Statistics 2010s: Top Movies Featuring Racing Snails of the 2010s


  • Turbo II: First Snail On Mars (2014)
  • Turbo (2013)
  • Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole (2010)
  • Turbo 3: Crashed (2017)
  • Turbo (2018 reboot)
  • Turbo: New Kid (2019)
  • Star Trek Beyond (2016)
  • Turbo 2250: Beyond the Veil of Time (2016)
  • Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 (2015)
  • Epic (2013)
  • Turbo: The Teen Years (2016, direct-to-video prequel)
  • Turbo II 1/2: Chickipede’s Chance (2019, out-of-continuity sequel to the TV series)

Reference: The Kaiser’s Merchant Ships in World War I,, William Lowell Putnam.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Sundays)? What are Ambrose Bierce and Thomas Paine doing in The Phantom? October – December 2019


Hi, folks who want to know what the Ghost Who Walks is doing with beating up these art students in tents. That’s the weekday continuity. This plot recap is for the Sunday continuity of Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom (Sundays), current to December 2019. If you want the weekday story, or the Sunday stories after about March 2020, there’s probably a more relevant essay at this link.

The Phantom (Sundays).

6 October – 29 December 2019

The Phantom had just freed Clotilde, a refugee from the dictatorship of Avaria, last I checked in. She’d been taken by the Khagan, ruler of Avaria, and a squadron of her warriors. Avaria is one of these other unpleasant totalitarian states surrounding Bangalla. The Phantom had also just stopped her from killing Avari warriors that he’d bound and gagged. His reasoning’s that the liberation of Avari can’t be done through war crimes. Good goal. They take one of the horses and flee.

The Khagan discovers the escape. Also that all the Avari’s remaining saddles are broken, limiting their ability to pursue. They wait out the pursuers. Eventually, though … only two return to the Khagan’s camp. The rest just … hang around. The Phantom approaches. They explain the Khagan will execute them if Clotilde makes good her escape. So, given that, they’d just as soon not go back. The Phantom takes them to Bangallan President Lamanda. He’ll take them in, despite the risk of the Khagan seeking revenge.

[ Avarian warriors renounce their allegiance to the Khagan. The Khagan learns her warriors have deserted her, all but two ... ] Khagan: 'TREASON!!!' [ Near Waitaan ] Lamanda: 'So this Khagan, she'll want revenge?' Phantom; 'Count on it, Mr President. She won't take kindlyl to you sheltering the rebels of the Free Avar Front! I'll leave you to it!'
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 3rd of November, 2019. “Well,” says President Lamanda, “I don’t think we can safely keep you here indefinitely. But we can give you refuge while we see if Prince Valiant can give you a permanent home.

Good on Lamanda for standing up for liberty. There’s obviously room for a follow-up. But since the last comic strip story with Avaria ran from September 2009 through March 2010, it may be a while. (There was one made in 2015 for those Swedish comic books.)


With the 17th of November the current Sunday story, The Spy Ship, the 189th Sunday story, started. It also ties to the weekday continuity, as Heloise Walker brings Kadia Walker to the Phantom’s Skull Cave. Well, to the Deep Woods, the vicinity of the Skull Cave. Kit Walker asks his daughter how this can be a good idea, exactly, if they don’t want her to learn the family secret? Heloise explains that Kadia was blindfolded all the way through the deep woods. They’re in the wrong place to see Skull Cave as anything beside a bit of rock. She doesn’t know that The Phantom is there. And she told Kadia that the Walkers have Bandar friends because they lived here years ago, as part of Diana Walker’s United Nations work.

[ In the vault of Missing Men ] Heloise: 'AB?' Phantom: 'The American writer, Ambrose Bierce. The 16th Phantom was a witness to history in the American Civil War. Captain Walker ... he met Bierce then. Bierce believed later Phantoms to be that same Walker. Ambrose Bierce disappeared in mexico in 1913 ... that's what the history books say! The TRUE story resides here, in the Chronicles of Skull Cave. Care to hear it? Don't decide yet! Let's move on to a leader of the age of reason: the man who framed the intellectual argument for throwing off the rule of George III in the American colonies.'
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 22nd of December, 2019. Psst! Heloise! It’s a trick question! Ask about how both Ambrose Bierce and Thomas Paine teamed up with The Phantom in search of Elizabeth Island!

The Phantom invites Heloise deeper into Skull Cave, to learn secrets that even Kit Junior doesn’t know. Behind an iron door they pass the crypt of people Lost to History: Ambrose Bierce, for example, who’d met the 16th Phantom. And who disappeared in Mexico in 1913 if you believe history rather than the Phantom Chronicles. Or Thomas Paine, who died in 1809 in New York City, although his body has been lost. He’s shown with an internment date of 1824.

So this is all prelude, as you see. What it’s a prelude for I can’t guess. This Sunday’s strip has the Phantom asking Heloise whether she wants to know the story of Ambrose Bierce or Thomas Paine, and she’s not answered yet.

Next Week!

Mindy Wise’s surprise pregnancy! A dog! All this and I think more in
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D., in about a week.

Statistics 2019: Top Albums of 2019


  • Three Willow Park: Electronic Music from Inner Space (1961 – 1971), Raymond Scott
  • Ball N’ Chain, Big Mama Thornton
  • The Spotniks Greatest Hits, The Spotniks
  • Top 100 Classics: The Very Best of Frank Crumit, Frank Crumit

I’m sorry, I didn’t buy very much music this year so I don’t really know what’s out there. Also, uh, that Frank Crumit album is a lot of songs that all sound like the background music for Betty Boop cartoons, plus 168 versions of Abdul Abulbul Amir including like 14 sequel songs to it, but the guy was recording from the 1910s to 1930s so there’s some really, uh, yeah, let’s just call it uncomfortable stuff, okay? I mean uncomfortable.

Reference: Science from your Airplane Window, Elizabeth A Wood.

Go Juice


Maybe you heard about this discovery about a way to make fuel out of coffee. If you didn’t hear about this discovery about a way to make fuel out of coffee, let me bring you up to speed. So, apparently there’s this way they discovered to make fuel out of coffee. When I put it that way it sounds like that’s all anyone is talking about.

It started out with an accident, when Dr Mano Misra at the University of Nevada, Reno, made coffee one night and didn’t drink it. Now I don’t normally feel envy at the achievements of real academics. I don’t really play that field anymore, and anyway, how many mathematicians do you know have opinions about the plots in Gil Thorp? But here, I realize, I could totally have made this discovery myself. I have a lot of experience in my life not drinking coffee. I used to be limited in discovering things in coffee I didn’t drink by how I didn’t make coffee before I didn’t drink it.

But this past decade? I’ve made a surprising lot of coffee. This is because there’s a complimentary coffee bar at this overgrowing farmer’s market on the west side of town. We go there to get our pet rabbit vegetables and to see what they’ve expanded to doing this week. It’s great. Gourmet popcorn? Sure! Fresh-pressed olive oil? Why not! Gelato? Yeah, they can do that, why not? There’s also a great wall of succulents that gets moved to a new place every time you step in, even if you only stepped out for three minutes and came back in because you’re looking for a lost hat. If you’re ever in town (Lansing) you should stop in. You can find it by looking for the massive parking lots that nobody can escape. Use the one on the west side of town.

Anyway, they have a complementary coffee bar, so for a long while there I started making coffee. What was I going to do, not get coffee just because I don’t much like coffee? Besides, they have all sorts of things to make coffee taste less like coffee. Flavored beans, for a start. Sugars, in real (sugar) and imaginary (Splenda) and complex (cinnamon maple sprinkles) versions. Creams ranging from light to dark to postmodern inquiries of the nature of whitening coffee. Whipped cream. You can put so much stuff in the coffee you don’t even need the coffee. And after seven years of going there nearly weekly I’ve realized: you know, they have some tea I could get instead. It’s boring tea, but then I have a deep, fundamental boringness to myself and so that’s right for me.

So there was this period I was making coffee, although instead of not drinking it I would drink it instead, because what was I going to do, waste coffee? And cinnamon maple sprinkles? I was raised in too big a family to do something like that. But if I had just used the coffee I was making and didn’t drink it, then this is a discovery I totally could have made, if I had noticed anything.

The story then is Dr Misra noticed a layer of oil floating on the coffee. That’s something I didn’t know coffee could do. I thought layers of oil formation were only done by fossils and peanut butter. I mean the peanut butter that’s so good you can’t use it for sandwiches because you’re always stirring the oil back into it. Misra found the oil, though, and didn’t think to stir it in. Using it for motor fuel is a breakthrough, though, and one I wouldn’t have made. I was pretty sure you only put mysterious fluids in cars if you’re in a low-effort Disney movie made between 1958 and 1982. So it’s not enough to observe a thing, you also have to have an idea what to do with it. So that’s something I wouldn’t have though to try.

What gets me is that if you can get oil out of coffee, then there must have been oil in the coffee to start with. Right? I feel like this has to be right. But then that means someone put the oil in. But who goes around injecting oil into coffee beans? I understand it happening once or twice, as a prank. But that wouldn’t stay funny forever. On the other hand, everything I know about this is a couple years old, so maybe someone was playing a nasty prank on the University of Nevada, Reno. Or maybe the oil really comes from the coffee cups, and the coffee is just a red herring. I bet they checked that possibility, though. I don’t know anybody who drinks herring.

Statistics Saturday Bonus: Best Versions of A Christmas Carol (Reevaluated)


I thought I’d see how I felt if I looked at the question again.

  • Scrooge (A Christmas Carol)
  • Scrooge (A Christmas Carol)
  • A Christmas Carol
  • A Christmas Carol
  • A Christmas Carol
  • Scrooge (A Christmas Carol)
  • A Christmas Carol
  • A Christmas Carol
  • A Christmas Carol
  • Scrooge (A Christmas Carol)

Reference: The March of Folly, Barbara W Tuchman.

60s Popeye: Swee’Pea Thru The Looking Glass


My plan to pay attention to the credits is paying off! In this Jack Kinney production I see the story is by Ed Nofziger. Earlier this month Hamburger Fishing had him adapt a fairy tale to the Popeye setting. The title here implies a fairy-tale-based cartoon. So here’s Sweapea Thru The Looking Glass. As you see, I disagree with the title card about how to spell Swee’Pea’s name.

The establishing shot, of Popeye’s Boring Suburban House, lowered my hopes. I was expecting another Popeye-reads-to-Swee’Pea frame for the story, and was glad to see that. The cartoon decides to have Popeye go golfing, which I wasn’t glad to see. Golfing is what comic strip artists do when they start getting boring. Olive Oyl is off to a card party, which surprised me as she’s usually sent “shopping” when they need her out of the cartoon. But these are thoughtful choices: it foreshadows what Swee’pea encounters through the looking-glass. Switching from croquet to golf is probably a good way to Mid-century-Americanize the story without losing the whole hitting-balls-with-birds motif. So, as with Hamburger Fishing, good on Ed Nofzinger for thinking out the adaptation some.

Eugene the Jeep makes a good excuse to get Swee’Pea through the looking glass, but he’s not explicitly used. Swee’Pea makes a wish, and the cuckoo clock that’s been sitting in the background all cartoon tells him to try. The cuckoo’s answer to Swee’Pea’s skepticism, “cuckoo, cuckoo, you will if you do” has a satisfying gentle comic logic to me. It has that nice Yogi Berra charm.

