The 23rd Talkartoon: The Herring Murder Case


I’ve been trying to watch these cartoons in the order of their release. And that I get from Wikipedia’s page about Talkartoons. Some individual cartoons have their own Wikipedia pages. Many of the earliest don’t, but as the series shifts from “any old thing with a song” to “Bimbo” and finally “Betty Boop Cartoons” fewer entries lack pages. This week’s hasn’t got a page and I’m surprised by that. It’s talked about in Leslie Cabarga’s The Fleischer Story in the Golden Age of Animation, the book on the studio’s history. Not much, but think of all the cartoons that don’t get even that.

Wikipedia does credit this as the first appearance of Bimbo in his “canonical” form. And as the first sound cartoon appearance of Koko the Clown, the character that made the Fleischer Studios and star of extremely many cartoons about him being drawn, getting into a fix, and then being poured back into an inkwell. Would really have thought those two points noteworthy enough for a page to be made. Anyway, the credited animators are Shamus Culhane (then listed as “Jimmie”; when he went into business for himself he took on a more distinctive-to-Americans name) and Al Eugster. Both have already had cartoons in this series before. Originally released the 26th of June, 1931 — more than a month after Silly Scandals — here’s The Herring Murder Case.

Quick content warning: there’s a pansy-voice character and a couple lines approaching (Jewish) ethnic humor. I don’t think they spoil the cartoon (one could even say the ethnic-humor bits are just characterization). But they are there.

So, for the record, the first words spoken aloud by Koko the Clown — at the time, a character a dozen years old and the flagship character of the studio — were “[ stammering gibberish ] my come — come on, the poor — poor herring- herring was sh- sh- shot, oh my, come on, help”. Not an auspicious start. But it is plot-appropriate, for the rare Talkcartoon that has a clear and direct plot.

That friend you have who doesn’t quite like anything however much he likes it has a complaint about Who Framed Roger Rabbit. And, like your friend at his most irritating, he kind of has a point. Toontown looks like a great place. But it has an inauthenticity to it. Actual cartoons of the Golden Age of American Animation weren’t so frantic and busy and packed as the Toontown sequence was. It’s defensible artistically. For one, the daily lives of each Toontown citizen is their life story with themselves as protagonist; that we normally only have to take six minutes of a character at once doesn’t mean the rest of their days aren’t like that. But it does mean there’s much more stuff happening visually than an actual cartoon of around 1947 would have.

Most of the time. Some cartoons do get that dense and packed with weird activity. And here, from 1931, is one that’s like that. Especially right after the Herring’s murder: the scenes of the city are full of everything happening, including buildings come to life and writhing in a panic. And then special effects get in the way. After Koko comes on, in animation I assume is swiped from an older Out of the Inkwell cartoon, he runs through a city street haunted by ghostly cat heads for the reasons. It’s one of a lot of showy bits of animation technique in the cartoon.

Another: Bimbo following footsteps up the stairs. It’s a walk cycle, yes, but it’s one that moves in very slight perspective. It’s well-done, and a bit hypnotic. They’ll do a similar walking cycle on steps in the next cartoon, one with more amazingly done animations. But there are a lot of extreme perspectives and stuff moving in on the camera and tricky camera moves throughout the short. In ranking of animation ability the studios have always been Disney first, and everybody else behind. But the Fleischers were often second, and this is one of those times they were a close second.

Among my favorite cartoon motifs is doing simple stuff in complicated ways. The short offers plenty of that, starting with the gorilla’s shooting a gun that itself shoots out a bird that does the shooting. Koko putting his head through the window twice while trying to lead Bimbo to the crime scene. Koko running ahead of his “shadows” and having to go back to get them. The elevator opening up to a set of stairs.

Did you blink and miss that the level indicator makes two full circuits while getting the stairs down to ground level? That’s my favorite quick little joke. But there’s plenty to choose from, such as the moon being blown along by the heavy winds as Bimbo and Koko get to the house. The secret panel offering Bimbo a short beer is too well-established to be a blink-grade joke. But it gets a little more charge when you remember the short was made in 1931, still during Prohibition.

The female herring gets Mae Questel’s voice this short, so there’s no figure who can at all be credited as a proto-Betty-Boop. A shame, since Betty’s involvement however fleeting would probably have got this cartoon more notice. Its got a clear story, quite a density of jokes, a soundtrack that clearly ties to the action, and even a sensible ending. I like 30s cartoons, especially from the less-than-Disney studios, but recognize that as one of my eccentricities. This is one I don’t think an ordinary person would understand as funny.

There’s another of those mice popping in, one with Happy Feet at about 5:21, and then possibly a different one fleeing the gorilla at about 5:50. I trust that “They shot me! Holy mackerel, is this the end of the Herring?” is an imperfect quoting of Little Caesar, which opened in January of that year and made Warner Brothers all the money in the world. Can’t blame the Fleischer studios for riffing on that.

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Yes


Let me just get all this stuff answered yes:

  1. Yes, I am very aware of the past week’s developments in Mary Worth (21 more panels, 13 with explicit muffin content, bringing the year to a total of 61 muffin panels out of 154 possible) only to interrupt all the wonderful goofy muffin content with actual assault.
  2. Yes, poinsettia that’s still technically going from Christmas is probably in its last days and spending them waiting until it’s quiet in the house so it can drop a shriveled leaf in exactly the way to make the biggest, loudest rustle possible. So yes, our poinsettia is a drama queen is what I’m saying.
  3. Yes, Funky Winkerbean has spent two weeks and counting establishing the fact that Wealthy Comic Book Collector Chester Hagglemore Yes That Is Too His Name wanting to talk with former comic book guy Mopey Pete without saying what he wants to talk about. (I’m guessing it’s Hagglemore Thank You The Theoretical Lead Of The Strip Is Named “Funky Winkerbean” So Let’s Just Carry On And Get Through This Quick As Possible is figuring to restart the whole Batom Comics lineup and he wants Mopey Pete to write them all so we can see all kinds of strips where Mopey Pete can’t finish stuff on deadline.) Also yes, it is a retcon to say Mopey Pete used to write for Batom Comics, since he was previously shown to write for Marvel and then DC. And the strip sure had been running like Batom Comics was a long-gone publisher brought back to memory by one of its properties being made into a movie.
  4. Yes, niacin was first synthesized in the 1860s, decades before anyone even suspected vitamins were a thing and long before anyone would imagine it had any nutritional value. It was used as a photographic chemical under the name “nicotinic acid”.
  5. Yes, that sure seems like it has to have been a new Gasoline Alley this past Sunday but then I don’t understand why it ran now when November is the centennial.
  6. Yes, you’re reading Luann correctly. Tiffany’s scheme to foil Ann Eiffel in Luann doesn’t make a lick of sense and is barely even anything.
  7. Yes, that house across the street still has a little pile of snow in the front yard even though it’s been another four days above freezing.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Sundays)? December 2017 – February 2018? (Walking)


Hi, Sunday readers of Tony DePaul and Dave Weigel’s The Phantom. If you’re not reading this in early 2018 the story might have moved on to the point this plot summary isn’t at all useful. If I have written another essay about the storyline, it should be at or near the top of this page, although the recap of the separate storylines in The Phantom weekdays edition, by Tony DePaul and Mike Manley, might be in the way. Also, Tony DePaul keeps up a blog, which you might find interesting.

I have another blog myself, and it reviews mathematically-themed comic strips at least once and sometimes several times a week. You might like that, too. I do.

The Phantom (Sundays).

3 December 2017 – 25 February 2018.

The last time I checked in on the Sunday continuity of The Phantom, the Ghost Had Walked into Boomsby Prison. An exceedingly confident prisoner had tried to trade information about his ex-partner for a lesser sentence. The warden laughed at him. His ex-partner sent a hit man into the cell. The man was hit by The Phantom.

The Phantom offers to break The Rat out of prison — for the night, at least. To lead him to The Rat’s ex-partner, “a cop killer”. Afterwards he still gets returned to jail, maybe with time off his sentence. The Rat takes the deal, weak as it may be. His reasoning: well, once he’s out of the prison he can stay out. He has delusions of killing The Phantom, but you can’t blame someone new to the strip for imagining that.

(Leading The Rat, blindfolded, through the autopsy room.) The Rat: NOW we're headed down! It's about time! But how do we get out!? [ The way out of Boomsby! The dissection room of a bygone era ... ] Rat: 'Where are we?' Phantom: 'Stand where you are.' Rat: 'Smells like bad, *bad* juju in here .. man, like ... like *real* bad.' Phantom: 'Good nose!' (Manipulating some surgical implements on a panel). Phantom thinks: 'One hook turns left, one turns right ... [ secret passage opens ] ... and we start making our way down again, out of the eaves of Boomsby!'
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 7th of January, 2018. Just did want to call your attention to the level of detail here, down to individual bricks in the far wall, the grain of wood doors, and the spiderwebs in the last panel. The original art has to be staggering to look at. … And because something’s always a little wrong in my thinking, I looked over the jar with the abnormal brain and wondered how long a formaldehyde (or whatever preservative) jar like that would stay full if it wasn’t specifically sealed to be museum-grade airtight but was rather in a jar for still-working purposes. (Also curious about the abandoned skeleton, since my impression is good-quality replica skeletons are surprisingly recent things so one in good shape would be moved to the new autopsy lab. But I may be wrong and there’s no reason to suppose the skeleton is actually still usable. Don’t see a right arm on it for example, and there’s no information about whether the hips and legs are still there.)

The Phantom blindfolds him, and leads The Rat on a long, long walk through the prison. Up the spiral tower. Through the old execution chambers. Into the old dissection room. Through the secret cabinet behind the old surgical tools. Down the tower walls. Past the Abbé Faria’s physiology lesson with Edmond Dantès. Into the sewers, although The Phantom insists “I’m not saying we are in the sewers” as part of his headgames with The Rat. Past Jean Valjean hauling Marius Pontmercy’s body around. And then back up into the Batcave, until they find the tracks of an old mine cart.

The Rat, ripping off his blindfold: 'T-The way out! WHERE is it? SHOW ME!!' Phantom 'Put the blindfold ON or I'll leave you here. No one in the prison will hear your cries as you wander the dark.' [ The way out known only to the Phantom! ] (Walking through the sewers.) Phantom, thinking: 'Men have tried to escape Boomsby through the sewers ... the WATER has to get out! So they follow the water ... to their doo. No one ever thinks to walk AGAINST the flow ... in THIS tunnel ... and ONLY this one!' The Rat: 'W-we're going up again? BACK the way we came!?' [ Phantom leads ... The Rat follows ... ] (The panel shows a cross-section of the ground, and the tunnel down and back up that they're following, with insets showing where past panels took place.)
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 4th of February, 2018. That final panel gave me a nostalgic thrill, and after some thinking I pinned down why. It reminded me of those little “bonus” pages in the back of, like, G.I.Joe comics showing the cross-sectional layout of the Joe’s secret base underneath the motor pool of whatever Army base they were stationed in (they were a secret team, you see, operating covertly in like six enormous subterranean levels that most of the base personnel never even suspected was there). Or, later, when I discovered reprints of Silver-Age crazypants DC Comics and maps of the Bottled City of Kandor or other such wild and delightful fancies. The inset dots particularly amazes me and I’m only sad that this wasn’t a strip I could see sprawled out over a half-page of a true broadsheet newspaper.

So this has not been one of the most plot-dense sequences of The Phantom. It’s been very heavy in atmosphere, and in showing off all sorts of great shadowy corners of the Boomsby Prison. Jeff Weigel has gotten to show off his ability to compose these detailed, deep pictures with a lot of light and shadow and moody color choices, most of them in the purples.

