I admit I don’t have strong memories of the comic. I remember encountering it in the 90s. It was one of the many comics printed in Strips, a weekly newspaper featuring just what you’d think. The newspaper was great, in those days, for finding comic strips that just weren’t in any local newspaper, like Bill Holbrook’s On The Fastrack and Safe Havens, or Bobby London’s Popeye, or even the Pogo revival. And Ryan’s Tumbleweeds was there. It stood out mostly for typography: it had computer-lettered word balloons. It would stand out today still, when many comic strips use computer lettering. Instead of a typeface that looked like hand-lettering, Ryan used … well, I thought it was Monaco, but looking at examples on the official Tumbleweeds web site indicate he used different typefaces at different times. And, early on, hand-lettered things. I don’t know when the shift, or why, although the advantages of typing your word balloons are obvious.
But I don’t have strong memories of the characters or the jokes or such. It was one of your situation strips, of a kind with B.C., The Wizard of Id, and Hagar the Horrible. Here the setting was the Old West, with the characters the hapless Army post, the hapless Poohawk tribe, the hapless cowboys, the hapless townsfolk. There weren’t running storylines, as far as I could tell, just jokes between the spoof-of-Western-tropes characters. The strip began in 1965, and ran until the end of 2007. According to Wikipedia, Filmation tried to animate it for their Fabulous Funnies series, and after the first episode aired learned they didn’t have the rights to the comic. It got adapted into a Las Vegas stage show at some point, apparently, and also made into a musical comedy for high school drama programs in need of such, by the same company that made the Luann musical. And, famously, Jim Davis worked as an assistant for several years, before realizing his own comic strip might get picked up if he dropped the gnat and worked with a cat character instead.
In honesty, I get the comic strip mixed up in my head with Gordon Bess’s Redeye, another spoof-Western comic strip that itself started in 1967 and ran until the middle of 2008. Comics Kingdom is rerunning that, under their Vintage strips feature. If asked to choose I’d prefer Redeye. But it’s not a fair comparison. Nearly all the Tumbleweeds strips I’ve seen are from the last decade of its run. A gag-a-day strip like that tends to wear out its best material a few years after its last successful new character joins the cast. The Redeye that I’ve seen is a new comic strip in its exploratory phase.
So, allowing that I would call Tumbleweeds a comic strip that, at most, exists, why mention Ryan’s passing at all? In part, I guess, because it’s amazing anyone ever gets a comic strip made, much less one that runs four decades. And I have a friend who absolutely loves the comic strip, and takes offense when I admit I mix it up with the inferior(?) Redeye. The friend asked me, before the news of Ryan’s death came out, if I knew why the comics on the charmingly 1998-styled official web site weren’t being updated. So, well, it’s not my thing, but I’m glad there are people who had this thing, while it lasted.
Walking is a trendy way to get to where you should have been in the first place. But there are problems keeping it from enjoying truly widespread adoption. The obvious is that things are on average a little too far apart. That could be fixed by growth and shrink rays, if they weren’t all being used for merry pranks. Another problem is the weather. It’s often too cold to walk all the way to the thing. If it isn’t, it might well be too hot. If it’s too hot, there’s a great chance it’s so blisteringly sunny that it’s not nice to be outside. If it isn’t, that might just be because it’s too rainy. Sometimes it’s so blasted medium there’s no going outside.
But one further problem is the risk of collisions. This is mostly colliding with other people walking, or as they are known in the trade “pediatricians”. It’s annoying to collide with, say, a mailbox. But there’s no way to fix that problem except to set the mailboxes somewhere they can’t be walked into. This sets off compensatory problems, though. If we moved the mailboxes up like eight feet so we can just breeze on past them, fine, but then how do we send letters? Do we all just have to go to the second floor? No, that doesn’t work. If we dug pits so the mailbox tops are at ground level? Then we could only mail stuff after kneeling down and standing back up again, and nobody over the age of 35 has time for that.
My solution comes from the car industry, so don’t tell them. Anyway if they want royalties I’m going to tell them my solution comes from experience. You know how hard it is to turn around and go back where you started from without tapping your forehead? There we go. The solution is signalling. This way other people can react to what you figure to do, such as by filing injunctions. We can put a set of signal lights on people walking. These can be hooked up to the pediatricians’ shoulders. If they don’t have shoulders, we can set them on their belts. If they don’t have belts either we can set them on their ankles. If they also don’t have ankles I don’t know what to do. It’s a new technology. There’s always details to work out.
A pediatrician figuring to move towards their left signals their left light, unless they don’t remember left and right reliably. This suggests a side market for henna-rinse tattoos identifying left and right. I leave this market opening for anyone who wants to fill it. It will be hidden in back of the mailbox at the corner. My in back of, not yours.
A pediatrician flashing both left and right lights coming to a halt, or is starting mitosis. Either way people will appreciate the warning. A pediatrician already stopped who signals both lights, and who has already divided into two or more genetically identical daughter selves, is preparing to move again. This will warn people to be ready with cardboard boxes and packing tape. Several short taps on the same side indicate a desire to spin. The left light indicates a spin counterclockwise as viewed from above, right indicating a spin clockwise gain as viewed from above. Unless I have that the other way around. Matters are reversed in the other hemisphere, because it’s different in the Eastern Hemisphere. Also they’re different when two pediatricians are on the sidewalk and the signaller is between the companion and the curb. This part could use some clarification.
A short and then long tap on either light indicates the matching arm is about to be put out. Why, I don’t know. The important thing is being considerate.
I know you all want to shower me with praises and money for fixing walking. There’s no need, although I wouldn’t turn down a $560 million payout if you’ve got it. But I’ll take my reward in being the person who solves the problem of what to do when you’re walking right toward a person, and you can’t agree who moves to which side. Now, we’ll be able to not agree which side to turn to, but we’ll have lights and technology to do it with.
