Looking Back: Guinea Pigs


I used to keep guinea pigs. Sometimes I’d have said I used to breed guinea pigs, but truth is, I just kept them. They did the breeding themselves. Despite that I keep today, decades later, learning about them. I had the guinea pigs in the 80s, when nobody knew how to take care of any animal that wasn’t a dog, a cat, or something bred with the intention of being eaten. So here’s an essay about my journey learning some astounding things about guinea pigs. And if you question whether there can, legitimately, be an astounding thing about guinea pigs let me point this out to you: there were no guinea pigs in Zootopia and there was a reason. My essay doesn’t say what it was.

Also here’s an old Statistics Saturday piece about taxonomy and the problems with anything being called a rodent. That’s also fun. Promise.

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What’s Going On In Mark Trail? Who Told Mark Trail ‘Fetish’ Was A Word He Could Say? May – July 2018.


If you want my most recent recap of the plot in James Allen’s Mark Trail, please, enjoy it at or near the top of this link. If you read this before about November 2018, that’s likely this essay. If you want to see the mathematical content of comic strips discussed, please look to my other blog, which I also can’t decide whether to get a professional WordPress package and hosting deal for. Thank you.

Mark Trail.

7 May – 28 July 2018.

Mark Trail‘s current storyline began in April. Either the 16th of the 26th, depending on whether a couple strips about “Dirty” Dyer planning to kill Mark Trail come into play in the current story. Dyer’s been seen in interludes for quite a while now, a promise of a story to come. I’m still unsettled to see Mark Trail using any narrative technique besides “and then Mark punched the poaching smugglers right in the beard”.

So Mark, Cherry, and Rusty Trail were to visit the Azyoulik Resort, near the Mexican village of Santa Poco. They’re there to see wildlife and check in with an archeologist friend of Mark’s. James Allen has a bit of a taste for pulp adventure stories. His side project (with Brice Vorderbrug) is a weekly strip, Edge of Adventure, that’s entirely pulpy adventure action. Mark’s archeologist friend is Professor Howard Carter. So at this point anyone a little genre-aware knows the ending. At best someone is going to have to jump into a vortex of death rays to prevent some ancient unstoppable evil from eating the world. Fantasy/Science Fiction reviewer James Nicoll has asked how responsible societies allow archeology. The question has no answer.

Man on Beach: 'This whale got stuck here at the end of low tide!' Woman: 'Poor thing! I wonder what kind of whale it is?!' Mark Trail: 'It's a Minke Whale!' Man: 'Now, Mister, REALLY? How in the world do YOU know that?!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 15th of May, 2018. I am always delighted when a story strip character responds to something with way more emotion than the situation will bear. So Minke Whale Skeptic there is fantastic. It’s the sort of panel that will keep me looking forward to a strip for years afterward.

There’s some commotion at the beach. Turns out a whale got stuck on the sand. Mark is on the scene, happy to explain it’s a Minke Whale. He would have explained all sorts of amazing things about how humans are killing them, except a square-headed man asks how Mark could know that. But the conversation gets distracted by the plan to push the whale back in the water. The reader gets distracted by Mark standing there shirtless on the beach while grinning a little weird. Anyway, this goes well for the whale. The square-headed man apologizes for doubting Mark. And it works well for Rusty too, as this whale-saving impresses Mara, the girl he cute-met on the airplane. They go off looking at toucans after dinner.

Mark Trail: 'How do I know that is a Minke Whale? ... Let's just say that I know a little something about wildlife!' Cherry: 'Mark, listen, the tide is starting to come in!' Mark Trail: 'Right! Maybe if we work together, we can get this whale back in the sea!' Cherry: 'Well, if the tide is coming in, that should help!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 16th of May, 2018. While I want to appreciate Mark Trail’s quiet confidence in his own authority HOLY COW MARK TRAIL HAS NIPPLES HOW LONG HAS THIS BEEN ALLOWED TO GO ON.

To the main plot, though. Professor Carter’s discovered a 2500-year-old lost temple (GET IT?). It’s a weird one. How weird? Weird. There’s a good week or two of driving to the temple that establishes some of the practical points of how the expedition is going. And it shows off Central American wildlife. The generic strip this whole story has been a single panel of a couple characters talking, usually inside a building, sometimes in a vehicle, while off on the right edge of the panel a cacomistle or a tayra or something goes about its business. Yes, we all want to see capybaras, but they don’t live that far north naturally.

Mark, Rusty, and Mara arrive at the temple and agree that it’s creepy. It’s a neat illustration. Architecture overgrown with plants is very hard to draw. But is it creepy? Mark and Rusty Trail agree that it’s weird, but can’t pin down how. I don’t know enough about Yucatan architecture of the fifth and sixth centuries BCE to know how either. They meet up with Howard Carter, whom Mark joshingly referes to as “you old tomb raider”. The National Authors Advisory Council on Unconscious Racism issues a Problematic Tropes Watch.

What’s so strange about the ruins doesn’t get exactly explained. Lidar, the use of pulsed laser light to map terrains, gets explained. But what’s archeologically mysterious about the four temples? Not so much. But there are some things established.

[ The truck arrives in front of a fairly tall, multi-tiered, complex Mayan-ish pyramid covered in plants; there's a huge grimacing, fanged face sculpture at the lower right corner of it. ] Truck Driver: 'Well, here we are --- I told you. Kind of creepy!' Rusty: 'WOW! Dad, look! How cool is that?' Mark Trail: 'Settle down, Rusty!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 19th of June, 2018. So just how rambunctiously was Rusty looking at a 2500-year-old temple and calling it cool that Mark Trail had to tell him to settle down? I’m not saying this question is interesting enough to make a fanfiction about, but maybe he was bounding around like a dog you took with you through the car wash or something.

Carter notes the carvings are not-quite-right for Mayan ruins. Perhaps, he says, the site simply predates the classical Mayan look’s development. This seems quite reasonable to me. I waited for some reason why I shouldn’t accept that explanation. Carter goes on to explain how some of the locals they hired as diggers had more sinister and pulpy ideas. “They believe this place was built by a more primitive, savage tribe — a tribe that routinely engaged in dark rituals!” And the National Authors Advisory Council on Unconscious Racism raises their advisory to a Warning. They also recommend casting a Mexican or Mayan person in a player-character role with all deliberate speed.

(To clarify my boring politics here. I don’t accuse James Allen of trying to write a racist story. I know nothing of him or his motivations beyond his comments on the Comics Curmudgeon blog. And what one can learn from reading the stories he writes. That is, what kinds of subjects and plotlines he finds interesting, or plausible, or salable. That’s not an exclusive or. That lets me say that he enjoys lost valleys and ancient peoples and forgotten civilizations like you got in late-19th and early-20th-century adventure tales. Remember one of his first weeks writing Mark Trail was Rusty Trail dreaming of being in the Lost World. And that’s fine. But those tales had a lot of late-19th and early-20th-century racism baked into them. Drawing on the elements that made those stories can summon that racism even against all the best intentions to write an exciting archeological mystery story. To put the words “primitive, savage tribe” in the mouth of the archeologist — even at the remove of “I’m just saying, I hear people saying this” — is unsettling. “Savage” is a value judgement, and a pretty ripe one coming in the pop culture of a country whose leader gloats at stealing children to lock them in dog cages. “Primitive”, too — a people’s understanding or practice of something can be primitive. Their calendar might poorly track the astronomical features it’s meant to. Their art might have few traits of specialized, focused development. Their clothing might be made more laboriously and be less useful than some available innovations would allow. Their mythology might be boring. But the people are as smart, as curious, as involved with each other, and as interested in their world as we are. If you call someone else primitive, then, remember that so are we.)

Carter can’t take Rusty and Mara inside any of the temples. But he can show them, and show Mark, some of the artefacts excavated. He mentions how much each piece is worth to any museum. And how they make a 3-D scan of every artefact before moving it to a secure facility. Also hey, it’s a bit odd that his assistant Becky, who’d had dinner with the Trails the night before, wasn’t in today. Oh and hey, did you know they’d be worth even more on the black market? Anyway, if other archeologists think you’re a bit artefact-classification mad you might be a touch out of control.

Carter, showing of the artefacts room: 'After cleanup, Becky does a 3D scan of everything! I think that is a little overkill ... but she is adamant about it! She gets totally obsessive about artifacts!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 12th of July, 2018. “Anyway, I’m sorry Becky can’t be here today. She was saying something about having to close on four mansions in Belize, I think? Seems weird, especially after she bought that apartment building in San Salvador two weeks ago and hasn’t even got to ride in her new private jet. Sweet woman, though.”

Mark joshingly asks if Carter’s found any gold fertility statues lately. You know, like hold on while I process Mark Trail being aware of the existence of human fertility. Sorry. You know, like their nutty old archeology professor Doctor Jones claimed to have found in some Chachapoyan death-trap temple. (GET IT? Yes! Like when you start multiball on the Indiana Jones pinball game. I’m guessing it’s in the movies too. Haven’t seen them.) And then Rusty runs across a weird little toothy, black-skinned doll. Mark identifies it as a “Zuni Fetish Doll” and yes I know that he doesn’t mean that kind of fetish but who even taught Mark Trail such a word as “fetish” exists? What were you trying to do to the world? Are you proud of yourself?

Anyway. Carter says he got the doll “the same way other people supposedly have gotten it”, delivered anonymously in a box. And, you know, he playfully leaves drinks and a cigar for it every morning. In the evening, the drinks are gone, the cigar’s smoked, and the doll’s face-down ten feet away. I never did trust that Elf on a Shelf guy. Carter figures it’s Bill and Ted having an excellent adventure by playing pranks. Anyway, that’s where the action stands near the end of July, 2018.

Sunday Animals Watch

How much nature has been in the last three months’ worth of Mark Trail Sunday informational panels? This much!

  • Harris’s Hawks, 6 May 2018. Not yet endangered, somehow.
  • Elephants, 13 May 2018. Humans love elephants so much that we’re going to kill every last one of them, apparently.
  • Lionesses with manes, 20 May 2018. Endangered, sure, but also so very tired of people on Twitter who want to show off they’ve heard of XX and XY chromosomes but don’t actually study genetics.
  • Rhinoceroses, 27 May 2018. Endangered for their horns and the way they unnerve spell-checkers.
  • The Au Sable River, Michigan, 3 June 2018. Hey, I’ve heard of that river! Anyway, Nestle’s probably going to steal it, but claim it wasn’t really theft because they paid the state $7.25 for the water.
  • Howler Monkeys, 10 June 2018. Remarkably not endangered except when it’s like 5:30 in the morning and they just keep, you know.
  • That Yellow Cardinal, 17 June 2018. Cardinals are probably okay; yellow, though? Huh.
  • Peppers, 24 June 2018. Not endangered, although hey, it turns out they could endanger you so that’s something to look forward to.
  • Paper Nautilus, 1 July 2018. It’s a shelled octopus. Not endangered, but wait until we figure how to pass their meat off as “dorsal cod” or something.
  • Iguanas, 8 July 2018. They’ve turned invasive in Florida, as though Florida didn’t have enough to deal with.
  • Eastern Cougar, 15 July 2018. Extinct. Good job, everyone.
  • Royal Flycatchers, 22 July 2018. Some species of royal flycatcher are ecologically vulnerable.
  • Ants, 29 July 2018. Um, OK, apparently there’s a newly-discovered southeast Asian species of ant that can explode and it seems like we should maybe have a plan in place in case it turns out most insects can just spontaneously blow up on us?

Next Week!

Wilbur Weston had been pulled back from the precipice of despair and the Pacific Ocean. But what comes after that step toward emotional healing? We’ll have a report on how everything is coming up mayonnaise next week, with Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth. Also other plots.

Statistics Saturday: Beatles Songs You Do Not Recognize From Their Title Alone


  • Flying
  • The Inner Light
  • Love Me Do
  • I Want To Hold Your Hand
  • All You Need Is Love
  • Yesterday
  • Can’t Buy Me Love
  • A Hard Day’s Night
  • Eight Days A Week
  • Michelle
  • Nowhere Man
  • Paperback Writer
  • I Am The Walrus
  • While My Guitar Gently Weeps
  • Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
  • The Long And Winding Road
  • Back In The USSR
  • (We All Live In A) Yellow Submarine
  • Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
  • Hey Jude

Reference: Living Dolls: A Magical History of the Quest for Mechanical Life, Gaby Wood.

Why I Could Not Possibly Give An Answer


While I would like to have a definite answer about whether to forego the free tier of WordPress accounts, and try to set up shop on my own blogs with my own domain names and chance to customize every blessed thing in the world on the site — there’s few people second to me in debating whether tiny variations in typefaces look better — I’m also still in my third week of wondering whether it would in fact, and not just in theory, be a good idea to print out a sheet of what those inscrutable laundry-care label symbols mean and laminate it and put it by the washing machine. I mean, yes, the whole “clean off the little wooden table next to the washer and dryer so there’s some working space” was the best use of 40 minutes of my time in years. And yes, we have the laminator and spare plastic laminating sheets. But what if that turns out to be the wrong decision? So given that, you can understand why hosting my own site is a much harder thing to decide to do.

