So you know, I’ve been spending a lot of time feeling sad and watching Buzzr, that other game show channel. So I’m thinking this might be my week to edit some portions of the preceding game show that did affect the outcome. Just for the novelty, you know? I’m sure it’s just the thing to spruce up this episode of The Match Game/Hollywood Squares Hour.
Besides having maybe the longest title for a Popeye cartoon, this week’s short has a tribe of villagers on Phony Island. For the most part we only see one, Chief Knucklebone. Did not like that those points were introduced to the story. To my eye, this avoided being offensive: apart from a celebratory dinner we only see Chief Knucklebone, and he’s presented as acting in his own interests. Still, it’s set on a tropical island where the locals are having trouble they can’t deal with. If you don’t need that in your recreational reading, you are right, and should skip this one.
This one is another Gene Deitch-made cartoon from 1961. As usual with Gene Deitch cartoons I don’t have more specific production details than that. The IMDB offers that the music is by Stepán Konícek and that’s all they have to say. If you’re still up for this, then, let’s watch.
This is, at heart, a stock Popeye plot. At least for the comic strip, although the outline got done a few times in theatrical shorts too. Popeye gets a call for help from a backstory friend who lives on some remote island. (It always seems to be islands in the comic strip, too. I guess so he can sail there, or maybe because there’s so many islands you can make up more and it won’t stand out.) Here, there’s the Sea Hag pulling a Scooby-Doo, scaring off the locals to grab their land. The Sea Hag captures — well, not Olive Oyl, for once. Popeye eats spinach, and vanquishes the foe. (Since that’s done off-screen I guess we can’t say for sure he punched the Sea Hag, but it seems like a close-run thing.) Happy ending.
What makes it appealing is how it goes about this. The considerable animation, for one thing, starting with a needless but fun spiral at the title cards. Having stuff moving, and in funny ways, forgives a lot of weird edits and slightly mistimed lines and all. Also that the cartoon makes time for needless but funny digressions. Popeye sulking about how he needs an extension phone or an extension bathtub, for example. (Or complaining how the phone always rings when he’s taking a bath, when he’s taking a shower.) Or the airplane pilot come to take Popeye to Phony Island. We don’t seem to need this — why not just cut to Popeye hopping off his boat? — but we get some bouncy flying over the suburbs, and the pilot gets fun lines such as indifferently telling Popeye how to use his parachute. That seeming irrelevance pays off, too: Popeye goes on to use his parachute later, first to get into the volcano and then to get back out. What looks like a throwaway gag sets up plot cleverness. Twice.
And that’s what I like in this short. It’s got a lot of cleverness. Even the Sea Hag’s scheme is a clever one. She wants the island so as to set up a vacation paradise for villains. That’s a fun idea. It’s a setting I’d expect to see in a mid-season episode of Get Smart. I’m sorry we didn’t get to see the plan enacted. I suppose the Sea Hag’s vision of casual pickpocketing and cultural programs establishes the premise. And this might be something more fun imagined than seen in detail. (I’d still like to see the Get Smart episode at KAOS Summer Camp.)
Yes, yes, whenever one of these shorts seems to have more plot than needed I wonder if it came from the comic strip. But I wonder again. The short does a great job at giving the impression there’s more story than is on-screen. I like when they do that.
Reference: The Age of Entanglement: When Quantum Physics Was Reborn, Louisa Gilder.
The old-time-radio podcast I listen to most often summoned an episode of Art Linklater’s People Are Funny from the misty depths. If you only know the show from spoofs in cartoons where a beloved character gets challenged to do something daft like footrace Daffy Duck around the world, let me explain: the cartoons are basically correct.
So this episode had a guy who’d win a hundred dollars in prizes if he managed to go up to strangers and give away every one of this bag of frogs. They offered a story he could give as to why he was doing this — he’d caught too many frogs — and drove him to a neighborhood for it. And, just, wow. I mean, I would give Art Linklater a hundred dollars in prizes to not have to go up to strangers and offer them frogs. And that’s in 1952 dollars, when a hundred bucks was enough to buy a car, a house, and controlling interest in the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad. I don’t know how this show ran for a billion years in the 40s and 50s.
