Everything there is to say about seeing comets


This is a good time to share tips with people about how to spot comets. You might protest there’s no visible comets in the sky. We had NEOWISE hanging out there for a couple weeks. That there’s no comet to see is no reason you can’t try anyway. Most of the time there’s no comet anyway. Every couple years the world’s astronomers all feel lonely. So they go telling people, “Oh, hey, comet D/2495 Q1 Rococo-Compsognathus is passing by the sun for the first time since Pangaea was a thing! The vapor trail will wrap over a thousand degrees of sky, looping almost three times from horizon to horizon! At its peak it could be up to 36 times as bright as setting your face on fire!” That “up to” covers a lot of possibilities.

Then they find a field or the top of a building, scatter some telescopes around, and wait for the crowds to come rolling in. I’m not saying it’s a sinister conspiracy. At heart, it’s a conspiracy to get strangers to ask them about their Cassegrain reflector. They’ve spent a lot of time learning the word “catadioptric” and you understand their wanting to do something with it. The word means “cat of the day of the ptrics”. The day of ptrics is April Fool’s or Halloween, depending on context.

Astronomers can’t help explaining things like this. They grew up as nerds. And as nerds, we hated being in school. We liked the learning part. It’s just we hated having to be around other people teaching stuff. This is why now that we’re out of it, we spend all our time teaching other people stuff. This is also why nerds are always angry with each other over declarations of things like “this was a good episode of a TV show”.

In principle there’s just a few things you need to study the night sky, among them:

1. Night.
2. Sky.
3. You (very important).

The ‘sky’ and the ‘you’ are pretty easy for you to come up with. The night could be hard. You can tell it’s night by how vividly you remember every relationship you ever screwed up by saying one wrong thing.

To get to see anything in the sky you’ll want a good dark area. This can be found by going into the basement without turning on the lights, but there are house centipedes down there. Out to the field it is, then! This is a good way to discover how badly your town is light-polluted. There’s an excellent chance that ten miles outside of town you can still read this week’s updated privacy policy from your Discover card.

What you want is a good quality dark, but that’s hard to come by. The great dark mines of the upper midwest were exhausted by the 1920s and we’ve had to make do with reclaimed and processed dark since then. Really it’s easier to go gather around the astronomers and let them ask you if you can name the nearest star to Earth. This takes you to the astronomers, yes, but they know where it’s dark enough you can’t see the bats.

Out in the field you get to see families who aren’t particularly amateur astronomers, trying hard to get anyone else to look at the same thing. “Do you see that star?” “The red one?” “Stars aren’t red!” “Then why is it red?” “You must be looking at an airplane.” “One of those famous stationary airplanes you see all the time.” Tempers grow short. You get packs of people, one pointing up at a tree. “Look! Is that Cassiopeia?” “YOU’RE Cassiopeia!” responds someone who’s fed up with how much fun everyone else had learning there’s a constellation called Puppis, the Poop Deck. Someone in the group has a solid memory that you just “arc to Arcturus”, but not where you arc from or why you want Arcturus in the first place. You want Arcturus because it’s the most prominent star in the constellation of Arctoo. The astronomers could explain that, if you don’t accidentally get them explaining what a Dobsonian telescope is. It is a telescope made by Dob and Sons, of Telescope Alley in London.

Anyway the most amazing thing you can learn is that there are obsolete constellations, just like if stars were recorded on VHS tapes or something. Also that one was called Turdus Solitarius as if astronomers weren’t all twelve-year-old boys.

The comic strip Nest Heads is ending, like, 10 minutes from now it looks like?


I guess it’s just a week of comic strip news around here. Daily Cartoonist reports that John Allen’s Three-Generations-And-A-Dog comic strip Nest Heads is ending syndication the 31st of July. It’s short notice, yeah. Creators Syndicate, which has been distributing it, just sent the word out on Tuesday. The daily strip has been in reruns since the 22nd of June, and the Sunday strip went into reruns after the 12th of July, with a comic that incidentally mentioned The Phantom.

Title panel: Dad, dressed in The Phantom's uniform, in the jungle, sweating. First panel, Dad: 'I wonder why the Phantom never made it bigger as an action hero?' Mom: 'Believability. ... You don't wear purple spandex in the jungle without a big sweat stain problem.'
John Allen’s Nest Heads for the 12th of July, 2020. Last original Sunday strip, apparently. And sure, it’s a joke many of us make about the ol’ Ghost Who Walks. A couple months ago Nest Heads also did a bit about Pogo, which was nice to see remembered. Now that The Far Side is reprinting dailies, Pogo is the biggest comic strip in need of an online presence.

It is weird to have a strip end syndication this abruptly, and (apparently) mid-week too. It’s imaginable that the strip is changing syndicates and the announcement got all weird. If I get news, I’ll share news.

I didn’t have much cause to talk about Nest Heads here. On my other blog I did discuss times it raised some mathematical topic. I don’t know whether the links to the Nest Heads page on GoComics will still work once August starts.

2020 has been a rough year for comic strips. Also ended so far have been Ask Shagg, Moose and Molly, The Pajama Diaries, Retail, and Stone Soup. And I have doubts about Mark Trail getting back up to speed anytime soon. Granted many of these are obscure or not well-loved comics, but every comic strip is somebody’s favorite. I mean, not Zack Hill. But every other comic strip besides Zack Hill is somebody’s favorite.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Weekdays)? Why is The Phantom destined for an unmarked grave? May – July 2020


Well, The Phantom apparently went and changed destiny on himself, so who can say what’s going to happen next? Happy to catch you up on the goings on in Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom, weekday continuity. If you’re reading this after about October 2020, or if you’re interested in the separate Sunday storyline, there is probably a more up-to-date plot recap at this link.

Also, on my other blog, I’m going through the alphabet to explain mathematical terms. I hope you enjoy that all.

The Phantom (Weekdays).

4 May – 25 July 2020.

The Phantom had caught himself some wildlife poachers, last I looked. But the poachers had wounded a lion, who’s gone into what the Llongo people call the Forbidden Forest. The Ghost Who Walks figures he has to kill the wounded lion, lest it go attacking people, and he doesn’t see any reason to ask why the forest is forbidden.

The Phantom doesn’t have much luck tracking the lion. The lion has better luck tracking The Phantom, catching him right before sunset. He shoots the lion, which seems to end the problem. And he eats the heart of the lion, respecting a Llongo tradition as promised. The Phantom lies down to unsettled dreams.

The Phantom, watching a lion: 'That's not the same lion! It's not wounded! Not leaving a blood trail! ... What am I saying? I cut out the lion's heart! Of course it's not the same lion!'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 20th of May, 2020. The Man Who Cannot Die is being pretty confident about the possibility of a Lion Who Cannot Die, have to say.

He wakes to find the lion carcass gone. Also, that the lion’s alive. And heading off on its own business. The Phantom tries to clear his thoughts. Then he sees The Python, the big-bad terrorist from before Eric Sahara. The Python vanishes into thin air, though. The Phantom tries to work out a rational explanation for this all. The woods are said to drive men mad. Maybe he had a concussion. The important thing is to get out and get somewhere safe. Like, Skull Cave, which pops in to the middle of the Forbidden Forest, far from where it ought to be.

And inside the cave is … The Phantom? The figure, who keeps calling our Ghost Who Walks “Son”, scolds him. I wasn’t sure whether this was meant to be literally the 20th Phantom. But he eventually describes Kit Walker Junior as his grandson, so that’s a good answer. Phantom Dad scolds about the events of “The Curse of Old Man Mozz”, a story from back in 2017. In it, Old Man Mozz foresaw the killing of The Phantom by a petty henchman getting in a lucky shot. That didn’t happen, because King Features and Tony DePaul worked out a new contract. And Diana Walker tipped off Babudan, who was there with a well-timed arrow.

Finding a replica of Skull Cave deep within the Llongo Forbidden Forest, in a deep wash of blue-greens. The Phantom says, 'Skull Cave isn't on Llongo land ... it's in Bandar territory! The Deep Woods of my ancestors!!'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 2nd of June, 2020. Did want to say a good word here for Mike Manley in doing a really deeply atmospheric eerie Skull Cave. Also for the colorists. The colorists for the daily comics take a lot of razzing for incompetent flood filling of strips. It’s important to point out when they’ve done a great job like this.

The Phantom protests, fairly, that he didn’t send anyone out to mess up his destiny. The 20th says they were forced to do what they did, when Kit Walker sent his son off to that Himalayan monastery. And did nothing to protect Heloise Walker. 21’st daughter was the one who captured Eric “The Nomad” Sahara, most recent terrorist nemesis of The Phantom. 20 warns that his son, having altered the course of The Phantom’s legend, “will not lie here among your ancestors”. He’ll instead be left in a faraway grave. He’s lost “the right to lie in the crypt of the Phantoms”. And threatens him with oblivion, right then and there, lost to all time.

As the 20th Phantom dissolves into an angry, flaming skeleton taunting his son with ruin, The 21st Phantom suspects something is wrong. It’s the woods, he tells himself, and chooses to leave. As he does, 20 warns that all his feeble mortal plans will be overturned. 21 starts to taunt back, hey, everybody’s plans are overturned, it’s the year — and then stops short before he can say “two thousand and … 20”.

20th Phantom: 'Hear me now ... having altered the course of the legend, YOU WILL NOT LIE HERE among your ancestors!' In front of the 21st Phantom's eyes, 20 turns into a flaming skeleton. 20: 'You have consigned yourself to a faraway grave, my son ... '
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 18th of June, 2020. So, first, my brother had that second panel on a T-shirt in high school. Second, OK, so if 21 had been shot in the back by that coward, back a couple years ago, how would his body have gotten back to Skull Cave? Would Kit Junior have been along for some reason? Or someone else from the Ghost’s support team?