Where we haven’t got is particularly close to The Rat’s ex-partner; heck, we’re barely out of prison. The story began the 8th of October, so it’s now reached twenty weeks. Most Phantom Sunday stories have run about 26 weeks the last several years. The last-but-one story, “The Wiseguy”, did run 41 weeks, although that story of crime syndicate scion Mickey D’Moda and the people who put up with him, just barely, had a couple major phases that kept it from seeming that long. I’m guessing that something like that will be at work this story. It would be a bit odd to spend twelve Sunday strips sneaking out of Boomsby Prison and then deal with the ex-partner in two.

Next Week!

Comics art forgeries! Highly adoptable orphans! Old people peeking in on you at the mall! Estranged family members! And, might Terry Beatty be setting up the craziest of all possible things, Rex Morgan, M.D. doing some medical care of some kind? Well, no, probably not that. But come around next Sunday, if all goes to plan, and we’ll see.

Statistics Saturday: Lansing, Michigan, Rainfall Distribution For February 2018


Because after all the storm news lately I figured people would like some hard data. Or, hard water data, since again, we drink from the aquifer and so our water is up to 14% Petoskey stones.

February 2018 Day Rain Distribution
1 Downward
2 NO DATA
3 Downward
4 Downward
5 Downward
6 Downward
7 Downward
8 Downward
9 Downward
10 Downward
11 Downward
12 Downward
13 NO DATA
14 NO DATA
15 NO DATA
16 NO DATA
17 NO DATA
18 NO DATA
19 Downward
20 Downward
21 Downward
22 Downward
23 Downward
24
25
26
27
28

Source: Explorations in Mathematical Physics: The Concepts Behind an Elegant Language, Don Koks.

“Update” is Not a Calendar Joke but Sounds Like it Should Be


And in what is going to be my very last calendar update until the next one I would just like to say …

Triumph.

The Peanuts 2018 page-a-day calendar, sitting atop my boxes of the 2017 and 2016 calendars too.
This is not where I actually keep my calendars when they’re in service because I also rely on their bulk to keep a couple of mathematics books that I never use standing up.

So what happened is after Amazon cancelled my order on the grounds they didn’t know how to get me the calendar they ordered, I followed the link they provided to the page on Amazon for ordering calendars. And that, through I think the company that sets up those kiosks in the malls from like October through the 26th of December selling calendars, got me this inside a week. Not clear why Amazon couldn’t think of that. But then my understanding is that in the earliest days of the English East India Company, each successive voyage to India was organized as its own venture, and because of the travel times there’d be overlapping periods when one year’s ship hadn’t yet left and the next year’s ship had arrived, and they’d be rivals for trade prospects, sometimes getting so heated that rival trading crews would open fire on one another despite theoretically all working for the same company. I assume Amazon is like this still, and the “ordering calendars” division and the “delivering calendars” division are particularly fierce rivals and routinely launching raids on one another, taking hostages, and holding them for ransom, and between that and the miasma, scurvy, and the Horse Latitudes there’s nobody left who can actually do anything calendar-related.

So anyway I’m glad to have this and to have everything back in order and not have to worry about …

Calendar with Charlie Brown in school talking to Linus: 'My stomach hurts. I think I worry about too many things. The more I worry, the more my stomach hurts ... the more my stomach hurts, the more I worry ... my stomach hates me!'
If they just want the comic to be larger so it’s easier to read, why don’t they just stack the comic strip, which was always four identically-sized panels back then, in two rows of two comics each? And maybe print the stock art of the characters in the lower right corner smaller so there’s still space if someone wants to make a note?

You know, there’s no way the aspect ratio on that comic is right. I know the classic four-panel era of Peanuts and those panels look wrong. But if they cropped the panels then the word balloons wouldn’t fit. Unless they completely rejiggered the word balloons, cutting and pasting text around so that … what, they could make the panels a little bit taller but also completely wrong? But who would do that?

Same comic strip as before, but the panels aren't so tall and narrow, and Charlie Brown's balloons in the second through fourth panels are rearranged to fit in a taller, narrower space.
Charles Schulz’s Peanuts for the 27th of February, 1968, and the 27th of February was the last Tuesday of the month, so why are they printing that as the comic for the last Friday of the month in 2018? February 1968 had the same days of the week through to Leap Day; why are they changing this too? They haven’t had to avoid any Ash Wednesday or Leap Day jokes in Peanuts that year, and the only Easter joke is the one that actually ran on Easter 1968.

Hm.

This is the most baffling comics-related bit of reworking stuff since earlier this week in the Bud Sagendorf Popeye rerun.

It’s Just A State Of Mind


I’m soggy about all this. No, I’m not being apologetic while spelling poorly. I’m surrounded by even more water than usual. You maybe heard about Michigan getting an unusually large shipment of rain in. If you didn’t that’s because you couldn’t hear it over the rain hitting the roof. But from about Monday evening through Wednesday morning we had a lot of rain. And then another lot of rain on top of that. I’m not sure the precise mechanism of this, but as I understand it we had twenty different rainstorms all one on top of the other. The bottommost twelve layers of rainclouds couldn’t add any of their own water. They were busy passing on the rain that was falling on top of them. The storm at the bottom felt bullied, smothered underneath its uncaring but higher-up rainclouds. It started crying and nobody could even tell.

The rainfall gauge at the Capital Region International Airport washed downriver to Grand Ledge. The guy they sent out to replace it forgot he left a sponge in his pocket that morning and it bloated up to the size of a minivan, throwing him completely off his game. I know, some of you are thinking I’m making this up: why would a trained airport person have a sponge in his pocket? Joke’s on you. This is a lifehack for people with posture problems caused by sitting on overstuffed wallets in their back pockets. The sponge balances you out, see? But only if you put it in the other back pocket from your wallet. Still think I’m making this up? Call up and ask the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics about this. Don’t mention my name.

So this was a lot of rain. And it was a lot of rain while it was warm. It was in the 60s (Fahrenheit) before the water washed away the thermometer’s numbers and the concept of temperature. And this was a lot of rain and a lot of water after we’d got in several good-sized snowstorms the previous couple weeks. I mean, most of them were your simple three- and four-inch things, with an eight-inch storm tossed in. It let me shovel and feel all smug about how much better I shovel our sidewalk than certain other people on the block do. I’d stop every night, before going to bed, and admire how our sidewalk was clear and bone dry. So nice to go to bed feeling smug. I’m not joking about this.

Point is between the rain, the snow, and the warmth, they’ve issued a flood watch. Or a flood warning. Whatever it is they issue when they’re putting places under Voluntary Evacuation Orders and publish maps of the city covered in blue. This area of mid-Michigan is, geologically speaking, a marsh with too little self-esteem to get swampy. But drop enough water on top of it and the area will feel more embarrassed by not going along with the flooding. So that’s when you get pictures of people paddling a canoe to the bar off 127.

We’re nowhere near an evacuation zone, if by “nowhere near” you mean “it’s like two blocks to the east, and goes from there to the bar off 127”. I’m hunkering down waiting for them to squeegee our street. We’re on a minor street so I figure it’s going to be a couple days. The sump pump’s been running, not just filling up all normal time with its sump work but reaching out into new avenues of complex- and quaternion-valued time to shove water from the basement out to … the … yard, I guess? Somewhere.

Still, I’m doing my part. Like the Mayor asked, I’m helping out by drinking as much water as possible so the river levels go down. Lansing gets its water from an aquifer. There are three major rivers that converge in the Lansing area — the Red Cedar River, the Other One, and the Grand River — and we drink the water we have to mine. We got a new mayor in last month and it’s hard to catch up on everything you should know in any new job. I didn’t know about the aquifer thing until I was here like four years. So drinking as much as we can is pointless. But the important thing is being part of the process.

Two mounds of snow on the lawn of the house across the street. Also a lot of leaves smothered flat by snow and rain.
I know what you’re thinking, but no. They shovelled their snow. This isn’t an Old Mount Soot situation or “Sootuation” as they call it in the trades. This is just one of those mysteries of the neighborhood.

So now the mystery. We had 36 hours straight of it being in the 50s and 60s while all the rain in the world fell on us. It’s been above freezing all during the day and most of the night since then. Why does the house across the street still have heaps of snow in the yard?

A Couple Of Things Found


So, first, I found that Twitter bot that spoofs that HGTV show about people buying the second house they’re shown. Well, someone else found it and tweeted it where I could see it, but that still counts. An example of its work:

I’m not saying this is going to amuse you endlessly, but poking at it once or twice a week? Sure, that’s good. (“I’m a mongoose engineer” is a solid career move.)

Also I was poking around deep in the Comics Kingdom archives of Bud Sagendorf’s Popeye to try working out why the lettering in the last couple days’ reprints were strange, because that’s the result of many decisions I’ve made in my life. And it’s always dangerous to read a single installment from a story strip because without context anything looks unnecessarily baffling but then how do you respond to this?

Olive, on the dock, with a rope into the water tied to her leg. 'Good heavens!?! It is my sailor's voice!! His ghost is calling me from his watery grave!' (Popeye, from under the pier) 'Blast!! Phooey!! Curse!' Olive: 'Popeye! You're alive!!' Popeye, bruise on his head, poking up: 'No thanks to you! Hittin' a swab wit' an anchor ain't no way to welcome a sailor home from the sea!'
Bud Sagendorf’s Popeye as rerun the 2nd of June, 2008. So I just assumed reading this that Popeye was underwater and Olive Oyl had given up hope because she hadn’t learned anything from forty years of knowing this guy, but no, he was on a raft on the water just below the end of the pier which makes her throwing an anchor off the pier without seeing him all the more baffling.

And the answer is, of course: Popeye is absolutely correct. There shouldn’t be argument about this point.

There’s some more stuff to talk about, but I promised only a “couple” of things so I’ll have to hold off some.

The 22nd Talkartoon: Silly Scandals, My Second Look


I’ve looked at this Talkartoon before. It was part of my sequence of Betty Boop firsts. This is credited as the first cartoon in which Betty Boop is named, and that’s half right. She’s named Betty, at least, which is a step up from what she’s been before. And it’s animated by Grim Natwick, at least according to Wikipedia; the animator goes unnamed by the actual credits. From the 23rd of May, 1931 — two and a half weeks after Twenty Legs Under The Sea — here’s the next Bimbo cartoon, Silly Scandals.

So in 1930 everyone who was capable of making a sound recorded a version of Walter Donaldson’s You’re Driving Me Crazy. I’m up for that. It’s a solid, catchy song about the sense of obsession with a lost love. And the singer avoids sounding terrible about their obsession. I’m surprised it hasn’t been used more in cartoons. But perhaps its use was limited by how the song doesn’t make sense unless there’s a credible target for this obsession in the cartoon. And once you get past Betty Boop there’s a shortage of female cartoon characters who are, at least in-universe, supposed to be sexy. Desirable, perhaps, but someone who could appear on stage with a racy song and not seem at least a bit ridiculous for doing it? Might have to wait for Jessica Rabbit there.

This is listed as one of the early Betty Boop cartoons. There’s good reason to call this Early Betty: she’s nearly reached the canonical character design. She’s got Mae Questel’s voice. She’s doing Betty Boop things: singing and receiving a male’s gaze. She’s not the lead of the cartoon; rather as in Dizzy Dishes, she’s just something that Bimbo stares at for the middle third of the picture. (Also as with Dizzy Dishes, someone else gets her “Boop-oop-a-doop” line.)

But it’s a Bimbo cartoon. He gets some nice business early on trying to sneak into the vaudeville theater. The best business is also the first bizarre visual gag here, his pulling up his own shadow to disguise himself as an umbrella. I like that sort of endlessly-morphing world joke in cartoons. They were more common in silent cartoons, which also tended to be high-contrast black-and-white stuff. Without having to worry about grey value or, worse, actual colors you could turn one shape into another with a minimum of distractions. After sneaking in there’s Betty’s song, and a bunch of standard someone’s-in-the-way-at-the-theater jokes. They’re done well enough, they’re just ordinary. And yeah, there’s a couple iterations of Betty’s dress falling down and revealing her bra. It’s not a very racy joke, but it is the sort of thing they’d never do after the Motion Picture Production Code got serious in 1934.