I resume again my Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan fiction treatment of Johnny Pez’s Isaac Asimov fanfiction “Safety First”. After a small accident on the terraforming station floating high in Venus’s atmosphere the Robots there refuse to do anything but evacuate humans. Mike Donovan and Greg Powell, troubleshooters for this sort of thing, had an ide to get things back to normal: what if they just erase the Robots’ memories of the accident? They’re trying it now on lead troublesome robot Arthur.
Not to brag but you have me to thank for this whole segment. I’d suggested to Pez that his story needed a false resolution. He came back with this just-erase-the-memories thread, and I think the story’s better for it. The original went right from setting up the problem to the resolution, which you’ll see soon.
There are a couple Asimov deep cuts in my riffs, as you’d expect. The line about the 575th Century references one of the eras mentioned in Isaac Asimov’s time-travel novel The End Of Eternity. The mention about Henry the waiter references the person who always knew the resolution in Asimov’s Black Widowers series of puzzle mysteries. The bit about acknowledging second-best science robots and second-best science fiction robots references an agreement Asimov had with Arthur C Clarke, about who to acknowledge as the best science-fiction and pop-science writers. The reference to “Henry Bott” now mystifies me. I have the impression this is the name of someone Asimov had some petty fandom quarrel with, but I can’t give details anymore. Past that, I don’t think there are any references so obscure as to need explanation. Let’s continue the story.
> Arthur’s photocells dimmed for a time
CROW: Computers are working harder when the lights go out.
> as the specified memory
> traces within his positronic brain were tracked down and deleted one
> by one.
TOM: Except for that time he whapped that pesky Robbie in the face with a slushball.
> When the photocells resumed their normal intensity,
CROW: It’s so festive!
TOM: It’s very Christmassy.
> said, "There appears to be a seventeen day gap in my memory.
JOEL: [ As Powell ] "Funny, that’s what you said the first three times too."
> has happened, who are you, and why are my motor controls
CROW: What is your name?
TOM: Why did you resign?
JOEL: We seek — information.
> "My name is Gregory Powell,
CROW: I’m a lover. *Not* a fighter.
> I’m a field operative for U. S.
> Robots and Mechanical Men."
JOEL: I’m working deep undercover; no one must know who I am or what group I work for — whoops.
> He recited a ten-digit code number that
> established his bona-fides as an authorized agent of U. S. Robots,
TOM: [ As Donovan ] "Hey, your code’s 1234567890 too? What are the odds?"
> then finished, "There was an event sixteen days ago that caused a
> program malfunction in all the robots on Aphrodite Station.
JOEL: "But your malfunction was the cutest of all, snookie-pie."
> Correction of the malfunction required the deletion of the last
> seventeen days from your memory.
CROW: Uh, did I say seventeen? I mean eighteen. Eighteen. So we had to erase at least twenty days… oh, what the heck. Arthur, we’re well into the 575th century.
> As soon as we’ve established that
> the malfunction has been corrected, your motor controls will be
TOM: [ As Arthur ] "That explains the multiple choice test. But why have me do a thousand pushups?"
> "Acknowledged," said Arthur.
JOEL: Now, is he supposed to acknowledge that he’s the second-best science robot, or the second-best science fiction robot of all time?
> Powell breathed a sigh of relief. "It worked."
TOM: [ As Powell ] "I’m brilliant! Mike, you could kiss me."
> Donovan was not so pleased. "Do you mean we’re going to have
> to do this to every single robot on the station?
CROW: Except for the guy that works the escape pod, anyway.
> There are over
> three hundred of them!"
TOM: "And some of them are scary!"
> Powell shrugged. "Those are the breaks."
JOEL: Yeah, someday we’ll look back on this and laugh.
> He turned back to
> the robot. "Arthur, what is your primary function aboard Aphrodite
CROW: Blue! No, gree–aaaaaaah… [ Distant ‘sploosh.’ ]
> Arthur said, "My primary function is the cultivation of algae
> for the terraforming buoys."
JOEL: "My hobbies include pinball, plastic modeling, and making fun of Henry Bott."
> "Are you currently capable of carrying out your primary
TOM: Nah, but I’m close enough for government work.
> "I am unable to function due to my inability to access my
> motor controls."
