What’s Going On In Alley Oop (Weekdays)? What’s with the aliens at the pyramids? February – April 2020


And now let me catch you up on the main, weekday continuity for Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop. All my posts about the strip, Sunday and weekday, should be at this link. If you’re reading this after about August 2020 I should have a more up-to-date plot recap, too.

Alley Oop.

3 February – 25 April 2020.

I last checked in when Alley Oop was starting a new story. The gang had fled Time Jail and locked the other universes out of their, Universe-2, continuity for a year. So let’s see what they’re doing with that time.

Wonmug, in the house of a colonial Loyalist: 'I think I've made a terrible mistake. I really should go.' Loyalist: 'You're on the wrong side of history, my friend.' Wonmug: 'I've heard that one before.' Loyalist: 'God save the King! Taxation without representation is fine by me!' (As Wonmug flees) 'I'll never stop fighting for our dependence!'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Allison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 12th of February, 2020. Just on the off chance, I did check to see whether the Loyalist here — Phineas Bottleneck — was a real person and, no. This did, though, lead me to discover the “Free State of Bottleneck”, a small chunk of German territory west of the Rhine composed of territory not occupied by the British, French, or Americans. It had a quasi-statehood from 1919 until 1923, when the French occupied the Ruhr and made the other zones of occupation irrelevant. And it left behind stamps and currency, so that’s exciting for people who collect those things. Anyway I’m always delighted to learn of more obscure, short-lived microstates and Free Cities and stuff.

The team has a mission: get some tea from the Boston Tea Party. The billionaire Drew Copious wants some. All right. They zap back to Boston and have some trouble hooking up with the tea party. Falling afoul of Loyalists, not being able to find the right wharf, that sort of thing. But they find the spot, and join in tossing tea overboard, except for one crate that Alley Oop swapped out ahead of time. With success and tea in hand, they head back to the present.

Wonmug, Alley Oop, and Ooona arriving at Copious's manion. Oop: 'Here we are! Wait, where are we?' Wonmug: 'We're at the estate of new newest client, billionaire Drew Copious.' Ooola: 'Can I ask him how he got his money? Find out of it was by exploiting his workers or through the dumb luck of the genetic lottery?' Wonmug: 'Let's not lead with that.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Allison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 2nd of March, 2020. Such a naive question, Ooola! He’s a billionaire. He needed both.

Copious offers another mission. And promises wealth beyond their reasonable dreams if they finish his tests. The first: he wants proof that aliens built the pyramids. Ooola finds something fishy about all this, but Wonmug points out: money! You don’t get billions of dollars without falling for loads of racist pseudoscientific codswallop. So they’re off to Ancient Egypt.

They get to a pyramid construction site. Oop falls in with the brick-movers. Wonmug passes himself off as an architectural inspector, and while snooping around finds an alien! Sellomina is a creature from the planet Nu-Dell, and is … just … nothing. Kind of a clod. They’re only, maybe, six or eight weeks more advanced than humans. And that only in some areas. They bought a Marinarian spaceship to get here. And can’t even get the eight-track to work. (Explanation for younger readers: the eight-track was a thing that cars had in the seventies. It didn’t work.)

Wonmug, walking in the desert with an alien: 'So you didn't come to Egypt to share your infinite knowledge?' Sellomina, the alien: 'Oh my, no! But for you, I will share something you may find verrry interesting. You may not know this, but sometimes a pyramid is POINTY at the top!'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Allison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 6th of April, 2020. So one problem with the snarky tone of the strip is that it’s not obvious from one day’s panel that Sellomina here is dumb and not sarcastic.

Ooola, meanwhile, gets mistaken for the Princess Lula, and is whisked away to the royal apartments. Where the real Princess Lula also is. They’re somehow identical. Lula is not upset. She sees this as a great chance to set up a Parent Trap situation. Not the movie, which she doesn’t know about. No, she wants to put her parents in a trap, so she can get away and marry Pardel, an alien she loves. Ooola is up for this.

Lula's mother: 'All right, Lula, we're here. What is it?' Lula's father: 'We're standing on the X, just like you asked, not that we don't have better things to do.' Lula: 'Now!' and Ooola pulls a rope; a wooden cage drops on Lula's parents. Mother: 'What is the meaning of this?' Father: 'Let us out right this instant!' Lula: 'What are you doing?' Ooola, who was opening the cage: 'Sorry. They're royalty! I thought I had to do what they said.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Allison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 13th of April, 2020. And this is the end of the Lula storyline. She thanks Ooola for her help and gives her a jewel-encrusted scarab as a reward but we’re left to infer the rest of her whole story with Pardel, including whether they do ultimately marry.

So things work out for the player-characters. Ooola helps Lula trap her parents. Alley Oop finishes building a pyramid himself. Wonmug is convinced that the aliens were just in the way of building the pyramids. Sellomina gives Wonmug the highest piece of Nu-Del technology: a pencil. Used for cleaning gunk out of ears. Pretty sure the Nu-Del aliens don’t have ears.

Ooola: 'So aliens didn't help build the pyramids?' Wonmug: 'Oh my, no. I think they'd have trouble building something small and two-dimensional, much less something as monumental as the pyramids. From what I could ascertain, they've been no help whatsoever. Mostly just getting in the way and asking a lot of dumb questions.' Alley Oop: 'Hey, why are you guys looking at me?'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Allison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 18th of April, 2020. It’s an understated dramatic irony that off in his own neglected subplot, Alley Oop did build a pyramid without Wonmug or Ooola noticing.

A pencil isn’t much of an alien artifact, but it’s what they have. They return to the present and give Copious the news. He’s not disappointed to learn that aliens are dumb. He declares if there were intelligent life in the universe, it would have visited him. So, yeah, can’t fault the characterization here. He’s got more missions, and gives them the run of his mansion for a couple days off.

And, in private, does a thingy with the pencil. The image of an alien he calls Farfell appears. Farfell acknowledges Copious acquiring the device and asks if he’s ready to commence their plan. So that’s something.

I feel the last couple months have been strong ones for the weekday continuity. There’s been a solid enough story. While there have been side bits of nonsense, they’ve been kept short. Princess Lula talking about the Parent Trap, which seems like a reality-breaking joke, subverts that expectation. Having aliens be in Ancient Egypt, but just killing time there, is a fair enough joke. Having Copious and Farfell up to something makes the joke also a useful story element. I’d say this is reflected in how I see fewer complaints about what’s happened to Alley Oop. But I suspect the bigger factor is people wanting to know what’s wrong with Mark Trail suddenly. And after that it’ll be [spinning the wheel] what the heck happened to Gil Thorp.

Next Week!

The Ghost Who Walks, weekdays! It’s to be Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom and his mission of … punching out The Python, unless something interrupts. See you then.

What’s Going On In Alley Oop (Sundays)? How does Little Alley Oop time-travelling fit continuity? February – April 2020


Something I didn’t expect happened the 9th of February, 2020, which you may remember was three million years ago. This was a Sunday strip, when Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers have been doing panels about Little Oop, Alley Oop as a kid. They started a story.

This story’s been going on since then. I do not know whether they mean to make the Sunday strips a regular ongoing continuity. So I don’t know how to fit it into my weekly plot recaps. For now, I’m making it a side post to my main weekday-continuity plot recap. I’ll keep the Sunday recaps, and the weekday ones, tagged as Alley Oop so you can read them here.

Yes, I agree it’s a weird coincidence that this Sunday story started so close to the last time I did a plot recap. Back in February, I was more distracted that the weekday strips were starting a new story at the same time.

Little Oop.

3 February – 25 April 2020.

The story started with a girl popping in from nowhere, wondering why it wasn’t 1999, seeing Little Oop’s pet dinosaur Max and fleeing. She’s Penelope. She’s invented a time machine. And she’s freaked out by the dinosaurs and volcanoes and ice ages and all that. When a mammoth charges at them she hits the thingy on her thingy, and zaps herself and Little Oop to the present. Bit of a mistake. The mammoth was just eager to share cookies.

Little Oop: 'Got any ideas how to get me home?' Penelope: 'Sorry, Alley, not yet. It's really complicated and I don't now how long it'll take to figure out. Anyway I've got to take a break. The weekend is almost over.' Alley: 'The WHAT-end?' Penelope: 'I've got school tomorrow and I think you should come with me.' Alley: 'Why?' Penelope: 'I can't let you stay here. You don't know anything about modern life. You'd probably try to make a fire in the kitchen to keep warm!' Alley: 'Fair point. Quick question, though, can I make a fire in the living room?' Penelope gets nervous and sweats. Alley: 'Ha ha! Just kidding!' Penelope: 'Oh, phew.' Alley amends a note: 'Where I can make a fire: lab, Penelope's room, Kitchen, Outside, Stairs, Living Room'. Kitchen and Outside are crossed out (Too Scary), and Alley crosses out Living Room.
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Allison Sayers’s Little Oop for the 29th of March, 2020. So, not looking to short-circuit the plot here, and Penelope is a kid of indeterminate age. But if she had watched the Bill and Ted movies she would understand she just has to decide really hard where she’s going to find the parts she needs. And then some follow-through, of course.

Her time machine contracts plot issues. Little Oop’s stuck in the present for a while. He’s got to hide. Penelope figures it’s better if she keeps him close by. So she smuggles him in to school. Still dressed as a caveman, but, trying to put him in regular clothes didn’t really work. Little Oop meets Penelope’s friend Julius. He’s described as a mathlete, and he resembles Little Oop’s friend Garg.

At school. Penelope: 'Don't be nervous, Alley, you'll fit right in.' Alley: 'You really think so?' Penelope: 'Sure, eventually.' Alley's terrified by kids on skateboards, tossing a ball, playing guitar, looking at phones. Penelope: 'It must be pretty different from your school back home, huh?' Alley: 'You have no idea.' Penelope: 'Let's focus on one thing. Look at this wall, you probably had walls at your school, right?' Alley: 'The walls at my school were stone. What are these? Some sort of high-tech rectangle magic?' Penelope: 'They're called 'bricks'.' Alley: 'ARGH! Everything is so different!'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Allison Sayers’s Little Oop for the 12th of April, 2020. Yes, yes, you know I’m a mathematics person, so the phrase “high-tech rectangle magic” is aimed at amusing me.

Does that resemblance signify anything? Maybe. It did strike me that as part of the Time Jail storyline we met Dr Piedra, Dr Wonmug’s Universe-3 equivalent. She’s a time-travelling scientist and wears a purple … uh … hair thingy. Penelope’s hair is noticeably purple. But if we’re supposed to link them, well, Penelope wears glasses and Dr Piedra doesn’t. There are plenty of explanations for this in real people. But comic strip convention relies on characters keeping some key accessories. (And, yes, their head shapes are different, but to my eye about the same way grown-up Alley Oop and kid Little Oop’s shapes are different.)

Anyway I guess we’ll see in the Sundays whether there are any stories to find in a scientist’s time machine stranding a caveman in the present day.

Next question: How does Little Oop having time-travel adventures in the year 2020 fit with the continuity of Alley Oop? All I can say is to offer the closing lines of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 theme: “it’s just a show, I should really just relax”. If you want it rationalized, treat this as an Alternate Universe Alley Oop. Alternate, maybe, even to the Universe-2 adventures that we’ve been reading since Lemon and Sayers took over the strip.

If you must fit this together? Well, some good news. Alley Oop, when he was first brought into the then-present of 1939, handled his experiences pretty well. He was in the present for only a few hours before … well …

[ Narrator: When Alley Oop got mad and left the house of Dr Wonmug, Ooola assured the eminent scientist that the big cave man would soon return, but ... ] Joe, assistant: 'I'm worried about our cave man, he's been gone for hours.' Wonmug: 'So am I. And it's getting dark. I think we'd better try to round him up.' Ooola: 'You didn't find Alley?' Joe: 'No, Ooola, not a trace!' Wonmug: 'I wouldn't worry. He'll probably turn up in the morning.' [ Next Morning ] Wonmug, getting the paper: 'No sign of Oop yet. Oh, well, he can't have gone far. Nothing much can happen to him.' [ Opening the paper ] 'Good heavens! It's happened!' Banner headline: 'GREAT WHITE APE STEALS & WRECKS FREIGHT TRAIN'
V T Hamlin’s Alley Oop for the 22nd of May, 1939. By the way, Alley Oop left because Wonmug and Joe were laughing at him what with how he didn’t know how to use a spoon or a fork. And, apparently, did not understand why this would be a bad laugh. They didn’t follow Alley Oop right away, on Ooola’s recommendation. But that just means they took the advice of the person most uninformed about the hazards of the surroundings. In short, Wonmug is such a STEM type and should never be allowed in charge of anything, at any time.

So, if you want to head-canon that Alley Oop had some useful childhood experiences that prepared him for adventures with Doc Wonmug and all? You have some room for that. But you do have to work out how it is that Ooola, who was also brought to 1939 Long Island and has not been brought to 2020, handled things better. (Of course, Little Ooola might come to 2020 yet.) Also, you have to rationalize Alley Oop’s problem understanding mirrors.

