Yeah so Tom Batiuk’s Funky Winkerbean this Sunday didn’t work. I haven’t checked everyone in the world, but everyone I have checked, agreed. It seems like the strip was going for a pun or at least some wordplay. Or an agreement that a thing sounded funny. But working out just what it was going for is hard. So it’s not just you. But here’s the strip:
Ultima Thule as referenced here is this Kupier Belt object that’s about 45 astronomical units away from us, so we don’t have to do anything about it right now. The New Horizons probe flew by it in 2018, and we’re still getting data downloads of the encounter. Slow Internet out that far. It was formally named Arrokoth in November 2019, but Tom Batiuk reportedly works as much as a year ahead of publication. We can be forgiving of things like this, especially when we remember that we as a society still call it Kinko’s, fifteen years after they changed the name to “whatever they pretend they changed the name of Kinko’s to”.
If it weren’t for the footnotes I think everyone would have just read the strip and agreed, that’s got the structure of a joke. Teacher in a comic strip asks students to explain a thing, student has a wrong answer that even reference pop culture, teacher mourns his lot in life. What has this sticking in my mind is the footnotes. They’re fantastically unnecessary. A lot of jokes have some unnecessary bits. They can make dialogue or pacing sound more natural. Or they can clue the audience into the subject matter, so they have the right context for the joke. Or sometimes the word balloon is too large otherwise, as with the mention of “the board’s” early retirement “package”. The teacher could have wondered if it was too late to revisit early retirement.
But. Why the footnote explaining that Anamorphic Mark Twain pronounces Thule “Too-Lay”, in the Bandar Tongue? What would possibly be worse if the reader thought Anamorph thought it was pronounced “thool”, the way everybody actually says it? That, at least, we could defend as character, so that we know Anamorph is, gads, one of those people. You know, who pronounce “Caesar” as “kaiser”. I bet he volunteers that he thinks other people use the word “penultimate” wrong. He’s definitely complained about someone using “decimate” to refer to a thing that’s been more than one-tenth destroyed.
What launches this into the all-time baffling strips is the student’s pronouncing Thor as “Tor”, a thing that has never been done at any time by any person, ever, even by people who are trying to hypercorrect other people into saying something stupid. What is her deal supposed to be? Is it supposed to be that she’s mocking Anamorph for pronouncing “Thule” with a t- sound? Was she just going along with the teacher’s quirky choice about how “th” sounds? The smirk on her face last panel suggests not, but everybody in a Funky Winkerbean strip is smirking all the time. So it loses its power to signal that the smirker thinks they’ve said something clever. So what is that footnote doing there? Something as unnecessary as a footnote shouldn’t be there unless it’s serving the joke, but what joke?
I can defend the first footnote, about too-lay, as serving the joke and not just establishing Anamorph as a tool. It could be that the sound “too-lay” is supposed to make the reader think “tool”, which gets you to hammers, to Thor, so the punch line doesn’t seem to come from nowhere. I think that’s unnecessary, but I can understand a writer feeling that it needs more setup. But then the best I can think for the second footnote is that we’re getting a wacky-answer-to-teacher-questions overlapping with a make-fun-of-the-pedant joke.
So that’s my best guess about what we’re supposed to find amusing. It’s two jokes. Each of them are okay. But arranged as they are, they’re interfering destructively. It’s rather like the sloppier panels of Julie Larson’s The Dinette Set, in which the secondary bonus joke on someone’s T-shirt would distract the reader from the main joke.
The important thing is the problem is the joke, not you reading it.
This week we’re back to Jack Kinney-produced short. Harvey Toombs gets credit for both the story and for animation direction. I didn’t have Toombs’s name mentioned before, but that’s because I was slow to start tracking that. He was the animation director, among other things, on Coffee House (the Beatnik one), Popeye’s Car Wash, and Hamburger Fishing. The Internet Movie Database credits him with story only on Popeye’s Car Wash, although obviously that listing is incomplete. Well, here’s Popeye the Piano Mover.
Pianos are funny. They’re things someone would plausibly need moved. But they’re bulky and heavy awkward and difficult to work with. And they make a funny sound of frustration when they get banged.
And the Sisyphean task of moving a thing up an enormous flight of stairs is funny. Laurel and Hardy combined the piano with the enormous flight of stairs to win an Academy Award. The Three Stooges did much the same with ice, albeit to less critical acclaim.
So why is this cartoon dull? I don’t think it’s just that I know there’s better versions of this premise. I think the short just doesn’t develop the premise. It’s odd since there’s a couple ways it could go.
Like, we open with Popeye and Brutus going to Olive Oyl’s suspiciously open, vacant apartment to move her piano. That we didn’t see Olive Oyl here made me suspect a setup for Popeye and Brutus having gone to the wrong apartment. They went to apartment 1665 and why couldn’t that have been apartment 1695, with the 9 rotated? But, no; we don’t see Olive Oyl because she’s just moved to her new cottage is all.
The piano can’t fit through the door, inviting the question of how it got in the apartment at all. But Brutus has the idea of lowering the piano out the window, which made me suspect we were in for a bunch of jokes with the piano and Popeye and Brutus dangling above the city. And no again. We get the piano falling, and Popeye falling, and then everything’s all right and the piano’s ready to deliver.
We get an enormously long stairwell for Popeye and Brutus to drag the piano up. Here anyone knows how the story unfolds, with many attempts that get the piano close to a level surface, and all of which fail. Nope; we get one attempt, and then Brutus knocks the piano downhill again, without even really meaning to. At least he was trying to kill Popeye earlier.
At least we finally get some good comic action with the piano running loose on the city streets, with Popeye chasing. And, for some reason, Wimpy as the offended traffic cop. The plot does need a traffic cop, at least if the piano isn’t going to be supernaturally skilled at avoiding Popeye. But, Wimpy? As a traffic cop who takes his job seriously? Yeah, you have to cast somebody, and Brutus already has a role, and the rest of the Thimble Theatre regulars are even worse fits. Maybe it’d be easier if the piano were better at evading Popeye on its own.
There is some good stuff. Popeye riding on the piano as it goes through several stores, and he gets dressed up as a baby or in a tutu shedding flowers or such is funny. The resolution, the piano sliding perfectly into place, and Brutus landing on top, and getting ticketed by a confused Wimpy, has the sort of solid punch line I’d expect from a silent or early-talkie one-reeler. Good model to live up to. But these are some small high points in a cartoon. Otherwise it mostly feels like there are a bunch of good directions the cartoon could go, none of which it does.
Music. That’s something that helps in times of crisis. It’s a way to manage the feeling you’re having every feeling at once, and will never not again. Look deep into your music collection and find something pleasant and soothing, and enjoy.
Here’s where this goes wrong. My music collection is mostly weird, experimental, early-analog synth experiments. Oh, yes, and 100 Hits of Frank Crumit, who recorded in the 1920s and 30s. That’s pleasant, in that everything he recorded sounds like background music for a Betty Boop cartoon. As long as you don’t hit one of the lyrics that are crazy racist. There’s one song about being an outhouse-builder that’s not bad, although it’s not as good as you’d think.
But that’s the one album. The rest? It’s daffy stuff like fourteen takes of Raymond Scott trying to perfectly represent the sound of a robot mouse passing gas. And this in the service of recording a commercial for Bendix or Ohio Bell or something like that. Or the albums of Ferrante and Teicher. These guys recorded a bunch of wonderful, goofy, way-over-the-top renditions of, like, the theme to Star Wars or whatever. It’s music that makes you go, “seriously?” And yes, yes, they did a lot of cornball stuff. But they did it because it paid the bills. It’s what let them afford their serious music, where they’d try playing a piano strung up with sheets of paper or metal chains or stuff so it sounds all weird.
