Statistics Saturday: Some Astounding Apollo 14 Trivia


Apollo 14 Thing Apollo 14 Thing Count or Measure
Launch vehicle Saturns 5
Launch vehicle Saturn V’s 1
Change in angle of flight azimuth required by 40 minutes, 2 second prelaunch weather delay 3 degrees, 30 minutes, 39.24 seconds
Astronaut noses (total) 3
Astronaut noses (per capita) 1
Tree seeds 400, maybe 500, who knows, they’re seeds
Golf balls hit on moon 2
How much longer the astronauts needed to walk to catch sight of the abandoned alien spacecraft in Cone Crater 52 seconds
Softballs hit on moon 0
Service Modules returned to earth 1 (not observed; if you find an Apollo 14 Service Module please bring it to your nearest NASA office)
Baseballs hit on moon 1
Baseballs foul-tipped on moon 2
Moons visited 1
Wastewater dumps deliberately photographed 1
Wheels left on the lunar surface 2
Mortar shells left on the lunar surface 4
Moons secretly visited 3
Astronauts named ‘Stuart’ returned from lunar orbit 1
Time between lunar impact of S-IVB stage and its first detection on the Apollo 12 seismometer 94 nautical miles away 37 seconds
Frisbees thrown on moon 5
Successfully 0
RCS engine deactivation completed 457 hours 57 minutes Mission Elapsed Time
Moon features given the name “Weird Rock” 1
Astronaut toes 10 per nose
Relative humidity at launch 86%

Reference: It’s Back To School, Charlie Brown, Charles M Schulz.

60s Popeye: Who’s Kidding Zoo, a title that needs some baby goats to really land


Who’s Kidding Zoo is a 1961 Paramount Cartoon Studios-produced short. The story’s credited to Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer, and the direction to Seymour Kneitel. This is not the same credit given to every Paramount Popeye cartoon of the era. It just feels like it.

This is an example of a particular stock Popeye cartoon plot: Popeye and Bluto/Brutus battle each other for the chance to work for Olive Oyl. It’s a solid story. I’m surprised they had never competed for a job at the zoo before. You’d expect the setting to offer a lot of chances for good animal jokes. They’d done cartoons at the zoo before, like 1944’s Pitchin’ Woo at the Zoo, where Bluto was the zookeeper. He doesn’t bring up the experience here. I suppose it’s important to mention how annoying society makes changing one’s name.

The cartoon follows the structure well. Popeye and Brutus are hanging out at the zoo. They overhear zookeeper Olive Oyl phoning in an advertisement for an assistant. Mae Questel performs Olive Oyl with this odd tone, a more formal voice than usual. I’m not sure why. I suppose to underscore how in this cartoon she’s unfamiliar with Popeye and Brutus. Or that she’s in a high-class position at the zoo. She sets the two competing, here, to see who can cheer up Gloomy the hyena by telling one joke each. I suppose it’s important to mention that back then credentials weren’t as important a thing as they are now.

Since he lost the job, Brutus switches to sabotage, volunteering to help Popeye carry water to elephants. Brutus pours in weight reducer, which deflates Hannibal, Olive Oyl’s “best elephant”. Popeye blows into Hannibal’s trunk, inflating him to “better than before”. I suppose it’s important to mention that back then zoos had no idea how to keep elephants healthy. (It turns out it’s by not putting elephants in zoos. I’m sorry but it’s so.)

The next attempted sabotage is putting springs on a baby kangaroo’s feet, so he can’t help jumping into a lion’s mouth. Popeye rescues him and Olive Oyl is impressed that Popeye doesn’t want baby kangaroos to jump into lion mouths. So we can make inferences about why the last assistant zookeeper left.

Popeye looks startled that the kangaroo joey he's brought a carrot to is hopping off, past him, thanks to springs stuck to the joey's feet. The mother kangaroo stands over all this, looking asleep.
Why the surprised look, Popeye? Everyone knows a kangaroo’s favorite food is … uh … carrots … I guess?

With sabotage not working Brutus turns to costumes. He puts on one of those gorilla costumes that looks like a perfect gorilla to a we-have-assumed-trained zookeeper. He uses it to abduct Olive Oyl and knock out Popeye. The costume works until Brutus nods. Hannibal remembers Brutus’s part in the weight-reducer thing. And somehow intuits that Popeye needs spinach. A quick punch and Brutus, in costume, is put in a cage as the Half-Man Half-Ape, “Only One In Captivity”. This is a funny scene when you’re a white guy who doesn’t know about the history of zoos putting people on exhibit.

The story, particularly, hangs together well. Brutus shrinks the elephant; the elephant remembers this and acts to foil Brutus. Brutus’s kangaroo stunt lets Popeye impress Olive Oyl. Upset that they’re going to lunch, Brutus pretends to be an animal. I understand if the cartoon doesn’t work for you. It’s Paramount, so everything’s paced a little slow (although that likely helps kids understand and anticipate what’s going on). Exactly one thing moves at a time, although it moves smoothly. (I exaggerate, but not much.) But it’s a well-crafted cartoon, throughout. The viewer’s not stuck wondering what something is supposed to mean, or why it’s in there. It’s comfortable and easy to watch.

MiSTed: The Tale of Fatty Raccoon, Chapter XIII


Thanks all for being with me for another chapter of this Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan fiction. I’m still looking at Arthur Scott Bailey’s 1915 children’s novel about animals, The Tale of Fatty Raccoon. You can read earlier installments of the MiSTing here. This chapter doesn’t demand much knowledge of what’s gone before, though. If you want to jump in all you really need to know is that Fatty Raccoon would like to eat you, and Arthur Scott Bailey hates Fatty Raccoon for it. Enjoy!


> XIII

CROW: How x-i-ting!

>
> FATTY MEETS JIMMY RABBIT

MIKE: Jimmy meets Fatty Rabbit.

TOM: Rabbit meets Jimmy Fatty.

>
> For once Fatty Raccoon was not hungry.

CROW: *What?!*

TOM: Hold me, Mike, I’m scared!

> He had eaten so much of
> Farmer Green’s corn that he felt as if he could not swallow another
> mouthful.

MIKE: So he’s taken to just rubbing corn on his belly and hoping for the best.

> He was strolling homewards through the woods when someone
> called to him. It was Jimmy Rabbit.

TOM: Y’know, if Fatty had an ear of corn to introduce to Jimmy, but was indifferent to how the meeting went, Fatty could say, ‘Jimmy, Green’s Corn, and I don’t care.’

MIKE: [ Sighing ] You too?

>
> "Where are you going, Fatty?" Jimmy Rabbit asked.

CROW: The big meeting in Toronto.

>
> "Home!" said Fatty.
>
> "Are you hungry?" Jimmy Rabbit asked anxiously.

MIKE: [ As Jack Benny, putting his hand on his cheek ] ‘Well!’

>
> "I should say not!" Fatty answered.

TOM: [ As Fatty ] ‘Um … should I? Did I get my line wrong?’

> "I’ve just had the finest
> meal I ever ate in my life."

MIKE: By ‘finest’ he means ‘most recent’.

CROW: Say this for Fatty, he’s a great person to cook for.

>
> Jimmy Rabbit seemed to be relieved to hear that.

TOM: [ As Jimmy ] ‘Hooray! It wasn’t me!’

>
> "Come on over and play," he said. "My brother and I are
> playing barber- shop over in the old sycamore tree; and we need you."

CROW: Wait … why are rabbits playing barber shop?

MIKE: Why are they not playing hare salon?

CROW: And we’re being the problem.

>
> "All right!" said Fatty. It was not often that any of the
> smaller forest-people were willing to play with him,

TOM: Wonder why that could be.

> because generally
> Fatty couldn’t help getting hungry and then he usually tried to eat
> his playmates.

MIKE: You know, when we make that joke it’s just sick, but when the book makes it it’s …

CROW: Ugh.

> "What do you need me for?" Fatty asked, as he trudged
> along beside Jimmy Rabbit.

TOM: We need somebody to be the guy off in back complaining about the Giants.

>
> "We need you for the barber’s pole," Jimmy explained. "You can
> come inside the hollow tree and stick your tail out through a hole.

CROW: [ As Fatty ] You need me to do a stick’s job?

> It
> will make a fine barber’s pole—though the stripes DO run the wrong
> way, to be sure."

MIKE: Well, you could lean sideways a little?

>
> Fatty Raccoon was greatly pleased. He looked around at his tail
> and felt very proud.

CROW: A fine horsehair tail, one of the most elegant … wait, I’m being handed a bulletin.

>
> "I’ve got a beautiful tail—haven’t I?" he asked.
>
> "Um—yes!" Jimmy Rabbit replied, "though I must say it isn’t
> one that I would care for myself…

TOM: Frish — *Frith* Worshippers have to say that.

MIKE: Hard saying ‘Frish Wor’ — that *is* hard.

> But come along! There may be people
> waiting to get their hair cut."

CROW: I’ve lost all understanding of the level of anthropomorphization here.

>
> Sure enough! When they reached the make-believe barber-shop
> there was a gray squirrel inside,

MIKE: Can touch that up with a little Just For Squirrels.

> and Jimmy Rabbit’s brother was
> busily snipping the fur off Mr. Squirrel’s head.

TOM: Uh-oh …

CROW: What?

>
> "How much do you charge for a hair-cut?" Fatty asked.

TOM: Fatty! Get out of there! IT’S AN IMPROV TROUPE!

>
> "Oh, that depends!" Jimmy Rabbit said. "Mr. Squirrel will pay
> us six cabbage leaves.

CROW: But for you?

MIKE: Yes, yes?

CROW: Six cabbage leaves, who do you think you are?

> But if we were to cut your hair we’d have to
> ask more. We’d want a dozen cabbage leaves, at least."

CROW: Oh, dang.

MIKE: This is about that time I ate your best friend, isn’t it?

>
> "Well, don’t I get anything for the use of my tail?" Fatty
> asked.

CROW: Well, what does your tail need to use?

> He had already stuck it out through the hole; and he had half a
> mind to pull it in again.

TOM: Just picturing the dignity of Fatty here.

>
> Jimmy Rabbit and his brother whispered together for a few
> moments.

CROW: [ As Jimmy ] ‘No, no, no, no. I don’t know your name either.’

>
> "I’ll tell you what we’ll do," Jimmy said. "If you’ll let us
> use your tail for the barber’s pole, we’ll cut your hair free.

TOM: I mean, all hair that’s cut is free. That’s how it can fall off.

> Isn’t
> that fair enough?"

MIKE: [ As Fatty ] ‘Will I have to bring my own hair?’

>
> Fatty Raccoon was satisfied. But he insisted that Jimmy begin to
> cut his hair at once.

TOM: Me, I demand to know if they have, like, rabbit-size scissors or what.

CROW: Oh, man, those stupid bunny scissors that you can’t actually cut anything with.

>
> "I’m doing my part of the work now," he pointed out. "So
> there’s no reason why you shouldn’t do yours."

MIKE: Jimmy counter-offers with Fatty leaving his tail there and comes back for it later.

>
> With that Jimmy Rabbit began. He clipped and snipped at
> Fatty’s head, pausing now and then to see the effect.

CROW: [ As Jimmy ] ‘So, uh, no eating each other right?’

> He smiled once
> in a while, behind Fatty’s back, because Fatty certainly did look
> funny with his fur all ragged and uneven.

TOM: Oh, now, how bad could it OH MY GOD! RUN! RUN FOR THE HILLS!

>
> "Moustache trimmed?" Jimmy Rabbit asked, when he had finished
> with Fatty’s head.

MIKE: Ah yes, the most renowned feature of a raccoon’s markings: the moustache.

>
> "Certainly—of course!" Fatty Raccoon answered.

CROW: You feel like Fatty shows up a lot in Animal Reddit threads about jerk customers.

> And pretty soon
> Fatty’s long white moustache lay on the floor of the barber-shop.

CROW: That’s *lie* on the floor.

TOM: No it’s not.

MIKE: Do I have to separate you two?

TOM: I mean, you do.

> Fatty felt a bit uneasy as he looked down and saw his beautiful
> moustache lying at his feet. "You haven’t cut it too short, I hope,"
> he said.

CROW: Aw, c’mon, you’re not hardly bleeding at all!

>
> "No, indeed!" Jimmy Rabbit assured him. "It’s the very latest
> style."

TOM: This is all the rage in Raccoon Paris.

>
> "What on earth has happened to you?" Mrs. Raccoon cried,—when
> Fatty reached home that night. "Have you been in a fire?"

MIKE: [ As Fatty ] ‘You should … see … the other fire?’

>
> "It’s the latest style, Mother," Fatty told her.

CROW: [ As Fatty ] ‘It’s by Mangee. On the Left Bank.’

> "At least,
> that’s what Jimmy Rabbit says." He felt the least bit uneasy again.

MIKE: [ As Mrs Raccoon ] ‘Did you tell him your Jimmy-Green’s-corn joke? Is that why he did that?’

>
> "Did you let that Jimmy Rabbit do that to you?" Mrs. Raccoon
> asked.

TOM: There was also his brother, what’s-his-name!

>
> Fatty hung his head. He said nothing at all. But his mother
> knew.
>
> "Well! you ARE a sight!" she exclaimed.

CROW: I guess? Since so far all we’ve been told is his fur’s uneven and he lost his moustache?

MIKE: Telling us there’s something funny without showing what it is; very Funky Winkerbean-y.

> "It will be months
> before you look like my child again. I shall be ashamed to go anywhere
> with you."

MIKE: Who’s gonna see? You go everywhere in the middle of the night.

>
> Fatty Raccoon felt very foolish. And there was just one thing
> that kept him from crying. And THAT was THIS:

TOM: For three months, he’ll be the chupacabra!

> he made up his mind that
> when he played barber-shop with Jimmy Rabbit again he would get even
> with him.

CROW: Jimmy and his brother are some those nasty prank-playing children from a 1910 comic strip.

MIKE: The Katzenjam-hare Kids.

>
> But when the next day came, Fatty couldn’t find Jimmy Rabbit
> and his brother anywhere. They kept out of sight.

TOM: They were wearing his eye mask as *their* eye masks!

