You know that thing where you think back to the way you used to think? And you just can’t understand something about yourself? Like, there’s something you would have absolutely figured you would have cared about, and you cannot find any evidence that you did at all? Yeah, so I’m having one of those moments. Like, 1983 was the 400th full year since Pope Gregory’s reform of the calendar, so it was the first time that the modern calendar had experienced its full 400-year cycle. There is no way this wouldn’t be interesting to the young me, someone who still remembers where he was the day he heard Pluto had passed within the orbit of Neptune for the first time in 230 years. And yet … I have not the faintest memory of thinking of this fact at all in 1983. What’s going on there, you know? Seriously.
I haven’t decided what I’m going to do with my Leap Day. I know, confessing that makes me sound like I can’t make decisions before the last minute. It’s not like we haven’t known it was coming. The leap day’s been scheduled for thousands of years now, and here we are maybe hours away, and I still don’t have an idea in mind.
Anyway there’s not much point my making plans too far ahead. I’ll end up forgetting them anyway. I’m so good at forgetting plans that I can forget my plans while I’m making them. It’s only months after the plan would have mattered that I’ll have any inkling of the idea. I’ll sit bolt upright in bed — dropping a conversation mid-sentence, if I have to, to rush back home, change into my sweatpants, and hide in bed, to sit up in it — and slap my head. It’s enough to make people think I’m not that good at interacting with them.
Anyway, after that experience I’ll probably take Leap Day as the 29th too. It can be fun having this sort of exceptional day. We all know how it exists outside the normal bounds of time and space. None of the ordinary laws of time exist. You can sleep in until 3:30 pm and still be in time to catch the sunrise, four times over. You can spend an hour on the phone talking with your parents and finally hang up two minutes before you call them. You can watch one of those two-minute Popeye flash cartoons and have it fill eighteen hours of the day. You can spend 57,500 years trapped in amber and be broken out and it’s still not 10:30 am. You can return library books that were due the 28th and not get charged late fees. You can turn on broadcast TV and catch an all-new episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. It’s everything that’s fun about Daylight Saving Time, only twenty-four times as much of it, and no whining. If you want to declare it’s outside the whole seven-day week experience, that it’s actually happening on “Thworbsday”, nobody can protest. That’s just how the day works.
And yet for all that, my imagination fails me. I used to know what to do with a free day. I would play Civilization II, trying to repeat cool experiences like conquering the entire world without ever building a boat. Today? I don’t know. There’s stuff that I could usefully do, like spend a couple hours deleting e-mails from the Amy Klobuchar campaign. But, jeez, I could do that anytime. I could delete them as fast as the campaign sends them to me. Well, OK, no I couldn’t. But still: the day doesn’t come up much at all. It really seems like I could have something more special going on.
There’s an advertisement in the local alt-weekly for “Chocolate your body understands”. That’s a mind-expanding exercise for you. My body, you may have gathered, never had trouble understanding any chocolate, no matter what funny accent the chocolate might have put on. But, we are asked to accept for the premise of this advertisement, there are chocolates that bodies can’t understand. The bodies try, surely, by such methods as speaking more loudly at the chocolate, but nothing comes across. Some other food group, perhaps a sauce of some kind, must come in to serve as interpreter. (Oh, finally the purpose of peanut butter is clear!) But now all these indignities of translation end, and we can just eat chocolate, so they promise.
I bet it’s not as simple as they pretend. There’s probably some classwork your body has to take before it talks with the chocolate again.
I got to wondering this past week: what do I like about these 60s Popeye cartoons? Nostalgia, for one; I grew up watching these a lot and liked them in that way a six-year-old will like everything. This is sufficient reason for me to watch again, but why should anyone else care? Even the best-produced of these — and this week’s is produced by Jack Kinney, who’s done quite well in production — isn’t going to be lavishly produced. Animation director Phil Duncan may be doing his best, but it’s not going to compare to, like, a 1930s cartoon where Popeye’s on a skyscraper. What has to be any good about them is story. A good story can fit to a cheap cartoon as well to a pricey one. Do we have it here? This week’s cartoon has a story by Ed Nofziger. His past work has included Hamburger Fishing and Swee’Pea Thru The Looking Glass, pretty good fairy tale riffs. Also Jingle Jangle Jungle, not a fairy tale riff, but circling around being one. These have been interesting. So how is 1960’s Fashion Fotography?
I quite like the story here. It’s got texture. It moves in ways that Popeye cartoons don’t usually, but that still make sense. We start with Olive Oyl attempting to take her own picture. She’s confident she’s getting her picture in the fashion magazine — pardon, the fash-ion ma-ga-zine — but taking her own picture is hard. I did wonder if, like, she had an invitation to send a picture in or if she was just doing this on spec, but, no matter. When the camera falls onto her feet she tosses the stupid thing out the door.
This hits Popeye, who unfortunately couldn’t see the camera coming because cartoon characters can’t see stuff that’s off-screen. Also he was walking up the sidewalk with his eyes closed. But he figures it’ll be an excellent surprise present for Olive Oyl, because he’s not able to extrapolate why the person who lives in the house he was walking towards might have thrown a camera away. Olive Oyl’s unwilling to have visitors until Popeye promises presents, when her attitude changes; it’s a cute little filip that makes plot-necessary things into a joke. Popeye kicking the door open and knocking Olive Oyl over is also a good bit, adding something silly where it’s not necessary.
Olive Oyl declaring she hates cameras, until Popeye explains that he could take her picture, puts me in mind of Homer Simpson’s brain explaining how money can be exchanged for goods and services. So I like this line better than I would have in, say, 1980, but that’s all right.
Popeye attempting to get a picture ready is a bunch of sight gags built on premises almost surely passed from human memory. Someone might understand Popeye checking that there’s film by pulling the roll out is a self-destructive thing. But you need some deep memories of what film cameras were like to remember winding the film until you got to a frame number. Or symbols warning you were about to get to a frame number. Me, I like sign humor, so Popeye seeing a never-ending series of arrows and chicken footprints and cops directing traffic could not possibly go on long enough. I understand if people born this millennium think this is taking a long time to get nothing done.
Olive Oyl loses patience and kicks Popeye out, right into Brutus. They briefly compete to take her picture, and break the camera. So they go to learn how to take photographs properly and come back to compete for picture-taking honors. Which is interesting: Popeye and Brutus as rival professional photographers seems like the start for a cartoon and here it’s just one beat on the way to the end. They come back, taking cartoon flash photographs, which leave Olive Oyl dazzled. She sends them away, favoring instead a portrait painted by Alice the Goon. Which is a neat choice. This is the first time in my reviews of these cartoons that we’ve definitely had Alice in. (She possibly played the sirens in Golden-Type Fleece.) The King Features cartoons had a lot working against them, but they were happy to use the surprisingly big cast of the comic strip.
Alice the Goon does a Picasso-style portrait of Olive Oyl. Popeye and Brutus hate it, with the hatred that comic strips, surely the most commercial of 20th century illustrative art, have always had for fine art. They laugh at it until Olive Oyl smacks them with the painting, and they go off chuckling at themselves. They even figure a way to have a singing couplet that Brutus can sing with Popeye.
You ever think about the last day that there were fewer mugs on this planet than there were mugs needed on this planet? Like, when the mug-manufacturer finally caught up, do you think there was any realization that we had reached a new point in history, one where, from here on, anyone who wanted a mug could just reach their hand into literally any cabinet anywhere and take out a half-dozen? And if they wanted some for themselves, they could just say, and the owner would say, “Oh, yes, please, we’ve got too many mugs as it is, take all you want”? It must have been such a weird transition to live through, like the discovery of fire or printing or cursive or something.