But. The comforting assurance of a person who knows a particular feeling and can make that a melody? Nope. My music collection brings out the warm communion of the soundtrack to Logan’s Run.
And that’s a great reference to make because I just learned one of my under-thirty friends likes Logan’s Run. For the aesthetics of it, mind you, not for the story. This is perceptive of my friend. I like Logan’s Run, but not because of the story, because have you seen the story? It’s a lot of meandering around through settings. Eventually two masses in the shape of protagonists escape the storyline. In the vast wilderness outside then they discover Peter Ustinov. The sudden presence of an actor then blows up the whole project.
So I like the movie, but that’s because of the look and the feel of it. You watch it and admire the things set designers can do with Plexiglass. And marvel at how ingenious this all was, even if it’s nothing like the props and effects and design of Star Wars. But, like, the films were separated by so much time. Then you look it up and find out that Logan’s Run came out twelve minutes before Star Wars and you feel all confused. Why is Logan’s Run not more less-bad than it is?
Still, I like that an under-thirty friend can appreciate the movie for what it’s good at. Also I like that I have an under-thirty friend, somehow. Or any friend, period. I know what it’s like to put up with me. Be friends with me and you have to put up with this nonsense. I track how much I’m spending on shampoo so I know whether to trim my beard. I think of stuff about Calvin Coolidge or the Wilmot Proviso or whatever. I get anxious if we have a flat surface without an unstable pile of papers and magazines and small purchases on top. I stop my reading so I can tell my love something from my book.
If my love wants any peace while I’m doing this, there’s nothing to do but put headphones on. The big headphones, ones look ready for broadcasting on the WKRP In Cincinnati prequel that’s on I’m guessing CBS All Access. And listen to music. Lots of it. My love has gone through the whole Kinks catalogue. Their good albums, their bad albums, their unpopular albums, Ray Davies leaving messages on Dave Davies’s phone that he can’t be in the band. Everything. When I get to reading the second book I’ve acquired in the past twelve months about the history of the United States Post Office, my love will have to start listening to wholly imaginary Kinks albums. That’s all right. I have my own earphones and can listen to Joe Meek trying to do a surf-rock theramin version of the theme to Popeye. This is the power of music in a trying time.
So, Calvin Coolidge. I know, openings like that are why I’m not a successful humor blogger. But, still. Did you know he was a practical joker? Like, when he was President, he’d sometimes just press the alarm button in the Oval Office, and then go hide behind the curtains while the Secret Service guys raced in and got all tense. And, I mean, you look at a picture of him. And you say, “that is a person whose main joy in life is whacking people across the knuckles with a yardstick”. And then you learn he would do stunts like that, which are exactly what I would do if I were President for some reason.
So, you know, the guy had hidden depths. And in those depths, he liked having breakfast in bed while someone rubbed his head down with petroleum jelly. I don’t get it either.
Hi at last, people who want to know what’s happening in the Sunday continuity of Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom. The Phantom is sharing a story of one of his ancestors is what’s going on. If you’re looking for the weekday continuity, or if you’re reading this after (I expect) June 2020, you’re likely to find a more relevant essay here. If you’d like a little mathematics in your comic strip talk, please try out my other blog. Thank you.
The Phantom (Sundays).
29 December 2019 – 22 March 2020
We left The Phantom teasing his daughter Heloise with tales of past Phantoms. He suggested he could tell Heloise what really happened to Ambrose Bierce, or to the body of Thomas Paine. Or Khe Pandjang, who’d lead an army against Dutch imperialism in Indonesia in the 18th century. (I hadn’t heard of him before this, but it’s a good reference. Linking The Phantom to him helps diffuse the colonialism baked into the comic strip’s premise.) Or the sole (then-)surviving witness to the Mary Celeste.
What The Phantom finally suggests, and Heloise accepts, is hearing the story of George Bass. Bass was a real-world British naval surgeon and explorer. That strait between Australia and Tasmania is named after him. In reality, he was last seen in February 1803. He was expected to sail the brig Venus from Sydney to Tahiti and then, perhaps, Spanish colonies in Chile. No one knows what happened to him and his crew. What The Phantom (Sundays) supposes is … not no one knows?
In The Phantom’s retelling there were a 26th and 27th person on the Venus. The 13th Phantom was one of those people lost to history. The other was called Carter, and we’re promised that his treachery put Bass in the Vault of Missing Men. And instead of sailing for Tahiti, Bass intended the ship to go “missing”. And then to join actively the Napoleonic Wars, attacking French and Spanish ships under a false flag.
This is a quite interesting plan since I don’t see how this isn’t piracy. There’s a reference to Bass having “sponsors” in England, so perhaps this got the legal cover of being a privateer. But then that would be on Bass’s Wikipedia page, unless of course Tony DePaul has an explanation to come for that.
Bass, in fiction, renames his ship the El Sol. He names his lifeboat the Tom Thumb III, in honor of the small boats the historic Bass used to explore Australian rivers. He says that he and Walker will launch the Tom Thumb III to save England from Napoleon. Meanwhile they sail to some Mediterranean port, “a nest of cutthroats, spies”. While walking down Ambush Alley in the port, Bass and Walker notice they’re being followed. It’s Carter, who hasn’t got any reason to be off the ship and less reason to follow them. They suspect Carter of working for someone, they know not who. Bass declares he can’t just leave Carter there. He means, unless he murders the bilge rat. But he’s too honest for that. The first time I read this, I thought Bass was saying he’d have to take Carter along and forgive his leaving the ship. On re-reading, I’m not sure Bass didn’t mean to just leave Carter in port. In either case the reasoning seems designed to force Carter to throw in with anyone working against Bass. But no one has ever accused the Napoleonic-era Royal Navy of having any idea how to create or sustain loyalty.
So, this week, we saw the VenusEl Sol sailing under United States, French, and even Spanish colors, on various missions. We’re promised that this will turn into Bass having a key role in the Battle of Trafalgar. We’re not there yet.
How are things going with Aunt Tildy? And that pro wrestler? I look in on Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D., unless events get in the way. But, come on. This is March 2020. How could an event get in the way of anything? Good luck to you all.
So, you know, despite it all I had a productive weekend. I mean I renewed the ham radio license that I never use and don’t even have a radio for and don’t know where I’d even get a radio now that Radio Shack is a disbelieved memory. Go ahead, try telling people about it. “You could go in and buy one single 47-ohm resistor, and then they’d ask you to join something called a `battery club’ for some reason.” You’ll be laughed off the nostalgia circuit with material like that.
This is a well-crafted Popeye cartoon. Popeye and Brutus are art students. There’s a contest in the art magazine, a thousand dollars for the best flower painting. Popeye and Brutus become rivals for the prize, and they set out to the desert. They find a lovely purple-petaled flower growing alone in the sand, and spend the rest of the short trying to paint the picture and undermine the other. Finally it all gets serious enough that Popeye has to eat his spinach. He smashes Brutus and the flower together in a canvas and presents that to the art world, which admires his bold work and lifelike nature.
There is a lot of good stuff this cartoon. Not just in the storyline but in the jokes. Some of them are throwaway bits: the letter carrier whacking Popeye in the head twice with deliveries. Or Popeye leaping from the loft window right into his car, and Brutus leaping from the same window to … right where Popeye’s car was. Some of them are fourth-wall-breaking experiences, which was always a way to make the young me love your cartoon. But they seem to echo the artists-at-work theme of the cartoon. Brutus correcting his off-center painting by grabbing the thumb in it and sliding the thing over. Popeye’s painting of a flower wilting in the heat. Brutus painting a swimming pool. In setting up the climax, Brutus painting train tracks and the rope to tie Popeye. Popeye painting his can of spinach.
