Ironically?


So while I was thinking about how many people would forget what it means for a country to demand its young accept the horrors of war had Hi and Lois not reminded people of Memorial Day, I learned the hipster bar near us is having 90s Karaoke Night this week. So I’m thinking about dropping in for when they’re going to be playing nothing but “Breakfast At Tiffany’s”. If karaoke night is at all representative of the real 90s, they should be playing this from about 9:23 through 11:15 without stopping. I might sign up for it myself since I’m not really sure what the verse is like. I’m assuming it has one. But in that regard it captures the experience of having watched Breakfast At Tiffany’s, since I’m awfully sure I’ve done that and I kind of remember there was something about a something or other happening and then at the end she’s not marrying the rich guy in the rain. This also matches my recollection of what the 90s were like. Might check in.

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The 37th Talkartoon: The Dancing Fool, The Rarest Kind Of Betty Boop Cartoon


This week’s Talkartoon is an unusual one. Not in content; in content it’s a dance party cartoon, with the characters ultimately playing to music until the Fleischer Studio meets the contractually obligated length. It’s rare in that I have absolutely no memory of this cartoon.

Backstory. In the 90s I got the eight-VHS Betty Boop: The Definitive Collection. It wasn’t complete, as I knew even back then. There are some lost Betty Boop cartoons, which nobody could be blamed for not including. There are some follow-the-bouncing-ball singalong cartoons which have Betty Boop and which didn’t make the cut. You can disagree with that editorial judgement but they did have to get the whole collection in with less than 16 hours of video. The live-action shorts with Betty Boop didn’t make the cut. This is an easily defended choice if your goal was to show all the Betty Boop cartoons. Anyway, the variety — and picture quality — of the cartoons was fantastic and I watched all the tapes a lot, even the ones with mostly boring late-run shorts.

And I have no memory of ever seeing this one. If the Internet Movie Database is to be believed, it was there, squeezed between Jack and the Beanstalk and the Screen Songs cartoon Let Me Call You Sweetheart. The first is easy to remember; I reviewed it just a couple weeks ago. The second is easier to remember than this; it includes live-action segments from Ethel Merman. I guess that’s sufficient reason to overlook it.

So this cartoon is credited to animators Seymour Kneitel and Bernard Wolf. Both are familiar hands at this point. It was released the 8th of April, 1932. I can’t find a version on archive.org, only YouTube. This is a version that has a clearer picture with less rasterization. But somehow the whole picture jumps around and sways a bit. I don’t know how. It’s close enough to the beat that I thought it might be an impressive technical bit by the Fleischers, to have the whole scene bounce in a way complementary to the characters’ motion. But it seems to be more some weirdly complicated bit of digitizing the cartoon.

As teased, I’m indifferent to this cartoon. It’s pleasant. It’s got some nice examples of the cartoon character trope of not falling before one notices one’s in the air. It’s got the nice doing-stuff-too-hard gag of Bimbo and Koko hauling their plank and paint all the way up a building and walking across several tall buildings to drop back down to ground level. It’s got some nice bits of business besides that too. Bimbo using his stubby tail as a paintbrush. The mice that pop up out of the windowsill about 3:37 to sing Betty Boop’s name. The mice at about 1:15 who come out ready to catch the falling Bimbo and whose work doesn’t even get noticed.

There’s two halves to the cartoon, one that’s just Bimbo and a weird-voiced Koko; and one that’s Betty and her entourage dancing. Betty took long enough to show up I wondered if she had only a cameo and that’s why I didn’t remember the cartoon from The Definitive Collection. There’s I suppose logic in going from the sign-painting stuff to the dance-party stuff. I wonder if they didn’t start out trying to do a window-washers or a sign-painters cartoon and stitched it to some dancing stuff when they ran out of jokes. Not that the first half isn’t amiable; there’s just not a lot going on.

I can’t pick out a favorite blink-and-you-miss-it joke. Maybe the mice with the rescue trampoline, since they’re underplayed so. Most everything else is very well-established and given time to register, especially later on as the short turns to a lot of dancing. There’s some nice, well-done animation here. I particularly like the tiger hopping out of the strips and dancing with those as partner. (I’m suspiciously easily amused by characters leaping out of their patterns or colors.)

I was more interested when I thought the background and everything bounced in time with the music.

Still More Trouble With City Hall


So it transpires that sometime last year the whole eastern wing of the sixth floor transcended ordinary existence and turned into beings of pure energy. Which sounds cool, sure. But then you try bringing any springs in and they suddenly compress as far as possible, soaking up all that potential energy? Hardly convenient. Or if you bring in that steel-balls-on-pendulums things that they put on the boss’s table in 1980s sitcoms, and the balls all fly up to the top of pendulum and wait? Yeah, that’s just inconvenient. And that’s before you even consider what happens when you take a mechanical watch in and let that soak up the potential energy that used to be the Office of Rental Inspections. I really hate to give up on a handsome enough building but I have to admit it’s sounding like City Hall just needs more work than we can expect to get out of it, at least not without a major source of energy and I just don’t see where … saaaaaaay! I have to go make some calls.

 

OK, I tried making calls. But you know that long spiral-cut rubber wire that connects the part of the phone you use to the part of the phone that falls off the table when you pick up the part of the phone you use? Yeah, that one. Well, it turned into this impossibly tight, energy-laden supercoil and that’s too hard for me to deal with. I’ll write them a letter, maybe. Meanwhile please everyone admire the correctness of my use of the word “transpire” to start this article. I’ll wait.

What’s Going On In Rex Morgan, M.D.? Choking and Corporate Intrigue, March – May 2018.


Hey, is it sometime near the end of May or any of June 2018? If it is, great. If it’s sometime around, oh, August 2018 or later you might want to look here instead. If I’ve written a more recent update about what’s happening in Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D., it should be there.

Rex Morgan, M.D.

4 March – 27 May 2018.

I last checked in with Team Morgan a couple weeks into the start of their new storyline. It was about the Morgans’ babysitter Kelly and her boyfriend Niki. They noticed their friend Justin had taken up this habit of choking every time he tried to eat or drink anything. Justin took this nonchalantly. His friends worried that, y’know, at some point he’s got to eat, right?

Title panel, T-Rex Morgan, M.D. Sarah draws 'Glenwood - One Million Years BC'. Dinosaur versions of her parents come in, roaring 'GRONK' and 'GRAAAAAWK' and such. This is caption-translated. T-Rex: 'Hey, Punkin. We're getting teh boys to bed, Sarah. Can you get your jammies on?' Sarah: 'Sure, Dad.' T-Rex: 'When they're asleep, I'll come back and we can read a chapter of our Oz book, okay?' Sarah: 'Sounds good!' T-Sarah: 'And don't forget to brush your teeth before bedtime.' Sarah: 'Of course, Mom.' T-Sarah: 'We'll be back in a bit.' Sarah: 'Life's a whole lot more fun when you pretend your parents are dinosaurs!'
Terry Beatty’s T-Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 1st of April, 2018. Really, the best April Fool’s prank I saw on the comics page. I’m glad Beatty indulged in a flight of fantasy like this. It’s always fun when a cartoonist stretches artistically. And any excuse to put dinosaurs in one of the story strips is a correctly made excuse.

Maybe not; he’s cool with seeing how this plays out. Kelly asks Rex Morgan, M.D., what to do about this. Rex can’t diagnose anything, of course; you need someone who does medicine for that. But he does suggest trying small bites of peanut butter and honey sandwiches until Justin can get seen by a doctor. Justin can eat the peanut butter and honey, solving one immediate problem. But he’ll need a doctor’s note to bring peanut butter in to eat at school. The school participates in the “Let’s Have Angry Old People In The Comments Section Tell Us How Food Allergies Are A Made-Up Thing” program. He finally gives in to peer pressure, and lets Kelly make an appointment with the Morgans. If there’s a promise of no shots and not getting his knee hit with that little hammer. Also if the Morgans make that promise. “Oh never fear,” chuckles June, “we don’t use the little hammer anymore.”

So it turns out Justin has a real actual medical condition that really actually occurs in the real world. It’s called achalasia, in which the muscles of the esophagus don’t work right. It’ll take surgery to treat, so Rex Morgan calls in a friend who practices medicine for it. In non-snarky fairness, I would expect the procedure — a “Heller myotomy” — to be something you get a specialist for. And, come early April, we get some word about why Justin was so weird about seeing a doctor. His mother’s terrified of hospitals. This follows the family story of how her great-grandfather died on the operating table in 1923. This seems ridiculous to me, but ridiculous in a way that people actually are. So I’m cool with it. She’s cool with it too, once Justin gets a haircut and, I trust, promises to wear clean underwear for if he dies.

Kelly: 'We're going to see Justin after his surgery today, right?' Niki: 'Yeah. If we're lucky he'll still be groggy and we can catch him on camera saying some stupid stuff.' Kelly: 'You are SUCH a good friend to him, Niki.' Kelly: 'Hey, what are friends for?' [ The day of Justin's Surgery. ] In the hospital room. Rex: 'Are you ready for this, Justin?' Justin: 'As I'll ever be, I guess.' Rex: 'All the tests confirmed my initial diagnosis of achalasia --- and we have the TOP specialist in the country set to do the surgery.' Justin: 'Sounds good.' Justin's Mom: 'I'm still so worried about my little boy.' Rex: 'I understand a parent being nervous about their child having an operation, but there's really nothing to worry about here. The success rate for this surgery is very high, and Justin is otherwise healthy as a horse. He'll be just fine.' Justin's Mom: 'I know, but *still*.' Justin's Dad: 'My Son, the Horse. Get through this Justin, and we'll buy you a big bag of oats.' Justin: 'You crack me up, pop.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 8th of April, 2018. So, like, “the top” specialist in treating acalasia has to be a specific person, right? Do they know they were referenced, albeit anonymously, in Rex Morgan, M.D.? Did Beatty give her a heads-up or was it just left as a surprise? And wouldn’t it be a kick if somehow the top specialist in Heller Myotomies didn’t read Rex Morgan, M.D. somehow and had to have this pointed out to her by a friend?