Inside the looking-glass the world’s upside-down, which doesn’t fit with how mirrors normally work but which at least clearly shows it’s a strange land. Eugene gets a voice once he’s through the looking-glass. It’s this high-pitched squeaky thing like every voice this cartoon, which isn’t my favorite thing. But it does at least seem consistent with his normal jeep squeak. Right through there’s a huge-eared rabbit, a kangaroo, and an elephant late for their golfing. I’d thought the rabbit and kangaroo were meant to evoke Popeye and Olive Oyl, but that seems wrong. There’s nothing Popeye in the rabbit. All the kangaroo brings to things is a red shirt and a hat that I falsely thought Olive Oyl had been wearing this cartoon. I swear she wears it other cartoons, though.

Eugene declares he’s late, as it’s “two hairs to a mole”, which is a line I’m sure I didn’t understand when I was a kid. It’s got to be the punch line to a joke about checking the time when you’ve forgotten your watch. But there’s no setup. This gives it a nice dream logic; the line makes no sense, except that you can work out a context where it would make sense, and when you have, things have moved on. And it’s bold to condense a joke just to its punch line, especially in a cartoon for kids.

Swee'Pea and Eugene the Jeep, upside-down, on a matching upside-down landscape. Right-side-up (to the viewer) is a huge-eared blue rabbit with a golf bag over his back.
Whenever a cartoon does this upside-down business outside an enclosed space I worry about how the characters can have a consistent “floor” line. Also, is that rabbit resting his golf bag on his tail? That hardly seems possible. Also his paws look like he has too-long sleeves.

There is a strong dream feeling to this short. The surreal setting, certainly. The way Eugene and other nonhuman characters repeatedly chirp short sentences, often repeating the final word until it fades out. Slightly unsettling things like the golf course flags chanting “this way out that way out no way out”. You’re taking an Alice in Wonderland/Through The Looking-Glass project seriously if it’s feeling this close to a nightmare.

The Sea Hag’s the obvious casting choice for the Queen of Hearts. Brutus gets cast as her husband, which is all right, although it leaves them short for who to cast as Jack, the guard that goes after Swee’Pea. Maybe Wimpy could have been cast as the King. Bernard the Vulture gets cast in the flamingo role. You can fault the King Features cartoons for many things, but they did bring a lot of the comic strip cast to animation.

In the end, Swee’Pea and Eugene get back to reality as Popeye and Olive Oyl return. Popeye scolds Swee’pea for telling fibs. This doesn’t seem like a wise choice on Popeye’s part, especially once Olive Oyl finds you can just step through mirrors, it’s easy. It is the odd cartoon where Popeye gets a cameo role, and spinach even goes unmentioned.

I like this cartoon. It gets nice and weird and commits to it. I could wish that the animation were better, but the storyline has a solidly bizarre flow to it, in all the good ways. Shall have to watch for this Ed Nofziger fellow in future works.

What’s Going On In Mary Worth? Is Iris pregnant? Is Estelle daft? September – December 2019


No, Iris is not pregnant, according to the information we’ve been given to date. Is Estelle daft? That depends on your feelings about plunging into dating someone after you know he’s got a lot of problems. People with problems deserve the chance at dates too, though. The issue is how they cope with their problems, and what their potential partners are able to cope with.

So as that warns you, I’m getting you up to mid-December 2019 in Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth. If you’re reading this after about March 2020 I likely have a more up-to-date Mary Worth plot recap here. And I should have, this week and any week, some mathematically-themed comic strips to discuss on my other blog. Now on to Charterstone in detail.

Mary Worth.

29 September – 21 December 2019.

When I last checked in, end of September, Mary Worth was ready for a new story. It’s been on that story ever since. It’s a story about Wilbur Weston.

Wilbur’s returned home. He was interviewing Mozambique cyclone survivors for his column about people who aren’t dead. He’s glad to see Estelle again. They’d started dating after Estelle’s whole Internet-Romance-scam debacle. He didn’t stay in touch like he meant while out of the country, despite the Internet being a thing. I can’t snark here, since I’ve got e-mails dating back to 2007 that I keep telling myself I’ll answer someday.

That said, all Wilbur wants to do is stay in with Estelle. He brings over some wine coolers and they watch a boxing documentary and the news that he used to be a sports writer. I didn’t know that. Also she hates boxing, which she doesn’t bother mentioning. So she counts that a lousy date and wonders if she’s wasted her time with like three Wilbur dates. Mary Worth reassures her that Wilbur is great, you have give him a chance. They have a couple dates singing together, like they used to do.

Mary Worth: 'Take your time to get to know Wilbur. He's a great guy!' Estelle: 'I'm doing that. And I'm not rushing into anything. Sometimes, though, I wonder about us.' Mary: 'If you spend more time with him, you'll see he's an earnest guy with a few endearing quirks.'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 10th of October, 2019. “Look, you don’t become one of Santa Royale’s leading survival-and-mayonnaise bloggers without making a long string of life choices. Anyone understands that.”

Meanwhile, Iris. She used to date Wilbur. But their relationship-pause while he was off interviewing world survivors turned into a breakup. (That was in time for him to fall for a romance scam in Colombia.) She’s taken to dating Zak, and quite likes the arrangement. He’s pleasant enough, and enthusiastically supportive of Iris when she complains of exhaustion.

Iris and Wilbur run into each other at the pharmacy. Wilbur says how he’s dating Estelle, who’s great in every way and would Iris and her toy boy like to double-date at this My Thai restaurant next week? Or every single week until Iris sees how way awesome a catch he is? Three times a week until she sees it? Mmm? Iris can’t think of any way this might go wrong, somehow.

Zak: 'A double date? Sure, sounds cool.' Wilbur: 'We'll get together next week! I want to show Estelle off to you guys!' Iris: 'Okay.' Wilbur: 'I'll call you, Iris.' Iris: 'Take care, Wilbur.' Wilbur: 'I look forward to seeing you guys then!' (Thinking) 'That'll teach her to look at me with pity! She'll see that I'm over her ... and dating an amazing new woman!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 27th of October, 2019. So, first, between this and the daily strip that it’s recapping, you get some idea how much more into the idea Wilbur is than Iris is. But also … who is it says the double date sounds cool? That is Zak, right? In which case, it’s a little embarrassing he’s not picking up on Iris’s uncertainty about whether this is a good idea. But I do like that he values being on good terms with someone who used to be important to Iris and that she’s still communicating with.

Ahead of the double date, Wilbur realizes he doesn’t know what the heck he’s doing. He has a drink, and another, and follows it with 82 more while berating himself for breaking up with Iris even though he’s lucky to be with Estelle. Estelle finds Wilbur ranting while drunk, and somehow doesn’t imagine calling off the date.

It’s the fiasco you might imagine. Wilbur starts obnoxious, mocking Zak’s order of tofu pad Thai. Then he gets offensive, asking if the Zachary he was named for wasn’t his mothers friend but actually his father. Then he gets both clumsy and creepy, knocking wine onto Iris and getting handsy cleaning it off. (And, in the tradition of dull white guys, he does it while trying to imitate Something Cool From The Matrix.) Finally he passes out. Estelle pours him into his apartment.

After this mess Estelle wonders if she and Wilbur have a future. Or much of a past, since they’ve been on like five dates total. Her nightmare includes some funny pictures of Wilbur Babies boxing. Glorious nonsense.

[ When Estelle hears music coming from outside her window ] (She looks out at night, hearing the Pina Colada song. It's Wilbur, standing in the rain, holding a boom box over his head, doing the 'Say Anything' boombox scene.
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 20th of November, 2019. Put aside the warning sign that Wilbur — whose day job is advice columnist by the way — thinks it’s ever an acceptable idea to emulate a romantic comedy character’s behavior. The reason he’s doing The Piña Colada Song is that it’s one of the songs he and Estelle first bonded over, so that at least is paying attention his actual relationship.

Between the fiasco and the nightmares Estelle wants a break from Wilbur. He sends her apologies and begs for a fresh chance. She turns to Mary Worth for help, since she’s broken into her apartment and asked what Estelle needs to be told to do already. Estelle explains about the fiasco. Mary Worth explains how oh, yeah, you’ll get a certain amount of humiliating public drunken spectacles from a Wilbur Weston. Which you’d think Mary Worth might have dropped a warning about. I like, in principle, that Mary Worth isn’t comfortable saying bad stuff about a friend, even to protect another friend. But Mary Worth’s defining power is setting relationships right. To not have warned Estelle of a hazard this big violates her brand. I’m not saying alcoholics can’t have relationships. I am saying their potential partners have to know what they’re getting into and be able to judge whether they’re able to handle that. Mary Worth isn’t shocked that he was disastrously drunk. She says “that tends to happen”. Not communicating “that tends to happen” warnings is how your boyfriend’s friend can assault you in your home.

[ As Mary leaves her friend's place ] Mary Worth: 'Estelle, I know Wilbur, and he's a better man than he displayed at dinner the other night!' [ Meanwhile, speaking of better men ] Estelle, pulling on pants: 'AUGGH! These USED to fit!' Zak: 'They probably shrunk in the dryer. Just change your pants, Iris! I'll see you after my meeting!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 25th of November, 2019. Warning sign that you’re really screwed up: when the Mary Worth Narration Box starts mocking you. Yowza. Anyway, maybe we snarky readers were jumping implausibly to the “Is Iris pregnant?” question, given the default social mores of the Mary Worth comic universe. But then what activity is being coded here by her putting her pants on in the middle of the day?

Back to Iris and Zak. She’s not only tired. Her pants don’t fit. And every snarky reader got to asking: wait, is Iris pregnant? Outside wedlock? In Mary Worth? Awesome! Then her hair starts falling out. She checks with her doctor, Riverdale’s Archie Andrews, who explains nah, it’s menopause. Well, he doesn’t say the word “menopause” for some reason, but that’s what he’s getting at.

Iris decides she can’t bother Zak with how she’s old. It would drag him down. Zak tries to be supportive considering she won’t tell him what’s wrong. She says she needs space and that they need time apart.

Zak goes to a bar to mope. Wilbur walks in. They sit together and talk some while watching the US-Cuba soccer match. The US team wins. Their resolve inspires Zak to not give up on his relationship with Iris. It also inspires Wilbur to do give up on his drinking. And, having had a normal human interaction, the two kind of like each other.

Meanwhile Estelle’s lonely and admits missing Wilbur. Mary Worth stops in with a bowl full of fruitcake and meddle cream. Estelle says, even putting aside Wilbur’s drunken fiasco, he’s still way too hung up on Iris. Mary Worth admits yeah, he is, but he might get past that. Also past the drunkenness. You like him anyway, right? Mary Worth means, like, he’s unique. Estelle grants he is. She just doesn’t know that he’s lasting-love kind of unique. Yet she has already invested in this relationship, like, a half-dozen dates over the course of seven months now. Why give that up?

[ When Estelle visits Mary ] Mary Worth: 'How are you, my friend?' Estelle: 'I've got the blues.' Mary, pulling a bundt cake pan with gloppy stuff in it: 'I know just the thing to cheer you up! Would you like a slice of fruitcake, Estelle?' Estelle: 'Sure. Tis the season.'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 17th of December, 2019. So you know I’m not taking any hack jokes here about fruitcake being bad. I want hack jokes about Wilbur being one of Santa Royale’s leading mayonnaise bloggers.