And there’s a lot of good back-and-forth dialogue, Brutus and Popeye sassing the other. Which allows for a deft bit of plotting. Brutus’s undoing is always letting Popeye get spinach. Why give Popeye a paintbrush, when experience indicates that any tool will let Popeye summon spinach from the misty void? Well, because he’s sassing Popeye back. It is a really well-crafted cartoon throughout. There’s even a bonus bit of Popeye signing his rhyming couplet, about people calling him Van Gouher when he paints a flower. It’s just another nice small bit of business.
The cartoon is also a remake. In November 1956 the Walter Lantz studios released the Woody Woodpecker cartoon Arts and Flowers. The director was Paul J Smith, and the story’s credited to Homer Brightman and Frank J Goldberg. Smith directed roughly a hundred billion Woody Woodpecker theatrical cartoons. Brightman wrote about a billion of them. Goldberg is credited with this short alone. I don’t know whether this reflects him usually being credited under a variant name or whether this reflects “Frank J Goldberg” being a pseudonym summoned just for this one short. It stands out to me that Milt Schaffer was still getting story credits for Walt Disney shorts through 1956, then got a couple story credits for Woody Woodpecker, before going and joining Gerald Ray’s team.
To me, this matters. If Frank J Goldberg was Milt Schaffer, then there’s no real harm done. It’s no crime to plagiarize yourself. If he wasn’t, though, then someone deserves a surely-posthumous-by-now scolding.
There are important differences. The animation in the Woody Woodpecker cartoon is better. Walter Lantz’s studio was a second-tier theatrical place, but second-tier theatrical was still way ahead of even ex-Disney-animator television. Woody Woodpecker isn’t established as an artist or art student right away; he seems to get interested just by peeking at his neighbor’s mail. The art contest is more narrowly defined as being for a “desert flower”. And it promises only a big prize, rather than a thousand dollars, which turns out to be a picture of a bag of money. Artful Art — I never knew this name, but Wikipedia seems to have settled on it — and Woody Woodpecker sabotage each other right away, even before they’ve reached the desert.
We get some of the same jokes, like Woody and Artful shoving their easels in front of the other. Here, it carries on until Artful falls off a cliff; on TV, Brutus is just baffled to find the flower no longer in front of him. I’m not sure which is the better joke. The Popeye version lets the cartoon move faster to the next beat.
The Woody Woodpecker cartoon has a joke dropped from the remake, in which Artful gets distracted by a laughing hyena. The joke’s better off dropped. It’s funny enough, allowing that the idea of a crying hyena is of course a sufficient joke. It’s that the story is Woody versus Artful. Why throw in a distraction character? Put this in the short where Woody is trying to paint and nature conspires against him instead.
The joke where Artful kicks Woody out of the scene, opens up his easel, and Woody’s in there is lost too. That’s a good joke but there’s no way to make that work with Brutus and Popeye. The joke of the desert daffodil shrinking into the ground and reappearing could have gone in the remake, though, and I’m curious why it didn’t. We get an undermining joke in which Brutus digs beneath Popeye and he sinks into the ground instead. Although come to it, we don’t actually see the moving flower is Woody’s doing, or how he does it. I’d just assumed, since, what else makes sense?
Most interesting, though, are two bits. In one, Woody paints an oasis. As is traditional for stuff cartoons paint on rocks, he can swim in it and Artful can’t. In the other, and most important difference, it’s Woody that paints the railroad tracks and railroad into existence. In the remake, these are tasks assigned to Brutus. To the villain. Woody Woodpecker was always a difficult protagonist. He’s supposed to be this zany agent of chaos. I think it’s telling that the stuff the audience is expected to root for in 1956 is so naturally slid over to the antagonist in 1960. I still like Woody Woodpecker, but appreciate more that he can only work if he’s harassing somebody who deserves it. Put him up against a well-meaning vague shape of protagonist dough, like Andy Panda, and Woody Woodpecker is awful.
In the Woody Woodpecker cartoon, the ability to paint things like the train into reality is set up early. Woody paints a cactus that jabs Artful. Woody paints a woman holding a vase, who hits Artful with the vase. Woody paints a bulldog into existence to bite Artful’s tuckus. But is setting that up necessary? I didn’t have trouble believing that Brutus could paint a train into existence, and given that, Popeye painting spinach into the world is fine.
So. Let me put forth the hypothesis that “Frank J Goldberg” was a one-off pseudonym used by Milt Schaffer. That Schaffer was working at Disney through 1956 suggests that maybe he had a foot in the door at Lantz, but didn’t want his name noticed before he had left Disney. This seems plausible enough. The Woody Woodpecker cartoon Niagara Fools came out the 22nd of October, 1956, with Schaffer’s name on it. This is before the release of Arts and Flowers, on the 19th of November, with I assume Schaffer’s name hidden. But that doesn’t say much about when production on the shorts got started or what whimsies of fate might have pushed Arts and Flowers to later in the year. It suggests that production of Niagara Fools started after Schaffer had left Disney, at least.
Having done all this detective work, I’m just assuming there’s an article on Cartoon Brew or Mark Evanier’s page that describes all the various pseudonyms that Schaffer used and why he used them, and that I’m twelve years late to the party. That’s all right. That is closer than I normally ever am.
And then I’m done with this thread until I decide to rewrite it all as one big coherent 700-word essay. And again, this is drawing from Wikipedia. So Alfred Fielding and Marc Chavannes tried to make wallpaper out of shower curtains sealed together. And this turned out to be bubble wrap. It wasn’t used as a packing material until 1961, though, when IBM started shipping their IBM 1401 computers wrapped in the stuff.
And now I’m picturing that scene. Fielding and Chavannes are sitting there, disheartened. They’ve used their steam iron to seal together dozens of pairs of shower curtains, and not gotten a single piece of usable wallpaper out of any of it. Finally, one of them, disgusted with their failures, tosses the wrap, where it lands on an IBM 1401 variable-wordlength decimal computer with six-bit plus word-mark and parity big-Endian computer that “fell off a delivery truck”. And then they both freeze, looking at what’s happened. And then look at each other. And the years of anxiety and frustration and cruel failure wash away as they realize they hav seen the future, and it pops.
So here’s some more on hand-washing. People ask how I, a germ-phobic slightly obsessive person, feel about learning how everyone else hates hand-washing. Like, am I grossed out to learn that other people will wash their hands only for special circumstances, like the discovery of a new Pope? That there’s a sizable contingent of people who figure washing after you pee is just some Puritan nonsense of shaming sexual organs?
Of course not. I know the average person sees washing their hands as a special event. Something that if you did too much would devalue washing or the idea of hands. I wouldn’t have a hand-washing compulsion if I didn’t believe that most of you figure you’ll get a prize for going the whole day without washing. Roughly, since I recovered from being a teenage boy, I have assumed every person and 45 percent of the animals I encounter is a cloud of … things … I must wash off as soon as it’s not rude.
So no, I’m not at all grossed out to see people remarking on how weird it is that now, they’re damp. I see it as reassurance that I have been right all along. The only weird thing is sometimes having someone apologize to me. They say now they understand why I always have that tube of hand sanitizer on me, and also that backup tube so I can sanitize the first tube of sanitizer.
