We’re back to the Jack Kinney studios this week. The story is again by Ed Nofziger. The director is Rudy Larriva, whom you remember from those 1960s Warner Brothers cartoons that looked all weird and had six bars of background music, repeated endlessly. King Features paid for a little more music. There’s one unusual bit of music that stood out. It’s this sort of marching-music from when Popeye i sgetting to work. From 1960 here’s Paper Pasting Pandemonium then.
To believe in this premise we have to suppose Olive Oyl has a circle of friends besides Popeye and Brutus. All right, I suppose we can allow that. She’s spoken of going off to garden parties and there’s probably been a cotillion or something too. We also have the setup that she’s just decided, an hour before the party, that she wants her house re-wallpapered. I understand the narrative point of a deadline. And that Olive Oyl is somewhat fickle. It seems like a bad plan to me.
Still, Popeye and Brutus competing to wallpaper a room should be a good setup. The Platonic ideal of this cartoon exists, after all, in that Pink Panther cartoon where Pink and Big Nosed Naked Guy competitively paint a room. Still, the Pink Panther series remade the premise and got some good other cartoons out. And I’d have sworn there was a version of this in the Popeye series too, but I can’t track it down. (I thought there was one where Popeye and Bluto/Brutus/* were each building half of a building while sabotaging the other’s half? Am I just kidding myself?) There’s abundant room for physical comedy, too. Anyone can have an accident anytime, by their own clumsiness or because someone else sets them up.
That I’m talking about better versions of this cartoon tells you my dissatisfaction. And it’s a vague one. There’s no point where I can say a particular joke is wrong. It’s just not funny enough. It feels like a first draft. For example: Brutus gets a roll of paper stuck on his head, and it looks like antlers, so he charges Popeye like a bull. Good start. Why don’t we get more of Popeye as a toreador? The wallpaper sheets are a natural cape.
Yes, I spotted that the paste came in a sack labelled “Kinney Goo”. The comic strips pasted to the wall are, of course, from the comic strip. The Popeye Wikia dates them to when Tom Sims and Bela Zaboly were drawing Thimble Theatre. This is an era that’s not much collected; Zaboly and Sims worked on the daily strips together until December 1954, and the Sunday strips until 1959.
Popeye finally eats his spinach (soundlessly), and spends a sequence of tossing paper on the walls that seems like it takes more than the one minute he has to paper the room. It doens’t; it takes thirty seconds of screen time. That’s still a lot of screen time. It comes out as this bizarre criss-cross of unmatched patterns that, yeah, I kinda like. It harmonizes with the UPA-inspired backgrounds from the start, where the color and the outline of Olive’s furniture never matched up anyway. Her guests love it, of course, because this is a 1960 cartoon so the guests Olive Oyl wants to impress are — you snickering yet? — beatniks!
It’s all okay. I suspect the limited animation is really sinking this one. Good slapstick gimmicks like getting stuck to things needs to show frustrated movement. Throwing a colored rectangle over Brutus’s face isn’t enough.
It was another banner night for seeing nature when I took my walk yesterday. Three or possibly four rabbits along the sidewalk, for example. (I passed the same spot twice and there was a rabbit there each time but I could not attest under oath that they were the same rabbit, as I did not get the rabbit’s name, and would not have remembered it anyway.)
But the high point was seeing a rabbit alongside a skunk. The rabbit, more, was charging at the skunk, and circling around it, the way they do when they are very excited by a thing and would like it to be a thing somewhere else. The skunk, meanwhile, was hustling along. Making good speed, for a skunk. Skunks have really good de-escalation skills. Like, there’s Brooklyn bartenders who study skunks to learn how to get everybody to chill. The rabbit, though, was chasing down the skunk, for all that the skunk was trying to get out of this and hurry off to campus. Running around it, running up to it, backing off and running back up to it again.
I couldn’t follow this into the night to see how it resolved. But, night rabbit, I hope that scenario played out the way you had imagined it would.
So if you’re in my age cohort you grew up seeing the opening credits of Tales From The Darkside. You know, where the camera pans across footage of a forest while the foreboding voice of Perilous McDoomenough intones, “Man lives in the sunlit world of what he BELIEVES to be … reality.” And then the screen fades to a posterized negative image about how there is “unseen by most an underworld”. And then you changed the channel because whatever was coming next would have to be way too frightening to watch.
I got thinking, you know, this has to be like slasher movies were. The hype makes it sound like this intense and barely-comprehensible experience. And it turns out to be about as scary as an SCTV episode. I was too much of a coward to watch horror movies as a kid. I mean, except the one time that they had us do a sleepover for Vacation Bible School and we camped out in some of the classrooms off in the CCD wing. And one of the things they showed was Friday the 13th. I thought it was pretty good. Also I don’t understand how this could have happened. We went to a pretty liberal diocese but still. I think we also watched Heathers. I know Vacation and European Vacation we watched at my friend Eddie Glazier’s bar mitzvah. I’m not sure I should be talking about this 35-plus years on. I might be getting somebody in trouble.
But that’s sort of how terror was for a white middle-class kid growing up in the suburbs in the 80s. And yes, I mean New Jersey-type suburbs, which in other states are what you would call “urbs”. Or “great undifferentiated mass of housing developments and corporate office parks stretching from the Amboy Drive-In to the Freehold Traffic Circle, dotted by some Two Guys department stores”. Still. I grew up a weenie and I would be glad for that if I didn’t think being glad about myself was kind of bragging.
And we knew how to be recreationally scared. We just had to think about the nuclear war. New Jersey enjoyed a weird place for that. I know in most of the country you came up with legends about why the Soviets had a missile aimed right at you. One that would be deployed right after they bombed Washington and New York City. “Of course the Kremlin knows Blorpton Falls, Iowa is the largest producer of sewing machine bobbins outside the New York City area. They’ll have to bomb us so the country can’t clothe itself well after World War III.” It was a way to be proud of your town and not be responsible for surviving the nuclear war.
Central Jersey? We didn’t have to coin legends. We knew, when the war came, we’d be doomed. It wouldn’t be for any reason. It’s just we’re close to New York City, we’re close to Philadelphia. Nothing personal. All we were doing was being near something someone else wanted to destroy. This turned out to be great practice for living in 2020 that I don’t recommend.
Oh, sure, there was the soccer field what they said used to be a Nike missile base that would have protected New York City from the missile attacks. Maybe the Soviets would have an old map, or refuse to believe that they built a soccer field in the United States in the 60s. That former-Nike-base could be a target, if the Nike missiles to intercept the missiles didn’t work, which they wouldn’t.
