Because conjugation is a group decision


You know, if we just got together we could make “quench” into a strong verb, so that its tenses changed the sound, and then any of us would be able to say that by getting that satisfactory drink, “I quanch my thirst”.

(This is just what I promised last week when I complained my spell checker refuses to warn me about “trange” being nonsense and yet will not give me “quanch”. Well, let’s see what happens next week, as maybe I’ll try to apply the same principles to turn “overlooked” into “overlought”, which would solve nothing.)

Popeye the Sailor: Washing Cars, Naturally


There’s times I wonder if I understood things wrong, and Jack Kinney made all the 60s King Features Syndicate Popeye cartoons. Not so, though; we get just enough Larry Harmon cartoons to prove that. It does seem like each week is another Kinney cartoon, though. This one too. So, here’s Popeye’s Car Wash, plus some thoughts of my own.

Does anyone remember when Popeye sailed? Well, of course he did. There was that Jason-and-the-Golden-Fleece cartoon sometime ago. But it’s not like the 60s cartoons pioneered the idea that most of his cartoons were on land. Few of the comic strip adventures were built on him sailing either.

Popeye and BlutoBrutus running rival businesses has a long heritage, even back to the Fleischer cartoons. That’s a sound setup. The cartoon can do some joke about one person at his job, then the other, and then the two fight. The structure resists the cartoon being too monotonous.

Another small joy of the cartoon is the cars. If you can think of an American-made car that looks like something, it’s probably a late 50s car. Sure, you might mock them for ridiculous chrome details and hood ornaments and tail fins. But when you understand the historical context … eh, they’re still pretty funny. Add to that the bits of UPA design that every animation studio picked up, especially ones doing television-grade limited animation. You get the happy blend of something that stylizes well, drawn by people looking to stylize a thing. So if we’ve got a teal car that looks like a fish, good. Let’s see that. BlutoBrutus’s car wash also has the sort of mid-century architecture that really works for me.

It starts with Popeye sulking about how BlutoBrutus has taken all his business. It’s hard to see why, given that Popeye’s got a dumpier car wash place that charges 50% more than BlutoBrutus does. I like that the moment Popeye drops his prices to free he’s got a line of cars. I do not for a moment believe in Wimpy being so cross about anything as to declare how he ought to sue you. If Wimpy tells you he’s going to sue, it’s to embarrass you out of your declaration that you know he’s a mooch. He wants you to back away from you defaming him by calling him what he is. They don’t have the cast to have someone be the aggrieved customer. Olive Oyl should play the role but she’s committed otherwise.

There’s some great little bits of animation here. I like the flow of Popeye hard at work washing one side of the parade of cars. I also like Popeye, BlutoBrutus, and Olive Oyl chasing one another, in all permutations and at different gaps, around BlutoBrutus’s Beauty Bath. There’s even a moment where the animation and the music come together, as BlutoBrutus and Popeye trade punches at about 10:26.

A leering Brutus, with a neck that's as wide and even taller than his head.
Um. That’s … that’s not a correct amount of neck.

Not sure what’s the funnier bit of cheaping out on the animation: BlutoBrutus covering his mouth to call Popeye “sucker” at 6:55, or the bit of mud that just stays hovering in place while Popeye lowers his mouth at 7:20. There’s not much way to make sense of BlutoBrutus falling on and taking the place of the statue out frot of his car wash either.

So overall we’ve got a pretty successful cartoon here. Good to see.

It’s Probably Safe To Read Funky Winkerbean For A While


I’d warned in mid-September that Tom Batiuk’s Funky Winkerbean was about to do a storyline about a character’s suicide. I’d promised to give a follow-up when the immediate storyline seemed to have passed.

Well, the first part of it seems to be done. It was in a baffling manner, though, one which managed to not make clear that the character even did deliberately suicide. Someone who read only the comic strip and not supplemental material like my essays might reasonably think the character had a terrible but ordinary accident.

My understanding was that the suicide storyline was intended to run about twice as long as it has. So my hypothesis is that Tom Batiuk wanted the character’s death to happen in an ambiguous way, and then have characters eventually discover it was suicide. If that is so, I will try to give warning when the story resumes.

In the meanwhile this week the strip seems to be doing a whimsical Halloween zombie story. The previous two weeks it’s been doing a gruesome zombie storyline, resurrecting the Movie Of Lisa’s Story. Lisa’s Story was, in-universe, the book Les Moore wrote about his wife’s dying of breast cancer. (In the real world it’s a collection of the comic strips detailing this story.)

For about 36 years there in the early 2010s there was a story about a cable-movie production company trying to make this into a movie, with Moore as the novice screenwriter unhappy with … absolutely everything, at all times … until the project collapsed for some reason. So I can’t say that I’m happy that Mason Jarre, star of the abortive First Lisa’s Story Movie and of the in-universe Starbuck Jones science fiction intellectual property franchise, wants to do a new movie only Right This Time. But, as ever, I’m hoping for things to turn out good. There’s very few premises so bad that a good story can’t come from them.

What’s Going On In Judge Parker? Why has Rex Morgan stopped updating? Is Norton gone? August – October 2019


So a quick thing that might be obsolete by the time this publishes on Sunday evening: Comics Kingdom didn’t print Rex Morgan, M.D. for Friday or Saturday. I have no idea why. I assume it’s yet another glitch with the new design web site, which has mostly gotten its glitches out of the way but is still keeping problems in reserve. Whenever Rex Morgan does publish, Friday’s and Saturday’s strips should appear in the archive. This is at an annoying moment since the story was unfolding mysteries of Mindy’s pregnancy.

As for Judge Parker. We will never see the last of Norton, not in Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker. Maybe under the next writer we will, but no. When we most recently saw him he was stepping up toward a person concealing a knife in her hand. There’s no reason to think that’s the end of him.

Anyway, if you’re reading this after about January 2020 I may well have a more current plot recap at this link. Older plot recaps are at that link too. Good luck finding what you really want.

Judge Parker.

4 August – 26 October 2019.

Norton Dumont, with the aid of super-secret agent Strand, had escaped from hyperprison. Retired Judge Alan Parker was in jail for helping Norton fake his death. Roy Rodgers was extending some protection to Parker. He had protection because he helped the mob kill his business partner who’d been embezzling from their firm to not pay mob debts. Rodgers was doing this for information on Marie, who’d been his wife before he faked his death on their honeymoon. And Marie had been Abbey Drivers’ housekeeper for years. I think that’s enough background for where things were as of early August, my last check-in on this plot-heavy soap. And you may not like all the plotting, but you can’t deny its soapiness.

[Norton and Agent Strand 'Confer' with Sam where Neddy's factory once stood.] Norton: 'Did you know this is where I safely brought Charlotte to the Parkers? Good times.' Sam Driver: 'So this is about April trying to take her daughter again!' Norton: 'I already told you, I made sure that wouldn't happen. Really, Samuel, mutual trust will make it so much easier for me to help you.' Driver: 'Help me? By kidnapping me? And who is this anyway?' Norton: 'Agent Strand. She's been with me for a while.' Driver: 'And it doesn't weird you out she looks almost exactly like your daughter?' Strand:' I knew I wasn't the only one who saw that!'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 11th of August, 2019. I don’t know what significance we should attach to Strand resembling April Parker so. It may be meant to suggest there’s something weird about Norton, a person who’s already overflowing with weird. It may be meant to just be a strange little bit. It might be that Marciuliano and Manley didn’t think much about Strand’s design when she was a background character in other scenes but when she got more screen time they were stuck with a model and decided to rationalize that.

Norton and Strand kidnap Sam Driver while he’s trying to meet Alan Parker. Norton’s offering help getting Alan Parker out of jail. Driver suspects it’s an attempt to kidnap Charlotte. She’s Randy and April Parker’s daughter and Norton’s granddaughter. Norton insists he’s sent April Parker elsewhere.

That elsewhere is Los Angeles, where Neddy Parker and Ronnie Huerta have been trying to write a screenplay. The screenplay’s based on April Parker, of course. And April, following a message from Norton, has found it. And now that April knows it exists, she has notes. I assume this sort of thing happens all the time in Real Los Angeles too, if there is such a thing. So April gives Neddy and Ronnie her real story, if there is such a thing. When the script’s in shape she says her final farewells to Neddy. She didn’t join the CIA to protect an America that does the sorts of things America created the CIA for. So she’s leaving. Unless the rewrites screw her story up.

Neddy: 'You want to help us write our screenplay about you?' April: 'This is my story. This is my truth. And I want to make sure everyone sees the truth onscreen, not some collection of tired action cliches and uninformed storytelling.' Neddy: 'By cliches and poor storytelling, are you talking about spy movies in general or our screenplay in particular?' April: 'By page two I already had three pages of notes.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 22nd of August, 2019. I need to get one of those jobs where you just make notes on other people’s work. Doing it for free like this on WordPress is fun but it’s putting stress on my Saturday plans.

Back in Cavelton, Norton claims to want to make amends before his totally real illness totally really gets him for total real. He’ll confess to threatening Alan Parker, coercing him into helping fake his death. He didn’t, but he’s willing to lie under oath for a friend and former family. (It’s never said exactly when Randy and April Parker divorced, or how those court proceedings happened. It’s happened off-screen, we’re to infer.) Driver can’t accept him saying he’s going to lie under oath. Norton writes that off as a joke. Driver can’t see a way to get Norton — officially dead, this time by the CIA faking it — to testify. Norton says he can do it remotely. Driver gets hung up on the technical challenges of this. Norton says he can get started now.

All this kept Alan Parker from meeting Sam Driver in prison. Roy Rodgers has been pressuring Parker to get Driver to help him, and to get information about Marie. Rodgers doesn’t believe Parker’s claim that Driver didn’t show up. Rodgers calls on his mob friends, who beat Alan Parker badly enough that he’s sent to the hospital.