And as for Justin, who did not die, he would go on to disappoint his friends, who hoped he would do something dopey while recovering from anaesthesia. No; he simply survived a weird medical problem without incident. End story, the 15th of April.

The 16th began the next focus, about the marriage of Buck and Mindy. They’re having it in Las Vegas. They sent invitations to the other player-characters in the comic. “Horrible” Hank Harwood, rediscovered 50s-horror-comics artist, and his son, rent an RV to road trip to it. They’re hoping to make a grand tour of the country. They’ll stop at all the great roadside attractions and see whether Zippy the Pinhead is talking to any of them about Republicans or meat.

(By the way, this week my love and I were at meals reading collections of Zippy the Pinhead comics from completely different decades. And reading individual strips out loud to each other. We’re delighted by early examples of later Bill Griffith obsessions and jokes that could run in normal comics too. There are many more accessible Zippy the Pinhead strips than the comic’s reputation suggests.)

Interwoven with Buck-and-Mindy’s wedding and Hank-and-Hank’s road trip is a less giddy story. Milton Avery, multimillionaire industrialist, died, the same day that his wife Heather Avery gave birth. Heather Avery flies back to Glenwood, where the strip’s set, partly to console herself with the company of the Morgans. Partly to work out how the expected succession crisis at Avery International plays out. This promises great excitement. The last time the succession of Avery International was addressed was when Woody Wilson wrote the strip. Back then, Heather Avery got Rex Morgan to lie. Morgan claimed Milton Avery was mentally competent and in full possession of his faculties and all. So there’s good reason for the Board of Directors to be up for a good rousing fight.

[ The Harwoods plan for their Las Vegas trip. ] Hank Jr: 'Hey, Pop. Come look at these options for renting a camper. And I need to know how long before Buck's wedding you want to leave on the trip.' Hank Sr: 'Long enough to see the sights along the way and get lost a few times!' [ At the Avery Mansion in Glenwood. ] Michelle: 'You've heard from Heather, Jordan?' Jordan: 'Yeah. Says she's making the trip back as soon as she and the baby get the okay to travel.' Michelle: 'Do you have any idea what Milton's passing will mean to Avery International or your employment here?' Jordan: 'And my free access to this fantastic house?' Michelle: 'Yeah, that too.' Jordan: 'Not a clue, Michelle. I figure I'd better be prepared for anything.' Michelle: 'I had a feeling this was too good to last.' Jordan: 'Wasn't ever meant to be permanent. I figure we're lucky to get whatever time we have here.' Michelle: 'Then let's make the most of it, shall we?' Jordan: 'Y'know, I like how you think.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 6th of May, 2018. I didn’t find space in the main article to write about the housesitters for Heather and Milton Avery, but this strip pretty well explains their plot thread. And is a decent recap of what Milton Avery’s death implies for the storylines too, so, all the better.

Heather’s opening salvo is to explain how she’s thrilled with the way they’ve been running the company. And she doesn’t see any reason anything needs to change. Corporate/Economic historian Robert Sobel in his 1972 The Age of Giant Corporations: A Microeconomic History of American Business identified this as the ol’ “Not the face! Don’t punch me in the face!” boardroom maneuver. But she also explains how if they screw this up she’ll feed them to a June-Morgansaurus. Should be exciting.

While we wait to see how that plays out might you consider reading up on mathematically-themed comic strips? I’ve got a bunch on my other blog that you might like to hear about. This week I get to show off the Maclaurin series for the cosine of an angle measured in radians! You’ll understand why that’s a thing by the end of the article.

Next Week!

Oh, you know how much I’m annoyed with Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp right now? Just wait a week and you’re going to see.

Statistics Saturday: Components of May


Big block that just says 'May' in it.
Fun Fact: May was named after Maia, the Roman Goddess of the Spring, but before the emperor Claudius.

Source: Clara Bow: Runnin’ Wild, David Stenn.

Yes. This. This has to be the joke I’ve been searching for all month. If it isn’t, what else could it be? Exactly. There isn’t one.

In Which The Neighbors Taunt Me


Yes, I believe strongly in minding my own business and letting people deal with their own stuff unless they say they want me coming in messing things up. But it’s sorely tempted since I noticed someone’s taped an 8½-by-11 page with close, tight writing on the neighbor’s front door. I mean, yeah, probably it doesn’t indicate anything ore than that talks have completely broken down over the issue of who is supposed to take the recycling bin to the curb on which days, and who is supposed to bring it back the next day after the truck has collected it, Ron, after. But what if it’s something really exciting, like there’s a new policy about when new orange juice will be made from concentrate or a memorandum regarding how many articles of clothing may be tossed into the laundry chute at once without jamming it? How am I supposed to live as though that’s none of my business either?

What Is Air Conditioning and Why Not Already?


With the days getting a bit warmer than they were two weeks ago it’s worth spending 819 words talking about air conditioning. Air conditioning is — please hold your questions until the essay has come to a full and complete stop — where some air is conditioned so that it’s less like air and more like conditioned air. It’s probably safe to toss in whatever your questions were now.

Why Should We Condition Air? Many reasons. The air that you get all around you is free and as such, that’s great. But it’ll often be too hot, or too cold, or too clammy, or be filled with too many feathers from an exploded pillow, or some other problem, such as that it’s too dry. And it’s never any of these at the right time. For example, it would be great if just before your history midterm the air were filled with sparkly confetti and party favors. At the least it would distract from thinking how you have no opinions about the Reform Act of 1832 except that it’s probably good they got that done before 1833 started or it would have needed a snappier name.

How Can One Condition Air? This depends what you want conditioned. If you want the air hotter, for example, all you need do is gather enough lumber. Trying to get it into the fireplace wil make you as warm as you want, as you determine by the sixth time you check every room that the house hasn’t got a fireplace and you’re now quite mad about that. Fuming mad, as they say.

But cooling down has always been a different problem. In ancient days the Romans noticed that the same room might be perfectly chilly in the winter and too hot in the summer. Their ingenious engineering minds started a system in which each winter they’d seal one room up tight in the middle of winter and leave it that way until the middle of summer. Only then would they open it up to enjoy that stored winter air. This never worked, but after all the trouble they’d gone to sealing the room up and then opening it again, they weren’t going to stop. They kept at it year after year, insisting to themselves that they did feel a lot cooler and saying maybe next year they would try this with three or even eight rooms. Eventually the Roman Empire fell, but I wouldn’t say the air conditioning was the only reason. There was also their calendar.

What Scientific Breakthrough Made Air Conditioning Possible, And What Important Spinoff Came From It? The most important breakthrough was the discovery of Charles’s Law by Boyle, unless it was Boyles’s Law by Charles. It was Towneley-Powers’s Law, and was discovered by Mariotte. However it turned out the discovery was simplicity itself: if you spray a can of antiperspirant the spray will be cold, and the can will be cold, and your hand will be cold. The implications were obvious. By the end of the century scientists all over Europe were trying to invent a spray can of antiperspirant.

The antiperspirant part and the spray part would be challenges, sure. But the practice was an immediate success, a century later. And it had spinoff benefits. The cans proved to be great ways to can food, for example. This allowed people to take the peaches that they weren’t going to be able to eat before the end of summer and turn them into a fine aerosolized powder that they’d spray on their armpits or, if their aim was off, the bathroom door. This solved some problem. And considering that tells you a lot about what life was like back then.

How Does This Affect The Movies? Well, by the 1920s all the major problems of air conditioning had been solved. Soon industrial-grade air conditioning was popping up all over, like it or not. Cities began building movie theaters around the air conditioning so that at least it would go to some purpose. The air conditioning would stay on full-blast all year, so that wintertime movie patrons had to dress in parkas and carry shovels to help the usher scoop out a trail through the snow. Often patrons would be lost in snowbanks and not be discovered for days or weeks until they emerged in the concessions stand. Over one in five ushers didn’t survive the first year of work, which is why we now regard it as tasteless to expect ushers to ush at the movies. We may ask them to ush in other non-movie contexts and then they can show us their ush stuff.

Is Air Conditioning A Form Of Skinnerian Behaviorist Stimulus-Response Training? No. You are thinking of air hypnosis, which has been discredited as a scientific method but can be a lot of fun as a party trick. It’s a common mistake and you need feel no shame for making it. 818, 819.

And Then The Worst Part


Sure, according to the clear directions of my dream, it was going to be one of those frustrating days where I duck into the used-book-store for a morning coffee and the chance to smell decomposing paperbacks. And just stepping in I’d see that now it was 7 am, like an hour earlier than it could possibly be and that I’d already be late for work, and every minute that I spend there I’m a half-hour later although every clock moves backwards three minutes, the way you’d expect. Well, before you know it, I’m up on the roof of the old church, balancing everything I have just barely as I sit down to some serious writing. And then there’s a bunch of crows on the next roof glaring at me. Plus there’s this ostrich who keeps projecting her head out from the building and through the cupola windows to come just close enough that I think she’s going to snap at my hand. But the worst part is that in the dream I was putting on paper exactly the letter needed to reconnect with that estranged friend. And when I woke up I couldn’t think of a single word I had written. But at least I had it right for a little bit.

The 36th Talkartoon: Crazy Town, a place to visit


So after that weirdness of two Talkartoons released the same day, the Fleischer Studios went to a more relaxed pace. They didn’t release the next short until the 25th of March, 1932. This one was animated by Shamus Culhane and David Tendlar. Culhane has had credits here before. Tendlar is a new credit. He doesn’t seem to have any other credits on the Talkartoon series either. But he’d stick around, staying with Fleischer and then Famous Studios until that was finally shut down, and then to Filmation and Hanna-Barbera. I’m tickled that he’s got a lot of credits for Superfriends cartoons; a lot of my impression of what superheroes should be like are basically “like the one where the Wonder Twins are outwitted by an abandoned roller coaster”. I’m not sure Tendlar had anything to do with that one, but he is credited on the episode where a mad scientist sends a Stupid Ray back in time to prevent modern humans from evolving, so he can rule a planet of Neanderthals, and the plan would have worked except some Superfriends were visiting Skylab, which was outside the effect’s reach? … I’m pretty sure I have that right, and it’s still wrong. Anyway, here’s a Talkartoon.