Alley Oop, pointing to the wreckage of the time machine: 'Y'mean I'm the guy that caused all this mess?' Meanwhile Ooola looks at herself in a small mirror. Joe: 'Yup! You short-circuited the time machine, and two years of hard work went blooie!' Wonmug: 'And now we've no way to send you back where you came from!' Oop: 'Then we ain't in Moo any more?' Joe: 'Not by a million years! You're now in the 20th century!' Oop: 'But where's ol' Guz and his gang?' Wonmug: 'I'm sorry, my friend, but I'm afraid you'll never see them again!' Oop: 'There, now, see? I toldjuh we'd outsmart them thugs!' Oop: 'Yes, yes, Alley, but don't you think my hair looks better this way?'
V T Hamlin’s Alley Oop for the 13th of April, 1939. The machine was wrecked by Alley Oop’s axe. I’m not clear whether this was the result of Alley Oop swatting at the bizarre contraption that had kidnapped him. Or was it was just the material interacted with the time machine in some weird way. In either case, I can’t attach blame to Alley Oop. Oh, uh, Alley Oop and Ooola were fleeing King Guz and all. GoComics doesn’t have the strips but my recollection is Guz thought Oop was trying to overthrow him or something. You know, the usual shenanigans.

I do not know how GoComics decided which Alley Oop stories to add to its Deep Archive. There’s even one from January 1939, before the strip included time travel. But the important one started the 7th of April, 1939, when Doc Wonmug got his movie camera back from the past. If you somehow have a bit of spare time, you might want to read the story. It’s always good to see the work that made something famous. And it’s enlightening to see how the strip has always been willing to go for the dumb joke. Also, that Doc Wonmug has a real problem with being a jerk. Also, turns out, a daughter. Huh.

Next Day!

I’ll recap the plot in the weekday-continuity Alley Oop. Unless something goes wrong.

One bit of news from the neighborhood


Every house on the block has had its lawn mowed the past three days. There’s maybe two houses that actually needed it, but I think everyone feels like they need to do something, and so Animal Crossing LARPing it is! The block smells pretty good for all that.

(In the next stage of Animal Crossing LARPing I catch a house centipede and set it outside, on the lawn of some other house, on a different block, the next town over.)

60s Popeye: Voo-Doo To You Too, and what it means to me


This cartoon lets me reveal something that every one of you, deep down, already knew about me. As a young kid watching Popeye on the local stations I wondered: how many cartoons are there? How many do they have? Do they run the cartoons in a set order, or is it random? There was no way to know, of course, except to keep logs. So I would think it should be easy to write down titles of cartoons as they came up.

This would be foiled, over and over, by the ability of an under-ten-year-old to keep a sheet of paper and a pencil near the TV day after day. Also to pay attention when he heard the sailor’s hornpipe starting up, so I could have a title to write. (It did not occur to me that I could leave a blank line for a missed title.) But this cartoon, Voo-Doo To You Too, with its punchy, rhyming, easy-to-remember title? It was always the scolding reminder that I should re-start my list.

Happily, I am today an adult. I can consult lists of cartoons on the Internet. And we don’t have to worry about Popeye running on the local stations on TV. Or about there being local TV stations either. I can content myself to writing 800 words about every one of them.

This cartoon was by Famous Studios, the ones that until recently had been the only ones drawing Popeye. Direction and story are both by Seymour Kneitel. I think he was at least nominally the director for everything Famous Studios ever did with Popeye.

The cartoon depends on a thing it calls voodoo magic. It’s portrayed with the research into Haitian and Creole spirituality that you expect from a hastily-made kids cartoon of 1960. If you don’t need that, you’re right. I have a punch line to my little story that appears right after the embedded video, and after that we can catch up again next week. For those of us willing to watch what an East Coast cartoon studio called “Voodoo” in 1960, let’s watch.

So the punch line is that however well I remembered the title, I mis-remembered which cartoon it attached to.


One good thing about the King Features Popeye cartoons is that they opened up the cast. The Famous Studios cartoons shrank the Thimble Theatre universe until it was Popeye, Bluto, Olive Oyl, sometimes Wimpy. I think even Swee’Pea vanished, his roles taken up by the two of Popeye’s Nephews who survived. King Features’s run was not so stingy. This cartoon stars the Sea Hag, who never appeared before the 60s run somehow. And Eugene the Jeep, who had vanished after Popeye cartoons stopped being black-and-white somehow. There’s smaller characters too. The Sea Hag’s pet vulture — Bernard, though he’s not named here — appears in a good supporting role. There’s even, in the first scene, a look at Rough House’s Cafe (Special To-Day: Spinach Burgers). Rough House never appeared before the 60s cartoons and I’m not sure that he ever did again, except in the Robert Altman movie.

We also get the Sea Hag as an actual character. Like, a real and imposing menace. Coming ashore, she picks a nice-looking house, and decides to enslave the owner to serve her. The owner is Olive Oyl. What are the odds? Popeye overhears this and does not leap right in to punch something. He remembers that he’s vulnerable to magic, and unwilling to hit a woman even if she is the Sea Hag. Instead he jumps into the bedroom and tries to persuade Olive Oyl out of her magical enslavement. She knows he’s in there anyway. Maybe the Sea Hag knows how these cartoons go.

The Sea Hag, holding up a wax magic doll imitation of Popeye and a long straight hair with which she intends to bind it.
So for those wondering why the Sea Hag never tried this trick again: magic doll wax is so expensive that there’s no sense getting it until Michaels sends you one of those coupons for at least 60% off your entire basket, special items included, and they don’t send those coupons out often.

Sea Hag shapes a candle into a voodoo doll of Popeye, and then binds it with an enchanted hair: Popeye’s arms are stuck to his side and there’s no moving them. It’s a great additional menace, taking away Popeye’s secondary superpower. (His primary superpower is standing up for what’s right, even if it hurts him.) And I do remember, as a kid, being frightened of a magic spell that would lock my arms to my sides. It’s rare to get actual nightmare material out of these cartoons.

She tosses the candle in a chest, and locks it, and sends Bernard to lose it in the wilds. Popeye searches for help with the chest, and who turns out to be in the cartoon but Eugene the Jeep? Luckily, Eugene’s magical powers include his knowing what the plot is. So Popeye doesn’t have to recap the situation right after he’s explained it to the audience. We get a slice of Popeye-following-Eugene, including a joke where Eugene walks through a tree that Popeye can’t. That’s a joke done in the Fleischer studios’ Popeye the Sailor With The Jeep, though since it had been 22 years we can forgive the reuse. Eugene can find the chest easily enough, and open it, but he’s helpless to untie the hair.

So, finally — and later than I would have tried — we turn to spinach. It does nothing to get Popeye’s arms free, and that’s where the cartoon really gets frightening. More powerful than spinach-charged Popeye? There’s genies who aren’t more powerful than spinach-charged Popeyes. Ah, but Eugene knows the rules of sympathetic magic: he feeds the doll some spinach, and doll-Popeye breaks his bonds. This leaves Popeye free. This also leaves under-ten-year-old me wondering, well, aren’t his arms stuck up in that triumphant pose now? Why not? And, like, is there anything they can do with the doll so it can’t be used against him again? If they melt it what happens to Popeye? So you can see that even as a kid, I was doomed to be like this.

Popeye standing next to the bound wax doll. Eugene is walking into Popeye's leg, magically disappearing into him.
Wh — what the — wh — Eugene, you’re making this magic-bondage/mind-controlled-zombie cartoon all weird.

Popeye runs back to Olive Oyl’s house, and gets a good fight in with Bernard, since he can’t hit the Sea Hag. This smashes up the house, but does send Sea Hag and Bernard flying away. Olive Oyl, freed from her trance, remembers none of this, but demands Popeye clean up the mess. Popeye protests he didn’t make the mess, which is wrong. He’s not to blame for the mess, but he totally did make it. Popeye closes on a rhyming couplet, not something he always does this series, complaining about how he finds women confusing. It’s a weak moment; what about any woman’s behavior here has been confusing, and why?

Never mind the weakness. This is one of my favorite King Features cartoons, even if I somehow let the title detach from it. It’s a good solid storyline. It’s got a rare menace for Popeye cartoons at all, never mind for cartoons of this era. It’s even pretty well animated, considering Famous Studios’ limitations. Anybody’s walk cycle is boring, but it’s pretty smooth and on-model. And we get a lot of scenes from interesting perspectives. The Sea Hag’s shown at three-quarters profile to cast her zombie spell on Olive Oyl, at about 6:47, and again at about 7:29 readying to fix that swab Popeye, and again explaining the rules of the voodoo doll at about 7:59. One may suspect important elements of the animation are being reused in all three appearances, but that’s good budgeting. Popeye’s conversation with Eugene the Jeep, starting about 8:46, is done from above Popeye’s and Eugene’s shoulders. They’re both interesting perspectives. We get some of that again when Eugene can’t untie the magical hair, or feeds the wax doll its spinach.

If more of the King Features cartoons were of this quality then the series would be fondly remembered.

Statistics Saturday: What’s Wrong With My Plant


Pie chart: What's Wrong With My Plant? Nearly half of the pie: 'You watered it'. Nearly the other half of the pie: 'You didn't water it'. The remaining thin sliver: 'Oh, who knows? Let's just say aphids?'
Not pictured: Oh, maybe it needs something from that ominously-colored bottle of plant nutrient where you’re supposed to mix one and three-quarters grains of fluid per gill of water and then pour six and one-half drops per ten ounces of topsoil in the pot? Anyway good luck.

Reference: The Last Battle, Cornelius Ryan.

In which the counties of Iowa try to get back in my good graces by amusing me


Yeah, so, that thing where I was fed up with that double-stack county in Iowa last week? That’s Kossuth County and there’s stories behind it.

Map of Iowa showing the divisions for counties, which are mostly fairly uniform and nearly rectangular counties. On the northern boundary is one county, highlighted in orange, that is double the height of all the others in its row, but the same width.
Not depicted: either Armstrong County, South Dakota, the first of which was a thing from 1873 to 1879 in what’s now southeast South Dakota and the second of which was a thing from 1883 through 1952 in the central part of South Dakota, because South Dakota has got not much to do with Iowa apart from sharing letters such as ‘a’ and ‘o’.

So Kossuth County had been the lower half of this. In 1857 it absorbed the northern county, Bancroft County, because it turned out the whole area was wetlands and it wasn’t any good for farming. That’s all fine and that’s like the first joke I would make about it. But you know what they say about never using your first joke about something? (They say don’t use your first joke about something.) Well, in 1870 they (Iowa) carved a county out of the northern part of that again. They didn’t just call it Bancroft County II: The Secret Of Curly’s Ooze, though. They named it Crocker County. And this didn’t work because it turned out Iowa’s constitution prohibited the creation of any new counties smaller than 432 square miles, and Crocker County was, so the Iowa Supreme Court voided it the next year. Anyway, 1871: bad year for the Paris Commune and north-central Iowan counties.

On the Problem of Identity During the Plague Spring


The quarantine month has been a pretty tough time, as measured by how often we’ve had to go to the basement and berate cinder blocks. It’s a better coping mechanism than punching the cinder blocks was. The cinder blocks aren’t taking this personally. They know they’re there as support. Emotionally speaking, cinder blocks are bricks. I don’t say that cinder blocks are also literally bricks, because I’m afraid I’ll get in trouble with the brick enthusiast community. I don’t need someone explaining how something essential to bricks is incompatible with the nature of cinder blocks, because I would find that fascinating. I would read three different books, each at least 280 pages, on the history of bricks. I’m already enough of a caricature of myself. I do not need to become even more of that.

But this lands me on my point four times as well as I had expected just three sentences ago. Honest, I was lost. My point is: a lot of us are having a rough time now because we don’t have anything to do. There’s no hanging out at barcades. You can’t even go to the pet store and stare at the baby guinea pigs. A lot of people don’t have jobs. Those who do, have those jobs gone all weird. Two months ago you would spend all morning in a meeting to resolve what five minutes of e-mail would have. Today, you spend all morning in e-mail exchanges to resolve what five minutes of meeting would have.

All these things that we would do evaporated. So now we face the gap between the stuff we do, and who we are, and who we figure we want to be. That’s tough stuff. I remember who I wanted to be, growing up: the astronaut who draws Popeye. It’s been an adjustment, learning that the person I am doesn’t want to make the effort it takes to draw Popeye. Or to convince the people who hire astronauts that they need someone on staff who’ll draw Popeye too. That one’s on me. I keep applying for astronaut jobs, but at the interviews I never ask if they’re bringing a Popeye-drawer on board. I just take it for granted that if they don’t list it on their web site, they’re not going to, and I don’t even respond to their offers. I’m only messing up my own life like this.

How to handle the gap between what kept you busy and what your identity is? This involves serious quiet, letting all the thoughts imposed from other people — well-meaning or advertisers — wash out. Think seriously about what you are when at rest, and see what residue of life remains. Then realize this is a hecking lot of work and the results are terrible. You know how, on your body, you have this indestructible nostril hair that every booger in the world condenses around? Your personality is like that, only worse. It starts with that time you were six and teased that kid Christian across the street because his name rhymes with the imaginary word “Ristian”. And it’s accumulated like that since then. No, you’re better off finding a new store-bought identity and putting that on.

There’s so many to choose from! You could be the person who cruises social media, finding folks who are screaming at CSS for not being able to do what seems like a simple CSS thing, and reassuring them that the problem is that CSS is not actually good at CSS things yet, and never will be. (CSS is that computer thing where, for no good reason, sometimes all the stuff in your web browser is 50% off the edge of the screen to the right.)

