Reposted: The Twelfth Talkartoon: Up To Mars, thanks to a pantsless Mickey Mouse


This Talkartoon gave me yet another chance to talk about the history of amusement parks. It’s a subject easy to get me going about and you’re lucky I only went on this short while about it.


This week’s cartoon happens to call out Merry Christmas. And to get a Happy New Year back. That’s the sort of subtle act of timing that’s really beyond my abilities; it just got lucky. But here’s Bimbo’s second cartoon in three weeks, and the second in which he was named as such. From the 20th of November, 1930, and animated by Rudy Zamora and Shamus Culhane: Up To Mars.

So why does this short start in an amusement park? (At least after some striking and neat special effects animation.) Why not, I suppose you could say. Also that it’s somewhere you could just have lots of big firecrackers hanging around. I suspect there’s a deeper reason. It goes back to A Trip To The Moon. I don’t precisely mean Georges Méliès and one of the maybe three silent movies even people who don’t care about silent movies recognize. But that helps. A Trip To The Moon was a ride at the Pan-American Exposition of 1901, in Buffalo, New York, showing exactly that. It was moved to Coney Island to be one of Steeplechase and then Luna Park’s signature rides. And to inspire trip-to-outer-space rides, to the Moon or Mars or other worlds, from there. So a trip to Mars starting at an amusement park might not be just because you gotta get rockets from somewhere. It might be because you could get to Mars from there.

Other planets, in the cartoons, were often wackyland places of reverse-logic and sight gags; see Tex Avery’s 1948 The Cat That Hated People for similar and I’ll admit better sight gags. I haven’t checked what earlier, and particularly silent, cartoons did with other planets. But the placement makes sense; jumping to another planet does give license to get weird and surreal.

It’s the second cartoon where Bimbo gets named. But he gets less distinctive stuff to do than even in last week’s Sky Scraping. I suppose he makes the choice to chase after the strikingly Mickey Mouse-like rodent that had been in his Roman candle. But that’s not a lot of character. And once up on Mars he has even less to do; he’s mostly just watching the shenanigans. Arguably the mouse does more to affect the cartoon. I kept waiting, once Bimbo fell in with the Martian soldiers, for him to be detected and that to become the story. Somehow it never did. He does get a few frustrated moments to snarl and snap at people in a satisfyingly dog-like manner, which is worth something certainly.

This is the second week in a row that the Moon gets punctured. Also the depiction of Saturn as a character with a big hat is one that I believe gets repeated in the October 1932 Betty Boop’s Ups And Downs.

It’s maybe too well-established to count as a blink-and-you-miss-it joke but I laughed when Bimbo tried to light the rocket and sets a cat’s tail on fire instead. The elderly Martian dancing with his detached legs and no body is a good reliable body-horror joke.

Reposted: The Eleventh Talkartoon: Sky Scraping, Where Bimbo Gets A Name


Not many second thoughts about this Talkartoon review from back in the day. I love a skyscraper-building cartoon and I’m not sure the theme has ever failed for me. I guess we’ll see if and when I get back to the King Features Popeye shorts and if they do a skyscraper-building cartoon.


So, something new’s added to the Talkartoon family for this short, released the 1st of November, 1930. Bimbo’s emerged from his prototypical form as this slow-motion screwball character who’s been around five-or-so times. He’s worthy of a name. It’s not given on-screen because of course not. But it’s there in the title card that I assume is the original title card and not a later addition.

There’s a couple cartoon premises that seem to always work for me. One of them is the orchestra, typically playing the Hungarian Rhapsody Number Two. And another is this short’s theme, that of skyscraper-building. My supposition is that the premise gives the cartoon a natural, logical structure. The underlying material is necessarily ordered, so the cartoon can riff on that and have pretty near every joke land. (And one of the all-time best-ever cartoons is Friz Freleng’s “Rhapsody in Rivets”, fusing the two premises.) With skyscraper-building cartoons I think there’s another factor: all those steel girders. That is, to use the setting at all you need to draw these big steel meshes, often in perspective. It’s hard work drawing a plausibly in-construction skyscraper, and I think the knowledge that they put all this work in influences the audience. The dazzling visual can carry a weaker script.

Skyscraper-building would probably always be popular; the idea just boggles the mind to start. The skyscraper races of the late 1920s added fine and ridiculous drama to the construction, and if you haven’t read up about the spire on the Chrysler Building and its secret installation please go look that up now. Thank you. In the early 30s the last spurt of skyscrapers under construction, such as the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center, were much-needed work for thousands of people, and a curious note of not-yet-broken ambition. Great themes to hang art on.

So. Bimbo finally gets a name this cartoon. But he’s not called by name in the cartoon. He’s also barely in the cartoon itself. I suppose we do see him repeatedly, but I’m not sure that he stands out compared to the other workers. Dragging his feet to get to work and tripping over two bricks, working sleepily, but racing home, is fine enough, but it’s not a deep bit of personality.

And it feels odd that Bimbo trips over two bricks but hasn’t got a third punchline. And that there’s two strings of him sleepily laying mortar on bricks but not a third. The so-called Rule of Three is, like many comic rules, better a guideline for not screwing up a premise. But this does feel like punch lines were set up and then unresolved. I’d suspect scenes lost to editing but it’s tough to figure what they would be or why.

There’s suspiciously-Mickey-Mice all over this short. And even a suspiciously-Felix-the-Cat too, at about one minute in, having swallowed a quartet of mice while they passed behind a billboard. Which was almost my moment of weird body horror this short. All the while they passed behind the billboard I was thinking about oh no, they’re going to go there. But somehow the skyscraper reaching up high enough its structure pierces the Moon hit me harder. It’s a solid joke, especially as I didn’t suspect it coming.

A couple years after this short Disney would create the multiplane camera, making it possible to have animated elements moving in foreground, middle-ground, and background. The Fleischers would one-up that by building a multiplane camera that could also use real-world sets, for some live-and-animated scenes that are still dazzling. This short might prototype that, by having the girders and people in the foreground moving while the background’s held fixed. It’s a simple trick, but an effective one: there’s distance here.

A skyscraper-building cartoon has three compelling end points: the work day ends, or the building’s finished, or the building collapses in ruin. (And note how “Rhapsody in Rivets” does it.) This short takes mostly the first ending, fair enough, albeit with a weird coda after Bimbo’s rushed home from work. So, once more, I’m satisfied.

Statistics Saturday: Some August Holidays


  • Feast of the Assertion
  • The New Jersey Big Sea Day
  • August Bonk Holiday
  • The Big Jersey New Sea Day
  • Queen Elizabeth’s Birthday (Unobserved, New South Wales)
  • Halloween in May in August
  • Satellite Echo 1A Launch Anniversary
  • The Big Sea New Jersey Day
  • Elephant World Day (Alberta and Seal World only)
  • Pompous Symbolic Gestures Day
  • The Big Day New Sea Jersey
  • September Eve

Reference: Euphemania: Our Love Affair With Euphemisms, Ralph Keyes.

Reposted: The Tenth Talkartoon: Grand Uproar


Finally hit it: one of these Talkartoons I didn’t remember anything about from the title. Reading my original thoughts from 2017 helped some, but overall, not much. On rewatching I feel more confident saying the Gay Caballero and the Senorita are maybe not intended to be Bimbo and Betty Boop. But if this short had been included on that eight-volume Complete Betty Boop VHS tape series in the 90s, we’d accept this as an early Betty Boop cartoon.

The introduction talks about how this originally ran out of sequence, this time on purpose. Don’t worry about it.


The next cartoon would be Swing You Sinners!, but I just reviewed that for Halloween and I don’t think it’s been long enough I’d have different feelings about it now. So here’s the next, instead. From the 3rd of October, 1930: Grand Uproar, animated by Seymore Kneitel and Al Eugster. Kneitel’s already shown up here a bunch that we know of. This is Al Eugster’s first credited appearance. Eugster spent over six decades animating, from silent-era Felix the Cat to Disney’s Snow White to the last years of the Paramount studio, when Shamus Culhane and Ralph Bakshi made it their strange own, and on past the end of theatrical cartoon shorts.

The cartoon felt a little out of place, somehow. After a bunch of Bimbo cartoons in a row he doesn’t appear this time. At least unless one of the characters is meant to be him in a modified form. Perhaps one could argue the Gay Caballero is meant to be Bimbo. On the first look at the Senorita I wondered if she might be an off-model Betty Boop, but I don’t think that’s sustainable. She’d need more hair curls over her face, I think. And maybe they just weren’t thinking about Bimbo for this one.

Wikipedia gives the release date of this carton as the 3rd of October, 1930, barely a week and a half after Swing You Sinners! was released. That seems weirdly close to me; no other pair of Talkartoons their first year were released so near one another. It made me wonder if the short was made earlier, perhaps before Bimbo started to crystallize as a character, and got held up any. But it doesn’t look as primitive as, say, Fire Bugs did. I’m curious how the scheduling for the short worked out. It’s probably foolish to read too much into the timing of successive shorts, though. The release dates don’t seem to show any particular pattern. February 1931 has two Talkartoons released in a single week.

There’s no end of suspiciously Mickey Mouse-like characters in it. And I’m not sure I have a candidate for the blink-and-you-miss-it joke. All the clear jokes are made pretty clearly, with about the right focus to appreciate them. There are several Fleischer studios cartoons that feature stage presentations and, for my tastes, they always work. There’s something about putting on stage theatrics with cartoon mechanisms that works for me. But I also couldn’t get enough of the hippopotamus apologizing his way through rows of the audience, so, what do I know?

For all the title promises an “uproar” there’s really not one. The action is all fairly well controlled. Even the climax doesn’t feel like it’s getting out of control. It’s funny enough, I think, and fitting. Just the title promises more chaos than the short delivers. There’s nothing wrong with a cartoon like this that’s just a bunch of jokes in a setting. But that there isn’t a protagonist probably keeps it from being able to build to any particular finale. Possibly the cartoon needed more Bimbo.

I have the impression the early joke about looking at the hippopotamus with all those diamonds is a reference to something, but I don’t know what it is.

MiSTed: Reboot: Breaking the Barriers (Part 7 of 16)


I hope you’re all continuing to enjoy Reboot: Breaking the Barriers, written by Carrie L— long ago, and turned into Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan fiction by me a little less long ago. This whole MiSTing should be gathered at this link for your convenient reading.

The story so far: Carrie has fallen through a weird portal into her computer and, more, the world of pioneering computer-animated cartoon Reboot. She’s met up with the heroes and they’re all getting along great. So all she needs is to get home again — and hey, there’s some kind of roaming tear in space puttering around the digital world. Might be worth checking out.

I lived in Singapore when I wrote this, which is why there’s references to Mos Burger (a hamburger place, with some neat rice-bun burgers that I miss). The reference to Guardian and Watsons is about a couple of pharmacy chains. Bennie the Ball is one of the supporting cats from Top Cat, a series I figured was consigned to obscurity by the early 2000s. The Retlaw Plant poisoned Mr Sulu in an episode of the original Star Trek cartoon that Walter Koenig wrote. (Get the name yet?)


>
> * * * * * * * *
> * * *
>
> Part Fourteen
>

JOEL: See, and that’s just thirteen dots, for chapter fourteen.

CROW: That’s eleven dots.

JOEL: No, that was … wait …

> The structure they approached was stunning yet foreboding at
> the same time.

TOM: Sounds like the Registrar’s office.

> Carrie knew this place well, and her knowledge of
> it made her nervous and apprehensive. As they crossed the border,
> Carrie’s throat constricted.

CROW: Oh no! The "Mouse" bracelet is taking over!

> *Silicon Tor,*

JOEL: Younger brother of Gigan Tor.

TOM: Next-door neighbor to Phosphorus Tor.

> she thought, *The home of
> Megabyte.*

JOEL: All our servings come in three sizes, bit, byte, and megabyte.

> A shiver went through her as she thought of the things
> Megabyte would do to them if her caught them in his territory.

CROW: He might force them to watch his vacation slides.

> *I
> wonder if he can infect sprites?* she thought,

TOM: Sprite, Dr Pepper, Pepsi Twist…

> then turned away from
> such thoughts. It wouldn’t help to be negative now.

CROW: No negatives? Are you positive?

JOEL: Neither. She’s a Carrie bit.

>
> Carrie looked over at Bob. He was intently studying the map
> Glitch was displaying.

CROW: You Are Here … Ah, there’s the Mos Burger … Walden’s … Pet Safari … ah, pathway into other reality, right next to the As Seen On TV store.

> he stood Glitch down, then turned to Carrie.
> "It’s just ahead."

TOM: It’s the big tear-shaped thing.

> he whispered, then moved forward, turning into an
> alley.

JOEL: I can’t get enough of that "morph" trick.

> Carrie followed behind him. When she turned the corner, her
> eyes were bombarded by a bright light.

TOM: And long-lost relatives standing nearby…

> Shading her eyes, she took in
> a sight she was strangely happy to see.

CROW: It looks just like a puppy dog!

> The tear was now stationary
> and was as stable as a tear could really be.

TOM: And it will lead them back to the Alpha quadrant!

> It was impressive to see
> this form of energy up close for the first time.

CROW: Boy, it’s like we’re right here.

>
> "Glitch," Bob said, "Key direct portal to energy transport
> beam in the Chalo Omega system."

JOEL: Chalo Omega … didn’t he rule the Autobots before Optimus Prime?

> He aimed Glitch at the tear and it
> flew out. As it approached it, the tear transformed into a silvery
> sphere with Glitch attatched to the front.

TOM: [ As Glitch ] Yeee–aaaaaahhhh — JANE! STOP THIS CRAZY THING!

> On the other side, seen
> through Glitch was an orange beam of energy.

JOEL: They’ve tapped into the Orange Julius dimension!

> Bob looked over at
> Carrie. "This is the only place we could find that could bring you
> home."

TOM: You *do* live in a pumpkin, right?

> he told her. "Phong says that the computer attatched to the end
> of this beam should be yours."

CROW: It *should* be, but it’s too danged lazy.

>
> Carrie smiled. "Thank you." she said, "For everything."

JOEL: And, hey … call sometime, OK?

> Bob
> returned her smile, and offered her his hand. She took it gently,
> expecting to recieve a warm handshake.

CROW: You suppose if she downloaded some MP3’s right now then when she gets back she’ll never get them out of her head?

> Instead, she suddenly found
> herself in Bob’s arms.

JOEL: She was shrinking, and kind of liked it.

> She stiffly wrapped her arms around him,
> returning his friendly embrace.

TOM: He’s showing a lot of affection for not knowing who she is.

> Stepping back, he placed his hands on
> her shoulders. "Good luck." he whispered, his eyes shining.

CROW: Will she stay blue and digital when she gets back to Canada?

> "Don’t
> worry," Carrie said, "I’ll visit the next time my computer decides to
> swallow me whole."

TOM: Isn’t there a bandwidth issue in computers swallowing people?

> Bob smiled. "Well," he said, "I guess this is
> goodbye."

JOEL: I bet there’s a surprise coming right up.

>
> "Oh, not just yet."

CROW: You haven’t filled out your complimentary survey card.

> A deep, velvet voice intoned behind them.

TOM: They’re being attacked by melTorme.com!

> "I haven’t been introduced to your friend, Guardian."

JOEL: Or your rival, Watsons.

>
> * * * * * * * *
> * * *
>

CROW: See? It’s eleven dots.

JOEL: It’s a tough market for dots this year.

> Part Fifteen
>
> Before she could react to what was happenng,

CROW: We took a break for a word from these sponsors.

> Carrie found
> herself being lifted off the ground by a grip of steel.

TOM: That’s *buns* of steel, thank you.

JOEL: Ew.

> She tried to
> scream,

CROW: That’s your standard response.

> but a large viral hand clamped over her mouth and spun her
> around.

TOM: Being twirled by salmonella … that’s no responsible way to live.

> Carrie looked up to find herself staring into the mesmerising
> red on green

CROW: Ho ho ho!

> eyes of Megabyte.

JOEL: [ As Megabyte ] Oh, I’m not *that* Mega … you’re too kind.

> "Really, Bob." Megabyte rumbled,

TOM: Bill Daly cracks down.

> "How
> rude." Carrie grabbed Megabyte’s arm and pulled at it futally.

CROW: [ As Carrie ] I hope I wasn’t out of line with that crack about the gorillas.

> All
> he did was laugh, amused by her terror.

JOEL: Megabyte needs more hobbies.

>
> "Let her go, Megabyte!" Bob shouted, aiming Glitch at him.
> Megabyte looked at him. "No, I don’t think so." he said.

TOM: They have the same fight every *week*. The marriage counselor is this close to giving up.

> "Now, you
> do as I ask,

JOEL: Not as I do.

> or your friend suffers an early erasure."

CROW: That’s a threat we haven’t heard before.

> He turned
> Carrie around so she was facing Bob,

TOM: He’s aiming her for Dish TV.

> then held his free hand above her
> threateningly.

CROW: Big bucks … no whammies …

> As his hand began to descend towards Carrie, Bob
> lowered his arm.

CROW: STOP!

> "Alright!" he said, "What do you want?" Megabyte
> chuckled richly. "Oh, it’s very minor."

JOEL: Forty-niner.

[ CROW looks at JOEL. ]

> he drawled, "I want what
> every virus wants from a Guardian, your keytool." Carrie’s eyes
> widened in fear.

TOM: See, that would’ve been my third guess.

> *No!* she thought, *Don’t give it to him!*

CROW: Spit on it first, then he’ll be too grossed out to take it.

> She
> started struggling and kicking,

TOM: [ As Curly ] Whum – WHUM wulluwullwull.

