60s Popeye: Popeye’s Tea Party, with a lot of casual tea-sing


We travel back in time with Jack Kinney studios to 1960 today. Popeye’s Tea Party has a story credited to Jim Rivind, and direction by Hugh Fraser. Jim Rivind is a new name around here. Hugh Fraser is all over the place.

The title’s almost a warning that there’s depictions of “Indians” and these are not done with an attention to research into the people who actually lived there, or how these people were perceived by white folks of 1773. They don’t do much more than wear feathered headbands, but, still. If you don’t see any reason you need to put up with that nonsense in your recreational reading you are right. Catch you tomorrow.

Once again we start with O G Wotasnozzle and his time machine. I swear, Wotasnozzle did other stuff when he took over Elzie Segar’s Sappo. It does make me wonder what’s gained by using this frame, though. I understand thinking that it helps because it explains why Popeye and company are in, here, pre-Revolutionary Boston. I don’t know that this is a thing anybody needed explained, though. It’s not like Popeye and the Dragon explained why everyone was in this setting, or would have been better for it.

But the frame offers a lot of familiarity, and people love familiarity. We complain about it in kids entertainment, but kids aren’t that different from people in that way. Maybe Jack Kinney understood this would be affectionately remembered. Or appreciated how much time it filled with stock animation.

This time around Popeye’s sent to meet the rest of the cast ahead of the Boston Tea Party. Brutus is the tax collector, proclaiming the tax will be “the same as usual plus 50% for tax collector Brutus”. This reflects the American notion that the Tea Act was the British government imposing big new taxes just to be meanyheads. Wimpy’s cast as the owner of Ye Red Rooster, an inn offering “Tea Burgers, Tea bone Burgers, Tea Spinach, Tea 2c/plain, plus 50% tax for Brutus”. Got that sign up pretty fast. It’s a fair reason to have Wimpy in the action (Brutus was inevitable). Olive Oyl and Swee’Pea are along because the cartoon needed some more ineffective characters.

Not that anyone’s very efficient during the Tea Party raid. It allows for a lot of little jokes, on the order of Swee’Pea shooting arrows at Brutus’s rear end without Brutus ever noticing. Or Wimpy pulling out an arrow to find a hamburger on its end and declaring “I can’t waste this shot!” If there’s a particular charm it’s the dialogue, which has a bunch of good sentences. Popeye declaring “No taxation without resentment,” which is true enough. Olive Oyl calling to a Popeye that’s hurting through the air, “Look out, Popeye!” and Popeye asking, “For what?” Brutus grabbing Olive Oyl with the invitatino to “come up and see my riggings”. Swee’Pea saved from falling in the harbor with the declaration, “A nail in time saved mine!” The patter-heavy dialogue gets away from the cartoon at the end, as Brutus in stocks offers the deal, “I don’t tax you and you don’t tax me?” Popeye, tossing ‘tax’ labels on him, says, “OK, but this is for amusement tax, and that’s tax-free!” It’s got the shape of joking patter but doesn’t get there.

Popeye is trapped in the muzzle of a cannon. Wimpy, wearing a bird feather Indian-style, pours tea almost but not quite into Popeye's pipe.
That’s it, Wimpy! Pour that tea kind of near-ish Popeye’s pipe!

There’s also a surprising number of background voices. They don’t sound like Jackson Beck/Jack Mercer/Mae Questel doubling things up either. I’m curious if they just recorded whoever happened to be nearby. Also why they didn’t just tell the regular actors to do a couple lines of grumbling in a different voice.

The animation’s a bit cheaper than usual, to my eye. There’s what feels like a lot of cartoon where it’s just the characters clinging to a mast that rocks back and forth. And one moment (at about 1:55) where Popeye floats off the bottom of the screen, revealing he’s legless below the knees. There’s a bunch of misaligned characters or characters fluttering through objects too. There’s a few attempts at having a character moving toward or away from the camera. Popeye falling into the harbor. Brutus dragging Olive Oyl into the riggings. They can’t make much of an impression against characters disappearing or appearing. Well, they wouldn’t spend so much time with Wotasnozzle if they weren’t trying to save on the animation budget.

Statistics Saturday: Second-Tier Hanna-Barbera Characters of the 60 or Rejected Names for Snuffy Smith


So far as you know.

  • Breezley and Sneezley
  • Hooty Owlsy
  • Possumpuss Watson
  • Snip and Snap
  • Dean Dizzy
  • Yippee, Yappy, and Yahooie
  • Hoot and Annie
  • Gidge and Bidge
  • Smoky Crow
  • Tip, Tap, and Tom
  • Biffy and Sniffy
  • Pooky, Coopy, and Boopy
  • Bingo Miboy
  • Paw, Maw, and Floral Rugg
  • Zippy and Pippy

Reference: Barney Google and Snuffy Smith: 75 Years of an American Legend, Brian Walker.

60s Popeye: Popeye’s Used Car, and the return of Milt Schaffer jokes


Popeye’s Used Car is another 1960, Jack Kinney-produced cartoon. The story’s credited to Milt Schaffer, of that fascinating Popeye-versus-Woody-Woodpecker showdown. The direction is credited to Hugh Fraser who’s got a lot of credits already here.

After several peculiar cartoons it’s almost a comfort to have a slightly boring one to write about. Boring’s not a fair terms, really. There’s a reasonable pace and flow to Popeye’s Used Car. It’s just that after a couple weird ones, a basic competent narratively-linear cartoon feels less exciting. It’s a basic, easy-to-follow plot. To keep up with Brutus, Popeye buys a car, and doesn’t really know how to drive. There’s no threat of breaking the time barrier here.

What I do like is the decorations put on this structure. There’s some fine little visual jokes, such as the freeway sign warning, “Enter at your own risk”. Or, on the dashboard of Popeye’s car, buttons for drift, draft, droop, and drip. A traffic signal working as a slot machine.

Ridiculously overcomplicated car dashboard, with many buttons and dials and switches and levers, including buttons for the Curb Feelers, the drift, the draft, the droop, and the drip. Popeye has pressed the 'Snack Bar' and the car is producing from a slot in the dashboard a coffee cup and a hamburger.
Who says they didn’t have cupholders in 60s cars?

Better is the dialogue, though. Popeye describes his bouquet of flowers as “a bit of fragrant frivolity perhaps, but they’re from my heart”. It’s a complicated way to say what he’s doing, and that’s good. It’s got personality, if not for Popeye then for the cartoon. People put things in funny ways throughout the short. When Popeye crashes his car into Olive Oyl’s bedroom she scolds, “Your manners are atrocious!” An angry driver yells at the too-slow Popeye, “Move it or milk it!” This is a funny enough image that I’ll probably use that next time I encounter someone doing 35 mph on the Interstate. Popeye’s traffic-school certificate graduating him “magna cum louder”, which could be the certificate or Popeye being silly. Popeye speaking of how Olive Oyl’s “heart is swayed by the glitter of chrome and whitewall sidewalls”.

Wimpy gets cast as the used car salesman. It’s hard thinking of Wimpy as having a job, but this feels close enough for him. His spinning that out into offering driving lessons feels weirder. That seems like more of an effort than I expect from Wimpy. He’s not as fun a driving teacher as I’d hope. I could see this work. Wimpy moving with an airy indifference to the chaos around him should make for good driving jokes. This might be the point where Milt Schaffer ran out of writing energy.

I do like the charming casualness with which Olive Oyl and Popeye take his smashing his car into her bedroom. They’ve been through this sort of thing before, and they know they’ll be through it again, and it’s not worth getting upset about.

MiSTed: The Tale of Fatty Coon, Chapter IV


Don’t worry; I’ve still got a fair number of weeks of Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan fiction before I get back to stuff I have to work to write. The last several weeks, and the next several, I’m looking in detail at Arthur Scott Bailey’s 1915 children’s animal-adventure book, The Tale of Fatty Coon.

We met Fatty Coon, a fat raccoon who likes to eat, and then saw him get beaten up by a goshawk whose eggs he tried eating. He then went on to successfully eat a turtle’s clutch of eggs, so you know who it is we’re dealing with. What does he eat, or try to eat, this week? Read on …



>
>
> IV
>
> FATTY COON’S MISTAKE

TOM: Not getting editorial approval on this hit piece.

>
> Fatty Coon was very fond of squirrels.

CROW: Oh, Lord.

> And you may think it
> strange when I tell you that not one of the squirrels anywhere around
> Blue Mountain was the least bit fond of Fatty Coon.

MIKE: Is there anybody here that likes Fatty Coon?

CROW: There’s flocks of locusts that admire his work.

TOM: But even they won’t share a room with him.

> But when I say
> that Fatty Coon was fond of squirrels, I mean that he liked to eat
> them.

CROW: Yeah, yeah, we kinda saw that one coming.

TOM: People reading other stories saw *that* one coming.

> So of course you will understand now why the squirrels did not
> care for Fatty at all.

MIKE: Because the last three chapters didn’t make it clear?

> In fact, they usually kept just as far away
> from him as they could.

TOM: It’s as though they aren’t looking for chances to die.

>
> It was easy, in the daytime, for the squirrels to keep out of
> Fatty’s way, when he wandered through the tree-tops, for the squirrels
> were much sprier than Fatty.

CROW: But then the trees are sprier than Fatty.

> But at night—ah! that was a very
> different matter. For Fatty Coon’s eyes were even sharper in the dark
> than they were in the daylight;

MIKE: And his mouth was twelve hours bigger.

> but the poor squirrels were just as
> blind as you are when you are safely tucked in bed and the light is
> put out.

CROW: Now I want to get squirrels their own night lights.

MIKE: I want to check I’m not going to get eaten by a raccoon in my bedroom.

>
> Yes—when the squirrels were in bed at night, up in their nests
> in the trees, they could see very little. And you couldn’t say they
> were SAFE in bed,

TOM: Are they literally beds or nests or? I’m trying to work out the anthropomorphism level here.

> because they never knew when Fatty Coon, or his
> mother, or his brother, or one of his sisters, or some cousin of his,
> might come along and catch them before they knew it.

MIKE: Oh, good, it’s not just his protagonist he hates, Arthur Scott Bailey has it out for every raccoon.

TOM: The important thing for children’s animal fantasy is make your lead character as much like a serial killer as possible.

>
> Fatty thought it great sport to hunt squirrels at night.

CROW: He loves his reputation as an unstoppable random death-bringer!

> Whenever he tried it he usually managed to get a good meal.

TOM: So frogs stump him but squirrels are easy?

> And after
> he had almost forgotten about the fright the goshawk had given him in
> the tall hemlock he began to roam through the tree-tops every night in
> search of squirrels and sleeping birds.

CROW: It’s like they say, when you fall off a bike you have to get back up and eat it.

>
> But a night came at last when Fatty was well punished for
> hunting squirrels.

MIKE: At this point any punishment is a good start.

> He had climbed half-way to the top of a big
> chestnut tree, when he spied a hole in the trunk. He rather thought
> that some squirrels lived inside that hole.

TOM: ‘I’d leave then in peace but it’s been two hours since I ate the last five hundred passenger pigeons!’

> And as he listened for a
> few seconds he could hear something moving about inside. Yes! Fatty
> was sure that there was a squirrel in there—probably several
> squirrels.

CROW: Maybe one squirrel, two chipmunks, and a groundhog serving in an advisory capacity?

>
> Fatty Coon’s eyes turned green.

MIKE: Whoa!

TOM: Cyborg raccoon!

> It was a way they had,
> whenever he was about to eat anything, or whenever he played with his
> brother Blackie, or Fluffy and Cutey, his sisters; or whenever he was
> frightened.

CROW: Or when his laser batteries are running low.

> And now Fatty was so sure that he was going to have a fine
> lunch that his eyes turned as green as a cat’s.

TOM: Cyborg cats?

MIKE: This is why nature just isn’t a good idea.

> He reached a paw
> inside the hole and felt all around.

CROW: ‘Hey, there’s nothing in here but a paw-remover!’

>
> WOW! Fatty gave a cry; and he pulled his paw out much faster
> than he had put it in. Something had given him a cruel dig.

TOM: A … ?

CROW: Somebody really got at his paw’s emotional weaknesses.

> And in a jiffy Fatty saw what that "something" was. It was a grumpy old tramp
> coon, whom Fatty had never seen before.

MIKE: Buh?

CROW: What makes a *tramp* raccoon?

TOM: Raids the trash bins on a freight train I guess?

>
> "What do you mean, you young rascal, by disturbing me like
> this?" the ragged stranger cried.

CROW: He can call Fatty that because ‘rascal’ is a raccoon word.

TOM: They’ve reclaimed it.

>
> "Please, sir, I never knew it was you," Fatty stammered.
>
> "Never knew it was me! Who did you think it was?"

MIKE: I dunno, but I’m reading this with a W C Fields vibe.

>
> "A—a squirrel!" Fatty said faintly. And he whimpered a little,
> because his paw hurt him.

TOM: He sees what it’s like to get eaten some.

>
> "Ho, ho! That’s a good one! That’s a good joke!"

CROW: [ As the tramp ] ‘Thinking a squirrel might be hiding in a squirrel-hole in a tree! A rich jest, yes. Now let me get back to eating these squirrels.’

> The tramp
> coon laughed heartily. And then he scowled so fiercely that poor Fatty
> nearly tumbled out of the tree. "You go home," he said to Fatty. "And
> don’t you let me catch you around here again. You hear?"

MIKE: Or your paw shall get more digs and a few sharply barbed comments!

>
> "Yes, sir!" Fatty said. And home he went. And you may be sure
> that he let THAT tree alone after that. He never went near it again.

TOM: Wait, was that his well-punishment?

MIKE: Sometimes having to talk to someone is punishment enough.

60s Popeye: Astro-Nut, in which Popeye just breaks the universe


Gene Deitch gets to direct this next King Features Popeye cartoon and you know what that means: I have no information about who the story’s by. The producer’s William L Snyder, though, and the production date is 1960. And now this … is Astro-Nut.

There was something glorious in the early 60s, when all you needed to join the space program was to be a cartoon character. If Top Cat and gang could be astronaut candidates just because Officer Dibble questioned their patriotism, the doors were open to everyone. I’m sure that when I get into King Features’s other cartoons of the 60s I’ll find one where Snuffy Smith joins NASA.

For this Gene Deitch production, Popeye joins the space program to do a simulated long-duration flight. Can a person survive in a tiny capsule with no human contact for sixty days? Cartoon NASA is getting ahead of its game with this test; nobody would spend sixty full days in space until Skylab 4/3, in 1973-74. (Skylab 3/2 came in about six hours short of 60 full days.) Still, better to know sooner than later, I suppose.

Popeye seems poorly briefed for the space-related mission he’s signed up for. I know, it’s to give the audience useful exposition. But there’s room to ask whether this was the actual space program Popeye was working for. I mean, Popeye’s only human contact is supposed to be one tape of his friends’ voices, that he can listen to over and over, making use of the world’s slowest rewind feature? And they didn’t check the tape to make sure that Brutus didn’t use his time to taunt Popeye about how he was going to steal Olive Oyl away? Maybe they thought this was playful teasing? Popeye did sign up for a 60-day simulated flight, after all. What did he imagine Brutus was going to do?