You could be a background character in a Studio Ghibli film. In these times you’ll definitely want to be in one of the lower-stress movies. Take up some role where you look over bunches of vegetables, that kind of thing. You’ll have to act nonplussed when a bunch of kids run through on some lightly daft whimsical adventure to help the ghost wolf reconcile with its family or something. So remember to look up exactly what “nonplussed” means. You want to know how to react.

Or you could try being an astronaut who draws Popeye. The drawing Popeye part should be easy, but the real trick is getting up into space. To do that, you’ll want to practice jumping until you’re so good at it you jump into outer space. Go practice right now! (Note to the rest of you: if you’re hired as astronaut they provide the outer space for you. I just want to get my competition for the job out of the way.)

The exact choice isn’t important. What matters is that you realize who you are. Then we can see about fixing that.

Why does Heart Of The City look weird now? Who’s drawing Heart Of The City?


OK, it doesn’t look weird, yet. But for once I’m ahead of the search queries to my blog and I’m enjoying that.

As per D D Degg’s article in The Daily Cartoonist, the comic strip Heart of the City has a new cartoonist. Christina Stewart takes over the strip starting the 27th of April. She’s the creator of a fantasy graphic novel, Archival Quality, which I haven’t read but do see good things about. Her art blog, on tumblr, also looks quite good. She doesn’t intend to draw the strip the way its originator, Mark Tatulli, has.

Tatulli, meanwhile, intends to keep on drawing Lio, and to focus on his own graphic novels. But, also, if you wondered why this week Heart has been looking over photo albums, we have an explanation.

What’s Going On In The Amazing Spider-Man? Have they hired new cartoonists yet? January – April 2020


Nope, no cartoonists yet. We’re still rerunning a Roy Thomas and Larry Lieber story from 2015-16. If the story will repeat in full, then it will end in the middle of June. The following story would be a team-up with Doctor Strange to fight Xandu. I have not heard anything about hiring a new creative team. Given the lead time needed for comics that run on Sundays, I expect this means the strip is not leaving reruns anytime soon.

If I get any news, I will post it in an essay at this link, where you can find other plot recaps for The Amazing Spider-Man. At least until I decide that rerun Spidey has had enough of my attention.

The Amazing Spider-Man.

27 January – 18 April 2020.

Namor, the Sub-Mariner, ruler of Atlantis, is condemning the surface world for its crimes against the oceans again. He’s not exactly wrong, again. He has noticed this Mary Jane Parker is a feisty woman-type and wants to marry her. Namor declares he’ll take her as a princess anytime she wants, and heads off to make war on the world’s shipping. Mary Jane kind of swoons, thinking she might talk him out of this round of condemning the surface world and all.

News: 'The cargo vessel was sunk at the Sub-Mariner's command!' Peter: 'And you thought Namor wouldn't sink any ships!' Mary Jane: 'At least he let everyone reach a lifeboat. If only I could talk to him!' Peter, chewing down on a cob of corn: 'Hey, just because he proposed to you doesn't mean you could change his mind!'
Roy Thomas and Larry Lieber’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 2nd of February, 2020. (Ahem.) “Gosh, what corny dialogue!” I’ll see myself out.

Atlantis starts sinking ships, although gently, to avoid loss of life at first. And then Water Force One, carrying Namor, shows up at the East River docks. Namor’s come to scold the United Nations. And he’s brought along an adorable water moppet. He’s Pharus, a kid who’s contracted Backstory Syndrome, suffering from human pollution and doomed never to recover. Namor says the Atlantean hospitals can’t help him. Spidey asks, well, why not try human hospitals? They’re sure to do great with a non-human child who can’t breathe air without taking an oxygen pill and who’s got all the symptoms of mer-consumption. As they punch each other, Mary Jane kidnaps Pharus. With the help of Dr Liz Bellman she gets him away from the Atlantean guards and over to Metro General Hospital.

Atlantean Guard: 'HALT or we open fire!' Mary Jane, holding a terrified Atlantean boy in her arms: 'Please, I'm trying to save this boy!' Pharus: 'LET ME GO!' Guard: 'Namor ordered us to guard the lad.' Other Guard: 'You leave us no choice ... ' Dr Bellman, swinging a stick that cracks open the guard's helmet, so his water spills out: 'There's always a choice, little boy blue!' Shocked guard: 'WHAT IN NEPTUNE'S NAME?'
Roy Thomas and Larry Lieber’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 16th of March, 2020. The art in the newspaper Spider-Man strip, at least its last decades, was mostly serviceable. But I appreciate that, by luck or design, in that first panel there Pharus’s face perfectly captures that moment when everything is spinning out of control into something new and horrifying and bad. It’s amazing to think that it was drawn well before 2016.

Namor tosses Spider-Man into the water, where they can fight on the Sub-Mariner’s home lack-of-ground. Mary Jane scolds Namor, who says there’s no reason for him to keep fighting now that he’s beaten. Namor accepts Mary Jane’s answer to where Pharus went, and then heads to the United Nations, in session.

He informs the assembled heads of state that he’s taking over the seas. If the surface-dwellers keep control, after all, Earth will soon be dead. It’s a complaint he’s made before and, again, he’s not exactly wrong. He gives the United Nations one day to figure out how it’s going to fix pollution and that’s it. And then he leaves, before anyone can stop him. And almost before Spider-Man wakes up again.

Robbie Robertson: 'How can you think Spider-Man's IN LEAGUE with Namor, when Peter's photos show the Atlantean dragging him in the water?' Jameson: 'Pictures can lie, Robbie. I say the two of them headed underwater to avoid witnesses while they plotted strategy!'
Roy Thomas and Larry Lieber’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 10th of April, 2020. I don’t read the comic books, except that one where the “I don’t want to cure cancer, I want to turn people into dinosaurs” meme came from, and I’m an estimated sixteen Spider-Man movies behind current. Am I correct in supposing, though, that when Robinson feels things are a little slow he just tosses out, like, three names and a place to hear Jameson’s conspiracy theory for Spider-Man connecting them? If not, then I am happy to sell this scene to Marvel Entertainment Products LLC for a reasonable rate, inquire within.

Well, at least Peter Parker can sell some pictures of Spider-Man fighting with Namor. J Jonah Jameson is delighted to have proof that Spider-Man and Namor are in a state of cahootery. While Jameson explains his reasoning, though, the still-woozy Peter Parker faints. Parker says he got hit by debris during the fight. Jameson sees a chance to rush to Metro General Hospital. Which turns out to be a lucky break: Peter Parker mentions that’s where Mary Jane said the Atlantean boy was. So now Jameson figures to prowl around the hospital until he finds Pharus.


Will Jameson, and Spider-Man, find the Atlantean boy? Will there be some act of human kindness that melts Namor’s hardened heart? Will the surface world remain in control of the seas? Will there be an astounding link to the policewoman Betty Dean who headed off the Sub-Mariner’s destruction of the surface world in 1940? Will Scrooge become a second father to the boy, who did not die? There are two ways to find out, one of them coming back here around mid-July and the other looking at late 2015 and early 2016 on Comics Kingdom. Your choice.

Next Week!

Eh, nothing much. What’s Moo with you?

60s Popeye: how to be a Matinee Idol


Suggested soundtrack: Sparks, Academy Award Performance.

This week’s King Features Popeye cartoon is, it happens, directed by Gene Deitch, and produced by William L Snyder. There’s no story credit to it. Matinée Idol Popeye, another in the microgenre of cartoons where Popeye makes a movie.

Though I’ve called it a microgenre, there really aren’t many cartoons where Popeye is making a movie. At least one of the times he is, it’s a clip cartoon recycling one of the two-reelers. The benefit of doing a let’s-make-a-movie cartoon is you can put Popeye in any scenario without needing any setup or resolution. But, then, when have we ever needed a reason that Popeye should be in Ancient Egypt? It’s old-style cartoon characters. They could just do that.

The setup is Popeye and Olive Oyl making some Anthony-and-Cleopatra film. Brutus is director, sensibly enough. I’d wondered if this was a riff on the infamous Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton Cleopatra, and it seems … unclear. That movie, released 1963, had started production in 1958. So a 1960 cartoon could riff on it. But apart from its five-million-dollar budget what would stand out, in 1960, about the project? Probably it’s more generically a riff on that era of epic-style filmmaking.

We get early on some nice visual jokes. Popeye turning into a ham when Brutus accuses him of being one, that sort of thing. It reflects one of the good lessons of limited animation: if you can’t show complicated action, at least show a bunch of funny pictures. Brutus tries to woo Olive Oyl, taking out of his pocket a heap of flowers bigger than he is; that’s better than anything which would make physical sense.

The premise of the cartoon becomes that Brutus wants Popeye out of the way, but can’t fire him, so he has to get Popeye to quit or die. Bit gruesome, but, makes sense. We get the gag of Popeye’s head caught in a lion’s mouth, and him puffing his pipe to make the lion release him. That’s been done before; in the Famous Studios Tops in The Big Top Bluto even puts a slab of meat on Popeye’s head to ensure the lion tries to eat him. Here it’s just luck for Brutus that the plan starts to work. It’s a missed chance to make Brutus more villainous, but on the other hand, do we want Brutus to be that mean?

Popeye's head is caught in the mouth of a slightly annoyed lion. Popeye's arms are raised as he figures to maybe do something about this.
Popeye: “Why does this keep happening to me? … All right, it’s only happened maybe three times? But when you consider how often this happens to anyone else that’s still a lot.”

Brutus chuckles “that’ll be good for the end title” when a vulture rests on Popeye’s head. It is, and it’s a missed resolution that the end of the short doesn’t have the vulture on Brutus’s head. We get some nice and really exciting music as the elephant comes in. It raises questions about what the filming schedule for this film was supposed to look like. I wouldn’t want to try to shoot a lion and an elephant and a crocodile scene on the same day. Obviously Brutus is throwing stuff together in the opes of getting Popeye to quit, but he does seem to be filming all this. Without giving Popeye direction of what he should accomplish in the scene, though. If this were an actual film it would be a heck of an avant-garde piece. It’d have some weird verite-like style anyway. Brutus is optimistic to think this will win an Academy Award, but it will have a good shot at being a cult classic.

Brutus finally turns to just grabbing Olive Oyl, because he has not learned how people work yet. Popeye does a slick bit of crushing his can open by dropping a beam of wood on it; that gets us to the fight climax. More time’s spent on Popeye making a sphinx of himself than the actual fight. I’m curious whether they were trying to limit the violence or whether Deitch (or storywriter) thought that punching was the least interesting thing Popeye did. Before we know it, Brutus is harnessed and hauling Popeye’s chariot. This seems like it should violate a Directors Guild rule, but we have reason to think the production is outside proper channels, what with how there’s no other crew.

This isn’t a lushly animated cartoon and after the initial business with the ham it doesn’t get too fanciful either. It does well with what animation there is. And it avoids having too many scenes that look like police lineups. We get a lot of close pictures of characters’s faces, or from chest up. Not so many of them standing in a line viewed from afar. I regret that it doesn’t show off the experimental energies I was talking so much about yesterday. But sometimes a cartoon’s just executed successfully after all.

Some Thoughts About Gene Deitch


Gene Deitch has died. Not, his family reports, from Covid-19. There are a number of good obituaries about the animator, including at Cartoon Research, at Cartoon Brew and, for a particularly detailed look at his career, Lambiek’s Comiclopedia. Many of these obituaries are written by people who met the man and knew him some. I am not among them.

I knew Gene Deitch through his work, like many of my generation. And, I think like many of my generation, from knowing that every now and then there would be a really weird installment of a favorite cartoon. Tom and Jerry, most often. Popeye, some. Maybe something from the second-tier studios, like Terry Toons, which still got some syndication time when I was a kid. They would consistently look weird. I adopted that word because, as an undiscerning child who just loved cartoons, I didn’t grasp that they were also quite cheap.

There is no way for me to say this without sounding like a hipster. But I always liked the peculiar weirdness of Gene Deitch cartoons. Especially the Tom and Jerry run, which stood out from the Hanna-Barbera cartoons before and the Chuck Jones cartoons made after. There is now a conventional wisdom that, sure, the average cartoon-viewer sees the Deitch Tom and Jerry cartoons as the worst but there were interesting visual and story experiments going on. I am happy people are agreeing and appreciating them more.

Part of us wants to believe in cartoons as coming from somebody. They can’t. They’re an even more necessarily collaborative process than filmmaking ordinarily is. (There are animated cartoons made wholly, or substantially, by one person. There are happily more being made as computer tools are able to support animators. But, outside discussions of the origins of animation, they’re still a small influence in the art form.) This is what I like in the Deitch-made cartoons I’ve seen. Much like Chuck Jones he has this personality that comes through the filmmaking. It’s not usually as approachable as Chuck Jones’s work. It’s usually a bit weird. Deitch worked with UPA and was a true believer in its experiments in giving up photorealism for expressive exaggeration. Any studio he worked in he tried to make more experimental. It’s easy to love the results of successful experimentation. To get to success, though, you need to go through some weirdness.

