My Non-Cold Related Excuse For The Day


I’m sorry, I’d really like to get something done, but I’ve been reading Fred M Grandinetti’s Popeye: An Illustrated Cultural History and trying to figure out just how many times in the 1960s cartoons they did “Brutus or the Sea Hag builds a Robot Popeye”. It’s somehow even more if you include “Brutus or the Sea Hag builds a Robot Olive Oyl”. And none of that considers the time the Whiffle Hen turned Wimpy into a werewolf.

Also the book doesn’t have a word to say about the pinball game, somehow.

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Popeye’s Island Adventures battles a kraken but only has two minutes for it


I continue not to know anything about the production of these Popeye’s Island Adventure cartoons. There’s stuff we can infer, but only about the tools used to make them. Who’s writing them, who’s drawing them, who’s designing the figures for the computers to animate? In what order they’re being finished? I assume roughly in the order they’re released, although I’d be surprised if a cartoon were never bumped ahead or back a week for the reasons.

Well, here’s the seventh of the new run of cartoons. It’s titled A Kraken Good Race, and the title does promise both kraken and race.

The story’s stronger this week. The cartoon’s the best, I think, since Scramble For The Egg. Eugene sets Popeye and Bluto on a boat race; Bluto tries to cheat, and it doesn’t work. Solid, straightforward idea that can be completed in two minutes and be coherent.

The action’s efficiently done. It leaves space for personality, though. The scene starts with Olive Oyl carving a wood sculpture of Eugene. Why? Just to do it, and that’s enough. Eugene encourages Popeye and Bluto to race to an island mostly to get them out of his hair for a while. It’s curious to see Eugene acting as the grown-up here, or at least the peacemaker. But it doesn’t feel out of place, at least to me. Bluto’s entrance capsizes Eugene’s pool ring; that’s enough reason for Eugene to want to quiet things down.

There’s a good bit of escalation in Bluto’s attempts at cheating. He tries drilling into Popeye’s boat; Olive Oyl uses the hole in the anchor to beat that. Bluto tries harpooning Popeye’s boat; Popeye shifts his own speed up from “some kind of cat I guess” to “spinach” and rips the muzzle off Bluto’s own gun. (I don’t quarrel with the slow speed being ‘tortoise’ and the fastest speed being ‘spinach’, but I would like the middle speed to either be ‘hare’, matching tortoise, or more clearly a cheetah or similar fast cat. I’m not sure what is meant.) Then Bluto deploys the kraken, although all we ever see is one giant tentacle. Still, good third attempt there.

Popeye pops open a can, and we get the new record for spinach-induced body horror this series as his arm turns into a kraken-y tentacle. I like that, as fun and appropriate. I can imagine people not finding this quite so merry. Popeye doesn’t fight the kraken so much as arm-wrestle it. I like this, for being silly but reasonable. I’m not reading the YouTube comments to see how many people are upset there wasn’t more punching. The kraken’s left a hole in the boat, but Olive plugs it up with the muzzle of Bluto’s harpoon gun. That’s a moment that impressed me. It gives the story that little bit extra structure, and a bit more strength.

Popeye uses his kraken-tentacle arm to propel the boat to the island. This is a great success, and builds up a tidal wave to come crashing down on the island and Eugene. And there’s another bit of good story structure: Eugene proposed this race because he’s chagrinned at getting soaked by Bluto. He ends the cartoon chagrinned at getting soaked by Popeye. It’s a good beat to close on.

My impression has been that these cartoons have been getting better. I’m curious whether this follows from the creators getting more experienced at what does and doesn’t work. Or whether there’s several writing teams and one of them better fits my tastes. Well, I like the overall direction this is going. Is there any other important measure?


And for however long I keep watching Popeye’s Island Adventures, the reviews should be here.

Free To A Needy Improv Troupe


Improvised mockumentary about Stanley Kubrick trying to make a movie, except that everything’s going just wrong enough that the whole project is impossible, and there’s no way he can get out of the project either. Except I’m like 65% sure that was just his life anyway.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Sundays)? Where in Africa is Bangalla? November 2018 – January 2019.


If you’re here to catch up on Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom, Sunday continuity, good. If it’s past April 2019, a more current plot summary should be at this link. The link contains both the Sunday and the separate weekday continuities. But you’ll figure it out. And you may be able to use PhantomWiki, a guide to just what you’d think. I keep going back to check stuff on it myself.

And if you’re here to see where the mathematically-themed comic strips are, the answer is over on my other blog. Glad to have you read a couple of paragraphs about such comic strips as Alley Oop, Ask A Cat, and Six Chix.

The Phantom (Sundays).

4 November 2018 – 27 January 2019.

I teased last week the question of how that whole The Rat dying project was coming along. By the time of my last plot update, he had died, yes. The last bit of business was his funeral. The Phantom stole The Rat’s corpse from Boomsby Prison. He was buried instead in The Phantom’s Vault of Missing Men. The Phantom had felt bad about all those times he told The Rat he was going back to Boomsby after all. Also Skull Cave has a private mausoleum for people who’re Phantom-connected. I bet you Bruce Wayne never considered whether the Batcave needed one of those.


The 18th began the new, and current, Sunday adventure, The Little Detective Who Disappeared. PhantomWiki lists it as the 187th Sunday story. It starts with a B-29 crew landing in a remote jungle airfield. Jungle Patrol is there, to take the three-man crew into custody. Evacuating just ahead of them: The Phantom — the Unknown Commander of the Jungle Patrol — along with his wolf Devil, and a girl. The Phantom brings the girl back to her home in a Xananga village. (The Xananga are a tribe in the Elephant Valley of Bangalla. If PhantomWiki hasn’t missed something this is their first appearance in the strip since 1991.)

[Homecoming. A heroine thought to be lost forever.] Phantom, riding his horse with The Little Detective alongside, through a town square packed with celebrating people; he progresses through an afternoon and evening of celebrations. He thinks: 'A great people, thee Xananga. This girl has the grit of the Xananga leaders my ancestors encountered over the centuries. This celebration will go on for days. I'll slip away tonight ... home to the deep woods.'
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 23rd of December, 2018. The easy joke to make is that I share The Phantom’s feelings here, about sneaking out of a party long before it’s over. But that’s got no truth in it. It’s hard rousing me to go out and do a thing, yes. But once I’m there? I’ll stick around until the event’s over, and then put in another half-hour, and then when it’s gotten awkward that I haven’t left yet, will wait for some clear sign that it’s been too long. Ideally, this will involve my hosts apologizing but it has been four days now and they had promised to go do some other party, to which I wasn’t invited, correctly.

That done, The Phantom returns to Skull Cave to tell his wife and Guran and also the audience about what just happened. In flashback it tells of The Little Detective, who’d followed strange noises. And disappeared, to her family’s distress. What she found was wildlife poachers, emboldened by Mark Trail’s long sojourn in Mexico. She was examining the crates in the airplane’s hold — including grey parrots being stolen from Bangalla — when the cargo door closed and the plane took off.

Phantom, recounting: 'With the plane loaded and fueled our Little Detective made a bold move! [She found] grey parrots from Bangalla, pangolins from Asia ... a dozen species inhumanely created for transport. She was about to run for home when [ the door slams shut ]. The crew climbed into the forward compartment. [ The plane takes off. ] Our Little Detective was airborne! For destinations unknown!'
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 13th of January, 2019. That African grey parrots can be found in Bangalla suggests the place would be near equatorial Africa, on the western side. (But I’m aware the country’s location has been vaguely defined, and sometimes redefined, over the strip’s history.) Anyway, the important thing is: pangolins. Aren’t they great? We should be ashamed what we’re doing to them.

The smugglers’ plan: use the B-29 as a show plane, moving across borders with little scrutiny. Vintage trucks and cargo crates were treated as props, and accepted as such by customs officials. Meanwhile the Little Detective, stowaway, found some projects and kept busy. She’d swipe food from the crew, encouraging them to fight each other. She’d drop notes to bystanders at air shows. She’d … I don’t know from there. That development brings the story to the 27th of January. Shall have to follow up in a few months, when we’ve seen more of what The Little Detective did.

I’ve read comments skeptical that this airplane-show-smuggling scheme could work. It seems to depend on a particular laxity or incompetence on the parts of customs officers. My readings of how security-state organizations work leads to to believe they run at about 49% adequate, 51% fiasco, with occasional flutterings one way or the other that make it into true-crime podcasts. So I wouldn’t expect every customs official to ignore cargo being carried by a show plane. But I can absolutely buy an organization that manages to make themselves look boring enough to avoid close scrutiny by un-corrupted officials, at least for a while. I also understand people who figure that of course customs and immigration works like it’s supposed to. Anyway, it’s a story; we can suppose the bad guys are clever enough to out-think the obvious problems. It’s whether they should also be clever enough to out-think the protagonist that’s where credibility can be strained.

Next Week!

Would-be clumsy mugger Delmer Robertson has reconnected with his old pal and comic strip regular Jordan. But it’s just in time to learn he needs a new kidney. But where will we find anyone who can do something medical? I’ll check back in seven days with the plot recap of Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D.

Statistics Saturday: Most Popular Posts Of The First Ten Years Here


This weekend’s the anniversary of when I started this blog! So I thought to look back over its popular stuff again.

Reference: A History of Modern France, Alfred Cobban.

I’m still having trouble telling whether the guy who draws _Graffiti_ lives in this century


I know I’m being hypocritical if I complain about how niche a topic is that someone decides to joke about. I once built an essay around this time in 1857 the Treasury Secretary estimated how many Jersey City municipal bonds were held by foreigners. And goodness knows I’m as up for type jokes as anyone who used to host a web site with information about Linotype operation would be. But here. This was Monday’s Graffiti comic strip.

Written on a cinder block wall: 'Some typesetters don't know their ascenders from their descenders'.
Gene Mora’s Graffiti for the 21st of January, 2019. When I was a kid and the world was at most thirty years old, I had this book of ‘children’s letters from camp’. It was a bunch of handwritten notes all of them kind of going on along the lines of Allan Sherman’s “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh”. I can’t swear it wasn’t written by Gene Mora. I have forgotten everything that might guide me to its title or author or why I have the impression there was a second volume too. But. This is just the sort of joke that sounds risque but doesn’t actually parse that would have been perfect for inclusion in that book, if there were ever any reason for a kid to be writing someone about some typesetters.

I have no explanation for this phenomenon.

Sensible


I write this in the supposition you’ve never been knocked senseless. I haven’t either, at least so far as I know. I suppose if I had lost my sense of whether I was senseless I wouldn’t know about it. Well, maybe I’d have some confusing memory some from before the senseless-ness-knocking-out. But I’d mostly know that my course of action was altered by something I now couldn’t understand. “It’s as though I had the ability to sense whether some spongy substance was in the area, but that’s impossible … isn’t it?” would be my analysis of the memory. All because I didn’t know whether I should have a sense of sponge. So here, let’s review some of the senses you might have, or expect to have.

The sense of taste. This is an important one, given the role it serves in letting you put the world in order. Without it there’s no consistent way to tell which of the three categories of tastes things are in. Is this vanilla? Is it chipotle? Is it chocolate? Or will they be forever unknown? Without this sense you’ll wander through a confused, shadowy representation of the lickable universe, or as it known professionally, the lickiverse. I mean an even more confused and shadowy representation. (I don’t want to get in even more trouble with the Tongue Neo-Platonists. I’m still trying to rebuild my reputation after that whole “what’s the taste of shadows” fiasco.)

