- 10. Tuesday
- 9. Saturday
- 8. Thursday
- 7. Sunday
- 6. Thursday
- 5. Tuesday
- 4. Tuesday
- 3. Wednesday
- 2. Sunday
- 1. Tuesday
Month: December 2017
Year In Review: Top Ten Compass Directions of 2017
- 10. North-Northeast
- 9. East
- 8. East by South
- 7. South by East 1/4 East
- 6. Southwest by West
- 5. West by South
- 4. Northwest by North
- 3. South-Southwest
- 2. East-Northeast
- 1. South
Year In Review: Top Ten Events Of 2017
10. 14 May. That incredibly good shower right after you got up that didn’t start as anything special but somehow felt like washing way adulthood and the only thing that has to be done was to see how long you could hold a pencil upright in your belly button.
9. 22 June. CRUISE SHIPS.
8. 8 April. Every wedding reception turns out to be at hotels that also have a furry convention booked that weekend. So now there’s tens of thousands of families that have video of Great-Aunt Carol, confused but game, dancing to “Sweet Caroline” with a cat Ghostbuster. Also mom will not let dad wear that pig snout he bought EXCEPT ON HALLOWEEN.
7. 2 November. The tension of the first known alien visit to Earth dissipates when it turns out they just wanted to check out the flea market on Route 35. And then it turned out they were just snagging a bunch of reprint Harvey Comics books. And they lost every chance of claiming superiority when they put scotch tape over the staples on the cover and in the center to somehow make the books “last longer”. So any time you feel bad that, like, they’ve got faster-than-light travel remember that we at least know how to keep a Richie Rich comic book in good condition.
6. Mid-June to Early August. That weird call-and-response song that we never got an agreed-upon name for? That was fantastic, with those lines that had easy-to-learn rules about how to change the verse for the next song around. That was a lot of fun and we’d probably be doing it yet if someone hadn’t discovered the verse-changing rules turned out to be Turing-complete and some cretin set up a scheme so the song turned into bitcoin-mining. So yeah, now if anyone starts singing it we have to slug them and that’s a bummer, but try to remember the time it was just good.
5. 3 October. The phone and the new camera both take the same size mini-USB cable to plug in even though they are two distinct and different things.
4. 16 February. Sure, we all remember this as the day everybody put their right feet on their left legs and vice-versa. But photos of the day show that in fact fewer than one person in five participated in this weird and spontaneous event. Doesn’t matter. Those who joined in made the day an event of pleasant, slight awkwardness and a chance to see the world in a different light. Yes, it inspired over twenty thinkpieces about the arbitrariness of left and right but don’t worry. The people who wrote that were, in their way, participating in the fun too.
3. 22 September. All three contestants spin a dollar in the Showcase Showdown that episode of The Price Is Right, and then two of them spin a dollar in the tiebreaker round. And that after all six contestants won their pricing games. We don’t remember if someone went on to win both showcases but we’re going to remember it that way because it was already just that great.
2. 28 June. This was that day your phone kept making all those strange little noises that didn’t match anything you had on it. It seemed like the phone might be calving off a new app, inspiring thoughts about how maybe your phone would be the birthplace of a something that disrupts a something or other and then investors would flock to you and give you billions of dollars for a widget to make, who knows, something a bit more snoop-y than something previously was. The thoughts are still fun to savor, even since the phone stopped making that noise about 8:30 pm and hasn’t made it since.
1. 6 January. It was supposed to be an ordinary little patch that should have left squirrels immune to clothing. But some errant use of a : instead of a ; deep in the code left everybody’s clothing warping around things, jumping to weird places, growing or shrinking uncontrollably, merging and separating in amoebic blobs with other pieces of clothes, and so on. People were furious for the first hour or so but after that we settled in to embrace the absurdity. And now we’re coming up to what is, somehow, only the first anniversary of “facepants” becoming such a beloved meme. Can 2018 do anything to top that?
And a Christmas Thought I Forgot To Have Like Two Weeks Ago
I really should’ve had this thought the 15th but I lost the slip of paper its inspiration was written on. My love and I went to Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland. It’s a grand, wonderful place. It’s a huge building, the kind you could host a good-sized flea market in, and it’s filled with Christmas decorations (plus some bits for other holidays). If you ever need a variety of guinea pig ornaments this is the place to go. If you ever need to fill a tree with different peacock ornaments, this is the place to go. I’m not saying a large tree filled with unique peacocks. But still, a tree of any size with only peacock ornaments is amazing.
They pass out a little trivia card about how big the place is and how much Christmas it merchandises and how many people it employs and how far away they advertise and everything. (They advertise all over Michigan, including Florida.) Here’s the one that would have been great to think about like two weeks ago:
Movie star John Wayne ordered a Santa suit from Bronner’s by telephone on December 15, 1976.
I don’t fault them clinging to a celebrity encounter from four-plus decades ago; I’m still telling people about that pizza party I attended alongside Don “Father Guido Sarducci” Novello in 1995. And I absolutely love this piece of trivia because the claim is both exact and vague. What were the machinations of Fate which caused John Wayne to wake one day and say, “I’m movie star John Wayne! Today, the 15th of December, 1976, I want a Santa suit! I should phone Bronner’s in Frankenmuth, Michigan, to order one”? I assume this is a direct quote. How could the Hollywood-area costume and holiday shops be out of Santa suits already? Or was he just in Michigan for something, maybe poking around Bay City to see if he had to do anything about it, and realized he was Santa suit-less? Did he know someone at Bronner’s who could get him a discount? If so, how much? So those are the exciting thoughts racing around me and I’m just sorry I didn’t schedule them for the 15th when they would have been kind of timely-ish.
Bronner’s doesn’t give out enough trivia for me, but I don’t blame you for thinking Broner’s gives me too much trivia.
The Twelfth Talkartoon: Up To Mars, thanks to a pantsless Mickey Mouse
This week’s cartoon happens to call out Merry Christmas. And to get a Happy New Year back. That’s the sort of subtle act of timing that’s really beyond my abilities; it just got lucky. But here’s Bimbo’s second cartoon in three weeks, and the second in which he was named as such. From the 20th of November, 1930, and animated by Rudy Zamora and Shamus Culhane: Up To Mars.
So why does this short start in an amusement park? (At least after some striking and neat special effects animation.) Why not, I suppose you could say. Also that it’s somewhere you could just have lots of big firecrackers hanging around. I suspect there’s a deeper reason. It goes back to A Trip To The Moon. I don’t precisely mean Georges Méliès and one of the maybe three silent movies even people who don’t care about silent movies recognize. But that helps. A Trip To The Moon was a ride at the Pan-American Exposition of 1901, in Buffalo, New York, showing exactly that. It was moved to Coney Island to be one of Steeplechase and then Luna Park’s signature rides. And to inspire trip-to-outer-space rides, to the Moon or Mars or other worlds, from there. So a trip to Mars starting at an amusement park might not be just because you gotta get rockets from somewhere. It might be because you could get to Mars from there.
Other planets, in the cartoons, were often wackyland places of reverse-logic and sight gags; see Tex Avery’s 1948 The Cat That Hated People for similar and I’ll admit better sight gags. I haven’t checked what earlier, and particularly silent, cartoons did with other planets. But the placement makes sense; jumping to another planet does give license to get weird and surreal.
It’s the second cartoon where Bimbo gets named. But he gets less distinctive stuff to do than even in last week’s Sky Scraping. I suppose he makes the choice to chase after the strikingly Mickey Mouse-like rodent that had been in his Roman candle. But that’s not a lot of character. And once up on Mars he has even less to do; he’s mostly just watching the shenanigans. Arguably the mouse does more to affect the cartoon. I kept waiting, once Bimbo fell in with the Martian soldiers, for him to be detected and that to become the story. Somehow it never did. He does get a few frustrated moments to snarl and snap at people in a satisfyingly dog-like manner, which is worth something certainly.
This is the second week in a row that the Moon gets punctured. Also the depiction of Saturn as a character with a big hat is one that I believe gets repeated in the October 1932 Betty Boop’s Ups And Downs.