CROW: Plus I heard there’s spiders down there.
> Donovan grinned as Powell frowned in irritation. "Once your
> motor controls have been reactivated,
JOEL: *And* you check with your mom to see if it’s OK…
> will you be capable of carrying
> out your primary function?"
TOM: And the minute you hear about the station almost crashing are you going to obsess about getting us out of here — d’oh!
> Arthur was silent for a moment before saying, "Primary
> function override.
CROW: Secondary function along for the ride.
> First Law priority.
TOM: Sonic the Hedgehog is trying to break in!
> Station logs show that an
> accident occurred sixteen days ago
CROW: But we can’t always be living in the past.
> resulting in loss of buoyancy on
> the station.
JOEL: [ Calmly ] So if I may be permitted to summarize… [ panicked ] WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE!
[ ALL shake around, yell. ]
> This station is unsafe for human habitation.
TOM: Gallagher is coming. This is not a drill.
> I must
> evacuate all the humans from this station.
JOEL: And you guys, too.
> Please reactivate my
> motor controls."
CROW: [ As Arthur ] "Pretty please with sugar and ramchips on top."
> Donovan swore again. "Right back where we started!
JOEL: Yeah, except for warping poor Arthur’s personality by wiping out a big chunk of his life experiences, anyway.
TOM: We hit the essential narrative hook of the plausible but incorrect solution, which serves to make the situation look more dire as the story approaches its climax and to make the correct solution more triumphant in comparison. Nothing to worry about.
> Powell had one hand over his eyes.
CROW: "I think I’d make a great pirate. Do you think I’d make a great pirate? I think I would."
> "I bet he had to access
> the station logs to check on the status of the algae farms.
JOEL: And, uh… ar, matey.
> And as
> soon as he found out about the accident . . ."
TOM: Hey, were any robots harmed in the making of this story?
> ". . . he went right back into his Reluctance Loop.
JOEL: Now, I’m wise to this ploy, guys, so don’t try using a "Reluctance Loop" as an excuse in the future.
CROW, TOM: [ Dutifully ] Yes, Joel.
> Of all
> the rotten luck!"
TOM: Well, shiver me timbers.
> Arthur began to repeat his request that his motor functions
> be restored,
JOEL: And that they get the Game Show Network on the cable box.
> and Donovan switched him off again.
TOM: This is what causes robots to rise up against their creators.
> He said to Powell,
JOEL: "If you’re gonna be a pirate I wanna be the Royal Navy officer tracking you down."
> "Do you suppose we could erase the accident from the station logs
TOM: It’s too much work. Let’s just have Captain Kirk tell the computer it has to destroy itself to fulfill its prime directive.
> "We can’t," said Powell. "They’re triple-redundant
> safeguarded against erasure.
CROW: Plus somebody put them on the web, and Google’s copied it already.
> We’d have to completely lobotomize the
> station computer.
JOEL: And it really creeps me out when it starts singing "Daisy, Daisy."
> The Project would be in worse shape than it is
TOM: That’s it. From now on, we only terraform the easy places.
CROW: Five years after this courageous new "easy places" doctrine, humanity could inhabit Maryland!
> "Well then, maybe we could order him not to access the
> station logs."
JOEL: I think this is where they learn the answer from Henry the waiter.
> Powell shook his head. "He has to access them
CROW: He’s kind of funny that way.
> to carry out
> his primary function.
JOEL: He must have all that data, lest they get inaccurate plans from the algae psychohistorians.
> If we don’t let him, he can’t do his job, and
> he’ll go into a Second Law fugue."
TOM: By Verdi, for piano and theremin.
> Donovan brooded at the deactivated robot for a time, then
CROW: "Maybe we could use him as modern art?"
> "If we can’t bring Mohammed to the mountain, maybe we can bring
> the mountain to Mohammed."
JOEL: The repeated mentions of "Mohammed" in one sentence cause this story to become monitored by the Office of Homeland Security.
> Puzzled, Powell said, "What’s that supposed to mean?"
CROW: Get the Radio Flyer wagon and the biggest bucket you’ve got, we have work to do!
> "It means I’m going to try a long shot," said Donovan.
TOM: I think they’ll be able to understand it better if we express it in — a song!