> But they had told
> all the other forest-people about the trick they had played on Fatty
> Raccoon.

MIKE: Also they could see he was shaved naked-ish … we guess?

> And everywhere Fatty went he heard nothing but hoots and jeers
> and laughs.

TOM: [ As Forest-People ] ‘Hah, hah, doesn’t have a moustache!’

CROW: [ As Forest-People ] ‘Look at the uneven fur on that raccoon!’

MIKE: [ As Forest-People ] ‘We assume there’s something else funny about your appearance!’

> He felt very silly. And he wished that he might meet Jimmy
> Rabbit and his brother.

CROW: Funny thing is by the time he finds them, Fatty’s decided this look really works for him.

MIKE: Life, y’know?

>
>


[ To be continued, someday ]

60s Popeye: Bird Watcher Popeye, for Popeye watchers


Jack Kinney produced today’s short. It’s from 1960 and has a story by Ed Nofziger. Animation direction’s credited to Harvey Toombs. Here’s Bird Watcher Popeye.

It seems like earlier this week I was writing something about the good Popeye cartoons being more about mood than story. Here’s one that’s all mood — all little scenes, really. Maybe you can call what it has a story, but it’s trying to not be one. What it most feels like it’s trying to do is sit on my head. Or it’s trying to be a dream. I know I call on this metaphor a lot. Let me make the case for the dream logic.

Popeye’s pushed into Olive Oyl’s obsession du jour, bird watching. The bird in Olive Oyl’s backyard bites Popeye’s face. So they go to the zoo. At the zoo there’s a penguin who looks like Popeye that punches a penguin that looks like Brutus. There’s a parrot singing the Popeye the Sailor Man song. So a disgusted Olive Oyl sends Popeye into the woods, watching him by telescope. There, Popeye’s punched by a hummingbird who’s also singing the Popeye the Sailor Man tune. And then he’s punched by an owl. Brutus, who’s got a nest on top a chimney, sends a vulture — the Sea Hag’s Bernard, perhaps? — to kidnap Olive Oyl. Popeye spots this, spinach, punching, there we go. We close with Olive Oyl talking how she doesn’t want Popeye to change. Meanwhile the weird “Popeye, You’ve Done It Again” music from that baffling Popeye’s Testimonial Dinner plays. And so, evoking the Beatnik cartoon (Coffee House), Popeye says, “Like, I am what I am”.

Two penguins, with builds and stances which evoke Brutus and Popeye. The Popeye penguin is rolling his arm up, about to slug the Brutus penguin.
Ooh. I like this alternate-universe take.

So which sentence in that previous paragraph could you not reasonably append “for some reason” to? I don’t mind a flimsy story. These are characters I like and I’m happy to see them hang out and do silly stuff. But if Popeye can’t watch birds at the zoo successfully why send him off in the woods on his own? Whether the cartoon works likely depends on how well you tolerate characters doing things without a clear motive.

There’s some fun stuff here. I like the Popeye-and-Brutus penguins. The parrot is a good bit too. Popeye has a bunch of great facial expressions, too. Irritation at the start, as that bird swoops at him. Abashedness when Olive Oyl scolds him. General grouchy looks all around. A laughing cycle where his head is kept still and his body shakes up and down, which does a good job making it look like richer movement.

But, boy, if you are not exactly on this cartoon’s wavelength it’s a disaster to you.

What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? What is the deal with this blue balloon? November 2020 – January 2021


Pouch is this balloon-seller at the city zoo, by day. He’s also an informant, passing messages along to the criminal and, sometimes, cop worlds. The current storyline had him forced to sell a blue balloon. Why is Pouch so freaked out about selling the blue balloon? Because that balloon held information for a job, for one of Pouch’s clients. They need it back within an hour. Why was Aquarius, the buyer, so determined to get the balloon? He doesn’t know why it’s important, but it’ll be leverage. How did Aquarius know there was any reason to care about any of these balloons? … I don’t know. Maybe he reasoned Pouch would have something if he was still hanging around the zoo at sunset.

So this should catch you up on Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for late January 2021. If you’re reading this after about April 2021, I hope to have a more up-to-date plot recap here. That link also will hold any news about the comic strip which I get.

Dick Tracy.

1 November 2020 – 23 January 2021.

My last plot recap coincided with the end of a story and start of a new one. Lucky for me. Also lucky for Mark Bernard, guest writer for this story. Not so lucky for Rabbit, delivery man for Elegance Fragrances. Rabbit mistakenly included some of the boss’s poison with a legitimate perfume delivery. The boss — Yeti — kills him. And sends Daisy Dugan to recover the poison. Daisy recovers it, but comes close to Dick Tracy, who’s investigating a string of poisonings. Daisy shoots at Tracy, causing the scientific detective to wonder why someone’s shooting him. Other than, like, half the town is relatives and remakes of crooks he’s killed.

Daisy Dugan: 'We're after a ROCK?' Yeti: 'Precisely. That 'rock' is composed of several unique alloys. Broken into pieces and sold, it should fetch me a substantial fortune. Enough to shore up my enterprise until tastes in murder swing in my favor again. Here is how we will acquire it.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Mark Barnard, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 12th of November, 2020. You know, sitting around hoping something will turn up is a classic stage of business decline. If you have good reason to think the trend will turn back to you, all right. But anyone who’s studied corporate history will tell you this is the time to find a new market. Develop your product lines or use your resources to buy something that is selling now. Just saying.

The poison business isn’t what it used to be. Yeti has a plan to tide himself through the slump: stealing a million-dollar meteorite from the city museum. The plan is to drive one of the well-marked Elegant Fragrances trucks to three blocks away from the museum, sneak in through the sewers, and grab the rock. It’s our first clear hint that Yeti may not be Dick Tracy’s most ingenious opponent ever. The delivery van’s noticed by the cops’ drone camera network. Also, the cops have a drone camera network. It’s an element that fills a much-needed gap in Dick Tracy’s surveillance-state dystopia.

Grabbing the meteorite goes well, though, since Yeti and Daisy can just step over the security lasers. Climbing back down into the sewer goes less well, as Daisy slips and breaks something. Yeti leaves him to die. Yeti puts the meteorite in the back of the truck, takes off, hits the curb, and loses the meteorite right out the back of the truck. He doesn’t notice until he gets home.

Yeti, driving furiously: 'I'm still on schedule ... now to get clear before this truck leads them to me!' He drives over a curb, knocking a door open and causing the meteorite to drop out the back.
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Mark Barnard, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 26th of November, 2020. All things considered, this maybe wasn’t a case that needed Dick Tracy’s Major Crimes Unit.

So, ah, good job, Yeti. He gets his gun ready to shoot Dick Tracy; Sam Catchem shoots it out of his hand. Yeti flees to the back room, telling himself that he’s survived far worse. I would like him to name two examples. He won’t, though. In his haste to gather his papers and flee, he lets loose a giant poison spider who kills him.

And that, the 5th of December, closes the story. I’m sorry to see Yeti go, since he had a weird name and a snooty attitude about poisoning being elegant while guns and knives suck. And there’s his whole vendetta to destroy Dr Harvey Camel’s life. That’s enough for a character. It’s disappointing that he so completely foiled himself. Dick Tracy hardly had to show up.


The 6th of December, 2020, started the still-running story. And this is by Staton and Curtis on their own. It’s the one with, yes, a hippie commune. It starts at the city zoo, where balloon dealer and information-seller Pouch growls at a cocaine dealer name of Dollar Bill. Pouch — one of the few Dick Tracy characters to have got away with murder — doesn’t want drug dealers messing up his businesses.

Pouch calls on Tiger Lilly to rough Dollar Bill up a bit. Lilly roughs too much up, and snaps Dollar Bill’s neck. Pouch leaves Lilly to clean up his own problems. Lilly leaves the body to be discovered, figuring it’ll send the signal to keep the drug deals out of Pouch’s park. Dick Tracy gets the signal too, and suspects the start of a drug war. “It looks serious,” says Dick Tracy, “Prilosec and Meclizine have lost patience waiting for the Rolaids Empire to crumble. They might maneuver Cimetidine into giving a push.”

Sam Catchem, running around the farmer's market, trying to find a guy: 'Darn it! I've lost him in the crowd.' Wildman's Organics farmer: 'Hey there! You looking for somebody?' Catchem: 'Yeah, a guy in a black vest and purple flame head rag.' Farmer: 'Oh, that's Ty.' Catchem: 'Did you see where he went?' Farmer: 'He's prob'ly on his way back to the commune for lunch.' Catchem: 'Commune?'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 27th of December, 2020. OK yeah commune whatever, do you have those lavender sugar cookies? Because those are good and we should examine them more.

Aquarius, who runs the dealing network Dollar Bill was part of, replaces him with a guy named Ty. And warns Ty to be careful of the cops. Ty is immediately spotted by Sam Catchem. Ty runs into a farmer’s market, though, disappearing in the crowd. One of the farmers tips Catchem off to the commune, though. Catchem and Tracy go to the commune at 1312(!) Bedwell. They ask Aquarius for information and get nothing, not even his name.

This does send Aquarius to Pouch, to figure out his deal. He does this by asking Pouch where to find Dollar Bill and Pouch is having none of that. Aquarius offers to buy one of Pouch’s balloons, though, the blue one, which he refuses to sell at any price. It turns into an argument that park cops come in to break up. Aquarius offers to make peace by buying all the balloons, including the blue one. Given the scene, Pouch can’t refuse.

Tiger Lilly: 'This stinks! It's freezing, and I'm out chasing after balloons!' Aquarius, carrying a bundle of balloons: 'Pouch was holding out on me. But I've got the upper hand now. I don't know what's special about this blue balloon, but he'll have to bargain with me to get it back.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 12th of January, 2021. The tag of ‘Blue’ is funny every time it appears, yes, but because we’re seeing the colorized dailies. The strip can run in black-and-white. It happens that for some reason the last week and a half it’s run in black-and-white on GoComics, too; I don’t know why. I still have no idea how Aquarius knew there was anything special about the blue balloon.

Tiger Lilly follows Aquarius. So Aquarius is incredibly aware of Tiger Lilly’s pursuit. Aquarius returns to the commune, and Lilly breaks in after everyone goes setting up an ambush. Lilly’s overwhelmed, and captured, and Aquarius demands to know who sent him and what he’s after.

And that’s where we stand. It’s on a lot of characters noticing the people following them. Also thinking people were following them who weren’t. It’s a curious little motif for the comic. We’ll see where it leads in about twelve weeks.

Next Week!

My schedule calls for Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley. But I realize I may want to postpone that for … let’s say two weeks. So I will have a Gasoline Alley plot recap at this link, but around the 16th of February. So I’ll go to the next strip on my routine instead, then, and that’ll be … ooh! Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail. Should be fun. See you then.

Distracted thoughts after seeing The Dot And The Line: The Movie teaser trailer


Hey, does it feel to anyone else like we should have heard Robert Zemeckis announce he’s trying to do a computer-animated remake of Who Framed Roger Rabbit by now? Has anyone checked in to see what he is working on? Maybe we could just make sure?


(So my favorite part of the teaser trailer is how right after the “COMING / IN UP TO 3-D / SUMMER 2022” title card you get Dot, Line, and Squiggle all shouting as they realize they’re going over the waterfall. What’s yours?)

60s Popeye: Spinach Shortage and so is Brutus just a food tycoon this cartoon?


We have many things to thank Jack Kinney for, this cartoon. One is producing and directing it. Another is the story. Animation direction’s credited to Alan Zaslove, though. Here’s the 1960 short Spinach Shortage.

Ask someone to describe a Popeye cartoon and they’ll give you a plot-driven summary. Popeye and Olive are doing something, Bluto/Brutus horns in, Popeye eats his spinach, beats up the bad guy. But ask what makes a Popeye cartoon interesting, especially the black-and-white ones. You get a response more useful to making lasting cartoons: it’s the mood. Popeye facing a silly or perilous situation and muttering silly comments. If you want a good Popeye cartoon, get a premise and a couple solid scenes riffing on it.

Spinach Shortage isn’t quite there. It’s got a good premise. Bluto/Brutus has tried to deny Popeye spinach before (see the inspired How Green Is My Spinach) but the idea is sound. And it takes a different angle here: Brutus has cornered the world spinach market and just won’t sell to … well, there’s a mystery.

Is this cartoon’s Brutus trying to get Popeye? Or just to get rich? He spends a lot more time chuckling about the rise of spinach prices than about what this is doing to Popeye. At one point he says how spinach has gone up to 10.25 per ton, and later to 50 per ton. That seems low, even for 60-year-old prices. But what do I know the price-per-ton of spinach? This brought me to the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service report on spinach commodity pricing. This brought me to learn I don’t know how to read a USDA Agricultural Marketing Service report on spinach commodity pricing. I can see where most every market is “steady” or “about steady”, which seems nice. Another site says that in 2014 spinach for canning was about $68 per ton, so I guess Brutus’s quotations were in line.

Sign reading 'SOLD OUT!'
Yeah, I remember when spinach was something you ate for the music. Now? It’s all about affecting a consumerist pose. Total sellouts.

Back on point, though. The cartoon has this dreamlike flow to it. Popeye stocked up his spinach supply last week. It evaporates as he walks over to it. Popeye searches and finds nothing but store signs about there being no spinach. Popeye tries to break in to Brutus’s warehouses. The scenes feel like when Speedy Gonzales is trying to break into the cheese factory past Sylvester or Daffy Duck. Except the plot demands Popeye fail in ways Speedy can’t. Popeye tries riding a balloon into the warehouse, and falls into the sewer, to climb into the warehouse, and find he can’t pry open a box. It’s almost a nightmare logic of obstacles temporarily overcome and then renewed.

Reel out the events and I guess there’s a thread of action that makes sense. The cartoon’s most interesting, though, when it’s being strange. Popeye’s spinach stock disappearing. The progression of signs telling Popeye there’s no spinach. Good, strong, weird scenes.