The Phantom runs out of the woods, going past the illusions of Babudan and his faithful supporter Guran and Guran’s elephant. And keeps going until it turns out those are the real Babudan and Guran and Elephant. They’ve got one question for The Ghost Who Walks: what were you thinking tromping into the Forbidden Forest like that? Don’t you know that’s a good way to go mad? Why, Guran’s even seen his son Timo in those woods, and Timo hasn’t been on-screen in the comic strip since 1943. Anyway, the cause of these strange visions is rational enough. There’s fleas in the Llongo woods with a toxin that causes hallucinations. Guran’s got an antidote, though. Why not tell the Llongo about this? Well, Guran tipped off James Allen about these fleas and they’d be in a Mark Trail Sunday panel except, you know, all that drama.

The Phantom’s left to wonder the significance of his vision, though. It’s easy to shrug it off as hallucinations, yes. But The Phantom does happen in a superhero universe. More, a magical superhero universe, since Mandrake the Magician shares the continuity. (Mary Worth, too, by the way.) And, after all, Old Man Mozz did have a useful prophetic dream. So, like many of us, he’s left to sulk about the consequences of his actions.


That, the 18th of July, ends “The Llongo Forest”, 254th of the weekday continuity stories. The 20th started “The Reunion”, 255th of the weekday stories. It opens with Kit Walker getting a letter to Box 7, Mawitaan, his secret post office drop for people in trouble. It’s from Ashrama Raia, General Delivery, Nairobi. The Phantom keeps up his Jumble practice. Those are the letters of Imara Sahara, mother to Kadia Walker, nee Sahara and Heloise Walker’s schoolmate. The Phantom had broken Imara Sahara out of The Nomad’s compound before militias and American terror-bombing could destroy it. But she fled rather than stick around with The Phantom. The Phantom had advised her that someone would answer a letter set to Box 7, Mawitaan, though. Did kind of expect that thread to resume someday.

Next Week!

Will I write up the development of
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant before deadline on Tuesday?
We’ll see!

It looks like we’ve run out of James Allen _Mark Trail_ dailies


So today’s Mark Trail is a reprint from Jack Elrod’s long tenure on the comic strip. I don’t know when its original publication was. The initial strip doesn’t bring back any memories for me, and I haven’t seen any comments from anyone who can pin it down.

[ A car rounds a hill overlooking Lost Forest. ] Driver: 'There's a ranch ... we'll put her out close to the entrance! I'm sure someone will find her and give her a good home ... stop crying, we just don't have time for a pet!' Passenger: 'I feel so guilty ... it doesn't seem right.'
Jack Elrod’s Mark Trail rerun for the 27th of July, 2020. While I did, sincerely, appreciate James Allen’s work in making the stories less relentlessly linear, and in sprucing up the depth of character motivation? I did miss the frequency of giant foreground animals. Also the word balloon tails that seem to mix up which silhouetted background character is saying what. I mean, the driver’s dialogue isn’t exactly inconsistent, if they’re first saying where they’ll put ‘her’ out and then admitting to feeling guilty. But it does read a little weird.
Saturday’s strip, apparently the last of James Allen’s weekday-continuity work, wasn’t apparently rewritten to cover the change of staff. The mention of ‘personal stories’ could have been used to cover reruns as ‘flashbacks’. This would mirror the way the final Amazing Spider-Man posits that everything since is Peter Parker dreaming while on the long flight to Australia.

Movie Actor's Companion: 'I love these personal stories about your family, Rusty!' Rusty: 'Growing up in a wooded area has been a lot of fun!' Actor: 'Are we heading back to the hotel soon?'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 25th of July, 2020. So Jeremy Cartwright, the actor, is there to meet Mark Trail and understand him a bit better for A Movie. He’s been labelled as a bad boy, and Mark Trail thinks he hasn’t been “a very gracious guest”, as he complained about lunch and as you can see wants drinks. Cherry’s been more able to roll with things. I don’t know whether Cartwright’s wife(?) girlfriend(?) agent(?) companion has been given a name. (She’s called Cartwright ‘honey’, but that could just be an affectation.) Also, “not far from Lost Forest”, there were poachers, so we have some hint where things might have gone.

We got the news of James Allen leaving the strip at the end of June, so now we know what kind of lead time he was maintaining. I would guess without knowing that there are probably another month’s worth of Sunday strips in the works.

James Allen has said he does not know when someone else will be hired to write or draw the strip. Nor whether the story — about an actor who’ll be playing Mark Trail in a movie based on his adventures watching Lisa Moore die of plot complications — will be continued.

If I do get any information about Mark Trail I intend to put it on a post at this link.

[Edited 25 September 2020: Good news!  Jules Rivera is taking over the comic as of the middle of October.]

60s Popeye: Crystal Ball Brawl and a World Series winner


We’re back to another Larry Harmon cartoon this week. The director is again Paul Fennell, and the story by Charles Shows. Here’s 1960’s Crystal Ball Brawl.

You know the difference between the comic strip Popeye and the cartoon adaptation? Yes, yes, that BrutusBluto wasn’t an important figure in the comic strip. Not until the cartoons made him prominent. But the big thing in the comic strip is how much of its stories are driven by avarice. Not Popeye; he’s above greed. But he’s about the only one. Maybe Eugene the Jeep also avoids the struggle for wealth and status. But otherwise, everybody down to Swee’Pea will sell out Popeye for a bit of gold. For the most part, the cartoons avoid that. There’s some cartoons with a Macguffin of a gold mine or whatnot, but that won’t set Olive Oyl against Popeye.

So this cartoon teases a full embrace of the avaricious plot. Popeye’s magical uncle Abra-Ka-Dabra has died. The estate includes a crystal ball which Wimpy quickly discovers is giving stock tips. Also the forecast that The Bums will beat Boston in the World Series next week. Wimpy immediately acts on that and has a late-50s midsized convertible almost before Popeye and Olive Oyl have learned the premise. This is really on-brand for Wimpy. The current Thimble Theatre reruns on Comics Kingdom have been about Wimpy figuring out what he can do with the Sea Hag’s magic flute.

Brutus learns what’s up, finally, 3:11 into a five-and-a-half-minute cartoon. And here we threaten to get a good multi-party conflict going. Wimpy, Olive Oyl, and Brutus each trying to get the crystal ball, and Popeye trying to be the sane moral center? That would work.

We don’t get it, and that’s a disappointment. Brutus and Popeye fight for the crystal ball and that’s fine. Wimpy makes a couple attempts to get the crystal ball, but there’s no hint he’s keeping it to himself. He’s just securing it for its rightful owner. You know. Wimpy, the respectable, upstanding person who isn’t working a selfish angle. Olive Oyl forgets to even be in the cartoon. It’s all adequately played out. It spends way too long (about twenty seconds) on Brutus pranking Wimpy and Popeye into running into each other. But I would accept an argument that the joke is so basic that it only works if the buildup is very short or excessively long.

Wimpy, having delivered the telegram, holds his arms together and tries to look pleading and sad. Meanwhile Popeye's passed out, fallen over, nad has stars circling over his head.
Popeye’s less startled by inheriting his uncle’s estate than he is by Wimpy holding down a job.

The cartoon ends with, theoretically, the world changed: the crystal ball is there and working fine and Popeye has it. Of course it’ll never be seen or heard from again, but it’s interesting they don’t have the crystal ball get smashed or lost or lose its powers. Wimpy ends the cartoon still wealthy, too. Brutus ends the cartoon sitting on a cloud, asking “What did I did wrong?” in a weird French or French-Canadian accent. Why? No idea. I did entertain the possibility that for some unspeakable reason they grabbed an audio clip from a cartoon where Bluto has a French/French-Canadian accent. A quick review of Alpine For You and of Klondike Casanova didn’t seem to have it. I was looking for other cartoons where Bluto was, like, a logger when I realized this was not a good use of my time. It would still be baffling to pull a line from a decade-old cartoon when Beck is recording for the rest of this cartoon anyway. Maybe Jackson Beck was just having fun with a dull line.

And another tiny bit: Dead Uncle Abra-Ka-Dabra’s estate is being handled by Loophope McGraw, Attorney at Law. Popeye and Olive Oyl get the news that next month Loophole McGraw will be elected governor. Did the writer just not noticing he already used the funny name? Or should we suppose McGraw has used the crystal ball long enough to guide his own run for office? But is honest enough not to steal it? Not sure.

Statistics Saturday: Visible Comets Of My Lifetime


  1. Hale-Bopp
  2. Hyakutake
  3. That comet in the opening credits of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine where if you freeze at just the right second the comet particles make up Spock’s face
  4. Fine, NEOWISE, then
  5. Kohoutek
  6. Halley

Not listed: West, because everyone was so embarrassed by Kohoutek we just pretended we didn’t see it even when we did.

Reference: A History of Modern France, Volume 1: 1715 – 1799, Alfred Cobban.

Meanwhile interrupting my thoughts every forty seconds


I was reading a history of NASA’s spaceflight tracking and data network because … uh … … well, I don’t know how to explain this. It has to be that we are just meeting for the first time, ever, right now. I’m pretty sure that when Sunny Tsiao proposed writing this book, the pitch was, “At some point Joseph Nebus will read all five hundred and twenty-five pages”, and the NASA History Series editor said, “Sold!”