It’s maybe too well-established to count as a blink-and-you-miss-it joke but I laughed when Bimbo tried to light the rocket and sets a cat’s tail on fire instead. The elderly Martian dancing with his detached legs and no body is a good reliable body-horror joke.
Intruding Upon My Good Wishes
I hope that you and yours are enjoying a pleasant, happy moment in what has been the second year in a row that’s going to be written about in books with the subtitle ‘Twelve Months That Changed The World’. And I hope to enjoy it too. But I keep getting caught up thinking: that one house where the Grinch stole the ice cubes out of the Who’s freezer. I mean, stealing the Christmas meal, sure. But ice cubes? That’s not Christmas stuff. That’s event-neutral content. Why pick on the ice cubes. Get your head in the game, Grinch. I can’t believe the quality of thought I’m having lately either. Another one: in The Chipmunks Christmas Song is Alvin in fact a little flat? I can’t tell. But it’d be great if the singer did make sure he was despite the challenge of recording at a ridiculously low pitch and tempo. See? This is what I’m thinking. I blame 2017. Also I’m trying to work out why I gave everybody flat presents this year. I wasn’t planning on it.
What’s Going On In Judge Parker? October – December 2017
Hi, reader interested in figuring out what’s going on in Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker. It’s an exciting ride. It’s also one that’s probably gone off a couple of tracks since I wrote this in late December 2017, if you’re reading it more than a couple months after late December 2017. If I’ve had a more recent story summary it should be at or near the top of this page.
Also, my other blog has reviewed the handful of comics with mathematical themes from last week. I helped it some.
And finally, if you’re interested in having opinions on Mary Worth, the Mary Worth and Me blog has opened voting for the best of the year in various Mary Worth storytelling events. I wouldn’t dare tell you what the greatest floating head of the year that strip was. But I am baffled by the thought that there might be a better storyline than CRUISE SHIPS. Well, each to their own, even when they’re wrong, I suppose.
2 October – 24 December 2017.
I don’t know how many movies I was introduced to by SCTV. Possibly everything that wasn’t a kid’s movie. (Indeed, just last night I caught a moment of The Unholy Rollers and realize I just saw the source for one of SCTV’s Movies of the Week although I can’t place the title just now.) But I was also introduced to a genre by SCTV. They ran a soap opera spoof, The Days Of The Week. It started with a simple premise, the town’s respected surgeon trying to con a widow out of her fortune by setting up a patsy to play her long-lost son. Within a half-dozen sketches they had dozens of conspiracies unfolding at a wedding interrupted by multiple gun-weilding fanatics. And somewhere along the line I realized they had made a ridiculous yet strangely legitimate soap opera. They just chose to make every possible storyline go crazy, and cling to the crazy.
When I last checked in on Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker the strip had just jumped three months ahead. April Parker was in super-duper top-secret jail after being framed for a complicated CIA-based fiasco. Randy Parker’s been united with his daughter Charlotte, through the workings of April’s father Norton. But the craziness and Alan’s secrecy has smashed his relationship with his wife Katherine, and she’s leaving. It had blown up what of the status quo hadn’t been blown up already. It was crazy.
Alan fumbles the last chance of Katherine reconciling with Alan. She sees he’s mining their scenario for his stalled-out novel. Sophie Spencer, recovering from her own kidnapping at the hands of her mother’s long-lost half-sister, buys a replacement guitar. And talks with Neddy, who’s herself recovering from when her ill-conceived clothing factory fell into a sinkhole. And Neddy agrees with Sophie that yeah, she needs to have some focus for her life again. That’s a couple weeks spent working out older stories and setting them basically in order. A not-crazy order.
Then we got to the end of October, and focus on April Parker. She’s spending her three-year prison sentence the way Calvin might spend having to sit in the corner and almost as successfully. She picks fights with her cellmate, her blockmates, the guards, the plumbing, the air, and several imaginary friends. So the early-release plans are off. Randy isn’t able to talk her down and fears she’s going to go crazy.
One night Alan’s pondering how screwed up everything is when Norton breaks in. Norton dismisses Alan’s complaints that his scheming and conspiracies have destroyed his life. And explains that he’s there to reunite the family, for example by breaking April out of her maximum-security federal prison. And flee the country with Randy and Charlotte. And Norton won’t discuss whether there’s any options that don’t involve doing the craziest possible thing.
And this past week the crazy thing happens. Norton kidnaps Alan. His operatives break April out of prison. April breaks in to her and Randy’s house, collects Charlotte, and informs him they’re going to become a family of fugitives. He tries to point out, this is crazy.
So something like sixteen months into his tenture writing Judge Parker Francesco Marciuliano has thoroughly embraced the Days of the Week style plotting. It’s almost seemed like a search for status quos to blow up. And clings to that.
It’s also all been surprisingly funny. The scenarios a little funny, yes, in the way that Doctor Strangelove presents an irresistible argument for a nightmare. But also funny in the writing of daily strips. There’s well-formed, logical punch lines often, and characters keep reaching for them. A woman tells Neddy she heard what happened. “What, that Hank and I broke up or that I fear my life is devoid of all direction, purpose, or even the faintest ember of hope?” Norton tries to allay Alan’s suspicions of something being in the coffee. “Here, I’ll prove I’m not poisoning you … oh … uh-oh … this … this is some expired creamer.” It all happens a good bit. It’s not overwhelming and doesn’t threaten to shift the comic into the serial-comic form of, say, Sally Forth or Funky Winkerbean or Luann. That it’s not every strip, not by far, helps. That it’s playing against such big, breathtaking plotting, helps too. It’s people responding rightly to the craziness around them.
Did Aunt May marry Melvin the Mole Man after all? Who’s this one-armed fellow in Florida that Peter Parker’s hanging out with? Who’s throwing all these alligators around? And why isn’t there more Rocket Raccoon? There’ll be answers to some of this when I get back to Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man. Spoiler: no, somehow, Aunt May did not get married.
Statistics Saturday: Thurls Rated By Christmas Impact
- Thurl Ravenscroft, singer, “You’re A Mean One, Mister Grinch”.
- Thurl Bailey, basketball player, Utah Jazz/Minnesota Timberwolves.
Source: Voyager: Seeking Newer Worlds in the Third Great Age of Discovery, Stephen J Pyne.
(Note: results are different in Thurl Bailey’s social circle.)
Also I’m Still Taking Notes To Figure Out The Plot to _Rudolph And Frosty’s Christmas In July_
So we were watching the Rankin/Bass special Jack Frost, the Christmas special about how the Groundhog got his magic shadow and … uh … yeah, the Rankin/Bass holiday canon drifted in some weird ways. But the thing is at one point they’re talking with Father Winter and that made us think: Father Winter? Surely they mean Old Man Winter? But then I could see an explanation. Maybe they’re separate people. Maybe they’re related. I can see it now. “Old Man Winter? Oh, no, Old Man Winter is my father. Call me Father Winter.” And much merriment ensues as meetings and parcels intended for Old Man Winter go to Father Winter or vice-versa and the two have to deal with the people who are going to the wrong one and Father Winter’s trying to be all folksy and casual and Old Man Winter’s really not any more stiff, he’s just from a generation where you only use casual names with friends and all that. Anyway, I leave this premise free to a needy improv troupe.
Everything Interesting There Is To Say About Christmas Decorating
While we’re still waiting on the upstate returns it sure seems like we’re going to have a Christmas this year. So it’s a good chance to talk about putting up decorations for Christmas like three weeks ago. But who’s had the time? Those who would like to discuss putting up decorations against Christmas may apply for equal time care in care of this station. This will let us see just what sort of care they have been taking of their time. This should be good for a solid laugh all around.
The basic unit of Christmas decoration is the poinsettia. This lovely plant has been cherished for several centuries, a couple decades, a bunch of years, a pair of months, a peculiar number of hours, and a strangely specific number of shillings and pence. They’s cheerful and when viewed from any angle and from a wide range of lighting conditions they appear to be spelled wrong. This allows us to spend much of the Christmas season slightly rearranging any existing poinsettias. In case their spelling ever does look right, the pronunciation looks wrong. If both the spelling and pronunciation are sound, then it’s time for the flowers to fall over.