So why don’t I call this is a good cartoon? I’m not sure. I’m near to reasoning myself into calling this good. But then I have to explain why I more enjoyed writing about it than watching it. I notice the strongest scenes are all front-loaded. Popeye trying to break into the spinach warehouse is a bit pathetic for one of the first generation of superheros. There’s some nice silliness in the ways Popeye tries to break in, like trying a fishing pole to snag a can, or riding a balloon. But they’re also mundane, at least for a cartoon world. Too plot-driven a way to break in, and to have the attempts fail.

Heap of spinach spilled over a box. Sitting up is a silhouette of Popeye in spinach; just his pipe is clear and not covered in the leafy green vegetables.
So if this cartoon’s Brutus doesn’t know who Popeye is, then he just went and tried to kill a guy who was just trespassing. If this cartoon’s Brutus does know who Popeye is, then he just went and dropped a heap of spinach on him. I don’t insist that characters never take actions against their own interests but it seems like Brutus should have thought through what he wanted to accomplish a bit more.

The cartoon ends with Popeye punching Brutus into an Eat More Spinach billboard. There’s no hint that Brutus’s corner of the spinach market will end, or that spinach supplies will return to normal. This isn’t the first cartoon to not bother establishing the status quo will return. And goodness knows we don’t need reassurance that in the future Popeye will eat spinach. It does feel like an unresolved chord, though. I can defend this. We don’t need the central premise of a nightmare resolved to finish the nightmare. It could be the cartoon needs to lean more into the nightmare feeling.

Statistics Saturday: How 2021 Treated My Humor Blog


I thought I might get ahead of schedule for once in my life and so check what my 2021 readership figures might look like. So here’s where we go based on the start of the month:

Bar chart of annual readership, showing from 2013 through 2020 a general growth. The bar for 2021 is empty, and a pop-up window explains the year as having, as of the moment of New Year's, 0 views, 0 visitors, nad 0.00 views per visitor.
I bet things looked totally different two minuts after midnight New Year’s Day, when dozens of people stopped in to see what the deal was with Mark Trail.

Zero page views, zero visitors … Maybe I checked too early.

60s Popeye: The Baby Contest (nb, ‘contest’ is a noun here, not a verb)


I had thought that all these Paramount Cartoon Studios-produced shorts were from 1961 anymore. Nope. This is a 1960 production. So as much as I did not understand how King Features’s YouTube page was bundling these shorts together, I now understand them even less. Or I don’t understand them more. Whichever. As usual for a Paramount-made cartoon, Seymour Kneitel’s listed as director. The story’s credited to Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer. Now to think something about The Baby Contest.

I have no idea where Brutus got this kid, either.

The title promises, and the cartoon gets around to, a string of contest jokes. A bunch of small stunts, the bad guy cheating to win all or most all of them, and then the good guy pulling out a last-second win. Here, the bad guy is Bully Boy, I guess. I think we only hear his name from the egg-rolling-race announcer. Also they have an egg-rolling-race announcer. Of course it’s Jackson Beck, who did this sort of narrator-type work for every old-time-radio show ever. It might confuse the casual viewer that Brutus is narrating the race. I don’t remember ever finding this confusing when I was a kid, though.

It takes its sweet time getting there, though. We don’t even get to the contest until two minutes in, and it’s another half-minute before the events start. The start of the cartoon’s filled instead with Swee’Pea moping. Olive Oyl and Popeye try to lift his spirits and that’s a reliable cartoon premise in itself.

Swee'Pea sits up in the living room, looking sad. Olive Oyl and Popeye watch; Popeye is pointing to Swee'Pea and in the midst of saying something.
“Ahoy, Swee’Pea! I knows ya is feelin’ the aliennagration of the atomiskized mod’rn sock-siety likes that, and ya has gots ta find yer own ways ta handle the crushing weights of existentikalistical dread an’ all, but I hopes ya will cornsider what’s almost allus worked fer me: polka!”

Wimpy introduces the contest as a best-two-of-three affair. The contest organizers are lucky only two babies entered. There’s three activities: a potato-sack race, an egg-rolling contest, and a crawling contest. The egg-rolling contest and the crawling contest look suspiciously similar. I’m surprised they didn’t swap the egg-rolling and the potato-sack race so the reused animation would be less obvious. I’m surprised they couldn’t think of a fourth and fifth event, but maybe the trouble is thinking of ones that would not need much new footage. I also wonder if only having the three events is why they spent so much time establishing Swee’Pea’s unhappiness.

We get the expected cheating on Brutus’s part (Bully Boy seems completely innocent) and counter-cheating on Popeye’s. At least in the potato-sack race. In the crawl, we see Popeye notice that Brutus is using a lollipop on a fishing rod to lure Swee’Pea away. It’s Bully Boy that Brutus brings in, though. The implication is that Popeye did something, but what? And when?

After losing, Brutus offers Wimpy a huge plate of hamburgers for the trophy. His plan fails, maybe because he tries in the open after all the contests have been judged. I mean, Wimpy is a supremely bribable judge. Two burgers before the start of the match and it wouldn’t even matter what the contest was. Also, Brutus is unaware that you can just buy trophies. Seriously. They’re cheaper than you’d think.

In this cartoon, Popeye does not eat spinach, but Swee’Pea does. Swee’Pea also gives a rhyming couplet to close things off.

MiSTed: The Tale of Fatty Raccoon, Chapter XII


Hi, friends, and I hope you’re still enjoying Arthur Scott Bailey’s 1915 The Tale Of Fatty Raccoon. I still am, and that’s why I got another chapter riffed and published this week. If you’re tired of me giving the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment to a harmless book that’s caused nobody any trouble, well, maybe you’re right. But it’s fun writing, too.

To catch you up: Fatty Raccoon and his family are facing the hard, cold winter. There’s not a lot of food left and what there is, Fatty’s eaten already. But Jasper Jay brought the news that Farmer Green has forty fat turkeys, ready for the eating. Are you ready for how Fatty hopes to turn this to his advantage, and how things maybe go wrong? I’m not sure you are!


> XII
>
> FORTY FAT TURKEYS

CROW: If the Twelve Day of Christmas *never ended*.

>
> When Jasper Jay told Fatty Raccoon about Farmer Green’s forty fat
> turkeys

TOM: Jasper was being a gossip.

> Fatty felt hungrier than ever.
>
> "Oh! I mustn’t go near Farmer Green’s house!" he said.

MIKE: You mustn’t?

CROW: He daren’t.

> "My
> mother told me to keep away from there. . . .

TOM: On the other hand, food. Well, she’ll understand.

> What time did you say
> the turkeys go to roost?"

CROW: It’s after the chickens come home to roost, but before the cows come home.

>
> "Oh! they go to roost every night at sundown," Jasper Jay
> explained. "And there they sit, up in the tree, all night long.

CROW: [ As Fatty ] And … turkeys just go into trees and sleep?

MIKE: [ As Jasper ] Yup! That’s totally normal behavior for turkeys!

CROW: [ As Fatty ] Of course as real wild animal I know this I just … wanted to know I got it right?

> They’re fast asleep. And you would have no trouble at all in catching
> as many as you wanted.

TOM: [ As Japser ] Assuming you want none! None is a many, right?

> . . . But of course, if you’re afraid—why
> there’s no use of MY talking about it.

MIKE: [ As Fatty ] I’ven’t given you cause to question my *courage*.

TOM: Mustn’t doubt it, really.

> There’s a plenty of other Raccoons
> in these woods

CROW: [ As Jasper ] I’ll find love with one of them instead!

> who’d be glad to know about those turkeys. And maybe
> they’d have the manners to say ‘Thank you!’ too."

TOM: Wait, why would the turkeys say thanks for having to meet Fatty?

> And with a hoarse,
> sneering laugh Jasper Jay flew away.

MIKE: [ As the devil from ‘The Undead’ ] ‘You’re stuck here!’

>

TOM: [ Getting it ] Ooooooooh, wait.

> That was enough for Fatty. He made up his mind that he would
> show Jasper Jay that HE was not afraid.

MIKE: He whips a can of spinach out of his tail.

CROW: [ Humming the Popeye fanfare ] Da-dadada-dah-dadah!

> And he wanted a turkey to eat,
> too.

TOM: [ As Citizen Kane ] ‘I think it would be *fun* to eat a turkey?’

> He said nothing to his mother about Jasper’s news.

CROW: Wait, you’re not getting the gang together for one last heist?

> But that very
> night, when the moon came up, and the lights in Farmer Green’s house
> were all out, Fatty Raccoon went stealing across the fields.

MIKE: Sneak sneak sneak sneak sneak trip ow a rock!

CROW: Sneak sneak sneak sneak sneak trip aaah the creek! Splash!

TOM: Sneak sneak sneak sneak sneak trip aaaaaaah the ravine aaaaaaaaaah!

>
> He was not afraid, for

MIKE: For the Angel of the Lord had spoken upon him.

> he knew that Farmer Green and all his
> family were in their beds.

CROW: The Angel said, ‘Behold, I bring you good tidings and raw hot dogs’.

> And it was so cold that Fatty felt sure
> that Farmer Green’s dogs would be inside their kennels.

TOM: Awww, pups in a blanket, so cute!

>
> Fatty did not intend to make any noise.

CROW: Then he stepped on the clown nose.

> The turkeys were
> asleep—so Jasper Jay had told him—

MIKE: They nestle in after having a good game of Five Hundred with the neighbors and a small dish of pistachio ice cream.

> and he expected to grab one of them
> so swiftly and silently that the other turkeys would never know it.

TOM: [ As Narrator ] I mean, they’d know eventually, when they went looking for their friend and found him gone, but … look, I’ll come in again.

>
> When Fatty Raccoon came to Farmer Green’s yard he had no trouble
> at all in finding the spreading oak.

CROW: Bonk!

MIKE: [ As Fatty ] ‘Found it!’

> He could see the turkeys plainly
> where they dozed on the bare branches.

TOM: [ As Fatty ] ‘Huh … uh yeah, turkeys. In trees. Wow.’

MIKE: ‘Man, and I thought peacocks in trees were something.’

> And in less time than it takes
> to tell it

CROW: Oh, never mind, it’s done.

> Fatty had climbed the tree. On the very lowest limb there
> was a row of four plump turkeys, all sound asleep.

TOM: [ Snoring in ]

MIKE: [ Snoring out ]

CROW: Gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble.

> And Fatty reached
> out and seized the nearest one.

TOM: I seez him! He’s right dere!

> He seized the turkey by the neck,

CROW: Eek?

> so
> that the big bird could not call out.

TOM: Well, this just got less fun.

MIKE: Thanks, Arthur Scott Bailey, we needed a touch of ‘serial killer’ in this story.

> But Fatty was not quite quick
> enough.

CROW: Man, predation is so much less cool when it’s not just lions running at antelopes and stuff.

> Before he could pull her off her perch the turkey began to
> flap her wings,

MIKE: [ As Fatty ] ‘Wait, you’re reacting? You’re not allowed to react!’

> and she struck the turkey next her, so that THAT
> turkey woke up and began to gobble and flap HER wings. Then the next
> turkey on the limb woke up.

TOM: It’s a Rube Goldberg turkey roost!

CROW: It’s a 82-step process to butter a piece of toast.

> And the first thing that Fatty Raccoon knew,
> every one of the thirty-nine turkeys that were left was going
> gobble-gob-gob-gob-gobble!

TOM: He knocked down ten, that’s a strike, knocked down another ten, that’s another strike, knocked down another ten …

CROW: That’s a turkey.

MIKE: Oooh.

> And some of them went sailing off across
> the yard.

MIKE: Henry Cabot Henhouse!

CROW: That’s Super*chicken*!

> One of them lighted on top of the porch just outside Farmer
> Green’s window and it seemed to Fatty that that one made the greatest
> racket of all.

TOM: Ladies and gentlemen Ringing Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus brings you … the greatest racket of all!

MIKE: Eh, I’ve seen greater rackets.

>
> Farmer Green’s window flew up; and Farmer Green’s voice called
> "Spot! Spot!"

CROW: Stop bothering Lady Macbeth and chase that turkey thief!

>
> Fatty Raccoon did not wait to hear anything more. He dropped the
> turkey he had seized and slipped down to the ground.

TOM: [ As Fatty ] ‘Uh … no hard feelings, turkey?’

MIKE: [ As Turkey ] ‘Seriously?’

> And then he ran
> toward the woods as fast as he could go.

CROW: Just one more pleasant night wrecked by having Fatty show up in it.

>
> Farmer Green’s dog Spot was barking now. And Fatty wanted to
> climb one of the trees by the roadside. But he remembered, the narrow
> escape he had had when the dog had treed him near the cornfield. So he
> never stopped until he reached the woods.

TOM: [ As Fatty ] ‘Yes! That’s what I’m thinking! I totally didn’t miss the Turnpike!’

> Then he went nimbly up into
> the trees.

MIKE: So excited he climbs ten feet past the top of the tree.

> And while Spot was barking at the foot of the first tree he
> climbed, Fatty was travelling through the tree-tops toward home.

CROW: Ah, a good night’s work.

>
> He never said anything to his mother about Farmer Green’s
> turkeys.

MIKE: His mom gets home saying she was going to grab a turkey but some fool went and unsettled them all.

CROW: Unsettlegate.

> But the next time he saw Jasper Jay Fatty told him exactly
> what he thought of him.

TOM: Hey, this heist went wrong because of you, Fatty, don’t go blaming Jasper …

>
> "Ha! ha!" Jasper Jay only laughed.

CROW: Wait …

> And he did not seem at all
> surprised that Fatty had fallen into trouble.

MIKE: Hang on, yeah, did …

> To tell the truth, he
> was only sorry because Fatty had escaped.

TOM: I think … wait …

> Jasper Jay did not like
> Fatty Raccoon.

MIKE: It’s a third-act plot twist!

> And he had told him about the forty fat turkeys because he
> hoped that Fatty would get caught if he tried to steal one of them.

CROW: Jasper played Fatty! He played us all!

>
> "Wait till I catch you!" Fatty said.

TOM: You can’t hold on to a sleeping turkey, you think you’re grabbing a jay, Fatty?

>
> But Jasper Jay only laughed harder than ever when Fatty said
> that. He seemed to think it was a great joke. He was most annoying.

MIKE: I … *dang*.

CROW: Intrigue and subterfuge! I’m stunned.