Anyway it got to mentioning how in early 1959 the Tracking And Ground Instrumentation Unit at Langley wanted someone to study radar coverage and trajectory computation requirements. So, again you see why this is a book fo rme. But then you know who they hired for it? Ford Aeronutronics. Have you never heard of an “Aeronutronic”? Me neither and I’m barely able to think of anything else. I had thought, like, a “nutronic” was the thing a spinning top does when it starts wobbling but hasn’t quite fallen over. I don’t understand what that has to do with spaceflight tracking and data. So, Sunny Tsiao, if you’re out there, could you give me a hint? Thanks very kindly.


PS: The e-Books page also has William M Leary’s We Freeze to Please: A History of NASA’s Icing Research Tunnel and the Quest for Safety. But that is only 192 pages so maybe that’s not enough of itself for me.

To light up my life


I’d like to get back to the American Face Brick Association’s writing, but it was more important to discuss the kitchen light. I think you find it a welcome break from the world to hear about we haven’t been able to see what’s spilled on the counter. It seems to have been … molasses? Which … we … don’t have? We have no idea how this came about.

So the trouble was that the warp core inside our light fixture broke, scattering space and time and also not illuminating anything anymore. We couldn’t fix the problem, because of this frosted glass dome cover held on by three metallic clips. With our own mechanical ingenuity exhausted we called an electrician. And, I admit now that we’ve seen how to remove the glass dome we feel foolish having needed an expert for it. But without seeing how to do it how would we have known? The answer is to use a good, dependable fold-out ladder to get close to the ceiling, then smash the glass dome with a sledge hammer, and throw the pieces over the fence into the yard of the neighbor we’re fighting with. Let me tell you, I’m not looking forward to the time we aren’t fighting with any of our neighbors! And also have a burned-out kitchen light.

And it turns out the burned-out warp core was actually a halogen light bulb. The electrician offered to replace the light fixture, if we had a new light fixture, because those are getting hard to come by. A couple hours later while I was at Meijer’s for a separate light-bulb-related fiasco I discovered they have two-packs of halogen light bulbs for eight bucks. So maybe we should tell the electricians that or something.

So we put in the new bulb and the new glass dome. And that’s worked great. The space-time rift that was swallowing up coins reversed itself. We found, like, $4.74 in loose change that we’d dropped and heard hit the floor but never saw again. This included a Denver-mint American Samoa quarter, so, I hear you but don’t be jelly. We’ve also found so many dropped pills. Redemption tickets to the Fascination parlor off Morey’s Pier in Wildwood, New Jersey. Long-disappeared previous inhabitants of the house. “Has … has World War II ended? Did we win?” asked one. I asked, “Which World War II? World War II I, or World War II II?” He slugged me. Fair enough. In retrospect, that was a mean and baffling joke, the kind of thing more appropriate for a 90s web comic. I list it here to work out my shame.

Photograph of some strange long cylindrical tube that's wired into the ceiling. Its cover is glass or similar transparent material and it's got several lightly scored circles and parallel lines to make it look the more like a science fiction movie prop.
So it turns out this was less bad than I expected, but still, betting that it would be bad seemed like the way to go.

Also the new bulb is 300 Watts and let me tell you, that’s bright. The previous bulb turned out to be 150 Watts and it was maybe going before it broke altogether. This, though? It’s brilliant. It’s bright enough to shine around corners. It’s so bright we can see what’s in the refrigerator without even opening the door. Dozens of house centipedes (don’t do an image search) have come out, raising upwards of 26 arms each, begging for mercy and unfortunately reminding us we have house centipedes. It turns out that I have a weird, secondary liver, and not even in my abdomen. Last night we had three people come over to ask if this was the drive-in theater. We didn’t have the nerve to say “it is now!”

We do feel a little bad about using a 300 Watt bulb to light less than one city block, yes. If there’s an LED equivalent I’d switch over to that. The trouble is finding an LED equivalent. What would be as bright but not intensely wasteful and hot? We can’t match it by talking about Watts. But it turns out that every other method of measuring brightness doesn’t work. Like, there’s the candela, which is a larger candle tuned to one perfect-fifth below. But two things can be the exact same candela and each somehow look twice as bright as the other. Then there’s the “lux”, which is short for the “Pop-u-luxe” or, as it’s known outside the Midwest, the “Soda-u-luxe”. This measures how well the thing is fringed by a swoopy, ideally neon fixture with chrome plating. There is no need for this. There is the “lumen”, which measures how ominous a thing you can’t quite see yet is. The more lumens, the more you can’t quite see it coming. This does nothing to help you tell how bright it is.

For now we’re just going to see things in the kitchen but feel bad about it. This is as best as we could hope for, really. Thank you for your concern.

What’s Going On In Alley Oop (Sundays)? Is there a plot in Alley Oop (Sundays)? April – July 2020


So maybe yesterday you noticed I didn’t tag the recap for Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop as the weekday continuity. It’s not that I forgot that there was an ongoing story in the Sunday, Little Oop, strips. It’s more that I am not sure whether there is a story going on in the Sunday strips.

Since Lemon and Sayers took over, the Sunday Alley Oop strips have been a separate continuity. (Under Jack and Carole Bender they had been a recap-and-preview of a week’s worth of strips.), The Sunday strips are set when Alley Oop is a little kid. In February a story seemed to start: Penelope, a young science-type genius girl of the year 2020, popped into Little Alley Oop’s world. She brought him back to the present. Then then the time machine broke.

Penelope: 'Mom, this is Alley. He's going to stay with us a little while, OK?' Mom: 'No way! I'm not letting some stranger live in our house.' Penelope, holding up the Convince-O-Ray: 'Oops. Forgot to turn this on.' With a purple light shining on Mom: 'Mom, this is Alley. He's going to stay with us a little while, OK?' Mom: 'Of course! The more the merrier. I'll fix up the guest room for you, Alley. ... Wait a minute. Are you using your Convince-O-Ray on me again?' Penelope: 'Um ... no, Mom. This is my new anti-aging machine.' Mom: 'Oh, well, in that case ... ' Little Oop: 'I don't know, Penelope. Something about this invention doesn't feel quite right.' Penelope: 'It's no big deal. Now go stand in that purple light for just a second.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 21st of June, 2020. Got to say, Penelope being a little kid makes her brainwashing device more fun. And I know what you’re wondering: so could the weekday-continuity Alley Oop grab the Convince-O-Ray next time he’s in 2020? They’re all in the same continuity and everything, right? I don’t know, I didn’t think to wonder that until I started writing a caption for this strip myself.

Penelope has not been anxious about getting her time machine fixed, although there’ve been a couple attempts at it. Instead, we’ve seen Little Oop get set up in Penelope’s family’s guest room. To start going to school. To meet some of Penelope’s friends and her brother and all that. It’s read more like we’re getting a revised setting to the Sunday strips more than anything meant to go anywhere.

Teacher: 'And that's how we know that humans and dinosaurs never coexisted ... yes, Alley?' Little Oop: 'I think my pet dinosaur, Max, would disagree. In fact, I know tons of dinosaurs back home. My gym teacher is one. I mean, sure, they're not *all* great. My cousin almost got eaten by a Utahraptor, but he's a bit of a daydreamer. What I'm trying to say is that you don't have the slightest idea what you're talking about.' (Teacher points Little Oop out the classroom.) Little Oop, to another student outside the principal's office: 'I guess my teacher wants me to tell the principal all about my dinosaur friends too.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 12th of July, 2020. Incidentally, V T Hamlin handled the question of “but dinosaurs went extinct way before humans ever appeared” way back in April 1939, when the new premise of the caveman strip was just being introduced. Also, if you want to see Little Oop’s gym teacher, here he is organizing a rockball game. He doesn’t look much like Gil Thorp even for being a dinosaur.

So at this point I can’t give a plot recap because there isn’t really a plot. There’s just Little Oop getting into cute shenanigans in the present day. If this turns into a story I’ll add it to my regular plot recaps. But for now, it seems to be just stand-alone incidents. At least once you know what a caveboy is doing in 2020.

If this changes, or if I get any news about Alley Oop, I’ll post an essay at this link. Thanks for reading.

What’s Going On In Alley Oop? Is Alley Oop off the hook for Time Crime? April – July 2020


Yes, it looks like the thing where Universe-3 is prosecuting our, Universe-2, Alley Oop and company is resolved. The charges are dropped until some later nonsense happens. The original, V T Hamlin-created Alley Oop is in Universe-1, not a part of these shenanigans. Glad to catch you up on Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop, as of mid-July 2020. If you’re reading this after about October 2020 there’ll likely be a new plot recap at this link.

My other blog has given a break to reading comic strips for a while, but I am building a little glossary of mathematical terms, one a week, at this link. You might like that, too.

Alley Oop.

27 April – 18 July 2020.

In the most surprisingestly surprising surprise in the history of surprises, billionaire Drew Copious was up to something evil. Last time, Copious hired Dr Wonmug and his gang for some little time-travel adventures. This got him a pencil from the useless aliens who watched the Egyptians build the Pyramids. The pencil was a communicator to some alien named Farfell.

Ooola: 'Where were you guys? I was in 2485 for almost a year!' Oop: 'We traveled all over time looking for you, from the Big Bang to the heat death of the universe.' Wonmug: 'Finally, we went back to the moment that Copious sent you to the future and looked at the date on the time cube.' Oop: 'And we brought you back to just a short while after you left.' Ooola: 'So after a year, you finally did the easiest thing possible?' Oop: 'We really didn't want to cheat!'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 15th of May, 2020. So this is one of those little ways that time travel would change computing as we know it, by the way. (Also, in rescuing Wonmug from the past, Oop “originally” returned to ten days after he set out, earning Copious’s mild praise, then went back to just ten minutes after he set out, doing an “amazing job”.)