That’s brought things to this weekend, and to what’s got me annoyed this time. Estelle is having correct and reasonable doubts about Wilbur. She’s the one getting Mary Worthed, though, into not paying attention to some big warning signs. Maybe she is judging Wilbur too harshly for a particularly bad day of his. We have all had a day that would give a stranger the exactly wrong idea of who we are. But I’d like her to get reason to think the dinner date was an exceptional event.

And then here’s where the strip is going wrong. First that Mary Worth is giving advice that muddles someone’s clear thoughts about a problem. It’s that Mary Worth is overlooking Iris, who’s screwing up her own relationship. Zak’s this almost implausibly supportive, eager, understanding man. She’s running away because she doesn’t want him to find out she’s older than he is. The strip is showing some major weakness in Mary Worth’s meddling focus here. I can only hope it gets straightened out soon. We should know by March 2020, when I expect to check in here again.

Dubiously Sourced Mary Worth Sunday Panel Quotes!

I’ll fix the name of this section yet. Here’s things from Brainyquotes that it’s possible that the credited person said at some point in their lives. And yes, the auto care place is still on the same message of “You Can Make A Difference If You Try”, which they’ve been on since April. I’m starting to worry.

  • “Distance means so little, when someone means so much.” — Tom McNeal, 29 September 2019
  • “It’s a good place when all you have is hope and not expectations.” — Danny Boyle, 6 October 2019
  • “Exploring the unknown requires tolerating uncertainty” — Brian Greene, 13 October 2019
  • “Love is the flower you’ve got to let grow.” — John Lennon, 20 October 2019
  • “I think about you, but I don’t say it anymore.” — Marguerite Duras, 27 October 2019
  • “If you always have a crutch, you don’t learn anything.” — Ben Savage, 3 November 2019
  • None! I know, I was shocked too. 10 November 2019
  • “Reality is never as bad as a nightmare, as the mental tortures we inflict on ourselves.” — Sammy Davis Jr, 17 November 2019
  • “Life is a question and how we live it is our answer.” — Gary Keller, 24 November 2019
  • “My doctor gave me six months to live, but when I couldn’t pay the bill he gave me six months more.” — Walter Matthau, 1 December 2019
  • “Nothing makes us so lonely as our secrets.” — Paul Tournier, 8 December 2019
  • “Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson, 15 December 2019
  • “To err is human; to forgive, divine.” — Alexander Pope, 22 December 2019

Next Week!

Did the Ghost Who Walks ever get around to freeing Avaria? Next week, barring surprises, we’ll check in on Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom (Sunday continuity) and find out. Thanks for reading.

Statistics Saturday: Best Versions of A Christmas Carol


  • Scrooge (A Christmas Carol)
  • A Christmas Carol
  • A Christmas Carol
  • A Christmas Carol
  • A Christmas Carol
  • Scrooge (A Christmas Carol)
  • Scrooge (A Christmas Carol)
  • A Christmas Carol
  • A Christmas Carol
  • Scrooge (A Christmas Carol)

Reference: The March of Folly, Barbara W Tuchman.

Thimble Theatre is 100 years old too


And here’s one more spot of comic strip news. Thimble Theatre reached its centennial on the 19th of December. This is the comic strip normal people know as Popeye. The Daily Cartoonist posted for the day Elzie Segar’s first-ever Thimble Theatre strip, which, when you look at it, makes you realize … uh … huh.

It started with a weird premise that I’m not sure couldn’t work. The gimmick was that there was a regular cast of actors, people like Olive Oyl and Harold Hamgravy and all. But for each day they’d play characters in some very short melodrama. Doing short melodramas, often mocking the moving pictures, was not a new idea. I don’t know whether the frame of having the same characters acting in different roles was original to Segar, though.

I could imagine this working in much the way SCTV or various Muppets projects works. Establish your characters and then put them in to play parts. The earliest Thimble Theatre strips, though? Not to brag but I’ve seen almost twelve of them, so am clearly the expert here. They don’t work for me, though. I think because there isn’t the behind-the-scenes stuff that establish who the actors are. It’s just spot jokes without Segar having to design new characters each day.

I don’t know whether the premise could work if we got more behind-the-scenes action. SCTV or the Muppets did, brilliantly, but in part because they had so much more time. Comic strips were long and wordy back then, compared to today, but that’s nothing compared to how long we could get to know Miss Piggy, and have that inform us how she’s playing Madame Defarge or whoever.

Early on the strip did a new premise, a new “play”, every day. This was unworkable, ultimately, although I can’t work out when the strip went to open-ended stories. And it sure seems like an influence on how the cartoons would start with the characters in whatever setting, and with whatever relationships, worked for the plot. But that could be coincidence too; it’s not as though every Betty Boop cartoon can be fit into one continuity.

Anyway things puttered on for about nine years with stories that included some nice fantastical bits such as the Whiffle Hen. And then — finally, it feels like — Segar discovered Popeye. The effect was like those first-season episodes of Happy Days, when it was a single-camera sitcom and the stories putter on with an amiable dullness and then suddenly Fonzie is on-screen and it’s interesting. Or, if you want a higher-brow reference, to the bit in Pickwick Papers where Sam Weller gives the reader a reason to keep reading. Popeye took over right away and, though Segar tried to give him a send-off after his first story, came right back because he was just that good. (Very like Sam Weller, at that.) But you all know my feelings there; I’m the guy paying attention even to the 60s cartoons for some reason.

So, it’s a fun strip. Or became, at least. The strip has, in dailies, been in reruns since the first Bush was president. The Sunday strips are new, drawn by Hy Eisman, who incidentally was also drawing the Sunday Katzenjammer Kids when that strip reached its centennial. It’s hard to imagine there’ll ever be another cartoonist who’s drawing two centennial comic strips. Eisman is, by the way, as far as I can tell the second credited artist on Thimble Theatre/Popeye to actually be younger than the comic strip is. (Bobby London, the one fired from the dailies in 1992, was the first.) Eisman was born in 1927, though, so he’s still older than Popeye.

D D Degg, writing for The Daily Cartoonist, makes this out as the fifth United States comic strip to reach 100 without lapsing into eternal reruns: The Katzenjammer Kids (in rerun since 2006), Gasoline Alley, Ripley’s Belive It Or Not, Barney Google and Snuffy Smith, and now Thimble Theatre. The next that should make the centennial, if Olivia Jaimes’s pen holds out through October 2022, is Nancy. That is we accept Nancy as the continuation of Fritzi Ritz. This is a question very interesting to people like me, who are not interesting.

Some Books You Can Get Me For Christmas


Or my birthday. All you have to do is buy them first. But before first, you have to get someone to sell them. And before before first to publish them. So before before before first you need someone to write them. And before that has to be research. So, like, around fifth you have to buy them, and sixth give them to me.

Perfect Pitch: A History of Asphalt, the Construction Material that Changed the World. Sure, we all rate asphalt as one of the things roads are made of, but how much do we really know about them? Where does asphalt come from? Where does it go in spring when all the potholes appear? Finally a book that can help you keep up with that friend who’s a little too deeply into Nixie tubes and keeps correcting you when you say things about pavement. 318 pages.

Umbrellas: The Head Coverings that Made the Rain Avoidable, Created the Sun King, Saved America’s Space Station, and Changed the World. Who hasn’t remembered they left a travel-size umbrella in the car, for cases where they’re out somewhere and there’s a sudden rainstorm and they need to hold a small piece of fabric up with a bent metal skeleton until they get annoyed by it all? Partly a narrow-focus history, yes, but also partly an exporation of what the idea of being able to moderate the weather at will means to people. The umbrella takes us on a journey that connects to how society’s ideas of what outdoor recreation is for has changed, and how buildings have changed to control the climate rather than to harmonize with the climate for comfort. 422 pages including 26 pages of illustrations and pictures of impractical 19th-century umbrella-related patent follies.

What Color Is A Peace Conference: The Work of the Diplomats, Historians, Demographers, and Sociologists that Changed the World. If you’re like me you have a vague and very child-like idea what goes on at peace conferences. Like, these things usually take some time, but time doing what? The deepest thinking of my brain, which was able to earn an advanced degree in mathematics, is to imagine that one side’s rep says, “Stop shooting as us”. And then the other side’s rep says either “OK” or “No you”. If the first, great, they’re done. If the second, then the first side’s rep says either “OK” or “No you”. Either way, they’re done. So that takes maybe ten minutes, including the time it takes for everybody to forget each other’s names. What’s happening the rest of the conference? Don’t you want to know too? 240 pages.

Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Christmas Carol that Changed the World. How did this silly little anapestic tetrameter escape its department-store promotional origins? How did it turn into a beloved song, then beloved cartoon, then beloved song again, then beloved stop-motion animation project, and then core of the surprisingly intricate Rankin/Bass Main Continuity, and then the center of 38 known spoofs and comedic rants? It’s easy to forget that as recently as 2006 it was still pretty fresh and novel to point out that nobody can think of a single thing wrong with Clarice that would send her to the Island of Misfit Toys. This exploration gets really good for about ten pages in the late middle part where it talks about folklore being created by corporate entities, and then it turns into a lot of lists of comedy sketches that are really easy to skim through without feeling like you’re missing anything. 260 pages plus a web site with some pictures of department-store mascot costumes from before the 1989 discovery that mascot costumes did not have to be hideous.

Sand: The Hidden Story of the Grains that Built our Roads, Formed our Glasses, Timed our Days, Challenged our Ideas of What Waves Are, Taught us to Navigate, Made our Computers Think, Gave us Beach Holidays, and Changed the World. I know what you’re thinking and no, I am not thinking of Vince Beiser’s book. That’s The World in a Grain: The Story of Sand and How it Transformed Civilization and I am ignoring that for the third reason you would think up. 362 pages, plus a 40-page preview of the author’s next book, Bauxite: the Unpresupposing Ore that Overthrew Empires, Built Cities, Created the Modern Kitchen, Made the 20th Century, and Changed the World.

What’s funny here is you could also give any of these to my dad and he’d be happy with it too. What’s also funny here is I started out mocking my reading habits and I think I ended up writing at least two viable book pitches. Whoever publishes everything Mark Kurlasky writes, call me.

Sorry to interrupt, but The Far Side web site is posting stuff


Wanted to let everyone know that The Far Side web site that appeared a couple months ago has cartoons now. It’s showing what it promises to be a selection of the original comics each day. So it’s been; there’s five strips for today, and four run yesterday. Yes, it ran “Cow Tools” yesterday.

The site also promises sketches and, in 2020, occasional new work.I don’t know of an RSS feed for the strips, sad to say. But did think people would really want to know.

60s Popeye has his Skyscraper Capers


I’m looking today at the Jack Kinney-produced 1960 short Skyscraper Capers. The credits scrambled my anticipation. Not affecting my expectations at all: the story was by Nick George. I don’t know the name yet, but I’ve only just started tracking these things. Lowering my expectations: that the animation director was Rudy Larriva. You may remember his name from the roughly 112,316 Wile E Coyote cartoons that Warner Brothers subcontracted out in the late 60s, made with a budget of $46 and nearly six bars of background music. He did a couple of those regretted Daffy Duck/Speedy Gonzales cartoons too, on similar terms. I’m not saying he didn’t do well given the constraints, but do you like the cartoons? And these King Features Popeye cartoons were made on the same constraints.