In Which I Keep Score At A Baseball Game


Keeping a scorecard is a time-honored tradition of attending baseball games. It’s slightly newer than attending baseball games. But then attending baseball games is only slightly newer than playing baseball at all. This is a statement that can get you into a good fight about what people mean by “attending”. Consider this for sometime when you’re at a party and everyone has run out of things to talk about.

Still, it is a tradition. It lets participants combine their love of a game predicated on suspense and anticipation with the natural thrills of multiple-entry bookkeeping. An experienced scorecard-keeper can reconstruct, pitch-by-pitch, a whole game from 139 years ago simply by glancing at the card, working at it for 138 years, and then reading how the newspaper reported the game. Now and then I try. Here’s how it usually goes.

I get a pre-printed scorecard blank. This can be had for under four dollars if you have the special scorecard endorsement on your vehicle registration. There are people who create their own scorecards, using notebooks or such. But such people are wildly unpredictable in their ways and I don’t need that sort of trouble. At the top I would write the teams, the date, the weather conditions, the time of play, my own name in case I forget, my homeroom section, and my name again so that the columns even out. My pen runs dry.

The first batter comes up and I write out his name, letting me discover that the column assumed people had shorter names. So in the next box over I write the number from his shirt, and the number from his position. This I use interchangeably, because I forget which way I started and it’s too late to fix that all now. Each at-bat, real or potential, has a lovely little greyscale diamond, there to record the action. By the time I come out of the hypnotic trance these engender he’s already out. I guess he struck out, since it didn’t seem like all that many people were moving around, and write in a K in the column for his position number.

The second batter comes up. I write five letters that I incorrectly think are in his name. I thought I was looking at the scoreboard. It’s an advertisement for one of the metro area’s leading motorcycle attorneys, insisting they’re one of the area’s best. While I imagine attorneys motorcycling through the courtroom, scattering writs and stuff, he makes a base hit. I darken the diamond line from home to first base. It’s not dark enough, so I run the pen over several more times and break through the paper.

I’m distracted trying to figure if I can somehow make the napkins I swiped from the soda stand into a desk. There is not. But while trying, something happens that I miss. The runner leaves the field, though. So I write down that this was a Fielder’s Choice, off in a little box by itself where the graphic design is well-composed. I’ve always liked the name of the “Fielder’s Choice” as a thing that might happen in baseball. And I’ve never known anyone who knew exactly what constituted one, so perhaps this was one.

The third batter. I listen carefully to the loudspeaker to get his first name (Thorny). The echo makes me think this is his last name too. It would be odd to have a name like “Thorny Thorny”. But if he’s come to peace with it, then who am I to argue? I like my name, and nobody knows what to make of it except a nervous pause before pronouncing it wrong. He hits a foul ball that goes off to a fairly empty part of the stands. A young child 35 feet away from this screams and covers his head. This doesn’t need my scoring, so I write in an ‘X’. Thorny Thorny gets hit by a pitch and takes his base; I record this as ‘F’ as my backup pen dies. I don’t have a better idea for a letter to use in this context.

I try making little spirals to get the dead pen to write again while the next guy hits a grounder that makes shortstop, second base, center field, and right field converge. None of them bonk their heads into each other, a disappointment, and someone tosses a ball to first, where the runner’s tagged out. But Thorny’s on second.

My calculations say this should end the inning, but everybody’s staying where they are. They seem like reasonable professionals and like they know what they’re doing. On my card I draw a line from first to second, jot down the batter’s jersey number, and draw a circle around a 9 that I think is a position number, but has nothing whatsoever to do with whatever just happened. The next batter hits a fly to center field. I write down nothing, as I try to ponder how this has all gone wrong.

I have fun, in my way. But also don’t feel like I need to do this often.

All Right, Wikipedia, I Dare You


My love got on to reading about Midget Car Racing. If this seems quirky to you please understand the context: we visited the amusement parks of Denver last month. All right, the context doesn’t help but trust me, it makes sense in it. Anyway, my love ran across this declaration which has to be the boldest dare I have seen from Wikipedia in a long while:

Wikipedia subheading: Notable midget car races [ edit ]
It’s right there at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Midget_car_racing#Notable_midget_car_races if you want to double-check my work.

OK. So go ahead, Wikipedia. I dare you to list the notable midget car races.

Wikipedia subsection: Notable midget car races: In 1959 Lime Rock Park held a famous Formula Libre race, where Rodger Ward shocked the expensive and exotic sports cars by beating them on the road course in an Offenhauser powered midget car, usually used on oval tracks. Ward used an advantageous power-to-weight ratio and dirt-track cornering abilities to steal the win.
Wikipedia’s entry about Rodger Ward explains “he began racing midget cars in 1946 after he was discharged from the Army. He finished poorly. His skills improved in 1947 and by 1948 he won the San Diego Grand Prix”. I agree this is quite the improvement and I’m only a little sorry nobody’s demanded a citation for the claim that he improved in 1947.

They have one, and it’s a free-style race that happened to have a midget car in it.

Please know that I do not mean to mock people just because have interests that just aren’t mine. I mean, all my interests are weird and idiosyncratic and half-wrong. Just, like, I’m a pinball enthusiast and I don’t think I could honestly say there were more than two significant individual pinball games ever played, and one of them was the fictional one from the movie Tommy. And do not get me started on my questions about the legitimacy of the match between Tommy and Elton John. You will be torn between laughing and being bored.

The Popeye Two-Reelers: Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad The Sailor


When the world and I were young, Popeye the Sailor Man hadn’t quite left pop culture. He still got an hour each weekday on WNEW to show off all the theatrical releases plus the King Features Syndicate cartoons of the 60s. I loved them all. I had that problem of the young of not understanding that some cartoons were rather bad. But I did understand that some cartoons were better. Usually the older ones. The ones with the ship doors that slid closed were almost all better than the King Features Syndicate cartoons. And even then, I knew there were some transcendant cartoons, ones that were so much better than anything else ever done. I only ever found three of them. This is because three were all they made. I want to look at them each in turn, now.

Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor was released the 27th of November, 1936. It’s the first of the three two-reel cartoons. It has three credited animators, Willard Bowsky, George Germanetti, and Edward Nolan. Uncredited animators include Orestes Calpini and Lillian Friedman. Bowsky’s familiar from the Talkartoons series. He has shorts like Swing You Sinners! and Mysterious Mose and The Betty Boop Limited to his name. George Germanetti and Edward Nolan haven’t got credits for any Talkartoons. Neither have Orestes Calpini nor Lillian Friedman.

Friedman was (so far as is known) the first woman ever hired as an animator in United States animation. She worked on some Color Classics, Hunky and Spunky, as well as a bunch of Betty Boop cartoons. Wikipedia credits her for animating the two-headed giant and Popeye’s “twisker” punch. Calpini would animate about a jillion Famous Studios cartoons in the 40s, and be the uncredited animator for a bunch of shorts. Among them are Cartoons Ain’t Human, a fantastic short in which Popeye becomes an animator; and several of the Superman shorts.

The dominant motif of this cartoon is size. It is full of bigness. The cartoon is large in running time: it runs 16 and a quarter minutes before the video ends, and it still has a few seconds to go. (This cartoon, like all the 30s Popeyes, is in the public domain. This is great for accessibility. But what you can access is often a lousy print or cut in weird ways. This was the best version I found.) That’s three times the length of some other theatrical Popeye shorts. (Granted, the shortest of shorts, but still.)

It’s on a big island, that Sindbad claims to be atop a big whale. Its inhabitants are big; the lions (big cats) are small denizens. Boola isn’t just a two-headed giant; he’s two, maybe two and a half times Popeye’s size. The Rokh is so enormous he barely fits in frame. His takeoff makes me think of footage of World War II-era super-bombers. That’s only more amazing considering the cartoon was made five years before that was a pressing concern. It starts with a long braggadocio song. It’s three and a half minutes of Sindbad singing of how he’s the most remarkable extra-ordinary fellow. It has a purpose, besides being catchy. It also sets up all the minor bosses Popeye has to beat up before coming to the main battle. But then we get another minute of Popeye singing his own bragging song. That’s a more familiar one, the full long version of the Popeye the Sailor Man song, and always good to hear. Still, it means the cartoon’s plot doesn’t even set in until five and a quarter minutes in.

Did you notice that, while watching? … Well, maybe. It’s easy to get restless when the movie expects you to be awestruck. It demands attention. If you’re letting it run while also checking social media, then that first third of the cartoon is wasted. If you are watching, well, then you see what is some astounding animation. The backgrounds start out gorgeous, and then almost immediately leap past gorgeous into three-dimensional beauty. Fleischer Studios arguably topped Disney’s multiplane camera. They used a camera that could film real-life, movable sets, on which the characters would interact. Cartoons on a real-life background is as old as cartoons are. But cartoons on a movable, three-dimensional background? And a backdrop that isn’t “real”, but designed to look like the pictures do? That’s stunning then. It’s still stunning now. Just to make sure audiences were stunned then, Sindbad picks up a pile of “real” jewels and lets them fall through his fingers, about 2:25 in. By then, complaining about the bareness of the plot — considering its length — seems petty.

Also stunning, but more subtly, is the Rokh’s flight. It is hard to animate flight so that it looks realistic. It is hard to animate big things moving slowly so that it looks realistic. But here, in the Rokh attacking Popeye’s ship, we get an enormous bird slowly circling and then finally striking, and none of the motion looks false. I wonder if it was rotoscoped from footage of a real bird’s circling. I’ve also been trying to work out whether the bird’s three turns are all unique animation. I have the suspicion that it’s all the same single turn cycle, but with camera movement added so that it looks different. But that speculation I make just because it had to be hard to get it looking that good the one time; three times would be far harder. If I were directing, I’d look for ways to reduce the technical challenges here, and that seems like one of the few possible ways.

Still the cartoon makes some mistakes. Not just that it’s 9 minutes, 25 seconds before Popeye and Sindbad are even in the same frame. There’s reasons it takes them that long to meet. (And how long antagonists spend directly facing each other is basically irrelevant to how good a story is. Until it’s pointed out, do you even notice in The Wrath of Khan that Kirk and Khan are never in the same room?) They’re littler things. The one that bugged me as a kid, and still bugs me today, is when Popeye asks who Sindbad is. This gets a quick reprise of Sindbad’s “most remarkable, extraordinary fellow” song. But with none of the island residents actually singing “Sindbad, the sailor”. The animals all mouth it, twice, but the actual answer to Popeye’s reasonable question is omitted. Maybe the Fleischers figured the audience would be singing along? (And there’s some animation the cartoon definitely reuses. At the end, they do cry out “Popeye, the sailor”.

And here’s a subtler one: why is Wimpy in this cartoon? Well, there’s an obvious reason. J Wellington Wimpy is this wonderful character. He might well have taken over the Thimble Theatre comic strip if Popeye hadn’t secured his position in charge of the strip first. Just the other day my love and I were discussing his character. Whether he is actually a mooch with refined, intellectual inclinations. Whether he affects that persona as part of his eternal petty scamming. He can add this subtle, otherworldly bit of nonsense to any story he’s in. He can offer this surreal moment of drifting into and out of frame, in search of hamburger. It’s reminiscent of the way Harpo Marx would crash through a plot scene and crash back out again, without the now-awkward part where Harpo is chasing down terrified women.

So that’s a great setup. Wimpy trying futilely to catch a duck? Perfect running gag. It’s used that way just the once, though, interrupting Popeye’s and Sindbad’s first encounter. Popeye even asks “how did you get in here?”. And then that bit ends, with Wimpy no more part of the story.

But I could be wrong to call that short use of Wimpy a mistake. I’m trying to think of another moment where Wimpy could wander through without spoiling the flow of action. He can wander through a tense moment fine; the distraction is great when it’s two people glaring at each other. But to drift through actual punching? That would flow weird.

Something I’m not at all sure was a mistake: Sindbad’s island is filled to the brim with good-looking monsters. Big (of course) cats, serpents, dragons, gorillas, vultures, all that. This seems like a setup for a battle royale of Popeye lost inside a massive fight cloud. He’d done that before, in cartoons where he was washed, shipwrecked, onto a jungle island. (For as good a sailor as we’d like to think he is, Popeye opens a lot of cartoons shipwrecked. But, he does survive those shipwrecks, so that’s some skills.) Maybe the animators thought that would be too difficult to animate. Maybe it was too difficult to fit into the storyline; would such an all-animals battle royale come after Boola, after the Rokh, after Sindbad? It seems to me Popeye’s previous battle-royale wins were after he’d eaten his spinach; that’s got to come as he’s had enough with Sindbad. So maybe there’s just not a good time for the dragons and all to get into the action.

I am disappointed these figures didn’t turn up in other cartoons. I suppose the Popeye cartoons were moving away from being able to support talking animals or mythical creatures in them. At least except creatures that came from inside the comic strip, like Eugene the Jeep and Alice the Goon. (And even they got only a few appearances.) I think some of the dragons appeared in Betty Boop cartoons like Betty Boop in Blunderland. Maybe the characters — almost all of whom look interesting — got work in other Fleischer series, ones without recurring characters.