There is a longstanding tradition of putting lights on trees. This grew out of the tradition of putting candles on trees. This itself grew out of the tradition of putting trees on candles. This tradition came to an end when the fire department started sending out stern letters and disapproving looks. Even so there are some neighborhoods where the fire department has to drive around delivering stern looks and disapproving letters, just in the hope the change-up catches anyone’s attention. In any case the lights are much easier to work with, what with how they can be turned off. You leave the trees on because it’s so hard to get something to exist again once you’ve told it to stop. At the least you get accused of being fickle, and can’t make an honest dispute of it.
Stands of lights grow in the hardware and in the discount department store. They find a natural habitat on what certainly seems like the wrong shelf. You expect them to be set up next to the artificial trees or next to the laser projectors that shine sparkly lights on an unsuspecting house. Instead they’re off in like row 13, between paint supplies and dowels and grommets. In some bigger stores they’re kept next to the grummidges and copper-plated hurk mounts and other wholly imaginary pieces of hardware. It’s a little prank they play.
You can buy new lights every year while cursing the light manufacturers. Or you can keep lights from year to year, taking the old ones out and cursing the light manufacturers over those. This is because any light strand more than three months old has a half that doesn’t work. Fortunately every strand of lights has two fuses embedded in the plug. And it’s easy to change these just by sliding the plastic panel open and then screaming in frustration at the fuses, since they’re in pretty tight and there’s no getting it out without using a needle that you drop on the floor to step on later. Replacing the fuses will not make the lights work. It’s just a way to pass the slow, unhurried times ahead of Christmas.
A good thing to pick up is this tool that extracts Christmas light bulbs. It should also have a button to press to test whether a given light is working. Nothing will ever tell you how to use this button, though. Do you hold the suspect bulb up to the side near the button? The side near the indicator light that flashes? Does the bulb have to be out of the light strand? Can it be left inside? What’s it mean when the indicator light flashes? Or when it stays on? There’s no telling. This all gives you something to do while pondering the futility of existence.
Tinsel is, in truth, no such thing. What we call tinsel is actually an artificial tinsel created by chemists who had pondered the saying “you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear” and so did not. They had hopes that this artificial tinsel would help America in the war effort and it might have had they not done this all over the summer of 1926. Nevertheless, the work is well appreciated by anyone who would like things to look and feel the more stranded.
Once you have your Christmas decorations up, stop putting them up. This is most important as your ceiling isn’t tall enough to keep putting them ever-farther up. Enjoy them while wondering how it is the light strand over the doorway isn’t falling down. Nobody knows.
If You Need 654.5 Cubic Inches of Gil Thorp then Today Is Your Lucky Day
My love and I went to Ann Arbor over the weekend because the University of Michigan Natural History Museum is moving to a new building after this month, and we wanted to see the charmingly old-fashioned diorama labels before they get thrown out in favor of some boring old accurate-to-stuff-we’ve-learned-since-1963 text written in Helvetica. But we also stopped in the Dawn Treader used bookstore because why would you not go to a used bookstore like that? And there we spotted … the 1991 Science Fiction Fan Directory, a list of among other things all the bookstores that have major science fiction sections. So there, in the Dawn Treader bookstore, I found the address listed for the Dawn Treader bookstore. And that I found that funny gives you some idea why I am a humor blogger instead of a successful humor blogger.
Anyway, we also found this on the Comics/Humor shelves.
So yes, that’s eight collections of Gil Thorp comics. Most of them were printed in the mid-2000s, although the Silver Anniversary yearbook on the far left there is dated 1984. It’s a slightly weird set. The books give off many of the signs of being self-published, such as the publisher’s contact information including a comcast.net e-mail address. But not entirely! And the Silver Anniversary book is dated two decades earlier yet looks just about the same, apart from not listing the publisher’s comcast.net e-mail and having a silver rather than white cover. (Trust me on this.) They’re all 8.5-by-11-inch pages, and as you can see, there’s eight books there and it’s got to be at least seven inches thick of reading to get to. That’s why I estimate the volume so.
Obviously Playdown Pandemonium intrigued me because of the promise of explaining what the deal is with “playdowns”. What I learned from skimming it is: the “playdowns” first appeared for the basketball storyline of 1963-64. The introductory text makes it sound like the playdowns are a format for a bunch of teams to get gradually eliminated — played down — to a final two. But that description also matches every playoff format ever, so I’m not enlightened.
Despite the temptation I didn’t buy any of the books, or all of them. But now I have another source of possible bonus content for my Patreon subscribers. We’ll see. Let me know if I have a Patreon.
Oh, also, I had another couple comics with mathematics themes over on the other blog. Thanks.
The Eleventh Talkartoon: Sky Scraping, Where Bimbo Gets A Name
So, something new’s added to the Talkartoon family for this short, released the 1st of November, 1930. Bimbo’s emerged from his prototypical form as this slow-motion screwball character who’s been around five-or-so times. He’s worthy of a name. It’s not given on-screen because of course not. But it’s there in the title card that I assume is the original title card and not a later addition.
There’s a couple cartoon premises that seem to always work for me. One of them is the orchestra, typically playing the Hungarian Rhapsody Number Two. And another is this short’s theme, that of skyscraper-building. My supposition is that the premise gives the cartoon a natural, logical structure. The underlying material is necessarily ordered, so the cartoon can riff on that and have pretty near every joke land. (And one of the all-time best-ever cartoons is Friz Freleng’s “Rhapsody in Rivets”, fusing the two premises.) With skyscraper-building cartoons I think there’s another factor: all those steel girders. That is, to use the setting at all you need to draw these big steel meshes, often in perspective. It’s hard work drawing a plausibly in-construction skyscraper, and I think the knowledge that they put all this work in influences the audience. The dazzling visual can carry a weaker script.
Skyscraper-building would probably always be popular; the idea just boggles the mind to start. The skyscraper races of the late 1920s added fine and ridiculous drama to the construction, and if you haven’t read up about the spire on the Chrysler Building and its secret installation please go look that up now. Thank you. In the early 30s the last spurt of skyscrapers under construction, such as the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center, were much-needed work for thousands of people, and a curious note of not-yet-broken ambition. Great themes to hang art on.
So. Bimbo finally gets a name this cartoon. But he’s not called by name in the cartoon. He’s also barely in the cartoon itself. I suppose we do see him repeatedly, but I’m not sure that he stands out compared to the other workers. Dragging his feet to get to work and tripping over two bricks, working sleepily, but racing home, is fine enough, but it’s not a deep bit of personality.
And it feels odd that Bimbo trips over two bricks but hasn’t got a third punchline. And that there’s two strings of him sleepily laying mortar on bricks but not a third. The so-called Rule of Three is, like many comic rules, better a guideline for not screwing up a premise. But this does feel like punch lines were set up and then unresolved. I’d suspect scenes lost to editing but it’s tough to figure what they would be or why.
There’s suspiciously-Mickey-Mice all over this short. And even a suspiciously-Felix-the-Cat too, at about one minute in, having swallowed a quartet of mice while they passed behind a billboard. Which was almost my moment of weird body horror this short. All the while they passed behind the billboard I was thinking about oh no, they’re going to go there. But somehow the skyscraper reaching up high enough its structure pierces the Moon hit me harder. It’s a solid joke, especially as I didn’t suspect it coming.
A couple years after this short Disney would create the multiplane camera, making it possible to have animated elements moving in foreground, middle-ground, and background. The Fleischers would one-up that by building a multiplane camera that could also use real-world sets, for some live-and-animated scenes that are still dazzling. This short might prototype that, by having the girders and people in the foreground moving while the background’s held fixed. It’s a simple trick, but an effective one: there’s distance here.
A skyscraper-building cartoon has three compelling end points: the work day ends, or the building’s finished, or the building collapses in ruin. (And note how “Rhapsody in Rivets” does it.) This short takes mostly the first ending, fair enough, albeit with a weird coda after Bimbo’s rushed home from work. So, once more, I’m satisfied.