Shaky is the villain in Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy right now, in late February 2020. If you’re reading this summary after about May 2020 there’s probably a more up-to-date plot recap here. But this Shaky is the nephew, or nephew at least once removed, of the original Shaky. This first Shaky was a con man with a relentless shaking habit, and amazing dexterity, who died in the comic strip in January 1945. Asphyxiation, nasty stuff. The Dick Tracy Wiki helpfully explains there were a second Shaky, related to the first, who appeared in a 1986 and a sequel sometime in the 1990s. That character’s described on that page for Shaky. The current Shaky they dub Shaky II, because he is the third of that name and gimmick. I’m glad this acts as if it cleared things up.
1 December 2019 – 23 February 2020
Mid-November started a tale that brought Steve Roper and Mike Nomad from their remembered, cancelled action-adventure comic strip. Tulza Tuzon, also known as Haf-and-Haf and also known as Splitface, tried to car-bomb them. Roper and Nomad told us why Splitface wanted them dead. They’d been investigating his carnival midway scams and pickpocketing. This lead to his disfigurement in a tanker of acid. Yeah, but he used crows to lift purses, so it’s fair.
Roper, Nomad, Dick Tracy, and Sam Catchem count it as good luck that Tuzon’s car bomb didn’t kill any of them. Tuzon and his partner, Clybourne, see it as bad luck; they don’t have the cash for another bomb. Tuzon makes some calls, though. He knows of some friends, Measles and Wormy, whom Sam Catchem busted before they could use their crime props. Why not use their gear?
Clybourne calls Roper and Nomad. He claims to be an armored car driver who saw something relevant to the bomb. He sets up a meeting at Ambush Parking Garage, and they agree to fall for this. Clybourne went to so much trouble bringing knockout gas it would be rude if they didn’t. Meanwhile Tuzon calls Dick Tracy, claiming he wants to turn himself in. He’ll meet Tracy and Catchem at the Big Cat House, at the zoo. Tracy and Catchem fall for this, too. Clybourne and Tuzon drag all four of them into the alligator pit. The ex-circus alligator Lorenzo is to get them.
Tracy wakes up moments ahead of Lorenzo getting to them, and rallies everyone. They call for help and … well, it’s able to get to them with plenty of time. Tuzon didn’t grab their wrist-radios or stick around to watch the alligator eat them because, you know. He had urgent business: getting to the aviary so he could free the original Clybourne, the crow he’d trained to pick pockets on the midway. Mike Nomad divines this is Tuzon’s plan, chases after him, and catches the guy. And, on the 28th of December, Steve Roper and Mike Nomad fly back for home, wrapping up the story.
The new story — one just recently wrapped up — started the 29th of December, 2019. This with a guy assembling a bunch of guns and a metallic face mask. He leads the robbery of Thermopolis Payroll, introducing himself as Mister Roboto. This isn’t his first robbery, but it’s the first big enough to make it grand larceny and be worthy of Dick Tracy’s attention. Mr Roboto’s gang also wears masks, “not as elaborate” in the words of the police chief, but, you know, you gotta do something.
Which seems to be Mister Roboto’s point. After splitting the payroll heist, Roboto dismisses his henchmen until next week. He resigns himself to his boring warehouse job.
Meanwhile — in a story foreshadowed the 9th and 10th of December — the new Vitamin Flintheart play assembles. They’re doing a stage version of Metropolis. Starring as the Robotrix and False Maria? Mysta Chimera, who — just a second. I need to warm up before describing all this. OK. Mysta Chimera has the appearance and some of the powers of the Lunarians, much like Honeymoon Tracy has. But she’s not from the moon. She’s a surgically modified, amnesiac mobster’s daughter who’d been mentally programmed to think she was the Moon Maiden, Junior Tracy’s murdered wife. Chimera has learned where she really came from, and has given up on her whole past identity to hang around with Dick Tracy’s gang. Bonding with Honeymoon Tracy over having, you know, Moon Powers and those cool antennas and all that. Junior Tracy has taken all this with a sangfroid I’m not sure I could manage in the circumstance.
Mr Roboto pulls another robbery and gets into a shootout with Dick Tracy. It has a couple delightful moments in it. First, the cashier blurting out “domo arigato, Mister Roboto”, which endears her to Roboto. He declares that she can keep the money. Second, though, during the shootout Roboto declares, “Hey, Tracy! It’s a cold war!” Which confuses his underlings. Also, everyone who read the strip because the thing that defines a “cold war” is not shooting directly at the enemy. What’s going on here is that “Cold War” is one of the other songs on the album with “Mister Roboto”. So the implication here is that yes, Mr Roboto is trying to build his villain’sona around a Styx thing, but that he … doesn’t … really … have exactly the material to do it with. Or didn’t have the command of the material to do the patter smoothly. I accept this as a funny, awkward moment in the training of a young supervillain.
They get out of the shootout, though. Mr Roboto has one of his henchmen lose his costume and fake being a hostage, for safe passage. He won’t be able to use that henchman again, but, that’s better than their getting killed or arrested. And they’ll have to lay low a while, but he was thinking to do that anyway. Roboto had noticed the ads for Metropolis, after all.
And the play is just his thing. The 19th of January — the first time we see Mr Roboto’s face unmasked — he’s gazing at Mysta Chimera, and even better, Mysty Chimera as a robot. It’s an explosive mix. He’s barely left the theater when he’s worked out how he’s going to kidnap her and be with her forever until she loves him. It’s the pretext of a magazine interview, in costume as the robot, of course, handcuffed to a chair, the usual.
He has to run to a bank job. So he leaves her some Moon Snail, fresh-poached from the city zoo, which is having a heck of a winter with the baddies breaking in. Once he leaves, she moon-zaps her handcuffs off and calls Dick Tracy. Mr Roboto and his gang get back to the lair — well, a two-level house in the suburbs — only for Mysta to moon-zap them, and then Dick Tracy arrives. Roboto and crew surrender, asking only to not be repeatedly shot. And that, the 8th of February, wraps up the Mister Roboto storyline.
I’m assuming we’ll see Mister Roboto again, since he’s got this fun goofball air while still doing actual crimes. I have no idea what anyone from Styx thinks of inspiring a Dick Tracy villain. But I am absolutely on board for this summer’s villain of “hardcore Atari 2600 Swordquest adventure games fanboy”. Also, nobody has yet added this storyline to the “Uses in Media” section of Wikipedia’s page about the song. Just observing.
The new and current story started the 9th of February, with someone baking a birthday cake for Shaky, whose gimmick is that he’s always trembling. Then, some flashbacks to explain his deal. He was shaking constantly from infancy, rather like his uncle Shaky. He parleyed this in his youth to being the schoolyard bully. Then to selling exam papers and book reports. Then to blackmail, forgery, that sort of thing. And today? Today, he’s looking for revenge on Dick Tracy.
Shaky’s plan get Tracy is to go through Tess Tracy. Her detective agency provided most of the evidence used to convict James McQueen of aggravated backstory. Shaky claims he can prove McQueen’s innocence, and that he’s willing to sit on that evidence, for a fee. And if she doesn’t pay, he explains, he’ll tell the press how Dick Tracy’s wife is suppressing evidence. Think of the scandal, since in the Tracy universe there are still scandals with consequences. Think how her husband will react.
Me, I would think “obscure relative of a killed antagonist is blackmailing me to get revenge on you” would be easy to explain to Dick Tracy. Heck, it’s happened so much they have to discuss it when something doesn’t have to do with a relative of someone Tracy’s killed looking for revenge. There’ve been like over two hundred relatives of Flattop alone trying to get revenge on Dick Tracy. Tossing in another Shaky shouldn’t strain the super-scientific detective’s belief in her. But we’ll see. For now, this is where the story’s gotten.