You might ask: wait, why didn’t they put the base that was supposed to protect New York City in-between New York and the Soviet missile bases instead? The answer is that in-between New York City and the Soviet missile bases is Connecticut. The construction vehicles for the Connecticut site set out on I-95 in 1961 and haven’t made it through traffic yet. Central Jersey was a backup so they could build a site that couldn’t work but could abandon. Anyway I don’t know the soccer field was ever actually a Nike base or if we just said it was. If it really was, I suppose it’s a Superfund clean-up site now. Makes me glad I realized I didn’t want to socc. I wanted to type in word processor programs from a magazine into my computer.
Anyway after thinking about that long enough, it turns out the movie threats we faced were kind of cozy. Yeah, they might turn you into an Alice-in-Wonderland cake and eat you, but at least you’d be singing all the way.
So back to Tales From The Darkside. You know what you find if you go back and watch it now? Tales From The Darkside never even had episodes! They knew everybody was going to be scared off by those credits. Each episode, for all four seasons, is one frozen negative-print posterized image of a tree while someone holds down a key on the synthesizer.
It is way more terrifying than I had ever imagined.
So here’s my unsettling self-realization of the week. I feel so bad making a fuss about myself that if I were drowning, I would absolutely wait for the lifeguard to happen to look my way, and maybe ask if everything was quite all right, before I’d cry out for help. I wouldn’t want to demand their attention just for my petty issues like “breathing”. This could be a problem if I ever go into any water deeper than our goldfish pond again.
At a motel the truck driver opens the van and finds that weird noise was a dog in the back. Andy leaps out and runs into the woods. Mark Trail reassures Rusty and Cherry that sure, Andy’s been gone a long while, but “he always comes home”. And Mark Trail tells of how pets can find their way home over great distances. Like, how dogs can focus on scent. Rusty puts Andy’s bed out on the porch in case that extra bit of familiar scent might help. There is some neat storytelling to how it’s done. We see Andy bounding through the forest, passing turtles and raccoons and waterfalls and everything else. We hear Mark Trail explaining the clues that a dog might use to find home from a great distance away. And, sure enough, Andy finds his way home.
And, yeah, as Mark Trail predicts, Andy finds his way home safe and sound. Which is all good for the Trails. “Don’t worry, dogs usually come home” is awful advice for anyone whose dog or cat has gone missing. The only useful thing was Rusty planning to put up Lost Dog posters. There’s not even a mention of getting your pets’ ears microchipped, so Animal Control will have a chance at contacting you. Or that you could watch your dog when’s playing at the construction site so he doesn’t get locked in a truck trailer or something.
But Andy is safe back home. And on the 22nd of June what proved to be James Allen’s last story started. It’s incomplete. If a new team is hired, I assume they will have the choice to complete this story or let it drop. They will also have the choice whether to see “Dirty” Dyer’s revenge against Mark Trail carried out.
The last story’s premise: Hollywood liked Mark Trail’s story about white-nose syndrome in bats. Not just for bats. Along the way Mark Trail discovered human traffickers. (This was the story from just before I started doing plot recaps. Mark Trail eventually caught the traffickers while he was in Mexico with Dr Carter, though.) And found an astounding cave system of wondrous beauty, most of which survived Mark Trail’s visit. So producer Marnie Spencer wants to make a film adaptation of this award-winning Mark Trail article. And she wants her boyfriend, bad-boy action hero Jeremy Cartwright, to play the lead. And the lead is Mark Trail. Also, yeah, they’re interested in the bats. Not the Yeti search. Could be they’re waiting to see how the civil suit from Harvey Camel’s family plays out.
And then we get the return of a traditional Mark Trail guest star: poachers! Someone named Digby and someone who isn’t are hunting bighorn sheep. It looked like Jeremy Cartwright was being set up for the full Mark Trail experience.
Spencer is delighted to meet everyone and see everyone in the Lost Forest. Cartwright is smug and vaguely condescending toward the small town. We don’t see exactly what happens but Mark Trail describes him as not being “a very gracious guest”. He complained about the food, which Cherry shrugs off. And he’s not big on the outdoors. Of course, during James Allen’s tenure, the outdoors has done a whole lot of trying to kill Mark Trail. While fishing with Rusty Cartwright complains how he needs a drink, and wonders if they’re heading back to the hotel soon.
And that, the 25th of the July, is the end. James Allen leaves Mark Trail (dailies) and we go into Jack Elrod-era reruns. James Allen-produced Sunday strips continued for a few more weeks, because Sunday strips have a longer lead time than dailies. And this week we got back to Jack Elrod-written Sundays with a bit about squirrels.
With the 27th of July we enter Jack Elrod reruns. I don’t know when this story first appeared. It is, in odd symmetry with the last complete James Allen story, an Andy story, and a lost-pet story. In this case, it’s a cat “not wanted by its owners” that’s deliberately abandoned. Far enough away that the owner is sure it won’t find her way back. The cat, unfamiliar with wild life, approaches some animals, who all run away. Except for Andy. So the lost cat makes a friend.
The Trails are happy to take in the cat, dubbed Tabby. Tabby is happy to explore the farm. Also I guess Mark Trail has a farm? Maybe that’s the buildings so close to the log cabin? I do not know. Tabby’s chased off by a rooster, prompting Andy to rush in and protect her. Cherry Trail scolds Andy for harassing the rooster. So for all of you whose favorite Animaniacs segment was Buttons and Mindy, good news: you do not exist. Nobody’s favorite Animaniacs segment was Buttons and Mindy. Buttons and Mindy just made us all feel tense and bad.
Wild dogs raid a neighbor’s farm, and Mark Trail mentions how they need to keep a close watch. Not close enough to keep Andy and Tabby from wandering unsupervised, though. Andy tries to rescue Tabby from a skunk, realizing too late that this is not a rush-in-and-rescue situation. Even washed off he still stinks, though, so Andy goes off deeper into the woods to avoid bothering anyone. Tabby insists on following. The wild dogs, meanwhile, move into the area and surround Tabby. Looks serious.
Sunday Animals Watch!
Thorn Bugs, 31 May 2020. They know some things about not being eaten by predators. Do you?
Fossa, 7 June 2020. They’re nice and weird creatures and if I’m not wrong their name’s better pronounced “foosh”, which is pleasant to say. They’re doomed in the wild.
Blue Whales, 14 June 2020. There’s evidence they’re making a comeback. Nothing like how prairies dogs are making a comeback, of course, but still, a comeback.
Rhinoceros and Oxpecker, 21 June 2020. Great team. Some of our earliest sound films are recordings of this pair’s vaudeville act.
Lava Crickets, 28 June 2020. They’re doing all right in the volcano eruptions, if you wondered.
Maned Wolfves, 5 July 2020. Legs.
The Fly Geyser, Washoe County, Nevada. 12 July 2020. So as industrial accidents go this one is pretty cool. I hope it’s not screwing up the water table too badly.