Popeye, in a spacesuit, looking angrily at the camera. Behind him is a reel-to-reel tape with two buttons on the player, Rewind and Play.
“What? Not one tape by The Tornadoes?”

We get a montage of Brutus dating Olive Oyl. Seems like they’re doing a lot, too. We see them swimming (he pushes Olive Oyl into the water). Going for a car ride (Olive Oyl has to hold the car up and run, a scene that looks like a separate car-themed cartoon broke out; watch this space). Going to the horse races (Brutus steals some money form her). Going to the amusement park (they ride an improbably steep coaster). All this in what we learn is just two days.

Popeye’s torn between his duty to stay in the capsule 60 days and his intense jealous need to punch Brutus. So there’s only one thing to do and I’m not sure just what it was. He swings his fist, anyway, and the capsule spins, and the instant spray spinach starts to spray and then the capsule launches from the ground, heading into space at the speed of light. This, of course, will cause Earth time to go backwards while the capsule progresses at sixty times normal time speed. And somewhere, the young Python Anghelo nods, understanding. All Brutus’s dates with Olive Oyl wind backwards and the capsule lands again. The generals congratulate Popeye for … having done a 60-day endurance test in an hour and Brutus and Olive Oyl are there and don’t undrestand how much time has passed. I feel this is a cartoon whose plot I probably understood when I was a kid. I’m too old to follow its logic anymore. We close out with a song, at least, “Through space in an hour / On pure spinach power / I’m Popeye the Sailor Man”. Also he sprays spinach into his mouth, so I guess his bubble helmet was open the whole time.

Popeye, in a spacesuit, shaking a general's very long arm. He's outside a space capsule which has a sharp bend in its midsection, and a door that bends to match that, so it's not clear how the hinges would work on that. The deadbolt-style time lock is on the hinged side of the door, instead of where it would most effectively block the door.
“Congratulations, Popeye! I, too, have no idea how that door is supposed to open on that hinge! But I also don’t know how the time lock was supposed to lock that door! I guess this is why we couldn’t get Roger Ramjet into that thing!”

So, it’s weird. It’s Gene Deitch, what do you want. There’s good bits here. Popeye sees a vision of Swee’pea in his pipe smoke, for example, while hearing his voice, and that vision’s wrecked by Brutus coming in. Popeye acts reasonably crazed with jealousy as he thinks about Brutus and Olive Oyl together. The repeated rewinding of the tape to Brutus’s sneering “I’m keeping company with poor lonesome Olive” is a good tension-builder.

But the cartoon gets stuck at the dilemma Popeye outlines. He can desert his post or he can give up on Olive Oyl for at least two months. He can’t do either and still be Popeye. Rather than break Popeye, we break the universe, and do the ending of Superman I 18 years early. It’s an interesting writing lesson: it’s easier to break all narrative logic than it is to defy Popeye’s nature.

Also, sixty times an hour is two and a half days. I know, it doesn’t matter. It’s a messy way out of the problem, but there’s not a good way.

There is no good reason for me to remember any Top Cat story. I apologize for the inconvenience.

What’s Going On In Mary Worth? What are Tommy and Brandy’s last names? August – November 2020


Tommy’s last name is Beedie. This has been a long time coming to know. I noticed in writing these up that I haven’t mentioned his, or his mother Iris’s name, before. But there, the 28th of September, Mary Worth mentions Iris’s last name. And then Toby spoke of him as Tommy Beedie the next day, eliminating the loophole that a mother and son don’t have to have the same last name.

Brandy’s last name I don’t know. I can’t find a good compendium of Mary Worth characters that gets to details like Tommy’s existence or his last name, never mind Brandy’s. So if someone knows a good source for Mary Worth character names and such? Please drop a link.


So this should catch you up Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for mid-to-late November 2020. If you’re reading this after about February 2021, or if there’s any news about the strip, I may have something more current here. And on my mathematics blog, I continue working through the alphabet, explaining terms as I go. I’m enjoying it.

Mary Worth.

31 August – 21 November 2020.

We were in the mopping-up phase of summer’s story when I last checked in. Saul Wynter’s vague relative Madi had learned the happiness of Dog, and Mary Worth, and went home.

And yet the story … somehow … did not end. Saul Wynter keeps talking to his dog Greta about how things with Madi started rough but turned out great. While walking Greta, Wynter notices a woman walking a golden retriever. She comes over and introduces herself; Eve and her dog Max are new Charterstone residents. She’s a widow, looking to start her life anew and this sure looks like we’re gliding into the new story.


So the 21st of September we lurch into the new story, which has nothing to do with Saul and Eve and Greta and Max. It’s about Tommy and Brandy, coworkers at the supermarket, whom we last checked in on in 2018. Their relationship has a built-in crisis. After a workplace injury years ago, Tommy got addicted to alcohol and painkillers. Brandy’s father was an alcoholic and a drug abuser, and she wants none of that in her life ever again. Tommy’s told her about his past, and been clean.

Tommy, holding up an onion ring as though an engagement ring: 'Please, Brandy! Take this onion ring, and say you'll be mine!' Brandy: 'I *am* yours, babe.' Tommy: 'Marry me, then!' Brandy: 'I ... can't!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 10th of October, 2020. So, uh, do you think he ate the onion ring? Or she did? Maybe this is just a kid-from-a-big-family thing but I really don’t like the thought the onion ring went to waste.

And their relationship’s been going so well that Mary Worth and Toby spend their time talking about how great it is. So Tommy figures this is the time to propose, at the diner, slipping an onion ring onto her finger. Brandy is not ready for this, and doubts she’ll ever be ready for marriage, and says so.

This activates Tommy’s self-destruct sequence. He spends days interpreting Brandy’s fatigue as being she’s tired of him. Or asking “well, why don’t we get married then?” every 85 seconds. When Brandy asks for some time alone with her headache, Tommy goes for a walk in Santa Royale’s Bad Neighborhood. There he meets up with Vin, a friend from the old days, who offers him a drug. It’s hard, but Tommy declines.

In a dark alley Vin says, 'Tommy boy, if we weren't old friends I wouldn't be sharing! We can party together just like old times! And boy, you need it! You look like hell! What's going on with you?' Tommy: 'Nothing, man. Just girl trouble.' Vin, offering a crack pipe: 'This will take the edge off your pain ... ' Tommy stares at it, rather like a figure in a 50s horror comic contemplating drugs, thinking, 'The pain ... is strong ... but ... [ as Brandy walks by, witnessing but not understanding the scene ] ... so am I.'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 25th of October, 2020. So that close-up on Tommy’s face that last panel. Is that an homage to that famous EC Comics panel, the woman with the eyes bugged out as she faces down a hypodermic needle, that Fredric Wertham got all worked up about?

A bit too late, though. Brandy, going to the drugstore of dramatic irony, sees Vin offering his metal lollipop to Tommy, and concludes the worst. The next day she says she saw him with the crack pipe. She won’t listen to his protests, and breaks up with him.

They each have lousy nights. The next day Tommy tries what he thinks is a charm offensive. This by leaving a rose and a note at her cash register and reminding her every 75 seconds that he loves her and doesn’t use drugs. This of course doesn’t work, and Tommy confesses his woes to Mary Worth, who’s still making banana bread even though that was last story’s foodstuff.

She points out that Tommy’s not a failure or a loser, and that relationships aren’t linear. And, you know, love yourself, live well, and everything else will work out. She even deploys a nearly-unthinkable meddle: “there’s so much more to life than relationships”.

Tommy decides to do more talks with schoolkids about his addiction experience. Also I guess he was doing talks with schoolkids about his addiction experience. Well, kind of him to do that. Less kind: he reminds Brandy every 65 seconds that he’s doing this for troubled(?) kids and he loves her and he’s been clean and everything.

[ Tommy wraps up his visit with Mary ... ] Mary Worth: 'As much as I don't want you to give up on love, there's so much more to life than relationships. Be proud of how far you've come. Love yourself and your life, and everything will fall into place.'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 16th of November, 2020. She means well, and is even right to say this. But what Tommy’s heard is “I’m such a loser MARY WORTH thinks I can’t be in a relationship”, which would be a heck of a thing to hear about yourself.

And that’s where the story reached by this past weekend. It does feel near the resolution. And it does feel likely that it resolves with Brandy accepting Tommy’s declarations. It’s an ugly scene, though. Brandy’s understandable but wrong judgement is harsh. Judged-guilty-despite-being-good is a plot that makes me squirm. I blame that Donald Duck cartoon where he makes his nephews smoke the box of cigars that, oops, they bought as a gift for him. (For my money, a far more traumatizing childhood experience than watching Watership Down could ever be.) But so much of Tommy’s behavior has been nagging his way back into Brandy’s good graces and that’s so many kinds of bad. He should do like the rest of us, and subtweet her with such relentlessness that their mutual friends all end up taking her side. Also a lot of his effort has been hollering “I’m not on the drugs anymore” from four aisles over at the supermarket. Never force the assistant manager to have to notice your relationship.

But, we’ll see. Catch you in the Mary Worth universe, most likely, around late February or early March 2021, I hope.

Dubiously Sourced Mary Worth Sunday Panel Quotes!

The car care place still has, on its message board, the thanks to the local economic council for support in making it through the epidemic. So I have to look at the actual quotes that appeared in the Sunday panels instead.

  • “We could never learn to be brave and patient, if there were only joy in the world.” — Helen Keller, 30 August 2020.
  • “Although the world is full of suffering, it is also ful lof the overcoming of it.” — Helen Keller, 6 September 2020, for a rare double-header.
  • “All the windows of my heart I open to the day.” — John Greenleaf Whittier, 13 September 2020.
  • “The only way to have a friend is to be one.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson, 20 September 2020.
  • “Ultimately, love is everything.” — M Scott Peck, 27 September 2020.
  • “Who, being loved, is poor?” — Oscar Wilde, 4 October 2020.
  • “Sometimes I feel my whole life has been one big rejection.” — Marilyn Monroe, 11 October 2020.
  • “I had sadness for breakfast.” — Andy Milonakis, 18 October 2020.
  • “I generally avoid temptation unless I can’t resist it.” — Mae West, 25 October 2020.
  • “Tears come from the heart and not from the brain.” — Leonardo da Vinci, 1 November 2020.
  • “I myself am made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions.” — Augusten Burroughs, 8 November 2020.
  • “When I lost you, honey, sometimes I think I lost my guts too.” — Bruce Springsteen, 15 November 2020.
  • “You gain nothing from giving up.” — Robert Kubica, 22 November 2020.

Next Week!

The Phantom joins The Detective to foil The Villains! It’s
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom, Sunday continuity
, if everything goes well.

60s Popeye: Barbecue for Two, which has to be good since Popeye’s in his old outfit


So this is a weird one. It’s back to the Jack Kinney studios, with a cartoon produced and directed by Kinney himself. The story’s credited to Dick Kinney and Al Bertino. And it’s dated 1960, in a title card that sure looks like the copyright was superimposed later. The credits warn that it’s going to be a cartoon to pay attention to. The production credits are given this striking rhombus background, for one thing. And the music is abnormally long for the King Features run. We’ll get into more of these peculiar things in Barbecue for Two.

So if you’re not alert to the subtleties of animation production, like, if you’re a kid watching these cartoons, you maybe realize something’s strange about this. We settle in to Popeye’s suburban home, although it’s not his usual Boring Suburban Home from Kinney productions. But the real giveaway is our first look at Popeye. He’s not in the white, Navy-derived sailor suit. He’s back in black/navy-blue, like in the comics and the 1930s cartoons. Also he looks … somehow more squished and angular at once.

The Popeye Wikia says this was “the pilot” for the King Features Popeye cartoons. The Internet Movie Database says it was the first short made for TV, but that Hits and Missiles became the pilot. Who’s right? Clearly, impossible to know. But this sure reads as the pilot, particularly for having different models for all the characters. And for how studiously they avoid naming Brutus. The closest we get is an admiring Olive Oyl saying of Popeye’s neighbor, “What a handsome brute [ something ]!”

Popeye holding in his arms Swee'Pea, Wimpy, and Brutus. Popeye's wearing his old blue sailor suit. The sky behind is the same pea-soup-green as the lawn.
I suppose Popeye knows what he’s doing, but, Swee’Pea on the left and Wimpy AND Brutus on the right? That’s a heck of an unbalanced load. I’d put Wimpy and Swee’Pea on one side and Brutus on the other. Save your hips the agony.

The premise is that Popeye wants to have Olive Oyl over for a barbecue for, well, it’s there in the title. Brutus intrudes, becoming obsessed with getting in on the action. This would be obnoxious except Popeye starts the aggressions here, swiping petunias from right under Brutus’s nose. Wimpy joins the action because he can smell the hamburgers. Swee’Pea jumps in because he’s very young and should have some adult at least within screaming range. Brutus starts hitting on Olive Oyl by singing the rock-and-roll she loves. His lyric, “Don’t drop no mustard on my clean white shirt, baby”, is just wonderful, and his swaying, like he’s me trying to dance, is an extra nice goofy bit.

Olive Oyl rejecting Popeye’s square music evokes Coffee House, the Beatnik cartoon, certainly. The other Jack Kinney cartoon this makes me think of, though, is Popeye’s Car Wash, for its plot structure. Particularly for the way Popeye has to run between several stations — hamburgers to Wimpy, the swing for Swee’Pea — before getting back to fighting Brutus, or trying to.

I like this short, but have to admit it’s a complicated liking. The models for the characters are weird. Our first view of him is the skinniest Wimpy apart from the weight-loss cartoon I’m sure they did. There’s some snappy lines in it, such as Olive Oyl declaring, “If there’s nothing I like the least, no-gentlemen is the most”, or observing, “What’s that? A plane? A train? A rocket? It’s Wimpy!” Or there’s weird lines. Thinking here of Brutus taking off Olive Oyl’s shoe and dropping lumps of sugar in. Less good, and more baffling, is Brutus’s rage at being called Junior. I cannot see how this is a “sissy” name and I wonder if some other name got changed to Junior in the recording. His declaration “My name is … ” before Popeye punches him across the continent (and knocks the world off-axis) is a funny bit for everyone who noticed the avoidance of Brutus’s name.

Olive Oyl and Brutus singing together, caught at a moment when Olive Oyl's mouth is wide open and looking a bit Pac-Man-ish, really. The sky behind them is this solid green mass.
I know this isn’t a very good look, but that muddy green is just what the sky looked like before the Clean Air Act.

Much of the music sounds, to my ear, like leftover Famous Studios sound cues. This makes sense for a pilot. There are a few bits where Popeye huffs his pipe. It’s a faint thing, softer than the huffing he does in other shorts.

It’s always easy to like the first, or first couple, episodes of a series. They tend to be weirder, and that stands out. I suppose if the whole cartoon series were like this then this one wouldn’t stand out. As a one-off, showing a way that Popeye might have been animated and wasn’t? It’s compelling.

Popeye’s still being a jerk about those petunias, though.