TOM: Two characters in this chapter and now I don’t know which one to dislike more.

>
>


[ To be continued, someday ]

Weather in Popular Places


I checked WeatherUnderground for … well, the above-ground weather, but they do both sides of the ground. The top of the page is normally this strip of the weather in places I’ve checked recently. But I haven’t checked anyplace recently, since the only places to go are places that should be closed.

So instead it’s decided to show me a strip of weather in “Popular Cities”, and this is what it was showing. Tell me if you spot the place that doesn’t belong in a roster of six “Popular Cities”.

Weather banner for Popular Cities: San Francisco, CA; Manhattan, NY; Schiller Park, IL; Boston, MA; Houston, TX; and London, England, United Kingdom.
I don’t know why the weather is so alarming in San Francisco or in Boston, but I assume it’s the usual sorts of things. Also I have to suppose Boston’s alarm was in black because it was after sunset there.

Yes, exactly, I agree. There is no way that Houston rates as a popular city. Even people who love Houston agree they don’t so much as love Houston as love the idea of a lovable Houston. For the past 24 years the Houston Tourism Bureau’s campaign has been “Houston: Remember When They Nuked Us In Independence Day And Nobody In The Movie Cared Anyway? That Was Houston, Right? Well, That’s Us”.

Also and this is just a little thing but I appreciate their distinguishing London, England, United Kingdom from other cities such as London, England, British Columbia, Canada. That’s just politeness.

What’s Going On In Prince Valiant? What’s all this stuff about Lockbramble anyway? November 2020 – January 2021


Lockbramble is this fiefdom near enough Camelot. Lord Grunyard rules it, in name. He’d rather not have anything to do with anything. It’s actually ruled by the people living there, and he’s fine with that. They use Grunyard as a shield against meddlers like King Arthur “fixing” their nice setup. This was established in the 2012 story that introduced Rory Red Hood to the Prince Valiant cast.

So this should catch you up to mid-January 2021 in Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant. If you’re reading this after about April 2021, there should be a more up-to-date plot recap at this link.

Prince Valiant.

1 November 2020 – 17 January 2021.

Valiant, back home at last, had found a little awkward money problem. Sir Gawain has been managing the estate very well, thanks to his beau, Rory Red Hood. She’s technically speaking a fugitive, for her stance that the people should govern themselves. But she also is really good at running things and is making a lot of money. With Queen Aleta prodding Valiant, and Princess Maeve kicking Prince Arn out of bed, the menfolk agree to a compromise. Rory Red Hood can go on managing things and making a lot of money for them. Just stop with the undermining the social order.


Around the 15th of November we move into a fresh story. Rory means to return to Lockbramble. Sir Gawain goes with her. So does someone named Little Ox, who I didn’t even know was in the story. Valiant goes along too because it’s been all peaceful for whole weeks now. In a snowy gorge — a “defile”, the strip teaches me — a band of 1d4+4 bandits ambush them. After Valiant and Gawain charge into the action, Ox charges from farther behind. Rory gets to a ledge and shoots arrows at the bandits, who flee.

Val and Gawain are much more experienced warriors than their attackers, but force of numbers is driving them back ... when Little Ox careens into the battle, smashing his steed against the foremost enemy and creating chaos among the others! On a rocky ledge above, Rory watches in horror as her second sacrifices himself in aid of the two knights. Taking advantage of the separation caused by Ox's bold move, she calmly takes aim and sends her feathered missiles of death into the attackers. This is too much for them - they are seasoned bullies, but have little stomach for such a stout, coordinated resistance. They break and flee, with Val and Gawain, their fighting blood boiling, giving chase. Neither notices as Little Ox, clutching a side that gushes blood, falls to the ground.
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 13th of December, 2020. We come to learn that this is a hit squad. It would make things a bit embarrassing for the guy who hired them except that this was in the era when everything was hilariously casual and unprofessional (the dawn of time to about 1974; since 1974, it’s been tragically unprofessional).

Little Ox is badly wounded, though. They’re near enough Little Ox’s house to bring him home. And we learn Little Ox is Rory’s brother. Rory, her mother, and Ox’s wife get to work on the medicine-ing and arguing about Rory’s life choices. Valiant and Gawain return to the scene of the ambush to harass one of the not-yet-dead bandits. They figure to make him tell what the deal is.

Val and Gawain introduce their now-cooperative prisoner to Rory: 'He says his name is Durward, and he is bound to Lord Hallam of the neighboring fiefdom of Wedmarsh. Durward continues the story: 'Hallam and his brothers, the Thanes Kennard of Greystrea and Ravinger of Barrenburn, desire Lockbramble for themselves. They thought to steal it from their absent brother, Lord Grunyard, but their scheming failed when you, Rory Red Hood, brought Grunyard home. They know that you pull his strings. And are behind Lockbramble's governance by commoners. This terrifies them and they would try any trick, high or low, to destroy you and your designs. And as they grow even more envious of Lockbramble's new prosperity, they press their own people ever more harshly! Hallam has gone mad with suspicion - if he learns I am captured, it would mean death for my family. So do what you will with me - things cannot get worse.' But Val has an idea: 'What if I were to suggest that you and your family might be welcome in Lockbramble? I believe safe passage could be arranged ... '
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 10th of January, 2021. This story being referenced in the third panel there was, ComicsKingdom commenter Drew1365 explained, from back in summer of 2012. Lord Grunyard had been living at Camelot for a decade and left Lockbramble in the hands of an incompetent regent. (The fellow was trying to grow tea in England, and when that didn’t work, insisted his serfs weren’t growing trying hard enough.) Rory, pretending to be Lady Grunyard, kidnapped him to drag him back home and pretend to rule. Grunyard, though an indecisive blank, could be counted on to not get in the way while competent people like Rory managed things. This would also keep rivals like Hallam from intruding.

He’s quite eager to tell. Durward, he explains, is bound to Lord Hallam of the neighboring Wedmarsh. Rory foiled Hallam’s schemes to take over Lockbramble when she dragged Lord Grunyard back from Camelot. Hallam’s looking for revenge, yes, but also to kill Lockbramble’s real leader. Durward despairs for his family. Hallam’s sure to think his capture was actually Durward turning traitor, and so will punish Durward’s family. Valiant suggests he could save Durward’s family. This sounds great to Durward. I’m not sure what Valiant is getting out of this besides some thrills. But he and Gawain are off, and that’s where things stood as of Sunday. What could go wrong in this furtive mission to rescue hostages-of-fate for a person enthusiastic to turn on his evil boss? We may know by April.

Next Week!

Dick Tracy faces his greatest menace yet: hippies! In the Year of our Lord 2021! Are we finally seeing balloon-selling information-dealer The Pouch brought to justice for murder? We’ll see what comes together in Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy next week. If all goes well.

Statistics 2020: How Last Year Treated My Humor Blog


I do like starting the month, and the year, with a look at the past month’s, and year’s, readership statistics. Someday I’ll learn something from all this, but until then, it’s a good way to fill a publication slot with something that’s oddly well-liked.

2020 was my eighth year of this blog; I’ll reach the actual anniversary later this month. It was also the best-read year I’ve ever had around here. There were 56,241 page views recorded from 33,209 unique visitors. Both are about one-third higher than 2019’s figures, of 42,746 views from 24,539 visitors. The number of likes resumed its drop, falling to 1,205 from the previous year’s 1,714. My likes around here peaked in 2015 and have dropped every year except 2018 since. Comments rose a bit, with 392 received in 2020, compared to 277 in 2019. My comments also peaked in 2015, with 879 of them, although 2018 almost overtook that earlier year with 830 comments.

Bar chart showing annual readership and unique visitor counts from 2013 through 2020. There's a considerable rise between 2019 and 2020 on both figures.
So I had a big readership spike in 2015 when Apartment 3-G went all to pieces. Then another one in 2020 when Mark Trail tried to somehow be more dramatic than the whole world. Clearly what I need is to somehow cause a bitter controversy to break out over, I don’t know, Gil Thorp and then sell my blog to Hollywood.

That’s what the readership looks like, in pictures and a handful of numbers. But what are people looking to read? Mostly, they want to read about Mark Trail. Also, to an extent, other comic strips. The ten most-read things I posted in 2020 were these; see if you spot any common themes:

It’s a bit sobering to realize that what people most want from me is that I read the Daily Cartoonist and mention stuff from it later on. If that’s what people want and actual comic strip news sites don’t block my IP, fine. I’ll do that.

The most popular long-form essay I posted in 2020 was What Your Favorite Polygon Says About You, which pleases me. That’s a nice silly piece just true enough to catch.

There was a tie for my most popular Statistics Saturday post. Statistics Saturday: Where Comic Strips Are Set, which offers real information, got as many views as Hypotheses about How the Premise to _Loonatics Unleashed_ Came About, which mocks a harmless cartoon for no good reason. I’d still like to know how such a weird thing came about, though.


There were 151 countries or country-like things, such as the United Kingdom, to send me readers at all in 2020. Here’s who they were:

Country Readers
United States 42,247
India 2,335
Canada 1,679
United Kingdom 1,510
Australia 895
Philippines 693
Brazil 525
Germany 498
Italy 445
Sweden 423
Finland 294
South Africa 283
France 275
Spain 267
Norway 205
Macedonia 164
Netherlands 157
Mexico 156
European Union 138
Colombia 120
Portugal 111
Ireland 105
Indonesia 104
Japan 104
Malaysia 104
Denmark 94
New Zealand 88
Belgium 81
Kenya 78
Russia 76
South Korea 76
Singapore 71
Thailand 71
Chile 70
Hong Kong SAR China 67
Poland 67
Switzerland 66
Peru 63
Trinidad & Tobago 63
Romania 62
Taiwan 60
Argentina 57
El Salvador 56
China 50
United Arab Emirates 47
Pakistan 44
Nigeria 43
Austria 42
Turkey 41
Serbia 37
Greece 36
Jamaica 33
Vietnam 33
Sri Lanka 32
Bosnia & Herzegovina 28
Hungary 28
Czech Republic 25
Israel 24
Saudi Arabia 22
Bulgaria 21
Croatia 21
Kuwait 21
Papua New Guinea 21
Egypt 20
Ukraine 19
Morocco 18
Bangladesh 17
Ecuador 17
Nepal 17
Slovakia 17
Slovenia 17
Puerto Rico 16
Zambia 15
Costa Rica 14
Venezuela 14
Cyprus 12
Guadeloupe 12
Lebanon 12
Iceland 11
Oman 11
Tanzania 11
Uruguay 11
Estonia 10
Guatemala 10
Honduras 10
American Samoa 9
Qatar 8
Dominican Republic 7
Myanmar (Burma) 7
Kazakhstan 6
Panama 6
Bahrain 5
Barbados 5
Belarus 5
Guyana 5
Mauritius 5
Moldova 5
Paraguay 5
Bermuda 4
Bolivia 4
Brunei 4
Cook Islands 4
Fiji 4
Jordan 4
Latvia 4
Montenegro 4
Belize 3
Ethiopia 3
Laos 3
Tunisia 3
Uzbekistan 3
Zimbabwe 3
Albania 2
Algeria 2
Azerbaijan 2
Bhutan 2
Botswana 2
Cambodia 2
Libya 2
Malta 2
Senegal 2
St. Lucia 2
Uganda 2
Åland Islands 1
Aruba 1
Bahamas 1
British Virgin Islands 1
Burkina Faso 1
Caribbean Netherlands 1
Cayman Islands 1
Congo – Kinshasa 1
Curaçao 1
Georgia 1
Ghana 1
Guam 1
Iraq 1
Isle of Man 1
Jersey 1
Kosovo 1
Liechtenstein 1
Lithuania 1
Madagascar 1
Maldives 1
Mali 1
Mauritania 1
Mongolia 1
Nicaragua 1
Rwanda 1
Somalia 1
Suriname 1
Turks & Caicos Islands 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.
I actually just reused the alt text from my December-2020-recap post. How right was it?

Nobody from Greenland, but that’s all right. I had two page views from Greenland on my mathematics blog so I’ll be riding on that high for a while.


Over 2020, I published 204,435 words here, says WordPress. Spread over 366 essays that’s an average of 559 words per posting. Both of these are down a little from 2019’s totals,

What do I plan doing for 2021? Plot recaps for the story comics, obviously. I could probably shut down everything else on this blog and be as well-read. But I hope to keep publishing some long-form piece every Thursday night, Eastern Time. And some Statistics Saturday post, where I puff a quick joke up into a pie chart every week. And besides that? I don’t know; I guess I’m committed to finishing watching all these King Features Syndicate Popeye cartoons from the 60s. That’s something.

I’m glad to have you reading along. You can get all my posts by using this feed in your RSS reader. If you don’t have an RSS reader, you can get one (among other ways) by signing up for a free account with Dreamwidth or Livejournal. Then you can add any RSS feed to your reading page, through this link for Dreamwidth and through this link for Livejournal. Or you could click the “Follow Another Blog, Meanwhile” link on this page, and have it in your WordPress reader.

Thanks for being wherever it is you’ve ended up.

60s Popeye: Oil’s Well That Ends Well, and how is that not Oyl’s Well?


We’re back on Paramount Cartoon Studios territory here. Oil’s Well That Ends Well, from 1961, is credited to Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer for the story and Seymour Kneitel for direction.

My favorite old-time-radio podcast last week ran an episode of The Saint, starring the beloved Vincent Price as Leslie Charteris’s beloved-I’m-told rogue adventurer. It was some stuff about a silver mine that the assayer was very clear was worthless. Well, turns out, it’s worthless if you don’t count the cinnabar (mercury) deposits. Was the assayer in on the scheme? Or was he somehow unaware that cinnabar was a thing also mined? The plot’s wrapping-up here’s-why-stuff-happened scene never explained.

So this is a cartoon about Brutus selling Olive Oyl a fake oil well. Except the punch line is that it’s a gusher. Brutus told us the viewers that the oil field had been dry for fifty years. That seems like a big mistake for whoever owned the field to make. This can all probably be rationalized but it says something that I’m wondering about it. What it says is there were reasons they treated me like that in middle school. These are not reasonable responses to the cartoon.

