My thoughts while emptying the fish tank we don’t need downstairs


Water siphons. You put a tube in a water tank, lift one end up until it flows out the other end. Then drop that end into the water, and water just keeps on flowing out. How does that work? There is no explanation for how the water got out of the tank. Maybe advanced evaporation, helped by the water feeling I’d gone to so much trouble to get it out that it would cause a scene if it stuck around. Anyway I’ll take no answers about how siphoning water works, since it can’t possibly work is how.


(Be right back, putting on dry socks.)

60s Popeye: neat meet with the Track Meet Cheat


… I’m a little surprised that wasn’t the actual title of this short. We’re back to Larry Harmon productions for the cartoon this week. It’s another short directed by Paul Fennell, with story by Charles Shows. Let’s take a moment to watch Track Meet Cheat. The moment takes about five and a half minutes, with credits.

So the cartoon is animated as I’d expect from the future Filmation team. The characters are angular; Brutus is almost a triangle. The movement well-defined or stiff, depending on how good a mood you’re in. The story is … now that’s interesting.

If you watch this when you’re seven years old, or if you watch it while distracted, the story makes good solid sense. Brutus is showing off at the extremely thin stadium. Popeye has enough of this, and challenges him to the track-and-field events. Popeye does great but Brutus cheats until Popeye has enough, spinach, fight, triumph, end.

The thing is that’s not quite what we see. Like, Brutus is showing off, yeah, but he’s also there to put on a show. If we take his ballyhoo in earnest, he is setting world records. And we don’t actually see Popeye challenge him, nor Brutus accept the challenge. If we didn’t know the series we could see this as a relentless heckler spoiling the show. Connective tissue is missing.

It’s not just skipped steps in setting up the story. There are anomalies in motivation all over. For example, in tossing the ball-and-chain, Brutus makes a good impressive throw. Then he runs out and catches it. It’s an impressive stunt, but it spoils the throw as an athletic performance. Popeye does a high jump by tying balloons to himself; how is that supposed to impress the judges? Brutus hands Popeye a bomb, which explodes, and then Brutus wonders where the guy he just blew up went. Why?

Picture of Brutus looking up, nervous, and holding a small consumer-grade circa 1960 camera.
Brutus looks like he’s only now realizing the horror that setting a bomb in Popeye’s hand would actually be. That or he’s sorry he doesn’t have a Polaroid.

If you’re a kid watching this, there’s no trouble. These things just happen because it makes sense for the scene. You know Brutus and Popeye act like this because that’s what they’re doing. If you watch while distracted there’s no problem. You, having learned how narratives work, imagine a connective tissue that makes sense. There’s a hole that swallows up Popeye’s pole, when he tries to vault? Brutus probably dug that to sabotage his opponent.

So there’s a curious anomaly here. The cartoon makes perfect sense, unless you’re an adult paying attention to it.

I’m not saying it’s bad. The stunts are nice, many of the jokes work for me. I love any chance for Popeye to do that angry chimney-puffing on his pipe. Wimpy hawking spinach burgers is a more interesting way to get the spinach than just pulling out a can would be. Wimpy not wanting anyone to actually eat the spinach burgers makes his participation an existentialist absurdity. Or just painting a joke onto an already non-sequitur plot element. It’s just a cartoon that works better if you don’t scrutinize it.

Statistics Saturday: King Kong, Perception vs Reality


King Kong perception: Tiny sliver: boring stuff in 30s nasal voices. Good-size wedge: Fay Wray tied to that giant wall. Enormous wedge: King Kong fighting airplanes atop the Empire State Building. Good-size wedge: Twas Beauty killed the Beast. King Kong Reality: one-third of the pie, 'OK the *characters* are racist but the *move* presents the Islands acting sensibly with respect and even sympathy for their needs and ... oh yeah, the Ship's Cook. Oof.' Nearly all the rest: 'King Kong fighting dinosaurs! Lots and lots of freaking dinosaurs!' Tiny wedge: 'Empire State Building, airplanes, Twas Beauty, Etc.'
Not pictured: that guy who falls in love with Fay Wray’s character and I guess she loves him back because even as you stare at him you focus on all the people with personalities around him.

Reference: Something New Under the Sun: satellites and the beginning of the Space Age, Helen Gavaghan. Bonus fun fact according to Gavaghan: for a while in the mid-50s rocket designers talked about something that could launch to earth orbit as an “LP rocket”.

Meanwhile in music


We had just left the satellite-radio music channel running, and then looked up at each other when we heard it playing Entry of the Gladiators, you know, the Clown March. As if one person we demanded to know what prog rock band was pulling these shenanigans. “Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, you sit down and think about what you’ve done,” I was starting to say. Anyway it was Three Dog Night, The Show Must Go On, but I think our vague and pointless indignation stands.

How Things Are Going


Generally, terrible. They’re all on some kind of hyperfire where every part of the fire is exactly the same vastness of fire. But that is a general matter. Specific things may be less awful. Let’s review some of them .

Weather. It’s now at the right temperature where you can dress so you’re too hot, or are too cool. There’s no combination of clothes you have that will let things feel all right. This awkwardness will continue through Saturday, and over Sunday will give way to modest embarrassment with scattered clumsiness and afternoon to evening thundermeekness.

Yellow things. Yellow things need no attention and are fine as they are.

Vocabulary. The use of the word ‘coruscate’ around you has been steadily increasing. Consult the masses of people lined up outside your door to say it. Yes, this action is doing nothing to convince you it is an actual word. Why they’re doing this is a mystery. It’s not like we think you’re responsible for the word, so don’t go worrying about that We apologize for the inconvenience but can’t think of anything to do about it.

The Capital of Montana. The capital of Montana remains missing. It was last seen approximately five months ago, when it was photographed during a school trip. Now the capital is nowhere to be found and the schools are a bit wobbly too. The school thought the trip was successful and the capital was showing an interest in kickball. Those with leads are asked to call the governor anonymously. The capital was an ‘M’.

Green things. Green things need to be less yellow-y so as to not need attention.

Haunting Odd Behavior By Co-workers. Yes, your co-worker has responded to how you end the late-morning chat by saying “hope you enjoy your lunch” with the answer, “isn’t that the truth!”. It seems like that thing where you give the correct response for the wrong prompt, but they have done it three times in the past two weeks. Their hearty laugh shows they’re enjoying it, at least. Maybe they have wicked plans for lunch? Maybe they eat ironically? Maybe they’ve transcended meals wholly, and exists on giving co-workers a vague despair? But then why are they doing it in these times?

USB. We are still doing that thing where there are about 48 different shapes of USB plugs. We’ve stopped that thing where some of them are called mini USB and others are mini-B USB and some are micro and some are -C and some are -A and all that. Now they are all simply USB 3.0, except those that are 3.1. Some of them are called Thunderbolt or Firewire or Lightning Loops or Superdooperlooper or Batman: The Ride. We have no idea why anyone puts up with this.

Purple things. They’re just overdoing it because they want the attention. Pay them no heed.

Spelling (Non-Vocabulary Division). In the past week alone I have created by typo the words “touside” and “lightnight”. Both words deserve to be things and I will leave it to you to complete the rest of the work. I feel like “touside” should be a chipper sort of slang said in a slightly dangerous part of town, but will leave that up to other parties. It’s important no one person do everything. “Thundermeekness” is a fun word too, but its uses have obvious limits. I also composed “trea”, but that one could use some work.

General Cleanliness. Somehow the keyboard keeps getting fragmentary Cheez-Its lodged between letters, most often in the bit between the ‘f’ and ‘g’ which stare out accusingly at your housekeeping. There haven’t been any Cheez-Its near the keyboard ever. Logical explanations are needed, and there are none.

Heeding things. Earning two and a quarter percent; some restrictions apply.

Comic strips. That one Far Side from 1987 that you weren’t getting? The joke is that ‘Al Tilley, the bum’ sounds a lot like ‘Atilla the hun’. Now nights when you really need to sleep you can lie awake wondering about this Calvin and Hobbes from 1992, and whether it is ‘lie’ or ‘lay’.

Your Blogging Site. Is still encouraging you to try their new post editor, as if you were a big enough fool to try that. The only good version of anything computer-based is the second design they published after you started using the thing, and everything since then has been this somehow water-y thing where you can’t do the one simple task you always do.

I hope this has relieved some of your anxieties, but know it has not.

What’s Going On In Rex Morgan, M.D.? Is Rex Morgan really not doing a pandemic story? March – June 2020


Yes: Rex Morgan, M.D., is not doing a Covid-19 plot. Its writer and artist, Terry Beatty, chose this. A story strip like this, with Sundays tied in to weekly publication, needs about two months’ lead time. Beatty did not think he could write a medical story that could plausibly track whatever happened by publication.

I also imagine that when they reopen Comic Strip Master Command he will be stabbing the Judge Parker team in the kidneys. But, there, Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley took on an incredible emergency workload, throwing out a story to replace it with a pandemic one. And they don’t have to write a medical story; their focus is people whose lives stopped.

While I understand Beatty’s reasoning, I’m not sure it’s the decision I would make. It’s not as though anyone expects Rex Morgan and June Morgan to find a vaccine. Stories of them pressed into the longest work they’ve done would seem enough. Even if they were “merely” taking over the caseloads of doctors and nurses put on Covid-19 duty, I’d think the strip would better fit the role cast for it. Still, I trust that Beatty knows his workload and how to manage it.

I’m writing this recap in middle June 2020. If you’re reading this after about September 2020, if there is a September 2020, I’ll likely have a more up-to-date plot recap at this link. It’ll also have any news about the strip that seems worth my mentioning. Now to the story.

Rex Morgan, M.D..

29 March – 21 June 2020

Buck Wise was off to see Truck Tyler’s concert, last we looked in. Tyler’s a roots country player and he’s touring without a band, just himself and his guitar. Also his scratchy throat. He has to switch to instrumentals, and even cut the show a bit short. Wise checks in on Tyler, who knows him, and finds him coughing up a lung. Tyler says it’s a cold and asks Wise to handle the merch table while he recovers. Sure thing. Wise passes him his card, in case he wants a doctor in town.