60s Popeye: Popeye Thumb, the most Seymour Kneitel-iest of cartoons


There are a lot of King Features Popeye cartoons that do fairy tales, yes. But how many of them have a story by Seymour Kneitel, and direction by Seymour Kneitel, and are produced by Seymour Kneitel on top of that? You’d think there was no one else at Paramount Cartoon Studio in 1961 to help with Popeye Thumb, our cartoon for the day.

There’ve been a bunch of Popeye fairy-tale cartoons. Most of them seem to be framed as Swee’Pea demanding a story. Here’s one with a bespoke frame, though, in which the fairy tale is supposed to illuminate some problem on Swee’pea’s part. I like this as structure for a story. It must take a bit more work to introduce a bunch of generic kids playing baseball and for Swee’Pea to have woes with them. It does slow down getting into the “real”, fairy tale, story. But we open with Popeye walking along, scatting, so they can’t have been too pressed for time. It’s not the full scat, though. Just an abbreviated version.

The fairy tale itself is a version of Tom Thumb, like the title suggests. Popeye’s cast as Tom. Poopdeck Pappy’s cast as the father. I don’t recognize Popeye Thumb’s mother. She’s circling around the Sea Hag character design, but not, you know, ugly or anything. Olive Oyl’s cast as the Good Fairy who hears their wish for a son. They don’t make the wish aloud, but I suppose fairies don’t have to hear only what you say. Pappy did neglect the part of the fairy tale where he wishes for a son, even if he were only as large as my thumb. So giving them a tiny son seems like a weird passive-aggressive bit of spontaneous wish-granting on Olive Oyl’s part.

Scene of Poopdeck Pappy, dressed as a farmer, in a rocking chair; he and his wife are thinking of a son, who's Popeye in overalls with Elvis hair holding up a bushel of apples. Olive Oyl, as a fairy princess, watches over and waves her magic wand at this scene.
Writing challenge: 30 minutes writing a story to fit around this image. Advanced level: explain why Popeye is Roy Orbison.

That’s an unimportant quibble. What gets me about this tale is that Popeye Thumb doesn’t have any real conflict. I mean, in the original fairy tale, Tom Thumb spends his days getting swallowed by stuff. In the 1958 George Pal movie, he has some adventures at a carnival and saving his mother from the guards and whatnot. Here? He plants a spinach seed, and uses the strength from that to plow the fields, and uses the profits from that to buy his parents a castle with a TV and a butler who turns the TV on. I guess it’s nice having a story where everything works out well. It seems like it undercuts the value of it as a parable about not letting small size stop you from achievement, though.

No matter. Swee’Pea takes the hint, and Popeye’s spinach, and intrudes into the baseball game to hit a home run. Everyone loves this and wants him on the team and we’ll never see the baseball players again.

Statistics Saturday: Hypotheses about How the Premise to _Loonatics Unleashed_ Came About


  1. One of the writers was caught photocopying his Batman Beyond/Wile E Coyote crossover fanfic on the work machine and so had to write up a show treatment to justify it and then somehow it got to air.
  2. The producers liked the concept of this doomed world-encompassing city at the edge of the explored universe filled with a desperate population struggling to survive, but felt it lacked Yosemite Sam as a space pirate.
  3. Somebody dropped the minutes from the six-hour pitch meeting for the whole season’s shows, and the notes all got mixed up, and when they were typed up nobody could remember what the network had agreed to but they also know you don’t go back after the network said “yes” so they just went with what they could piece together.
  4. They were sitting around thinking what to do with everybody’s favorite Looney Tunes characters, and also Lola Bunny, and someone said, “what about if it’s a postapocalyptic dystopia with supervillains who can still be tricked into the ‘He does SO have to shoot me now!’ bit” and just kept yes-anding each other, and then it turned out a pack of elves who always wanted to be animators were there and overheard and after everyone went home for the night, the animator elves drew the whole series up.
  5. Somehow something else happened?

Reference: Fred Allen’s Letters, Fred Allen, Edited by Joe McCarthy.

Also you would think someone would have an article explaining where the concept for Loonatics Unleashed started and how it got to where it did, and as far as I can tell they haven’t, and that’s weird too.

60s Popeye: Popeyed Columbus, which could have gone much worse


One step back into 1961, one step back into 1960. Jack Kinney is the producer again. The cartoon’s got a story by Raymond Jacobs and direction by Hugh Fraser. So here is Popeyed Columbus. Well, that’s not a premise that’s aged badly or anything.

It’s another cartoon framed by O G Wotasnozzle, the daffy inventor who moved from Sappo in to Thimble Theatre. The King Features cartoons used this frame for a bunch of stories when they wanted to justify a weird setting. It does suggeset Wotasnozzle spends a lot of time just casually messing with history every time he notices Popeye listening to his own theme on Vague Jazz TV.

For some reason most of these time-travel cartoons Popeye isn’t asked and doesn’t even know he’s time-travelling. It’s a great coincidence Popeye was watching Vague Jazz TV while muttering how he wondered “if Chris was as brave a sailor as history says”. We have to assume he means Chris Columbus. He could be wondering about any sailor named Chris.

Usually these time-travel cartoons just drop Popeye into a historical (or future) setting. Here he’s actually dropped in as Christopher Columbus, on the day the ship’s supposed to sail. We have Brutus there, Captain of the Nina and ready to mutiny, and I suppose that’s sensible enough. Also now Olive Oyl is the Queen of Spain.

For a cartoon that is about Popeye the Sailor as Christopher Columbus there’s not much sailing. It’s a long set of jokes at toasting the voyage, and the Queen, and throwing drink on Popeye. Also of people swinging their mug at the camera, which is a good bit of staging whose charms wear off after the 900th time. Well, everybody’s in non-standard clothing the animation has to save money somewhere.

Popeye, dressed as Columbus, and Olive Oyl, as the Queen, stand on the deck of a ship ready to fight a couple of mutineers.
I know, I know. It doesn’t feel right that both Popeye and Olive Oyl are being effective at the same time, does it?

Popeye gets hiccoughs that turns into a running joke. The Queen stops in with some presents and tries to stop the hiccoughs. For all the directions a Columbus cartoon made in the 60s could go this is a harmless enough one but it’s still a weird direction. Eventually Brutus gets around to his mutiny, and Popeye and Olive Oyl team up to punch all the mutineers back on the ship. This seems like a bad plan to me, but I guess Popeye’s the Admiral.

Popeye finally sails and in a bunch of short, jerky hiccoughs crashes into the New World, at a sign marked “American Indian Village”. That’s all we see, which is probably for the best. One scene later the “American Indian Village” sign is replaced with the “Junior Chamber of Commerce” and signs for the Lions, the Elks, and the Optimists Clubs. If I thought it was on purpose I’d say it was a wry joke about replacing the American civilizations.

Wotasnozzle then explains “and the hiccoughs maybe is why Columbus smashed into America instead of finding out a quick way to the West Indies”. I am sorry to report such a factual historical error on the part of this Popeye cartoon.

There were a lot of ways this cartoon could have been so bad I wouldn’t review it. The cartoon dodged all of them, but in a way by not being about Columbus at all. It’s a strange turn of events.

MiSTed: The Tale of Fatty Coon, Chapter III


I continue trying to make my life a little easier by reprinting chapters of a Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan fiction. It’s riffing on Arthur Scott Bailey’s 1915 children’s book The Tale of Fatty Coon. These chapters appeared before, way back in 2017, so I feel it’s fine to repeat this for everyone who’s missed.

In the first chapter, we met Fatty Coon, a raccoon who’s … fat. And then in Chapter II, Fatty gets attacked by a goshawk who would rather their eggs not be eaten. Again, Arthur Scott Bailey seems not to have liked his protagonist.

And, before I proceed, the content warning that Fatty Coon’s major personality is that he eats a lot, and so is enormously fat. So there’s original material, and there’s jokes, that are based on that. Everyone who’s had enough fat jokes in their recreational reading, you’re right. Skip this and we’ll catch up sometime later.


>
>
> III
>
> FATTY DISCOVERS MRS. TURTLE’S SECRET

TOM: Oh, tell me this is about lingerie.

>
> After his adventure with the goshawk Fatty Coon did not go
> near the tree-tops for a long time.

MIKE: Not until the trees put some elevators in.

> Whenever he left home he would
> crawl down the old poplar tree in which he lived;

CROW: Achieving speeds of up to 400 miles per hour.

> and he wouldn’t
> climb a single tree until he came home again. Somehow, he felt safer
> on the ground.

TOM: ‘You know, nobody ever drops a pie onto a tree. The ground, though, that’s some prime stuff-being-dropped territory!’

> You see, he hadn’t forgotten the fright he had had, nor
> how the goshawk’s claws had hurt his back.

MIKE: Emotionally.

>
> It was just three days after his scare, to be exact, when
> Fatty Coon found himself on the bank of the creek which flowed slowly
> into Swift River.

TOM: Suppose that’s named for how fast it is, or for its discoverer, Carol the Swift?

> Fatty had been looking for frogs, but he had had no
> luck at all.

MIKE: The frogs’ early warning system was in good shape.

> To tell the truth, Fatty was a little too young to catch
> frogs easily, even when he found one;

TOM: Except for the one he grabbed last chapter.

MIKE: Hope somebody got fired for that blunder.

> and he was a good deal too fat,
> for he was so plump that he was not very spry.

MIKE: Also last week he ate the creek.

CROW: ‘Well, last week we had nacho cheese popcorn seasoning to sprinkle on it!’

>
> Now, Fatty was hiding behind some tall rushes, and his sharp
> little eyes were looking all about him, and his nose was twitching as
> he sniffed the air.

CROW: ‘Wawa has paninis? This changes everything!

> He wished he might find a frog. But not one frog
> appeared. Fatty began to think that some other coon must have visited
> the creek just before him and caught them all.

TOM: The lifeless pond can have only one explanation.

MIKE: Raccoons: nature’s own little neutron bombs.

> And then he forgot all
> about frogs.
>
> Yes! Frogs passed completely out of Fatty Coon’s mind. For
> whom should he spy but Mrs. Turtle!

CROW: What do you suppose her maiden name was?

TOM: Oh, she kept it when she married Dr Lesser Brown Bat.

> He saw her little black head
> first, bobbing along through the water of the creek. She was swimming
> toward the bank where Fatty was hidden.

MIKE: She loves the bank with its little chained pens and deposit slips.

> And pretty soon she pulled
> herself out of the water and waddled a short distance along the sand
> at the edge of the creek.

TOM: ‘Well, at least I don’t have to worry here about getting eaten by a raccoon!’

>
> Mrs. Turtle stopped then; and for a few minutes she was very
> busy about something. First she dug a hole in the sand.

CROW: Um?

TOM: [ Giggles nervously. ]

> And Fatty
> wondered what she was looking for. But he kept very quiet.

MIKE: Should we be watching this?
[ TOM, CROW look conspicuously away. ]

> And after a
> time Mrs. Turtle splashed into the creek again and paddled away. But
> before she left she scooped sand into the hole she had dug.

TOM: Oh dear, she *is*.

> Before she
> left the place she looked all around, as if to make sure that no one
> had seen her.

CROW: What was her plan if someone did see her at this point?

MIKE: Take the eggs back?

> And as she waddled slowly to the water Fatty could see
> that she was smiling as if she was very well pleased about something.
> She seemed to have a secret.

TOM: Quick, call in Garry Moore to help!

>
> Fatty Coon had grown very curious, as he watched Mrs. Turtle.

CROW: ‘I wonder if I can use this to become an even less pleasant person?’

> And just as soon as she was out of sight he came out from his hiding
> place in the tall reeds and trotted down to the edge of the creek. He
> went straight to the spot where Mrs. Turtle had dug the hole and
> filled it up again.

MIKE: Gotta say, Mrs Turtle does not come out looking good here.

TOM: Yeah, her scouting process could really use some scouting.

> And Fatty was so eager to know what she had been
> doing that he began to dig in the very spot where Mrs. Turtle had dug
> before him.

CROW: Mmm, turtle poop.

>
> It took Fatty Coon only about six seconds to discover Mrs.
> Turtle’s secret. For he did not have to paw away much of the sand
> before he came upon—what do you suppose? Eggs! Turtles’ eggs!

MIKE: No, she’s the last Galopagos Island Tortoise, it’s the only hope of avoiding extinction!

> Twenty-seven round, white eggs, which Mrs. Turtle had left there in
> the warm sand to hatch.

CROW: ‘Turtles are goshawks?’

> THAT was why she looked all around to make
> sure that no one saw her. THAT was why she seemed so pleased.

TOM: *That* was why Mrs Turtle wasn’t part of her Species Survival Plan.

> For Mrs.
> Turtle fully expected that after a time twenty-seven little turtles
> would hatch from those eggs—

TOM: Each egg.

> just as chickens do—

MIKE: Did kids in 1915 need eggs explained to them?

> and dig their way out
> of the sand.

CROW: Again, good job checking, Mrs Turtle.

>
> But it never happened that way at all.

MIKE: Fatty Coon cackles delighted at his schemes.

> For as soon as he got
> over his surprise at seeing them, Fatty Coon began at once to eat
> those twenty- seven eggs. They were delicious.

TOM: Do we know whether Arthur Scott Bailey *liked* his protagonist?

> And as he finished the
> last one he couldn’t help thinking how lucky he had been.

MIKE: Now we have nobody to foil the evil Shredder’s attacks!

60s Popeye: Kiddie Kapers (could stand some more capering)


Today? We’re back to Paramount Cartoon Studios. Also to 1961. And not only is Seymour Kneitel the director of record (I believe he always is, for Paramount), the story again one by Joseph Gottlieb. So here’s some thoughts about Kiddie Kapers.

This is another cartoon I’d almost think was a leftover 50s-Paramount script. The presence of the Sea Hag foils that, of course. I don’t know whether Famous Studios/Paramount lacked the rights to use the Sea Hag in the 50s, or whether they just lacked the interest. The 60s cartoons opened up the character bundles.

But we have another cartoon with a pretty good, even fresh, premise that sort of peters out. It never does anything wrong. It just somehow leaves the idea under-used. It also feeds into that question about whether the Famous Studios animators were on Bluto’s side. Brutus, with a drop of the Sea Hag’s youth potion, is a handsome fellow, and he’s able at least for a while to act like a pleasant person. This was a workable scheme.

The action starts with Olive Oyl fed up with Popeye, one of her traditional modes. This over their relationship being frozen, the way these cartoons (and the comic strip) demand. She uses this as reason to call him old, and Brutus pounces on that with supernatural speed. Then he figures if he were young, he’d have a better chance with Olive Oyl, and what do you know but the Sea Hag can help with that.

I like that Popeye sees through Brutus’s scheme right away, although given how different Brutus does look it’s fair to wonder how. Maybe he knows there’s only like six people who are ever in these cartoons. Still, it can’t be his voice giving him away, not with how many parts Jackson Beck does.

Popeye spots the Youth Potion, because nobody in these cartoons ever leaves valuable stuff at home where it’s safe. Taking from the directions that one drop made Brutus young and handsome, he takes a big swig. This is dumb but it’s dumb in a realistic way, and we get Popeye turned into an infant for … this has to be at least the third time. I know he turned into a kid once when Martians kidnapped him and put him under their ageing ray. I don’t remember the second time but feel like there’s got to be another. This is a daft paragraph and I should get out of it. Anyway it’s not the first time Popeye’s been turned into a kid and I’m just guessing it’s not the second.