[ Randy sees his dad at the prison hospital ... ] Randy: 'Dad ... ' Alan: 'I'm fine, son. I'm fine. No one beat me. They just pushed me around. Tried to scare me.' Randy: 'Well, it looks like you held your own.' Alan: 'I held on to my lunch tray and kept swinging. I bet if I were younger I wouldn't even be in here, but the bed sure is much nicer.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 6th of September, 2019. So the judge overseeing Alan Parker’s case refused to have Parker kept out of the general prison population. Yes, ordinarily, someone who’d been an officer of the court for decades would be in obvious danger all the time. “But,” the judge said, “you have to remember the Parkers never do court stuff, so no prisoners have anything to hold against them.”

After having a plausibly deniable conversation with Randy Parker about this, Sam Driver agrees to Norton’s plan, whatever it is. The plan to testify in court was a sham, because of course. That was a distraction to let Strand hack Driver’s cell phone. But Norton is as good as his word, for a wonder. They’d had a judge who was refusing Alan Parker bail, on the grounds that Parker betrayed a lifetime of public and professional trust. The judge suddenly resigns. The district attorney admits to having withheld footage of Norton holding Alan Parker hostage. And there’s now recordings of Norton threatening Alan Parker.

[ Norton (walking through the woods) bids a final farewell to Sam. ] Driver: 'That's it? You leave nothing but wreckage in your wake and stroll away scot-free?' Norton: 'No one walks away from wreckage unharmed, Samuel. Even when no scars are present. I had a family and I treated them like an appendage. I had a new start with my daughter and fell back on what was familiar instead of right. And over the last few months I realized I can't go back and fix anything. But with what time I have left in the world, I can move on a better path. I've had too many chances in my life to expect another. So I keep walking, hoping to do right by the few I never meant to hurt, even if it kills me.' (Norton and Strand walk up to Candace Bergen's apartment. She conceals a knife in her hand.)
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 22nd of September, 2019. So what odds do you give that next time we see Norton it’s with Agent Strand having learned she’s April Parker’s previously-unsuspected twin? Or is that too many unknown sisters in too short a time?

In what he claims will be a last conversation with Driver, Norton says he regrets everything. All the ways he screwed up his daughter’s life. Wrecking the Parkers’ lives. Everything And he walks up to the cabin of April’s Mom, Spy Candace Bergen. Which is the last we’ve seen of them, at least as of the 24th of October when I write this.


The 23rd of September opened with the feeling of another time jump. Although since it has Alan Parker hugging his granddaughter and talking of how he missed this, it can’t have been that long. Also, Abbey’s big project has been a success. She was thinking to run a little bed-and-breakfast out of the Spencer Farms. It’s been successful, and much more work than Abbey imagined.

Over lunch with Marie, Abbey admits how much she’s not keeping up with this. Also how, so far as she is keeping up, it’s because Sophie is masterminding things. Which is great, except that Sophie’s a high school kid. She’s not thinking about college or anything about her future, and refuses all entreaties to. This is understandable. She had been kidnapped and tormented for months by Abbey Spencer’s previously-unsuspected half-sister. As were her friends. But, you know, you can’t go about working instead of talking over feelings with other people, people keep telling us stoic types. This infuriates us, but what are we going to do? Complain?

Marie: 'Funny you should mention wanting to spend more time together, Abbey. My social work school program is ... not cheap. And while my field placement does take up quite a few hours, I ... well ... I could be persuaded to work part-time at the B-and-B if you're looking to hire.' Abbey: 'I'm passing you a proposed salary. It's actually a blank piece of paper, so you write whatever number you see fit!'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 5th of October, 2019. One small recurring theme of Marciuliano’s writing that I do like is characters having these nice big bold ideas which, they learn, are more tedious and more difficult than they realized, and having to back down from the great ambitions. It’s an echo of the crazification-and-retrenchment pattern in the plotting. Also, jeez, if someone offered me a write-your-own-salary I would be too embarrassed to actually ask for anything and probably would hide in the basement until the prospect of work went away.

And Marie admits it’d be nice to see Abbey more. And that … her expenses are higher than she figured on, and, you know? Maybe she could work part-time at the bed-and-breakfast and there we go. It might even open Sophie up some. Sophie is overjoyed to see Marie back around. So that goes well, right until Sophie starts talking about how she needs the help running the business.

Marie’s diagnosis is that Sophie is quite avoiding talking school. Also that Sophie’s right about the bed-and-breakfast needing to be better organized. Sophie’s plan is a bigger kitchen and a dedicated bed-and-breakfast building. Somehow they settle on converting the horse barn to rooms. This I don’t understand as I thought the point of a bed-and-breakfast was to stay in something that’s plausibly a person’s home. Also that they need a barn for the horses. Maybe it’ll come together by the next time I do a plot recap.

Meanwhile in Los Angeles, Neddy and Ronnie keep shopping their script around. The feedback is brutal, and worse, neither of them say it’s wrong. The most devastating critiques are the perceptive ones. They don’t seem to be comments people have made about the comic strip since Marciuliano took over the writing, by the way. They’re in-universe complaints. But they finally got a callback this past week! It’s Annada Pictures, who I assume are hiring Neddy and Ronnie for that big Lisa’s Story project that somehow has come back into Funky Winkerbean. I’m not saying I want Norton back, but if it involves him kidnapping Les Moore, I could get on board.

And that’s where we’re at now.

Next Week!

We have yet to see The Amazing Spider-Man “return” with “great new stories and art”. Or to hear any news about when it might. Still, I intend to recap Roy Thomas and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Reruns next Sunday, barring breaking news. And as ever, I keep up-to-date on mathematically-themed comic strips on my other blog. Thanks for reading.

Statistics Saturday: The Humor Of Fred Allen So Far As Anyone Remembers


Small wedge with Allen's quote about `I've discovered why they call [television] a medium: because nothing is well-done'; an empty quarter; a bigger wedge of Kenneth the Page, on 30 Rock, looking at the photo Fred Allen autographed to him; then an even bigger empty space.
Not pictured: that line about a committee being a group of men who individually can do nothing, but who collectively can decide nothing can be done, because I want a better reference than Brainyquote saying he said it. The television-is-a-medium thing at least he said on The Big Show, for the 5th of November, 1950, at just past 1:00:08 and you can check.

Reference: History of the Second World War, Basil Henry Liddell-Hart.

Also The Alternative Was Fat-Free Shipping


But I would swear what I heard the commercial offer was “fact-free shipping”. And I’d like to see them meet take that challenge. I imagine it has to involve, like, fibbing about the postal code at minimum. Obviously a false customs declaration. Also a customs declaration included even though they’re only shipping from, say, Grand Rapids, Michigan, over to Lansing. I don’t know what else is involved but it should be this. In all it’s an idea worth developing, but not into 700 words for the long-form essay of any week.

The Phony Menace


We have a land-line telephone because shut up is why, all right? I’m sorry, that sounds a little defensive. It’s just that we do have a land-line telephone. And that gets us a lot of guff. You know how much guff you should be getting, like, on a daily basis? We get something like 15 percent more guff than we should because of this phone. This doesn’t sound like much, and maybe it isn’t. But we get it consistently, and it’s just too much. And ours is a small family, even with the rabbit. We don’t use the stuff up fast enough. We’ve run out of cabinet space and the breakfast nook is a fright with all this guff. We have run out of places to put the guff excess to requirements. Anyway, I’m sorry to lash out like this but at least it gets a little bit of guff out of our way.

Well. If you will let us have our land-line phone I can get on with this story. The problem is that our land-line phone stopped working and shut up we can too tell, all right? Look, we use it all the time to get messages from coworkers who don’t understand why they can’t text that number. Or scammers promising they’re from Windows and here to help. Oh, the fun I had that one time I pretended I thought the guy was talking about the things that let us look outside and disapprove of the neighbors. I kept thanking him for his thoughtfulness but telling him they seemed to be just fine, if a little dirty. He needed about twenty minutes before catching on, at which point he cursed me out and hung up before I could say, hey, you called me. A couple months later he called back, recognized my voice, and hung up.

Anyway, the phone broke, not calling out or in or doing anything but giving us a low, annoying buzz when we picked up the receiver. I figured the phone died, since it’s this cheap plastic thing about the weight of a child’s toy and seems really easy to break. Replacing that was annoying, because buying a new phone makes me think of this commercial NYNEX had in the mid-80s, people throwing garbage phones out the window to a tune that went “Second-class phones, they’re making/ Second-class phones, they’re breaking”, and it was only decades later I learned they were just using Grant Clarke and James Hanley’s 1921 Fanny Brice hit “Second Hand Rose”. If you have the faintest idea why this bothers me, please give it to me. I have too much guff and not any explanations for this one.

The new phone had the same problem, so it turned out it was our phone line. So Friday we called The Phone Company on a cell phone to report the problem. There, I couldn’t think of what our land-line number was so I hung up because that was easier than fixing that problem. On the second try I got our number right and they promised to have the problem fixed the next time they had a technician in the vicinity of 1996.

Sunday, our phone line was working again, which we discovered when someone wanted to fix Windows for us. Cool. Then on Tuesday The Phone Company sent someone out to fuss around the phone lines leading to our house, and finished up by saying the phone should be working fine now. I thanked him and didn’t say anything about how it had been working for two days already, since I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. You never know when we’ll need The Phone Company guy to like us again.

So all this would just be ordinary little mysteries of life. Except last night about midnight someone with a slightly rusty pickup truck knocked on our door and waited a while. We didn’t answer, of course, because there’s nothing legitimate going on that has someone driving a slightly rusty pickup truck to our house at midnight on a Wednesday-to-Thursday. I’m maybe 80% sure it isn’t The Phone Company guy come out to fix our line again.