Banksia, 26 July 2020. It’s a plant that relies on bush fires to grow and reproduce so at least it’s having a good year.
Iterative Evolution, 2 August 2020. So the Aldabra white-throated rail went extinct when their atoll sank. When the atoll emerged from the sea again, the animal re-evolved from its parent species, and isn’t this amazing?
Invasive Species, 9 August 2020. Kudzu, of course, and Tegu lizards, a “squamate scourge” intruding into Georgia.
Blanket Octopus, 16 August 2020. Last James Allen Sunday strip. So the male of this species “detaches a specialized arm and gives it to the female during mating”, which is a heck of a thing for Mark Trail to go out on.
Oh, yeah, so, something I missed in how Gary Brookins was retiring from drawing Pluggers. Brookins has also been drawing Shoe, the other comic strip originated by Jeff MacNelly. That’s the more standard comic strip about a newspaper, diner, and politician, only they’re all birds.
According to D D Degg at The Daily Cartoonist, Ben Lansing is supposed to take over the drawing of the strip. I had thought that Brookins was retiring from both strips simultaneously but, looking at the original announcement, it looks like Brookins just said he’d turn over Shoe “sometime in August”. Last Saturday’s Shoe really did seem like a farewell to both, though.
Rick McKee, who’s been sharing Pluggers work with MacNelly, has that strip all to himself now, so far as I know. And because things are always confused, the GoComics page for Shoe gives a credit to Rick McKee right now, even though we’ve still got Brookins-signed strips, and that so far as I know Ben Lansing is still supposed to take over drawing Shoe. I have no explanation for this phenomenon. Comics Kingdom, which also runs the daily Shoe because of the reasons, is still crediting Gary Brookins for the art.
It is set in “Darkest Injia”. This is bad. But the use of “Injia”, as though Popeye’s quirky pronunciation were the “correct” thing, cut the bad down a little. The start of the cartoon is all like that. If you want to get to the part of the cartoon that doesn’t need excuses? Start from about 19:30 and proceed from there. My embedded link will be the whole cartoon, though.
So. Yeah. The first two and a half minutes of this are stuff you have to rationalize to keep watching. It bottoms out about 18:08 when we get the sign “You are now entering Puka-Puka, Fastest Growing Slums In Kasha County” which ugh. This is undercut, not swiftly enough, by going to the sign for the Optimists Club. If this cartoon were aimed at adults, this could be a wry comment on the misery of society. And how some people refuse to acknowledge that, a thing both good and bad. The cartoon is not thinking deep enough to get away with that. Not 60 years on, anyway.
The village of Puka-Puka doesn’t look great either. Not crazy about Popeye wondering about the native hospitality, but at least he does address everyone as “sir”. The cop that Popeye talks to is given a British accent and puffs a Churchill-class cigar, icons that are … oh, a bunch to unpack. They do seem to me to be things that would, to a white middle-class American audience of 1960, signify “civilized” and “respectable”, so there’s that. If the cop had been Jackson Beck trying to do Apu I might have dropped this whole series never to touch it again.
Anyway, all this — all this — is to establish that Popeye and Wimpy are hunting Gonga the man-eating tiger. (Yeah, I see the reference.) Gonga’s given a big build-up as “the most vicious, cruel, meanest, low-down, ferocious, good-for-nothing, low-down, fiendish man-eating tiger in all of Injia”. We don’t see a lot of Gonga’s fiendishness. He just yoinks Wimpy off of their turtle. But since Wimpy’s been whining the whole cartoon about wanting to eat hamburgers it’s hard not being on Gonga’s side.
Monomania usually works great for comic characters. And Wimpy is almost the definition of a monomaniacal comic character. I’m not sure why it doesn’t work here. Possibly because there’s so much of him talking hamburgers with nothing else going on. Wimpy can’t interrupt the action with his little thing if his little thing is all the action.
It’s hard to sell me on a Popeye-hunts-an-animal cartoon. While he’s far from consistent, his “always be kind to children and dumb animals” philosophy is a great statement of goals. There’d be some respectability in the plot if he were protecting the village from a menace. I guess that’s the point of the cop’s declaration of Gonga’s wickedness. But Popeye and Wimpy didn’t know about this tiger going in. And we didn’t see Gonga doing anything particularly wicked. So it’s hard to get past the impression Popeye’s being a jerk here.
There’s a couple bits that try to salvage the cartoon. Popeye challenging Gonga to “come out and fights like a man” and Gonga calling back, “come in and fight like a tiger”. Popeye answering how he didn’t come to India to eat hamburgers which, yeah, I wouldn’t. Or the wacky choice to have Popeye and Wimpy riding on a turtle, rather than an elephant. It seems to have been done for the silliness of a howdah on a turtle. And to let the cartoon stop on a joke about how turtles are slow. And if we just stick to that the cartoon is all right. But it’s not much salvage and it comes after a lousy start.
I’m sorry, I’ve been busy going to lyrics sites again and changing `dance` to `pants`, although I admit I’ve been trying to do better because I know everybody’s making pants jokes these days. But there’s limits to what fits there. It really looks like `hands` ought to fit, but only if you say it `hants` and you just don’t do that unless you think your audience will think they must have heard it wrong.
Triangle. You’re simple, solid, reliable. While you maybe fear being thought unimaginative, you feel a special affinity for triangles: they’re the shape that introduced the young you to the term “obtuse”. Knowing the word gave you many times you could insult a younger sibling without their catching on, and after they did catch on, let you insist that you were just describing the triangle they were making by doing something or other, and then they punched you. Good times.
Rectangle. You were caught off-guard by the question and figured this was the safest answer. Nobody’s ever going to say your judgement is bad, just vanilla. But, you answer, vanilla is only the most popular flavor of anything on the planet, even better-liked than chocolate, pentagons, fresh garlic toast, and the glue on security envelopes.
Pentagon. You actually like five-pointed stars but you’re not sure if they count as polygons.
Hexagon. You read somewhere about how this was the most efficient shape and you’re going to stick with that even though you never learned efficient at what. Alternatively, you play a lot of area-conquest strategy games and just like thinking about all these many paths of hexagons and having at least twelve types of cards to keep track of things. Alternatively, you are a flock of bees.
Heptagon. You don’t know what a heptagon is but you like the old-timey 1920s-slang feel to any word that starts “hep”.
Parallelepiped. You so enjoy the sound of this word you don’t care that it’s a polyhedron, not a polygon. If asked to name an actual proper polygon you will try to distract the questioner. “Is that a flock of bees?” you might say, pointing to the city’s new hexagon district, which is very efficient but has lousy traffic signals.
Circle. You have never, not once, ever completed a task without an argument about what the instructions precisely mean.