Olive Oyl and Popeye, both toddlers, sit on the porch playing patty-cake.
Ooh, I can’t wait to see how being toddlers and having to grow up all over changes the course of the Popeye Cinematic Universe!

Brutus uses Popeye’s whining as excuse to spank him, a move that offers no subtexts and no prospects for cheap jokes either. Olive Oyl’s ready with the spinach and to my surprise it doesn’t age Popeye back to normal. He spanks Brutus, again a move you can’t write anything about, but he stays a kid. To close the cartoon Olive Oyl takes a swig of the anti-age potion and luckily gets enough to become Popeye’s new age. It’s not how I expected the cartoon to end, but it’s an interesting end.

So if I keep finding pieces of the cartoon interesting why don’t I like the whole thing? I’m not sure I dislike the whole thing. I feel, though, like “Brutus is a handsome young man and Popeye is a bawling infant” should make for a cartoon with more unique scenes than what we get here. It might be that with five and a half minutes of screen time, credits included, that’s just impossible. A seven-minute version of this cartoon could fit three or four extra scenes, letting Brutus be a fake Popeye parent. Lose 90 seconds and something has to go.

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? Do you hate the new Mark Trail? August – November 2020


My answer is long. Let me defer it until after the plot recap. This plot recap should get you up to speed for mid-November, 2020, and the start of Jules Rivera’s tenure on Mark Trail. If you’re reading this after about February 2021, or if there’s more Mark Trail news, you might find an essay at this link more useful.

Also! Remember that Comics Kingdom survey? It hasn’t come to anything yet. But D D Degg, at Daily Cartoonist, reports how Comics Kingdom is doing a Flash Gordon Anthology strip. Flash Forward started this past Sunday. It’s in honor of the 40th anniversary of the movie, and they seem to have forty artists lined up to do stuff. I don’t know whether it’ll have an ongoing story. If there is one, I’ll try and do plot recaps.

Last, my A-to-Z of mathematics terms resumes this week on my other blog. Would you like to see me say something about velocity? The answer may surprise you.

Mark Trail.

23 August – 14 November 2020.

When I last checked with Mark Trail, it was a Jack Elrod-era rerun. I did not know when it was from. I’ve since learned. The story ran from the 13th of March through to the 29th of May, 2001.

And, now, a content warning. The story features a pet — Andy the dog — being harmed. He comes through it fine. But you folks who don’t need a pet-harm story in your recreational reading right now? You are right. I’ll put all this text behind a cut and we can catch up with the first Jules Rivera story.

[ Edit: I turn out to have overestimated my ability to just put a couple paragraphs behind a cut.  Well, I tried.  Zip ahead to the horizontal rule and resume reading from there if you want to skip the pet-harm stuff. ]

Continue reading “What’s Going On In Mark Trail? Do you hate the new Mark Trail? August – November 2020”

60s Popeye: Which is Witch, inviting the question: what was Popeye’s objective here?


We’re back to 1960 now, and back to Gene Deitch’s studios. So there’s no story credit and the producer credit is William L Snyder. I don’t know what the organization of these videos is. So here’s Which Is Witch to watch.

Something it’s hard for kids to learn is that just because a good guy does a thing doesn’t mean they’re doing something right. A hazard of stories, especially short ones with familiar characters, is jumping to the action without justifying it. This is a good example. Popeye and Olive Oyl are sailing to Sea Hag Island. Why? They’re going to surprise her. All right, but why? Sea Hag eventually mentions she’ll get back to piracy. But it’s not clear she was doing anything before Popeye stirred up trouble.

Yes, yes, of course. Sea Hag’s a villain, we know she’s villaining even when Popeye isn’t there. But, as of the start of the cartoon, what has she done that needs a response? Going off living on an island shaped like her, and running an army of off-model Goons? (They’re the same model Goon as in Goon With The Wind, so I suppose this is how Gene Deitch liked them to look.) There’s warnings there, but what is Popeye responding to?

If we get past the motivation problem, though, we’ve got a pretty snappy cartoon here. Popeye’s sneaking up fails. Sea Hag has, of course, a duplicate robot Olive Oyl ready to dispatch and stir up trouble. We’ve had duplicate Popeyes before; I’m not sure if this is our first duplicate Olive Oyl. We also have the Sea Hag’s pet vulture. In the comic strip he’s named Bernard. Here he’s Sylvester. I have no explanation for this phenomenon.

Olive Oyl pointing an accusatorial finger at her robot duplicate, who's turned away, frowning, with its heart dangling sadly on a long spring. Popeye looks on at the confrontation.
Trapped in a dungeon with his girlfriend’s heartbroken robot twin, or as Popeye knows it, “Monday”.

There’s also a bunch of little points that almost but don’t quite make sense. Olive Oyl sees Popeye kissed by a woman about Olive Oyl’s height and about Olive Oyl’s weight and wearing Olive Oyl’s clothes, on the Sea Hag’s island, and her first suspicion is not “the Sea Hag’s pulling some stunt”? Popeye left his spinach behind in the boat because … ? The Robot Olive Oyl is more in love with Popeye than willing to follow the Sea Hag’s directions. That one I’m all right with, actually, since the slightly-too-perfect duplicate is a good bit.

Despite my doubts about the plot, the cartoon’s got a lot to commend it. A good pace. Pretty fluid animation considering its limits. A lot of camera pans to make a little bit of motion seem like more. A plot with twists, too, as the Sea Hag outsmarts Popeye’s sneaking-up, and the Robot Olive Oyl betrays the Sea Hag. Some pretty lively voice acting, too, especially from Jack Mercer.

This is another cartoon with a wrong title, though. Which Is Witch, and a premise that there’s a duplicate Olive Oyl, implies a story where it’s hard to tell two Olives Oyl apart. Popeye’s a little confused, but it doesn’t last, and it doesn’t complicate the story any. I wonder if the title fit the story outline, but the finished product mutated away and nobody had a better title.

I’m still left wondering, in an echo of a Mystery Science Theater 3000 riff: what was Popeye’s plan? Go in, get captured, and escape? Mission accomplished, I guess?

60s Popeye: My Fair Olive, a mis-named cartoon


We’re back to 1961, and Paramount Cartoon Studios, today. It’s a story by Joseph Gottlieb, who’d also done Scairdy Cat. The director is Seymour Kneitel, as tradition dictates. My Fair Olive.

What’s the reputation of Famous Studios/Paramount Cartoon Studios Popeye cartoons? At least for the 1950s? Mostly of being boring. Also of sometimes squandering a decent premise. Here I’m calling out Popeye For President, which turns into Popeye and Bluto doing farm chores.

The title made me guess the premise was “try to make a gentleman out of Popeye”. Starting out in the Museum of Antiquities, with Popeye making dumb jokes about the exhibits? Squabbling with Brutus, who’s the museum guard or maybe docent? That reinforced my expectations. The premise has been circled before, in the Fleischer era with Learn Polikeness and It’s The Natural Thing To Do. It’s hardly exhausted, though.

So, inspired by the King Arthur exhibit, the cartoon diverts into Popeye and Brutus jousting for Olive’s hand. And that’s all right, I guess. It sets up some of the obvious jokes. Popeye has to wear a stove because the town Antique Armor Shop hasn’t got anything in his size. He has to ride a mule instead of a horse. Brutus creams him, of course. Olive Oyl, who’d urged them to have this joust in the first place, then feels bad for Popeye. Brutus grabs Olive Oyl, and Popeye eats his spinach. It’s that 1930s pattern of Big Bully/Damsel In Distress/Brave Little Squirt returning.

Popeye, wearing a cast-iron stove as a suit of armor, runs while holding a mule on his shoulders.
The three-legged race has gone horribly wrong.

This is all competent enough. There’s even a couple good moments, such as Brutus on his horse charging at the camera. It does feel very 50s Famous Studios, though. Especially in how Olive Oyl pushes for a joust that leaves Popeye helpless and Brutus getting assault-y. Also in how the title card and the direction of the first couple minutes seem to get tossed away in favor of a stock Popeye-and-Brutus fight. I’m curious whether this started as a possible script for a late-50s cartoon that got shelved. But all Gottlieb’s other story credits are from 1961 too.

I suppose the title “My Fair Olive” parses for a story about joust LARPing. It belongs on a cartoon about making Popeye a gentleman, is all.

Statistics Saturday: 10 Trivia Answers That Are All Paul Blart, Mall Cop


  1. Paul Blart, Mall Cop
  2. Paul Blart, Mall Cop
  3. Paul Blart, Mall Cop
  4. Paul Blart, Mall Cop
  5. Paul Blart, Mall Cop
  6. Paul Blart, Mall Cop
  7. Paul Blart, Mall Cop
  8. Paul Blart, Mall Cop
  9. Paul Blart, Mall Cop
  10. Paul Blart, Mall Cop

Fun fact: one time Trivia Night at the local bar was about something I knew I knew nothing about, so I warned everybody at the table that I was just going to offer “Paul Blart, Mall Cop” for every question. The first couple times they chuckled at the bit, but this faded out after like the third question. Nevertheless, I carried on, and you know? By about the ninth time? It started to change. My commitment to the bit paid off: before the end of the night everyone agreed this had the structure of a joke and was slightly amusing, they guessed, in its way.

Reference: The Footnote: A Curious History, Anthony Grafton.

60s Popeye: The Troll What Got Gruff


Today’s cartoon is another Jack Kinney production. It’s got a fairy tale theme, so of course the story is by Ed Nofziger and the animation direction credited to Volus Jones and Ed Friedman. I’m not sure they were the team for fairy tale stories, but at least those names seem to bundle together. Here’s The Troll What Got Gruff.

This is another cartoon framed as Swee’Pea wanting a fairy story. A Popeye fairy story, he says, and I think that’s a new qualifier. It would make sense to do a Popeye series of nothing but fairy tales. The Popeye cast has a good blend of fixed and flexible traits. It could have been their own take on Jay Ward’s Fractured Fairy Tales. The Popeye cartoons never did drop the frame entirely, though they did forget to come back to Popeye and Swee’Pea this cartoon.

The story is a loose riff on the Three Billy Goats Gruff, here with Brutus playing the troll and Swee’Pea, Olive Oyl, and Popeye as the goats. Brutus also seems to be having the most fun this cartoon. He goes into the toll-bridge business because the fishing’s bad and there has to be an easier way to make a living. He never manages to collect any tolls, but he does get to mess with a couple of people. There’s something nice and preposterously fun in Brutus’s escalation in bridge management techniques. Easy enough to start by hitting the bridge with a log to shake Swee’Pea and Olive Oyl off. Building that up to where he’s moved his house up, and installed a mechanical foot and a net, gives it some fun escalation. That Brutus somehow puts together a spring-loaded drawbridge too is some fun business.

Popeye in a spinach patch leaning forward at the camera. His eyes are shut and his mouth gapingly wide open so that he looks more like a merry cow than anything else. He has a *lot* of mouth in this pose.
Say what you will about Popeye, but he is one happy eater.

I suppose there’s a plot to this cartoon. I’m not dismissing it when I say that. There’s a nice clear scenario, and we get to the Popeye-versus-Brutus stuff in pretty good time. But most of the Popeye-versus-Brutus stuff could be shuffled and you’d have as sensible a story. There are a lot of good little lines, though. Brutus under the bridge grumbling that “I ain’t getting rich down here”. Then, later, grumbling, “Imagine that, just ’cause I swiped this bridge they won’t pay toll.” Popeye amazed to find he’s landed in a spinach patch, and being asked, “What did you expect, horseradish?” Swee’Pea and Olive Oyl doing the It’s-a-bird/It’s-a-plane/It’s-Popeye patter, echoed later by “It’s a buzzard!” “It’s a flying troll!” There should be another false identification, though. I don’t see why that’s missing. I like Brutus’s declaration that “there must be an easier way to earn a living”. It’s a good balanced conclusion to the setup.

MiSTed: The Tale of Fatty Coon, Chapter II


Last week I began reposting a Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan fiction. It’s of a 1915 children’s book, The Tale Of Fatty Coon. There’s very little about our lead character’s name that I like, even granting that he is a fat raccoon. But, I figure to post a chapter a week through at least to chapter ten. In Chapter I, we met Fatty, learned he was a raccoon, and that he likes to eat. This week, we start to learn that Arthur Scott Bailey doesn’t actually like his protagonist.

So, besides Fatty’s name, there’s a lot of fat jokes in here. I want to say that when I wrote this (mostly back in 2016) I was just rolling with what the source material gave me. But that isn’t actually an excuse and you folks who don’t need that stuff in your recreational reading? You are so very right. I apologize for the imposition and hope we can catch up after this is done.

While riffing this I made a joke about how in the (made-up) Tale of Squawky Crow Fatty is a villain. And then I discovered that in Bailey’s The Tale Of Frisky Squirrel, also published 1915, he is. In Chapter XIV, Fatty intrudes on the Squirrel family, eats all the beechnuts they had saved for winter, and gets trapped by his own fatness in their home.

Felix Salten did way better having his delightful animal characters make cameo appearances in others’ books.


>
>
> II
>

TOM: Episode II: Attack Of The Coons.

> FATTY LEARNS SOMETHING ABOUT EGGS

CROW: ‘Hey! These things break open!’

>
> When Fatty Coon started off alone to find something more to
> eat, after finishing the fish that his mother had brought home for
> him, he did not know that he was going to have an adventure.

MIKE: He just hoped adventure came with cheese fries.

> He nosed
> about among the bushes and the tall grasses and caught a few bugs and
> a frog or two. But he didn’t think that THAT was much.

CROW: [As Bug] Oh, thank goodness, that frog was gonna eat me and now … Wait, what are you doing?

> He didn’t seem
> to have much luck, down on the ground. So he climbed a tall hemlock,

TOM: A hemlock?

CROW: I dunno, it’s probably some nature thing.

> to see if he could find a squirrel’s nest, or some bird’s eggs.

MIKE: ‘Maybe I can eat a hemlock?’

>
> Fatty loved to climb trees. Up in the big hemlock he forgot,
> for a time, that he was still hungry. It was delightful to feel the
> branches swaying under him, and the bright sunshine was warm upon his
> back.

CROW: ‘You suppose the sun might be cookie-flavored?’

> He climbed almost to the very tip-top of the tree and wound
> himself around the straight stem. The thick, springy branches held him
> safely, and soon Fatty was fast asleep.

TOM: The tree tipping over, cracking under the weight.

> Next to eating, Fatty loved
> sleeping. And now he had a good nap.

CROW: ‘A nap with bacon cheese!’

>
> Fatty Coon woke up at last, yawned, and slowly unwound himself
> from the stem of the tree. He was terribly hungry now. And he felt
> that he simply MUST find something to eat at once.

TOM: Why is Mitchell a raccoon?

>
> Without going down to the ground, Fatty climbed over into the
> top of another big tree and his little beady, bright eyes began
> searching all the branches carefully.