Nick's Diner, offering 'Zippy Service!' Waitress: 'Hot tea with lemon, as requested. Here's some honey for your tea if you like, might help soothe that sore throat and cough you're fighting.' Truck Tyler: 'Thanks. I sure appreciate it.' Waitress: 'Your eggs and hash browns will be up in just a minute.' Tyler: 'Sounds good. [ Coughs ]' Waitress: 'You don't, though. You really ought to see somebody about that cough.' Tyle: 'You're probably right.' [ He coughs a few more times, and thinks, and looks at 'Buck's card. He said I should call. ] Tyler, on the phone: 'Hey, ol' Buckaroo, yeah --- it's Truck Tyler. Listen, about that Doctor you mentioned?'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 19th of April, 2020. The sign promises Zippy Service and Yowaza! Are we having raisin French toast yet?

So you maybe see where this is going. Tyler isn’t touring with a band because he can’t afford it. He can’t even afford a hotel room; he sleeps in his car in the bar’s parking lot. And he’s sick. So he’s living the American dream: choose medically-induced bankruptcy or unemployment-induced bankruptcy. Overnight his cough gets so bad that he seeks medical care, or at least Rex Morgan.

This all happened, for us readers, in late April. Given that his big symptom was coughing nonstop, boy did it seem like a Covid-19 story. No. Truck Tyler had walking pneumonia. He needed antibiotics and complete rest. Which at least avoids medical bankruptcy but still threatens him with unemployment bankruptcy.

Tyler asks Wise for help. And owns up to his poverty. Wise can’t put him up in his own home; they have a baby. But he has a friend, Doug, who manages a motel when he’s not Griffy from Zippy the Pinhead. The motel always has some extra rooms, and Doug’s a fan, so, what the heck, he can have the room for a couple autographs and stuff.

[ On the phone ] Buck Wise: 'How tight is your budget?' Tyler: 'I could cover one or two hotel nights maybe, but then wouldn't have much left over for gas, food, and phone.' Wise: 'Ordinarily I'd be happy to put you up here, but with the baby now I can't risk getting her sick.' Tyler: 'I'm crossing my fingers nobody's caught this off me already. Last thing I want is to share this! [ Coughing ]' Wise: 'Let me check something and get back to you.' Tyler: 'Sure'. Wise, texting, and thinking: 'Ok, Doug, are you around?' Doug, managing a motel, reads. Wise is asking for a favor for Tyler: 'He's sick and needs to crash for at least a couple weeks. Can you comp hi a room at the hotel?' Doug texts back: 'Anything for Truck. We're never full up these days anyhow ... the only payment I want is to sign a bunch of stuff for my collection.' Wise, thinking: 'Autographs. Always with the autographs.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 10th of May, 2020. I would have let the “Zippy Service” joke pass without mention except then we got the motel guy, who could be either Griffy or that guy in the diner that Zippy’s sometimes talking to and whom the Cast of Characters page tells me is Claude Funston. The fact that seeing some resemblance there delights me so will tell you plenty about my sense of humor or maturity.

Meanwhile Wise has an idea about how Tyler’s music income is all derived from his music career. What if they sold Truck Tyler merch online? Tyler doesn’t see how that could work, but Wise listens to podcasts. He knows you can set up web sites. Tyler’s even got a new album almost ready to publish. Wise proposes crowdfunding and Tyler has no idea what this is all about. That’s all right; Wise can set it up for a cut of revenues. Tyler is cool with a friendly person taking a cut of a big new project whose exact details he doesn’t understand. This may give us insight to why, after decades in the music industry, Tyler doesn’t have the cash to stay in a motel for a week. It’s because he joined the part of the industry that makes music. It’s the other side that makes money.

Anyway Wise is enthusiastic and, we readers know, a Good guy. So that’s all great and Tyler can get back to writing some new songs as he finishes recovering. And that, the 30th of May, finishes the Truck Tyler storyline. And the last storyline Beatty wrote before the pandemic smashed up everything.


The 31st of May had the transition page, and Beatty’s explanation about why the comic will not tell a Covid-19 story for now.

Instead they’re doing a flashback: little Sarah Morgan asking how Mom and Dad first met. Rex explains it was when he was first in Glenwood and working at the hospital. One of the older doctors, Dr Dallis (get it?), too him under his wing. What you’re supposed to get is that Rex Morgan, M.D. was created in 1948 by Dr Nicholas P Dallis. The real Dallis was a psychiatrist. He also created Judge Parker and Apartment 3-G.

Rex, telling Sarah his story: 'All this will tie in with how I met your mom, just trust me.' Sarah: 'Of course I trust you, I just think you're taking too long to get to the point.' Rex: 'Patience you must have, my young Padawan.' Sarah: 'You're not Yoda, Dad.' Rex: 'Dr Dallis, one of the older physicians at the hospital, became something of a mentor to me.' Sarah: 'Wait, isn't a mentor the half-man half-bull thing in the Hercules stories?' Rex: 'That's a minotaur, and it was Theseus, not Hercules ... and now you're just messing with me.' Sarah: 'Caught me, Dad. I'm listening, though. Keep going.' Rex: 'Anyhow, Dr Dallis --- ' Sarah: 'Whoa! Hold on. Isn't Michael's middle name Dallis?' Rex: 'Yes, named for this doctor I'm *trying* to tell you about.' Sarah: 'OK. Just wanted to be clear on that detail.' Rex: 'Are you sure you want to hear this, or should we just play with the dog for a while?'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 14th of June, 2020. Mostly I’m including this panel because I like Terry Beatty’s drawing of a minotaur there. I like Rex and his daughter’s hanging-out banter here, but I understand people who think this is a lot of time spent on nothing.

According to Rex, Dallis was planning to retire, and wanted someone to take over his practice. He offered it to Rex Morgan. (This seems abrupt to me, but Rex could be condensing events for Sarah’s sake.) While thinking this over the next day, during his regular run, he bumped right into June. He apologizes, but she calls him a jerk. June disputes having said that out loud.

And that’s the flashback story so far. Do Rex and June get together? If so, how? We’ll see over the next several weeks. But how about for …

Next Week!

Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp? Surely the story strip about high school athletics has adapted to events that shuttered high schools and athletics, right? We’ll see next week, if things go well. Thanks for reading.

A mystery of Brobdingnagian proportions


If you’re like me, again, a thing I don’t recommend, you were amazed to learn there was a movie version of Gulliver’s Travels back in 2010. Yeah! Starred Jack Black and, of course, James Corden and everything. Nobody cared about it, or went to see it, which is why even Jack Black and James Corden are learning about it right now, from this post.

Still, this entails a mystery. Logic tells us that there should have been, somewhere between 2015 and 2018, a somehow more indifferently received sequel. Its name should most likely be Gulliver’s 2ravels. It should star whoever’s the one-tier-lower versions of Jack Black and James Corden. I can find no evidence it exists, though. I’m not saying that all our troubles are caused by this unexplained gap in the popular culture. We should just see if maybe that’s a problem and if we could fix it.

60s Popeye: Scairdy Cat


This week’s 60s Popeye cartoon is another one made by Paramount/Famous Studios. For a change, Jack Mercer doesn’t have a hand in the story. The story’s by Joseph Gottleib instead. The director is again Seymour Kneitel. So here’s Scairdy Cat.

I may sound like I’m slighting the cartoon to put so little focus on the story. It’s a decently organized story. Brutus finds a potion to induce cowardice in someone, and he sees this as his chance to crush Popeye. Sensible work there. He sprays Popeye with the fear gas, using the chance to throw away Popeye’s spinach. Again, good thinking there, Brutus. And he humiliates Popeye in front of Olive Oyl, which, again, good work. Brutus slamming the door shut causes the spinach can to roll into Popeye’s hands. It makes the structure better tragedy: Brutus causes his own undoing. It does mean Popeye doesn’t really have anything to do with his own story, but that’s all right. The story hangs together sensibly throughout.

What caught my interest was — knowing this was a Famous Studios short — the first scene. The establishing shot of the library. The building itself is rendered in three colors, as I make it out, including the shading used. Granted a library of this vintage might have a marble front, and not need many colors, but that’s still sparse. The whole scene, counting the background, is five. It’s a deeply stylized, UPA-style rendition of the building.

This continues throughout the short. Brutus’s kitchen is a (speckled) mustard yellow surface, with a red quadrilateral for a stovetop and two white rectangles for cabinets and counter. Olive Oyl’s living room is a similar mustard yellow expanse, with a white box, a purple chair and a purple wall hanging in the background. Many of these details are even lineless, or nearly so.

UPA-style rendering of a PUBLIC LIBRARY, a great marble building, done with extremely flat coloring and what look like hand-drawn lines for the steps and columns and windows.
Maybe my librarian friends can help. Would your books that contain actual working witche’s spells to alter people’s moods be in general circulation or would they be in special reserve?

The UPA style, with its flattened shapes and colors and great abstraction of space, isn’t one I cared for as a kid. I liked lush, photorealistic watercolored backgrounds where possible. These days, I better understand the appeal. Not just why animators would want to depict something with as little drawing as possible, but why they’d admire doing that.

Famous Studios was, usually, not a visually inventive studio. It’s easy to read its greatest animation as things left over from Max and Dave Fleischer. For much of their history they drew things in a basic, photo-realistic, functional style. This isn’t a bad thing. I understand the animators wanting, sometimes, to try a stylistic experiment, though.

Famous Studios had done this before. There’s some cartoons from late in the theatrical run of Popeye, such as Parlez-Vous Woo or Spooky Swabs, with a similar style. Later in the 60s the studio would become much more experimental, as animators like Shamus Culhane and Ralph Bakshi were put in charge for short whiles. It’s not that they couldn’t do more innovative work; it’s that they only sometimes took the chance.