On A Warm Day
I’m not upset that we’re having a couple days of warm weather after getting a half-foot of snow. Warmer weather is fine. It’s not warm enough, but I haven’t felt warm enough since I last lived in Singapore. It helps. It’s just that when it did snow, I was careful to go and shovel the entire sidewalk, its whole width, nice and down to the cement so that multiple people could pass one another safely on a bone-dry, ice-free surface. And now all these other houses on the block, sidewalks cleared by scalawags who just dug a little bit out or maybe let pedestrians tramp down a social trail through the snow, have sidewalks that are just as cleared. How am I supposed to look out the second-floor window and feel smugly superior to everyone around me if everyone else got their weather-clearing work done by more weather? Oh, yeah, also, good that the block is navigable and safe again. But my smugness.
What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? September – December 2017
Thanks for finding me in your search for an explanation of what’s going on in Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp. This is, for me, the middle of December. So if you’re reading this much past December 2017 the story might have resolved and gone on to the next, or even one after that. If it’s far enough past December 2017 there’s, I hope, a more up-to-date description of what’s going on. It should be at or near the top of this page. Good luck.
Also, I review mathematically-themed comic strips of the past week over on my other blog. Thank you.
25 September – 16 December 2017.
My last update came about two weeks into the current Gil Thorp storyline. What we knew back then: Coach Thorp had tested all his players’ brain function so parents will stop asking questions about Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. Rick Soto is a promising offensive linesman with musical talent. His uncle Gary — really Les Moore, taking some time off Funky Winkerbean to see if he can be the most punchable person in two comics at once — hopes to move from his attorney job into being a pushy stage-mother agent for Rick. And since then?
Gary’s pushed his program of getting Rick out of football and into music. His first strategy: concern-trolling. That was a great touchdown, Ricky. “Do your eyes look cloudy? Cloudy eyes can be the first signs of a major problem. You know my wife Dead Lisa died of death. And her eyes were cloudy at some point I’m going to suppose.” That doesn’t get Rick or his mother to think about dropping football.
The football season carries on like like football seasons do. There’s a couple games and the action seems to be football. I admit I’m not a football fan. I’m aware of it and only have the normal moral objections to it. But I grew up in the New York City media market in the 80s, with the Giants and the Jets, so grew up without professional football except for 1986. And I went to Rutgers, which played in the first intercollegiate football game in 1869 and is hoping to someday play in a second game. So I missed a lot of exposure back when I was young enough to learn things. When I watch football what I see is:
- Somebody kicks the ball toward the field goal posts.
- Somebody catches a passed ball and runs, then stops.
- Everybody collides into a huge pile, and then the person with the ball runs straight into the pile as if that should help clear matters up.
After any of these there’s three yellow flags, two red flags, a checkerboard rally flag, and a Klingon insignia tossed on the field. Then everyone has to wait about eight commercials to straighten it out before the next play. It’s all jolly good fun and if you like that, please don’t let my ignorance stop you. I’d like to see if the sport could be played with less brain injuries. Anyway the talk between Coach Thorp and other people about how they’re going to improve their strategy doesn’t mean much to me. I will trust that it’s relevant to football. But I’ll defer to fans about whether it’s sensible to say, “we’re adding pieces of the veer offense. It’s sort of like the read-option, but the running back and the QB go the same way”.
Gary doesn’t understand the football talk either, and points out to Rick that cat videos are popular things and he should try going viral. Rick rolls his eyes and I did not mean that, but you’ll notice I let it stand. And now I’m curious if the whole arc was built out of Rubin or Whigham thinking of those words together and figuring “why not?” Gary suggests Rick sing the National Anthem to Coach Thorp, every ten minutes. And he offers to e-mail the suggestion more often if it’ll make this happen. Coach Thorp digs deep into his reserve of not really caring and decides he doesn’t really care. And even if he did care, he couldn’t have one of his linesmen singing the National Anthem when he’s needed right after that on the … line.
But Gary has a stroke of luck when Dead Lisa phones in a bomb threat to the airport (some December 2010 silliness in that comic). Plus, Rick has a sprained ankle and has to skip a game, so he’s free to sing. Gary arranges a camera crew. They make a video that goes viral among the National-Anthem-before-high-school-football-games crowd, a group I accept exists. Gary seeds the video with the story of how the concussed Rick wanted to sing and had a father posted overseas and all that. Rick’s father isn’t in the Army. He’s a contractor in Dubai, helping the United Arab Emirates build the world’s largest slab of diamond-clad concrete. It’s a prestige project that, when done, will allow them to smother the workers building the world’s largest slab of diamond-clad concrete beneath the world’s largest slab of diamond-clad concrete. Rick’s annoyed, Gary’s proud, and Rick’s mother is a person who exists and has feelings about all this, I would imagine. Rick’s father might, too.
In his next game Rick takes a knee to the helmet, when Gary arranges to have a squad of knees thrown at Rick’s helmet. The team doctor doesn’t see any reason Rick shouldn’t keep playing. But Gary explains how they should cover Rick in a soft, protective layer of foam and bury him in a cube of feathers eight feet across to rush to the hospital. And his new round of concern-trolling does give Rick’s mother reason to doubt this football stuff is a good idea. Rick’s pediatrician says this looks all right. And a concussions expert says Rick’s all right. So Gary has to go back to the closet of Dead Lisa videotapes to see what advice she has about quitting football and being a professional singer.
And that’s where we have gotten: to multiple people in this comic strip about sports issues saying “don’t worry about all those blows to the head”. Part of me is sympathetic: we should act on realistic estimates of risk. To respond to a long time of under-estimating the risk of head injuries with a period of over-estimating the risk does not make things better. But part of me also thinks: there’s a lot of money which would very much like it to be believed football-caused head traumas aren’t so bad. If nevertheless we’ve heard they’re this bad, they’re likely worse. I will accept the author’s intention that Rick’s injuries are routine and unthreatening. And that the medical professionals who’ve cleared him repeatedly are acting according to the best evidence they have. Neal Rubin would know. It’s still a weird tone. The premise of the athlete being pushed out of sports by a noodge of a relative is good enough. I would feel less weird about it if it weren’t about football-caused head injuries. I feel weird that my essay about all this has been so merry, considering.
But that’s where things stand for the middle of December, 2017. The story feels at least a couple weeks away from resolution to me. I’d expect the basketball-season story to start in around a month, unless there’s a major twist coming. And we’ll see; sometimes they happen. The softball-season story took such a major twist last year. These things happen.
Spies! International intrigue! Prison drama! Divorce, kidnapping, and deliberately smashed cell phones! What else could it be but Judge Parker, the most “What” of What’s Going On In comic strips for 16 months running! Francesco Marciuliano’s writing has brought a lot of changes to the strip, but don’t worry. He hasn’t gone so far as to make Mike Manley illustrate any judge work.
Statistics Saturday: Christmas Song Play Counts, 2017
|Song||Played How Much?|
|I’m Getting Nuttin’ For Christmas||Too Much|
|Sleigh Ride (Instrumental)||About The Right Amount|
|The Muppet Twelve Days Of Christmas||Not Enough|
|Christmas Eve In Fairyland||Not Enough [*]|
|I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas||Too Much [**]|
|Sleigh Ride (With Words)||Too Much|
|The Twelve Pains Of Christmas||About The Right Amount|
|The Snow Miser/Heat Miser Song||About The Right Amount/Too Much [***]|
|Every Other Novelty Version Of The Twelve Days Of Christmas Ever||Too Much|
|Chrissy, The Christmas Mouse||Not Enough [****]|
[*] It doesn’t need to be played a lot, but it is under-performing so far.
[**] Without its use in that commercial for whatever it would still be too much, but much less too much.
[***] The Heat Miser side of the song is just so much weaker.
[****] At this point it’s so un-played I’m forced to wonder if I imagined the whole song.
Source: Box Boats: How Container Ships Changed The World, Brian J Cudahy.