We start with Olive Oyl leading Popeye in sandcastle-making. She’s got plans. Bluto interrupts them by having a machine which he uses to build a castle in seconds. This offends Popeye for some reason. Well, they’re kids, they can take offense at someone else just existing without it being too bad. He marches off, leaving Olive Oyl to her own subplot. Popeye stares down Bluto, and eats his spinach. At only 25 seconds in, which might be an all-time record for Popeye resorting to this. And we’re all left admitting there’s no answer to why Popeye doesn’t always eat his spinach first. He builds a castle in seconds himself, and gets back to glaring and making threatening grunts at Bluto.
Eugene the Jeep interrupts. We haven’t seen him in a while, not since the disturbing cloning episode. As with the kraken episode Eugene sets himself up as referee. And the short got me. Bluto’s castle rating a 6? Fine enough. Popeye’s rating a 9? When they looked about equally good? I didn’t think Eugene that partial and was pleasantly surprised that it was a fake-out.
Bluto whips up a new sandcastle, that crocodile friend he dreams about having, and has in pool toy form. Popeye makes a can of spinach. Bluto gets more serious, building an Eiffel Tower. And now the short gets really good. It was decent before, with a bunch of nice little jokes like Popeye sawing his way out of a pile of sand, or Eugene’s 9-no-6 scoring fakeout. But now it gets to a new level. Popeye punches open the sand “can” of spinach, and uses the blob of sand “spinach” to build something no less impressive, a Big Ben.
Bluto had added to the skill of his Eiffel Tower by putting on a comic Frenchman moustache and a strand of shells, plus that We’re Set In France background music. Popeye dons a Beefeater’s hat and offers Eugene tea. Great extra comic joke. It’s sand tea. Oh, that’s really good.
Bluto builds a Colosseum. Eugene’s intrigued. Popeye gets his attention, tapping with the long pole of a gondola, which he rows over to the Leaning Tower of Pisa he’s built. Bluto sits Eugene down and serves him sand cannolis; Popeye matches with sand spaghetti. They grind enough pepper on him that Eugene sneezes. It sends the Leaning Tower of Pisa, after a moment of straightening out, falling over into Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower, and the Colosseum. It’s all a fine mess.
Eugene magics his way out of the rubble. Olive Oyl, whom you may remember was in this short, has finished her sculpture. It’s a heroic pose of Eugene the Jeep, which he immediately awards a perfect 10. You do have to work the judges.
I like this one. I like it a bit more each time I watch it. The premise is solid. The competition grows sensibly, and it’s resolved well. That’s all fine. What raises this a level is that all the business is done in funny ways. Popeye sawing his way out of a heap of sand, at the start. Popeye as a Beefeater offering Eugene tea. It being sand tea. Bluto, Eugene, and Popeye gasping as the Leaning Tower of Pisa comes to stand upright, and relaxing as it tilts again. Bluto dusting off his first sandcastle to present it to Eugene. These are all small jokes. But they’re well-formed, placed at the right moments, and well-timed. Once again I’d like to know more about the making of these shorts, particularly the writers, directors, and production order. It’d be good to know whether better-than-average cartoons like this are because one team is quite good at this, or whether everyone’s getting the hang of the two-minute Flash cartoon.
The last, for the known future, original Amazing Spider-Man daily strip ran on Saturday, the 23rd of March. It has Mary Jane and Peter Parker on an airplane — first class — travelling to Australia. This is what they had planned to do before that whole Luke Cage/Killgrave problem got going.
Had the comic not been cancelled, Thomas reports, they’d have gotten to Australia to face The Kangaroo. There are several The Kangaroos in Marvel Comics history. Given the loosely original-Marvel-Universe theme of the comic strip I’d guess it to be the first, the one who debuted in the comic book in 1970, but who knows? Both had great powers of leaping.
Sunday the 24th showed a weirdly hacked-together comic. It has the narrative tag “Peter Dreams of Good Times”, suggesting that all the reruns to follow are simply Peter Parker, asleep on a plane, thinking of the past. It’s not a bad way to set up rerun sequences. For that matter it excuses any plot holes in past stories, or any inconsistencies made by presenting them out of order. It’s not a good way to overcome the snark community impression that Peter Parker mostly wants to nap. Never mind.
The strip from the 24th is an edited version of one from the 16th of November, 2014, as commenter seismic-2 on Comics Kingdom tracked down. When this Sunday strip first ran it was a transition. The storyline had Doc Octopus feigning being a hero and framing Spider-Man as villain. Thus the second panel; when it was talking about and showing Doc Octopus it fit the action of that storyline. The next storyline, and the one I’m assuming we’re repeating, features Mysterio, supervillain master of special and practical effects. He’s a goofy villain, but one I like, since part of his gimmick is supposed to be that he doesn’t have “real” powers, he just puts on a good performance.
Mary Jane talking about her play’s theater being destroyed is not an edit. When this story first ran in 2014 the Mammon Theater was closed for repairs. The theater got to host a gunfight and then had a helicopter dropped into it in the Iron Fist storyline, the one previous to the Killgrave story that closed up the strip. Coincidence but, I suppose, a useful one. If someone didn’t know this was all Peter’s dream, well, there’s reason for the theater to need repairs.
And a warning before I get started. The antagonist in the major storyline of the past three months is presented with multiple personalities. If you aren’t comfortable with mental health problems used for comic-strip villainy this way, you are right. Skip the plot recap below the ‘Continue reading’ link, and we’ll catch back up in June.
[ Translated from the gestures, modal dialogues, and inarticulate howls of boundless rage at my iPod Touch. ]
Me: OK, iTunes, resume.
iTunes: Happy to!
Me: Resume my podcast.
iTunes: I didn’t know you had a podcast!
Me: Don’t ever talk like an online nerd. Resume the podcast I was listening to.
iTunes: Happy to!
Me: Resume it now.
iTunes: Resume what now?
Me:That’s Grandiloquence. Three guys take turns pronouncing a word they only know from reading, and then get into a big argument about who’s least wrong. They’re doing their 40th-episode super-spectacular on ‘synecdoche’.
iTunes: What’s that word?
iTunes: How do you pronounce it?
Me: Almost certainly wrong. That’s why I want to hear the podcast.