> trying to break free, or at least
> distract Megabyte long enough for Bob to get them out of there.

JOEL: Hey, look, a big distracting thing!

>
> As it turned out, she didn’t need to.

TOM: Megabyte suddenly remembered a big dental appointment.

> Suddenly, a large bolt
> of bright red energy slammed into Megabyte’s chest.

JOEL: A tip for young writers: Story stalled out? Get it going again with a random explosion.

> It threw him off
> balance long enough for a fast moving figure to get in front of him.

CROW: Speedy Gonzales, hooray!

> With a sudden swipe of a long, pale green blade protruding from it’s
> hand,

TOM: Oh, this better not be Wesley Snipes.

> the figure pushed Megabyte through the portal.
>
> Megabyte let go of Carrie’s mouth, but succeded in grabbing
> her arm.

CROW: Pop!

> With a scream of terror, Carrie reached out to Bob as she
> was pulled in after Megabyte.

TOM: Hey, isn’t this the cliffhanger from "Beast Wars"?

> "Nooo!" Bob shouted. Then he whirled
> to face the figure. "Look what you’ve done!"

JOEL: And all over the floor!

> he yelled. The figure
> moved suddenly

CROW: And a pirate ship appeared over the horizon.

> and Bob found himself suspended against the wall with
> the end of a large blade against his throat.

TOM: [ Sheepishly ] "I didn’t mean you *personally*"…

> "Look, Guardian," the
> figure breathed, "I just saved you from deletion.

JOEL: So hurry up and get to making that CD-ROM backup of yourself.

> Don’t force me do
> it myself." Bob looked down at this person.

CROW: You shouldn’t be looking down at people.

> He was wearing a grey
> outfit with gold trim and gloves. He had pale green skin with blue
> triangular markings.

TOM: So a Retlaw plant joined the Superfriends?

> His hair was white with two blue and red
> streaks, but the most stunning part about him was his face.

JOEL: Mister Potato-Head?

> His
> features were feline with black on red eyes.

TOM: Bennie the Ball — Cybercop!

> He had the same
> triangular markings on his cheeks.

CROW: His cheeks are not to be stood on.

> "I didn’t have to save you, now
> did I?"

JOEL: No, but it’s wise to save a little extra Bob in case of a rainy day.

> As he spoke, Bob noticed large fangs and pointed teeth.

TOM: Vampires!

> Only
> one kind of creature looked like that, a feline virus.

CROW: Kitty!

TOM: So ThunderCat Cheetara became a Microsoft Word macro?

>
> "Where did you come from?" Bob asked.

JOEL: Nowhere particular.

CROW: Man, I wish I was you.

> The virus dropped him.
> "That is not important." he said.

TOM: What is important is can’t you see what I’m trying to tell you, I *love* you?

> "Your friend is." Turning, he
> headed toward the shadows, retracting his blades into his wrists.

JOEL: [ Yelping in pain ] Gee-yow! That *hurts*! What was I *think*ing?

> "Wait!" Bob said, "What’s your name?" he asked.

TOM: If he’s Batman I’m gonna slap this story so hard —

CROW: Catman.

> The figure paused
> long enough to glance over his shoulder. "Symble."

TOM: I think it’s pretty complex.

> He said, then
> vanished into the shadows.

CROW: And *that’s* my only line.

>
> * * * * * * * *
> * * *
>

JOEL: Holding at eleven spots before liftoff.


[ To continue … ]

Reposted: The Ninth Talkartoon: Swing You Sinners!


I’m not sure why my original review of Swing You Sinners, the ninth Talkartoon, was so circumspect in its content warning. I remember a tedious argument with someone about how “eating watermelon and fried chicken” could be a racist stereotype against Black people when basically everybody likes watermelon and fried chicken. I may have been giving too much credit to people who claim to not understand how something could be racist-coded. My original 2017 review — another one out of order, so that it could coincide with Halloween — was rather close to the start of the modern discussion about how much of The Classic Cartoon Look derives from minstrel shows. Anyway, this is a short cartoon that’s a great example of what’s fun and exciting and glorious about black-and-white cartoons, with movement and music and pacing and surreal images and a plot that makes impressionist sense. If “Bimbo’s Initiation” didn’t (deservedly) get in the way, this is probably the Talkartoon that would get on best-cartoons-of-all-time lists.


I’m not figuring to wholly abandon order in these reviews of Fleischer Studios Talkartoons. It’s just that it is Halloween, and it is the Fleischer Studios, and surely they’ve got some cartoon with a nice dose of spirits and demons and graveyards and the sorts of merry gruesomeness that makes for the fun of Halloween. If I’m not overlooking something in the titles they don’t have an actual on-point Halloween cartoon. But spooky-enough stuff? Oh yeah. They got plenty of that.

So let me start with the first that’s clearly Halloween-ish enough. It’s Swing You Sinners!, originally released the 24th of September, 1930. The credited animators — they were finally getting some attention — were Willard Bowsky and Ted Sears. Wikipedia reports that also animating were George Cannata, Shamus Culhane, Al Eugster, William Henning, Seymour Kneitel, and Grim Natwick. That’s a heck of a power lineup there. Think of any mid-20th-century cartoon whose animation impressed you and at least one of that set was one of its animators. I exaggerate only slightly.

About 3:30 into the short is a weird Jewish-caricature spirit. Apparently this specific scene was drawn by Culhane and in his memoir (Talking Animals and Other People, as I remember from Like 1992 well worth the read) he worried about that. But, you know, he knew a lot of Jewish people, some of them on staff, so surely that was fine.

Not mentioned so far as I remember: this is a cartoon in which Bimbo, drawn in all black apart from his shoes, gloves, eyes, and a patch around his mouth, starts out by stealing a chicken, gets pursued by a cop, and stumbles into a surreal jazzy environment. I don’t think I’m over-interpreting the cartoon to say there’s some racial coding going on here. Not that chicken-stealing in the comics is an exclusively black pastime. If it were we’d have a major reinterpretation of Barney Google and Snuffy Smith to do. But when I hear lines of dialogue delivered like Amos and Andy characters would I know something’s going on. I’m not that clueless.

If I haven’t put you off the short altogether, then, let’s watch now.

So. There’s a somewhat similar, famous cartoon, Bimbo’s Initiation, that we’ll get to in time. It’s more famous because of a Betty Boop cameo that gets it attention from her fans. In it Bimbo gets roped in off the street and subjected to a long, strange series of surreal and slightly horrifying experiences. I didn’t quite realize how much “Bimbo In A Nightmare World” was a recurring theme for the Talkartoons.

Have to say it fits him well, though. He’s a pretty generic character; going out trying to steal a chicken is more active than I’m used to for him. But it does make it easier for the audience to identify with the lead character if he isn’t trying (or even able) to do anything about the situation. The world’s gone mad for him, and that makes for some fine nightmarish imagery.

As Bimbo-In-A-Nightmare-World cartoons go, I think this is less frightening than Bimbo’s Initiation. That’s due to the plot setup. Here, Bimbo starts out trying to steal a chicken; so, his being plunged into a demon-haunted world makes sense as moral balance. In Bimbo’s Initiation he doesn’t do anything to earn his torments; he’s literally just walking down the street and falls in a hole. (A manhole, but something something evoking Alice’s rabbit-hole something something literary reference.) Stealing a chicken is disreputable, certainly. It’s forgivable, if the person has to steal or starve. But it gives moral justification for Bimbo’s torments.

And they’re a good set of torments, must say. There’s some astounding animation effects here. This cartoon came out seven months after last week’s entry, Radio Riot, and it feels like it’s years ahead. You really get a sense of how fast sound recording and cel animation were improving to watch a pair like that. The fight between Bimbo and the chicken is fantastic, with the spinning of the background a trick so good I’m surprised more animation studios didn’t rip it off. From about 6:50 on there’s no real story left; there’s just astonishing scenes.

Wikipedia claims the cartoon was animated by a “complete new staff” following several animators quitting, and that makes it all the more amazing. But they did have a heck of a talent pool with Culhane, Eugster, Kneitel, and Natwick. I don’t really know anything about George Cannata (almost nobody does) and William Henning, but still, that’s a heck of a team to have.

Unless I blinked and missed it there’s no suspiciously-Mickey-Mouse-like characters in the short. The title may be uninspired but it makes sense; the action is built around singing “Swing You Sinners” and it’s hard to think of a more logical name. Has it got a logical ending? Yeah. There’s an arbitrariness to why have the action stop now rather than ten seconds sooner or later on. But given the setup the story has to end with Bimbo either atoning for his sins or being trapped in them forever, and since the Fleischers were a New York City studio, it’s the latter option. Disney or Warner Brothers or someone else on the west coast would have let him out.

It’s hard picking out a best blink-and-you-miss-it gag. The format inspires stuffing the screen full of weird little bits. I think I’d pick out the double ghosts sleeping in the stairwells, seen at about 6:05 in. But there’s so much great stuff happening. There’s the animate scythe at about 5:25. There’s the underpants that turn into an extra ghost at about 6:25. It’s not a gag — it’s part of the nightmare — but the graveyard walls enclosing Bimbo at about 4:50 is is fantastic. Good solid scary cartoon.

What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? What’s with Carter Hendricks’s jacket? May – August 2021


The Summer story in Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp turned, in part, on what school a “BSU” jacket belonged to. The school colors therefore mattered. Gil Thorp has started running, in GoComics, in color. But, as is common for weekday comics, the colorizing gets done without checking the writers for guidance. I do not know why the colorizers of daily strips don’t get guidance from the original cartoonists. I understand if the cartoonists do not wish to do the extra work of picking out colors if they’re not paid for it. It makes every day as much work as a Sunday strip.

But the practice keeps screwing things up. Here, at least, it’s an innocent screw-up. The BSU jacket colors were not mentioned in text until several weeks after the jacket’s appearance. Whoever put color in had no direction. And that’s the sad usual for colorized dailies.

So this should catch you up to late August 2021. If you’re reading this after about November 2021, or if any news breaks about Gil Thorp, a more useful essay may be at this link. Thanks for reading, high school sports fans.

Gil Thorp.

31 May – 21 August 2021.

The Spring story — a long one — was mostly about who would be on the library board. There was a small piece going on about Corina Karenna, not related to the main action. So I’ll close that out.

Karenna saw no point going to college. She’s got an appalling record. All the athletic scholarships she could apply for are long gone. And her mother is too depressed to function without her. Still, Mimi Thorp hates to see a talented, bright, determined kid just peter out. She pokes around her contacts and alumni and finds a setup. Karenna moves to Syracuse, takes community college classes to get her credentials in order. Transfer to Le Moyne College, where there’s volleyball scholarship money and roommates to be had.

Mimi Thorp: 'It's all set. You'll start at a community college in Syracuse, New York. Play there, and then transfer to Le Moyne College. Great school. You won't admit it, but you'll love it. A couple of the Le Moyne players need a roommate, so you're all set.' Corina Karenna: 'Stop. You don't get to run my life!'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 23rd of June, 2021. There’s story detail lost in my compression. An important one is Mimi Thorp talking with Corina Karenna’s mother. And her mother talking about how she feels her daughter’s protecting her more than she actually needs. So the later assertion that Karenna’s mother did “a lot of the work” in setting this up has some textual basis. And it at least addresses the question of whether Karenna’s mother can function without her daughter. Anyway, I still don’t see how you could tell someone needs a roommate in two years.

And … Karenna’s mother? She, Thorp says, did a lot of the work putting this together. And believes she can keep herself together while her daughter’s at school. One likes her optimism, but I admit seeing many failure modes.

Meanwhile, the vacancy on the Library Board. The Board loves it. It’s drawn them, like, attention. It helps they have two candidates. One is young Zane Clark whose family depends on the library’s public good. The other is cranky middle-aged Abel Brito who doesn’t see why the public should be paying for good. And the juicy part is that Zane’s dating Katy Brito. So Zane’s and Abel’s every interaction is a good rousing fight.

The Library Board plays it for what it’s worth, with a public debate and everything. Zane pushing ideas of ways the library could do more. Abel pushing ways that the library could run like a business, unaware that almost every business is appallingly run. Only one person can get the seat, though, and either way will hurt Katy. Coach Thorp pushes his way into the action for some reason.

Mimi Thorp: 'I wonder what's holding up the show.' Gil Thorp: 'I mean to say hi to Rollie Conlan ... I'll go check.' At the library board table, Conlan says, 'Gil! You lobbying for one of our applicants?' Gil Thorp: 'Just saying hello. I don't see you now that your grandson graduated.' Conlan: 'It's a wonder you saw me at all, as little as he played.' Thorp: 'Life in a meritocracy.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 14th of June, 2021. And having re-read the story a couple times to summarize it, no, I still don’t understand why Gil Thorp considers this worth his attention. I guess it’s nice to relieve some stress from Zane Clark and Katy Brito’s lives? Which, I guess, if he’s a nice guy should be enough motivation, but I really would have thought “didn’t get to be on the Milford Library Board” the sort of thing someone bounces back from. Also nervous about talking up “life in a meritocracy”, since what that means is “we made up charts so our racism looks like test scores”.

What he does is nudge Rollie Conlan, 29-year veteran of the Library Board, into retiring. The argument being they need both Zane Clark’s ideas about providing public services and Abel Brito’s ideas about making money. So, two vacancies, two candidates, and all is happy. Apart from family dinners that now argue about whether the library should be providing a service or something.


With that, the 10th of July, the Spring story ended. The Summer story began the 12th of July and it looks to wrap up this week or next. This was a hard one to parse, as Rubin and Whigham played coy about what the conflict even was. And there were two threads that didn’t seem to have anything to do with one another, not until the end. I can’t fault them for verisimilitude. Often in life we have no idea we’re in a story until it’s ending. But as art? It meant we had weeks that seemed to be watching people deploy golf terminology.

So here’s the golf thread. Carter Hendricks is in his second summer as part of the Milford Country Club. And he’s a popular guy. Does well, as a “humble industrial solvents salesman”, playing games for money. Oh, he blows the occasional shot, sure, but somehow he’s always got what he needs when it counts. Almost suspiciously so. Like, when he happens to play a cheap golf ball instead of his usual.

Thorp, golfing: 'Another big drive, Carter!' Hendricks: 'Blind pigs and acorns!' [ Two holes later, Hendricks watches a shot of his. ] Hendricks: 'Whoa --- where did that come from? And where the heck is it going?' [ Then, on hole #12 ] Heather Burns: 'Those clouds look ominous. Are they headed our way?'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 4th of August, 2021. A pivotal moment: if they’d gone golfing two hours earlier Hendry’s scam might have gone unproven. Also a good example of the frustrations in reading Gil Thorp. The first two panels are dropping plot points, and the third is setting up the important reveal of Hendry’s Bemidji Statue University jacket. Read the whole month, or even the whole week, and it makes sense. Read just the day’s strip and there’s no guessing what’s happening. I don’t have a good solution to this.

Enter someone who can be suspicious, besides Gil Thorp. Heather Burns, who’d been star of the summer storyline in 2017, is back from college. University of Iowa. Thorp’s able to get her a spot as assistant coach for Milford Football, which pays in glory. She wants to be a reporter, because she doesn’t know where money comes from. It comes from selling coffee in the library’s former periodicals alcove.

She puts together Thorp’s doubts with Hendricks’s green-and-white “BSU” rain jacket that he got from somewhere. He’s in fact Carson Hendry, who won two conference golf championships for Bemidji State University, in Minnesota. Had a minor career as a pro. Also had a six-month jail term for stealing clients’ money. He is, in short, hustling the club members.

Hendry, on the defensive: 'I was undercover, working with the police.' Burns: 'Translation: he rolled over on his fellow crooks and only served six months.' Hendry: 'But, I --- ' Club President: 'Save it, Carson Hendry. You're done here. And if I don't have a check in three days for every dollar you've hustled, we're pressing charges.' Club Member: 'Gil, let's help Mr *Hendry* find his car.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 19th of August, 2021. I admit I’m not clear what charges the golf club could press. I guess faking your handicap while betting on games is some kind of fraud but does it rise to a prosecutable offense? The characters admit that’s all a bluff, but I’d expect a good hustler to be sure of what he can get away with claiming without provably breaking a law. But it could be Hendry isn’t all that good a hustler, too.

They kick him out, demanding he repay his winnings, which they know he’ll never do. Meanwhile, at the Milford Star, sportswriter Marjie Ducey sees good reporting talent, albeit in the service of a non-story. Hendry isn’t a public figure, at least not public enough, unless the country club presses charges, which they don’t see any good reason to do. Editor Dale Parry agrees this shows Burns to have good instincts and abilities. But he’s already offered their job to someone with two years’ reporting experience.

And that is about where we land. It’s again a point for Rubin and Whigham’s verisimilitude that Burns’s good work doesn’t get rewarded with the job she wants and needs. Sometimes things suck and you have to muddle along with what’s all right in the circumstances. But the story isn’t quite over yet, and as you can see, sometimes Coach Thorp figures a back door into solutions.

Milford Sports Watch!

Who’s Milford been playing, at least until the summer break caught up ? These teams have turned up in past months.

And colleges get mention!

  • Le Moyne College (23 – 26 June)
  • Onondaga Community College (25 June)
  • Bemidji State University (5, 6, 16 August.) Also a reference in the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode Red Zone Cuba that’s now about something I specifically kind-of understand. (“They’re over the Cuba-Bemidji border.”)
  • Boise State University (16 August.) A guess about the BSU jacket.

Next Week!

It’s been months since Randy Parker disappeared from Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker! And weeks since the bed-and-breakfast burned down! And we haven’t been seeing Norton any! Is there anything left in the comic strip? We’ll check in soon, if all goes well.