The story’s all reasonable enough. Olive Oyl wins $10,000 on the Get Rich Quick show. Brutus, watching at home, needs a good honest swindle to get that money. This cartoon it feels like Brutus doesn’t know Olive Oyl, but then why does he bother shaving to put on the persona of Sumner J Farnsworth? But if he does know Olive Oyl why is there never a moment of shocked recognition? Well, there’s a nice joke where Brutus discards the shell game as “not too good” and armed robbery as “too dishonest”. He settles on oil stocks which he thought were worthless. Which leaves another nagging thought for me: did Brutus legitimately own the oil field? Or did he buy worthless stocks from someone else? Or did he just figure the time he’d spent making fake oil stocks was wasted but never got around to throwing them out?

At an oil field, an angry Popeye holds up a barrel labelled 'OIL' and the hand pump squeezing oil out of it. Olive Oyl looks shocked and horrified by this.
Well of course she’s offended. The barrel should read OYL, or at least OYL OIL.

Brutus rigs up some oil to spurt on command; salting mines is a respectable enough way to pull off this kind of scam. But Olive Oyl also says she can go pick out any oil well she wants. How’d she pick the right one? This isn’t a plot hole, though; it’s reasonable to suppose Brutus is nudging her to the one he’d prepared. Forcing (in the stage magician’s sense) a choice is a skill of the con artist. I’m intrigued that this is something that would be taken without question, by a naive enough viewer. Then doubted as implausibly by a more skeptical viewer. And then accepted as self-explanatory by a sophisticated enough viewer. There’s some lesson about how people engage with their stories in there.

Brutus runs his car over Popeye, twice. It’s a startling moment and I can’t say why. Maybe it lacks the absurdity of most Popeye-versus-Brutus violence.

After Popeye punches Brutus into the oil well it starts gushing again. Assuming Olive Oyl’s title is good and the oil doesn’t run out in ten minutes that’s great for her. She showers Popeye with a flurry of kisses drawn from the 1954 Fright to the Finish. Why have stock footage if you’re not using it?

While pitching Olive Oyl on the oil well Brutus talks about doubling, tripling, even quadripling he “mazuma”, a reminder of the 20th century’s many odd slang terms for money. Which comes back around to Jackson Beck, voice of Bluto/Brutus/etc. When the voice actor’s friend Alfred Bester wrote The Demolished Man he named one of the cops Jackson Beck. Part of the typographical chic of the novel was using, for example @ as shorthand for ‘at’, so ‘Sam Atkins’ was rendered as ‘Sam @kins’. When the story first appeared, Bester tried writing the name as $$son Beck, trusting that readers would connect $$ to “money” to “jack”. They did not. The spelling of Jackson was normalized in subsequent editions.

Statistics Saturday: The Cops In True-Crime Podcasts


Small wedge: 'Cop whose Columbo-Like Insight Finally Catches The Guy Who Did It'; Enormous wedge: 'Cop Who Spends Years Hounding Someone Who Had Nothing To Do With Anything Because They Thought They Had a Columbo-like Insight'; Moderate wedge: 'Cop Who Was Just Trying To Give The Guy A Failure-To-Yield Ticket and The Guy Got All Panicky About What Turned Out To Be Eighteen Severed Hands In The Trunk'.
Not pictured: Forensics lab cop who had all the evidence but spent four years unsuccessfully begging everybody in the precinct to at least send one person to check out the guy who actually did it. All right, one more, but one who actually asks a relevant question this time. Please. Just this one time try taking this one suspect seriously for one minute.

Reference: Sir Gregor MacGregor and the Land that Never Was: The Extraordinary Story of the Most Audacious Fraud in History, David Sinclair.

60s Popeye: Going … Boing … Gone, all right, but what’s the boing?


Today’s is a King Features Popeye cartoon that makes us ask whether people said the word “boing” wrong in 1961. Maybe it was an in-joke at Paramount Cartoon Studios. So here’s Going … Boing … Gone, a story by Joseph Gottlieb and directed by Seymour Kneitel.

Here we have another Popeye cartoon that barely feels like a Popeye cartoon. Not just that the focus starts, and really stays, on Wimpy-versus-Brutus. Or that nobody eats spinach, Popeye included. Or that Popeye doesn’t even come into the picture before it’s one-third through. Many good Popeye cartoons have run that way.

But, like, Popeye is in the cartoon only as an agent of chaos, encouraging Wimpy in his mischief. Popeye isn’t usually one to encourage other people to fight, though, preferring to get into a good fight himself. I can’t say it’s exactly out of character, but it is a side we rarely see in the cartoons. It fits less awkwardly into the comic strip, I think. That Roughhouse appears does make me wonder if the premise is drawn from the comic strip. The characters had broader personalities there, where stories could ramble for months before coming to the first ending anyone thought of.

We start off with Wimpy spotting Brutus, who’s unusually well-dressed this cartoon. Wimpy asks Brutus for a dollar, which inspires the sort of unending rage normally reserved for Twitter feuds. Like, OK, Brutus chases Wimpy into a store, OK. But then some indeterminate time later Brutus is still roaming around, angry about this? Why? Does Brutus have nothing else to do?

A smiling Brutus, wearing a suit and hat and smoking a cigar, giving Wimpy a crushingly tight one-armed hug, that's swept Brutus's body three-quarters through Wimpy's body and caused Wimpy's face to billow up like a balloon squeezed to the brink of bursting.
Sincere talk that’s going to sound sarcastic: so they keep talking about doing a computer-animated Popeye movie. I’m sure it’ll be hideous. You know why? Because not one of the CGI animators would ever have the courage to have one character squish another the way Brutus is squishing Wimpy’s body here. I’m serious. As a still frame, the anatomical impossibility is horrible. In animation? (You can see it around 12:35 in the video.) It communicates how powerful Brutus is even when he’s being amiable. They wouldn’t have the guts to do something like this in a CGI movie.

Wimpy’s undetectable because he found some vanishing cream. You never see vanishing cream cartoons anymore, and yeah, I know that’s how they’re supposed to work. Still, for a quick way to do invisibility plots you’d think they’d stick around. I know you might protest, who even sells vanishing cream anymore? Yeah, well, vanishing cream’s sales flopped from about the 1930s onward. They sell foundation makeup instead. We’re in a lot of trouble if we start insisting on cartoons and comic strips that reflect the world of more recently than 80 years ago.

And Wimpy needs Popeye’s advice on how to turn this to his advantage. This because Wimpy is notoriously bad at scheming while Popeye … you see what I mean? It’s not that I can’t fit this all with the characters. but everybody feels a little bit weird.

Really there’s no need for Popeye to be in this cartoon except that he’s Popeye, after all. But, you know, Wimpy’s a great character, the only Thimble Theater cast member to have seriously risked taking over the comic from Popeye. I’m curious if we could have had a couple stories that just followed him around his low-level food-based grifting. And I wonder if this story started out as a generic story with the Thimble Theater cast put in, or whether it was meant as a Wimpy cartoon that they had to make carry Popeye.

I have no idea why “Boing” is in the title of this cartoon.

MiSTed: The Tale of Fatty Raccoon, Chapter XI


So I decided to go ahead and riff another chapter of Arthur Scott Bailey’s 1915 animal-adventure novel about how much he hates his own raccoon protagonist. Not to worry, I posted it to Usenet first, so that I have something new written this year to give rec.arts.tv.mst3k.misc.

There is a little change, though, as you saw in the title. The title The Tale of Fatty Coon has bothered me. Yes, I’m aware that anyone reading this would quickly realize this is literally about raccoons. But, you know? This is supposed to be lighthearted Mystery Science Theater 3000-style fun pointed at a harmless target. Why force anyone to have to ask, even briefly, what the intentions of Joseph Nebus are? And ultimately, I remembered: Eric Cartman chose to name his raccoon-themed superhero “The Coon”. Avoiding the choice Eric Cartman would make is a good first approximation to how to live.

And happily, Bailey’s novel is in the public domain (one reason I felt comfortable riffing it to start). It belongs to us all. I can make my own version, even if all that’s changed is the family name. I still have the past chapters up under the old name and the old tag. I’ll change that if and when I have the energy.

For those just joining us: Fatty Raccoon is a really really fat raccoon who’s out to eat the world. Farmer Green’s son Johnnie has tried but failed to catch Fatty as a pet. There is more, mostly the stories of things Fatty Coon has tried to eat, with surprisingly mixed success. But that will get you going. Now, please, enjoy.


> XI

CROW: The toll for being in this chapter is the excise tax.

MIKE: D… do …

>

TOM: Don’t encourage him, Mike.

MIKE: Do I *know* you, Crow?

> JASPER JAY TELLS SOME NEWS

TOM: Then the five-day weather and then Mister Food’s Test Kitchen.

>
> It was quite late in the fall,

CROW: Not so late as to have hit bottom.

> and the weather had grown very
> cold. Mrs. Raccoon and her family had not left their home for several
> days;

MIKE: Join the club.

> but on this day she thought it would be pleasant to go out in
> the sunshine and get a breath of fresh air and a bite to eat.

TOM: Maybe run down to the comics shop, see if her pulls are in.

>
> Fatty was the only one of her children that was not asleep;

CROW: If these are ‘Sleepy-Time Tales’ why aren’t we following the sleeping kids?

> and he complained of being very hungry. So Mrs. Raccoon decided to take
> him with her.

MIKE: So hard finding a babysitter this time of year.

>
> The hunting was not very good. There were no birds’ eggs at
> all to be found in the trees.

TOM: [ As Fatty ]*Technically* eggs would be found in the *nests* in the trees.”

MIKE: Great, he’s becoming a “well, actually” raccoon.

> The river and the brook and the creek
> were all frozen over, so Fatty and his mother could not catch any
> fish.

CROW: Fish gathering underneath, sticking their tongues out at the raccoons.

> And as for corn

MIKE: It’s that “excise” joke Crow brought.

CROW: Hey!

> —Farmer Green had long ago gathered the last
> ear of it. Fatty wished that it was summertime.

CROW: o/` Summertime’s nice with a place to go, bedtime, overtime, halftime too … o/`

> But it only made him
> hungrier than ever,

TOM: How?

> to think of all the good things to eat that summer
> brings. He was feeling very unhappy when his mother said to him
> sharply—

MIKE: [ As Fatty ] “Cheddar! I mean, what?”

>
> "Run up this tree! Hurry, now! Don’t ask any questions."

CROW: [ As Mrs Raccoon ] “Wait, first put on these clown shoes and don’t let this businessman’s valise out of your grip! But no questions!”

TOM: [ As Fatty ] “Whuh — huh — ”

CROW: [ As Mrs Raccoon ] “And only answer people who speak to you in Ubby-Dubby!”

TOM: Pig Raccoon …

>
> Now, Fatty did not always mind his mother as quickly as he
> might have.

MIKE: Why, I’ve never minded Mrs Raccoon at all. She’s always been a wonderful companion and magnificent storyteller.

CROW: A real raccoonteur?

MIKE: Yeah, I was leaving that for people to work out on their own.

> But this time he saw that she had stopped and was sniffing
> the air as if there was something about it she did not like.
>
> That was enough for Fatty. He scrambled up the nearest tree.

TOM: That’s a shrub!

CROW: Thud! … OK, well, the second-nearest tree then!

> For he knew that his mother had discovered danger of some sort.

MIKE: Too late Mrs Raccoon realized the danger was raccoon-eating trees!

>
> Mrs. Raccoon followed close behind Fatty. And they had no sooner
> hidden in the branches than Fatty saw what it was that his mother had
> smelled.

CROW: Tim Horton’s doughnuts?

>
> It was Johnnie Green!

TOM: Tell us what they’ve won, Johnnie Green!

> He passed right underneath the tree
> where they were perched. And as Mrs. Raccoon peeped down at him she

MIKE: ‘Peeped’?

TOM: [ As Mrs Raccoon ] ‘If I hear one more peep out of me I’m turning myself around and going home!’

> shuddered and shivered and shook so hard that Fatty couldn’t help
> noticing it.

MIKE: Mrs Raccoon’s powering up!

>
> "What’s the matter?" he asked, as soon as Johnnie Green was
> out of sight.

CROW: Oh, Johnnie’s an ex. Messy breakup.

>
> "His cap!" Mrs. Raccoon exclaimed.

CROW: That propeller can’t be fast enough to lift off!

> "He is wearing a raccoon-skin
> cap!" Now do you wonder that she was upset?

TOM: Oh.

MIKE: Yeah, Mom’s being fair there.

> "Don’t ever go near Farmer
> Green’s house," she warned Fatty. "You don’t want to be made into a
> cap, or a pair of gloves, or a coat, or anything like that, do you?"

CROW: No, I want it to be by my free choice!

>
> "No, indeed, Mother!" Fatty was quite sure that such an
> adventure wouldn’t please him at all.

TOM: Now, being turned into a beer can cozy? Don’t knock *that* until you’ve tried it.

> And he told himself right then
> and there that he would never go anywhere near Farmer Green’s house.

MIKE: [ As Mrs Raccoon ] ‘Now let’s explore this tree you found for us!’

TOM: [ As Fatty ] ‘It’s, uh, Farmer Green’s chimney … … … Sorry?’

> We shall see how well Fatty remembered.

CROW: Hey, foreshadowing!

>
> That very afternoon Fatty Raccoon heard some very pleasant news.
> It was Jasper Jay who told him.

TOM: Oh yeah! The *chapter*!

>
> Jasper Jay was a very noisy blue jay who lived in the
> neighborhood.

CROW: [ As Jasper ] ‘You know unlike other blue things I just *look* blue!’

TOM: [ As Fatty ] ‘Yes, all things that look blue look blue, that’s how looking blue *works*.’

> He did not go south with most of the other birds when
> the cold weather came.

MIKE: He migrated east. It started one year as a mistake he was too stubborn to admit.

> He liked the winter and he was forever tearing
> about the woods, squalling and scolding at everybody. He was a very
> noisy fellow.

TOM: Man, Arthur Scott Bailey really makes nature sound like it’s full of jerks.

>
> Well! when Fatty and his mother had reached home after their
> hunt, Fatty stayed out of doors.

MIKE: What did they hunt?