So I was reading The Inner Game Of Tennis by W Timothy Gallway. I don’t play tennis and don’t particularly care if I ever do. I have my reasons. Gallway is renowned, besides this book, for developing “yoga tennis” at the John Gardiner Tennis Ranch and the Eastern SportsCenter in California. He also founded the Inner Game Institute. So you can probably date to when in the 1970s it was written. If you weren’t sure about when it was written, consider please this paragraph, from a section headed “The Competitive Ethic and the Rise of Good-o”. I have a question to follow it.
But who said that I am to be measured by how well I do things? In fact, who said that I should be measured at all? Who indeed? What is required to disengage oneself from this trap is a clear knowledge that the value of a human being cannot be measured by performance — or by any other arbitrary measurement. Like Jonathan L Seagull, are we not an immeasurable energy in the process of manifesting, by degrees, an unlimited potential? Is this not so of every human and perhaps every life form? If so, it doesn’t really make sense to measure ourselves in comparison with other immeasurable beings. In fact, we are what we are; we are not how well we happen to perform at a given moment. The grade on a report card may measure an ability in arithmetic, but it doesn’t measure the person’s value. Similarly, the score of a tennis match may be an indication of how well I performed or how hard I tried, but it does not define my identity, nor give me cause to consider myself as something more or less than I was before the match.
So. Is this paragraph sufficiently compelling thanks to the mention of Jonathan L Seagull? Or should the book have used the full name, Jonathan Livingston Seagull? Ought the book have instead referred to him as J Livingston Seagull, or perhaps gone for J L Seagull? Show your work.
(If you do not know anything about Jonathan Livingston Seagull you may find a copy on your parents’ bookshelves anytime from 1971 up through the time they moved to the house on Pine Oak Creek Lane Road in 1988. Reading it in full will take as many as 25 minutes.)
So, something the Popeye’s Island Adventure people declared when the series started and that hasn’t come up before. It’s part of their declaration about how this series is different from earlier Popeye cartoons.
The show combines the original squash and stretch animation style with a fresh update on the original characters and storyline. The new Popeye has a youthful appearance and more eco-friendly position, growing spinach on the roof of his dieselpunk style houseboat and collecting rain water in barrels.
I do not know what deiselpunk is but I can confidently say no, Popeye is not deiselpunk. I can say I am more deiselpunk, and please consider, I spent much of yesterday rewinding and listening again more carefully to a podcast explaining the historical reasons, connected to pronunciation shifts, regarding why the letter ‘c’ is used to represent both the soft-s and hard-k sounds. The claim that this is a more eco-friendly Popeye, though? That … hasn’t really played into any of the cartoons. And then came this week’s cartoon, Commotion in the Ocean.
So. This, yes, has almost nothing discernable to do with Python Anghelo’s incredible and bonkers concept document for the Popeye pinball game of the 1990s. It starts with Bluto surrounded by mounds of garbage. I’m not sure why Bluto is always assumed to be a garbage lord like this. I suppose it’s the thought that you have to be a bad person to litter, so therefore a really bad person is surrounded by a lot of garbage. Which is all right until you consider what signal that sends people who aren’t able to clean as much as they “ought”. We mock the messy and the cluttered and the hoarders; is that decent?
Anyway, Bluto’s sick of the mess in his submarine, and gets to cleaning it. His preferred method: shooting it out his gun barrel. Silly; he should be doing this responsibly, by putting it in a landfill, which is a societally-approved heap of garbage we put on top of the wetlands that would otherwise be keeping the planet alive. Bluto gets away with it until he lands a heap of trash on Popeye and Olive Oyl’s boat. Popeye was pulling some traditional fishing garbage — a metal bin, a funnel — out of the water before that. I’m not clear whether that was supposed to be from earlier Bluto trash bombs, or just Popeye’s bad luck. I’m also surprised he didn’t pull up a boot or old inner tube. But pulling up a funnel and a metal box was probably necessary. It foreshadows the end of the cartoon.
Popeye and Olive Oyl are able to track down who’s responsible for the trash by looking at some of the underwear in it. It’s got Bluto’s face on it. There are several questions this raises. First is why Popeye and Olive Oyl had to wait until we, the audience, could see Bluto’s face-underwear before reacting to it. They’d seen it when the under-face was looking at them, away from us. Also, granted, these shorts are trying to be language-neutral. Is this plot point best established by face-underwear? Also, so, when Bluto wears his face-underwear, which way is his face looking? I feel like these questions are a little unfair, but would the target audience for this cartoon ask different questions?
They spot the source fast enough anyway, with a cute throwaway joke of Popeye looking through a Pringles tube. After a couple more loads of garbage Popeye sees a corked bottle, giving him an idea: try eating spinach. This week the amazing transformation is to fuse his legs together to cork up Bluto’s gun barrel. This change doesn’t seem weird the way the sponge thing last week did. Blocking a gun barrel by jamming yourself in it seems like a common enough cartoon logic, so this feels justified to me. Olive Oyl holding up a judge’s ’10’ sign at Popeye’s hopping around is a cute bit too.
Olive Oyl remembers the funnel from earlier, and they set up … I guess the destroyed gun barrel? … as funnel into Bluto’s submarine, tossing trash back into that. Bluto shrugs and starts sorting out his recyclables. Which is fine for his glass and metal cans and all. I don’t know what recycling bin heaps of brownish-green goop go in.
All these cartoons feel abbreviated. This one particularly so, though. The premise is fine enough. It’s just there’s no real conflict. Bluto throws garbage into the lagoon, Popeye throws it back on him. Couldn’t there be at least one change of fortune along the way? But then I want contradictory things, too. This short avoided the frantic pace that the series has fallen prey to so often. Scenes were well-established, and there was plenty of time to see and understand the action. And the short does well showing off something that inspires a character’s specific ideas. Bluto smashing against the porthole after his first stoppered gun-blast is well-delivered, too.
Thanks for finding this summary of about three months’ worth of Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant. If these aren’t the three months of story you need summarized, such as because it’s after about June 2019, please check this link. There may be a more up-to-date recap there.