Reposted: The Eighth Talkartoon: Barnacle Bill; and Betty Boop gets a name (it’s not Betty)


Anyone interested in the history of theatrical short cartoons knows how messy Bugs Bunny’s creation was. There’s several plausible “first” Bugs Bunny cartoons, including several black-and-white forerunners with rabbits who … don’t look or don’t act quite right, but not in any way that clearly distinguishes them from Early Bugs. It should not surprise that Betty Boop had a similar confusing early history. Still, as I hadn’t watched the early Betty Boop cartoons in production order before, I was taken by surprise by how she wasn’t quite herself in her second cartoon.


If the Fleischer Studios cartoons have any reputation in the current pop culture it’s “those black-and-white cartoons the animators must have been on drugs when they drew”. They always say this about stuff packed with weirdness and whimsy and more nonsense than is needed. It seems to reflect some need to make alien the mindset that does stuff purely for fun, as though intense play were unfit for the dignity of modern life. And like most reputations it’s overblown. Most of their cartoons are straightforward things with little fillips of weirdness because they had the time to fill.

So here’s one of the cartoons that isn’t an exception. It’s eight minutes of almost nothing but weirdness. This cartoon, originally released the 30th of August, 1930, was animated by Seymour Kneitel and Rudy Zamora, along with — Wikipedia says, anyway — Grim Natwick. And it’s kind of a weird one.

This is listed as a Betty Boop cartoon. It was on the eight-VHS Betty Boop collection I watched so often in the 90s. I imagine anyone with a clear idea who Betty Boop was would list this as one of her cartoons, even though she’s still in that dog-based model abandoned not soon enough. But the cartoon gives her a name, clearly and obviously, in Bimbo’s notebook: she’s Nancy Lee. Apparently “Betty Boop” is a rewrite, the way Tom Cat started out as Jasper. Huh.

Or it’s a character. The cartoon has a — well, plot seems like the wrong word. But it’s doing something. It’s playing out the folk/drinking song “Barnacle Bill the Sailor”. A cleaned-up version was a hit song of 1928 and again 1930. Bimbo, acting consistently with the screwball nature I talked about in Dizzy Dishes, sneaks off his ship. And then gets into character, I suppose, as Barnacle Bill. Perhaps Betty’s just playing the character of Nancy Lee here. It seems a little weird, but in 1935 the Fleischer studios would pretty much remake this as a Popeye cartoon, Beware of Barnacle Bill. And in that one Bluto is certainly “playing” Barnacle Bill.

But that’s plenty of fussing about Betty Boop’s “original” name. There is a lot going on in this cartoon. Nearly every moment is a weird visual gag. I wonder if this is a side effect of tying so much of the cartoon to the song. There’s not a lot to do visually if you stick to the lyrics of any version of the song “Barnacle Bill the Sailor”. One person sings four lines, and the other person sings four lines. If you’re going to make it visually interesting you have to pack in weirdness. So sure, Bimbo knocks on the door with his tail. Or he leaps into the sofa as though it were a pool of water. Or Betty/Nancy’s chairs sneak out of the room and a sofa takes their place. The front door shrinks in horror and hides when Barnacle Bimbo threatens to tear it open. The apartment door swallows him into the room.

Put aside, though, how packed it is with throwaway visual gags. Did you notice the camera angles here? There are all sorts of weird perspective shots. Some of them make sense, shooting Bimbo from far above when he’s talking to Betty on the second floor, or Betty from below when she’s talking to Bimbo down below. Being above Bimbo when he’s walking up or down stairs makes sense. But, for example, the opening scene doesn’t need the boat to be charging at the camera to read cleanly, even to allow the boat (and bird) to sing. They chose to start from a weird perspective. It’s easy to imagine these scenes being framed in boring ways.

Does the short have an ending? Yes, it does, and then it blows right past it. Coming to the end of a round of “Barnacle Bill the Sailor” is the sensible stopping point. Finding that Bimbo’s been hitting on Gus Gorilla’s girlfriend (I suppose?) makes great internal logic. It makes Bimbo out to be a bit of a jerk, but a screwball character tends to be a jerk anyway. And puffing yourself up as Barnacle Bill is choosing to embrace the jerkiness. When they redid this as Beware of Barnacle Bill they cast Bluto as Barnacle Bill, wisely realizing that as the only moral person in his universe Popeye couldn’t take that role. Also I wonder if this doesn’t justify Bimbo fearing Gus Gorilla in Dizzy Dishes. Surely the cartoons were in production simultaneously, at least at some point. Maybe the logic of who did what to who got mixed up. Or, yeah, maybe it’s just that the big hulking character is always the villain and the scrawny little guy is the protagonist.

And yet after this perfectly good ending the short goes on. We get a chase, and a nice ridiculous one. I guess it gets the short up to eight minutes, if that’s what they were going for. It does end with delightful weirdness. But it’s also the sort of strangeness-for-strangeness’s-sake that gets these cartoons their reputation. … Well, all right. A lot of these cartoons are really weird.

There’s some suspicious-looking mice at about 0:53 and 1:25 in the short, all scenes before Bimbo gets off the ship. It’s hard to pick a best blink-and-you-miss-it gag — there’s a lot to feast on — but I’ll nominate the ship walking into harbor and having sneakers on. It’s another odd little touch in a short that’s overflowing with them.

Reposted: The Seventh Talkartoon, And The One Anyone Knows Anything About: Dizzy Dishes


From this moment in my Talkartoons rewatch, Betty Bop began taking over. As mentioned in the original post, it’s not obvious from her first appearance that she was the new It character. Years later, I stil don’t know how it is we know the gorilla’s name is Gus. The Betty Boop comic strip has been through at least one full circuit of its (Sunday strip) run and … it gets some characters in place, and does all right by them, but it’s still quite generic.

Finally maybe back on track. I’m up to the seventh of the Talkartoon series. It’s arguably the most famous one. It’s one I’ve already reviewed, because it’s the debut of Betty Boop. But, heck. I’ve seen the cartoon many times. What’s one more? From its original release the 9th of August, 1930, here’s Dizzy Dishes.

Bimbo’s looking different from how he did in his debut in Hot Dog. It’s a common fate of characters in those days. It’s a small change, mostly: his head’s black rather than white. Or maybe I was wrong in Hot Dog and Bimbo was supposed to be the cop. As mutations go this isn’t a big one. Betty Boop would change much more between this, her first prototypical look, to the iconic image and then a bit more to her final appearance in her own cartoons.

Bimbo does a fair job driving the action this short. Everything that goes on relates to how he’s the waiter and apparently chef of this cabaret and not all that interested in being either. It’s a strange choice. I mean, it’s amusing, yes. Fair enough he should find a flood of rhyming orders annoying. That he goes the long, ridiculous way around actually preparing roast duck? That he puts it off for a dance number? The internal logic is weird. Granted that Gus Gorilla (if the Internet Movie Database is right in identifying him) looks menacing. How is he going to be less dangerous if he’s served his roast duck? How does hacking a chopping block into a locomotive engine help matters any?

And I guess the answer has to be that Bimbo, this cartoon has a personality. And that personality is the zany screwball. He’s not as fast-paced or as wild as black-and-white Daffy Duck. But try imagining this cartoon done with that early Daffy Duck as the waiter. It kinda fits, doesn’t it? … And then it makes sense that Bimbo doesn’t even try to placate a menacing-looking customer. A screwball doesn’t work if he cares.

The cartoon devotes a lot of its time to a song, like all these shorts have done so far. And that gives what everyone agrees is the debut of Betty Boop. She hasn’t quite got the form that would have her eighty years later still be put on bumper stickers I’ve never seen on an actual car. Really, her original, Grim Natwick-designed model is kind of hideous. Bimbo’s smitten, although I can’t say that’s due to her inherent charisma. It seems like any singer-character put in this role would do just as well. Her voice is appealing enough, but I might think that because of later associations. There is a weird little irony that in Betty Boop’s debut Bimbo steals nearly all the chances to sing “boop-oop-a-doop”. I’m not sure anyone could look at this and realize, yeah, that singer’s the character who will take over this series and then get her own cartoon series after that.

But the cartoon’s got a decent flow to it. There’s fewer dull segments, and few bits where the cartoon is clearly just repeating an amusing gag until everybody in the audience gets it. There’s a suspiciously Mickey-like mouse back in this cartoon, applauding at about 4:30 in. The roast duck laying an egg that hatches into another roast duck (about 4:10 in) is such a weird moment. When I showed a friend this, back in 1998 when we only had episodes on videotape — nobody had solved the problem of sharing video online back then — he was horrified enough he nearly refused to watch the rest. You don’t get cartoons like that anymore.

And as long as I’ve got Betty Boop under discussion: I just discovered that Comics Kingdom has started reprinting the Sunday installments of the Betty Boop comic strip. They started this months ago; I hadn’t heard is all. I hate to admit, but the strip — about Betty Boop’s foible-filled life as a movie star — is pretty dire. But at least you can make out where the jokes are supposed to be. I have my suspicions that possibly Max Fleischer didn’t actually write and draw every panel.

Statistics Saturday: Ten Most Amazing Facts Of The Week


  • Despite the name no so-called “universal remote” has ever in fact been remote from the universe.
  • No United States president has ever been born in the future.
  • The 100 pleats in a chef’s hat represent the 100 times that the guy who bought the hat-pleating mechanism insisted on showing this was too a good purchase and would pay for itself in time.
  • In the Star Trek episode “Court Martial” Spock discusses what would happen “if I let go of a hammer on a planet that has a positive gravity”, implying there are enough zero- and negative-gravity planets around he needs to shut talk about them down before it even starts.
  • There must always exist at least one breadbox that cannot be put inside another breadbox. However, if the universe were infinitely large, we could not count on this being true.
  • No episode of the 1980s animated series of The Smurfs establishes that Gargamel knows of the Snorks.
  • Those coworkers whose names you aren’t sure you have yet, and it’s too awkward now to ask about? Sara and Mike. If there’s a third, it’s Darryl or maybe Darren. Go confident on the “Darr” part and underplay the second syllable and you’ll get away with it.
  • D is known as “the sunshine vitamin” because it was first discovered by spectral analysis of the sun. It would not be seen on Earth for nearly a generation after its detection.
  • Not only could they make Blazing Saddles today, they did, which is where everybody was all day and why they’re all tuckered out. You should have come over and helped, you’d have had a great time. Maybe you can catch them next month when they hope to make Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One.
  • Despite every advance in the technology to write songs, they are likely to be outnumbered by unwritten songs through 2024 at the soonest.

Reference: A Diplomatic History Of Europe Since The Congress Of Vienna, René Albrecht-Carié.

Reposted: The Sixth Talkartoon: Wise Flies


And now from November 2017 originally here’s my thoughts on the sixth Talkartoon, full of surprises. Also flies. Note the admission about how I messed up the order of things when I originally published this.


Just that string of words — “sixth Talkartoon: Wise Flies” — looks weird to me. This is because I know from time immemorial that the sixth Talkartoon was Dizzy Dishes, the famous introduction of Betty Boop. I think the problem is Marriage Wows, which I had to skip a couple weeks ago because I don’t know any way to see it. Wikipedia mentions that as a cartoon that turns out not to be lost. I suppose the books I read as a young cartoon enthusiast were unaware of Marriage Wows, so didn’t count it in their list of cartoons.

Now some of you may wonder what happened to the fifth Talkartoon, Fire Bugs. Nothing in particular. I just somehow missed it when I started preparing this, and now it’s too close to deadline for me to have a bunch of other thoughts about a whole other cartoon. I’ll try to loop back and get it next week. I’m sorry for the confusion.

So here’s the sixth Talkartoon. As ever, it’s credited to director Dave Fleischer. Two of the animators get credit, though: William Bowsky and Ted Sears. They didn’t do it all themselves; Wikipedia credits Grim Natwick with animation too. From the 18th of July, 1930, here it is:

Some cartoons keep surprising. I had this one pegged after the first scenes: it’d be a couple flies taunting the guy they’re skiing down, until eventually the spider pokes in, scares everyone, and after a frantic music number gets tied up by the blandly pleasant male lead fly. It’s an unexciting story structure but it’s a good, functional one.

I was a little surprised the spider poked in right away to interrupt a fly picnic. Didn’t throw my expectations too badly, though. We’d need to meet the blandly pleasant male lead and the female who’d get abducted by the villain, after all. But the female fly squirts the spider into embarrassed submission, and the spider trots back home, defeated. And turns out to have a wife and to be hungry. That’s a sympathizing touch. It’s easy to hiss at the villain who’s just out to cause harm. When they’re shown to just want to eat? That’s harder. That he’s got a family — in something I didn’t see coming, including kids to feed — makes the narrative stranger. The spider ends up the protagonist, possibly by default as none of the flies seem to be in successive scenes. (Perhaps this reflects different animators taking over the successive scenes.)

But the flies do get some nice odd scenes. A picnic is normal enough for anthropomorphic insects. The fly in a plane is weirder. I imagine it reflects how plane-mad the public was in the early 30s. Maybe it’s whimsy. Maybe it’s thoughtful: the scene is basically that of a guy cruising in his car and picking up a woman. But would a female fly even in principle be impressed by a car? A plane makes sense for that role.

The plotting’s a bit curious. It’s partly spot jokes about flies and a spider, fine enough. And it’s partly about, clearly enough: spider needs to feed himself and his family, but he can’t catch anything. Then about 3:54 in all that’s put on pause so the spider and fly can perform “Some Of These Days”, Shelton Brooks’s toe-tapping hit from 1910. (It had, Wikipedia tells me, got rerecorded by Sophie Tucker in 1926. Sold a million albums that way. Then it got into 1928’s Lights of New York, another candidate for the title of “first talking motion picture”. The cartoon came out in that while the song was inescapable.) But that turns the last scene from hunter-and-prey into an odd infidelity-romance bit. That’s an interesting surprise to me too. It’s a shame that got resolved with the spider’s wife coming out in battleaxe mode. But it does add a nice sad touch to the final chorus of “No flies!”

This isn’t a cartoon with big laughs, at least not for me. There’s a few nice small laughs, like the spider reading the Fly Paper. But overall it’s a curious short that’s not quite plot-driven, but feels like it has more story than just a couple jokes about flies doing things.

Does the title make sense? Absolutely. It’s a little punny, but not absurdly so, and it’s definitely a fly-driven cartoon. Does its ending make sense? Here, too, yes: there’s good reason to end the cartoon at this point rather than another. There aren’t any really good weird body-horror-ish jokes, things where people come flying apart or something crazy like that. The spider’s teeth hopping while he dance and I guess that’s about it.

I don’t know whether to read the sleeping man at the start of the cartoon as a black figure, or just a guy with a heavy beard.

Next Tuesday! I ought to do Fire Bugs. Maybe I’ll do Dizzy Dishes. Maybe I’ll get hopelessly confused again and go review the fifth episode of the Disney’s Hercules Saturday Morning Cartoon for some reason. I don’t know. I’m just doing the best I can.

MiSTed: Reboot: Breaking the Barriers (Part 6 of 16)


I hope you’ve been enjoying my Mystery Science Theater 3000 fanfiction-sharing here. I plan to keep it going a while yet, which you knew from the subject line there. Also surely known to you: this is a continuation of Carrie L—‘s Reboot fan fiction, “Breaking the Barriers”. You can read the whole MiSTing, as it’s posted, here. You can read all of my MiSTings here, if I remember to tag them right.

The story so far: protagonist Carrie has disappeared into the world of pioneering computer-animated series Reboot. She’s met the main heroes of the show for real now. And she and series star Bob survived the perils of a Game thanks to Carrie’s expert play. But will they survive Bob’s girlfriend Dot asking why they were in a Game together?

The riff about Paul Frees references the 1953 Tom and Jerry cartoon The Missing Mouse. The “last time I had a good cry” bit references an episode of Taxi for no good reason. This segment has another instance of the joke where in-text a character asks why don’t they ask something, and then I riff the character asking that. I love that joke structure, but I feel like I probably swiped it from Get Smart. This week’s cryptic eight-bit Commodore machine-language bit: FFD8 was the routine to save computer memory to a device, such as cassette tape or disk drive.


>
> Part Twelve

JOEL: All this time and we’re barely started.

>
> Carrie stood there patiently as Enzo began to ask her question
> after question.

TOM: He should wait for an answer.

> "You’re new around here, aren’t you? Where’d you come
> from? How do you know Bob? Huh, huh?"

CROW: Why does it rain? Why is the sky blue? Is Santa Claus real? Can I have a nickel? I want a bicycle. Why does —
[ JOEL puts a hand on CROW’s shoulder. ]

> Carrie smiled at Enzo’s
> enthusiasm,

TOM: [ As Carrie ] He’s cute. I’ll eat him last.

> and answered his first and last questions,

CROW: By Olaf Stapledon.

> carefully
> avoiding the other.

JOEL: She didn’t know why the sky was blue.

> "This is my first time in Mainframe." she told
> him, "I’ve never been here before."

CROW: But I already saved the star of the show. I’m ahead of schedule.

> She smiled down at his curious
> face. "Actually, I ended up here by accident. That’s how I met Bob.

JOEL: Ask your mother. She’ll tell you.

> I’d heard of him before, but I just met him this cycle."

CROW: We’re very close to our motorcycles.

>
> Dot looked over at Carrie, frowning in suspition.

JOEL: [ As Dot ] I don’t think she’s eight-bit.

> "So she
> says she a user," she said to Bob, who shrugged and nodded. "How do
> we know if she’s telling the truth?" She asked him.