And some stray thoughts. Brutus finds the Fear Gas recipe on page 13 of Ye Olde Reliable Witche’s Cook Book. I like the Olde Thyming of that title. Page 13 is the left-hand side of the page. I think that’s an extra subtle joke, mostly because the surplus ‘e’ in Witche’s convinces me they were looking for chances to do that.

Brutus tests the Fear Gas potion on himself. This seems dangerous. If the cartoon had a higher budget he probably would’ve had a cat to test on and send running from a mouse.

When he’s first Fear Gassed, Popeye grows a nice yellow streak up his back. And then the word ‘YELLOW’ appears across in what seems like too similar a shade. But I remember this seemingly-low-contrast color choice reading cleanly enough on the black-and-white TV of my youth. So to sum up, there is no excuse for any web site to have light grey text on a dark grey background.

The Fear Gas works on Popeye, the first time, for only a couple minutes. This doesn’t seem like enough time to make him, as the spell promises, your slave. Or does Popeye just metabolize fear that quickly? I think he might just metabolize fear very quickly.

Statistics Saturday: Days Of The Week The CBS Sunday Night Movie Has Been On


Day of Week Has Hosted the CBS Sunday Night movie?
Sunday Yes (1986-2006, 2020)
Monday No
Tuesday Yes (1972-74, 1986-2000)
Wednesday Yes (1977-81, 1986-2000)
Thursday Yes (1965-75)
Friday Yes (1966-77)
Saturday Yes (1981-86)

Not listed: the CBS Late Movie (1972-89) as it aired outside prime time and I didn’t want to list it.

Reference: Fantasia Mathematica, Clifton Fadiman, Editor.

A bit more to help you gauge my intelligence level


Me, from the middle of March through this past week: You know, it’s weird that the remote-login system I use to get in to the office computers has been this sluggish ever since the pandemic and everybody else having to work from home too. I wonder what’s changed.

Anyway we bought a new router for our house so I’m sure this will fix everything.

A Follow-Up Thought


I got to thinking about a particular 1982 installment of the comic strip Frank and Ernest. If you’re wondering why I was thinking about a particular 1982 installment of the comic strip Frank and Ernest? Then, hi there. It’s nice to meet you for the first time ever. In your journey to someday not interacting with me anymore you’ll find I have thoughts like, “is there a 4X-style game to be made out of the story of time zones?”. Or, “are there any good pop-history books about the origins of standardized paper? How about bricks?”. Maybe, “who was the first person to propose the flush being a valuable hand in poker, and how did they convince other people to agree?”. This is why I have two friends who’ve put up with me for longer than ten years, and one of them is my wife.

Anyway the particular Frank and Ernest had them walking past a movie theater, remarking how there was already a sequel to the heartwarming summer sci-fi blockbuster: ETC. This strip I remember annoyed me. I somehow knew that Steven Spielberg had declared there would never be a sequel to E.T. You might think this is a reason they treated me like that in middle school, but, no. I wasn’t yet in middle school. This was a warning sign that they would treat me like that.

But you know why that particular strip is seared into my memory? Other than that I have the sort of memory that latches onto, say, the theme song to the 1984 sitcom It’s Your Move starring Jason Bateman and Garrett Morris? It’s because this comic got used as a project in school. We were assigned the task of writing titles for a sequel to E.T. even though, as noted, I was aware there would never be such a thing. I don’t remember that we were being graded on quality or quantity of titles. I do remember getting competitive about it. Also, please remember that this was 1982. While it was not literally impossible, it would be difficult for any of us to submit E.T. II: The Secret Of Curly’s Ooze. I want to say I got up into sixty-plus sequel titles before running out of ideas. I also want to not say I got up into sixty-plus sequel titles. It is thoroughly daft to have come up with sixty-plus possible sequel titles for E.T., even under the direction of a teacher.

It’s one of the most baffling school experiences I remember. It’s up there with the time they took us to the Garden State Arts Center and instructed us to clap with our hands cupped. I think we were also there to have music played at us, but I remember the clapping instruction.

But one further reason I remember this so well is that this was no ordinary class project that got us writing out imaginary E.T. sequel titles. This was something we did for the school district’s magnet program for gifted students. The Education Through Challenge program. You see how we had to think about this Frank and Ernest. The program had the educational philosophy that students who test well should do things for school that are fun and creative and maybe a bit weird. Everyone else can … I don’t know. I would say diagram sentences, except I thought that was fun too. If that hasn’t shaken you off knowing me I don’t know what will. Also I guess we had days the teachers didn’t feel up to challenges.

What the program mostly did, though, was take a couple students from each grade and from each school in the district, and bus them to a different school for a half-day each week. You can see why I clung to participation in this program. Who would turn down a built-in field trip every week of the school year? It gets better: the last year and a half I was there, they didn’t take us to a different school in use in the district. They took us to a whole separate school that was completely closed except for administration needs and our program. That’s right. I was part of an elite cadre of students who once a week got to go to school in an ex-school and, one time, do a list-writing project based on Frank and Ernest.

This is the value of a good education. It gives you thoughts to enrich the rest of your days.

In July 1982 E.T.‘s director Steven Spielberg and writer Melissa Mathison wrote a treatment for E.T. II: Nocturnal Fears.

On the bellies of dragons


I was reading the IMDB page about Disney’s 1941 movie The Reluctant Dragon and found this trivia:

Portions of this film had to be redone because of objections by the Hays Office. The dragon was originally drawn with a navel which had to removed before the film could be passed.

Now I wish to believe the Hayes Office was sending many snippy letters explaining that as dragons hatch from eggs they have no biological need for belly buttons. And the Disney Office writing back that dragons are made up and can have belly buttons if we choose. I want to think they were arguing, by typewriter, for months. I decide to believe Ward Kimball sent the Hayes Office a most sarcastic drawing of a dragon mom nursing dragon toddlers. I choose to believe that the great-grandchildren of the people in this dispute are still angry at the other side. I shall not be accepting any evidence to the contrary. Thank you.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Sundays)? What was The Phantom doing at Trafalgar? March – June 2020


Well, he had some friends who were going to be there. So, I’m happy to help you catch up with Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom, Sunday continuity. If you’re reading this after about September 2020? If you’re interested in the separate weekday continuity? I may have a more up-to-date plot recap at this link. Though I admit, right now, I don’t know what’s going on with the current dailies storyline. I know the Phantom getting berated by his father for sending Kit Junior off to a monastery in China. We have to read what comes next.

The Phantom (Sundays).

29 March – 14 June 2020

The 21st Phantom was telling Heloise a story of the 13th Phantom. It’s about George Bass. In history, Bass and his brig Venus disappeared after February 1803, on a voyage from Australia to Tahiti. The Phantom explains how Bass teamed up with the 13th Phantom. Bass then turned the Venus to a spy ship dubbed El Sol, sailing the Mediterranean under false flags. This to support the United Kingdom’s War of the Third Coalition against Napoleon.

Phantom, reading: 'George Bass and the 13th Phantom rowed into the heart of the English fleet.' Heloise: 'Dad, I think I know! George Bass had discovered where the French and Spanish fleets were anchored!' Phantom: 'For two years he'd been presumed lost at sea in the South Pacific. Or perhaps he and his crew had been enslaved in the Spanish silver mines of South America.' Heloise: 'He made himself disappear ... so he could go spying in the South Atlantic and the Mediterranean!' Phantom: 'His years of clandestine work came to fruition in October 1805 ... ' Panel showing Bass and The Phantom rowing a longboat up to an enormous ship. Bass: 'There she is, Walker ... HMS Victory!'
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 5th of April, 2020. Lost at sea, possibly enslaved, are what history records as the likely fate for Bass and his crew. Anyway, uh … so, the 13th Phantom was active in 1805, and the current, 21st, Phantom is the one we’ve been following since the strip started in 1936 so the 19th Century was really bad for Ghosts Who Walk. Like, “13th Century Pope” bad. Yet the 20th Century was surprisingly gentle. (I am happy to suppose the current Phantom isn’t actually old enough to be in Gasoline Alley and his whole career has been “the last couple decades” as of publication.)

Bass has, in his voyages, found useful intelligence for Admiral Nelson and the British fleet. And he communicates that. I’m not sure what the intelligence is. Heloise surmises that it was the locations of the French and Spanish fleets. I’m not sure this was particularly what Nelson had needed. But I’m also not sure what Bass could plausibly offer. 1805 naval warfare espionage involves a lot of technical points challenging to communicate in a Sunday strip, after all. And it would have to be points that could have been recorded by the 13th Phantom. So, likely best to leave it as Heloise’s guess and move on with the story.

Long story short, France loses Trafalgar. Bass and his crew celebrate, confident that whatever happens now, Britain is safe from invasion. Bass can plan to go back to Australia and think up a cover story for where he’d been for two years. That night, though, we see Carter, fuming about royalist spies. We had last seen him lurking around after Bass and Phantom, ashore for no good reason. It turns out the person they thought was acting all suspiciously? He was up to no good. He and some minions knocked out the watch officer, raised the French flag on the Venus, and got into a swordfight with the Phantom of 1805.

The Phantom, recounting the attack on Bass's ship: 'The men of the El Sol were slaughtered by English cannon fire ... her masts toppled ... her hull shattered ... timbers were blasted into deadly storms of splintered wood. Dead and dying men went into the sea, entangled in the rigging, their fates certain. Where the El Sol had been moments earlier, a debris field rose and fell on the night sea.'
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 31st of May, 2020. This by the way is why they didn’t want brigs at the Battle. (There were two brigs attached to the French fleet, but they weren’t part of the action, and both escaped.)

The Phantom can stab Carter easily. Not so easy to deal with: the Royal Navy ships shooting at what they take to be a straggler French ship. Bass’s crew can’t strike the flag fast enough. The ship’s quickly destroyed. Bass and the 13th Phantom survive, clinging to debris. They make it to some shore, Bass blinded and apparently not recognizing anything. The Phantom promises they have a long journey, to the Deep Woods. Given the location Bass and 13th Phantom have to be either in southern Spain or Morocco. It’s not clear where the Deep Woods are, but that’s quite the hike for two shipwrecked men with nothing but the contents of their pockets. We’ll see how that all develops.