Do I take joy in the world finally waking up to cleaning their hands off in the way I have? Well, no, because of all the death and disruption and stuff. I’m not a monster. I’m not like most people. I want the world to acknowledge me as right all along, yes. But I want the world to do that after waking from an unsettled night of dreams. These dreams should involve visits from the ghosts of liquid soap past, present, and yet to come. Not after any great turmoil.
I don’t have the self-esteem to want the world to go to any great fuss for me. It’s hard enough on my comfortable sense of my own triviality to learn the people at the sandwich shop know I want the cheese hoagie. This has been a week of ever more headlines and news alerts and interruptions to The Price is Right. That’s way too much focus on me for me to like. I would complain about this more, except, to who? And if whoever I did complain to listened to my complaints and stopped all this great fuss about proving me right? I would feel worse about getting that attention on top of everything else.
One thing I know people are discovering is that if they have long sleeves, then their sleeves get wet. Believe me, I’ve been there. The obvious answer is short sleeves. This doesn’t work for me as an answer because I am cold. Since I moved out of Singapore I’ve been cold. The only exceptions have come in special circumstances, usually when part or all of me was on fire. And even then I only got up to lukewarm. Part of the joy of handwashing is if I can put my hands into boiling water then my fingers are a little less frozen. I have to wear a long sleeved something, and that’s that.
So let me offer what I’ve learned about the wet-sleeves problem. If you wash your hands up to your wrists, you get water all over your sleeves. Ah, but, if you roll your sleeves up a few inches? Then they still get all wet. If you roll your sleeves up past your elbows, wash your hands, and then dry them? Now we get some great results: it turns out you haven’t dried your wrists enough and your sleeve gets wet. So now you need to think outside the box. If you take off your shirt or hoodie or whatever garment has long sleeves, and wash and then dry your wrists thoroughly?
By “thoroughly” I mean first towel them off. Then dry your hands up above where you washed on the wrists in the hot air dryer, if there is one. Or hold your hands up, palms facing you, and walk briskly back and forth for thirty seconds if there is no dryer. Then towel off again, and then put your shirt back on?
Then, your sleeves still get wet. And the whole length, too, since it turns wrists are made of hypersponges. I’m sorry. But you would know this if you had been washing your hands all along like I did, when I was right.
There are many historic events I would like to witness. The first transmissions along the transatlantic telegraph cable. The first person to build a house, rather than extend shelter from an available cave or copse of trees of whatnot. Merkle’s Boner. Whatever the heck the Invasion of the Sea Peoples was. And now, to this, I add whatever conversation happened between Alfred Fielding and Marc Chavannes that resulted in a declaration I must conclude had the substance, “gentlemen, we have all the wallpaper we could ever need — it’s right here in these shower curtains!”.
And I apologize for disappointing everyone who wanted to hear me talk about how a forgotten cartoon from 1960 is not all that bad, considering, if you watch it generously. But, first, the particular cartoon up next is interesting in a complicated way and I need time to warm up to that.
Also, I read on Wikipedia that bubble wrap was “initially created as a failed wallpaper”. I need time to recover from realizing that I will never, however long and hard I try, craft such an apparently-effortless whimsical absurdity, in such perfect word economy, as “a failed wallpaper”. No, no, save your condolences; I know my strengths and my limitations. I just sometimes look out at the greatness I cannot have.
Here are the relationship screwup standings, as of late December 2019. Wilbur Weston humiliates himself, and everyone around him, and everyone who eats sandwiches. He and Estelle went on a double-date with his ex-girlfriend Iris and her considerable boyfriend upgrade Zak. Wilbur, swearing off demon alcohol, begs Estelle to forgive him. Estelle misses him enough to consider it. Meanwhile Iris’s doctor has diagnosed her as old. To hide this from her supportive and emotionally engaged boyfriend she says they need time apart. With that background: what’s happened since Christmas?
Estelle goes to dinner with Wilbur. He shares his resolve not to drink anymore, and to stop embarrassing himself or disappointing her. So, credit to Estelle for having the patience for this. Everyone needs to recover from their screw-ups. Everyone around them needs to know how much screw-up they can take before it’s hurting themselves. I’d like to think Estelle has figured this out, but she was under a lot of Mary Worth pressure to just pair-bond with Wilbur already, despite his issues.
That puts Estelle away for a while. How about Iris and Zak? Iris finally admits her problems to Mary Worth. Mary Worth asks: Zak is loving and supportive and you’re ditching that? And you haven’t even told him what the doctor said explained your weight gain and fatigue and hair loss? Look, just pull over and let me drive. I can sort this out in like ten minutes.
The test comes back positive: it’s Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease. So, some medicine, some diet, some exercise. Naps you plan for. Zak is of course supportive and helpful and tactfully avoids calling out the first doctor for screwing up. The treatment works great. Within days she’s feeling better. And Iris and Zak are hugging each other talking about how they love the other.
So that, the 19th of January, settles that. We then check in on Estelle, who’s settling for Wilbur quite well. And Estelle’s cat Libby, who cats. And back on Iris and Zak, in what seems like a redundant point. But Iris did have to thank Mary Worth for her advice. Which, to be fair, was correct and needed.
The 3rd of February started off the new and current story. It features Dawn Weston, Wilbur’s daughter. She’s keeping up her long-distance relationship with her French boyfriend from France, Hugo Lambert Bilbiothèque Quatre-vingt de Poisson, Comte de Franceypants. They’d had a nice summer fling last year and kept it going. He’s got a nice job in Paris, in the being French industry. She figures to fly out to see him in summer.
While at a pizza place, thinking this over, she spots Jared Mylo. They’d worked together for Local Medical Group a couple summers ago. It’s a nice reunion. He’d had a crush on her back then. They talk some and decide to go see a movie, a parody Star Wars film. This causes me to wonder: hey, yeah, isn’t it weird there hasn’t been a Star Wars spoof movie in a generation now? Or at least a Spaceship Movie spoof? Is it that there’s enough Star Wars Trek spoofs on TV and web comics and podcasts and stuff that nobody needs a movie?
Anyway, Dawn reassures herself that this is just friends hanging out. It can’t possibly threaten her relationship with Hugo Lambert Cahier sur la Tante du Votre, 2CV. So that’s our conflict: is hanging out with Jared Mylo here in Santa Royale going to distance her from her French boyfriend in France, Paris? Dawn and Jared have a great time at Ruse Of The Fast Talker. Oh, maybe I see why there hasn’t been a Star Wars spoof movie in a while now. At dinner afterward Dawn and Jared bond over how their parents do embarrassing things, like karaoke and naked yoga. And meanwhile in Paris, Hugo is … agreeing with women.
So you know their thing is serious. Mary pops in to ask Dawn how serious this all is. Dawn says it’s not at all, they just like hanging out. And there’s the conflict for the story. How will it all turn out? Will Dawn handle having two people she likes seeing? I figure to check back in around June and give an answer.
Dubiously Sourced Mary Worth Sunday Panel Quotes!