The short starts with a familiar song, “Hot-cha-cha” with a fresh set of lyrics. We saw it back in Dizzy Dishes, that introduced who we’d know as Betty Boop. And it’s got a nice title sequence of looking at a booklet and letting that open into the action. Live action-and-animation hybrids were common in the 20s, always startling to people who think Who Framed Roger Rabbit or possibly Mary Poppins invented the idea. The Fleischers built their main series in the 20s on this sort of thing and it’s good to see they hadn’t lost that yet.

I also can’t see a cartoonish, overstuffed trolley without thinking of Fontaine Fox’s long-running panel strip The Toonerville Trolley, and cursing myself for never buying the book collecting strips from that used book store back in Troy, New York, in the late 90s. I don’t think there’s any reference being made here. The trolley driver and the banana-eating guy at about 3:00 in look to me like Old King Cole, from Mask-A-Raid. But that might just be that skinny old white guys in these cartoons tend to blend together.

The short itself is a long string of spot jokes. Betty and Bimbo travel to Crazy Town, and as implied, everything’s silly there. Mostly everything gets a basic reversal. A fish waves around a pole and catches a man. At the barber shop waving the scissors over a head makes hair grow. Big animals make tiny squeaks and a suspicious mouse (at about 5:45) roars like a lion. There’s not a lot of deep thinking going into the story-building here. This goes deep; the short isn’t even decided on whether Bimbo is a screwball character doing wild stuff (like early on, when he plays the trolley’s contact pole like a bass), or a straight-man to whom things happen (as when he and Betty watch with terror the approach of the Vermin Supreme ’32 supporter wearing hats on his feet and a boot on his head), or someone who comes around to embrace the weirdness (as when he gets into the barber shop’s logic). Betty doesn’t do much except react to stuff this short, but it does mean she’s got a consistent viewpoint.

I don’t think I can name a blink-and-you-miss-it joke. Everything’s given about the time it needs. I can say the train station joke, with the station holding still and the city sliding behind it, catches my imagination. For its practical benefits, of course. But also because I think of how in a couple years the Fleischers would develop that set-back camera, which let them put animated stuff in front of real-world models that move. It’s always a stunning effect. It’s often the best part of a dull cartoon. And I think of what the city-moving-behind-the-station joke would look like with that effect.

The central song, “Foolish Facts”, wasn’t written for this cartoon. It looks like it should be credited to Frank Crumit. He was renowned for recordings of “Frankie and Johnnie” and “Abdul Abulbul Amir” and writing the fight song for Ohio State University. And he recorded titles that sound like the titles you’d make up about a phonograph star of around 1930, like “She Gives Them All The Ha-Ha-Ha”, “I Married The Bootlegger’s Daughter”, “Oh! Didn’t It Rain”, “There’s No One With Endurance Like The Man Who Sells Insurance”, and “The Prune Song”. Yes there’s a Top 100 Frank Crumit Songs album available on iTunes for only US$5.99. Warning, at least one of the “Foolish Facts” verses not used in this cartoon does one of those 1930s oh-ha-ha wives-are-the-worst-right-fellas jokes. But if you can take that I have to say that’s a good value for a heaping pile of songs that all sound kind of like old-time cartoon music.

A Necessary Correction About City Hall


OK, so the news clarified matters some. It’s not technically a dragon that’s caught in that fifth-floor corridor. It’s instead some cuddly, well-meaning dragon-like creature who embodies the spirit of civic-mindedness or something like that. I’m having trouble following it exactly. Apparently it comes from this obscure series of children’s books from the early 60s that are all about kids who accidentally make things worse but then find out how they can make things better. It sounds a little twee, honestly, but I can’t argue with the sentiments and apparently its nose is this little valentine-heart shape, and I’m a sucker for cute soft 60s characters with that feature. Still looks like some kind of dragon is all.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Sundays)? February – May 2018.


I know you’re interested in Tony DePaul and Dave Weigel’s The Phantom. This is my attempt to catch up on what’s happening, as of mid-May, 2018. Is it not fairly close to that? Then there might be a new story. If I’ve written a new recap, it should be at or near the top of this page. But it’ll share space with Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s weekday continuity for The Phantom, which is a different story. And you might get more fast-breaking news from Tony DePaul’s blog directly.

You’re maybe also interested in mathematics. But want comic strips about mathematics. I’ve got some good news for you! Please enjoy.

The Phantom (Sundays).

25 February – 18 May 2018.

My last recap of the Sunday-continuity Phantom involved a lot of walking. This is because the strip involved a lot of walking. The Ghost Who Walks was earning his title alongside a Bangallan prisoner known to us only as The Rat. The Rat was figuring to buy his freedom with information about his ex-partner, since the partner wasn’t doing anything about breaking him out of prison. The Warden would have none of it. The Phantom would have some of it. He lead The Rat out of Boomsby Prison, the plan being to capture The Rat’s ex-partner, and maybe get The Rat a recommendation for time off his sentence. The Phantom promised, repeatedly, that The Rat was going back to prison, no matter what The Rat’s ideas. As of late February, they finally got out of the prison, into the Boomsby Mines.

The Phantom provides The Rat with a horse, and leads him to the nearby border of fascist Rhodia. The Rat’s ex-partner is in there somewhere. The Rat tries, as promised, to slug The Phantom and break free. That doesn’t work out for The Rat. They go tromping into the woods. The Rat’s luck holds up: a boomslang snake drops around his shoulders.

The Rat, cringing as a snake rests on his head and The Phantom aims his pistol at them: 'Don't! I-I'm gonna grab the snake r-real fast and ... and ...' Phantom: 'Really? After what they said in Boomsby? 'The Rat must Die!' Make a grab for that boomslang and you'll prove them right! Seriously? You want to try to grab that deadly animal?' The Rat: 'Yeah! Yeah, I- I want to! It's MY life! Back off!' The Phantom: 'Fair enough ... grab him high! Right behidn the jaws. Go on three! I'll give you the count ... one ... ' (The Phantom whips out his pistol and shoots, over The Rat and the snake's heads.)
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 15th of April, 2018. The Rat’s been shown to have Charlie Brown-levels of success in getting anything to go the way he figures. It’s all been darkly funny to see him plugging away at the hard-prisoner tropes that ought to work and just explode on him. This is the point in the story where I shifted outright to pitying the guy for being so unable to get even the slightest break. He’s doing his best to burn off that pity, as he carries on as though he’s going to outsmart The Phantom on anything important ever. But still. This guy, you know?

The Phantom takes the chance to mess with The Rat’s head, holding his pistol and making ready to shoot the snake off him. He’s teasing, of course. The Phantom shoots in the air, scaring the venomous snake away. The Rat does a bit of analysis, figuring that he now understands. He speculates The Phantom had a mean life, one that beat toughness into him. Absurd, of course. Kit Walker had a kind, loving father who raised him from birth to be a crimefighting superhero, the way nineteen generations before him had done. The Rat wants to know what The Phantom gets out of all this do-gooding, when he could be amassing riches and power instead. So The Rat hasn’t heard about the treasures in The Phantom’s lair. And doesn’t suspect his ties with the Bangallan president or with the Jungle Patrol. The Phantom might need to improve his brand identity and maybe needs to seed some new Old Jungle Sayings.

The Rat: 'We're fighters, you and me! But here's what I don't get about you, Phantom.' The Phantom: 'There are a whole lot of things you don't get. But go ahead ... I'm listening.' The Rat: 'How come you never used your power to get what you want?' Phantom: 'What I want?' Rat: 'Yeah --- from others! I mean, a guy like you could have ruled Boomsby! Ruled Mawitaan!! From any cell in the joint! Instead you settled for what? Being some kind of do-gooder? That messes with your thinking! Like when you say I'm going back to Boomsby!' Phantom: 'You are, actually. You and the man I'm after.' Rat: 'You have NO IDEA what I'll do to not go back. You won't even see it coming ... '
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 6th of May, 2018. You laugh, but The Rat has already figured out a plan where he distracts The Phantom by pointing at the ground and yelling out, “Hey look, someone left free cake!” and then running off to the side. This plan is foiled when The Phantom doesn’t hear his sudden cry, and the Rat runs into the dry riser so fast that he’s knocked unconscious by his stomach hitting the gas meters for the whole building complex.

But that’s got us — at last, really; this story began in early October — to The Rat’s partner’s lair. Ready to strike. And The Rat clobbers The Phantom into the side of a carport. This will turn out well for him.

As indicated, this has not been a densely plotted story. It’s had several solid sequences, the boomslang the most interesting one to me. It’s been a lot of atmosphere, with some character and a bunch of sequences of The Phantom letting The Rat make a fool of himself. This is fine for the story. It just makes for a short plot recap. Next week will be different.

Next Week!

Has young but genial third-wheel Justin finished choking? Has Rex Morgan committed any actual acts of medicine? Are comic book artists just the best people ever? Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. might just have answers for us!

Statistics Saturday: Components of May


Components of May: Sunday 4, Monday 4, Tuesday 5, Wednesday 5, Thursday 5, Friday 4, Saturday 4.
Maybe I should be looking at the the letters in the days of the week? Like, how Saturday is the only day of the week to have any of the letters of ‘d-a-y’ in the part of its name that isn’t ‘day’? Oh, except for Wednesday. Never mind; that clearly isn’t going anywhere.

Source: This Is New Jersey, John T Cunningham.

Seriously, there’s just got to be a legitimate joke somewhere in the composition of May. And I know what you’re thinking but no, it’s not in a grammatical debate about what composes May versus what comprises May. Better people than I have tried making that work and it does not. I can learn from experience.

Meanwhile On TV


Turner Classic Movies has sometimes been showing cartoons before the Tarzan movies on Saturday mornings. Whoever writes the cable guide summaries described one, airing before Tarzan Putters Around In Manhattan For Some Reason, like this:

Wild Elephinks

In this early-1930s precursor to the cult tv series Lost, Popeye and Olive Oyl find themselves shipwrecked on a… New.