As with the Talkartoons series, the main dialogue is pretty bland stuff. Functional, but not that interesting. The characters have asides, though, and those range between good and great. For my money, the best is Popeye declaring that Sindbad “you can push me just so far”. But there’s plenty to choose from. My favorite throwaway gag is Sindbad beating up Popeye, who stays in place while a heap of nautical equipment falls out of his clothing. It reminds me again of the Harpo Marx bit where all the stolen cutlery in the world falls out of his sleeves, one spoon at a time. But again, there’s all sorts of funny little throwaway gags in this short. Enjoy the buffet.

The short was nominated for an Academy Award for best cartoon. It was the Fleischer Studios’ first nomination. They lost, to Disney’s The Country Cousin, a version of the Aesop’s Fable about the Town Mouse and the Country Mouse. Disney studios won the Academy Award for Cartoons every time it got awarded in the 1930s. Fleischer Studios would never win an Oscar, though it would get nominated four times. Its successor Famous Studios wouldn’t even get nominated. Animation historian Jerry Beck found lists of cartoons considered but not nominated, and Famous Studios, and Popeye, got considered, at least.

Popular acclaim has it that this was the best of the Popeye two-reelers. But then, what does everybody who takes cartoons as a subject worth thinking about know that I don’t?


Also hey, it turns out this is my 2,001st post around here. I’m as surprised by that fact as you are.

Looking Back: Reviewing the Plants and Animals of Australia


So as a functional know-it-all I enjoy writing in the “nonfact” mode, that is. That is, using the structure of nonfiction writing to spread some kind of amusing nonsense. I should do it more. A Partial Review of the Plants and Animals of Australia is one of those pieces, and it even let me use some of my own pictures of real animals in a real zoo, and it foreshadows the Mark Trail plot recap due on Sunday. As a bonus, researching this piece caused me to run across the Wikipedia sentence “The Tasmanian rainforest is considered a Gondwanan relic”. Not a funny sentence? Maybe it isn’t. But it has this wonderful rhythm to it that delights me. I will cling to this bauble of words and don’t care what other people think of me for it, unless they think something good or bad about me for it.

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? What Is Walt Wallet’s Toothpaste Conspiracy Thing? April – July 2018


I’m glad to be here. I’m glad to say that Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley seems to be back out of reruns and into new strip production. If I write anything after about mid-July 2018 about the strip it should be on this page. So if the story I describe clearly has resolved by the time you read this, maybe that page will help you to a more useful story summary.

Comic strips with a mathematical theme I review on my other blog, each week. The latest essays about that are on this link. Thanks for considering me.

Gasoline Alley.

29 April – 21 July 2018.

Last time I checked in, Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley seemed to be running new strips on Sundays. After months of reruns every day of this week this was a good sign. It didn’t get the strip back to its full healthy serial-comic main nature. But it was evidence that Scancarelli was at least alive and well and getting the strip, in its 99th year, back on its feet. The daily strips — the ones that run a serialized, comic story — were running repeats from 2007. They’re not, anymore. It looks to me that since mid-June the comic strip has been new, telling what as best I can tell is an original story. But let me get those old stories out of the way.

Corky’s Diner. The perpetually drunk and incompetent Suds wants his dishwashing job back. The perpetually perky and incompetent Joy and Dawn want the dishwashing job. They’re having a race to see who can clean the most dishes. Joy and Dawn win by one plate, which they accidentally break while celebrating their victory. Joy and Dawn decide they don’t want the dishwashing job anymore. They thought it might be “the fast track to management”, and instead they’re washing dishes. So they quit, to try to their hand somewhere else, because they still believe in capitalism. And Suds has his job back.


New story. It started the 15th of May. It, too, started at Corky’s Diner, for a fairly graceful transition. The problem: Slim Wallet can’t sleep. The exhausted Slim does nod off at work, under a car. He bangs his head but good when he’s startled awake. He can’t stop hearing bells, a symptom baffling to everyone around him, who expected this was going to be a Sitcom Amnesia storyline. Right? I mean, doesn’t that write itself?

Still, it’s a good chance for him to get to the emergency room, and to do a couple week’s worth of old hospital/doctor jokes. “The form asks ‘sex’? I’m putting ‘none of your business’,” that sort of thing. The doctor prescribes some pills for Slim’s massive concussion. He’s shown with little bells orbiting his head even weeks later. It’s great visuals, but, like, it’s not like he’s a professional football player and we can pretend head trauma isn’t a thing.

Desert island women, in Slim's dream: 'Oh, Slim! It's great being shipwrecked with you!' Slim: 'Aw! Shucks, ladies.' Women: 'What'll we do on this deserted island?' Slim: 'Want to play post office?' Women: 'How can we? We don't have any way to do cancellations!' Slim: 'Silly! Who wants to cancel kisses?'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 14th of June, 2018. Of historic importance as we measure things around here: the strip with which reruns gave way to newly-drawn installments.

But the ringing does go down, and he tries to get through his insomnia, for which the doctor prescribed sleep. And Slim even gets to sleep, dreaming of being on a deserted island with some Kissing Women. This dream Clovia wakes him from, unaware of the astounding thing that’s happened.

The astounding thing is that, when this storyline first ran in 2007, Slim didn’t have this dream. He had a string of things getting him out of bed, including construction next door. They put in a basketball court, causing late-night basketball games that keep him awake. This lead Slim on a long and daft storyline in which he buys a meteorite off eBay and gets a friend of his to drop it from his helicopter. The hope is to destroy the basketball court in a way that couldn’t be traced back to him as long as nobody ever tried. Not Slim’s finest moment here.

But no; from the 14th of June, the strips are — as best I can tell — new. Whatever caused Jim Scancarelli to step away from the strip in early November seems to have passed. He did not resume the storyline about Rufus courting the Widow Emma Sue and Scruffy’s Mother. That storyline left off on the news that Elam, Rufus’s rival for her affections, had proposed marriage and got turned down. I have no information about whether the storyline will resume up or what the fate of Emma Sue, Scruffy, and their Widowed Mother might be.


With the 18th of June started the current, and best I can tell, new storyline. It’s about Walt Wallet, the original star of the comic strip from 1918 — a date he mentions in his first word balloon. It started with a bit of daft old-guy cranky conspiracy theorizing that I saw confusing a lot of comics readers. Walt’s thesis: toothbrushes have more bristles than they used to. That is, from the front to the back of the toothbrush there’s more bristles. Why would toothbrush makers do that? It’s obvious. Everyone puts on enough toothpaste to cover all the bristles. So the only point to putting more bristles on is to make people buy more toothpaste. As corporate conspiracies go this is … eh, you know what? At least it would be an honest corrupt conspiracy. You would at least get clean teeth out of it. I’ll take it.

Anyway this nonsense barely gets started. Walt’s got an invitation from the Old Comics Home. This is one of the reality-breaking, slightly-magical aspects of the comic strip. The Old Comics Home is this boardinghouse for the characters of retired or cancelled comic strips. Now and then Walt Wallet visits, letting Jim Scancarelli do a bit of work with Major Hoople or Buster Brown or Little Sammy Sneeze or whoever.

Walt Wallet, Orphan Annie, and Sandy singing: 'Who's that little chatter-box? The one with pretty auburn locks! Who do you see?' Gertie: 'Arf! It's her dog, Sandy!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 12th of July, 2018. I sincerely love the way Sandy looks, holding the sheet music upside-down and singing her heart out like this.

The Old Comics Home is having a roast. They want him to be a speaker as they poke fun at Little Orphan Annie. “Will she think it’s funny,” asks Walt’s caretaker Gertie, and a fair question. But an important part of the behavior of the hew-mon is that your friends have license to insult you, and you accept these insults as love. In hindsight, “chimpanzees with anxiety” was a bad foundation on which to build the human species. Next time around maybe we should try basing humans on, I don’t know, “pheasants with gemütlichkeit” instead.

Walt’s preparation comes to thinking of the jokes you would think of about the comic strip. He takes notes of stuff like how Gertie thought as a girl the strip was named “Little Arf an’ Andy”. I am sure that at least one time when Walt Kelly’s Pogo was riffing on Annie they called the comic strip that. But I’m too lazy to check, so will go ahead and give the strip credit for a multifaceted allusion.

Other jokes are less deep cuts: how do the characters see without pupils? They’d bump into each other all the time! Or: Daddy Warbucks leaves Annie unsupervised an awful lot! What if Child Protective Services investigated the billionaire war-manufactures oligarch, as though law constrained the rich? Or: Little Orphan Annie had a jingle when she was on the radio; what if they changed some of the words? Well, if I understand, the point of a roast is for everyone to tell dumb insulting jokes about someone as a show of how much they love them. They don’t need to be insightful commentary that changes one’s view of things. They just have to exist.

Frank Nelson: 'What can I do for your?' Skeezix: 'My uncle and I need new tuxedos!' Nelson: 'Is this for a funeral?' Skeezix: 'What makes you think that?' Nelson: 'You don't look so well!' Skeezix: 'Now cut that out!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 18th of July, 2018. Well, I find it hilarious, but I also know exactly how this would sound as done between Frank Nelson and Jack Benny. I’m sure at some point Benny needed a tuxedo and Nelson was the only person working in any store or information desk in town. How could he be everywhere? As Nelson would put it, “either you’re lucky, or I’m un-lucky”. (And now that it’s mentioned, I wonder if the Cathy gag where every store clerk is the same woman is an echo of the Frank Nelson joke. I had always taken it to be an artistic choice that, you know, these people all serve the same story role so why distract the reader with different character models for the shoe clerk and the swimwear clerk?) Still, I say it’s a good, tight bit of insult-joke construction.

At the tuxedo rental, Walt and Skeezix run into who else but Frank Nelson. This is a good chance to share some of the insult patter conversations Nelson did so well with Jack Benny. And that’s where we’ve got to by the end of the past week.

I trust the next couple of weeks will get the roast organized. Maybe Annie will go missing and need to be found or something. And the visit to the Old Comics Home will probably show off Smokey Stover or Ignatz Mouse or so on. It seems like time with the Old Comics would be a natural feed-in to Gasoline Alley reaching its hundredth year. But it won’t reach that until the 24th of November, four months off. A serial comic can drag its story out, but something this slight for that long? It’s hard to envision.

Just when you thoguht your funny paper was safe to read ... The Molehill Highlanders strike again. Bass player: 'Whatcha gonna sing, Rufus?' Rufus: 'A song I learnt off a old record album. It's called Music From The Heart; Sung Through Th'Nose'. Bass: 'That ain't possumable.' Fiddler: 'What gear is it in?' Other fiddler: 'Yo' need a nasal stray?' Rufus: 'Th'music kicks off way down at th'ticker --- then regress into th'diagram! Next, it palpatrates up th'asparagus an' out th'epipotamus an'naval cavity!' Bass: 'Rufus! I think I better see my dentist and get a dose o'penecillium or some phenobarbasol!' Rufus: 'That mean I can't sing m'song?'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 15th of July, 2018. Wikipedia notes Jim Scanarelli is a bluegrass fiddler, and a prizewinner at the Old Fiddler’s Convention, which apparently has been held annually in Galax, Virginia, since 1935. To give some idea how long ago that was: 1935 was so long ago that in 1935, Jack Benny would people he was thirty-eight years old.

Meanwhile. The Sunday strips are their own little thing. Standalone gags that don’t play off the weekday continuity. Many of these have sported a nice Gasoline Alley 100th Anniversary sticker in the title panels. These came out of reruns first, and were the first signs that whatever kept Jim Scancarelli from writing and drawing the strips might pass. You can dip in and read any of them. I would swear last Sunday’s was an adapted Jack Benny-and-Phil Harris bit, but I can’t pin that down.

But the important stuff. The Old Comics Home. Old-time radio riffs. Elaborate bits of doggerel for the Sunday strips. Yeah, Jim Scancarelli is back. If I ever hear where he’d gone, I’ll pass that along to you. Thanks for checking in.

Next Week!

Mexico! Mysterious artefacts in the Yucatan! The strange and wonderful wildlife of Central America that we somehow haven’t killed yet! Maybe even a Sunday informational panel about cacomistles. All this and more in James Allen’s Mark Trail, if Nature hasn’t gone and killed us yet!

Statistics Saturday: Some Outcomes of Coin Tosses


  • Called tails, came up heads
  • Called heads, came up tails
  • Called tails, coin bounced out of control and rolled under Dig-Dug
  • Called heads, came up heads
  • Called tails, coin flopped onto shoe and got lost in the laces
  • Came up heads before anyone could finish calling
  • Called heads, came up tails, swore they called heads instead
  • Called tails, cool friend snatched coin out of the air
  • Got into argument about who gets to call and who gets to toss, get into heated round of rock-paper-scissors to decide tossing and calling order.
  • Called tails, came up heads, agreed to extend this to three-out-of-five
  • Called heads, two-tailed fox emerges from video game to ask what your problem with him is
  • Called heads, came up tails, swore they called heads instead; a brawl ensues
  • Called heads, landed sideways when it got caught in a crack in the floorboards, had temporarily the power to be Dick York and also read minds
  • Called heads, power blipped out mid-toss and couldn’t see the coin
  • Called tails, came up heads, agreed to extend this to four-out-of-seven
  • Called tails, noticed was two-headed coin, causing accusations of cheating; a brawl ensues
  • Called heads, tossed coin, never came down because you forgot you were on top-secret spaceship flying to Mars
  • Called tails, tossed coin, never came down because you forgot you were on top-secret spaceship flying to Mars
  • Called heads, came up it was the Mount Rushmore national-parks quarter so arguably both sides are heads and it isn’t even a cheating coin; a brawl ensues
  • Called heads, came up tails

Reference: Computers In Spaceflight: the NASA Experience, James E Tomayko.