Next Week!

How is Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D., the most medically-themed comic strip in (United States newspaper syndication) history, addressing the biggest public health disaster in 102 years? The answer may surprise you! See you then.

To help you judge my intelligence


I am 47 years old. I have two post-graduate degrees in mathematics. I have ridden over 250 different roller coasters. And it was only this past Friday that I tumbled on to how Nightmare, the Ghost Horse and friend to Casper the Friendly Ghost, is female. And not by deductive methods such as, like, reading her name. I had to have it explained to me by the Casper the Friendly Ghost wiki. So, you know, I’m a deep thinker. And somehow, even though Harvey Comics were pretty good about having a important female characters, supporting and lead, I thought, “well, this horse doesn’t have a bow in her hair and long eyelashes and a skirt, must be a boy!” and stopped there for four decades.

60s Popeye: Popeye’s Trojan Horse and what it can teach us


Popeye’s Trojan Horse is another Jack Kinney cartoon. Story by Ed Nofziger. The director’s Ken Hultgren, whom so far we’ve only seen in Jingle Jangle Jungle, another Nofziger story. Let’s watch.

This is framed, again, as a tell-me-a-story cartoon. Ed Nofziger did something similar with Little Olive Riding Hood and Hamburger Fishing. Why is there a frame, though? A frame lets you put the characters in a weird position without explaining why, but, is that needed? At least for Popeye? Do we get anything that wouldn’t be served by Jackson Beck narrating that “this story takes place in the time of the Ancient Greeks”? Do we need any explanation for the weirdness? Nofziger’s Swee’Pea Through The Looking Glass just let the action “really” happen, for example.

There is something having Popeye and Swee’Pea as frame offers, though. A bit of it was done in Hamburger Fishing. They can comment on the story. Several times over the action pauses so that Swee’Pea can snark about the action. I’m interested in the choice. It offers some story benefits. Popeye declaring “then, they went and — ” is as good a transition as you need to let anything happen. Stock footage of Popeye and Swee’Pea talking saves the animation budget, too.

Trojan horse, that resembles Gumby's pal Pokey, kicking its hindleg at a castle's tower. Brutus is atop the tower waving his hand angrily.
So one of the fun things I did instead of useful stuff this week was look up historical interpretations of the Trojan Horse. It’s fascinating, really, that we stay interested in a story about people so foolish that they would invite death into their homes — strangling the person who correctly warns them of the danger — because it was so very pleasant to imagine that the destruction so imminent for so long had just … gone away. Also I love that the pose here so clearly reads as Brutus demanding the Horse quit that, and the Horse acting all innocent, like, “Quit what?”

Having the characters watch and snark on a story is part of a respectable enough tradition too. It runs loosely from the Greek Chorus through, like, that bit in A Midsummer Night’s Dream where Hippolyta and all can not believe Nick Bottom’s play, to Rocky and Bullwinkle and The Muppet Show and their many influences. (Mystery Science Theater 3000 is near but just outside this lineage, for my purposes. I’m looking at texts that contain their own riffing. MST3K depends on adding jokes to something by a different writer.) When it’s done well, it adds to a story you were already interested in, often with commentary about the artifice of story and the demands of narrative logic. When it’s done badly, it’s any of those Pearls Before Swine strips that are seven panels filled wall-to-wall with text for a pun, followed by the characters insulting the cartoonist for writing that.

So a thing about Popeye is he’s always been kind of self-riffing. The definitive thing about the Fleischer Studios character is his mumbled, improvisational jokes about the story. This self-aware tradition faded, but never left the character. When Brutus asks “what is this?” and Spartan Popeye punches him, then says, “This horse is a gift, o Prince! … Never look a gift horse in the mouth!”, it’s not a strange moment. It’s completely in-character.

Does it add anything for Swee’pea to comment that “history was never like this”? I’m not sure. The Trojan Horse story does well at being absurd. But I try to remember what I thought as a kid, among the intended audience for this. Did I register that it was absurd for Trojan Brutus to be huddling up in a Generic Medieval Castle complete with moat and drawbridge? I think I registered it was weird there was a sawfish in the moat. Shouldn’t that be alligators or at least sharks? But a castle right out of my Fisher-Price Play Family Castle #993 set? I don’t remember that registering. Swee’Pea’s line may be more than just the writer worrying there’s a space for a joke here.

Popeye riding through the sea on the back of a large shiny grey dolphin; both have smug grins on their face.
Additionally, I am delighted that Popeye got a pool toy from the Tuesday Morning store to swim him to Troy!

Given that we have a frame, though, it saw good use. Each of the cuts back to Popeye and Swee’Pea comes at a reasonable moment, and gets a decent joke. The main storyline goes along at a good pace. I like Popeye’s Trojan Horse being built with several modes including “buck”. All I wonder is why Spartan Popeye wanted his horse to look like Gumpy’s pal Pokey?

Statistics Saturday: The Doors You Have


Pie chart of doors; about half of them are cabinet doors. A quarter each are car doors and, you know, DOOR doors. Smaller slices are refrigerator doors, oven doors, and the garage door. One slice is that weird door for the storage space that's too much effort to use. A tiny slice is door prizes.
Not listed: the door of that onetime post-office-box that you got and use as a coin bank because you haven’t even thought of that one since we stopped using cash back the 16th of March.

Garage doors listed by area, not necessarily count.

Reference: Dictionary of Minor Planet Names, Lutz D Schmadel.

Why I can no longer go on the Star Trek forum


Listen, if Early Grey were Captain Picard’s favorite tea, then that would be his default setting for “tea”. That he orders “Earl Grey” means he must most often have something else. No matter how much we like our favorite we sometimes want something different and it so happens that we the viewers just happen to keep catching him when he is not having his actual favorite tea.

Since he also specifies “hot” I conclude ordinarily Picard enjoys iced tea. I bet it’s with a three-parts-sugar-to-one-part-tea ratio.

Anyway I have forgotten my password. It was “one one A, two B”.

Everything there is to say about the creation and use of tools by rooks


Animal researchers were surprised in the last couple years to learn that rooks will make and use tools. Here I mean humans who research animals. The animals researching people were surprised that this was surprising. I don’t know what the people who research animals who research people were surprised by. I can’t take all that much surprise, not in a single sentence.

The thing to remember here is that the rooks are birds. These are variant models of the crow, with a moonroof and power aelerons, not the chess pieces. These are often confused, what with how surprising and confusing a time it’s been. Also with how many of them are members of the International Federation of Chess-Playing Animals, an organization that’s properly known in French by basically the same words in a different order. In the wild, rooks actually don’t depend much on rooks. They play much more on bishops, which leaves them vulnerable to badgers, who like the little horseys. “How are we losing to you?” cry out the rooks. “You call them `little horseys’!” Chess is, as the immortal plumber says, a game of deep strategy.

The thing I don’t know is how anybody can be the least surprised by animals making and using tools. Yes, we used to think humans were the only people who made and used tools. But that came to an end with the historic ruling in 1996 that animal researchers — again, the humans doing the researching of animals — were allowed to sometimes look at the animals they were researching. It made for exciting times in the animal-research (by humans) journals. Top-tier journals published breakthroughs like “Kangaroos not actually large mice”, “Mother opossum just, like, wearing a coat of babies”, “Mice not actually tiny kangaroos”, “Is that red squirrel yelling at me?”, “Medium-Size kangaroos or mice just nature being difficult”, and “Look how happy this mouse is eating raw pasta!”.

Today we should understand that basically any animal that can get one will use tools. The only unique part about humans is when we get a tool we’ll feel guilty for not filling out the warranty registration. In our defense, filling it out requires dealing with a web site, and those haven’t been any good since 2012. Also they want to be allowed to send you push notifications, so that anytime, day or night, you might be interrupted a fast-breaking update on the biscuit-joiner situation. It’s a great way to get out of a dull conversation, yes. “I’m sorry, I have to take this, it’s Milwaukee Sawzall telling me about a clamp meter” is a socially acceptable pass out of any interaction. “It’s of much greater precision!” will get you out of the next conversation, too.

Meanwhile we see animal tool use all over the place. Nearly two-thirds of all Craftsman tools sold in the 2010s were bought by tree-dwelling mammals of 18 inches or less in length. Nearly the whole world’s supply of rotary sanders have been obtained by squirrels. We don’t know what they’re doing with them, but we do notice the red squirrels spending less time yelling and more time rubbing their paws together while grinning. And this all does help us distinguish the smaller squirrels from chipmunks, who prefer belt sanders. See a Miter saw in the wild? There’s a badger no more than 25 feet away. Nobody knows how raccoons got wood routers, but it is why they’re just everywhere on the Wood Internet.

And animals have done much to give us tools. The inclined plane, for example, was nothing more than an incline before sea turtles thought to match it to the plane. They didn’t even realize they were creating a useful tool. They just hoped to advance to being sea-saw turtles, and did. The monkey wrench, as you’d expect from the name, was not invented by a monkey. It was a team of four monkeys working long hours for a period of ten years, at the end of which they had produced the works of Shakespeare, which they had been reading during breaks. Nobody knows how wrenches got into the matter.

Having said all that, now I’m wondering whether the animal researchers were confused between the chess rooks and the bird rooks. Wouldn’t it be just like life if they had meant to study the chess pieces and got onto birds by mistake?

Everything you need to know to understand me as a writer


Me, reading something snarky I wrote years ago: Oh. Oh, gosh, that’s unfortunate and not really pleasant at all. Ouch. I hope nobody’s still reading that.

Me, writing something snarky just today: But this will be great!

What’s Going On In Mary Worth? Why does Saul Wynter have a teenage daughter? March – June 2020


She is not Saul Wynter’s daughter. She’s just watching her for a guy he kind of knows. You might need more to catch up on Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth. This essay should get you to mid-June 2020. If you’re reading this after about September 2020 there’s probably a more up-to-date plot recap at this link, along with any news I have about the comic. And in the meanwhile, I look at mathematically-themed comic strips on my other blog. And now, let’s catch up.