What’s going on in Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley? Aw, what ever is going on in Gasoline Alley, anyway? I expect a healthy bunch of jokes about the leap year, if nothing else. That’s in seven days, unless events demand special attention first. And in the meantime, my other blog looks at comic strips with mathematical content. You might enjoy reading that. Thanks for trying.
- What is the capital of Ohio?
- What was, historically, the capital of the Ohio Territory?
- What is the largest city to border a Great Lake?
- Where’s the Cedar Point amusement park?
- How are you today?
- Did you know psoriasis can get into your ear? How does that make sense?
- Are the Kinks getting back together?
- What makes our new Terms of Service so all-fired different from the old Terms of Service that it was worth sending you a new Terms of Service to pretend to read?
- Is there going to be weather tomorrow?
- What’s the seat of Hamilton County, Ohio?
- Back in the early 20th century when there were “traction companies” running trolley cars all along city and even suburban streets it’s … like … they were transmitting electric power for cars along overhead lines, right? It’s not like they were running gigantic ropes and pulleys dragging things through town? Because that couldn’t possibly work, but “traction” seems like a weird name for “streetcar electric power”, right?
- Where was Case Western Reserve University originally located?
- Which United States Vice-President swore his oath of office in Cuba?
- What’s the name of your Chicago cover band?
- Yes, but did you like the movie?
Reference: Science From Your Airplane Window, Elizabeth A Wood. “Cleveland” was the name of your friend from college that you never really lost touch with but never talk to either’s Chicago cover band.
One more cold update. I’ve taken to punching antihistamine tablets out of the foil wrap so that the empty and full dots spell out a message in Baudot code. Also, punching them out of the foil irregularly would be incredibly, impossibly offensive to the orderly mind of the eight-year-old me, and that kid needs to relax and just let things be irregular some. Also, I’ve swallowed some of the foil backing along with the antihistamines. This is probably the eight-year-old me getting revenge for this irregular-tablet-punching business.
I know people reading this may think I’m always writing about me getting a cold. I have reasons for this. I don’t know anything about your getting a cold. I’m sorry; I should ask about your health more. How are you? Do you have one health, reasonably sized? If you don’t have a health of your own, it’s fine to get something store-bought. We all want one that’s bespoke, but really, off-the-shelf is fine. Anyway please fill in any small gaps in our conversation with how your cold is going.
Anyway I talk about my getting colds because health-wise, there’s not much else I have going on. Other than the occasional cold my health is pretty good. The only thing I have going on that doesn’t really work for me is my knees. I’m already at the point in life I have to plan out how often I’m going to kneel down, and what for, in the coming week.
It’s hard to say just why my knees are so bad. A leading candidate is that I used to be really quite obese. Until I was 39 I moved mostly by plate tectonics. My two brothers once went three years without seeing each other just because I happened to be standing in the way. And I know what you old-time-radio fans are thinking: that I just stole one of Jack Benny’s jokes about Don Wilson there. I did not. That joke came loose and fell into my gravitational well all on its own.
Anyway, I lost all that weight. Well, I “lost” all that weight; I know just where I put it. (It’s in the walls of my parents’ old house; don’t tell the new buyers!) But the damage to my knees was done. Oh, also, I have very tight hamstring muscles. Like, they’re tight enough that I can not straighten my legs unless I also bend my knees. My yoga instructor watched me trying to do anything and said, “But … how?”.
The cold has been a mild one. The biggest hazard is not mentioning it in front of specific friends. One of these is the zinc friend. You know, the one who isn’t just fond of zinc but so very sure it’s the fix for every problem that, really, I’m the difficult one if I don’t carry around a cinder block of zinc to lick every time I wipe my nose.
The other hazard is the soup friend. I like soups more than I did as a child. Especially when I have a cold. I can’t have enough to satisfy my soup friend. There’s not enough soup in the world to take all my soup friend’s advice. There’s barely enough me. Nevertheless I do appreciate letting a long boiling-hot ribbon of water flow down my throat.
Because the main thing I have is a cough. It’s not one of those coughs that accomplish anything. You know, the working coughs that you can respect even if you don’t like them. My cough is nothing like that. There’s this sore section in my throat, exactly where it can’t be reached by that viscous cherry spray ever. What I really want is something that can scratch that spot and give me maybe ten seconds of sweet relief. The threat of choking is holding me back, though, which is why I’m only thinking of how nice it would be to dangle, say, a miniature porcupine on a thread and let it press into my throat.
No good, though. The only cough lozenges anyone makes are all smooth things, as if I needed more smoothness in my throat. I’m taking them, certainly. They’re great for making every part of my throat except the one that I want to cough up feel smooth. It’s getting a bit much. Normally I’m pretty selective about what I put in my mouth. At least ever since the Steve “Pre” Prefontaine waffle incident in Singapore a few years back. With cough drops, though? That caution is out the window. I’ll put any translucent gob in my mouth. I’m pretty sure I’ve swallowed some eight-sided dice. I’m on about 46 lozenges just this hour. When the medical examiners find me, they will wonder how it is that I made it to this age with such tight hamstrings and a throat that’s a menthol fossil.
Anyway, otherwise everything’s pretty good.
So you can tell where I am in this cold: I am busy glaring very hard, every time I visit the bathroom, at our bottles of shampoo and conditioner. The natural order of things, where we use more shampoo than conditioner, has been out of line for a couple months now. The conditioner level’s been below the shampoo level for just ages. Like, we’re … all right, maybe only one-sixth through the current bottle of conditioner, but we only just opened the new bottle of shampoo, and I can’t figure what’s going on that we’re conditioning so much more suddenly. Or is it possible we’ve gotten so ahead on shampoo use that we’ve almost lapped the conditioner? Anyway, this is suddenly very important for me to go disapprove of every time I visit the bathroom. And also to explain to my boss why I haven’t got anything done this week.
Gene Deitch directed this week’s 60s Popeye cartoon. It doesn’t carry story or animation credits, but this was when he was working in Prague and also doing the Tom and Jerry cartoons that everyone regards as “really weird”. I love them, not just because they are very weird. This week’s cartoon, Sea No Evil, is not structurally a pretty normal cartoon. Still, I like it.
The short starts, like the old writing advice goes, as late as it possibly could, moments before parties unknown steal every piece the boating equipment, one at a time, from under Popeye and Olive Oyl’s noses. It’s Brutus’s work, and he takes the stuff to his boating supply store to sell back to Popeye. There’s a fairly extended sequence of Popeye listing all the items he needs, and Brutus bringing it up from behind the wet wheelbarrow behind the counter. It may take longer to establish this than needed. But it does establish a rhythm. It makes the sequence feel like a running gag. It helps the comedy land better. It’s particularly good for appealing to the kids the cartoon’s aimed at; I could remember the sequence decades after the last time I’d seen the cartoon. Also, I would have sworn there were at least three cycles of Brutus stealing all the boating gear and Popeye buying it back.
It’s a good premise for a cartoon too. It’s obvious why Brutus might be pulling this trick, and why he might think Popeye and Olive Oyl are good marks. Popeye’s apparently willing to write off the first loss of five hundred bucks’ worth of boating equipment as bad luck (!), but he’s not going to fall for that long. And then it’s chase Brutus, see Brutus getting away, find the spinach, and punch things to a conclusion. I have the impression that Deitch cartoons bring things to an end pretty fast, once Popeye eats his spinach, but I’m not feeling energetic enough to check that.