Raising my expectations, though: the title promises a skyscraper cartoon. I don’t know which animators first realized that skyscraper construction is a great background for a cartoon. The setting promises imminent danger, giving the cartoon that tension good for slapstick comedy. A big construction project implies great planning and sequencing, and thus something massive that the characters can rebel against, or at least mess up. (Note that multiple studios noticed skyscaper construction set to orchestral music produces great cartooning.) And you can even give the animators a chance to prove they can draw, with just one shot of the girder structure in perspective. So which expectation panned out?

This kind of cartoon chooses to explain why Popeye’s building a skyscraper. Probably the audience would have accepted it if he were just there; it’s not so baffling that BrutusBoss is just there, or that Wimpy is just there. Having Popeye read out the help wanted sign certainly fills time without needing so much animation, though. It’s interesting Popeye likes the idea until he actually sees a height, and shies back entirely once he’s asked to sign a contract. That he does it for fear of being called yellow is not a great look for him, but I can’t say it’s false. I’m interested that Brutus gives a contract that’s a real actual document. I can read enough of it to see that it’s some kind of purchase agreement rather than an employment contract, but that could not possibly matter. Also it means some animator had the job of designing Popeye’s signature.

Supervisor Wimpy guiding Popeye to his job with the tones of an elevator operator is a good bit. Also a good bit is his lightly Greek Chorus role of commenting on Popeye’s latest mishap. The attitude’s good enough to almost distract me from trying to work out what exactly he said, after dropping the bricks. I keep hearing, “that [ there? ] was a faux pas, sir”, which is good at least so far as I did hear it.

BrutusBoss does demand to know whether Popeye’s trying to get him killed. It’s a good question. The setting demands people get hit with bricks or get steel girders in the gut and stuff. The casting demands that Popeye instigate these things, though. BrutusBoss is in charge, and Wimpy laboring isn’t Wimpy. So this demands either Popeye be incompetent or be following incompetent direction. The cartoon goes for making Popeye incompetent. Although we could blame management here; after all, someone chose to send Popeye out on bare girders with a wheelbarrow full of bricks and no clear direction. And Popeye can’t be blamed for the rope pulling BrutusBoss up spontaneously fraying and snapping.

Brutus sitting at the window ledge, chin on his hand, mouth wide open and eyes nearly closed; it's meant to be a taunting move but can be mis-read as a come-hither look.
Hard to know whether to be more distracted by BrutusBoss’s come-hither look or how his fist seems to get in-between his beard and his chin.

There’s a lot of understatement lines I like here. Wimpy tut-tutting that “you shouldn’t have done that” after Popeye drops BrutusBoss from the hook. BrutusBoss declaring “I want out!” after being driven in to the ground by sacks of concrete. Wimpy’s whole “faux pas” line whatever it exactly is. The whistle bellowing “LUUUUUNCH!” and later, “WOOOOOORK!” is also a nice bit and I don’t know whether it’s original to this cartoon. My hunch is it was done in earlier workplace cartoons.

Popeye needing his whole lunch break to unsuccessfully open a can of spinach I’m still thinking about. It’s absurd, sure. Is it funny enough to justify ignoring the, like, 194 earlier cartoons where Popeye just squeezed his can open? I guess, but I think I’d have liked a comment from Popeye about how he doesn’t understand why this is so hard today.

So there’s much I like here. Or find fun, at least. Not the animation, though. That’s all fairly boring stuff except for when it gets baffling. There’s a couple of decent sequences of action, all of which require props or characters to teleport into place. BrutusBoss pulls the sides off Popeye’s ladder, leaving him to climb the rungs hanging in midair; solid enough joke. Popeye keeps running up and BrutusBoss is on top of the building’s mast somehow? And Wimpy looks down to follow this action because … ? Well, because they don’t have the budget to animate Wimpy looking up, but still.

We end with everybody quitting because, eh, the short’s over and that’s enough.

Also Alarming Me, These Days


We’ve got a pen that’s missing its cap. It hasn’t done any of the unauthorized pen activities that a capless pen might do, such as dry out or draw all over the tablecloth or something. But still, it’s sitting there and making me over eight percent more anxious than you imagine it would make me. We need to add some kind of alarm system for this contingency. If we had an automatic system worrying about this then I wouldn’t have to do anything about it.

A marker pen sitting out, without a cap, on the tablecloth.
Also, while picking up a coffee mug that was right at the edge of the table I managed to knock over the glass that was in the center.

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? When does Mark Trail get to punch a yeti? September – December 2019


Mark Trail is getting around to it. At least now, in mid-December 2019. If you’re trying to catch up on James Allen’s Mark Trail after about March 2020 I probably have a more up-to-date plot recap here. Also any news about the strip important enough to break my cycles here.

Mark Trail.

23 September – 14 December 2019

Mark Trail was in the Himalayas, last we saw. Woods and Wildlife editor Bill Ellis sent him there, to cover Dr Harvey Camel’s search for the Yeti. And also the plants and animals that do exist in the Himalayas. In the last flight to Tumligtar, Camel tells Trail and his assistant Genie of his obsession with the Yeti. Trail is skeptical of this whole cryptozoology stuff. He starts to get snide when Camel’s assistant Genie points out Mark Trail himself has written about animals mistakenly thought extinct.

Mark Trail: 'So more than a hundred thousand people watched you catch a three-inch fish ... live? Dr Camel, why would that many people watch you do something so mundane?' Camel: 'Because, Mark, most of them were probably sitting at home living ordinary lives ... they never get out to do anything exciting!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 7th of October, 2019. “Why, Mark, I can take any man I see standing in the road and put rouge on his cheeks and put some powder on his nose. I’ll teach him how to act, I’ll remould and reshape him. I’ll put him in a stage suit and I’ll teach him how to pose!”

Camel tries to push Mark Trail into social media. It’s worked out great for him. Like, a hundred thousand people watched him catch what proved to be a three-inch fish. Camel points out, most people are boring losers who never do anything cool, like have their jeep run off the road by a charging Indian rhinoceros. You know, like is happening to them. So that’s our first Attack of Nature for the story.

They walk to a nearby outpost, where they hook up with a couple elephants to carry them and their gear on. Mark Trail mentions being generally opposed to this kind of animal exploitation. Camel rolls his eyes halfway to Bangladesh at how Trail’s being some kind of unrealistic starry-eyed tree-hugging politically correct weepy momma’s soy boy who’s so out of touch with the hard decisions of real life in Nepal. Anyway, here’s some vampire bats he can tweet.

In Num village, to trade the elephants out for Sherpas, Trail asks Genie, like, is Camel always so … like that? Not that Mark Trail’s being judgemental but he is awfully like that. Anyway, Genie says yeah, gads but he’s like that.

Mark Trail: 'Is Dr Camel always so ... abrasive?' Genie: 'If by abrasive you mean outspoken and cocksure ... yes!' Mark Trail: 'I guess I expected a man so educated to be a bit more introspective and reserved!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 23rd of October, 2019. “I mean, how could you have an advanced degree in anthropology and not be a quiet, soft-spoken person? But instead he acts like he has an advanced degree in electrical engineering and a podcast where he informs people that Jesus Christ never existed and maybe New Testament writers made up the city of ‘Nazareth’ too or something.”

With two Sherpas, Mingma and Pemba, they set out. All on foot, to get to the mountain from the reported Yeti sighting. And Mingma shares from his grandfather’s stories. These are of a hairy man who’d come looking for food during winter months, making a “haunting whistling” and “low growls”. And that his grandfather saw the creature kill a dzo once. A dzo is a hybrid, between a male water buffalo and a female domesticated yak. And as Mingma shares this — in a strip that ran Halloween week — they hear a strange low growl. It’s a wandering dzo.

More walking. At a river stop, Mark Trail asks Genie about Dr Camel’s strange walk. Genie asks why he doesn’t just ask Dr Camel why he’s establishing a story moment where he’ll be mistaken for a Yeti later on. And then a crocodile comes near eating her. There’s our second Attack of Nature for the story. Mark Trail whacks it with a stick, until it leaves. And Camel livestreams the whole thing, to an audience of ten thousand people. Genie’s annoyed. She didn’t expect that Camel would be so much like that. Also, I’m going to imagine, Bill Ellis wonders if this is something they were supposed to have first-publication rights on. Well, I’m sure the people who keep Mark Trail in business are hep to the ways of publishing in a world filled with social media.

More climbing, on the mountain where the Yeti was maybe spotted in April. And rain’s coming in. Mark Trail’s a little concerned, but after all, a flash flood hasn’t screwed up anything since his last adventure. He’s finally talked people into setting up a lean-to when the landslide comes in. So that’s the third Attack of Nature for the story.

Mark Trail: 'I don't mean to sound snarky, Harvey. I understand your followers on social media are important to you. But when you're out in the real world, being aware of your surroundings is more important than social media! Folks have died trying to get pictures of themselves standing too close to wild animals or on cliff edges!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 28th of November, 2019. “You know, people die from doing pointlessly dangerous stuff for social media. Getting too near cliff edges. Provoking wild animals. Live-tweeting themselves watching mockbuster children’s movies. People need to use their common sense and situational awareness more!”

Everyone gets through all right, and the party doesn’t even scatter or anything. Camel admits he’d have loved to livestream that. After a stop in the town of Seduwa, for permits and nature trivia, the party … continues hiking. They set up camp and admire the night sky. Camel talks of how he’s sure they’re close to the Yeti. While lying awake, Mark hears … something. Something whistling. And … some figure, in shadow, on the ridge. Does he see? … no, it’s a bunch of rocks. And this gets Mark Trail kind of mopey.

I understand the folks calling this attitude snide. Mark Trail is, after all, having a trip most people would consider what they’d do with their lottery winnings. Mark Trail’s in the Himalayas, asked to communicate the experience of wildlife we’ll never understand well enough. Mark Trail’s pouting that he’s seen rocks before. But it’s also normal to be homesick, especially going to a very unfamiliar place. Mark Trail’s had a rhinoceros try to kill him. Mark Trail’s had a landslide nearly kill him. Mark Trail’s had to listen to four straight days of Dr Camel saying get on the Twitter, that won’t make you more sad and tired. So especially after fooling himself into thinking he maybe saw a Yeti? In the middle of the night, when all our fears and doubts are at their highest? Yeah, that’s a normal human emotion out of Mark Trail.

And that’s where the story is. Will Mark Trail witness an actual for-real yeti? How many more times is Nature going to almost kill our protagonists? And is “Dirty” Dyer ever going to get around to killing Mark Trail with fire? We might have progress on these questions by the time I check in again, in I figure about twelve weeks.