Oh, but that pickup bed. You don’t suppose they sent someone to haul away some of our unneeded guff, do you? I’m going to feel like a fool if we missed our chance to get rid of some of this. Well, there’s maybe a 40% chance that The Phone Company guy is just going to keep reappearing in our lives to fix a phone line that’s already working again. I’ll have my chances.

Now I’m Just Complaining About Spell Checkers


I paid, I assume, good money to have a spell checker somewhere on my computer so why is it letting me get away with listing “trange” as a word? It won’t give me any guidance in how to spell “Cincinnati”, which I’ve done with as many as two n’s, three c’s, and fourteen n’s; what do I even have it for? Complaining that I write “Olive Oyl” in 2019?

(Well, that’s the exploration I promised I’d do last week when I shared how professional historians describe the ancient city of Paris as “Parwas”. Please visit next week when I intend to point out how if we just made “quench” into a strong verb then we could talk about having quenched something by the phrase, “I quanch my thirst”. Oh, and the spell checker will give me “trange” but not “quanch”? Seriously.)

Popeye Versus Another The Dragon


King Features’s description for this cartoon calls it a “Middle Ages – Time Machine gimmick”. They’re wrong. There were “time machine gimmick” cartoons. One of the King Features framing devices was Professor O G Wotasnozzle sending Popeye, and maybe others, into some other time. This one doesn’t. Rather like the Mississippi Sissy cartoon I looked at last week, it just starts in the setting. Bluto doesn’t appear at all, although the dragon gets the “Blow The Man Down” Bluto leitmotif.

So here, another Jack Kinney production, Popeye And The Dragon.

I’ve learned to have mixed feelings when one of these King Features cartoons starts with a weird setting. It’s great to be out of the Boring Suburbs. It means there’s a chance for some fresh jokes, or at least jokes in new skins. But if Popeye’s in a new outfit? The animators’ time went to designing that instead of, like, key frames. So I expect more intersting material with worse animation.

Can’t say I was wrong. I was a bit distracted by how much effort the cartoon went to not to show two characters interacting. Even interactions that should be just lining up the characters, like the Dragon blowing fire on Popeye or vice-versa, are more implied than shown. It’s not entirely like that. I’m amused, like I always am, by the Dragon repeatedly swatting away an attacking Popeye. I just feel like I can reconstruct the budgeting for this cartoon.

It’s a great start, too, plunging right into a Dragon rampaging through the castle. We even get two extras, which I guess is where they put the budget that would have gone into a second reaction shot for Wimpy. And for some reason Wimpy as the owner of an armor shop. Having an armor shop is a good solid idea, as is Popeye insisting on a stove instead. And that opens up a couple cute, underplayed jokes, like Popeye’s pants catching fire and Wimpy throwing water in his face. (Is this why he finishes the battle naked? His armor’s broken off and there’s nothing underneath?) Casting Wimpy as the proprietor suggests they ran out of characters. Properly, yeah, Geezil would make sense, but he’s got problems.

Large blue scaley dragon sitting back on his rump and smiling pretty widely, considering.
Really isn’t this dragon more of a big happy boy? Who could be upset with him, apart from all the rampaging and kidnapping and stuff? I wanted to get a shot of him actually kicking Popeye back but all I kept getting was the exact moment of the kick, which is mostly a set of explosion lines and Popeye half-invisible (a perfectly good animation effect) and I just could not get a screenshot actually showing Popeye and kicking dragon at once. I couldn’t swear in a court of law there is even a single frame of that and that it isn’t all the brain imagining there must be such a panel. So, good job on the animators if they did extract the animation so well that I think there’s stuff there that I can’t find.

There’s a bunch of jokes about charge cards here, just to remind you that this cartoon was made in 1960, when charge cards and pizza were inherently funny concepts. I like that Popeye has a Dragon Club card, though.

Another good bit is the horse Popeye rents. He’s got a nice sensible cowardice to him. It’s a bit hard to read his personality, since he’s got a single facial expression. But they’re at least trying to define him in body language and action alone. Popeye doesn’t even describe his action. That’s more trust being put in the drawings than I expect from this era.

Once again we get a slightly baffling ending that doesn’t make literal sense given the rest of the cartoon. Popeye wanting a spinach shoppe makes sense. The dragon working as cook makes sense too. Why Popeye’s the diner and Olive Oyl the waitstaff? I don’t know. They wanted him to go out eating a plate of spinach; they didn’t have time to work out how they got there.

In Which I Give You An Extremely Short Story


So how’s this:

O’Henryesque piece where one partner in a relationship gets a body-swap holiday treatment as a surprise anniversary present. But the other partner got a mind-swap holiday treatment. So they just both wake up on the wrong side of the bed, and then each of them wastes the whole day talking with tech support trying to sort this out before they find out just why it all misfired.

Thank you, yes. Please submit to me one (1) award for amazingly brilliant poignant short story writing, science fiction/fantasy division, thank you very much.

What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? What does “blowtop mad” mean? July – October 2019


Thanks for coming in, soapy sports fans. If you’re reading this after about January 2020 I probably have a more up-to-date recap of
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp at this link.
If you’re just trying to figure out where the strip was as of mid-October 2019, you’re in a good place. And if you’d like to see me using comic strips to talk about mathematical topics, please try my other blog, here. Now to the story.

Gil Thorp.

20 July – 19 October 2019.

As a Milford student Hadley V Baxendale won the girls’ teams some dignity and larger lockers. She’s since become a star attorney for her Chicagoland firm. She’s also engaged to Jaquan Case, former Milford basketball player turned NBA star. She’s visiting her parents. Her father is all weird about how they don’t even live in the same city, and in ten years he’ll be retired and she won’t. How will they survive these quite survivable problems?

She’s got side projects, though. She’s gotten involved in Tiki Jansen’s story. Jansen was fleeing harassment at New Thayer by his family renting an apartment in Milford that they don’t actually live in. But the school board has reconsidered the matter and concluded that since he doesn’t live in Milford he shouldn’t be going to Milford High. And Baxendale is happy for a chance to fight with the school board again.

Baxendale: 'I'm here about Thomas Jansen, Mr Ballard.' Ballard: 'Are you a lawyer?' Baxendale: 'Right now, I'm just a family friend ... but I *could* be.' Later, Baxendale, on the phone: 'She said she didn't want to sue us, Carol. But she didn't say she wouldn't!'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 29th of July, 2019. I don’t intend to be snarky when I say I don’t know who Carol is, other than, someone connected to the school board. I haven’t caught her last name or what her exact connection is.

If she needs to. Jansen’s family can’t afford an empty apartment anymore. But teammate Leonard Fleming’s family is willing to put Jansen up. With that fact she goes to work. She talks with the Flemings, who say they’re trying to do a favor to someone who needs a favor, and keep the team from losing Jansen. She gets the video that High School Cinema Weenie Joe Bolek made of Jansen’s former schoolmates chasing him down. And she talks with Chet Ballard, head of the school board.

They don’t put Tiki Jansen’s case on the school board agenda. Carol Other School Board Person doesn’t want to do stuff that establishes a precedent. Baxendale is warm to this too, on the grounds that a private deal is more likely to go her way. The strip doesn’t mention but this is an interesting development for Baxendale. She’s arguing for special treatment for someone, not because of the facts of his case, but because of who happens to be Mary Worthing his life. But there is no such thing as not creating a precedent. Getting the school board to agree to this for Jansen means they can be made to agree to this again later.

At the school board. Ballard: 'How do we know Thomas will actually stay with the Flemings, or how often?' Baxendale: 'How do we know what roof anyone is under? You? Me? A child whose parents are divorced? Maybe we can have sign-in sheets for everybody. How many new hires will it take to verify them?'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 10th of August, 2019. “I mean, if we can’t trust the residency of someone whom we know to have lied about his residency within the last six months, who can we trust?”

So, meeting with school board members, Baxendale lays out her case. Jansen’s in physical danger at New Thayer. Reduced (most of his tormentors have graduated), but still credible. And while the old apartment was nonsense, he now has a real verifiable host family in town. To the reasonable question of how do they know he actually lives there, she points out they don’t know where any of their students live. Which is true but not a case I’d want to argue to a judge. Ballard isn’t a judge; he sells insurance. The school board accepts Jansen as student.

Hadley had invited her father Ed to watch her work. He’s impressed. And he’s worked out what his deal with Jaquan Case was. It wasn’t anything do to with Case. It was his longing to have his daughter move home and join his law firm. Seeing her at work, he’s content that she’s living a great life and he doesn’t need to wish her back home.


That, the 17th of August, wrapped up the Baxendale and the Jansen II stories. The current storyline started with football practice the 19th of August. Its star: sophomore Chance Macy, who’s looking to be a good halfback. Supporting player: Charlie Roh, stepson to Chet Ballard, head of the school board. I didn’t make the connection until writing up this summary. Ballard wishes that Charlie accepted him as “dad”, but, you know. That comes, or it doesn’t come. I don’t know if that’s going to end up important to the story.

In the opener Macy does great, getting the ball to the 2-yard line. Charlie Roh, put in to carry it over, fumbles. Ballard blames Coach Thorp for not giving his stepson more time carrying when it wasn’t critical. Macy’s forgiving of the mistake, though. And does a lot to bring Milford its win, too. He’s invited of course to the victory celebration, but declines, claiming fatigue.

Ballard: 'I didn't see Chance Macy out there. I wonder where their star running back is.' Chris Schuring: 'Probably fending off girls. A 180-yard game can upgrade your popularity factor!' Cut to Chance Macy, who's sitting in a chair at home, reading.
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 19th of September, 2019. Oh, wow. I remember when I had the hamstrings to sit like that in a chair. I’m lying. I have never had the hamstrings to sit like that in a chair. I barely have the hamstrings to lie down.