Parallelogram. You like how it suggests a rectangle, but by tilting to the side one way or another it looks like it’s moving faster. Or like it’s braking really fast. You can’t get just any shape to look that lively.
Heptadecagon. You are a mathematics major and were crazy impressed by the story of how Carl Friedrich Gauss figured out how to draw a regular 17-sided polygon with straightedge and compass. You’re still so impressed by this that you’re angry they inscribed a 17-pointed star, instead of a 17-sided polygon, on Gauss’s gravestone. You’ve never seen a picture of his gravestone, and you haven’t ever looked up how Gauss did this 17-gon. “It was really easy,” Gauss once explained. “I just drew a 17-pointed star and then connected the points.” You’re nevertheless still offended on his behalf.
Chiliagon. You were paying attention that day in philosophy class where they talked about a regular 1000-sided polygon and how you couldn’t even tell that wasn’t a circle. Very good.
Octagon. But not the stop-sign octagon. The octagon you get by putting, like, one long skinny table off the center of another long skinny table, because it looks like that shouldn’t even be an octagon but it is, and anybody can count edges and see it is, and that’s just great.
Myriagon. You like that chiliagon idea but think it’s getting just a little too much attention so you’re going for a 10,000-sided regular polygon instead. This is the sort of thing people warn new acquaintances you do.
Trapezoid. You have loved this shape ever since you first heard about it, and were able to go home and ask your little sibling if they wanted to see a trapezoid, and they said sure, and you informed them that they were a zoid and you grabbed their arm and wouldn’t let go, and said now that’s a trap-a-zoid and they ended up yelling and punched you with their free arm. That spot on your arm was sore for weeks. Good times.
Megagon. You’re the person who dragged the philosophy class into arguing whether it mattered that the Trolley Problem wouldn’t literally happen exactly like that, instead of letting the class explore the point of the problem about whether it’s more ethical to actively cause or to passively allow harm. Sigh. Fine. You are unimaginably clever. Now go play outside.
Dodecagon. You were trying to express fondness for that 20-sided die shape and then halfway through remembered that’s a polyhedron but you were committed. Had you started out with polygons in mind you would have said “heptagon”. The dice shape is the “icosahedron”. The dodecahedron is the 12-sided die. This is how everything in your life goes.
A couple pieces fell out of the recycling bin when the truck picked it up this week. There’s no doubting it was our recycling. I recognized the brand of vegetarian imitation tuna that’s somehow cheaper than real tuna. (That’s probably nothing to worry about.) The salad dressing bottle. Couple of other things that were definitely ours and were just sitting in the street. So I took these things, that had until yesterday been in the to-be-recycled bag in the breakfast nook, until they were put in the bin and taken to the curb, back from the curb to go inside and get put in the to-be-recycled bag in the breakfast nook. And at that point I realized I was in some existential comedy/drama and I don’t know that I can handle that in 2020. Please send meaning.
I can’t tell whether the current storyline in Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley is a repeat. From May through early July the strip repeated a story from 2010. We assume this was to give Jim Scancarelli some time to research and work ahead for the February 2021 centennial of Skeezix’s debut.
So a story began the 6th of July. It feels like a repeat to me, and to many of the GoComics commenters. But nobody has found it in the archives, to my knowledge. Those archives only go back to April 2001, true. But it would be odd to reprint a strip from more than twenty years ago; strip sizes have changed since then. But there’s no definite word either way.
The current and possibly new story started the 6th of July, with Rover Wallet and son Boog driving home. This would fit from the end of the previous story, the Farm Collective one, by the way. They pick up a hitchhiking Joe Pye, and his three sons. On W-PLOT Radio, they hear of four “armed and dangerous” escapees from State Prison. The Pyes jump out of the truck.
It’s hard to believe in a Scancarelli character being “dangerous”. But the Pyes agree they’re fleeing the cops, and go tromping through the wilderness. They tromp through the water, figuring this will wreck their trail. And then come the dogs. They surrender to what they take are police dogs. But they’re not; the dogs, Flotsam and Jetsam, are a woman’s.
The woman thinks Joe Pye looks familiar. His name is familiar too. She’s Shari Pye. Joe Pye knew someone by that name, years ago. Married her, in fact. She’d married a Joe Pye, it turns out. And had three sons who fled with Joe. Joe Pye comes clean: he’s her long-lost husband. Also, when he told his sons that their mother had died he had mixed up his phrasing. So the family’s reunited, then, that’s sure to be a good thing, right?
And that’s where the storyline stands as of the middle of August. Again, if I find evidence this is a repeat, or is definitely not, I’ll pass word on.
Since the world is a strange one, of course the last new Mark Trail for the foreseeable future is about octopus sex.
There’s no word yet on a new creator (solo or team). If I get any, first, it’ll probably be through The Daily Cartoonist. And second, I’ll pass word along in an essay at this link. I am still planning to do plot recaps, at least unless I get word that the strip has been retired into permanent reruns.
Degg’s article, linked at the top of this piece, shares the first-and-last pages for the comic strip’s various artists and writers. Also the first appearance of Cherry Davis, eventually Mark’s wife. And some promotional art. And some fan art. Also the revelation-to-me that James Allen had a writing partner, Brice Vorderbrug. Maybe this was generally known to the community, but I didn’t, and that’s why I didn’t credit him in my various plot recaps. (Vorderbrug has been credited all along on Edge of Adventure.)
So if things continued in their ordinary course, the next cartoon would have been Two-Faced Paleface. Produced by Larry Harmon, directed by Paul Fennell, written by Charles Shows. The title had me wary because Popeye does not have a good track record with American Indian characters. The story starts with Popeye mining for gold, and finding some. Brutus horns in on this, pretending to be an Indian.
Popeye protests it can’t be Indian land, “we just discovered gold here”. This would be a good, witty, dark comment on American history if I thought they meant it. But, you know? I don’t like Brutus dressing up as “Big Chief Pain-in-the-neck” of the Cha-cha-cha Indian Tribe. I don’t like Popeye joining in. And you know? I’m not going to do it. You want 600 words from me about this? I want $25 minimum. I’m on PayPal.
So let me get that taste out of my mouth by going to the next one on my schedule. This is 1960’s Swee’Pea Soup, directed by Gene Deitch. There’s no other credits, so I can’t tell you who did the story, which I quite like. Or the animation, which is a delight for being this limited. Also, we get not one but two special guest stars.
We start in media res, rare for any children’s cartoon of the era but especially for Popeye. The mob demands the removal of King Blozo. They want someone lovable, like Swee’Pea. King Blozo is another long-time Thimble Theatre character, and a great one. He rules a land that’s usually called Spinachovina. He’s really not up to the job, and would do something else if he was any good at that. He spends most of his time worrying about how bad everything is. His only solace (not seen this cartoon) is reading the funny papers. This may sound basic, but, you know? A character doesn’t need depth to be good. He needs to commit to his bit.