Mary Worth.

16 March – 7 June 2020

Dawn Weston had been long-distance dating Hugo Lambert du Vichyssoise sur l’écureuil, quelque cherchez de la plume verte, Bureau des Passeports. He’s a preposterous, proud Frenchman. You may know him from turning every conversation, including those about neodymium, around to the greatness of France. Thing is, France is pretty far away. And right on hand is Jared Mylo. She knew him from a summer job. He’s a tolerable enough nerd. They go to movies and diners together.

[ When Jared impulsively kisses Dawn ] Dawn pulls back. Jared: 'Dawn, I'm sorry! I'm in love with you!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 23rd of March, 2020. Crow T Robot: “That’s all right, I’m sorry you’re in love with me too!”

Dawn and Jared hang out, more and more. And it starts to get Serious. At least, Jared does, moving in for a kiss and confessing his love. And Dawn admits she’s fallen for him. So that all sounds nice and great for them. What about Hugo?

Things brings Mary Worth back into the strip for a session of “What’s wrong with you, Dawn?” She tells Dawn she has to be honest with Hugo and Jared, which, I agree with. What I’m vague on here is why she has to make a particular decision. Not that I am suggesting a polycule in the hallowed pages of Mary Worth. I’ve seen many once-absurd things become acceptable in my time; heck, in the last two weeks. But I know there are limits. No, I mean, as far as I can tell, Dawn’s dating two guys, and she hasn’t made any promises of exclusivity to either. If Hugo or Jared don’t insist on an exclusive dating relationship, then, why decide now? Let it roll. See who you like after having a fourth date.

Luckily, Dawn has the chance for a date with Hugo. His company wants him in New York for a week, and she’s free, what with her … just … I think she’s in college? Oh, I guess she manages it during Spring Break. Also, yeah, Mary Worth is using the “let’s pretend the pandemic isn’t happening” approach to handling the biggest and most society-changing event of the millennium so far. So far all the story comics except Judge Parker are carrying on as though things were normal. Yes, this includes Rex Morgan, M.D., and yes, that’s daft.

[ As Dawn and Hugo sightsee in New York City ] They walk along a boulevard, past a Star Wars shop that Dawn's interested in and Hugo is not. At a restaurant Hugo declares, 'Good bouillabaisse, but NOT as good as in Marseille!' At Hamilton, Dawn thinks, 'I'm in an amazing city with a handsome, sophisticated man ... why aren't I happy?'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 19th of April, 2020. It’s a good question. Who wouldn’t be happy going to a performance of Hamilton and being seated right next to the late Ed Wynn? I’d worry that Dawn doesn’t know how to be happy.

Dawn agrees to meet Hugo in New York City, though. She tells Jared that she needs to talk with Hugo face-to-face. Jared, with reason, worries that she’ll never leave Hugo after seeing him in person again. Hugo and Dawn have a fine time in New York City, going around looking at stuff. “Oh, your Empire State Building is fine, but we have a much nicer Empire State Building in Lyons.” “Coney Island is thrilling for those who can’t visit Festyland in Normandy.” As he explains how Paris has a much nicer Statue of Liberty Dawn realizes she’d have more fun with Jared.

So she owns up, admitting her feelings for Jared. And Hugo takes it great. He’s got feeling for someone else, Chloe whom we the readers saw implied months ago. Of course they can still be friends. And he’d still like her to visit him in Paris this summer. Bring Jared along. Dawn is so happy to be let off the hook she doesn’t wonder when Hugo was going to mention he was dating someone else. Of course not; Hugo made up Chloe on the spot to give Dawn a graceful way out of their relationship. He’s just that French, you know? (This means nothing and I’m making up that Chloe was made-up.)

Dawn flies home. She doesn’t think to tell Jared that she broke up with Hugo. To be fair, to tell him would need her to have some means of rapidly communicating with people a great distance away. So Jared spends a week in suspense while we readers wonder, like, Dawn couldn’t text “can’t wait to see you in seven hours”? I never turn my phone on and I haven’t answered an e-mail since 2014 and I’m better than that.

[ As Jared wonders ] Jared, wondering 'You said you have feelings for me. Now that you've seen Hugo again, does that still hold true?' [ Dawn boards her plane to return to Santa Royale ] Dawn does as described.
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 5th of May, 2020. Jared, thinking: “Without Dawn even my hobby of piling up small flat-screen TVs brings me no joy!”

So that’s all sorted by the 15th of May. The 16th of May starts the traditional stretch of thanking Mary Worth for her Tuxedo Mask-esque contribution to the story. Dr Jeff takes the lead. But then Dawn comes around to say how she was right to pick Jared over Hugo. I disagree, myself. Jared’s pleasant enough but Hugo has a nice home-grown cartoonishness that makes him fun to play off. Dawn talks about how she felt about having feelings for a long while. And she talks about Jared’s good qualities long enough to make us ask who she’s trying to convince. But she finally gets that out of her system by the 31st of May.


The start of June starts the new story. It’s about Saul Wynter, delightfully cranky old man with a young dog Mary Worth made him get. His cousin, who I bet has a name, has died. Her bereaved husband Lyle needs help. The Company is sending him to Venezuela, to take part in a hilariously incompetent coup attempt against Nicolás Maduro. But who’s to look after his kid, Madi, who’s going through the phase of young-teenage life where she looks kind of like she might be in the new Heart of the City?

[ As Saul Wynter talks to his distant relative ... ] Saul: 'My late cousin was like a sister to me before she moved to the midwest.' Lyle, on the phone: 'Her passing has been hard. Especially because my late mother-in-law took care of Madi.' Panel showing Madi, staring at her phone and cursing. Saul: 'How is Madi? I haven't seen her since she was a toddler.'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 3rd of June, 2020. Yes, structural demands — mostly that people who missed a day or two can pick up the plot — require emphasizing that Saul’s cousin has died. But in-universe Saul Wynters has only just learned that she did die. So if you read the dialogue literally it comes out all weird, even though it shouldn’t. That Lyle immediately mentions his “late” mother-in-law, again, needed for in-cluing readers. And any other phrasing comes off as callous (“my dead mother-in-law”) or worsens the wall of text (“mother-in-law took care of Madi until she died”). I’m not sure there is a graceful way out of this other than not reading the strip with hyper-attentive focus and just accepting the conventions of the medium.

So after protestations, Saul Wynter agrees to take in a 13-year-old for summer. Or until Lyle can be exchanged for a Venezuelan spy. Or Venezuela agreeing not to switch oil contract denominations from dollars to euros. I’m looking forward to this story. We’ll see where it goes.

Dubiously Sourced Mary Worth Sunday Panel Quotes!

  • “Your friend is your needs answered.” — Khalil Gibran, 15 March 2020.
  • “Although I may try to describe love, when I experience it, I am speechless.” — Rumi, 22 March 2020.
  • “Rare as is a true love, true friendship is rarer.” — Jean de la Fontaine, 28 March 2020. (Bonus Saturday quote!)
  • “Came but for friendship, and took away love.” — Thomas Moore, 29 March 2020.
  • “Follow your heart and make it your decision.” — Mia Hamm, 5 April 2020.
  • “One thing I want you to understand is if I make a decision, it’s my decision.” — Mike Singletary, 12 April 2020.
  • “Love and doubt have never been on speaking terms.” — Kahlil Gibran, 19 April 2020.
  • “Honesty is the best policy.” — Benjamin Franklin, 26 April 2020.
  • “We must let go of the life we planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.” — Joseph Campbell, 3 May 2020.
  • “Choose your love. Love your choice.” — Thomas S Monson, 10 May 2020.
  • “Familiar acts are beautiful through love.” — Percy Bysshe Shelley, 17 May 2020.
  • “Love is a friendship set to music.” — Joseph Campbell, 24 May 2020.
  • “Love is the only constant, the only reality, and when you accept and understand that you will know it.” — Frank Natale, 31 May 2020.
  • “When something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favor.” — Elon Musk, 7 June 2020. (He didn’t actually say this, but he paid a bunch of money to the person who did in order to take over credit for saying it.)

Next Week!

I’m supposed to have an easy time! See if I have an essay on
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom (Sundays) done more than 45 minutes before deadline!
It’s going to be close.

Regarding the use of Neodymium in the production of bright purple glass


In response to polite inquiries received at this department allow me to say: I do not know how neodymium is used to produce bright purple glass. I assume that it is put into the glass somehow to either create the purple or the brightness. Possibly both. But wouldn’t it be just like the rare-earth metals for the key to be taking out the neodymium as part of the glass-making process? Anyway all I know is that if you want bright purple glass, one thing you can look for is neodymium. I’m afraid past that you’re on your own.

60s Popeye: returning to the Aladdin’s Lamp


It’s another Paramount/Famous Studios-produced 60s Popeye today. The title, Aladdin’s Lamp, is a mix of expectations. Toss in a genie and you have an excuse to do any crazy idea that couldn’t fit into a reasonable story. But for the seasoned Popeye-watcher there’s knowledge. Whatever they do must pale before the Fleischer Studio’s two-reeler Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp. There’s just not the time or budget to do anything that ambitious. The story’s by Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer, as usual for Famous Studios work. The director’s Seymour Kneitel again. Let’s take a few minutes to see Aladdin’s Lamp.

I’m sure that she isn’t the most common villain. But it does seem like the Sea Hag gets to be the antagonist for a lot of these 60s Popeye cartoons. There’s good reasons to use her. After 250 cartoons, the depths of Bluto/Brutus’s character may have been exhausted. Or at least gotten boring. Sea Hag lets the writers pull in magic, to send stories going weird directions. And there’s the good plot dynamic that Popeye can’t hit a woman even if she is the Sea Hag.