What’s Nude on Television
The satellite TV dial is filling with these Christmas music channels, more every day. And we were looking for them and discovered there’s this weird huge block all labelled NUDE. I guess they’re specific nude channels, since the show listings talk about how it’s stuff like “girls kissing 24/7” and my love pointed out how tired their lips have to get. Probably their whole faces get worn out.
But the channels all look like that, and that’s disappointing. Why couldn’t they just be a bunch of regular channels only nude? I’d be interested in, like, Nude Discovery Channel, or Nude Comedy Central. Heck, Nude Animal Planet is like 70 percent of the way to reality. Naked A&E.
Look, I know there’s a killer Nude Channel joke to be made here somewhere. I haven’t found it, but we’ve been scrolling for like 18 hours and we’re not through all the channels we don’t have, because of all those video-on-demand channels each offering Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. The right application for this concept is somewhere.
Things About Violins You Ought To Know
Learning to play the violin is a simple way to bring joy to many people, including violin instructors. It’s not just violin instructors, of course; you also bring joy to violin salesmen, manufacturers, and distributors. That doesn’t even get into the powerful Violin Marketing Board and its renowned publicity arm that each year puts violins under the chins of dozens of schoolchildren who were just yawning. Considering the number of people who’d be made happy by your learning to play the violin refusing to learn makes you sound perfectly antisocial. About the only people you make happier by not learning are the neighbors.
Much folklore says the violin comes from the medieval instrument of the viol, a violin-shaped musical instrument not used anymore. This is a folk entomology, however, a bug-filled derivation which mistakes two things as one on the basis of roughly similar-sounding names and shapes. Do not open the derivation if you’re the least bit squeamish. In the late 1830s, Adolphe Sax, the Belgian-born instrument maker, used a violin-shaped metal template to carve a figure out of a piece of maple wood, opened up a hollow box, and given a neck, bridge, toll both, and frontage road in order to assemble the first violin. While filing for his patent he was heartbroken to discover he was beaten to the work by over two hundred years by Italian musicians. Sax went on to invent the harpsichord, the theramin, the Reuben sandwich, and the photoelectric diode before his friends finally wrestled him to his senses. He put his time more productively into creating the Adolphephone, at which point his family and friends said fine and called it that in front of him. And only then.
The violin is tuned in perfect fifths, so if you see any you should take the chance to tune your instrument immediately, even if you are on the subway. There’s no way of guessing when you’ll see your next perfect fifth. Some wild youths rejecting the wisdom of tradition will accept a marginally flawed fifth or even a pretty good sixth. If you do try this route elder musicians will point at you and snicker during quarter rests. To tune the violin, turn the pegs, which can be found in any music store next to the sheet music for popular tunes of the 1910s clockwise until the instrument sounds clearly out of tune, and then reverse the process by turning the violin over and repeating.
There are several ways to make the violin produce sounds. The most sociable is to simply ask it in a calm, respectful tone. Unfortunately many mass-produced violins are made with few social graces and will respond poorly to such requests. The next technique is to hide a small CD or MP3 player underneath the violin’s body, and press play when your performance is to begin. If you are the lead character in a teen-oriented sitcom this will work for most of the scene, and then fail in a way which forces you to confess in front of many people you wished to impress. It would be less embarrassing to play on your own.
A manually-operated violin, then, can make a sound by the pizzicato method, in which one pizzicatoes the strings in quick, clean motions, or by stroking a bow along a string. It is better form to make strokes perpendicular to the string. With four strings a violin can make four distinct tones easily. To produce a different tone you place a finger in the appropriate spot along one of the strings. If you should find out how, please share the secret with me. I always got stuck while trying. I’m pretty sure I was putting my fingers in the designated and officially correct spaces. The instructor could do this and get a nice clear note, say, B-flat above middle C. I would repeat the motion and get a consoling hug and, somehow, first-chair placement at the fifth grade winter concert (“A Collection of Songs You Don’t Have To Hold Down The String For”). If that doesn’t work you can try sticking to songs which have mostly the same notes played over and over, such as Baudot Code, invented in 1874 by Adolphe Sax, who was recovering from overhearing his friends talking about him by overachieving. You know how instrument makers will get.
In Which I Am Once Again Angry At Inspector Danger’s Crime Quiz
Look, I understand the conventions of the quick little crime-detection puzzle. It’s not like anyone should expect the deductive process of Slylock Fox knowing that it’s possible to drive a car with a flat tire if you’ve put the spare on to secure a conviction. Heck, there’s cases Columbo nailed that I’m pretty sure the District Attorney had to decline because they just wouldn’t hold up in court. But now, here, this week’s Inspector Danger’s Crime Quiz? I’m offended by the logic and I’m annoyed enough I’m ready to go over to Comic Strip Master Command and demand they tell me if they’ve ever had a typed-out deathbed fingering of the murderer because I’m just that annoyed and no I am not reacting inappropriate to this and if you say I am come closer where I can tell you how I’d spit at you if I could stand spitting. Also why do people who murder typewriter-owners never rip the last sheet of paper out? Come on, show some professionalism.
The Tenth Talkartoon: Grand Uproar
The next cartoon would be Swing You Sinners!, but I just reviewed that for Halloween and I don’t think it’s been long enough I’d have different feelings about it now. So here’s the next, instead. From the 3rd of October, 1930: Grand Uproar, animated by Seymore Kneitel and Al Eugster. Kneitel’s already shown up here a bunch that we know of. This is Al Eugster’s first credited appearance. Eugster spent over six decades animating, from silent-era Felix the Cat to Disney’s Snow White to the last years of the Paramount studio, when Shamus Culhane and Ralph Bakshi made it their strange own, and on past the end of theatrical cartoon shorts.
The cartoon felt a little out of place, somehow. After a bunch of Bimbo cartoons in a row he doesn’t appear this time At least unless one of the characters is meant to be him in a modified form. Perhaps one could argue the Gay Caballero is meant to be Bimbo. On the first look at the Senorita I wondered if she might be an off-model Betty Boop, but I don’t think that’s sustainable. She’d need more hair curls over her face, I think. And maybe they just weren’t thinking about Bimbo for this one.
Wikipedia gives the release date of this carton as the 3rd of October, 1930, barely a week and a half after Swing You Sinners! was released. That seems weirdly close to me; no other pair of Talkartoons their first year were released so near one another. It made me wonder if the short was made earlier, perhaps before Bimbo started to crystallize as a character, and got held up any. But it doesn’t look as primitive as, say, Fire Bugs did. I’m curious how the scheduling for the short worked out. It’s probably foolish to read too much into the timing of successive shorts, though. The release dates don’t seem to show any particular pattern. February 1931 has two Talkartoons released in a single week.
There’s no end of suspiciously Mickey Mouse-like characters in it. And I’m not sure I have a candidate for the blink-and-you-miss-it joke. All the clear jokes are made pretty clearly, with about the right focus to appreciate them. There are several Fleischer studios cartoons that feature stage presentations and, for my tastes, they always work. There’s something about putting on stage theatrics with cartoon mechanisms that works for me. But I also couldn’t get enough of the hippopotamus apologizing his way through rows of the audience, so, what do I know?
For all the title promises an “uproar” there’s really not one. The action is all fairly well controlled. Even the climax doesn’t feel like it’s getting out of control. It’s funny enough, I think, and fitting. Just the title promises more chaos than the short delivers. There’s nothing wrong with a cartoon like this that’s just a bunch of jokes in a setting. But that there isn’t a protagonist probably keeps it from being able to build to any particular finale. Possibly the cartoon needed more Bimbo.
I have the impression the early joke about looking at the hippopotamus with all those diamonds is a reference to something, but I don’t know what it is.
A Thought That’s Suddenly Haunting Me As The Christmas Channels Come On And Twin Peaks Ends Its Season
Someone out there is trying to commit an act of filking. They just know “You’re a weird one, David Lynch” is a killer line and they just have to fit the rest of a song around it. I don’t know which friend it is. But I know there’s one. It’s most likely the same one who Christmas around 2002 was trying very hard to fill in the lines before and after “In the meadow we can build a newsman / And pretend that he is Aaron Brown”, without ultimate success.