What has BrainyQuotes thought people said, since we last checked in on Charterstone? These inspirational mottos:
“To err is human; to forgive, divine.” — Alexander Pope, 22 December 2019
“Forgiveness says you are given another chance to make a new beginning.” — Desmond Tutu, 29 December 2019
“To love is to be vulnerable.” — C S Lewis, 5 January 2020
“I told my doctor I broke my leg in two places. He told me to quit going to those places.” — Henny Youngman, 12 January 2020
“Love Heals.” — Maya Angelou, 19 January 2020
“I mean we all need a second chance sometimes.” — Joel Osteen, 26 January 2020
“We all need each other.” — Leo Buscaglia, 2 February 2020
“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson, 9 February 2020
“As a body everyone is single, as a soul never.” — Herman Hesse, 16 February 2020
“Friendship is something that is cultivated.” — Thalia, 23 February 2020
“In March, winter is holding back and spring is pulling forward. Something holds and something pulls inside of us too.” — Jean Hersey, 1 March 2020
“There are as many kinds of loves as there are hearts.” — Leo Tolstoy (in Anna Kernina), 18 March 2020
“Your friend is your needs answered.” — Khalil Gibran, 15 March 2020
Also I would like to say I was looking up Supercontinents because did you know that Pangaea was not the only time that all the land in the world was huddled together in one continent? That the continents have been breaking apart and coming back together over and over again? That this cycle of all the world’s land reuniting and then splitting up again has happened something like ten times that we know of? Doesn’t that give you the same awesome thrill of “being five and knowing dinosaurs were a thing”? Yeah, I wanted to share that with someone. Not because I thought anyone was going to expect me to make a supercontinent for them.
Also I have this silly thing moved up to today because I wasn’t able to write my Mary Worth plot recap on time. Stuff, you know? And things? There has been too much of all of that lately.
I addressed this in a strip caption on Sunday, but I’m aware people are poking around looking for explanations. Particularly since this week and in the new story the art style has gotten cartoony and loose in a way that’s quite an adjustment for Mark Trail. Say what you will for emotional authenticity, but a big part of the comic strip has been that its characters are drawn photo-realistically, which is part of what makes the animal and plant and landscape art count. And then this week, well, here you go.
So. I do not know with the confidence that I would like just what’s happened. Many commenters on Comics Curmudgeon have reported that James Allen has been taking care of a family member in need. And this has forced him away from the usual studio, so that he’s trying to draw without the usual setup. And, one may imagine, with less time and less ability to focus on the art. Also perhaps the writing, if you thought the conclusion of the Yeti story was an abrupt halt rather than a planned resolution.
This is a plausible and understandable story. What it is not is confirmed, at least to my eyes. I have not seen a comment from James Allen, who would post on the Comics Curmudgeon under the screen name “The Real Mark Trail”, about this. Nor any comment from him in months. Nor have I seen a comment from King Features Syndicate about this. Nor an article on Daily Cartoonist, nor on rec.arts.comics.strips.
It would be new for Mark Trail to slip into “fiction” without warning the reader ahead of time. But Allen has been trying to add some narrative complexity and nonlinearity to the comic. Pulling back to show Mark Trail reading the comic strip his son created would fit that nicely. And if that is the intention, then it’s well done.
But this is again all guesses. It is not confirmed. All I can say with certainty is, yes, there’s something weird in the art of Mark Trail lately.
I am beyond happy at getting e-mails from every company I’ve ever heard of with explanations for how they clean everything now. Thanks, Best Buy, I’m glad to know that your response to the Covid-19 virus is that now you’re going to clean the store on a regular basis. United Airlines? You’re going to have the air on airplanes actually purified now? That’s fantastic. It’s really interacting well with my hand-washing germ-phobia thing.
Understand: I know that my hand-washing thing is my dumb thing. That it’s wholly irrational. And even that I don’t have a for-real germ phobia either. I know this because I will just forget about it if I’m having a good enough time. I’ll let my hands go, oh, hour without hand-washing. And not even feel anxious about it. My track record on, like, food is even worse, even ignoring the Steve “Pre” Prefontaine waffle incident. Do I hesitate to grab popcorn that’s been spilled on the shelves from the free-sample bins at the farmer’s market? Yes. I hesitate until I’m sure nobody’s watching. A germ phobia is one thing, but me passing up four pieces of cinnamon-sugar-coated popcorn? Never.
I rationalize my hand-washing thing. It’s good practice to wash your hands before handling food. Or after handling food. Or handling pets. Or handing pets food. Or after handling doorknobs. Or after feeding doorknobs to pets. That one indicates I’m extremely confused, probably from lack of sleep. Best to wash my hands and get to bed. Wash after handling garbage. Or walking too slowly past the garbage. Oh, and of course wash my hands after going to the bathroom. For a good long while. Oftentimes my love will realize that I haven’t been seen in over four hours. This is when I’m trapped where I can’t open the door to get out of the bathroom without touching the doorknob, which requires me to go back into the bathroom to wash my hands.
Still, as silly as my hand-washing thing may be you can’t argue with the results: I get sixteen colds a year. And they hurry on out of here in five or six weeks each. I get so many colds that I have to have two or more colds at once just so there’s time. Last Christmas, at my love’s parents, I had four colds stacked one atop the other, all huddled under a trenchcoat and trying to get into Rise of the Skywalkers. My love’s parents, who are in their 70s, were very happy to see me sniffling and coughing. But then I’ve had a cough since that episode of NewsRadio about the crazy rich boss’s autobiography.
Incidentally yes I know faucet handles have their issues. But those faucets that work by some kind of sensor? No. In principle I should like having more things I don’t have to touch. What doesn’t work for me is that they don’t work for me. You know the thing where you put your hands in front of the sensor and water comes on? When I put my hands in front of the sensor water does not come on. I can hold my hands still and no water comes. I can wave my hands and no water comes. I can move my hands around there and no water comes. The only hope I have is if I punch the faucet, and then water comes, until I put my hands under the faucet.
Here’s a real thing that really happened for me for real, in reality, at the farmer’s market yesterday. In the bathroom there was a faucet that was constantly running. So, great! I did the sorts of thing you expect someone to do in a bathroom, and went to wash under the eternal never-stopping fountain of unending water. When I put my hands in the water stream, it stopped. Don’t believe me? Ask the guy at the other sink who looked at this absurd scene and shrugged. He used the hand dryer, because he has the kinds of hands that bathroom hand dryers can dry, unlike mine.
Anyway if you need me I’ll be in the kitchen, boiling the four-USB-outlet power brick that Best Buy still wants me to review.
Edited June 5, 2020 to add: Loren Fishman has taken over Mallard Fillmore for at least the indefinite future. There is no word on when or whether Bruce Tinsley will return. There’s no news about Tinsley.
It’s another Jack Kinney-produced cartoon this week. This one gets a story by Osmond Evans, a new name around here. Osmond Evans is also the animation director, which means I go in with no idea what it’s going to look like. Or what the story will be like. So here, then, is 1960’s Popeye the Fireman.
So this … this. It is a good idea for a cartoon. Popeye as a fire fighter? Sure, why not, as long as he’s not sailing he might as well be. He’s done it before, but that was hundreds of cartoons ago. We can revisit an idea. Popeye rescuing Olive Oyl from a high-rise hotel fire, and it turns out to all be Brutus smoking a cigar and punching? Yeah, that’s a reasonable skeleton. Hang some extra incidents, a couple jokes, maybe a little action and you have a competent cartoon.
You see where my opinion is going. The cartoon appeals to me right away, as the title card becomes the action. It’s a good start. We get a very stick-figure animation of Olive Oyl, but that could be forgiven. Then it turns out the cartoon really wants to be that cheaply animated all throughout. It’s no crime to be cheap, or even to look cheap. But there is a point where it’s distracting how little animation is going on, as for example Wimpy at about 18:00, chewing by having two frames swap out, once a second. That looks bad. When it gets cheap enough we have to infer what’s meant to go on? Here, I mean Popeye sliding down the ladder at about 21:03. It looks like the ladder is folding up. No; it turns out Popeye’s supposed to be sliding down it, breaking each rung.