So, Wild Elephinks is not a good cartoon. It’s from early on, before the Fleischers realized that Popeye had a personality. It’s also one of the surprisingly many cartoons that start with Popeye shipwrecked, one of those little recurring things that make you wonder exactly how good a sailor he is. He and Olive Oyl wash up on an island with a bunch of animals on it, all of which Popeye beats up, because what’s more attractive in your hero than punching a mink to death?

I appreciate whoever wrote this caption having a bit of fun given how much nothingness the cartoon’s real premise had. But why do they have to cut off all the TV show summaries that early? Has anyone told the summary writers that they have, like, 130 characters to work with? If they haven’t, why haven’t they? Don’t these summarizers ever go home, check on their work, and realize that everything after the first twenty words was cut off? Does that make them angry? Does that make them sail to a remote island and punch every animal? These are all questions I feel I cannot answer.

How To Move A Plant (Non-Emotionally)


Moving a plant is not a chore you should rush. Really you shouldn’t be rushing any chores, what with how they’re chores. A rushed chore feels skittish, much as you might, and will try to run off. A defensive chore ends up spraying out side tasks as distractions. You may have noticed the results of this. You start off trying to organize the shelf of Books That Friends Who Don’t Read Gave You. You’ve barely gotten to alphabetizing the fourth copy of the novelization to The Thirteenth Floor, which you spent a quixotic two months defending as far superior to The Matrix before remembering that you could go outside and roll down a grassy hillside all afternoon.

Somehow you find yourself in the refrigerator, shelves cleared, sponging off some congealment that seems to be maple syrup hybridized with vinaigrette and store-brand Dr Pepper equivalent. In someone else’s house, one you’re thinking of buying at the tax auction. You have no recollection how it happened. I couldn’t tell you how many times this has happened to me, not since they put all those tags on the cinder-block house two streets over. This is just how chores work.

Nevertheless before moving a plant — remember that? — you need to prepare. Without proper planning even something as simple as cutting down a weed tree could cause the Moon to tumble out of its orbit and go rolling through Appalachia, leaving many stricken West Virginians considerably flatter. How is left as an exercise to the student.

The first step is to warn the plant as early as possible that it will be moved. Moving is traumatic. The plant needs to appreciate the friends and familiar places it’s about to be torn from. They also can get started dreading the new cliques they’ll be plunged defenselessly into a month before the end of the school year. Remember to insist to the plant that it has a say in this move, although not one that would change your plans.

The next step is to have a place to move the plant to. There are great ideas to grow plants hydroponically, without any particular location. It turns out hydroponically means that it’s four spindly lima beans in injected-foam cups during second grade. This may not fit your plant-relocation needs, what with how you have a fourth-grade understanding of fractions and compound sentences.

A great place to deposit a plant is inside a hole. You can purchase a hole, of course. But a great many people with mobility issues depend on pre-dug holes. I feel guilty taking any stock away from them. Funny, that’s the same look the person at the garden supply store gave me. Anyway, I’m able to dig roughly cylindrical holes myself. I encourage that for people who can do it, since it’s such a great experience.

The easiest way to dig a roughly cylindrical hole is with a post-hole digger. Yes, it’s way too much mechanism for this task. It’s just so much fun to lift the digger in the air and toss it in the ground with this satisfying CHUNK, and squeeze it and twist it around and scoop up a heap of dirt and swing it over, dropping the dirt on an unsuspecting smaller sibling. Of course you need a post-hole digger for this. And you can’t just wander in to the grocery store and go to the “P” section and buy the first thing you see. They’ll be filed under “D” for digger. Unless your grocery store uses Reverse Polish Notation, in which case you’re back to “P” again, but who does that? Who isn’t trying to make a point, I mean?

You should keep digging until you have enough hole, which comes when you feel the sense of inner tranquility that comes from outgrowing the idea that you’re a giant long-necked dinosaur used down at the quarry and settling into the idea that you’re pretending to be a hydraulic pile driver. One you do, ponder how it is you have no idea what a pile driver does. I mean, there’s the obvious: it temporarily flattens cartoon animals, but gets broken by the mighty skull of Popeye the Sailor Man. It turns out pile drivers are used to drive piles. Here a pile is a long cylinder of something that’s pretty stern. They get driven into soft soil so that the piles make a better foundation that the dirt does. This may help you feel a sense that the world is abundant in things that are ordinary and unobtrusive but really quite clever.

This might make the plant seem like a rather provincial concern. That’s all right. Explain this to the plant and it will figure out arrangements for itself.

Gasoline Alley Is Still In Reruns, Probably Through June, Possibly To Late August


So, the 15th of May came and Gasoline Alley remained in reruns. I still haven’t heard anything about Jim Scancarelli’s condition. The new story is one about Slim Wallet. He’s the current owner of the auto care place that’s the gasoline alley the strip was built on before Skeezix changed everything.

The story that’s rerunning now, as it originally ran in 2007, was built on Slim having trouble sleeping. That story had a natural stopping point the 16th of June, 2007. So perhaps in a month Scancarelli — or someone else — might pick up new strips without leaving anything hanging. We’ll see the 18th of June this year.

If the strip continues in reruns after that, then we get into a storyline that became notorious, especially on Comics Curmudgeon. Eleven years on this is still one of the iconic references. This is the story where Slim realizes that kids are playing basketball late at night in the playground next to his house. Also that there’s a playground next to his house. This goes into crazypants territory. Yes, one of Scancarelli’s comics modes is the wacky sitcom. But this … well. Here.

Slim, on his computer, talking to himself and sneering ever-more-Snidely-Whiplash-y: 'There's a large meteorite for sale on the Internet! If I buy it and drop the thing on the basketball court --- I won't get the blame ... MOTHER NATURE will!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 16th of July, 2007. And possibly also for the 18th of July, 2018. We’ll see. Not to worry: as the plot progresses, Mark Trail comes in to correct some common misconceptions about the differences between meteors, meteoroids, and meteorites, only to get into a slugging match with Neil deGrasse Tyson. The winner: the entire reading audience.

I will refrain from spoiling you if you want to see this nonsense play out in real time. The end of that storyline came the 28th of August, 2007. So if these strips rerun the whole storyline, then the next chance to step on with a new story will be the 30th of August, 2018.

I don’t think there are any cases where, like, a Gasoline Alley Salutes Flag Day strip would need to be inserted that wasn’t there in 2007. Or that needs to be put in because it wasn’t observed the first time around. But this might throw the story’s end date off by a couple of days. Inserts for observing anniversaries in the comic strip are what keep the 2007 reruns from being perfectly in synch with 2018’s dates.

The Other 34th Talkartoon: Swim Or Sink; your choice


So last week I reviewed what I called the 34th Talkartoon, Minnie the Moocher. But there is a definitional problem here. There was another Talkartoon released the same day, the 11th of March, 1932. Which one is first? Lists seem to have settled on Minnie the Moocher, I assume on grounds of alphabetical order. The other Talkartoon of that busy day is Swim Or Sink. It’s animated by Bernard Wolf and Seymour Kneitel, both names we’ve seen before. Wolf in Minding the Baby. Kneitel in Barnacle Bill, Grand Uproar, and several less notable shorts. Here’s Swim Or Sink, or as it’s often aptly titled, S.O.S..

In content that hasn’t aged well. There’s a quick rather Jewish caricature in a fish that shows up for a line about 2:50 in. And there’s a bunch of pirates who are clear what they plan to do with Betty Boop. Nothing like in Boop-Oop-A-Doop. And Betty’s dress keeps riding up.

Swim Or Sink is nowhere as famous or renowned as Minnie the Moocher. And fair enough, really. It has some quite good animation in the ship-sinking. And a couple nice effects bits. But it doesn’t have any technique as impressive as Cab Calloway rotoscoped into a singing walrus. And the music’s merely ordinary. Picking “What Shall We Do With A Drunken Sailor” for a song about being at sea or being confronted by pirates doesn’t take imagination.

It might be the more strongly constructed cartoon, though. It’s got two parts, a big action scene of the steamer sinking, and then a chase scene of Betty Boop, Koko, and Bimbo menaced by pirates. Throughout there’s reasons for people to be doing what they’re doing. The spot jokes of animals struggling through the ship-sinking can mostly go in any order, but all of them work. And for some reason I’m always tickled by the lightning bolt that sews together the hole it’s cut in the sky.

The sinking ship almost does that “going down three times” gag about sinking that Roy Kassinger was asking about earlier, but it falls short. I think the pirate ship growing eyes and a mouth and swallowing Betty Boop’s raft is exactly the sort of joke we look for in black-and-white cartoons. So is the pirate captain morphing into a snake when he declares he’ll keep Betty to himself.

About 3:55 in the pirate’s sword menacing Koko grows a mouth and licks its lips; the joke was good in Bimbo’s Initiation and it works here too. The anchor shaking itself dry and sneaking into the doghouse is such a neatly done gag, too. I also like Koko, Bimbo, and Betty doing this funny little walking-dance while the pirate crew chases them.

There’s a suspiciously Mickey-like mouse at about 1:45 in, putting on a doughnut as lifesaver. Another’s on the pirate ship about 3:38 in with rather too much sword. And one more, for good measure, dangling from a rope about 6:05 in. I’m not sure there is a blink-and-you-miss-it joke. Maybe early on, when the parts of the doomed ship are falling back into place, when the last bit of the ship — the smoke — drops back into the funnels.

I don’t think there’s any body-horror jokes here, unless you count the pirate crew falling into a giant fish. They seem to be having a jolly time of it at least. The ending might seem abrupt. But “dodging out of the way so your chasers fall overboard” does make sense as a way out of a chase. Works for them.

And Now What’s Wrong At City Hall


So some more of the problems with Lansing City Hall have come to light. Apparently there’s a fairly important service hallway on the fifth floor that’s blocked by a dragon. Not a mean dragon, mind you. It’s actually pretty soft and cuddly by all descriptions. It’s just that since he settled in, he grew too large and now he can’t quite fit through the hallways and has been stuck in place a while. Says the last thing he remembers before getting stuck was reading the newspapers about the Penn Central bankruptcy. So it sounds like he’s a railroad fanatic or one of those people who would read even the boring articles in the newspaper. Fine enough. But he is blocking access to one of the larger supply closets as it is. I can’t imagine everyone else is waiting for those supplies since they’ve been blocked off like that since 1970. Still, think of the proceeds that could be raised from auctioning off genuine 1970-era NOS typewriter ribbons and manilla envelopes and stuff. I have to admit this whole replacing-City-Hall project is sounding more sensible.