A new story had started the 25th of November. Queen Makeda, of the House of Ab’saba, visits the Misty Isles. Prince Valiant’s friend Bukota feels complicated things about this. His long-ago heroism-while-in-disgrace got him named ambassador to Camelot, which is why he’s in the comic strip.
Queen Makeda gets a private conversation with Bukota. She needs him. Personally, yes; she regrets the exile he’d been forced into. And professionally. There are nobles who doubt her ability to lead. She needs Bukota to help keep Ab’sala from them. Bukota is thrilled to return home and to be with Makeda again.
The nobles are less keen on this. They didn’t hear the conversation any. But they insist that there’s trouble when Queens go off unaccompanied to places like the Hall of Bachelor Warriors the way she did. They insist on a cleansing ritual performed by Fewesi the Healer. She can’t resist the logic or Fewesi’s eyes or his mind-controlling drugs. I mean, she tries. But the nobles are too fast and Fewesi has too many fumes for her.
This leads to a couple confusing days for Bukota. Queen Makeda is going about the business of being present and aware of trade negotiations and all. But she’s not following up on their conversation or even noticing him when he’s in sight. He tells Queen Aleta of the meeting before, and how Makeda’s been freezing him out. Aleta’s reluctant to point out that, y’know, just because Bukota is a nice guy doesn’t mean — oh, never mind, he’s going to try something stupid.
Bukota charges the Queen’s apartment, calling for her and reminding everyone how much they both kinda liked Breakfast at Tiffany’s. He fights with the guards, which is the kind of stunt that got him exiled in the first place. Makeda emerges, the action bringing her out of her trance some. She declares that yes, Bukota’s exile is lifted, and that he’s her … well, the guards clobber him on the head before she can finish. That’s all right. There was someone standing behind a pillar, listening. There’s always someone standing behind a pillar, listening. In ancient times 95% of the population was farmers, fishers, or pillar-listeners.
The Ab’salan nobles — Habte, Mahren, and Ambelu — agree this has gone all wrong. They figured with Queen Makeda away from home, with a small retinue, they’d be able to reinforce their control. They want to head home right away. Fewesi doesn’t like that plan. Having the queen in his power has been going really well, as he makes it out.
Bukota reports the trance of Makeda to Queen Alita. She’s sympathetic but skeptical, even when Bukota says his exile was lifted. Nathan, the pillar-listener and Aleta’s son, attests that this is so, and that when she did the guards smacked Bukota and closed the gate. She sends guards to the Ab’saban quarters. No one answers the door. No one answers the battering ram either. The whole Ab’saban party is dead at one another’s hands. One person has barely survived. Ambelu says that Fewesi deployed powders that set them all in a murderous rage. And he’s abducted the Queen. So he has, and he’s taking her to the waterfront.
Before I get warmed up you might ask how I know anything about grinding coffee beans. I’m glad you don’t ask the equivalent about every one of these essays. That would hurt my feelings. I affect a quiet, almost stoic pose. But I do have, and use, six feelings. I admit one of them is that feeling of nuisance that my sock is not quite wet enough to justify changing.
But it does not hurt my feelings if you doubt my knowledge of grinding coffee beans. I’m not a coffee drinker. I don’t much like it. I usually get coffee because I’ve misunderstood the question. I prefer tea, which could also use some work but which I’ve been kind of used to for longer. The only time I get coffee on purpose is when I go vegetable-shopping at the farmer’s market on the westside of town. They have this complementary coffee bar with a rotation of eight different flavors. And then what am I going to do, not get coffee because I don’t like it? It’s complementary.
And yes, I could get a complementary tea instead, but they use the same tea bags we already have at home. I’ve paid for those already, out of the household budget. This is a real chain of logic I really follow in reality, for real. Also they always have flavored coffees. And coffee might not be anything much, but coffee-cake flavor coffee? That’s great. I should get something to eat with my cup of coffee-cake flavor coffee, but what?
Nevertheless I do make coffee at home for my love, and for guests we have. And people agree I make good coffee. So I have standing.
Coffee comes in the form of beans. This is great because they make this satisfying rattle when you accidentally spill them on the kitchen floor. It’s a noise like pouring some particularly sugar-glazed cereal into an empty bowl and a good reminder to clean the kitchen floor more often. But to turn this into coffee you need to grind the beans. This creates “grounds”. The name comes from when the Coffee Makers Association heard the naming session was right now, not next week like their calendars said. You can get the coffee ground for you by somebody … somewhere … and buy it like that. But then people who are really, really, really into coffee will stare at you. Again, I only drink coffee when I’m feeling proud for snagging a good-looking bunch of turnips for our pet rabbit. But I know if I were making a cup first thing in the morning, I wouldn’t want the dolorous gaze of coffee enthusiasts coming through the kitchen window.
Anywhere you can buy coffee beans has a machine to ground then on the spot. It’s this terrifying machine with at least four hand-written signs warning about settings you must not used taped to it. There’s a layer of coffee dust on it deep enough to grow half-caff bananas. Best to hide from that scene. You can get a coffee blender for home from any shop that sells coffee-making supplies, or “coffeterium” as they say in the trades. (“Coffeteria” is the plural, for if you need more than one blender.) These are great, though. You take the lid off, pour beans in, plug the machine in, press the button, get a spray of beans in your face, and learn to put the lid back on again next time. It makes a fun sound on the kitchen floor.
If blending fails you can go try other ways. One good way is to set a cupful of beans in a strong plastic bag, tape it to the outside wall, and then summon the Kool-Aid Man. He not only crushes the beans into a fine powder but gets you something you like drinking right away while you’re waiting for coffee. That’s all great, but you can only do it up to four times, plus the landlord gets all tense.
So you have to stop using the Kool-Aid man. But that might not be a bad thing. Grinding beans is when they start to lose flavor, and we didn’t spend years getting kind of used to the flavor of coffee to have less flavorful coffee. But the logical conclusion is there: don’t grind the beans before drinking the coffee. Give in to the sound and eat the beans, like cereal, in a bowl full of chocolate milk instead. You can swallow a modest number of gizzard stones, like birds do, to crush the beans inside your crop and enjoy the perfect coffee experience.