But I can’t write this off as a sloppily-animated short. There’s a couple pieces where the animation gets really interesting. The most striking part is, like about 20:15, where the camera zooms in and out as Popeye, on the ladder, moves up, and the background moves alongside that. It’s a complicated shot, for all that it really is just sliding cells. It conveys a lot of movement, and a lot of three-dimensional movement. It’s not as lush as the equivalent scene would be in a late-30s Fleischer Popeye. But it evokes that, and within the budget and personnel constraints of these 60s cartoons. There’s a little bit around 19:47 where Popeye wheels the fire truck’s ladder around and to the front. That’s again movement in three dimensions. It’s startling. It’s great to see something leave the plane of the stage that so much of the action’s confined to.
Yet again I wonder about the makings of the cartoon. It’s easy to imagine that this was Evans getting a director’s credit, and focusing his time on a couple of choice moments while letting the rest slide. I don’t know this, though. The IMDB doesn’t even list this short among his credits. It does say Evans was a segment director for the Mr Magoo version of 1001 Arabian Nights, and a couple of shorts in the 50s. So he can’t have been completely inexperienced. But perhaps he was new to the severe constraints of limited-animation tv of the 60s.
There are a couple interesting filigrees in the writing. Little bits like Wimpy considering it wasteful, at the fire call box, to have to break the glass and pull the lever. Or a bit so small and weird that it seems like a production error. The fire’s reported at the Hotel Star (see 18:38). When Popeye gets there, it’s the Hotel Ozmund (see 20:05). Is it meant to be something sharp-eyed viewers notice and chuckle at? I can’t tell. But all this is all along the way of a very slow story. It takes about twelve minutes for Popeye the Fireman to hear about the fire, and then another 34 minutes of rolling through traffic to get the fire truck to the Hotel Ozmund Star. There are a few jokes along the way, but there is a lot of easy-to-animate padding too.
Look, believe me, fourteen change.org petitions in my e-mail every single stupid day, I have heard your arguments for abolition. But if we got rid of Daylight Saving Time how would we know with certainty which clocks in the house we in fact never use? Hm? Give me an answer to that and then we can talk.
I don’t want to say Mark Trail left Harvey Camel for dead in a Nepalese avalanche. But he didn’t spend a lot of time looking, either. He had fair reasons not to look, in what we saw on-panel: it has to have been too dangerous to try right after the avalanche. But we don’t see this explained, and we don’t see, like, the day or two after the avalanche either. It’s some unsettling stuff.
And he keeps insisting stuff is evidence of Yetis. Whistling? Yeti. Destroyed hiking station? Yeti. Four rocks by the side of the hiking path? Yeti. Early-morning rain showers? Yeti. Goldbach’s Conjecture? Yeti. “You can’t just keep pointing at things and calling them Yetis,” cries Mark Trail. Camel posts this to TikTok, declaring, “You’re the meme now, dog.” So with this history in mind, you can understand why Mark Trail might leave him for dead.
Also a Himalayan red bear attacks. It’s the fourth Attack of Nature this story. Pemba, one of the Sherpas they’re hiring, has bear repellent, so it’s okay. And Camel opens up about his motivations. He doesn’t want the Yeti captured or brought to zoos or exploited by humans. He wants to show the world that such an astounding things exists. And, yeah, the fame and fortune would be a pleasant reward.
In a hiking station for the night, Mark Trail presses Camel. Why is he so sure there’s one to find? Camel has a heck of an answer: when he was a child, a Yeti ripped his leg off. He’d been hiking with his father, and a Yeti broke into their cabin, tossed his father around, and grabbed him by the leg. And now Camel reveals his prosthetic leg. This pays off the “why does he walk funny” question Mark Trail asked Genie back in November.
Later, Mark Trail asks Genie, like, seriously? Camel’s assistant says she believes in his trauma. But whether it was a Yeti? How is she to know? Unless she’s been his friend for decades and taking care of him and helping him with his trauma? Anyway, they turn in, and Mark Trail sees something inexplicable: Genie going in to Harvey Camel’s room. At night. It makes us wonder whether sex exists in the Mark Trail universe. Before you say that’s obvious since Mark has a son? Remember that Rusty Trail was adopted. Still, yeah, of course people in the Mark Trail universe have heard of sex, and may even enjoy it. It’s not like they’re in Luann.
They get back to hiking, Mark Trail still prodding Camel, “Yeah no but really?” At night they set up camp. And Camel hears something. A whistling. Genie insists it’s the wind. Camel says it’s the Yeti. He runs out of the tent, into the snowstorm.
And the avalanche.
Mark Trail, Genie, and the Sherpas are all right. Mark Trail suggests maybe Camel made it out the other side of the valley? Genie hopes so. But … they don’t look.
In the circumstance, at that hour? That’s defensible. Yes, Camel is lost and likely wounded. But it’s also the middle of the night, immediately after an avalanche, and there’s only four people who could start searching. Waiting for daytime, contacting authorities, getting an organized rescue together is sensible. But this reasoning is never made on-screen. Mark Trail, or better the Sherpas, could explain that searching for Camel right now is likely to fail and get more people injured or killed.
Instead what we see is Genie explaining Camel’s life story. Camel lost a leg to juvenile diabetes. They became friends shortly after he lost his leg. She caretook him. And Camel got onto social media, becoming an adventurer with a worldwide fanbase and niche fame. And, needing to make ever-bigger adventures for his audience, going finally to the search for the Yeti. Mark Trail nods, thinking of this as a lesson in the search for online fame. And we see how this quest ends. Unless, of course, Camel did make it out alive.
And … the heck? Because this is good enough exposition. It fills out character and explains motivations and actions. But it leaves new questions. Like: so was Harvey Camel a legitimate anthropologist who turned into a celebrity? Or was he always a showman, with enough science in him to get respectable magazines like Woods and Wildlife to finance him? And: so … did Harvey Camel, as a child, travel with his father to Nepal and have some encounter that he could remember as a Yeti attack? It’s all right if the characters don’t know answers. But a reader can, fairly, ask whether James Allen has answers in mind. A storyteller always has the right to change their mind about characters’ histories. If the revision makes for a better story, it’s a brilliant twist. If it confuses the audience, it’s a mess.
So this time spent in revelations threw a lot of people off the story. We go from that night, and Genie revealing what she knew about Camel’s history, right to Mark Trail readying to leave Nepal. Mark Trail talks about how they need to inform the authorities. And I suppose we can take as implicit that there was a search. But what counts to the audience is what the characters spend time on. Especially in comic strips, which get read and thought about for seconds per day.
(There are more interesting patterns, though. That earlier story also involved the search for something Mark Trail didn’t think existed, in this case a Vanishing Gold Mine. And had Mark Trail be as suspicious of JJ Looper as he would be of Harvey Camel. Looper would justify Mark Trail’s suspicion, but Mark Trail didn’t have anything but a hunch to go on there.)
Mark Trail heads home. He admits not knowing whether Harvey Camel died in the avalanche. But what are the chances of Camel surviving certain death, and then teaming up with “Dirty” Dyer to seek revenge on Mark Trail? Anyway, Mark Trail explains that his article for Woods and Wildlife won’t mention the Yeti. The crocodiles and bears and all are enough. Which … is … a decision I’d want to bounce off the editor. I would think a failed search for a Yeti alongside a preposterous minor celebrity would be a great story. Of course, I’ve written like two thousand words making fun of this story so far this essay, and I have two other essays about this story.
Anyway then Mark Trail warns Cherry and Doc about how the Internet can bring out bad stuff in people. Cherry agrees, talking about Rusty Trail reading the comments of online comics-reading communities. All right. With that, the story ends. The avalanche brought the Attack of Nature count up to five.