We open on Sea Hag, who happens to wonder what happened to Aladdin’s Lamp. Turns out right then Olive Oyl bought it. Think how lucky the cartoon was that the Sea Hag didn’t look up the lamp two days earlier. Sea Hag steals the lamp, using a great big horseshoe magnet, because she respects cartoon conventions. Popeye’s off in pursuit.

Sea Hag summons the Genie, who looks faintly like they were going for Jeeves and who talks with Wimpy’s voice but cleaned up. Sea Hag starts making wishes, something we see from a nice three-quarters view with her right hand making great sweeping motions. I recognize this animation from Voo-Doo To You Too. Well, it helps the cartoons come in on budget. The genie turns various ship equipment into treasures. This seems great since doesn’t need the ship’s equipment as ship’s equipment.

On a ship's deck, a ghostly pink genie holds up his arms, having just shrunk Popeye to about the size of his foot. In the background a wooden barrel is now 14 karat gold.
Popeye: “I wish this sort of thing would stop happening to me! … Saaaaaay!”

Popeye races in. Sea Hag orders the genie back in the lamp. She feeds Popeye a line about her love of antiques getting ahead of her. She uses this distraction to rub the lamp and orders: “Quick, Genie; ‘fore he can get the spinach from his blouse// Shrink Popeye down to the size of a mouse”. I have questions. Yeah, the dictionary insists it’s fair to call what Popeye wears a “blouse”.

So why order the genie into the lamp and then back out again? It seems like this gives Popeye the information about there even being a genie, which I expected to come back to bite the Sea Hag. Maybe she panicked. Also, why shrink Popeye to the size of a mouse? Why not wish him to outer Mongolia or something? Sea Hag did cast her wishes, for treasure and for Popeye’s shrinking, in rhymes. Is that part of the rule? I can’t blame her not having a rhyme for “outer Mongolia” off the top of her head. I suppose she could wish to have a rhyme for “outer Mongolia”, but that’s a bootstrapping problem. Also, how large are the Sea Hag’s mice? Is she not distinguishing between mice and rats, and has she still got somewhat large rats?

Popeye rolls with being small pretty well: he ties the Sea Hag’s dress into a knothole. Uses that diversion to grab the magic lamp. Here’s where I figured he’d start making wishes. He’s been coming up with rhyming couplets, at this point, for 28 years. He can do anything as long as he ends it “… Popeye the Sailor Man! [ toot toot! ]” Not so, though. Sea Hag catches in a can which, of course, is a not-quite-empty spinach can. His spinach can, he says, even though he hasn’t pulled out a can this cartoon. Maybe it’s from an earlier adventure.

The spinach returns him to normal size, like you’d expect. And next time Sea Hag summons the genie, he’s ready with an office-cooler water bottle(?) to catch, cork, and toss away the genie. Being tossed into the sea breaks the spell that transformed the Sea Hag’s ship’s equipment into treasure, for the reasons. And she goes swimming off after the genie. Since that takes her and the genie out of frame, it’s done.

Popeye gleefully has the ghostly pink genie caught in a large glass jug and is about to cork it.
So, you’re a genie. Is moving from that small brass lamp to this big glass bottle a step up, because there’s space, or a step down, because there’s no privacy? Discuss. (Before taking this screen grab I hadn’t noticed the shadow of the ship’s mast here. It’s a good detail to put on the background. It doesn’t really cost more to paint it this way and it makes the ship look more real.)

Popeye brings the lamp home, triumphant, and of course his work was in vain. Olive Oyl has a new lamp, one that — get this — is also a coffee grinder! The joke is adequate, but I do admire how ugly this new lamp is.

I still like the premise. Maybe I’m an easy touch for genie stories. I’m disappointed by what’s done with it. I don’t think just because it’s lesser than the two-reel cartoon was. (Also I’m amused that in writing up the two-reel cartoon I wondered whether the Sea Hag might be a fitting villain.) Not enough magic, or not enough wild magic for me. Shrinking Popeye is a good bit of business, but I feel like the Sea Hag could do that herself. Why not trap Popeye in the lamp, or give him some other reality-breaking problem to punch his way through? The genie acting as a valet is a decent character. Why not a set of quick gags of Popeye going up against the genie and being dismissed with a snap? The premise is almost pure play; why not play more?

Statistics Saturday: The Boxes You Have


Pie chart showing the boxes you have. About 25% of them: too small. Another 25%: too big. About 40% are somehow both too big and too small. The small wedge of the remainder is partly chewed up by something.
Not pictured: having the box but not even the slightest piece of packing tape to close it up; and having this weird three-foot-long triangular box that’s the right size and shape for mailing a kite in, just in case you need to mail a kite somewhere.

Reference: Star Names: Their Lore and Meaning, Richard Hinckley Allen.

Statistics May: How the past month treated my humor blog


So how do my readership figures for May look? And how do they look compared to past months? And the short answer is that it’s down from April, because nobody cares about Easter egg dye colors anymore. But it’s still a comfortably large number. Not quite the figures I saw at the end of Apartment 3-G, but surprisingly close.

Specifically, there were 4,292 page views here in May 2020, spread across 2,505 unique visitors. That’s above the twelve-month running averages for these figures. The average was 3,769.6 page views from 2,179.8 unique visitors. The twelve-month running averages are increasing month-to-month too, but I’m not going to start tracking that because that’s getting daft.

Bar chart of two years, four months, in total views and unique visitors. The trend is generally upward, though falling back after a spike above 5,000 visitors in April.
By the way the default chart shows two years and five months’ worth of figures. I write this because every month I swear I’m going to remember just how much it shows, and then I forget, and I look at all the month tabs and I get lost and I guess it’s about two and a half years. Which it is, although why 29 months instead of 30 is another of those mysteries.

The disappointing figure in all this was the number of likes, which have been trending down forever now. There were 67 things liked in all of May, way below the running average of 109.5. More important than that, though, was that 39 comments came in over the month, well above the 19.8 average. That’s also three months in a row with more than thirty comments, which makes me feel so much better, really.

The per-post averages are all rather similar. There were on average 138.5 views per posting in May; the twelve-month average is 123.7. There were 80.8 unique visitors per posting in May; the average is 71.6. There were 2.2 likes per posting in May; the average was 3.6. There were 1.3 comments per posting; the average was 0.6.

There were 556 distinct postings that got at least one page view in May, up from April’s 514. 359 of them got more than one page view, up from 323. Only 72 pages got more than ten views, slightly down from April’s 76.

The most popular comic strips were a recurring mystery, and then a bunch of comic strip stuff:

I continue to have no idea why that months-in-reverse-alphabetical-order is popular, or why it’s staying popular. I feel like it must have got put on a list incorrectly. Or there’s just that many bots who got something wrong.

All those posts are old ones, though. The most popular thing posted in May was a comic strip recap, What’s Going On In The Phantom (Weekdays)? Why is the Phantom punching terrorists? February – May 2020. My most popular May piece that was intended to be funny was Remembering the home computers of the 1980s, one of my long-form essays that’s still a mushy nostalgic haze.


There were 77 countries, or things like countries, that sent me any readers in May. There’d been 78 in April and 73 in March, so that’s all normal enough. There were 20 single-view countries, just like in March, and basically like in April, when there were 19. Here’s the roster of what countries they were, and how many views each got:

Mercator-style map of the world with the United States in deepest red. Most of the Americas, western Europe, South Asia and the Asian Pacific nations are in a uniform, less intense pink. Almost no African countries are pink.
I do kind of wish WordPress would use a different map projection, because every single month I give this the alt-text ‘Mercator-style map of the world’ and every single month I have to look up whether it’s ‘Mercator’ or ‘Mercatur’. And I’m the map freak here. Me! Anyway if they could do an equirectangular or maybe a Gall or Lambert I’d save myself that little bit of monthly embarrassment.
Country Readers
United States 3,171
India 177
United Kingdom 135
Canada 128
Australia 65
Germany 59
Sweden 58
Brazil 46
Italy 35
South Korea 33
Philippines 28
Finland 24
France 20
Spain 19
Colombia 14
El Salvador 13
Ireland 13
Russia 13
Mexico 12
Portugal 12
Norway 11
Argentina 9
Indonesia 9
Malaysia 9
Vietnam 9
Kenya 8
Netherlands 8
New Zealand 8
South Africa 8
Serbia 7
Singapore 7
Taiwan 7
China 6
Denmark 6
Jamaica 6
Japan 6
Poland 6
Turkey 6
Hong Kong SAR China 5
Pakistan 5
United Arab Emirates 5
Belgium 4
Chile 4
Czech Republic 4
Peru 4
Croatia 3
European Union 3
Iceland 3
Israel 3
Romania 3
Venezuela 3
Barbados 2
Bolivia 2
Costa Rica 2
Ecuador 2
Morocco 2
Zambia 2
Bahamas 1
Bangladesh 1 (**)
Belarus 1
Bhutan 1
Egypt 1 (**)
Greece 1
Guam 1
Guatemala 1 (*)
Lebanon 1 (***)
Mauritius 1
Panama 1
Puerto Rico 1
Saudi Arabia 1 (*)
Slovakia 1
St. Lucia 1
Switzerland 1
Trinidad & Tobago 1
Tunisia 1
Uruguay 1 (*)
Zimbabwe 1

Guatemala, Saudi Arabia, and Uruguay were single-view countries last month too. Bangladesh and Egypt have been single-view countries three months in a row. Lebanon is on its fourth month so.


Through the start of June, I had published a total 2,677 posts. They’ve drawn 171,428 views from a recorded 96,260 visitors. And I’m hoping some of them will stick around for my writing. Each Thursday, Eastern Time, I post a long-form humor essay. Each Saturday, similarly, I post something for Statistics Saturday, my Dad’s favorite feature here. And then, for Tuesdays lately, I watch What’s Going On In the story comics. My plan for the coming month, subject to breaking news, is to cover these strips:

WordPress estimates that I published 15,458 words here in May, in 31 posts averaging just over 515 and a quarter words each. For the year to date I’ve published 83,346 words, over 150 posts, for an average 556 words per posting. This is running a bit under the pace for 2019, which I am fine with.