It is possible guests are just being nice when they say I make coffee well.
Perhaps the near-miss between Popeye’s birthday, in these cartoons, and the 90th anniversary of his debut in the comic strip was coincidence. This week’s two-minute cartoon is Heatwave, and that’s only seasonal if you’re south of the equator. Which, in fairness, Popeye must be sometimes. But I suspect if they do a Christmas cartoon it’ll be all snowy and winter-y.
Is Bluto dumb? The Popeye cartoon settings have always been malleable about their details. Their settings and what exactly Popeye and Bluto and Olive Oyl know about each other at the start of the cartoon. Whether Bluto is dumb affects the story, though. It sets the bounds of how clever a trick he can do, and how clever Popeye has to be to foil him. I think mostly he gets lumped into the “dumb” category. He’s got size and strength going for him. He has to dump something to stay balanced, by cartoon character creation rules. But smart and strong makes him a tougher antagonist. It’s, generically, more fun seeing the hero beat a tougher opponent.
In the Popeye’s Island Adventure series everybody’s a kid. I’m not clear just how young, but that’s all right. Every age of kid is dumb in their own ways, most of them all right. It makes it less weird someone might do something dumb. But Bluto’s smartness, relative to Popeye and Olive Oyl, is still important and still shapes the plot.
The story starts with a simple premise right there in the cartoon’s title. Popeye and his spinach are wilting in the heat. He brings a sad, nearly dead plant to Olive Oyl’s, and that’s all right. She’s got plenty of water, thanks to a water purifier that Popeye somehow didn’t notice when he arrived. I like giving Olive Oyl this trait of being a tinkerer, in part since that gives her something to do that isn’t waiting to be captured or rescued. Olive’s happy to lend Popeye her water-purifier, too.
Bluto builds a swimming pool. This seems idiosyncratic, since he’s never more than like twenty feet from the shore. But I understand preferring to swim in domesticated water. He builds kind of a shabby one, but not a bad one for a kid. And then he starts pumping swamp water in to fill it. He’s startled that he gets a pool of swamp water. What did he expect?
I can kind of follow the kid logic of “if it’s in a swimming pool, it has to be clean swimming pool water”. I mean, it’s a mistake, but I get the essentialist reasoning there. This Bluto seems old to be making that mistake, though. Olive Oyl, presumably about the same age, is building a water purifier. So is he dumb? Or just oblivious?
Popeye and Olive Oyl follow Bluto back to his swimming pool. They surveil the situation and Popeye eats his spinach. And transforms into a human sponge. And I’m really not sure I like that. I was okay with his turning into a mer-man last week, for example. And I’m not sure why this isn’t okay. There’s a couple influences, I think. One is that an extended underwater sequence always has a slightly dreamy logic to it, so more absurd things feel less outrageous. And being in the water and turning to a water creature has tones of … oh, let’s call it sympathetic magic. Here, Popeye just looks at a sponge, eats a can of spinach, and turns into a sponge-torsoed human-form. There’s a linking step missing there, perhaps because the cartoon’s too short to justify it.
Popeye sponges up Bluto’s swimming pool, blasts all that water into the purifier and sprays Bluto with even more swamp water, and the action’s done. The button is Popeye taking a swig of Bluto’s drink and, uh-oh, that’s swamp water too. Good enough ending, certainly.
There’s much I like about the cartoon. The storyline’s logical, apart from Popeye’s spinach-induced sponge transformation. But what everyone does and why they do it makes sense. It feels underdeveloped, though. Everybody wants a thing, and then Bluto does a mean thing, and then Popeye foils it, and that’s all. I’d like a bit more escalation, or some wrinkles where trying to do something fails and they have to try again. This might be impossible, given there’s only two minutes of cartoon time. But there were 35 seconds spent establishing the heat wave before we see Olive Oyl’s water purifier. What if the cartoon started with an establishing shot of the heat waves rolling the atmosphere, and then Popeye with his wilted spinach at Olive’s door?
This is one of the cartoons I’d like to see done as a real, full, six-to-eight minute short.
Before I get to the weekday Phantom storyline I have a warning. The storyline includes a despairing character considering suicide. If you aren’t comfortable with that, you’re right. Skip this installment. We’ll catch up again in June.
The Phantom (Weekdays).
December 2018 – March 2019.
I last visited the weekday Phantom at the start of a new story. This one, the 251st, is “Heloise Comes Home”. Heloise Walker had crashed the plane of Eric “The Nomad” Sahara and gotten the terrorist arrested. She’d made her way back to the Briarwood School and her roommate, Kadia Sahara. Kadia knew nothing of her father’s avocation. All she knows is her roommate is demanding they flee the country now before it’s too late.
I’m startled, certainly. I think everyone who had an opinion supposed the comic strip would respond to Stan Lee’s death with a change in credits. Acknowledging Roy Thomas’s writing would seem fair enough and as he’s been writing the strip for years it seems an easy enough change.
The press release claims that the strip will “be back soon with great new stories and art”. If we take them at their word, they’re looking to refresh the comic, possibly taking on new writers or artists. That’s all fine. But it’s also what you would say if you were going to let the comic fall into endless repeats forever. I don’t remember if they promised someone would take over Mandrake the Magician after Fred Fredericks retired, but nobody ever has.
The Amazing Spider-Man seems to be going into reruns at the end of a story. Really the story seems to be at its end already. But the tne of the strip lets the characters putter around a while, re-establishing Peter Parker’s hapless loser-ness. That can fill time without standing out as time-wasting.
And then for the other question I put in the subject line here. And again from D D Degg at The Daily Cartoonist. Jerry van Amerongen, who creates the panel comic Ballard Street, is retiring. His last strip is scheduled to appear the 30th of March. Amerongen’s been cartooning like this for about forty years, with a strip called The Neighborhood from 1980 to 1990, and Ballard Street from 1991 to this year.