TOM: Oh, they went to the thrift scores. Scored this ceramic coaster with the Harvey Wallbanger cartoon guy on it.

> He climbed to the top of a tall pine
> tree nearby and stretched himself along a limb, to enjoy the sunshine,
> which felt very good upon his broad back.

TOM: Boy, remember being young enough you could just spend the evening flopped out on a pine tree?

> It was there that Jasper Jay
> found him and told him the pleasant news.

CROW: “Jules Rivera’s doing an AMA? We can ask her why she hates Mark Trail and wants it destroyed? Let’s go!”

> And Fatty was very glad to
> hear the news, because he was still hungry.
>

> This is what Jasper Jay told Fatty: he told him that Farmer
> Green had as many as forty fat turkeys,

TOM: Fatty wondering if he’s being insulted here.

> which roosted every night in a
> spreading oak in Farmer Green’s front yard.

CROW: Turkeys … … roost … in trees?

MIKE: I guess?

CROW: I feel weird.

>
> "If I liked turkeys I would certainly go down there some night
> and get one," said Jasper Jay.
>
>

MIKE: Wait, that’s the whole chapter?

TOM: “Jasper Jay Tells Some News, after 800 words about other stuff.”


[ To be continued, sometime ]

I don’t know who this Sarah Rose writing Barney Google this week is either


So, Barney Google and Snuffy Smith. John Rose, the current cartoonist, has made a habit of having Google reappear in his comic once or twice a year. This week looked like the start of one of those visits. Surprisingly soon after Barney Google’s last visit, but that happens sometimes.

After the first panel, though, Barney dropped away. Instead we saw and focused on what, I believe, is a new character, who’s been the star of this whole week’s strips:

Barney Google introduces, 'Spark Plug's grandson .. .Li'l Sparky!' Li'l Sparky nuzzles Spark Plug, thinking, 'My grandfather ... oh, how I love him!' In the main strip Li'l Sparky races a rabbit and a chicken. The chicken says to the rabbit, 'Li'l Sparky is just like his grandfather! He's a happy pony who loves to race!' Rabbit :'When is he the happiest?' Li'l Sparky, crossing the finish line: 'WHINNY wins!'
John Rose and Sarah Rose’s Barney Google and Snuffy Smith for the 10th of January, 2021. So far as I know the rabbit — who’s had almost as many appearances as Li’l Sparky so far this week — is a new character too. The chicken might be one of the ones Snuffy Smith’s been stealing for decades. Character parts are reliable, honest work, even in the comic strips.

Spark Plug the racehorse was one of the first great fads of Billy DeBeck’s Barney Google comic strip. Sparky caught the public’s imagination. The young Charles Schulz picked up the nickname Sparky in honor of the character, and friends of the Peanuts creator used it his whole life.

Spark Plug fueled a bunch of horserace-themed stories that DeBeck expertly used for publicity. (I’m drawing this from Brian Walker’s fascinating Barney Google and Snuffy Smith: 75 Years of an American Legend, which gave me a better appreciation for the strip’s craft.) Sometimes in surprisingly easy ways: he’d ask readers to write in names for horses and used the best-sounding ones for the rest of the horseracing field. (I am legitimately impressed with how simple but good a scheme that is.) Eventually DeBeck realized, or maybe intuited, that there were great possibilites for the strip by incorporating hillbilly humor in it. He introduced Snuffy Smith and clan, who took over the comic and squeezed Barney Google and Spark Plug out. Except for the occasional guest week.

This week we’ve seen a bunch of strips about Li’l Sparky, Spark Plug’s grandson. So far as I know, this is a new character. He makes a lot of horse-themed puns. This seems thin for a recurring character but, eh, I can’t blame John Rose for trying. The Wizard of Id’s pet dragon Henry and Peter’s pet Wolf in B.C. opened those strips up too.

What’s also caught my eye is that John Rose’s signature is accompanied by a Sarah Rose. I guess a relative, but don’t know. I also don’t know whether Sarah Rose is a new partner on the comic or is just contributing stuff for Li’l Sparky. If I get any news I’ll pass it along. Anyway you’re not the only person to notice the credit.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Weekdays)? Who is Towns Ellerbee? October 2020 – January 2021


“Towns Ellerbee” is a fake name The Phantom, Kit Walker, uses in the current story. He gave it to someone we know as the Trusted Man. I can’t say why he gave the Towns Ellerbee name rather than Kit Walker. It might be so as to keep other people in the story (Ernesto Salinas and Victor Batalla) from linking this person to The Phantom.

This essay should catch you up to mid-January 2021 for Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom, weekday continuity. If you’re reading this after about April 2021 or want to follow the separate Sunday continuity, an essay at this link may help.

On my mathematics blog, I’ve finished the glossary project. That was one essay for each letter of the alphabet. I’ll have some new stuff coming soon. I haven’t decided when I’ll resume writing about mathematics in the comic strips.

The Phantom (Weekdays).

19 October 2020 – 9 January 2021.

When we last looked Kadia had just had a nasty quarrel with her mother, Imara Sahara. Diana Walker and Kit Walker discuss the Saharas. Kit, The Ghost Who Walks, thinks Imara Sahara was unaware of and uninvolved with her husband’s international terrorism. Diana thinks it was fate that guided Kadia to join the Walker family. That’s where the story ended, the 22nd of October.


Monday the 24th started Then Came Towns Ellerbee, the 256th weekday-continuity story. It picks up on a trio of stories from 2011 and 2012: A Detente with Crime, and The Den with Crime, and Mexico’s Phantom. These introduced Ernesto Salinas, a police chief in Ciudad Jardin, Mexico. Salinas used his prowess as a lucha libre wrestler to battle organized crime for territory. We’d last seen Salinas beating his old childhood friend Victor Batalla for control over some part of Ciudad Jardin. Now? They’re both in Rhodia, the fascist state bordering Bangalla. Salinas is under “house arrest”, and Batalla taunts him with actual arrest and entombment in Gravelines Prison. There’s some mutterings about a broken promise of safe conduct from the Rhodian government. When Batalla falls asleep Salinas calls his assistant back in Mexico. His assistant — the Trusted Man — flies to Bangalla. The Trusted Wife sends a note to Walker, Box 7, Mawitaan.

Trusted Wife: 'Ernesto believed he was there to take Victor into custody ... the opposite was true!' The Phantom, thinking: 'Victor Batalla isn't the first crime lord to enjoy government protection in Rhodia ... the failed state on Bangalla's border runs on payoffs to the ruling generals ... '
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 4th of November, 2020. So this is the explanation we get for how Salinas ended up in Rhodia, and in custody. It came several weeks into the story, after we’d seen Batalla taunting Salinas some. It was a bit confusing to start, especially if you didn’t check the Phantom Wiki to refresh yourself on characters from a decade ago.

The Phantom moves to intercept the Trusted Man, before he gets himself in serious trouble with the Rhodian police. As the bus crosses from Bangalla to Rhodia he gets into serious trouble: his forged passport is awful. He readies for a fight with the border guards. What do you know, though, but Kit Walker’s on the bus too, and picks a fight before the Trusted Man can have it. The Phantom and the Trusted Man are able to punch out all four border guards pretty efficiently. This would seem to cause trouble for the bus driver and the other passengers. The Phantom tells them to drive to the next town, report what happened and describe the two vigilante superheroes in great detail. I’m not sure this would actually clear the innocents. I guess The Phantom must do this sort of thing often enough Rhodian security is used to it.

The Trusted Man is happy to team up with “Towns Ellerbee”, as The Phantom calls himself, to rescue Ernesto Salinas. They make their way to Victor Batalla’s compound. There, The Phantom’s advanced skills in clobbering people impresses the Trusted Man. But there’s no sign of Salinas. They need to take Batalla by surprise. The Trusted Man goes in through the front door. The Phantom breaks in through the back window with the help of a trusted rhinoceros.

Narrator: 'El Bucanero Infernal's night goes wrong!' The Phantom, beside a rhinoceros, smashes through the plate glass window where he and henchmen sit. Narrator: 'Doubly so!' The Trusted Man bashes in the door.
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 17th of December, 2020. Even granting that the rhino is probably a statue that The Phantom is using as a battering ram, have to say, the Trusted Man has got to feel upstaged.

I’m sorry, I didn’t quite make a big enough deal of that. I’m not sure how to frame it well. But The Phantom got, somewhere, a rhino to charge through the back of this house. And then the rhino has nothing else to do with the story. I don’t know where it’s from. I don’t know how it got involved here. I have to suppose it was a statue or a taxidermy model or something like that which the Phantom slid through the window. It’s a wild, striking image and I don’t quite understand it. But it makes an impression.

Batalla taunts the Trusted Man, asserting there is no Salinas anymore. After the Trusted Man throws him into the wall enough Batalla explains he turned Salinas over to the Rhodian authorities, perhaps for making long-distance calls on the house phone. They sent him to Gravelines Prison. It’s a grim place. In a noteworthy 18-month-long storyline The Python arranged for Diana Walker to be imprisoned and almost killed in it. The Phantom knows well where it is. To raid Gravelines now requires doing something about Batalla and his henchmen.

Trusted Man: 'Mister Towns, how is it a migrant working man like yourself can summon the Jungle Patrol into hostile territory?' The Phantom, flashing back to how he puts instructions in the Jungle Patrol safe: 'Their commander knows me. Sometimes I ... give him information. He passes it down to whoever needs to know.' Trusted Man: 'I see! You are a criminal informant! Bravo, Mr Towns!'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 8th of January, 2021. So if I were a real comic strip critic, I would have articulate thoughts about The Phantom, an impossibly wealthy man, adopting the guise of a migrant laborer to assist the rescue of a police chief who adopts a luchador identity to protect the public? There’s a rich vein of text there for someone who knows how to refine it.

Fortunately for them, the Phantom is also the Unknown Commander of the Jungle Patrol. He’s able to order this private army to kinda technically speaking invade Rhodia and abduct people for trial in a country they never set foot in. The Trusted Man is impressed with The Phantom’s resources. The two set off for Gravelines.

Next Week!

It’s Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant, and a tale good household management in the time of King Arthur. See you then, if all goes to schedule.

How do you suppose the packing is going?


I’m sorry to nudge anyone to thinking about the White House more than they have to, but … like … there’s not even ten days left. There has to be some poor lost soul who’s been putting stuff into boxes. And the Future Disgraced Former President follows close behind, putting everything back on any horizontal surface he can find. And it’s been going like this since November.

I know this isn’t even in the first thousand crises we’re facing in the next two weeks but, like, I know I needed two months to move out of my 12-by-15-foot grad student efficiency apartment. And I still maybe lost those tapes of Canadian cartoons my friend loaned me. Or maybe I returned them and he lost them. There’s literally no telling. The situation in Washington has to be worse.

60s Popeye: Forever Ambergris (it’s actually less than three minutes of ambergris)


Jack Kinney’s back in the producer’s chair for today’s 60s Popeye short. Eddie Rehberg is listed as director; the story’s credited to Ralph Wright. Here’s the 1960 short Forever Ambergris.

The title alludes to Forever Amber, Kathleen Winsor’s 1944 novel which sold 480 kajillion copies and inspired a 1947 movie. The cartoon somehow has nothing to do with the novel’s plot of a woman who seduces or marries her way into post-Restoration English royal society.

What we do have struggles to be one of the Popeye-tells-Swee’Pea-a-story cartoons. It takes almost forever to get there, though. At least a minute and a half, in a cartoon with a five-minute run time, not counting credits. Olive Oyl’s going out, and wants a babysitter. Popeye tries to flee, calling babysitting not-manly. It’s a bad look for him. Yes, I know he’s expressed similar attitudes, like once finding Olive Oyl’s dog too sissy for him to walk. It was a bad look for him then, too. I guess it’s needed-for-plot, so that Olive Oyl can use her perfume to make Popeye babysit. And then so Popeye has a reason to talk about ambergris, which goes into perfumes. But did we need to justify Popeye watching over Swee’Pea? If he’d just announced he was going to tell a story about finding some ambergris, would it have jarred too much?

But time spent getting to Popeye’s story is time they don’t have to spend on Popeye’s story. Which may be needed; there’s not much to it. While at sea Popeye spots some ambergris and he, Brutus, and Wimpy collect it. And then put it in a treasure chest. And lock the treasure chest. And guard the treasure chest. This allows for a pleasant pattern of Brutus declaring, say, he’s going to lock the treasure chest, and Popeye declaring “me too” and Wimpy “I also”. The many repetitions give it an appeal this action wouldn’t otherwise support.

Three people coming across an unexpected treasure makes me think of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Or at least the many spoofs I’ve seen rather than the actual Treasure of the Sierra Madre. The cartoon doesn’t go for this, though. So why is Wimpy in this cartoon? He’d have been great in a Sierra Madre scenario descent into paranoia. He naturally plays people against one another; that could feed a real story. Instead he seems to be an unneeded buffer between Popeye and Brutus, who swipes the treasure when the ship crashes somehow into Paris.

Popeye standing, but his head is lowered in weariness, and his body is drawn all jaggedy, as though he had been crumpled up and quickly straightened out again.
2021 is treating us all just great!

Brutus carries it up to the top of the Eiffel Tower. Popeye follows and punches the treasure chest, which falls into a cement mixer. “And ever since, that street in Paris has been forever ambergris”, Popeye explains, an ending that makes Swee’Pea mad. I’d thought that was fair — Popeye’s story feels like a shaggy-dog story with a punch line not related to the setup. But, on review, Popeye did claim only to be telling the story of the time he found some ambergris. So it is a shaggy-dog story but at least it was about the dog he promised. Olive Oyl gets home as Swee’Pea’s crying, and won’t hear any excuses, so she crashes a jar over Popeye’s head. It’s not a good look for her, either.

The cartoon frustrates me. I’m not satisfied with it. But I also can’t point to anything it’s doing wrong. Like, Wimpy doesn’t have a reason to be there. But he doesn’t have a reason to be in Popeye The Sailor Meets Sindbad The Sailor either, and that’s not a problem there. Popeye’s ambergris find comes to nothing, but what did I expect it to? Him finding something that would make him rich forever would break the loosely-defined basic setup of Popeye. Him finding enough to buy a new car (or something) is maybe plausible but too boring to make a story. He has to end up getting nothing, or near-nothing, out of it. That nothing being a great-smelling sidewalk in Paris satisfies that. But it feels like something I acknowledge is funny in principle without laughing at. (I concede a lot of my own humor-writing is stuff that is only funny in principle.)

