley Oop resists the urge to clobber everybody in Moo and Lem on the head and just take over for himself, I don’t know. I guess he’s tried a couple times in the past and it’s just too much work keeping everybody from doing something dopey, so it’s easier to hang back in a position where you can snark on everybody.

Guz orders Tunk to turn over his lands, his power, and his crown, and Tunk can’t refuse. Oop, fed up with this disrespect for consent, smashes the ray gun to pieces. Tunk comes to his senses, calls “no way” on his cession. He chases Guz, and the last pieces of the pantsless mind-controlling alien-frog storyline, out of the comic.

The new, and current, story started the 1st of August. “Meanwhile” in the 21st century (it’s their convention, run with it or read some other comic strip), Doctor Wonmug faces civilization’s greatest current menace. Rich white guy idiot M T Mentis III is interested in the time laboratory. His objectives are unclear at first. But the Time Lab could always use some more money. How could you make a profit with just the ability to traverse space and time to an exact spot at any exact second? So after a tour of the slick modern computerized time machine Mentis says what he’s up to.

Wonmug: 'I'm flattered at your interest in the time lab, but it's not for sale.' Mentis: 'Everything is for sale, as long as the right price is offered! Imagine pairing your time machine with my skills! I could visit key events in history to give just the right tweak to keep positive progress on track!' Wonmug: 'WHAT?! M.T., the one rigid rule of time travel is that it is for observation only and that NOTHING can be changed! Any change, no matter how well intentioned, would cause a ripple effect that could threaten our very existence! Mr Mentis, you have wasted your time here! The time lab is NOT for sale at any price to anyone --- especially not to YOU!' Mentis: 'I'm sorry to hear you say that! Take care of him, Gunther!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 20th of August, 2017. Gunther’s doing pretty well as a bodyguard for the world’s richest idiot, which shows you how much people can flourish once they get deported from Greg Evans and Karen Evans’s Luann. I jest, of course, since that’s clearly their Mister Grey.

He’s bored of his career of fixing up struggling companies. He wants to do something with meaning, by which he means buying the Time Lab and using the machinery to fix history. Wonmug is aghast at the idea of deliberately altering history. Even trying could force the comic strip to face potentially premise-wrecking consequences. You prove everything is strictly ordained somehow. Or you make the time travellers complicit in all the atrocities of human history. Or you make the time travellers responsible for destroying every living thing in the present timeline. Any of that’s heavy stuff for a comic strip that does better with, like, Alley Oop punching dopes. Yes, I am aware none of those verb tenses withstands any thought but I’m not getting paid enough to give them proper thought.

Since Mentis isn’t getting this, Wonmug sends himself, Mentis, and Mentis’s bodyguard to Moo and says, “see what you can do with this”. What he does is get chased by dinosaurs until he runs into Alley Oop and falls over, knocked out. When he recovers what he uses as his senses Mentis, shaking the idea that this is a movie set or something, works out a plan: he needs to kill the dinosaurs. After all, humans and dinosaurs shouldn’t coexist and they’re drawn kind of off-model and colored all weird. Alley Oop isn’t having any of it.

Mentis: 'THIS IS ABSURD! YOU CAN'T EXPECT ME TO BELIEVE THIS PLACE IS FOR REAL! YOU MUST HAVE BROUGHT US TO A MOVIE SET!' Alley Oop: 'What do you mean? Of course it's real!' Mentis: 'Why, look around you! See all those dinosaurs?' Oop: 'Of course I do! I'm not blind! They're everywhere!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 1st of September, 2017. Tag yourself: which one of these dinosaurs is you when you realize you’re caught in a meeting where you don’t know what’s going on and if you don’t find a way out you’re going to be expected to give an opinion about the next quarter’s projections. For me, it’s the brontosaurs-y guy with a grimace and his teeth exposed.

Oop does admit that King Tunk of Lem is a problem, what with his invading now and then and being kind of a jerk the rest of the time. Mentis proposes a wall, and Oop rolls his eyes so far back into his head they threaten to come around the other side. Mentis figures, well, how about better defenses than Oop’s ax and his fists? Mentis’s bodyguard Gunther epically failed trying out Oop in hand-to-hand combat. But how about if Mentis shows off his superior strategy? Mentis shows off his plan. It’s “holding enough spears and axes and swords and knives at once that Oop barely has to stop laughing long enough to kick him unconscious”. I’m not saying I’d be much better at uplifting the poor noble cavemen if I figured that was my business. I’m not sure what I’d introduce them to, exactly. Soap, I guess. Clean water. A Lockean concept of the social contract. Potatoes. The categorical imperative. I know I wouldn’t try showing off that I could hold too many weapons at once to be able to hold without the whole pile falling and stabbing my foot.