I’m saddened by this, of course. I always am by strips ending. Ballard Street never drew much attention, but it had a deep, natural weirdness that I enjoyed. Someone, and I can’t think where, described it as “inscrutable people acting bafflingly”. It’s a fair summary. There are a lot of panel comics out there. There’s few panel comics where you can pretty much count on seeing, like, an older man dressed in a mouse outfit and holding a hand-cranked propeller beanie listening to his wife chide him for bothering the neighbors again.
There are a lot of panel strips out there, many of them trying to capture that Gary Larson weird vibe. And good for them for trying. Ballard Street ran as a sort of character-based Far Side. It featured people committed to their weirdness, and that really worked. I’m glad to have had as much of it as we did.
I imagine GoComics will carry repeats of the comic, but I don’t know that it will.
Here are some beliefs it is fine to have, even if you will never encounter a group of hundreds to thousands of people gathering in a hotel in some affordable hotel space on the outer edge of town for a weekend of merriment and panels and cosplay and frustrated attempts to get a group of six people together to go to the build-your-own-burrito place.
That if your mind insists on fusing the songs American Pie and My Brown-Eyed Girl into one massive, never-ending whole, that’s fine. Your mind is your own. You can put not just any songs but any experiences together you like. If you wish to merge Hotel California with the experience of hollering at the movie theater’s automated ticket booth because you just don’t care where you sit to watch Barton Fink reboot origin movie, that’s your right. I mean, of course, if you aren’t at your gig-economy job putting in a few hours being part of the collective massmind. But that’s a special case.
That it is the year 2019. By this I mean the ninth or maybe tenth year of the second decade of the current century. There is considerable evidence to suggest that we are instead in the nineteenth year, somehow, of the first decade of the current century. But consider: how is it that we still have eighties nostalgia? The 80s are now so long ago there’ve been, like, five movie Batmans since then? How can we possibly feel any warmth to a time so long ago? If we are still in the first decade of the 2000’s, then that’s just two decades in the past. It makes plausible how, say, people might have any specific warm memories of the Whammy. So let’s take that: we’re not in the year 2019 but rather in the nineteenth year of the 2000s.
That you just don’t have the emotional reserve to hang out with your fossa pal. That’s all right. Fossas are great, everybody agrees. They also have plenty of issues. It’s all right to let your fossa buddy march off to whatever it is they’re up to. You can recover your mental energies hanging out with a quokka or maybe a binturong. It’s not selfish to take some time not dealing with somebody else’s bizarrely complicated situation that’s somehow a fractal hyperfiasco, where every part of their fiasco is itself some deeper fiasco that’s just as impossible to deal with. Don’t feel guilty just hanging out with somebody who’s sleeping a lot and smells like popcorn.
All right, so the planet is a sphere. What’s so great about spheres? Maybe we just have a sphere because nobody involved in making it put any thought into the question. If we put our minds to it we could probably have a toroidal planet or maybe one that’s a great big Möbius-strip band. And it’d be fast, too. It would take, like, four days at the longest. There’s three-room apartments you couldn’t clean out for moving anywhere near that fast. Anyway nobody is saying this would solve all our problems, or any of them. It’s just an option we haven’t given serious consideration. No, we’re not doing Menger sponges. We’ve totally read the ending of The War With The Newts on Wikipedia.
That it would be a heck of a thing if it turned out vampires didn’t mind garlic. Like, maybe one didn’t, and everybody assumed all vampires were repelled by garlic? But it was just that guy’s preference? So what if it turns out vampires see garlic the way anybody might see, oh, Brussels sprouts? Where some just won’t eat them, and some kind of like them, and some love how it looks like they’re giants eating whole heads of lettuce in one bite? And it turns out that vampires actually have an issue with horse radish instead, which is why they only have lunch at Arby’s when it’s part of a long, serious meeting with their financial planner? Anyway you can have that belief and if need be donate that to a needy improv troupe.
That the messages that would be on the answering machine, if there were any, would be very interesting ones. They might even change everything, if they did happen to exist. It’s your answering machine. You can have any imaginary messages you like on it.
There are more things you can believe even if they are not commonly held. Good luck.
“So even if we were able to use Google Maps in the way we want this will not give us adequate aerial photography metadata. And while none of our clients have — to my knowledge — asked about this metadata that is nothing more than our good luck. When they recognize they need this, we are not going to have answers. We need to improve our geographic information services capacity now, before the storm.”
Me, in my head, in the style of the Ramones, on endless repeat:
o/` Gland gland glandgland o/` Gland gland gland glandgland o/` I wanna be sebaceous! o/`
That hiccough that left me without a cartoon for a week hasn’t repeated. That’s mostly good. I’ve accepted that I have a fondness for the King Features cartoons of the 1960s and would take the excuse to write about them some more. I should bank a couple of cartoon essays about those, if I want to write so much about them, and have a reserve against future cartoon gaps.
That’s for the future, for work that would make my life easier and that I won’t do anyway. This week there is a new Popeye’s Island Adventure. This one is titled X Marks The Spot. It’s, I believe, the first one without Olive Oyl. It’s also one of the rare cartoons without Eugene the Jeep. I think only Swee’Pea Arrives and A Toast To Popeye haven’t had Eugene before.
This is one of the Island Adventures cartoons that doesn’t get all weird. Popeye and Bluto been sea-diving before, for example in 1935’s Dizzy Divers. Bluto even snaps a picture of Popeye’s (well, Olive Oyl’s) map to start a treasure race in 1940’s Stealin’ Ain’t Honest. It makes good sense they’d then race to the treasure spot, and try to foil one another’s ships.
I like the way the cartoon built from there. The race is a good story setup. Popeye’s and Bluto’s attempts to foil each other make sense, at least by cartoon logic. Popeye seduced by the siren-call of a can of spinach gave me a laugh I quite liked. It’s absurd but sensible in character and in story; what more would you want?
Adding in a third party? That’s a good, sensible escalation. Does Swee’Pea make more sense than Olive Oyl? Either is probably as good. More sense than Eugene the Jeep? I suppose so; what does Eugene need with mere human treasures? And the series hasn’t introduced the kid versions of other characters yet. So I’m not sure that two minutes five seconds would be enough to carry this story and the burden of introducing someone new.