Today’s Excuse For Getting Nothing Done Involves Doctor Who


And, you know, a lot of aimless pondering about whether The Doctor has got any honorary degrees. I mean, The Doctor goes puttering around time and space saving planets from greedy stupidheads all the time. That’s got to be worth at least the occasional Doctor of Humane Letters, like for that time he made it possible for letters to continue existing and for the recipients to not be eaten by a Lizardarian army’s device that converts gravity into space-dollars. I’d understand The Doctor not sticking around for these things, since academic ceremonies aren’t to everyone’s tastes. Me, I like them, but I don’t have much reason to hang around since nobody cares to send me any honors and there was kind of the one where I got my boogers on the President of Singapore basically by accident.

Anyway, the cluttered state of that paragraph tells you how this has kept me from anything practical.

Fairy Tales Are Why I Can’t Get Anything Done Today


I’m sorry, but I’m coping with what I learned from looking up the nursery rhyme “The Gingerbread Man” on Wikipedia. Apparently the story was first written down in 1875, in the Saint Nicholas Magazine. And its teller claimed they got it from a “girl from Maine”. What the heck? A bit of obvious silly nonsense like this is supposed to come from, like, some snarky pamphlet published during the English Civil War. And folklorists are supposed to not be perfectly sure what it all means, but they think it’s all about mocking John Pym’s management of the Providence Island Company or something. But this? This!

Hold on. Wait. That John Pym thing I completely made up and yet it kind of makes sense, doesn’t it? I mean, it would kind of fit all the metaphors and see? This is why I have an enthusiastic readership of dozen of people. I know, I can’t help myself. I have the idea that somewhere out there are people who want to hear snide jokes referring to the English Parliament of 1642 and maybe there are. And maybe they’re going to just explode in joy when they hear a joke that isn’t completely far off. Big deal. There’s like twenty of them and they’ve already made all the John Pym jokes they need.

Anyway. Back to what primarily has me a quivering ball of impotent rage (non-US-politics division). “The Gingerbread Man” only being first published in 1875. I mean, for comparison, the first time “The Gingerbread Man” was written down, Mark Twain’s “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” was already ten years old. P T Barnum’s American Museum had been built, burned down, been rebuilt, and been re-burned-down. L Frank Baum was barely 24 years away from writing The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. I’m sorry, I’m having trouble thinking of another circa-1875 cultural touchstone since I’m informed that 19th century superclown Dan Rice somehow does not qualify as known to anybody? Oh, here we go. Charles Dickens was already dead by then, and only after that does this story about a magic cookie running around teasing people about outrunning them gets written down?

You don’t suppose that could be causal, do you? “I hear Dickens died! Guess I’ll wait five years and then dash out that bit I was thinking of a gingerbread boy who runs off, but still gets eaten.”

Oh also apparently in the earliest versions the Gingerbread Man doesn’t call out “run, run, fast as you can, you can’t catch me, I’m the Gingerbread Man!” Instead he taunts with saying “I’ve run away from a little old woman, a little old man, and I can run away from you, I can!” So besides its other problems an America struggling its way out of the Panic of 1873 was still trying to learn how to make a taunt scan. I’m all kinds of discombobulated about this. I’ll let you know when I’m ready to be functional again.

All right, that’s not happening and not just because it’s 2018. Do you remember this episode of The Honeymooners where Ralph Kramden is feeling old, so he figures the thing to do is act all young? And he dresses up ridiculously and tries to dance to this ridiculous song called “The Huckle-Buck”? I do, because I’m of that cohort where reruns of The Honeymooners was the only decent thing on between reruns of M*A*S*H and reruns of Star Trek, and the song’s been running without stop in my head since 1986. Fine.

Yeah so it turns out this was an actual song and actual dance craze that actually happened in actuality. “Actuality” is what we call “reality” when we got the sentence started off using “actual” instead of “real” and have to commit to that for the rhetorical value but it’s easier to keep typing instead of erasing three words. Anyway, I had gone my entire adult life figuring “The Huckle-Buck” was just this catchy plausibly dance-craze-ish song made for The Honeymooners so it wouldn’t get in the way of Ralph Kramden’s discovery that to stay young you most need some stories about ridiculous stuff you did as a youngling. And now I find out he was actually doing something actual — hang on. Not doing that again. But now I find out he was genuinely trying to get in on the dance craze of … eight years earlier? Hang on, that would be like me trying to get in touch with the young by listening to whatever the dance craze of 2010 was. What were people dancing to back then? Lemme go and check.

No, Wikipedia, I do not believe the summer dance sensation of 2010 was Lady Gaga’s “Gingerbread Dance”.

I’m going to bed and hide under it.

If The Dick van Dyke Show‘s “Twizzle” was a real thing I’m never coming out again ever.

Maybe I Just Can’t Help The City After All


So I called the City Clerk back, and told him I thought I had an answer. We just got a new microwave oven and there’s this great timer feature for it. Turns out to go up pretty high, and I set it for 305,056,800 seconds, which is about nine years and eight months and should give plenty of warning for checking that Lansing doesn’t accidentally let all its laws expire again. So I was feeling really good about that. But then last night we were making Morningstar-brand spicy red-bean vegetarian-hamburger patties and White Castle French Fries in the oven, and I needed to set the timer for ten minutes to turn them over, and re-set the microwave timer without even thinking. Woke up at like 4:30 am realizing what I had done. And I realized, like, we have power failures a couple times a year too. So I’m going to have to either check that we can get a really big egg timer at the store or maybe just call the Clerk back and say I was just wrong and can’t help.

Here’s What I Thought About All The Talkartoons I Watched


One last post before, I imagine, I retire the Talkartoons tag. I want to make it that little bit easier for people to find all the various cartoons, so, here’s a heaping pile of links to each of the shorts that I reviewed. Not included are the handful of cartoons that are lost, or that were lost until recently and can’t be seen by normal ordinary mortals like me.

Next week, I start a shorter-term, limited-scope project: looking at the two-reel Popeye cartoons, those lush full-color 1930s beauties. And I do have a plan for something after that project finishes. Thanks for letting me explain pop culture references of 1932 to you all!


The Fleischer Studio’s Talkartoons, 1929 – 1932

  1. Noah’s Lark
  2. Marriage Wows (Not reviewed; pretty near a lost cartoon, with only the UCLA film library having nitrate elements for it.)
  3. Radio Riot
  4. Hot Dog
  5. Fire Bugs
  6. Wise Flies
  7. Dizzy Dishes
  8. Barnacle Bill
  9. Swing You Sinners!
  10. Grand Uproar
  11. Sky Scraping
  12. Up to Mars
  13. Accordion Joe (Not reviewed; the UCLA film library claims they have a copy, but they haven’t given me any chance to see it, because they’re biased against absolutely uncredentialed amateur reviewers who never even ask to see it.)
  14. Mysterious Mose
  15. Ace of Spades (Not reviewed; the cartoon, long lost, was recovered in a cave in Borneo and is available only by special inquiry in the basement when the clock strikes midnight.)
  16. Tree Saps
  17. Teacher’s Pest
  18. The Cow’s Husband
  19. The Bum Bandit
  20. The Male Man
  21. Twenty Legs Under the Sea
  22. Silly Scandals
  23. The Herring Murder Case
  24. Bimbo’s Initiation
  25. Bimbo’s Express
  26. Minding the Baby
  27. In the Shade of the Old Apple Sauce (Lost cartoon; if found please keep in a cool, dry place and contact responsible authorities, in case there are any.)
  28. Mask-A-Raid
  29. Jack and the Beanstalk
  30. Dizzy Red Riding Hood
  31. Any Rags?
  32. Boop-Oop-a-Doop
  33. The Robot
  34. Minnie the Moocher
  35. Swim or Sink
  36. Crazy Town
  37. The Dancing Fool
  38. Chess-Nuts
  39. A Hunting We Will Go
  40. Hide and Seek
  41. Admission Free
  42. The Betty Boop Limited

Looking Back: Cleaning Up Hamburg’s Nightclub District


I used to draw a fair number of humor pieces from the oddball news. Or from noticing things that weren’t quite oddball but that I happened to notice and that caught my fancy. I’m not sure why I fell out from that. Possibly because reading the oddball news leaves you likely to run across the actual news. Also Reuters took out their “Oddly Enough” news page, and BBC News has moved theirs (“Also in the News”) somewhere I can’t find.

Well, anyway. Here’s a piece from a couple years back when it was easier to find merry little stuff. As often happens with me, it’s based on new advances in materials science, because I’m just like that. I don’t know. I can’t help it. Something about “things that can be surfaces of things” fires my comic imagination, which should do much to explain why I am a humor blogger rather than a successful humor blogger.

What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? Is The Green Hornet Eating Bread? April – July 2018


I’m glad you wonder what’s happening in Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy. For me, its the middle of July 2018, and my answers reflect that. If it’s much later than July 2018 I might have a more up-to-date post. It’ll be at or near the top of this page, if there is one. Thanks for reading.

My mathematics blog reviews comic strips too, with at least one post a week about Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal and Andertoons. You might like it.

Dick Tracy.

22 April – 14 July 2018.

Central City newspaper publisher Britt Reid is secretly notorious racketeer The Green Hornet. But The Green Hornet is secretly on the side of justice. He sneaks into the criminal organizations that police and even FBI men cannot touch and breaks them up. And now, he’s appeared in Dick Tracy’s city, just behind Central City mobster Cyrus Topper. Reid, in his guise as a respectable newspaperman, and an unsuspecting Dick Tracy are sure they’ll get Topper. Tracy also thinks he can finally put The Green Hornet behind bars. So now sit back, pour yourself a large, hearty bowl of Post Toasties — fortified with pep shot from guns! — and enjoy this past three months’ installments of Dick Tracy and the Green Hornet.

Topper is trying to work with The Apparatus, the major crime syndicate in Tracy’s city. They suspect he’ll bring the Green Hornet in on them. It never crosses their minds that the Green Hornet and his new parter, Red Wasp, might be breaking up criminal organizations. They did, after all, just smash a counterfeiting ring. Hornet and Wasp used the Green Hornet’s supercar Black Beauty to smash it open.

The Apparatus wants the Green Hornet away from Topper’s proposed Protection-Racket-As-A-Service. I’m fuzzy on how that scheme supposed to work. The “protection” is from blackouts on the computers small-time people rent out to banks who need the processing for transfers. Is that a thing?

But I mostly doubt the details matter. The part that doesn’t doubt remembers Matty Squared. Mister Bribery’s artificial-intelligence agent is laying low in Cyber-Mexico until the heat’s off. But another digital crime thing might be a thread they’re saving for later.

[ LIGHTS OUT! Everybody dance! ] (Dick Tracy and Topper shoot at each other. Green Hornet shoots someone with his gas gun.) Topper's Chauffer: 'BOSS! My gun's in the car!' (Kato kicks the chauffer. Dick Tracy and Green Hornet face each other.)
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 20th of May, 2018. After the fight Tracy calls up Batman and finds out, yeah, all the fights with Green Hornet kind of go like this. It’s totally weird and inexplicable.

Anyway, the Apparatus is confident the Green Hornet won’t muscle in, and assigns Jarman as his first protectee. Topper starts explaining to Jarman that he’ll be paying money when The Green Hornet muscles in, if we pretend guns are muscles. The Green Hornet starts explaining to Jarman that he’ll take the protection money when Dick Tracy muscles in, if we pretend guns are muscles. The Green Hornet drops a gas grenade, making his way to Black Beauty and starting a chase. Topper gives chase. Tracy, somehow, can’t get out of the gas fast enough to chase after the cars. So he instead meets with the police chief’s informant from Central City, Lafayette Austin. Lafayette Austin’s introduced like someone we should recognize. I admit I don’t. He’s not listed in John Dunning’s Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio for either Dick Tracy or the Green Hornet’s radio shows. He might be original.

[ Dick Tracy meets a new ally. ] The Chief: 'Lafayette Austin is from Central City. I pounded a beat there before I came here.' Austin: 'Pleased to meet you, Tracy! I was one of his informants back then. When I learned Topper had come to your city, I followed in case Pat needed help.' [ ELSEWHERE ] Red Wasp/Lenore Case: 'Chief! We've got word from Kato!' Green Hornet, reading the message: 'Topper is escalating his plan. Will keep you apprised.' [ ELSEWHERE ] Topper, crying out to Kato/Shiyaki: 'Shiyaki! Fix me a drink!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 13th of May, 2018. I haven’t figured out what Lafayette Austin’s deal is, but he got a big roll-out in the Green Hornet storyline, and he’s been sent on a mission to deal with Sawtooth in the current storyline.