Bimbo once more ends up helpless and caught in a bizarre, surreal environment. It’s a good story shape. And it lets the cartoon close with a minute of weird body-morphing gags, hands and feet growing to weird shapes. And then 25 seconds of pure special effects, dancing circles and spirograph shapes and all that. It’s the sort of close that unimaginative people are joking about when they say the animators must have been on drugs back then. But it’s also structurally weird. The story has got the structure of “Bimbo transgresses/is caught/is thrown into a wild, surreal punishment” that he’s been through several times already. But the transgression — sneaking into the theater — isn’t one that the magician could have known about. Unless the transgression is just meant to be laughing at the flower trick not going according to plan. But that’s not a lot of transgression; if the magician can’t take someone giggling when a flower sasses him back, he’s in the wrong line of work.

There’s two blink-and-you-miss-it gags. The first, that I like better, is the curtain lifting to reveal two janitors shooting dice and getting the heck off stage fast. The other is just the curtain lifting again to show the tattered, ugly base. There is a solid bit of body horror, in the magician (meant to be the Faintly Mickey Mouse character this cartoon? He hasn’t got the ears but the snout and nose are evocative) terrifying a dog into becoming two strands of sausage links. Creepy stuff.

A Reflection On The Fleeting Nature Of Time


I don’t want to make my readers feel any older than they already do. But sometimes you just have to pause and marvel at how quickly time passes no matter what we do about it. Consider: the last Tyrannosaurus Rex lived closer in time to the J J Abrams Star Trek reboot movie (2009) than to us today (2018). Really gives you pause. Also paws, if a Tyrannosaurus Rex has paws, and is stomping you.

What’s Going On In Mary Worth? And What Are We Going To Do With All These Muffins? November 2017 – February 2018


Do you have no idea why I should be giddy about the concepts of muffins? Yet you’re interested in what the heck the current storyline is in Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth? That might be because it’s not February or maybe March 2018 when you’re reading this, and the story’s moved on. If it has, please check this link. If I’ve written another essay describing the plot since this one, it should be at or near the top of that page.

Also, I review comic strips for their mathematical contest. That’s over on my other blog, and if you’d like to hear about story problems as deconstructed by Flo and Friends please give that a try. I’m pretty sure I didn’t make up Flo and Friends as a comic strip title.

Mary Worth.

27 November 2017 – 18 February 2018.

My last essay on the events in Mary Worth came at an exciting moment. Wilbur Weston, travelling the world to ask survivors of disasters how they felt about not being dead, had found his girlfriend Fabiana in the arms of her “cousin”. He stormed out of the dance studio. I thought it was too early in the storyline for his relationship with her to have collapsed. She’d only been introduced a few weeks before. Right as Wilbur told his on-hiatus girlfriend Iris that he’d met someone else and it was after all Iris’s idea to go on hiatus. Not so, though. He flies back home and shows no sign of ever wishing anything to do with Fabiana ever again.

Wilbur, thinking: 'I broke up with Iris ... but these things are fluid. We can make up. And it'll be like it never happend!' (He calls her.) Iris: 'Hello?' Wilbur: 'Iris, it's Wilbur. You must be surprised to hear from me, but I'm back in Santa Royale! And I have so much to tell you!' Iris: 'Um ... ' Wilbur: 'No, don't say anything! Save it for tonight. I want to take you to dinner! We can catch up and I can explain ... ' Iris: 'Wilbur, I can't! I have other plans ... and his name is Zak!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 10th of December, 2017. Have to say Wilbur is more energetic and outgoing after spending a year on the road than I am after spending a weekend at Holiday World amusement park. But he’s the one raking in those big newspaper-advice-columnist and feature-report paychecks.

Wilbur strolls back into his home life. He calls Iris with all the confidence of a balding, sandwich-based newspaper advice columnist who wears a bathrobe made of the curved fabric of spacetime itself. And he’s shocked to learn that she’s got plans with a guy named Zak that she hooked back up with right after he dumped her. Wilbur takes this well. I mean that he spends a couple weeks crouching in bushes to figure out how much of a rebound this guy is. And just how temporarily Iris will be interested Zak. He’s a young, rich, generically attractive man who owns his own game company and a car and chin stubble that looks like it’s on purpose and not that he’s incompetent at shaving. Wilbur figures to win Iris back, and gets the first step — roses — ready to deploy when he hears Iris and Zak telling each other “love you”. And that convinces him it’s all over.

This takes us to the 1st of January. And something I could not have appreciated at the time. In the midst of cleaning up Wilbur’s emotional mess, Mary Worth points out that she’s made muffins.

I do not think I am the only reader of Mary Worth blindsided by the strip’s turn to muffins. But let me give you this to consider: the 18th of February was the 49th day of the year. Since the 1st of January, 2018, Mary’s Muffins have either been shown or been named in no less than 48 separate panels. That’s not counting panels in which the characters are talking about Mary Worth’s muffins. Or discussing the implications of the fact that these muffins exist in the Worthyverse. This is literally just the panels in which a muffin is shown or the word “muffin” appears in text. And yes, this is in no small part because Mary’s Muffins have somehow transmogrified from an alliterative phrase that sounds like it might be naughty into a plot to rival CRUISE SHIPS. But that’s also with the first several weeks being devoted to getting Wilbur to stop his nonsense about how he’s through with love. Of the 133 panels the strip presented from the new year through to Sunday, more than one in three has focused on muffins. I don’t believe that Karen Moy and June Brigman are creating drinking games for the snark community. But I can’t rule it out either.

Anyway. Plot. Wilbur declares he is through and will live the rest of his life without love. Mary points out that’s ridiculous: he may have lost Iris as a girlfriend. But he still has mayonnaise. And here’s a large pile of muffins that aren’t going to eat themselves. And he’s got a daughter he kind of waved to between coming home from Colombia and creeping on Zak and Iris. Plus, this is the Worthyverse so he will pair-bond with some appropriate heterosexual partner and they will be happy together or else. He takes a bag of muffins to his daughter Dawn. They have a heart-to-heart that’s uncomfortably close to how my every phone call with my mother goes (“How’ve you been?” “Pretty good, and you?” “Good. … Uhm … so … guess I’ll catch you next week?”). He walks through a couple sunrises and figures, hey, he’s not dead. That’s doing pretty good these days.

Dawn: 'While you were gone, I pictured you on the road. And I tried to send you good thoughts through the ethers. I missed you, Dad. I thought a lot about you and your travels.' Wilbur: 'My travels were full of extremes ... high and lows. It's comforting to be home, Dawn. To be stable in a familiar place, with familiar people. I want to start the new year with the right perspective. I saw so much while I was overseas. I realize now ... I'm lucky. I'm blessed. And I'm loved.'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 14th of January, 2018. Did you spot the muffin in this comic strip? Look again! IT’S RIGHT BEHIND YOU!

The 22nd of January the current wonder of a storyline gets going. It includes a panel that does not explicitly feature muffins. It does have clear muffin-related content since it’s got a bag of flower, and a bowl with more flour in it, and a stirring spoon. Jeff’s old friend Ted Miller is in town, and Mary’s happy to treat him to dinner. Ted Miller loves dinner. He loves even more the muffins that Mary serves as appetizer while the rib roast finishes. He’s a former salesman, so he knows ways of the business world, such as how to keep his face open to the exact same wide-eyed smile for days on end.

Ted’s sure that Mary Muffins could become a major success in the bread-adjacent food products line. And that could just be the start of a whole Mary Worth Food Universe of in-principle consumable matter. He plies her with the idea of fame. She’s enchanted by the idea, but in the way any of us are, not enough to do something. He tells her of how she could make a fortune. She’s got dreams of immense wealth, again as we all do, but she’s comfortable as she is. He finally deploys generically positive aphorisms like “Nothing in life is guaranteed! Does that mean we shouldn’t live it?” and “Don’t let fear stop you from doing something great!” and “Don’t be afraid of risk!”. Ted’s found her weak point. She goes to work making test muffins.

Ted, ecstatic over muffins: 'A new BUSINESS VENTURE! 'Mary Muffins are so GOOD, they're a GIFT for your taste buds!'.' Jeff: 'Ted's a former salesman.' Mary: 'I can tell.' Ted: 'YOU can make the muffins! I can handle the marketing! We can BOTH make it RICH!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 26th of January, 2018. Going out on a limb here and guessing that Ted was not invited back to the advertising team’s copy-writing sessions.

By the time that muffins became two-thirds of all the words spoken by all the characters in Mary Worth the ordinary reader had one question. I don’t know what it is. I know the question that the alert, partly-ironic reader had. That was: what’s Ted’s deal, anyway? He mentioned a couple times how Mary Worth would have to put up an investment to get Mary Muffins going. And that she’d really have to do work in making the stuff while he dealt with marketing and “details”. Could it be as simple as Ted Miller scamming a woman who could be flattered into believing the world needs to know how well she bakes?

[ WHEN TED MILLER CALLS MARY ... ] Ted: 'Mary, have you thought about marketing your muffins?' Mary: 'I have! I'm actually baking test batches now! Would you like to come over and join me for some taste tests?' Ted: 'I'M ON MY WAY!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 5th of February, 2018. So the last time I specifically remember making muffins was in home ec in 8th grade, and that mostly because it was as fun as middle school can possibly get to be baking stuff in a little kitchen inside the B Wing. Also that they had wartime-propaganda-style posters warning DON’T OVERMIX – BECAUSE IT CAN’T BE FIXED if you were to make your muffins wrong. As an eighth grader I accepted this was something to warn about, although my father, wise beyond even my years, asked what exactly was the big deal about over-mixed muffin batter. The poster suggested it would cause the tops of the muffins to be more conical than the show breed ideal. I … guess that’s it? Anyway, flash forward to today and I don’t make anything more complicated than Noodle-Roni, except I slice up some Morning Star Farms vegetarian sausages and toss them in to make it as exciting as butter noodles can be.

Possibly. It seems a bit odd to have an old friend of Jeff’s turn out to be a scam artist. But the strip had Jeff back down on how well he did know Ted, saying (on the 17th of February) that he knew him “casually, a long time ago”. And also this past week we’ve had Ted declare how he and Mary Worth will be a great team, and go in for a hug that he doesn’t go out of for several days of strip action. Not until Mary warns she’s got an appointment and shoves him into the linen closet. Is it possible he’s a masher?

Could be. I admit I am not sure what Ted’s deal is. A confidence scam based on Mary Worth’s cooking abilities would be a believable development. Let’s remember that she introduced the comics snark community to salmon squares. I remember them as a plate of material the color of a Macintosh Performa 6115. She also did innovative work with shrimp scampi. The strip’s had confidence men pulling scams before, although not on Mary so far as I know. An attempt by Ted to flatter his way into a personal relationship would also fit. Jeff mentioned on the 17th that Ted was divorced. And, heck, a dozen years ago the strip even sustained a stalker plot, the famous Aldo Keldrast story. The Comics Curmudgeon made his name in the snark community covering that one. Could be a story like that coming around again. Or maybe it’ll be something more bizarre yet. I refuse to make a guess about whether Mary Muffins will turn into the next great baffling food thing or whether they’ll be forgotten as the Ted plot unfolds. Also I refuse to guess whether we’re ever given any hint what kind of product Ted ever sold. If you’d like to guess, please, leave a comment and we’ll see if we can make the text support any or all of them!

Dubiously Sourced Quotes of Mary Worth Sunday Panels!