I’m always glad to have more regular readers. If you’re on WordPress you can become a regular reader by clicking the “Follow Another Blog, Meanwhile” button on this page. Or you can add the RSS feed for articles to whatever reader you use. If you don’t have an RSS reader, good news: you can get a free account at Dreamwidth or Livejournal, and use their Friends page to look at any RSS feed you like. I also announce posts by automated service to my Twitter account of @Nebusj. But while I’d sort of like to be active there again, Twitter only sometimes lets Safari read it. I don’t know what its issue is, and I don’t have the energy to work it out. Sorry.

We’d like to know a little bit about you for our files


Thank you for agreeing to participate in our user survey. You be the user part. By doing so you get the chance to win up to five thousand dollars in slightly worn gift cards. It should be noted that, according to a free-market hypothesis-endorsing economist who broke into our offices and is holding a sharpened blackboard pointy stick with the rubber tip shaved off at us, if it were actually possible to win a big cash prize in this survey someone would have already won it before you did. We have no explanation for this phenomenon.

  1. How would you rate your customer experience with us?
    1. I would use a scale of one to ten.
    2. I would use a scale of one to five.
    3. I would use a Pareto chart if these actually existed and were not attempts to cover up having heard the words “parrot chart” incorrectly, possibly as part of song lyrics.
    4. I would use a series of allusions and metaphors.
    5. Maybe hand puppets?
    6. I would use a simple thumb-up/thumb-down.
    7. I am not so judgemental as that and if you were sensible you would not be either.
    8. Open-ended Richter scale or bust.
  2. Which parts of routine maintenance have you performed on or against your product to date?

    1. I have meant to clean it after every use. And have done so exactly once. While doing so I lost the cloth rag to go along with it.
    2. I have dusted it once when company was coming over, and then another time when I thought I would get everything under control by putting in ten minutes every day to dusting, only to learn later on that “dusting” traditionally means “removing dust”.
    3. On four separate occasions I have hit it on the side, and only on the third was this followed by the sound of plastic shards slipping off and falling deep into the interior.
    4. The product was a vending machine ice cream cone.
    5. While the product was a vending machine ice cream cone I found it needed to be rebooted from a recovery flash drive, and then I had to spend twenty minutes downloading updates. The ice cream was a gelatinous goo. This is not to say it was bad.
  3. How do you indicate that you should not presently be taken seriously?

    1. I have heard of your Earth concept of “serious” and it fascinates me. Tell me more.
    2. I have spoken of “sheeple”.
    3. I say things like “I have heard of your Earth concept of “serious” and it fascinates me. Tell me more.”
    4. I have never been not taken seriously except by accident when I meant it, and good luck figuring that out.
    5. Have you taken a good look at me, ever?
    6. I bring every conversation around to how there is a Big Brown Bat, and it is one of of the microbats. I mean the American Big Brown Bat, not the Asian Big Brown Bat, which I don’t know whether is a microbat or not but is smaller than the Big Brown Bat that is a microbat. I can come in again.
  4. Which body parts has your use of our product lead you to conclude are funny to mention?

    1. Spleen.
    2. Inguinal ligament.
    3. Monoclonal antibodies.
    4. h3 tags.
    5. Tenocytes.
    6. Pelvic brim.
    7. Hipster’s metatarsals.
    8. Fingernails.
    9. Galloping protease.
  5. What logical fallacies have you developed while using this product?

    1. I’ve used “affirming the consequence” with a side of “continuum fallacy”.
    2. I remind people anytime any study anywhere finds a link between two things that “correlation does not imply causation”, and therefore do not connect this habit to how people don’t talk with me anymore.
    3. I never use fallacies, but I do stand off to the side waiting for people to say they are “begging the question” when they mean to invite a question, which has nothing to do with how people only talk in a resigned, exhausted voice around me anymore.
    4. I want to say “modus ponens”, which I’m not sure is a logical fallacy, but which is a lot of fun to say and has few applications, unless you are discussing logic or are poorly translating it into “The Mode Of Ponies” to get people talking to you about that.
    5. I am still working through a 24-pack of logical fallacies picked up in the past, and have not even opened up the box of quantificational fallacies in the pantry.

Thank you for your valued contributions to whatever it is we are really up to, which you do not really want to think about. Contest winners should they exist will be notified. Send help, the economist won’t leave.

Thoughts


Given the choice I wouldn’t have been up before noon on a Saturday that early June of 1989. But it was the day for Senior Class Photos, for the yearbook and all. My father, taking time from his birthday, drove me there, to one of a hundred identical New Jersey towns, the ones one or two layers of municipality in from the Shore. I don’t know why that was the high school’s designated photo studio, but it was, and there we went.

Somehow there was extra time, and a comic shop nearby, that I had never been to before nor would ever visit again. I picked up the Marvel Age promotional comic, and got a rare bit of news. I had been a reader of the New Universe comic books. This was a series that Marvel Comics started in 1986 as protection against some incomprehensible creators-rights problem happening. The books ran, unloved except by me, for two years before the problem evaporated and all the titles were cancelled. It was supposed to turn into a series of graphic novels, advancing the whole world, but I only ever saw one of them. The issue said that a new four-part graphic novel had been published, though, and in the current issue the New Universe Earth had a nuclear war.

I would never see the books, and I gather that the story more complicated than that. But the slug line promised that it was a stunning and realistic-for-superhero-comics depiction of global thermonuclear war. I’d liked the setting and had to conclude that it was unrecognizably gone, now. It would come back, of course, as some writers slipped it into the mainline Marvel continuity. And even do a reboot of the premise. But how would I know that at my young age? All I could know is that a fictional world I’d had a strange fondness for had burned itself up, for what (best I could gather) were stupid reasons.

And along the way — I forget whether driving there or driving home — came a breaking story on the news radio. We always listened to in the car. It was a dividend of my growing up in the last decade of Cold War, afraid there’d be a nuclear war I wouldn’t hear about ten minutes ahead of the event. The Chinese government had enough of the peaceful gatherings in Tiananmen Square, and was sending in troops to terrorize its people into compliance. It crushed the hopes for democratic reforms for a country that sorely needed them. It was a moment of needless misery and horror, out of all place in a year of liberations.

And it felt personal. I felt outraged that my father’s birthday was ruined, by this disaster. This sense of personal offense at a global outrage is part of our family’s heritage. My father’s father was born on the 1st of September, and for the last five decades of his life felt a personal grudge against Hitler for invading Poland that of all days. (No great epoch-making disaster has happened on my birthday yet, but it has at least once been too close.) History has given my father a break, recording the crackdown and terror as happening the day after; by local time, it was. But for me living it, it was all these terrible things, some petty and personal, some obviously of world important, and all arriving on a day that deserved to be reserved for small pleasantnesses and thoughts about someone I love.

Happy birthday, Dad. I’m sorry that the times suck.

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? Does Mark Trail still look all weird? March – May 2020


Yes, it still looks weird, although it’s looking less weird. I still have no explanation.

I apologize if this isn’t as merry a plot recap for James Allen’s Mark Trail as usual. I’m tired of how much misery my country will go to rather than punish killer cops for killing an innocent man we saw them kill. I don’t have a lot left over after that.

Anyway I’m hoping this catches things up to the end of May 2020, though. If you’re reading this after about September 2020 there’s probably a more up-to-date plot recap here. And, if you like other kinds of comic strips, I’ve been reviewing mathematically-themed comic strips on my other blog. You might like that.

Mark Trail.

8 March – 31 May 2020

The story had started the 29th of February, with Mark Trail joining Geoff Aldridge, head of the Forest Explorers. The Explorers do nature outings for “troubled children”. So we got a lot of parents and kids introduced all at once.

Also the art style was weird. The unsourced rumor I keep hearing is that James Allen had to move in with a relative to provide support and care. And, away from his studio, he’d had to adapt to new drawing techniques, which probably means digital art. That takes time to learn. When this story had started, Comics Kingdom commenter George K Atkins hypothesized that the strip was presenting a comic strip drawn by Rusty Trail, rather than “real” events. It’s a great hypothesis, but, it’s not so. It’s a shame; that would have given Allen plenty of time to learn how to draw in strained circumstances.

At the campsite some of the kids start mocking Kevin, a homeless kid. Rusty invites Kevin along, though. Kevin’s inexperienced in things like fishing. Geoff Aldridge is kind and supportive, but other kids see weakness. Eric Crowley particularly takes the chance to attack. Meanwhile Geoff Aldridge mentions to Mark Trail that the Crowleys are thinking of adopting someone. It’s a nice though, although it added a slight reality-show “Who Wants To Be Adopted” cast to the proceedings.

Eric: 'Don't think I don't know what you're doing ... ' Kevin: 'Huh?!' Eric: 'You don't have a family of your own, and you're trying to steal mine!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 26th of March, 2020. Later, the Young Funky Winkerbean will wonder if he said anything to drive Kevin off. They’ll bond, though, over the junior novelization of Starbuck Jones III: Starbucker Jonesiest.

At night Eric reveals motivation: jealousy. He suspects Kevin is trying to steal his family. But he promises Kevin, nobody likes him. Kevin resolves to run away. Rusty overhears him leaving the campsite and offers to join him. And, in a moment of cleverness, sets his alarm clock to wake Mark Trail and bring adults after them. In a moment of less cleverness, he sets it to go off in an hour, rather than like, ten minutes. Still, for a kid, it’s good quick thinking.

The alarm clock gambit works, though, waking Mark Trail, who rouses the other adults. And Rusty’s left clues to their trail. Also he’s left a thunderstorm brewing. That’s great news: a good storm will do something about the drought. Specifically, the lightning will set the brush on fire. So that’s our big Attack of Nature for the story, which kept to the one. But Rusty and Kevin are walking toward the wildfire.