Some of this experimentation was forced on Deitch. His Prague studio, for example, was staffed by animators (Deitch included) who had seen no or very few Tom and Jerry cartoons to start with. The budget for each cartoon was whatever loose change Deitch found in the airplane seats flying to Czechoslovakia. But some of this experimentation was his desire to draw something different. It’s amazing that he was able to work so long and so faithfully to that goal.


I’ve been reviewing Gene Deitch-produced cartoons as they come up here. But I have some older pieces maybe harder to find. If you don’t mind reviews built around YouTube links that have rotted, here’s some thoughts about Swee’Pea Soup, and then here’s some for the 60s Krazy Kat cartoon Housewarming, made under similar circumstances.

Statistics Saturday: Where More Comic Strips Are Set


Since it turns out people like geography! Who knew?

Comic Strip Setting
The Brilliant Mind of Edison Lee Anytown, USA
One Big Happy Anytown, USA
Buckles Anytown, USA
FoxTrot Anytown, USA
Red and Rover Anytown, USA
Between Friends Anytown, Canada [1]
Heathcliff Anytown, USA
Shoe Anytown, Delmarva Peninsula, Virginia
Graffiti Anytown, USA
Rose is Rose Anytown, USA
Bleeker: The Rechargeable Dog Anytown, USA
Ginger Meggs Anytown, Australia

[1] “Anytown, Canada” means “Suburban Toronto”.

Reference: Yerkes Observatory, 1892-1950: The Birth, Near Death, and Resurrection of a Scientific Research Institution, Donald E Osterbrock.

In which I am jolly well fed up with the counties of Iowa


OK, so I was looking at Wikipedia’s page about the counties of Iowa for the usual reason and then this bit of nonsense caught my eye.

Map of Iowa showing the divisions for counties, which are mostly fairly uniform and nearly rectangular counties. On the northern boundary is one county, highlighted in orange, that is double the height of all the others in its row, but the same width.
The map here by the way I didn’t just rip off of Wikipedia. I went to Iowa’s Geographic Information Services Department So Far As I Can Tell and got their scans based on the 7.5′ topographic quadrangle maps they have. So that’s the level of crankiness I am bringing to this. Yes, yes, I know what you’re wondering and according to the metadata, this map “encompass’ [ sic ] the Iowa-Nebraska Compact of 1943” so don’t worry.

So, look, Iowa. Either have a pattern for your counties, or don’t have a pattern. Don’t give me this nonsense of a bunch of nice little orderly rows and columns and then just toss in a double-height county like that. Furrfu. Re-work this and come back when you’ve fixed the issue.

More Thoughts While Doing My Daily Walk Around Town


Is that … snow? Yes, that’s snow. I’ve seen snow before, although not so much this winter. Who ordered snow? My parents better not hear about this.

Oh, hey, the place that used to be the 24-hour diner. Then the new owners figured instead of being the diner everybody went to because it was 3 am, they could just open for breakfast and lunch. Then they fired the staff and closed entirely. And forgot to get the social media passwords from the staffers. Then they tore down the diner because they figured the vacant lot was worth more than a diner-filled lot. Well, that turned out great. Hey, this has to be the spot where J— discovered his eyeglasses had gouged ridges into the side of his head. Good times.

This … was a lot warmer, like, a week ago. We are going into spring, right? We couldn’t be going right back out of spring again, not with how much everybody agreed on having a spring.

That’s a nice clearly-marked bike lane that comes into existence and runs nearly the length of a full block before fading out again. Probably a story there. Probably also an angry Facebook group.

Oh, criminy, it’s the 50th anniversary of Apollo 13. That would be nice and timely. I did that thing for Apollo 11 and forgot to do anything for Apollo 12. Let me see if there’s anything there, let me think a while and see if I can come up with like three jokes, that’s enough to build a piece around. Oh, who am I kidding, that’s a dumb idea.

So that’s a lone coffee mug six feet from the sidewalk on the torn-up field that used to have a convenience store and now just has the telephone pole with an ‘ATM Inside’ sign on it. This seems to be the setting for some short story with too poignant an imagery to actually read.

Oh, but remember how angry the Usenet group sci.space.history got over the From The Earth To The Moon series, when its Apollo 13 episode wasn’t just doing the movie all over again but on way less budget? Everybody was so angry about it being how reporter Jay Mohr won over reporter Cranky Old Guy. I mean, not so mad as they’d be when the Apollo 16 episode. They got so mad the episode was about the astronaut wives instead of how the Apollo crew drank too much orange drink and passed gas the whole flight. Boy, but the Internet used to be fun to be angry on. What happened?

If I just took that coffee mug how much would I have to clean it to use it again? I’m kidding, I would never stop cleaning it.

Well now I’m just thinking about that report where the Mars Curiosity team had shifted over to working remotely. It’s just, like, they already kind of were. They probably get that a lot. If I ever meet anybody on the team I’m going to have to not tell them that one.

Ooh, hey, the hipster bar left their Wi-Fi on even though they’ve been closed a month now. Good grief it has been a month now. All right. Well, that’s going to be great if my iPod does that thing again where I pause my podcast and it decides to throw away the file and I have to re-download the whole thing. … And I do that when I happen to be right next to the bar. Well, they left the curtain up front open just enough that if I press my face against the window and stare I can kind of make out what have to be the pinball machines. I can stop around to do that a while.

Still thinking about how the Lansing airport listed they had four flights arriving today and only two departing. That’s got to be atypical, right? They can’t be stocking up on two extra planes a day, indefinitely. They’d fill up the parking lot.

All right that’s … nine … ten … twelve pairs of sneakers lined up on the curb, and with a locker mirror and a $4 yard sale price stick on it. There’s probably a good explanation for all of this and the only way I’ll ever know is to knock on the door and ask. They probably get a lot of people knocking on the door asking about the shoe lineup and mirror, though. Maybe I’ll check if they have a web site instead.

Oh, the guys who practice drums four hours a day are still doing that. Still … sounds like drumming. It’s nice to have that to rely on.

MiSTed: A Moment of Hack, Part II


Part I ran on Monday. Thanks for reading.


>
> Oh, yes .. I’m know your secret life, which you are hiding from
> everyone.

CROW: The weed of crime bears bitter fruit!

>
> Oh my God, what are your like… I saw THIS …

TOM: With a Hubbard squash?

MIKE: In the library?

CROW: On Professor Plum?

> Oh, you dirty

> naughty person … :)

MIKE: [ As Elmer Fudd ] ‘I’m just as God made me, sir …. hehehehehehehehe.’

>
>
> I took photos and videos of your most passionate funs with adult
> content,

TOM: Not my adult content! My automobile titles, my disclosure paperworks from the Dental Maintenance Organization. Ream after ream of cadastral maps for the properties I bought at the tax sale!

MIKE: Jeez, all *my* adult content is sad little grunts of pain after I kneel down and stand up again.

> and synchronized them in real time with the image of your
> camera.

MIKE: Who cares about images of my camera?
[ CROW and TOM hide down in their chairs. ]

>
> Believe it turned out very high quality!

CROW: Sing the unwashed park bench gryphon!

>
>
> So, to the business!

MIKE: [ As Adam West ] To the business-pole, old chum!

>
> I’m sure you don’t want to show these files and visiting history to
> all your contacts.

TOM: *Including* that person at hotels.com that dealt with your weird duplicate-loyalty-card nonsense.

>
>

> Transfer $848 to my Bitcoin cryptocurrency wallet:

[ CROW just bursts out laughing ]

> 1GXazHVQxxUdJpe62UFozFibPlor8ToDoUn3

[ CROW continues giggling ]

MIKE: Foz Fib Plor?

TOM: I’m trying to figure this as like a Fozzie Bear branded Mister Pibb but it’s not coming together.

>
> Just copy and paste the wallet number when transferring.

TOM: It’s totally not the SimCity 2000 funding cheat code!

CROW: [ Still giggling ]

MIKE: You okay, buddy?

>

CROW: Yeah, I just, I mean, 848 dollars?

> If you do not know how to do this – ask Google.

MIKE: Well, he was going to demand $849 but figured, why be greedy?

>

TOM: I heard he was looking for $847.74 but rounded up the dollar to donate to the local food bank.

CROW: Oh, well that’s good of him, then.

>
> My system automatically recognizes the translation.

MIKE: ‘Translate from Latvian’? The heck?

>
> As soon as the specified amount is received, all your data will be
> destroyed from my server,

TOM: ‘Because I’m dealing with this annoying ransomware hacker myself.’

> and the rootkit will be automatically
> removed from your system.

CROW: Thanks to my self-propelled technogarden trowel!

>
> Do not worry, I really will delete everything,

MIKE: [ Warbly teenager voice ] E-e-everything?

TOM: ‘Well, not your DVR. That you have to watch on your own.’

> since I am ‘working’
> with many people who have fallen into your position.

CROW: Yeah, well, *I’m* taking pictures of you doing that on *your* web cam, how does *that* feel?

>
> You will only have to inform your provider about the vulnerabilities
> in the router so that other hackers will not use it.

MIKE: [ Extremely nerdy ] You know, even the most secure routers are vulnerable to a proton torpedo hitting their thermal exhaust port through a shaft right to the reactor system.

>
>
> Since opening this letter you have 48 hours.

CROW: 49, if it’s Daylight Saving Time.

>
> If funds not will be received, after the specified time has elapsed,

TOM: I’ll take $582.50 in bitcoin instead?

MIKE: How about $146 in dogecoin?

CROW: Would you believe what’s left on a $20 Borders gift card and a 50-pfennig coin I got going to Oberammergau in 1990?

> the disk of your device will be formatted,

MIKE: The format: Swiss-style match pairing, ten rounds or until 10:00.

>
> and from my server will automatically send email and sms

TOM: Oh, I don’t need all those sms, just send me one sm.

CROW: With sms an educated consumer is our best customer.

> to all your
> contacts with compromising material.

MIKE: It’s not ‘compromising’, it’s ‘seeking a pragmatic, centrist solution’!

TOM: Bad praxis, Mike.

>
>
> I advise you to remain prudent

CROW: When you’re prudent, you make a prune out of dents.
[ MIKE sets a hand on CROW’s shoulder. ]

> and not engage in nonsense (all files
> on my server).

MIKE: And all the ships at sea! Flash!

>
>
> Good luck!

TOM: If Woody had gone right to the police, this would never have happened.

MIKE: C’mon, let’s blow this popsicle stand.

[ ALL file out. ]

                                |
                             \  |  /
                              \ | /
                               \|/
                            ----O----
                               /|\
                              / | \
                             /  |  \
                                |

Mystery Science Theater 3000 and its characters and setup and situations and all are the property of … I guess it’s Satellite of Love LLC? I’m not sure anymore. The original spam was sent to my love’s work e-mail account so certain elements were modified so my love’s IT department didn’t get all cranky. It’s not a Jonah script because I still haven’t seen the Netflix series and while I started writing MiSTings after watching very few Joel and Mike episodes, ‘a few’ is still more than ‘literally zero’. Anyway, thanks for reading and let’s all have some hard funs, won’t we?

> I know what you like hard funs (adult sites).

What’s Going On In Judge Parker? When will the pandemic reach the story strips? January – April 2020


So here’s the thing about comic strips: they have lead time. Cartoonists can work as far ahead of deadline as the like, but deadline for weekday comics is about two weeks ahead of publication. It takes time to distribute and print. Note that comic strips are usually in the sections of the paper that are not so time-sensitive. Especially the Sunday comics. So they get printed when the presses are available. Sunday comics, with color done on purpose, need more time: on average about two months.

Cartoonists can respond to emergencies. A few months ago Patrick McDonnell cancelled a Mutts sequence in which Mooch dreamed of being in Australia, in deference to the wildfires. Story strips have a harder time doing sudden changes like that. This especially since most of them have weekday and Sunday continuity tied together. Terry Beatty, of Rex Morgan, M.D., recently wrote about this lead time. The just-begun Truck Tyler storyline will not even mention Covid-19 until its end, the 31st of May. This even though it’s the story comic for which the pandemic is most on-point.

So, that Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker mentioned social distancing means they are doing some astounding last-minute rewriting. But that’s also happening in my future too. If you’re reading this essay after about July 2020, and there is a time after July 2020, you’ll see how the pandemic plays out in an essay at this link, I hope. For now, let me catch things up for the last three months which began twenty years ago.

Judge Parker.

20 January – 12 April 2020

Last time, Retired Judge and original protagonist Alan Parker figured to run for Mayor of Cavelton. This despite that thing where he’d been incarcerated for helping an arms merchant fake his death to avoid rival terror gangs. And only got out of jail because said merchant of death blackmailed a judge. That sort of baggage. Meanwhile, Sophie Spencer is still recovering from her months-long kidnapping at the hands of her mother’s previously-unsuspected half-sister. She can’t understand even thinking about going to college. She talks to Abbey about not going to college, which turns into an enormous ongoing explosion. Everybody’s mad with everybody else. Also meanwhile, Neddy and Ronnie sold the premise of their series, about April Formerly Parker, to a studio that doesn’t want their script.