Blozo summons his mad scientist, Professor O G Wotasnozzle, to make him as lovable as Swee’pea is. Wotasnozzle intuits the way to do it is to make Swee’Pea soup, and kidnaps the child. This is a weird turn for Wotasnozzle, who was mischievous but not villainous when created for Sappo (Elzie Segar’s non-Popeye gig). Possibly the story writer wanted to keep the cast to known characters, and Watsnozzle had to contort to fit the part.
We get some action, we get Popeye captured under Wotasnozzle’s giant boot device. We get the mob throwing spinach that contrives its way into Popeye’s mouth. (It’s normal to have a small drain that funnels water directly into your basement.) Popeye launches the double-decker pot of Swee’Pea soup into the air, and Swee’Pea falls into Blozo’s arms. Swee’pea’s approval confers popularity on Blozo and everything can be peaceful and happy again.
This is a lot of story. And, daft as it is, it all hangs together. There’s a neat bit of storytelling that all the trouble in it comes from innocent motives. Swee’Pea brings the kingdom to rebellion just by paying a friendly visit. Blozo, a character almost as innocent as Swee’Pea, causes Swee’Pea’s kidnapping with the unobjectionable order to “make me lovable”.
I would like to know if this is a condensation of a story that ran in the comic books or the daily strip. It’s heavily plotted for a five-and-a-half-minute cartoon. It doesn’t waste time introducing characters. It has changes of fortune and a solid mix of drama and comedy. If this is all Gene Deitch or his writers, they deserve credit for doing something quite good with the form. If they condensed an original story, I’m curious what the original story was like.
The animation, too, is nicely done. It’s expressive and it’s all a little more fluid than mere needs of the story demand. Look how Popeye’s stance changes, at about 0:55, as he guesses the People are looking for a new king. He scratches his head, he pats his chest, he leans his head forward, he moves one arm down and the other up. It makes Popeye’s thinking better-shown. Look at how Blozo, walking in circles about 1:50, starts circling the opposite direction. None of this is essential. It makes the cartoon more fully animated, though. I imagine this is the budgetary advantage of animating in Eastern Europe. They can afford more pencils.
Even if the animation were worse, though, the story would likely win me over. If more of the shorts were like this the series would have a respectable reputation.
So I just happened across a news item from 2006. I don’t promise I didn’t run across it before, but I ran across it again, all right? It’s about a pretty neat stunt, the first flight of a human-carrying airplane powered entirely by batteries. Dry cell batteries. In particular, powered by AA batteries. So that’s a neat accomplishment.
It took 160 AA batteries. And now I’m annoyed because “they needed a hundred sixty AA batteries” is precisely the easy, hacky joke I wanted to make about it, and then there it was in the second paragraph of the article. Why can’t I have painted the picture of unwrapping all those annoying blister packs of batteries and trying to load them in and finding you can’t tell whether the positive end is supposed to go to the right or to the left? Where’s the justice?
I was reading about the town of Pensford in Somerset, England, because hi there I guess we’ve only just met for the first time. That’s the sort of thing I do, is all. Pensford’s Wikipedia page has this to say about famous residents:
Philosopher and physician John Locke FRS 1632-1704, known as the “Father of Liberalism” lived in John Locke’s Cottage in Belluton within the parish of Publow with Pensford from shortly after his birth until 1647.
And, gosh but that’s a lucky coincidence on John Locke’s part. Just imagine the quarrels he might have got into if he had been living in Thomas Hobbes’s cottage instead. They probably still had the quarrels anyway, but they would have had to argue about who was in whose cottage too.
Dethany Dendrobia, the pale Goth guest star is from Bill Holbrook’s On The Fastrack. I’ll get to what she’s doing in Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy some paragraphs down. On The Fastrack is a longrunning workplace-humor comic strip. It turned up often enough when I was Reading the Comics for my mathematics blog. Dethany Dendrobia is the comic strip’s third protagonist. She took over the strip about a decade ago from previous lead character, Wendy Welding. Dendrobia is Goth, yes, and I forget whether her paleness is makeup or her nature.
Holbrook’s three comics (On The Fastrack, Safe Havens, and the web comic Kevin and Kell) go in for a cartoony world. In it, for example, the Computer Bug, source of so many problems, is a real literal character, who can speak with and negotiate with you and all. Dendrobia, hardworking and cheerful, is also Goth, fascinated by death and time’s ravages. So her “freakish”, Morticia Addams-influenced, appearance codes her in Dick Tracy as a villain. But in her home comic strip this is how a normal person looks.
While the characters are crossing over there are some differences between the comic strip universes. Dick Tracy is carrying on as though the Covid-19 disaster weren’t happening. Except for the Crimestoppers tips at the top of Sunday panels, which carry warnings about scams. People faking being from the IRS asking for stimulus check information. People running fake health screenings. Scammers telling you the schools are “safe to reopen” for in-person classes. People claiming that employers should not be legally liable for their employees getting the coronavirus at work. People selling fake vaccinations. The frauds you would expect.
On The Fastrack, meanwhile, has made the characters being locked down an important part of the story. The easy way around this is to say the Dick Tracy events happened, like, last year or so. Except both strips have built in how Dendrobia is preparing for her wedding, to Guy Wyre, this coming Halloween. (Dick Tracy also recently made a guest appearance in On The Fastrack, there as a hologram, to avoid spreading non-ironic death.)
It gets more “inconsistent”. In Holbrook’s other newspaper comic, Safe Havens, Fastrack built and launched a spacecraft to Mars. That crew went and bioengineered that planet into new life. In that strip, Dethany is the chief flight director for Fastrack Inc. There is no good reason I haven’t been doing plot recaps for that comic. But that’s even harder to reconcile with what we’ve seen here. Especially since Holbrook decided to freeze the On The Fastrack characters’ ages, when Dendrobia took over. But Safe Havens continues aging the characters in loose realtime. You never hear this mentioned by people who say they can’t understand the relationship between Crankshaft and Funky Winkerbean.
(Tom Batiuk’s Crankshaft and Funky Winkerbean both take place in the present day. But Funky Winkerbean is also a decade “ahead” of Crankshaft. That is, if a Crankshaft character appears in today’s Funky Winkerbean he’s ten years older than he “should” be. A Funky Winkerbean character appearing in Crankshaft is about a decade younger. That’s all.)
Dyer bails Shaky out of jail, a surprising fast return for last story’s villain. Shaky’s uncle, the original Shaky, was married to Breathless Mahoney’s mother. Dyer says she wants more background on Mahoney. So he’s got a job now, that’s great. The job seems to be talking about their relatives over dinner with Dyer. That doesn’t cause any conflict at all with Edison Lighthouse, Shaky’s girlfriend, whom he starts missing date nights with.