What’s Going On In Mary Worth? Muffins And Despair. February – May 2018


Dear Wendy, have you ever tried to explain Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth? Have you ever got angry about a story, and worried about that anger considering you’ve been offended by two Gil Thorp storylines in a row now?

Signed, Person Writing From So Far After Mid-May 2018 That This Essay Isn’t Any Use Anymore.

Dear Person: Of course! I try about every three months to recap the plot in Mary Worth. You should find my most recent essays at this page. And oh yes, I get offended by some story developments and I’m not even talking about Gil Thorp for three more weeks yet. When you get angered by story strips you might see what mathematically-themed comic strips are out there. See whether a bunch of jokes about students misunderstanding a word problem make you feel better about life.

— Wendy.

Auto Surgeon Inc: 'No one is rich enough to buy back their past'.
I do not know how the car care place down the block manages to keep picking quotes that ought to be inspirational and yet somehow read as existential dread. It’s some wild talent they’ve got. (I’d have put this by the Dubiously Sourced Quotes section but don’t want the more intense strips to show up in the Twitter preview.)

A content warning. The last couple months of Mary Worth have included a character sexually assaulting another. They’ve also included a despairing character considering suicide. If you don’t need that in your recreation, you’re absolutely right. Go on to something that won’t be needlessly miserable instead. I’ll catch you next time.


Mary Worth.

18 February – 13 May 2018.

When I last checked in Mary Worth was looking to become rich and famous through muffins. Ted Miller, vaguely associated old friend of Mary’s eternal beau Jeff, was crazy for Mary Muffins and insisted the world would be too. His plan: Mary bakes muffins, and he sells them, and then they both get rich and she gets famous. What could go wrong? And it was a glorious time. For one, yes, people in-universe always praise her food. But Mary Worth’s cooking always looks like it’s from one of those Regrettable 70s Food blogs. You know, the ones where we were supposed to make a tuna-jello fondue with a 7-Up glaze and bake it to look like a lamb, with a dyed mashed potato “lawn” around it.

There’s a motif in comic strips where a character gets to be successful after five weeks of kind of trying. It’s a reliable giddy delight. For another, people kept saying “muffin” or, better, “Mary’s muffins”. Over and over and over. This blend of silly story and silly phrasing could not go wrong.

Continue reading “What’s Going On In Mary Worth? Muffins And Despair. February – May 2018”

Statistics Saturday: Components Of May


Doughnut chart, 31 wedges of an annular ring each with one of the whole numbers 1 to 31 pointing to it.
Also the new version of Apple Numbers wants us to know it’s a really big thing that they can draw charts like this. And I guess the doughnut chart is nice enough. But I don’t feel excited by this. Do you?

Source: Airborne Trailblazer: Two Decades with NASA Langley’s 737 Flying Laboratory, Lane E Wallace.

I don’t know. I’m sure I have the right joke in here somewhere. I just don’t know that I’ve found it yet.

In The 24-Hour Weather Forecast


So if I’m reading the weather map right they’re expecting rain all over the lower peninsula today. I mean of Michigan. I can’t account for all the lower peninsulas out there.

But it’s going to be heaviest in the southern half of the state, where the rainfall totals should be at least a half-inch. Although if you get into the area called mid-Michigan, roughly the forty miles north and south of Lansing, it’s higher than that. Like maybe an inch or so. If you get even more mid-Michigan they’re projecting higher rain, like maybe two inches. And in this even narrower ribbon they’re warning it might be three inches and from where that is …

Well, if I’m reading this right my block is projected to get about 22 inches of rain over the next day and a half. But I’m lucky not to be on the south half of the block, since they’re going to be really hit, getting somewhere around 21,230 inches of rain. Not sure which house is the center of that. I bet it’s the one that’s got the roof torn off so they could replace the shingles; isn’t that always the way? Ask me about the great Apartment Building Roof-replacement Of ’99 sometime. I should warn you, like most of my stories, it’s a bit weird and vaguely boring although it’s hard to pin down what the boring part actually is.


And in case I’m completely washed off to sea I just rediscovered this old bit where I read Wikipedia’s article about the Detroit Zoo and somehow ended up worse-informed about the Detroit Zoo than I was before. I liked it; you might, too. I was genuinely surprised by the bit I wrote about Luther Beecher and that’s a great feeling.

Everything Interesting There Is To Say About Dividing Numbers


Many people have written here to the Department of English to ask about dividing numbers. We think they’ve entered some code wrong. But in the spirit of open-minded civic cooperation we shall try to help.

There are many reasons to divide one number by another. For example, one can use it to adapt a recipe so that you can make an amount for fewer people than the recipe figures on. Recipes often need to be divided, we guess. The person writing the recipe assumed you were excluding fewer people from your meals, because they were not on social media at the time.

You need to have an objective before checking a number’s divisibility. This keeps you from doing something absurd like finding out whether you can divide 96,133 by 251, considering that neither number is at all believable. By “number” we mean “whole number”. These are numbers which are at least two percent fat by volume. Skim numbers follow different rules, but are healthier, and taste more like watercolor paint.

Do check that your numbers are in base ten. This won’t often be a problem. Base ten is popular in places where people mostly have ten fingers per person. There are some people enthusiastic about other bases. Other bases let you do things like figure out what the 69,281st digit of π is in base 32. Or insist that it’s a funny joke to say “Halloween is equivalent to Christmas” and insist that’s true. Smile at these people and move on with your life. Do not bring up base eleven. They’ll start talking the history of the metric system.

Divisibility starts with 1. This is easy enough since everything is divisible by 1. This is the result of 1 winning a fourth-round bye in the Numeric Invitational Tournament. (The first through third-round byes won money instead.) 10 is also a pretty good number to divide by. If a number ends in zero you can divide it by 10, and for that matter by 5. This makes 5 sound pretty free-wheeling. 2 is a more needy number and insists that any numbers ending in 0, 2, 4, 6, 10, 18, 64, 98, 144, or 69,282 divide by it. There is no point arguing with 2 about this point anymore. Let it have these. Do not let it have 251.

Things get tricky around 3, which should surprise nobody, given the number’s pointiness. But there’s hope. Take all the digits of your number and add them up. If that sum is divisible by 3 then so was your original number. Yes, we’re still stuck on whether some number can be divided 3, but it’s a different number. By keeping a list of all the numbers we’re considering divisibility by three we can show we’re working hard and taking this problem seriously. Later we can learn that we did the adding-up wrong, costing us one point but not much affecting our grade.

A number is divisible by 4 when the corresponding year is a Presidential Election Year in the United States. Unfortunately this means you might be waiting around for hundreds or thousands of years to check. Plus the rule is no good for anything below 1788. Maybe someday we’ll discover a different method that’s practical instead.

Nothing is divisible by 17, but who would want that anyway?

Simplicity itself is the test for whether something is divisible by 21. Start with the last digit of the number you’re testing. Now make a copy, in case the number needs to be remastered at some point. Add to that last digit ten times the digit to the left of the last digit. Then subtract five times the digit to the left of that. Once you’ve got that done, simply add four times the digit to the left of that one. From that sum subtract twice the digit to the left of that. If you’ve got any digits left over then add one times that. If anything is still left over, go back around the multiplying and subtracting or adding like before. And voila: if the new number you get is divisible by 21 so was the original! It’s amazing there are people who need this explained to them even today, but it was Thursday all day. We can’t expect too much.

If you should find your recipe contains a number that can’t be divided, then you can’t make the recipe until you start talking to people again. We don’t know how to help with that. You can leave a note that you’ll accept an apology when they feel courageous enough to offer one. This has never worked for anyone, ever. But hey, good luck to you!

My Excuse For Today, Which Involves Calzones, But Indirectly


I’m very sorry, but I’ve been staring hard at The Food Timeline and I’m trying to process the information that stromboli can’t be proven to have existed any earlier than the 1990s. I mean, think of all the things that were invented before strombolis: calzones, well, that’s natural enough. But also, like, eight-track cassette tapes, the Hubble Space Telescope, and fajitas. Wait, fajitas were only invented in the early 70s? Well, so you can see why I’ve just been a mess all day.

The 34th Talkartoon: Minnie the Moocher, you know, that one.


Today’s Talkartoon is a famous one. One that people might have heard of. Possibly by name; it often lands on the top of lists of all-time great cartoons and certainly of all-time great black-and-white cartoons. Possibly by reputation. It’s got images that define, for many people, the surreal world that pre-color cartoons did all the time. It’s a cartoon for which we have credits. The animators were Willard Bowksy, Ralph Somerville, and Bernard Wolf. Bowsky we’ve seen on (particularly) Swing You Sinners! and Mysterious Mose. Somerville is a new credit. Wolf was on Minding The Baby. From the busy 11th of March, 1932, here’s Minnie the Moocher.

Back around 2000, when the Star Wars prequels were still looked on with optimism, Conan O’Brien visited an animation studio. He played around with the motion-capture gear. They used it to render a particularly silly version of C-3PO. Jerry Beck, then with Cartoon Brew, noted that Conan O’Brien put in a great motion-capture performance. He was a natural, putting in big, expressive movements that turned into compelling animation well.

Before motion-capture there was rotoscoping. The Fleischer Brothers hold the patent, United States patent number 1,242,674, on it. The technique, filming some live-action event and using that to animate a thing, made it possible to draw stuff that moved like real stuff did. If you don’t see what I mean, look at anything animated by Winsor McCay. This line work was always precise and well-detailed and fantastic. Then look at how any object in his cartoons falls down. Yeah.

It got a bad reputation, especially in the 70s, as a way studios would finish animation cheaply. Film a guy doing the thing, and then trace the action, and you’re done. But as with most tools, whether it’s good or not depends on the source material. Use the rotoscope footage to guide the line of action and you get better results. Start from interesting live-action footage and you get interesting results. And here, finally, is my point: this cartoon starts with great live-action footage.