The new story started the 29th of February. Cherry Trail got a call from Geoff Aldridge, head of the Forest Explorers. They do nature outings for kids, particularly ones considered “troubled children”. Mark Trail figures he’ll do an article on the Forest Explorers. He and Rusty can join them a trip. So we’re still meeting everybody right now. There hasn’t been a plot to start yet. We’ll see where things go over the next few months.
Sunday Animals Watch!
So you know your headcanon where the Sunday panels explaining animals are articles that Mark Trail writes? Turns out everybody thinks the same way. I don’t know that it’s what James Allen or his predecessors thought they were doing with it. But everyone agrees that’s what it should mean. Anyway here’s what Mark Trail’s been writing about while lost in the Himalayas:
Babirusas, 15 December 2019. They’re neat; give them a look.
Myrrh, 22 December 2019. It’s one of many resins that you might like to know about.
Bear attacks, 29 December 2019. Mark Trail recommends you not be attacked by a bear. But if you are attacked with a bear, try to have bear repellent.
Tasmanian tigers, 5 January 2020. Extinct for 85 years now. But there’ve been sightings, and now and then someone who thinks genetics is easy says they’re going to clone the animal back into existence.
Saffron crocuses, 12 January 2020. The amount of work it takes to make saffron causes me to feel like I’m putting a lot of people to bother if I get anything that uses any.
Leatherback turtles, 19 January 2020. With a mention of other marine turtles.
Silver-backed chevrotains, 26 January 2020. A species not spotted for thirty years. This as part of the Global Wildlife Conservation’s “Search for Lost Species” campaign. This tries finding evidence for animals not spotted in a long while.
Dumbo Octopus, 2 February 2020. Which are amazing, and which live so deep in the ocean with so few predators around that they don’t even have ink sacs.
Did Estelle take Wilbur back? Why? Did Iris screw up her relationship with Zak? Why? Is Dawn screwing up her relationship with real French guy from France, Hugo Franceypants? Why? Did the auto care place at the end of the block finally update its sign with a new inspirational-yet-somehow-despairing thought? Yes! Will I belatedly work out the “Mark Trail joined Mastodon but left because he couldn’t find any” joke I’ve been trying to make fit into this all week? Could be! Join me for Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth in one week’s time, if things go like I plan. Thanks for reading. Like and subscribe me on Orkut, Ping, Yo, Ello, and Apple eWorld, please.
Walking is a pretty good way to get around. I mean, if you’re able and up for it. It compares favorably to tossing yourself on the ground and rolling to your destination, for example, by being faster and getting less sidewalk debris in your clothing. It provides exercise. And it puts you in touch with your neighborhood in a way you don’t otherwise have. Like, if you didn’t walk, would you pay attention to that empty shopping cart on your street? The one that’s got no identifiable store markings? The one that’s over a mile from any store that could support a shopping cart that capacious? The one that keeps migrating north and south, as if driven by some inscrutable mating drive? Can you stop noticing it, once you’ve started? And yet without walking all you’d do is acknowledge that a street exists. Where’s the fun in that?
Given its advantages, why isn’t walking a more popular way of people getting to places they’d rather have stayed home from? Some problems are obvious. There’s the vulnerability to rain. The poor reliability of air conditioning. That one block of sidewalk square that got dug up, and is marked off with tape, that’s been standing there non-existent for months. It, too, is compelling. If you were still eight years old you’d know that jumping into that square is an hours-long plummet into a strange world of dinosaurs and robots and robot dinosaurs and a great adventure to save the interworld. The only thing stopping you back then was how you had a spelling quiz to get to and you were feeling pretty darned confident about ‘ukulele’. It’s still a pretty compelling problem to get to, especially when you consider the shape the interworld’s in now. But, you know, I understand if you have to hurry on. That $50 rebate check the power company gave you for turning in that broken dehumidifier isn’t going to deposit itself. And who even knows if they have convenience stores in the interworld? They have, but you have to recognize that they’re marked by the giant pillbugs and like nobody ever thinks to explain that. Plus, you find a missing square of sidewalk there and you end up plummeting into the metainterworld and that’s all sorts of new issues.
I say one problem keeping walking from catching on better is the risk of collision. I mean with other pedestrians. It’s no less bad to accidentally collide with, say, a mailbox. That might even be worse, given the level of embarrassment. Colliding with the mailbox isn’t too bad but then you reflexively say “sorry” to it and feel like a right fool for days. It won’t be until like the next Wednesday you think of the witty comeback you should have said to the mailbox, and by then nobody cares if they hear it.
But it’s collisions with people that I’m worrying about, since I have so few mailbox readers. I have few people readers too, but I’m all right with that, since I feel pretty bad when I draw attention anyway. To collide with someone you need another person to collide with. You’d figure it would usually be pretty easy not to collide. You’d see the person walking towards you, and the person sees you walking towards them, and you both move a little to the side so as not to collide. Somehow this doesn’t work, though. If you move to your right, they move to your right. If you move to their right, they move to their right too. If you stop dead still, they stop dead still and grin, embarrassed. Then you and they try moving again and it’s the same problem. You leap off the sidewalk, hoping the First Speaker of the Interworld Partnership of Communards is checking the magic picture-book at that moment and will portal you out of this world. No luck; the First Speaker needs both you and your walking opponent, and you end up bonking together inside the Chamber of the Trustworthy.
So that’s why I think we need to swipe a gimmick from the car industry (don’t tell them) and set up people with directional signals. Either that or have people go out wearing conical rubber walking-gowns, so that if people do collide it’s slower and the shock is absorbed. Plus, we’d look much more like game pieces from Sorry!. So maybe the directional signals idea is a bad one and we should go with the cones instead. Anyway, once we do that I’m sure people will like walking dozens of times better than they did before. You’re all welcome.
It seems like I did this just a couple days ago, doesn’t it? But at least I’m getting to my monthly review of readership numbers sooner this month than last. I do like taking a moment to look at what got read around here, and how much, since it serves as a reminder that I’m not as popular as I think I am. Also that I never will be. And that I used to be more popular. Or at least more less unpopular.
There were 3,181 page views around here in February. That’s the third month in a row at about that level, although it is rising a little. It’s a chunk under the twelve-month running average of 3,542.6. The numbers aren’t bad by themselves; it’s just this is like a one-quarter chunk of the readership from the previous three months vanished. I don’t know what happened there, or why.
It’s a similar story with the number of unique visitors. There were 1,969 of them in February, which is a bit up from the last couple months and is at least in the neighborhood of the Chuckletrousers running average of 2,038.3. Again, though, like a quarter of my readership vanished between November and December and I can’t figure a reason why.
After a couple months fluttering upward the number of likes has crashed again. There were 75 of them in February, way below the running average of 138.3. It’s the lowest number of likes in a month since 2013, which is amazing to consider because that was a time I would get, like, 300 views and 170 visitors in a month. Comments, too, have rolled over and died: six of them in February, below the average of 18.4 and the lowest since the first months of this blog, back in 2013.
Nevertheless, people are reading stuff. Mostly my comic strip talk. The most popular essays here in February were none at all published in February, but:
So if we learn nothing else, it’s that people really want to know what’s with Mark Trail leaving people for dead. Trust me, I’ll have words about this on Sunday. Also I have no idea why that months-of-the-year thing is proving so popular month after month. I think someone must have linked to it from somewhere trusted. The most popular thing I published in February was also about people wanting story comic characters’ motivations explained. That was What’s Going On In The Phantom (Weekdays)? Why is the Python held by the Wambesi? November 2019 – February 2020.
Altogether 401 posts, plus my home page, got any views at all this past month. 245 of them got more than one view. 56 got at least ten views. There’d been 450 posts getting any views in January, and 277 more than one view then.