The message: EXPERIENCED OIL CHANGE OR C TECH NEEDED.
The car care place down the street has shifted from that dubiously sourced Jimi Hendrix quote over to this message, which is more cryptic but which I have no particular reason to doubt.
  • “Life is full of surprises.” — John Major, 26 November 2017.
  • “You’ve got to learn to leave the table when love’s no longer being served” — Nina Simone, 3 December 2017.
  • “Above all, don’t lie to yourself” — Fyodor Dostoyevskky [sic], 10 December 2017.
  • “Love has reasons which reason cannot understand” — Blaise Pascal, 17 December 2017.
  • “No one wants advice — only corroboration.” — John Steinbeck, 24 December 2017.
  • “Love is the only gold.” — Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 31 December 2017.
  • “Gratitude is riches. Complaint is poverty.” — Doris Day, 6 January 2018.
  • “The best thing to hold onto in life is each other.” — Audrey Hepburn, 13 January 2018.
  • “Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the Earth are never alone or weary of life.” — Rachel Carson, 21 January 2018.
  • “You begin with the possibilities of the material.” — Robert Rauschenberg, 28 January 2018.
  • “Your big opportunity may be right where you are now.” — Napoleon Hill, 4 February 2018.
  • “The risk of a wrong decision is preferable to the terror of indecision.” — Maimonides, 11 February 2018.
  • “Enthusiasm is everything” — Pele, 18 February 2018.

Next Week!

I get to practically relax and take it easy. I have three months of Sunday strip continuity to catch up on, as we’re set to revisit Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom, Sunday strips. Does the Rat get out of jail? Does he get put back in jail? Is The Phantom just screwing with everybody? Come back and find out, or, actually, you could read the comic yourself at least as easily. But I’ll put it together in like a thousand words, there’s that.

Statistics Saturday: Some Cities Which Have Not Hosted The Winter Olympics


  • London [except for figure staking at the 1908 Games]
  • Stockholm
  • Kuala Lumpur
  • Miami
  • Christiania, Norway
  • Toontown
  • Singapore
  • Onion Valley, California
  • Gotham City probably but who can really keep track
  • Glarus, Switzerland

Source: Big Cotton: How a Humble Fiber Created Fortunes, Wrecked Civilizations, and Put America on the Map, Stephen Yafa.

The Toontown one is a particular shame since their application was so strong. It’s just that when the International Olympic Committee members turned the last page of the last binder of Toontown’s proposal these giant creme pies on springs popped out and smacked them in the face. And the Salt Lake City proposal’s binders did the same thing, but their pies were filled with cash money and Mitt Romney reminded the IOC that they could get all kinds of pies with that much money, and then he bought them even more pies, and so Salt Lake got the 2002 games.

My Excuse For The Year, Apparently


So Amazon finally remembered that I ordered a Peanuts page-a-day calendar from them a month ago. And after thinking it over plenty they decided to cancel the order on the grounds that they couldn’t find a copy to send me.

But their e-mail wasn’t a complete pit of Funky Winkerbean-esque hopeless despair. They suggested that it might just be available yet, if I wanted to try ordering it on Amazon. For example, they figure there’s calendars on hand here:

The Peanuts 2018 Day-to-Day Calendar that Amazon couldn't get me because of the lack of availability. It lists 14 new from $7.65, and lists them as In Stock.
Yes, yes, I could get a wall calendar that shows the whole month at a time. But I had a moment of doubt about how they work and now I don’t dare approach them again. I mean, “I don’t remember what day it is. What if someone showed me a list of 31 days it could possibly be? Oh yes, now I’ve got it!” What’s going on there? Also, why isn’t this an app/e-Book you can just download and look at on the computer?

At this point I’m torn between actually trying to order a calendar or just taking 2007 out of storage and working with that again. But, you know, Amazon’s got this list of sellers on Amazon that they figure I can negotiate with that they can’t, what with their just being Amazon or whatever their issue is. I don’t know.

Still no idea what those used calendars were used for.

The Conference Call


The call is scheduled for 2:00 Friday. PM, the office manager sent out a follow-up e-mail about, as though AM were up for discussion. It’s the same joke sent out every time. But we must respect the rituals of the Conference Call. To leap in without the assurance that everyone was not getting together at 2:00 AM would be unthinkable. And it would bring about the ambiguity about whether they meant the 2:00 AM reached by staying up late on Thursday or staying up late on Friday.

The subject is the M’Gregor Project. The M’Gregor Project has been going on for so long and gotten discussed so well that it has achieved organizational Nirvana. There is no task on it, however minor, which can be completed by any known means. The attempt to establish how to complete any part of any task on it results in the task splitting, like a free neutron, into three smaller tasks and administrative neutrinos. And yet these smaller tasks are no more completable. And yet call for as much discussion. It is not that anyone is avoiding work. They put reasonable, responsible efforts into their tasks. It’s just that everyone needs something someone else does before they can finish, and there is nothing that can be finished first.

Thus the need to set a careful agenda. There should be time to review outstanding tasks. This is all of them. There will not be time to review outstanding tasks. The group will get through about ten minutes of this and then ask whether there’s anyone falling behind. Everyone feels themselves falling behind. Even without trying to subdivide tasks two or three new ones have appeared to everyone. Tasks are like feral kittens scratching at the break room door. After consideration most everyone accepts these newly subdivided tasks. They set them up in the least-used corner of their workspace with a small bowl of kibble and bedding made of shredded printer instructions. There is special time given to the person who’s found five new tasks. Two of them are given away to people who think they could whip that out Monday. Monday’s when the printer is set to explode, but that isn’t on the agenda and so is not considered.

There is no one at the company who remembers the M’Gregor Project’s start. There is no one at the company who will be there when it ends. There is no one at the company who can explain why it’s not MacGregor. There is no one at the company who can convince those separatists that it should not have been McGregor. All agree there is some benefit to the company if the M’Gregor Project should be completed. Something, surely. But to just make some clear progress before the end of the quarter would be good too.

Nothing is completed. Nothing could be completed. There is something. There is the possibility of reorganizing tasks into new categories. This is more than trading tasks that haven’t got finished. This would be the chance for everyone to think carefully about what they’re good at. To think of what they feel engaged in doing. To think of which of their assigned tasks are too boring to even let fail. A chance to own up to it, to show what one accepts one will never do, and give them up to people who still think themselves ready. To set about such a reorganization is work. A large number of people have to devote themselves to rationalizing their projects. This is a major task. A great many people would like to have done it.

The Conference Call is a chance to share anxious anticipation of explaining why your task is not finished, or fear of getting a new task. In this way do the participants reassure one another that they are part of the group. That they are some of the many, many people who have been involved in the M’Gregor Project. It is the socially acceptable substitute for our instinctive desire to groom one another’s fur for lice and tics. And this, of course, is why the thing is done.

We’re ready for you to join on line two.

My Excuse For Today, Which Is A Different Day


Again I’m sorry, and I should know better, and I think on some level I do kind of know better. But I’m just all upset about this week’s Inspector Danger’s Crime Quiz because once again Werner Wejp-Olsen has come up with a minute bit of crime detection that I just can’t buy and this is far more important than everything else on my plate right now, including whether I actually finish a project for work. And at the risk of bringing the productivity of all of you to a screeching, crashing halt, I want you to see the strip and agree with me strongly that this is just daft.

Danger: 'For more than two weeks The Strangler has been terrorizing this area and ... ' Bystander: 'STOP! ... Somebody has been mugged!' Danger: 'The Strangler has struck again!' Female victim: 'H-He tried to strangle me from behind with a belt --- my purse is gone!' Bystander: 'Outrageous, that's what it is!' Danger: 'Relax, buddy, this Strangler is behind bars before sunset!' Bystander: 'Ha! That remains to be seen!' (Back in the car.) Danger: 'She didn't mange to get a look at The Strangler. Let's circle around, Alfie, so ...' Male Victim: 'OH-oh!' Danger: 'The Strangler has struck again with a few minutes!' Male Victim: 'My money!' Bystander: 'Ha! The police have failed again!' Danger: 'I promised that The Strangler would be behind bars before sunset.' (Points snub-nosed revolver at Bystander.) 'I always keep my promises! Mr Strangler --- you're under arrest!' ANSWER: Using his belt to strangle his victims the different positions of the buckle [ it's been reversed ] before and after the second mugging gave The Strangler away.
Werner Wejp-Olsen’s Inspector Danger’s Crime Quiz for the 12th of February, 2018. Watch, in five months Wejp-Olsen’s going to rerun this strip, only it’s going to turn out the guy is innocent because the second appearance is by the guy’s identical-except-for-being-lefthanded twin, trying to frame him, and somehow being lefthanded makes you put belts on the wrong way around. Which I’ve never noticed someone doing, but would be willing to accept as a thing that a human being might possibly do under some circumstance, unlike this.

And I’m sorry, no, I will not accept that somebody just happens to put his belt on the wrong way. No. That is not how belts work. I may have many legitimate questions about how belts can work, but this is not one that is in dispute. OK, they’re not legitimate questions I have; they’re more one little bit of nonsense that you could confuse a child with but not someone who’s looked at his or her pants.

(OK, here. Friction can’t make something cling vertically. But if someone’s standing up, their pants are clinging vertically to their body. And I majored in physics as an undergraduate and nobody addressed this nonsense contradiction, which is at least as big as the how-can-bumblebees-fly nonsense.)

In short, I do not see how anyone can be expected to get anything done when the comics are sharing lies about pants.

The 21st Talkartoon: Twenty Legs Under The Sea (there’s more; I counted)


There’s a new animator credited in today’s Talkartoon. Willard Bowsky’s turned up repeatedly here, including in Wise Flies and Swing You Sinners!. The new name is Tom Bonfiglio. He’d do a couple more Talkartoons and then, if I’m reading this right, jump over to Disney studios. After that I have a looser sense of what’s happened to him. At some point he changed his name to Thomas Goodson. I can find one biography of Joe Barbera suggesting Goodson worked at Van Buren Studios in the mid-30s. And I can find another biography suggesting Goodson was working in educational films in the 1960s. That’s not much, I admit. It’s what I have.

So here, from the 5th of May, 1931 — just a week and a half after The Male Man — is the next Talkartoon in the series, Twenty Legs Under The Sea.

There’ve been a lot of underwater scenes in animation. They’ve always been hard to do. There’s great freedom in characters not having to stick to the ground. But it’s also hard to convey the resistance water offers to movement. And there’s the convention of putting a wavy-motion visual effect over everything, even if a real camera wouldn’t see anything like that. I think it took until Finding Nemo for a cartoon not to use that convention.

This is another cartoon where Bimbo’s pulled into a surreal landscape. He isn’t quite simply minding his business. If he’s going fishing, it’s fair that the fish respond. Even in Swing You Sinners Bimbo did something to earn his torments. But it supports my idea that the animators knew they had a reliable story here. The good part of these Bimbo-in-surreal-landscape cartoons is they give lots of space for weird gags, and the Fleischer Studios were really into weird gags. The bad part is that it wipes out Bimbo as a character. If he’s too screwy a character then he’s not inconvenienced by being in a screwy setting. A strong character in a crazy setting can work, because Duck Amuck, but Bimbo’s no 50s Daffy. He’s not got enough to do to stand up to the setting.

Also this isn’t so wild and surreal a cartoon, really. It starts off promising: Bimbo trying to fish, having a few little weird incidents, and then getting pulled undersea by a giant fish/whale who’d asked for help putting the hook in his mouth. He gets a shave from a lobster barber, and then … is … the King of the undersea world suddenly? Some more songs and then he leads his people to their death. It’s a punch line reminiscent of the grimness of The Cow’s Husband although after many fewer gags.

It’s weird that what we see underwater is a barber and then a throne room. My understanding is that in the silent era shorts were plotted by giving a lead animator the theme and letting them do what seems amusing. I’m not sure how much that was still going on in this era; making the cartoon match with a soundtrack loosens how much the people drawing it can improvise. Bimbo puttering around a town where everything’s normal but it’s done by sea creatures makes sense as a cartoon. Bimbo finding himself somehow king of a weird place makes sense as a cartoon. Shifting between them without obvious reason doesn’t make sense, and in the bad ways. I wonder if one scene was animated by Bowsky and the other by Bonfiglio/Goodson. I also wonder if some connective tissue was lost, or just never animated. The short comes in at 5:52. The last couple weeks have been just over six minutes, and, for example, The Cow’s Husband is seven and a half minutes long. Even ten seconds can be a lot of plot.