But let me speculate. Wimpy would be a good third party, if he could be roused to action, and if he were in the series. Poopdeck Pappy might fit well too, except I’m not sure how old you would make him to fit the series. I’d be interested in seeing a Young Sea Hag, except that having the evil character win the treasure would change the tone of the ending. Alice the Goon would be great, though. Past that we get into minor Thimble Theatre characters who might excite me and my love but wouldn’t even register to actual people. Toar? Sure, anyone who hangs around me long enough is going to hear about how great Toar is. But I’m not asking anyone to put up with me. Roughhouse, the diner owner, similarly, has that problem. But there the dozen of people who read Hy Eisman’s Sunday Popeye comics at least see him. Geezil? He’s good when he’s playing against Wimpy. When he doesn’t have Wimpy to hate on, you notice the … type … that E C Segar was using for him.
So. Swee’Pea it is, and that’s probably the best choice they could make, even if we expanded the Island Adventures cast.
Popeye and Bluto dive at the treasure spot. Popeye gulps down his spinach and grows a merman’s tail. That’s new. It’s a bit weird, yes, but it’s no giant-tooth weird. To me that doesn’t feel out of line with, like, Popeye spinning his ears fast enough to lift into the air, as in Follow The Spinach. Or more ancient cartoons where Popeye would, say, turn into a torpedo for the sake of hitting someone. I grant I also like merman and mermaid characters, so, what the heck. I don’t blame you if that’s a touch too weird.
Bluto and Popeye get scared off by a skeleton. This makes sense for them as kids in a way it wouldn’t quite if they were full-grown. That it’s a trick by Swee’Pea, well, I saw it coming but I still liked it. It’s all a happy enough ending.
This short feels like a condensed version of a normal cartoon, which is a style that I like in these. It’s got a premise and a storyline that fit Popeye, and even fit Popeye as a sailor. The resolution satisfies me. I’m happy with this.
I still like doing these start-of-the-month looks at my statistics. Somehow taking a big pile of numbers and sharing them with people who aren’t responsible for them appeals to me. At least it’s one essay each month that’s easy to think of what to write. Actually writing it is another thing.
And please remember you can follow this blog regularly by using the ‘Follow Another Blog, Meanwhile’ link in the upper right corner of this page. If you want to read without being tracked, counted, numbered, or spindled, please use the RSS feed. RSS is a great solution and the web should use it more. If you do feel like being indexed, briefed, and debriefed, you can follow me on Twitter as @Nebusj. Every new post gets a mention there. Also the “publicity widget” that posts notices on Twitter is also supposed to put notices on Google+. It is very concerned that I understand why that’s going away. I have not checked, but I believe I have in total gotten zero views from Google+, so, you know, it can relax a bit there.
So what happened with the number and variety of readers I attracted in February 2019?
OK, so, that’s a bit of a drop. 2,428 views in February, compared to 3,343 in January and 2,866 in December 2018. I’d like to attribute this all to February’s shortness. But the average-per-day views plummeted in February: 87, says a WordPress panel I’m not going to bother including a screenshot of. In January there were 108 views per day on average. December had 92 views per day, which isn’t too far off February’s. But still: I haven’t had that few views-per-day since December 2017. Not sure what happened there. My best guess is that Roy Kassinger was very busy with things.
The number of unique visitors dropped too, although not quite so precipitously. There were 1,429 unique visitors recorded in February, versus 1,830 in January and 1,632 in December. That’s about the same number of unique visitors per day in February as in December, anyway. The number of likes fell to 156 from January’s 183. But that’s up from December’s 137 and is at least within striking distance of the 165-to-180-likes average most of 2018 showed. The number of comments dropped to 34 from January’s 70, and December’s 44, but comments are such a scattershot thing around here anyway. This is more talky than I was managing in 2017, anyway.
What was popular here in February? What’s always popular here, every month? The top five:
My most popular long-form essay was one from this month. That’s always flattering. It was Some Things To Understand About The 1980s. Nicely enough that’s also the essay I’m happiest with from this past month. It’s got a strange tone for me, but a tone I like. I shall have to think about how I got into the mood to write this piece. I still think there should be something more to do with the concept of Muppet Babies Kids.
Still, the story strips remain my most popular thing, and the thing that draws readers in. Here’s my plan for story strips to recap through to April. This may change if a strip has some big event, like new writers or artists or a reboot or something that makes people wonder if the comic is still being made.
65 countries sent me readers in February. There had been 68 such in January, but 61 in December. This all seems pretty stable then.
Ooh, 1766 readers from the United States. This seems neat to me because 1766 is the year that my undergraduate school was founded. So, you know, my making that association right away shows why everybody treated me like that in middle school.
Hong Kong SAR China
United Arab Emirates
Bosnia & Herzegovina
Trinidad & Tobago
There were 15 single-reader countries in February. There had been 19 in January, but the only country in common both months was Serbia. And wow, I was this close to a complete new slate of single-reader countries. That’s exciting to be. But see above comment about why everybody treated me like that in middle school. There had been 12 single-reader countries in December.
I averaged 599 words per post, in the 59 posts made from the start of the year through the end of February. That rose from my end-of-January arithmetic mean of 590. I published 17,036 words in February, bringing my total for the year to 35,326 words. I don’t know if that counts things like captions to images or the alt-text for images. For the year to date I’m averaging 1.6 comments per post, down from 1.7 at the end of January. I’m averaging 5.5 likes per post, down from 5.7 at the end of January. Hm.
What’s not decreasing is the total number of posts I’ve made: 2,219 at the end of February. Oh, so I failed to mention then that yesterday’s Alley Oop recap was post number 2,222. Neat. As of the start of February I’ve had 114,303 total views, from 63,017 unique visitors. My most-read day ever remains the 24th of November, 2015. That when some of my writing about the collapse of Apartment 3-G got mentioned on The Onion AV Club and old Usenet pal Joe Blevins gave my blog its name. That’s probably not going to ever change. I wonder if there’s a way to get data on my third-most-read days.