Local Newspaper reporter Marjie Ducey wants to interview Macy. Thorp declines for him. And now we have a story hook. Macy doesn’t want to hang out with anyone or be in the paper or anything. And we have a secondary story. Ballard worries his stepson isn’t getting the time or attention or coaching that he needs. Charlie wants his stepfather to relax already. And a third point: Macy is old for a sophomore. His grades are fine; so why is he a year behind? We readers also see Macy eating dinner with his grandparents, with no parents in view.

In a game against Tilden one of the guards cheap-shots Macy. It escalates, Milford’s guard retaliating against a Tilden linebacker. For once it’s not me losing track of names; that’s all we the readers get told. The tit-for-tat continues until Macy loses his temper. He gets a penalty and a sprained ankle. Bad for Macy, although it does give Charlie Roh the chance to play.

[ Tilden 19, Milford 14 ] Ballard: 'Almost a 5-yard average every time you touched the ball. Good work!' Roh: 'Thanks, Chet. But I didn't get that lats foot when we needed it.' [ While nearby ] Macy's Grandfather: 'I have to ask: were you situationally mad out there, or blowtop mad?'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 10th of October, 2019. “Almost a five-yard average” … oh no, this is going to end with Ballard turning into a hardcore sports stats nerd, isn’t it? Get out of there, Charlie! Go somewhere they just play!

Macy’s grandfather asks Chance whether he was “situationally mad” or “blowtop mad”. He says he was “cheap-shot-from-loudmouth mad”. Ballard, overhearing, wonders what the heck “blowtop mad” means. I share his confusion. There’s an obvious inference, at least. But Gil Thorp just did an “uncontrollable temper” story with the Barry Bader story in spring 2018. They couldn’t be doing that again right away, right? And where are Macy’s parents? Both Tiki Jansen stories were about him not living where he “should”; the strip can’t be doing a third iteration of that, can they?

Ballard asks Charlie what he knows about Macy. He knows only what we readers do. Macy’s fast. Didn’t go to the party. Oh, one more thing. Charlie would swear they were in second grade together but now he’s a grade behind. Ballard suspects Coach Thorp is up to something. And, worse, cheating his stepson of playing time to do it. That Charlie’s developing quite well now that he has some playing time helps Ballard feel suspicious. Finally, Ballard concludes, he’s on the school board. Therefore he has the right to hack into Neal Rubin’s writing notes and figure out what everybody’s deal is.

And that’s where we’ve gotten. There’s probably around a month left before we get out of football season and into basketball. I’ll give you updates as events warrant.

Milford Schools Watch

Here’s the towns or schools that Milford’s been named as playing the last several months.

Next Week!

Has yet another time jump gotten us out of having to deal with Norton? surely not, but we’ll check in on
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker anyway, in one week,
unless something commands my attention more. You know, like how in Francesco Marciuliano and Jim Keefe’s Sally Forth their house has demons and stuff. Thanks for reading.

Statistics Saturday: The Humor of Benjamin Franklin


Witty observation of human folly; small slice. Ok, a recap for the people in back; small slice. This is some more words then; bigger slice. Oh, it's a whole homily. Well, then; bigger slice. Gosh who knew you had another heap of words; enormous slice.
Here I go again, boldly taking on people who even as you read this you remember much better than you ever will me.

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

Two fast thoughts about the new Elvira’s House of Horrors pinball game


So, first, I finished my first game with 69 million and I just feel like Elvira should have acknowledged that fact.

Second, autocomplete really wants me to be writing about Elvira’s House of Parliament and I think that all my United Kingdom, Canada, and Australian readers strongly agree.

How To Clean The Window, Or Why


Eventually many people figure they ought to clean the windows. Many of us are people. Therefore we conclude that many of us are people putting off cleaning the windows. We can justify this. Time we spend not cleaning the windows is time we spend on higher-priority tasks like not dusting the shelves or not sweeping the stairs. But let’s save the procrastination for later, when it will be more fresh.

When is a bad time to clean the window? Well, the middle of the night, obviously. You’ll just alarm the neighbors if you do it then. The middle of the night is for lying awake cursing out every decision you’ve made, unless that should be laying. At one point I was sure which one to use. Now I’m too tired to remember or check. I blame giving in to temptation and washing off the mirror at 4:35 this morning. I should have been thinking about that e-mail I ignored a year ago August.

It’s also bad to clean a window that’s already clean. You insult the legacy of window-cleaners if you try. You can tell a window is clean if a silent comedy-movie star like Harold Lloyd wipes a handkerchief on the window, gives you a puckish smile, and then steps through the window which was not actually there. This may seem a difficult test to apply. “What if my house is old enough the windows are divided by those charming little wooden slats, the grunions or something they’re called?” is a reasonable question. Those little slats dividing your window into many littler windows is called a munyun or something. But if your window is divided like that, you need to test with a smaller comedy-movie star, like maybe Ben Turpin.

So let’s suppose you have a dirty window and it is a good time to clean. Now is not the time to wonder how it got dirty. Like, who’s going around doing things to dirty it? Is it the cat going up to the window and licking it? What cat? Who entered a cat into the discussion here? Maybe it was a roommate licking the window? Maybe it’s the solar wind. There’s no way of knowing. The answer is probably just horrible.

Water is a great tool for cleaning windows. Water’s like that. It gets a bit smug about how it’s great for cleaning all kinds of things. Just deal with it. Anyway this explains why the cleanest of all possible windows are in aquariums. They’re surrounded by water, on one side at least, and so constantly wash off the mess made by licking fish. But there are problems in converting your house to be an aquarium. It’s very inconvenient to have newspapers or sandwiches. Newspapers we can replace with online sources, if we only read two articles each month. Sandwiches are harder to do without, unless you get that extremely dry, crust-heavy bread. Maybe try making your house into an aquarium only after lunch.

If your water seems to smug to deal with then use some glass cleaner. This is made with ammonia, which is a different language from water so you can pretend you don’t know that it’s smug too. Just smear the cleaner on and then smear the cleaner off and somehow you’ve left something cleaner behind. This seems like a logic puzzle. The answer is “man”.

The question is what to smear the cleaner with. At one time we used newspapers, because we were told newspapers were very good at this, by the newspapers. Unfortunately the shrinking size and frequency of newspapers means we can’t use them to clean windows. There’s not enough paper and what there is costs like $27.25. So we might use paper towels instead, which have more boring crossword puzzles. If you’d rather use a non-paper towel, go ahead. I recommend something made of a cloth, as towels made of wood bark or stones make a terrible racket.

Once you’ve finished cleaning the windows, stop, and try not to go back around to starting again. It would be very embarrassing to clean a window so diligently that it was all gone, as this leaves you with a large expanse of blank wall that needs some kind of decoration. Maybe a picture of what’s on the other side of the wall. Something that’s easy to clean, anyway.

I May Have Finished Exploring Trivial Quirks of Language


But were you aware that professional historians writing about ancient Paris by convention dub the long-ago state of the urban area as “Parwas”? It’s totally true.

(I appreciate your seeing me do as promised last week, when I hypothesized the existence of a verb tense making the word “swang”. Theory bears out: Dictionary.com attests this as a chiefly Scottish and North England past tense of “swing”. So I may just have to close up shop now that I’ve done so well. Or maybe not. Because I do need to explore why my spell checker is letting me get away with “trange”. Why does it allow “trange” as a word? This spell checker is already useless in helping me spell “Cincinnati”; why is it giving obviously wrong passes to stuff like this? We’ll explore that next week.)

Popeye: so why is this cartoon called Mississippi Sissy anyway?


For this week? It’s another 1960 Jack Kinney cartoon, Mississippi Sissy. I don’t care for the title, but only the “Mississippi” part has anything to do with the cartoon. Fun title card, too.

I’ve said how the original Thimble Theatre premise was that these characters were actors, who’d take on the role that fits the story. This faded out of the comic strip as it became a comic-adventure, even before Popeye came in to take it over. We had some trace of that in the cartoons, which were always comfortable starting with Popeye, Bluto, and Olive Oyl in different settings and different relationships. Mississippi Sissy embraces this. Popeye, Olive Oyl, Bluto, and Wimpy are all in and playing parts in a riverboat melodrama. It all fits together well.

So we start out with Popeye strumming a banjo and narrating a story. I think he’s supposed to be singing it? That he starts with a rhyming couplet suggests that. But if he is supposed to sing nobody told Jack Mercer that. Or nobody had at least a temp track for the music to be. It’s usually a flaw in the cartoon if the viewer can’t tell whether something core is being done on purpose.

There’s a sloppiness to the whole cartoon. Of course there is. They didn’t have the time or budget to be careful. There’s plenty of animation glitches this cartoon, moments where Popeye’s pipe ends not particularly near his face, or where a character grabs something that isn’t near their hands or whatever. But here, it feels more like the cartoon is casual and relaxed about its business. I suppose that’s because I’m already enjoying the cartoon. You don’t complain about the mistakes in something that’s entertaining you.

Popeye at the cabin door. An angry Wimpy is holding a revolver at him while Olive Oyl holds Wimpy back.
I suppose it’s also weird to cast Wimpy as a person who’s done a thing and who, for that matter, is owed something. But again, who are you going to go with? Geezil would make character sense but … You know, there are reasons that Hy Eisman has ignored Geezil in his run of the Popeye comic strip. I’m not saying that you can’t use him, but I am saying, you want to go in more carefully than they were probably able to do in the 60s.