There are some of the common traits of Deitch-directed cartoons of this era here. Character movements are kept simple, and transitions between motions are implied or off-panel altogether; look at about 16:27, when Popeye stands motionless in a sinking boat for a solid eight seconds, to punch a Brutus who’s appeared somehow through, I guess, the hole in the boat, and punches him. Brutus goes from flying up into the air to being in the water, held by an anchor, swimming with all his might in a transition we have to imagine. And there’s a loose adherence to character models. I don’t mind this. Some choices almost seem artistically thoughtful. Like, in the boating store, Popeye’s hips and legs being these dwindling things make him look puny in the face of Brutus’s might, which matches where the character is at that moment in the story. Other weird bits are probably artifacts of trying to make what movement there is available look better in motion. If you freeze a frame at about 16:36, where Brutus is in the water swimming and anchored to what’s left of his boat, you can see him with an elephant’s trunk of a left arm that looks awful; but, that’s one frame of a swimming cycle that looks fine.
I am charmed that Popeye spends a couple sends waving his fingers to the beat as the soundtrack gets to the “I’m strong to the finich” couplet. There’s no diegetic source for this music; somehow, the radio is the one stolen thing Popeye didn’t buy back. Which is also a fun bit of business as the background music cutting out when Brutus steals the radio is how Olive Oyl and Popeye learn the cartoon has started and they need to do something. It’s always the little things that tickle me particularly.
So, I might have a cold. Maybe not. It’s in that point where I can deny it to myself. What I have got is a cough. I’ve had a small nagging cough since 1996. Today’s cough isn’t that. It’s louder and more urgent and, at the end, has taken on this little squeaky overtone. I’m not sure what this implies, but I think there’s a 25% chance that by the end of the week I’ll be a broken chew-toy for dogs. I’ll let you know if I can’t update any more because my fingers are just paint on an injection-molded plastic.
A ‘virgate’ is an Old English measure of land area. It’s about what a team of two oxen could plough in a year. Somewhere around thirty acres, give or take. (They didn’t have modern ideas of uniformity, especially about things like farmland, where some land might be there but unusable.) So if that’s all you wondered about Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant, thanks, and bye. Meanwhile if you’re looking to follow the plot, this will get you caught up to mid-February 2020. If you’re reading this after about May 2020, there’s probably a more up-to-date plot recap at this link. Also any news about the comic strip that seems worth the mention. And, as ever, I look at other comic strips on my mathematics blog.
24 November 2019 – 16 February 2020
Prince Valiant and company were heading home, last time, after adventures in Egypt. Here “Home” means the Misty Isles. Queen Bukota is furious with Ambelu, the last of her surviving advisors. Ambelu and his fellow nobles had tried to keep the young Ab’saba queen under control through Fewesi the Healer. That worked out great when Fewesi killed them, kidnapped the Queen, and fled to Egypt where his own people laughed him off as a dangerous incompetent loser. Her vengeance is fairly mild: she’s reassigning Ambelu to be her ambassador to Camelot. Bukota, the current ambassador, will take a post canoodling with her. Their first wedding — they plan to hold another back home — is a merry affair.
And then it’s time to go to Camelot, for the first time since I’ve been doing these What’s Going On In features. Valiant’s been focusing so on tromping around Asia, the Misty Isles, and North Africa so much I didn’t realize he even went to Camelot anymore. The strip says (on the 22nd of December) that Valiant’s spent two years in the Misty Isles, which I assume is character time.
And so, with 2020 dawning, Prince Valiant returns to Britain and his first adopted home. They run across a funeral procession for the local baron, and about how some witches summoned a demon to kill the baron. Valiant would rather leave this all alone. But Aleta asks questions. Gareth, the new baron and one of the mourners, explains the case: the Baron criticized these women, and then he died of demonic possession. In fairness, bats do swarm one of the women. Plus there’s a pox going around. Valiant would really like to just let this be. But then Sir Gawain, a day’s ride out of Camelot, arrives.
Valiant’s suspicious about this well-timed visit. Sir Gawain explains there was a request to the court to deal with a dispute about a parcel of land. And now here’s these women accused of witchcraft and sorcery. The woman with the bats argues that “the ignorant peasants” would destroy their bats’ home.
To facts, though. Gawain confirms the grant of two virgates made to Afton, one of the locals. Nathan, who’s part of Valiant’s retinue, notices a clue in the house, though: a bat’s skeleton and a sketch of a bat. Afton petitions Gawain for protection from Lord Imbert, who’s the one who had just died. But part of Afton’s grant is a cave with a spring that allegedly restores youth. It doesn’t, but Imbert thought it does, and wanted the land for himself. Gawain consider that now that Imbert is conveniently dead, and there’s a rumor of Afton or the women summoning a demon to do it … that could be awkward.
Gawain, Valiant, and all go looking for lodging. And that’s where the story has gotten. Where is it going? We’ll have to see over the next few months.
Action! Adventure! Super-detection! People dressed as robots! It’s Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy, unless something demands more attention first.
Hey, did you know that in his travels Prince Valiant has been to North America at least twice? Like, all the way to Manhattan and stuff. Also he’s made it to South America. I don’t know that he’s ever set foot in Australia but that’s some amazing travels. I mean, we moderns forget that while people back in the day — much like today — were happy to stay where they were, some folks really got moving. (He lived in a time that made this considerably easier than Prince Valiant “did”, but do look up James Holman sometime.)
So back in January I didn’t get my review of the previous month’s statistics done until the 11th. I wrote how I hoped to get it done sooner in the next month. Now it’s the 14th, or the 15th by the time you read this, in certain time zones. You see how well I’m doing keeping on top of everything, everywhere. It’s been busy. But let’s get to seeing how well-read I was in January of 2020, before we get into March of 2020.
There were 3,108 page views around here in January. That’s slightly up from December. It’s still down an appreciable bit from the twelve-month running average, though, of 3,562.2 views per month. I don’t know whether this reflects December and January being abnormally low readership or the several months before that being abnormally high. There were 1,750 unique visitors recorded in January, just about the same as December (1,760). But that’s also below the twelve-month running average, which was was 2,044.9.
127 things were liked during January, the highest monthly figure since August. That’s still below the twelve-month average of 142.9, though. And the monthly figures for that seem to be on a long-term decline anyway. There were 14 comments in January, well below the twelve-month average of 23.1. But the comic strip summaries were about the less controversial comics, so maybe that’s nothing big.
By the way, the plan for the next several weeks of comic strips are to report What’s Going On In …
- Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant (16th of February)
- Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy (23rd of February)
- Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley (1st of March)
- James Allen’s Mark Trail (8th of March)
As ever, this is subject to change in the event of news. All the story strip comics essays whatever the comic should be gathered at this link.
Those essays are reliably my most popular. But there’s still surprises. For example, here’s the five posts read the most in January, none of which were posted in 2020:
- Here’s What I Thought About All The Talkartoons I Watched
- Statistics Saturday: The Months Of The Year In Reverse Alphabetical Order
- What’s Going On In Mark Trail? Who Told Mark Trail ‘Fetish’ Was A Word He Could Say? May – July 2018
- What’s Going On In Mary Worth? Why Is Everyone Rightly Mad At Mary Worth? August – October 2018
- How Did The Amazing-Spider-Man End? Is It Ever Coming Back?
I do not feel bad for clickbaiting people looking for “mark trail fetish” because they got what they should have expected. I’m surprised who’s that interested in reading about the Fleischer Studios Talkartoons all of a sudden, though.
Past that, the most-read thing I posted in January was a single-sentence post, which implies terrible things about how amusing my essays are. Speaking of essays, two tied for the title of most-popular long-form comic essay for the month. My Question To You, And My Windshield Wiper was one of them. It’s the true story of how somehow I can have buying a windshield wiper turn into a fiasco. The other most-popular-essay was Some Reasons Everybody Treated Me Like That In Middle School, recounting things that my dumb young-adolescent brain insisted on thinking about back then. I am sincerely glad that people enjoy looking at the things that go on in my brain in place of thought processes.