The sense of smell. This sense is important for making any room suddenly uncomfortable. Without it you might go months without interrupting your day with an investigation of every room in the building to see if something is smoldering. “It’s like someone microwaved a fish on a slab of car tires,” people who can smell are saying to each other, not all the time. “And then sprayed Febreeze so we wouldn’t notice. Why would a linen closet smell like that?” This is only more fun when you notice that strange, faintly evil smell when you’re in a car, two and a half hours from home, in the snow, with the heater almost keeping up against the cold. And there’s two friends you promised rides to sitting in the backseat. And something’s clicking, which you know through your sense of hearing. But even if you didn’t hear it, you’d know that ticking was there. It’s not the fan.

The sense of balance. Without this sense it’s impossible, except by good luck, to arrange the layout of elements on a newspaper page. You can slog on through uninspired compositions, ones with rote placements of headlines, pictures, and rules to guide the eye. But the readers will know. Even if they can follow the article about the area’s axe-throwing businesses, their eyes will not be delighted. How are we to enjoy the visual feast of a morning newspaper when it’s just, ugh, head across four columns, no subhead, two-column picture set dead center in the middle two? No pull quotes? No cheeky use of a subhead? Yeah.

The sense of dubious taste. This is a protective sense; you can ignore or do without its warnings, but it will make your life noticeably worse. It gets really active when you start pondering, say, whether there was ever a way Disney could have made a Song of the South everybody wouldn’t be angry with them about. And then maybe put the discussion up on Twitter. It can save you from lesser dangers too. For example, it’s the sense which alerts you to how much of your body you’re putting in a garment that’s international-warning-signal orange. Yes, there are people who can pull this look off. They’re among the dubious super-tasters. They know how to follow their sense’s warnings, and stay out of danger. The primary danger is that you are mistaken for a bollard protecting the approach to a bridge, or perhaps (by giants) a Cheeto.

This is an incomplete list of senses, so far as I’m aware. If you find yourself not having a sense which is not on this list, please add it, and then to obtain a replacement sense from the nearest body shop. Most body shops don’t have whole bodies in stock, but they keep some nice accessories.

What My Brain Has Been Doing To Me Lately, A Quick Complaint


So my brain has been trying for two weeks now to convince me to write a follow-up note to that essay about the axe-throwing business in town. Particularly it wants me to riff on the “scurrilous rumor” that I have some responsibility for mysterious thuds outside Quality Dairy headquarters. My brain, which is working hard at making sure that I can be a humor blogger but never, ever a successful humor blogger, is convinced I should make some kind of squirrel joke here. This is because my brain is convinced I can do some oblique multi-lingual and taxonomic pun built on how scurrilous sounds kind of like “sciurrilous”, which seems like it ought to be a sciencey word for “squirrel”. And it will not be convinced otherwise. “Knock it off, brain,” I tell it, in the shower. “There is not a successful pun to be made out of this and you’ll only hurt yourself if you keep trying.” Then my love asks what I’m mumbling about in there, and I have to insist I’m not, and follow it up with an alarming coughing fit to cover up what I’m doing.

The punch line to this is there isn’t anywhere in the essay I talk about a “scurrilous rumor”. The first draft did, but I realized I had put the words without thinking, and rewrote the sentence to be better-considered easily minutes before deadline. So my brain’s been busy two weeks now trying to make me form a joke that could not possibly have worked in order to follow-up a joke that did not actually exist except for a couple-hour stretch of time on the 10th of January, 2019. I’m glad I have perfectly resisted the urge.

Popeye’s Island Adventure offers a sloppy Toast to Popeye


The sixth of the Popeye’s Island Adventures continued the experimenting with format and story structure. Does this mean I’m happy? Have you ever seen evidence that I know how to be happy? Let’s watch A Toast To Popeye.

Rube Goldberg machines are one of those things that got lodged so well in the pop culture that nobody even knows where they came from. They were comic strips, originally. At least comic panels. They’re shaggy dog stories, with a punch line of some trivial task, like the buttering of toast, done in as roundabout way as possible. Are they funny? Tastes vary. I think they do well in animation, where the camera can guide the eye. Where a long continuous shot can give the action a sense of inevitability, the way a good farce will. They do well also when the contraption has as many parts as possible, but each individual part is just enough to accomplish its task. It takes tight design. It takes sharp editing. And it takes time; the more pieces in the contraption, the better the result.

So these are all problems working against this Island Adventure. There’s still only two minutes of animation; apparently the extra ten seconds last week was a concession to the need to carry so much story. The device Olive Oyl whips up to make and butter toast isn’t a bad idea. It does have the flaw of arbitrariness in it: once the balloon’s heated up, what makes it carry the toast over to the butter knife and the conveyor belt? No particular reason, just that if it didn’t, the machine wouldn’t succeed. What causes the mechanical arms to butter and spread jam on the toast just as the toast passes, rather than a moment before or after the bread goes by? No particular reason, just that if it didn’t, the machine wouldn’t succeed. So the device is a decent idea, but it doesn’t convince me. It’s not as funny as it ought to be. It could be fixed easily; put up a couple of rails, so the balloon has a direction imposed on it, and the machine would work.

And this is reflected in the story. There’s a good enough setup here: Swee’Pea needs a snack after the popcorn’s gone, and nothing but toast will do. Why not fruits? Why not gelatin? No particular reason, just that if it would, the cartoon wouldn’t have anything to do.. Swee’Pea could want something hot, but he can’t say so. Popeye happens to see Swee’Pea’s machine in shadow at a moment she’s holding her arms up and weirdly still. Why then? No particular reason, just that if he didn’t, the cartoon wouldn’t have anything to do. The story structure is all right, but it doesn’t convince me. It’s not as funny as it ought to be.

Coincidences are fine in storytelling. They’re usually taken better if the coincidence creates a problem rather than resolves it. But this is a case where the story has finished, and then remembers that Popeye hasn’t been in the short at all and he ought to do something. If there were a few more seconds, I’d have Popeye established on his boat, doing something, early on. Then return to him finishing the task and looking back on shore as Olive Oyl is doing her fist-bumps. This is still as coincidental a reason for Popeye to look just then, but it wouldn’t be a surprise that Popeye was in the short at all. And it might look more to Popeye like Olive Oyl was fighting some kind of robot monster.

And there is very little Popeye. At about the one-minute mark I was wondering if they were doing without him altogether, and getting ready to applaud their courage. I’m sure there have been Popeye cartoons with even less Popeye in them. (Probably Wimmin Is A Myskery, which is mostly Olive Oyl’s dream about her and Popeye’s four sons, who in later cartoons would be transferred over to nephew status.) But, no; the story just needed Popeye not to be there, until he could show up and not actually help anything. (There’s also no Bluto, the first time he’s been absent from one of these shorts. But as little as Popeye has to add to the proceedings, what could Bluto offer?)

While I wasn’t convinced by the story logic, there’s still important stuff I did like here. The first is that the direction’s getting better. The editing wasn’t as jumpy as it had been, and the camera movements all have clear purposes. The swiping of the lizard’s tongue is nice and funny to watch. I found it funny to have Olive Oyl pop out of a cake, holding another cake that the lizard pops out of, holding yet another cake. The hungry lizard’s reappearance at the end is a good closing. I like Swee’Pea swatting at his sandcastle while Olive Oyl goes looking for food; it’s something to do during a slow stretch. I like the strange, bachelor-making-a-sad-dinner attempt of Olive to just put a pear on a slice of bread and serve that as food. And, really, the more I write about this the more I like the short. I just can’t help feeling there’s an arbitrariness in the machinery, and the story logic, that keeps me from being convinced.


And I’ve finally put together a tag for this series. All the stuff I’ve written about Popeye’s Island Adventures should be here.

What Was Popular Around Here In All Of 2018


So I like taking nice big kalend-y events as a chance to look back on what I’m doing and why. Mostly that’s the monthly blog review. It used to be WordPress also gave us a cute little animated representation of the year, showing each post made as fireworks, and somehow representing how popular posts were by how dazzling the firework was. That’s been gone for years. I don’t know why or whether it’ll ever come back. So I’ll do my own little version instead.

2018: 39,130 views, 20,889 visitors, 1.87 views per visitor, and 365 posts published.
Aw, only 870 views way from an even 40,000 views. You know, this is going to sound silly, but all day the 28th of December last year I was thinking I should pull up some post of mine and hit ‘refresh’ over and over to drive up my statistics. But I didn’t, and now I suffer the consequences. Well, no great loss. I was only thinking to hit ‘refresh’ to juice my statistics about 565 times at most, so that wouldn’t make anything better.

So, wow. 2018 was my biggest year by far around here. I don’t think it was entirely from Roy Kassinger discovering my writing and putting up comments on stuff from, like, five years ago that I’d forgotten existed. For the sake of putting things up in a format I can more easily lose later here’s exact numbers about how much I posted, and what kind of response it all drew:

Year Posts Published Page Views Unique Visitors Likes Comments
2013 335 3,874 1,869 1,188 305
2014 365 8,621 4,422 2,279 746
2015 365 17,729 9,094 4,134 879
2016 366 14,484 8,297 2,259 481
2017 365 24,695 15,187 1,886 305
2018 365 39.130 20,889 2,177 830

So that’s all an exciting-looking trend in growth, if we take for granted that growing is a good thing. Well, who doesn’t, if they’re trying to do something for a mass audience? The thing I can’t understand is the stuff I think of as measuring how engaged readers are. The number of likes offered, the number of comments offered. Both are below the 2015 high point. The number of likes in 2018 were about half those of 2015. The number of comments in 2018 was close to 2015’s total. But considering the growth in page views, and unique visitors, that’s a relative decline. 2015 was juiced, though: that was the year Apartment 3-G finally collapsed. I got many readers in looking to understand what was happening in it. And I got a huge burst, all at once, when Joe Blevins — who I thought was a friend from the MST3K fanfic community — mentioned me on the AV Club, giving my blog a name without actually mentioning me.

I can tell you what was popular in 2018. Five of the ten most popular things were even published in 2018. But what people really like to find is my recaps of story strips. That’s fair enough. Every day there’s people discovering that, say, Alley Oop still exists, and wanting to be caught up. And some of the story strips have well-established and easy-to-find snarking communities. But if we’re not talking about Mary Worth or Mark Trail, then where should people go? Here’s where they did go, last year:

So, I’ve learned how to write headlines that look like questions people might ask. That has to help readers figure out Nancy‘s deal. The S J Perelman thing is from a habit of mine that’s almost fallen by the wayside, where I’d post something from the public domain. I used to think this was a good way to show off some of what’s shaped my comic sensibilities and save me the effort of thinking up and writing something. It turns out that selecting a good piece and curating it, so as to make the case that something is worth reading, is at least as hard as being original.

I’m glad that Is Ray Davies A Normal Person? made the top ten. I originally imagined this blog as a way to write one long-form, roughly 700-word piece, once a week, with everything else as little stuff to support the weekly essay. That’s drifted, so now the blog is basically stuff propping up my story-comic recaps. But the weekly essay is still the part closest to my heart. And most of my essays I come away feeling dissatisfied with: that I’m carrying out a good idea poorly, or that I’m making the best of a weak idea. The Ray Davies one was an exception. That felt like a good idea carried out well. So I’m glad that people seem to agree. Or they’re trying to learn about Ray Davies’s health and I’m getting in the way. Whichever. It all works.

A Mercator-style map of the world, with most of the countries outside central Africa, Iraq, Greenland, and some of the former Soviet nations in pink; the United States is in a much deeper pink.
I totally understand people in South Sudan having more pressing things to do than read my silly comments about Mary Worth or stuff like that. What I’m trying to understand is why French Guiana is snubbing me like this. What else you have to do there, launch a rocket? C’mon.