CROW: ‘Too flimsy, too weak, that one’ll snap, that one broke yesterday, that one snapped when I thought about it too hard, hm. Ground broke under me there.’

> Pretty soon Fatty smiled. He
> smiled because he was pleased.

TOM: It was a quirky habit of his.

> And he was pleased because he saw
> exactly what he had been looking for. Not far below him was a big
> nest, built of sticks and lined with bark and moss.

CROW: ‘Garnished with bark and moss!’

> It was a crow’s
> nest, Fatty decided, and he lost no time in slipping down to the
> crotch of the tree where the nest was perched.

TOM: Thud!

>
> There were four white eggs in the nest—the biggest crow’s eggs
> Fatty had ever seen.

CROW: Ostrich!

MIKE: That’s an ostrich egg, look out!

> And he began to eat them hungrily. His nose
> became smeared with egg, but he didn’t mind that at all.

TOM: Yum, egg-flavored nose!

> He kept
> thinking how good the eggs tasted—and how he wished there were more of
> them.

MIKE: You know in the _Tale of Squawky Crow_, Fatty is one of the villains.

>
> There was a sudden rush through the branches of the tall tree.
> And Fatty Coon caught a hard blow on his head. He felt something sharp
> sink into his back, too.

TOM: There it is!

MIKE: Squawky Crow takes over the narrative! He’s getting to be the hero!

> And he clutched at the edge of the nest to
> keep from falling.
>
> Fatty was surprised, to say the least, for he had never known
> crows to fight like that.

TOM: They normally confined themselves to snarky comments, often on the Internet.

CROW: The cowards! Hey, wait.

> And he was frightened, because his back
> hurt. He couldn’t fight, because he was afraid he would fall if he let
> go of the nest.

MIKE: And there was still that meteoric crater lake from the last time he dropped four feet.

>
> There was nothing to do but run home as fast as he could.

CROW: Fatty’s greatest challenge: running.

> Fatty tried to hurry; but there was that bird, beating and clawing his
> back, and pulling him first one way and then another.

TOM: [ As Fatty ] Ow! Look, if you want me to go *one* way then don’t tug me *another*! Sheesh!

> He began to
> think he would never reach home. But at last he came to the old poplar
> where his mother lived.

CROW: ‘Home! Safety! Security! Oatmeal cookies!’

> And soon, to his great joy, he reached the
> hole in the big branch; and you may well believe that Fatty was glad
> to slip down into the darkness where his mother, and his brother
> Blackie, and Fluffy and Cutey his sisters, were all fast asleep.

MIKE: You my believe this … If you dare!

> He
> was glad, because he knew that no crow could follow him down there.

CROW: To fit Fatty the hole has to be just wide enough to let a Space Shuttle slp through.

>
> Mrs. Coon waked up.

MIKE: Waked?

> She saw that Fatty’s back was sadly torn
> (for coons, you know, can see in the dark just as well as you can see
> in the daylight).

CROW: What if I need glasses?

MIKE: Well, then she wears glasses.

CROW: That … Would be adorable.

>
> "What on earth is the matter?" she exclaimed.
>
> Poor Fatty told her. He cried a little, because his back hurt
> him, and because he was so glad to be safe at home once more.

TOM: ‘Well, come here, son, let me lick that all. Nothing like raccoon spit to clean open wounds.’

>
> "What color were those eggs?" Mrs. Coon inquired.
>
> "White!" said Fatty.
>
> "Ah, ha!" Mrs. Coon said. "Don’t you remember that crows’ eggs
> are a blueish green?

MIKE: Oh no!

TOM: Fatty’s failure to prep for his Raccoon SAT’s haunts him!

CROW: *My* eggs are painted a lovely variety of colors in intricate patterns!

TOM: Ya freak.

CROW: What?

> That must have been a goshawk’s nest. And a
> goshawk is the fiercest of all the hawks there are. It’s no wonder
> your back is clawed.

MIKE: [ Mrs Coon ] ‘Why is this scratch covered in Superman ice cream?’

CROW: [ Fatty ] It was an experiment, okay?

> Come here and let me look at it."
>
> Fatty Coon felt quite proud, as his mother examined the marks
> of the goshawk’s cruel claws.

MIKE: ‘I got attacked and ran away just fast enough! Heck, I ran!’

TOM: I ran so far away.

> And he didn’t feel half as sorry for
> himself as you might think,
> for he remembered how good the eggs had
> tasted. He only wished there had been a dozen of them.

MIKE: So what did Fatty learn about eggs, exactly?

CROW: That … He can eat them?

[ To Continue … ]

60s Popeye: Around The World In Eighty Ways, most of which are running


For today, we’re back to 1960. So I lose another hypothesis about how King Features is bundling these cartoons for YouTube. This is another Jack Kinney-produced cartoon. The story’s by Ralph Wright and the direction credited to Harvey Toombs. Here’s Around The World In Eighty Ways.

I grew up in a Golden Age of game shows, in the 70s and 80s. I felt betrayed when the genre’s revival in the late 90/early 2000s turned into reality shows. But shows about competitive stunts weren’t a new mutation; they go back to the game show’s origins. The stunts could be weird, abstract things. Thomas A DeLong’s Quiz Craze tells me one Truth or Consequences contestant who couldn’t say how many English Kings were named Henry received the consequence of “figure out a way to get more pennies in circulation”. (It was World War II; there was a penny shortage. She appealed to viewers to send their pennies in to the show, which would buy War Bonds. I agree this sounds like the joke you would make about World War II publicity stunts. Got 300,000 pennies in a week, though, and I assume Ralph Edwards knew what to do with them.)

What I never liked, as a kid, was game show cartoons, though. The plot logic always seemed to require the contestants not know the way the game worked. I could not imagine going on a show without having an idea what to expect. You would know if you were asked to go to all this trouble for a dollar and ninety-eight cents.

I no longer remember what I thought of this cartoon as a kid. I suspect I would have disbelieved the premise of Popeye and Brutus racing around the world on Wimpy Klinkclatter’s behalf. (Although, back in 2001 Conan O’Brien’s production company did a reality show that dropped a couple people off somewhere in the world, the challenge being to get home with only what they had in their pockets. So the show premise now seems more plausible.) The prize of a barrel full of money is great, but I was a smart enough kid to ask how much that was.

If you are not hindered by my game show nerd rage — and you should not be — then we’ve got a mostly good cartoon here. It’s a long sequence of geography-themed sight gags. Some of them are slight, like Popeye testing the water at the South Pole and finding it chilly. Some of them are gleefully dumb, like Brutus and Popeye running headfirst into the Eastern Seaboard. One of them inspired dread as it started: when they got to, as Popeye called it, “Singing-pore!” (In the comic strip Popeye often mentioned Singapore as one of his favorite places to get into a good brawl.) Mercifully we don’t see any locals, but the music and the background art gets into uncomfortable territory. Also, not to lean too hard on my five years living in Singapore but, really? A rickshaw rather than a trishaw? Someone failed to do the research for a more plausible bit of local color. Anyway, there’s a lot of small scenes, and many have fun bits of side business.

At the South Pole, Brutus smiles a little too deeply at a penguin who grins nervously back. Popeye, who's dipped his toe in the water, shivers and holds his feet. Nobody's wearing a jacket.
Brutus wins his side bet with the penguin that Popeye would so take the dare of testing how cold the water was.

We get another cartoon where someone besides Popeye eats spinach. Popeye doesn’t offer Brutus/Bluto/etc the chance to eat spinach and punch him often; it’s fair Brutus wouldn’t suspect something must be up. It’s an economical way to end the cartoon and get Popeye his win.

There’s a weird production glitch as Wimpy reveals what $1.575,928 lead pazookas are worth. Popeye repeats “lead pazookas”, but it’s Jackson Beck saying the second word. I infer that the script at one point had Popeye and Brutus both get back to the studio. I don’t know why the change. Maybe they found there wasn’t time for Brutus to race back after all? But then why not have Jack Mercer re-record the line? It’s not like they couldn’t get him in the studio. Maybe they figured the line was so short kids wouldn’t notice, especially since they couldn’t rewind and listen to it again.

It is weird that after Brutus drops a bomb on Popeye (and his turtle), Popeye rolls with pretending to be a ghost (or ghosk) to mess with Brutus’s head. It doesn’t feel outside the bounds of a Popeye cartoon for me. It’s just a weird place for a plot that’s “crazy race around the world” to go.

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? What comics would you have Comics Kingdom bring back? August – November 2020


The Comics Kingdom survey still seems to be up, so, let me remind you of it.

There are strips I’d love to see revived. There are strips I can’t see being revived usefully. What I mean is, we don’t need a new generation of Kabibble Kabaret. There, I’m sorry, estate of Harry Hershfield, but you know I’m right.

So, now, this essay should catch you up to early November 2020 in Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley. This link should have more up-to-date plot recaps, and any news about the strip, as I get it.

On my other blog, I’m writing up essays about mathematics terms. This week should be ‘V’. It’s probably also going to be late because it’s been a very busy week. I should have had a busy week for the letter ‘X’ instead; there’s so few X- words that I could miss the week and nobody could tell. Too bad. Now on to Gasoline Alley.

Gasoline Alley.

17 August – 7 November 2020.

Last time in a story I had thought might be a repeat, small-scale crook Joe Pye met his long-lost wife Shari. (I think it was new.) Shari’s upset about his vanishing years ago. But Pye and his sons had escaped from jail and need everything. He claims they’re wandering minstrels providing music for church services and stuff. She’s willing to fall for this. And they’re willing to go along with this for a bath, a meal, and a bed.

Joe Pye: 'Shari! Your church might not have the instruments we're, uh, used t'playing!' Pye Boy: 'Daddy's right! We need a five-string banjo, fiddle, guitar and tambourine! Most churches wouldn't have such as that!' Shari: 'No problem! We've got all them in the choir room! Great, huh?' Joe and Boy: 'Yeah! Great!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 10th of September, 2020. Once again, I want to point out Scancarelli’s draftsmanship. For example, in the three panels the camera rotates nearly 180 degrees around the action without being confusing. For another, look at Shari’s hand in the last panel, with the middle fingers resting together and the index and pinky fingers separating. That’s a pose your fingers take when you don’t notice, and it speaks to artistic observation that Scancarelli depicts that. Also it’s cute that Shari and her son have their hands to their cheeks simultaneously and conveying nearly opposite feelings.

And she can offer a job. Pastor Neil Enpray’s happy to have them perform in church this Sunday. They’re worse at music than I am, and I’m barely competent to listen to music. But all the Traveling Truebadours can do is bluff through it. The Pye men try to figure what they can do, while the pastor lectures on the appearances of snakes in the Bible. Joe Pye figures what they can do is pocket cash from the collection baskets.

Pastor Enpray asks Roscoe Pye to bring him a box, though. And inside is a snake! They’re terrified, fairly, and run, fleeing the church. It’s a rubber snake, of course, a toy. Enpray was hoping to “make an impression” on his congregation.

So, they escape without showing how they don’t know any hymns. But they’re also hungry and homeless. And figure Shari won’t take them back. Joe Pye figures they have one hope left: go back to prison. Why not break back in to their cells? This inspired me to wonder, when someone does escape prison, how long do they wait to reassign their cell? I have no idea. If you do, please write in.

They get there as another prisoner’s trying to break out. They’re caught up by the prison guards and confess they’re escaped prisoners. Warden Bordon Gordon, a tolerably deep Bob Newhart Show cut, is having none of it. He insists their time was up and they were released. He just forgot to mention. It so happens they were let out the same night four other people escaped, which is why there was a manhunt.

Warden: 'What brings you boys to see us?' Joe Pye: 'We're turning' ourselves in, warden.' Warden: 'What for? Your time was up! We released you!' Pye: 'You didn't tell us!' Warden, thinking: 'Hmm! I knew there was something I forgot to do!' Pye: 'So we escaped fo' nuthin!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 19th October, 2020. And yes, I see the Warden’s finger-cracking in the first panel too. It’s not hard to imagine Scancarelli having a decent career at Mad Magazine filling in the corners of the page with little toss-off gags.

The comic logic is sound. The Pyes figuring jail’s their best bet and they can’t get in, makes sense. I don’t know a specific silent comedy with this premise, but I’d bet all the A-tier comedians did something like that. I don’t fault you if you don’t buy this specific excuse.

Onward as the premise demands, though. They have to get arrested. Their best plan: steal from the grocery store. When they try to wheel a cart full of food out and admit they can’t pay, the store owner apologizes. Times are tough. Take the food. Have some soup, too. Because, you know, when you leave food in the hands of people rather than corporations, hungry people get to eat.

In the last days of October they approach a spooky old house. It sounds haunted. They run out of the place, and out of the strip; with the 30th of October we transition to Slim Skinner and the new story.


The haunted sounds are Slim’s fault, of course, but in a good way. He’d decked out a slated-for-demolition house for Halloween and that went great. There’s a bit of talk about getting the city to save the building, but that doesn’t seem to be the plot. Instead, in the middle of the night, Slim’s mother and cousin Chubby come to visit. And that’s where the daily plots stand.

Slim, dreaming of himself narrating a story: 'I'm Herbert Lewot, alies the Towel! (That's Lewot spelled backward!) My partner in grime is the Washrag! (His real name is Tex Grxznopfski, but it's too hard to pronounce forward or backward!) We patrol Ajax City aboard our sleek, modern vehicle, the Barsoap V, in search of crooks to clean up in the cities' clean up grime campaign! I spied a silhouetted 'second-story' man sneaking in a 20th story window!' Washrag: 'Wouldn't taking the fire escape be easier?' Towel: 'Washrag and I climb up the building and burst into the apartment after the crook! But to our dismay and alarm there was no villain! Who is it then?'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 20th of September, 2020. I picked this as the most active of the Towel strips. But the 13th and the 27th of September are the ones that have more little jokes and references tucked into the corners, so you might like those better.

For a couple weeks in September there was at least a running thread. Slim dreamed of being a Herbert Lewot, wealthy comic-book-reading bachelor who’s also the grime-fighter The Towel. (Spell “Lewot” backwards.) The setup feels very like an old-time-radio spoof of any number of old-time radio superheroes. (The ‘Tex Grxznopfski’ and talk about spelling backwards particularly feels Jack Benny Show to me.) Slim Skinner’s shown, for example, reading Yellow Jacket comics. Remember that both the Green Hornet and the Blue Beetle were respectable-enough radio superheroes. I’m sure there are more obscure bug-themed radio superheroes too. I think this is just a one-off, but if Scancarelli wants to fit a sub-strip into his strip? There’s a long history that he knows very well to support him.

Next Week!

The most anticipated plot recap since the new team took on Alley Oop. It’s my first plot recap for Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail, next week, if all goes well. See you then.

60s Popeye: Giddy Gold — and wait, could Popeye return to the comics page?


First things first: so, this is going around.

The survey asks what classic King Features comic strips people would like to see brought back, and what ones they would not. Included on the list are Popeye/Thimble Theatre, Apartment 3-G, Krazy Kat, Mandrake the Magician, and some others, plus spots to write in your own. I certainly have my preferences, but do encourage you to vote as you like. I would love to have more story strips, to read and to recap. I notice that The Amazing Spider-Man is not on the list of possible revivals.