It starts with Cab Calloway and his Orchestra, in what Wikipedia tells me is their earliest known footage. That’s worth watching on its own. Calloway moves with this incredible grace and style, beautiful and smooth. There’s moments I wondered if the film was being slowed or sped up, with the tempo of the film itself changing. Surely not; that sort of trick is easy enough today but would take far too much coordination for an animated feature of 1932. They’re building the short on rotoscoping some awesome footage.

So awesome it barely matters that Betty Boop is in the short. Even less that Bimbo is. There’s a bare thread of a reason for any of this to happen. A hard-to-watch scene of Betty’s father berating her, leavened by the weirdness of her father’s rant turning into a well-played record. And to ramp the weirdness up a bit, her mother changing the record. Betty’s given comfort by inanimate objects around her that she doesn’t notice, then decides to run away from home. She writes a farewell letter, and about 3:06 in draws Koko the Clown out of the inkwell. It’s a cute joke; most of the Koko the Clown cartoons did start with Koko being pulled out out of the inkwell. Koko’s also the figure that the Fleischers first used rotoscoping to animate. They can’t have meant that subtle a joke. It’s enough to suppose they saw someone dipping a pen in an inkwell and referred to that. But it does serve as this accidental bit of foreshadowing of what would happen.

What happens is Cab Calloway, rotoscoped and rendered as a walrus and singing “Minnie the Moocher”, then a brand-new song. Betty and Bimbo spend the song watching the walrus sing and dance. The backgrounds smoothly dissolve between nightmare scenes. Weird little spot gags about skeletons and ghosts and demons and all carry on. Eventually a witch(?) arrives and everybody runs off, possibly chasing Betty back home, possibly running from the witch(?).

(Quick question: why is Bimbo here? He doesn’t do anything besides be scared, and Betty’s already doing that. Is he lending his star power to the short? … Well, I can think of a purpose he serves. There’s a sexual charge in a strange, powerful menacing a lone woman. That the being is a rendition of a black man adds to the sexual charge. That the woman is here depicted as young enough to be living with her parents heightens that further. But having Betty and Bimbo together diffuses that charge. It’s not eliminated, and I think the short benefits from that charge being present. But it leaves the menace more exciting than worrisome. I don’t know that the animators were thinking on that level. It’s enough to suppose they figured the series was a Betty-and-Bimbo thing so of course Bimbo would be there. Betty hasn’t had a solo vehicle yet. I think it’s a choice that makes the short work better though.)

So there’s not much of a plot. And Betty and Bimbo don’t do anything interesting. That’s all right. This short is built on its technical prowess. Cab Calloway’s dancing is this wonderful magical thing. It turns into animation that’s magical. (For the most part. There’s a bit of the walrus chucking ho-de-ho-de-ho at about 6:58 in that my brain insists on reading as Homer Simpson laughing. That’s not this short’s fault and I hope I haven’t infected you with the same problem.)

There’s all the body horror you could want in this short. To me, the creepiest moment is the cat nursing her young; you, take your pick. The joke that I think it’s easiest to blink and miss has a well-established setup. That’s in how Betty, running away from home, rolls up the one thing she plans to keep, her toothbrush. The joke is she tosses it aside before jumping out the window. It’s so quick a thing did you even notice it when you first watched? I don’t spot any mice in the short, which surprises me since they could fit the ghosts-and-spirits styling easily. Maybe they ran out of time.

More Trouble At City Hall


Some more reports of problems at City Hall. So according to the local news today they’ve found a storage closet on the fourth floor that’s just chock full of German-speaking academic types saying “peculiar”. Nobody knows why there’s this collection. For my tastes, just the great way they pronounce that central syllable is justification enough. But I don’t see why the city needs so many of them. Or really any of them at all. You’d think it was something for the community college.

Also in a waiting room on the sixth floor the audio system is always playing Kid Creole and the Coconuts’s 1985 hit “Endicott”. Like, the song finishes and then it starts right back up. It’s a fun enough song, but this is a bit much, considering the room doesn’t have an audio system. The leading hypothesis is the room is haunted by a fan of New Wave/Disco music but who just isn’t that adventurous, or has maybe been locked out of their iTunes account. Part of renovations would include just signing the ghost up for a new account already, one they have a password manager for.

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? Why Is He Making So Many Nerd Movie Jokes? February – May 2018.


Here’s my most recent recap of James Allen’s Mark Trail. At or near the top of that link, anyway. My recap here should cover the early part of 2018. Good luck.

And I discuss comic strips with mathematical themes on my other blog. I hope you find that interesting too.

Mark Trail.

11 February – 6 May 2018.

Last time in Mark Trail there were a bunch of animals in weird places. I mean weird by Mark Trail’s standards. A giraffe eating Rusty’s apples. An ostrich with an organ-grinding monkey teasing Doc. A rhino chasing down a couple of Mark Trail cartoonist James Allen’s friends. Mark could be baffled by these goings-on while we readers weren’t. And not because Mark or anyone was being dumb. We had information that they didn’t: “Dirty” Dyer read about how the Tingling Brothers Circus was making its last tour. How or why their animals were loose might be a mystery, but why there should be a giraffe at the Lost Forest at this time of year was not. Oh, also, Dyer is figuring to kill Mark Trail. But he’s taking his time and working up to it.

Mark, on the phone, seeing a tiger in front of him: 'Dusty, I think we have a problem! Give me a second --- I want to test a theory!' Mark thinks: 'Turn around slowly, don't make any sudden movements! I've got to get back in the house!' In the house, Mark says, 'Cherry, honey, will you do me a favor?'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 15th of February, 2018. Next panel, Mark says, “Call Brewster Rockit and see if Winky’s free.”

After hearing of Rusty and Doc’s weird-animal reports, Mark steps out on the porch and sees a tiger. He swings into action and steps back inside, to toss a ham outside. A big old ham, too, like you see in 1950s humor comic books. The tiger eats the ham, proving to Mark that this isn’t some hallucination, somehow? After that odd moment, though, Mark calls the authorities, who it turns out were coming to visit anyway. The Sheriff explains. The Circus train derailed and most of the animals got loose.

Then he launches into what’s almost a shaggy dog story. It’s built on the premise that the clown car took it hardest: “You should have seen it, Mark — greasepaint and rubber chickens on the tracks for miles!”. The story then goes into the clowns, who were all safely in the bar car, in full makeup and dress. The dazed group, led by the eldest and most respected clown, the Great Wilhelm — “the clown that never spoke, he just screamed a lot” — wandered away. They stumbled through a graveyard and toward a bonfire where some kids were having a camping night and telling monster stories and stuff. So you can imagine how well a pack of dazed, disheveled clowns stumbling out of the graveyard were received. The clowns, frightened by the kids’ screams, turned and fled. Old Man Basil, overseeing the bonfire, fired a load of rock salt and hit The Great Wilhelm in the back. “They said you could hear Wilhelm scream from the other end of the valley!”

Sheriff, telling of the clowns who survived a train derailment to wander into a kids' campout: 'As the clowns turned tail and ran, Old Man Basil loaded his shotgun with rock salt and fired off one good shot! They said you could hear Wilhelm scream from the other side of the valley!
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 6th of March, 2018. I mean, this is the Sheriff telling a tall tale, right? Because otherwise I’m stuck on why all the clowns were dressed and in makeup when they were just hanging out in the bar car while in transit. Which is a dumb thing to get hung up on, but I’m not sure I’m feeling merry about a guy who’s at least 80 years old — he’d been a clown at least 65 years — getting shot even if it is by rock salt at a distance.

Okay. So. First. I’m not afraid of clowns. Not in the slightest. I don’t get what is supposed to be frightening about clowns. I think the pop culture default assumption that of course clowns are evil terrifying monsters who have to be stamped out of society is a sickness. I’ll grant there are people afraid of clowns, but, I mean, there are people afraid of any living matter that has lots of holes in it, like some kinds of fungus have. We don’t grant that phobia a privileged place in society and tell each other that of course the phobia is correct. “But wait,” people trying to talk me into fearing clowns say. “What about the clown from It? Aren’t you scared of that clown?”

I’ve never read It, nor seen the movie. But as I understand it, the clown from It is an unstoppable supernatural monster dragging people to a horrible death. The scary thing there is “unstoppable supernatural monster dragging people to a horrible death”. That he manifests as a clown doesn’t enter into it. I would not feel less menaced if the unstoppable supernatural monster dragging people to a horrible death were a freelance insurance-claims investigator.

Second. Wilhelm Scream? As in the scream that I guess is in every movie nerds like. James Allen put into Mark Trail a nerd-culture riff like that? And I didn’t notice? Even though he quite fairly set it up and underlined it several times, talking about The Great Wilhelm who “just screamed a lot”. And I didn’t notice. Well, fair enough. I’ve never noticed the Wilhelm Scream sound effect even though it’s apparently in every movie I’ve watched more than three times, including the Marx Brothers’ Monkey Business and Mister Bug Goes To Town. (Don’t @ me. I’ve listened to the scream in isolation, and I’ve listened to scenes with it in. I’ve learned that it turns out I just don’t care.) I’m not sure how I feel about Mark Trail making nerd culture jokes. But he put in a good one, and did it well, laying out the setup where anyone could see and trusting people wouldn’t notice.

Anyway. Back to the story. Mark and Dusty go looking for animals. There’s the ground rumbling. Mark says “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” and I see what he did there. It’s an elephant. Mark gets to the tranquilizer gun and knocks out the elephant before anybody can come to particular harm.

Then a new, bearded, bald guy comes in. In Mark Trail tradition this signals that we’ve finally met the villain. But no: he’s Marlin Creed from the Eden Gardens Zoo. There is no villain in this piece. He and his assistant Jim are here to help trap the animals and to ask if you get the reference there. Well? Do you? BETTER SAY YES! (2 points to the first person who gets what my reference there is. That person will be Roymark Kassinger.). (5 points to the first person who figures out what I’m referencing with this points-to-the-first-person-who stuff.)