There were 144 countries of the world sending me readers in all 2018. 29 of them were single-reader countries. 20 countries sent me more than 100 page views. And for I’m guessing the first time there were three countries sending me more than a thousand page views. That feels good. Here’s the whole roster:

Country Readers
United States 30,556
Canada 1,275
India 1,243
United Kingdom 921
Australia 716
Germany 340
Italy 317
Philippines 244
Brazil 228
Sweden 200
Spain 195
France 155
Netherlands 131
Denmark 113
Hong Kong SAR China 110
Norway 105
Finland 101
Mexico 101
South Africa 101
Romania 100
Singapore 95
Portugal 91
Japan 90
Malaysia 84
Indonesia 67
Russia 59
South Korea 53
Austria 52
European Union 52
Ireland 51
New Zealand 49
Turkey 47
Serbia 44
Poland 42
Israel 40
Belgium 39
Switzerland 36
Argentina 34
Peru 31
Hungary 29
Saudi Arabia 29
Ukraine 29
Czech Republic 27
Pakistan 26
Chile 25
Jamaica 24
Colombia 23
Egypt 23
Thailand 23
Slovakia 22
Greece 21
Taiwan 21
Trinidad & Tobago 20
Bangladesh 19
United Arab Emirates 19
Nigeria 17
Vietnam 17
Venezuela 16
Croatia 15
Sri Lanka 14
Bulgaria 13
Kenya 13
Estonia 12
Puerto Rico 11
Uruguay 11
China 10
El Salvador 10
Georgia 10
Slovenia 10
American Samoa 8
Ecuador 8
Latvia 8
Costa Rica 7
Lebanon 7
Macedonia 7
Nepal 7
Botswana 6
Kuwait 6
Iceland 5
Jordan 5
Myanmar (Burma) 5
Bosnia & Herzegovina 4
Brunei 4
Guyana 4
Honduras 4
Iraq 4
Kazakhstan 4
Maldives 4
Malta 4
Morocco 4
Paraguay 4
Qatar 4
Zimbabwe 4
Côte d’Ivoire 3
Cyprus 3
Dominican Republic 3
Kyrgyzstan 3
Laos 3
Lithuania 3
Madagascar 3
Mauritius 3
Oman 3
Panama 3
Algeria 2
Barbados 2
Belarus 2
Cape Verde 2
Ethiopia 2
Fiji 2
Ghana 2
Moldova 2
Montenegro 2
Namibia 2
Tunisia 2
Zambia 2
Albania 1
Angola 1
Armenia 1
Azerbaijan 1
Bahamas 1
Bahrain 1
Belize 1
Bolivia 1
Cambodia 1
Cook Islands 1
Curaçao 1
Gibraltar 1
Guam 1
Isle of Man 1
Jersey 1
Lesotho 1
Luxembourg 1
Malawi 1
Mongolia 1
Mozambique 1
Nicaragua 1
Palestinian Territories 1
Papua New Guinea 1
Sint Maarten 1
St. Kitts & Nevis 1
St. Lucia 1
St. Vincent & Grenadines 1
Suriname 1
Uganda 1

So this helps me focus my energies this coming year on being a bit more interesting to readers in Sint Maarten. I don’t know how to do this, but will make a halfhearted attempt a little too late to do anybody any good. It’s important to have a plan.

The Insights page reports that I published 233,338 words over the course of 2018. Don’t think I’m not burned up that I didn’t publish five fewer, or 99,995 more. That comes to an average of 639 words per post. So, yes, when I started this out I figured I’d do one, roughly 700-word, essay once a week and then some quick little jokes in-between. Except for 2016, though, my average post length has been growing year after year. So I’m doomed, yes. But the challenging part is I need to embrace the doom.

What’s Going On In Mary Worth? Is That Student Really Infatuated With Professor Ian? October 2018 – January 2019


If you’re looking for the latest plot recaps for Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth, you may want to check this link. If you’re reading this before about April 2019 I probably don’t have a more up-to-date post. But this essay just gets you up to speed for mid-January 2019.

Also, each week I look at mathematically-themed comic strips, in another blog, with a very similar name.

Mary Worth.

28 October 2018 – 19 January 2019

I was furious with Mary Worth last time I recapped its plot. This is just like any reasonable person who has strong emotions about Mary Worth. Saul Wynter, local curmudgeon, was grieving the loss of his beloved dog after 17 years of companionship. Mary Worth decided he’d had enough of that. She dragged him to the Animal Shelter and shoved a dog into his arms with orders to be happy now OR ELSE.

Wynter complies, though. He sees something in Greta, a dachshund who shows signs of past trauma. Greta sees something in him. He takes her home. Greta’s shy at first. But Wynter’s patient, and supporting, and repeats Worthian platitudes about living life sad afraid and grumpy. She recommends not doing that. And Greta sees he’s already bought a food dish with her name on it.

Saul Wynter, speaking to his dog Greta: 'I hope you know that I'm one of the good guys. This is unfamiliar territory for both of us! You're not Bella, but I'm glad you're here. You'll get to know me *and* your knew home. And you'll see that you don't need to e sad or afraid anymore. Greta, lifes' too short to be sad or afraid ... or grumpy.'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 11th of November, 2018. I do know that look of hesitant distrust in Greta’s eyes, there. My love’s parents have a dog who has been afraid of, among other things, how the bowl holding some table scraps was just too large.

So they get along, and pretty well. In a couple days Wynter’s going out again, introducing Greta to everyone, and smiling contagiously. It’s a sweet moment. It’s a touch odd: when the story started and he had the dog he’d loved for seventeen years, he was also a grouch. But I suppose everyone does sometimes fall into habits, even grumpy ones without realizing they’re doing it. Well, here’s hoping we can all get to a better place, but may it be through smaller traumas.


The 19th of November started a corollary story. And a great one. Wynter’s story infuriated me with its clumsy-to-offensive handling of pet death. This follow-up, though, was almost uncut, gleeful hilarity.

Mary gets a call from Animal Shelter. They need a foster home for one of their cats. Libby is a one-eyed cat with an appealing scruffy look. I’m surprised she wasn’t adopted already. Mary agrees to foster Libby. This leads to a great string of scenes where Libby goes about cat business, and Mary is put out in delightful ways. We don’t often see Mary Worth coming up against someone she can’t meddle into compliance with her view of life’s order. Pets are great. But you can’t have pets if you aren’t emotionally ready, at all times, to have any day transformed into “emergency vet visit because the animal was sitting in the living room surrounded by a three-foot-wide annulus of poop”.

Mary Worth, thinking: 'Time to check my e-mail.' The cat is sprawled across her laptop, with her one eye wide open. Slight blep.
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 27th of November, 2018. Second panel: “Hello, ladieeeeeeeez.”

We get a twist when Doctor Jeff visits for dinner. It turns out he’s explosively allergic to cats. He has to flee the apartment in minutes. It puts Mary in a quandary. She adopted Jeff years ago; it’s not fair to turn the old pet out in favor of the new. Good news, though. It turns out they had another Old Woman character in stock. Estelle likes the one-eyed Libby, and is very optimistic about being able to take care of a cat for the first time in her life. Libby goes off with Estelle. Both return to the primordial xylem of supporting cast members, and Mary reflects on trading the cat for Jeff after all.

Mary: 'It's a relief that you'll be able to visit me at my place and enjoy my meals again!' Jeff: 'I do love your cooking. And I do love you.'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 13th of December, 2018. That is definitely Mary looking very nearly in Jeff’s direction with very nearly a feeling as he kisses her temporomandibular joint!

The 17th of December started a new, and the current, story. It’s about the marriage of Toby and Professor Ian. And starts, promisingly, with Toby telling Mary about how great it is that she and Ian have a nice boring marriage. With the benefit of separate day lives. Mary suggests, you know, they could try a cruise ship or something to spice things up. Toby chuckles about how not even God could sink this ‘ship.

So, Ian teaches Shakespeare over at Local College. Jannie, a student, comes up after class to talk about how inspirational he is. How he has a great theater voice. How impressive his knowledge is. How she wants to bask in the glow of his brilliance. Toby snorts at how some students will do anything to butter up their instructors. Ian doesn’t see any reason he might not just be “nut-rageously amazementballs”, as he desperately imagines the kids say.

Jannie: 'Just doing your job? You INSPIRE me, Professor Cameron!' Ian: 'Then I'm doing an ADMIRABLE job! It's the hope of every educator to spark that fire of learning in his students! To make a difference!' Jannie: 'Oh, you do *more* than that ... '
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 28th of December, 2018. So, I haven’t taught anything in a couple years. I don’t remember even the students who were enthusiastic about my mathematics instruction being remotely this appreciative of learning any prosthaphaeretic rule. (Prosthaphaeretic rules are ways to do calculations by way of trigonometric functions. This made sense, back in the days we didn’t have calculators but did have tables of since and cosines and stuff.)

Ian is so convinced that Jannie is not buttering him up that he doesn’t even ask why their semester runs across Christmas and New Year’s. (I know this sounds like me not giving them the dramatic license to show events that happen out of synch with the reader’s time. But the strip does pause to explicitly say it’s New Year’s Eve, right in the middle of the plot. Yes, I know there are colleges on trimester systems that have classes running across New Year’s. I’m sticking to my joke.) Why, he asserts, she really and truly likes him. This inspires jealousy in Toby, and fears that she might lose her husband to this undergraduate. She sends up the Mary Signal.

Mary gives Toby some good advice: tell him she’s concerned about this relationship. Toby dismisses this, because she doesn’t want to seem “clingy”. Well, what kind of relationship survives honest talk about the important stuff? Mary asks how she knows that Jannie actually has feelings for Ian. He might be misunderstanding things. Toby can imagine only one reason someone might say her husband “[stands] out as an educated man among Neanderthals”. All Toby will commit to doing is twisting in uncertain agony.

Jannie: 'I don' *need* to *study* for Professor Cameron's class.' She thinks, 'I've charmed him into giving me an easy A'. Michael: 'Don't be fooled by the A he initially gave everyone! I heard he goes easy on his students at first, but expects them to deliver!' Jannie, thinking: 'Maybe you ... but not me!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 16th of January, 2019. Anyone who’s taught knows the wisdom of starting your class looking like you’re a creampuff and then getting harder and harder until finally, just before the student evaluations come up, you’re failing 95 percent of the class.

Which all tees up some funny ironies. First, Ian isn’t wavering in his commitment to Toby. As best we can tell, he’s never considered that this should ever be more than listening to how awesome he is. He’s certainly never considered campus policy about appropriate instructor-student relationships, anyway. Second point, Jannie is just buttering him up. We learn this week that she’s figuring a hefty load of flattery will help her ace the rest of the course. And to complete a fun bit of frustrated-or-false crushes, this week we met Michael. Michael is one of her fellow young people. He seems interested in her and her exotic style of vaping though a six-inch countersunk-head nail. She’s too busy chuckling over how she’s out-thought Professor Ian to care about mere classmates.

And that’s where things stand this weekend.

Dubiously Sourced Quotes of Mary Worth Sunday Panels!