And I’m aware that revivals and new-artists to comic strips are a controversial thing. I’m not sure if, besides Annie, there’s been a revival of a moribund comic strip that’s succeeded. One can fairly ask whether comics page space should go to Johnny Hazard, who’s a heck of a forgotten character, when some new and original idea might flourish. But if comic strip readers are reading more online, then there’s less of a limitation on space; the constraint is how much editorial support the organization can give. I assume the effort of supporting 55 strips is not so much more than that of supporting 50. (To pick numbers arbitrarily; I don’t know how many they’re maintaining offhand.) If a new Heart of Juliet Jones makes the whole enterprise a bit less fragile, good, then, let’s have it.

Does an online survey result in anything? I don’t know. The last time I saw something like this from Comics Kingdom it was choosing among possible names for John Kovaleski’s comic strip Daddy Daze. So it’s at least plausible. We’ll see.


Giddy Gold is another 1961 cartoon made by the Paramount Cartoon Studios crew. The story’s credited to I Klein; the direction, to Seymour Kneitel. It’s a basic story, yes. But it’s another cartoon in the era of Deep Cuts of Thimble Theatre cast. No, Roughhouse still hasn’t appeared on-screen. I swear, he appears eventually.

Popeye, like Superman, has an ambiguous relationship with magic. He lives in a world full of it, and people who can use magic to produce wonders. But he’s not comfortable with magic, since he can’t punch it. The Sea Hag is the most frequent source of magic imposed on Popeye’s world. Sometimes there’ll be a magic ring or a genie introding. Sometimes it’s Eugene the Jeep, whose powers — at least in the Fleischer cartoons — stick mostly to fortune-telling and harmless mischief. But there is another magical creature. She’s the thing you need to know to enter the club of Hardcore Popeye Fans. This is Bernice the Whiffle Hen.

Bernice the Whiffle Hen was a magical, luck-giving bird from Africa, given to Castor Oyl by uncle Lubry Kent in a 1928 sequence of Thimble Theatre. Castor Oyl hired the first sailor he saw to sail him to the gambling casino on Dice Island and that’s how Popeye joined, and took over, the comic. And more: Bernice’s luck gave Popeye the super-strength and invulnerability he needed to survive the gamblers shooting him. Popeye’s super-strength would eventually be explained by spinach. Bernice would (in a 1930 story) meet a Whiffle Rooster. She looked ready to leave with him, but came back, and now they live wherever the heck Ham Gravy and other lesser characters went. When Popeye needed a magical animal companion, Eugene the Jeep would do.

So here, now, we finally get an appearance by the Whiffle Hen. Or at least the Whiffle Bird, as Popeye calls her. Jack Mercer does the voice for the Whiffle Bird too, in a voice that sounds male. Really that sounds like he’s trying to do Wallace Wimple (Bill Thompson) from Fibber McGee and Molly. I don’t know why not have Mae Questel do the voice except maybe they didn’t want to give her three parts?

The Whiffle Bird is about to land on the Tunnel of Love boat. Popeye is delighted to see Whiffle; Olive looks surprised but interested.
Is it economy of storytelling or just the assumption that kids don’t ask questions that keeps anyone from explaining how the Whiffle Bird is magical? I mean, the Whiffle Bird saying he’ll grant a wish explains that, but what preps kids for the bird talking other than that kids don’t see any reason a bird shouldn’t talk if it has something to say? (In the comic strip she says nothing but “Whiffle”.)

This is one of the few Popeye cartoons we can place to a specific time: the Whiffle Bird says it’s the 7th of day of the 7th month. July the 7th, then. Also, it’s the 7th hour, so Popeye and Olive Oyl are at the amusement park way too early in the morning. Maybe it’s the seventh daylight hour. Our Heroes are in a Tunnel of Love ride. I’m an amusement park enthusiast and I love particularly the more old-fashioned rides. So between that and the Whiffle Hen this cartoon is tightly aimed at my niche interests. There’s not many Tunnel of Love rides — also called Old Mill rides — out there anymore. I’ve been able to get to three, at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, Rye Playland, and Kennywood Park.

The cartoon’s depiction is basically right: you putter in a boat past scenes of, like, gnomes digging in emerald mines and stuff. Rye Playland’s got a really great example of this and if you can get there when the pandemic is over, I recommend you do. (Kennywood’s, last I visited, had themed their Old Mill ride to Garfield. It’s been re-themed since then, but I haven’t been able to see it.) Olive Oyl wishes the fabulous scenes were real and the Whiffle Bird decides to make this of all possible wishes come true.

Olive Oyl’s eyes bug out and stay bugged out. Popeye, instinctively distrustful of magic and easy riches, wants to drop the buckets of treasure. Especially when he hears there’s three dangerous dangers to overcome before they can leave. The first danger’s a stone tunnel slapping shut in a move that looks like a platformer game 25 years early. Popeye’s able to clip through it, of course.

The next danger is Medusa. Olive Oyl finds the menace laughable because she hasn’t been paying attention. Medusa turns her, and her buckets of treasure, to stone. This includes precious gems that, as a know-it-all, I must point out were already stone. Popeye offers a beauty salon treatment to beat Medusa, which is a good 1960s-tv-cartoon solution. It works, breaking the spell, when she accepts the beauty treatment. I’m sorry there wasn’t time for, like, twenty seconds of Popeye as a beautician. I’m not sure where to cut the time from, though.

Olive Oyl, carrying two buckets full of treasure, is turned to stone and stands mid-step on a plinth inside a long tunnel.
The town of Chester, Illinois, is more indoors than I thought! Anyway if a Medusa is going to turn you into stone make sure you’re posing so you have natural balance. Medusa should provide the base that you stand on, though. Don’t give her any money for one! If a Medusa asks you for plinth money, however good her rationale sounds, it’s a con. Turn around and have a board-certified basilisk petrify you instead.

The last peril’s the Siren, and I have to say, this is a great Tunnel of Love. Popeye tip-toes towards her charms in a way I’m not positive wasn’t sarcastic, at least to start. Olive Oyl eats Popeye’s spinach and slugs the mermaid, which is enough to get them past the perils. They get to the boat, emerge into the sunlight and oh! Bernice(?) forgot to mention that the spell would wear off when they reached daylight. I understand the instinct to reset the status quo, although it’s hard to think why the Whiffle Bird would cast such a limited spell. Maybe s/he just likes causing mischief. I can respect that.

Making the Whiffle Bird talk, and cause mischief like this, expands her role from the comic strip. But it gives her character a clear separation from Eugene the Jeep. And she can introduce mischief in a way that Eugene couldn’t, at least not outside the Popeye’s Island Adventures shorts. So as character retcons go this is probably a good one. At least as long as talking animals don’t break the rules you perceive Popeye’s world to have. We’ll see her, or maybe him, again, although not enough.

60s Popeye: Pop Goes The Whistle, a new decade with an old plot


I believe this is the first King Features Popeye that doesn’t have a 1960 copyright date. 1961’s Pop Goes The Whistle is another from the reliable group at Paramount Cartoon Studios, formerly Famous Studios, formerly Fleischer Studios. The story’s credited to Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer. Seymour Kneitel gets listed as director.

Why not Popeye Goes The Whistle?

We must be starting from Popeye’s Boring Suburban Home, although we don’t see that. We start up close on the teddy bear. It’s a good opening, much more interesting than an establishing shot of a house.

The teddy bear’s also set up as though an important part of the story. Whistling Willy is important enough in how it gives Swee’pea a reason to go wandering off. And it resolves with a good enough tag. But at heart this is another story of Popeye imperiling himself to chase the oblivious Swee’Pea. It’s rather close in spirit to Jeep Is Jeep. Also to older and better cartoons such as Lost and Foundry.

There’s several different settings that Swee’Pea wanders through. My impression is earlier iterations kept more tightly to a single location (even if that is wandering the streets of a city). Here, we get Swee’pea in traffic, and then off to a factory, then to the harbor, then to the circus. I didn’t notice until rewatching that it’s a bit weird to suppose all these things are in a child’s crawling range. So it’s not like this is something that demolishes the cartoon. The settings must just reflect that it’s hard to think of that many different places where you’d see a whistle. I imagine there might have been a football game, if King Features was going to pay for animating the referee and at least one team.

A trained circus seal blows a whistle and juggles Popeye on its snout.
Wait a minute, that conical snout with a little dot nose? Those circles for eyes and cheeks? That’s not a seal, that’s Otto Soglow’s classic pantomime character The Little King in disguise!

I always say I expect competence from Paramount Cartoon Studios here. And we get that. There’s no bizarre artistic choices or serious animation errors or anything. The pace is a bit slow, as though the studio has one gear and is sticking to it. The most odd bit is, on top of the factory, Popeye stopping to observe the stork nest and getting punched by the parent stork. I suppose, storywise, we need something to disrupt his pursuit of Swee’Pea. It’s an odd moment, but I guess if I were in the situation I’d pause to marvel at the bird nest too.

Statistics Saturday: Some Trivia Answers, For My Dad


So my Dad thought this thing in his local paper where two people compete to give trivia answers was great and I should do that. I agree. So here we go.

  1. Olives
  2. The Ulna
  3. There’ll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight
  4. Gimbels
  5. Painted rice crackers
  6. Vercingetorix
  7. Oatmeal
  8. North Dakota in the year 1822
  9. Planetary-gear transmission
  10. Kenny Loggins

Reference: Tales to Astonish: Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, and the American Comic Book Revolution, Ronin Ro.

60s Popeye: Popeye the Ugly Ducklin, a good outing for the Goons


So, yes, this is not Sunday. You might wonder why I’m doing another King Features Popeye cartoon review so soon. Mostly, I’m feeling very overloaded, and very worried about what the week ahead will bring, and I need stuff that’s easy and even fun to write. Watching questionably good cartoons that I loved as a child? That’s right up my alley. I’m not giving up on the comic strip plot recaps, or something long-form for Thursday nights, nor Statistics Saturday, but for right now I’m taking the other days more easy.

Today’s cartoon is another Jack Kinney joint. Story’s by Ed Nofziger. Animation directors our friends Volus Jones and Ed Friedman. I remember this team from Out Of This World, which took a great premise and was not, and Shoot the Chutes, a sky-diving contest. Here, we have Popeye the Ugly Ducklin.

We start with what looks like Swee’Pea asking for a fairy story. Instead he’s asking what Popeye was like as a kid. Same structure, although it does open to Popeye telling a fairy tale that has reason to cast him in a role. Popeye denies he was strong and handsome as a kid. Well, denies he was handsome, anyway. And he proves it with a picture in the family album, which he has right there. I don’t know who was keeping this family album since Popeye was an orphink right up until he found his Pappy.

Anyway, we get one of those few cartoons showing Young Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Brutus. They’re playing school and shunning Popeye as somehow the ugly one. After being mocked enough, he runs away, landing eventually on Goon Island. This is an interesting riff on Popeye’s father being captive on Goon Island, in one of the Fleischer cartoons. Popeye’s been harassed even by the sea creatures on his way there. The Goons, ugly themselves, show him nothing but kindness, though.

Then some scenes of his growing up, reading books like The Wizard of Goon or playing goonball. Incidentally, if I’m reading things right The Wizard of Oz — the original book — was in the public domain by 1960. Why wasn’t there a Popeye version of this? Also, I notice the boat in the background of the goonball game is the Sea Hag. I’m not sure what that signifies. Back in Strange Things Are Happening the Sea Hag had henchgoons, of course, but different cartoon, different continuity, perhaps.

Kid Popeye dancing the Sailor's Hornpipe, while two Goons play flute and cello for him.
Not answered: is Alice the Goon one of the Goons who raised Popeye? Or was she in his age cohort? It seems like something that affects their relationship, whatever way it turns out.

There’s a nicely done growing-up montage of Popeye eating spinach at the table. Then it’s time to return “home” for some reason, so they give him a song and a pipe and the chance to grab a whale. Grown-up Olive Oyl is still a teacher, only now she finds Popeye cute. Grown-up brutus is still a lousy student, and hasn’t improved his bullying game any. A can of spinach later and Popeye is punching Brutus through the school, a pretty fun stunt, before finally knocking him to Goon Island. It’s supposed to see if the Goons can teach Brutus a lesson. I suppose we have to conclude they didn’t. And we close on the bare end of Popeye’s little rhyming couplet, starting at “Cause I eats me spinach”. I don’t know why not the full thing.

It’s all an okay origin story, sure. I like Robert Altman’s movie more, but this one is a lot zippier. It hasn’t got the snappy moral of The Ugly Duckling, although I’m not sure The Ugly Duckling has that snappy a moral either. Um. I guess something about how a thing you find ugly, you might just be holding to inappropriate standards. Which is a good thing to remind snarky Internet critics.

MiSTed: The Tale of Fatty Coon, Chapter I


Hi. So. I need to make life a little easier on myself right now. To that end, I want to share a bit of a Mystery Science Theater 3000 fanfiction I’ve been working on for just about forever. It’s riffing based on one of the children’s animal-adventure books written by Arthur Scott Bailey back in the 1910s. In it, Bailey attempts to answer the question, “Can you write a children’s animal-adventure book without liking your protagonist in even the tiniest little bit?” In this case the protagonist is a raccoon, named Fatty, and boy isn’t that great reading? But I’ve gotten about half of the book riffed.

The first five chapters of this I’ve actually shared already. But that was also, like, four years ago. I don’t want to send people plunging deep into the archives for that. So I’m going to use those already-riffed chapters as Thursday pieces for a couple weeks, and then go into about five new chapters, and then? We’ll see. So, now, here, please enjoy what I do have.

A MiSTing, as this is, is a Usenet-bred form of fan fiction. The original material gets to present itself, with > marks to denote the original author. The riffing then gets inserted, play-direction style. The first five chapters even have an opening and a closing sketch. I don’t know if I’ll have a similar framing for the second five chapters.

Take care, please, of yourselves and each other.


[ SEASON TEN opening. ]

[ 1… 2… 3… 4… 5… 6… ]

[ SATELLITE OF LOVE. TOM is reading a newspaper and chuckling as MIKE and CROW enter. ]

TOM: Hee heee!

MIKE: What’s up there, Thomas?

CROW: He finally noticed they print the ‘Jumble’ answers upside-down.

TOM: I’m now a happy subscriber to the Ironic Comics page.

[ MIKE takes the paper from TOM’s hands. CROW peeks at a corner, letting the paper flap over his beak. ]

TOM: ‘Beetle Bailey’ as Wagnerian opera! Fred Basset portrayed by a very long duck! ‘The Lockhorns’ with neither lock nor horn!

MIKE: Hey, I like this Clip-Art ‘Cathy’. She married Irving Berlin.

CROW: Wait, this is just ‘Henry’. What’s ironic about that?

TOM: What’s *not* ironic about ‘Henry’?

[ MADS sign flashes. ]

MIKE: Ahp. Agatha Crumm is calling.

[ CASTLE FORRESTER. PEARL, PROFESSOR BOBO, and the OBSERVER are at a table. ]

OBSERVER: I love ‘For Better Or For Worse, And It Turns Out, Worse.’ [ To PEARL’s withering indifference. ] It puts at the end of every strip Anthony whining how ‘I have no home!’