Overall, 450 posts got any page views at all, up from 420 in December. 173 of them got only a single page view, up from December’s 159 but just a little.
68 things that WordPress calls countries sent me any page views in January. That’s right about the same as December’s 65 and near enough November’s 74. 20 of these countries sent a single view, up a noticeable bit from January’s 13. The full roster was:
|United Arab Emirates||7|
|Bosnia & Herzegovina||1|
|Hong Kong SAR China||1|
|Trinidad & Tobago||1|
Chile and Jamaica were single-view countries in December also. No countries are on three-month streaks. I have no idea what happened that Italy sent me 170 page views; in December it had sent eight. I must have accidentally optimized a search engine or something.
In January I posted 16,985 words here, as WordPress counts words, which is always slightly mysterious. This averages to 548 words per post. That’s almost exactly on December’s average, as there were 16,820 words in that month. Overall, by the start of February, I had posted 2,556 things, which collected 154,386 views from 86,047 unique visitors. I suppose now that figure’s higher than 86,400. So someone out there was the same viewer number as the typical number of seconds in a day. I bet they didn’t even have an inkling. If I had this thought earlier, it would have been an explanation for why people treated me like that in middle school.
If you’d like to be a regular reader here, please, do be one. You can use the “Follow Another Blog, Meanwhile” button on this page to add it to your WordPress reader. If you have an RSS reader, you can put https://nebushumor.wordpress.com/feed/ in. A free account on Livejournal, which exists, or Dreamwidth, which also does, will let you add RSS feeds on your Friends page. My moribund Twitter account @Nebusj still has the automated postings of new pieces, too. Whatever way you do choose to read, though, thank you for doing it, and here’s hoping you choose to do it again.
I have to write this piece today. Tomorrow we in Lansing, Michigan are supposed to be getting some cold in. By ‘some cold’ I mean ‘all the cold’. The sort where the temperature (Fahrenheit) isn’t just dropping below zero but all the way into the imaginary numbers. It’s the kind of cold where they warn you it’s too cold to leave buildings outside. Where you don’t see sparrows coming to the bird feeder anymore because they get halfway to the freezer, ice up, and these feathery snowballs tumble into unsuspecting squirrels.
So I have to talk about all this before I call my parents. After lives spent happily in New Jersey, with roughly similar weather, they moved to South Carolina. “What the heck,” my mother said, “We don’t know anybody there and my whole experience there has been one weekend with my friends in Charleston. That’s where we’ll spend retirement,” and my father said “What?” because his hearing aid had iced over. It’s worked out really well for them, except that between September and April the first twenty minutes of our phone calls are about how much warmer it is down there.
And it’s not like we always have terrible and cold weather. This winter’s been warm enough we’re all a little bothered by that. I know this makes us just sound disagreeable. But we’ve had it warm enough that it was, like, in the 60s and sunny, with nice strong breezes and seagulls coming in from the Great Lakes. Let me remind you, this is Lansing, Michigan. We’ve been having the kind of weather that gets incompetent seagulls. But most of the time it’s been a more normal winter, just a little warmer than average.
And it’s not like South Carolina’s weather is always better. Between May and August the first twenty minutes of our phone calls are about how their evacuation for the hurricane has gone. It’s not always a hurricane, mind. Sometimes it’s a tropical storm. Sometimes it’s a very lost nor’easter. Part of what’s nice about South Carolina, as a retirement state, is the low cost of living, which is to say they don’t have taxes, because they don’t do things like build a second bridge off the island where my parents live. Or have roads that don’t flood when it rains, or it’s very muggy, or someone leaves the sink running while brushing their teeth.
But we’re not in hurricane season now. So I have to get this written before calling them and they talk about how frigid tomorrow should be. This won’t keep them from hearing about it. But if I can get to talking out the weather here, before I call them for the week, I … don’t actually know what I’ll accomplish. At least I’ll have done something.
And weather this cold you do have to do something for. It’s the kind of cold that even being warm doesn’t help with. We have a good-quality water heater, the kind that gets the water hot enough to melt the water heater, but that won’t make a shower hot enough to completely revive my toes. Dressing is also a problem. The only thing to do wear layers. This means whenever you encounter any piece of clothing, put it on. Since I work at home this is tricky. I’ll pop into the bedroom for something or other, and have to put on another shirt or pair of underwear. By about 5:30 I’m a rolling ball of fabric.
And that’s staying inside. I don’t figure to go out. In this cold it’s a bad idea to let your tongue touch the air, as it’ll get stuck. Your tongue ices over. Then the ice that that’s caught on will get stuck on the air. That ices over, and again and again, and then you’re dangling a five-foot-long ice tongue out your mouth. And then you can’t go anywhere except on foot. Driving is out since you fit the encased tongue through the car door. You can’t lift your head enough to see when the bus is coming. All you can do is try to walk somewhere and find the doors there are frozen shut.
So that’s why it’s important I finish this, then call my parents, and then deal with tomorrow’s nonsense.
I will never realize that “very clever” is not the same thing as “funny”. Too much of my life is based on the assumption that it is.
Also, folks who are still thinking of the glory days of Apartment 3-G: The Daily Cartoonist recently ran a First-and-Last essay about the strip. This reprints the first and the final week of the comic strip. It also includes strips from each of the different artists credited on the comic, and tries to work out just who did uncredited work. It also includes pictures from the time in the 70s when the comic was renamed The Girls In Apartment 3-G. That name change reflected the brief era when the comic focused on the lives and adventures of the people inhabiting the apartment, rather than being all about what it is to live as a portion of Manhattan real estate. The change was short-lived.
Lampy, we remember you.
I believe this is the first time, since I started doing these cartoons systematically, that I’ve looked at a Gerald Ray-produced 60s Popeye cartoon. The director’s listed as Bob Bemiller. The credits, done with this nice split of typefaces that makes me think of a mid-century bowling alley, don’t list a writer. On the other hand, we’re promised eight animators worked on drawing this one. It’s 1960’s Popeye’s Junior Headache. Spoiler: it does not feature Popeye Junior.
The plot is just that an exhausted Popeye’s roped into babysitting Olive Oyl’s niece Diesel, and she’s your traditional hellion. The obvious plot is how bad she can get before Popeye grabs his spinach and Does Something about all this. The short does that plot; the question is how good it is at that.
The first shot is promising, though. It’s a view of Popeye slumped over in bed answering the phone. The view’s from a ceiling corner of the room, an angle harder to draw than the scene strictly needed. His room’s got a full bed, chest, curtains, a rug with an anchor on it, a ship’s-wheel clock. The scene would read as well as a side shot of Popeye sitting in a bed, with the wall and floor suggested by a pair of flat colors. That the animators put some personality into a boring scene bodes well.
Gerald Ray was, among other things in a long career, one of the directors for Rocky and Bullwinkle and Other Titles. Bullwinkle was never a lavishly animated show. But it used a good trick: a lot of short scenes moving between funny pictures. Ray imported that to here. It’s really cheap to animate, as they do at about 19:20, Popeye talking by having the book covering his face move. It’s also no effort to put Diesel Oyl standing there with a magnifying glass on the book. But together this makes a funny scene. I mean at least funny in intent. You might not like the joke, but you know what’s supposed to be funny there and why it’s supposed to be funny.