JOEL: Hold a survey on your web site?

> "I’m not sure,"
> Bob said, "she seemed to know alot about us,

CROW: She knows stuff we don’t know about ourselves.

> maybe she knows things
> only the user could know?"

TOM: How would Dot know what those things are?

> Dot mulled that over for a nano, then
> smiled slightly. "Why don’t we ask her and find out."

CROW: [ As Dot ] Carrie, how would you ask us who you are?

> she said slyly,
> and they both turned to look at Carrie.

TOM: You ask her. I’m bitter.

>
> When Carrie was at home, she always wore a necklace that her
> mother had given to her that bore her nickname, also given to her by
> her mother.

CROW: It’s a very personal thing that hasn’t been mentioned until now.

JOEL: I bet it’ll give us a touching insight into her character.

> The name ‘Mouse’.

ALL: Ooooh.

> When she had been pulled into
> Mainframe, it had been reformatted

CROW: How much of its space was free now?

> into an almost choker style band
> with a gold charm bearing the same inscription.

JOEL: [ Reading ] Over hill, over dale, Carrie Mouse will never fail.

> Enzo’s eagle eyes had
> spotted it,

[ TOM screeches, like an eagle ]

> and he immeadiately began to ask her about it. "How come
> it says ‘Mouse’?

CROW: It’s so she doesn’t forget her favorite rodent.

> Do you know her? Are you her sister or cousin or
> something?

JOEL: Are you her twin from the future of the mirror universe?

> Are you really her in disguise?"

TOM: To look like human guys?

>
> Carrie reached up and touched the charm.

JOEL: [ Giggling, ticklish ]

> The thought of her
> mother suddenly made her very homesick,

TOM: The first week at college is the hardest.

> and her eyes began to burn
> with tears. She closed her eyes, holding back the tears that wanted
> to escape.

CROW: She shouldn’t do that, she’ll pop!

TOM: Remember what Paul Frees taught us. The white Mouse will not explode.

> She thought about home and her family, about how she may
> never see them again,

JOEL: She remembers her last words to Mom were, "Don’t worry, I won’t get pulled into the computer and into a TV show" …

> and finally the tears began to escape. Covering
> her face with her hands, Carrie fought for control.

CROW: Must… fulfill… prime directive…

> She didn’t want
> to worry Enzo. As she began to regain control,

TOM: Damage control … all systems non-responsive … whirrr whirrrrrrrr … beedooop.

> she felt a hand on her
> shoulder and looked up into Bob’s worried eyes. "Are you alright?" he
> asked. Carrie smiled through the last of her tears.

TOM: [ As Carrie ] You know when’s the last time I had a good cry?

JOEL: [ As Bob ] No… when?

TOM: [ As Carrie ] This morning.

> "Yeah," she
> whispered, "I was just thinking of home and my family.

CROW: And whether I left the VCR set.

> I really miss
> them, and I want to go home."

TOM: I’m tired and I want to go to bed.

> Dot came up beside her, "I’m sure we
> can try and get you home," she said,

JOEL: Can she be sent parcel post?

> "But we need to ask you some
> questions first." Carrie looked at her, puzzled. "Questions?" she
> asked, "About what?"

CROW: The quadratic formula.

> Dot looked at her, and then decided to just tell
> her. "I just need proof that you’re really a user, so I want to know
> everything you know about us.

JOEL: Because … Dot knows how to send users home?

> Let’s go to the Diner."

ALL: [ Singing ] Let’s all go to the diner … let’s all go to the diner … let’s all go to the diner … and have ourselves a snack!

>
> * * * * * * * *
> * * *
>
> Part Thirteen

CROW: Hey, that was only eleven dots. This can’t be part thirteen.

>
> The four of them sat together in the booth at Dot’s Diner.

TOM: [ Singing the ‘Seinfeld’ lick ] Beeow de dow dee dow

> Carrie’s little emotional episode had worried Bob, so he insisted on
> sitting beside her, much to Dot’s chagrin.

CROW: Bob’s got to sit either next to or across from her. Choose your poison.

> Carrie sat silently,
> staring at her folded hands

JOEL: Digital digits.

> on the table in front of her. Dot cleared
> her throat gently.

TOM: Uh, one of us has to order.

> "Carrie," she said, "We need you to tell us what
> you know about us."

JOEL: Use both sides of the paper if necessary.

> Carrie looked up, confused. "Why?" she
> whispered. Dot sighed quietly. "It’s the only way I know of finding
> proof that you’re a User."

CROW: Didn’t we just come from this scene?

> Carrie looked over at Bob, who flashed his
> killer smile,

JOEL: Aaah! Your smile — it’s … poi … son …

CROW: You did that already.

> and told her it was okay.

ALL: It’s OK.

>
> Carrie swallowed hard. This was exactly what she had wanted
> to avoid.

CROW: She’s got odd streaks of shyness.

> She didn’t want to reveal all her knowledge of Mainframe
> because she didn’t want to be looked upon as someone who encroached
> upon their privacy.

TOM: Oh, yeah, I can see how … huh?

> *Still,* she thought, *if it means getting home,
> I’ll tell them everything.*

JOEL: Begin with a comprehensive report about riboflavin.

> So taking a deep breath, Carrie began to
> tell them what she knew.
>
> Before she could really start, she was interrupted by a
> beeping.

CROW: Uh-oh. The plot’s getting in the way.

> Bob looked down at Glitch, then allowed the message through.

TOM: It’s from Star Fleet Command. It seems we have 139 star dates to kill the 26 invading Klingons before full-scale war breaks out. There are six star bases in our sector.

> The cube-shaped face of a one binome looked up from the circular
> viewscreen.

JOEL: For extra credit, see how many ways you can rearrange the words in that sentence and have it still make equal sense.

> He wore the distinct green helmet with visor of the
> CPU’s, alerting Carrie to the fact that this was important. "Excuse
> me, sir." the binome saluted,

JOEL: Hail Caesar.

> "Sorry to bother you,

TOM: But WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE!

ALL: [ Screaming ]

> but we’ve just
> recieved reports of a roaming tear left by the last game."

CROW: It’s making us look less manly.

> Bob
> nodded. "I’ll be over in a nano."

TOM: Nano … Visitor?

> he said, getting to his feet.
> "Where’s it located?" he asked.

JOEL: It’s a direct portal from FFD8 to Ontario. It may be plot-related.

> The binome looked down at the
> organizer he held, then returned Bob’s gaze. "That’s the problem,
> sir."

CROW: It doesn’t exist. Look, we were lonely, okay?

> he reported, "It’s located near Silicon Tor."
>

TOM: [ As Tor Johnson ] Time for go to net!

JOEL: That’s the new district. The ancient one is Germanium Tor.

> "Silicon Tor?!" Enzo said, "Dude! Can I come? Can I, can I?
> Huh?"

CROW: Enzo’s this close to getting his mouth module deactivated.

> Dot shushed him. "No, Enzo." she said, "Bob can do this
> alone."

TOM: No sense us risking *our* necks.

> Bob looked over at her as Glitch closed, ending the
> transmission. "No, not alone." Carrie interrupted,

JOEL: There is one other.

> and all three
> whirled to face her. "I know about tears." she said,

CROW: I’ve been holding them back for years … but I really love them!

> "And that little
> ball of energy could be my ticket home."

JOEL: Enzo?

> She slid out of the booth,
> and stood in front of Bob. "I’m going with you."

TOM: [ As Bob ] I wasn’t going.

> she told him,
> determindly. "Besides, I’ve always wanted to see the Tor."

CROW: His one-man show is to die for.

>
> * * * * * * * *
> * * *


[ To continue … ]

Reposted: The Fifth Talkartoon: Fire Bugs (with a surprise musical visitor)


The chat in the first couple paragraphs reflects a mistake I made back in November 2017 when this first appeared. I skipped one of the Talkartoons and reviewed the next and noticed only when I was about to hit publish. But after this and Wise Flies I get things sorted out, and don’t skip any cartoons except those that are lost or generally inaccessible.


OK, this time I think I have this pesky “order” of things worked out. With luck, I’ll soon do two Talkartoons in a row in the way they should be. We’ll see. This week’s is Fire Bugs, originally released the 9th of May, 1930. If Wikipedia’s right this is the first Fleischer Studios cartoon to credit the animators. So we know two of the people responsible for its look and humor: Ted Sears and Grim Natwick. Sears would go on to be the first head of the Disney story department. Natwick is famous for something coming up next week if I can do time right. I give that a 50-50 chance of happening.

So. First thought. There was a time when nobody had thought to use Franz Liszt for a cartoon. There was, incredibly, a first time that the strong beat and wonderfully varied melody and great, riotous structure of the Hungarian Rhapsody Number 2 was first set to an animated creature clowning around on the piano when something more urgent was under way. This was not that time. The earliest I’m aware of is the 1929 Mickey Mouse cartoon The Opera House. It’s hard to imagine there are many earlier cases. Still, Fire Bugs is one of the early examples of this song becoming the Golden Age of Animation composition.

I had stopped tracking when suspiciously-Mickey-Mouse-like mice appeared in these cartoons because we went a couple weeks without any. This cartoon more than makes up for their absence. Kind Of Mickeys are all over the first scene, in many of the subsequence scenes, and pretty well fill out what would otherwise be negative space in this cartoon. They never quite do much, but they run around, and that can be enough. At least one gets a good gag of being picked up by the fire hose.

There is a lot of fun in this cartoon. It’s a great example of the rubber-hose style where nothing just moves. It has to be wrangled out of shape and then it consents to move. It’s a look I really enjoy. It feels lively.

The title makes sense; it’s a cartoon about a fire fighter that I suppose is our second Bimbo cartoon. And the story parses too; the fire call comes in, Bimbo(?) and his horse Sparky make their way to the scene; they rescue the longhair musician despite his best efforts to finish his piece. It ends at a logical point, as the Hungarian Rhapsody does. Sensible.

There’s not really a blink-and-you-miss-it joke, or else I blinked. (The ‘Fire Water’ barrels in the basement are on-screen too long to really count.) I do like the swapping of positions between Bimbo and Sparky as they slide down the firepole. There’s also, yeah, some dull bits where they drag out a bit of animation, maybe to make sure we saw the pansies dancing, thank you, now move on. Maybe to make sure the cartoon didn’t come in too short. You’d think an apartment fire would be enough for a good cartoon.

The musician at the end saying “My father thanks you, my mother thanks you, I thank you, goodbye” is a pop culture reference. It’s riffing on the tagline of The Four Cohans, or as we know them if we watch a lot of Turner Classic Movies, James Cagney as George M Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy.

The horse’s name is surely a pop culture reference too. Sparkplug, or Sparky, was the name of Barney Google’s flea-bitten horse in the comic strip that, back then, was incredibly popular. I mean, like, popular in a way you’d think I was joking if I told you about. Peanuts creator Charles Schulz was nicknamed “Sparky” after that horse. I haven’t read the strips of the 1930s so I have no informed opinion about whether everybody was just crazy back then. But Comics Kingdom has been running the Barney Google strips of the early 40s, and yeah, they’re pretty interesting. The strip, like many back then, was a serial adventure comic. I could believe it being justifiably a craze.

I already was enjoying the cartoon, even if it stalled for time before getting to the apartment building, when the Liszt kicked in. After that I was fully delighted. Glad to see it.

What’s Going On In Rex Morgan, M.D.? What was the deal with Sarah and the museum? May – August 2021


Couple years back, in the last major story before Terry Beatty took over writing Rex Morgan, M.D., Sarah got mixed up with an art museum. It started with the museum soliciting art made by kids, to sell as a fundraiser. But it turned out Sarah was such a good artist that it impressed a patron with mob ties. That patron pressed on the museum to replace the charity book with one done entirely by Sarah Morgan. And she’d go to the museum to draw it, and be seen as part of the tour.

This was all a bit much. Among the things Terry Beatty did as writer was dial that back. Like, by making clear the patron pushing for all this was looking at Sarah as surrogate daughter. Like making her mentor for the museum-drawing — Rene Belluso — into a regular character with an amusing string of scams. Like turning one of the kids on a tour seeing Sarah — Edward — into a regular, with an impossibly ugly dog. And finally having Sarah get hit by a car carrying Soap Opera Amnesia Disease. She lost her too-precocious artistic abilities. And she realigned to something more in range of actual six-or-seven-year-olds.

The most recent story seems to be going back on that revision, and I don’t know Beatty’s long-term plan for it. The museum book incident’s weighed on Rex and June Morgan’s minds, at least. And this essay should catch you up to mid-August 2021 in Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D.. If you’re reading this after about November 2021, or if any news about the strip breaks, there’s likely a more useful essay at this link.

Rex Morgan, M.D.

23 May – 14 August 2021.

Kyle Vidpa, author of the Kitty Cop series of children’s graphic novels, was stuck with writers block. Fortunately Sarah Morgan, who’d warmed up on drawing stories about herself and her father doing several genres of adventure story, is a fan.

So she’s composed a hundred-page fan letter/fan fiction. And Rex Morgan had promised that Buck Wise, his friend and Vidpa’s licensing agent, would get it right to him. He’s taking his first break outside the home in a year-plus, visiting his parents, who don’t understand why he can’t use his real name on his books. His real name is Jake Rowling. Weary after a night of explaining the should-be-obvious-thesis that TERFs are bad even if standing near one might help your career, he gives in and opens the letter.

Kyle Vidpa, reading and thinking: 'Well, little Sarah Morgan, what have you sent me? ... Hmmm. ' [ After reading Sarah's 'Fan Letter' ] Kyle bursts into the bedroom: 'Lauren! Lauren! Wake up!' Lauren: 'What!? What is it? What time is it?' Kyle: 'I've GOT it! I've got the new KITTY COP book!' Lauren: 'You finally came up with an idea?' Kyle: 'Not just an idea! The whole book! It's right here!' Lauren: 'You wrote the whole next book in one night!?!' Kyle: 'No, not me, my little fan, Sarah! She sent me the next book. The whole thing's right here!' Lauren: 'What in the world are you talking about? You weren't even supposed to open that package, Jake.' Kyle: 'I know, but I'm glad I did. It's great, Lauren. Wait until you read it!'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 20th of June, 2021. I realize it’s just the inclusion of the “throwaway” top row of panels that made the adjective get repeated. But the repeated use of “little Sarah Morgan” made me think of that Sunday Phantom story about The Little Detective Who Disappeared. Anyway, I remember when I was around nine or so I had a whole sketchbook somehow and I was determined to draw a comic strip through it. And I concede that many people are better at the demands of fiction-writing than I am. My recollection is that the strip dissolved into completely dadaist nonsense by the fourth page and I hope the sketchbook was (a) never finished and (b) mercifully set on fire and the ashes scattered around the world so it could never be inflicted on mortals.

It’s love at first sight. Or story love anyway. Sarah’s story is perfect, a new Kitty Cop novel ready to go. It needs some work, yes, but “not much”. And it’s even inspired him for more books. All he has to do now is get permission to use this.

Do I buy that? … I have to answer that question in segments. Might reading someone’s fanfic break an author out of his writer’s block? Yes. Might it have ideas he wants to put into the canonical text? Sure. L Frank Baum wrote in the forewords to some of the later Wizard of Oz books how he was indebted to fans writing in. Do I believe that nine-year-old Sarah Morgan could have written a novel that needs just a little tweaking? Even given the evidence we have of her ability to compose stories? I don’t buy it. I choose to interpret this as Vidpa, happy to have his problem fixed, understating how hard turning Sarah’s story into a professional book will be. Creative energy, after a long dry spell, is often a bit manic.

June Morgan, to Sarah, who's standing upside-down: 'Australia may be on the other side of the world, Sarah, but people there don't actually live upside-down.' Sarah: 'Are you sure about that?' June: 'Yeah, I am.' Sarah: 'Phooey. Upside-down sounded like fun.' Rex: 'What do you want to do with the rest of your day, Sarah? Do you have another Kitty Cop story in mind?' Sarahh: 'Nah, why would I want to write another one? I already did that. Besides, it sounds like Jake has the whole next story figured out.' Rex: 'It did seem so when we spoke with him.' Sarah: 'I want to watch anime. Can we get crunchyroll, Dad?' Rex: 'Crunchy rolls? Like the hard rolls we have at dinner sometimes?' Sarah: 'No, Dad. It's a *TV Channel*. I want to watch 'Kirakira Pretty Cure A La Mode'.' Rex: 'You know, I have no idea what you're talking about. Does that have something to do with ice cream?' Sarah: 'Dad, we need to sit down and have a serious talk.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 8th of August, 2021. This strip came up in one of my love’s Facebonk groups, with people asking how it was possible for a single Sunday strip to read like it has a page of script missing. And I … just don’t see it, except that it’s fair for someone who dropped in without seeing Saturday’s strip to have no idea why Sarah’s upside-down in the first row. She was practicing being upside-down in case she ever moved to Australia. But I may be too accustomed to the style of the strip to realize how it reads to people who don’t expect, for example, that Sarah flitters between obsessions without keeping her parents in the loop.

So now all that’s left is making the deal. It’ll have to go through Vidpa’s literary agent and the Morgan’s lawyers. But she’ll get co-author credit plus royalties on the book and any new-character merchandise. So, that’s a nice step up on her college expenses, and she gets to pick out a pseudonym. Plus, Kyle Vidpa’s wife is pregnant, so he could get inspiration from within his own family in nine years.

And that’s the important stuff gone on in the strip the last several months. We seem to be transitioning to a new story this week, so I can begin November 2021’s plot recap without much prologue.

Next Week!