Rhinoceros knocking over a tiger while Marlin looks on.
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 29th of March, 2018. Maybe the rhinoceros and the tiger had a simmering dispute for months, even years, and it finally flared up after the train accident?

With the arrival of Marlin and Jim, and the news that the circus people are getting organized again, the story looks like it’s finally ended. Mark mentions he’s going to have a vacation in Mexico soon. And then it turns out there’s a ruckus off-screen. There’s a tiger fighting a rhinoceros, because hey, how often do you get to justify having a tiger fight a rhinoceros? I mean outside March Mammal Madness? (I have not forgotten #Unsettlegate. Don’t ask what this is all about. You’re better off not knowing.)

Marlin, in the jeep, chasing the rhinoceros: 'Yeeee-haww! This reminds me of the days when Jim and I were on that television show!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 3rd of April, 2018. I refuse to consider the possibility that the “Yeee-haww!” is a Dukes of Hazard reference. Just. No.

The tiger runs off in one direction, the rhino in another. Mark, Marlin, and Jim chase the rhino in a cool zebra-striped jeep. Meanwhile Joel Robinson in the corner of the screen whispers out, “Daktari”. After the Wilhelm Scream thing I’m not getting nerd-snookered again. Marlin sends Jim out to annoy the rhino with a stick. Mark asks “is that safe?” Marlin says “No.” Like in the jokes about Wild America made back when we made jokes about Marlin and Jim and Wild America. The rhino is successfully annoyed and smashes the jeep. But Mark’s able to shoot him with a tranquilizer dart.

With the 14th of April this story is officially closed. We’re told the circus has recovered all their missing animals. This includes “Twinkles, the flaming-log-juggling hippo”. I assume this is a reference to something and I’m waiting to see what it is in Dick Tracy.

Mark, with the rifle and tranquilizer dart, thinking: 'If that rhino comes out from behind that jeep, I can get a clear shot at him! I hope Marlin is okay --- ah! There's the beast!' (POW! as the gun fires.) Mark, thinking: 'That should do it!' The rhinoceros snorts over the wreck of the jeep.
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 10th of April, 2018. Also while it is exciting action I’m not sure how I feel about Mark Trail shooting two large animals within a month of reader time. Yes, yes, it’s tranquilizer darts. But tranquilizer darts aren’t phasers set on stun. I grant there might not be any sensible alternative, but there’s some real risk here that I feel gets treated lightly.

The 16th of April starts what might be the current story. It’s in the Bahamas where Dirty Dyer has been lounging on the beach and scaring resort guests with his knife-throwing practice. Also shooting off guns. Also reading Weapons For Dummies, Calvin and Hobbes, and To Serve Man. Dyer glad-handles the guy sent to report on how he’s alarming the guests into becoming his assistant.

I say this might be the current story. We’ve seen one or two-week interludes with Dirty Dyer before. James Allen is letting this story simmer. I don’t know whether Mark Trail is going to encounter Dirty Dyer yet.

So the 26th of April starts what is unambiguously the current story. The Trails are flying to Mexico. Rusty has an honestly endearing moment where he’s amazed at the size of the airport. “We’re only going to Mexico — I didn’t think we’d need an airport this big!” I sincerely like the kid-logic that how far you’re going should affect the size of the airport you go to. It’s even got enough bits of truth to it to make sense. Rusty Trail comes in for a lot of jokes about being a terrifying homunculus. I’m glad to see him being a normal-ish child.

Not much has happened here yet. While taking off Cherry Trail mentions a couple stories back where the island Mark was on exploded under a volcano. And Mark talks a bit about where they’re going. It’s called the Azyoulik, an ecoresort near Tulum. And right near the town of Santa Poco. Get it?

Yeah, me neither. Mark explains, “Interestingly enough, Santa Poco was saved from bandits in the silent movie era by three American cowboy actors!” So I do thank James Allen for explaining he was making a Three Amigos reference. Rusty’s already wandered off to meet someone named Mara, whose family is also going to Tulum. And that’s where we are as of Saturday.

So all in all, I don’t know why Mark Trail is making so many nerd movie jokes lately. I think Allen’s just having fun with the strip’s hip-because-square reputation.

Sunday Animals Watch

What bits of nature have been showcased on Sundays recently? These have been:

  • Sea Turtles, 11 February 2018. Really, really endangered.
  • Bougainvillea, 18 February 2018. Not endangered except by spelling bee contestants who’ve just been knocked out.
  • Prairies Dogs and Black-Footed Ferrets, 25 February 2018. Finally. The Black-Footed Ferrets are incredibly endangered. Prairie Dogs are making a comeback.
  • Spiders and Great Heights, 4 March 2018. While public-speaking on an airplane naked in front of the House Centipede convention.
  • Blue Tarantulas, 11 March 2018. Freshly-discovered and so very popular so we’re going to destroy it any day now.
  • Rhesus Macaque Monkeys on this island near Puerto Rico, 18 March 2018. They survived Hurricane Maria and the future disgraced former president hasn’t ordered their gizzards drilled for coal yet!
  • Black-Footed [wild] Cat of southwest Africa, 25 March 2018. Really, really endangered.
  • Feral Pigs, 1 April 2018. Endangering you. Seriously. That bit at the start of The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy falls in the pig pen and the Cowardly Lion’s farmhand’sona rescues her? That’s showing off his bravery. The movie thought that part out.
  • Tiger Sharks, 8 April 2018. ThunderCats, but for sea life, why wouldn’t this be a hit? Because it didn’t make sense even by the standards of the SilverHawks universe is why. I mean, when your show would have been less baffling if you didn’t include the pilot episode laying out how everybody came to be Tiger Sharks and what their powers and all were you have world-building problems.
  • Chameleons, 15 April 2018. All my attempts to learn about how their faces fluoresce were obliterated by noticing Mark Trail calling them “squamates” and I have to sit and stare at that word for a long while even though (a) I know full well it’s a legitimate way to refer to them and (b) I knew the root word “squamous” before Mark Trail got onto it so there.
  • Marbled Crayfish, 22 April 2018. You know, those crayfish that are doing way better since they stopped dealing with the males of the species.
  • Orange Crocodiles, 29 April 2018. Probably Just About Dead.
  • Harris’s Hawks, 6 May 2018. Not endangered yet, but just you wait.

Next Week!

Muffins. What are they, and what became of them? Can you put mayonnaise on a muffin? Come back in a week and I’ll share the weird message of existential despair from the car place down the block.

Statistics Saturday: Components Of May


Pie chart, with one-third 'M', one-third 'A', and one-third 'Y'.
If you think this whole exercise is just a chance to show off how great the valley in the center of the ‘M’ looks in this typeface (Futura) you’re mistaken. It’s to show off how great the slanted outside legs of the ‘M’ do. But yeah, that valley in the center of the ‘M’ is pretty great too. Really there’s all kinds of great stuff in Futura.

Source: Shakespeare’s Kings: The Great Plays and the History of England in the Middle Ages, John Julius Norwich.

What do you think? Is this a better rendition of the joke? Or should I just scrap the whole project?

My Excuse For Today


I’d like to go into more detail about anything today. But I’ve just learned from my spell checker that apparently a single piece of confetti can be correctly called a “confetto”. So now I just have to sit down and stare at that all night until the world starts to make sense again.

What They Found Inside City Hall


I don’t know how closely you’re following the public debate about Lansing’s municipal infrastructure. I admit having suspicions. Anyway the biggest debate, as measured by height above street level, is about the David M Hollister City Hall. They named City Hall for Mayor Hollister last year. Mayor Hollister was mayor back a couple decades so he’s in the sweet spot right now. Nobody remembers what the heck his big scandal was, but they do remember he’s alive. That latter one puts him up over the guy who succeeded Hollister, whom Wikipedia tells me was Mayor … Mayor M Lansingmayor…son?.

They’re talking about moving to a new City Hall. This seems like a dis on Hollister, but nah, he’s fine with it. He never liked the building to start with, which makes naming the place after him seem like an even bigger dis. I’m starting to wonder if somebody does remember whatever the heck his scandal was and is playing headgames. But the major talk about moving is that the current City Hall was last maintained in any form in 1973. This was when they painted over the sign reading “Court of Oyer and Teminer” after learning Michigan has never had one of those.

The alt-weekly had a piece last week about how bad the building is. The building’s from 1958, so it’s got that swinging mid-century modernist style like a setting for one of those Chuck Jones Tom and Jerry cartoons. And it’s great for regrouping after heavy rains destroy a parade. But I have to admit some of these problems seem dire. For example:

Stalagmites. There’s those steady water leaks through the cement causing trouble all over. Last month somebody voting in an absentee ballot came back to the basement garage and found a limestone iceberg had completely enveloped his 2017 Buick Verano and also a wooly mammoth. And the vote was on whether to extend participation in the regional 9-1-1 service agreement. The vote passed but was it really worth the loss of his car and mammoth? Oh, probably. Regionalization is good for this kind of thing.

The Eighth-Floor Bathroom. It’s got faded orange walls. It’s also got that thing with a cloth towel looped into some kind of metal dispenser that’s been rusted in place since 1959. It’s like, it’s supposed to turn so you aren’t wiping your hands on the filthiest piece of fabric known to humanity, but it doesn’t? Also there’s a four-by-five-foot hole in the floor that looks over a hole in the floor below that’s the same size. Also the floor below that, and so on, down to the second storey. Yes, yes, on that second storey there is a trampoline. The city isn’t reckless. Oh, but also when you enter, some phone navigator voice calls out, “Please continue on the current route”. No one has any explanation for this phenomenon.

David Hollister’s Middle Initial Is ‘C’. I know, that hardly seems to make sense, does it? It would flow so poetically if his middle name started ‘M’. But he insists on ‘C’ and there’s no arguing him out of this. They are saying if they move to a new city hall it’ll be the David C Hollister City Hall and I guess we’ll swallow our tears over the ‘M’.