An example of this style: Popeye finally has enough and gets to the kitchen. It’s not actually my childhood kitchen but boy did it give me warm nostalgic feelings. Anyway, he eats a can of Something That’s Not Spinach. He gets his power-up music; his pipe falls apart. If you aren’t watching you might miss that, or even think it’s an animation error. But having his spinach power-up go wrong like that is a good joke. It wasn’t necessary; watch the cartoon with the sound off and the story goes as well. But it makes things more fun to watch.
Deisel Oyl — The Popeye wiki says Deezil, on what grounds I don’t know — is a creation of the cartoons. I don’t know whether she appeared outside the 60s cartoons specifically. She’s voiced by Mae Questel, who’s using basically the voice she has for Swee’Pea. I can’t say this first appearance has made me fond of her. But you can also see where Swee’Pea couldn’t work for the story. Popeye’s Nephews might work, although I’m sure King Features figured they had no right to use those characters. Remember, these cartoons have “Brutus” rather than “Bluto” because they weren’t sure whether Bluto was created from the comic strip (which they owned) or the Fleischer Cartoons (which they didn’t).
So this is a basic cartoon, but executed well in that there’s plenty of funny pictures to watch as the action carries on. I suspect had Gerald Ray done more of the King Features Popeyes the series might be remembered more fondly.
Since my brain is unwilling to let this go: if he had his family back home send crates of Charles Chips. I am making this joke because I feel like being a seven-year-old who has noticed a word appearing in more than one place and I am going to stand a little too close to you and smile, showing slightly too many teeth, until you agree this is very clever, which I will realize much later is not the same thing as ‘funny’. Yeah, delivery potato chips would be pretty well smashed up by the time they got to Korea but hey, some people like that. You can spackle them together with dip and make a barely edible wad of material that’s sweet, salty, and has lots of sharp edges. That’s definitely in character for Major Winchester.
Hi there. This essay should get you caught up on what’s happening in the weekday continuity for Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom. If you’re reading this after about May 2020, or if you’re interested in the separate, Sunday, continuity, you’ll want to see this link for something more relevant. Also, on my other blog, I look at mathematically-themed comic strips at least once a week. Sometimes more.
The Phantom (Weekdays).
18 November 2019 – 8 February 2020.
Chatu, The Python, was the big terrorist menace around before The Phantom captured him. (This capture gave Eric “The Nomad” Sahara his big opening.) In an 18-month storyline started in August 2009, The Nomad arranged the bombing of a United Nations building in Mawitaan, Bangalla. And also the kidnapping of Diana Walker to a Rhodian jail. And all this from his Bangallan jail cell. When this got sorted out The Phantom kidnapped The Python and put him in a secret jail cell watched by The Python’s fellow Wambesi people. That The Python could carry that out is the moral pretext behind putting him in a secret jail cell. That he’s one of the Wambesi is why his secret jail is in Wambesiland, somewhere within Bangalla.
The question last time was why pairs of people were streaming from fascist Rhodia into Bangalla, heading for the Wambesi’s territories. The Phantom had investigated some of them. They were talking about a mission and claimed to have no idea who this The Python was. So The Phantom figures it’s a scheme to free The Python and bring him back to Rhodia for some mischief. He goes sneaking into infiltrators’ tents and swiping their arms. This to end their usefulness to the mission, and turn the column into along string of people heading home. Of course, some people may also need to be punched, or at least threatened with mauling. But better that than a firefight.
In December we-the-readers finally get to know the plan. The Colonel and one of his underlings discuss what they’re doing and why. I’m going to call this underling The Major. If these people gave one another names I’ve missed it. The Colonel’s at least addressed by rank on-camera. The Colonel, the Major, and another underling whom I’ll dub The Sniper are to find out whether Chatu is held by the Wambesi. And if Chatu is, then that’s what column of forces behind them are for. They’ll break him out of the Wambesi village and bring Chatu to Rhodia. Infiltrating in small groups should let them assemble a big enough force to overwhelm the village without detection. And still be obscure enough that Bangalla, and the Jungle Patrol, won’t get immediately involved.
So The Ghost Who Walks spends a lot of time sneaking into tents, stealing guns, and shooing people home. I was surprised all the two- and three-person teams The Phantom encountered agreed to this. The mechanism of The Phantom disarms some minions and they shrug and run off screen feels a little video-gamey. I’d expect at least a couple die-hards to carry on and trust they could get guns somewhere. But then The Phantom would have to go punching them again, and the story would take longer to get where it was.
With the support column rolled up, The Phantom phones the colonel leading the column. This to tell him there’s no support forces following; the colonel and the two with him are it. Go home. Sniper is terrified. Sniper has one of the Phantom’s skull tattoos on his face. Sniper says he can kill The Phantom, but it won’t stick. Meanwhile The Phantom races toward them, saying he’s going to save their lives.
Sniper’s left behind with a sniper rifle. He’s also very rattled by the prospect. He’d been part of some gang that, they thought, had killed him. I do not know whether this is part of a specific story shown on-screen before. The Phantom Wiki doesn’t help me here. Sniper’s flashbacks look like the sort of thing The Phantom’s always doing, anyway. Gunfire in dark tunnels and all that. When they meet up The Phantom doesn’t remember him either, and guesses they met in the dark. It convinces me that Sniper’s backstory was off panel. Anyway, thoughts of that, and of maybe seeing The Phantom come back to life, have him rattled. When he sees an archer pulling a bow he doesn’t know what to do.
The archer is Babudan, one of The Phantom’s reliable Bandar supporters. Babudan shoots Sniper through the arm, fastening him to a tree. And then another arrow, through the other arm, pinning him the harder. This is one of the most visceral and disturbing things I’ve seen. I’m not sure what it says that hand grenades and assault rifle fire don’t horrify me but arrows through muscle do. Maybe I can just imagine living through that pain.
Phantom’s wolf Devil, the Ghost who Woofs, runs out ahead of The Phantom, not for the first time this story. Phantom wonders what’s got into him. He leads The Phantom to the pinned Sniper. The Phantom pulls Sniper down and patches his wounds, and learns that Babudan has been shadowing them. So that’s a plot point waiting for resolution. Also waiting for resolution: what is with Devil? This reader’s first assumption was that he was running back and forth to Babudan. But then Devil got pretty worked up and even chased Babudan up a tree. So that probably means something.
Phantom sends Sniper back home, with instructions to say he had seen The Python wasn’t there. And then races to Wambesiland, to get the Colonel and the Major. The Major argues they have to stop. The Colonel wants to press on, since why should the complete evaporation of their army stop their progress? Well, there’s the band of Wambesi soldiers surrounding them. The Phantom comes in to the standoff and explains: the Chief will decide whether they’ll be tried by the Wambesi, or be turned over to the Jungle Patrol. And toddles off. He’s going to talk with Chatu.
And that’s where the story’s gotten. You should be able to read at least the next week’s worth of comics without confusion.
This should be an exciting time for me to write about
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant. Last month I read a library book that contained summaries of every Prince Valiant story, from the origin through to the book’s publication about fifteen years ago, and now … uh … all right, so I know Valiant has been to both North and South America, including a stop in Manhattan. Also there was a story in the early 2000s where he and some cavemen had to fight Godzilla. And why was that not the plot of the Prince Valiant movie? Uh … well, we’ll see what more I remember in a week, trusting that all goes well. See you then.
- “120.5 SOFDA #”
- “Thurs 10 ” or possibly :10 or :55 or :28.
- “Onion – Pimafix – sour cream – hardware cloth”
- “Shoe as year for sock”
- “Barketorium/Barketeria -> is singular cafeterium?”
- “Iping Village Feb 9”
- “Argon Zark meets Coronet Blue”
- “coax tackle book”
Reference: The Rocket Men: Vostok and Voskhod, the First Soviet Manned Spaceflights, Rex Hall and David J Shayler.