Mentis: 'The key to defense is that you need more weapons than your enemy has! It's such a simple concept! As experienced as you are in hand-to-hand combat, I'm surprised you haven't figured it out before now! I'd show you if I could borrow some weapons!' Alley Oop: 'YOU'RE gonna fight ME?!' Mentis: 'Oh, there will e no need for a fight! You'll see! I could never compete with your muscle, but with weapons, I can show you the superiority of a well-armed fighting force!' Oop: 'Okay, whatever you say! Take your pick!' [ Mentis takes *everything* from the armory, at once. ] Mentis: 'If an enemy came at you armed like this, when all you had was that ax, I'm sure you'd agree you'd be inclined to retreat!' Oop laughs deeply, and kicks Mentis unconscious and ties him up. A recovering Mentis asks: 'What th' ... ?' Oop: 'You needed a free hand!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 1st of October, 2017. So Mentis has made his fortune buying out distressed companies and straightening out their messes. Which implies that there are a lot of companies so incompetently managed that the guy who figured he had achieved Caveman Invulnerability in the first panel of the bottom row there was a major improvement. Based on every corporate history I’ve ever read, this is likely.

Here Oop asks a good question: the heck is Mentis’s deal, anyway? Before the rich idiot can mansplain why he figures he can patch up history despite his manifest incompetence some actual plot intrudes. It’s raiders from Farzoon, seeking slaves for some massive project. Mentis wonders if it might be Stonehenge or the Great Wall because I’m going ahead and assuming he thought Chariots of the Gods was nonfiction. Oop and Mentis hide, but the Farzoonian raiders have their scent.

And that’s got us caught up.

So, still not answered: what is Mentis’s deal, anyway? It’s hard to square someone being bright enough to save struggling companies repeatedly with not being able to see any problems whatsoever in meddling with history. So what’s h out for? I guess it would be admirable if he did just want to fix the messy, terrible sides of history. And that would show up Wonmug and Oop for laughing at him. But if he is then he’s done a pretty poor job thinking through what that implies which, yeah, isn’t impossible. Especially given the casual, light tone of the Alley Oop world.

But it’s also baffling story for the Benders to write. As far as I know Alley Oop has avoided setting out the rules about whether, and how, history can be changed in its time-travel view. The storyline seems to threaten to commit them to something. Dr Wonmug says that history can change and time-travellers have to take care not to screw things up. But I don’t know what his evidence for that is. They seem to have a pretty casual attitude about time-travelling if they are afraid of messing up stuff. Alley Oop can activate the time machine to destinations of his choosing. Alley Oop’s an upstanding person, and he gets up to speed in situations quickly. But would you want to count on a caveman dropped into (say) the Battle of Manzikert to not do something off-script?

I suppose it’ll be avoided, or at least left ambiguous. I’m also curious how Wonmug figures that getting his hat stomped by dinosaurs will help Mentis learn about the interconnectedness of events or whatever his vague lesson is. You’d think just “what if you set it so your parents never met?” would get the point across. I suppose a reasonable person might learn from being shoved headfirst into Moo just how complicated and messy and big the world is and so how implausible it is to “fix” the timeline. But I’m not sure a reasonable person would have done more than have fantasies about history-fixing either.

So, I’m curious whether we’ll learn Mentis has some ulterior motive, or whether he simply believes he’s worked out the killer app for time travel.

Next Week!

We pop back in on the Bandar tribe and learn whether Tony DepPaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom Weekdays continuity has seen the Ghost Who Walks try out dying.

In Which I Am Disappointed By DuckDuckGo


Oh, first, yeah, did I mention doing some more comic strip review over on my mathematics blog? I did some more comic strip review over on my mathematics blog. Thanks for noticing. I changed the theme over there because there’s no such thing as a theme I’m actually all that happy with.

Yes, yes, I’m that guy using DuckDuckGo. I like how it keeps asking me to make it my default search engine, even though it has been for years now. But when you get something like this, I just …

DuckDuckGo search: 'Addams Family theme'. It returns, 'Addams Family Theme Kids Vocals. The Hit Crew. Boy, the way Glenn Miller played/ Songs that made the hit parade/ Guys like me we had it made./ Those were the day./ Didn't need no welfare.' More at MetroLyrics.
Yes, yes, there’s no telling whether the problem is DuckDuckGo or MetroLyrics, since there’s few things worse at song lyrics than song lyrics sites. Song lyrics sites are so bad it’s surprising to think they aren’t a part of iTunes. But still.