Sophie, counting off her fingers: 'OK, as a campaign manager you're going to need political consultants, communication, financial, legal and technology departments, a constant on-the-ground presence with a storefront campaign office, and activists who --- ' Abbey: 'Sophie, instead of finding all these projects to work on, if you'd just focus on your college applications ... ' Sophie: 'OK, one, you didn't mind when that project was your B-n-B. And two, I told you, I'm not going to college.' Sam Driver: 'Okay, Okay ... '
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 31st of January, 2020. I didn’t get much into how spikey the relationship between Sophie and Abbey has gotten, but it’s pretty important. I don’t think there was a single interaction between them the past three months that didn’t end in someone having to break it up, or storm out of the room. So that’s an important level to remember for the future.

Alan talks with his son Randy Parker about his mayoral ambitions. Randy points out the idea is stupid and crazy. But, hey, what’s life for if not doing the stupid and crazy thing? Alan wants Sam Driver as campaign manager. Sam thinks it over. This gives Sophie the idea it might be fun to run a campaign. She works up a Leslie Knope file of campaign plans, and Sam takes that and the job.

In Hollywood, Neddy Spencer and Ronnie Huerta have mixed news. Their April Parker-based show is developing into a pilot. Nothing of their work is getting in, though. Except that the studio likes Cavelton, as a place, and figures to shoot on location. At least for the pilot. And use Neddy especially as scout for good locations and bits of local color and all. They get a story-by credit and a mission of finding places that will look good on screen. Ronnie mourns the loss of her Los Angeles apartment and their move to Cavelton. This seems to me premature; even if they do have to live in Cavelton for months, that is only months. They could at least ask the studio to cover rent.

[ Ronnie and Neddy discuss their meeting with the studio.] Ronnie: 'How can you be happy with how that went?' Neddy: 'What are you talking about? We may get to be on the writing staff of a TV show!' Ronnie: 'In Cavelton.' Neddy: 'Don't knock my hometown! And I thought you found Cavelton charming!' Tonnie: 'To visit! I didn't move from my rustic hometown to L.A. to then move to some other rustic village. And even you said you were happier in L.A.' Neddy: 'OK, one, it's not rustic, it's bucolic. And two, I'm happy to be in L.A. for the opportunities. And this is a killer opportunity, Ronnie!' Ronnie: 'I bet Cavelton is either too hot or too cold most of the year.' Neddy: 'OK, can we talk about anything except how much you don't want to be where I'm from?'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 16th of February, 2020. I get where Neddy is coming from, because I’m from New Jersey, and I like that fact. And when I tell people where I’m from, I don’t get a lot of “Oh, that’s great, I always wanted to visit there someday.” What I get is “Really? But you don’t sound like you’re from New Jersey, you sound like you’re from … uh … ” and then they give up, raise a distraction, and run from the room.

Alan Parker announces his “possible” run. Local News anchor Toni Bowen reports this, while showing footage of him going into custody for helping an arms dealer. And interviews his judge, who Sam Driver got blackmailed off the bench. Alan’s hurt. Driver asks what he thought was going to happen. And that Alan has to make clear what it is he thinks is so important that it takes him to do it.

Sophie tries to recruit Honey Ballinger, another survivor of the kidnapping plot, to campaign. Ballinger points out she should research the other candidates and not just support the one who’s family. Sophie wonders why Alan Parker isn’t volunteering to support someone then, instead of going straight for power.

Bowen: 'What is it with the men in this town?! Your dad thinks he should just be handed yet another opportunity in a world where most people don't get a first crack at anything. You're so solipsistic you're clinically incapable of empathy. And Sam is so arrogant that he thinks asking for a favor should get him a reward. You three are the incomplete Mount Rushmore this town deserves --- a monument to the spiritually destitute who keep demanding that statues be made in their honor.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 6th of March, 2020. Randy Parker runs after her, sputtering, “But ever since Marciuliano took over it’s way less like that! We have buildings fall into sinkholes and stuff like that! It’s different now!”

Randy Parker goes to ask Toni Bowen what her deal is, exactly. Why so mean to his father? I mean, Randy and Bowen used to date, so what’s wrong? She unloads on him: he may be the protagonist but that doesn’t mean everyone he hurts doesn’t count too. After telling him off and leaving, she realizes she’s still ranting at him in her head. She wants to do something useful with this anger at entitled elitists. But she settles for writing an op-ed piece instead.

Identifying the ways society is screwing up for everybody but the elites does bring some response. Her boss at the station is upset that Bowen’s getting unauthorized attention, and puts her on leave. Meanwhile, Sophie notices Bowen’s editorial and thinks: now that’s a mayoral candidate. She goes to Bowen, who wants to know why everyone in the Parker-Spencer-Driver nexus is stalking her. Sophie argues that if Bowen believes in what she wrote, then, she’s got the chance to do something. And, a few weeks (story time; reader time it’s the next day) the Toni Bowen for Mayor campaign office opens. This despite the candidate not being completely sure this is a good idea.

At the small, nearly deserted Bowen campaign office. Honey: 'Soph, what are we doing here? Our own candidate doesn't even seem to want to run.' Sophie: 'Honey, remember why we're taking a year off before college --- to find ourselves! And what better way to do that than to fight for a cause we believe in!' Honey: 'By 'finding ourselves' I meant traveling while having the occasional euphoric epiphany at a charming cafe.' Sophie: 'Well, once we have a bigger staff we'll be able to take some time off.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 26th of March, 2020. There is a really interesting campaign dynamic here, since Bowen is basically running to spite her boss. Sophie is there because she needs a Project that is Anything But College, in part to spite her mother. And Honey is there because … well, she feels like she should be friends with Sophie, but doesn’t much care about who gets elected. It’s got to be fun to write, given all the dramatic potential. I don’t blame readers who decide this is going to be too messy and perilous to enjoy reading, though. Also, Honey is a senior in high school. I grant there are 18-year-olds who will string together a phrase like “occasional euphoric epiphany”; I was one of them. But absolutely all of us, me included, need to knock that off.

Alan Parker’s campaign gets under way too. This with a $1,000-a-plate fundraiser at Abbey Spencer’s newly-opened bed-and-breakfast. The one that was formerly a barn. Channel 6 reporter Not Toni Bowen sets up a nice softball, letting Parker present this as celebrating local small business owner. You know, Abbey Spencer, millionaire and mother of Toni Bowen’s campaign manager.

And the TV crew finally settles into town, ready to start filming. Kat Alyson, playing Neddy Spencer, is thrilled to meet Neddy Spencer. Alyson bubbles over in that excited, outgoing way that makes me terrified of someone. Huerta finds Alyson surprisingly attractive too. I’m sure this will not make for any weirdness in her relationship with Neddy or anyone else, ever.

Filming is a big deal for Mayor Sanderson, who insists it’s a great deal for town. Sure, the TV production isn’t paying taxes. But there’ll be all kinds of money that falls out of the pockets of wealthy people as they waddle around filming. That’s just how tax incentive plans work. Then Sophie crashes the set, holding up a protest sign and chanting, “Mayor Sanderson is the real actor here!” She got help from that guy on Conan O’Brien’s show with the bad chants. She tries to complain about the deal, and gets distracted by it also being so cool to see Neddy on a film set.

And that gets us to the start of this week, which saw the first mention of the pandemic in the story comics. I know what you’re wondering: well, isn’t the film crew staying in Abbey’s bed-and-breakfast? My guess for that is no, because the renovations kept dragging out and the film crew would need reservations they could count on. Would have been great for Abbey if it worked that way. That’s my guess, though. We’ll see how it develops in the next months.

Next Week!

Oh, hey, how are those “great new stories and art” from the returned … oh. No, Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s The Amazing Spider-Man is still in reruns, and the middle of a story. So I can really write up next week’s plot recap today and not miss anything. Well, I’ll keep stirring those ashes a bit yet.

MiSTed: A Moment of Hack, Part I


You got this e-mail. The one about how your account was hacked, with the proof being a password you used for the account you made on TeaTowelsOnline.com in 2004. We all did. But me? I decided to do something completely useless about it: I turned it into Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan fiction, back in 2018. Please, enjoy, as I finally use this to buy me a couple days’ lead time on my blog-writing here.


MiSTed: You password must be need changed (your password:group2) [ 0 / 1 ]

[ THEATER. ALL file in. ]

> From: <group2@site.tld>

CROW: I love group2@site.tld’s writing!

> Subject: You password must be need changed (your password:group2)

TOM: Remember, you promised you’d walk and feed *and* change your password when we got you one!

> Date: November 15, 2018 at 4:36:12 PM EST
> To: group2 <group2@site.tld>

CROW: Group 2 is the cool group. We don’t need those Group 6 wieners.

>
>
> Dear user of site.tld!

MIKE: Hi! Been a crazy year, hasn’t it? So what’ve you been up to?

>
>
> I am a spyware software developer.

TOM: Well I’m a level-12 half-orc mage so don’t you go trying to beat my initiative roll.

>
> Your account has been hacked by me in the summer of 2018.

CROW: Man, you wanna feel old? The summer of 2018 was *this* *year*.

>
>
>
> I understand that it is hard to believe,

MIKE: But I can flare each nostril separately from the other!

> but here is my evidence:

TOM: [ Fumbling, feeble voice ] Um, heh, sorry, thought I had the thingy plugged in … uh … heh, see, it’s a mini USB … or micro … uh, heheh … maybe it’s upside-dowooops, dropped it.

>
> – I sent you this email from your account.

MIKE: It’s asking you to celebrate someone’s ‘work anniversary’ on LinkedIn for some reason?

>

> – Password from account group2@site.tld: group2 (on moment of hack).

TOM: Prices higher west of the Rocky Mountains.

>
>
>
> The hacking was carried out using a hardware vulnerability through
> which you went online

CROW: Yeah? Well I only respond to emotional vulnerability.

> (Cisco router, vulnerability CVE-2018-0296).

MIKE: [ Military Nerd voice ] Excuse me but the CVE-2018-0296 is the USS Ranger, a Forrestal-class supercarrier with a displacement of 81,000 long tons under full load *thank* you.

>
>
>
> I went around the security system in the router,

CROW: I jabbed my foot into an endtable.

> installed an
> exploit there.

TOM: Stepped on a Lego block … you know, your security is pretty *good*, I have to say.

>
> When you went online, my exploit downloaded my malicious code

MIKE: Well, it’s not malicious so much as it is passive-aggressive code.

CROW: ‘No, go ahead and read my page with the adblocker on, I’ll be fine.’

> (rootkit) to your device.

TOM: Hey, we’re trying to stay PG here!

>
> This is driver software,

CROW: This is driver software on drugs.

> I constantly updated it,

MIKE: The only way to foil it is to hit ‘postpone updates until tomorrow’ every single day!

> so your antivirus
> is silent all time.

TOM: Your Antivirus Silent All-time Hall of Famers!

>
>
> Since then I have been following you

CROW: Did you see me clicking like and share?

> (I can connect to your device
> via the VNC protocol).

MIKE: The VNC Protocol, starring Clint Eastwood, George Kennedy, and Vonetta McGee.

>
> That is, I can see absolutely everything that you do, view and
> download your files and any data to yourself.

TOM: [ Voice warbling ] Even my Knuckles/Marrissa Picard fanfic?

>
> I also have access to the camera on your device,

[ CROW and TOM squirm, uncomfortable. MIKE looks up so as not to have to acknowledge either. ]

> and I periodically
> take photos and videos with you.

MIKE: [ As though reading a postcard ] Having wonderful time, wish I were here …

>
>
> At the moment, I have harvested a solid dirt…

TOM: [ Dramatic sting ] DUN-dun-dunnnnnnnn!

> on you…

CROW: Gasp!

MIKE: Merciful heavens!

TOM: Oh, Professor Firefly!

>
> I saved all your email and chats from your messangers.

MIKE: Your mess angers.

TOM: Your Me’s Sangers.

> I also saved
> the entire history of the sites you visit.

TOM: You ah, got any copies of Web Site Number Nine kicking around there?

>
>

CROW: Your Mess an’ Gers?

MIKE: Oh, you always want a plate of those if you go to a British pub.

> I note that it is useless to change the passwords.

TOM: [ As Chico ] ‘Swordfish’?

> My malware update
> passwords from your accounts every times.

CROW: Yeah? Well … my festive clockwork bubbles from your kneepads every thermostat!

>
>
> I know what you like hard funs (adult sites).

TOM: Ooh, hard funs?

MIKE: Yeah, those are the anise-tasting funs your gramma keeps in that glass dish on the coffee table that still smells like smoke even though she quit eighteen years ago.
[ TOM makes a little disappointed groan. ]


And that’s enough lumped text for just now. Web Site Number Nine was, in the 90s and early 2000s, the center of MST3K fan fiction. It went down “for the weekend” for maintenance one Friday in like 2004 and never reappeared afterwards. Boy, remember when 2018 seemed like a brutal year? Anyway, I’ll finish posting this on Wednesday. Thanks for reading.

Popeye and the Giant: body horror, weirdness, but no, not *that* Giant


I complained that last week’s 60s Popeye was a competent cartoon. Every piece of it made sense, followed from the premise, and came out pretty bland. These are not faults for this week. It’s another Jack Kinney joint, this one with story by Noel Tucker and animation direction by Hugh Fraser. Noel Tucker is a name unrecorded by me, so far. Hugh Fraser we’ve seen having Popeye build a robot and being a Hawai’i tour guide. Both of those times I noted the animation was loose, or if you’re not feeling generous, sloppy. What does this imply for Popeye and the Giant? Let’s watch.