There is a lot of music. After the lack of any really featured cartoon last week there’s an abundance now. Anchors Aweigh, My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean with some good bits of a whale and the Sun fighting it out, a bit of doggerel that I guess you’d call We’re Going Over To Maggie’s (which I can’t find information about, so I guess it’s original to the short? Or a now-forgotten folk song, maybe), what I guess is an original piece about We Are The King’s Bodyguards. The last has a riff that sounds to me like Merrily We Roll Along, which was a then-very-new song. (And isn’t it weird to think that song was ever new?)

There’s no mice. Where would they even fit in? (Easily: just put a couple in the boat.) There is a really solid body-horror gag as a pair of fish swim ahead of their own bodies, so their faces and skeletons can eat tiny turtles about 4:25. (Yes, their skeletons swim ahead with their faces. It’s a little hard to make out with the contrast as it is here. Watch as they emerge from their bodies and as their bodies catch up.) The sun trying to bite at the whale/giant fish is a nice touch of weirdness. And I would rate as a blink-and-you-miss-it joke how Bimbo’s lighter doesn’t work when he’s in the boat (he has to do a nicely complicated bit of lighting a candle), but works perfectly when he’s underwater.

I can’t call this a good cartoon. It’s an amiable one, and I’m not sure that We’re Going Over To Maggie’s isn’t going to become part of the soundtrack of my puttering-around-in-life. But there isn’t a story, just a string of set-pieces. And the set-pieces are all nice enough, but not all that exciting or funny or weird. There’s some stronger ones coming.

My Excuse For Today


Yeah, I’m sorry I’m not keeping up with like anything that I ought to be. But I’m very busy workshopping a joke where the punch line is “and that one sentence completely changed everything I ever thought about Heraclitus!” That I’m having trouble figuring out how to frame it is definitely not because it’s too minor a jest to use as anything but an offhand remark in a professional setting. I know there’s some setup that’ll make it a killer joke when I’m just chatting with, say, the guy at Penn Station subs taking my order for a grilled artichoke and mushroom. It’s out there somewhere. I know I’m in fighting form to get this joke worked out. Just yesterday I was able to deliver “Oh, no, that’s Tiamat of Samos you’re thinking of. This is Tiamat of Ephesus”. That’s a great joke about the pre-Socratic philosophers plus dragons marred only by how I couldn’t think of Ephesus right away and had to say “that other place”. But that’s still the level I’m working at and that’s why I know it’s going to be worth it getting this Heraclitus setup figured out. Oh, Miletus would also have worked there. Thank you. Also Philosophers and Dragons should be a thing so I’ll thank somebody to work on that now. I’m busy with my project.

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? From November 2017 to February 2018? Did He Scream A Lot?


Greetings, nature fans. I thank you for coming here in search of a quick explanation of the current plot in James Allen’s Mark Trail. If it’s later than about April 2018 when you read this, the essay might be hopelessly out of date. But if all goes well I’ll have a follow-up essay, maybe several. You should be able to find them at or near the top of this page. And if you’re interested just in what was going on in Mark Trail in the winter of 2017-18, please read on.

My latest review of mathematically-themed comic strips is over on my other blog, the mathematics one.

Also I apologize for the short notice, but I only discovered it myself earlier today. TCM, United States feed, is showing Skippy, the 1931 movie about Percy Crosby’s classic and influential comic strip, at 2:30 am Sunday night/Monday morning (Eastern Time) the 11th/12th. I’d mentioned this last time they ran it, early last year. But I haven’t seen the movie yet as our TV died shortly after recording and we had to get a new DVR and, look, somehow it got all complicated, okay? They’re also showing Jacques Tati’s Mon Oncle on Tuesday the 13th, at 10 pm Eastern Time. Jacques Tati films will not be to everyone’s taste. But if you can sit and watch it, without distraction, you may just discover one of the most wonderful things the 20th century has to offer.

Mark Trail.

21 November 2017 – 10 February 2018

The Bank Robber was disarmed. His Accomplice surrendered to Johnny Lone Elk. Light-aircraft pilot Alan Parker was in custody. Things were looking good for Mark Trail last time we checked in. They had one problem left. It’s side effects of that time Mark Trail declared at the top of Mount Olympus how he was so much more awesome than the whole Greek pantheon.

The Sheriff advises getting into the bank. It’s only technically speaking on fire. But it’s also got tunnels that he and Johnny Lone Elk had used to get back into the plot. Everyone has to get in, not quite far enough to encounter Samson the grizzly bear. Zeus curses his lack of foresight. He’s still feuding with Hades and can’t get to them from underground, and asking Artemis to send out the bears is right out this year. With the Sheriff mentioning he’s out of the candy bars that pacify Samson the Grizzly the story ends. I call it for the 28th of November, pretty near ten months after the story began (about the 24th of February).

With the 29th, more or less, starts the new story. There’s an epilogue on the Bank Robber story two weeks later. It establishes that Mark wants to go home and not count the prairie dogs of Rapid City, South Dakota. Indeed, he never even sees a prairie dog, a pity because I hear prairie dogs are making a comeback. The Bank Robber and his Accomplice never get named that I saw.

Chris Dirty, thinking as he reads the paper: 'Man! What is with the sad headlines today?' Headline: 'World's Oldest Clown, The Great Wilhelm, set to retire - Hasn't spoken a word in 65 years!' Dirty, thinking: 'I remember his act --- he never said anything, he just screamed a lot!' King Tut: 'Come in, Mister Dyer --- it's good to see you again! Although you look a little worse for wear!
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 5th of December, 2018. This is, I confess, not one of the load-bearing strips for this plot. But, oh man, that second panel was Christmas come early for loyal readers of Mark Trail. I don’t know if James Allen was aiming to go viral in the comics-snark community but, you know what? I’ve rarely had a sentence bring me so much joy so automatically since Earl Camembert admitted Floyd Robertson had “really caught me off-guard with that fast-breaking Zontar story” so good on James Allen for writing it.

The new story starts by following Chris “Dirty” Dyer. He was shown coming back from Africa early in 2017, immediately before the Bank Robber story started. (He’d been part of at least one story before, in 2014. If there’s a Mark Trail wikia with full summaries of earlier stories and character histories and such I don’t know it. But the Comics Curmudgeon reports on this are likely good enough.) Dirty reads about the circus closing on his way to a meeting with Batman ’66 villain King Tut. Dirty’s figuring to fence some African diamonds. King Tut will only offer five thousand and a recommendation to go on vacation. He takes the advice, and his Crocodile Dundee knife, and the chance to stab (off-panel) King Tut. Chris Dirty then passes out of our storyline, apart from some talk about how he’s got to get in shape to take on Mark Trail.

King Tut: 'My, my my ... where did you find those [ diamonds ]? Just lying about Africa, I suppose?' Dirty: 'Don't ask --- don't tell!' King Tut: 'That has always been my policy!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 8th of December, 2017. … Wait, what?

Back to the peaceful idyll of the Lost Forest, where Andy the dog is harassing a peaceful raccoon trying to feed her kids. We see Rusty Trail, taking a well-earned break from taunting players of the FunHouse pinball game. Also we see a truly bizarre scene: Rusty gathering apples because “apple slices will be delicious on pancakes”. I assume this is James Allen slipping a message past the bank robber holding him hostage. Also Rusty sees a giraffe and her child. He rushes back to his parents who can’t believe his story. Apple slices on pancakes? Maybe this is me. I thought bananas on pancakes were IHOP bluffing and it turns out they’re pretty good.

Rusty Trail, watching a giraffe eat his pail of apples: 'My apples!' He reaches out and pets the giraffe's head. The giraffe eats up and drops an apple.
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 11th of January, 2018. This actually is a load-bearing scene from the story, since Rusty grabs the apple slice that the giraffe drops and uses it to try convincing Mark that there’s something funny going on here.

Mark and Cherry also don’t believe in the giraffe, and bring up that time Rusty daydreamed about dinosaurs. Still, strange things are happening. Doc, sitting on the porch, sees a monkey dressed for organ-grinding duty and riding an ostrich. Nearby, Shannon and Kathy, who as far as I know are original bit players to this story, are camping. At least until a rhinoceros rampages at them, grabs their tent, and runs into the lake. ([Edited to add because I didn’t notice this in today’s strip at first] The Sunday panel for the 11th of February, about sea turtles, sends “special thanks to Shannon and Kathy Davidson” for unspecified services. Going to go out on a limb here and suppose that part of the thanking is having them get chased down by a rhino. I had the plot summary written up before that strip was published.) There the rhino terrifies a guy out fishing until he decides that actually some days fishing are not better than all days working. (And I’m sorry to murder the joke this way. It’s done over the course of three days and pretty funny done so.) And that’s the current action.

Capuchin(?) monkey in bandleader outfit: 'SCRAAAW!' Ostrich: 'SKREE!' They ride off. Doc thinks: 'Is there something in this coffee!?'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 20th of January, 2018. This is what it’s like to have something really blow up on Furry Twitter, by the way, so plan your popular statements accordingly.

This also highlights how James Allen has gotten the storytelling in the strip to be more sophisticated. And without shifting its tone much. We, the readers, understand what’s going on well ahead of Mark Trail. And it’s not because Mark’s shown to be dense. He lacks information that he couldn’t be expected to have: Artemis has forgiven Zeus just enough that they can launch the Revenge of Nature plot. By this time next month maybe Doc will have been eaten by rampaging quolls. Let’s watch!

Sunday Animals Watch!

Animals or natural phenomena featured on Sundays recently have included:

  • The Purple Frogs of Bhupathy India, 19 November 2017. They’re probably dying.
  • Pigs! 26 November 2017. There’s some in the Bahamas that have learned to swim out to tourists.
  • Sperm whales, 3 December 2017. They nap in collective groups that don’t look at all like the creepy moment right before a Revenge of Nature movie gets to the good stuff.
  • Vangunu Island vikas, 10 December 2017. White folk finally noticed them and they’re probably all but dead now.
  • Worms, 17 December 2017. We’d be dead without them and there’s this invasive one that’s got a powerful neurotoxin so good luck.
  • Mistletoe, 24 December 2017. It’s in good shape, but is a parasite to trees and shrubs so enjoy?
  • Penguins, 31 December 2017. Adelie penguins are in trouble thanks to global warming so, great.
  • Moths, 7 January 2018. This crazypants Australian one went viral, apparently (I missed it) just on the strength of looking like a crazypants Australian moth.
  • Tapanuli Orangutans, 14 January 2018. We just found them and they’re incredibly endangered.
  • Mosquitoes, 21 January 2018. Not endangered but we’re figuring to try releasing some bacterium-infected males in an attempt to create a new Revenge of Nature movie.
  • Cryptobranchus Alleganiensis, 28 January 2018. Might get named the Official State Amphibian of Pennsylvania!
  • Virginia Opossums, 4 February 2018. Not endangered.
  • Sea turtles, 11 February 2018. Crazy endangered.

Next Week!

I had expectations about where Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth was going, last time I checked in on them. How close were my expectations to reality? You should find out next week when it’s the chance for a certain food-making advice-giver to be recapped here. And I don’t want to get your hopes up too high. But if there’s one word that’s been on every Mary-watcher’s lips the past week it has been: muffins.

I am so excited.

Statistics Saturday: Some Uncertified Winter Olympics Sports


  • Basketball
  • Luge high jumps
  • Riding cafeteria trays down the Approach hill without skidding into 8th street and getting run over by traffic
  • The 5280 x 2m ski relay
  • Underwater figure skating
  • Snowman dressing
  • Icicle knitting
  • Cross-country finding the skiier who went out in all white before the polar bear blinking catches them
  • Flagpole-licking
  • Equestrian anything
  • Making Up Mean Things About Denver, Colorado
  • Car-hood-cleaning

Source: Voyager: Seeking Newer Worlds in the Third Great Age of Discovery, Stephen J Pyne.