As ever, this is subject to change for reasons of breaking news or broken schedules on my part. And, not to jinx myself, but: Mark Trail, Mary Worth, The Phantom, and Rex Morgan? In the story-strip-snark community we know these as the breadwinners. Gil Thorp, well, that’s the hipster breadwinner, a story strip for people who want to snark on something a little more obscure than Mary Worth.
71 countries sent me any readers in February. That’s right about January’s 68 and December’s 65. 18 of these were single-view countries, again right about January’s 20 and December’s 13. Here’s the full roster:
Hong Kong SAR China
Trinidad & Tobago
United Arab Emirates
Sri Lanka and then Trinidad & Tobago were single-view countries in January. There’s no countries on three-month streaks. Italy’s dropped to a more typical number of readers after January’s spike of 170 page views. Most of my readers are from the English-speaking countries that I expect to see there.
I posted, counts WordPress, 14,874 words in February. This seems low. It averages to 512.9 words per posting, which is down from January’s 548. As of the start of February I’ve posted 2,585 things, and attracted 157,567 page views from a logged 88,016 unique visitors.
I’d be glad to have you as a regular reader here. You can put the blog into your RSS reader. (Friends pages on a free Livejournal or Dreamwidth account can serve as an RSS reader.) Or you can use the “Follow Another Blog, Meanwhile” button on this page and add it to your regular RSS read. If you’re on Twitter, you’re one ahead of my @nebusj account, but that link still announces postings. Thank you for reading at all, though, however it is you do it.
Incident At Missile City has a story credited to Howard A Schneider. The director is Seymour Kneitel. Which tells us this cartoon was made by Paramount Cartoons, formerly Famous Studios, formerly Fleischer Studios. So these are people who know how to draw Popeye, even if they had just spent a decade not doing a single interesting thing with him. This is the first time I’ve looked at a Paramount-animated cartoon since I stumbled into reviewing these systematically.
King Blozo is one of the comic strip characters who somehow never made it to the screen before the 60s. At first glance, this seems odd. He’s a good character in the comics, a beleaguered monarch who needs Popeye to save him from doom on all sides. His lone comfort is reading the comic strips. Big mood, the kids say. But I can see where King Blozo and his land of Spinachovia work better in the open-ended serial-comic adventure. They can take as much time for his silliness as anyone wants. If you just have a six-minute cartoon, though, is the overhead of explaining these people need Popeye to fight someone for them worth it? Why not just have the villains pick a fight with Popeye? Blozo’s fun, on the page, but it’s not like he has a dynamic personality or a great catchphrase or anything. Of course, if he were animated more, maybe we’d find a side of him that’s more animation-ready.
There’s at least one compelling reason. It’s implicit here. Voyaging to Spinachovia, and to King Blozo’s land, shifts the landscape. It justifies stepping into stranger and more surreal territories. There’s a base level of unreality in Popeye anyway: his superhuman strength, and the way it can be transmitted by spinach. The magical powers of the Jeep and, before Eugene, the Whiffle Hen. Goon Island. Besides spinach, though, these are all intrusions from outside the normal world; they come from uncharted corners of the world.
And so going to one, even one with a familiar-ish name like Spinachovia, justifies going to a surreal place. Here it’s Missile City, one inhabited by missiles with faces. It’s a weird premise. It makes me think of those little plot cul-de-sacs that L Frank Baum would sometimes put into a Wizard of Oz novel, where they spend a chapter in the city of living kitchen utensils or animate china dolls or something like that. We get a bunch of spot jokes about the world as anthropomorphic missiles would build it. (This is an especially strong feeling since the Missile City leader is this jolly fellow who wants to show off. And calls himself mad. And is honestly a bit ineffective.) And then King Blozo screws things up and we return to the plot. Missile City’s invading Spinachovina to secure spinach; Popeye settles things with some punching and the explanation that you can just grow spinach, you know.
If you allow the core crazypants assumption behind this story, that of a city of living missiles, it’s a pretty solid cartoon. Missile City has a coherent reason for attacking Spinachovina. King Blozo has good reason for calling in Popeye. Popeye gets to save the day for everybody. The animation is competent, as you might expect from people who could draw Popeye in their sleep, and spent the 50s doing so. It looks inexpensive — notice Popeye covering his mouth to say things — but not ever bad. If the series kept to this level of imagination, storytelling, and animation then the King Features Syndicate cartoons would likely have a much better reputation.
Yeah so I brushed my sideburns out to their full length and have widened my face by about one-third. I look like Planet of the Apes Martin Van Buren. It’s slowed my walking pace by 25%. I’d have gone to get my hair trimmed Friday but my car’s a subcompact and I couldn’t fit inside.
I last checked in on Gasoline Alley in the weeks before Christmas. A train full of kids were riding the Mistletoe Express to see Santa Claus. But it broke down in front of Corky’s diner. Corky put in a call to Slim Wallet to get his Santa gear on and entertain the restless kids. And what do you know but he got there in record time and put on a great show, never breaking character, and giving everyone a merry time. Even talking in rhyme the whole day. And there’s nothing mysterious or ambiguously supernatural about that at all.
Well, the day after Christmas started the new story thread. It’s still focused on Corky’s diner. Terry, the regular waitress, is back. She’s completed her treatment for the actue angina pectoris that Peter Glabella had diagnosed. With Terry back, guest waitress Baleen declares she’s off. But Corky and T-Bone (the cook) beg Baleen to stay. She has none of it.
Anyway, the diner’s doing great business. It’s crazy crowded. The strip never says their hotcakes are selling like hotcakes, but Jim Scancarelli is kicking himself for not doing that joke. They put up a fresh sign begging for more wait staff. And who shows up again but Baleen? She claims that she caught the wrong bus, and this is where it stopped for lunch. And she missed them all.
So Jim Scancarelli has realized that Baleen’s a pretty good fit for the gang at Corky’s Diner. She steps back in, and we get back to restaurant jokes. And a bit of story development: a jerk customer starts mocking Baleen’s name. T-Bone leaps to her defence. Terry had said that T-Bone had a crush on Baleen. The first real evidence we get of this is the hearts in his eyes when Baleen kisses her thanks. But then she gets all cold, particularly saying she missed him “like the bucolic plague”. Which when you look at it is a hard thing to parse. Terry gives T-Bone the advice to be patient and let Baleen find a comfortable spot.
But, it’s Valentine Season. Baleen starts getting cards. She’s been popular with the customers, to the point of sometimes sitting down with them. This is pretty much my deepest restaurant nightmare. There’s a Wendy’s I can’t ever go to again because the cashier recognized I always order the baked potato. A server feeling comfortable enough to sit down with me might well cause me to burst into embarrassment flames.
All the attention is making T-Bone jealous. Terry recommends he send her flowers. He feels like that’s hopeless. Terry claims Baleen sent the (anonymous) cards to herself and made up a Valentine party she was going to. I don’t know on what basis she deuces this other than that “Valentine party”? Well, T-Bone at least sends a card. And then a wreath of roses arrives.
He didn’t send them. Also they’re a funeral wreath. Terry reveals she ordered the flowers on T-Bone’s behalf. She didn’t order a funeral wreath, though. It’s one of those zany screw-ups that happen at florist’s in the 60s-sitcom world of Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley. T-Bone thinks fast for once, and says it shows how he’ll love her until she dies. And this wins Baleen’s heart.
That seems to put their story at a good resting point. The last couple days have been jokes about Baleen painting signs for the diner, advertising their hours and whatnot. Oh, and hey, is there something ritualistically special about Leap Year in proud-to-be-old-fashioned comic strips like this? Mm?