In a forest fire, a woman and child run as a flaming tree trunk falls toward them. Kevin calls out: 'Look out behind you!' They leap(?) and avoid the flaming tree trunk's fall.
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 27th of April, 2020. It’s an exciting scene, and shows that Allen is getting more comfortable with drawing figures. Compare it to the tent scene from the above comic, or from ones from earlier in March. I admit I’m not sure what they did in response to Kevin’s warning, though.

Mark Trail, unaware of the fire, organizes a search. Eric admits what he did and why. While the adults plus Eric set out in search parties, Rusty and Kevin encounter the fire. They turn around for the campsite, and along the way find Eric and Mrs Crowley. A burning tree threatens to fall on Eric and Mrs Crowley, but Kevin saves them by shouting a warning. Eric and Mrs Crowley are happy, of course. And Mark Trail hears the shouting too, so everybody’s able to gather together in the forest fire.

They move together, getting first to the campsite and then to their vehicles. This is in time to meet the fire fighters. Everyone gets out safe. And the forest fire can be put out before it does too much damage.

Eric apologizes to Kevin, and says he hopes they can be friends. Kevin shakes his hand. And, Mr Crowley announces his intention to adopt Kevin. It’s a happy resolution, although it also feels a little like a bonus prize round rather than a moment of true affection.


The story wrapped up the 23rd of May, with Aldridge inviting Mark Trail to future camping trips. Mark Trail thanks him, but says he wants to go home to spend time with his family “and my big dog Andy”. It seems like a curious declaration, until you know that the current story is an Andy special. It has Andy, playing loose in the yard, wandering over to a home under construction. He jumps into a truck trailer ahead of some rain, because you know how dogs hate getting wet and muddy. The truck driver, not noticing Andy in the trailer, closes it up and drives off. Andy’s missing, then, and that’s the start of the story.

Sunday Animals Watch!

What nature does Mark Trail want us to watch out for? The last couple months it’s been this:

  • Police dogs, 8 March 2020. Dogs are great. Don’t force them to become cops.
  • Pikas, 15 March 2020. The other lapine, besides rabbits and hares. They’re great. Human-caused climate change is killing them.
  • Banyan Trees, 22 March 2020. Wait, they’re fig trees? Really? Wow.
  • Animal tracks, 29 March 2020. They’re all amazing. People creeped out by raccoon paws? You all are wrong.
  • Jellyfish, 5 April 2020. They’re not like in that Popeye cartoon but they’re still weird and wondrous.
  • Müllerian Mimicry, 12 April 2020. That’s the thing where one dangerous creature camouflages itself as a different dangerous creature, so that anything preying on it turns to camera and goes, “Seriously? … Not. Fair.”
  • Poison Ivy and Poison Oak, 19 April 2020. Yeah, it’s actually not trying to poison you, by the way.
  • Birds, 26 April 2020. Bee hummingbirds are smaller than you would think!
  • Tornadoes, 3 May 2020. Not the kind you get on the hot-roller grills at the gas station. They don’t issue alerts about those. (The alert would be “they’re out of the cheesey pepper-jack tornadoes”.)
  • Hippopotamuses, 10 May 2020. Most of their attacks on humans are caused by people playing that song too much at Christmastime.
  • Frogs, 17 May 2020. The Wallace’s Flying Frog can actually glide from tree to tree, reminding us what a shame it is that the comic strip Spot The Frog didn’t last.
  • Pigs, 24 May 2020. Mark Trail is a fan of much of Pink Floyd.
  • Thorn Bugs, 31 May 2020. They avoid being eaten by making themselves look like thorns. This keeps them alive, if you call that a life.

Next Week!

Uh-oh! Dawn was trying to have an emotional life! Could Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth fix that? We’ll see next week.

60s Popeye: Sure, I heard of a Sheepish Sheep-Herder


This week’s King Features Popeye takes us back to Larry Harmon’s studio. So, you know, the future Filmation crew. The story is by Charles Shows, of Muskels Shmuskels, of Foola-Foola Bird, and of Childhood Daze. The director here, as in the three already mentioned, is Paul Fennell. Here’s Sheepish Sheep-Herder.

So, first continuity error: Popeye isn’t a sheepish character. He might go reluctantly into something if he doesn’t see why it’s his business, but that’s not sheepish.

Popeye’s interrupted watching his Western show by Olive Oyl, bringing a telegram that I guess Western Onion trusted her with. Poopdeck Pappy needs help with rustlers. Plus, hey, Poopdeck Pappy! He disappeared after Fleischer Studios became Famous Studios, to fit Paramount’s vision of their cartoons being “not so interesting”. (There were a couple cartoons in 1952 and 1953 with him, one a cameo, one disappointing, and one a remake of Goonland too racist to put on TV.) King Features, though, was glad to use everything they had a trademark on.

Popeye heads out, in the engine of a small train; is it his? Anyway, Pappy meets him with a shotgun. Pappy is, as traditional, a twin to Popeye, except with a beard. And, here, a red cap. And, another continuity error: Poopdeck Pappy is also never sheepish.

Poopdeck Pappy, clean-shaven so he looks like Popeye, standing in cave with both eyes half-opened and looking off-screen. He's supposed to look devious, but the pose could also be read as sultry.
Sultry, yes, I’ll grant you Poopdeck Pappy is sultry sometimes. But not sheepish.

Brutus comes in, wearing a long coat, to swipe some sheep and I am childishly delighted that his plan is “sneak sheep out under his trenchcoat”. It’s the joke you’d make if you were a podcast host joking about the premise. The sheep are cute in this vaguely UPA style tool. Brutus goes in with a helicopter, too, having abandoned the trenchcoat plan because … I don’t know. This one outright fails.

Brutus orders Popeye out of town at gunpoint. Popeye uses the countdown to twist the gun barrel and, in a joke I like, ends up pointing it at himself and getting blasted anyway. He asks what he did wrong. It’s not only a good cartoon joke; it’s a joke building on decades of confident cartoon protagonists twisting the barrels of hunters’ guns.

Poopdeck Pappy, shaving, overhears the gunshots. Did you notice that he’s shaving? Because that’s important. But it’s also a good plant for what’s to come, and I imagine seven-year-olds who figure this out feel really clever. Anyway Brutus has tied up Popeye and shoots at his feet until he hops off the cliff. This seems like extra work to go to throw him off a cliff. But, confident he’ll never see Popeye again, who walks in but Popeye? In a red hat this time. Did you notice it was a red hat? … Not that it would be bizarre if Popeye were to be back on top of the cliff. That kind of thing happens in cartoons.

Brutus ties up Pappy with a stick of lit dynamite, and runs off. Popeye runs in, extinguishes the fuse and frees Pappy, and doesn’t say anything to his father. Nor does his father say anything back. I’m surprised by how much the animators are trusting the audience to follow what’s going on. I don’t think they’re wrong to, but I’d expected a reassurance line to emphasize that Pappy looks like Popeye now.

Oyl family reunion; Castor Oyl, Nana Oil, and less familiar relations are standing around. Popeye: 'I don't understands it. How can you be related to these people not look like any of 'em?' Olive Oyl: "I think there's a family resemblance.' Popeye: 'Resemblance sure, but why ain't ya all identical? Takes me family, f'rinstance! I yam the spittin' image of e'ryone in me family. If ya compares me to Pappy, or even me great grandpappy Patcheye we is practically clones o'each other. [ Pictures of Poopdeck Pappy and Patcheye, who look like redraws of Popeye ] Even peoples what marries into the family, like me dear old Ma or sainted Granny. Sure, they looked diff'rent before [ pictures of Popeye's mother and granmother, normal-looking figures ] but after gettin' hitched in, they started lookin' jus' like the rest of us. That's how you know they is family! That's how family works!' [ Pictures of Popeye's mom and grandmom, who look like redraws of Popeye.] Olive Oyl: 'I suddenly don't mind that we've never gotten married.' Popeye: 'It's just as well. This old world can only handle so much beauty.'
Popeye’s Cartoon Club made a reappearance this week, with a bunch of strips from Randy Milholland. This one, from the 30th of May, talks a little about everybody in the Popeye clan looking like Popeye. By the way members of the Oyl family include her brothers Castor and Crude Oyl, her parents Cole Oyl and Nana Oyl [ “Banana Oil” was a slangy way to call something “nonsense” in the 1920s ], Castor’s estranged wife Cylinda Oyl; nieces Diesel Oyl (we’ll see her) and Violet Oyl; uncles Otto Oyl and Lubry Kent Oyl. And, when Bobby London was doing his thing, a sultry blonde cousin Sutra Oyl and corporate-magnate Standard Oyl. Wikipedia figures “Violet Oyl” is a play on “volatile oils”. I guess maybe that’s what they were going for? It’s a tough name, anyway.

Brutus, not having heard the dynamite explode, goes into the mine where he had tied up Pappy. I admit I’m cowardly around fireworks and such. My college summer job was in a nitrocellulose plant. Still, I would not go in to investigate a stick of dynamite that isn’t exploded yet. Popeye appears to encourage him to go in and look, which makes good cartoon logic but: why would you do that, Brutus? Think out what things could follow from the information you have. How many of them are good for you?

Going on inside is Pappy re-lighting the dynamite so it’ll go off when Brutus arrives. And he walks past Brutus, again raising the question whether Brutus is paying attention to what he’s looking at. The blast throws him out the cave, and on seeing two Popeyes he goes bouncing off the cliff. He’s caught by what seems like an excessively deep tree root, right where a sheep can kick him over and over.

This is a pleasant cartoon. Solid enough story. Between the trenchcoat, Popeye asking “what did I do wrong” at twisting Brutus’s gunbarrel, and the way we get into the duplicate Popeye stuff, there’s decent comedy here.

The animation is pretty solid. Not so solid that, like, we ever see a character’s legs when they walk. We instead pull tighter in while the figure bounces up and down. But we do get tight focus on people’s faces, which gives us something to look at. Also to wonder at how everybody’s leaning so far over all the time. Their backs have to hurt so. It’s not a great cartoon; there’s not a moment of great delightful surprise to it. But it’s pretty good throughout.