Lighthouse, annoyed at her abandonment, turns to her one friend: Ugly Crystal. You know, whom she met while fleeing the cops last time around. Over coffee at the mall Crystal recommends dumping Shaky. She doesn’t know what his deal is. But she knows someone sending his signals is not good. Lighthouse challenges Shaky, who admits to what’s going on, even though it’s a little weird.
Meanwhile Dick Tracy learns that Shaky’s out of jail, when Sam Catchem notices Shaky at the filming location.
In another mall hangout, Ugly Crystal mentions how her dad’s got a cool Oklahoma Days centennial belt buckle. And there’s a whole world of belt-buckle-collectors who’ll pay good money for that sort of thing. Shaky, eavesdropping, hears how this could be worth thousands. He forms a plan. Shaky is confident in his plan, even though his plan is quite bad. He needs cash. Dyer’s been pumping him for information, but all she’s delivered is the promise of a movie cameo. When she puts off a dinner date, he breaks in to Ugly Crystal’s home to steal her dad’s belt buckle.
Tracy goes to the movie set to arrest Shaky, who’s doing his cameo as Uncle Shaky. The arrest is for “harassment”, and I’m not sure who he’s harassing. But he’s got the belt buckle on him too. There’s a short fight, and a new arrest, and that’s it for Shaky.
Also maybe for Dyer. On Shaky’s arrest she drops her method-actor pose of demanding everyone call her Breathless. .
Oh, and that $2,000 buckle was actually a $20 buckle. Ugly Crystal was “worried” about Edison Lighthouse being with Shaky. And Shaky thought that baiting Shaky into stealing from Austin might “[help] save Fortuna Dyer”. Which … I guess succeeded, but it feels like some class of entrapment at least. Also it’s not clear that Tracy did much besides have the matter solved for him.
The current story began the 5th of July. It brings in Dethany Dendrobia from Bill Holbrook’s On The Fastrack. Fastrack itself is a company with a slightly vague portfolio, but a lot of what it does is data warehousing.
Dendrobia’s in Tracy Town because Fastrack is buying a new warehouse. Dendrobia’s investigating the string of construction accidents. Someone’s following her, and took a shot, tearing her overcoat. The warehouse is one that used to belong to Stooge Viller, whom GoComics commenter Neil Wick writes was the fifth-ever Dick Tracy villain, back in 1933. Viller survived a couple stories and died in 1940.
The antagonist is someone named Coney, a rotund fellow whom we meet buying a double-wide ice cream cone. And the motive: there’s a rumor that Viller hid millions somewhere in the building. But after a month of work Coney’s gang hasn’t found anything.
Tracy and Dendrobia investigate the warehouse. They find Coney and his gang. Coney insists he’s the building’s owner. So, all right. That stalls things for a couple days. Coney goes to Wilson Properties, complaining about these snoopers. Alex Wilson says the warehouse was sold by mistake and they haven’t been able to negotiate anything with Fastrack. It’s … a heck of a mistake. But, don’t worry. The real estate investment trust that fraudulently sold the building? Whose mistake results in the attempted murder and actual kidnapping and possible death of several people? They will never face a consequence.
Still, it gives underling Howdy a new chance to get rid of Dendrobia or else. Howdy by the way looks rather like Howdy Doody. This makes me think we’re supposed to recognize Coney from something, but I don’t know what. He looks generically like an ice cream mascot but that could just be good character design. He also doesn’t look anything like the iconic “Tillie” caricature of Coney Island showman George Tilyou, which knocks out the other obvious association.
I like to think I’m a good audience member. Like, I’ll try to accept the premise, best I can. My best is maybe not as good as the author hopes, but if I can see where the conclusion follows from the premise, I’ll agree the problem is me getting stuck, not them. Also, I’m aware that the conventions of storytelling, even in comic strips, have changed over the decades. That the author has a point of view and trusts that most readers will default to that point of view, at least while reading.
So, in ComicsKingdom’s current vintage daily Phantom story, written by Lee Falk and illustrated by Wilson McCoy, Diana Palmer’s aunt Elsie is visiting. And she’s learning about this strange masked man from a jungle cave whom her niece is delighted by. She tries to Mary Worth her niece into dating someone more acceptable, a rich athlete name of Jack.
And, yeah, I know The Phantom’s a good guy, and Diana knows he’s a good guy, and all the readers know he’s a good guy. And that Jack’s being presented as … maybe not conceited, but at least a bore. But, still … yeah, when Diana’s aunt Lily lays out the facts of the matter like this? There are some flags.
We’re back with Jack Kinney studios this week. The story is again by Ed Nofziger. That usually signals some genial weirdness. The animation director is Ken Hultgren. Don’t have a large enough sample to say what to expect there. I was on edge when I saw the spelling of “dat”, but I suppose they were trying to approximate how Popeye would say “that”. The title’s referencing a poem and song — “Woodman, Spare that Tree!” — published by George Pope Morris in 1837. I only know it from the occasional cartoon that references it, and a song adaptation that Phil Harris did.
I believe I’ve adequately documented how I was a weird kid. I was in fact as many as three weird kids stacked on top of each other. I do remember something weird about this cartoon bothering me as a kid. It bothers me today.
The cartoon starts at Popeye’s Boring Suburb House. We’re saved from that by it being a Swee’Pea “tell me a story” frame. In this, a nature story, Popeye’s the forest ranger and protects two monarch trees, each five thousand years old. Brutus — a Brutus, the cartoon notes, as if it were an occupation — comes to chop down the trees. Eventually Popeye gets to eating some spinach … some wood spinach, that I guess is its wild counterpart(?) … and punches him to the state capitol, in Poland.
The trees are presented with faces, and voices, done by Jack Mercer and Mae Questel. It would be a cute riff on Popeye and Olive Oyl’s voices if I thought it was a choice. The cartoons only had three voice actors. And there is this strange dreamy circularity to their dialogue. Especially the Queen Tree’s asking the King if it hurts and the King answering variations of “only when I laugh”. Little exchanges, though, like the Queen Tree fussing about how cute Ranger Popeye is, share that light dreaminess. Also the Queen Tree telling the King to get back down here, once he’d been blown into the air, and his wearily agreeing to comply.
It’s a small thing but Ranger Popeye spends a lot of this cartoon squinting angrily. It’s a good look.
What bothered me as a kid, and bothers me today, is after Brutus goes underground to cut the King Tree. (And that’s a good loophole-joke way around “no logging on these grounds”.) Brutus succeeds! He cuts the tree the whole way through. And I knew there was no coming back from that. I would accept the trees talking with Popeye and maybe Brutus. I accept unquestioningly Popeye’s spinach-induced super-strength. Also the tree trunk going a good eight feet underground instead of being roots. But that all the tree needs is to be set back in its hole?
