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.