I think Olive Oyl smashing her perfume jar on Popeye’s head was a bad ending.

60s Popeye: The Cure (not musical)


I’m back on cartoon-watching. Today’s is a 1961 short produced by Paramount Cartoon Studios. The story’s credited to Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer. The direction, as usual, is Seymour Kneitel. Ladies and gentlemen, The Cure.

There is a lot of story this cartoon. The broad sweep of it more or less makes sense. Popeye shames Wimpy into doing something about his hamburger addiction. The Sea Hag, who’s running a hamburger diner supported entirely by Wimpy, tries to get him back on burgers. Popeye tries to foil the Sea Hag’s scheme, but ultimately, Wimpy is going to eat hamburgers.

Having a character resolve to reform their disreputable side is a solid premise. I’m surprised I can’t think of Wimpy swearing off hamburgers before. (I also can’t think of one where Wimpy swears off scamming people, but that’s less seen in the cartoons.) He gets ensconced in Hamburgers Anonymous, which makes it sound like the cartoon’s going to be a spoof of Alcoholics Anonymous. It doesn’t. Maybe they were afraid of too closely imitating the Sylvester the Cat cartoon Birds Anonymous. On the other hand, Birds Anonymous won 20% of all the Merrie Melodies/Looney Toons’s Academy Awards. And who’s not going to imitate really successful work? Instead Hamburgers Anonymous looks like your basic sanitarium. Maybe they couldn’t think of anyone to cast as a hamburger-free buddy for Wimpy?

Still, as it is, there are a bunch of threads and I do like that the cartoon tries telling this complicated a story. It’s a good example of how a Popeye cartoon doesn’t have to be Popeye and Bluto punching each other until Popeye eats his spinach. I don’t see evidence that this was a condensed version of a story from the comic strip (or comic books), but wouldn’t be surprised if it were.

Wimpy standing wide-eyed, entranced by the aroma of grilled hamburgers nearby.
Hey, I didn’t know Popeye was being drawn by Off the Mark cartoonist Mark Parisi these days! Good for him! Good for him! (I’m joking based on the eyes. There’s a lot of wide eyes this cartoon.)

In its details, the cartoon doesn’t quite make sense. Some of this is just demanded by the plot. J Wellington Wimpy, a man whose life is defined by running low-level grifts on his friends, can’t think of a reason he told Popeye he hadn’t seen the quarter that fell in his hat? Forgivable; Wimpy has to get to where he swears off burgers, and there’s only so much screen time. Sea Hag needs to get Wimpy eating burgers again, so she sneaks one into the sanitarium. OK. She asks Popeye, who recognizes her, where to find Wimpy, because? I understand Popeye can’t foil the Sea Hag if he doesn’t know she’s in the cartoon. I suppose they couldn’t think of a more elegant way in.

Sea Hag comes around to kidnapping Wimpy, and demanding he sign over his life insurance to her. I have no idea where this comes from. If the story was condensed from the comic strip then I can at least explain it as a remnant of a lost subplot. I understand the desire to have some menacing climax. And that sometimes deadline comes before you can fix the piece’s problems and you have to go with what you have and hope it’s okay. I suppose it was. I felt satisfied on the first watching, and don’t feel the plot holes are bad enough to spoil the show.

The Sea Hag’s vulture — Bernard, in the comic strip — gets a fresh appearance, here as the “first airborne Saint Bernard”. She also has one of the Goons in, for a quick and fun little bit. That stock footage of her in a quarter-profile waving her right hand reappears, this time behind her restaurant’s glass window. There’s also a pretty nice shot of Popeye in three-quarters profile, scolding Wimpy, at the diner. Paramount Cartoon Studios always shows some polish and technique.

MiSTed: The Tale of Fatty Coon, Chapter X


Ah, thought I might be done with Arthur Scott Bailey’s forgotten 1915 novel, did you? Fair enough. But I did take some time last month to riff the tenth chapter of this little story, and posted it to Usenet for the good old times. And now? Let me share it here. I don’t promise to go riffing the remaining ten chapters of the book, but, we’ll see what I do get to in time.

Some recaps for those who’ve joined late.. Fatty, our nominal hero, is a raccoon. He wants to eat. His author is torn between punishing him for this and letting him get away with it. He tried to eat goshawk eggs, and got attacked by a goshawk. He’s tried to eat turtle eggs, and got away with it. He tried to eat squirrels. He got scared by a “tramp raccoon”. He tried to eat a fishing lure, to the delight of Farmer Green. And he has eaten green corn, successfully. Farmer Green’s son tried to catch him, unsuccessfully. And then tried again, chopping down a tree. But this failed, thanks to the presence of other trees. Who tries to catch Fatty Coon this week? The answer might just surprise you!

> X
>
> FATTY RACCOON AND THE MONSTER

CROW: My favorite bubblegum psychedelic band!

>
> One night Fatty Raccoon was strolling along the road that wound
> through the valley.

MIKE: His evening constitutional is when Fatty has all his best songwriting ideas.

> He was in no hurry, for he had just left Farmer
> Green’s apple orchard, where he had bolted all the apples he could
> possibly eat.

TOM: [ As Fatty ] Oh, narrator, you sweet innocent child.

CROW: He means the farm ran out of apples.

> The night was dark and though it was not very late, all
> the country people seemed to be in bed.

MIKE: [ As country person ] ‘Yup! See me in bed? That’s me!’

CROW: ‘Me too! No need to come check!’

> There were no farmers driving
> along the road.

TOM: They’d already harvested this year’s crop of potholes.

> Fatty had it all to himself. And so he walked slowly
> homewards. It was then that the terrible monster almost caught him.

CROW: Well, that’ll happen.

>
> This is how it all happened.

MIKE: If you believe the *official* account.

> There was a br-br-br-r-r-r in the
> air. Fatty really should have heard it long before he did.

TOM: [ As Fatty ] OK, so it’s a sound, then?

MIKE: [ As Narrator ] Of course it’s a sound! What else could it be?

TOM: [ As Fatty ] I thought it was maybe a chill in the air? Like you were being metaphorical?

MIKE: [ As Narrator ] Why would I start being metaphorical on you?

TOM: [ As Fatty ] You’re the narrator! You can do what you want.

> But he had
> eaten so many apples that he had begun to feel sleepy;

CROW: Oh no, Snow White!

> and his ears
> were not so sharp as they should have been. And when at last Fatty
> heard that br- r-r-r it was quite loud. He was startled.

TOM: But you never expect a pack of feral leaf blowers.

> And he
> stopped right in the middle of the road to listen. Fatty had never
> heard such a sound before.

CROW: The heavenly host calling to give Fatty the good news of oleomargarine.

>
> The strange animal was on him before he knew it. Its glaring
> eyes blinded him.

TOM: [ As a nervous Fatty ] ‘Sc … sc … science?’

> And if it had not screamed at him Fatty would never
> have escaped. It was the terrible screech of the monster which finally
> made Fatty jump It was a frightful cry — like six wildcats all wailing
> together.

MIKE: It’s terrifying but it’s also kinda metal.

> And Fatty leaped to one side of the road just before the
> monster reached him.

CROW: It’s Johnny Appleseed and he’s MAD!

>
> The great creature went past Fatty like the wind and tore on
> up the hill. He seemed to be running so fast that he could not stop.

MIKE: Is this *our* Fatty?

> Fatty could hear him panting as he climbed the sharp rise of the road.

MIKE: Oh.

>
> Fatty Raccoon hurried away. He wanted to get home before the
> monster could stop and come back to look for him.

TOM: Weird feeling like Fatty’s doing the right thing here.

>
> When Fatty told his mother about his narrow escape Mrs. Raccoon
> became much excited. She felt sure that Fatty was not mistaken, for
> had she not heard that strange cry herself?

CROW: Mrs Raccoon thinking back of monsters who ran past her in her youth …

>
> There it was again! Woo-ooo-ooo-oo-o! It began low, rose to a
> shriek, and then died away again.

MIKE: Is it the Creeping Terror?

>
> Mrs. Raccoon and Fatty climbed to the very top of their old
> poplar and gazed down the valley.

TOM: That tree’s only pop’lar in its own clique.

>
> "Look, Mother!" Fatty cried. "He’s stopped at Farmer Green’s!

CROW: I wonder what Farmer Green’s name is in the raccoon tongue.

MIKE: You mean like, does it translate to green as the color or green as in inexperienced?

CROW: Right, that sort of thing.

> You can see his eyes from here!"

MIKE: [ Waving eagerly ] Howdy, eyes!

>
> Mrs. Raccoon looked. Sure enough! It was just as Fatty said. And
> that horrid call echoed across the valley once more.

TOM: [ As Mrs Raccoon ] Looky there! A gen-u-ine 1915 Dort Motor Company Rampaging Monster! Don’t hardly see them anymore.

>
> Farmer Green stuck his head out of his chamber-window, to see
> what the man in the automobile wanted.

CROW: [ As Farmer Green ] A travelling salesman joke? I’m sorry, I don’t know any.

>
> "Where’s the nearest village, please?" the stranger asked.

MIKE: [ As Mrs Green ] This isn’t the village?

> And
> after Farmer Green had told him the man drove his car on again.

MIKE: [ As Mrs Green ] No, take me with you!

>
> From their tree-top Fatty and his mother watched the monster
> dash down the valley.

TOM: On Dasher! On Dancer!

> They knew he had gone, because they could see
> the gleam of those awful eyes.

MIKE: o/“ There ain’t no way to hide those awful eyes … o/“

>
> "Do you suppose he ate up Farmer Green and his family?" Fatty
> asked in a frightened voice.

CROW: Fatty, there are ways to interact with people besides eating them.

MIKE: Deaf ears, Crow.

>
> "I hope so," she said. "Then perhaps there’ll be no more traps
> in the woods."

TOM: But without traps how are we going to keep the woods’s tree population in control?

>
> "But who would plant the corn?" Fatty asked.

CROW: The … the Little Red Hen?

>
> Mrs. Raccoon did not appear to hear his question.

TOM: Serious moment of growing-up as Fatty learns his mother’s fallible.

>
>

[ To be continued, someday, I suppose. ]

How December 2020 Treated My Humor Blog


December 2020 was the second month that I’ve been in low-power-mode here. That’s been marked by using old Mystery Science Theater 3000 fanfiction for the weekly long-form pieces, and lots and lots of Popeye cartoon reviews for daily stuff. It was a bit more actually active than in November. I suppose in the next months I’ll have more non-review writing here, as I feel able to do. But, again, writing about Popeye cartoons is comfortable and easy and I understand I’ve needed more comfortable and easy.

Ah, but how did this affect my desire to be popular? And that’s what I try to do a review of monthly readership figures for.

All my readership statistics, as WordPress logs them, fell in December. There were 5,759 page views recorded, from 3,381 unique visitors. The twelve-month running mean, for December 2019 through November 2020, was 4,462.2 page views in a month. The twelve-month median was 4,228 page views. So I do feel good about coming in above average. The twelve-month running mean was 2,632.3 unique visitors per month. The median was 2,450.5 unique visitors. So again that’s comfortably above the average.

Bar chart of 30 months of readership figures. After a spike in October 2020 there've been two months of gradual decline in readership and unique visitors.
I like that I’ve somehow recreated the Philadephia skyline, though, so I accomplished that this month at least.

There were 128 things liked in December. That beats the twelve-month running averages — 98.4 likes as a mean; 99.5 likes as a median. It’s still well below, like, the average for 2019, or 2018. I don’t know if it’s me or if it’s WordPress.com that’s in such a decline. Or whether buying my own domain name would help, however much WordPress advertises the service. The most dire single number was comments: there were only 18 in December. The twelve-month mean was 32.9, and the median 36.5. I may be asking too much of people to ask them to have an opinion about a 1960s Popeye cartoon.


What did people want to read here in December? Anything about Mark Trail. I only do so much of that. Most of it was older comic strip posts, though. The five most popular essays posted here in November or December ended in a three-way tie, naturally enough. But here’s the roster:

I’m surprised The Phantom drew so many views but, all right. I am embarrassed that among the things I forgot to list as happening in 2020: that time in Animal Crossing when suddenly everything was eggs.

Still, what people always really want to read is the story strip recaps. The comic strips I plan to look at the next month include:


Mercator-style map of the world, with the United States in dark red and much of the New World, western Europe, South and Pacific Rim Asia, Australia, and New Zealand in a more uniform pink.
Bah! Two Baltic states away from having all of NATO this month. I guess I have the former SEATO, but who cares about SEATO? (Yes, yes, I apologize to Leszek Buszynski, but c’mon, his book about SEATO is even subtitledThe Failure of an Alliance Strategy”.)

There were 88 countries or country-like countries sending me any page views in December. 23 of them were single-view countries. Here’s the roster:

Country Readers
United States 4,603
India 164
Canada 117
United Kingdom 103
Philippines 92
Sweden 78
Australia 55
Brazil 46
Italy 37
Norway 31
Germany 30
South Africa 25
Portugal 24
Finland 23
Chile 21
Spain 20
France 18
Japan 16
Mexico 16
Netherlands 13
Romania 11
Malaysia 10
Greece 9
Indonesia 9
Poland 9
Denmark 8
European Union 8
Hong Kong SAR China 8
Ireland 8
Serbia 8
Cyprus 7
Czech Republic 7
South Korea 7
Iceland 6
Russia 6
Belgium 5
Puerto Rico 5
Trinidad & Tobago 5
Ukraine 5
Bangladesh 4
Saudi Arabia 4
Singapore 4
Bermuda 3
Hungary 3
Kuwait 3
New Zealand 3
Switzerland 3
American Samoa 2
Austria 2
Azerbaijan 2
Belarus 2
Bosnia & Herzegovina 2
Cambodia 2
China 2
Guyana 2
Kazakhstan 2
Kenya 2
Moldova 2
Morocco 2
Pakistan 2
Peru 2
Tanzania 2
Thailand 2
Turkey 2
Vietnam 2
Bahrain 1 (**)
Barbados 1
Botswana 1
Colombia 1 (*)
Costa Rica 1 (*)
Estonia 1
Guatemala 1
Isle of Man 1
Israel 1 (**)
Jamaica 1
Jersey 1
Jordan 1
Kosovo 1
Madagascar 1
Malta 1
Mauritius 1 (*)
Nigeria 1
Qatar 1 (*)
Rwanda 1
Slovenia 1
Sri Lanka 1
Taiwan 1
Uruguay 1

Colombia, Costa Rica, Mauritius, and Qatar were single-view countries in November. Bahrain and Israel were single-view countries for the third month in a row. Nobody’s on a four-month streak.