Every story depends to some extent on suspending disbelief. Many of these are small things, like stories reaching a clear resolution. Or they’re things that we accept if we’re taking in the story at all, like how spinach makes Popeye even more super-strong for a while. Why was “the giant talking tree just needs to be set back in the ground again” too much ask of me? I don’t know.
I’m sure if Popeye had fed the tree spinach then I’d have accepted it. That would have made good sense.
I know not every dream will be some bonkers adventure with John Larroquette and the Muppets. Or that it will turn out I spelled “John Larroquette” right on the first try, considering I have spelled Cincinnati wrong so many times my spell checker will not even flag the wrong version anymore. Nor will they all involve high-ranking nudists barging through or even necessarily being chased by something so frightening that I cry out in a haunting, half-paralyzed voice that wakes my love. But.
Last night? I dreamed that I noticed I had more money than I expected in my savings account, and since I was all caught up on bills, I transferred a thousand dollars over to my IRA. Did this go wrong in some way? No, not at all. It took like three steps, and the computer responded “right”, and all was done. It wasn’t even a frustration or futility dream. It was just a dream about telling a computer to move one number to a different column and succeeding.
I hate to complain to the Commissioner of Dreams, especially since I need most of my workdays to fight with Nintendo about getting them to fix my Switch, but this? This is just … there is nothing dream-appropriate about that.
There’s a stretch of book trying to show what the different brick-laying styles are. In the text this is done by pictures. The eBook reader that for some reason gave me this, though, puts some of them as text. So it’s full of weird ASCII art. Like, here:
The Common or American bond, in order to secure transverse strength of wall, can be treated in a way to produce pleasing effects, as may Fig 7.
And despite that fine presentation of good new LinkedIn passwords for me, it just runs a picture for “Chimney Top”. I know what a chimney top looks like. I have one on my house. At least I did last time I checked. It’s been a while.
OK, I’m back. Yes, my chimney top is still there, along with all the chimney middle. You may mock me for checking that nothing had come along and swiped my chimney top without my knowing, but I remember that this is the year 2020. You know what would be stranger than something stealing the tops of chimneys of otherwise untouched buildings? Every single day since the 14th of January.
I don’t fault the book having a pro-brick agenda. I’m sure there’s a comparable book from the American Wood Shingles and Shakes Association that keeps pointing out how lousy bricks are. This if the shingles and shakes people get along. But the enthusiasm this book brings to bricks sometimes paints weird scenes. For example, remember the Great Baltimore Fire that destroyed over 1,300 buildings in February 1904? Me neither but I’ve only over driven through 1904 on the way to 1908 or 1894. Yes, I’m a Coxey’s Army hipster. But the American Face Brick Association notes “there was something saved, however, for a special committee … reported that between 200,000000 and 300,000,000 usable brick worth $5.00 a thousand were recovered”.
So now this paints a scene of a time when “brick” was the plural of brick? Maybe it was a character-recognition error. No, but they do this all over the book. All right. Let me move on.
So this also paints a scene of Baltimore, smashed by a catastrophic fire. Through the smoldering ruins, though, a civic leader stands up. I’ll assume his name was “Archibald”, since that’s an era when civic leaders had names like Archibald or Edwin or Vernon or all that at once. “It is not all lost, my fellow Baltimoreans,” cried Archibald, holding up two pretty good brick in his right and one fractured brick in his left. “There is merchantable salvage comprising a million and a half of dollars of brick here!” I bet his news was greeted with deep, impressed looks from the survivors picking through ruin. I bet they shared their joy and brick with him. And then Archibald interjected, “Herring!”
So it’s a good thing to know there were a quarter-billion still-usable bricks in Baltimore in 1904. It shows what kind of a craftsman I am that actually using them seems like maybe more effort than they’re worth. Of course, what they’re worth was a million and a half dollars, according to Archibald Edwin Vernon. That is a lot of effort to not go to. It’s just I think of my own uses for used bricks.
There’s one set behind the microwave so we don’t push it up against the wall when we press the door-release lever. There’s a brick I use to get a crowbar in the right place, when I do my annual prying-open-of-a-window-some-cursed-former-resident-painted-shut. There’s one we keep in the basement, next to the stairs, so that we can stub our toes if that hasn’t happened already. I think if we stretched our imaginations we could use as many as two more brick.
So that covers a market for five used brick. This leaves 1904 Baltimore with needing to find applications for only a quarter-billion more brick. They could solve this by building more houses, sure, but that’s still 40 to 60 million houses to use up all that brick. It makes one wonder what they were doing with all those brick in the first place.
I say that, but I always mean how the readers treated Another Blog, Meanwhile. And by “treated” I mean “looked at one or more pages”. That’s what I’m really here for. Page views and the chance to think of a good joke about Prince Valiant, since nobody else is.
According to WordPress’s counter, in July there were 4,175 pages read here. It’s nice to see that above four thousand. It’s also above the twelve-month running average of 3,911.4 page views. These views came from 2,447 unique visitors, which is higher than the 2,260.6 running average.
There were 95 things liked in July, which is a bit below the average of 100.3, but at least if my figures are representative, people don’t go liking stuff on WordPress anymore. I get about two-thirds as many likes as I did a year ago, and this with more page views and unique visitors. There were 35 comments given, gratifyingly above the average of 21.8, though.
So regarding the most popular posts: I’m getting a little tired linking to that months-of-the-year-in-reverse-alphabetical-order one. So I thought I’d just list the top five posts from July here. That’s a fine idea except there was a three-way tie for the fifth-most-popular piece, so, fine, have seven links. I’m glad that this includes at least one of my long-form pieces and also a Statistics Saturday piece. It gives a little more balance to things.
I should probably do something to account for, like, a post the last day of the month that gets most of its views the next month. But that’s getting to be a little too much work for me.
Where do my readers come from? For July, they were from 82 countries, a bit above the 77 that I’d seen in June and in May. 28 of them were single-view countries, which is up from the 20 of June and of May. Here’s the roster:
Hong Kong SAR China
United Arab Emirates
Brunei, Cyprus, and Slovakia got a single view two months in a row now. Lebanon has had a single page view for each of six months in a row now. I’m not sure whether my longest streak is seven months or what, but that’s one of the longest single-reader streaks out there.
As of the start of August I’ve posted 2,738 things. These have drawn 179,564 page views from 101,044 unique visitors. Sorry to have missed you, visitor #100,001. You should have said something. In July I published 15,701 words, for an average of 506.5 words per posting in the month. And that brings my words per posting average for the year down to 541.