[ Back to GRIFFY, on his quest --- he enters the MARY WORTH strip! ] Jeff, on the phone: 'What should I do? There's this oddly drawn guy here, looking for a missing girl!' Griffy: 'I need so see Mary!' [ Soon ] Griffy: 'Morning, Ms worth! I'm from th' Zippy comic! Can we talk?' Mary Worth: 'Young man, you need help, all right. Th'kind only a MENTAL HEALTH professional can provide!' (Griffy, thinking) 'Uh-oh! I'm frozen in place and unable to speak under th'withering gaze of Mary Worth!!'
Bill Griffith’s Zippy the Pinhead for the 19th of August, 2002. The auto care place has not updated their sign since last time I recapped Mary Worth. Please enjoy these not-at-all despairing messages instead.
  • “The strongest principle of growth lies in the human choice.” — George Eliot, 28 October 2018.
  • “Dogs do speak, but only to those who know how to listen.” — Orhan Pamuk, 4 November 2018.
  • “Change is the end result of all true learning.” — Leo Buscaglia, 11 November 2018.
  • “In the midst of winter, I found there was in me an invincible summer.” — Albert Camus, 18 November 2018.
  • “Time spent with cats is never wasted.” — Sigmund Freud, 25 November 2018.
  • “Be miserable. Or motivate yourself. Whatever has to be done, it’s always your choice.” — Wayne Dyer, 2 December 2018.
  • “What greater gift than the love of a cat.” — Charles Dickens, 9 December 2018.
  • “We do not remember days, we remember moments.” — Cesare Pavese, 16 December 2018.
  • “Flattery is like chewing gum. Enjoy it, but don’t swallow it.” — Hank Ketcham, 23 December 2018.
  • “I will praise any man that will praise me.” — William Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra, 30 December 2018.
  • “To catch a husband is an art; to hold him is a job.” — Simone de Beauvoir, 6 January 2019.
  • “Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorry, it only saps today of its joy.” — Leo Buscaglia (again!), 13 January 2019.
  • “I was a disinterested student.” — David Fincher, 20 January 2019.

Next Week!

So … uh … the Rat? Did he Must Die yet? Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom, Sunday continuity, gets summarized in a week, barring surprises.

Statistics Saturday: Some Useful Triplets Of Words


Proximate Form Demonstrative Form Interrogative Form
here there where
hither thither whither
hat that what
he the whe (*)
hence thence whence
horn thorn worn (**)
hen then when
his this whis (*)
hack thack(*) whack
hit thit whit
hump thump whump
heir their wheir (*)
herefore therefore wherefore
heretofore theretofore wheretofore

(*) denotes a word which theory indicates should exist but which has not been confirmed by an independent word laboratory.

(**) the ‘h’ was lost during the Algeciras Conference when it rolled under a table at the end of the room and was too much trouble to salvage.

Reference: The Paper: The Life and Death of the New York Herald Tribune, Richard Kluger.

In Which I Have A Non-Soggy Excuse


Really, I’d love to have something of greater import to write here. But in my readings this week I have learned things about the background of Cap’n Crunch, the man, that it’s taking me time to digest and I don’t know how long it’s going to be before I’m quite back on top of things.

I have never been on top of a thing, except for four of the times I’ve been on a mountain. One of those mountains was the highest point in Singapore, Bukit Timah Hill, which is nearly twelve feet above sea level. (Fun fact: the words ‘Bukit Timah’ are Malay for ‘tin hill’, but nobody seems to be able to agree whether it’s called Bukit Timah because there is or ever was a hill you got tin from anywhere near there, or whether the name’s coincidence.)

How To Get Ready To Go Someplace By Car


Before setting off on your car trip there are some things you should check. The first is to check that you have a car. While it’s often permitted, it’s socially awkward to just be running along in the middle of a highway without any kind of vehicle. Not least because you have to signal all your turns using your hands instead of with electric lights. This is great if you want to feel vaguely like you’re in a cartoon about wimmin drivers from the 1950s. But do you really want to feel like that? Yes, if it’s a heartwarming cartoon about being part of a family of cars. But otherwise no.

Similarly you want to check that you don’t have more than one car. I mean that you’re driving at one time. It’s fine to keep a second car in reserve, ready to leap into action when it turns out the first one has mysterious buttons on the door with labels like ‘ASW’ that don’t seem to do anything. But you only want to operate one at a time, unless you have extremely long arms and legs. Similarly you want to include yourself in the car trip. There’ve been great developments lately in self-driving cars. But these fully autonomous vehicles won’t take over the purpose of a car trip until they’re able to get to a spot, deal with whatever it is you were going to deal with, and drive home, and get annoyed that their podcasts are ten minutes too short or five minutes too long for the journey. There’ve been some great developments in this field lately, with research going in to how to make podcasts a prime number of minutes long. But the work isn’t yet complete.

If the relative count of cars and you’s turns out matches up well you can go to other checks. The first is that you’ve locked the house door. The second is that you’ve gone back and made sure you’ve locked the door. You can be confident you’ve gotten the door locked by no method known to humanity. But it’ll clear the issue up when you start pulling out of the driveway and realize you left your phone in the house and don’t have your podcasts with you. This will be a chance to run back into the house and go through the door-locking all over again.

Anyway before you do set off you should do a safety inspection of the car. This includes walking the entire circuit around the vehicle, looking for any signs of damage or wear or other problems, such as a tire being flat, a body panel being cracked, a muffler dangling loose, an animal hiding in some part we’re just going to go ahead and call the “manifold”, or any part of the electrical system being on fire. Responsible drivers have done this walk-around inspection an estimated four times since the invention of the automobile. You should also check that the mirrors are attached and showing the areas behind the car. If they are not, try taking them off and putting them on upside-down. This will not help matters, but making the effort will reassure you that you’re doing all that one could hope for. Really it might be easier to be an irresponsible driver.

It’s also worth checking that there aren’t traffic problems along your projected route. The radio could be a good source for information. The news station, for example, will happily let you know that there are delays on the Tappan Zee Bridge. They’re always reporting there are delays on the Tappan Zee Bridge. This gives you the chance to ponder the question: how often does there have to be a delay before the delay stops being a delay and just becomes normal? And wait, didn’t they replace the Tappan Zee Bridge years ago? In fact, didn’t they tear it down? (They did not. They just stopped hoping it would not fall down while anyone was watching.) Also, the Tappan Zee Bridge isn’t anywhere near you. You live somewhere like San Jose, California, such as Louisville, Kentucky. And in what ways is San Jose like Louisville? In what ways is it different? Can you answer in 700 words or fewer?

The wind has blown the house door open.

In Which I Continue My Journey Of Self-Discovery


So I learned that Garret Augustus Hobart, to date the only Rutgers alumnus to serve as Vice-President of the United States, grew up in the same part of Monmouth County, New Jersey, that I lived in as a teenager. Indeed, it’s quite plausible that he was tromping around on streets not one mile down the road from where I went to middle school, albeit a century earlier. And Hobart isn’t one of those mere footnote Vice-Presidents. He affected the course of history what with his bold decision to die in office in 1899, after all. I was all ready to call my dad and ask if he knew this exciting fact about one of the estimated forty 19th century United States vice-presidents to have died in office. And then I remembered, oh yeah, that’s why everyone treated me like that in middle school. Hm. Yeah. I hate to admit but they had a point.

Popeye’s Island Adventures finally has Swee’Pea in it


The still picture underneath the closing music of all the Popeye’s Island Adventures has included Swee’Pea. Through the first four of these shorts, though, he hadn’t appeared. That changes now. This week’s cartoon, episode 5, is aptly named Swee’Pea Arrives.

I don’t remember as a kid wondering where Swee’Pea came from. In the comic strip he was left on Popeye’s doorstep, and only now do I think to wonder if E C Segar might have been riffing on Gasoline Alley. If I ever have some time I’ll read the sequence and see if that’s sustainable. In the Robert Altman movie, he’s left in a deliberately swapped basket for Popeye to take. I don’t think the cartoons ever addressed the topic. Anyway, it’s all variations on a theme: Swee’Pea is a foundling, and Popeye and Olive Oyl care for him. And that’s reestablished this cartoon, with Swee’Pea dropping from a plane to arrive in Popeye and Olive Oyl’s care.

It’s after that that we get a mess. If you’re giving a character an introduction story you need them to do something relevant, fair enough. But this is … just … what? Last week’s Scramble for the Egg was a good step up. It had a clear, coherent story and I thought that signalled a step up in quality for these cartoons. This one’s disappointing.

Popeye grilling spinach-burgers is a fine idea. A hungry Bluto seeing them and wanting to swipe some is also a good idea. It risks the problem Road Runner cartoons have, though. If the villain’s motivation is that he’s hungry, well, is that really villainous? Especially when the villain succeeding would be, at most, petty theft. You can’t fault the Road Runner for refusing to be eaten. But Popeye can look like a jerk for wanting a fifth burger. Moral shading can make for good stories. It’s a lot of difficulty to put into a two-minute pantomime cartoon.

Bluto costumes himself in a haz-mat suit, spinning a tale of spinach being toxic. And Popeye falls for it, as though we lived in a world in which poorly-inspected foodstuffs could carry health hazards. That’s a good enough starting point. It just comes halfway through the cartoon’s run time. And then for some reason Swee’Pea understands the No-Blutos sign. And recognizes Bluto inside the haz-mat suit. And decides to take action. And knows the remaining spinach burger will give him the fighting prowess to do something about it. And … why? Why any of these?

The logic of the cartoon would be stronger if it hadn’t spent its time introducing Swee’Pea. At least then the only mystery would be how Swee’Pea recognized Bluto in the haz-mat suit. Maybe a scene could have given Swee’Pea the hint. … Alternatively, if Swee’Pea weren’t in this at all, but Eugene the Jeep were, then recognizing Bluto would make sense. I’m curious if this did start as a Eugene script and then get changed because Eugene’s gotten so much to do already. (This does remind me of the Robert Altman movie, and how Swee’Pea got Eugene’s part and supernatural abilities.)

But then dropping Swee’Pea would lose the first minute, which is a bunch of nice scenes of Popeye and Olive Oyl with the kid. And it has some nice bits of direction, too, including some first-person shots. And, y’know, happy people playing. The editing of the cartoon felt too tight, too fast for me. But again all the camera moves made sense, and focused on the line of action appropriately. I don’t care for the animation style where a character holds something and then there’s a fast swish to move whatever needed to be moved. But that’s my tastes rather than a moral failing of the artists.

It’s the second week in a row that Popeye doesn’t eat his spinach. And it’s, I think, the first time another character does instead. Again, I’m glad that they’re not using too rigid a plot frame here. It does make Popeye again a passive character in his own adventures, though. He’s needed to put a spinach burger on the grill, and to catch the falling Swee’Pea, and that’s it. Swee’Pea even blows Popeye’s pipe at the end.

I’ve called this a two-minute short. The first four cartoons were. But this one ran long: two minutes, ten seconds. Ten seconds might not seem like much, but it’s an appreciable fraction of the original run time. Maybe they’re pushing to see if they can do fuller-length cartoons. Maybe it reflects the needs of the storyline. There’s two plots here, adopting Swee’Pea and Bluto scheming. Maybe there aren’t ten seconds you could cut from this without leaving the cartoon completely incoherent.

There’s still no credits. But the last twenty seconds of the video are pictures of the cast, and the encouragement to subscribe to the channel. For the first time this week those last twenty seconds have some band singing. It’s not the old Popeye the Sailor Man song, but it is a pretty catchy one that circles the same idea. I don’t know why they’re using a different song either, but, nice to have.

Several YouTube commenters asked where’s Wimpy. Wimpy’s a great character, mooching with an almost fae folk-like indifference to the mortals his schemes set in motion. You could make a series just out of him. He isn’t in the still underneath the closing music here, and I haven’t seen hints he’ll be in the cast. I’m curious whether there’s any plans to use him.