Putting aside everything else there’s at least two mistakes in the lyrics for the song they are doing and it’s taking all my willpower not to drive over to MetroLyrics Master Command and berate what I’m guessing is a strip mall’s communal mailbox station. I should probably go lie down a while and twitch.

Why I Am Not A Successful Fiction Writer


So we begin with the Ken Russell’s 1975 documentary Tommy about the pinball cult growing out of Roger Daltrey mostly not looking directly at stuff. The cult was going great with people showing up at pinball holiday camps right up to the point they were expected to play pinball. I agree some of those old electromechanical games were brutal, but the mass riots were overreacting. Not really sure what they were expecting. They were expecting free love, by which “they” I mean “guys” and by which “free love” I mean “women don’t get to say no”.

Thing is, it was a worldwide utopian cult. The movie only shows one getting rioted into oblivion. But they showed the giant world map with light bulbs for all the camps all over the place. That sort of stuff doesn’t die easily. Not if you’ve reached the point you have a giant world map with light bulbs. When you’ve got past where you can do a poster from Staples with push-pins you’ve got too much momentum for one day to bring you down. There’s going to be true believers who aren’t going to be shaken off. They’re going to gather somewhere. So it’ll be in some place just rural enough that they can afford the property taxes, but just urban enough that people who want to join the utopian cult can rest assured if the free love doesn’t work out they can still find a department store.

So we follow one in I’m going to go ahead and say west Michigan. A bunch of dreamers who figured they were gonna take it, and go on having pinball contests for tourists who wonder why it doesn’t look like it did in the movie. “We’re fundraising to build a garish arena,” the guides would say. “We’ve almost got enough to build a shoe.” The tourists look on, wondering why the competition still doesn’t look quite like the movie. “Have you had anything at our snack bar?” the guide tries to direct people. “It’s quite good.” It isn’t, but it’s cheap and what, you’re going to schlep all the way to Ludington for lunch?

Anyway, they would offer “silverball” hoagies. They’re meatballs tinted silver. Well, they’re vegetarian meatballs, made of cracked wheat or something late-70s like that. They do something to so it seems exactly like meat when the right person makes it, and just an exotic substance someone can put in their mouth if they choose to, whenever anyone else makes it. Comes with cheese and, if you also buy a roll of color film, a 15-cent discount. Also, yes, baked beans, but you mark yourself as a total doof if you ask for them.

The color comes from a shocking amount of colloidal silver dosed into the “meat” balls, and eventually results in an investigation by the state into just what they’re doing buying that many boxes of dragees and grinding them up. “We don’t eat them regularly, we just feed them to strangers!” is the embarrassing quote that makes every statewide TV station during the 1985 trial for whatever the heck they were up to. The cult gets vindicated when the jury establishes that no, nobody takes the dragees off a cookie or cake before eating it, why would you do that? But it’s a blow to the cult’s attempts to get out of the “free love” image. Figures.

And there’s schisms, of course, because there always are. Electromechanical versus solid-state, obviously, because the early solid state games are totally different from electromechanical pinball machines in ways that are obvious to someone who’s not a pinball aficionado, what with the solid state games having electronic buzzing noises instead of bells. And then I bet when they got into modern games, with dot-matrix displays and complicated rule sets. Let me explain that to people who aren’t pinball fanatics: these are pinball terms. They mean things.

So I figure this gets to the present day, when the unleashing of the new Star Wars game — a game of such unbridled complexity that the only response to it is to sit down and weep some — the camp decides, yes, they’ve done all they can do. It’s time to close up. The last days of the last utopian pinball cult present scenes of such John McPhee-esque piquancy that they’re not even remotely pleasant to read.

My beta readers described it as “I guess what we were getting in for when we let you know we picked up that Murakami book we never did read” and “shocklingly involved arguments about whether it’s ethical to tilt your own ball away as seen from the perspectives of different decades so I guess that’s a thing?”, so hey, I’m in a good place now!

Me: Self-Image Versus Reality


What I Think I’m Good At What I Am Good At
Pop mathematics writing


Listening to distressed friends without making their anxieties worse


Nursing ill pet animals back to health


Reducto-ad-absurdum chains of humorous reasoning


Providing, when asked, historical context for minor oddities
Telling casual acquaintances on social media how to handle it if they’ve accidentally forgotten they were on call for jury duty this week and are kind of freaking out about this