Topper loses the Green Hornet. Hornet doesn’t return the favor. Kato, the Hornet’s faithful valet, has been secretly working as Topper’s valet “Skiyaki”. Topper figures to try shaking down his an old friend at Mazuma National Bank, before skipping town. But Dick Tracy, tipped off by Austin, is there. The Green Hornet, I assume tipped off by Kato, is there too. Also there: the Green Hornet’s smoke bomb and gas. Also also there: Dick Tracy’s two-way radio gas masks. In the fight, the Green Hornet clobbers Tracy and Kato knocks out Sam Catchem. But they use Tracy’s wrist-radio to summon backup, and leave the also-unconscious Topper for arrest.

Tracy gets credit for arresting Topper, and for scaring the Green Hornet back to Central City. That reported sighting’s premature, made by the Red Wasp — Lenore Case, Britt Reid’s romantic lead — with the backup Black Beauty. It should give Reid time to clear out of town gracefully.


And that, with the 27th of May, closes the Dick Tracy/Green Hornet crossover adventure. The 28th begins a new one, one with many parts moving together. The first part is Sawtooth, contract killer last seen in the strip around Christmas, not-killing Dick Tracy. Mister Bribery, his contractee, micromanaged the murder. You freelancers out there know how it is. Mister Bribery is, from prison, offering $25,000 for the murder of his former pet scientist Ygor Glitch. Sawtooth is up for it, and what the heck, figures he can try killing Dick Tracy again and see what happens.

Meanwhile Diet Smith and the Moon Governor have put together the “Moon Compound”. It’s a museum exhibit meant to explain the Lunarians to the people of Earth who have nothing to fear from their advanced science, and secret colony living in an undisclosed location, and control over magnetism, and cute stubby little antennas, and power to dispense electric shocks severe enough to render adults unconscious, and close ties to the industrialist billionaire Diet Smith who himself enjoys confidential ties with a police officer who has an 87-year track record of extrajudicial killings of suspects in often fantastically gruesome ways. The unwashed masses can have such weird, inexplicable fears!

Ugly Crystal: 'You're lucky, Honeymoon. I never knew my dad. My mom never told me about him, and neither did Uncle Bribery. I don't even know if I'm going to a foster home or an orphanage.' Honeymoon: 'Well, whatever happens, Crystal, you have a friend.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 7th of June, 2018. Honestly sweet moment for some of the personal and slightly soap-operatic elements going on here.

Honeymoon Tracy and her friend Ugly Crystal — Mister Bribery’s niece — bond over their strange family experiences. Honeymoon’s half-Lunarian. Her mother, the original Moon Maiden, was killed long ago. A second Moon Maiden, Mysta Chimera, surgically created by human superscience from the amnesiac daughter of a mob boss, has joined the strip and loosely Honeymoon’s family. Please do try to keep up. Ugly Crystal doesn’t know her father, and Honeymoon wonders whether anyone could do something about that mystery. If she only had an in with some scientific superdetective or something.

So at a midnight screening of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, Dick Tracy’s partner Sam Catchem — uh. Sorry. I have to go lie down a moment. I don’t know what’s even real anymore.

[ AN UNEXPECTED GUEST AT THE 'ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW' ] Sam Catchem: 'Sawtooth!' Sawtooth (his mouth bleeding): 'Sam Catchem! You're a cop!' Grimm: 'I've got him!' Sawtooth (winding up a punch) 'Tell your buddy Dick Tracy I'm coming for him next!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 18th of June, 2018. The blood on Sawtooth’s jaw is from where he bit Ygor Glitch’s neck, killing the man. Catchem happened to run into Sawtooth asking, hey, Glitch’s death-scream wasn’t one of the canonical responses, so what’s the deal?

So at a midnight screening of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, Dick Tracy’s partner Sam Catchem runs into Sawtooth. Catchem’s there for the fun of it. Sawtooth is there on business: he knew Glitch was a Picture-Head, as they call Rocky Horror Picture Show fans. So he went where he knew Glitch would be, and eats him. I mean, I’m fairly sure that’s what I’m meant to infer. “It was as if some huge predator caught him by the throat” could mean many things, I suppose.

Tracy’s able to identify the victim, and the perpetrator, and who likely ordered the hit. This is thanks to his scientific superdetective work of having Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo character Inspector Ishida call up and tell him what’s going on. So, y’know, never under-develop your intelligence network. (I haven’t read Usagi Yojimbo but I hear good stuff about it. I’m just going by what the captions, complete with copyright notices that I haven’t seen under other crossover guest stars, tell me.) Also Sawtooth might have given the scheme away by warning Catchem he was coming for Dick Tracy.

On to the search for Sawtooth. With special guest Lafayette Austin, who’s introduced with such emphasis one wonders if they feared we wouldn’t notice him. Sawtooth and his assistant/boat-anchor Grimm are hiding out in a hotel. Grimm is losing all their cash betting on horses. Sawtooth is figuring to kill Tracy and then head out of town. Sawtooth looks to The Pouch for tips.

The Pouch, by the way, is an information-dealer who works the city zoo as a balloon vendor. His backstory is he used to be a circus-show Fat Man, and lost almost all that weight. He took the flabby excesses of skin and sewed them into numerous closable pouches with with to be a courier. In the 70s, he used a popcorn popper to kill a guy and got away undetected. So remember: if you aren’t perpetually going “Wait, what?” you’re not reading authentic Dick Tracy.

Okay. Now stuff is coming together fast. The Moon Compound exhibit is getting ready to open. Honeymoon and Ugly Crystal enjoy a tour, under the supervision of Mysta and some of the minor Lunarians. Grimm loses the last of his and Sawtooth’s money as Sawtooth wants to check out. Meanwhile, Dick Tracy is thrilled to be entering his sourdough bread in — I’m sorry, I have to go lie down a bit again.

Sam Catchem: 'You're going to make sourdough bread for a celebrity banquet at Ernie's? How are you gonna do that, Tracy?' Dick Tracy: 'If I bake all day, i should finish in time to delivery my bread to the banquet that night. Making baking plans and staging stakeouts. It's all one in the same to me.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 9th of July, 2018. Not sure I’ve felt a deeper shake to my confidence in Dick Tracy’s abilities than I had in learning he thinks the phrase is “one in the same”.

Right. Dick Tracy is baking sourdough bread for a charity banquet. And he’s got people ready to pick up his many fine loaves of enthusiastically-baked bread. The bread-transport guys arrived Saturday. They’re Sawtooth and Grimm, in disguise.

So. Yes. There is a lot that’s been happening the last two months, and it’s not all clearly a single unified thread. This was, to me, a bit hard to follow day-by-day. But it’s quite clear when read in bulk like this. Tracy continues to have a lot of his investigative triumphs come by people just thinking to tell him the plot. There have been a couple references and guest appearances, even besides the Green Hornet’s.

The most noteworthy of those was Michael Patterson from Lynn Johnston’s For Better Or For Worse poking in back in late June. That was a great reminder of the old days on Usenet group rec.arts.comics.strips and every other comics-discussion group. We’d gather to talk about how awful the prose of his in-universe award-winning super-novel was. And how nasty the strip was to the upstairs neighbors, who were painted as villains without actually doing anything worse than not liking Michael. And how much everybody hated Elizabeth getting yanked out of her life and forced to marry Granthony. And how nastily Lynn Johnson treated Granthony’s first wife because — gasp — she didn’t want to have a child, but did anyway after Granthony whined her into it. This is way too much space given to a side appearance like this, but do please understand. My Gen-X cohort has endured many betrayals in our lifetime. One of the most lingering was the last couple years of For Better Or For Worse. Complaining about it was such a glorious experience while it lasted. I mean, it’s okay talking about how stuff in Funky Winkerbean doesn’t work like that. But it didn’t have the epic fall from what we thought-at-the-time-was-greatness-and-maybe-kinda-wasn’t that For Better Or For Worse did.

Anyway. Topper’s failed cyber-protection racket might feed into artificial intelligence Matty Squared. Still no developments on B O Plenty’s house being haunted. And Denny Lien was kind enough to explain a bit of Diet Smith’s strange mention of a time machine machine last December. Apparently a while back Smith had been working on a time machine, in the hopes of saving his long-dead son Brilliant Smith. The machine wasn’t practical. But the thing about a time machine is the development and testing cycle of a working one can be as short as you like, once you take it seriously. Those are the major outstanding plot threads that stand out to me. Well, that and whatever it is we’re supposed to make of Lafayette Austin. Some of the GoComics.com commenters have suggested that would be “Shaggy from Scooby-Doo”. All right.

Next Week!

Yes, the appearance of old-time radio star The Green Hornet worked! Jim Scancarelli is out of hiding. So when we ask what’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? What’s up with Jim Scancarelli? The heck with all this Little Orphan Annie stuff? At least one of these questions can now be answered!

Statistics Saturday: Twenty Imaginary Eras In French History


  • The Third Empire
  • Restored Orleanism
  • The Algiers Republic
  • Bloisplosion
  • Le Fin-du-Mer
  • When Brittany Was But A Ballroom
  • The Lesser Infantasy
  • Clovis, Clovis, Clovis, Marc, Henri, and Danielle
  • The Slendering of the Fattened Hats
  • L’année des Ratons Laveur
  • The Glass Languedoc
  • The Seven Reigns of Queen Mercredi
  • Too Many Saints-Marcel
  • The Halving of the Mauve
  • The Bois are Barque En Têt
  • Nineteen Sixty-J
  • Six Pragmatic Bretons and their Goat
  • Nantes Énorme et le Poivre
  • Reynard’s Truce of the Dances
  • The Second Technocracy of Dreux

Source: This New Ocean: A History of Project Mercury, Loyd S Swenson Jr, James M Grimwood, Charles C Alexander.

Bonus: six of these are also titles of upcoming Doctor Who episodes.

Also bonus: I am way too proud of “The Bois are Barque En Têt” considering it only works to the tiny extent it does if you know that the Têt is the largest river in southwestern France and even then it isn’t actually “funny” so much as it is “adequately researched”.

Seeing Myself in The Phantom of 1951


This is not a further What’s Going On In The Phantom post. It’s got that tag, but just because I wanted to talk about a couple strips from the Comics Kingdom Vintage page, which is currently running a story from 1951. If you want updates on the current Sunday or weekday continuities I’ll have them at this page, when they’re ready to go. (Barring a surprise or interruption my next update on current Phantom strips should be a Sunday-continuity update around the second Sunday in August.)

But thanks for reading on anyway. So this strip turned up in Comics Kingdom’s vintage comics. It’s from a story in 1951 where for reasons I honestly don’t remember, the Ghost Who Walks’ then-girlfriend, Diana Palmer, is slated to swim Whirlpool Channel. And the baddies are trying to prevent her success, I think to settle some gambling debts or something. Their earlier attempts to stop her have failed, so they’ve fallen back on the old kidnap-the-Phantom-while-releasing-man-eating-sharks-into-Whirlpool-Channel trick. (Imagining Maxwell Smart mentioning how that’s the fourth-largest whirlpool channel he’s ever seen.) And this is where it’s gotten:

[ Diana starts her long, hard swim across Whirlpool Channel. ] Dice: 'She's off! Okay, Scratch, cut the net [ to release the sharks ]!' The Phantom, thinking: 'How can I stop this? Hmm --- ' Aloud: 'WAIT, you fools! Those are sand sharks! They won't go near a human being!'
Lee Falk and Wilson McCoy’s The Phantom for the 1st of June, 1951, and rerun the 10th of July, 2018. Yes, The Phantom asked where on earth they even got two man-eating sharks (one for Diana, one for him). Dice’s funny but correct answer: ‘Where do you usually get sharks? Outa the ocean!’

Dice: 'You say those sharks aren't man-eaters? The skipper said they were! How do you know?' The Phantom: 'See the fins --- and those markings! Whoever sold you those sharks pulled a fast one!' [ A splash of salt water catches Scratch by surprise --- his gun drops for a moment. ] Phantom: 'Why, everybody knows the difference!' [ But a moment is all The Phantom needs! ] (He slugs Scratch.)
Lee Falk and Wilson McCoy’s The Phantom for the 2nd of June, 1951, and rerun the 11th of July, 2018. I mean, I love spouting nonsense and seeing who’ll bite. But my mind would probably have gone to how they needed woman-eating sharks and these are able to distinguish male from female and so preferentially eat males that it’s silly to send them after Diana.

And yes, I understand, that in a dire fix like this the hero will say anything to distract, confuse, and thus take by surprise the baddies. And that if you say anything authoritatively enough, quickly enough, people will at least not immediately ponder whether what you’re saying makes a lick of sense. But I truly love that the bad guys are at least momentarily buying into the premise that of course The Phantom will bring to their attention that they’ve gone and brought the wrong kind of sharks to send to eat his girlfriend. He might not want his someday-fiancee to die, but to let them go off being wrong about their death-trap design? Unthinkable. It is such a me thing to do, honestly. My love has had to have words with me about this, albeit in less dire situations.