PEARL: OK, Mark Trail. We’ve tried everything to break your spirits. We’ve tried bad movies.

BOBO: We’ve tried telephones!

PEARL: We’ve tried fan fiction.

OBSERVER: We’ve tried advertisements!

PEARL: We’ve tried the most Ruby-Spearsish Hanna-Barbera Christmas specials!

BOBO: I love that one with Goober and Gumdrop!

OBSERVER: Now let’s try … young-reader animal fantasy!

PEARL: Your experiment for today is the first five chapters of Arthur Scott Bailey’s 1915 piece of ouvre _The Tale of Fatty Coon_.

BOBO: See if you learn something special from all this adorable animal fantasy!

[ SATELLITE OF LOVE. MOVIE SIGN and general chaos. ]

MIKE: Oh, no! Animal fantasy!

TOM, CROW: AAAAGH!

[ 6… 5… 4… 3… 2… 1.. ]

[ THEATER. ALL file in. ]

> SLEEPY-TIME TALES

TOM: So … uh … good night?

> THE TALE OF FATTY COON

CROW: From Buster Keaton through learning there *is* such a thing as bad publicity.

> BY ARTHUR SCOTT BAILEY

TOM: o/` Arthur was born just a plain simple man o/`

> ILLUSTRATED BY HARRY L. SMITH
> NEW YORK

MIKE: Illustrated by Harry L Smith and the New York dancers!

>
> 1915

> I
>
> FATTY COON AT HOME

TOM: Just sitting around the home …

>
> Fatty Coon was so fat and round

CROW: Oh come *on*.

MIKE: Man, 1915 and they’re ahead of our lead joke.

> that he looked like a ball of
> fur, with a plumelike tail for a handle. But if you looked at him
> closely you would have seen a pair of very bright eyes watching you.

CROW: From the tail?

TOM: Raccoons can see very well through their handles.

>
> Fatty loved to eat.

CROW: And that’s all the personality he’ll need!

MIKE: Pretty much all the personality I have.

> Yes—he loved eating better than anything
> else in the world. That was what made him so fat.

TOM: ‘I’m getting ready to hibernate for winter!’

CROW: ‘It’s May.’

TOM: ‘I don’t want to get caught by surprise.’

> And that, too, was
> what led him into many adventures.

CROW: Like the adventure of Waffle House At 3 am.

MIKE: Taking his life and his maple syrup into his own paws.

>
> Close by a swamp, which lay down in the valley, between Blue
> Mountain and Swift River,

TOM: Burger King on the right and if you come to the old middle school you’ve gone too far.

> Fatty Coon lived with his mother and his
> brother and his two sisters.

CROW: And his mayonnaise.

> Among them all there was what grown
> people call "a strong family resemblance," which is the same thing as
> saying that they all looked very much alike.

TOM: What, because all raccoons look the same to you?

> The tail of each one of
> them—mother and children too—had six black rings around it. Each of
> them had a dark brown patch of fur across the face, like a mask.

MIKE: _Clonus: The Ranger Rick Project_.

> And—what do you think?—each of them, even Fatty and his brother and
> his sisters, had a stiff, white moustache!

CROW: This is getting near body shaming, Mister Arthur Scott Bailey.

>
> Of course, though they all looked so much alike, you would
> have known which was Mrs. Coon, for she was so much bigger than her
> children.

TOM: And she had that ISO 9000 consulting job for Lockheed.

> And you would have known which was Fatty—he was so much
> rounder than his brother and his sisters.

CROW: And he had a bear claw in his mouth.

MIKE: The pastry?

CROW: We’ll see.

>
> Mrs. Coon’s home was in the hollow branch of an old tree.

TOM: They were the first wave of gentrification moving in.

MIKE: Classic cycle. Starving artists, hipsters, raccoons, rents go up.

> It
> was a giant of a tree—a poplar close by a brook which ran into the
> swamp—and the branch which was Mrs. Coon’s home was as big as most
> tree-trunks are.

MIKE: Look, it’s a tree, all right? I’m Arthur Scott Bailey, I got bigger fish to fry than specifying poplar trees.

>
> Blackie was Fatty’s brother—for the mask on his face was just
> a little darker than the others’.

TOM: *Blackie* Coon?

MIKE: Oh dear Lord.

> Fluffy was one of Fatty’s sisters,
> because her fur was just a little fluffier than the other children’s.

TOM: *Fluffy* Coon?

CROW: When Andrew WK visits Anthrocon?

> And Cutey was the other sister’s name, because she was so quaint.

TOM: I feel like I need to apologize and I don’t even know who to.

>
> Now, Fatty Coon was forever looking around for something to
> eat.

MIKE: ‘Here’s a thing!’ (Gulp)

TOM: ‘That’s a vase!’

MIKE: Needs honey mustard.’

> He was never satisfied with what his mother brought home for him.

CROW: ‘Crawdads and berries *again*?’

MIKE: ‘No, this is berries and Crawdads.’

> No matter how big a dinner Mrs. Coon set before her family, as soon as
> he had finished eating his share Fatty would wipe his white moustache
> carefully—for all the world like some old gentleman—and hurry off in
> search of something more.

MIKE: ‘Fatty, that’s a rock.’

CROW: ‘That’s a rock with ranch dressing.’

>
> Sometimes he went to the edge of the brook and tried to catch
> fish by hooking them out of the water with his sharp claws.

TOM: ‘Best case scenario, I catch a snack. Worst case, I touch a goldfish. Either way, a win!’

> Sometimes
> he went over to the swamp and hunted for duck among the tall reeds.

CROW: ‘Hey, a little deep frying and these reeds would be good.’

> And though he did not yet know how to catch a duck, he could always
> capture a frog or two; and Fatty ate them as if he hadn’t had a
> mouthful of food for days.

MIKE: ‘If I eat enough frog maybe a duck will crawl into my mouth and see what’s going on!’

>
> To tell the truth, Fatty would eat almost anything he could
> get—nuts, cherries, wild grapes,

TOM: Boring, straight-laced actuary grapes.

> blackberries, bugs, small snakes,

CROW: Large but depressed snakes.

> fish, chickens,

MIKE: Buckets of fried dough.

> honey—there was no end to the different kinds of food
> he liked.

TOM: I believe you, sugar.

> He ate everything. And he always wanted more.

MIKE: Thing is it’s fun cooking for someone who likes eating so much.

>
> "Is this all there is?" Fatty Coon asked his mother one day.

TOM: Well, you could merge with Ilia and Captain Decker maybe?

> He had gobbled up every bit of the nice fish that Mrs. Coon had
> brought home for him. It was gone in no time at all.

CROW: ‘Well, you could try the less-nice or the morally ambiguous fish.’

>
> Mrs. Coon sighed. She had heard that question so many times;
> and she wished that for once Fatty might have all the dinner he
> wanted.

MIKE: ‘Fatty, you’re a sphere.’

CROW: ‘And I could be a hypersphere, Mom!!’

>
> "Yes—that’s all," she said, "and I should think that it was
> enough for a young coon like you."
>
> Fatty said nothing more. He wiped his moustache on the back of
> his hand (I hope you’ll never do that!)

TOM: You eating raw frogs, though, Arthur Scott Bailey’s cool with.

> and without another word

MIKE: Really, what else was there to say?

> he started off to see what he could find to eat.

CROW: ‘This is delicious!’

MIKE: ‘This is an ironing board!’

CROW: ‘With marshmallows!’

[ To Continue ]

Statistics October: When Am I Going to Do Something About Mark Trail, And What Will That Be?


I have not a thing to do with Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail. Even in the world of comic strip snark bloggers I’m a third-tier player. The nearest connection I have is that a former friend went on to become a syndicated cartoonist.

But I do read it, and I occasionally recap its plot. I do this for a dozen story strips. This is my plan for what comic strips I’ll be recapping the next month, and when I plan to post those recaps:

So my first comments about the story and my reaction to it, I figure to have in two weeks. Hope you feel it’s worth the wait. Me? I’m just reveling in that I figured out how to post from the Classic, or “Good”, WordPress editor again and don’t have to fight the new Block, or “Bad”, one to do stuff like embed images or videos.


So, like, every month I hope to look at my readership figures and see what was popular and what wasn’t. This month? It was extremely popular for me, according to WordPress’s count of page views, and other stuff. WordPress tells me there were 7,149 page views here in October. This is the largest I’ve ever had in a single month, going past even the Apocalypse 3-G peak in November 2015. It’s way above the 4,050.8 twelve-month running average of page views. The number of unique visitors was way up too. WordPress recorded 4,135 unique visitors in October, also a record, and way above the twelve-month running average of 2,374.8. Heck, 4,135 views, never mind visitors, would be among my most-read months.

Bar chart of monthly readership figures. After several months of slight rises around 4,000 views per month, it leaps to just over seven thousand views and four thousand visitors for October.
I feel like daring them to tell me how I could get people to pay me for reading Gil Thorp.

I know why all these visitors. You do too. But let’s let that wait a moment and look at other statistics. There were 115 things liked here in October, tolerably above the twelve-month running average of 95.3. And there were a positively robust 43 comments, beating the average 27.5. I do like seeing all this. My next goal will be getting two commenters having a conversation with each other, instead of chatting with me. Well, that’ll probably never happen. I’ve been doing this daily for eight years; if I knew how to say stuff that attracted people who want to talk to each other, I’d have done it by now.


So what does draw people in? The mode of them were looking for Mark Trail news. The five most-read pieces in October were posts with names like Why does Mark Trail look funny? and Why Does Mark Trail look different? As I noticed these getting popular I put up tags to tell people about the new artist-and-writer, and to point them to my plot-recaps pages. They’ll never come back. The only pieces to compare were, well, that months-in-reverse-alphabetical-order post, and one asking about what’s going on with Mallard Fillmore. Daily Cartoonist says that Bruce Tinsley is returned to the comic strip he originated. That’s all right. I return from not reading Mallard Fillmore to not reading Mallard Fillmore.

The five most popular pieces around here that were posted in September or October of this year were largely comic strip based. One original thing did make the cut:

My most popular long-form essay was Some Astounding Things About The Moon, which it’s nice to see get some recognition. Especially since I both like the piece and had the main bulk of it spill out in about twenty minutes’ thinking, which is a pretty good ratio. Some pieces I spend all week trying to get into shape and they’re still formless blobs. My most popular Statistics Saturday piece was, of course, How Many People Wanted To Know What Was Up With Mark Trail This Past Week. I’m not above being a little clickbait-y, as long as I can whitewash it with irony. Yes, I’m Gen-X.

77 countries sent me any readers at all in October. That’s the same count as in September. There were 15 single-view countries, up from 10 the month before. Here’s the roster:

Country Readers
United States 5,677
India 262
Philippines 144
Canada 142
United Kingdom 113
Australia 102
Colombia 51
Germany 49
South Africa 43
Sweden 42
France 35
Spain 33
Brazil 29
Norway 28
Finland 24
Italy 24
Sri Lanka 22
Netherlands 21
Chile 20
Japan 18
Kenya 18
Malaysia 15
European Union 14
Greece 14
Belgium 12
Thailand 10
Austria 9
Mexico 9
New Zealand 9
Singapore 8
Hong Kong SAR China 7
Switzerland 7
Trinidad & Tobago 7
Turkey 7
China 6
Croatia 6
Denmark 6
Indonesia 6
Poland 6
Tanzania 6
Costa Rica 5
Nigeria 5
Peru 5
Romania 5
Russia 5
Serbia 5
Argentina 4
Cook Islands 4
Pakistan 4
Egypt 3
Saudi Arabia 3
Slovenia 3
South Korea 3
United Arab Emirates 3
Algeria 2
Bulgaria 2
Czech Republic 2
El Salvador 2
Ireland 2
Kuwait 2
Portugal 2
Taiwan 2
Åland Islands 1
Bahrain 1
Bangladesh 1
Congo – Kinshasa 1
Curaçao 1
Georgia 1
Guatemala 1
Israel 1
Libya 1
Morocco 1
Myanmar (Burma) 1
Puerto Rico 1
Turks & Caicos Islands 1
Vietnam 1
Zimbabwe 1
Mercator-style map of the world, with the United States in dark red and most of the New World, western Europe, South and Pacific Rim Asia, Australia, and New Zealand in a more uniform pink.
Some month I’m going to just repeat the previous month’s map and see if anyone notices. I bet that’s the month I get a reader from Greenland, too.

There’s no countries that were single-view two months in a row. I’m not sure that’s ever happened before that I noticed. I’m happy seeing it, though. If I am going to be barely noticed, at least it can be a broad bare-noticing.


From the dawn of time to the start of November I had posted 2,830 pieces. These gathered 195,475 total views, from 110,257 logged unique visitors.

WordPress credits me with 14,152 words posted in October, my most laconic month this year. I averaged 416.2 words per posting in October. And that’s with stuff like the Popeye cartoon reviews and the story strip plot recaps bulking out my average. Recapping a Sunday-only strip like Prince Valiant helps. But, this means for the year to date I’ve posted 159,495 words, and have an average for the year of 523 words per post, dropping from 536. We’ll just see what I do about that.

If you’d like to see what I do, add my RSS feed to whatever you use to read essays. If you don’t have an RSS reader? Sign up for a free account at Dreamwidth or Livejournal. You can add any RSS feed — which most every WordPress blog has, and many comic strips and other regularly updated stuff does too — from https://www.dreamwidth.org/feeds/ or https://www.livejournal.com/syn as you like. Or, if you have a WordPress account, click the “Follow Another Blog, Meanwhile” button on this page somewhere.

Thank you all for reading.

What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? Did Svengoolie bust an actual vampire? August – October 2020


Svengoolie did not. For a moment it looked like the vampire-killer was confessing to the horror-movie host. Svengoolie was instead used, with some elegance, to provide exposition about how a gadget needed for the story should work.

This essay should catch you up on Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy through to the end of October, 2020. Any news about Dick Tracy that I get, or after about February 2021 new plot recaps, should be at this link.

On my other blog I continue writing about mathematics terms, one for each letter in the alphabet. This past week, I revisited a topic I’d already written, because I forgot I already wrote an essay about tiling. Come on over and stare at my embarrassment!

Dick Tracy.

9 August – 31 October 2020.

Dethany Dendrobia, star of Bill Holbrook’s On The Fastrack, was the guest star last time we checked in. She was in the Greater Tracypolitan Metro Area to investigate weirdness with a warehouse her company was buying. The weirdness: Coney, an ice-cream-themed villain. He’s searching the warehouse for a fortune left behind by Stooge Viller, a villain who died in 1940, our time. Coney’s desperate because the property management company “accidentally” sold the warehouse to Fastrack. To buy time and the warehouse, Coney’s gang kidnaps Dendrobia’s fiancee, Guy Wyre.