Where I Should Be And Where I Am


So what I should be doing is working out some messes with web site APIs. An API is a thing which is supposed to let your web site do a thing, but that doesn’t work. Then you search for explanations of why it doesn’t work, and you find people who’ve had a problem that seems like it might be the same one you have. It has some answer that the original poster says worked, but when you read it, there’s somehow just enough words missing that you can’t be sure quite what you were supposed to have set up already and what was supposed to change and what’s a completely different conceptual framework from your traditional ideas of “working” and “not working”. It’s all good fun.

What I am doing is watching a bunch of low-effort gangster movies from the 1930s with ever-growing fascination at the intense nasal twang with which actors of this era would say, “HEL-lo, in-SPECT-or”.

I believe history will vindicate my choice.

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? Who Are These Guys Mark Trail Is Punching? October 2018 – January 2019


If you’re trying to understand the current storyline in James Allen’s Mark Trail, this is a good piece to read. Unless it’s later than about April 2019. If it is, I’ll probably have a more up-to-date plot recap here. Good luck finding what you need.

If you need discussions of mathematically-themed comic strips, you can find some on my other blog, and I’d be glad if you tried them out too.

Mark Trail.

21 October 2018 – 13 January 2019.

My last check-in on Mark Trail had almost no Mark in it. Instead, Rusty Trail and Mara, a girl he met on the plane down to Mexico, took the lead. Rusty and Mara noticed assistant archeologist Becky was passing artefacts to someone who didn’t look like he was a museum. They follow the man, Juanito, to the nearby town of Santa Poco. There he explains to them he’s a courier, but they’re welcome to come with him since this isn’t a great part of town.

Narration: As Rusty and Mara try to catch up to Juanito, Raul has taken to the rooftops in order to locate them. (A toucan flies up toward Raul.) Raul, thinking: 'Me, on a rooftap, looking for two brat kids ... this is NOT how I would've imagined my life would turn out!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 19th of November, 2018. You forget how weird the theme song to Friends gets in the third verse. But that’s what you get for going back and listening to the “full” version of any TV show’s theme songs. They’re all either nervous repetitions of whatever the part that came on-screen was, or they’re weird riffs on the TV show lyrics that have maybe aged in unfortunate ways. Looking at you, Cheers.

Pursuing Juanito, Rusty, and Mara, is a motorcycle-riding, long-haired guy named Raul. Raul has some connection to Joe/José. José’s been truck-driving for the archeologists. And also watching all this artefact-passing. And making suspicious-sounding CB radio calls to Raul. So when we left off we were looking at a motorcycle-fueled chase in the bad parts of Santa Poco. Rusty and Mara were in the company of a man of unknown-to-us objectives. And they were pursued by men of unknown-to-us objectives. A bit confusing, yes, but the last several months of strip have given some clarity to who’s trying to do what and why.

Rusty and Mara run down an alley. Raul calls out, claiming to be a friend of Mark Trail’s. They don’t buy it, and find a lucky hole in the wall to dig through. Raul calls José, asking him to call Mark back into the story. He’ll chase the kids. And warns he’s going to leave his bike “in this nasty alley with rats … big rats!” It’s a declaration so intense I feel like it’s got to refer to something, but I don’t know what. José does call Mark, promising to explain everything when he gets there.

Mark: 'You don't think anything strange about Jose?' Carter: 'Well, now that you mention it, he seems more highly educated than most of the guys that grew up here in the jungle like he claims, but I think he did mention going away to school somewhere!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 27th of November, 2018. “I suppose I do occasionally think about if José were a robot made of Moon Cheese and whether he’d still like me if he were, and whether that answer would depend on whether he were a hard or a soft Moon Cheese robot. That’s kind of a strange thought about José, but … I mean, why do you wonder, Mark Trail?”

Mark asks senior archeologist Howard Carter (get it?) if there’s something funny about José. This allows us to enter into the plot that José seems “more complicated” than they expect from their truck driver. But they allow that he seems more educated than the average person around town. Mark figures, what the heck, let’s see what’s going on.

Raul, on the rooftops, takes time from yelling at toucans to notice them. He misses one leap from rooftop to rooftop, and falls through a skylight. He lands on the supper table of a couple who take a man falling through their roof in distractingly good spirits. They listen to his story of chasing someone around town all day. They offer him some landed-on empanadas. And they let him throw a lamp through the window to get out because the door was in the wrong direction? He leaves them money for the damages, at least.

Raul: 'Something smells delicious!' Scared Man: 'That's my wife's cooking ... you landed in it! All of her food is delicious!' Raul: 'I certainly believe that from the smell!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 7th of December, 2018. So I’m no good at small talk. If I had just fallen through someone’s skylight and smashed onto their dinner table, flattening their supper, I would never think to talk about the pleasantness of that room’s odors.

It’s a bizarre interaction. What it read like was a comic beat in a genially dopey mid-80s movie that’s trying to be Romancing The Stone. You know, about forty minutes in, and the protagonist finally realized he has to do something about the people who stole the necklace that woman stuffed in his carry-on, and he pratfalled out of his chase, and now the director’s mother who’s thrilled to be in a movie is cleaning him up. It may be James Allen was going for that effect.

Scared Woman: 'I'm sorry to hear that [ you've been chasing someone all day ]. Take some empanadas and some churros with you. Maybe they'll pick you up some, and you won't look or feel so tired when you finally catch whoever you're looking for!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 11th of December, 2018. And see again, if some strange man crashed through my ceiling and landed on my supper table, and shared with me a story about how frustrated he was chasing someone through the city all day, I wouldn’t think to talk about how my cooking might be a useful pick-me-up. This is because I am deeply incompetent at promoting my brand.

Rusty and Mara figure they’ve escaped Raul. They figure to find Juanito by using the tracking app on the phone they dropped in his backpack. Juanito’s not looking for them. He’s delivering Becky’s artefacts to some silhouetted figures. They chuckle about how the collectors buying smuggled artefacts will give them a nice Christmas bonus. The chuckling happens right before Christmas, reader time. It makes an odd bit of time-binding for the story, though. Story strips are vulnerable to some weird time dilations. Like, this story, which has run since April, has been only a couple of days for the characters.

Anyway, the boss, Boss, and his underling Jefe, are barely done giggling about this when the phone rings. It’s Rusty’s Mom calling. Boss, Jefe, and Juanito realize they’re in a lot of trouble when Cherry Trail addresses them by full name including their middle names. Raul curses Rusty and Mara for following the tracking app right into Juanito’s boss’s lair. He figures it’s time to call José.

A phone inside the backpack rings. Boss: 'Juanito, you know how I feel about cellphones in here!' Juanito: 'That's not my phone ... I turned mine off!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 21st of December, 2018. “We have talked about this! Cell phones are pleasant. But it is their nature to spoil people’s abilities to be fully present. Instead of experiencing as a coherent whole what you are doing in person, or what you are doing with your online community, you experience this shadowy, half-dreaming state. You feel alive, because you’re twitching in response to interruptions. It’s thrilling, but it doesn’t satisfy your need as a social being to participate in things. You’d do better to set time to be wholly present in person, or wholly present online, and experience the healing action of emotional and mental continuity.”

José meanwhile is talking with Mark Trail, and Professor Carter. He’s finally collapsing the quantum waveform of sides and motivations of this story. José’s an undercover cop, which according to the rules of Mark Trail puts him on the side of Good. He’s been undercover, investigating Becky for smuggling archeology. Rusty and Mara saw one of their agents at the temple. They pulled that agent back, and sent in Raul to intercept the kids. So yes, Raul may have spent months in the story grumbling about Rusty and Mara, and thinking of them as “those brats”. But he’s not a bad guy, he just doesn’t feel as though he has to like two kids he doesn’t know and who’ve been making his life harder. It’s a step toward more real characters in Mark Trail. It means someone can be on the Good side without liking the lead characters.

Now they know where the kids are, but also that Boss, Jefe, and Juanito are there too. So they figure, better to bring along Mark Trail, in case somebody needs punching.

And boy do they ever need punching. Mark recognizes Boss and Jefe. They were in a story in early 2016, from just before I started recapping plots regularly. Back then Boss and Jefe were smuggling humans into the southwestern United States. It partly showed off the ecological consequences of this. And partly got Mark Trail and company caught in an endless yet fascinating series of caves. That storyline left the human-traffickers’ fates unresolved. That alone was a major change from the linear, self-contained stories of Jack Elrod.

Mark, furious: 'You tried to kill me and my friends by dynamiting us in a cave ... then you left us for dead!' (He punches Boss, in a dramatic scene where Boss, upside-down, flies at the camera with Mark finishing his punch, tiny, in the centerbackground.) 'WHERE IS MY SON!?'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 12th of January, 2019. I’m aware that many of the strips I excerpted here weren’t that visually exciting: a lot of tight shots of people’s faces. Well, the first panel brightens things up by showing Mark Trail making the eye expression that Michael Dorn had to use whenever Worf felt an emotion. And that second panel is a solid “Yeah, so this is why we started reading Marvel Comics in the 60s” image.

And I know, you’re wondering: wait, they’re trafficking humans and they’re smuggling pre-Mayan artefacts? Aren’t those separate lines of work? All I can say is that the gig economy is becoming more respectable, and there’s now ways for everyone in the underworld to pick up a side hustle. Boss and Jefe signed up early for Smuglr. It’s the crime-sharing app that’s disrupting the traditional black markets by cutting out the hench-middle-men. And it’s one I’m happy to welcome as the newest advertiser on my podcast.

One might ask how a reader should recognize these guys. They were a small presence a couple of years ago and in a very different context. But, hey, Funky Winkerbean expects readers will thrill to recognize names from the supporting cast of John Darling. And that’s not weird at all. So I don’t know what to tell you. Well, Mark’s filling everyone in.

And finally, after several stories of nothing more exciting than islands blowing up, Mark Trail is punching baddies. This probably indicates that the story is coming near an end. It’s been a big one; it started back in April. All the major narrative questions are answered, or looking nearly answered. There have been a couple stray bits. But I’m going ahead and supposing any weirdly specific detail never mentioned again is a reference to something I haven’t seen. I’m thinking of the Zuni fetish doll delivered anonymously in a box and that gets moved during the day. I’m sure that means something.

I just know I’m going to have to re-use the follow-up question for this plot summary. But, what the heck. It’s the question that people reading this essay would want answered.

[ And tracks down 'Mark Trail' ] Griffy: 'No, she doesn't have an ear tag or a tufted forelock.' Mark Trail: 'Sorry, Chief --- if she's not tagged or tufted, I can't help you!'
Bill Griffith’s Zippy the Pinhead panel for the 20th of August, 2002. Part of a storyline in which a “realistically drawn woman” interrupts the comic and Griffy (left) goes on a search through the story comics to try to find where she belongs.

Sunday Animals Watch

What amazing yet endangered animals, plants, or natural phenomenon have been highlighted in recent Sunday strips? These.

  • Parsnips, 21 October 2018. Apparently they can doom you!
  • Tegu Lizards, 28 October 2018. We’ve gotten them to be invasive to Florida, so, good work everyone.
  • Giant Silk Moth, 4 November 2018. They seem to be doing all right for themselves.
  • Japanese macaques, 11 November 2018. Not actually threatened, which seems to break the rules for non-human primates.
  • Naked Mole Rats, 18 November 2018. You just know they’re going to make Rufus some other species for the live-action movie.
  • Hammerhead sharks, 25 November 2018.
  • Green Crabs, 2 December 2018. They’re going invasive, but they’ve inspired one area of Italy to try making them dinner, so that’s something I suppose.
  • Wondiwoi Tree Kangaroos, 9 December 2018. So for 85 years westerners only knew of it from one sample, but last year British naturalist Michael Smith took some photos of one, so, they’re probably not doing well but they’re not actually extinct yet?
  • The Jacuzzi of Despair, 16 December 2018. It’s a 100-foot wide zone, three thousand feet deep in the Gulf of Mexico, that’s too briney for anything to live, which is neat and weird and unsettling.
  • Frankincense, 23 December 2018. It’s not just for making Christmastime jokes about Frankincense’s Monster anymore!
  • Manatees, 30 December 2018. Incredibly endangered despite being crazy popular.
  • White Lions, 6 January 2019. Unbelievably endangered. This one mentions particularly a sterile white lion in danger of being auctioned off, possibly to canned-hunters.
  • The Lowland Bongo, 13 January 2019. Not threatened yet, but the year is young.