Two Quick Updates


So, first, no, I still haven’t seen hint of my Peanuts calendar and I haven’t heard anything from Amazon and I’m starting to think this whole “calendar” thing is a hoax anyway. Just saying.

Also, regarding Kieran Meehan’s syndicated comic strip Pros and Cons from this Tuesday: uhm. Kieran Meehan’s Pros and Cons is definitely a syndicated comic strip that exists and is not something that I make up in one of my bouts of challenging my friends to figure whether a comic strip is real or just something I’ve made up. It was originally titled A Lawyer, a Doctor, and a Cop and that should clear up any questions about it except for question about it:

Judge: 'The jury shall retire to consider its verdict.' Foreman: 'I've already considered MY verdict, your honor. If it's all the same to you, I'll be watching the Mets game in the nearest sports bar while the rest of the jury makes up its mind.'
Kieran Meehan’s Pros and Cons for the 6th of February, 2018. Yes, the computer typeface for the word balloons might be distracting you. But don’t let that distract you from trying to figure out the perspective and lineup of people in the jury box in the last panel there.

Yeah, I don’t know whether the comic is in reruns or if it’s just that comic strip writers sometimes get really weird, vague ideas about when the heck their strips are going to run, especially if they’ve got a couple months ahead of deadline.

Is Ray Davies A Normal Person?


My love and I got to discussing this the other day. I forget how. But I’d like to lay out the arguments for and against.

Pro Ray Davies being a normal person: If many of his lyrics are a guide to his mental state, he’s fairly sure he’s either crazy or just barely holding it together. The only thing that could possibly be more universally true is if he realized how every evening he was tired and sad about the way the day had gone.

Con Ray Davies being a normal person: He spent decades as the front man for one of the world’s most popular and influential rock bands. This is unusual behavior, exhibited by only about five percent of the population, thus, not normal.

Pro: Again going by his lyrics, he mostly would like modern life to stop being quite so much and leave him alone to drink his tea. It is easy to suppose that like the rest of us, he is gradually doing fewer things online because it’s getting to be too much work to do a password reset every time he forgets what his Picarto or Twitch account should be. Also he’s never able to keep straight whether the ID is his full e-mail address or just rdavies0644. This is further normal behavior.

Con: Was propped up statue-like at the center of the 2012 Olympics closing ceremony for the world to sing at, a thing that almost nobody can expect to ever do.

Pro: He made use of the assonance between “slave” and “lathe” for one line in Second-Hand Car Spiv, and there’s almost nothing more natural than that. Maybe rhyming “moon” with “spoon” in all those merry songs about how you mix celestial bodies into your milk and stir it all up.

Con: He knows which of the birds in the comic strip is Shoe. I know, too, but I recognize that’s my personal eccentricity and that it’s not shared by anyone I ever meet.

Pro: As a white guy spent much of the 1970s arguing with bare acquaintances about what exactly is a “rock opera” versus “concept album” and who had the first of them. Granted, yes, this would often be after he had snuck out to a party dressed as the schoolboy-in-disgrace or whatever he was performing on stage and thought people didn’t recognize him, but who wouldn’t do that in the same case? And it was important to let him make arguments about how yes, there was that thing by that band that was before Tommy that he never heard either and no he is not thinking of Days of Future Passed and he has a whole presentation he can give about this. It wasn’t in dispute, but aren’t your best longwinded rhetorical arguments about stuff that wasn’t actually in dispute too? Thank you.

Con: Even today we can’t be completely sure he isn’t going to release Preservation Act III. Do you know anyone who’s working on that still? Are you? Exactly.

Pro: Does not regularly speak with legendary Kinks founder Dave Davies. Most people can hope to have a conversation with Dave Davies at most once, possibly twice before they die, and so does Ray Davies.

Con: Ray Davies’s mailing address has way too many things in it:

Sir Raymond Davies OBO
Solempne House
2 1/2-A Daunger Gyse Lane Without
Shrieval Pudding
Gebetan-Dream-upon-Mere under the Bridge
Southwark
Grimshire 00 18 463 11 00
Rutland Boundings
Lesser Notts and Glos
Greater Notts and Glos (Ceremonial)
North London, Greater London, England, UK, FRS, BAAS N10 3NU ZERO ZERO ZERO DESTRUCT ZERO
Green
	

Pro: Yeah, but every British address looks like that. Nobody has ever successfully sent a postcard to anyone in Britain and that’s why.

Con: Feels no thrill when he notices in the closing credits of The Price Is Right how the second contestant was found to be ineligible and thus could not receive the patio furniture they’d won in their Item-Up-For-Bid.

And now to add it all up please make a computer-y beep-bop-boop noise for a few minutes, and then reduce your answer by an appropriate amount. In sum we find that Ray Davies is not in fact a normal person, but only because he hasn’t yet given up on his DeviantArt account. The subject may be reviewed after ninety days.

In Which I Am Judged Correctly


After getting some stuff for the fish in the really cool pet store with the artificial river and koi the size of Buicks, I walked a block east toward where there might or might not be a large lump of abandoned coal. There’s a new store there, one of those places that sells used shiny discs that hold on them movies or TV shows you don’t have time to watch or PlayStation games you don’t get around to playing, that sort of thing. Also prints local artists made of, like, Freddy Kreuger hanging around the Peanuts gang so you know what it’s like now.

And while I kneeled down to look at something on the bottom shelf, a cat trotted up to me, looked me in the knee, and hissed. Then the cat hissed again. And then the cat trotted off towards CDs of music you don’t have anything to listen to with. I can’t disagree with the cat’s assessment of me. I like to think I have a lot of nice sides, but I also know, I’m kind of tiring to keep dealing with. Making your life interactions with me a matter of two quick hisses directed at me knee? I can’t fault that. Well, maybe the second. The first hiss, yes, absolutely. But what was communicated in the second hiss that wasn’t in the first? Now that I write it out I maybe need to go back and have words with the cat.

The Twentieth Talkartoon: The Male Man


I went in to the next Talkartoon in release order, the 24th of April, 1931’s The Male Man, not knowing anything about it but guessing that it would probably be a bunch of post-office jokes. If not those, then body-building jokes. Wikipedia hasn’t got a specific entry on the short. The credited animators — Ted Sears and Seymore Kneitel — aren’t new ones to this series. Nor is Grim Natwick as the uncredited animator. So past that, it was an open field in which anything might well happen.

I had certain expectations once I knew for sure this was a post-office cartoon. A bunch of door-to-door jokes, mostly showing the person at home not wanting to be bothered. Maybe getting bad news and retaliating against Bimbo. Also a bunch of the mechanization-of-daily-life jokes, in sorting and routing packages and stuff. Maybe some scenes of dealing with customers come to the post office. And that’s more or less what’s delivered. Bimbo never works the post office customer counter, but otherwise it’s about what I expected.

A hobo living inside a mailbox? That’s a good joke. The mailbox that gets smaller as Bimbo squeezes letters out is also a solid one. That Bimbo keeps dropping letters is also about what I’d expect. (And not all letters; there’s a fair mix of packages, so that even a boring setup scene is more interesting than it has to be.) That another of those omnipresent mice would appear at 1:17 in and start scooping them up, the way the Department of Street Cleaning people are always cleaning up after parades in this era of cartoons, also works. The mouse throwing the letters down the sewer at 1:31 surprised me, yes; I thought he’d just be one of those quietly helpful minor characters helping chaos from breaking out. The letter-sorting slots (with amusingly equal space given to Africa, New Jersey, Mexico, Harlem, Egypt, and B’kly’n, and what work is done by that second ‘ there?) feeding back to the same bin has that classic-cartoon sense of pointless modern activity. All quite properly formed stuff and I was amused by this all and appreciated the energy with which it was delivered. It also has some nice technique: Bimbo walking along a curved path in perspective at about 2:50. And Bimbo walking along rooftops, moving in perspective, at about 3:00. A couple good Prohibition-era gags. Santa Claus, for crying out loud.

Then about 3:40 in things change. Bimbo delivers a letter to the abandoned, haunted house, and gets pulled down to the basement and a panel of a dozen shrouded skeletons who demand a letter be sent. The letter morphs in strange, surreal ways: turning into teeth, growing, squirming out of his hand. Menacing Bimbo. And the threat of the envelope dominates the next two and a half minutes of cartoon. More envelope menace than I would have guessed a cartoon could support.

That might make it sound like I wasn’t amused. No, no, I had a great time with this. I never saw this coming. It foreshadows the classic Bimbo’s Initiation in how Bimbo is pulled into a strange, surreal, threatening setting through no fault of his own. It also echoes the action in Swing You Sinners, although there at least Bimbo had done something to morally deserve retribution. It gives him great stuff to react to, although the side effect of that is he as a character gets lost. Personality is, to a large extent, the stuff you do that wouldn’t be done by anybody else in the same situation. If a skeleton hands you an envelope which then falls on the floor, turns into a pair of dentures, and bites your finger, what is there you can do? There’ve been times in this series when Bimbo’s threatened to become a character in his own right, a screwball looney kind of like we’d see later in the decade with Daffy Duck. But here’s another case where the setting overwhelms him. All he can do is react.

Stuff ends with a cascade of letters that’s spectacular to behold and beyond the limits of what the digitization process could sustain. It does remind us that when the Fleischers wanted their cartoons could be as technically proficient as anyone in the business, which is to say Disney.

I don’t quite get Bimbo in the post office remarking on the fish who’s addressed Alaska. I mean, I get it, but only as a bit of weirdness. I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be a deeper joke, or to refer to anything in the pop cultural air at the time. Might just be that sending something to Alaska, a remote territory where Presidents go to die of food poisoning, was something Bimbo could reasonably find remarkable.

Not sure there’s a real blink-and-you-miss-it gag. Maybe the Washington stamp on the skeletons’ letter licking itself and patting itself back down. I’m also surprised there’s not really a featured song this short. There’s a couple appearances of Abner Silver, Al Sherman, and Al Lewis’s I’m Marching Home To You. But it’s not much featured. (Here’s a version, with Billy Murray and Walter Scanlan, that has a lot more lyric and some comedy bits. And here’s a surprising appearance of the song.)

I’m not sure whether the short ends properly. I feel like the octopus closing in on Bimbo while gathering letters was the setup for a possibly trimmed joke. But it is acceptable that the octopus just wants the letters delivered too. Hard to read that ending.

In Which I Make Your Life Better by Explaining Why You Think You Heard Of Bernard Baruch


The name “Bernard Baruch” is nagging you as something familiar because it was a reference on one episode of Rocky and Bullwinkle. It’s the start of the “Moosylvania Saved” story, the last serial of the last season. Fearless Leader was looking for advice on his country’s bankruptcy and went to an electrical brain which the Narrator introduced as “Pottsylvania’s answer to Bernard Baruch”. You saw this while watching WNEW, Channel 5 (“o/` The fun’s on channel five-five-five-five, the fun’s on channel five! o/`”) when you recognized it as being some kind of a reference to something, the way that “Kirwood Derby” thing probably was. But it also registered as probably not a reference to something real, the way that jewel-crusted toy boat supposed to be owned by Omar somebody apparently was.

Yes, Ray Billingsley’s comic strip Curtis is in reruns too. I don’t know why or for how long.

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? And What Happened To Jim Scancarelli?


[Edited the 1st of October, 2018 to add] Jim Scancarelli is back, and writing the strip again. The current storyline is a nostalgic tour of the comic’s history, ahead of its centennial. There should be a full recap of this posted around the 15th of October, barring surprises. ]


So I say this for people in my future who’re looking for information about Gasoline Alley, the venerable, long-running serial-comic strip. If I learn more about what’s going on in it than I do now, the first weekend of February in 2018, I’ll post it here. Somewhere above this article on the page should be some more current idea of what’s going on.