Sunday Animals Watch

And what animals or plants or natural wonders would Mark Trail like us to be aware of before humans destroy them? The past three months, it’s been these:

  • Hornet-Mimic Hoverflies, 22 September 2019. They’re doing okay except for when the hornets get really fed up with how they repeat everything the hornets say but in this nasal sing-song voice.
  • Pinzon Island (Galapagos) Tortoises, 29 September 2019. Well, it was only a century since the previous baby Pinzon Island tortoise was spotted, but we’ve seen some now and that’s something at least.
  • Regal Moths, 6 October 2019. As larvae they’re “hickory horned devils” and they’re utterly harmless, they tell us.
  • Scale Worms, 13 October 2019. Even Mark Trail calls them “ghastly in appearance” but since they’re hanging out in deep sea trenches we’re probably going to knock them out without even half trying.
  • Angiosperms, 20 October 2019. So here, particularly, a “flowering yam” named the black bat flower which, yeah, is endangered.
  • Spiders and Bats, 27 October 2019. Mark Trail spotlights a video of a bat caught in a spider web, in case you’re skipping reading the Amazing Spider-Man reruns.
  • Palm trees, 3 November 2019. Oh, they’re dying thanks to ‘lethal bronzing’, yet another invasive disease.
  • Tigers, 10 November 2019. There are more furries who suit as tigers at conventions than there are tigers in the real world and I do not want to know whether this claim is actually true, thank you.
  • Quokkas, 17 November 2019. They’re pleasant and not afraid of humans, so it’s probably for the best that Australia’s setting up laws against messing with them.
  • Kodiak and Polar Bears, 24 November 2019. Oh dear, yeah.
  • White Ligers, 1 December 2019. There’s four known to exist. (Young ones, just recently born.)
  • Zebras, 8 December 2019. There’s this pseudomelanistic zebra with these neat spots instead of stripes.
  • Babirusas, 15 December 2019. They’re listed as “threatened”, so it’s probably worse than that.

Next Week!

So how did Wilbur Weston’s extremely drunken double date with Estelle and Iris and Zak turn out, anyway? It’s Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth coming up in a week, barring surprises. Thanks for reading, and thanks for reading my mathematics-themed comic strip talk on my other blog. See you later.

Statistics Saturday: Pennsylvania Municipalities With Other States’ Names


  • Wyoming
  • Indiana
  • Delaware
  • Delaware Water Gap
  • California
  • Jersey Shore
  • East Washington
  • California
  • New Washington
  • Ohioville
  • Washington
  • Oklahoma
  • Ohio
  • Ohiopyle
  • Texas
  • Washingtonville
  • West Wyoming

Reference: History of the Hour: Clocks and Modern Temporal Orders, Gerhard Dohrn-van Rossum.

Not listed: North York, West York, Pennsburg, York.

How Things Are Going In This 1983 Kool-Aid Man Comic Book


Kool-Aid Man breaking through the hull of a spaceship, exposing outer space within, while two human kids wearing glass domes on their heads, and otherwise dressed for regular suburban summers, cheer him on, and two sparkly blots of yellow (the Thirsties) look horrified.
Comic Vine describes the plot of this comic as: “Kool-Aid Man battles the thirsties in outer space and the baseball field. Will the thirsties leave the kids high and dry or will Kool-Aid Man save the day?”

Kool-Aid Man, crashing through the walls of the spaceship while his human friends are dressed for the vacuum of space by wearing blue jeans: “I’m helping!”

Returning To The Alarms


I’ve still been thinking about alarms we might use. Please note that these are not based on dreams, except the dream we all have of a world made perfect. By perfect I mean one where we find out there are problems and can do things that fix them.

An alarm that it is time to make something in the slow cooker. Many of us have slow cookers not being used for their primary purpose. This can be okay, since we can use them for their secondary purpose, which is to be a big heavy thing covered in slightly greasy dust that’s on top of the refrigerator or kitchen cabinets, and that somehow falls away from us whenever we try to take it down. It’s a demanding job but what else could possibly do it? The blender? The rice cooker? The jumbo-size plastic bucket from Wall Drug, a place neither we nor anyone we know has ever been?

Yes, clearly. Any of these, plus the fondue pot and the bread maker that still has some kind of crust in it from 2014, can fill the slow cooker’s secondary purpose. So we need a reminder of that, and that’s what this alarm will do. It’s not an urgent alarm, just a reminder that, hey, you could take two hands full of edible things, put them in a pot, fill the rest with water, and set it going for between three and twelve hundred hours, so why aren’t you?

An alarm that someone might put a full travel mug in their backpack or suitcase or something. This is not based on anything I’ve seen someone do. It’s just that we have a really good travel mug. It’s dishwasher-safe, for one thing. And it’s scary good at keeping things warm. It’s kept an ordinary load of coffee warm for stretches of up to eight months. We don’t know if it could do longer. We wanted to put it in the dishwasher. Anyway this doesn’t call on unusual magic. It’s just really good at forming a closed seal to hold its liquids. Now here’s where it gets alarm-worthy.

My love uses a small backpack to lug stuff around. And sometimes at the end of the day tosses the empty travel mug in there, freeing up hand slots. And this has made me realize that someone could just toss a full travel mug, coffee and all, into their backpack or suitcase or anything else holding other stuff. And move around like that! This makes my feet crawl, and not in the good ways. I mean in the ways like when I hear how in the 60s NASA sketched some plans to make a Lunar Flyer, that would just be this platform with little rockets they could set off in pulses, using the mechanic we would come to know from Flappy Bird but at the Sea of Tranquility. The idea was this way astronauts could cover a lot more ground, then crash into it. And that’s the feeling this “chuck a full travel mug into your suitcase” idea gives me. There is absolutely nothing in place to stop this from happening. We need something in place to stop this from happening.

An alarm that we’re about to over-water a plant. Obviously this isn’t needed for every plant. Christmas trees, for example, have these nice huge buckets of water and we can see whether we’re putting too much in: it spills out onto the skirt. But for other plants it’s harder. We can see that, say, the soil is pretty dry, since the cactus is smothering itself in skin lotion that isn’t helping. Watering is the obvious answer. But we start out and the water just disappears into soil that isn’t made the slightest bit less dry. As we pour in the first three gallons of water the soil somehow becomes more dry. And then suddenly one more drop and it’s too wet. The flower pot is this stew ready to be put in the slow cooker, and there’s a waterfall of mud and cactus remnants pouring out over the bookcase, across the floor, and down into the basement, sweeping away whatever’s on the floor. This is piles of magazines and back issues of the local free alt-weekly newspaper that we can’t agree whether we’ve read. This is not just obviously inefficient. It’s also inefficient in the un-obvious ways. Anyway we need an alarm to let us know we’re entering the one-24th of a second window between “needs more water” and “is overwatered” so we can stop pouring.

There are probably more things we could be alarmed about give a fair start.

I kind of tried


Can we stipulate that the most superlative of ciders is the cidest? … No, it’s really not working.

(Well, this is what I promised to try last week, when I noted The Family Circus should have had a strip referring to a past Thanksgiving as “Thanksgiven”, although I had held out that I might not succeed. Please stop in next week when I will insist that the river is technically what the body of moving water does, and the water itself should be known as the riverer.)

60s Popeye: Hamburger Fishing


This week’s 60s Popeye cartoon is Hamburger Fishing. It’s another Jack Kinney production. This let me see who’s credited for the story (Ed Nofziger). This fact might let me someday work out some idea whether scripts were handed down by King Features or whether the individual animation studios got to make up their own stories.

The framing device is Popeye reading a story to Swee’Pea. It’s one they used a lot in these King Features cartoons. It’s a useful frame. It excuses putting the characters in literally any setting whatsoever. Also depending how they use it they can fill a cartoon with a good minute of stock animation. I like the kid logic of Swee’Pea wishing he had a wish, so he could get a wish.

Right into Popeye’s story I wondered why cast Wimpy as a fisher. Swee’Pea anticipated my joke in saying he wasn’t a very good fisher. And Popeye answers that he fishes for hamburgers, or as we’d know them, cows. It’s a silly idea and soundly in-character. So, good work adapting the Fisherman And His Wife premise to the Popeye characters. Especially in setting the Sea Hag out to steal Wimpy’s three wishes. And also answering why the Sea Hag didn’t just get the wishes from the enchanted Olive Oyl herself. This premise could have been used for a lazier cartoon and it’s good on Ed Nofziger that he put cleverness into things.

There’s also many nice little touches here. I like Swee’Pea’s disgusted look at Popeye for the “fisherman was stumped” line. Popeye’s laughter had this weird abrupt edit, though. I also like the Sea Hag’s eyes bouncing wildly around as she dreams of being rich. Or Wimpy’s silly dance at about 19:36 as he dreams of hamburger happiness. And casting the Sea Hag in the Fisherman’s Wife role tracks well with the comic strip. In that, the Sea Hag and Wimpy have a curious relationship that keeps looking like it could be romantic, except that both are scheming to use the other, and know the other is doing the same. Granted that casting is forced on the cartoon, since there’s only two important female characters who can speak in Thimble Theatre. But it fits well. And maybe says something of why the Popeye character set was so long-lasting, if it can cast stories well.

Wimpy, smiling, holding a fishing pole with an end tied into a loop. Caught on the loop is an Olive Oyl who's a biped cow, clutching her hooves together and looking distressed.
Who are you and where did you get the nerve to animate my DeviantArt account?

The Sea Hag claims Wimpy owes her for “4011 hamburgers” and that this is Tuesday. Wimpy uses up one of his wishes for a hamburger, that gets stolen by a mouse. Swee’Pea wishes he had that mouse and I agree; that’s a cute one. Introducing the mouse also opens up for the cute business where Wimpy wishes for his hamburger back, only to sit on it, and for the mouse to come out and bite him to recover it again. That’s not at all needed for the story, and it doesn’t get commented on. It just makes the cartoon more fun to watch.

At about 20:28, as the Sea Hag tackles Wimpy, they both seem to bounce off something invisible. I wonder if there was supposed to be a stalagmite or something left out by mistake. I also don’t know what happens to Wimpy’s “whole room full of hamburgers”. It’s got to be something the Sea Hag did, although that’s never resolved. But also unresolved is that the Sea Hag is out there waiting for Wimpy to come back with more wishes. He goes off to catch Olive Oyl again. And she hasn’t got any more wishes, which is a mild twist but one that I don’t remember from other versions of this story.

And then at about 21:48 Popeye finally charges into the fairy-tale. I was wondering if they might leave Popeye only in the frame. I’m not sure any of these cartoons ever did that. Within the fairy tale Popeye doesn’t have much to do, and he does it. He demands kindness for dumb amninals, and then Olive Oyl kisses him to break her enchantment. (Did she know that would happen? But if she did, why didn’t she kiss Wimpy before? Other than the obvious, that he was hoping to kill and eat her, I mean.) And she declares she’s his because he … exists? Really, the weak part of the cartoon is the choice to put Popeye into the action.

All small problems. This is one of those cartoons I’m happy to see.

In Which I Notice A Gap In Our Pop Culture


So we were at our local Sears’s liquidation sale, which everybody in town thought they had done like a year or two ago. Good fun. The didn’t have the cheap bedsheets we were counting on. Anyway, the fixtures are on sale and we even saw someone buying one of the kid-size mannequins. This of course leads to the question: why? Well, he probably knows his business.

It makes me realize there’s a movie that logic and experience dictates should have been made and somehow wasn’t. So I ask you, kind readers. Would I get a lot of pushback if I said we should just go ahead and pretend there was a Mannequin 3, made sometime around 1996, starring whoever the second-generation photocopy of Andrew McCarthy was, struggling with being the single parent of a kid mannequin (or “mannekid”) for some reason?

Thank you. I thought we might fill that gap. (I’m guessing the plot is the Andrew McCopy character has to learn some lesson about work/life balance and maybe to foil some smugglers.)