Also I’m like 40 percent sure I know which friend would tell me those are both awesome ideas now that someone’s had them, and if I don’t go writing the filk around them he will. (He won’t.) (Neither will I.)
It’s just one of those things we have to risk around the holidays like this.
What’s Going On In Rex Morgan, M.D.? September – December 2017
Hi, enthusiast of Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. trying to figure out what’s going on. This is my best effort at catching up what’s happening in the strip as of mid-December 2017. If you’re reading this after around March 2018, barring some surprise, I’ll have some more current essay describing its events. You should be able to get that essay here. And, must say, it looks to me like the strip is transitioning from one story to another. So if you’re reading this in, say, February and don’t know what’s going on, and can’t wait for me, you’ll probably have it all if you just go back to mid-December in the archives and catch up from there.
And if you’re just interested in mathematically-themed comics, I’ve got a week’s summary on my other blog. The mathematics one.
Rex Morgan, M.D.
18 September – 10 December 2017.
I keep remarking how it seems like my story comic summaries coincide with new stories starting in the comics. Some of it’s luck. Some of it’s the ease of confirmation bias. I get to each strip about every 12 weeks. If I’m off by half a month that’s still one chance in three of being “near” the start of a story. Still, last time I checked in on Rex Morgan, M.D. I was like right on the end of a story. June Morgan’s old childhood friend Margie Taylor, dying of plot, had got the Morgans to agree to adopt her child. And she had just vanished, leaving only a pile of problem-clearing paperwork and nice enough kid Johnny in her wake.
Like the week after my last essay the strip went around the horn, touching on some of the major storylines. Wealthy industrialist Milton Avery was shown settling back in his old home in England, no longer recognizing his wife Heather, and unaware that she’s pregnant. The Avery’s house-sitters for their on-panel house are shown to be … nice people that I guess have something going for them. Edward, the kid who tried to bully Sarah during the gas-leak year when she was resident child artist at the municipal art gallery, comes over to show off a dog that’s supposed to be fantastically weird that he can only be shown as a Dick Tracy-style explanatory caption.
And then, come October, we started the real story of the last couple months. It involves the highest form of art according to the people who write comic strips, which is, comic books. Early this year the Morgans helped their friend Buck reconnect with Great 50s Horror Comics artist Hank Harwood. Since then “Horrible” Hank’s gotten some satisfying late-in-life glory from fans who had just supposed he was dead or something, plus a bunch of commissions. But, following an anonymous Internet tip Harwood’s son discovers: somebody’s posting fake Horrible Hank art on auction sites.
Buck, who’s been managing Horrible Hank’s return to the money factory that is commissioned comics art, is horrified. He lodges complaints with the auction site. The counterfeiter responds by saying (a) their stuff is too legit and (b) here’s some news stories about Buck being arrested for art forgery so nyah. Buck is offended by what he calls “doxxing” and files a complaint with the Commissioner of the Internet to get these untrue things removed.
But his certified letter to the Commissioner of the Internet is barely mailed when a major clue steps in. Buck’s getting-quite-serious girlfriend Mindy recognizes the women who spent an hour lingering around her antiques store. It’s Doris, Buck’s abusive ex-wife, who’s supposed to be in jail after this incident where she nail-gunned his head and came after him with a knife. He’s supposed to be under a protection order and get notified when she’s released, but, you know, things happen.
Mindy texts Buck when Doris re-visits the antiques shop. Buck immediately charges into the scene, which goes as well as you could hope for doing the dumb thing. She misses hitting him with a paperweight, runs off, and lets him catch her in her apartment. Her plan: ruin Buck’s reputation as a legitimate comics-art dealer, thereby breaking up his relationship with Mindy, after which she’ll get Buck all to herself. Well, I’ve heard dumber schemes. A disgusted Buck tries to leave, but Doris charges, ineptly, and falls down the steps just after a witness arrives to see the whole thing.
With the crazy ex put back in jail, Buck can look forward to a life as a reputable comics-art dealer. And, with his son’s encouragement, he asks Mindy to marry. She’s happy to. Horrible Hank finally gets to see some of the forgeries. And he recognizes the artist: Rene Belluso. The guy who was giving Sarah art lessons up until Terry Beatty took over the comic and dialed way down the “free stuff for the Morgans” theme.
And besides that Rene Belluso is still out there forging art, that wraps up that storyline, one week ago. This past week was spent delivering the news that Margie Taylor had, indeed died. I intend no guess as to whether that’s starting a new thread about the adoption of Johnny or simply resolving the previous thread. Still, it’s a bunch of successfully deployed soap opera plotting, so, well done.
Viral videos! Micro-managing stage uncles! Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy! No word on the playdowns! It can’t be anything but Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp. Please stop in and see what football players are singing and for what reasons.
Statistics Saturday: 14 Most Popular Words You Can Make With Rotationally Symmetric Letters
Because there’s not really enough of these letters! We should grab some from a language that isn’t using all theirs!
Source: A History of the Kennedy Space Center, Kenneth Lipartito and Orville R Butler.
One Great Trick For Organic Peanut Butter!
So you know how that nice high-quality organic peanut butter tastes great, but if you leave it alone for a couple days it separates into a layer of oil and a lump of clay? And then you have to spend twenty minutes mashing them back together when you just want to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich now that you’re a little hungry and rediscovered what happens if you put regular butter on the jelly side so it’s a PB-and-JB? Well, if you just close the peanut butter lid securely and store the jar upside-down then you’ll find the peanut butter still separates into a layer of oil and a lump of clay. But now the lid will also be all greasy and you’ll leave a smear of stuff on the shelving paper too! And, hey, at least you’ve tried taking positive action about the problem, and isn’t that itself progress?
Still Not That Flated
I’d like to say how getting my tires replaced was a long merry series of silly incidents. But really, it’s been more of 2017. I mean, this year, you know? This morning they broke into The Price Is Right for the breaking news about Al Franken, and the station had to break into that with a news ticker about the Larry Nasser scandal, which is one of those local/state-level scandals that reading about leaves you feeling like you’re on one of the latter days of the flu, where you’re no longer contagious or even all that achy. Mostly you’re just tired of feeling tired and want to stay in a blanket bundle watching The Price Is Right and that’s exactly where the breaking news came in to break you.
So. I figured to go to a tire place that had served my love pretty well over the years. I’d expected it to go well, since I’d already built a reputation as a magician there. They put my love’s snow tires on and off. They could almost fit the four tires that were coming off the car into the Honda Civic’s trunk. But I know the trick to putting all four in. And, my love says, have astounded the people working there who realize, as they try fitting the removed tires back in, that they didn’t pay attention to just how I got all four in.
With the help of the Consumer Reports buying guide that my love’s father gave us for Thanksgiving right before my tire exploded, because my love’s father does things like that, I picked out new tires. And ordered them, which I had to drive down to the tire place to put money down on because … I don’t know. But the next day they called to say the tires were in, and I could get them put on anytime. Great! … I went in and it turned out that while their web site figures my model car takes 17-inch tires, my actual car thinks it takes 18-inch tires, and my car won the fight, three falls to two.
I’d had to drive to their place to put down a deposit on the new tires, and I figured, might as well pay in full. Then had to come back the next day to find the tires were wrong. Also they found my tire pressure warning sensors had corroded to strange lumps of metal-like compounds no good for anything. So they refunded my tire purchase less the cost of replacement sensors. Also less the cost of the loaner tires they put on because I didn’t want to drive on the spare longer than I had to. And because another tire turned out to be maybe dozens of feet away from failing too.
I went back home to look up what tires were recommended in my size and learned the Consumer Reports Buying Guide had never heard of any of them. Picked some new tires anyway and had to go out to the tire place to put my money down on those. Also I appreciate that my credit card company finds nothing suspicious about a bunch of charges and reverse-charges, for ever-more-exotic amounts of money, going on from a place I’ve never had any dealings with before. I guess they’re just glad for the attention? Went back again Tuesday to finally get my tires on, and those seemed to work! Except that the tire pressure sensor was a solid light, interrupted by periods of being a blinky light. According to my owner’s manual, this is a signal for “pull off the road as soon as it is safe to do so, and flee the car, warning all within a 1,000-foot radius before the genetically engineered nanovirus is emitted and converts all nearby matter into locking lug nuts.”. Not what I’m looking for.