I try to explain what’s going on in Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp, which is going to be hard. The library plot I understand. But the summer plot, about golf? If I’m working this out right it’s about someone pretending to be a worse golfer than they actually are, for the reasons. I know, that doesn’t sound like I”m on the right track to me either”.

Reposted: The Fourth Talkartoon: Hot Dog (it’s just Bimbo)


This essay first ran in November 2017. It does give our introduction to Bimbo, although as I note, I’m not completely sure which character is Bimbo here. Character designs were looser things back then.


At least, Wikipedia says this is the introduction of Bimbo. He doesn’t look a lot like the figure I know from a lot of Betty Boop cartoons. But characters were more fluid things back then. The figures billed as “Betty Boop” before she got title credit are all over the place; why not Bimbo too? Here’s Hot Dog, originally released the 29th of March, 1930.

So, uhm. I understand that in the early days cartoons weren’t exactly plotted. They were sort of sketched out with the idea that here was the theme, and here are the obvious high points to hit, and each of the main animators would take a segment and do what seemed to make sense. It’s a hard way of doing things well. You can see why plotting took over. When this loose, semi-improvised format works it gives cartoons a wonderful jazzy vibe, even in the days before sound. Each segment is this joyous burst of nonsense and who cares if, like, different scenes are using different models for the star? When it doesn’t work there’s a slog of scenes that don’t have points repeating the one gag someone had for, like, a car going down the street.

Hot Dog is curiously in-between those. It’s got a clear plot. Bimbo is cruising the streets to pick up a woman. When he finally does it’s kinda assault-y, and a cop (who looks more like what Bimbo settled on than Bimbo does here) gives chase. Bimbo stumbles into one of those parades police are always having in Keystone Cops pictures and the occasional Harold Lloyd short. Marched into court, Bimbo pleads his case: it’s the Saint Louis Blues. With the song played well enough, he leaves.

It’s a surprising introduction to Bimbo. Betty Boop shorts prepare me to see him as the guy who points at stuff and says “Oh!” until they drag Koko the Clown out of retirement. I can’t fault him cruising for women. Picking up someone not even the slightest interested puts me in the weird case of rooting for the cartoon cop.

Thing is for all the clear direction of the plot there’s not a lot to watch here. It’s like all the animators figured someone else would have the showpiece bit. There’s some fair enough jokes in each bit. I like the car moseying by growing its tires into long legs, at about 2:07 in. There are a lot of little throwaway bits of silly business and things moving in that rubber-body style in the whole court scene.

But the whole cartoon plays like setup for jokes. There’s no really big scenes, no payoffs. And even for an era when you could count on any good bit of business being repeated there’s a lot of repetition here. And padding: why does it take so long for Bimbo and his car to appear in front of the woman he eventually grabs? Why spend so much time playing “Pop Goes The Weasel” while she just walks along the edge of the frame? I wonder if they didn’t realize the cartoon was running short and looked for stuff they could just repeat. I’m not sure I even have a favorite joke here. There’s some nice freaky 30s cartoon style humor in the grabbed woman growing roller skates out of her toes at about 3:03. And there’s the car tires growing into legs. The picture of Justice interacting with Bimbo. But that’s about it. It’s left me wondering if there’s some contemporary pop-culture reference here that I’m missing.

I didn’t spot any suspiciously Mickey Mouse-like mice. I suppose Bimbo is meant to be the Fleischer studios’ Mickey Mouse, but nobody would confuse him for Mickey at a glance.

The cartoon is in a weird state where the cartoon never gets around to anything bad, but it doesn’t have any good stuff either. Wikipedia claims this to be the first Fleischer Cartoon using grey tones, which I guess is so if you don’t look at Radio Riot. Maybe they mean using grey tones throughout the short. But in that case I’m not sure that the parade-of-police scene uses grey. Still, it has historic import for introducing Bimbo and, at 2:55 in, his immortal first words: “My[?] sweet-loving[?] sweet[?]” They were still working out sound in 1930. Also, apparently, how to pitch woo.

Reposted: The Third Talkartoon: Radio Riot


Yeah, I am in urgent need of a break in my workload. For a while, then, I’ll reprint reviews of the Fleischer Studios Talkartoons. This is the series that introduced Betty Boop to the world, although we’re not there yet. This essay first ran back in October 2017.


I didn’t ditch the second Talkartoon on purpose. It’s just that the short, a 1929 titled Marriage Wows, might as well be a lost cartoon. According to Wikipedia the UCLA film library has the nitrate elements for it. But otherwise? As far as I’m aware it’s not available online, and it might not even be available for normal non-scholarly people at UCLA to see. There is a 1949 Famous Studios short of the same title, but goodness knows whether it’s a remake of the early talkie. Possibly it is in part; the 1949 short is the sort of string of spot gags that would be as easily made in 1929. And the central song is Me and My Gal, from 1917. But the 1949 cartoon is a Screen Songs follow-the-bouncing-ball short. Talkartoons, as far as I know, never did that. Besides, Fleischer Studios already had the Screen Songs series going in 1930.

I’ll put that aside and go on to the next Talkartoon. Originally released the 13th of February, 1930, it’s Radio Riot. There’s no credits for it, besides the Directed by Dave Fleischer title, but we’ll start getting some idea who drew stuff in the next couple cartoons.

So there we have it. First, yes, the title makes sense and has something to do with the cartoon. The framing device is a day’s worth of radio programming. Morning exercises, a musical number, a scary story for impressionable kids. It’s a short programming day but after all it is only an eight-minute cartoon. It’s a framing device much like SCTV used in its first season, before they got into telling plots of the backstage happenings.

As with last week’s Talkartoon, Noah’s Lark, I believe this cartoon was drawn on paper. After the first scene there’s not much grey in the cartoon; it’s in black and white, mostly. I suspect the frog’s scenes were done on animation cels, and the rest on the old-fashioned white paper.

Speaking of the frog. I know there’s animation fans who see a frog of this vintage and think of Ub Iwerks’s Flip the Frog. He was the star of a couple dozen genial shorts after Iwerks left the Disney studios and set up his own animation company. It’s coincidence, though. The first Flip the Frog cartoon was released in August 1930. Frogs must just have been in the air.

There’s a double dose of Suspiciously Mickey Mouse-like characters. First there’s a pair doing exercises in the scene starting about 3:18 into things. And then there’s a bunch more, mouse kids I assume, in the ghost-story scene that starts at 6:19 and closes out the short.

I’m not sure there’s a proper blink-and-you’ll-miss-it gag that I really liked. Possibly the way the exercising radio receiver and table about 1:15 in are out of step with the frog’s direction. But I did enjoy the frog explaining the exercise program was brought to you by the “Noiseless Biscuits Company”. It sounds enough like a company name that you don’t right away notice the nonsense. That’s often the best sort of nonsense.

The most startling joke to me: the goldfish doesn’t jump back in the fishbowl! The heck, guys? It also looks to me like the first pair of mice meet a grizzly yet not-quite-on-camera end. There’s implicitly something sad going to happen to those flies caught on paper as part of that radio star’s “Where o Where Has My Little Dog Gone?”. Video is innocent in this one.

Does the short have an ending? Yes, it has. The framing device implies there’ll be a last broadcast of the day, and of the short, and that makes narrative sense. And the scary part makes for a good closing act. I am again satisfied.

Statistics Saturday: Most Commonly Used Words When I Write Cursive, Apparently


  • rmffmnmrmoffmomifms (?)
  • striiisng (?)
  • Skareneslm (?)
  • adflemnoriiis (?)
  • thent (?)
  • Argranis’t (?)
  • snozzigigqq (?)
  • Gesorningblatz (?)
  • pank (?)
  • Fernowerz (?)
  • enfloorowore (?)
  • w’tna (?)

Reference: Second Founding: New York City, Reconstruction, and the Making of American Democracy, David Quigley.

Reposted: The First Talkartoon: Noah’s Lark


I have hit a particularly bad stretch of … everything … and need to scale back my workload even more. So I’m putting my King Features Popeye rewatch on hold. In the meanwhile to preserve this posting-every-day thing that’s apparently important to me here’s a republishing of my thoughts about the first Fleischer Studios Talkartoon, Noah’s Lark. I first published these thoughts back in October 2017. What’s changed in my evaluation of this short? Who knows?


I’m feeling in a talk-about-cartoons mood so why not look to the Fleischer Studios’ Talkartoons? These were a string of 42 sound cartoons that the Fleischer Brothers made from 1929 to 1932, and it’s where Betty Boop made her debut. She’s not in this cartoon. It’s easy to suppose the Talkartoons were made in response to Disney’s Silly Symphonies series. I’m not sure that’s the case, though. This installment, for example, doesn’t have any particularly strong song component. There’s music throughout, of course. It was 1929; if you weren’t putting sound into your cartoons you were hopelessly behind the times, or you were Charles Mintz and too cheap to do sound. And I’m not even sure that’s true.

In any case Leonard Maltin’s Of Mice And Magic cites a June 1929 trade advertisement for the series. The first Silly Symphony came out in August 1929, and while every animation studio tried to copy Disney, it’d be a bit ambitious to plan the copying of something that hadn’t come out yet. Here, originally released the 25th of October, 1929, is Noah’s Lark.

So, some thoughts. First is that I think this short predates the use of animation cels. For most of the 20s the Fleischer cartoons were illustrations done on sheets of bright white paper. The advantage of this is that if you only need to move a small part of the scene — like the monkey’s arms in that scene about 1:15 into the short, or the hippopotamus singing while his chest tattoo moves at about 1:35 — you just need to draw that fragment of art and put it over the base. On many silent cartoons you can even see the tear lines of the paper.

Second: the title actually parses. I was thinking through the first half that they’d done the most obvious humorous variant on the common phrase “Noah’s Ark”. But by bringing the action to Coney Island — Wikipedia says Luna Park, but I don’t know how they can pin it down to that, given that there’s no particularly iconic rides on display — they justify calling it a lark. Good, then.

That fun old-style stretchy-squashy-playing with geometry: I like the ship’s portholes bouncing around merging together to let the elephant out. Also the … magpies? Crows? Possibly penguins? … at about 2:22 in that need three of them with bicycle pumps to unflatten their comrade.

The Suspiciously Mickey Mouse-like character enters into this cartoon at about 5:00 in. The Blink-And-You’ll-Miss-It gag with the best laugh was on the carousel at about 4:50 for me.

There’s a recording of The Stars And Stripes Forever in here that I wonder if they didn’t use in the first couple Popeye cartoons as his post-Spinach action music.

Does this short have an ending? … I suppose so. The idea that the animals are out on Shore Leave does contain the implication that Shore Leave has to stop, so there’s a tolerably set-up conclusion to the short and a reason for the final scene to happen. I’ll allow it, but I’ll listen to contrary opinions.

MiSTed: Reboot: Breaking the Barriers (Part 5 of 16)


The fifth part of my Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan fiction begins with a tag for commercials. This reflects a tradition, at least in people writing long-form MiSTings, to structure their stories the way the actual show was. Which, in those days, was divided into four pieces. The first piece had two host sketches to start and one to finish, and the rest in the theater. The second had nothing but theater time. The third piece had a host sketch to start and another to end. The last piece had mostly theater time, but a host sketch to conclude, plus credits.

I enjoyed, when I had the energy to write long pieces, respecting this structure. If I ever reorganize the Tale of Fatty Raccoon I’ll try to frame it with host sketches in that way.

This MiSTing is of Carrie L—‘s Reboot fan fiction, “Breaking the Barriers”. Again, while Carrie L— liked my work in around 2002 when it was published, that was a long while ago. And as the protagonist is a version of the author, I’m withholding the name so as to avoid unnecessary humiliation.

The story so far — you can find the whole thing at this link — has seen Carrie mysteriously journey into the world within the computer. She’s met up with the heroes of the pioneering computer-animation show Reboot. And now, with series-hero Bob, she faces one of the great perils of the series. The mysterious User of the Reboot computer has started to play a game. For the user, it’s a pastime. For those trapped within the game, it’s life or deletion.

I have no recollection at all what the “red card key” line refers to. I’m open to nominations for what it could possibly have meant. To help frame your answers please remember this was written, I believe, in late 2002 but certainly no later than 2003. Also while my interests have changed some in the past 18 years, I’ve always thought about things the same way I do now.


[ COMMERCIALS ]

[ THEATER. TOM, JOEL, and CROW file in. ]

> * * * * * * * *
> * *

CROW: This is the toughest piece to play in Tetris.

>
> Part Ten
>
> Dot and Enzo stood outside the game cube watching for a sign
> that Bob had won the game.

JOEL: [ As Dot ] They’re watching back at us!

> "Come on, Bob!" Enzo shouted, "Kick their
> bitmaps!!" Dot pulled out her organizer and called Phong.

TOM: Isn’t he busy helping A-tor?

> As his
> face appeared on the small screen, Dot asked him if he knew how things
> were going in the game.

JOEL: [ As Enzo ] The Babylonians just wiped out the Russians, and the Aztecs built Marco Polo’s Embassy so I’m redirecting my project to Leonardo da Vinci’s workshop … I think we can pull this out.

> "Bob is doing quite well, my child," Phong
> assured her, "they should be out soon."

CROW: Just like the last 68 times you asked.

> "Thanks Phong." Dot said, and
> left him to continue scanning the game. Looking up at the cube, she
> frowned. The cube had landed on an empty sector,

TOM: And the only starship in it was the Enterprise.

> yet Phong had said
> ‘they’, was that just a slip up, or did Bob have another sprite in
> there with him.

JOEL: That would imply Mainframe has more than eight people in it.

>
> ———————————————————————-
> ——————————-

CROW: This is gonna be a tough "Hangman."

>
> Meanwhile,

TOM: [ As the narrator from "Dangermouse" ] Look, is that all I’m going to have to say this episode?

> inside the game…..
>
> Carrie and Bob raced through the corridors. Bob looked down
> at Glitch. "Game Stats."

CROW: The Cubs lost.

> he ordered and Glitch whired to life. "How
> are we doing?" Carrie panted,

JOEL: We checked the game stats almost perfectly.

> as they continued to run down the hall.
> "We’re almost there," He said, "just down this hallway, to the right.

TOM: [ Snickering ] Swing the door wide open, don’t turn the light on!

> "Where’s The User?" she asked.

CROW: The one that isn’t you?

TOM: Yeah, hey, if this is Carrie’s computer then who’s on it?

> Bob pushed one of the buttons on
> Glitch, then laughed. "The User hasn’t even passed the third level
> yet!"

CROW: [ Snorting ] The schmuckle balls they let on computers these days.

JOEL: He’s trying to figure out how to get the red card key.

> He stopped running, and Carrie started to catch her breath.
> "The third level?" She gasped, "That’s five behind us!!" Bob nodded,
> and Carrie laughed.

TOM: Tournament Chutes and Ladders.

> "I guess we have no worries about it beating us
> there!" she giggled. "Let’s get into the chamber."

CROW: Won’t John McEnroe torment them, then?

> He turned towards
> the door, then stopped and faced Carrie again.

TOM: [ As Carrie ] Should we go kick sand in the user’s face some?

> He flashed her his
> killer smile, then grabbed her hand.

JOEL: Aack! Your smile — it’s — poi…son…

> He pushed the heavy door open,
> and they walked in together.
>
> The room sparkled and shone brightly. The walls of the
> chamber were made of the finest crystal in all colours.

TOM: *This* is where all that money invested in dot-coms went.

> Light was
> reflecting in all directions, the source was a beautifully ingraved
> gold box

JOEL: It’s where Grandmom keeps her sewing kit.

> set on a pedestal that appeared to be able to generate it’s
> own light.

CROW: It’s got Quentin Tarantino’s whole career in there.

> They walked toward it, marvelling in the splendor they
> were witnessing.

TOM: To sum up, it was way cool.

> Bob still hadn’t released Carrie’s hand, but she
> didn’t notice, or care for that matter, she quite enjoyed it.

TOM: She’s enjoying the sensation she’s not experiencing.

> They
> slowly approached the pedestal, staring in awe at this beautiful
> artifact.

CROW: [ As Carrie ] Ahem. The *Box*.

TOM: [ As Bob ] Right, right, sorry.

> "I guess that’s what we’re looking for." Carrie breathed,

JOEL: Now look for the little dot that says "You are here."

> afraid to speak in more than a whisper. "I guess so." Bob whispered,
> then he reached out to touch it.

JOEL: [ As the Wizard of Oz ] COME FORWARD, Cowardly Lion!

> "Wait!" Carrie said, grabbing his
> wrist.

TOM: No! Don’t touch it! It’s EEEEEvil!

> Bob looked at her, confused. "This is the biggest trick of
> all." She explained.

CROW: So remember which is your card.

> "When there’s more than one player, we have to
> touch the box at the same time or it releases the final trap.

TOM: It’s a little trap the game designer put in because he knew it’d be a plot point someday.

> I
> learned that the hard way a few times." Releasing his wrist, she
> smiled at him, then squeezed his other hand gently.

CROW: OK, let’s take a countdown, right? One, two, three …

> He returned her
> smile, and they reached out to the box at the same time.

TOM: I thought you were going to touch on three!

CROW: NO, I was going to count three and then say, "NOW!"

>
> * * * * * * * *
> * *
>
> Part Eleven

TOM: Now stepping out onto the high dive…

>
> The box was small, so when Carrie and Bob touched it, their
> hands overlapped gently.

JOEL: Oh, I think their rasters just interrupted the methods.

>
> "GAME OVER! GAME OVER!"

TOM: This is a bug hunt, man!

>
> Carrie closed her eyes as the game cube began to ascend into
> the sky.