The title gives me expectations: that it’ll be another Jack-and-the-Beanstalk take starring Popeye. They’ve done this before, during World War II and again later in the Famous Studios run. They also did it in the 60s run of cartoons. They’d do it again for the 70s run. But sometimes it’s possible that a Popeye cartoon might reuse a premise of another Popeye cartoon. I know, shocking. But, no; the cartoon decides to go in weird directions instead.

And it keeps going weird. Weird to the point I am more curious than usual about its writing. It feels to me like Tucker had a couple ideas, found they were developing in curious ways, couldn’t fit them together, and went with what he had. The cartoon shifts direction several times over. The narrative doesn’t quite make sense. But it’s a good weird. It’s an unpredictable weird, at least.

Follow the narrative. We start with Popeye carrying flowers, I assume to Olive Oyl. He’s not aware that he’s in footage recycled from another short. Wimpy appears, in a pocket universe, offering his usual pay-you-Tuesday-for-a-hamburger-today deal. Popeye ignores him and walks out of the cartoon. Jump to Brutus, who learns the carnival wants a giant. He guesses his plant-growth pills will work on Wimpy, so feeds him a pile of burgers so large Wimpy’s eyes poke out, the first of many body-horror moments. It has an effect: the camera waves around and loses focus, a rare moment of cinematography for these shorts.

Gigantic Wimpy, with a large-but-not-proportional hat and tie, lecturing Brutus, whom he holds in one hand.
I give them a pass on having Wimpy’s clothes gigantify along with him, and will allow Wimpy’s hat and tie not quite growing to fit as a way of demonstrating his bulk. But: we’re looking at Wimpy’s left hand here. How is that attached to his shoulder? So there’s one more moment of body horror for you.

And it works, as Brutus declares, before we actually see anything happen. He jumps outside his house to laugh, a move that doesn’t look at all like they’re recycling footage from another short. Wimpy’s body bulges out and expands in a way that does look painful, an expressive bit for the animation limitations here. Brutus demands Wimpy sign a contract; Wimpy demands food, first.

Here, I think, the premise got away from Tucker. Wimpy is a clever, gluttonous, and slothful character. Add to that physical power, though? That’s dangerous in a novel way. Unfortunately we fall back from that. Brutus agrees to feed Wimpy first, delivering a bunch of burgers on a conveyor belt, saying, “I can’t supply the demand”. It’s a curious line because it’s got the placement and cadence of a joke, but is a literal statement of fact. Was this a placeholder line, meant to be replaced with something funny?

The carnival can’t use Wimpy, observing that he’s impossible show or feed. Good observations. So Brutus turns to the Sea Hag, who’s set herself up as Shyster At Law. I’m sure this is a sly allusion to the Marx Brothers’ nearly-lost radio program, Flywheel, Shyster, and Flywheel. Good approach and it’s not a bad role for the Sea Hag either. The Sea Hag forgets her weird crush on Wimpy and declares this is a chance to mess with Popeye, who hasn’t been seen since the story actually started.

Her plan: abandon Wimpy as a foundling child on Popeye’s doorstep. Here again I think the premise got out of Tucker’s control. Like, Brutus needed help to have the idea “make Popeye deal with this nonsense”? When Giant Wimpy’s first seen by Popeye, he’s sobbing like a baby. Why? A spell of the Sea Hag’s? That explains having the Sea Hag involved at all. But then Popeye has no doubt that he’s dealing with a giant Wimpy.

Gigantic Wimpy laying on his back in a crib outside Popeye's house. A note is pinned to Wimpy's pants, which Popeye, leaning out the window in his bedclothes, is reading.
I once again protest King Features animating my DeviantArt account without my permission.

Told, by note, that the antidote is unknown, Popeye tries to find an antidote. He goes right to spinach — er, essence of spinach — showing that he’s aware of the rules of the universe he’s in. This makes Giant Wimpy bigger, animated by having the camera slide down a little. So instead he tries “essence of hamburger”, which looks to the untrained eye like a hamburger. Sure, we already saw him eat dozens of burgers that Brutus made, and again dozens more at the carnival. But this time? It’s a burger that shrinks him back to normal.

Wimpy thanks Popeye, while Popeye can’t help mouthing along to Wimpy’s lines. And Wimpy’s hungry again, and that’s our laugh line to the finish.

So, yeah, it’s all low-key bonkers. I mean this affectionately. Someone seeing only Brutus reading about this carnival offer would not guess it would have Popeye deal with a giant “baby” Wimpy. After watching the cartoon a couple times I guess I follow the threads, more or less, but it’s a weird path getting there. There’s two good premises — Wimpy as a demanding giant, and Popeye dealing with a giant baby — brought up and immediately forgotten. The story needed another draft or two to be a coherent whole, but I’m not sure that would be better. As it is, it’s all weird jagged edges.

Most interesting about the animation is that Giant Wimpy is not Wimpy drawn larger. His proportions are all off. This is a good way of establishing that Wimpy is truly gigantic. It does mean they can’t use stock footage of Wimpy for all this time that he’s the center of attention. Having to do that is probably why they had to reuse footage from other shorts. It’s a worthwhile trade.

This is a cartoon I’m going to have specific memories of next week.

Statistics Saturday: Where Comic Strips Are Set


Note: comic strip locations even when tied to the real world are often fictionalized to some extent, allowing for, for example, wintertime snows even if this would be unlikely to happen every year, or as severely as is shown. Or they are synthesized from pieces of more than one location. Don’t @ me. Fun activity: spot the error!

Comic Strip Setting
Pogo Okefenokee Swamp, Georgia
The Family Circus Scottsdale, Arizona
Get Fuzzy Boston
Frazz Lansing metropolitan area, Michigan
Wallace the Brave Rhode Island
Peanuts Sebastopol/Needles, California
Funky Winkerbean Akron/Strongsville, Ohio
Andy Capp Hartlepool, England, UK
Monty Middlesex County, New Jersey
The Fusco Brothers Newark, New Jersey
Non Sequitur Maine
Sherman’s Lagoon Near the Palau Archipelago, Federated States of Micronesia
Blondie Joplin, Missouri
JumpStart Philadelphia
Breaking Cat News New England
Fred Basset London

Reference: Yerkes Observatory, 1892-1950: The Birth, Near Death, and Resurrection of a Scientific Research Institution, Donald E Osterbrock.

Fear Not, in these trying times, Compu-Toon is still baffling


So I know everybody’s having a hard time of it, except for those of us having an impossibly hard time of it. Thus I would like to reassure you all: Charles Boyce’s Compu-Toon is still baffling. Here’s Thursday’s strip.

Woman looking at her phone, which looks like it has a stubby antenna rather than being a modern smart phone, and thinking: 'I need less space for that adjective to work.' Caption: 'Six feet texting can cause big gaps.'
Charles Boyce’s Compu-Toon for the 9th of April, 2020. Also I think some of her texting problem might be that she’s trying to text using an AT&T Cordless 5500 from about 1993.

This one hits a real sweet spot for being baffling. I think I can work out what neighborhood the joke should be in. My guess is Boyce wants to make some comment about the physical distancing that’s needed for public physical health, and the computer-aided socialization that’s needed for public mental health, and then … from there I lose the thread. But I think I’m looking in the right place. If someone has a better idea, please, let me know.

And, again, I don’t want to slag Charles Boyce too hard here. From what I can make out, he seems to be a kind-hearted and well-intended person. And he’s that rarest of things, the cartoonist who’s older than Gen X but who still likes the Internet. At least as a concept. It’s just, sometimes, the idea in Boyce’s head doesn’t make it onto paper recognizably. I know that pain.


Also, since this is the weekend people would like to know, here’s my little guide to what color eggs the various Paas tablets are. Good luck with your own eggs.

My Observations, While Walking Around The Neighborhood


Oh, that migratory shopping cart that’s been going up and down the street has fallen over. Sad. Tipped on its side like this, it’s sure to be easy pickings for the abandoned disreputable lawn predators out there. Even a single tireless rusted-out Chevy on cinder blocks will be able to get it. If it were in range, that is.

Huh; yeah, this store used to be a barber shop, looks like. A long time ago. Oh, and just next to it, spot that used to be a convenience store. Also a long time ago. Building permit on it … mm. They’re replacing the floor and carpet by August of 2016. Well, I’m sure they have big plans for the reopening.

So here’s a spot where the road was torn up and re-patched. It intersects another stretch where the road was torn up and re-patched. There are cryptic markings in spray paint all over, pointing at the manhole from five directions. They’re not uniformly spaced around the manhole. They evoke a portolan chart, perhaps mapping the routes by which traders from the Hanseatic League will bring staple goods to port, and then lose them in the potholes surrounding the patched streaks.

Interesting to see another former barber shop, and so close to the last one.

Well, hey there, squirrel. Yeah, you’re looking happy that someone’s left a nearly whole loaf of slightly moldy bread out for you. Boy, would you even know what to do with bread that wasn’t a little moldy? I barely know what to do with it. Sandwiches, I guess. Dip some into soups for an experience that’s not as good as I think it ought to be. Got your slice, huh? Yeah, hop over there and you can enjoy it in private. … Or … you can just drop it there and go back to the loaf. No, you go ahead, pick your slice carefully. I’m fascinated to see how this’ll come out. Yeah, I go back and re-make decisions all the time. A squirrel should have as much chance to … go running off without any bread at all. All right. I feel like I’m being insulted somehow and I’m not even really in this.

Another former barber shop? This seems like a lot of barber shops to have ever been in this neighborhood. Did we sometime used to have a lot of people with beards, and they all got rid of them at once, and then we didn’t need so many barber shops anymore? I should ask my barber, who I drive to, two towns east of here.

You know, that shopping cart is kind of near the Chevy House. Maybe it is in danger.

A free boat? Oh, that’s interesting. Gorgeous, even. It looks like the kind of boat you get when you’re doing a low-effort movie from the early 60s and they have to have a fishing scene. … No trailer, all right. No motor either. The windshield’s come off but it’s sitting in the boat. It’s nice to know we’re in a neighborhood where someone can just leave their motorboat windshield laying around loose and nobody will come and take it. Oh, there’s no seats in the boat, though. There’s that pole where the driver’s seat should go. Probably some way to replace that. I’ve seen that Popeye cartoon. Still, if someone’s giving a boat away free, it’s got problems. Maybe leaks. Maybe rust. Maybe it’s somehow on fire. Maybe it bestows on its owner a mild curse, causing them when setting up appointments on the phone to always fail to hear the critical word in the question, however many times they get it repeated to them. Anyway we don’t have anywhere to store a boat. Our goldfish pond isn’t big enough to need one, either.

OK, so this is a barber shop that’s still open, across the street from the other barber shop that’s still open. I wonder if they get together and talk about the days that a squirrel could run from the Red Cedar Creek all the way to the Grand River from barber-shop-roof to barber-shop-roof, never touching the ground.

Another former convenience store. Maybe we’re just not a neighborhood for convenience. Oh, they’ve left all those two-liters of Faygo sitting around. Dangerous. That’s how you get Juggalos.

Hey, the migratory shopping cart is back up on its wheels and put out on the lawn extension. That’s great; maybe it’s going to survive, and become the leader of a new clan of abandoned shopping carts. But … how did it get upright on its own?

Meanwhile, How My Day Job Doing Computer Stuff Is Going


Me, today: putting a thing that’s currently a single line used a single time into its own function, because I know from experience this is going to grow into a thing that’s a bunch of pieces doing similar but not identical things and that has to be called from eighteen different spots in the code.

Me, two months from now: trying to figure out why none of my functions ever actually does anything, they just call other functions into this great impassible mangrove swamp of two-line functions.

What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? Is Milford shut down for Covid-19 yet? January – April 2020


So, no, Gil Thorp hasn’t mentioned Covid-19 yet. Comic strip lead times vary. Some artists work very close to deadline. Some work a long time ahead. The story goes that Tom Batiuk is more than a year ahead of publication on Funky Winkerbean. Some will jump in for an opportunity. Stephen Pastis, of Pearls Before Swine, everyone says is like a year ahead of publication, but this week’s strips are a Covid-19 theme. Anyway this disaster is, at least, a chance for us to learn how far ahead comic strips are being made.

Sunday strips have a greater lead time, usually something like an extra month. It takes time to get comic strips colored on purpose by people who know what the characters are supposed to look like. Story comics that have both the daily and Sunday continuity tied together will have to work to that deadline. (These are Gil Thorp, which has no Sunday strip, and Alley Oop and The Phantom, which have separate Sunday stories.)

Anyway, I can’t imagine this news not coming to the story strips, especially one set in high school, about athletes. When it happens it’ll surely interrupt the storyline as much as it interrupted our lives. I’m as curious to see what that’ll do.

But it hasn’t yet. So this essay will get you up to speed on Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp, as it was in early April, 2020. It’s right after the conclusion of a story, which is neat for my purposes. If you’re reading this after summer 2020, and there is a summer 2020, I should have a more up-to-date plot recap at this link. And if you want to follow any story comics at all, all those essays are gathered at this link. Now back to sports.

Gil Thorp.