Next Week!

I spent so much of 2018 infuriated with Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth. Did I spend the end of 2018 and the start of 2019 similarly angry? Check back in next week and we’ll see!

Statistics Saturday: What Web Site Designers Hope You Think About The New Design


  • Well, that helps things!
  • Suddenly I can find the stuff I’ve been coming here for!
  • The elements flow together so much more logically now!
  • Those are some great typefaces!
  • Gosh I hope it has that infinite-scrolling thing where you never find the bottom of any page ever.
  • I’m glad it doesn’t do that thing where it just loads the entire page, and instead I have to scroll around and look at stuff before it displays.
  • Okay, but can they send me notifications now?
  • Maybe it is designed to be read on the phone but it looks so nice and spacious on a computer!
  • Wait, it isn’t part of a web ring anymore?
  • I hope someone gave the designers a hug after they were told to make all these changes.

Reference: The Lure Of The Integers, Joe Roberts.

Where I’m At Just This Moment


Me, thinking: “You know, there’s stuff in my life I’d change if it were possible, and there’s stuff in my life I probably could change but that I’ve found myself unwilling to make the sustained effort that would require. But on the whole, it’s pretty good, and within the reasonable bounds you might expect for someone of my age and income and happily accepted obligations I’m doing pretty well at being master of my own destiny.”

Also me: has had the incidental background music from the Hanna-Barbera Pac-Man cartoon series running in his head for 46 hours straight now. Send help. Not from the Q*Bert cartoon.

In Which I Cannot Honestly Say I Dodged A Bullet Here


I was cleaning my car. It was at that point where it looked like there was more stuff in the back seat than could be justified. Like, why would I need jumper cables? Or a first-aid kit? Or the receipt for two sour-cream-and-chives baked potatoes plus a medium-size pop from Wendy’s from 2017? Or a bright reflective orange safety vest?

Along the way I dug out a summertime issue of the Lansing City Community News. This is a six-page ‘special edition’ of the Lansing State Journal that’s tossed for free once a week onto everyone’s driveways. It’s part of a service to the community, so we know which of our neighbors haven’t been home since Saturday. I must have picked up this one and forgot it existed until now. It usually features about two and a half of the human-interest stories from that week’s State Journal, plus a third of a page of classified ads to meet singles having yard sales to sell old beds and masonry repair. Sometimes they forget to include the ends of articles, the way the mothership State Journal does. But they included all of this one, and the headline should have caught my attention sooner:

Ax-Throwing Business Opens In Lansing

So it explains that this is the source of the dull thuds from behind the headquarters of Quality Dairy. That’s a local convenience store chain, the place where all metro Lansing comes together to obtain qualities. Some of their popular ones, year after year, include ‘peppermint’, ‘cream-filled’, ‘mooshy’, and ‘evocative of ducks’. I hadn’t heard a thing, but I don’t claim to be on top of all the mysterious dull thuds behind Quality Dairy headquarters and I would like people to stop pretending I do.

But the opening of this axe place has got me wondering where on the gentrification path “Axe-Throwing Businesses” are. It’s got to be somewhere after “person on recumbent bicycle pedals east every day at 2:35”. I’m pretty sure it’s before “can’t get across town through all the ukelele festivals”, but that might just be because we’re close enough to the Interstate I don’t have to deal with the street traffic. I think I have to place it between “coffee shop menus talk about geography”, but before “everything on the block is a restaurant or a knick-knackery”.

The people running this axe-throwing business got into it like you expect. They were having fun one day, throwing axes at things. Then someone piped up with “you know what would make this even better? If we had to satisfy building inspectors and file 1099 forms!” So they made it into a business and I guess that’s working out for everyone. They still get to throw axes, and now there’s safety regulations they have to follow, and they’re getting two-thirds of the front page of a summer issue of the Lansing City Community News. Really no downside.

Still, it’s not a fulltime job because, I mean, why would you expect running an axe-throwing center, or “axeterium” as they say in the trade, to be enough business to live on? No, this is just a side job. They really run a blacksmith supply shop, it says in the article. This makes me want to know more about the challenges of blacksmith supply operations, especially in an area like Lansing, where we just don’t have that many animated coyotes hoping to drop an anvil from a cliff face. Also not that many cliff faces. Cliffs can’t be counted as blacksmith supplies anyway.

If we can believe the article — well, a lot of things follow. Among them, that “[Baker] spends his weekdays making Lord of the Rings-inspired metal helmets and custom cornhole sets”, at least until his boss finds out. But also that axe-throwing is a competitive sport. Apparently there are “more than 4,000 leagues in 50 cities across five contries, according to the Toronto-based National Axe Throwing Federation”. You could go to some axe-throwing event, and take home a trophy. You don’t even need to be big or muscular. You just need to have good form. Or to refuse to put your axe down until someone gives you a trophy.

Yes, I am bothered beyond all reason that the newspaper spells it “ax” in the headline and body of the article, but “axe” in the photo captions. And that the place and the National Axe Throwing Federation spell it “axe”. Sheesh.

Where I’m At Today


Me, thinking: Ooh! I have a couple of minutes free! I can take care of this little nagging problem that I’ve let sit way too long, and finally be free of worrying about it!

[I check. It turns out I already fixed it long ago and forgot. ]

Me: [ Sits there feeling sad and purposeless. ]

I Guess I’m Just Reviewing Popeye’s Island Adventures Now


And then a couple days ago I noticed another in the Popeye’s Island Adventures series of two-minute direct-to-the-web cartoons featuring Young Popeye and cast. If they’re going to keep giving me something to write about, all right. I’ll go on writing. The only thing I’ve ever learned about blogging is that if you stumble into something, you probably should keep doing it. It’s just weird to be doing a weekly Tuesday review of something that’s actually a current thing. Even if it is based on a thing that premiered when Woodrow Wilson was technically president.

Anyway, this is Episode 4, Scramble For The Egg.

I’m rather happy with this cartoon. It’s the first one that’s gotten, to my tastes, all the important pieces together. There’s a clear storyline: Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Bluto each trying to take possession of an egg. There’s solid jokes: Popeye befuddled by daydreaming of a dog hatching out of the egg, at least until the dog has a can of spinach too. There’s even personality. You can try telling me I’m wrong to be delighted by Bluto’s joy in imagining bonding with a pet alligator. You’ll be wrong. There’s a logical resolution, too: of course none of the rivals get the egg, and it rolls into the possession of the uninvolved Eugene the Jeep.

I’m also much happier with the direction. For the first time this series the camera movements all make sense. There’s good reason to pan over to the right and back again. It’s even got the first fight-cloud of the series. Some of the commenters claim it’s the first fight period. I think they’re being too restrictive about the term ‘fight’. And the storyline doesn’t need dialogue, so that the lack of characters doing anything but making grunting noises doesn’t stand out.

Not for the first time I’d like more information about just who’s making these cartoons, and why. The story and direction are measurably better this time around. I’m curious whether it’s a lucky combination of creative staff or whether the team making these is getting better with experience.

Eugene the Jeep’s magic powers continue to be “any old thing”. It does inspire the question of, if he can make chocolate eggs, why does he need eggs? Maybe having the egg around reminded him he could be eating chocolate eggs now. It feels a bit weird to have the egg — which Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Bluto all assumed would hatch — get eaten. But the story does need to end with the egg in nobody’s possession, so it’s either get eaten or hatch.

Popeye doesn’t eat his spinach this time. Well, he can’t, or he’d win the egg, against the needs of story logic. There was something weirdly exciting in older Popeye cartoons that subverted or entirely avoided the spinach scene. I’m glad that whoever’s paying for these new cartoons allows that Popeye doesn’t have to gulp down a can of spinach every short. It gives each story more room. I’m more confident about this series after this one.

Yeah, But What *Is* The Deal With The Comic Strip Graffiti Anyway?


Yes, yes, I too read today’s Alley Oop. And, like you, I worry about this strange interpretation of the Moo Universe. I mean, King Guz actually doing a thing? But, new writers, new start for the strip. I don’t need to have an opinion about this for eight weeks yet. I can hold.

What I’m on about today is Gene Mora’s comic strip Graffiti. If it is a comic strip. I don’t know. It’s always just text on a wall, so maybe it’s a comic panel. It’s not usually a funny wall. Whether it’s funny text depends on your sense of humor. Anyway, here’s Saturday’s installment.

Text scrawled on a speckled wall: 'How Now, Dow Jones?'
Gene Mora’s Graffiti for the 5th of January, 2019. And in a not really related question, the strip from the 11th of December makes me ask: the heck?

So, like, what the heck? Like, is Gene Mora even alive? Is the comic strip still in production? I’m also not sure what the joke is supposed to be here. Playing on the similarity in sounds between “brown” as in cow and “Dow” as in Jones? Referencing the hit Broadway musical of 1968? Where does this come from and where does it go? These are all questions I feel I cannot answer.

If you know, or know someone who knows, please let someone know.

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? What happened for the Gasoline Alley centennial? October 2018 – January 2019


Thanks for checking in on Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley, now into its second century. If you’re reading this far in the future of January 2019, there’s probably a more up-to-date plot recap at this link.

And yes, Joey Alison Sayers and Jonathan Lemon take over Alley Oop with their first strip slated to run tomorrow. I’ll write about it if and when appropriate. The last of the Jack Bender and Carole Bender reruns offers a cliffhanger, Ooola facing a sabre-toothed tiger, that started off a new story when this first ran in 2013, but I don’t know whether Sayers and Lemon will want to take up this hook.

Last, I talk about mathematically-themed comic strips over here. Yes, Andertoons will appear soon.

Gasoline Alley.

14 October 2018 – 5 January 2019.

When I recapped the plots in mid-October, Gasoline Alley was in the Old Comics Home. This is a fantastical place, filled with the characters from mostly long-gone comic strips. They were holding a celebration of Gasoline Alley‘s centennial, starting ahead of time. Mutt, of Mutt and Jeff, was emcee.

Gump: 'At his worst, my cartoonist could draw better than yours, Mutt!' Mutt: 'Your guy couldn't draw his breath, and you know it, Andy!' Gump: 'If he was doing this strip, you'd regret it!' Mutt: 'If my guy was doing this strip --- you wouldn't be!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 30th of October, 2018. This kind of exchange — possibly this exact exchange, mutatis mutandis — would appear when Jack Benny or Fred Allen visited the other’s show and groused about who was getting the better lines of dialogue. That feels to me like a sufficient reason for Scancarelli to write this joke, and maybe to set up a whole Mutt-Gump feud. … Also, while Mutt doesn’t really have anybody drawing him anymore, he has appeared often enough in Scancarelli’s visits to the Old Comics Home that he feels, to me, at least part-time adopted by Gasoline Alley in a way that the Gumps don’t. So it reads to me weird they’re writing this as if it were neutral ground.