JOEL: Cube-on, take me away!

> She could feel the bottom of the cube sweep over her,

CROW: OOh! You naughty, naughty cube.

> taking
> her game character with it.

TOM: That just means she changed clothes.

> As she opened her eyes, she looked at Bob
> and smiled.

JOEL: What would happen if they were dropped into a game of The Sims?

> As he returned her smile, they heard a sound behind them.

TOM: [ "Law and Order" type sting ] Dum-dummm!

> "Ahem."
>
> Bob and Carrie turned. There stood Dot and Enzo.

CROW: Enzo’s jealous ’cause Bob promised to kiss him next.

> Enzo looked
> as if his jaw was going to hit the ground and Dot looked like she was
> ready to delete someone.

JOEL: Let’s hope it’s Carson Daly.

> "Bob," she said, her anger tightly
> controlled, "Who is that?"

TOM: [ As Carrie ] It’s Bob.

JOEL: [ As Bob ] She means you, dear.

> Bob and Carrie looked at each other, then
> realized that they were still holding each others hands.

JOEL: Quick, pass them back to each other and put them back on.

> Carrie
> pulled her hands away, and stuck them behind her back. Bob smiled
> nervously, trying to lighten the subject.

TOM: So! Any questions?

> "Oh," he said, waving a
> hand at Carrie neutrally. "Dot, this is Carrie.

CROW: Add, this is carry. Clear?

> She’s…uh…she’s
> new to Mainframe." he stammered, "Carrie, this is Dot Matrix."

JOEL: Joan Rivers? Here?

>
> Carrie smiled at Dot, hoping to change her obvious first
> impression. "Hello."

TOM: She should try ‘READY.’

> Carrie said, "It’s a pleasure to finally meet
> you."

CROW: Aw, first dates are so awkward.

> Carrie’s mind raced. *Say something positive!* she thought.

JOEL: [ As Carrie ] Three minus five! D’oh!

> "Bob’s told me so much about you.

TOM: Just don’t ask Bob to tell you what.

> You’re Mainframe’s best
> entrepreneur, aren’t you?"

CROW: Shouldn’t that be info-preneur?

TOM: Not while we have a shred of dignity left in the world.

> Bob and Dot both looked at her surprised.
> "Well," Dot said, "I run a data diner in Baudway."

TOM: So let’s put on a show!

> Carrie smiled.
> *Good! I hit the right subject!*

JOEL: Talk *about* the other person’s interest, it can work!

>
> Carrie looked at Bob. "Oh yes," she said, "Bob told me about
> that. ‘Fastest food in Mainframe’!"

TOM: And he didn’t say a word about those five dead health inspec– [ Embarassed ] –tors.

> Dot smiled, obviously flattered
> by Carrie’s comments. "Why, thank you."

CROW: To show gratitude? To be polite?

JOEL: Huh?

> Dot said, then she frowned
> at Bob. "May I have a word with you?"

TOM: Only if it’s not "factotum."

> she asked him, "Please excuse
> us for a moment."

JOEL: You’re excused.

> she told Carrie and Enzo, and she pulled Bob off to
> the side.

TOM: [ As Dot ] I told you no-more-fanfic-writers!

> "Bob, why were you two in the game together?"

CROW: A big cube fell on them.

> Bob glanced
> over at Carrie, who was talking to an excited Enzo.

JOEL: Enzo’s easily excited.

> Taking a deep
> breath, Bob began to explain what had happened.

CROW: In the beginning, there was FORTRAN.

>
> * * * * * * * *

TOM: didididit didididit

> * *

TOM: didit.

CROW: A Muppet News Bulletin.


[ To continue … ]

60s Popeye: Jeopardy Sheriff, in which Poopdeck Pappy does *not* capture Alex Trebek


Today’s short, from 1960, is one of the rare Gerald Ray-produced Popeye shorts. The direction is credited to Tom McDonald. There’s no story credit given. I can offer a small content warning: at two points in the story Poopdeck Pappy tells a tall tale about fighting “Injuns”. If this seems slight enough not to bother you let us proceed with Jeopardy Sheriff.

I mentioned the other day the curse of competence to tend to be boring. It doesn’t have to be, though. Nothing has to be boring. Here, Gerald Ray studios puts together another variation on the Poopdeck-Pappy-gets-in-a-fix plot. It’s got a nice energy to it, and enough action. Someone experienced with stories might not be surprised by the plot developments. But surprise isn’t necessary to stories.

We start with Poopdeck Pappy telling an enthraleld Swee’pea a tall tale about being a sheriff. He backs into Popeye, who “if I told you twice I told you once” doesn’t want Swee’Pea raised that way. Pappy goes off to sulk while Popeye tells a “nice, true fairy tale” to Swee’Pea. On the TV, there’s a report of a bank robbery and of a weird old sailor claiming to be Sheriff Poopdeck Pappy interfering. Popeye knows what happens any time Pappy gets out of eyesight.

The bank robbers — none of them Brutus, this time — have Pappy captured. In the chaos, Popeye’s able to free Pappy, who rides on the back of the getaway car to the gangster’s hideout. Pappy’s captured again, as is the pursuing Popeye. And worse, the gang has a pickpocket who snatches Popeye’s spinach! Pappy’s able to snatch a gun, shoot open Popeye’s spinach, eat it, and punch the whole gang into jail. With his skill proven Popeye is happy to listen to Pappy’s tall tales again.

Popeye looking glum as the gang of bank robbers have surrounded him, tied him to a chair, hold many guns on him, and have lifted his can of spinach.
Popeye got up this morning not expecting to be abducted by a bunch of heavies from a Total Television studios production.

You can tell how Popeye’s not the protagonist here by how he doesn’t bust up, or want to bust up, the bank robbery. He’s totally able to eat his spinach and punch the robbers from the Lefr Bank all the way to City Jail if he had the power to drive the narrative. But Pappy’s got it, even if Popeye might have more screen time.

No complains here about story structure. Or pacing. If you’re tired of the American Cornball comedy style you might not like the opening scene where Pappy slowly backs up into Popeye while warning about not letting ’em get behind you. But if you like that style, or if you don’t know how that setup must pay off, then it’s a well-constructed joke that only gets better the longer it builds. And there are a lot of nice bits of small silliness, things that the cartoon doesn’t need but is better for. Popeye opening the story of Goldilocks by talking about the three bears, “Moe, Sam, Lefty, and George”, and while you might count four, “those are the bear facts”. Popeye bursting in to the bank robbers crying out “Don’t touch a hair on that old grey head” — I trust it’s a Barbara Fritchie reference — mirrored by his bursting into the gang’s hideout with “don’t touch a head of that old grey hair”. The TV news reporter also drinking a cup of coffee, which I assume refers to something someone in 1960 would recognize. Even good little word manglings, like crying out “are ya comin’ peaceably or do I have to use forceps?”

All told, yes, a competent cartoon, done with enough flair to be pleasant.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Sundays)? What is this Visitor the Phantoms keep getting? May – August 2021


The Sunday continuity has been The Current, 21st, Phantom, telling of encounters four previous Phantoms had. These all involved The Visitor, who looks like The Phantom, and seems to have knowledge and abilities only The Phantom should have. We’ve now seen stories from all the four previous Phantoms to encounter The Visitor. This implies we’re near the end of the backstory. But we haven’t got any hint what The Visitor “really” is, yet.

What we know seems hard to square with a rationalist, scientific explanation. But The Phantom universe is one that has non-rational, magical elements. Me, I would be satisfied if The Visitor remains a mystery, but I am fond of fictional universes with weird craggly unexplained bits. And I understand readers who dislike having a mystery presented and then unresolved.

This should catch you up on Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s Sunday-continuity The Phantom for mid-August 2021. If you’re interested in the weekday storyline, with The Phantom maybe breaking Captain Savarna out of Gravelines Prison? Or if you’re interested in the Sunday stories and reading this after about November 2021? Then you’re likely to find a more useful post at this link.

The Phantom (Sundays).

16 May – 8 August 2021.

Since I took to reading this comic to do plot summaries I’ve gotten to see The Ghost Who Walks in many moods. The current Sunday story has had him in a giddy mood. It’s a fun change. He’s bubbling over with excitement at sharing a mystery with Bandar kids. Also at showing off his newly-renovated Hall of Costumes. But mostly it’s about the story.

In the time of the 3rd Phantom a strange figure — The Visitor — appeared to Bandar villagers. The Visitor looked indistinguishable from the Phantom. But he ignored them. He left footprints. The footprints vanished. That’s all anyone knows of it.

The 6th Phantom, looking at the Chronicles: 'Extraordinary! T-these immortal words have been written in my own hand!' Current Phantom, explaining the past's encounter with The Visitor: 'An ancient Roman poem the 6th Phantom knew well. He'd been made to learn it as a headstrong boy too brave for his own good! One more thing before we move on ... the 6th Phantom's doppelganger appeared in the Deep Woods just before my ancestor set out on a particularly dangerous mission. He'd smash an infamous gang of cutthroats ... reform those most capable of it ... and recruit them as the founding corps of the famed Jungle Patrol.' Julie Walker: 'That's how he met his future wife! Natala of Navarre! Oh, I *know* this story! Darling, that's why The Visitor appeared! To remind the Phantom of the poem! So he'd *live* long enough to marry Natala and have the son they had!'
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 4th of July, 2021. Oh yes, so part of the mystery, besides disappearing out of rooms with no unwatched exits, is being able to forge The Phantom’s handwriting. Especially as the Actual Phantom was nowhere near the Deep Woods, which would seem to rule out sleepwalking or hypnosis or other obvious explanations. (The Phantom was not in the area for the first few appearances of The Visitor either.)

The Visitor next appeared in the time of the 6th Phantom. A girl of the Bandar tribe saw The Visitor enter Skull Cave and write in the Phantom Chronicles. And disappeared once cornered in the Chronicle Chamber, which I need hardly tell you has only the one exit. The Visitor’s message? A transcription from the Odes of Horace. The 6th Phantom had memorized the piece about the difference between courage and recklessness. It was an issue he always struggled with. It would prove a timely reminder to him before another big adventure.

The 12th Phantom was the first to see The Visitor. Briefly, in Skull Cave. Later, in some city, working his way through 2d6+6 henchmen, the 12th Phantom found … the place cleared. All the minor villains knocked out, and with the skull mark of the Phantom’s ring on their foreheads.

On to the 16th Phantom, who saw and talked with the Visitor. Who was as fast on the draw as the Phantom was. Who told the origin story of the Phantom legend, turned, and disappeared.

And those are the facts as we have them handed down to us.

Next Week!

Fanfiction! Fanfiction and Crunchyroll! No, I’m not trying out for Zippy the Pinhead: The Next Generation. I’m thinking of what’s happening in Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. so I can recap it next week, if all goes to plan. I know one of the Facebonk groups my love is on would like to have Rex Morgan, M.D. explained, except that they’ll have forgotten they cared about the strip by next Tuesday. Too bad.

60s Popeye: Mirror Magic, and look, it’s Popeye’s mother!


Today we’re back to the Paramount Cartoon Studios, and another Seymour Kneitel-fest. He gets credit for story, direction, and production in this 1960 Popeye cartoon. So let’s give that to him and see what Mirror Magic is all about. It’s not much magic, especially not compared to Popeye and the Magic Hat.

There is a curse to competence. It tends to be boring. The last couple Jack Kinney cartoons I looked at had sloppy stories and a lot of animation cheats. But that also gave them this weird, unpredictable nature. Here, Paramount Cartoon Studios, which had been animating Popeye for 27 years already, gets all the craft of cartooning right. But it’s less fun.

The story is an adaptation of Snow White. For once it’s not a story Popeye tells to Swee’Pea. Jackson Beck in his narrator voice sets the stage, in the land of Muscleonia, where the strongest man rules. Little Popeye, whom we meet as an infant lifting his grandmother in her chair, is destined to be strongest in the land. We see it in scenes like Popeye bringing all the cows in the pasture in when his mother asks him to. Also we see Popeye’s Mother, the only time — in animation or in the comic strips — I remember seeing her.

King Brutus doesn’t suspect until the Magic Mirror, Jack Mercer doing his best Ed Wynn, drops the news that the change of might has happened. And so Brutus goes in disguise to kill an unsuspecting Popeye. He tries by dropping stuff that would kill a normal man, all of which Popeye shrugs off. Funny enough. Also interesting: despite the title, there’s no use of magic besides the Wynn Mirror’s ability to tell who’s strongest in the land. And not warn of anyone stronger growing up. Brutus drops his disguise, for not much reason, but gets the drop on Popeye, who eats his can of spinach. I was surprised he had a can. I’d expected the vase he was knocked into to happen to contain spinach.

Popeye, having noticed the back of his outfit was chopped off by a fallen scimitar, turns around to see Brutus, in his old-lady guise, about to smash him with a chair.
“He’s got a chair! He’s got a chair! Oh, what a moment for the referee to have turned his back to scold Popeye’s manager!”

It’s all done competently. The one moment I didn’t understand was Popeye saying how he couldn’t hit an old lady, and Brutus tearing off his old-woman guise, declaring “So you’re not as strong as the mirror said you were!” But that’s a tiny logic gap, so compelled by the plot needs you might miss it. And there are a few neat bits, mostly animation of Brutus leaning into the camera. But that’s all. You can tell from how much of this essay is recapping what happened that I just watched the story, nodded, and didn’t have deeper thoughts about it. The cartoon proves that not everything this era was badly made. But I know which of the last couple cartoons I’ll remember in two months.

At the end of the cartoon Popeye sings about how he’s Popeye the Sailor Man, even though he’s been established as the Pleasant Peasant throughout, and has not been in the same frame as any more water than the glass he holds. I trust there is an explanation for this blunder.

60s Popeye: Popeye and the Magic Hat; yes, this is finally the one where Popeye’s a giraffe


We come to the finish of this little run of baffling Jack Kinney-produced cartoons. With a story by Osmond Evans (whose only story credit before this was Popeye the Fireman, though he has animation direction credits) and animation direction by Ken Hultgren, this 1960 short takes us on a tour of moments that raise the question, “Huh?” Here is Popeye and the Magic Hat.

So there’s a line here where Olive Oyl says of stage magician Brutus that she thinks he’s a big fake. This comes after she’s gone to see his show. He’s produced fireworks, a stream of water, several brass instruments, and petunias which he gave her. Brutus has taken Popeye as a volunteer. Brutus has made Popeye’s clothes jump off his body, then back on, then turn into a baby’s outfit, then a caveman’s, then a clown’s, then a ballerina’s, and then into a matronly gown. And then had a Jeep — Eugene, I assume — appear, crawling all over Popeye. Then had an apple appear on Popeye’s head. Then made Popeye’s legs disappear, along the way to making all Popeye’s body vanish, right out there on stage. And then gave him a body that would be big for Aunt Eppie Hogg over in Toonerville Trolley.

What sensible reason does Olive Oyl have for calling Brutus a “fake”? What would constitute “real” magic?

On stage, Olive Oyl is transformed into a seal from the neck down. She looks startled. Popeye leans in from behind the curtain looking aghast.
Is this one of the ordinary risks you assume by attending the show that they warn you about on the ticket to get into the studio? Olive Oyl in the seal form wears this nice teal scarf that I had mistaken as an accessory she was wearing as a human. She wasn’t, so I’m curious why it so evoked Olive Oyl to me. Maybe the color was enough like that blouse she wore in some of the 1940s shorts.

I focus on this as representative of this short’s baffling nature. The rough outline makes sense and has been done before. More than one time. (With variants.) The specifics are weird. Why does Olive Oyl call Brutus a fake after that? Why does Popeye say something like “Dreamy Squeamy, [ Brutus ] gives me the popcorn!” Why is Eugene the Jeep hanging around Brutus? Is he actually doing the magic and Brutus only does the patter? How much of this short is made up of Brutus waving his magic wand down and up once? I like Brutus responding to Olive Oyl’s cry of “fake” by turning her flowers into fish. Why does he then turn her into a seal? And then do a stunt of bouncing 10- and 16- and really-heavy weights off her nose and at Popeye?

And then we get a string of transformation jokes. Popeye asks if Brutus is trying to make a monkey out of him, because he hasn’t learned from past cartoons like this. And then he’s a monkey for a bit. Brutus turns them back to normal. Then turns Popeye into a giraffe and Olive Oyl into a flamingo, because of reasons he doesn’t share with us. Popeye grabs the wand, creates a Delux [sic] Giant Size can of spinach and turns everything back to normal. Brutus flees into his hat, and Popeye and Olive Oyl follow. The resulting fight decimates Liddsville, but saves the animation budget because a hat jumping around is easy to animate. (There is a lot this short that’s easy to animate. The characters mostly stand still on a blank background, alone, while looking at the opposite corner.) And then the hat opens out wide and everybody pops up, a happy performing family talking about how “you were both adorable!”

Olive Oyl, holding her hands together, looks up at Popeye, who's been transformed into a giraffe and stands so tall that nearly his whole neck is out of frame. The giraffe wears an adapted version of Popeye's shirt.
“Popeye! You come down here this minute and explain why your shirt changed to fit you as a giraffe but your pants just disappeared!”

So … uh … what? What just happened and why? Was this all a stunt, with Popeye and Olive Oyl confederates making it look for the TV audience like they were fighting? And now breaking the scene to let everyone know it’s all right? Having written that out, I admit, I can read that as clever. That Popeye and his cast are performing the roles of antagonists in hundreds of these little scenes. There’s a reason his comic strip was named Thimble Theatre.