I’m happy to have more readers, if you know anyone who’d like to be one. You can subscribe through WordPress by using the “Follow Another Blog, Meanwhile” button. Or you can put the RSS feed for posts into any reader you have. This includes free accounts at Dreamwidth or Livejournal, if you don’t have anything else. You can add an RSS feed to your Dreamwidth page from https://www.dreamwidth.org/feeds/ and to your Livejournal friends page from https://www.livejournal.com/syn. I also announce new posts on my @nebusj Twitter account, that I can only sometimes post to manually. So if you need to contact me use literally any other method, including asking people you know if they happen to know me. It’s that bad, but somehow, too low-priority for me to sort out or just use a different web browser on. Sorry.
Yeah, she said on Sunday that she’s Queen of the Witches. That she’s a witch hasn’t come up much lately. But when Valiant first saw her he was enchanted, and they teased a while about whether that was literal or figurative. And she’s done magic stuff lately. I don’t know if this Queen of the Witches thing is established or whether that’s a bluff, though. So that catches you up on Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant as of early August 2020. If you’re reading this after about November 2020 there’s likely a more up-to-date plot recap at this link.
Prince Valiant and team were just outside Camelot, dealing with local issues. Imbert, local landlord, died. His son Gareth died shortly after. The suspect: Afton and Audrey, with whom Imbert was quarreling about some land. Sir Gawain had arrived in the story to sort that out, but he hasn’t been much use to anyone. The locals figure Afton and Audrey are witches, what with how they have good crops and aren’t dead of the plague. Valiant’s son Nathan believes the women are good students of nature and learned how to farm.
Audrey lead Valiants and Nathan to the cave, key to the land dispute. Some say it contains eternal youth. What it mostly has is bats, loads of guano that are indeed good fertilizer. Valiant also notices it has a curious yellow ore, and he keeps a sample.
Meanwhile the villagers have had enough of this, and attack Afton and Audrey’s cottage. Gawain tries to defend it, but he’s just one person, and not main cast(?) I guess(?). Afton escapes being feathered. But the mob burns her cottage. Valiant sees this and races to the scene. He bellows that the women are innocent and he can explain the deaths. As soon as they get back to Imbert’s estate, anyway.
The proof is in Imbert’s kitchen. The cook recognizes Valiant’s ore. It’s arsenic. This gives Schultz and Yeates the problem of having characters who think this is a good thing not advise newspaper readers to take poison. Valiant settles on saying how “it is rumored to aid good bodily health”. So Imbert was stealing ore from the cave, and taking it for his health. But Valiant knows arsenic is a poison, used “by assassins in the court of a distant land”. So Imbert arsenic-poisoned himself. Gareth, trying to have the same meals as Imbert, had the same poison.
Gawain reports that the royal records confirm Afton’s claims on the disputed land. Also, that Imbert and Gareth’s death was their own fault, and there’ll be no further persecution of Afton and Audrey. Aleta steps in to support Afton and Audrey against the claims of witchcraft. She declares their innocence and she would know, as she’s Queen of the Witches. She summons her raven familiars to put Afton and Audrey under her protection. Aleta thinks she’s helping. Our heroes leave. They trust Afton and Audrey will have a good time next week, when I look at Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy.
Like I say, there’s nothing particular going on with David Gilbert’s comic strip Buckles. Not that I’ve heard about, anyway. This isn’t at all important but there’s been so much comic strip news around here lately I felt like it’s a shame not to keep it going.
This week’s is another Jack Kinney-produced cartoon. The story’s by Eddie Rehberg, who also did the direction. And layout. It suggests possibly a story that reflects an individual vision. Or a disaster as a writer is pressed to direct, or vice-versa. (Or, perhaps, a disaster but because a writer wanted the experience of directing.) Let’s see how Frozen Feuds works out.
Elzie Segar liked creating weird animals for Thimble Theatre. Two and a half of them stuck in the pop culture. The half is the Whiffle Hen, who’s mostly remembered by people who want to show off they remember what Popeye’s first line in the comic strip was. Eugene the Jeep is the big success. And the last is Alice the Goon. She got introduced as a terrifying minion to the Sea Hag, then defanged a good bit when it was revealed she was a guh guh guh girl. Goons got one appearance in the Fleischer-era cartoons, and somehow didn’t rate more mentions. Alice got her first animated treatment in the 60s cartoons and I’m curious now whether this was the first-produced cartoon with her.
It’s a fair introduction to her. Goons may be fearsome-looking creatures, and in Goonland they’re quite the menace. But Alice is gentle, even genial. It’s the kind of clash between appearance and personality that can really drive a story. Also about 80% of Harvey Comics protagonists. That said: does she need so much introduction? I don’t remember that she needed much setup in other appearances. She just was, and we accepted that she looked strange. On the other hand, if you have a good character why not give them a rollout?
(Yes, I remember Goon With The Wind, although that was produced by Gene Deitch. And it’s a different design for Goons. If any of them are Alice it doesn’t show.)
Olive Oyl gets a good long earwormy song telling the legend too. It seems seems to make the Senator’s speech (to who?) unnecessary. But then we finally swing into action and get an Alice sighting. Popeye saying that’s just Wimpy, who ducked out after writing a stack of IOUs. Olive Oyl asking how come she’s turned white, then? So Popeye’s off to find Alice.
Which is then where we turn from a cartoon about a menace to a goof. Olive Oyl wants the Goon’s hat. Alice is smitten with Popeye and tries to get his attention. He misses her wholly, until she finally tosses a note tied around a rock at him. Oh, and now Popeye can understand Alice and arranges a trade, his picture for her hat. Olive Oyl’s thrilled with the hat. Popeye’s picture is actually pictures of him on TV. Alice sings us out of the cartoon. The Senator’s promise goes unresolved.
It’s an odd shift and I wonder what motivated it. A serious search for an exotic creature is fine. A goofball search for an exotic creatures is fine. Why patch them together? Did Rehberg start out writing one way and find there wasn’t enough story, then try the other? Really, if the Senator’s introduction were cut out the cartoon would flow with a reasonable if dreamy logic, and there’d be some more time for Alice flirting with Popeye. Was Rehberg just too fond of the Claghorne pastiche to cut that?
Once again I’d love to know more of how these cartoons were made.
Some nice animation bits I didn’t have a good place to mention: when Olive Oyl sings her song, she gets her foot caught in a spitoon and tromps around in that. She slides when she steps with that foot. It’s a touch you never see done in cheap made-for-tv cartoons like this. And later, when Olive Oyl tells of her horror at seeing the Goon, we see her head from front-on. Her head’s swinging clockwise and counterclockwise, while her mouth stays fixed. It’s eerie and unnatural and I believe that’s a deliberate creepy wrongness to it.