And there’s good stuff too. Particularly I’m impressed that the animation has Olive Oyl and Bluto drawn in perspective, rounding a corner. That’s more work than the usual trot from one side of the screen to the other. It’s clearly paid for by things like Olive Oyl holding the envelope noticeably in front of her mouth to speak, and that’s fine. It’s good priorities. No normal person will notice a scene of talking about a letter, however good the animation on it is. They will notice a good complex line of action as the camera zooms in. There’s also a nice bit where Popeye is pulling Olive Oyl out of the river, running up the anchor chain, and he pulls up the chain behind him. It would have been very easy to just have him run up the chain; lifting it as he moves make the cartoon look better.

There was an interesting design choice in making the story a riverboat melodrama. Who among the kid audience would know what was being spoofed? Heck, who as an adult would know that? What riverboat melodramas have you seen? Maybe your high school production of Show Boat, if that counts, and what? It’s a genre that exists entirely in parody, as best I can tell. (Periodic reminder that silent movie villains did not tie women to railroad tracks.) It doesn’t matter. The Popeye characters are cast well enough that the character types they represent are clear. Well, Wimpy as Olive Oyl’s father is a bit weird. But any choice for Olive Oyl’s father is going to be weird, unless you get into the obscure Thimble Theatre characters like, uh, her father Cole Oyl.

That the characters are playing to archetypes, even if we maybe don’t know what they are, does well at excusing the action. Taken literally, there’s no good reason for how Olive Oyl keeps changing her mind over whether Popeye should take the letter. Maybe in the kinds of story being spoofed here there’d be reasons for her to change her mind. Doesn’t matter. Fickleness is built into Olive Oyl’s character, as is Popeye’s willingness to put up with her nonsense.

It all comes together unreasonably well. It’s made one of the best of the 60s series that I’ve looked seriously at.

What’s Going On In Rex Morgan, M.D.? Why is the mob after Rene Belluso? July – October 2019


Thanks for being here, readers of Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D.. This recap should get you in touch with the story as it exists in mid-October 2019. If you’re reading this after about January 2020 I probably have a more up-to-date recap at this link. That might be what you need instead.

On my other blog I read the comic strips for their mathematical content. You might find that fun too.

Rex Morgan, M.D..

22 July – 13 October 2019.

Rex Morgan, M.D., was going to face down Serena Galexia, center figure of the Celestial Healing movement. This on behalf of Lana Lewton. Lana’s husband Merle has gone all in for Galexia’s spiritual healing of chemtrail toxins. The process costs only all the cash he can get. Galexia is holding an in-person seminar, in town, right soon. Merle wants Lana to attend. Lana wants Rex to come so he can write up a thoughtful rebuttal for Skeptical Inquirer.

Angie: 'The meeting room is looking good, Rene. Er. Brother Almonzo.' Rene: 'Thanks - MISS GALEXIA. I want it to be just right. We're going to make a lot of dough here.' Angie: 'I hope so. I want to pay off my student loans. Who'd think art school would cost so much?'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 2nd of August, 2019. Who’d think art school would cost so much? Well, anybody who’s bought any art supply, ever. I mean, just buying an eraser the size of your thumb will set you back like 25 bucks. A Strathmore 400-series 100-sheet sketchpad? That’ll run you up to $280. Want to do digital? The free drawing programs cost $2200 each. In short, if you ever commission someone to do a picture for you, tip them like 5000% of their ask price, okay?

Everyone’s excited for the show over at Galexia Sanctuary Master Command. It’s a smaller operation than you might imagine. Serena Galexia herself is someone name of Angie. She’s the public face. The mastermind of the operation is Brother Almonzo. Or, as he’s known to the strip, Rene Belluso.


We last saw Belluso about two years ago. He was forging 50s comics art “Horrible” Hank Harwood pages as part of a scheme to break up Buck Harwood and his girlfriend Mindy. Before that, Belluso had last been a regular player in the strip from 2014 to 2016. Belluso was introduced by the former writer, Woody Wilson.

The last few years of Wilson’s writing saw a lot of people finding reasons to throw incredible good fortune at Rex Morgan and family. In particular, young Sarah Morgan turned out to be an artistic prodigy. A local mob widow took an interest in her, and sponsored art lessons. Her tutor: Rene Belluso. When Terry Beatty took over writing much of the over-the-top stuff got dialed down. Sarah Morgan’s artistic super-geniusnessocity, for example, got wiped out by a car accident that gave her Soap Opera Amnesia. She forgot a year of her life and how to draw.

[ Rene has exited the studio via the fire escape ] Mobster 1: 'Mr Belluso isn't here?' Kelly: 'No --- we don't know where he went.' Sophie: 'What'cha lookin' for him for?' Mobster 1: 'Oh, Mr Belluso was supposed to collect some artifacts for me on a recent trip to Moscow, but it seems he never made the trip.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 25th of July, 2016. I bet this guy is upset he didn’t hire Boss, Jefe, and Juanito over from off of Mark Trail.

On the way to this, one of Sarah’s painting lessons got interrupted. Two rather grim-looking men pulled up in a car, and that freaked Belluso way the heck out. He apologized, said Sarah might not ever see him again, pulled off his wig, and bugged out of the strip for a while. The men told Sarah and her babysitter Kelly that Belluso had pocketed the money given him to buy some stuff in Russia. This was one of the final straws before June and Rex Morgan pulled Sarah out of the mob widow’s sphere.

And once again I owe Mark Carlson-Ghost’s web site, listing appearances of characters in Rex Morgan, M.D., gratitude.. I’d earlier used another page on the site to work out the deal with Norton in Judge Parker. Thanks to Carlson-Ghost’s work I was able to track down just what was Rene Belluso’s deal.


Back to this year. Rene Belluso’s new scam is this health-scam marketing business. They’ve got the meeting room, they’ve got the merch, they’ve got a good twenty people signed up for the seminar. What could go wrong? Well, Rex Morgan could recognize Belluso right away and reveal who he is to the whole crowd. But, on entering, Rex thinks there’s something familiar about Brother Almonzo, but can’t place it. So, no problems then, right?

Galexia: 'Dear fellow travelers in this earthly realm, I have come to bring you the celestial truth. My spirit guides will speak to you this very day. Chiron and Ninazu --- whose portraits you see here, painted by my faithful servant Brother Almonzo --- will speak from beyond the veil!' Rex, thinking: 'PAINTED by Brother Almonzo? I thought that voice sounded familiar!'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 9th of August, 2019. “And afterwards, we’re going off to the southwest to help Savior Z keep those alien invaders off on the other side of the Moon, where it’s safe!

But then Angie Serena Galexia mentions how Brother Almonzo painted portraits of her spirit guides, Chiro and Ninazu. That’s the clue he needed. Morgan steps over to the side and demands — he’s not sure what exactly. But Belluso is happy to refund Merle’s money, that’s doable. Rex declares no, he’s going to shut this down. Belluso makes an offer. He could give kickbacks if Morgan referred hypochondriacs their way. Morgan has a counter-offer. He won’t tell Belluso’s mobster pals where Belluso is if he leaves town and never returns. Now. Belluso takes the deal.

Merle: 'What's going on here? Why are you calling each other Angie and Rene?' Rene/Almonzo: 'Nothing to be concerned with, sir. Please make your way to the exit.' Merle: 'This isn't right. Something's up here. Are you two even the real Galexia and Almonzo?' Lana: 'Honey, don't you get it? There IS no real Galexia and Almonzo. These two are complete phonies.' Merle: 'But there HAS to be. On the podcast and the phone ... they ... I ... I don't get it.' Rene: 'I assure you all is well, dear friends, we simply must call an end to today's meeting.' Angie/Galexia: 'But if we don't sell all that merch, where am I gonna get the money to pay my student loan?' Merle buries his head in his hands. Lana says, 'Would now be a good time for Dr Morgan to tell you my blood test showed no sign of 'chemtrail poisoning'?'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 18th of August, 2019. So, little tip for anyone running their own confidence scam: ahead of time, work up a vague yet plausible-sounding reason to shut down a meeting early. Maybe say a carbon monoxide alarm went off in the building and they want to be safe for everyone. Maybe that Galexia’s vague relative has had an emergency. Maybe something on-theme, like there’s been a sudden flutter in the vril levels and Galexia has to commune with Chiron and Ninazu right now. Belluso might be well-advised to take an improv class before trying performance scams like this next time.

Brother Almonzo shuts down the seminar. And her calls Galexia “Angie”. Galexia calls him “Rene” back. Merle starts suspecting something is wrong. So do other followers. You know, the way people will when something weird embarrasses someone they’ve given lots of time and thousands of dollars to. Merle pulls of Belluso’s fake beard and wig. He and Angie flee into the night.

Merle admits that yeah, he fell for an incredibly obvious scam, he’s sorry. Lana admits that yeah, Merle felle for an incredibly obvious scam. Also she’s going to grab some bath salts and candles from the merch table because, what the heck. They’re owed it.

Rex goes home and recaps the story for June. So if you wanted to you could just read the week from the 1st of September and skip this whole essay. Sorry to take up so much of your time.


With a phone call on the 6th of September the new story begins. Yes, it’s the rare midweek segue. It’s Buck Wise, reporting, “It’s time.” He and Mindy are going to the hospital.

So yeah, that was a surprise. Who knew the characters in a story comic could have sex? And in a subplot? I mean, when June was pregnant she was carrying for like 27 months and I don’t think that’s even my exaggeration.

Mindy: 'Well, it turns out my health issues won't keep me from having kids after all.' Buck: 'Really? They found some treatment or something?' Mindy: 'Not so much that. More like sometimes something that only has a slim chance of happening --- happens.' Buck: 'Wait a minute. Are you telling me what I think you're telling me?'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 18th of September, 2019. It’s so funny to see Buck thinking that someone might have found a treatment that cures a medical condition. Hasn’t he caught on how that’s not revenue-effective anymore? Anyway, I do like how he’s confused and picks this all up slowly, in part because Mindy has been so indirect in giving the news.