Independently of that, I try to track mathematically-themed comic strips. I discuss them on my other blog, the mathematically-themed one. You can tell it’s different because it uses a serifed typeface for article headlines. The most recent of the comic strip posts is right here. I try to have at least one a week. The past few weeks Comic Strip Master Command has been sending me lots of stuff to write about, although it’s mostly “a student misinterprets a story problem”. But you never know when the teacher in your life is going to need something fresh taped to the door. So give that a try, please.

Gasoline Alley.

13 November 2017 – 3 February 2018.

My last review of the plot in Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley came at a key moment in the storyline that’d been running since the 27th of April. Rufus was back from the circus after wrongly thinking another man had won the dear heart of The Widow Emma Sue And Scruffy’s Mother. The day after my last plot review, Rufus — out of his Human Cannonball outfit and back to his regular duds — remembered he needed to get to choir practice. He needs the practice. The Thanksgiving Oratorio is coming up this Sunday. I didn’t think anything particularly odd about this. The commenters on Gocomics.com did.

Holly Luyah: 'We've got to hurry and practice for our Thanksgiving oratorio! It's this Sunday, you know! OK! Let's take it from the top!' Rufus: ''Scuse me fo' protrudin', but th'top o'what?' Luyah: 'Your sheet music! It would help if it was right side up!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 16th of November, 2017. Also his strip for the 25th of March, 2013, with a slightly enlarged word balloon the first panel and some text replaced. From the way it looks I’m assuming the replacement text was stitched together from letters Scancarelli had written in other word balloons. Wikipedia says he doesn’t use a computer to draw or letter the strip, so, someone pasting in a replacement makes sense of the weird spacing and inconsistent line in that panel.

Because Rufus had hurried to choir before. In March and April 2013, he rushed to add his vocal emanations to what was, then, the Easter Cantata.

Holly Luyah: 'We've got to hurry and practice for our Easter cantata! It's this Sunday, you know! OK! Let's take it from the top!' Rufus: ''Scuse me fo' protrudin', but th'top o'what?' Luyah: 'Your sheet music! It would help if it was right side up!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 25th of March, 2013. The secret revealed! I understand the need to fiddle with the word balloon for the first panel; space just doesn’t allow otherwise. The minor differences in coloring intrigue me, though. I’m surprised whoever at Tribune Content Supply Company And Antique Screen Door Manufacturers Inc who’s responsible for the reprints didn’t just use the colorized version of the original. Or else they recolored it all, making mostly but not entirely the same choices. Maybe there’s a reference sheet saying that Holly Luyah should be wearing that color, but wouldn’t it also specify her hair color? And wouldn’t there be some guide to whether Rufus’s shirt ought to be white or yellow? Or whether he wears slacks or blue jeans? In short, everything about the colorizing of daily comics is a strange and unnecessarily complicated mystery.

Nothing had been announced about planned reruns. It’s not unprecedented for a cartoonist to put the strip into reruns a while. They deserve holidays as much as normal people do. Or they have personal crises — a health scare, a house fire, a family emergency — and only a capitalist would complain about their taking time to deal with that. It’s a bit unusual for there to be no news about it, though. This stuff might not draw the front page of the Newark Star-Ledger. But to hear that a cartoonist has had a medical crisis and had to take a few unexpected weeks off is why comics sites have blogs. Also, Lincoln Pierce, of Big Nate, is “attending to family matters” and that’s why that comic strip went into reruns for a month. There’s not any word about when he’ll be back. It does happen, though. Darby Conley, of Get Fuzzy, stopped drawing new dailies altogether without notice over a decade ago. In the middle of a story, too, although it was a boring story he’d done many times before. No explanation, and he’d keep drawing new Sunday strips, although those have tapered off too. Why? No one who knows, says. Jeff Keane’s The Family Circus has been nothing but reruns from the 70s, sometimes touched up with modernized captions. We’re supposed to pretend we don’t notice. Dan Piraro and Wayno will redraw some vintage Bizarro, usually remaking a weekday strip as a Sunday. But that’s a complete redraw. And Bob Weber Jr and Sr’s Slylock Fox reuses puzzles. Sometimes, like, the Comics Curmudgeon remarks on both printings of a strip.

So what’s going on with Jim Scancarelli? I don’t know. I haven’t found anyone who does know and says. It’s an unsettling silence. It’s easy to imagine things that might leave Scancarelli unable to write or draw the strip. Few of them are happy thoughts. Gasoline Alley is — or at least had been — the oldest (American) syndicated newspaper comic not in eternal reruns. It’s terrible to think that the worst might happen and Jim Scancarelli might not be drawing the comic strip when it turns 100 years old this coming November 24.

(If my research doesn’t fail me, the next-oldest is John Graziano’s Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, if that counts as a comic strip; it began the 19th of December, 1918. Then there’s John Rose’s Barney Google and Snuffy Smith, begun the 17th of June, 1919.)

I’m sorry to have so little to definitely say. If I get news, or even any good rumors, that aren’t made under a pledge of confidentiality, I’ll share. In my entire life I have exactly once ever gotten a tip about comic strip news, and that was in confidence. So I couldn’t even go into Usenet group rec.arts.comics.strips and make an accurate “prediction” about what would happen and then be all smug when it came true. In fact, I predicted the opposite of what would happen, because that reflected what I would have thought if I didn’t have inside information.


Still, perhaps somehow you weren’t reading Gasoline Alley with care in 2013 or didn’t remember the story. So what did happen? Rufus sings awful. Choir director Holly Luyah and Pastor Present work out that there is one note Rufus can sing, and hold him in reserve for exactly that note. He signs that note with enough power to break a stained-glass window. Rufus and Joel replace the broken piece with part of a beer sign, and then scrub the letters, and all the color, off the window.

29th of November: the next rerun story begins, with Slim Skinner working as a Santa Claus for the Bleck’s Department Store. That’s a plot which ran November and December of 2008. Slim’s not all that enthusiastic about the Santa Claus job, but it gives him the chance for a bunch of jokes about awful kids. Then he gets a sweet bug-eyed girl who wants something nice for her Mommy, since Daddy was killed in Iraq. The weepy melodrama sort of story that the comic does. This was also when I realized something was awry in the dailies. Playing Santa Claus for a grief-stricken impoverished family was where the Rufus and The Widow Emma Sue And Scruffy’s Mother started their storyline.

Slim, driving the truck with a tree and presents to a rickety old cabin. 'Look, Clovia! It's snowing!' Clovia: 'Slow down, Slim! There's the little girl's home!' (In the house) Mother: 'Go to sleep, Mary, and say your prayers!' Mary: 'Yes, mommy! Santa will be here any minute! He promsied!
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 23rd of December, 2017. As also seen the 24th of December, 2008, though back then not in color. The strip reads rather well in black and white. I’ve assumed that Scancarelli does the coloring himself; it seems like it’d fit his working style. But I don’t in fact know. Not answered: Slim got arrested breaking into a good-sized house in a “ritzy neighborhood”. How did he get that house mistaken for this?

Slim figures to forego his own family’s Christmas and instead use the money to give the poor kid’s family a proper full holiday. With a fully-decorated tree and bunches of presents he breaks into the kid’s house. Before he can enter, he’s arrested by the Gasoline Alley police, which is about average for a Slim Skinner plot. The people whose house he mistakenly broke into don’t prosecute, and the police donate something to the poor girl and her mother. The girl’s name was finally given as “Mary”, because of course it would be. Close out with some talk about Slim’s resolutions for the New Year and that’s that.

With the 2nd of January the next (and current) story began its rerun. It first ran in January of 2007. It’s got Skeezix hanging out at Corky’s Diner. After a couple gags about about the food story interrupts in the form of Senator Wilmer Bobble visiting. He reminds Corky of the part he played in getting his Uncle Pert to sell Corky the diner back in 1950 (“I’ll talk with you, Corky, but not if Wilmer is in the deal!”). And they think back to the buying and early days of the restaurant that for all I know are faithful reconstructions of how the storyline back then went. And Bobble explains that now that his uncle Pert has died, and deeded the land to him, he’s evicting Corky’s Diner. He notes that “nothing lasts forever”, which is a pretty good line for a longrunning syndicated newspaper comic strip. He’s hoping to build a ten-story parking garage. The bulldozers will be here in two weeks.

Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 24th of January, 2018. And also from the 27th of January, 2007. Put aside the whole “smoking in a public place? C’mon, was 2007 really that long ago oh my Lord it was wasn’t it” issue. Bobble blowing a triple-decker of smoke into Corky’s face as the papers fly off the table is a good, Walt Kelly-ish bit of emphasis and action in the midst of a talky scene.

And that’s the rerun story where it stands, as of the 3rd of February. (If they keep rerunning the story without interruption, the story will be here about seven more weeks. Spoiler: it doesn’t end unhappily for the core cast.)

Rufus: 'What yo'think my brother Magnus would like fo' Christmas?' Joel: 'Seein' how he's behind bars --- how 'bout some files?' Rufus: 'Naw! Ain't enough room in his cell fo' a cabinet!' [ And after the throwaway panels ] Rufus: 'Oh, man! This is fun ridin' th'elevator at th'mall! Ain't it, Joel?' Joel: 'Well, it shore got its ups and down!' Man getting in elevator: 'Four, please.' Joel: 'Er ... four what?' Rufus: 'Joel! Don't yo' mean, what fo'?' Man: 'Never mind! I'll do it myself! (Sniff, sniff) ... Whee-ew! Someone's deodorant isn't working!' Joel: 'Don't look at me! I don't use th'stuff!' Rufus: 'Me neither!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 10th of December, 2017. Possibly, maybe, the last original strip he’s published? The other Sunday strips from December 2007 were reruns from December of 2007. Must admit I’d rather the comic strip go out on a stronger installment than this. So, according to Wikipedia Jim Scancarelli is an expert model railroader and a prize-winning competitor in the Old Fiddler’s Convention. I mention this as they’re possibly the two least surprising things I could learn about Jim Scancarelli.

The Sunday strips have been the usual spot gags, not part of any particular story continuity. Sunday strips have a longer lead time than weekday strips do. So it’s likely that the most recently published Scancarelli comic was one of the recent Sundays. I don’t know which. Commenters on rec.arts.comics.strips (particularly D D Degg) and on the GoComics.com pages have identified most of the rerun dates. This strip from the 17th of December was a rerun from 2007, as the phone suggests. The last new strip might be that of the 10th of December, 2017. Can’t say for sure.

(Late-breaking addition, punishing me for getting this all written up like 30 hours before deadline: I can’t find where the strip for today, the 4th of February, 2018, ran before. The lettering, to me, makes me think the strip is another from around late 2007 or early 2008. But I can’t find the original if it is out there. Maybe we worried for nothing? Or Scancarelli had a couple strips almost done and was now able to do the Sundays at least? Even if he isn’t able to get the dailies done?)

I promise. If I get news, and can share it, I will.

Next Week!

Has Nature killed you, or anyone you know? Has it dropped parachuters onto any bank robbers? Have you ever counted the prairie dogs outside Rapid City, South Dakota? If the answer to one or more of these questions is “the heck are you even talking about?” please join me as I check back in on James Allen’s Mark Trail. Be warned: it does involve geographically implausible appearances of giraffes. Also be warned: it appears to build a story around things mentioned during but not directly related to a previous story. Also it’s been years since we saw a giant squirrel discussing the smuggling poachers. Just saying.