How To Have A Small Business


There are over nine ways to get your own small business. The quickest to start is to locate some large business that nobody’s paying particular attention to, and hit them with the full might of your shrink ray. If you then have a large enough bottle you can keep the business in your home as a convenient profit-generating center. If you do this make sure to poke some holes in the lid to let fresh air in. But this approach, while it skips many of the harder parts of getting set up, does have its lasting costs, not to mention the trouble of dropping in needed business supplies like shrunken lunches and miniature dry-erase markers and ISO 9.001 certification. Plus if they develop superpowers in the shrinking you’re in for all sorts of headaches. Small headaches, yes, but they might be persistent.

Taking a medium-size business and shrinking it a little bit is generally safer. But this, ironically, requires a larger floor plan to fit the appropriate scale. Putting the businesses close enough to HO scale means the disparity will be noticed only by the most exacting train enthusiasts. Three-quarters of all model railroad layouts are former commercial districts plucked out of their original communities by train enthusiasts running their own businesses. Utica, New York, was formerly a bustling megalopolis of over two million people before it was dispersed into thousands of model sets, and there are concerns the city disappeared in 2014, but we haven’t had the chance to get back upstate to check. Its residents have suggested they could swipe Rochester which is somehow a completely different upstate New York city, but they haven’t had the chance to get over there and check either. Anyway, check whether your business district is right for you before shrinking it.

When it comes to starting a small business of your own the basic idea is to provide some goods and, or, or services. Goods, though, are right out. The trouble with goods is you need to extract them from wherever they come — the ground, probably — which is a lot of digging and hard work for stuff that turns out to be worth as much as stuff found in the ground around your home would be. There is a market for moldy leaves and sun-faded empty cans of Diet Dr Pepper Cherry Vanilla. But it’s not one that pays well to the people who actually find stuff. And unless you expand your resource-gathering territory vastly it just won’t bring you that much money. If you don’t extract them, then you have to make them out of something someone else found. And that seems like it should be workable, except that it turns out anything you have to do a lot of, a robot can do better and cheaper. So they’ll cut you out of the doing of it and then where are you? Goodless, that’s where.

Services, then, look a lot more promising. In services you don’t necessarily find or make anything that can be definitely traced back to you. You just do something, and trust that someone else will realize they need to pay you for it. Where this breaks down is that you need to convince someone who has money that they should give it to you for that. But there are already plenty of people earning a living by rhetorically asking the television whether the people who make the News at Noon understand how they look, or engaging convenience store cashiers in elaborate stories about how much change they have, and there’s no need for more of them. What you need is your own niche.

A niche is a little spot where your project can thrive, kind of like Mrs Frisby’s cinder block home, in the vast farmer’s field of capitalism. A good (not goods) niche should be several paces from one side to the other, be reasonably dry, close to good sources of food, and should come with a team of genetically modified super-intelligent rats who can put together a block-and-tackle system to move it from peril. You can carry on without rats for a while, but the crash will come. Many observers credit the collapse of Pacific Electric Railway and the disappearance of Pan Am to well-intentioned pest controllers who relocated their rats to the American Broadcasting Company and to Cisco, respectively.

If you can’t stand the rats you might make do with a couple of guinea pigs with master’s degrees. But that’s really only appropriate if you regard your business as a bit of a lark (not the bird). And if you don’t mind when it comes to a sudden tragic end as the guinea pigs look on indifferently and squeak. The lesson is clear, and should really be made plain by someone or other.

In Which I Maybe Fail My Civic Duty


Well, that’s embarrassing. The City Clerk came over and asked if I would come over sometime around October or November 2027 and remind him to check whether the city was about to lose all its laws again. Or any important subset of them. And, like, I want to help. I want to be a good member of the community. But I’m really most apt at doing stuff like mowing the lawn right before I’m out of town for a week, or telling the new neighbors what the recycling schedule is. Reminders to take care of a thing?

Well, all I could do is show him the side door, where we’ve had this bag of wrong-colored-markers we’ve been meaning to return to Michael’s since February of 2013. (Don’t worry about them accepting them. We kept the receipt and it’s somewhere near the dishwasher most likely. Yes, I don’t know why we bought the wrong-color markers. I think we misunderstood, and thought the Right-Color Marker sign was in the middle of the section rather than at the start as you walked down the aisle.) We figure a bag of something on the door we use to leave the house all the time will surely leave the house with us, and it doesn’t. He agreed, yeah, we’re probably not the best family to send a reminder. But he’s all embarrassed after last year’s incident and is just hoping if he asks, like, fifty people to remind him then someone will definitely make it.

Maybe I can set an automatic post to come up here in like October 2027 so I have that taking care of things.

PS: there were more plumbing problems and they have festered.

What Did I Learn From Watching Nearly Every Talkartoon?


I spent much of the last year watching about one Talkartoon per week. The series was the Fleischer Studios’ first major project in sound cartoons. It ran just under three years before giving way to a Betty Boop series. What do I take away from it?

First, I appreciate just how fast animation technique was developing then. Not so much in sound, really, although yes, there is that. But apart from audio fidelity I can’t say that the last Talkartoons were much better at using sound than the first ones. There’s foley effects to match important stuff on screen in both Radio Riot and in Admission Free. There’s music riffs dropped down, usually because the lyric of the original song references something on-screen. There’s pauses in the action for characters to start singing, early cartoons and end. I’m not sure they got any better at using sound. Character dialogue, for example, started out nonexistent and stayed pretty well near it.

But in the visual side of animation, the ability to draw a thing moving in funny ways? The cartoons grew amazingly. The first few were distinctly 1920s style, with high-contrast black images on white backgrounds. Soon there were greys. By the end the cartoons had these great shades that, if they weren’t color to start with, at least evoked color. Characters stopped moving in these little chunks where they do a thing, stop, and start doing another thing. Instead action flows together. They learned how to rotoscope action in greyscale so it fits the cartoons.

And the Fleischers showed off how much they could do with the camera angle changing mid-scene. Bimbo’s Initiation is a great example, especially for that extremely long continuous shot of Bimbo running away. But there’s examples all over. Including, in The Betty Boop Limited, a bit of perspective shot that foreshadows the Fleischer’s multi-plane camera work of later years. And all that in under three years. It’s an aspect of the development of animation that gets forgotten under the stories of sound and of Technicolor.

Also surprising: Bimbo had a personality! Two personalities, really, and character variants to match. One, the standard, is this generically pleasant guy who reacts to things, and somehow that became the only Bimbo we know. But the other is more inventive, more active. He’s not quite wild enough to be a screwball character. But you can see it from there, which is a noteworthy step for your generic early-30s inkblot character. I understand his becoming a secondary character to Betty Boop, and then getting knocked back to the minors by Popeye. But couldn’t the more interesting version have shown up more?

And another surprise: Betty Boop really didn’t have a personality! At least, she got a lot of parts, yes. But she gets top billing in these cartoons pretty fast considering how little she has to do with the action. It’s left me more curious about why Betty Boop rose to stardom. It’s easy to see why Popeye took over the Thimble Theatre comic strip once he showed up; he was always saying and doing something a hundred times more interesting than the entities around him. But Betty Boop? She sings, fine. She’s an object of attention. But apart from The Bum Bandit, where she’s not Betty Boop, she hasn’t had a really good part. She’s just the star because … she’s the star? It’s all on charisma, I suppose.

I was delighted to find in Fire Bugsan early example of Franz Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody Number 2 being the cartoon soundtrack. And I was amused to find characters reappearing in new roles: Old King Cole switching from being the creepy bad guy to just being the engineer. Bimbo’s little brother Aloysius becoming any old annoying brat they needed around. Now that I’m primed to notice reused characters I’m curious what the Fleischer Studios Day Players group looks like.

I was also delighted to learn about the recording career of Frank Crumit. At least to learn he had like 480 billion songs all of which sound like old-time cartoon music. Most of them aren’t too problematic, but, yeah, that was the not-delightful part. I knew the Delaware Lackawanna Song (“Where Do You Work-A John”) almost wholly from its appearance in Mask-a-Raid, and on finally looking up the lyrics had a nasty surprise. That’s been the way with the bits we might charitably say reflect how society has changed from the early 30s. Or how we might say, ethnic or racist jokes that sometimes don’t crash the whole cartoon. They are there. There’s more than I’d like. But apart from Mask-A-Raid none of the cartoons (that survive) have depended on ethnic jokes. And they’ve avoided being nastier than, oh, those Indians make these war whoops. I don’t like it, but we’ve seen much worse. Worse is, yeah, where the sexual-assault subtext of Betty Boop cartoons lunges out of the text, grabs you by the nose, and smacks you across the face. Somebody get the poor woman pantyhose that stay in place.

Has this project changed my mind about anything substantial? Hard to say. I’ve always liked black-and-white cartoons, even primitive ones like Noah’s Lark. I had not before seen Swing You Sinners!, itself a minor sin as it’s fantastic. But to find a music-heavy 30s Fleischer cartoon is right up my alley? That’s not exactly catching anyone off-guard with a fast-breaking Zontar story. I appreciate Bimbo a bit more than I did before. And I have new questions about the Fleischer studios, particularly weird cartoons like The Robot or Hide and Seek that seem anachronistic.

Mostly, it’s given me a chance to look closely at a thing I already liked and see new aspects of it. That’s worthwhile even if it hasn’t changed my mind about the cartoons.

Looking Back: The New England Cheese Controversy


I haven’t exactly been binging my own archive. More just sort of nibbling around pieces of it. And I thought I’d share some older stuff that I still like. Also maybe include some thoughts about it.

Anyway, here’s one that’s mostly built out of Edwin Valentine Mitchell’s piece of pop anthropology, It’s An Old New England Custom. I’ve never lived anywhere that had any kind of regional self-esteem. But I appreciate that New Englanders do, and like to play up how they’re some weird slightly alien species. With this piece, I question whether the alleged New England fondess to eat cheese is really all that particular.

Mitchell’s book is available online, and I’ll go ahead and suppose legitimately because that’s easier than actually thinking. Here’s one copy on archive.org, and here’s another. Cheese is the third chapter. It comes in after it being an old New England custom “To Serve Turkey and Cranberry Sauce” but before “To Be Fond Of Fish”.

What’s Going On In Prince Valiant? When Does Prince Valiant Take Place? April – July 2018.


Glad to see you’re interested in Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant. If it’s much later than about September 2018 when you read this, I’ve probably written a new essay bringing things further up to date. It should be at or near the top of this page.

Prince Valiant.

15 April – 8 July 2018.

Prince Valiant has been absent from Prince Valiant lately. He’s busy working his way back from the mystic East. We’ve instead been following Aleta, Queen of the Misty Isles. Her problem: a populist aristocrat name of Krios is leading an anti-foreigner movement. He wants to limit all trade to a port that it so happens land he owns would be perfect for the purpose. Aleta’s sent her daughter Valeta to ask questions about the murder of Ingolf, first mate of a Norse trading vessel. It seems someone in Krios’s family killed Ingolf, and possibly two Misty Islanders. Zulfa, rival for Valeta’s interest in Ingolf’s captain Haraldr. She arranges a secret rendezvous with Ingolf’s girlfriend’s brother. No, nobody just has a simple relationship to anyone else in this story, thanks for asking.

Zulfa deploys her wiles on Antonio. By ‘her wiles’ I mean ‘alcohol’. He empties out some of his many ominous secrets. His father’s ambitions. His sister Andrinoa’s affair. His brother Drakon’s doing of terrible things. How Ingolf was to be on Krios’s island tomorrow night. He passes out as Drakon enters. Krios ordered Drakon to make his brother’s “indiscretion” disappear. She does, after smashing open the window lattice and leading Drakon on a chase across the tiled roofs of Krios’s estate.

In the house of Krios, Zulfa has pulled secrets from the drunken Antero --- but as she tries stealthily to depart, Drakon leaps from the shadows! Antero's brother is strong and merciless but doesn't know that Zulfa is not merely a court minion, but also a skilled warrior. [ She hits him with a small table stand. ] The blow to his head momentarily stuns the huge man and allows the Amazigh woman to break his grip and dash to the latticed window at the far end of the gallery, which she smashes to flinders ... before responding decisively to the sound of footsteps close behind. [ She throws another stand at him. ] Then she is out the window, where she is confronted with the uncertain footing of the tiled roof below! NEXT: A slippery slope.
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 13th of May, 2018. I feel like this is the caption I put in every review of Prince Valiant, but that’s a great set of pictures, especially with Zulfa breaking out of the lattices and the final panel there.

Aleta asks Krios to come over and answer just one more question. Given the lock of hair found with him, and the servants found killed with him: what’s the deal? Krios declares he can’t keep the secret any longer. It’s his daughter. Andrina killed Ingolf in a “fit of passion” and throws her at the Queen’s feet.

But Antero steps up. He declares he can’t abandon his sister, not until he’s sure “she is being treated in the manner she deserves”. Antero promises that Andrina has a sick mind, but bears no guilt. And that he has something to share with Zulfa. It’s about the mysterious meeting on Krios’s island that Ingolf was to attend. He does, and returns to his father’s home, where he’s shut in.