Not to brag but I was right. During the Switzerland expedition Alley Oop fell off a cliff and got dead a little bit. (Wonmug had a defibrillator which somehow helps with falling from great heights.) Wonmug wants him checked out by a real doctor in a doctor’s office and all. The doctor’s receptionist won’t let him in without an insurance card. Alley Oop laughs at this, as if health care were not a fundamental right of all humans. Doctor Lambert tries getting some of Oop’s basics down. But they haven’t got a clear answer for what Alley Oop’s birthday or age should be. Wonmug seems to be keeping quiet about how Alley Oop’s from prehistoric times, and I don’t know why. Maybe he was keeping his time-travelling stuff quiet? Except, like, he has a sign pointing “To Time-Travel Laboratory” on his mailbox.
The doctor diagnoses Alley Oop with a lot of head injuries, which, fair enough. He wants to give Alley Oop an MRI. But it’s hard enough to get a blood sample, since his skin is so tough. There’s talk about a colonoscopy, quickly written off. Dr Lambert puts on a rubber glove with the intent of checking Oop’s prostate. When Wonmug whispers what that is, Oop gets up and storms out of the doctor’s office. This is a funny idea that doesn’t have any homophobic connotations. And it’s not like a prostate ever causes actual heath problems for a person anyway! Doctors are being all weird when they want to check it.
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s reruns end on that unhappy note. Wonmug sends Alley Oop home in a sequence that, back in 2013, started a new adventure. Instead, we start a new adventure … with new artist and writer.
That new adventure started the 7th of January, 2019. With, at the risk of being cliched, someone waking up.
Alley Oop thinks he’s had a crazy dream about time-travelling and scientists from the future and all. I was not at all comfortable with this. One of the benefits of a long-running character is the building-up of a continuity. Its mass and often apparently contradictory nature give it verisimilitude. Sometimes you get caught in an actual contradiction that can’t be rationalized away. In that case I’m usually willing to give the creators the tool of “just don’t bring up the contradictory stuff again”. Or start repairing things and pretend the older problems never happened.
A clean-slate reboot has advantages when the core idea is good, but there’s stuff that can’t be reconciled or repaired. Often this is a difference in attitude. There’s no fitting the Adam West Batman and the 90s cartoon Batman in the same continuity, and no sense trying. So … would this be such a different approach that it didn’t make sense to treat them as in-continuity?
Ooola comes in to assure Alley Oop that it wasn’t a crazy dream, he just got hit in the head by a coconut. The time-travel stuff is real and they’ve been doing it for years. But … something happened and they’re in an alternate universe. It’s much like the knew, except that tacos will never be invented. Oop drops to his knees and cries out in agony.
Do you find this funny? Because this is the major writing difference between the old Alley Oop and the current one. Sayers and Lemon are still telling a serial adventure comic. But there is much more emphasis on joke-telling. Every strip ends with a punch line, even if it has to be forced in there. It’s an effect quite like Dan Thompson’s Rip Haywire, a strip I’m thinking about adding to these what’s-going-on-in reads.
If this style isn’t working for you, then you’ll probably find the new team to be a bust. To my tastes, the punch-line-panel bit has been getting better, as the jokes have been more based on character and situation. A zany, out-of-nowhere punch line can be great fun. We wouldn’t have had web comics in the 90s without them. And a story can be good with this sort of wackiness. Readers love to accept stories. All they demand is some combination of the characters, plot, writing, and concepts to be interesting enough. Where wacky, zany punchlines disappoint me as a reader is when they aren’t tied enough to the characters or the situations. If you could reassign a joke to another character, or another day’s strip, without making it less funny? That’s often a symptom of a weak joke. To my tastes, that’s been happening less as Sayers and Lemon inhabit the characters longer.
So the story. After a week of Ooola explaining the premise of the strip to Oop, Dr Wonmug popped in. He has a mission. They need to venture to the far-off world of 1986 to retrieve a mixtape. This isn’t just zany wackiness. Wonmug asserts it’s “very important and extremely time-sensitive”. So far he hasn’t explained what’s important. We’ll leave aside how a time traveller can face a time-sensitive problem. So far as I can tell, time travel in Alley Oop works like it would in Old Doctor Who. You know, where you don’t do that thing of coming back to your home time after fewer days than you spent in the other time.
They get to Wonmug’s old room. But the mixtape is gone. There’s a ransom note. Whoever took it wants three things. First is a jelly bean from the desk of President Reagan. They take a bus to Washington, DC. Wonmug has a plan for sneaking in to the Oval Office. They’ll deliver his Presidential Portrait. Fortunately Oop’s whipped up one of Reagan with a chimpanzee.
Things are going their way. Ronald Reagan wakes up senile, racist, homophobic, and missing his eyeglasses. So he’s in a great mood when Wonmug, Oop, and Oola come in. He identifies them as George Bush, Mikhael Gorbachev, and Nancy Reagan. While Reagan hangs the picture of “a sunset”, Oop grabs a bunch of jellybeans, and eats all but one of them.
The next item is in San Francisco. They need to grab the master copy of the game disk for Caves of Zgfrhkxp. And they’re going to get there in good time. Reagan agreed to let Wonmug, as “George Bush”, take Air Force Two to San Francisco. This is a fun historical shout-out. That’s what they nabbed Bush’s chief of staff John Sununu on, back when there were consequences to things. And this week they’ve landed in San Francisco.
And then there are Sundays. Often for story comics the Sunday strip is a recap of the previous week’s. Jack Bender and Carole Bender adapted this approach. Their Sunday strip usually recapped the previous Tuesday through the coming Monday. Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers are doing something different. Their Sunday strips are installments of Little Oop, the adventures of a middle-school-age Alley Oop and his friends.
These have been fun. Alley Oop at school. Alley Oop hanging out with friends. Alley Oop asking his parents for a pet dinosaur. They’ve been fun, and haven’t had the same sort of wacky zany punch lines. This might reflect the strips having enough space to build a scenario. What they haven’t been is an ongoing story. So I’m going to hold off on recapping those stories until I see that there are stories to recap.