Copious separates Alley Oop from Dr Wonmug and Ooola. He has a test. Copious abducts Wonmug and Ooola, losing them somewhere in time, and Alley Oop has to rescue them. Wonmug’s stranded at a Beatles concert. It takes Alley Oop some time to find him, until he remembers he has a time machine. It takes longer to find Ooola, who’s hidden in the post-apocalyptic year of August 2020 2485. At least until they realize they can use the time machine to check where Copious sent her.

Oop: 'Ooola, what was the year 2485 like?' Ooona: 'It wasn't too bad. I was president of the zombies for a few months. I built affordable housing on the Moon. Oh, and I started a business selling food pills.' Oop: 'Wow! The future has food pills?' Ooona: 'No. I went out of business right away. I lost millions.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 16th of May, 2020. All right, but if she sold those little cubes of bright-colored food you saw on the original Star Trek? And if they were blocks of cheese? That would be different. My point is if someone opened a nothing-but-cheese buffet near me I would never eat anywhere else for any reason, not until I was too large to fit through doors.

Why all the testing? Because Copious wants to know if they’re up to helping him conquer the multiverse. He’s teamed up with the Nudellians, the useless aliens from the Pyramids. Copious explains they’re intelligent but gullible, and thus, useful. They sold Copious a device to travel between universes, which stopped working. We readers know why that is. To escape Time Court, Wonmug got a Universe Transit Device that locked out cross-universe travel. Copious is looking for a way to overcome that.

There’s one party Alley Oop and gang know who could help. That’s Ollie Arp and Eeena, their Universe-3 counterparts. And the ones who brought them up for trial in Time Court. And the only way to contact them is Copious’s pencil. Alley Oop sneaks up on Copious and distracts him by whacking him unconscious. Arp and Eeena debate it a little and decide saving the multiverse is worth dropping the charges.

Ollie Arp: 'I can't help but notice you guys ran out on your trial.' Wonmug: 'Oh yes ... ha ha ... well, I left my ... mechanical bull running and ... ' Alley Oop: 'I have a question. Was that even a real trial? What authority did you have to arrest us?' Ooola: 'When did you learn so much about the legal system?' Oop: 'Well, I did get into some trouble as a teenager back in Moo.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 9th of June, 2020. One advantage to making your story a comedic serial adventure is you never have plot holes. You have “hey, wait a minute” jokes set up for later use.

Arp and Eeena guide Wonmug in the use of Copious’s universe-travel device. It sends him to Universe 92, one where money was never invented. Arp and Eeena send Copious’s accomplices to Universe 212 and a hot bath. They were just “a few bad noodles”, paying off the pun set up by saying they were from the planet Nu-Dell. So the multiverse is saved, Universe-3 dropped the Time Crime charges against Our Heroes, and all’s well. That wraps things up … let’s call it the 24th of June.


The 25th of June everyone goes back to Moo. Wonmug included, since he hasn’t got anywhere else to be. Also there’s some weird giant ominous cloud looming over the Time Lab.

In Moo, Oop asks, 'So, Doc, why didn't you go back to your place? Everything okay?' Wonmug: 'I just have a weird feeling about going home.' Oop: 'Why? Are you afraid you left the oven on or something?' Wonmug: 'Haha. Something like that.' Back at the Time Lab, a gigantic storm cloud in the shape of a sinister face gathers, shooting lightning bolts.
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 27th of June, 2020. ObFuturamaReference: “Hmm, must be a friend of theirs!” (Hi, Love!)

Bad news in Moo, though. Dinny the dinosaur’s run away. But he’s not hard to find: he went to Inspiration Peak, where to canoodle with Francine, a dinosaur he met at the dino park. They’ve just started dating, no idea where this is going. They’ll see what happens. So that’s sweet.

Meanwhile, Ooola, who went off to the hot springs, is in some kind of fight. With her cry of “Die, fiend!” we reach the 18th of July and the nominal end of this recap period. (She’s rehearsing a play, we learn on Monday and Tuesday.)

Next Week!

More ghosts than usual have been walking! What did it all mean? I’ll try to say something organized about Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom (Weekdays) next week. If something doesn’t disrupt the lineage of 21 plot-recap comics snark bloggers before me. Thanks for reading.

Seized by the thought of this momentous anniversary


I’m sorry I’m late. I got caught up in thinking how it was just 31 years ago tonight that I was sitting up watching, on TV, the coverage of the 20th Anniversary of Apollo 11. Gosh. You never see time moving, especially not this year, and yet there it goes nevertheless. You realize next year is going to be the 10th anniversary of the 20th anniversary of the first space shuttle launch? Just amazing.

60s Popeye: Uranium on the Cranium, because Popeye cartoons are where you say things like ‘cranium’


We’re back to a Larry Harmon-produced cartoon this week. The director on record is Paul Fennell and the story is by the ever-reliable Charles Shows. Back to 1960 and Uranium on the Cranium.

My first problem with this cartoon is that I know the history of Popeye too well. There’s a better version of this cartoon. Of course there is; by the time we reached this cartoon there were … I don’t know, three hundred Popeye shorts out there? A lot of premise was covered. But the Fleischer Stealin’ Ain’t Honest covers a lot of the same territory, including BlutoBrutus stealing the map through a periscope and racing to an island. Between the 1940 predecessor and this 1960 version the gold mine has turned into a uranium mine. That’s nice and timely. Updating the Macguffin doesn’t affect things any, of course. But it’s curious we don’t see any use of radioactive materials as magic, capable of any sort of weird fun story event. Or at least giant glowing monsters. Yes, I know uranium doens’t really do that. Who could possibly care?

The most interesting change is Brutus putting on a gorilla suit to mess with Popeye. This is a danged good idea. Popeye has an aversion to beating up “dumb aminals”. He’s not as consistent with this as we’d wish from our heroes. But it takes more to get him to beat up a gorilla than to beat up Brutus. A good costume shop would let Brutus get away with murder.

A gorilla facing off against Brutus, who's left the head off of his own gorilla costume.
Well, you got me: this one isn’t from my DeviantArt account anyway.

Of course there ends up being a real gorilla in the mix, and Popeye thinks the real gorilla is Brutus and then Brutus thinks the real gorilla is Popeye stealing his gimmick. That’s a fair enough use of the gimmick. It seems like it could have been better.

There’s a writing tick that I noticed here and now I’m curious whether it’s a Harmon-studios specialty. That’s one of forming a joke by repeating a word, maybe in different contexts. Asked if he’s sure nobody can see the map at sea, Popeye says, “Sure I’m sure.” Shown the Geiger counter, Olive Oyl says, “I can hardly wait for the buzzer to buzz”. As Brutus ties her up Olive Oyl tells Brutus “you are a crooked crook!” Brutus answers “this mine is mine, all mine!” Any one of these is unremarkable. They even fit the language pattern of Popeye’s immortal declarations about how he yam what he yam and that’s all what he yam. Or how he’s had all the can stands, he can’t stands no more. I suspect if I were more intersted in the cartoon I wouldn’t notice these things. But there you go.

Statistics Saturday: Apollo Astronauts who are also former members of The Association


  • (To date none, although I’ll bet Apollo 13’s Jim Lovell has hummed “Cherish” at least once in the shower within the last 45 days.)

Reference: Telephone: The First Hundred Years, John Brooks.

(Has this got it out of my system yet? Oh, wouldn’t we all like to think it has? )

In which I can’t quite say something more about bricks


I don’t want it to sound like all I’m thinking of these days is that The Story Of Brick book from the American Face Brick Association. I bet the American Face Brick Association itself thinks I’m making too big a deal of it. “Look, it’s just not that important a thing. We wrote it when we were feeling all defensive about people’s bad estimates of the cost of brick faces. It’s not like we think it’s bad or anything, it’s just … you know, just this one book.” I bet they’re blushing.

If they’re even called the American Face Brick Association anymore. I just bet they went through that process where they reason, you know, face bricks aren’t all we do. There’s also slates and stones. So then they go adding that to make the name the American Face Brick, Slate, and Stone Association. And then someone points out they know a guy in Toronto. And someone else knows that guy too and he’s fun to have at their conventions. So then it becomes the American and Canadian Face Brick, Slate, and Stone Association briefly. Then someone reminds them it’s 1936 and Newfoundland isn’t part of Canada yet, and they explore calling it the American and Canadian and Newfoundlanderian thing before settling on “North American”. And then someone finds other stuff you can put in front of houses and they don’t want to list all that. So we get the North American Building Coverings Association. Then some consultant tells them that a geographic designator is too old-fashioned so it becomes the Building Coverings Association. Then you get to where it seems all fancy to have a clipped, shortened name and it turns into the BuiCovAssoc, or as it’s finally known, the Association. Except on the front of their building they still have the “American and Canadian Face Brick, Slate, and Stone Association” because they can’t agree who gets to engrave the new name.

But even with the break in the heat wave I’ve needed things to think about that are easy and comforting. And I know it’s hard to think of bricks as comforting. It’s also hard not to notice you can rearrange the words in that last sentence and get one at least as good. “And I know it’s comforting to think of bricks as hard.” That’s reassuring in these trying times. “And I think it’s hard as comforting bricks to know of.” That one turns out to have extra words, unless we happen to know someone named “Of” who’s inscrutable. We might. We know all sorts of people, I can’t know things like what to call them.