But from that point we’ve been in flashbacks. First, Mindy having a lingering heartburn. She turns to the Morgan Clinic for medical help. June diagnoses pregnancy. Mindy didn’t think that possible, because of her polycystic ovarian syndrome. But June explains that only makes pregnancy extremely unlikely, which isn’t the same thing as impossible.

Moving forward a bit. While going out to dinner, Mindy trips and falls down the front steps. Well, if you’re going to love Buck, you’re going to fall down steps. I don’t make the rules. The emergency room says Mindy is fine, and the baby is fine, but they should get several weeks of bed rest anyway. Mindy’s reasonable question: why?

[ Mindy's time on bed rest is almost over. ] Mindy: 'I hope the doctor will give baby and me a clean bill of health.' Buck: 'Likewise. I know it's been difficult.' Mindy: 'You'd think lying in bed all day woud be a treat, until you have to do it.' Buck: 'You made a big dent in your 'to be read someday' books, though.' Mindy: 'True, and I caught up on all those TV series everyone but me seems to have seen already. And Corey taught me how to win at that Retro Cartoon Video Game you like, so next time we play, look out.' Buck: 'No time like the present. Shall we see who's the better player?' Mindy: 'Oh, you're ON, pal.' Buck: 'Let the cartoon begin!'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 13th of October, 2019. So, as ever, I like depictions of married couples who just like hanging out with each other. It’s hard to figure why you’d want to marry someone you didn’t like just being around. Distracting me, though, is the vagueness of Mindy’s interests. To talk about a pile of ‘to be read someday’ books is fine; that’s how normal people will talk about games. And ‘tv series everyone else but me seems to have seen already’? Also fine. Earlier in the storyline she referred to her DVR backlog shows as ‘Zombies, Women in Prison, or Kids Battling Interdimensional Monsters’. That’s genericized, but in a wryly self-snarking way that feels natural to me, like when I describe podcast genres as “three white guys laughing at each other” or “one guy trying to remember the things he wrote down in the notes he doesn’t have”. But. “that Retro Cartoon Video Game”? No, that’s too far. Pick an actual game, or make it “those retro cartoon video games”, or make up something that sounds like it might’ve been a game. Don’t do that Herb and Jamaal stuff.

The ultrasound showed a very small tear in the placenta, which should heal on its own, but they’re cautious. Fair enough. The strip since then has been Mindy trying to actually get bed rest. It’s a tough prescription to get, because nobody believes how fatiguing that is.

And that’s where the story is right now: in the flashbacks of Mindy getting bedrest, while she’s actually getting to the hospital. Everything seems all right despite the mishaps. But I have no information on whether that’s a fake-out ahead of a suspenseful delivery scene or what. You’ll have to check whatever the successor essay to this one is to know. Or just read the comic, that also works.

Next Week!

Will Hadley V Baxendale’s father accept her choice in fiancée, even though he’s an up-and-coming NBA player who’s not even playing for the Bulls? Will true love be able to handle both partners in a relationship being successful professionals? Will Mary Worth come in and throw muffins at Neal Rubin and Rod Whigam for poaching her business? We’ll see in a week, with the Gil Thorp plot recap, barring surprises. And at this link I’ll have recaps or news about all of the story comics that I cover. Thanks for reading.

Notice From The Nostalgia Bureau


It’s looking like it’ll be in the 70s all weekend. It’ll creep up into the 80s on Monday, but then it’s going to drop into the 50s and stay there the rest of the week. So you might want to look at getting your poodle skirts out of the attic since there’ll be plenty of chance to wear them. And that’s your time forecast for the week ahead.

Selections from the October Catalogue


Emotion-Sensitive Switches. It’s fine having the lights come on or go out depending on whether the room is moving. But what if you want the lights to stay on even when you’re just puttering around in place? Or you want the lights to go out because it’s really important to be sneaking up on the cat? Emotion-Sensitive Switches allow for electric control tuned to various moods, including: cheer, frustration, the nagging sensation you left the car trunk open, overwhelmedness, feeling just how much butter is “too much” butter, and the joy of finding a twenty-dollar bill you forgot existed.

Contact Information. If we know anything about the recent system update, it’s that it has made something worse. Not a major thing. Some tiny, little thing you didn’t even realize used to happen until now it doesn’t. Somebody decided to change that. Someone broke that. For a reasonable fee, you can find out who! And how to get in touch with them! And when to show up at their home to get an explanation. (Author’s note: I’ve already ordered this, selecting for me the person who decided that when I paste a URL in Safari’s address bar and hit return, the web browser reloads the previous page and deletes the URL I just posted in. That’s such an innovative way to just screw things up!)

Dog Flume Ride. This exciting amusement park ride comes home to you, in form convenient to assemble requiring no more than ordinary personal welding equipment. It’s worth it as you settle into the car, float your way forward to the lift hill, and at the top are set upon by a pack of enthusiastic Labrador retrievers and licked all over. Also available in golden retriever, water spaniel, mastiff, were-poodle, and non-vampire beagle.

New Roman Numerals. The Roman system of using popular letters for numbers and having rules about adding and maybe sometimes subtracting them was fun, but it doesn’t begin to handle all the complexities of mathematics since the discovery of multiple-entry bookkeeping. With highly original numerals we can handle digits the Romans never dreamed of, like 75,000, as well as negative numbers, decimals, and transfinite quantities. Finally the Praetor can work on his MA!

Inaccurate Lyrics. What’s more annoying than finding a tune stuck in your head? Not being able to get it out, certainly, but another annoying thing is not knowing what the lyrics to your song are. This leaves an unresolved, semi-complete tune wending its way hopelessly through your mind drowning out all thought. Thus the solution: given the tune, get lyrics that have nothing to do with the original song but will surely match well enough that you can’t get the tune or the new lyrics out again. This will help you more rapidly go mad. It’s also a particularly efficient way to lose the friendship of people who really know and love the song.

Special, Improved Hours. Nobody gets enough sleep anymore, not since the exciting example set by Napoleon Bonaparte, for whom it got him exiled to a desolate island in the South Atlantic Ocean. If you want to avoid that fate you’ll need to cut back your policy of invading every European nation real and imaginary, yes, but you’ll also need more time to sleep. Yet it’s almost impossible to find more hours for sleeping. The solution? Hours with more minutes in them. You may only be able to sleep from 1 am to 6 am, but if each of those hours has upwards of a hundred minutes in it, isn’t that just as good as sleeping over eight hours a day? Sure it is. Don’t worry about what happens to the seconds. Warning: do not get up in the middle of the night to pee.

Self-Propelled Halloween Countdown Calendar. It’s great tracking how long we have until Halloween sets in. But isn’t it better to have the holiday track itself down? Thus this calendar, which will zip around the house letting you know how many days it is until the end of October. Go ahead and try to catch it! Also available in Thanksgiving, Easter, and New Jersey Big Sea Day editions.

From the Institute of Theoretical English


The change of vowel from swing to swung implies the existence of a tense in which the verb becomes “swang”.

(Thanks for seeing me do what I promised last week, when we explored the meaning of “grueling”. Please stop in next week as I reveal that historians writing about ancient Paris name the long-ago urban area as “Parwas”.)

Popeye in Caves


The next of this block of 60s King Features Syndicate Popeye cartoons is Caveman Capers. It’s produced by the Larry Harmon studios. So, you know, names like Hal Sutherland and Lou Scheimer who’d go on to give us Filmation. Going into the cartoon from that, I expected, if nothing else, all the characters to be faintly angular, and to move like they’re in a Flash web cartoon from about ten years ago. Let’s watch.

I would swear there are other Popeye-as-caveman cartoons out there. I’m not invested strongly enough in the question to look them up. But there’s a long record of caveman jokes in cartoon (and live-action movie) history. And, what the heck, we might as well try Popeye out in that setting. At minimum it gives us different props that he can play with.

We get a framing device on the action. I’m not sure why. Maybe they didn’t want to waste having designed a Popeye who’s squatting on legs one-third the length of his arms. Having a frame like this lets the cartoon paper over any gaps in the plot. But the cartoon doesn’t use that power.

Popeye squatting next to Olive Oyl and behind a picnic blanket. Popeye's legs are quite short.
Also, there’s three hamburgers, but only one slice of cake? Was Popeye guessing how many people would be on this picnic?

I so dislike Popeye explaining how Prehistorical Olive “was a striking beauty, so grandpappy struck her, as was the custom in that day”. I know the premise is just a stock Caveman Settings joke. That doesn’t mean I have to like it. I was thinking about skipping this cartoon altogether. Still not sure I shouldn’t have skipped it anyway. I guess Prehistorical Olive reacting like Krazy Kat hit with a brick makes it less bad. Her putting up with this a while and then telling Popeye and BlutoBrutus to settle this like gentlemen and fight it out makes it more silly.

What I do like here is the color scheme. The world is green- and blue-tinted, while the characters are a clear bright tan. It reads pretty well in color. I imagine it also looked good on black-and-white televisions. I also like Popeye hanging out with a dinosaur; it has a nice Alley Oop vibe. I’m a bit surprised they didn’t try making a Eugene-the-Jeep dinosaur. They can’t have thought that would confuse the premise too much, with kids expecting a Jeep dinosaur to be doing magic tricks or something, could they?

There’s some dialogue I like. Prehistorical Popeye asking BlutoBrutus when it’ll be his turn to hit and getting the answer “not yet”. Prehistorical Popeye declaring that he’s gonna “call this stuff spinach, cause it looks like spinach”.