There are thrills in looking hard at these 60s cartoons rather than, like, the Fleischer cartoons that everybody loves. One is how weird the cartoons could get. There wasn’t the time and money (and maybe talent) available to make clear stories well-animated. This can produce a wild, bracing freedom. Until it happened I had no idea this cartoon would involve Olive Oyl turned into a performing seal. That surprise is a delight and I’ll take that, if the cost is my being sure why these things happen in this order.

On stage, Popeye is startled to find he's wearing a blue clown outfit with yellow polka dots, including a big pointed cap and humongous clown shoes.
Hey, it’s Popeye as the host of a 1960 kiddie cartoon presenting Popeye cartoons! Which goes along with the idea that all this action is “really” a show the gang is putting on for the audience within the cartoon and also the one at home. It’s probably a coincidence.

Seeing Popeye as a monkey and Olive Oyl as a flamingo got me wondering. So far as I know there hasn’t been a short that cast the Popeye gang as animal versions of themselves. (I’ve forgotten almost all the Hanna-Barbera series, but King Features has got some of it on their YouTube channel. And I’ve seen none of Popeye And Son.) It could freshen up a stock plot if you have new-looking animation and can toss in a bunch of animal jokes among the regular dialogue. I suppose it would cost too much, redesigning the characters and having to replace all the stock animation cycles for the one short. Could be it’s somewhere in the comic books, or should be. I’m interested in seeing adventures of Popeye the Monkey and Olive Oyl the Flamingo.

Statistics Saturday: Apollo 15 By The Numbers (corrected)


Editorial note. Due to an editing error last week’s chart included the number “1”, representing the number of deep-space spacewalks (as opposed to moonwalks) during Apollo 15. Although that statistic had been considered, the intention was to instead present the number of parachutes which failed to open during the (safe) splashdown. I regret the mistake and include the corrected chart here. Thank you for your understanding.

Pie chart of unlabelled numbers, such as '15' and '4,100,000,000' or '295:11:53' which all do have some relevance to the Apollo 15 spaceflight, but all unlabelled and unorganized so there is no meaning to any of them.
Still not depicted: 26.975, 560.389, or 4.687.

Reference: European History 1648 to 1789, R M Rayner.

In My Defense I Never Said the Song Was Bad, I Just Disagree With the Universality of Its Asserted Premise


Me, in 1984: Oh, Tears for Fears, you fools. I have not the slightest desire to rule the world! It would be no end of fussy petty decision-making. Every day would just be all this reading of data and projections and calculations to try and meet some goal it might not be possible to prove was met.

Me, from 1985 onward: [ Spends all his spare time playing ever-more-elaborate simulation and management games, apart from the time he spends thinking up even more ridiculous and fiddly management games. Earlier this year I had the idea for a game where you’re the Chief Financial Officer for a corporation big enough to need elaborate cash-management, such as by deciding how much to raise by stock issues, how much by bond issues, how much by commercial paper, how much by letters of credit, and so on. ]

MiSTed: Reboot: Breaking the Barriers (Part 4 of 16)


And now the fourth part of my Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan fiction. This of Carrie L—‘s Reboot fanfic, ”Breaking The Barriers”. Again, this MiSTing was done with Carrie L—‘s approval, but as it is a self-insertion fan fiction, I want to obscure her name unless she communicates to me that she’s not embarrassed with a youthful presentation of her story-ready self.

The full MiSTing should be available at this link. So far in the story, Carrie was puttering around on her computer when she got mysteriously zapped to the world inside. She met up with Bob and Phong of the pioneering animated cartoon Reboot. Carrie’s reluctant to reveal her true origins, lest she sound daft. But otherwise it looks like everyone is happy and everything is fine and there’ll be no problems from here on out!

The host sketch at the end, Joel talking about the eight-bit computer era, is one of my first exercises in exploring my own nostalgia. It began as a rambling monologue, along the lines of Joel talking about the swinging 60s in the episode “Catalina Caper”, but a friend said it was too self-indulgent. I think it could have played well, but that depends on the performer. And it’s asking a lot of the reader to go through a wall of text and read it funny. Breaking it up into dialogue makes it much better. Easier to read and easier to read funny in your head. This even though (as I recall) I didn’t really change the lines or where they were placed. Just putting them in different character’s mouths changed how the scene played.

I still use “the computer had 16 colors, and three of them were grey” to talk about what computing in the 80s was like. “We may not have been there, but that doesn’t mean we don’t know all about it” is a line I don’t use much but appreciate for the attitude it captures.

There’s lines in there about all the big eight-bit computers but my experience was centered on the Commodore 64 so that’s where the jokes default. Also note how in 2002 when I wrote this I somehow couldn’t think of a more universal annoying computer experience than “there’s a lot of spam in that there e-mail thing, you know”.


>
> Part Eight
>

JOEL: We’re going to have every part except the one that completes the jigsaw puzzle.

> Since Phong wasn’t able to do much more for them,

TOM: He’s genial, but kind of helpless.

> and had
> responsibilities for running the Principle Office,

CROW: That’s where they get their ethics.

> Bob and Carrie
> headed back to his apartment to try and work out how to get Carrie
> home.

JOEL: Why doesn’t Carrie just try saying "Xyzzy" some?

> On the way there, Bob called Dot and told her to meet him at
> his apartment.

TOM: But in a wacky mixup they go to different Bob’s apartments!

> On the way there, Bob began to ask Carrie about her
> home. He was curious to know what it was like.

JOEL: [ As Bob ] So, do you have people where you come from?

TOM: [ As Carrie ] I don’t know… I never talked to one.

> As Carrie was
> describing her hometown, the sky suddenly darkened, and the sound of
> crackling static could be heard everywhere. "WARNING! INCOMING GAME!
> WARNING! INCOMING GAME!"

CROW: Red alert! It’s the Atari 2600 "E.T." cartridge!

JOEL: We’re surrounded! It’s "Superman" in the other direction!

>
> As the voice boomed through the sky, Bob cursed quietly under
> his breath. "Not now!!" He shouted, "Why now!?!"

TOM: Why not? You got someplace else to be?

> Carrie looked at
> him, fear etched into her delicate features. Bob looked over at her.
> *What am I going to do?* he thought, *I can’t let that game close
> without me, but I don’t want to endanger Carrie!*

JOEL: [ As Carrie ] Oh, all right, you go and *play* your little *game*, dear, I’ll wait up for *you*, I don’t have anything else to do.

> Bob saw the fear
> flash in Carrie’s eyes, then she smiled and the fear changed to
> burning fire. "What are you waiting for?"

CROW: I want to check the web site for cheat codes first.

> she asked, "We can’t let
> that game drop onto that empty sector, or it’ll be nullified for sure
> with no one to beat the User.

TOM: So get in there fast, before nobody’s at risk!

> You’re the one who knows the most about
> games,

CROW: You and Sid Meier.

> you’ve got to go." Bob marveled at her courage. "I’m not
> willing to risk your life!" He said.

TOM: Oh, just burn a copy of her to CD and don’t worry about it.

> Carrie shifted in her seat so
> that she was facing him squarely. "You don’t have a choice!" She
> shouted over the static, "The whole sector will get nullified if you
> don’t enter that Game!!"

JOEL: They should really just turn "disasters off" and maybe try auto-budgeting too.

CROW: There’s also the .% bond trick.

> Bob stared at her, then turned his car
> sharply. The engine in his 262 whined

TOM: Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…ricky…

> as it strained to pick up
> speed. "Hang on!" Bob shouted, "This is gonna be close!!"
>
> * * * * * * * *
> * * *

CROW: Made it in just under the chapter break.

>
> Part Nine
>
> Carrie opened her eyes slowly.

CROW: o/~ Ding o/~ Welcome to Carrie OS.

> She had tried to enter the
> game as fearlessly as Bob, but it had gotten the best of her and she
> had closed her eyes in fright.

TOM: She’s afraid of Q*Bert?

> As her eyes focused in the dim light,
> she began to recognize her surroundings. They were standing in a
> large cavern lit by a single flickering torch.

JOEL: She’s in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike.

> "I know this game…"
> Bob started. "It’s Crystal Chambers."

TOM: That’s not a video game, that’s a porn starlet.

[ JOEL, CROW look at TOM. ]

CROW: I think it’s the one with the bear collecting gems.

> Carrie said, and Bob turned,
> surprised. "The idea is to be the first to get to the final chamber a
> retrive the artifact without releasing any of the traps."

CROW: Hey, it’s inhumane to keep traps all trapped up like that!

JOEL: Let the traps go!

> Bob just
> stared at her, and Carrie giggled. "Don’t look so shocked, I’ve
> played this game before.

TOM: And make sure you don’t get caught by the Wumpus.

> I know all the secrets."

JOEL: Boy, she’s just got the *best* luck.

> Feeling confident,
> she reached up and touched her icon twice gently. "ReBoot!"

TOM: Ribbit!

> She
> could feel a wave of energy sweep over her. When it was gone, she
> opened her eyes and turned to Bob. "ReBoot!"

CROW: C’mon, reboot, darned you! Aw… would you jiggle the thing?

>
> Bob was surrounded by a beam of fluorescent green energy.

JOEL: [ Electrocution noises ] Buzzuzzuzzuzuzzuzzuzzerzzzert!

> When the beam faded, Carrie’s eyes began to wander down along Bob’s
> well formatted body.

TOM: Unfortunately, she was Mac, he was MS-DOS… they could never get along.

> His blue uniform had morphed into a worn leather
> jacket over a white shirt with brown pants and hiking boots.

JOEL: It’s a digital Fonzie.

> He was
> equipped with a carrying bag and a long bullwhip. Sitting fashionably
> on the top of his head was a rather beat-up looking fedora.

CROW: This is a weird Dixon Hill episode.

> He turned
> to face Carrie, and her heart skipped a beat.

TOM: Null pointer error in class Heart method advance(int beat).

> In that outfit, he
> looked absolutely stunning!! She let her eyes trace his body once
> again, then carefully returned his gaze.

CROW, TOM: [ In unison ] "What is ‘kiss’?"

> "You look like Indiana
> Jones." Carrie remarked, placing her hand on her hip. "You don’t
> look so bad yourself." Bob smirked, but his real thoughts were very
> different.

TOM: [ As Bob ] Who’s this Deanna Jones I’m supposed to be in?

> Carrie was wearing short cutoff jeans with a baby blue
> midriff blouse tied in a knot. She had tall brown boots with a long
> jewelled dagger attached to the right one. She also had a large gun
> holsted around her waist.

JOEL: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Daisy Dukes.

>
> *Wow!* Bob thought, *She looks awesome! I wonder if she
> dresses like that at home?*

TOM: And he accidentally sends that to an IRC channel.

> Then he reached up and tilted the fedora
> slightly. "Well," he said,

CROW: The problems of two sprites don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy mixed-up world…

> "If we’re gonna win this game, we better
> get a move on."

JOEL: They’re stored on ROM page four. We can get any move we need.

> Reaching up, he removed the torch from its holder,
> and they moved forward together into the unknown.
>

TOM: Let’s get back to the real game.

JOEL: [ Picking up TOM ] Works for me.

[ ALL leave. ]

[ 1… 2… 3… 4… 5… 6.. ]

[ SATELLITE OF LOVE DESK. The Monopoly set is on the center of the
table; GYPSY, CROW, JOEL, and TOM are gathered around to play.
All their tokens are on "Go" — the game is about to start.
JOEL rolls the dice. ]

JOEL: OK, that’s a six, that puts Gypsy [ moving her piece ] on the
State Forests edition … you want to buy it?

GYPSY: Yeah.

TOM: [ As JOEL takes cash from GYPSY’s pile, and gives a title card ]
Joel, what is it with human fantasies about going into the
computer’s world?

CROW: Yeah, there’s Reboot, there’s Tron, there’s … um …

TOM: Uh …

[ An awkward pause. JOEL rolls the dice, and advances MAGIC VOICE’s token ]

JOEL: [ Not paying attention as TOM and CROW think of an example ] You want the Peanuts edition?

MAGIC VOICE: Yes, please.

GYPSY: I hope I get the Lionel Train edition.

CROW: There’s…

[ As JOEL takes cash from MAGIC VOICE’s pile and turns over a card ]

GYPSY: Automan.

CROW: [ Leaping on it ] Yeah! Automan!

TOM: Yeah, and … uh … well, just lots of stuff. What’s with it?

JOEL: [ Rolling ] Ooh, sorry, Tom, you got a four.

TOM: [ As JOEL moves his piece to "Income Tax" ] Aw, sheesh. Still.

JOEL: [ Taking 10 percent from TOM’s pile. ] In the 80s we suddenly
had computers going from the mysterious impersonal things sending
Johnny Carson comically misaddressed letters to these curious and
friendly things in every home.

CROW: [ As JOEL rolls, and moves CROW’s piece up seven. ] Ooh, chance.

JOEL: [ Taking a card. ] Advance to London Edition.

CROW: I’ll take it. So, what, people just jumped on the newest thing?

JOEL: [ Rolling, advancing his piece to GYPSY’s, and giving her some cash. ] Well, there were a lot of articles about how computers think differently from you and me … me, anyway. How everything’s binary, yes/no, on/off, how they could turn ninety degrees but not just a smidgen to the side … it fired the imagination, there was this alien worldview there for the price of an RF adaptor to hook your Color Computer up to the living room set.

TOM: And that’s an excuse to put Desi Arnaz Junior on TV?

JOEL: Hey, the eight-bit computing era was a great time.

CROW: Hold on now. We may not have been there, but that doesn’t mean we don’t know all about it.

TOM: Mostly it was people saying you could keep recipes on an Atari 800 and being deservedly ridiculed.

JOEL: The Micro Adventure book series gave us a world of international espionage with the fantasy of portable computers and secret messages given us in X-Men comics. A few far-thinkers worked out schemes where two programs would run at the same time but we never knew why we’d want to.

TOM: The computer had sixteen colors, and three of them were grey.

CROW: It was an achievement to have both text and a graphic on screen.

JOEL: Or it was HIRES2 mode.

GYPSY: They thought everybody would have to learn BASIC.

JOEL: We knew something about Wordstar.

TOM: Another point for us.

CROW: You had to *type in* programs, especially if you forgot your *tape* drive.

JOEL: [ Noddding, happily ] And there were rumors how if you used the modem just right you could get free phone calls, of if you had the right sound programs you didn’t need a modem, you could just hold the phone up to the TV set.

GYPSY: Couldn’t you lose your program by looking at the disk directory?

JOEL: Yeah, if you didn’t move the start of memory for the listing, like who didn’t know how to do that?

CROW: Radio Shack pushed comic books.

JOEL: The Microcomputer Kids told us Superman’s brain was exactly as powerful as a TRS-80 Model I.

TOM: That was the pre-Crisis Superman, right?

JOEL: Yeah.

CROW: Mmm… that’s probably fair.

JOEL: They also said someday in the future we’d read the Metropolis Daily Planet on the computer, and play chess with students thousands of miles away, and shop online or even send electronic mail messages.

TOM: Yeah, the Coleco Adam was a slice of the 21st century dropped on your desk.

JOEL: We knew how to swap out ROM and fix the ASC function bug even if we never used it, ever.

TOM: The only thing animated on a computer was that guy juggling checkered balls on Amiga screens.

JOEL: Yeah! They’d never imagine the movie Rocky and Bullwinkle, Scooby-Doo, or Stuart Little 2.

CROW: Your disk drive got faster if you blanked out the screen.

JOEL: A good seven percent faster! Try that on today’s hardware.

TOM: And it went out of alignment whenever anybody in the county sneezed.

JOEL: Mine never did. Except once.

GYPSY: Wasn’t there a save-with-replace bug?

JOEL: Yeah, but if you remember how the 4040 turned into the 1540 and then the 1541 and 1571 it was completely avoidable. A lot of the time.

TOM: 3-2-1 Contact magazine claimed you needed to know what "modem" stands for.

JOEL: That was Enter magazine. It only folded *into* 3-2-1 Contact.

CROW: They put membrane keyboards on computers!

JOEL: On the Mattel Aquarius. We didn’t buy it then either.

GYPSY: A sprite could have color or be big enough to see.

TOM: The only messaging was to whoever logged on the bulletin board system after you freed up the line.

JOEL: But they helped you change your cursor to the USS Discovery from "2001".

CROW: You never got an upgrade or a bug patch either.

JOEL: And the computer was ready the second you turned on the power.

TOM: They tried to sell people the Commodore 16.

JOEL: And then somehow we got GEOS, Omni bought out Compute!’s Gazette and in the blink of an eye it was all gone. Computers became an expensive way to play solitaire and get fifty unwanted e-mails a day. But for a little while there was magic, there was love, there was a dream that was … Camelot.

CROW: And it came with lines to change if you were typing it in to an Apple IIc.

MAGIC VOICE: Commercial sign in five seconds.

JOEL: It was a golden age.

TOM: The computers were slow, cranky, and awkward.

[ COMMERCIAL SIGN flashes ]

JOEL: They couldn’t have been better. We’ll be right back.

[ JOEL taps COMMERCIAL SIGN. ]

[ to continue … ]

Statistics July: What Comic Strips People Like Me Complaining About


It’s as good a time as any to look at the past month’s readership figures. It’s early in the month, by my standards, but what the heck.

In June the number of page views around here rose a bit from June’s relative low. This to 4,406 page views, which is below the twelve-month running mean of 5,546.0 for the year leading up to June. That’s an era that includes April 2021, when a picture of mine got cited on a Reddit thread, distorting my averages, though. When I compare it to the median, though, a figure much less likely to be distorted by extreme events? That’s also below the twelve-month running median, which was 4,996 page views in a month.