Climate Control. The building’s original, dials-and-levers, steam-based control system hasn’t worked in decades. Instead management has to use a set of signal flags, based on a code book used by the Royal Navy at the Battle of Ushant 1778. I know, you’re giggling thinking about how well that worked out for the British, right? It causes so much confusion. People on the maintenance floors have to keep stepping away from their big, rusty blocks of metal that makes alarming banging noises to clarify things. “Do you really want us to send the sixth-rate frigates to lee?” “No, no, we just need the property tax appeals to be about three degrees cooler.” It’s a lot of trouble.

The Upper Floors. Between the strong, hypnotic horizontal rows of alternating blue and black windows, and the regular vertical aluminum linings, there’s definitely a Saul Bass credit sequence forming. This isn’t by itself a problem. But it does need someone to extract the credits. Zoo officials recommend placing it at the start of a tight 95-minute thriller about a man who saw a book about the Byzantine Empire in the wrong section of the library, checked it out on a whim, and found himself on a wild transcontinental race for the secrets of an atomic supermarket that were hidden on a folded sheet of paper on between pages 383 and 384. Movie goof: you can’t fit a sheet between pages 383 and 384! The book is only 352 pages long.

The Lobby Escalator. When the state put up a spite office building right infront of City Hall the town had to wall off the escalator. The partitions are still there. Two years ago the courts ruled that the city had to open enough of a hole in the drywall to let the people trapped on the escalator free. “We don’t know how this happened,” said the assistant city manager. “We would have sworn the escalator was too far from the courtroom for any judge to hear them.”

There’s more, but it gets into some weird territory. But now I understand more why they figure they need a new building. They’re not figuring to demolish the current City Hall, though. They figure they can turn it into a hotel. That sounds like it’ll be a much more interesting place than the last Red Roof Inn I stayed in. They barely even had any weird candy in the vending machine.

Statistics April: Nancy Turns Out To Be A Gift To Me


All right, so, I have my reasons to suspect that the new artist doing Nancy will have caused strange things to happen to my readership statistics. Let me just check here.

Yeah, OK, so that’s roughly what I figured. There were 3,590 page views around here in April. Down from March’s 3,773 but still. That’s four months in a row I’ve been above 3,590. This is going to go so to my head. There were 1,988 unique visitors as best WordPress can tell; that’s the greatest number of unique visitors since Apocalypse 3-G. Still hasn’t quite broken 2,000, though. There were 1,917 in March and 1,982 in February and there we go. I need to troll more obviously for unique readers.

The reader-engagement stuff dropped again. A mere 177 likes in April, down from 241 in March or 207 in February. The number of comments plummeted to 43, down from 84 and in February 121. With this trend I can expect May to see eight comments. That sounds about right.

Bar chart of readership figures, with four months in a row of total views between 3,500 and 4,000.
It just looks so adorably like the Central Business District is building a whole mess of new skyscrapers. I think it’s got a better composition than last month’s chart had.

So why do I say the new Nancy brought me readers? First, here’s the top five posts from the month:

So I know some of what happened. The new Nancy is getting a lot of comment, including from the Onion’s AV Club. I expect that the AV Club articles about Nancy have as related posts Apartment 3-G talk, and that would bring some attention to my updates about how nothing was happening in the strip before the strip stopped happening altogether. A lot of the most popular posts after the top five were Apartment 3-G-related, or features of other comics. The most popular piece that wasn’t about comic strips was In Which My Calendar Wants Me To Do The Unthinkable, and that was like the 218th most popular posting in April. The most popular long-form original piece was If It Is Not The End Of The World, and that wasn’t all that well-liked. The most popular statistics piece was What Textbooks You Need To Major In Mathematics so at least amusing exactly myself works for some people.

There were 76 countries sending readers here, which is way over March’s 75 or February’s 70. Of those countries 21 were single-reader ones, down from 25 but up from February’s 18. I don’t know what’s happening there. Still, here’s the roster of them:

Country Readers
United States 2,882
Canada 148
India 71
United Kingdom 70
Brazil 29
Australia 27
Germany 26
South Korea 22
France 19
Singapore 18
Italy 17
Mexico 11
Norway 11
Denmark 10
Finland 10
Indonesia 10
Russia 10
Spain 10
Sweden 10
Switzerland 10
Portugal 9
Romania 9
Hong Kong SAR China 8
Netherlands 8
Philippines 8
Ireland 7
Israel 7
Serbia 7
United Arab Emirates 7
European Union 6
Hungary 6
Poland 6
South Africa 6
Chile 5
Japan 5
New Zealand 4
Trinidad & Tobago 3
Turkey 3
Argentina 2
Bangladesh 2
Bulgaria 2
Czech Republic 2
Estonia 2
Greece 2
Kenya 2
Laos 2
Lebanon 2
Lithuania 2
Malaysia 2
Pakistan 2
Sri Lanka 2
Taiwan 2
Ukraine 2
Venezuela 2
Vietnam 2
Austria 1
Cambodia 1
China 1
Costa Rica 1
Egypt 1
Georgia 1
Ghana 1
Guam 1
Iraq 1 (**)
Jamaica 1
Latvia 1 (*)
Macedonia 1
Mauritius 1
Montenegro 1
Myanmar (Burma) 1 (***)
Nepal 1
Puerto Rico 1
Slovakia 1 (*)
St. Kitts & Nevis 1
Thailand 1
Uganda 1

I’m surprised to see how much the United States readership dropped (3,111 in March to 2,882 in April) and that other countries picked up most of the readership gap. Latvia and Slovakia were single-reader countries for the second month in a row. Iraq for the third. Myanmar/Burma is on its fourth month on this single-reader streak.

Insights tells me that as of right now — the 1st of May, with that piece about old-time-radio-based movies being on TCM — I’ve had 121 posts so far this year, drawing 265 total comments and 812 total likes. My word total is up to 82,553, indicating I wrote 18,630 words for here. Add to that the 8,494 words I wrote for the mathematics blog and I ground out 27,124 words for my WordPress blogs. That sounds impressive until you consider how many of those words were either “well”, “just”, or “since”. (7,422 of them.)

The Insights panel says my average post has been 682.3 words. At the start of April that was 687.3. The average post got 6.7 likes, down from 7. The average number of comments was 2.2 per post, same as through the end of March.

I’d like to invite you to keep reading Another Blog, Meanwhile. I haven’t turned on the subscribe-by-e-mail option, although I’m considering it. You can add this to your WordPress reader by using the “Follow Another Blog, Meanwhile” button in the upper right corner of the page. There’s an RSS feed of articles that you can use too. There’s also an RSS feed of comments although I don’t know why that’s an option. I suppose for blogs that get to actually discussing things in depth. And finally over on Twitter I’m @Nebusj and I do try to announce new posts when they’re ready. Thanks for reading and whatnot, all not-quite-two-thousand of you.

The 33rd Talkartoon: The Robot, surely Not A Time-Traveller’s Prankish Insertion To History


I have to apologize a bit for today’s Talkartoon. Not for the content; for the presentation. I can’t find it on archive.org. I’ve found it on YouTube, and that looks good, but the link might expire when I’m not looking. If you’re reading this sometime in the future and find that it has, please let me know and I’ll try to fix things. Might even be on archive.org by then.

The cartoon was released the 5th of February, 1932, just a couple weeks after Boop-Oop-A-Doop. There’s no credits for the animators; not even guesses. It’s the last Talkartoon we can say that about.

The cartoon feels anachronistic. For the first time in ages Bimbo’s got the starring role. And he’s got his older, more screwball-character model design. Betty Boop — well, is Betty Boop even in this one? The cartoon was included in the Complete Betty Boop Collection videotapes in the 90s, but on what grounds? She isn’t named, and she doesn’t look much like Betty Boop. Mostly; there’s the scene where she comes out of the circus tent about 4:50 in where she’s basically on model. She looks closer to the possibly proto-Betty-Boop who figured in Grand Uproar or Teacher’s Pest. And there are a lot of scenes where the camera puts the scene in a circle surrounded by black. Sometimes this irises out to a whole scene. It’s a common technique for cutting between scenes or setting focus that silent movies (cartoons and live-action) used all the time. It faded out with the coming of sound, for reasons I’m not sure about. Here it’s everywhere. Given all this I wonder if the cartoon wasn’t made months, maybe a year, earlier and not released until later on.

Oh yeah also it’s about Bimbo’s Robot. In 1932. If that weren’t bizarre enough the cartoon opens with Bimbo’s television. It’s common enough these days to tell stories about stuff that hasn’t been invented yet. It’s startling to realize they were telling stories about stuff that wasn’t yet invented that long ago. Yes, yes, there were experimental television rigs that could transmit upwards of four blurry lines of a Felix the Cat clock back then. It was still a thing for the imagination, not something everyday people could experience. It was a thing of the future, the way robots were too.

Well, since Bimbo wears his car to go boxing it’s more of a mecha than a robot properly. But the concept was still in rapid flux back then. They wouldn’t even discover how to pronounce “robot” so it doesn’t sound weird until 1964.

Despite the screwball-character model Bimbo isn’t a nutty character here, no more than any inventor in a cartoon is. It’s made up for by the story being an actual, successfully formed story. There’s clear motivation for everything Bimbo does, and it builds to a climax that makes sense. It’s a surprisingly non-zany cartoon, but it’s well-crafted.

I can’t say there are any jokes you’re likely to miss by blinking. The horse on top of Bimbo’s invention shack is good but it’s not much of a joke per se; it’s just atmospheric weirdness. Nor are there any real body horror jokes. I can’t figure out what’s going on at about 1:50; I think maybe a dart going through a fanciful heart got cut off by the framing? There’s some good camera work, when the car goes weaving all over the road and when Bimbo’s Robot gets punched high up above the ring. A mouse finally turns up ringing the bell about 4:25 in, and similarly later, and waving a flag during the parade at the end. And I get a good solid laugh from the referee cat’s fast count-out of One-Round Mike.

It’s overall a rather solid showing for Bimbo, who for a wonder gets to lead the flow of action. And for the cartoon, which sets up its premise and develops it without unmotivated weirdness. This might be the one flaw of the cartoon, in that there isn’t a baffling side to it. I’m sorry there’s not information available on who wrote or animated the cartoon. The cartoon shows a plotting skill that is uncommon for Fleischer cartoons of the era. One more anachronism.