I mean, I guess it’s reasonable Major Winchester would have some sparkling water ahead of urgent need. We never saw it, but that doesn’t mean anything, especially for sitcoms in the 70s. Fine. But then how much is his family supposed to have shipped out? And just how freaking good is this sparkling water that it’s worth shipping to Korea, compared to the club soda they have in the officer’s club that he’s drinking all the time anyway? If he had a stockpile big enough to take multiple showers with, where was it? Under his bunk? How long did he spend opening and pouring bottles into the shower tank so he could have his? This is the high priority stuff.
I remembered this thing where, like, a decade ago some company wanted to make computer keyboards that moved. Isn’t that a heck of a thing to remember? Why remember that? I have a decent memory. Yet it keeps remembering weird things. I have an advanced degree in mathematics and yet if you ask me the difference between a “covariant index” and a “contravariant index”? I have to set the wallpaper on fire and use the distraction to look it up. A covariant index is written as a subscript and the contravariant is a superscript. Or it’s the other way around. I keep writing it down wrong because I remember last time I had it wrong, but I forget whether I got it right in the end last time. But this keyboard nonsense? Now I remember this.
What I don’t remember is why they wanted a keyboard that moved. I’m going to guess it’s for ergonomics. Any time you have a system that makes something easy pointlessly hard it’s usually because of ergonomics. This makes ergonomics sound like it’s about being mean. But the point of ergonomics is to avoid doing stuff that’s useless and causes pain. And it turns out almost everything we do is useless stuff that causes pain. There’s maybe five things that we actually need to do. And one of them is winding the mantle clock for the week. This would be bad if you did it too much, but most people have to wind only one or two mantel clocks per week, if that, so it stops before it could hurt.
Keyboards would be a good thing to be made more ergonomic, though. Typing is a terrible thing to do to one’s hands. People who study hands — Handocrinologists — report a fifteen-minute typing session is about as stressful on your wrists as beating them with a metal-working hammer against an anvil and then sticking them in a pot of boiling grease, then typing for fourteen minutes. The only thing worse would be a seventeen-minute typing session. Doing less typing, this by having a keyboard slither away, would probably help. If this moving keyboard thing had caught on? Today we might not suffer from typist’s wrists, cerebral IRC, Livejournal-snapped hamstrings, Usenet lung, or CU-See-Me face deprivation syndrome.
I don’t know why this wandering keyboard didn’t turn into a thing. I can’t see any downside to a keyboard that, in the middle of your sentence, scoots over, knocking over your soda can and crumpling up a post-it note that’s incomprehensible but so obviously important you will never throw it out. Maybe it made people’s prose seasick or something.
Anyway I know this memory is like a decade ago because of how it was they thought keyboards were a problem. We would use keyboards for everything. Writing stuff. Reading. Playing video games. Sealing up the crack under the door. Cricket bats, for when you didn’t know there was a game today. Setting dads up for jokes about how does it fit in the lockboard. Swatting off cows that aren’t supposed to be in the dining room. Everything. Now that’s all changed.
Way back then we would joke about how Apple was going to make a computer that just had one button. And then they went and did it, and it turned out to be a phone, and it was the most popular thing ever. Later they took away the button. Oh, wait, now I get it. The keyboard’s just a picture on the screen. But the phone has this rumble motor. The phone can roll out of your hand. All right, so I guess the moving-keyboard company didn’t flop, Apple just took the idea.
So then what’s the future hold? Just a keyboard that shakes even more out of the way isn’t enough. “You can’t top pigs with pigs,” as Walt Disney said, making people wonder what question he was answering. No, it’s got to be a phone that takes more dramatic action. Maybe something that jabs spikes out. Maybe shooting a web to the corner of the ceiling and swinging out of the way. Maybe just being very ticklish, so the phone won’t stop giggling when you use it.
Well, what’s important is that the Handocrinologists are happy. Someone should be.
What I need to do: work, for work; cleaning out the mess in the guest room; think of any concept that I could write into 700 words for tomorrow’s long-form essay; re-read three month’s worth of The Phantom for Sunday’s essay.
What I am doing: so there was this one episode of M*A*S*H where the supply trucks are cut off and the camp can’t get any water, particularly. So everybody gets a lot dirtier and smellier and crankier about it. Except Major Winchester, who stays sparkling clean. It turns out not that he’s using the strictly-patients-only water. He’s using his own stock of club soda. Well, sparkling mineral water. Anyway, yeah, first, would that even work. But anyway I’m busy thinking about what a fool I was to just sit and accept this premise for decades without asking how it is Major Winchester can get his family to mail enough sparkling water to shower in, regularly, in circumstances where nobody can get regular water delivered.
There’s a fairly new syndicated newspaper comic strip, created by John Kovaleski. It’s a pleasant strip about a single father and his baby, and sunk a bit by its name of Daddy Daze. “Daze” is the inevitable pun for anyone wanting to make something with the shape of a pun on “days” and I don’t know that it helps. Maybe they’re aiming at a market which I am not in. Anyway, here’s the 1960 Popeye cartoon Childhood Daze.
I knew from the video’s thumbnail that it would involve a baby-size Popeye. The opening credits give us that it’s Larry Harmon-produced. The animation director’s Paul Fennell. The writer’s Charles Shows. Shows also had writing credits on Muskels Shmuskels and Foola-Foola Bird. These cartoons had decent enough premises and stories that mostly made sense. My expectation by the end of the credits was that it’d be a fair cartoon, maybe stiffly animated, with a dotting of weird little bits along the way. Also that the animation would probably be pretty stiff, and since it had a new model for Popeye, it wouldn’t have any really good bits. The mystery would be how to get a Baby Popeye.
The answer’s early on, as we visit the daringly mid-century modern home of Professor O G Wotasnozzle. Wotasnozzle’s a character from Segar’s other gig, the husband-and-wife strip Sappo. Wotasnozzle with his wacky inventions turned their boarding house premise into something where goofy weird things happened. When Sappo faded out Wotasnozzle transferred over to the main strip, a minor character who could set off some nice nonsense. For some reason Famous Studios never did anything with him, or a lot of the weirder Thimble Theatre cast. The King Features cartoons brought him out and for just this sort of thing: want to make Popeye a baby? A caveman? An astronaut? Six inches tall (I’m guessing, but I’m probably right)? Wotasnozzle can make it happen.
And that’s basically what happens. Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Brutus are gathered at Wotasnozzle’s place to see him turn a chicken into an egg. Does it work on people? Let’s find out. Brutus volunteers, specifically he volunteers Popeye. It’s a dumb gag, and yet one time in high school my geometry teacher let me get away with that when he was looking for a volunteer to go to the board. I am truly sorry, Larissa. I should have realized he’d go with the gag.
So we get a Baby Popeye out of the little slot for stuff that’s gone through the Atomic Youth Machine. (I saw Atomic Youth Machine open for Presidents of the United States of America in ’98.) I’m curious how Wotasnozzle figured an ‘adult’ or ‘teen’ or even ‘child’ human would fit in that output slot. I guess he really had not thought through whether this thing would work on humans.
It’s taken two minutes, of a five-and-a-half minute short, to get Baby Popeye. That seems like a lot of time watching characters stand still and blink. Olive Oyl’s shocked that the Atomic Youth Machine, that she’s just seen turn an aged chicken into a chick, and that was set to make Popeye into a baby, turned Popeye into a baby. Thus we see the difference between understanding the proposition that “this will turn someone into a baby” and believing the proposition.