October saw Mutt and Walt Wallet explaining early events in Skeezix’s life. The mail-in contest that got his unused name of Allison. The hiring of caretaker Rachel. The adoption of a pet dog and a cat. The question of whether Mutt looks like Andy Gump. You know, of the hit 1920s serial melodrama comic The Gumps. There is some resemblance. Maybe Gumps cartoonist Sidney Smith did take a few elements from Bud Fisher’s Mutt and Jeff. Maybe it was quite hep in the 1920s to joke about Andy Gump being a clone of Augustus Mutt. (I mean, even their names are similar.) I never heard of such, though. It seems like a weird diversion for Gasoline Alley‘s centennial.

But this is an example of a thread in Gasoline Alley’s centennial celebration. Jim Scancarelli would fill out the panels, and the storyline, with comic strip characters from the long-ago days. And I would disappoint Roy Kassinger. I’d have to admit I don’t recognize any of the characters from Dok’s Dippy Duck. And I only know the figures everyone recognizes from Fontaine Fox’s Toonerville Trolley. I know what everyone says about reading the comments. But GoComics.com has a good community of people who can pin down character cameos. It’s worth checking the full comments if you see a figure that’s got to be from something and don’t know what.

Mutt: 'Skeezix! You were really in the thick of things during WWII!' Skeezix, narrating: 'Yeah! One night we were on our way in Jenny the Jeep from repairing a Howitzer, when ... ' (And showing recreated footage of Skeezix and partners in the jeep, and a nearby explosion overturning the jeep and throwing them on teh ground.)
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 12th of November, 2018. The redrawings of old strips does underscore, besides Scancarelli’s abilities, just how much more action there used to be even in the non-adventure story comics. I’m not asserting that I want, say, Mary Worth to go to a war-torn site. But some adventure and action does give a strip suspense, and a reason to look forward to the next day’s installment that isn’t (say) about rolling your eyes at Tom Batiuk.

Gump and Mutt come close to a fight, and then write the whole thing off as an orchestrated joke. This doesn’t actually make sense — it was set off by a chance comment by Walt Wallet — but who cares? Everyone gets back to highlights of Gasoline Alley‘s history. Like the time, after Walt Wallet and Phyllis married, when they found another abandoned baby, this time a girl dubbed Judy. Before we can start asking what kind of reputation the Wallets were getting the story advances to World War II. Recapped here — surely not coincidentally the week of Armistice Day — was Skeezix’s wounding in World War II. We see only a few moments of it. It’s easy to imagine the suspense of the events.

And then another interruption from an ancient comic strip character. This time it’s Snuffy Smith, pointing out how the comic strip he took over from Barney Google is about to turn 100. Where’s his celebration? This befuddles Mutt. Smith, ornery in a way he hasn’t been in his own comic strip in decades, starts a grand custard-pie fight. And this silliness is what’s going on when the strip takes a moment the 24th of November, 2018, to observe its centennial. With a strip that got used for the 90th anniversary, a choice which logic I’m still not sure about.

A strip commemorating Gasoline Alley's 100th Anniversary, showing the hand of Jim Scancarelli doing realistic illustrations of past Gasoline Alley cartoonists Frank King, Bill Perry, and Dick Moores.
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 24th of November, 2018. For the next day, the Sunday strip, Scacarelli drew an ornate ‘100’ figure, with insets of the signs ‘100 Years on One Tank of Gasoline Alley’, Benjamin Franklin congratulating Walt on his century mark, and Walt answering, “I’d say the same to you, Ben, but no one will get it”, while holding up a $100 bill. Which might be overexplaining the joke, but is probably about the right amount of explanation so that a bright eight-year-old poring over the strip would get it and feel smart, which is one of the things comic strips should do.

Despite the intervention of Fearless Fosdick the custard pie battle rages. Walt Wallet and Skeezix decide to leave. This again passes up the chance to let Walt die of old age or prevent noodges like me pointing out the man is three years older than the Ford Motor Company. Or, for that matter, seven years older than the comic strip Mutt and Jeff. All right. They return their custard-stained tuxedos to sales clerk Frank Nelson. (Who’s working, I noticed this time, at Tuxedo Junction, a name I imagine is a reference to the Glenn Miller song.) So there’s the indignities of dealing with him. And a total $400 cleaning bill. And, on top of that, a parking ticket.

Skeezix: 'I am so sorry! I put my parking ticket in by mistake!' Sidewalk Santa: 'We all make mistakes!' Skeezix: 'Here! I'll trade you this for my ticket!' Sidewalk Santa: 'A $20 bill? May your kindness never be obliterated!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 19th of December, 2018. I don’t know whether this is a Santa figure who’s appeared in the strip in past years; I wouldn’t be surprised if it were. I also wouldn’t be surprised if the figure appeared in one of those storylines with the punch line of “wait, if that was just a sidewalk volunteer then why do we hear reindeer hooves on the roof?”.

The parking ticket — received the 15th of December — starts the segue into what looks like the new storyline. Skeezix, grousing about the ticket, accidentally drops it in a street Santa’s donation box. Skeezix swaps that out for a $20, and then grumbles about giving away money he needed. And then finds on the sidewalk enough cash to pay his ticket, affirming the sidewalk Santa’s claim about how God will be generous to the generous.

Skeezix heads to City Hall, where he runs into Rufus, of the Joel-and-Rufus pair. Rufus we last saw in November 2017, before the strip went into unexplained reruns. That was a story about him courting the Widow Emma Sue and Scruffy’s Mom. She probably had a name of her own. But she was also pursued by Elam Jackson. Rufus was heartbroken by Jackson proposing marriage. But he had just learned The Widow had turned Jackson down. That’s not resumed, or even mentioned, here. It’s the first chance to, though. This is the first story since the stretch of reruns that wasn’t about the centennial.

Rufus: 'Miz Melba! 'Scuse me for protruding! But after I dumps yo' trash, I ... would yo' join me in a cup o'coffee?' Melba Rose: 'Rufus! Don't be silly! We couldn't fit in a cup, separately or together!' (She has a thought balloon of the two of them inside a giant coffee cup.)
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 4th of January, 2019. I think the good mayor is overlooking some fine coffee- and tea-cup rides still present at many amusement parks. Just saying.

Rufus is working as janitor. He’s smitten with the Mayor, Melba Rose. He asks if she’d join him in a cup of coffee. She answers that the two of them wouldn’t fit, indicating that the mayor is either Gracie Allen or Commander Data. While I have my suspicions what sort of character she’ll be, I don’t actually know yet. And I don’t know whether the earlier storyline, abandoned but at a natural stopping point, will get mentioned.

The whole centennial celebration leaves me, as ever, with mixed feelings. The device is a good one. And it’s one appropriate to the comic, playing as it does on Scancarelli’s love of older comedy. And on the Old Comics Home that’s been one of the comic’s recurring scenes for ages now. And reviewing the strip’s history is a great use of the premise. And the conceit that the audience is every comic strip character ever is also great. Plain old recaps of plot developments are boring. Breaking them up with jokes or slapstick or cameos from other characters allows for good pacing. Also for Scancarelli to show off that he can draw every comic strip character in history. (I know, I know, he’d pick ones his style made convenient, or practice ones he absolutely needed until he got three panels’ worth of good art. But it’s a good stage illusion of omnicompetence.)

But the execution fell short. What actually got recapped? That the strip started out as a couple guys trying to make cars work. That Walt found and adopted Skeezix in an event that got nationwide publicity. Then some weirdly fine-detailed things like how Walt hired a housekeeper, or how they adopted some pets. Later, World War II happened. And that’s it. Time that could have outlined the Wallet family tree went instead to real-life centenarian Gasoline Alley fan Peggy Lee. Or to how Mutt, who’s appeared outside of Gasoline Alley as recently as the Reagan Recession, looks like Andy Gump, whose strip ended the 17th of October, 1959. That’s literally so long ago that Linus Van Pelt had not yet said the words “Great Pumpkin”. It’s fair to suppose someone reading in detail about Gasoline Alley‘s centennial is interested in comic strip history, yes. But it’s fair to expect the story to be about Gasoline Alley. The in-universe story, yes. Maybe reappearances from Gasoline Alley characters who have died or wandered, unexplained, out of the comic. Maybe something about Frank King, its originator. Or about Bill Perry, Dick Moores, and Jim Scancarelli, who’ve written and drawn the strip and who don’t get so much attention. A storyline that’s gone from July through December, and that has a goal of one task, shouldn’t feel like it wasn’t enough time. But it does feel like the centennial didn’t get some important things done. Maybe the bicentennial strip will summarize everything better. We’ll check back in in 2119.

Next Week!

Mexico! Mysterious artefacts in the Yucatan! The strange and wonderful wildlife of Central America that we somehow haven’t killed yet! Yes, this storyline is still going on in James Allen’s Mark Trail, but never fear! I’ll catch you up!

Statistics Saturday: Some Movies Set Wholly Or Partially In 2019


  • Blade Runner
  • Akira
  • The Running Man
  • The Time Machine (1960) (think about it)
  • 2010: The Year We Make Contact (in the epilogue, with the two suns setting over Washington, D.C.)
  • Parks and Recreation: The Motion Picture
  • Thunderbird 6
  • One Million B.C. (1940)
  • Back To The Future 2 1/2 (the direct-to-DVD ‘sidequel’ doing the Rosencrantz-and-Guildenstern bit for the guys in 1955 Biff’s gang, not the fan-made one about the future of Alternate 1985)
  • Space: 1999: The Next Generation (1982)
  • The Fly II
  • Avengers: Infinity War
  • Transformers: The Movie (1985)
  • Spaceballs (the story’s framing device scenes, cut after the first theatrical run)
  • One Million B.C. (1966)

Reference: Dictionary of Minor Planet Names, Lutz D Schmadel.

Statistics December: How The End Of 2018 Looked Around Here


And now it’s a decent time to review my readership, as WordPress would tell me it looks, for December 2018. I’m thinking to also do a full year-in-review look at my readership statistics, for good reason. These are easy posts to write, since I know what they’re about, and they fill a day’s content hole. I’d rather be creative, but if just being there will do, I’ll be there.

All the measurements of my readership dropped in December 2018, compared to November and even October. I’d like to claim that’s because everybody was doing holiday stuff rather than looking at my ramblings. But that’s unlikely. December in both 2016 and 2017 saw rises in my readership figures over the previous months. And, interestingly, both Decembers were preludes to much busier Januaries. I’m curious whether that trend will carry on at least.

WordPress says there were 2,866 pages viewed here in December 2018, from 1,632 unique visitors. That’s down from the 3,077 pages and 1,732 visitors of November, a month that also had one fewer published piece. It’s also down from the 3,070 pages and 1,681 visitors of October, a month that did not have fewer published pieces than December.

December 2018. Views: 2,866. Visitors: 1,632. Views per visitor: 1.76. Posts published: 31. The readership's dropped from the last few months, but 2018 is still noticeably higher than the previous years.
I could totally have had my computer at the ready to take this screen shot at 00:01 Universal Time on the 1st of January except that I couldn’t think of any reason I would want to. The reason is it looks slick when the “current month” bar is completely empty. Maybe I could have edited that out of the image.

The number of likes drooped again, falling to 137 from the 150 it had been in November. That’s also a drop from the 173 that I’d gotten in October and, basically, every month going back to April of 2018. There were 44 comments here in December, exactly half November’s 88 and the lowest number in a month since August of 2018.