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? Wait, if Slim’s here then who’s playing Santa Claus? September – December 2019


Hi, person who wants to catch up on Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley. This plot recap gets you up to speed for early December 2019. If you’re reading this after about March 2020 there’s probably a more up-to-date plot recap at this link. Good luck finding what you need.

Gasoline Alley.

16 September – 7 December 2019.

Gasoline Alley had started the story of Peter Glabella, substitue physician assistant. He’s supernaturally good at his job. He has “mirror-touch synesthesia”, allowing him to feel what patients feel. This gives him a real edge in figuring out where someone’s ache comes from. This turns out to be a real actual thing that really exists in the real world, for real. I know, right? Wikipedia says something like one person in fifty has this to some extent. In the real world, it’s more like people who will feel it themselves when they see one person touch another. This can extend to empathy, strongly feeling the emotions someone else shows, or feeling the pain they’re experiencing. As with most things about how the brain works, it’s amazing and it takes clever experimental design to sort out what is happening. So I apologize for being too snarky back in September about the thing.

Glabella, walking through downtown with Chipper Wallet: 'See that postal carrier's bag? I can 'feel' the weight of it on my shoulder! And that fellow over there has a toothache!' Wallet: 'Wow! It's good you don't live in a densely populated city! You'd be bombarded with unbridled feelings all day and night!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 1st of October, 2019. Am I a bad person for wanting to put Glabella in a room with someone else who has the same mirror-touch synesthesia and see what happens? I’m a bad person for wanting to put Glabella in a room with someone else who has the same mirror-touch synesthesia and see what happens.

Glabella spends a couple weeks explaining the condition, trying to convince the reader this is on the level. He stops short of telling snide readers like me to look it up on Wikipedia. And trying to establish that he isn’t magic, he can just tell at a glance that somebody’s back hurts. Me, I have to look up if the person is more than 38 years old first.

Chipper Wallet takes Glabella to Corky’s Diner. They arrive the 3rd of October and that sets the scene for the new story. Glabella notices Terry, their server, has some heart trouble. Chipper urges her to make a clinic appointment, as if someone working in a restaurant could afford medical care in the United States. But she does, and gets an appointment with Glabella. Who by the way finally lets us know what his name means: it’s “the space between your eyebrows and bridge of your nose”.

Getting back to the clinic from the restaurant. Wallet: 'Hey, Ruthie! We're back.' Ruthie: 'Peter [Glabella]! Your 1:30 patient is patiently waiting!' Glabella: 'I'll go right in!' It's Terry, their waitress from lunch. 'Terry! How'd you get here ahead of Chipper and me?' Terry: 'I don't mess around! Besides I know a shortcut!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 21st of October, 2019. “While you were walking through every panel for a week, I ran in here in the gap between panels! It’s a great time-saver if you don’t trip on the copyright sticker.” Which might actually be how she did it, come to think of it.

The diagnosis: it might be acute angina pectoris. She needs a couple weeks off from work. So we shift to Corkey, trying to figure out his staffing problem. Stepping in is Baleen Beluga. She’s a good fit for Jim Scancarelli’s comic world. She starts in with tales of an adventurous past, with a lot of sailing on ships. She claims to be heading to Texas to join a cattle boat. That plan’s messed up when Terry’s diagnosis comes in. She needs surgery, about a month of recovery time, and some time of light work after that. Beluga’s willing to stay on, trusting that there’s a lot of cattle boats in the sea.

Corky: 'Listen, Baleen ... may I call you that?' Baleen: 'Sure! That's my name!' Corky: 'I'm up against the wall for two weeks!' Baleen: 'YOU listen! If you can't make th'payroll, Sonny, I'll set sail outta here right NOW!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 7th of November, 2019. I like when a new character actor comes in. I’m not sure who plays Baleen Beluga, but it’s definitely someone likable and somewhat familiar from 60s sitcoms.

That’s not many events — there was a lot of characters saying funny things to each other instead. It takes us to the 21st of November, when Scancarelli noticed he haven’t even started his Christmas plotting. Luckily, a train breaks down right outside the diner. The Mistletoe Express has a burst water line. It’s a tourist-attraction locomotive now. It works for the Gasoline Alley Railway and Kitchen Cabinet Company. It’s bringing kids to see Santa. Beluga brings them a section of their stove exhaust vent. This probably won’t raise the diner’s carbon monoxide levels to dangerous heights.

Engineer: 'Hey, look, here comes the press!' Ballew, coming up to the train; 'I'm Hulla Ballew from the Gasette!' Engineer: 'This is embarrassing! Our engine broke down and the Corky's Diner folks pitched in to help with the repairs!' Ballew: 'What a great story!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 29th of November, 2019. I admire all the work Scancarelli put into illustrating that train engine. I don’t know how train art fans feel about it. They can demand a lot of precision. But me? I know if it has a lot of straight lines in it then it has to be great drawing. Also it’s only today that I realize Hulla Ballew writes for the Gasette. Mm.

And the stopped Christmas train brings out the press. It’s the Gasette’s Hulla Ballew. She fails to mention she’s the suspiciously young sister of Wally Ballew, on-the-site reporter for the Bob and Ray Show. Good for the diner. Maybe getting better: the locomotive needs even more emergency repairs. Corky invites the kids and parents in to the diner for ice cream. And calls Slim Wallet, telling him he needs a Santa Claus. Slim leaps into action and gets his red coat out. He makes fantastic time, too, and that’s where we’ve gotten.

Santa: 'Ho ho ho ho!' Corky: 'You got here fast, Slim! You look great!' Santa: 'Thanks! Mrs Claus made me go on a diet!' Corky: 'Nice touch, Slim! Keep up the ho-ho-ho's! The kids are on the train!' Kids, on the train: 'Look! It's Santa! Yea!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 7th of December, 2019. So, Santa just overheard Corky calling Slim and decided this was a good chance to race to Gasoline Alley again? … I guess he does all that watching what everybody does business, so that checks out, but then he’s really dissing Slim’s ability to wear a red coat and laugh in a jolly fashion for kids on short notice. Unless Slim can’t get there after all, in which case was Santa just aware of the delay before anyone could be? Or did he … cause … Slim’s unfortunate delay?

Golly jeepers, you don’t suppose there’s anything … curious … about Slim as Santa Claus here, do you? Mm? Hmmm? HMMMMMMMM?

Next Week!

Shall have to ponder that in about twelve weeks. For now? I look at comic strips with some mathematical theme, on my other blog. And on this blog, in one week (barring surprises), we journey to the Himalayas … In Search Of … James Allen’s Mark Trail.

Statistics Saturday: Your Christmas Special Viewing Schedule


Date Plan
9 December Frosty the Snowman
10 December Looking at the as-suggested #FrostyReturns to see what people did say about that awful awful awful awful awful thing.
11 December Spending more time complaining about Twas The Night Before Christmas than actually watching it.
12 December Half-hour thing based on some recent kids CGI movie you didn’t watch.
13 December How The Grinch Stole Christmas, the 60s one.
14 December Yelling at people in three different Facebook groups to just watch Arthur Christmas already.
15 December Trying to remember if we already watched Twas The Night Before Christmas and the DVR just spontaneously re-recorded it.
16 December Trying to work out what the heck The Leprechaun’s Christmas Gold was for.
17 December Misguided mid-90s thing that looks like the bad Animaniacs studio animated it and oh my goodness yes they have a Rapping Granny in it.
18 December Over-parsing of every single line in Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer.
19 December Oh wow that one You Can’t Do That On Television episode about holidays really shows how the program was like 400% more Canadian than you remembered.
20 December Can’t get the Snow Miser song out of your head.
21 December Inconclusive online argument about whether there was somehow a Far Side Christmas special in like 1988 or whether they’re somehow thinking of a Ziggy Christmas special from like 1982.
22 December How was there a Little Drummer Boy Book II? And it was Rankin/Bass’s only Emmy nomination?!
23 December Realization that you’re now too old to be able to follow the story logic of Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July.
24 December Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town

Seriously, though, Frosty’s Return was already so awful in every possible way and then they dumped that 1995 Cartoon Attitude all over it. Also, Arthur Christmas: worth watching.

Reference: Quiz Craze: America’s Infatuation with Game Shows, Thomas A DeLong.

In Which The Clickbait Almost Gets Me


And so then I got this.

Clickbait ad: You May Like ... 20 Facts You Never Knew About the Legend Don Knotts
I mean, how am I supposed to resist? Other than by not clicking on the stupid thing?

If they ever work out that there’s much about ZaSu Pitts and Thelma Todd that I have yet to learn then I’m doomed.

A Great Alarm, From My Dreams


I had been figuring to continue my talk about alarming things. I mean alarming to me. And particularly about things alarming to a wakeful mind that’s as rational as you get around here. Then I went and slept. If we accept that dreams can be warnings of what we must face, then I’m up for something big soon.

For this dream alarm to make any sense at all I should tell you we haven’t met our new neighbors. All we know about them is that they maybe exist. We’re not sure. The house next door is a rental. Sometimes we’ve had great neighbors. Like the ones who were pointing out the adorably silly look of this kitten’s tail, and said someday they’d bring us a pie from work. Those were great neighbors, everything you could hope for. They never even did bring us pie and that’s fine. We were happy to be thought worthy of pie delivery.

But that was a long time ago, and different renters have come in, and left, a couple times over. We’re sure that the last set of renters left. We noticed them less and less, then we noticed we didn’t notice them at all, and that’s how someone leaves, right? We’re not completely sure there’s new ones there, though. The evidence for is that someone goes in and leaves lights on, and there’s sometimes a car in the driveway at some implausible hour like 4 am. The evidence against is there’s not a curtain in the entire building and we dont see furniture either. But someone’s gone raking leaves there. It has to be at least someone who knows what they want out of the place. The point is that I don’t know our neighbors, if we have them. Any interactions we’d have with them would be our first, as far as I know.

So the dream scenario starts with me in the dining room, puttering away on the computer, probably writing this essay only even later. And then looking out the back to see that something’s knocked over part of the fence. This would be very annoying to have to deal with, so I did not. At least not until I looked again later and saw the whole fence was gone. That would be a problem I couldn’t ignore, which is why I did. And before you get all smug about how you’d be more active about this let me point out that you’re a lying liar who’s lying to yourself, by whom I mean me. If someone came in and stole your backyard fence you’d do anything to not deal with that too.

Which is fine except that a couple minutes later, I saw that the neighbor’s house was gone. More, all the houses down the block were gone, replaced with what looked like the clubhouse for one of those golf courses they make retirement communities out of these days. This annoyed me since we have some pleasantly old houses in the neighborhood, getting on a hundred years now, and they might be utterly ordinary Dutch Colonial things but there’s value in having an ordinary neighborhood in kind-of respectable shape. Plus it’s ridiculous to put in a golf clubhouse without a golf course. But on most of what had been the neighbors’ driveway was now a pool.

Offisa Pupp, berating a magician: 'You and your magic! You've got all Coconino County upset making things vanish. That mouse vanishes. That brick vanishes. My jail vanishes. Even that dear Kat vanishes. Everybody vanishes. Everybody ev --- ' Pupp vanishes. The magician, rolling over to sleep: 'I'm still here.'
George Herriman’s Krazy Kat for the 16th of January, 1942, and reprinted on Comics Kingdom today, the 5th of December, 2019. I feel peculiarly called out by all this.