Bar chart of monthly readership figures for two and a half years' worth of the blog. July's shows a slight increase in views but decline in visitors from June. Both are below the twelve-month averages leading up to this, in part because of a large spike in October 2020.
You know, technical traders say I’m right at the natural floor so this is a great time to buy shares in Another Blog, Meanwhile. They expect a swing up to about 7500 views per month by the end of the year.

The number of unique visitors dropped to 2,362 in July. That’s below the running mean of 3,372.9, and below the running median of 3,036.5. I don’t know why so many people decided I wasn’t worth paying attention to this past month. I’m all right. I have more popular story strip plot recaps coming up this August. (And I suspect some of it is the lack of people coming here from my mathematics blog, which was all-but-silent in July.)

Unusually active, though? Likes. There were 165 likes given to any post here in July, above the running mean of 129.3 and running median of 129. And wildly active were comments. WordPress tells me there were 130 comments here in July, triple the twelve-month running mean of 43.1 and the median of 40.5. I haven’t had that talkative a month since January 2018; it’s been the sort of time that makes people wonder if Garrison and I can’t just text each other. We cannot. My phone is such an old-fashioned device that I include salutations and a signature with each text. I can’t communicate with people in any real fashion on it.

The most popular things posted in July were, for a wonder, not all comic strips news. Oh, an essay about why Funky Winkerbean angered everybody who reads Funky Winkerbean, sure. And some news about Vintage Mark Trail and Vintage Prince Valiant. But, like, one was just a bit of actual dialogue committed to text. Another was something that sounds like a clickbait title, so I’m glad people seem amused by it. Here’s the five most popular pieces from July:

I am startled that there’s no What’s Going On In … piece in the top five. I don’t know when’s the last time one of my usual story comic recaps wasn’t among my most popular pieces. (A June 2021 update on Judge Parker was popular, but that’s not a July piece.) The most popular regular story-comic update posted in July was the Gasoline Alley recap. That story with aliens and old-time-radio.

But to speak of the story comics summaries. I’m still doing story comics summaries. My plan for the next month is to take these comics in this order:

I’m pushing The Amazing Spider-Man a week “late” because, I think, this will let my summary come after the end of the current storyline. And that will be the final Spider-Man update, as this gets the strip back into stories I’ve already summarized. Yes, I’d probably do a better job recapping them, but you know what’s easier than a better job? Not working. I figure to just run a big blank space once every twelve weeks and feel happy about it. That will change if Spider-Man goes back into production, or starts running stories I haven’t already recapped.

Also the Gil Thorp recap will be an exciting challenge. I have not got the faintest recollection of anything that’s happened since the library governance story ended.


93 countries sent me any views at all. 22 of them were single-view countries. Here’s the roster:

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 struggle to come up with a good alt text for this every month. It feels like anyone not seeing the image isn’t really missing anything.
Country Readers
United States 3,003
India 282
Canada 176
Greece 82
United Kingdom 82
Australia 71
Philippines 64
Brazil 56
Germany 53
Finland 46
Oman 33
South Africa 30
Spain 30
Italy 24
Ireland 19
Ecuador 18
Sweden 18
France 17
Netherlands 17
Russia 16
Mexico 13
Norway 11
Japan 10
Malaysia 9
Pakistan 9
Romania 9
Colombia 8
Hong Kong SAR China 8
New Zealand 8
Nigeria 8
Thailand 8
El Salvador 7
Argentina 6
Bahrain 6
Bangladesh 6
Chile 6
Czech Republic 6
Iraq 6
South Korea 6
China 5
Denmark 5
Israel 5
Portugal 5
Singapore 5
Taiwan 5
Bulgaria 4
Croatia 4
European Union 4
Indonesia 4
Mauritius 4
Belgium 3
Hungary 3
Puerto Rico 3
Turkey 3
Vietnam 3
Algeria 2
Jamaica 2
Jordan 2
Kenya 2
Lebanon 2
Libya 2
Montenegro 2
Nepal 2
Poland 2
Saudi Arabia 2
Serbia 2
Sudan 2
Switzerland 2
Trinidad & Tobago 2
Ukraine 2
United Arab Emirates 2
Austria 1
Barbados 1
Belarus 1 (*)
Dominican Republic 1 (***)
Egypt 1
Estonia 1 (*)
Guam 1
Iceland 1
Isle of Man 1
Kuwait 1 (*)
Kyrgyzstan 1
Latvia 1
Lithuania 1
Luxembourg 1
Madagascar 1
Morocco 1
Paraguay 1
Peru 1
Slovakia 1 (*)
Sri Lanka 1
St. Vincent & Grenadines 1 (*)
Zimbabwe 1 (*)

Belarus, Estonia, Kuwait, Slovakia, St Vincent & Grenadines, and Zimbabwe were all single-view countries in June also. Dominican Republic has been one view a month for four months now. I hope they really like whatever it is they choose to read.


WordPress figures I posted 25,348 words in July, for an average of 817.7 words per post. This is why I feel like I don’t have any time anymore. (It’s distorted by all those MiSTings, which are enormous but are also mostly written ages ago, and half of those by someone else.) July brings my words-per-posting for the year up to 702, the longest it’s been. I need to short some of these Popeye cartoons to make up the balance.

If you’d like to be a regular reader, thank you! You can get all these essays by their RSS feed, and never appear in my statistics. If you need an RSS reader, I can get you hooked up. This Old Reader is an option, for example, as is NewsBlur. Or you can sign up for a free account at Dreamwidth or Livejournal. Use https://www.dreamwidth.org/feeds/ or https://www.livejournal.com/syn to add RSS feeds to your Reading or Friends page.

If you’d like to get new posts before I can correct their typos, you can sign up for e-mail delivery. (It’s impossible to get all the typos corrected.) Or if you have a WordPress account, you can use “Follow Another Blog, Meanwhile” to add this page to your Reader. And I am @nebusj@mathstodon.xyz, the mathematics-themed instance of the Mastodon network. Thanks for reading, however you find most comfortable.

What’s Going On In Mary Worth? Why are Shauna and Ashlee fighting so much? May – July 2021


Ashlee and Shauna are two women with a violent hatred of each other in the current Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth story. It hasn’t been revealed how they know one another. They both have disreputable histories, and we can infer this somehow let each learn the other’s deal. Shauna thinks Ashlee is a grifter ready to take Drew Cory for all he’s worth. Ashlee thinks Shauna wants to get back together with Drew Cory. Both are correct so both have reasonable resentment of the other.

This should catch you up to early August 2021 in Mary Worth. If you read this after late October 2021, or if any news breaks about the strip, I should have a useful post here. Also, on my mathematics blog, I’ll soon be starting a little A-to-Z, a glossary project describing a selection of mathematics terms. You can read past A-to-Z essays, and suggest topics for this one, at this link. Thank you.

Mary Worth.

9 May – 31 July 2021.

When Dr Drew Cory ditched his scheduled photo-shoot date with Ashlee Jones she showed up at his workplace to yell at him. She accepts his apology that it was an emergency at work, since his workplace is the hospital. Over a make-up dinner she reveals she got fired from her waitress job.

Mary Worth shares her worry that she’s not in this plot with Jeff Cory, her perpetual not-fiancée and Drew’s father. Jeff says his son just always falls for wild, uncontrollable women. Like Shauna, who even served time in jail for petty theft. But she’s out of his life forever and ever now, so no need to worry there!

Drew, getting ready for bed, thinks 'I have feelings for Ashlee. It was fun to photograph her.' [ As Drew reflects on his photo soot with Ashlee ... ] 'What ... a ... day!' (He thinks back to moments from the day, photographing Ashlee in the fields, against trees, in a waterfall, and more.) Drew: 'Oh no ... Did I lose my Rolex?' [ Meanwhile ... ] Ashlee looks over his watch; 'Hmm ... I wonder how much I can get for this watch?'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 30th of May, 2021. You hadn’t quite asked but, yeah, I don’t know how Ashlee got his watch off either. Like, I (roughly) understand how in the city you might bump into someone and lift their watch while they’re distracted, but that doesn’t seem likely to work here. I guess he had to take his watch off, but for what reason? I don’t know but have to suppose Ashlee knows her business. Also: did she bring a change of clothes for that waterfall picture? Or was this spontaneous an they thought she’d dry off before it got too uncomfortable?

During their delayed photoshoot Drew loses his Rolex to Ashlee’s pocket-picking. Drew’s tale of regret at losing a gift from his late mother moves her, though. She returns the watch, claiming to have gone back out to nature and checked the ground. It’s a heartwarming moment, interrupted when who shows up at The People’s Clinic but Shauna?

Shauna has an instant resentment of Ashlee. Also a story that Ashlee’s a grifter who’ll use Drew and throw him away. Also a story that she herself has cleaned up her life since they broke up. Also dermatitis, the reason for her visit. Drew believes her about cleaning up her life and about the dermatitis. But the rest? How could Ashlee possibly be wicked when she’s always been nice to him?

[ After seeing his ex-girlfriend earlier, Drew endures a troubled sleep ... ] While moaning 'Shauna ... Ashlee ... ', Drew has a surreal dream where the two women tug on him, stretching him out in weird tangled loops. He wakes, crying out.
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 27th of June, 2021. Mary Worth sure seems like it’s been hitting the dream sequences a lot. They’re fun to see. I wonder if they’ve been writing to give June Brigman the chance to draw more wild art.

Ashlee and Shauna show up at The People’s Clinic again, and fight again. Ashlee decides to step up her grift. She gets Drew to agree to loan five thousand dollars to jump-start her modeling career. He’s slow to send it, though. Doctor stuff, although she suspects Shauna stuff. So she comes to The People’s Clinic to get her money already.

She catches Drew giving a lollipop to a little girl, and has a change of heart. She breaks up with her mark, by text. She claims to have a great job offer out of town, she won’t need the money, and she has to leave forever now. Bye. And she does leave town. This doesn’t stop Drew thinking about her, though.

[ As Drew remembers to send Ashlee five thousand dollars he notices her text ... ] Ashlee's Text: 'I just got a great job offer and won't need the money after all! I have to leave town ... sorry I couldn't say goodbye in person ... it's been real.' Cut to Ashlee, looking at waitress-wanted jobs and riding a bus out of town.
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 1st of August, 2021. This may seem like an overreaction to “decides not to rip off her boyfriend”. She gets off lightly, though. When you break up with someone in Luann you have to flee the contiguous United States. No joke; I can name four characters this happened to.

And that’s where things stand as of the start of August. It’s hard to believe the story is over, since nobody’s pair-bonded yet and there’s no sign of thanking Mary Worth for her contributions. So my guess is we’ve got another month or so before the next story. See you in late October and we’ll find out what’s right!

Dubiously Sourced Mary Worth Sunday Panel Quotes!

The auto care place up the street has changed its message a little bit, thanking Lansing for its support. It’s not only the economic development council. I hope this doesn’t signify a tiff with whoever gives out loans and grants around here. Meanwhile, here are inspirational quotes from the Sunday panels that could have been said by someone. Maybe even the named person!

  • “Human behavior flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge.” — Plato, 9 May 2021.
  • “I generally avoid temptation unless I can’t resist it.” — Mae West, 16 May 2021.
  • “Mysteries of attraction could not always be explained through logic.” — Lisa Kleypas, 23 May 2021.
  • “Love can sometimes be magic, but magic can sometimes … just be an illusion.” — Javan, 30 May 2021.
  • “The past is never the past. It is always present.” — Bruce Springsteen, 6 June 2021.
  • “Honesty is more than not lying. It is truth telling, truth speaking, truth living, and truth loving.” — James E Faust, 13 June 2021.
  • “It’s what you don’t expect … that most needs looking for.” — Neal Stephenson, 20 June 2021.
  • “Saying ‘yes’ to one thing means saying ‘no’ to another. That’s why decisions can be hard sometimes.” — Sean Covey, 27 June 2021.
  • “I’m a lover, not a fighter, but I’ll fight if I have to.” — Yungblud, 4 July 2021.
  • “There are no good girls gone wrong — just bad girls found out.” — Mae West, 11 July 2021.
  • “When someone else’s happiness is your happiness, that is love.” — Lana Del Ray, 18 July 2021.
  • “Life is always at some turning point.” — Irwin Edman, 25 July 2021.
  • “A woman’s heart is a deep ocean of secrets.” — Gloria Stuart, 1 August 2021.

Next Week!

The Phantom tells an incredible story of an immortal ghost who’s not him! It’s Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom, Sunday continuity, if all goes as planned.

The Name’s The Same


The thing is, if your name has a numeral suffix? Like, you’re YY Flirch III? Unless you’re a monarch or a Pope or something you don’t expect to keep that suffix your whole life. When YY Flirch I or II dies, you ascend to being YY Flirch II yourself. If they both die, you get to be YY Flirch I. Again, this if you started out as YY Flirch. If you started out as H K Fleeber you have other concerns. The thing we know is that if you’re YY Flirch III and also alive, then there’s a YY Flirch I and YY Flirch II out there being alive.

Now to the specifics. Thurston Howell III implies that Thurston Howell II and Thurston Howell I are still alive in the Gilligan’s Island universe. And not just when the gang was shipwrecked on Gilligan’s Island. In the TV movies made in the late 70s/early 80s, he’s still Thurston Howell III. The last movie even introduced his son, Thurston Howell IV. (Jim Backus wasn’t healthy enough to film scenes where robot duplicates of the Harlem Globetrotters run around. Or whatever the heck was going on.) A 68-year-old man was able to portray someone whose name implies his father and grandfather were still alive.

Never mind, like, all those episodes where some radioactive vitamin makes the Island grow celery stalks 24 feet tall. What’s going on with the Howell family genetics?

And before you go suggesting maybe the Howell family played fast and loose with the rules about numbered suffixes to names, shut up. We’re talking about The Howells. Under no circumstances are the Howells, of freaking Newport, going to be improper about their suffixes. Maybe Thurston Howell V might. But not III.

I can only see one solution that doesn’t require the Howell men to be so long-lived that Gasoline Alley characters ask how they get that old. That’s to suppose that Thurston Howell III was named after someone not his father. An uncle, perhaps, who by the workings of chance might be only one or two years older than he is. And easier still if Thurston Howell II is also named for someone only a little older yet. Let’s infer another uncle that’s only a year older still. I realize this implies the family went from zero Thurstons to three Thurstons in short order. But perhaps in their part of Rhode Island in 1910 everyone went a little Thurston-mad.

So anyway you see why it was important I solve this and not important that I fix that silly web site button nobody else was even asking me about anyway, boss. Thanks.

60s Popeye: Sea Hagracy, and do you understand what that title is riffing on?


Today’s Popeye short continues the journey into Jack Kinney-produced weird ones. It’s from 1960 and the credits — well, the credits have a different style from what we’ve seen already. The credits give Ken Hultgren the story, though, and animation direction. Kinney’s the producer. So here is Sea Hagracy, a title I believe wants to riff on “sea piracy”, which says a lot about how it’s going.

When I at last read Elzie Segar’s Thimble Theatre comics I came to appreciate something about Popeye. That is that Elzie Segar never began a story with any idea where he was going. Some stories he finished with no idea where he was going. This is not to deny his skill or charm. Just that the stories often wander around instead of having any narrative thread.

My sources don’t indicate that Sea Hagracy is based on a comic strip storyline. It has the feel, though. In particular, it has several momentary thrusts of plot logic. Any one thrust makes sense. How they fit together is a mystery. It would make sense if this were a 16-week storyline condensed. That much time allows for the characters to reconsider what they’re doing. In five minutes? That’s a greater challenge.

The story starts well, with the title card dissolving right into the tax man taking the Sea Hag’s fortune. She hasn’t kept up her ill-gotten gains tax. Good inciting incident and some good lines, like the Sea Hag having stolen these chests by honest piracy. But she needs money, and figures to return to piracy. Popeye won’t let her. So she decides to make him a partner.

Popeye’s having none of it, and one can wonder why the Sea Hag thought that might work. I can imagine the sequence where she makes a more plausible case and gets shut down. Popeye “hates piracey worse’n poison,” and The Phantom argues that’s his line, and we’re done with that thread.

Popeye looking up from the newspaper, scowling with both eyes closed and clenching his teeth on his pipe.
Popeye has not been in good spirits ever since he moved next door to that Dennis Mitchell kid.

Stave the Third. Sea Hag bribes Wimpy into knocking Popeye out. Wimpy won’t betray his dear friend, of course, not for less than two hamburgers. Solid idea, and if the negotiations go on forever that’s all right. It’s some fun patter. Wimpy sneaks in with the mallet, but can’t bring himself to clobber Popeye. Popeye, by the way, has spent the whole short looking annoyed to be in the short when he wants to read the paper. And once Popeye gets wind of this he decides his rule against hitting women doesn’t mean he can’t spank the Sea Hag. I don’t follow this logic, but I grew up in an era where we noticed spanking was, you know, battery.

That seems like a logical end for the story, so the story goes on again. The Sea Hag decides she should just destroy Popeye, and use magic, since she remembered what she is. This involves sending lightning out to destroy Popeye’s house, which works, and which doesn’t get undone by the end of the short. Popeye eats the tiny can of spinach he keeps in bed, next to his feet. And then absorbs a bunch of the Sea Hag’s lightning bolts, then comes back as a half-human, half-lightning-bolt to zap the Sea Hag. This all is an idea so exciting as to overcome the limited animation. Think what it would have been like in a Fleischer two-reel color feature. And now we’ve got the end of a shorter but more superhuman story.

And one that ends with the inciting incident — the Sea Hag is broke — not just unresolved, but forgotten. Which is again true to the comic strip, and plots written day-to-day.