Zulfa passes Antero's words to Aleta, and the Queen calls for council: 'Tomorrow, the Senate votes on Krios's demand for a trade zone --- and it appears enough are cowed by him. But now we have a chance to reveal Krios ... ' 'And I know this place where he goes tonight,' interjects Valeta. 'Karen and I sailed there often as children. Trust me, Mother --- I know what must be done.' Hours later, once night has settled, a fleet departs the harbor --- these are the fishermen who hunt the nocturnal squid. But once in open water one of the ragtag flotilla breaks from the others and turns toward a small island just off the coast. The lone vessel slips quietly alongside a neglected wharf on the island's far side --- and Krios steps onto Kythra, his proposed restricted trade zone! NEXT: The Appointment.
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 1st of July, 2018. Squid fishing is an actual thing by the way, and they are mostly nocturnal. So the fleet makes sense, don’t worry about it. Personally, I think this is too many fishers going after squid for my lifetime rate of squid consumption. But that’s just my tastes.

That evening, Krios and some men slip out of town, as part of the nocturnal-squid fishing fleet. Krios makes his way to the island. There he rendevous with General Vialius, who brings startling news: all this is happening during the time of the Emperor Justinian. I never knew the era of Prince Valiant was pinned down to a century, never mind to within a couple decades. Justinian also sends his greetings to Krios.

Next Week!

Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy! With special guest star the Green Hornet! And men from the Moon! What does it all mean? I’m going to need to spend like five days this coming week reviewing and recapping the plot. You’ll get to enjoy the results.

And while you wait, please know that I look at mathematically-themed comic strips on my other blog. The most recent post on that line should be at the top of that page.

Statistics Saturday: Uncertainly Named United States


  • Maybesota
  • Arkansish
  • Kansish
  • Possylvania

Source: Who’s Who In Mythology: A Classic Guide to the Ancient World, Alexander S Murray.

Well, the thing is, sometimes you know you have a good solid premise on the board, and you put it through the full development process and you see that it isn’t there yet, and you go back and you give it another two weeks of work, and you know the idea hasn’t blossomed to what it should. So you can either go with what you have, or write off the whole project as a loss, or toss it back into the scraps for use in a future piece. But what else could this be used for? A joke about not being able to remember the names of states? When is that going to come up? I mean, two-thirds of my jokes are based on remembering some impossibly petty bit of nonsense, like who was the Secretary of the Treasury in 1853 or something. Not being able to think of Arkansas? Impossible. Switch over to indifferently named states? You have to throw away all of these, really. Maybe not Kansish. But all you get back from it is “Mehvada”. Possibly “Alabamnah”. Not getting any closer done. Anyway I still believe in this premise.

A Tip for Rabbit Health and Happiness in the Hot Weather


So suppose you’re going into your fourteenth continuous year of the temperature being consistently above 586 degrees. And your pet rabbits are showing signs of strain from the heat, such as extremely rapid nose-wiggling, shallow breathing, making picket signs that read “HEAT UNFAIR TO” and then the crayon melts, and even more disapproving glares at the window than usual. Well, just take an emptied bottle of soda or pop, as you prefer, fill it with water, and freeze it. Then set it in the rabbit’s enclosure and look! Within minutes you’ll have a rabbit nose-bump the thing until it rolls some, and then staring at you and asking what that was supposed to accomplish. And the answer is, nothing, really. It’s just important that you have a process.

On Looking At The Liberty Bell


Go to the next person you see and ask if she or he knows the shape of the Liberty Bell. Odds are the person will be taken by surprise. Probably, having expected a question like “how’s it going?” or “hot enough for you?” they’ll reply, “just exhausted” or “I got up this morning and the elm tree had melted”. This is why the most important rule in a conversation is to never just start talking about whatever you want to talk about. You have to lead up to it. Start with little cues, as much as four days ahead of time. Some shy people hire flag-bearers to approach. This is why in the introvert district of town you see all those people with bright orange banners that read, oh, “CAR TIRE” or “THAT SEMESTER YOU SPENT IN SPAIN” or “PEAK FREANS COMMERCIALS” or the like.

Anyway, so try again and this time after having given some clues you want to ask about the shape of the Liberty Bell. Then warn that you mean to ask a question about its shape. Try not to be frightened if your partner wants to know why you’re thinking so much about the Liberty Bell! Just explain that it’s for a school assignment. If challenged on the grounds that you’re not in school, plead that you do tend to procrastinate. No one will challenge you on that point. In any case, I’m willing to bet that your partner agrees that the Liberty Bell has a shape, and that they know pretty much what it is. It’s rather distinctive and pretty memorable. It’s kind of bell-shaped.

But there’s all sorts of things to notice about it. There’s, yes, the overall bell-ness of it. There’s the famous crack in it. There’s the know-it-all who would like to remind you how the big crack everyone remembers isn’t the actual crack. It’s instead a much bigger crack. They drilled so as to keep the small actual crack from turning into a much bigger crack. This plan worked with an extreme level of brilliance, except for how they couldn’t do anything about the original crack anyway. And there’s other stuff too. There’s the funky bits at the bottom where people stole metal off of it. There’s the way in the moulded text up top it includes most of the letters you really notice in ‘Pennsylvania’ at least.

Yoke and upper portion of the Liberty Bell, showing the wooden frame and the hoops of metal attached to them. Also, engraved text around the top: '... THROUGHOUT ALL THE LAND UNTO ALL THE ... ' and '... OF THE PROVINCE OF PENSYLVANIA [sic]'.
Since you maybe don’t know what I mean, here’s the top part of the Liberty Bell and where the metal pieces get all weird. I guess when you really look at it the shape isn’t all that weird, but it’s still kind of weird. Also this is the part where they swung and missed at spelling ‘Pennsylvania’.

And yet. Consider this. Where would the Liberty Bell be if it weren’t for the wooden yolk on which it hangs?

Well, a bit lower down, probably. Wouldn’t be surprised if they left the thing on its side, to save drawer space. Then it would roll around in these funny little spirals every time the ground shook in one of those notorious Philadelphia earthquakes. People would stumble across it in the midle of the night. Then probably one of the cats would wrestle the clapper until that fell down and the cat fled into the city’s laundry room.

And now at last I have reached mey point say my rough notes here. Without the yoke, we’d have much less of a Liberty Bell. Plus everybody would pay more attention to how weird and ungainly the top of the metal part looks. Seriously, take a picture where you can really see how weird the top looks. Pretty weird, huh? Thank you. You can find all sorts of discussions online about the bell and its metal and whether it ever actually rang. But the yoke? Nothing.

It’s made of American elm. Hm. So, imperfectly-cast British product brought overseas, re-cast and re-cast again by apparently, anyone in eastern Pennsylvania who had a bright idea and no expertise in bell-making between 1752 and 1860. And then, hung on American wood, it was finally a swell icon for bell-ness without actually being useful as a bell. I’m not sure if we can tighten this metaphor up any before the writing group reviews it. Maybe have a carpool of security guards going home for the day accidentally smash through the front porch of some Lenape family’s home.

Liberty Bell icon on what is labelled as a 'Butter Pat Wrapper, circa 1976'.
This picture hasn’t got anything to do with even what little the rest of the article has to do with itself. But it is a reminder that when they open or expand a museum, anything that any of the docents have that they can’t get rid of just might turn out to be an artefact! So if you can’t bear to get rid of stuff, make it work for you and open a museum. Also I hope to someday write something as amusing to me as is the ‘circa’ in the description ‘Butter Pat Wrapper, circa 1976’.

Anyway the yoke, for all it does to give the Liberty Bell shape and structural support, is just there. It’s got a nearly perfect record of not growing new cracks and needing to be re-casted. And they guess it’s the original, as far as anyone knows? So here’s to the pieces of wood that are important but don’t get much attention: this is an important lesson about something and darned if I know what.

Weather, Not


I apologize for being a little generally cranky here. But I’ve (a) got a cold and (b) have got pretty well fed up with the weather here. It’s been hot, yes, and I’m not complaining about that per se. It’s summer here, and there’s a longstanding tradition of hot days in the summertime. The summer we didn’t have hot days just felt worse. But the weather forecast has been predicting thunderstorms for “tomorrow and the day after” for a solid week now. So far the closest we’ve gotten to a thunderstorm is one of the fireworks my love’s father set off turned out to still be smouldering when we went out to the car an hour later so I poured a bucket of water on it. At this point I think the whole thunderstorm thing is a bluff. The only way we’re getting any rain is to hire a bunch of schoolchildren to draw rainy scenes and tape their drawings to the windows. Meanwhile I’m not buying any so-called weather forecast that says there’s rain coming.

The 42nd and Final Talkartoon: The Betty Boop Limited


And now, the last of my Talkartoon shorts until sometime next year when I get bored and decide to do a rewatch. This was originally released the 1st of July, 1932. Its credited animators are Willard Bowsky and Thomas Bonfiglio. They’ve been teamed before, on the 21st cartoon, Twenty Legs Under The Sea and in the 31st, Any Rags?. How they missed the 41st is anybody’s guess.

The Talkartoon series, I suppose, started out as a way to feature a song, but have the framing cartoon be a bit more than setting up to follow the bouncing ball. Over the series’ run, Bimbo and then Betty Boop stumbled into beings as characters and the songs grew less important. And now here, for the last of the Talkartoons, it’s a lot of singing. The framing device is ripped from — I’m not sure the proper little genre name. I’ll call it the Gold Diggers of Broadway genre. Specifically it’s ripped from about the second and third reels of these movies, where — having introduced the long-struggling and the young-up-and-coming performers and their prospective marriage-grade partners, the story comes to a stop so a bunch of vaudeville performers can do their acts for posterity and for the last time. (Since, well, if someone’s seen your trick-sneezing act on film they don’t have to go to the last vaudeville theater in town to see you do it live, right?) So it’s basically a bunch of musical bits that could be strung together in any order, and done as long as it takes to fill out the short.

Betty Boop’s song is a version of Max Rich and Mack Gordon’s Ain’tcha? and I’m glad to have that established. I was having trouble figuring out just what it was supposed to be. The act most interesting to me was Koko the Clown’s soft-shoe. It’s a nice, smooth, fluid movement. It got me wondering if it might be rotoscoped. I don’t feel expert enough to call it that, not without supporting evidence. But there’s something in the way his shoulders move, and in this slight shift in the plane that his feet are in. It suggests to me movement studied from film.

There’s an inexplicably tiny cat who wanders in several times to start singing Silver Threads Among The Gold, or as it’s actually known, “Darling, I am growing older”. It’s a good running gag. I think I’ve seen it in other shorts, possibly from other studios, and I’m wondering if this is a first or earliest instance of it. (Hey, some cartoon had to be the first to use Franz Liszt, too.) But why such a tiny cat? I understand if it’s meant to be a kid running out and getting chased off stage, but the cat seems small even for that.

The short offers two solid choices for old-fashioned animated body horror. There’s Betty Boop and the whole gang getting sheared in half by the train tunnel about 5:15 in. There’s the cow getting hit by the train at about 5:40 and recovering well, at least that first time. (The train also looks to me like a detailed, grey-washed cutout, maybe even a picture, moving across frame, rather than cel animation. If it is, it evokes the way silent Koko the Clown cartoons would use stop-motion on regular pictures to, say, animate his being drawn into existence.)

I’m not sure there’s a blink-and-you-miss-it joke. Maybe the steps into the train car being a giraffe’s neck. Maybe the train blowing its nose after being fueled up. Also nice to see that Old King Cole recovered from his death and all that and went into the railroad business. And amongst the long-haired musicians (a variation of the one from Fire Bugs? Maybe? I’m not convinced) is a clearly moonlighting Mickey Mouse, right about 4:35 in.

It’s easy to say cartoons fall apart at the end. It’s hard to come up with a good solid punch line that resolves the storyline. This one has several weird ending problems. First is the kangaroo trying to get to what I had assumed was the bathroom: apparently it’s a phone booth instead? All right, I’ll allow it, although did phones even work on trains that weren’t in stations back then? And it’s more of a peanut vending machine than a phone? I follow each whimsical-step here. It just seems like a lot of steps in a row.

But the bigger one. The train hurdles toward the camera and smashes into it, for one last round of the tiny cat singing “Darling, I am growing older”, at about 5:35. But the short keeps going after that? It’s for some good jokes, including the first cow-smashing bit. And the railroad switch-operator business. (And check out that perspective shot at about 5:55 as he lurches over in his bathtub.) And the train worming its way through that tangle of rail lines is great. But why wasn’t the smash into camera and “Darling, I am growing older” the final bit in the short? It would be such a stronger conclusion to the cartoon, and to the series.

Statistics June: What Was Popular Around Here, And How Much


Since the month’s off to some kind of start I can try the one essay each month that I know exactly how to write and don’t have to do hard work for. Its problem: was anything popular here and, if so, how much? After several months in a row of pretty good-sized readerships I’ve been expecting a collapse, but that may just be that I got a cold this weekend and it’s left me in a fowl mood. But WordPress is the actual authority on readership data that I’m sure they don’t make up for any weird, inscrutable reasons. Let’s look.