Between that time everyone got mad at U2 because they Apple gave everyone their album and the start of January 2021, I posted 2,891 things here. They gathered a total 207,519 views from 117,505 logged unique visitors.

In December 2020 I posted 19,802 words, for an average of 638.8 words per posting in the month. And that’s brought my annual words-per-posting, for 2020, up to 559. Popeye cartoons are easy to write about; they’re hard to write about succinctly.

So, what will I write for tomorrow, as I’ve used up past years’ chapters of The Tale of Fatty Coon? And past that? You can see by checking in here regularly. Or by adding the essays here to your RSS reader. If you don’t have an RSS reader, you can get one easily. One way is by signing up for a free account with Dreamwidth or Livejournal. Then you can add any RSS feed to your reading page, through this link for Dreamwidth and through this link for Livejournal. Or you could just click the “Follow Another Blog, Meanwhile” link on this page, and have it in your WordPress reader.

However you do it, though, thank you for reading. See you again soon, I hope.

What’s Going On In Alley Oop? What’s with all the talking animals in Alley Oop? October 2020 – January 2021


I have to suppose Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers like putting talking animals in Alley Oop. That’s all. They do a good mouse-in-a-lab-coat.

So this should catch you up on Alley Oop for the start of 2021. If you’re reading this after April 2021, there’s likely a more up-to-date plot recap at this link. There’ll also be any news about the strip at that link.

On my other blog I’ve finished the alphabet, for my 2020 A-to-Z. I hope to have some concluding thoughts posted this week. I have to go off and have thoughts now. That’s the hard part. On to plot recapping.

Alley Oop.

11 October 2020 – 2 January 2021.

Our Heroes had defeated Einstein Clone’s culture-destroying device and returned to Saint Louis of the year 3277. Despite this, Future Saint Louis looks only a bit better off. The Clawed Oracle, an immortal spirit from earlier this story, explains that’s how history-changing works now. With that, the 17th of October, the Great Culture Famine story ends.

Alley Oop: 'Hey, look! It's the CLAWED ORACLE! How did you get here?' Clawed Oracle, a cat: 'I am not bound by the laws of time or space.' Wonmug: 'I thought we made such a big change to the timeline, but here we are, 1,200 years later, and it didn't make that big a difference.' Oracle: 'It is nearly impossible to make significant change to the timeline. History heals itself. Many outcomes are predestined and will always come to be.' Wonmug: 'That takes the pressure off US quite a bit.' Alley Oop: 'Now I can do whatever I want!' Ooola: 'That's nothing new.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayer’s Alley Oop for the 16th of Octber, 2020. There are several ways to address changing history in time-travel stories, all of them with perils. There being a single deterministic timeline that can’t be changed seems to rob the protagonists of agency; whatever they do was “always” right. A multiverse in which every timeline “happens” seems to rob the story of consequences; everything, good or bad, not logically impossible happens anyway. A single malleable timeline makes your characters responsible for every horrible action they choose not to prevent. So of all the ways to handle this problem, “you can do what you like and it doesn’t much matter” is at least a wishy-washy way to do it. Yes, I am aware Asimov more-or-less got away with it in The End of Eternity but at least a part of that book is the characters realizing humans can’t handle having actual responsibility for changing history.

The next story started the 19th of October. It starts out looking like it’s about some corporate intrigue. Potato chip magnate Leslie Stenk calls in a favor from Doc Wonmug. She needs something done about Chip Hamberden’s far more successful potato chip company. Wonmug takes the Civil-War-Enthusiast Hamberden on a time trip back to the Battle of Antietam. And leaves him there, where he seems happy, which, fair enough.

When Wonmug gets back to the present, Ava is gone. All that’s present is an Interdimensional Soul Reanimator and a set of time coordinates. It’s the lab’s location, four billion years in the past. This makes me wonder, like, location on the continental plate? Or latitude-longitude? How is the prime meridian handled over that length of time? Not important. They get some magic breathing apparatuses and pop back to the primordial soup.

Wonmug: 'Last time I saw her, Ava was sitting right next to this interdimensional soul reanimator. Which is strange, because I don't know what that is.' Ooola: 'Look, a note! It's a list of numbers. Maybe it's a clue.' Wonmug: 'It's probably a secret code.' Alley Oop, picking up the phone and dialing: 'It is!' Phone: 'We're sorry, but your call cannot be completed, since you seem to have dialed a bunch of random numbers.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayer’s Alley Oop for the 3rd of November, 2020. I’m really, really amused by Alley Oop dialing a bunch of random numbers into the phone and getting that response, so, that’s where my sense of humor is.

Ava is there, though she’s floating in the air and shooting flame-breath at Wonmug. Also she’s calling herself Zanzarr, “master of the demonic souls of the afterlife”. Zanzarr’s plan: zap the primordial soup with demon energy to prevent life as humans know it ever existing. It’ll be nothing but demons. I don’t know how to square this with what The Clawed Oracle said about timeline changes.

Wonmug tries appealing to Ava, who must be wrestling Zanzarr for control of her body. Ava notes how lousy her job actually is. It’s a beat about what a jerk Wonmug can be, augmented by Ooola and Alley Oop saying they forgot to invite her into their union. I know being a jerk has been a staple of comic scenes since forever, but it doesn’t need to be nasty.

Four billion years ago. Wonmug: 'How are we going to get that demon out of Ava?' Alley Oop, tying up the possessed Ava: 'I've got an idea!' He holds a jar up behind him: 'Oh, look, a cute little kitten. It's so full of goodness and 100% alive. I hope nothing BAD happens to it.' Demon, flowing out of Ava and into the jar: 'Here, kitty kitty! You delicious little --- ' As Alley Oop closes the jar lid: 'Guys? I think you forgot to put the kitten in here.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayer’s Alley Oop for the 24th of November, 2020. This, too, is a strip that tickles me. I think it’s hitting a good blend of the events of a serious story and childlike, playful motivations. At least I find it more fun than adding snark to actions.

So, they get the demon out. Wonmug sets it at the dinosaur-asteroid-impact-spot. I suppose that’s practical and maybe even responsible — Zanzarr was trying to destroy all life, after all — but it’s also murder. Also, he leaves ten seconds before impact. What if his time thingy had decided to reboot? Anyway, Wonmug promises to at least buy Ava a better office chair. (There’s also a casual mention that Ava dated a female demon, back in college. So the time-travelling caveman comic strip acknowledged lesbian-or-bisexual relationships before Mary Worth did.)

One more thing, though. How did Ava leave a note with the time coordinates for Wonmug to find? And … she didn’t.


From the 30th of November we moved into a new story, but one that grew out of that loose end. Who wrote the note? The author enters the 2nd of December. It was Rody, a mouse in a lab coat, speaking now to them for the Coalition of Tiny Scientists. To further their talks, Rody shrinks Wonmug, Ooola, and Alley Oop to mouse-size. And you thought I was tossing off a joke last week when I talked about Hank “Ant-Man” Pym hanging out with Doc Wonmug. I was; I forgot there was a shrinking tie-in there.

Shrunken Wonmug: 'Wow! Did you make all this stuff?' Rody, lab-coat-wearing mouse, showing around the miniature laboratory: 'Yes. I use materials I find here and there to make my inventions.' Wonmug, noticing a credit card up against the wall: 'Hey! This is my credit card!' Rody: 'Haha ... I use it as a ... table?' Wonmug: 'This is why there was a charge for a tiny centrifuge on my account last month!' Rody looks smug.
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayer’s Alley Oop for the 8th of December, 2020. So I’m addressing this to maybe four people out there but: wow, it’s heartening that David Gonterman’s The Rangers of NIMH made it to the comics pages at last! There’s hope for us all!

The shrink ray is incredible, but you know what would complete it? An unshrinking ray. Rody doesn’t have one. But Ant #3229BX — inventor of the shrink ray — might have an idea. Rody shrinks the bunch to ant-size to better talk with her. She isn’t interested in an unshrinking ray either. But she does have a genius aphid they should talk to, and she shrinks them to aphid scale. But they’ve had enough of this silliness. (Meanwhile Rody does make some wonderful progress on un-shrinking.)

Wonmug thinks he knows how to reverse the shrink ray. Alley Oop’s able to follow #3229BX’s pheromone trail back to the shrink ray. But, whoops, they have an accident and get shrunk even further, to microscopic size. They’re lucky they still have the magic breathing technology from their trip to four billion years ago.


Oh, and what about the Sunday strips? In those Little Oop stories, Alley Oop’s stuck in the present, and hanging out with the kid inventor who stranded him in 2020. This was a less dire fate when the thread started. The strip is ignoring the pandemic and I don’t blame it. But there hasn’t been a story going on here. It’s strips of Little Alley Oop in school, or at the mall, or making friends or such. I suspect Lemon and Sayers have figured this is a more fun Sunday strip to write than Little Alley Oop in prequel Moo. If I’m right they’ll keep him in suburbia until they run out of premises. I’m sorry not to have another Sunday-continuity strip to recap. Sunday-only strips are fun and also easy. But they’re also hard to write and I don’t fault them not wanting that challenge.

Next Week!

No shrinking! Yet! It’s instead Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom (Weekday continuity), if all goes to plan. See you then.

Because I expect you want to know how my hair is doing


Since the pandemic started I haven’t had my hair cut. And now, ten months in? I’m really happy with my hair’s volume. It’s never been better. I’m less sure about its squelch and treble.

… People may be interested in how my hair is doing but they never ask what it’s doing.

60s Popeye: Popeye’s Cool Pool (extended edition)


Jack Kinney Studios gives us today’s cartoon. Rudy Larriva directs it. And the story is, of course … from Ed Nofziger. I know, I was expecting more Jack Kinney stuff about skin diving. Life is complicated even in 2021. Here’s a taste of more than just 1960 in Popeye’s Cool Pool.

Short cartoons, like short stories, are usually about a single incident. One consequence is short cartoons usually depict a short while. Often under an hour, or something that feels like it. Popeye’s Cool Pool sticks to that single-incident vibe, but at its best moment opens that way out: the cartoon depicts the span of things over a whole year. It’s a pleasant cartoon outside that. But stretching it to a year adds a happy preposterousness to the story. It might also make this the Popeye cartoon that depicts the longest sequence of events. At least unless we get quarrelsome about how the span of a flashback cartoon, or one of those time-travel adventures Professor Wotasnozzle sends Popeye on.

We open on Popeye reading Popeye Mechanics, which we saw last year advising Popeye on how to build a robot. It claims it’s easy to build a pool. He says it’s too hot to build a pool. Olive Oyl, Swee’Pea, and Brutus nag him into building a pool and he gives in. He offends Brutus by taking his own tools back. And, more, by telling Brutus he won’t be invited in, which gives Brutus motivation to steal the pool. Which is a great absurd thing for Brutus to declare, too.

Then on to a year of Popeye digging, by hand. It’s an interesting choice that the scenes of changing seasons aren’t all identical. They’re all built around Olive Oyl asking if the pool is ready and Brutus calling him a slowpoke, and getting a shovel of dirt in the face. But, like, Olive Oyl doesn’t ask if the pool’s ready in every season. This isn’t wrong. It’s only my imagination that expects these beats to be repeated word-for-word. I’m interested in why they chose to do this. Other than that it makes it slightly more realistic that Olive Oyl might not ask about the pool every day.

Brutus slides the fence over to claim half the pool, which is the most realistic way to steal a pool possible. Swee’Pea complains that what’s left is “just a bathtub”. I mention because I spent long enough trying to figure out the line and you should benefit from my work. We finally get enough of a fight that Popeye eats his spinach and slides the pool out from under the fence. I’m curious why this doesn’t bother me. Maybe because it comes after Popeye’s spinach power-up, which usually precedes impossible stunts that can’t be done. But I can remember Fleischer cartoons where Popeye would do subtler but similar unreal things, like sliding a keyhole to somewhere easier to peer through, that didn’t bother me and’s before spinach gets involved. Ultimately it does always depend on whether I’m entertained, but sometimes this Tex Avery stuff fits the Popeye world better.

Sad-looking Brutus wearing his bathing suit and standing in a washtub of water, holding a garden hose on himself and sipping a drink.
The 2020 water-park-going experience.

It’s all a low-key, underplayed cartoon. I like it that way. A bunch of lines are funny more because they reflect an absurdist attitude, like Olive Oyl declaring that Popeye built the pool too close to the fence. It’s a cartoon I could imagine being done in the Fleischer era without needing too much reworking. It’s a good cartoon to start my 2021 watching.

Statistics Saturday: Things From 1925 Now In The Public Domain


  • The first issues of The New Yorker.
  • Vice President Charles G Dawes’s Nobel Peace Prize.
  • Comic strip Flapper Fanny Says.
  • The Scopes Trial.
  • The Grand Ole Opry.
  • The 1925 “Great Race of Mercy” — the “Balto” delivery of serum to Nome, Alaska.
  • The New York (football) Giants
  • The National Spelling Bee.
  • Rogers Hornsby’s .403 season batting average.
  • The Chrysler Corporation.
  • The Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio short Alice Solves the Puzzle.
  • June Lockhart.

Reference: Mercator: The Man Who Mapped The Planet, Nicholas Crane.

My Distracting Thought To Start The Year


An alternate history where the big change is that “Entrance of the Gladiators” never gets arranged to play at circuses as the “Here Come The Clowns” music, because “Pomp and Circumstance” got that treatment first.