So today in the latest round of this they said they could see me at 1pm, which turned out to be more like 3pm, in a quest that ultimately found the new sensors they put in were transmitting on the wrong frequency. Fair enough. I feel a reflexive skepticism toward mass agreement on stuff. If I were part of the tire pressure sensor community I’m sure I would want to see what those other frequencies were all about.
They didn’t charge for fixing this, of course. The guy at the tire place thanked me for coming back. I mean, they’d thank me for coming in anyway. But this was that service-apologetic tone you would get where, like, the Genius Squad at Best Buy admits, “I guess I see how every step in the situation built on the one before but I’ve still don’t understand how setting up an HDTV stereo sound bar resulted in your goldfish being on fire. Would it help if I gave you a discounted copy of The Nut Job 2?”.
The guy from the work bay pulled my car up. He said it was all in good shape now. And he’d left the keys in and the car running because the battery had died and they had to jump-start it, so, better leave it running some.
Thoughts While Pondering The Year Without A Santa Claus, Plus Trains
What if Santa isn’t always cancelling Christmas because he’s kind of a jerk and instead he’s just wracked with the sort of Imposter Syndrome that my whole generation is dealing with all the time? Like, “This mouse wrote something mean in an upstate New York newspaper in September! A competent Santa doesn’t have to deal with issues like that! … And it’s snowing too? Oh I can’t even.”
Which I’ll grant is not all that deep an observation, but the alternative is to fret about the ways the rules of that snowfall magic seem to get tossed willy-nilly about in Frosty’s Winter Wonderland. I mean there’s something about just tossing in a snow-parson into things that seems dangerous. So let me conclude with this observation from Wikipedia’s page on Frost’s Winter Wonderland:
The engine on the train is a 2–4–2 or an American type steam locomotive. Locomotives of this wheel arrangement were used most common during the 1800s on American railroads, and from the 1830s until 1928, were given the name “American” in 1872, because of how they did all the work of every railroad in the United States. These types of engines have eight wheels (two leading wheels, four driving wheels, and two trailing wheels).
This means something. (It means I’m very tired.)
The Eighth Talkartoon: Barnacle Bill; and Betty Boop gets a name (it’s not Betty)
If the Fleischer Studios cartoons have any reputation in the current pop culture it’s “those black-and-white cartoons the animators must have been on drugs when they drew”. They always say this about stuff packed with weirdness and whimsy and more nonsense than is needed. It seems to reflect some need to make alien the mindset that does stuff purely for fun, as though intense play were unfit for the dignity of modern life. And like most reputations it’s overblown. Most of their cartoons are straightforward things with little fillips of weirdness because they had the time to fill.
So here’s one of the cartoons that isn’t an exception. It’s eight minutes of almost nothing but weirdness. This cartoon, originally released the 30th of August, 1930, was animated by Seymour Kneitel and Rudy Zamora, along with — Wikipedia says, anyway — Grim Natwick. And it’s kind of a weird one.
This is listed as a Betty Boop cartoon. It was on the eight-VHS Betty Boop collection I watched so often in the 90s. I imagine anyone with a clear idea who Betty Boop was would list this as one of her cartoons, even though she’s still in that dog-based model abandoned not soon enough. But the cartoon gives her a name, clearly and obviously, in Bimbo’s notebook: she’s Nancy Lee. Apparently “Betty Boop” is a rewrite, the way Tom Cat started out as Jasper. Huh.
Or it’s a character. The cartoon has a — well, plot seems like the wrong word. But it’s doing something. It’s playing out the folk/drinking song “Barnacle Bill the Sailor”. A cleaned-up version was a hit song of 1928 and again 1930. Bimbo, acting consistently with the screwball nature I talked about in Dizzy Dishes, sneaks off his ship. And then gets into character, I suppose, as Barnacle Bill. Perhaps Betty’s just playing the character of Nancy Lee here. It seems a little weird, but in 1935 the Fleischer studios would pretty much remake this as a Popeye cartoon, Beware of Barnacle Bill. And in that one Bluto is certainly “playing” Barnacle Bill.
But that’s plenty of fussing about Betty Boop’s “original” name. There is a lot going on in this cartoon. Nearly every moment is a weird visual gag. I wonder if this is a side effect of tying so much of the cartoon to the song. There’s not a lot to do visually if you stick to the lyrics of any version of the song “Barnacle Bill the Sailor”. One person sings four lines, and the other person sings four lines. If you’re going to make it visually interesting you have to pack in weirdness. So sure, Bimbo knocks on the door with his tail. Or he leaps into the sofa as though it were a pool of water. Or Betty/Nancy’s chairs sneak out of the room and a sofa takes their place. The front door shrinks in horror and hides when Barnacle Bimbo threatens to tear it open. The apartment door swallows him into the room.
Put aside, though, how packed it is with throwaway visual gags. Did you notice the camera angles here? There are all sorts of weird perspective shots. Some of them make sense, shooting Bimbo from far above when he’s talking to Betty on the second floor, or Betty from below when she’s talking to Bimbo down below. Being above Bimbo when he’s walking up or down stairs makes sense. But, for example, the opening scene doesn’t need the boat to be charging at the camera to read cleanly, even to allow the boat (and bird) to sing. They chose to start from a weird perspective. It’s easy to imagine these scenes being framed in boring ways.
Does the short have an ending? Yes, it does, and then it blows right past it. Coming to the end of a round of “Barnacle Bill the Sailor” is the sensible stopping point. Finding that Bimbo’s been hitting on Gus Gorilla’s girlfriend (I suppose?) makes great internal logic. It makes Bimbo out to be a bit of a jerk, but a screwball character tends to be a jerk anyway. And puffing yourself up as Barnacle Bill is choosing to embrace the jerkiness. When they redid this as Beware of Barnacle Bill they cast Bluto as Barnacle Bill, wisely realizing that as the only moral person in his universe Popeye couldn’t take that role. Also I wonder if this doesn’t justify Bimbo fearing Gus Gorilla in Dizzy Dishes. Surely the cartoons were in production simultaneously, at least at some point. Maybe the logic of who did what to who got mixed up. Or, yeah, maybe it’s just that the big hulking character is always the villain and the scrawny little guy is the protagonist.
And yet after this perfectly good ending the short goes on. We get a chase, and a nice ridiculous one. I guess it gets the short up to eight minutes, if that’s what they were going for. It does end with delightful weirdness. But it’s also the sort of strangeness-for-strangeness’s-sake that gets these cartoons their reputation. … Well, all right. A lot of these cartoons are really weird.
There’s some suspicious-looking mice at about 0:53 and 1:25 in the short, all scenes before Bimbo gets off the ship. It’s hard to pick a best blink-and-you-miss-it gag — there’s a lot to feast on — but I’ll nominate the ship walking into harbor and having sneakers on. It’s another odd little touch in a short that’s overflowing with them.
Statistics Monday: What November 2017 Did For My Readership
I apologize for running this so late, but I was dealing with car stuff Friday. I didn’t have the time, or the energy, or enough desire to not crawl into the gap where the old maple tree’s rotted away to curl up to go looking over my statistics. They’re probably close enough now.
Might want to curl up again, though. My readership took a pretty big drop in November. I was below 2,000 page views for the first time in three months, and below 1,900 for the first time since April. It was nearly more dire than that: only 1,805 page views, compared to 2,151 in October and 2,126 in September. I’m curious what if anything explains this. I can’t imagine it’s the story comics rotating into a less-popular phase. November let me update people on the goings-on in Dick Tracy, Mark Trail, and Mary Worth. The first has lasting “did I miss something?” moments, and the other two are maybe the ironic-story-comics-reads now that Apartment 3-G has stopped happening.