Recounting this makes me realize that if the neighbors’ driveway had been replaced with a pool, then there’d be no good place to put the ladder for when I change the storm windows out for screens in spring. Our houses are close together and we use the neighbor’s driveway under the well-established legal principle of “I dunno, we’ll do this in the middle of the afternoon when they’re probably at work, if they exist”. That I was not worrying about how to take the storm windows down should have warned me that I was not in my rational mind. Whatever conclusions you draw about me, as a person, from knowing that self-assessment, are correct.

Anyway I was willing to put up with the neighborhood going missing and the fence being stolen, especially with the nice fountains spraying out of the ponds. This until I felt the water spraying on my back. Now the walls of our dining room were gone and I had to say something. I knew that our neighbor was responsible, somehow, and also knew who our neighbor was, and got a bit shout-y. The neighbor tried to point out that he’d left many of the walls in our house intact. Plus now we had the benefits of a covered patio for our dining room, which didn’t satisfy me because I was thinking of the heating bill. “Where do you get the nerve to STEAL our BUILDING WALLS”, I shouted. As I remember I put in the word “building” in order to make clear I was not this upset about the fence going missing, in case someone would mistake a wooden fence for a wall. And I wanted “building’s” but couldn’t make that work.

Also, and this is a real thing that really happened for real, in reality, I was yelling loudly enough in my dream that I was also saying this in real life, waking up my love. After listening a while to find out where this was going, my love woke me up. This was disorienting, and then I realized: oh, yes. Realizing that all this was a dream answered most of my questions about the situation I was in.

Anyway, if all this is a harbinger of the relationship we’re to have with our neighbors, if and when they exist, I think we must say they are very alarming neighbors indeed. I shall have to insist on actual pie delivery before they swipe any walls.

A Quick Post-Holiday Realization


You know, if The Family Circus never did a strip where one of the kids was telling another that last year’s Thanksgiving is properly referred to as “Thanksgiven” then the Keanes missed a major opportunity.

(Thanks for seeing me live up to the promise made last week, when I shared the theoretical reasons for the existence of a word “remise”. Please stop in next week when — no promises — I’m going to see if I can put together a coherent thought about superlative cider being the cidest.)

60s Popeye Watching: Irate Pirate


Irate Pirate is another of the Larry Harmon-produced line of 60s cartoons. Just looking at the title card I thought: well, “irate” and “pirate” only really rhyme when Popeye is saying that, and only some of the time even then, right? It’s all right to rely on an idiosyncratic thing of your title character, especially a character as generally swell as Popeye. But it’s symptomatic of this cartoon, where I ended up thinking more stray thoughts than actually watching the plot. Let’s see if you agree.

The cartoon’s competent enough. Everybody has a model and they stick, stiffly, to it. The story’s quite direct. There’s not really weird moments in it, either. So I’m left with stray thoughts while I watch. Here’s some of them.

  • Hey, it’s a cartoon where Popeye the Sailor is actually doing something with boats!
  • Though it is odd that we’re set up with a collapskible boat that we never see collapsking. Just un-collapsking. A button is a setup to have a button pressed repeatedly, at awkward moments.
  • “Ooh, Popeye! I just love that salty dialogue!” is definitely (at about 0:55) a line I did not understand when I was seven.
  • Olive Oyl asks what the one and only button is for. Popeye wants to stop her from pressing it, but he doesn’t want to stop her so much that he moves in any way.
  • So why does BrutusJolly Roger have a French accent this cartoon? Did it start out at one point as a New Orleans-set river-pirates thing and then that setting got dropped? Did they record the audio for this the same day, or near enough, to Mississippi Sissy? Was Jackson Beck just trying to add a little flavor to a dull part?
  • Popeye complains that Olive Oyl, atop the mast, is rollicking the boat. But since the animation doesn’t have her actually move, it looks like he’s the one rollicking the mast.
  • BrutusJolly Roger has a point about not wanting Olive Oyl to be on Popeye’s homemade tub rather than his own actual boat. Also I like Popeye’s indignant, “whaddaya mean homemade? I builded this boat meself!”
  • It’s really not until 2:51, when Olive Oyl’s finally tied up, that we see BrutusJolly Roger doing something villainous. If he did tie her up; we have to take it on trust that he had some part on it. There’s easily one chance in four that Olive Oyl spontaneously manifests ropes tying her up at about this part of a cartoon.
  • Olive Oyl hugging the top of a ship's mast, smiling and with her eyes closed.
    Well, glad Olive Oyl’s enjoying herself.
  • At about 3:30 Olive Oyl demands, “Don’t you dare hurt Popeye, you – you – pirate, you”. BrutusJolly Roger says, “Oh, I would not think of it” and immediately shoots his harpoon without explaining the apparent contradiction. Yeah, all he does is sink Popeye’s inflatable boat but I’d expected some mention of why he’s well, actually not hurting Popeye.
  • While handing from BrutusJolly Roger’s fishhook Popeye declares there’s “nothing like strained spinach to tickle the tonsils”, and when he eats it there’s this watery sound effect. What’s gone and strained his spinach? Is this supposed to be watery after Popeye was dunked in the sea? I guess that makes sense?
  • Those button noses on the ends of BrutusJolly Roger’s sharks given them a weirdly puppy-dog look.
  • BrutusJolly Roger’s boat starts out pretty sleek and modern, but as it goes on he seems to pick up older-style pirate accessories. Like, were they even still making cannonballs in 1960, apart from for historical reenactments? I honestly don’t know and don’t know how to look this one up.
  • After getting partly blown up by a cannonball that Popeye’s caught, lit, and passed back on, Olive Oyl declares “Let’s go ashore, sailing is so boring”. So she’s fed up with cartoons where all she does is get tied up by the Big Bad and urges Popeye on to doing something, too.

There’s probably some way to measure how much I’m buying into a cartoon by how many stray distracted thoughts like these that I have about it.

Statistics Monday: How November 2019 treated my humor blog


I like starting the month with a look at what’s happening to my readership. I don’t know how they like the experience. Nobody’s complaining about me being too nosey, anyway.

So, I have still not broken the November 2015 page-view high set off by the end of Apartment 3-G and my moment of attention from The Onion A.V. Club. But I did set a new unique-visitors record, the third month this year that’s set such a record. So that’s nice.

There were 4,133 pages viewed here in November. That’s down from October, but still appreciably above the twelve-month running average of 3,457.7 views per month. There were 2,492 unique visitors, the greatest number of unique visitors on record so far. And, naturally, above the twelve-month running average of 1,970.9 unique visitors per month. There were 137.8 views per posting, above the average of 113.5 views per post. And 83.1 unique visitors per post, again above the running average of 64.7 unique visitors per post.

Bar chart of monthly views and visitors. The last six months have seen a steady increase in both; views, however, crested in October, while visitors continues to rise.
I was so happy with myself for getting the snapshot of the statistics right as the WordPress Server Month rolled over that I forgot to do the URL hacking that lets me see all the numbers from mid-2015 to the present day. Sorry.

The drawback of knowing more people are looking at my pages, and reading pages? That I have evidence they like me less. There were 92 things given likes in November (not all of them things published in November). That’s below the twelve-month running average of 150.5 likes per month. There were twelve comments over the month, way below the running average of 31.3 comments per month. Likes, around here, have been on a decline, with minor interruptions, since early 2015. Comments rolled over and died after early 2015, except for a short while after Roy Kassinger discovered the place.


There were 446 posts, besides the home page, that got any page views in November. There had been 468 in October and 460 in September. 150 of these pages got only a single view, which is about the same as the 162 in October and 166 in September. The most popular several pieces were, unsurprisingly, comic strip related. What was the most popular did surprise me, though:

So that’s another perfect sweep away from “original stuff that I write with the intention of being funny”. If I’m not overlooking something the most popular original-premise thing was Statistics Saturday: The Size of Rhode Island in terms of Football Fields, which I’m glad to see remembered. It’s a very me sort of joke to make. My most popular long-form original essay was Some Alarming News, starting off November’s running motif of alarms. I have notes for another alarm-based piece, too, so get ready for that.

As ever, I figure to publish a long-form essay every Thursday evening, Eastern Time. And some Statistics Saturday thing Saturday evenings. My most reliably liked thing, though, is the What’s Going On In story strips essays, which I’ve mostly published Sunday evenings. My plan for the next couple weeks is to recap the plots in:


There were 74 countries that sent me any viewers at all in November. That’s down from 76 in October, and up from 73 in September. I seem to have found a level. Fifteen of them were single-view countries, down from 23 in October but back around to September’s 13. Here’s the full roster:

Mercator-style map of the world with The United States in deepest red, most of the Americas, Europe, Southeast Asia, and Australia and New Zealand in a fairly uniform pink, and almost nothing in Africa, nor a trail from Syria through to China.
This time around were 83 views marked as “European Union”, which is even more than I got from the Philippines. I really have no idea what’s going on there. But I also feel like my own writing is so parochial I don’t get why anyone in the Philippines would look at it except by accident.
Country Readers
United States 2,964
India 286
Canada 106
United Kingdom 100
European Union 83
Philippines 57
Germany 55
Sweden 54
Australia 51
Brazil 42
Norway 19
Spain 19
Finland 17
Netherlands 17
Slovenia 17
South Africa 15
Denmark 14
Italy 14
France 13
Indonesia 12
Chile 10
Russia 10
Kenya 9
Malaysia 7
Mexico 7
Portugal 7
Saudi Arabia 7
New Zealand 6
South Korea 6
Thailand 6
Ecuador 5
Israel 5
Trinidad & Tobago 5
Bangladesh 4
Poland 4
Slovakia 4
Switzerland 4
Turkey 4
United Arab Emirates 4
Austria 3
El Salvador 3
Hong Kong SAR China 3
Hungary 3
Ireland 3
Jamaica 3
Japan 3
Pakistan 3
Peru 3
Argentina 2
Belgium 2
Bolivia 2
Bulgaria 2
Greece 2
Puerto Rico 2
Romania 2
Serbia 2
Taiwan 2
Ukraine 2
Venezuela 2
Albania 1
Colombia 1
Ghana 1
Gibraltar 1
Guam 1 (*)
Jordan 1 (*)
Lebanon 1
Macedonia 1 (*)
Mauritius 1
Montenegro 1
Nigeria 1
Uganda 1
Uruguay 1
Uzbekistan 1
Zambia 1 (*)

Guam, Jordan, Macedonia, and Zambia were single-view countries in October too. No countries have been single-view for three months in a row yet.


From the start of the year to the start of November I’ve published 187,600 words here, however WordPress counts words exactly. This was in 332 posted articles, for an average of 565 words per post. This was a slender 15,441 words posted over the course of thirty pieces. So that’s a nice 514.7 words per post. So that shortens me up from the start of October’s 571 words per posting on the year.

There’ve been 1,548 likes of anything over the year, an average of 4.7 per posting. That’s down from the start of October’s 4.8 average likes per posting. There’ve been 434 comments in all, an average of 1.3 comments per posting, which is an average holding steady from the start of last month.

As of the start of November I’ve had 2,494 posts around here in total. They’ve drawn 148,214 total views, from 82,536 logged unique visitors.