There’s a nice little fight cloud between Popeye and BlutoBrutus at about 5:02. It looks to me like the same fight cloud from when Popeye fought Irving. But this requires redressing Popeye and drawing BlutoBrutus in place of the robot monster. Which is worth it, surely. Once you have the motion traced out for a Popeye-versus-big-bruiser fight cloud just painting in different clothes isn’t too much work. I’m sue that as a kid I’d never have noticed that, though.

I suspect they had no idea how to close this cartoon.

So How Are My Many Compulsions Looking These Days?


I’m happy to say I’m handling my tendency toward compulsive behavior well. Why, I realized this week that I don’t even have a designated spot to put my chapstick down, so it could be on any of three sides of my wallet when I set my pocket contents down on the table. Obviously one side is unavailable lest it roll off the table. But, like, here I am, not even caring whether I’d be able to find it in the dark just by its relative orientation compared to my wallet! That’s exactly the sort of thinking that people do!

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Sundays)? How did The Phantom not die from getting stabbed in the heart? July – October 2019


Hi, folks who want to know how The Phantom is rescuing Kadia’s mother. That’s the weekday continuity. This essay is about Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s Sunday continuity for The Phantom. The weekday continuity recap I should have in about mid-November, at this link. Also at this link, after about January 2020, should be a later Sunday continuity recap. Thanks for reading.

The Phantom (Sundays).

14 July – 6 October 2019.

The Avari people live in the Misty Mountains. Theirs is another totalitarian state next to Bangalla. Rough neighborhood. The Khagan and a squadron of her warriors entered Bangalla, abducting an Avari dissident. The Phantom goes to do something about this. He’s encountered the Khagan before. Been captured and escaped and all that. The Phantom strides into the camp tent where the Khagan and her guards hold the dissident. He gives the Khagan a talking-to about the rule of law and democracy and all. She gives him a dagger into the heart.

[ Time to leave the Khagan's tent ] Phantom; 'This misadventure in kidnapping can serve you and your entire realm, Khagan, if you take the right lesson. Establish relations with Bangalla, a democracy! As you have with Baronkhan, a constitutional monarchy. See what you can learn from both. Don't be frightened. We're leaving.' (The Khagan lifts something from its scabbard.) Khagan: 'I wish to learn this, Phantom. Walker. Man who cannot die.' (She throws a dagger into his heart.) '*Can* you?'
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s Mary Worth for the 21st of July, 2019. So I guess there were still some rough patches in Tony DePaul’s new contract with King Features after all.

So that’s a bit of a surprise.

The Khagan takes her retinue, and her prisoner, and tromps back to the Avari lands. Meanwhile the Phantom lies there trying to work out what exactly it is he’s doing not being dead. This is a good question. He notes himself that if he were impaled by a knife big enough for that holster he’d be dead long ago. Instead, this? It’s not a knife; it’s a barbed thingy for injecting a paralyzing drug. The Khagan has a history of poisoning people, such as her brother, and drugging them. All right. He concludes that the Khagan wanted to be overheard giving her gloating speech. One about how The Phantom, if he’d been wise, would have become her consort and ruled the Avari in front of her.

So that’s some motivation, all right. Well, the Phantom puts on the backup purple stripey-pants suit he keeps for just such an emergency. He leaves the torn and bloodied one for the vultures.

Next night, the Phantom sneaks into the camp. He tries “quietly” this time. He unties the kidnapped dissident and we finally getting us a name for her. It’s Clotilde. He sends Clotilde to wait by the horses for their dramatic escape. He’s going for a non-dramatic escape, this time. He goes off to slice up the Avari’s riding tack. Clotilde … goes. Yes. But she notices some of the Avari warriors whom The Phantom tied to a tree. And she, having fought for a free Avari for so long … She takes a sword and she readies to kill them.

[ As The Phantom sabotages the Avaris' riding tack ... ] Clothilde sees two Avari warriors bound and gagged. She thinks: 'The guards he silenced! The ones who've so tormented me!!' [ With her abusers at her feet ] She flashes back to terror and torture at the Secret Police's hands. [ A warlike spirit overtakes the freedom fighter Clothilde as well! ] She takes out a sword and holds it over her head, while thinking: 'Sworn enemies of freedom!! T-think of them as *that*! Vermin!! N-not even human!!'
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s Mary Worth for the 29th of September, 2019. The Avari were introduced in a 2009-2010 Sunday continuity story. The Phantom Wiki says the land is from descendents of the Pannonian Avars, who’d lived around what is now the Balkans from about the 6th through 9th centuries. I don’t know if that was established in the canon or whether that’s drawing from statements by either Tony DePaul or Team Fantomen, who produce the Swedish comic book continuity and seem to have used this land at least once.

The Phantom stops Clotilde. His argument is don’t let the enemy turn you into them. Good advice. They sneak out.

This is where we’ve gotten. The only real downside of these Sunday-only continuities is when I do list the events like this, they come out about 100 words long. That’s all right. I can write short, sometimes, I tell myself.

Next Week!

On the one side, a man and woman make vague promises of good health while not providing any actual medical care! On the other side, an art forger and his intern are deploying Celestial Healing against “toxins”. It’s Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D., in one week, unless something comes up.

Statistics Saturday: Unhealthiest Cookies, According To Nutritionists


  • Lady Middle Fingers
  • Quicksandwich cookies
  • Bleak-and-white cookies
  • Laser biscotti
  • Oatmeal/rusty-nail cookies
  • Gingerdead
  • Antimatter macaroons
  • Southern Pecan Mouth-Sealer
  • Anhydrous pfeffernüsse
  • Mega-Shrapnel Oreo
  • Linzer Taipan
  • Dynamite-and-custard cream

Reference: Einstein’s Clocks, Poincaré’s Maps, Peter Galison

Statistics September: People Want To Know What Funky Winkerbean, Judge Parker’s Issues Are


Good news, everyone. I’ve been keeping up spreadsheets, just like last month. So I am really well set up to look over what was popular around here in September, and to learn absolutely nothing about it.

September 2019 was, it appears, the second-best-read month I have ever had around here. Certainly the best-read month since the final collapse of Apartment 3-G. I don’t know how I’ll feel if I ever do cross the readership threshold from that month I briefly caught the attention of The Onion A.V. Club. It would be all right, though. Getting somewhere near that readership every month is more soothing to the part of me that wants to be popular.

There were 4,094 pages viewed around here in September. This is substantially above even the twelve-month running average of 3,229.1 page views. Unique readers were more abundant too. There were 2,293 logged unique viewers in September. The twelve-month running average was 1,837.9. These numbers, of course, do not and cannot count people using the RSS feed to get essays. So that all feels nice and popular.

Bar chart of monthly readership figures from February 2014 to September 2019. It's been rising each of the last several months and is above 4,000 again.
In that November 2015 Apartment 3-G surge I recorded 2,308 unique visitors, so September 2019 fell just short of that figure too. But then in April 2019 there were 2,418 unique visitors anyway and I don’t remember if I noticed that at the time.

The other side of popularity, of course, is that I’m afraid of interacting with people and would rather not do it if possible. And here, too, September delivered. There were 120 things liked in September. (This isn’t necessarily stuff posted in September, although recent posts tend to be more often liked than stuff in the archives.) That’s well below the twelve-month running average of 159.5. And there were 19 comments received in September, way down from the twelve-month running average of 38.3. Also I don’t know how my twelve-month average can be nearly forty comments per month. I guess it looks like the end of 2018 was chatty is all.

The per-posting averages show the same trends. There were 136.5 views per posting in September, compared to a running average of 106.0. There were 76.4 visitors per posting, compared to a running average of 60.4. 4.0 likes per posting, compared to the running average of 5.3. 0.6 comments per posting, down from the running average of 1.3. If I didn’t just somehow have something every day those per-posting averages might be funny or weird or different.


460 different posts, other than my home page, got any page views in September. 166 of them got only a single page view, which is all right. For some of those that was too big a readership. The most popular postings were, as usual, comic strip reports:

The piece about Richard Thompson was some thoughts written after he died. Thompson’s Cul de Sac was such a fantastic comic strip, the best of this century so far. It’s in eternal reruns on GoComics and worth reading.

This is also a good moment to reiterate a content warning about Funky Winkerbean. That comic is in the midst of a story including a character’s suicide. If that’s not stuff you need in your recreational reading, be advised. I’ll post a note when the storyline’s concluded.

The most-read of my original long-form essays, the things that I foolishly once thought would be the center of this blog, was October 2018’s Everything There Is To Say In Explaining How Computer Graphics Work. I don’t know. I would have thought at least one of that road trip series I’ve been doing would be the best-read. It’s certainly been getting a great number of likes, compared to my average posts.


73 countries sent me at least one reader in September. 13 of them sent me a single reader. In August that had been 74 countries and 14 single-reader countries. I assume this means that some country which existed in August has just evaporated. It’s the only answer that makes sense. Anyway, here’s the roster of what countries in the world are left:

Mercator-style map of the world with the United States in the darkest red, most of the rest of the Americas, Western Europe, Australia, and South Asia in lighter red. Curiously lacking in visitors: the Baltic states.
As ever I’m surprised to have so many readers from India or, really, considering how provincial I am in what I write about, any readers who aren’t from New Jersey or from Michigan’s lower peninsula.
Country Readers
United States 3,117
India 231
Canada 84
United Kingdom 70
Australia 55
Philippines 54
Sweden 37
Germany 32
Romania 32
France 28
Brazil 27
Italy 27
El Salvador 26
Mexico 25
Spain 22
South Africa 12
Kenya 11
Portugal 11
Serbia 9
Morocco 8
Netherlands 8
Belgium 7
Norway 7
Poland 7
South Korea 7
Austria 6
China 6
Jamaica 6
Thailand 6
Argentina 5
Ireland 5
Singapore 5
Switzerland 5
Turkey 5
Bangladesh 4
Egypt 4
European Union 4
Finland 4
Greece 4
Indonesia 4
Japan 4
New Zealand 4
Russia 4
Saudi Arabia 4
Taiwan 4
Colombia 3
Hungary 3
Pakistan 3
United Arab Emirates 3
Croatia 2
Cyprus 2
Denmark 2
Hong Kong SAR China 2
Macedonia 2
Malaysia 2
Peru 2
Puerto Rico 2
Slovenia 2
Trinidad & Tobago 2
Zambia 2
Algeria 1
American Samoa 1
Bahamas 1
Bahrain 1
Barbados 1
Bolivia 1 (*)
Cayman Islands 1
Dominican Republic 1
Ghana 1
Nigeria 1
Qatar 1
Tunisia 1
Uruguay 1

Bolivia is the only country that was also a single-reader country the previous month. No countries are on a three-month single-reader streak. I’m surprised to have as many Hong Kong readers as I did, considering how busy things seem to be over there. On the other hand, look at the United States and how are people thinking about Funky Winkerbean against that backdrop?