Daft? Yes. This is daft. But it’s better I worry about this than I worry about the kitchen light fixture. That stopped working the other day. You’d think the answer would be “put in a new light bulb”. No. First, the fixture has this ceramic dome on it that’s connected by I don’t know what. It’s some metal clip contraption that’s holding on to it more securely than my car holds on to its engine. I can kind of tug one clip a little out of the way. But it’s not enough to take the cover off, and I can’t move two clips at a time unless I go up there with more arms than I have.

Photograph of some strange long cylindrical tube that's wired into the ceiling. Its cover is glass or similar transparent material and it's got several lightly scored circles and parallel lines to make it look the more like a science fiction movie prop.
I don’t know what this is or what repairing it is like except that I know with a certainty ordinarily possible only for mathematical truths that it will not be good.

Also inside I can see there isn’t a light bulb. There’s just this … thing. It’s a long skinny cylinder with a couple of scratch marks on it that look like they’re supposed to be on there. It looks like a warp core’s reactor. I don’t know why we’ve been getting light from a small warp reactor. I also don’t want to know what kind of problems with space and time having this thing in the house has been causing. I think this might explain how last week I dropped eight cents on the floor, and heard the nickel and all three pennies hit the floor, and every one of them vanished. This was while the light was still working, too. I’m not upset about losing the eight cents. I’m worried that this loose change has gone and popped into the Neutral Zone and maybe been given superpowers by an alien planet of coin-based life forms, and it’ll head back to Earth zapping starships and planets and whole galaxies into a little coin-collector’s book jacket.

Anyway I probably have more thoughts about that book but I don’t remember now. Sorry.

What’s Going On In The Amazing Spider-Man? Were they lying when they said Spider-Man would come back? April – July 2020


Well, lying has to carry with it intent. I wasn’t lying when I said I planned to do my comic strip plot recaps for Tuesdays, for example. Stuff just got in the way. And it’s not as if anyone’s 2020 has gone to plan, or else I’d have written this during slack moments of Pinburgh. But as we finish another quarter-year with no new creative team for The Amazing Spider-Man, it’s getting harder to believe that there ever will be. If I get any news about Spider-Man returning to the comics I’ll report it in an essay at this link. And, what the heck, I’ll keep it in the story-update cycle at least a bit longer. This story, from Roy Thomas and Larry Lieber, ran in 2015-16.

On my other blog, I am temporarily not reading comic strips except for my own pleasure. But I am looking at one mathematical term or concept a week, one for each letter of the alphabet. These are all essays I hope bring some fresh thoughts about some familiar old notion like what “normal” is. You might like, and you can suggest topics of your own interest that I might get to. Please consider that.

The Amazing Spider-Man.

19 April – 11 July 2020.

Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner, was threatening the surface world with destruction. He does that every now and then. Something about how the surface world despoils the oceans. As ever, he’s not wrong. He brought Pharus, an Atlantean boy who contracted Tiny Tim Disorder from human pollution. White Spider-Man and Namor fought, Mary Jane brought Pharus to Metro General Hospital.

J Jonah Jameson takes the injured Peter Parker to the same hospital. (Parker was woozy after his fight with Namor.) Partly to be a decent person, but also because Parker let slip that Pharus went there. Jameson meets Dr Liz Bellman, who’s got the toxins out of Pharus, and that’s all he can get before the soldiers arrive. They figure to take Pharus into custody. Parker slips out and, as Spider-Man, uses his spider-powers to open a door. Spidey kidnaps, or liberates, Pharus, who dives into the New York Harbor. And disappears. There’s one day until Namor declares even more war on the surface world.

Peter Parker, ducking into a hospital closet, thinking: 'Namor has a grudge against the human race ... but I can't let the *boy* he brought with him become a hostage!' Coming out, as Spider-Man, thinking: 'Dr Bellman must've come out of one of THESE rooms ... ' (Opening a door) 'Bingo!' Pharus: 'Are --- are you going to HURT me?'
Roy Thomas and Larry Lieber’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the 29th of April, 2020. Yes, I know, dramatic economy and it’s not like the story needs to be slower, especially given how heavy an exposition workload newspaper story strips have to carry. But, man, can you imagine how tough it would have been if Spider-Man had to choose among three doors?

Pharus swims to Namor’s ship, though, and tells of his treatment, and the kindness received. Namor doesn’t see this as any reason to call off the war, and sails back to the New York City pier he just left. He steps out to fight Spider-Man, because it would be rude not to. Spider-Man’s no match for Namor, but Pharus pleads for his life. And the life of the surface world, arguing that Spider-Man can be the brave leader who alters the surface world. Namor’s unmoved.

Mary Jane Parker arrives, offering to become his bride if he’ll spare Spider-Man. Namor refuses this, on the reasonable grounds a leader cannot put his desires ahead of his country’s.

Jameson, watching Spider-Man and Namor fight on TV: 'I don't get it Robbie! Wy isn't the army moving in on the Sub-Mariner? Heaven knows I'm no fan of Spider-Man, but that doesn't mean I want that waterlogged warmonger to kill him!' Robertson: 'Don't you see Mary Jane Parker there, Jonah? And that boy? If the army acts, they'll be caught in the crossfire!' Jameson: 'Isn't there anybody who can intervene?' Robertson: 'The President reached out to some folks who're on a mission out of the country ... but it doesn't look like the Avengers will arrive in time to save their fellow masked man!' Jameson: 'Then, whether I like it or not ... and I don't ... the web-crawler is history!'
Roy Thomas and Larry Lieber’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the 31st of May, 2020. So a recurring bit that always amuses me is when someone in the strip proposes getting Spidey some backup. This always leads to the discovery that all eight thousand other superheroes in midtown Manhattan alone are out on other business. Usually that’s enough spackle to put over the plot hole. But here, Namor has announced he’s going to war, Atlantean ships have been stopping surface ships, and Namor has come to New York City, a city he’s specifically threatened with destruction before, in a situation that’s been developing for … days, at least. Weeks, more likely. Plausibly a month or more. What other thing is going on that Captain America has to deal with this afternoon?

Finally Dr Bellman arrives, asking for mercy on her behalf. She’s the spitting image of her grandmother, Betty Dean, who talked Namor out of attacking the surface world back in 1940 or so. And who Namor’s been crushing on ever since. Bellman says Dean’s last words were begging to remind Namor of how the surface world and Atlantis can share the world peacefully.

And this changes his mind. Namor can now see how his way of going to war will only lead to war. He’ll give the surface world another try, and never bother with killing Spider-Man or whatnot. Namor sails his flying Atlantis boat out of the story on the 15th of June, although it takes a little while to quite wrap everything up. Dr Bellman heading out. Reporters showing up. Spider-Man telling the United Nations how there will be peace when the people of the world want it so badly that their governments will have no choice but to give it to them. That sort of thing. Spider-Man webs out, too, so that Peter Parker can learn how Jameson isn’t buying Spider-Man Versus Namor pictures.


We get the transition to the current story the 28th of June. Peter Parker and Mary Jane walk through the crowds. A trenchcoated figure starts following. He’s Xandu. He figures Mary Jane might just help him get the Wand of Watoomb, and that will make him happy. By a wild coincidence, though, the Parkers walk past the lair of Doctor Strange. Newspaper Spider-Man, sometime in the past, teamed up with Dr Strange to stop Xandu the sorcerer. Hey, what are the odds?

At Dr Strange's door. Peter: 'He mus not be home, Honey. Let's ... ' Mary Jane: 'Wait! The door's starting to ... ' [ The door opens with a slow kreeeeeek ] Dr Strange: 'Hello, I'm Stephen Strange. What can I do for you?'
Roy Thomas and Larry Lieber’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the 10th of July, 2020. Dr Strange is really at ease considering it was, like, maybe this morning that Namor was still planning to sink every surface ship that left port. I mean, the time transition is ambiguous so it’s maybe been a couple days but … like, were people just this chill two days after the end of the Cuban Missile Crisis?

Mary Jane wants to meet Dr Strange, but Peter can’t think of a pretext that isn’t weird or secret-identity-spoiling. Xandu can, though: he ‘accidentally’ bumps her hand and it sets off a weird tingling. She, claiming a strange compulsion to meet Strange, knocks on his door. Dr Strange is happy to take some time away from his job of wearing a giant pinball surrounded by flower petals to meet an actress like Mary Jane. So there we are.

This story originally started the 21st of February, 2016. It ran through the 17th of July, so, 21 weeks total. We should finish the 22nd of November this year if I haven’t counted wrong.

Mary Jane also name-drops Mandrake the Magician, another King Features syndicated comic strip. Mandrake’s a fun strip, sent into reruns in July 2013 when writer and artist Fred Fredericks had to step down mid-story, for health reasons. They’re probably going to get a new creative team for that one soon too.

Next Week!

So that rich guy who wanted ancient alien technology. I bet he was up to something good, right? We’ll find out with a check on Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop. Thanks for reading.

Even though it is a little cooler


I’m sorry not to have my comic strip report today, but Comics Kingdom had a major failure when I was figuring to write up three months’ worth of The Amazing Spider-Man story. So instead let me underscore my claims last week about how hot it was with this photograph of a real thing a block away from my house, where the telephone pole won’t go outside without some bottled water:

Photograph of a telephone pole. A plastic disposable water bottle is strapped to the pole by some cyan-and-white striped plastic ribbon.
Also in the neighborhood: a tree that’s got a sign reading just ‘FREE’ taped to its side. I would assume this was something for Squirrel Freecycle except that whatever it was, was taken. Unless it was the tree.

It’s cooled down some but that’s the heat wave we had.