I’d be glad if you chose to be a regular reader. You can add https://nebushumor.wordpress.com/feed/ to your RSS reader and not show up in any of my statistics. Or if you’d like, use the “Follow Another Blog, Meanwhile” link at the upper right corner of the page. My automated reposting of new-post announcements on my dead Twitter account of @Nebusj is still running, too. Thanks for reading in any circumstance, though.

What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? What’s Detective Frisk doing not being dead? September – November 2019


Evening, everyone wondering what’s going on in Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy. If you’re reading this after February 2020 there’s probably a more up-to-date plot recap at this link, which also holds older Dick Tracy recaps. Thanks for reading.

Dick Tracy.

8 September – 30 November 2019.

Dick Tracy had just wrapped up a story when I last checked in. They were moving into two weeks of a Minit Mystery, solving a poisoning. That started the 1st of September and ran through the 15th. Makes things very neat for me. It featured characters from the Friday Foster comic strip of the early 70s.


The story opens with Detective Frieda Frisk. She’s been busy the last few years, ever since she died in the line of duty. She explains to Dick Tracy that yeah, back in a 2004 adventure Sal Monella drowned in the river. But you all just thought she drowned too. And since she was reported dead at work, she figured she might as well not come in anymore. Before you ask whether this makes sense please consider that Sal Monella had previously been crushed in a trash compactor. He turned up alive, albeit more cubical than before, and a legit concert promoter. Again, if you aren’t regularly going “wait, what?” you aren’t reading the real Dick Tracy.

[A familiar face from the past] Tracy; 'DETECTIVE FRISK?' Frisk: 'Ah, you got me, Tracy. Which is more than I can say for my would-be assassin.' Tracy: 'We all thought you DIED in pursuit of Sal Monella. What happened, Freida?' Frisk: 'Well, obviously Monella drowned and I didn't. Anyhow, Justice was serviced, and since I don't play well with others, I decided not to return to the MCU. For the past few years I've been investigating the activities of Mrs Clair Howell. Her specialty is selling infants to prospective parents.' Tracy: 'A baby broker.' Frisk: 'One of the biggest. She's been in the business for decades.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 22nd of September, 2019. I do not know whether we’re meant to take it that Frisk saw Monella drowned, or whether she’s just supposing someone who seemed to have drowned, and hasn’t made contact with any of the people he knew for a decade and a half now, must be dead. Anyway, Monella’s thing when he was a concert promoter was set-decorating a venue with real actual garbage, and somehow this was a major hit, netting like nine million bucks before Frisk decided he needed to be not so alive. Monella’s original scheme, when he was first a villain in the comic, was selling recycled garbage as discount airline snacks, which gave Dick Tracy a case of amnesia, causing him not to wonder why a discount airline has snacks. I don’t know, I’m just telling you what’s on the Dick Tracy Wiki.

Anyway, Frisk’s new job is providing family information to Howell Babies. These are the children sold, for decades, by Clair Howell’s for-profit adoption agency. Which Frisk notes is not against the law, merely wrong. Frisk gets back in touch with Tracy because she shot an extra named Edward Delacroix. But she was going contact him anyway. She’s discovered that Officer Lizz Worthington-Grove, who’s been in the strip since the 50s, was also one of Howell’s sold babies. Tracy has questions. Frisk says she doesn’t know why Delacroix was shooting her. She also won’t reveal how she’s getting the Howell’s adoption records.

The Howells would like to know that too. Their plan of sending Edward Delacroix to shoot the information out of her didn’t work. They think long about what motivates people besides bullets, and hit on the idea of money. It turns out Frisk herself is a Howell Baby. They take the chance that Frisk’s birth mother, Lily Seven, would take money in exchange for setting up a trap. So she would.

Seven contacts Frisk, claiming to have only recently found out about her from Howell. Frisk and Tracy grant Seven might be working with Howell. But she’s interested in where this is going. It goes to dinner, and a movie, and before long, going to see Vitamin Flintheart in Our Town. They’re having a great relationship except for how Seven is only in it as long as Howell’s bankroll holds up.

Tracy: 'Well, Frisk, it's been two weeks and no move against you. How are you and Lily getting along?' Frisk: 'Eh, I could still be on someone's marked list, so I'm keeping an eye out. As for Lily, I think she may be on the level.' [ Elsewhere ] Lily: 'Look here, Clair, I'm getting tired of playing Mommy. When are you gonna make your move?' Clair Howell: 'The next time you meet with Frisk.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 10th of October, 2019. Really genuinely curious what the small talk between Seven and Frisk is like. “So, uh, when you decided to just go along with the people who decided you were dead, uh … like … did that get the student loan people off your back? Because if plunging into the icy rivers of Tracy City and then never returning to your workplace or apartment is what it takes, I can think of some people who’d figure that’s worth it.”

Seven and Frisk go to Our Town again, I’m assuming because The Best Man was sold out. At the close of the play Seven jabs a hypodermic into Frisk’s neck. Seven and the Howells, who’ve been lurking around the show, drag her away.

They have a great plan to kill Frisk only slowly and uncertainly. They drag her to the abandoned building district, and to the roof of the Crow-Infested Building Hotel. There they tie her to the Roof Machinery and leave her in the rain-turning-to-snow. There’s only one possible way that she might escape. And that is if her Wrist Geenee, the souped-up version of the Dick Tracy Wrist-Radio that they were using in the early 2000s, was not in fact destroyed when she wrestled with Sal Monella in 2004, but instead fell into the lining of her jacket where it has rested ever since, waiting for the random motions of Frisk trying to break the zip ties binding her arms to her legs to activate its distress signal mode on a frequency still monitored by contemporary Dick Tracy Wrist Wizard technology, which it has retained enough battery power to do for fifteen years. And what do you know but — ! So Tracy’s able to rescue Frisk before she would plummet to her death.

Tracy, racing to the rooftop where Frisk is about to fall to the ground: 'FRISK! DON'T MOVE!' (Grabbing her.) 'I've got you!' Frisk: 'T-Tray! How'd you find me?' Tracy: 'Your Wrist Genii signalled me. You're freezing.' Frisk: 'M-my Wrist Genii? I LOST IT when I fell in the bay chasing Sal Monella.' Tracy, tearing it out of her coat as he unties her: 'It's in the lining of your coat! Your struggling must have activated it.' Frisk: 'Tracy, I'm so SORRY about the mean things I said to you.' Tracy; 'We're OK, Frisk. Now come in out of the cold.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 3rd of November, 2019. Not denying that it’s a normal and realistic and human thing to say, but: Dick Tracy yelling at Frisk to stop falling off the roof makes me so happy. Really great stuff there. (They spelled Frisk’s device as the Wrist Genii here, although back in the early 2000s it was called the Wrist Geenee. I do not know what significance this change in spelling has and would not rule out that Genii is easier to letter.)

The Howells hear about this on the news and just. Can. Not. I sympathize. They make a break for it as cops converge on their house. The Howells spot one cop car, T-bone it, and keep going. But that’s damaged their own car, and when its tire blows the car careens off a bridge into the river below. Tracy calls for an ambulance and divers, but there’s not much to do. When you’ve witnessed two people get dumped into the cold waters and not come up you have to accept them as dead. Tracy asks Frisk about her plans.

She figures to carry on contacting Howell Babies and offering them information on how to contact their birth parents. Oh, and she’ll definitely stop back in when Lily Seven’s trial comes up.


So that, the 14th of November, closed out the story that’s dominated the last couple months. It also introduces the new, currently-running story. It opens at Wertham Woods Psychiatric Facility (motto: “Get it? Eh? EH?”). We know it as the facility holding Tulza Tuzon. Tuzon’s half-handsome, half-monstrous face earned him the performing and crime name Haf-and-Haf. He contracted a case of Soap Opera Multiple Personality Disorder. If that’s the sort of subject matter you do not want in your casual entertainment, you may want to drop Dick Tracy from your reading the next couple months. So far Tuzon hasn’t done very much in the story that any old villain looking for revenge wouldn’t be doing anyway.

The person we see on screen might be acting in the character of Tulza Tuzon, or as Haf-and-Haf, or as the particularly villainous Splitface. Which gets even more confusing than usual, because there was another, earlier Splitface in the Dick Tracy universe. I think that this Splitface has taken his name in tribute to the older one. But, gads, they aren’t making it easy for me. Haf-and-Haf was a character Chester Gould created in the mid-60s by Totally I Swear Not Having Heard Of Two-Face Over In Batman.

Last time I dealt with Tuzon/Haf-and-Haf/Splitface, they were kidnapping Zelda, Tuzon’s ex-wife. Along the way they picked up a sidekick, a homeless guy name of Clybourne Mayfair. The kidnapping plan didn’t work, but Splitface orders Clybourne to escape before the cops finally close in.

Anyway, Clybourne’s popped in again, pretending to be a statue delivery guy to Wertham Woods so he can sneak Tuzon/Haf/Splitface out. He’s not out to kill Zelda this time and anyway she’s out of the country. Instead he’s got a car bomb project. A two-car bomb, that he sets off outside the Hotel Siam when Dick Tracy’s car pulls up. You’ll remember the Hotel Siam as the place where Oliver and Annie Warbucks stayed while they were most recently in the strip. The bomb doesn’t kill Tracy or Sam Catchem.

Car explodes. Narrator: 'Tracy, Sam, Steve, and Mike narrowly escaped a car bombing at the Siam!' Steve Roper: 'This is quite a welcome, Tracy.' Tracy: 'Yes, isn't it?' Sam Catchem: 'Friends of yours, Tracy?' Tracy: 'Sam, this is Steve Roper and Mike Nomad.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 25th of November, 2019. “Sam, did I mention I’ve been learning how to throw my voice? … … … I’ve been learning how to throw my voice.” Anyway, did you know that Steve Roper and Mike Nomad was written by Allen Saunders, who also wrote Mary Worth for like six hundred years back in the mid-20th century? And, yes, the strip started out as a joke strip titled Big Chief Wahoo, and changed. So it did the Wash Tubbs and Captain Easy thing of changing genre, and the Barney Google and Snuffy Smith or Robotman/Monty thing of getting a new cast and dropping the old. Comic strips used to be even weirder.

It does reveal this story’s special guest stars, Steve Roper and Mike Nomad. From the remembered comic strip Steve Roper and Mike Nomad. When that comic was last seen, in December 2004, Steve Roper was the editor of Proof Magazine. Mike Nomad was a private eye. Together they’d have action-adventure stories that I never read. I mean, c’mon, who was doing story-comic snark blogging in 2004?

Roper’s car was completely destroyed by the bomb. Roper and Nomad were in town, by a great stroke of luck, investigating Tulza Tuzon. Nomad explains they knew Haf-and-Haf, from an investigation they ran ages ago into carnival cons. The one they could pin on Haf-and-Haf: the old purse-snatching-crows plan. Which, I read, was part of the original Haf-and-Haf story in 1960s Dick Tracy. They spotted Haf-and-Haf’s scam, called the cops, and Tulza went on the run. He ran all the way into a truck carrying a vat of toxic disfigurement chemicals. So, uh, good job, Proof Magazine, giving some supervillain his Origin Story. I get why Tuzon would be aiming a bomb at them; what I don’t know is why they figured they had to come back into town now and be a target for him.

And that’s where the story has gotten to, as of Saturday.

Next Week!

Will I get to talk about old-time radio? It’s time to explain what’s going on in Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley, so, yes. Catch you in a week, unless something demands the publication slot first.