June 2018 views: 3,454. Visitors: 1,791. Views per visitor: 1.93. Posts published: 30.
Readership figures from August 2016 through June 2018, with a little bitty stub of July 2018 poking into things. Also, since I’ve talked about having an ‘Insights’ tab, you readers who don’t manage your own WordPress blogs should at least get the chance to see that there is too such a tab and that I don’t just make up every single one of these numbers. Oh, hey, my views-per-visitor is up from May’s 1.72. That’s a good thing, right? I guess?

OK, then, so the number of page views rose to 3,454, beating May’s 3,227. Not quite beating April’s 3,590. But still, that’s all year now that I could expect about 3,500 page views. Through 2018 I think the major pieces of my blog have been a story strip reviews on Sundays, the cartoon reviews Tuesdays, long-form pieces on Thursdays, and a Statistics Saturday with some silly little list then. Apparently, that’s a nice, stable writing plan. Now if I could do something for Mondays that anyone cared about.

172 things got liked around here in June. There were 175 likes in May, and 177 likes in April, so I’m getting very marginally less likeable over time. This matches my experience with the dwindling number of people who visit me. But again, I’ve got a cold so it’s spoiled my whole attitude toward everything.

56 comments through the course of June, which is up again; there’d been 54 in May and 43 in April. Also looking at the monthly reports tells me there were 148 comments in January and that’s so hard to imagine. I think so much of my writing here as being stuff that people look at, acknowledge as existing, and then get on without worrying further about. I need to leave more nerd-bait around so people will come in trying to correct my obvious mistakes.

Recapping story-strips has been very good for my readership. The top essays in June were all comic strip explanations:

Meanwhile my most popular bit of original non-review writing was The Great Lottery Experiment, which gratifies and surprises me. It’s a bit of microfiction and was a whim turned into four paragraphs. I should do more of those, but I didn’t expect the first one to happen, so who knows how to get more? My most popular long-form piece was Some Astounding Facts About Summer, and I’m glad for that too. I had fun with that piece.

That’s enough fun. Now how about the running of the countries that sent me readers at all? There were 71 of them in June, down from May’s 78 and April’s 76. There were 22 single-reader countries, down from May’s 25 and up from April’s 21.

Country Readers
United States 2,643
India 191
Canada 96
Italy 65
United Kingdom 63
Australia 56
Germany 38
Philippines 27
Mexico 18
South Africa 17
Spain 13
Brazil 12
France 12
Romania 10
Singapore 10
Sweden 10
Egypt 9
Finland 8
Ireland 8
Japan 6
Malaysia 6
Norway 6
Netherlands 5
Switzerland 5
Turkey 5
Jamaica 4
Kenya 4
Nigeria 4
Saudi Arabia 4
Argentina 3
Austria 3
Denmark 3
European Union 3
Hong Kong SAR China 3
Pakistan 3
Peru 3
Poland 3
Portugal 3
Puerto Rico 3
South Korea 3
Belgium 2
Bosnia & Herzegovina 2
Bulgaria 2
Chile 2
Iceland 2
Indonesia 2
Israel 2
Ukraine 2
United Arab Emirates 2
Algeria 1
Bahamas 1
Bangladesh 1
Barbados 1
China 1 (**)
Colombia 1
Ecuador 1 (*)
Fiji 1
Georgia 1
Honduras 1
Hungary 1
Jordan 1
Kuwait 1
Morocco 1
New Zealand 1
Slovenia 1 (***)
St. Vincent & Grenadines 1
Taiwan 1 (*)
Thailand 1 (**)
Trinidad & Tobago 1
Tunisia 1
Vietnam 1

So Ecuador and Taiwan have been single-reader countries two months running now. China, three months running, although there’s so many people there I would have thought a second would run across the site here just by accident. Thailand’s also a three-month single-reader country, but that’s got fewer people than China, based on a quick show of hands. Slovenia’s into its fourth month with a single reader each month. This is getting confusing. What happened to the months where there’s six countries on a two-month streak, one on a three-month streak, and then Colombia was a single reader for 18 months running? Also, I’m curious what the Slovenians are looking at. I’m also curious about the readership in India, which rose like fifty people from May. And hurt that my Canadian readership dropped by a couple dozen people. I hope that roster of Fictional Canadian Provinces or Territories will help put things right and that someone will send me a box of Wunderbar candies.

Insights figures I started the month with 91,043 page views from 50,089 unique visitors and I apologize for missing visitor number 50,000. You were definitely a person there and I hope you enjoyed your visit! Also numbers 49,998 and 50,003. Number 50,006 I’m not so into because I know she was just checking in to see whether I was saying something snide about her.

As of the start of July I’ve published 118,030 words here, so I look on course to have my most verbose year yet. There were 181 total posts, gathering 411 comments in total and accumulating 1,154 total likes. That’s an average of 2.3 comments per post, and an average 6.4 likes per post. I had been at 2.2 comments per post at the start of June. But I’d also been at 6.5 likes per post in early June, too.

For the year so far I’m averaging 652.1 words per post, again down from the start of June’s 659.8 and the start of May’s 682.3. Yes, you wonder what I’m doing with all these saved words. I keep some of them in reserve against a wordage shortfall. And of course lend them out, when friends need. I’m happy to be able to help, when folks need.

With all this in mind, are you interested in reading Another Blog, Meanwhile regularly? You can add it to your WordPress reader by clicking the button on the upper right corner of this page. Here’s the RSS feed, if you want to read this page without my ever knowing you’re doing it. And if you want to follow me on Twitter, here I am. I announce new posts for here and for my mathematics blog there. Sometimes I even talk with friends there, although not so much lately, because I’ve had a cold and been very tired and would like to go upstairs and sleep through to July now. … It’s already July? … well, through to next July then.

benchley re opera, 1. cartoon asian old men naked, 1
This is actually from the description of things people searched for today, as I write this recap. But there’s so rarely anything interesting in the search terms that I have to notice when there is something peculiar in there.

Why did I have someone searching for “cartoon asian old men naked” getting to my site here? The heck? What did you find? Was it what you hoped for?

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Weekdays)? Is Your Podcast’s Mattress Advertiser Grenade-Proof? April – June 2018.


Hi, readers interested in the 250th weekday-continuity storyline of long-running superhero comic strip The Phantom. I have no idea what that story is going to be. I’m writing this in late June 2018, in the midst of storyline number 249, A Reckoning With The Nomad. When story 250 starts — or other stories do — I’ll try to cover them, as well as any Sunday-continuity stories — with essays at this link. Thank you.

Meanwhile on my other blog, I talk about comic strips. That’s a mathematics blog, so I talk about mathematically-themed comic strips there. I hope you’ll give that some consideration too.

The Phantom (Weekdays)

9 April – 30 June 2018.

Where was the story in early April, last time I checked in? A failed airport bomber offers to reveal the identity of The Nomad, international terrorist and menace to The Phantom since 2011. The Phantom knows who The Nomad is: he’s Eric Sahara, father of his daughter’s roommate at Briarson School in New York City. The Phantom figures some kind of legal and political chaos will follow the Nomad’s naming, if he is truly publicly identified. So he figures to break into The Nomad’s compound and abduct him. He saw the Nomad from afar, acting strangely non-fleeing for someone who could expect authorities to be closing in on him. And that’s where we had been.

The Phantom gets past the security guards the way superheroes always get past security guards. Mostly with a bunch of well-placed punches that don’t attract other sentries. He grabs The Nomad out of bed. The terrorist cringes, whimpering and begging for mercy, and tells an incredible story, backed up by flashbacks on-camera. He’s not Eric Sahara. He’s just a Parisian man, abducted, surgically altered, and forced at gunpoint to be a decoy Fake Nomad. No-Nomad? That’ll suffice; I missed the fellow’s actual name. The Real Nomad’s plan succeeded. The Phantom’s trapped in a jungle bungalow, surrounded by armed guards. Who, you know, weren’t working too hard to stop his breaking in, earlier in the paragraph. Ah. No-Nomad runs, begging for his life, telling his captors how they don’t need him anymore now that their plan has worked. They murder him.

No-Nomad: 'I'm a PRISONER! Please believe me!' The Phantom, thinking: 'That accent! He's mastered it. More Paris than Algiers.' No-Nomad: 'I can prove it!! Just look!' The Phantom, thinking: 'I can prove it!! Just look!'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 3rd of May, 2018. While telling his story the No-Nomad explains how he had to act as if he were giving stern speeches and to just blather on about anything. He tells of how he’d recite fairy tales, and The Phantom thinks how he has to learn how to read lips. This startled me with the discovery that The Phantom couldn’t read lips already. I assumed that was part of the hypercompetent superhero starter kit of powers and abilities. Considering what he does manage to do in this story it’s startling to learn of an actual definitely-established thing you can fake him out on.

They’re ready to murder The Phantom too. Also his pet wolf, Devil. And they have an enviable tactical advantage. They surround the bungalow’s exits. They’re stocked up with 800 million jillion kerspillion rounds of ammunition and grenades and rocket-propelled grenades and missiles and neutron bombs and photon torpedoes and Starkillers and a couple right nasty rubber bands flung from between their fingers. Plus I bet they call him nasty names too. Those really hurt.

The Phantom, to his wolf Devil, in a building taking all kinds of gunfire: 'This is a DEMOLITION CREW after us!' (He picks up and throws a grenade back out.) 'We're getting out of here, Devil!' (Thinking to himself.) 'I'll know the way when I see it ... '
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 25th of May, 2018. Alternate title: everyday life in 2018.

So it’s a well-organized trap. Their one mistake: they left a mattress in the No-Nomad’s bedroom. It’s cover. It lets him deflect a rocket-propelled grenade so as to blow open a new way out, an action both cool and absurd. (This broke the ability of one of Comics Curmudgeon’s commenters to suspend disbelief. I understand. I’m still along for the ride, but I would also have watched the Mythbusters episode where they tested this one.) Phantom and Devil race through the new opening. They escape The Nomad’s underlings who somehow fear they’ll be punished for letting The Phantom escape the death trap. The Phantom decides, yeah, he’s definitely going to take advertising from that silver-threaded mattress-kit delivery service on his pop-culture hangout podcast, The Ghost Who Walks Out Of Bad Movies. (Highly recommended if you need some more stuff to listen to. He and Mandrake the Magician have this great running gag of pretending to be Confused Johnny Hazard not understanding the exposition no matter how simple they make it.)

The Phantom, examining a wound in his neck: 'Might be wood ... metal ... can't seem to ... ' (He tugs it out, and bleeds profusely.) 'Uh-oh! I shouldn't have picked at that ... '
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 8th of June, 2018. Crow T Robot pops in from the corner: ‘Yeah, don’t ever pick at the plausibility of your superhero stories. You’re not gonna like the result.’

The Ghost Who Brings A Mattress To A Rocket-Propelled Grenade Fight is scathed, though. He unwisely pulls some shrapnel from his neck, opening up an artery. There’s nothing for it. He rides Hero, his horse, back to Skull Cave, while keeping as much pressure as he can on it. (This is another point that shattered a Comics Curmudgeon’s suspension of disbelief. I’m more sympathetic to this.) He makes it to Guran, though, and emergency surgery. Also a blood transfusion that surely will not result in his no longer being able to turn into The Incredible Hulk.

That’s the night The Phantom has had. Other people have had it worse. The failed airport bomber started to name The Nomad. His police motorcade came under attack, live on cable news. Other people had it superficially well. But even they have fraughts of danger all around them. Eric Sahara turned up at his daughter’s school. He plans to disappear. But before that he plans to spend a day with his daughter and, what the heck, her roommate. This makes a neat mirror of the day The Phantom spent with the young women at the start of this story. He doesn’t seem to have anything particularly devious planned for The Phantom’s daughter. But plans change, especially if he comes to realize who she is.

Kadia Sahara: 'How long will you be in New York, Dad?' Eric The Nomad Sahara: 'A few days. We'll see the sights. The three of us!' (Thinking.) 'And then, daughter, I must bid you goodbye ... with this relentless Phantom on my trail, it's time for the Nomad to disappear forever.'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 20th of June, 2018. So to nitpick the plausibility here: did The Nomad know already that his rather plausible trap for The Phantom had failed? He’d have to feel like a real dink if he went to all the trouble to set up a new identity only to learn The Phantom had died of blood loss in some remote part of Bangallan rainforest anyway. Or is he just assuming that however good his traps are they aren’t going to work on The Phantom? Or is he just taking a belt-and-suspenders approach, doing his level best to kill The Phantom and also to take on a new super-criminal identity that’ll take a few years to unravel?

And that’s the major developments the last several months. As the shortness of this essay indicates it hasn’t been a dense plot. It’s had plenty of action, and intrigue. It’s just been a lot of stuff happening on one very busy night for everyone.

Next Week!

Palace intrigue! Border panics! Murder and coverups. Trade disputes. There’s not very much of Prince Valiant the last couple months in Mark Schulz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant. But I’ll do my best to talk about what is there instead.