Or To Be Exact, It’s Just Windy


So you remember The Association’s great kind of ear-wormy 1967 hit, “Everyone Knows It’s Windy”? It’s a nice bit of sunshine pop, one of those songs that’s doing really well until it runs out of lyrics about one minute in, and then goes on for another minute and forty seconds. Anyway, a bit of conversation this weekend confirmed that the younger folk are not familiar with this song. So I must appeal to whatever members of The Association are still out there to please record an update, “Not Everyone Knows Everyone Knows It’s Windy”. Thank you.

Also I am starting to suspect Mary is never coming along.

60s Popeye: Shoot the Chutes, a Popeye cartoon they made in the 60s


We’re back with Jack Kinney’s gang today. Shoot the Chutes, the name, refers to the golden-age-of-amusement-parks ride in which you in a big boat go down a sloped waterfall to a big splash. Many amusement parks today have revivals of this. So of course it’s a cartoon about parachute jumping, which is a correct pun. The story is by Ed Nofziger, and the direction by Volus Jones and Ed Friedman, the team we saw going Out oF the World last week. So here’s Shoot the Chutes.

Last week, I thought we had a great premise poorly used. Here, we have a more mundane premise, Popeye and Brutus at a parachute-jumping contest. I want to say it’s also poorly used, but something holds me back.

I will not try to convince anyone this is a good cartoon. It hasn’t got enough delightful moments to be good. And it’s got too much that’s annoying. Most annoying in this is Olive Oyl brattishly demanding that Popeye win her the parachuting trophy. But out of that come bits that seem smarter than that. Like, Olive Oyl’s cheerleading chants. “Trophy, trophy, rah rah rah! Gimme that trophy or I’ll sock you in the jaw!” does not make Olive Oyl seem like a pleasant person. But it is a silly chant for a ridiculous demand. Similarly, “Yakkety Yack! Snik snak! Win that trophy or get the axe!” is goofy. The same happens when Olive Oyl gets tired of waiting for Brutus and Popeye to finish falling and declares “hurry up with that trophy!” It’s a funny demand, and makes the stakes on this tournament ridiculous.

What doesn’t work is that even if a character is supposed to be ridiculously bratty, she’s still being bratty. Working a bit better is Popeye and Brutus quipping their whole way through the parachute drop. I like Brutus swinging the parachute upside-down and then declaring, “Hey! I’m losing!”

So the best interpretation I can put on this is that Nofziger spruced up a stock plot by the characters not taking it at all seriously. Done well, this is great. It depends on the audience knowing the characters well, and knowing the storyline well. But it turns the experience into something I’ve dubbed Cartoon Existentialism. People who know they’re doing these things because what else are they going to do? The Hanna-Barbera cartoons of the 50s and early 60s let this creep in quite well. See any short where, like, Snagglepuss wanders into the story of the Three Little Pigs or something.

Cartoony vulture on the end of a flagpole imitating Popeye's walk cycle.
Oh, yeah, I don’t know where this vulture is from, but I like them. Bringing a little spoof of Popeye’s walk is the kind of touch we need.

Here? It’s not so good. Olive Oyl being obnoxious ironically is still Olive Oyl being obnoxious. Popeye quipping his way through a perilous scenario is an inherent part of his character. It’s only a bit less so for Brutus. After The Ball Went Over, another Jack Kinney-produced cartoon, does this much better. The characters know they’re going through a scenario because they have to do something and if their hearts aren’t in it, they’re at least being weird.

Also, while I can credit Nofziger with sprucing up the stock plot, he also made the stock plot. They’d done flying cartoons before, albeit in the black-and-white era, like Pest Pilot and I Never Changes My Altitude. Why not use some of their plot ingenuity?

The animation’s basically fine. All those seconds with Brutus swinging his parachute side to side seems like it saved the budget. The music was made by hitting shuffle. I don’t know who contestants 1 through 11 were.

Statistics Saturday: My Eyes, In Photographs


My Eyes, in Photographs: Pie chart nearly wholly divided between 'drooped closed like I accidentally took all the melatonin' and 'bugged out like I'm playing a Klingon on Next Generation'; a tiny slice is 'looking like any kind of normal person's'.
Not pictured: that thing where I tilt my head because somewhere I got the idea that looks natural or candid or not extremely weird?

Reference: Planets and Perception: Telescopic Views and Interpretations, 1609 – 1909, William Sheehan.

In which I would like it a little cooler please


I would like to carry on talking about that book from the American Face Brick Association. Really. You have no idea how much delight I find in every page. It’s just that I have bigger problems right now. I don’t mean bigger problems like we all have from it being 2020, what with it being 2020 and all that. This is the year where there’s a 40 percent chance that you’ll come back from a half-hour walk to the news that “Medusa is real and she’s stolen the Moon”. This is why I make my walks at minimum 35 minutes, and you’ll notice, nobody’s stolen the Moon yet. (CHECK BEFORE POSTING) I don’t expect thanks; I’m gratified to know I’m doing my part.

But the core of my problems right now come from the heat wave. I don’t know what it’s like where you are, unless you’re my love, who’s sitting on the other side of the table and terrifying me by reading something I wrote and pointing out where I stole jokes. Here, though, we’ve got a heat wave. Apart from a well-received bit yesterday where a cloud passed in front of the sun, it’s been about 140 degrees Fahrenheit every afternoon for a week. In the evening it drops to a balmy 160.

It is so hot that I feel a bit too warm. I have to explain why that means anything. I am one of those people known in the medical lingo as “a bit cold”. I would like the temperature raised a little bit in almost any circumstance. I’m the person you see sunbathing, wearing long cargo pants and a hoodie to the beach in July. There have been campfires I’ve accidentally stepped into and thought, “this could be hotter”. I set my half of the electric blanket so high my love has to leave the bed, go into the other room, and still sleep without a blanket. And I’m still not convinced the blanket is on. That is the warmth I need. And this heat wave I think is a bit too warm.

It’s a difficult heat wave to exaggerate. This is hard for me because 85% of my personality is exaggeration, with the rest being “pop culture reference I’m trying to tamp down because everyone else makes the same references”. Which is hilarious because most of my references are to, like, nice cracks Fred Allen had about Billy Rose’s Aquacade in the 1939 World’s Fair.

But still. Like, our neighbors mowed the lawns just ahead of the heat wave, so their lawns are these neat uniform brown patches of dead grass. Ours looks like my beard, in comparison, although with more plantains. I mean the plantains are in the lawn. I can’t mow the lawn, though, because the grass has melted. In the relative cool of evening I could squeegee the lawn, except the squeegee also melted and ran down the storm drain.

We made a pitcher of ice coffee, and set it back in the fridge, where it caught on fire.

My daily walk? The one that I make long enough we don’t have to worry about Moon theft? I have to take that later and later, in the hopes of finding cool. Monday I had to take it about 11 pm. Tuesday I had to walk after midnight. Yesterday’s walk I had to take so late it was actually 2 pm today. It is not pleasant out there.

It’s not so hot in here, because it’s too hot in here. Our house, in the past, was owned by many people who meant well but had no idea what they were doing. At least one of them painted all our windows shut. Every summer I target one window with hammer and chisel and crowbar and pry it open and about half of the time I even succeed. This year I got a second window in the dining room almost ready to open, and I would have succeeded too, if the window handle had not melted off in my hand.

Anyway I know people talk about using atom bombs to break up hurricanes. I want to know where the research is into using atom bombs to break up high-pressure systems. Trust me, I normally oppose using atom bombs for any purpose besides making a merry little strategy game suddenly all serious. But this has been going on a week now.

So given how I’ve been talking like this: why are my friends going back and fact-checking whether it could literally be 140 degrees here? I mean … am I not being clear enough I’m exaggerating? Or am I surrounded by friends who are going to take me seriously until I cut that out?

It’s got me burning up, I tell you.

What’s Going On In Judge Parker? Did you see the new Sparks video? April – July 2020


Yes, I did see the official video for Sparks’s new song, The Existential Threat. If you’d like to see it, it’s here. Content warning: the animation has the style of 70s-underground-comix grand-guignol body horror. Consider whether you’re up for that before watching. I’d recommend listening anyway.

With that wholly unrelated topic taken care of let me get to business. This plot recap gets you through early July 2020 for Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker. If you’re reading this after about October 2020 there’s likely a more up-to-date plot summary at this link. I’ll also put any news I have about the comic strip at that link.

I’ve put on hold the reading-comics part of my other blog. I am still writing stuff, though, with the focus being an A-to-Z glossary, one term for each letter, publishing over the course of the year.

Judge Parker.

13 April – 5 July 2020.

Yes, it’s hard to remember as long ago as mid-April. Let me try anyway. Neddy Spencer and Ronnie Huerta’s series, based somehow on April Parker, had started filming in Cavelton. Sophie Spencer crashed filming, protesting Mayor Sanderson’s politics. And then Covid-19 hit the comic strip, the first of the story strips to address the pandemic at all. This was an amazing feat of work by Marciuliano and Manley. It has to have involved throwing out completed work to rush stuff out at deadline.

At the dinner table. Abbey: 'These are difficult times. We all know this. But more importantly, we're all here. Together. As family.' Ronnie: 'Plus one.' Abbey: 'Now that you're here you're family too, Ronnie.' Sam: 'So prepare to have your life take some bizarre narrative turns.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 20th of April, 2020. “Sooooo, ever had a secret evil half-sister? Been chased through a Mexican jungle by armed insurgents who want your dad’s autograph often?”

Neddy and Sophie barely start arguing the dragging of politics into decisions about how to spend public money when the show shuts down. Part of the lockdown, in the attempt to contain the pandemic. Ronnie stews about how she can’t even see her new girlfriend Kat, who’s to play Neddy on the show. And then Neddy’s ex-boyfriend Hank calls. She fumbles over the conversation, talking more and more enthusiastically than she would have thought. Why did Hank call? Why was she eager to talk to him?