13 January – 4 April 2020

The story, as it had developed from its start the 9th of December? Alexa Watson is a bright young basketball potential star whose life got annoying in 2011, and then incredibly annoying in 2014. She’s decent but not as good an athlete as everyone agrees she could be. She and Chris Schuring, on the boys basketball team, are hundredths of a point away from each other to be valedictorian. And Teddy Demarco and his posse are mocking Schuring at every chance. So! Who will valedictate? That’s the setup.

Also a lot of the plot. A lot of the fun in Gil Thorp, or any story strip, is stuff getting weird. Or at least operatic, which the core ridiculousness of high school encourages. That never quite came together this plot. It’s not that anything was bad. But if you wanted to see Marty Moon humiliated? And who reads Gil Thorp who doesn’t? It wasn’t happening.

Demarco figures to keep messing with Schuring. His idea: a cheap sound effects machine from a tiresome novelty store. As Schuring tries to present something in Something Class, Demarco buzzing and wah-wah noises. This doesn’t come close to throwing Schuring, or anyone else. But it leaves us wondering why Demarco wants to bully Schuring, and why he’s so god-awful at it.

[ Oral report day for Chris Schuring ] Schuring: 'So what's important to remember is --- ' [ 'Waaah-waaah sound effect ] Schuring: 'Y'know, that's exactly what I was going to say!' Later, Demarco's friend: 'Great job, Teddy. Schuring laughed at us, Miss Perrine took your noisemakers, and we got detention!'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 30th of January, 2020. “Also, having seen your plan play out, I’m still stuck on how we thought it was going to make Schuring look bad? What was the line of reasoning here, Teddy?”

Coach Mimi Thorp tries to get Watson to play more offensively. But she’s got no interest in trying. Schuring identifies her problem as wanting to be invisible. At least in situations she can’t control. Watson, talking this over with her friend Phoebe Keener, grants that Schuring may have a point. But, back in third grade, he was the first person to make a Watson the Supercomputer joke at her. I empathize deeply with the anger at the person who gives you The Joke that’ll harass you through school. In this case, though, I think she’s not being fair to inevitable discovery. Of course, if they were always fair, they wouldn’t be our feelings.

Schuring offers Keener advice, to get Watson to play better basketball. Act more aggressive off the court, and she’ll play more offensively. And it’ll get people to think about her athletics instead of that her name is Alexa Watson. You may protest that this reasoning is dumb, but please remember that it comes from a teenage boy, and so is dumb. Watson tries it, to the point that Coach Mimi Thorp has to get involved, because she’s being a jerk. And getting fouled out of games.

Back to Demarco, who needs to try something dumb. He gets a copy of last year’s AP Chemistry midterm. He offers it to Alexa Watson, who refuses. It’s the mark of a good student, after all, to … not use previous years’ tests, where available, as study guides. This is a point where I felt completely lost. Demarco got the test from “a guy who took it last year”. If it wasn’t a test he was supposed to return to the instructor, then I have no idea what the problem is. But we have to read it as an illicit copy or the whole story falls apart.

With Watson refusing to be valedictorian “by cheating”, Demarco goes to Schuring. He claims that, to make amends for all the pranks, he’s giving this present of last year’s midterm. Schuring tosses it without looking. Doesn’t matter: after the midterm, Demarco goes to Mr Rollins and says he gave Schuring the midterm.

Watson: 'There's something weird going on with Teddy and that AP test.' Keener: 'Weirder than it already was?' [ Coach Thorp's office ] Assistant Coach Kaz: 'Chris? Cheating? C'mon, that's way out of character.' Thorp: 'Completely, but I have to ask him.' [ Later ] Thorp: 'Did Teddy Demarco give you an advance copy of the test?' Schuring: 'I don't know.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 11th of March, 2020. We joke about the one way to make Gil Thorp mad is to force him to do some work for school, but if it weren’t for this he wouldn’t even be IN this story. So he should be grateful for Demarco’s bizarre stunt here.

None of the teachers, nor the coaches, believe Schuring cheated. But they have to investigate. Schuring says he doesn’t even know what he got; he tossed it. Watson vouches for him. Mr Rollins changes out at least some of the questions each year, and Schuring did as well on those as he did on the rest. And they’ve noticed Demarco has been incompetently sniping Schuring for years, so why the change? And then they remember that teenage boys are dumb, and suspend Demarco for, jeez, seriously.

Schuring goes to Demarco to ask what his deal is. As with all high school, it’s dumb. In 9th grade, Schuring’s jock friends picked on Demarco, and Schuring doesn’t do anything about it. Schuring apologizes. He doesn’t remember it at all and admits that he should have stopped it. It doesn’t fix Schuring letting Demarco get bullied years ago, but it’s something. Good thought for everyone who’s callously hurt someone else. It’s never wrong to own up to your mistakes and apologize.

Demarco: 'Remember? 9th grade? I'm this tall. A bunch of your jock friends are picking on me. I'm almost crying, and you just sail on by.' Schuring: 'Sheesh, Teddy, I don't remember that at all. But I'm sorry. Truly. If I noticed it, I should have stepped in.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 19th of March, 2020. Unanswered through this whole saga: Why is 17-year-old Chris Schuring more emotionally mature than I am, today? Is this kid really a 67-year-old who made a wish at a magic fountain to correct the mistakes of his high school senior year and once he fixes things up with Demarco and Watson he gets to go back to the Good Future? If my take on it is wrong, find me the evidence in-text that I am mistaken.

On to valedictation. The guidance counselor asks Watson what she thinks of Schuring’s plan to be co-valedictorians. She doesn’t want a reward for backing up Schuring against Demarco’s failed scam. Schuring says it’s not: he proposed co-valedictorian months ago. All right, then. All’s well. Oh, and he introduces her to his girlfriend, Siri Conti.

And that, the 28th of March, wrapped up the story, which was not the most tense or action-packed one.


The current story started the 30th of March, introducing a bunch of kids And Gil Thorp saying how his favorite opening day is baseball, which is right up. And that’s about all we have. Check back around here in early July, by which time whatever plan Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham had will have been blown apart.

Milford Schools Watch

Who plays Milford? Who are their big rivals? Here’s some other schools mentioned in the strip over the last few months.

Next Week!

Wealth! Prestige! Power! A sullen teenager! Television production schedules! And — if things hold out a few more days — no Norton! It’s Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker, in a week, if things start going well. Thanks for reading.

Statistics March: How March 2020 Treated My Humor Blog, At Least


They say that in times of crisis, keeping up routines is a good thing. That’s why I’ve moved the What’s Going On In series from posting late Sunday to posting late Tuesday: I don’t know what I’m doing. Also this lets me handle the Sunday-only strips more gracefully. Still, I do want to look at what kinds of things get read around here, and how much, and this is my first really good chance for that. So here’s a quick review of what my readership was like, according to WordPress, which I keep going ahead and trusting even when I don’t like the results. This is known as integrity or being too lazy to do something else.

Bar chart showing a little over two years' worth of monthly readership figures; after three depressed months the readership is back up again.
Yeah so I was at home at 8 pm Eastern Time on the 31st of March so I could take this snapshot at exactly the moment to have April not appear. Frankly, I would rather have been out messing around playing pinball at the hipster bar two blocks over.

So, three months of a slump seems to have passed. There were 3,963 page views in March, comfortably above even the twelve-month running average of 3,605.3 views per month. These came from a logged 2,385 unique visitors, which is also a fair bit high of the 2,083.3 running average. That’s all looking good from my perspective. The number of likes was flat, though, the same 75 as in February. This is a fair bit below the average of 131.5. This suggests a great fall-off in reader engagement. But then the number of comments rose to 30, its greatest number in over a year, and well above the twelve-month average of 16.1.

Pro-rating things per post gives a similar story. There were 127.8 views per posting for March, above the average 118.3. There were 76.9 unique visitors per posting, up from 68.4 as an average. Only 2.4 likes per posting, below the twelve-month average of 4.3. But 1.0 comments per posting, way above the 0.5 average. April is already looking nicely chatty, too. Now that I’ve said that I can watch comments shrivel up and die, apart from people upset about Mark Trail.

I am, as ever, not joking about Mark Trail. The most popular five essays last month were:

My most popular long-form essay last month was In Which I Am Very Petty About This Covid-19 Business, the first of what’s turning out to be a series of me rambling about my minor neuroses. It implies that I’ve finally figured out my niche, and it’s complaining about myself.

There really is no official word on what the deal is with James Allen and Mark Trail recently. I shared my best information, which is to say rumor and conjecture, and intend to post if I hear anything.

What else do I intend to post? In the comic strip plot recap lineup, these things, over the coming month:

These are subject to change in case of breaking news or something that demands my attention or whatever other chaos breaks out in the world.

484 posts got at least one page view in March, well up from February’s 401. 302 of them got more than one view, up from 245. 75 of them got at least ten views, compared to 56 in February.

Mercator-style map of the world; the United States is in darkest red. Most of the Americas, Europe, Russia, and Pacific and South Asia is in pink; little of Africa is.
Someday I will get a reader in Greenland and I won’t know what to do with it. … Hi, Greenland! I’m sure you have someone where who could read me!

73 countries sent me any viewers in March, right about February’s 71. 20 of them were single-view countries, close enough to February’s 18. Herees the full roster:

Country Readers
United States 3,030
India 161
Canada 121
United Kingdom 90
Philippines 68
Germany 50
Australia 38
South Africa 35
Brazil 34
Sweden 24
Spain 23
Papua New Guinea 21
France 17
Thailand 15
Finland 14
Switzerland 14
Italy 13
Portugal 13
New Zealand 11
Argentina 10
Netherlands 10
Romania 10
Denmark 9
Ireland 9
Norway 8
Pakistan 8
China 7
European Union 6
Singapore 5
Taiwan 5
Belgium 4
El Salvador 4
Japan 4
Kenya 4
Colombia 3
Croatia 3
Dominican Republic 3
Hong Kong SAR China 3
Indonesia 3
Malaysia 3
Poland 3
Russia 3
South Korea 3
Ukraine 3
American Samoa 2
Austria 2
Greece 2
Honduras 2
Jamaica 2
Mexico 2
Saudi Arabia 2
Sri Lanka 2
Zambia 2
Bangladesh 1
Belize 1
Chile 1
Ecuador 1
Egypt 1
Estonia 1
Iceland 1
Israel 1
Jordan 1
Kuwait 1 (*)
Lebanon 1 (*)
Nigeria 1
Peru 1 (*)
Puerto Rico 1
Serbia 1
Somalia 1
Trinidad & Tobago 1 (**)
Turkey 1
United Arab Emirates 1 (*)
Zimbabwe 1

Kuwait, Lebanon, Peru, and the United Arab Emirates were single-view countries in February also. Trinidad & Tobago has been on a single-view streak for three months now.

WordPress figures in March I posted 17,019 words. That’s 549 words per posting exactly, a rare decimal-free appearance for that figure. It’s my most verbose of 2020 so far, though. For the year to date I’ve posted 48,878 words, in 90 posts, for an average of 543.09 words per posting. The start of April saw me complete 2,616 posts altogether, drawing 161,530 views from 90,399 unique visitors.

And you could be among them! If you’re reading this, you already are. Unless you’re reading by way of RSS reader, in which case I’ll never know unless you say something to me. But you can also follow by clicking the “Follow Another Blog, Meanwhile” button on this page. Or follow me on Twitter as @nebusj, if you’d like. Thank you, however it is you’re doing things.

Dog Catcher Popeye, in which Popeye is not a Dog Catcher


There’s familiar names in the credits for this week’s 60s Popeye cartoon. The story’s credited to Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer. Jack Mercer was the voice of Popeye, with a handful of interruptions, from 1935 through to the Robert Altman movie. He’d also written Popeye cartoons, and others, going back to 1942. The director’s Seymore Kneitel, who again had directed Popeye cartoons going back to Paramount’s taking over the Fleischer Studios. Basically, these are old pros. They could have done Dog Catcher Popeye in their sleep. Did they?

There’s something a bit telling in the credit and title cards. They’re tightly organized, neatly lettered. Smoothly professional enough to be a little boring. This is an era where, yes, a lot of awful cartoons were being made under the Popeye brand identity. Often the most interesting thing about them is the title card, with some mid-century modern abstraction and the title painted in some way that’s maybe even hard to read. Not this; this is neatly stenciled letters. There’s no question what you’re seeing.

And that’s the cartoon. This is a smoothly made production. There’s a clear storyline. A poor tormented dog catches Popeye’s attention; he rescues it. It wants to follow him; he tries to escape. Brutus the actual dog catcher notices the dog; Popeye saves the dog. At no point is there question what characters are doing, or trying to do, or why. All the action is clear and well-rendered. There’s even stuff, like the park entrance or the dog catcher’s truck, drawn in one-point perspective. It’s all well-crafted.

Also boring. There’s not any personality in the cartoon. No weirdness. The only interesting shot is a couple moments seen from the dog’s point of view, where Popeye explains why he can’t adopt the dog. There’s a bit of novelty in the story from Brutus not really being out to get Popeye. Or even being in the wrong.