The number of unique visitors dropped too, to 1,049. This stays above the nice round number of a thousand, at least, although it’s the smallest monthly total this year. I guess it says good-ish things about the number of views per visitor, although I’m still startled by it.
The number of pages liked was down, but not nearly so much: 165 likes were logged in November. There were 184 in October, but only 142 in September. This is still above the median for the year. The number of comments was up, too, to 35 from October’s 22. It’s close to September’s 38, and this is the third-highest total for the month. I know that’s juiced, though, by people sharing the origins of their blog names after I explained the title around here. I can’t do that every month, unless I start making things up. So now you know what next Monday’s bit is going to be.
The most popular essays have been, as usual, comic strip coverage. Fair enough. None of my long-form pieces were even remotely popular in November. This was a bit startling. They were (nearly) all variations of the same premise, goofy this-day-in-history pieces, and apparently people weren’t having it. Well, I stand by the long tail, and that future generations will find them when looking up “historical events november 24” and wonder what the heck this is before going off somewhere else. And I rake in the page views. As for what was genuinely popular or even remotely wanted now:
- What’s Going On With Judge Parker?
- What’s Going On With Rex Morgan, M.D.?
- Why I Call This ‘Another Blog, Meanwhile’
- Has the comic strip _Momma_ come to an end?
- What Is Going On With Mark Trail?
Those what’s-going-on posts are from the first time I thought to do a summary of recent plot developments in the strips. There’s a paragraph at the top of each to explain that more recent developments are covered at this other link, but I suppose it’s hard to resist the appeal of a subject line that exactly matches what people are asking the search engine. Kind of sorry I can’t just shuttle them right along to the page that’s probably more relevant to what they need to know, though. Maybe I need to retitle story strip posts as I supersede them.
Now for the running of the big list of countries! I make out 68 countries sending me readers, if we accept “European Union” as one. There were 22 single-reader countries in November. And who were they? These:
|Hong Kong SAR China||4|
|Trinidad and Tobago||1 (*)|
|United Arab Emirates||1|
October had 70 countries send me readers, and September 65. So, things are wobbling there. There were 21 single-reader countries in October, down from 24 in September. Again, wobbles.
Bulgaria, Norway, Slovenia, and Trinidad and Tobago were single-reader countries last month too. Colombia’s been a single-reader country four months running now. I think they’re maybe going for Cambodia’s five-month record from this year.
The month started at 66,974 page views, from something like 37,460 unique visitors. If you’d like to be among them, thank you, I’d be glad to see something unique out of you. I’m sorry to be so blunt, but, sheesh, the car thing is still dragging out. I don’t have the energy to be appealing.
What’s Going On In The Phantom (Sundays)? September – December 2017
I’m glad to offer you kind readers an update about what’s going on in The Phantom. There’s two continuities at play in the strip, both written by Tony DePaul. This is an essay about the Sundays-only continuity, drawn by Jeff Weigel. If you’re interested in the weekday strips, or if you’re reading this essay much past December 2017, please look to the essays on this page. The Weekday continuity, and any later essays I’ve written about the Sunday continuity, should be right up top there.
And I also keep reviewing comic strips with mathematical themes on my other blog. I’m glad if you want to read that.
The Phantom (Sundays).
10 September – 3 December 2017.
My last recap of The Phantom Sunday continuity came near the end of the storyline “The Phantom Is Everywhere”. The Phantom Wiki says this was the 185th Sunday story, running the 26 weeks from the 9th of April through the 1st of October. I accept these claims. Also at some point over the storyline the Sunday artist switched from Terry Beatty to Jeff Weigel and I failed to point that out. I apologize to Beatty and Weigel.
The story was mostly wrapped up then, though. Three killers had escaped Jungle Patrol custody. The Phantom, relying on his intelligence network and drummers in the Bandar tribes, managed to capture them all the same night. Also to give them the impression he had captured them simultaneously, burnishing his reputation of being everywhere and timeless. Since my last essay the Jungle Patrol had found the three where the Ghost Who Walks left them. Guran covers up the bit early in the story where he knocks a Jungle Patrol officer unconscious, and reminds the Jungle Patrol about the yet another old jungle saying about how time is nothing to The Phantom. Hawa Aguda and Kay Molloy, women who years ago quit their humdrum jobs and joined the Jungle Patrol with the iconic declaration “I quit! We’re joining the Jungle Patrol!”, wonder if this might have something to do with the mysterious “John X” whom they suspect might be the Unknown Commander of the Jungle Patrol. (He is.)
With the 8th of October began the new story, the 186th, “The Rat Must Die”. The initial setting: Boomsby Prison, Bangalla’s spot for the most dangerous criminals. One is an as-yet-unnamed prisoner who looks like one part Daddy Warbucks, one part the closet monster from the end of The Brain That Wouldn’t Die. The warden laughs at Closet Warbucks’s proposed deal of his freedom in trade for the guy who was supposed to break him out of Boomsby. It’s not clear at this point the guy’s relationship to Closet Warbucks. My thought was he was someone hired to break him out, and who either reneged on the deal or who Closet Warbucks figured to double-cross on the way to getting out. It would be a kind of stupidly overcomplicated plot, but I could rationalize the logic. He’d either break out, or get buy his freedom by spoiling a break-out attempt. And if you’re not coming up with a stupidly overcomplicated plot you’re kind of wasting your superhero’s time.
Closet Warbucks’s attempted deal is the gossip hit of the prison. Pretty soon the guy — his ex-partner-in-crime, it turns out — gets word of the deal. And the prison janitor, another criminal who’s in the last 125 of his 1200-year sentence, send a note to Walker, Box 7, Mawaitaan. He quickly gets back the Consumer Information Catalogue, Pueblo, Colorado, 81009.
The letter brings out The Phantom, impressing me with his ability to separate valuable information from the noisy, messy volume of tips rolling in. The Ghost Who Walks arrives just as the ex-partner’s hit is on. A corrupt guard delivers a knife and opens the cell doors to a guy who smirks more than the whole cast of Funky Winkerbean, if such a thing is possible. The killer sneaks into the cell, draws his knife, and gets clobbered by The Phantom, who’s taken Closet Warbucks’s place on the bunk. The corrupt guard doesn’t fare better.
And there’s the action as of today. I don’t suspect we’re near the end of the story, not just because the last several Sunday-continuity stories have run at least a half-year each. But I’d imagine doing something about the ex-partner-in-crime has to be high on The Phantom’s agenda. No sense getting roused all the way to Boomsby just to foil one assassination of one failed prison snitch. And indeed, The Phantom told Closet Warbucks that he was taking this partner-for-freedom deal. Also maybe we’ll find out why Closet Warbucks wasn’t interested in selling out his partner before the trail began. We’ll see.
If all goes to plan it’s a chance to stop in again on Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. and learn all about how the Morgans are adjusting to life with — er, no, actually, it’s a surprising amount of text about comic-book art forgery and crazy exes and the physical infirmities that we all will endure if we live long enough. Join us, won’t you please?
Statistics Saturday: 30 Most Popular Words You Can Make With Horizontally Symmetric Letters
Because you asked for it! I swear!
Source: Michigan Place Names: The History of the Founding and Naming of More Than Five Thousand Past and Present Michigan Communities, Walter Romig, LHD.
In Which I Am Not Caught Up With My Tires And Stuff
Yeah so the attempt to get new tires went awry because of reasons that are threatening to also turn “buy new tires” into a fiasco. Waiting on results of that. So I don’t have the energy to put out my review of the November readership statistics or anything. Maybe soon. Meanwhile, I’ve come to consider that there was someone or some several ones who first sang the song that never ends and just goes on and on, my friends. The thing is if they said “some people started singing it” then they were being modest or maybe just disingenuous because they knew exactly which people were doing the singing. But fine, all right, maybe they were modest. But they have to have known what the song was. They were right there writing the song. At a minimum they have to have suspected strongly enough that anyone would find them culpable. Please see my enclosed description of the precise theory of the song’s creation timeline, omitted for clarity. Thank you.