Sam Catchem’s informant has a tip for Wyre’s whereabouts: “some old warehouse”. It’s kind of a crazy lead, but you know what? Sometimes the crazy leads pay off. With the help of FBI Inspector Fritz Ann Dietrich they raid the warehouse, catching Coney mid-lick. Coney tries to put it all on Howdy, the Howdy Doody-themed henchman and yes you read that right. Dendrobia finds Wyre, and more, the restroom behind him. And one of those old-fashioned toilets with the water tank that’s up by the ceiling. She pulls the chain and finds piles of cash. This because none of the people searching the warehouse for Villier’s Millions ever looked in the toilet water tank.

Dethany Dendrobia, washing her hands, notices: 'Wow, there's an old-fashioned water tank in this bathroom.' She pulls the chain on the elevated water tank. The bottom of the tank falls out and bundles of money drop from it.
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 20th of August, 2020. Yes, Dethany’s washing her hands in that first panel and I don’t know why. She rushed past her bound fiancee to do it, too. One of the GoComics.com commenters speculated that Howdy was planning to keep the loot for himself, and pretended to have found nothing. Possibly relocated the loot while waiting for his chance to sneak it out. This isn’t explicitly supported in the text. But it would answer my doubts that in 80 years nobody checked the water tanks.

So all’s squared away, and Dendrobia and Wyre can get back to their Halloween-scheduled wedding. (It did go on, over in their home comic strip of On The Fastrack, as a mostly online event. Some family attended, after a strict two-week quarantine.)


The 23rd of August started another two-week Minit Mystery, with guest writer Mark Barnard and guest artist Jorge Baeza. The mysterious ‘Presto’ makes the city’s new Aurora Rising statue vanish when his ransom isn’t paid. The story is one of how Tracy follows his one lead. But there is a legitimate mystery and the statue’s disappearance is by a more-or-less legitimate piece of stage magic. Also, there’s a guest appearance by Smokey Stover, so, you’re welcome, Dad. I had nothing to do with it.


The Halloween story started the 7th of September with a mad sciencey-type carving fangs. And in an atmospheric and silent week, does a vampire-attack on a woman, Faith Brown. She dies of blood loss from two wounds in her neck, and there’s chloroform in her blood. He goes on to admire his fang-and-pump apparatus. And how after a “minor adjustment” he’ll be able to add Faith’s sisters’ blood to his “collection”.

Honeymoon Tracy and Adopted Orphan Annie pop into the story the 13th, as their journalism tutor Brenda Starr gives them an assignment. Pick a story from the paper and they do their own investigation. They’re interested in the “vampire” killing. Starr recommends talking with Professor Stokes, Biology Professor at Local College. He’s the guy with the fangs, and he’s known to be an expert on vampire lore. Honeymoon and Annie go to Dick Tracy to see if he can get them an introduction. They’re too young to realize that if you’re even a bit female, and ask a white nerd about his obsession, he will never stop talking to you, including about it.

Professor Stokes, showing his fangs to Honeymoon and Annie: 'There are 'vampire fans' who do practice the consumption of blood, but it is always voluntary, from a donor.' Honeymoon bleahs her tongue out. Stokes: 'Ha ha! I admit I'm not tempted to try it either. If you really want to explore the vampire subculture, I've made a list of books and sites to visit.' He hands Honeymoon a bundle of papers, labelled 'VAMPIRE BOOKS' on top. Honeymoon: 'Thanks, Professor Stokes.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 22nd of September, 2020. So this one time decades ago I was taking a picture in a dimly-lit computer room. When the flash went off, this friend who had an online vampire roleplay going howled in an instinctive pain. He said it was because the flash was right in his eyes but … you know? I should check how that picture came out. Since it was a photo I took in like 1997, probably unfocused and with everything interesting under-lit.

Tracy goes along with them, though, since he needs to get some suspects into the story. Stokes admits how he’s part of the local Nosferatu scene and sure there’ll be a certain amount of blood-drinking there, but not him. And it’s always from volunteers. And he has some literature.

Meanwhile Faith’s bereaved sisters — Hope and Charity — are not too bereaved not to talk themselves into buying a car with their inheritance. Not from Faith’s death, particularly; a fortune they’d come into before her killing. Their Uncle Matthew had been a “patron to some really eccentric types”. If Faith-Hope-and-Charity weren’t found, the money would have gone to the eccentrics. Have you spotted the eccentric in this story?

Then there’s another break. TV horror-host Svengoolie had a fan send him a “working artificial vampire system”. Could it have something to do with the vampire killing? No, it turns out. The machine’s from a Local College student, and does have actual blood-draw gear, but its motor wouldn’t draw enough blood to kill. And “confessing to Svengoolie” would be weird even for the Dick Tracy universe. But, the Local College student did find the parts he needed from the college lab. And here we get explained how Stokes could make this vampire machine, without a villain monologuing and without anyone telling someone things they should already know.

Honeymoon, to Dick Tracy, driving: 'We're going to see SVENGOOLIE?' Tracy: 'He called and wants to meet us at the TV studio.' Annie: 'I watch his show on Saturday nights back home. I can't wait to tell Daddy, Punjab, and the Asp about this!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 28th of September, 2020. “Daddy Warbucks is busy this week informing heads of government at the G8 summit just what symbolic reforms the wealthy are going to allow them to make in the next year. And after that he’s visiting Mr Am, his immortal friend who’s Ambiguously God. But once he’s back from all that he’ll be very impressed I saw a man who says `Berwyn` while stagehands throw rubber chickens at him.”

Professor Stokes learns of Hope and Charity buying a car with the money he feels entitled to. I don’t know how. He calls Hope Brown, though, with the promise of running a new-car-warranty scam. And stops in, coincidentally as Brenda Starr is visiting. Starr mentions she bought a new car and needs a warranty scam. He doesn’t have a card, he explains, but jots down his name and number.

Starr goes into action, because what kind of agent meets a client without business cards? In 2020, when I’m assuming smartphone owners transfer contact information by waving their phones in someone’s direction. So she calls Dick Tracy with her suspicion that Hope Brown’s the next vampire victim.

Hope Brown: 'I'm sorry about the interruption. I'll work up your travel plans right away.' Brenda Starr: 'It's all right. Meeting Mr Stoker was a bonus.' Brown: 'Have a nice day, Ms Starr. I'll be in touch soon!' Starr, thinking: 'Maybe sooner than you think, Miss Brown. I know I've seen 'Mr Stoker' before. And what kind of agent comes to an appointment without business cards?'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 15th of October, 2020. Starr knows Professor Stokes, at minimum by reputation, as she’d recommended him to Honeymoon and Annie for vampire information. This may make you ask, then, why didn’t Stokes recognize Starr? But there’s no reason to think they’ve met. She’d habitually be making notes of “people with deep knowledge on esoteric subjects”. And even if they had, normal people do not remember every person they’ve ever met. Even people who, like Brenda Starr, have hair that’s always sparkling in the light.

Stokes descends on a woman leaving Brown’s office. She turns, beating him up. It’s not Hope Brown. It’s Officer Lizz Grove, in disguise. Stokes breaks free, though, and runs to a nearby Jazz festival. And into the path of a cop car, that kills him. The police are aghast at killing a white guy who wasn’t protesting police violence, of course. But that wraps up the vampire problem.

Now the parts where I’m confused. It’s in motivations. I understand Stokes wanting to kill the Brown girls, on the hypothesis that would somehow get him the inheritance. (I can imagine ways Uncle Matthew might have set things up so this could work.) I could also understand him just taking “revenge” on people he’s decided wronged him by existing. I can also understand Stokes wanting this “collection” of blood he mentioned. I don’t understand these motives applying at once. Well, maybe Stokes was a complicated person.

Brenda Starr has one last question, though, for Adopted Orphan Annie. It’s one I would have thought too obvious to ask. Annie could have picked any story in the newspaper to investigate. Why was Annie interested in a weird, freakish killing that drew a six-column, two-deck headline? Why not the business piece about soy futures coming in even more in line with forecasts than analysts expected? Annie explains she knew murder victim Faith Brown, from a distance, aware she had been a kind and helpful fixture of the neighborhood. I guess it’s nice to learn give Faith Brown some traits besides being the inciting victim. But if Annie never met her how did she even know Faith Brown’s name? It’s an explanation that makes me less clear about what’s going on.


Besides the Minit Mystery and the number of guest stars were a few special strips over this era. The 18th of October was dedicated to James “Bart” Bush, a longtime Dick Tracy super-fan who recently died. On the 6th of October much of the strip was given to Sam Catchem reading the “Quowit the Happy Hangman” comic strip.

On the 1st of October we saw a mysterious gloved hand emerge from the rapids. That seems likely to be Abner Kadaver, TV horror host-turned-killer for hire. Last we saw him, back in 2016, he died going over the Reichenbach Falls, like that could ever work. I am surprised he didn’t somehow get into the Halloween story.

Next Week!

I think the story about Joe Pye and his kids, escaped from jail, wasn’t a rerun? So we get back to Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley and see how they’re handling a reunion with Joe Pye’s wife. Again, that’s if anything goes to plan. Good luck to us all.

In Which I Foolishly Ask About A Peanuts Special


I absolutely should not ask questions about It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. The cartoon barely has a plot, just a bunch of scenes abutting one another. And that’s great, because usually the more a Peanuts cartoon has a plot the worse it is. But, watching the DVD again this year, something new nagged at me.

Do you think Schroeder was invited to provide music for Violet’s Halloween party? Does he just carry his piano to every social engagement he ever attends, holding it all casually under his arm, waiting for an excuse to say, “Hey, you know, I just happen to play a little” and then whip out a bit of Für Elise? What was the plan?

60s Popeye: Popeye’s Testimonial Dinner and what the heck was that


Last week’s cartoon, built on the premise that Popeye’s friends have to sneak him in to a TV show in his honor, Paramount Cartoon Studios made. There were like 800 studios making Popeye cartoons for King Features in that early-60s rush. Here’s one from Jack Kinney, who’s credited as director and producer. Volus Jones gets the animation-director credit. The story’s given to Jerry Nevius, a name I don’t have recorded yet. This could mean anything. Here’s 1960’s Popeye’s Testimonial Dinner.

Why were there two let’s-celebrate-Popeye cartoons in a row, and from different studios? Maybe coincidence. Maybe, if they had as much as a year’s lead time to put cartoons together, everybody noticed it was the 30th anniversary of Popeye as a character. I had assumed King Features Syndicate was bundling these on YouTube in the order they were completed or first put into syndication. This makes the overlap of gimmick more prominent. But Strange Things Are Happening had nothing to do with any specific bits of Popeye history. This one is a clip show. That’s novel only in that I think this is the first King Features run clip show. Famous Studios’ 1953 Popeye’s 20th Anniversary was, similarly, a clip show hung around the frame of a testimonial dinner. There’s worse premises.

So what the heck did I just watch?

A clip show, sure. And the basic idea makes sense, Popeye taken to a dinner attended by Swee’Pea, Eugene the Jeep, King Blozo, Wimpy, Alice the Goon. Even some minor characters like Oscar and Ham Gravy and why is Ham Gravy suddenly turning up everywhere? But envious Brutus, uninvited even though he’s the person Popeye spends the most time with, sneaks in. When his sabotage fails Brutus complains about his lot in life. Popeye takes pity, gives Brutus some spinach and lets him take a good clean punch. Everyone celebrates Popeye’s magnanimous nature.

It’s implementing this that makes no sense. The first clip is King Blozo recounting the time the land was threatened by a dragon that Popeye beat up. That was in Popeye Versus The Dragon, a cartoon that King Blozo was not in. Also that seems to be set in Cartoon Medieval times. But, fine; it’s not like it’s impossible Blozo was part of that. But Blozo also says “I further recall a time when Popeye and Brutus were … ” Were what? This could lead into almost any clip, as though Jerry Nevius hadn’t decided or didn’t know what clip they’d be used. They ultimately used Golf Brawl, a cartoon I haven’t got around to yet. You can watch it from here, if you like. Jack Kinney’s credited with that story. They edited the clip, although to make it make more sense. There is no evidence that King Blozo witnessed any of it.

Brutus complains that “they’re making out like I was the villain”. This is a fair complaint for a clip unlike the one shown. The clip shows Brutus hitting a golf ball that bounces ridiculously off trees and knocks himself into the water. It hits Popeye in the nose, as it bounces around, but there’s no plausible way Brutus intended that. Also the clip’s sound is re-recorded, so that Brutus laughing is silent instead.

Olive Oyl starts telling about this time she was managing a store, and “this bully” came in. I don’t know what cartoon this is supposed to reference. We don’t get a clip from it anyway, just Brutus protesting and demanding to tell his side. Popeye says go ahead. Brutus does, but we fade to black and then return to him saying “naturally I had to protect myself”. What cartoon would even fit Brutus’s declaration that “so, outnumbered, I asked for help from a kindly old sea witch, who agreed to help”? As a general principle, I like the idea that we only ever see some of Our Heroes’ adventures, and they have stuff going on even when the cameras aren’t rolling. But it’s a bold move to do a clip cartoon without the clips.

Then he goes in to how he and his “girl” were sitting in this coffeehouse. It’s a clip from Coffee House, only with new sound recorded. It shows how much the animation of that cartoon depended on the mood music and finger-snaps of the coffee house patrons and such. Also, the clip is edited down to just show Brutus punching Popeye after not much provocation. Past clip cartoons with a Brutus-telling-his-side theme focused, rightly, on showing where Popeye was escalating things.

This convinces Popeye that Brutus isn’t all bad, because I guess this line was written before Volus Jones had picked out the Coffee House clip to show. So we get the unusual cartoon where someone besides Popeye eats his spinach, and the rare cartoon where Popeye gets beaten at the end of it.

Popeye sprawled on the floor, looking behind him at an empty table. Brutus is photobombing, holding up one finger on an arm he sways back and forth while singing.
Popeye is haunted by the voices of people he cannot perceive, while Brutus? Brutus just has fun.

After the one punch, at about 16:20 in the video, Popeye lands. His friends start singing this “Popeye, you’ve done it again” earworm. They had previously sung it at the start of the night, where it made no sense. (My notes had a line “why not For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow?”.) But they credit him with saving the day, cheering about how he marshaled his might to turn wrong into the right, while Popeye looks around at the empty table behind him. Also Brutus does this wonderfully hilarious conductor’s dance. Fade to black and then … about 16:38, we just start over again, Popeye landing from the punch. His friends start singing this “Popeye, you’ve done it again” earworm again. This is so baffling that I thought at first it was some weird YouTube-related file error. But there’s no possible upload error that made this play once with empty tables and one with everyone at the tables.

I understand why you make a clip cartoon. You have to deliver so much content, you have only so much time, and you have only so much budget. This fills that content hole, cheaply and quickly. Maybe it also gives an animation director some experience and credits in a production with lower stakes and lower demands. So why is this such a mess? I’m open to hypotheses.

Statistics Saturday: Days Remaining In 2020


As of the … there were this many days remaining in 2020
1st of January 366 days
1st of February 366 days
1st of March 366 days
1st of April 366 days
1st of May 366 days
1st of June 366 days
1st of July 366 days
1st of August 366 days
1st of September 366 days
1st of October 366 days
1st of November 366 days
1st of December (impossible to predict)

Reference: 365: Your Date with History, WB Marsh, Bruce Carrick.