It’s petty to complain about a cartoon being done with so much professional competence that I can’t even sneer at it. But I also know that I saw this cartoon about 480,000 times growing up, and I’ve watched it three times over the past week, and in two days I’m not going to remember even writing an essay about it. This weekend I also watched an episode of the Emergency +4 cartoon that existed for absolutely no decent reason. And that was fascinating for how it took a whole Mark Trail plot’s worth of dangers in the desert and made it all lifeless and dull. But its incompetence at establishing stakes for the characters? And the bizarreness of its choice to exist at all? Its bold choice to use the temporary music track for the opening and closing credits? I’m going to remember and think about that again.

Statistics Saturday: Pink Panther Cartoons Debuting During Apollo Missions


  1. In The Pink Of The Night (18 May 1969, during Apollo 10)
  2. Yeah, that’s it. Weird, right? I mean, there weren’t that many Apollo missions really, but they sprawled like twelve days each, and they were all concentrated in this four-year span. There’s some near misses, like, Pink Sphinx came out the day after Apollo 7 landed, and Pinkcome Tax came out the day before Apollo 8 launched, but there’s no other cartoons that overlapped Apollo missions. Not even the unmanned missions. It just doesn’t add up.

Reference: The History Today Companion to British History, Editors Juliet Gardiner, Neil Wenborn.

What’s Got Me Late Today, Network Stars Edition


I’m sorry, but I was busy thinking how I might explain to my niblings why we as kids watched the Circus of the Stars. “What better chance,” the best I can think of goes, “will we have to see Heather McNair step out of her role as Roxanne Caldwell on the greatest TV show of all time ever, Automan, before it ends what will surely be a twelve-year network run followed by a series of smash movies?” They have never asked about Circus of the Network Stars and I have no reason to think they will. I expect if they have questions, then their relevant parents can handle the matter. But so much has caught me unprepared this year. I don’t want one more thing to.


So far as Wikipedia is aware Heather McNair never appeared on Circus of the Stars. Automan did not run for twelve years and inspired no movies, although I’m going ahead and guessing there’s a reboot of it that’s already in its third of eight-episode seasons on … uh … let’s say HBO BlortStar+, that sounds like a streaming service name.

Emotional Drafting


A little bit before we got our stay-at-home orders I bought some pencil leads. You know, for mechanical pencils. I don’t say this to make you all envious. I know there are people out there who don’t use mechanical pencils. I prefer mechanical pencils and I won’t be apologizing for that. Yes, I have tried your fully pneumatic pencils. I don’t like the flow. Electronic pencils would be great, but they’re monitoring everything you do. And they’re sending mean notes to Facebook about your bad handwriting and how it’s ruining your wrists.

So mechanical pencils it is for me, and that means sometimes buying new leads. This is because putting in a new lead is two percent less bad than buying a whole new pen and throwing the old away. It should be a bigger gap. There’s mechanical pencils where you put the new lead in by pressing down the little cap thingy on the end and dropping a new lead in. I don’t have that. The pencils I have these days require me to take the end cap off, then remember that’s not how to reload these pencils. Then I have to unscrew the … I’m going to call it nib … from the center of the pencil. Then press down on the cap until I remember that’s not how to open it up to take a new lead either. Then I have to look up on YouTube how to put lead into my pencil, and follow that video. I might be better off throwing the old pencils away and getting a new one, but again, there’s that two percent margin. It’s a tiny bit less bad to buy a new lead.

Except. I bought this at an Office Depot. Or Office Max. I forget what it was before they merged (it was Kinko’s) and moved from one end of the strip mall to the other. The problem is, this got them e-mailing me to give my opinions about the transaction.

This is a heck of a thing to ask for in any case. What is there to rate? I go in to a store that sells pencil leads, pick up a pack of pencil leads, and pay for it, and leave. How can I rate that? Plato himself would volunteer that there is no such thing as an Ideal Form of the pencil-lead-buying experience. There is no way to perceive the difference between a mediocre pencil-lead-buying experience and the greatest pencil-lead-buying experience of your life. I guess this does mean we can treat every chance to buy pencil lead as a new chance to have a best-possible experience, so far as we know.

I concede there can be a terrible pencil-lead-buying experience. But that’s because something interferes with the pencil-lead-buying. Like, while you’re there a ceiling tile drops on you. Or you can’t remember which phone number you gave for their loyalty program and then someone insists you are too John “Ten Eyck” Lansing Jr, the indirect namesake for the capital of Michigan (Ten Eyck), who went missing in 1829. That would ruin the pencil-lead-buying. That’s the result of the other experience getting in the way, though.

Anyway I figured to ignore Max Depot’s e-mails until they gave up asking. The way Best Buy has finally accepted that I have no opinions to share about a four-USB-plug power brick. Except that they would not give up. They e-mailed me daily, asking me to please tell them about the pencil-lead-buying experience.

They sent me more e-mails than Joe Biden’s campaign has, if you can imagine, now that Biden bought whatever cursed mailing list Amy Klobuchar had. And this as the pandemic kept on panning. So I gave in and answered them. No, I would not recommend buying pencil lead at Depot to the Max, because they keep asking me to have an opinion about it, and I keep remembering how if everything starts going well, the pandemic might only kill as many Americans as combat did in the Civil War, and I have to go to the basement and yell at cinder blocks.

They e-mailed back.

And apologized that my experience was so bad and they will work to make it better in the future.

So now management dinks are going to punish people who actually work, because I said the buying was fine but the follow-up sucked. And I have to deal with knowing I’m to blame for that.

So now I can’t ever buy pencil lead at Max Office, Max Depot ever again. It’s going to hurt too much. I have, finally, found what a bad pencil-lead-buying experience is.

Urgent bathroom follow-ups


That bathroom? At the farmer’s market? That had the faucet that was just running without stop, until I tried to use it? Because those hands-free sensors for bathroom sinks don’t work for me?

They’ve replaced it with an actual physical faucet.

This signifies something and I don’t know what.

What’s Going On In Rex Morgan, M.D.? Did Aunt Tildy get together with that wrestler? January – March 2020


And hi at last, people who want the story in Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. explained. This post’s written in late March 2020, so if you’re reading this in some far-future decade like May 2020 it may be so out of date that it’s useless. In that case, though, if I have a more recent plot summary or news about the strip it should appear here. I hope that helps. If you prefer some mathematics with your comic strips, please look over at my other blog, as it’s got that. Thank you.

Rex Morgan, M.D..

5 January – 29 March 2020

Aunt Tildy had just moved in last time I looked at Rex Morgan, M.D.. For what purpose, and for how long? I forecast we’d have some idea by March. All our other plans for March went wrong, but this one? This one came out perfect.

Aunt Tildy settled in fast, and peacefully. Making breakfast, offering to watch the kids instead of sending them to daycare. Watching wrestling on TV. Passing out watching wrestling on TV, surrounded by cans of something.

Kelly has picked up the kids from school and daycare. Kelly: 'OK, Mini-Morgans, let's get inside. I want to meet this Aunt Tildy person.' (Tildy's sprawled out across the couch, snoring, cans spread over the floor.) Mike: 'Aunt Tildy sleepin'! John: 'Snorin'! Kelly: 'Yeah ... you guys go upstairs and play, OK?'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 10th of January, 2020. Little plot thread here is Kelly put in an urgent call to June Morgan. She failed to check that the cans were a soft drink. That’s made more plausible by explaining that Aunt Tildy was drinking a weird minor soda, so it makes more sense that Kelly wouldn’t recognize the label and assumed the worst but … like … are there a lot of sodas you’d think were beers if you looked at them more than five seconds? Maybe some root beer labels would be confusing but I’m not sure the premise really holds.

Don’t worry; it wasn’t demon alcohol. It was her favorite pop that she can’t get at home anymore. I understand; I live in mid-Michigan and I actually know a couple spots where I can get Moxie. Anyway, we aren’t told that it’s Faygo and that Aunt Tildy is a secret Juggalo, but, you know. Media literacy, people. Read the inferences.

Aunt Tildy fell asleep in the afternoon, like anyone might. Still, Rex Morgan presses June for details like … how old is she, anyway? June’s not sure. She remembers that when she was a kid, Aunt Tildy was forty years older than dirt, so that’s something. Well, how long does she plan to stay? June doesn’t feel comfortable asking that. Why is she here? Aunt Tildy says, no special reason, just she hasn’t seen the kids and she could die anytime, so why not now? She means why not see them now.

A lot of this storyline was Rex Morgan being all miffed that Aunt Tildy is around, and this was great. I mean, absolutely I understand the discomfort of having a houseguest, especially one you don’t really know. Especially when there is no way of guessing how long until they leave. But the amount of peevedness he brings to a houseguest who is family, who’s entertaining the kids, and who’s volunteering to household chores is great. It’s the sort of disproportionately strong emotion that makes for hilarious soap-comic reading.

June and Rex discuss Tildy's heath concerns. Rex: 'Some of those symptoms could be cause for concern. The vision issue could b cataracts.' June: 'Of course. But none of it sounds like anything that places her on death's door.' Rex: 'Well, who'd have guessed such a big fan of pro wrestling would be so dramatic?'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 27th of January, 2020. Am I alone in noticing, though, that soap comics and pro wrestling rely on some of the same tools. Preposterous characters, particularly, with bombastic displays of emotion, and serving storylines that may get involved but that are always easy at any one point for a newcomer to drop into are important to both.

June and Rex Morgan recognize the plot tokens, though. If Aunt Tildy doesn’t know how long she has left, why is that? They arrange for a doctor to look at her, and Rex Morgan does too. It turns out she’s sixty years older than dirt, but that’s not any specific problem. There’s a backlog to date Zak, but there’s no reason to think her condition needs to date Zak right away. So, cool.

That seems to leave the story becalmed, though. So it’s time to hire a new character. He shows up the 2nd of February. Rex Morgan’s next patient is Andrzej Bobrowski, who’s outlived yet another doctor. So he’s here to let Rex Morgan die. Again, a wonderful disproportionately strong emotion to the scene. Great setup. Bobrowski is in great shape, considering he’s sixty-two years older than dirt. His only problem: the knees he wrecked in his thirty years as a pro wrestler.

Rex Morgan mentions how his wife’s aunt is a huge wrestling fan and will be thrilled to hear about meeting a wrestler. Bobrowski says not to use his real name, since who’d know that? Use his stage name: Count Crushinski. And here’s where the actual plot tokens come into play. June had remembered that Aunt Tildy was, reportedly, once married to someone called The Count. And … wait, no, seriously?

Rex: 'You wrestled as a character called The Count?' Bobrowski: 'Couch Crushinski, yes. Ridiculous name, but it sold tickets.' Rex: 'You wouldn't happen to have known a woman named Tildy, would you?' Bobrowski: 'I was MARRIED to a woman named Tildy! Why do you ask?'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 8th of February, 2020. “Hey, don’t talk to me about Count Crushinski being a funny name. I’ve been dining out on ‘Rex Morgan’ for maybe seventy years if we ignore that weird retcon?”

Well, I didn’t see it coming, but in my defense we only knew Bobrowski was a wrestler for like three days before the revelation. Further revelations: Bobrowski regrets how he threw away his relationship with Tildy. He was unfaithful, she divorced him for that, and she was right to do so.

Still, he’d like the chance to apologize to her. Rex Morgan is glad to sound her out, possibly because he figures this is the easiest way to get Aunt Tildy out of his strip. Aunt Tildy, hearing that Bobrowski was there, calls him a rat, a stinker, a jerk, and a cheater. But she is interested that Bobrowski owned up to being wrong, and wanted to make amends. And, you know, it takes courage to reach out to someone you’ve hurt, and takes courage to admit your own screw-ups. It’s good to have courageous people in your world.

Aunt Tildy: 'You really want me back, Andrzej?' Bobrowski: 'More than anything, Tildy.' Tildy: 'Hmm ... let's see about that.' (They kiss.)
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 7th of March, 2020. So, you know? Seeing him? Sure. Kissing him? All right. Dating him again? Yes, worth a try. I wouldn’t move in with him right away, but Tildy is comfortable with shrugging and leaving again if it doesn’t work out. I understand there are people comfortable living like this. I am not one of them.

So she agrees to see him. It’s hesitant, for a bit, but … you know, it goes well. In a couple hours Aunt Tildy’s packing her bags, moving out of the comic strip and into Bobrowski’s place. Soon, she’s managing Bobrowski’s autograph-signing sessions. Rex Morgan can get back to buying pulp magazines and not wanting to talk to people. Anyway, I’m sure we’ll check back in on them when the next Gathering of the Juggalos happens, and aren’t you dying to see Rex Morgan in that crowd?


The 22nd of March I’m going to declare the start of the current storyline. But we saw the handoff more gradually, revisiting seeing (from the 17th) Buck Wise and Hank Harwood. Buck is off to see roots country performer Truck Tyler play. He never misses Tyler when he’s in town, and Tyler remembers him.

Tyler’s doing the show on his own, no band. This was mentioned in a daily strip (the 27th, Buck talking with Truck) and a Sunday strip (the 29th, Buck talking with a different friend). So that sure looks like it’s a something. We’ll know, if anything goes to plan, by June 2020.

Next Week!

How did the struggle between Alexa “Alexa” Watson and Chris “Schuring” Schuring” for valedictorian turn out? And will we see the storyline about high school sports cut short by the Covid-19 epidemic? Probably not by next week, but, I’ll be reviewing
what’s going on in Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp soon.
Thanks for reading.