Well, because of the pandemic. Everybody we know got locked in the Total Perspective Vortex. Enough of that and you start to ask, “was I really so upset with this person that it’s worth never having anything to do with them again?” You’re going through it too. Remember that you had reasons, and think about whether those reasons are still things of value.

Meanwhile in changing values: Honey Ballinger drops out of Toni Bowen’s mayoral campaign. She had joined Sophie’s plans for Bowen to do something meaningful, working therapy for her post-kidnapping stress. But now, with even the candidate not that enthusiastic, and the world shut down? She wants something else. The collapse of Sophie’s campaign-manager ambitions sends her talking again to Abbey. They had fought over whether Sophie going to college even meant anything after the kidnapping.

Abbey: 'Sophie, you'll never be alone! We're always here for you!' Sophie: 'I know. But you can be surrounded by loved ones and still feel utterly separate ... I ... I just want this feeling to stop. It's been over three years since everything happened. And I know that's not a long time. And that there's no timeline for getting past something like that. But I want this pain to stop ... '
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 14th of May, 2020. Jeez, you ever think how hard it’s got to be overcoming traumatic memories when you’re in a soap comic that doesn’t consistently advance in real-time? Like, it’s hard enough to spend four years as a high school sophomore but then not being able to count on whether The Incident was last fall or four years ago has to be a real head trip.

Meanwhile, Alan Parker’s mayoral campaign hits a problem: he and Katherine have Covid-19. While both look to recover, Alan Parker acknowledges he doesn’t want to be mayor enough to take him away from his family, whom the virus keeps him away from. He calls off his campaign, endorsing Toni Bowen on the way out, to her surprise. And to Sophie’s rejuvenation. She can’t wait to get the campaign going again.

And things are a bit tough for the Drivers. Sam Driver hasn’t got any lawyer work, and Alan Parker hasn’t got a campaign to manage anymore. Abbey’s bed-and-breakfast, finally completed, was ready to open as the lockdown hit. It’s cut into their finances. Abbey mentions how they were hit hard when they had to sell on the stock market, which is interesting. I mean, I know I’m bad at finance. I have two Individual Retirement Accounts, one a Traditional and one a Roth, because I could not figure out which was better for me. This way I’m sure to be at least half-wrong. But even I knew to put my spare thousand bucks into buying at crash prices. This is why I’m today the tenth-largest shareholder in Six Flags Amusement Parks. So how leveraged were the Parker-Drivers that they had to sell stocks into the crash?

Sophie: 'You want to what?' Sam: 'I want to help with Toni's campaign.' Sophie: 'So Mayor Sanderson's policies have now impacted you, huh?' Sam: 'Okay, my impetus was personal. But my drive is social.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 23rd of July, 2020. Looking forward to campaign worker Sam Driver going out and definitely not knocking on doors, not in this crisis. Just standing out on the sidewalk of some registered voter’s house, calling out, “[ something something something ] Toni Bowen [ something something ]” and answering residents’ questions with a confident, “What? WHAT? Can you speak up, please?”
Sam can’t get a rebate or early cancellation on the lease for his useless downtown office. Mayor Sanderson, who partly owns that office building, is reopening the town, the better to get everybody infected and dead sooner. So Sam turns to Sophie, offering his help in the Toni Bowen campaign.

And these are the standings, as of early July. I hope to check back in after a couple months to see what develops.

Next Week!

Oh, an exciting chance to check in on those “great new stories and art” for … oh. Yeah, King Features and Marvel haven’t got around to hiring anyone to write or draw The Amazing Spider-Man yet. So Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s reruns get another turn next week, and probably again three months after that.

Statistics June: How June 2020 Treated My Humor Blog


June 2020 was another recessional month around here, as most of my readership figures have it. The number of page views dropped about 250 from May, to 3,964. I’m still hanging on ahead of the twelve-month running average, of 3,842.8 page views, but it’s a closer thing. The number of unique visitors dropped about 150, to 2,336. This is again above the running average of 2,217.0, and a bit more comfortably above that.

The number of likes jumped nearly twenty, to 87 given in the month. The secular decline somehow continues, though. The running average is 105.0 likes in a month even though I haven’t seen that kind of number since January 2020. And to give you some idea how long ago January 2020 was: remember how long ago June 2020 was? January was twenty times that long ago.

The number of comments dropped seven, also, to 32 in the month. This still has it above the average of 21.0, though.

Bar chart of monthly readership for the past two and a half months. After a spike in April the readership and unique visitors counts are declining again.
Couldn’t get a picture of the statistics at exactly the start of July, Universal Time, because we were going to a drive-in movie showing Ferris Bueller and The Breakfast Club as part of their “what the heck, let’s just be the 80s” program. This week: Ghostbusters 1984, the one with the toxic fandom.

The per-posting averages have almost an identical story. Since I have something posted every day that’s not much of a surprise. The views per posting and visitors per posting are almost exactly the twelve-month average: 127.9 visitors per posting, compared to an average 126.1; and 75.4 unique visitors per posting, compared to an average 72.8. 2.7 likes per posting, compared to the average 3.4. 1.0 comments per posting, better than the average 0.7. The per-posting averages are more useful on my mathematics blog, where I’ll let days go without a posting.

The most popular postings in June were, as often happens, not ones that were posted in June. One of them I totally understand, though, and it’s probably going to be a steadily inappropriately popular post in the months to come:

What things from June were popular in June? Nothing involving June Morgan, it happens. Instead we had these:

Altogether, 577 distinct pages, plus my home page, got at least one view in June. 330 pages, counting the home page, got at least two views. 78 pages got at least ten views. That’s right about the same as in May. Probably these figures can’t change much until someone goes and gets me some viral bundle of attention.


77 countries or things like countries sent me viewers in June, which is the same number as in May. 20 of them were a single view, which again is the same count as in May. Here’s what they all were:

Mercator-style map of the world with the United States in darkest red, most of the Americas and Europe in a uniform pink, and also South Asia, Australia, and New Zealand.
Yes! Landed both Czech and Slovakia this month! Next month: everything that used to be part of the Federal Republic of Central America.
Country Readers
United States 2,640
India 226
United Kingdom 177
Macedonia 163
Australia 123
Canada 118
Finland 60
Germany 37
Brazil 32
Italy 26
Philippines 26
South Africa 25
Netherlands 22
Sweden 21
Norway 20
Mexico 13
Spain 13
France 11
Indonesia 11
Denmark 10
Ireland 10
Malaysia 10
Peru 10
Kenya 9
Nigeria 9
Romania 9
Japan 8
Singapore 8
Hong Kong SAR China 7
New Zealand 7
Kuwait 6
Taiwan 6
Trinidad & Tobago 6
Belgium 5
Switzerland 5
Hungary 4
Slovenia 4
United Arab Emirates 4
Austria 3
Greece 3
Israel 3
Thailand 3
Zambia 3
Argentina 2
Bulgaria 2
Croatia 2
Egypt 2
Jamaica 2
Oman 2
Pakistan 2
Panama 2
Poland 2
Russia 2
Serbia 2
South Korea 2
Ukraine 2
Vietnam 2
Belize 1
British Virgin Islands 1
Brunei 1
Colombia 1
Costa Rica 1
Cyprus 1
Czech Republic 1
European Union 1
Kazakhstan 1
Lebanon 1 (****)
Myanmar (Burma) 1
Nepal 1
Paraguay 1
Portugal 1
Qatar 1
Slovakia 1 (*)
Sri Lanka 1
Tanzania 1
Turkey 1
Venezuela 1

Slovakia’s been a single-view country two months running now. Lebanon’s been one for five months now. Macedonia hadn’t sent me any readers in May so I’m wondering if there was maybe something miscommunicated to the Balkan nations regarding my content here. Again, I’m always glad to have readers, wherever they’re from. I just know how far short I am of discussing anything like universal truths regarding the human condition.


My plan for the coming month is very like my plans for past months. A long-form essay posted Thursday evening, Eastern Time. On Saturday evening, Eastern Time, a Statistics Saturday piece. And on Tuesday evenings, What’s Going On In the story comics. My plan for the next few weeks — barring something special that forces me to change plans — is to cover there:

As of the start of July I’ve posted 2,707 things here. That all has drawn 175,391 page views from 98,598 unique visitors. There were a relatively slender 14,534 words published here in June, for a sleek average of 484.5 words per posting. I like that. For the year to date I’ve published 97,880 words, averaging 547 words per post. That average is down from the 556 at the start of June. This is doing well considering that every time I think I can cut a review of the 60s Popeye cartoons down to a couple well-chosen paragraphs they sprawl out to 1200 words.

I’m always glad to have more readers, either as subscribers or just stopping in for a while. You can subscribe through WordPress by clicking the ‘Follow Another Blog, Meanwhile’ button. You can use the RSS feed in whatever reader you like, which can include a Friends page on a free Dreamwidth or Livejournal account. New posts are announced to my Twitter account, @nebusj, although I only sometimes can actually post to it manually. Sorry. Nice to see you in any form, though.

60s Popeye: Out Of This World and it’d be nice if it were


We’re back to the Jack Kinney studios for 60s Popeye this week. Once again the story is from Ed Nofziger, who’s given us some great fairy tale riffs and some general weirdness. The directors are Volus Jones and Ed Friedman, new names to me. So let’s have some thoughts about 1960’s Out Of This World.