For as simple as the premise is there’s stuff I don’t understand about it. Like, do the adults understand what Baby Popeye is saying? Popeye talks back to Brutus at about 2:20, and Brutus doesn’t really respond. But it’s not like these cartoons usually have tight dialogue. And for much of the cartoon Olive Oyl and Brutus talk about Popeye as if he’s not there. The one time there’s definite communication is Olive Oyl responding to Popeye’s cries to be fed, but that’s something any kid could ask for. Other than asking for spinach, I mean.
There’s a bit at 3:05 where Brutus is spanking Popeye. Or, talking about spanking Popeye and in the pose where he would be spanking, with Baby Popeye crying. But there’s no actual movement on Brutus’s part. Did the censor not allow them to show spanking or were they saving on the animation budget? Also baffling: why is there a long red carpet in Wotasnozzle’s house?
This is a disappointing short. After we get a Baby Popeye he doesn’t do anything. Olive Oyl doesn’t do anything. (After he introduces the premise Wotasnozzle doesn’t do anything either, but that’s kind of his thing.) Brutus at least rolls him up into a basketball and tosses him through a hoop that Wotasnozzle has inside his house for some reason. But Brutus could do that anyway, before Popeye gets riled enough to eat his spinach. Also every time we see Baby Popeye being held up, he looks like regular Popeye but his legs fell off. I’m not sure what a Baby Popeye ought to do, but standing in lines blinking isn’t it. The obvious thing is to make them all kids and go through their usual nonsense but with kiddie-level attention spans. Or have Olive Oyl and Brutus forced to babysit Baby Popeye while Wotasnozzle gets something to fix the machine and make him an adult again, and Popeye is a difficult child. Or have Baby Popeye get in on Swee’Pea’s world. Something, anything. The premise is better than the cartoon made of it.
I bet they still try to up-sell me to a bigger model than I need. I just need a subcompact, I’m tall but not that tall.
Alley Oop is not going to Time Jail, and won’t be for at least a year. If we can take the recent narrative at its word.
Thanks for checking this plot recap, readers angry about Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop. If you’re reading this much later than about May 2020, I probably have a more up-to-date plot recap at this link. Also if there’s any news about the strip I should put it at an essay at that link. And, I look at mathematically-themed comic strips on my other blog every week. You might like that too.
11 November 2019 – 1 February 2020
Alley Oop, Ooola, Ava, and Doctor Wonmug blipped out of existence last time I checked in. It wasn’t my fault. It makes a clean break point for my recaps, though. Thanks for writing it that way!
They awake in a glass cube. It’s a Time Prison. Ollie Arp comes in to explain things. He’s from Universe 3. Last summer Ollie Arp and Eeena had given Our Heroes a ticket and a warning to stop screwing with the timeline. Alley Oop and Oona then accidentally created an alternate timeline where the tortoise-like Cutie-Pies never went extinct two million years ago. They undid that, but, still. Ava’s released, as not having anything to do with this nonsense. But Alley Oop, Ooona, and Wonmug get sent to the Multiversal Court, in Universe 68, “the worst universe of them all”.
It’s a world of enormous crystals continuously playing the Piña Colada Song. Of DMV lines that wrap around the globe twice. And time criminals. Ollie Arp is the prosecutor, holding this Alley Oop for all the comic strip’s nonsense since Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers took over. Their defense: Petey, a cloud of gas from Universe 248. Their judge: Bushney, a tough, old-fashioned computer judge. It looks like an Atari 2600, so, do you get the nerd joke there? (Atari was founded by Nolan K Bushnell.) The jury is volunteers from the multiverse. It includes at least one Cutie-pie, and one of the Time Raccoons that Dr Wonmug created.
Ollie Arp calls witnesses. Mostly from universes made worse by the side effects of Our Heroes’s nonsense. And then, the 12th of December, he calls Alley Oop of Universe-1. That is, the original Alley Oop, the one from the newspapers. The one V T Hamlin created and the continuity we were following through to the end of Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s run. The trial itself is almost an apologia to old fans angry with Sayers and Lemon’s strip. This brief appearance makes it even more explicit. The original Alley Oop wasn’t eliminated by their new run and this Universe-2 stuff. It’s still there, ready to enjoy. Someone else could even pick it up later, unharmed, and do new stuff in it. Anyway, Petey the Gas Cloud Lawyer is excited to meet Newspaper Alley Oop.
Sensing disaster, Alley Oop, Oona, and Dr Wonmug flee the trial. And go looking for help. The helper: Dr Wonmug of Universe-68. Albart Wonmug, son of that universe’s Elbert. Albart Wonmug seems to have nothing but plasma balls. It’s a cover. When Albart learns the gang is fleeing their Time Crime trial he reveals The Wonmug Elite Club.
He sets up Universe-2 Wonmug with a Universe Transit Device. It’ll get his party to and from other universes. And can lock that universe so nobody else can go in or out of it for a year. Some of the universes are obviously dangerous: Universe-44 invented cold sores “and the rest of us still haven’t forgiven them”. Some are wackily dangerous: Universe-129 is nothing but puppies and it’s too adorable to leave of your own free will. Alley Oop grabs the Universe Transport Device and whisks them off to Universe-27.
Universe-27 is a nice enough place. Idyllic. Utopian even, if you’re one of the gigantic slug monsters eating the terrorized human population. Our Heroes get some distance and flee that universe. It’s a moment I disliked. I grant there’s not much three people with the contents of their pockets could do about a nightmare world of giant human-eating slug monsters. But they ought to feel some urge to try. It’s one thing to be foolish and cowardly heroes. It’s another thing to be foolish and cowardly without the heroism. Belatedly, Alley Oop thinks he could have made friends with one of the giant murder slugs, which is something.
They land in Universe-900. There’s dinosaurs, even though Wonmug says “we didn’t travel through time”. Also as if you could make “the present” in two universes a coherent thought. Well, Alley Oop thinks it’s the handsome universe: everyone in it looks like him. Hundreds of Alley Oops gather silently around. It’s suspicious.
They flee. Back in Universe-900, the Oops regret everyone waiting for someone else to say something first. Too bad; apparently the Alley Oop Universe had a couple things sorted out. Our Heroes, anyway, end up back in Universe-2. Ooona uses the device, locking the rest of the multiverse out of Universe-2 for a year. Again, as if that concept makes sense, especially when the others in the multiverse are time travellers. Anyway, this is all a lead-up to their new mission … which we’ll see over the coming months. It’s another suspiciously well-timed break point for these recaps. I don’t know.
Here’s what I do know: Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom, weekday continuity, is next on the schedule for plot recaps. This is the storyline about teams of suspiciously well-behaved art students tromping through the jungle until The Ghost Who Walks punches them to their senses. And events do look like they’re reaching a climax so this is another well-timed plot recap point. As ever, unless breaking news or me deciding to sleep in on Saturday gets in the way. Thanks for reading.
I mean, not to inflate my sense of self-worth any but seriously, any of these deserved at least three page views in a year.
- Statistics Saturday: Michigan Place Names I Still Don’t Pronounce Right After Three Years
- How To Remember A Fact
- Statistics Saturday: How Long The Podcast Is When The Hosts Apologize For Running Crazy Long
- Another Mystery From The Back Side Of The Peanuts Page-A-Day Calendar
- Regarding The Time When I Had Too Much Desiccant
- Besides Not Being Elected, Charlie Brown [ Not gonna lie, this one deserved five page views. ]
- Facing the Fun Fact of it All
- On The Problems Of Credit In The 19th Century New England Economy [ This one should have had easily four page views, even though it is extremely me. ]
Reference: London: The Biography, Peter Ackroyd.
I am ready for the end of the tax-document-preparation season. I’ve been getting things billed as Important Tax Documents for weeks now and this is enough. I want someone to send me some Unimportant Tax Documents. I want some agency to send me IRS Form 1099-MEH.