My plans for the coming month? A long-form essay of about 700 words posted every Thursday evening, Eastern Time. And the usual Statistics Saturday post as long as I can think of formal structures that seem kind of joke-like. And, the important thing, What’s Going On In posts. Scheduled for the next several weeks, barring breaking news or important surprises:

The Amazing Spider-Man is still in repeats and I haven’t heard any reason to think it’s coming out anytime soon. But, what the heck, I stuck with Gasoline Alley when it was in unexplained reruns for nearly a year. I can extend Spider-Man some patience.


From the dawn of 2019 through the dawn of October 2019 I’d published 271 pieces, with a total of 157,438 words among them all. This was 16,685 words published in September. That makes for an average of 556.2 words per posting in September, up from the August 505.0 words per post. It’s also down from the 581 average words per post for the year so far.

For the whole year there’ve been 361 total comments around here for an average of 1.3 comments per post. That rate has stayed constant for four months now. There were 1,337 total likes on the year, so far, for an average of 4.9 likes per posting in 2019. That average has been dwindling down; it was 5.0 at the start of September, 5.2 at the start of August, and 5.3 at the start of July.


If you’d like to be a regular reader, thank you. You can add the blog to your WordPress reader by using the “Follow Another Blog Meanwhile” button on the upper right corner of this page. Or you can use the RSS feed, https://nebushumor.wordpress.com/feed/ in whatever reader you like. A free Livejournal or Dreamwidth account will do, for example.

While I am still officially on Twitter as @Nebusj I haven’t posted there in over a month. There’s an automated scheme from WordPress that posts announcements of new essays, for this and for my mathematics blog. But Twitter’s been timing out rather than let me connect and I haven’t had the energy to do something like try from a different web browser or anything. Sorry. I’ll say something if I ever can again, I suppose.

The Stages Of The Road Trip: Stage Five


Stage one. Before the trip.
Stage two. Getting started.
Stage three. Seeing malls and sheep.
Stage four. Trying to remember things.


OK, but is this the sheep district of the country or what because this is getting to be far too many sheep.

Dan tried to get away without calling it “Diet Pupsi” and couldn’t. But he did realize that over this trip everyone had tried, one time or other, just saying the name of it right. The implication is that everybody’s ready to let this in-joke go, but nobody wants to be the one to say it. Dan resolves to bring this up at a good moment, but hopes so very much that someone else brings it up first.

Sophie starts the practice of deliberately misreading the highway signs now. Taking “Williamsport” as the game of Williams promises some great fun, but all it really leads to is stories of times their satellite navigator had no idea how to pronounce a street name. “Malcolm the Tenth Street” is judged the best of those. There’s just not enough good towns in the area, though.

It seemed like this should be a good way to pass a few miles. But sharing the most important thing in their lives that they’ve given up correcting their parents about? Like, where it’s just too much effort to explain what’s really going on, and it’s easier to let them go about being wrong and correct people whom their parents in turn mislead? Yeah, so it turns out that for everybody it’s just “exactly what it is we do for work”. That’s weird itself. Like, you’d think for someone it would be a relationship or some important aspect of their personality or something. No, though. It’s just what everyone does in exchange for money. This seems like it says something important about modern society, but who knows?

All right, but that is definitely a two-story strip mall, putting to rest an earlier squabble.

Josh is irrationally offended by the name of the Creekside Inn Hotel, citing “redundancy”. His status is not helped when it turns out to be near the Riverfront Cemetery Memorial Park.

The historical marker turned out to be a surprisingly good stop. It’s just a note that this town was somehow too small for Lincoln’s Funeral Train to stop at, but they have this amazing picture of the train just going through town. It’s not a very good picture but for an action scene in 1865? That’s pretty amazing anyway. But the real question is how everything in town is covered in black crepe. Where did that all come from? The town isn’t anything today, and back then? It was so nothing it couldn’t even get the funeral train to stop. Why would they even have enough crepe to shroud all downtown? Or if they didn’t, where did they get it? Did they have enormous quantities of regular crepe and just dye it black all of a sudden? Amanda’s joke that maybe it was crepe of all colors and it just looks black is judged to be “too soon”. But that doesn’t answer the real question.

It’s become so tiring to read all the highway signs that the town or towns of Portage Munster are passed without comment.

Now it’s time for the search for a place to have dinner. This is a complex triangulation of where they are, how fast they’re going somewhere, and what towns of any size are going to be anywhere near dinnertime. The objective: find someplace genuinely local to go. And after fifteen minutes of searching, success! It’s a well-reviewed barcade and they even have a menu online with four vegetarian-friendly options, plus great heaping piles of fried things. And it’s been open since like 1938. It is closed today, and tomorrow, for the only two days it’s set to be closed between Easter and Thanksgiving this year.

By now the group has gotten past making up redundantly-named landmarks and is annoying Josh with oxymoronic names.

At least everyone can agree: after all this time driving, we’re all walking like badly-rigged video game models. This is what’s so good about taking a road trip. You get to enjoy everything in new and different ways.

Nobody Ask About Gruesome


You know that to describe something as “grueling” means to say it is a small monstrous creature actually made of gruel, don’t you?

(Thanks for riding with me as I do what I said I’d do last week, when I explained how “delicate” meant the negation of “licate”, meaning to handle a precious object by licking. Please stop in next week as I argue that the verb “swing” with its past tense “swung” implies we should also have a form of the word that comes out “swang”.)

Popeye and, what the heck, a Giant Bluto


I’m skipping what would’ve been the next 1960s King Features Popeye cartoon. It’s not that the cartoon is dull. The cartoon would be Azteck Wreck. It has Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Eugene the Jeep tromping around Aztec ruins looking for gold, and being menaced by Bluto Only He’s Mexican. It hits all the plot beats reasonably enough and it actually has good backgrounds. And it opens with Eugene the Jeep riding in a jeep, which seems like a joke somehow. But I don’t feel like expressing an opinion about playing Bluto as a bandito and you know what? I don’t have to.

So instead? Popeye and the Spinach-Stalk. Once again it’s produced and directed by Jack Kinney. Not sure if King Features is just front-loading Kinney for these videos or whether he’s just responsible for that many cartoons.

Jackson Beck narrates. He wasn’t just Bluto’s (main) voice actor. He was also an announcer or narrator for about 85% of old-time radio shows. There are only two things weirder than hearing Bluto’s voice setting up a story, like this one. Those two things are Beck playing super-sleuth Philo Vance on radio, and Arthur Q Bryan — the voice of Elmer Fudd — playing a cop on Richard Diamond, Private Detective. This gives you a feel for how Beck sounded whenever he narrated. (He also did the narration for the Fleischer Superman cartoons.)

The Thimble Theatre characters slot smoothly into the fairy tale. Popeye makes a decent Jack, well-meaning but easily bamboozled. Olive, the Sea Hag, and Bluto are all well-placed and Eugene is a good substitue for the Goose That Lays The Golden Eggs. I guess shifting things from Olive selling off the family cow to trying to sell pies saves the trouble of designing a cow or making the cow’s fate something to worry about. Pies are easy to draw and can be funny too. Switching out magic beans for spinach, too, makes sense.

Olive Oyl, dressed as a cook, held in a giant hand while the other hand paints glue onto her back.
Oh yeah, I remember this as the image that launched the popular DeviantArt group “Tiny Women Glued To Things”.

Where things don’t make sense are little plot holes. Like, Popeye seems to sell one pie for a can of spinach, and all right, that’s a problem. But what about the rest? The giant Bluto has captured Olive Oyl; when, and how? Yeah, it doesn’t matter. It does allow some fun business of Olive Oyl protesting she can’t play the harp, and doesn’t really sing, and that going on until Bluto agrees. Popeye-as-Jack knows Eugene the Jeep by name; how? Like, was Eugene his and Olive’s pet that Bluto also abducted? Bluto demands to know what makes Popeye so tough, but all he’s seen at that point is Popeye talking big. Told that it’s spinach, why does Bluto feed Popeye spinach? It makes sense for Bluto’s hubris to lead to his downfall, but hubris usually works better when it’s built up.

I know that as a kid I never noticed any of this. There’s not a lot of time, and it’d be dumb wasting time on questions like “why does Bluto want Olive Oyl rather than someone else to make pies?” This is probably also why they set up the premise with a quick Jackson Beck narration rather than reusing the bit of Swee’Pea asking Popeye to tell him a story. It saves a good half-minute or so.

It’s hard to film a giant, even in illustration. It’s hard to compose a scene so you can really see the size. There’s a couple of angles on Giant Bluto that work, though, a good view pointing up that makes him look large. This particularly in Bluto doing his Fee-Fi-Fo-Fan rhyme, and then later as he’s running after the escaping heroes. It’s good seeing such moments done well.