First, I have to amend an earlier entry. While reviewing Invisible Popeye, with a better premise than execution, I wrote “it’s better than Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Brutus doing their usual routine in a Suburban Boring house that also has computer buttons. Which, you’ll trust me, they could do”. Perhaps they could. But I was thinking specifically of this cartoon, in which they do not. There’s no Brutus here. There’s just the disembodied voice of Jackson Beck. We do have Swee’Pea, though. And we have Suburban Boring, but in The Future. Invisible Popeye at least gets weird.

It’s another O G Wotasnozzle cartoon. And another where he uses his time machine to send Popeye to a novel setting. Eventually. This cartoon runs five minutes, 41 seconds not counting the closing credits, which King Features has chopped off here. One minute 43 seconds of that is credits and the generic footage of Wotasnozzle deciding to send Popeye somewhere in time. “What the heck,” the great inventor thinks, “he’s probably just sitting at home listening to his theme on the Dixieland station”. So that’s why Popeye’s sent to either the year 2500 or 2500 years into the future. The framing device almost explains why everybody’s in the future, and lets the cartoon be one-fifth stock footage.

Also Olive Oyl and Swee’Pea are in the future too? Or Popeye hangs with their Future counterparts? Wotasnozzle says he sends Popeye somewhere by pot luck, so how are Olive Oyl and Swee’pea there? Popeye doesn’t seem thrown by the strange world of The Future. There’s a bit where water flows to the ceiling and he complains about something going wrong with the gravity. But that makes equal sense for either 20th or 25th Century Popeye to observe.

This is a standard circa-1960s view of The Future. Flying cars. Flying lounge chairs. Tourist space rockets to the Moon. Skyscrapers built into helter-skelter slides. Swee’Pea is splitting atoms and getting neutrons all over the rug. The ambiguously defined family of Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Swee’Pea eat roast beef pills and soup-and-salad-crystals and all. It seems like they have to eat a lot of pills. Maybe they’re eating their trail mix?

Establishing shot of a City of the Future, with one apartment tower that's surrounded by a spiral walkway, and mousehole-shaped entrances all along its length. Other buildings have a similar style and the place is arranged without clear communal flow.
Hey, it’s the John F Kennedy tower back in Troy, New York! I loved the look of that building. … Do you suppose anyone lives in that Grandma’s Weird 50s Table Lamp in the background?

And, yeah, you don’t watch cartoons like this for The Future. You watch them for The Present, spoofed by its placement in future trappings. And obviously a cartoon that has four minutes for all its business can’t compare to The Jetsons, still in the future when this was made. So we can look at what parts of The Present of 1960 the cartoon thought worth spoofing?

Well, the home. I read the place as suburban, but just because it seems boring. I guess it’s meant to be the City of Tomorrow. And then the road trip. Particularly the trip done by either bus or train. (I guess a five-minute rest stop is more a bus than a train thing, especially by 1960. I know train stops at eateries used to be a thing. I’ve been in the room while parts of The Harvey Girls were on TV.) It’s a fair premise, but there’s nothing done with it. Swee’Pea gathers asteroids. Why not go to a roadside attraction? You have a perfectly good chance to show, I don’t know, the largest robot cog this side of the asteroid belt and don’t use it?

Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Swee'Pea emerge from the rocket ship. They each wear small propellers above their heads, attached by poles to a mechanism strapped to their chests, to float around.
Oh sure, you laugh. But you also laughed at that Segway guy when he said they were going to re-engineer whole cities to cope with how that gadget changed civilization and who’s laughing now?

Then we get the Moon as a quaint, rustic tourist destination. The Upper Peninsula to Earth’s Michigan. There’s a similar notion in Futurama, where the Moon is part backwater, part tacky tourist trap. Arthur C Clarke’s novel Rendezvous with Rama has a line about how in the politics of the solar system, the Moon was a suburb of Earth and always would be. (I don’t remember it being clear what that meant exactly.) I am sure neither is responding to this cartoon. The idea is too sparsely entered.

We get a joke about the rustic moon offering old-fashioned stuff like the cars, gas stations, and airplanes of 1960. “Our present is, to the future, the past” isn’t a deep observation, but it is the sort of observation a kid in the target audience would appreciate.

So as seems to happen a lot, I like the characters, and I like the premise. I just don’t like that nothing happens, and that the premise isn’t used well. If I could wish any Popeye-related product into existence, though, a Popeye Of The Future comic might be it.

Statistics Saturday: Astronomers’ Names for Modern Discoveries


About half: 2019RGGCr+118350(15-f)_iij B; almost all the rest: Lesser Great Space Blob; a tiny sliver: The Weft of Deepest Time.
Not depicted: names drawn from the cosmology of the people native to the land the astronomers built their telescope on.

Reference: The Story Of Brick: The Permanence, Beauty, and Economy of the Face Brick House, American Face Brick Association.

Why does Mark Trail look different? Did James Allen leave Mark Trail?


So some breaking comic strip news, that I learn through Daily Cartoonist again: James Allen is leaving the story strip Mark Trail. In a Facebook post for his Edge of Adventure comic strip Allan says the strip will continue, “with a bit of a new direction”. And, in comments, that the choice was “a bit of both” his choice and King Features’s. Allen says “I’m tired and they wanted a new direction”.

I have heard nothing about who the new writer or artist (or both) will be. Nor about just when the transition will happen. In comments on that Facebook post Allen says he will not finish the story that’s just begun, and doesn’t know if the new person will.

If I get any news on Mark Trail I’ll post it at this link. If I get any news about any story strip, I’ll post it at this link.

[Edited 25 September 2020: Good news!  Jules Rivera is taking over the comic as of the middle of October.]

Hardly everything there is to say about The Story of Brick


So I read that book by the American Face Brick Association that I had noticed yesterday. How could I not? By the second page it’s got into how things had changed by the time of Nebuchadnezzar. When else do you ever hear about Nebuchadnezzar? There’s times that Linus is getting all scriptural in A Charlie Brown Christmas, and that’s about it. I’ll finish any book if it starts out by how the subject had changed by the time of good ol’ Nebuchadnezzar. “How will we get Joseph to finish reading this book about modern bowling alley management,” I can imagine a niche author wondering. “Make him aware such a thing exists?” says her co-author. The first, not realizing this is correct, says, “I know!” And hastily adds to page three a sentence, “by the time of Nebuchadnezzar the management of bowling alleys had developed some techniques familiar even today”. This would clinch the deal.

I know what you’re thinking, and no. So far as I know, “Nebus” is not a shortening of “Nebuchadnezzar”. I am aware of no relation to the ancient kings of Babylon, Sumer, Akkad, and the Universe. My family has always lived in the Universe but that’s about it.

The book is written by a true believer in bricks. I suppose we all believe in bricks to some extent. It’s not like we’ll pat the brick cladding of a building, lean over to our companion, and whisper, “Of course, you know what’s really going on with these.” I mean unless it’s that new kind of brick they build stuff with today, that’s somehow bricks that look like fake bricks. I mean we believe in bricks that look like bricks. We just don’t believe in bricks as much as this writer believes in bricks.

From this book I learn that, like Gaul, the clays used for brick are divided into three parts. The first is surface clays, “of which the commoner type of brick are made” and which I trust are the down-to-earth clays. Next are shales, “nearly reduced to the form of slate” by immense pressures, I trust from trying to avoid those commoner surface clays. The last group are fire clays, “so-called because of their refractory qualities”. Can you name three refractory qualities? Share your work below.

I wouldn’t have put Gaul into the matter except the book is written all like that. There’s a bit where it talks about how John Howard Payne made himself immortal with his universal lyric. Quick, name it!

Before I go further I should explain the difference between a brick and a face brick. A brick is that brick-like thing you call a brick or use for brick purposes. A face brick is a brick that sounds like you’re writing for a comic strip or maybe a network TV cop show and so can’t say “Facebook”. I hope this clarifies matters.

Anyway the American Face Brick Association feels quite strongly that whatever it is you’re doing, brick is a correct choice. “Whether you plan some elaborate baronial sort of mantel and fireplace or a cozy little ingle nook, you will find nothing either in point of durability or beauty that excels the right kind of brick.”, they say, and fairly. I can’t imagine they would have kept the manuscript draft that admitted ingle nooks are more a hardwood floors thing. I have enough trouble imagining what an “ingle nook” is, if not a transcription error. Maybe it’s the town in Connecticut that the physicist J Willard Gibbs was from?

If the book would like me to remember anything it is that bricks are cheaper than you think. Like, that time Tuesday when you and your friend were talking about how expensive bricks are? “This is a grave mistake based, as it is, on comparisons of forty or fifty years ago.” Add in the 98 years it’s been since this book was published, and you’re degrading bricks based on information that’s as much as 148 years out of date. I would urge you and your friend to apologize. Run to the door and cry out, “I apologize to the American Face Brick Association!” I don’t mean right now. It might be after 11 pm when you read this and that’s late to shout apologies to any face brick association.

To put all this in a word so far, though? Nebuchadnezzar. In two words? Nebuchadnezzar bricks.

In which my e-book reader is calling me out


I do not know how it is I came to have a copy of the American Face Brick Association’s 1922 tome The Story Of Brick: The Permanence, Beauty, and Economy of the Face Brick House. The title alone, though, is so much the parody of the sort of thing that I would read that I had to go back and check whether I had made a joke about my getting a book like this. Of course I have. I have done this more than once. Within the last ten weeks.

I can only dimly imagine how ridiculous actually reading this is going to be. It starts well, though:

“If we possessed the story-telling magic of Sir Walter or of Dumas, the elder, we could write a best seller on the subject of brick, which most people think of as very commonplace. ”

I recognize when an “if” is pulling a load.