Statistics Saturday: Some Obscure Football Rules


  1. After three overtimes the game will be settled by a fifteen-word spelling bee.
  2. A regulation field is 120 yards in length, 53 and 1/3d yards in width, and 1.16 light-seconds in height, extending six feet, two inches below the surface of the ground.
  3. Any kind of zebra, whether talking or not, is specifically prohibited from playing in the Super Bowl.
  4. Team uniforms are not allowed to be chroma-key green.
  5. The zebra’s also prohibited from the Pro Bowl, Conference Championships, and the Divisional Rounds.
  6. No licking the ball after the two-minute warning.
  7. Yes, a zebra is allowed to play in the wild-card round, but only as a field goal kicker.
  8. All players must exist in no fewer than three dimensions of space and one of time.
  9. If by some chance the offensive team gets to a 7th Down that’s automatically one point.
  10. It’s a 20-yard penalty and loss of possession for four or more players on the offensive team to blep their tongues out simultaneously while behind the line of scrimmage.
  11. No player is allowed to wear his helmet either backwards or on either foot during the game. (However, this rule has never been enforced at the professional level.)
  12. It’s prohibited to use the player’s bench as a workbench for light carpentry projects.

Source: The Kaiser’s Merchant Ships in World War I, William Lowell Putnam.

Statistics January: Cartoonists Dying Or Going Missing Is Good For My Readership


I do like starting months with a recap of how many people read stuff around here the month before, and what was popular. I’m not sure I’ve ever used this to good ends, but it’s interesting reading when it’s there. So. I’m not precisely sure what happened, but January 2018 was my second-best month for readership — page views and unique visitors — ever. There were 3,902 pages viewed, and from 1,671 unique visitors. The only time I’d gotten more was in the Apartment 3-Gocalypse, when the Onion AV Club linked to me as “another blog, meanwhile” commenting on the sorry end of the strip. (Also last month I finally realized it would have been so much more graceful to call it Apocalypse 3-G. Ah well.)

January 2018 readership: 3,902 views from 1,671 visitors; 227 likes; 148 comments. A weird outlying tower of readership that nearly but not quite matches November 2015 way at the other end of the graph.
Can’t lie: I’m going to be sad when my little AV Club boost back in November 2015 finally times out of the monthly statistics view. I have no idea how to get graphs from earlier months and I suspect it’s not even possible. Also, I’ve accidentally created a bustling city skyline where most of the skyscrapers are clustered together but there’s this one place fifteen blocks away from downtown where some developer imagined they were going to start a new core part of the city right ahead of the massive recession that left the city flooded with empty offices for 20 years.

It’s not hard to explain all this, given the most popular posts in January:

So. Judge Parker has had an outburst of crazypants plot development and I’m a bit sad it’s so far down the rotation in my story strip review. Gasoline Alley has gone three months without a new daily strip, and a month without a new Sunday strip, and without any word from or about Jim Scancarelli and people are, naturally, nervous. (I’ve replaced the links for the What’s Going On In, which all went to my very first reviews of these strips, with the links for the category pages that always show the most recent recap or news, on the suspicion that’s what people are really looking for.) And then comic strips ending, or in the case of Nancy possibly ending, are always intriguing. Thinking About Mort Walker pretty clearly only missed the top five of the month because it had two days to attract readers. (My most popular original, long-form piece for the month was In Which I Discover A Way To Make A Modest But Respectable fondant Sum Of Money, all about the Peanuts page-a-day calendar that I still have not gotten, by the way.)

I’m happy to pass on what I hear about the comic strips, especially the story strips, but I should emphasize that I don’t write any news about them. I just pass on what I hear from actually informed people. The story strip plot reviews I do, and I love doing them. But, like, it would take talking to a person to figure out what’s happened to Jim Scancarelli and I’m not up to that sort of work. I have a hard enough time not hiding from the clerk at fast-food places.

And how about the listing of countries of the world? I’m glad to list them, because I’ve put together this nice little word-processor macro that makes the table all neat and pretty and I barely have to make any effort for it.

Country Readers
United States 3295
Canada 99
India 97
United Kingdom 59
Sweden 31
Brazil 27
Germany 25
Philippines 22
Australia 21
Argentina 13
New Zealand 12
France 9
Hong Kong SAR China 9
Russia 9
Italy 8
Turkey 7
Finland 6
Indonesia 6
Ireland 6
Portugal 6
Spain 6
Japan 5
Pakistan 5
South Africa 5
Thailand 5
Ukraine 5
Vietnam 5
Austria 4
Bangladesh 4
Denmark 4
Georgia 4
Netherlands 4
Norway 4
Romania 4
Hungary 3
Kazakhstan 3
Mexico 3
Nigeria 3
Serbia 3
Venezuela 3
Belgium 2
Bulgaria 2
Cape Verde 2
Greece 2
Jamaica 2
Kyrgyzstan 2
Lebanon 2
Poland 2
Slovakia 2
Trinidad & Tobago 2
China 1
Colombia 1 (*****)
Ecuador 1
El Salvador 1
Estonia 1
European Union 1
Guyana 1
Kenya 1
Kuwait 1
Laos 1 (*)
Lesotho 1
Malaysia 1
Maldives 1
Moldova 1 (*)
Montenegro 1
Morocco 1
Mozambique 1 (*)
Myanmar (Burma) 1
Saudi Arabia 1
Switzerland 1
Tunisia 1
United Arab Emirates 1

So that’s 72 countries altogether sending me readers. 21 of them were single-reader countries. There’d been 61 countries in December and 68 in November. There were 18 single-reader countries in December and 22 in November.

Laos, Moldova, and Mozambique were single-reader countries in December 2017. Colombia has been a single-reader country for six months now and I’m starting to wonder who it is.

Oh, yes, reader engagement. It was a good month for reader engagement, with 227 things liked around here, up from December’s 182 and November’s 165. Greatest number of likes since the boom times of 2015. It was also a very good month for engaging with comments, mostly Ray Kassinger: 148 comments all told, way up from December’s 59 and November’s 35 and the largest number of comments going back to September 2015, which is as far back as I can get out of WordPress. That’s like half the number of comments I got in all 2017. I like the trend, it makes me feel all pleasant and wanted and all that. Just tired thinking about it is all.

Oh yeah, and I see on the Insights panel the report that for 2018, I’m averaging two comments, seven likes, and 764 words per post. And got to 25,217 total words so far. This all seems very high to me but they’re the ones with a computer, not me.

February 2018 starts with Another Blog, Meanwhile having recorded 73,304 total page views, from 40,540 unique visitors. If you’d like to be one of them, good news: you are! And you can keep this up by hanging around here, or adding the Another Blog, Meanwhile to your WordPress reader to join the 811 who already had by the start of February. There’s the “Follow Another Blog, Meanwhile” button in the right column of the page here. Or you can follow by e-mail if you want to see what I schedule to post before noticing the weird, misplaced and unnecessary word that always turns out to be in the third paragraph. Thanks and we’ll see what turns up this month. And on Twitter I’m @Nebusj, and if you see me on Discord then at least one of us is hallucinating, since I’m not there and I don’t understand exactly what it is. Thank you.

Interestingly, I Need Help


I was in the university library because I don’t really make sense anywhere else. Not to brag but in my life I’ve been in over twenty places, and really, “university library” is the one I look the least awkward and weird in. I don’t mind. At least it’s somewhere.

But I was there because I’d wanted to read this history of word processors. Not a recent book, mind you. The book was written sometime in the mid-80s. That’s a lot of word-processor history ago, I admit. Back then word processors were primitive affairs, often programs we got by typing them in from magazines that cost $2.95 at the grocery store and there’s nothing about that I’m making up. Many of them were coal-powered and they were able to store up to one macro, which would be “add a line break after each paragraph, except that makes your document more than 4 kilobytes big, so the computer runs out of memory”. Still, I’d want to know more about how we got to that point.

And that’s when I discovered the horror: the library was reorganizing its shelves. Like, all of them, best I can figure. Everything. And I thought: no! That shelf where I ran across that book about pasta technologies holds nothing now! How will I ever find that book again? I haven’t wanted to find it again since I first read it but still, I knew where it was. I was lost.

This made me realize something. I own multiple books about the history of containerized cargo. I own a book that’s entirely about nutmeg, a spice I could not positively affirm under oath that I had ever had. Seriously, if I tried it would go something like this, taken from my court appearance for failure-to-yield in this minor traffic accident I had at the awful traffic circle where Route 206 crosses White Horse Avenue in Trenton, New Jersey:

ATTORNEY: And have you, knowingly, ever consumed a thing with nutmeg on or in it?

ME: I … think? Maybe? Don’t they use it for pumpkin pies? I’ve eaten that.

ATTORNEY: Maybe? Didn’t you knowingly and deliberately sprinkle some onto the free coffee you got at the farmer’s market so you could see what it was like?

ME: Oh, yes, I guess. It tasted … like every spice ever?

I don’t know what the attorney hoped to prove. In any case they forgave the failure-to-yield and only gave me a citation for listening to an audiobook about the history of the concept of corporations. And that feeds back to my point. I want to say I’m curious about all aspects of the human experience, and that I’m open to how much thought and history goes in to even the small, insignificant things. And then the attorney asks, “Don’t you own multiple books about the history of calendars each written by someone with the name “Duncan”?” Yes. Yes I do. And I already knew all the good stuff in the various Duncans’ books from having read many books about the calendar when I was a kid.

Clearly, I need help. I need some kind of guide to what things are in fact interesting and what things are not. This might take the form of some kind of specially-trained support dog. Someone who will notice how I’m looking over a history of subway tokens (by Brian J Cudahy, author of one of those containerized-cargo books) and leap onto me, shoving me to the ground and maybe rolling me over to something of more general interest. Like a history of an Apollo mission. No, not that Apollo mission. A famous one, like Apollo 11 or 13. Good grief. Fine, maybe 8. No not 12 why are you looking at 12? Who notices Apollo missions that didn’t have James Lovell involved?

They didn’t have the word-processing book. So, hey, someone else found it interesting or they lost it in 1992 and nobody’s asked about it yet. Left to my own devices, I got to Harvey C Mansfield’s 1947 A Short History of the Office of Price Administration, because apparently I need to know something about the theory and practice of World War II price-control administration that I couldn’t just pick up from listening to Lum and Abner episodes that had a public-service mission. Ah, but consider this: it includes this July 1947 quote from Bernard Baruch, architect of what price controls the United States government attempted in World War I and a leading advocate for strategic planning of economic needs given the national emergency:

Also, as a result of piecemeal price control, we are now faced with inflation which, next to human slaughter, maiming and destruction, is the worst consequence of war.

This serves as a valuable reminder that one does not get to be an extraordinarily wealthy individual and public intellectual advising presidents across many decades without completely losing one’s ability to realize one has just composed the daftest sentence in all of 1947, a year when the administration of Germany was divided into The Soviet Sector, the Brassiere, and Bizonia. Yes, yes, plus the Protectorate of the Saar. Don’t nitpick me. I do my reading.

The Apollo 12 astronauts considered giving their Command Module the name Abner, so that their call signs would be Lem and Abner, but this was stopped when, I trust, a NASA Public Affairs Officer came down and slugged Lunar Module pilot Alan Bean. I can show you the book that’s from.

Future, Proofed


My student loan got sold to some new company recently. So I set up automatic payments for it. So I’ve had to call my new student loan people to yell at them about screwing up my student loan payments a couple times this past week. Thing is each time I call their recorded spiel tells me “Important tax information for … 2017 … is available now through our web site”.

It’s that pause that’s got me. They recorded someone saying “Important tax information for … is available now through our web site” and then left a gap so the appropriate year could be badly sliced in. How many years did they get the guy to record for? Why didn’t they just record him saying the full sentence for each of those years? I understand their wanting to make a scheme as flexible as possible. But, like, how long would it have added to the original recording session to do the full sentence out through, like, 2040?

Do they really think they’re going to still exist that far in the future, when every corporation has been merged into a real-estate holding company with no actual assets and the only people making telephone calls are actors in historical re-enactments? And why would they care about my student loans? Do you think you’re distracting me from the projection it’s going to be seven minutes before I talk to a person? Do you — excuse me, have to go unproductively yell at someone who isn’t at fault because I can’t yell at the web site productively either. The system is stupid, but what else is there to do with it?