The most popular articles around here are comic strip plot recaps or news. If it can be called news by the time I notice it around here. But it’s such a striking readership tally. If I ever really need a vacation I could probably put the whole blog on hiatus apart from the story strip recaps and would probably not see the place be significantly less busy. The top five articles this past month were:

Only the first of these was actually published in December 2018, but that’s all right. I am probably doing something good by search engines to follow the clear question of “what’s going on in [ story strip ]” with a question about some particular plot element. I’m annoyed when I can’t think of one for some comic.

This coming list is my plan for the story strip recaps for the following month. It’s subject to change in case of major developments, usually regarding a comic strip’s writer or illustrator changing or the strip ending. Also, this coming Monday, Joey Alison Sayers and Jonathan Lemon’s first Alley Oop is scheduled to appear. I don’t figure to jump right into recapping that plot, not until it’s had a while to develop. Also, the Sunday Alley Oop is supposed to be its own separate setting, about “a new preteen version of Alley Oop”. I don’t know if that’s going to be a setting with continuity. If it is, I’ll add recaps of that story to the roster. If it’s just one-off gags, though, I won’t. There’s some thin point to my telling you what the plot was; there’s no point my telling you a joke you can read yourself as quickly. So, barring news, here’s what should appear Sunday evenings, my time, for the next couple weeks:

The most popular long-form essay I wrote, and thing intended to be funny, in December was Every Other Thing There Is To Say About Decorating For Christmas. That was the third of the essays on the same topic that I did in December. I didn’t set out to keep writing about the same topic for the weekly long-form pieces. I just realized each week I had a couple more bits to say. And the hardest part of writing anything is picking a topic. So I wasn’t going to reject a potential essay for some reason as flimsy as “I wrote about it last week”. If it taxed readers’ patience — well, maybe that’s why I had two hundred fewer page views. Hm. But if I take it as a writing experiment, to see what happens if I go back trying to write new essays on the same subject repeatedly, then it’s worthwhile. I do think I ended up with a good comic observation, that decorating can produce many of the same stresses as moving. Maybe next year I’ll try rewriting this all to see if I can’t make a better essay around the thought.

61 countries sent me readers in December. That’s down from 66 in November and 69 in October. Yeah, this all counts that mysterious “European Union” entry as a single country. Here’s the roster:

Country Readers
United States 2,111
India 127
Canada 93
Australia 90
United Kingdom 69
Portugal 36
Germany 28
Philippines 26
Brazil 21
Sweden 20
France 19
Norway 15
Hong Kong SAR China 13
Slovakia 12
Italy 10
Malaysia 10
Finland 9
Indonesia 9
Spain 9
American Samoa 8
Austria 8
Denmark 8
Israel 8
Singapore 8
Japan 7
Hungary 6
Argentina 5
Czech Republic 5
Netherlands 5
New Zealand 5
Romania 5
Mexico 4
Russia 4
Thailand 4
Belgium 3
China 3
Croatia 3
Estonia 3
Peru 3
South Korea 3
Switzerland 3
Ethiopia 2
Ireland 2
Jordan 2
Latvia 2
Macedonia 2
Poland 2
Saudi Arabia 2
South Africa 2
Algeria 1
Bangladesh 1 (***)
Barbados 1
Bolivia 1
Cook Islands 1
El Salvador 1
European Union 1
Kenya 1
Pakistan 1
Puerto Rico 1
Serbia 1
Uruguay 1

This time around there were twelve single-reder countries. There had been 16 in November and 17 in October. Bangladesh has been a single-reader country for four months now. Nowhere else has been.

The Insights page tells me that I ended December with a total of 108,530 page views, from 59,758 unique visitors. Over the course of December I published something like 20,361 words, an average of 657 words per posting. I’m tired thinking of that. For 2018 from January through December I averaged 639 words per post. Also I averaged 5.8 likes per post and 2.6 comments per post. At the end of November I was averaging 2.5 comments per post (up from 2.4 at the end of October). And at the end of November I’d averaged 6.0 likes per post, down from 6.1 at the end of October. This means something; don’t ask me what. The year closed on my 2,160th post, though. And I finished at 233,338 words, so don’t think it’s not just killing me that I couldn’t trim five words from something over the course of the year.

If you would like to follow Another Blog, Meanwhile, regularly, there’s a button on the upper right of the page to add this to your reader. If you prefer an RSS reader, you can add my articles from this link. And I’m also @Nebusj on Twitter. Thanks for reading. I’ll let you know if something happens with Alley Oop that you need a response to.

Uncle Chuck on How To Get Three Cars To The Same Place At The Same Time


I was figuring to take it easy for the start of the new year. So I’m reprinting a piece that originally ran when this feature was written by my great-uncle Chuck for the Perth Amboy News Tribune. I’m pretty sure he was my great-uncle. I hate to admit, but I do get mixed up some. The best I can follow all our male relatives on that side of the family were named “Chuck” or “Al”, as if the family were afraid we didn’t really know how to pick names and might get in trouble so we just went with whatever worked last time. I’m sure we could sort this out if we asked my father, Joseph. Or, if we had gotten to the question sooner, his father, Joseph. Anyway here’s an essay that first appeared in this column in 1955. Enjoy!


There have been a great many enquiries to this office about how to get three cars to the same place at the same time. Perhaps the number is not that great, but they make up for it with persistence. “But madam,” I protest, “This is the water-commissioner’s office!” They are unmoved. They are certain I have answers. “Have you considered that it is because of the drought?” I offer. This hasn’t anything to do with the issue, but it promises a useful distraction. Still, let us consider the question in its original spirit and try to answer it fairly, two falls out of three.

If you wish to get three cars to the same place at the same time the first question you must answer is: why? Is this really worth your doing? What I’ll bet you want is to get three cars’ worth of people to the same place at the same time. And the most efficient way to do that is to find some reason not to go there. Two-thirds of your party would be up for that anyway, and are secretly hoping someone will offer. But there’s that stubborn remainder that will have you all going out, come what may. “I don’t care that we could roller-skate in the basement, if we moved the garden furniture out of the way,” they’ll hold. “I want to go do it where there’s more space and we have to pay for popcorn.” Fine. Let them learn.

The best way to be sure everyone gets to the place is to give everyone the address and the meeting time. Then take out every map available, including that one of the Old Northwest you got intending a joke that never worked right, and review the course and three alternate courses. Then let everyone go off on their own and hope for the best. The best is two-thirds of the party gathering while the third that insisted on going out instead somehow ending up at the Perth Amboy YMCA.

But even with this clear plan and good will in mind, the cars will set off, attempting to convoy. The cars stick as close together as they can, the first two turning right at the end of North Feltus Street and the third turning left. This inspires a right jolly conversation among the passengers. It ends with sore throats and sorer feelings, but at least an agreement to catch the other vehicles and tell them they’re going the wrong way. Meanwhile the other two cars have come to a stop where they can just see the funeral home, waiting for their lost partner, which goes past without noticing them. They try to catch up, and are foiled by the traffic signal, which separates the now-second car from the third. The second car honks furiously, getting the attention of the first, and they agree to wait outside the accordion place in fond hope of regrouping.

And this is taking the simple way there. The other way would have taken the party through the triangle of streets inside the larger triangle of streets, planned out by the city fathers in order to demonstrate Book VI, proposition 8 in their Euclid. There is no chance of the three cars making it through. History teaches us at least one car will be nudged away from the convoy by a German submarine, and its passengers will be interned in Ireland for the duration of the conflict.

But we have set off on the less treacherous path. From here it should be a left turn at the KoC. But the sense of the party has decided it’s the left turn just after the KoC. Doing this brings everyone back around to the other side of the accordion place and agreement to try a right turn instead. From here it should be not more than a quarter-mile, everyone stopping before they get to the train tracks. Four other cars somehow get between the three voyagers.

The roller-skating rink is closed today.

Starting The New Year Well


Yes, it’s my fault that I never developed my own set of skills on how to be casually pleasant in public. All I can do when I’m interacting with, say, a store worker who’s being personable is to act like my dad would in the situation. So, long story short, I guess this weekend I’ve agreed to rebuild the porch steps for the lady at the pet store who’ll test your fishtank water for you and tell you which bottle of white crystal stuff should fix things? Also our nitrate still refuses to go to zero but the ammonia and the carbonate hardness are looking good so we don’t need to worry about that. I can’t tell you whether the goldfish should. Please send me one porch-step-repair kit fast. Also a Saturday that doesn’t rain or snow and isn’t all that cold considering.

And Then There’s Another New Popeye Cartoon, Which I Can Maybe Have An Opinion About


I’m still figuring to write up some thoughts about the whole Stan Freberg show given the recent listen. I just haven’t had time. So I’ll go for something that ought to be quicker.

I’d noticed a third of the Popeye’s Island Adventures cartoons come out and, hey, it’s only two minutes. That should be easy enough to think about.

Once again there aren’t any credits I can find. I only know the title — Feeling Blue — because of how it’s captioned on the YouTube page.

Eugene the Jeep has another, even bigger role this short than the past two. So I appreciate their attempting to cater to me. I’m curious if this is coincidence, or if the writers like Eugene’s plot-bearing potential. Or if it’s easier to write a mute character in cartoons that have to be dialogue-free. Could be any of this.

There’s no Olive Oyl this short either. Nor is there really a fight between Popeye and Bluto. I’m glad that these cartoons apparently aren’t obliged to have Olive Oyl or, presumably, anyone but Popeye in every short. It can help storywriting to have a template, but it’s a bad idea to include stuff only because the template demands it.

It’s a bit of a weird story. Eugene plants blue spinach(?) in Popeye’s garden. I like the start, partly because it’s cute to see Eugene being unrealistically impatient for his spinach to grow. Partly because it evokes the Pink Panther and the Naked Guy battling over whether the house will be painted pink or blue, or any of the other two-visions cartoons they did. That might be coincidence. (Surely coincidence is that Eugene and Pink are both, basically, mute characters.)

Then it gets weird: the blue spinach grows giantic, and Popeye has some weird allergic reaction to it and ends up with a blue nose. He eats spinach to cure himself, which mostly makes sense when you consider what spinach has done for him in the past, including bringing him back from disintegration. This time it misfire and makes him balloon up to a gigantic blue Popeye who scares Bluto off and … you know, what the heck am I watching? Because this is kind of weird. Not as weird as that 1960s Popeye where he tries to fix a faucet and accidentally floods the world, but still, kind of weird. Eugene fixes things with a banana peel and some Jeep magic and makes a smoothie. Fair enough solution and punch line and … you know, what the heck am I watching?

I should say, I’m not angry at the cartoon or anything. I’m entertained. It’s likable enough. But something in it feels less true to the things I love in Popeye than, say, the snowball-fight episode did. I’m not going to say they’re doing it wrong, or even wrong for me. Like, if I complain I don’t know the rules of Eugene’s magic here? Why would blue spinach turn Popeye blue? Why would eating regular spinach make Popeye blimp out? … Well, I learn what his magic does by seeing him do things. And what possible mechanism for the blimping out could make sense? I accepted his abilities to forecast the future; why not to conjure a pitcher of water into existence?

But I feel uneasy yet. Maybe it’s over things that the animators work out with experience. Maybe it’s over things I need to come and appreciate for this version of Popeye. I think it’s a misstep to have Popeye be the reactive, almost passive, figure in his cartoon, as much as I like to see Eugene driving the action. Mind, that is a problem with almost every cartoon Popeye has ever shared with an animal, going back to the 30s. And I don’t mean to be an Old about this. These cartoons aren’t the ones I grew up loving, and that’s all right. Those cartoons are still available, and don’t seem to be working for a new audience. Worth trying something with a different tone.

Yes, I caught the cameo of the white sailor’s garb that Popeye got put in because the War was on and the national defense needed Popeye to be less interesting. Cute bit.