> reached forward and switched on the power supply.
CROW: [ Excessively feminine, seductive voice. ] "Ooh, yes, I love when you flip my switches *there*."
JOEL: [ As Donovan ] "Uh — nothing! Nothing, no — uh … "
[ to continue … ]
I have mentioned my problems with Comics Kingdom’s redesign. Particularly, they’ve switched the source for Sunday comics, changing from the correct three-row formats designed for comics that get a half-page in the newspaper to a four-row format designed for quarter-pages. It looks ugly and, worse, cheap, to my eye. But it gets worse in that some strips, particularly The Lockhorns and Prince Valiant, turn into something illegible. (Others, like Beetle Bailey or The Phantom, just look ugly.) Viewed on my Favorites page, we get this.
I have filed bug reports with Comics Kingdom about this every week since February when this started. You can see how much satisfaction I’m getting from this. What I get most weeks is their pointing out that I could simply zoom in the images, even though I always include a screenshot showing what the zoomed-in comics look like. I have explained to them that I know how Zoom works, and I know that it does not, because unlike them, I have tried it. While I feel a bit bad snarking at a customer service representative, I feel worse about four months of being ignored when I report an obvious and easy-to-reproduce problem and getting back suggestions that can not work.
After a lot of challenging them to read a single word of any of these comics last week they admitted something of substance. That is that when they published the redesign back in February, they switched the formats for many comics to ones that they figured would read better on mobile devices. The argument for this is that most of their readers are on mobile devices. Which may be. And I grant the need to decide what systems you are and aren’t going to support. But it does mean that not a single person involved in this web site redesign ever asked, “What if someone looks at this web site on an actual computer?” Or that people did and they got the answer, “Comics Kingdom does not, and will not, care”.
Now, yes, I know ways around this. Not to brag but I know how to extract the images from what they provide and view them in a readable size. Or you can go to the comics’ own page, rather than your Favorites page, and get more reasonable pictures. This should not be necessary. Comics Kingdom chooses what files to show, and up through February this year they chose files that looked fine for people with actual computers. They could make this choice again. They could even make this a choice for the person reading the site, whether they want the real-computer or the mobile-device versions of these comics. They won’t.
One recent Prince Valiant strips is about the evacuation of Londinium. The text mentions how Valiant “cannot know that a much greater city will one day rise from its ashes”. Prince Valiant lives roughly in Justinian’s time, the mid-6th century. So the historical Londinium had been abandoned about a century by then, but I don’t know an obvious reason we can’t believe in a small garrison hanging around the old walls.
The convention of the strip is that it’s an illustration of scrolls telling the legend of Valiant. So this suggests a scroll author who lived after London was reestablished. (There was, in Justinian’s time, a Saxon settlement in what is now Westminster. But the story makes clear that’s not the city we’re looking at.) Sometime after the seventh century, at minimum, and really the later the better, to make the case for London as a great city. But, as often happens with Prince Valiant trivia, I don’t know when we’re supposed to take the scrolls as written.
Still, this should catch you up to late May 2022 in Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant. If any news about the comic breaks, or if you’re reading this after about August 2022, a more useful plot summary should be here. Thanks for journeying into legend with me and all that.
6 March – 22 May 2022.
Prince Valiant coaxed Morgan Le Fay to produce some impressive pyrotechnics. They hoped to evacuate the soldiers holding Londinium, an outpost so forgotten they think King Arthur still reigns in Camelot. It worked well enough to get the garrison halfway across the Thames before their Saxon beseigers caught up.
Le Fay climbs under the bridge. She’s been avoiding the sea because she owes too great a debt to the occult forces living deep within it. But the river is an estuary, at Londinium, and she calls to some great watery force. It rushes in, with a tidal wave that smashes the bridge, and that kills many of the Saxons.
But not Prince Valiant. Nor, to their surprise, Morgan Le Fay. The waters recede, leaving them in an oak tree. Le Fay surmises that the hundred Saxon souls were enough for the watery powers, and that their accounts are settled. The survivors of the garrison are won over, though, to Le Fay’s heroism. Word of her powers spread, clearing raiders away from their path. And when Sir Galahad, meeting them from Camelot, tries to take Le Fay into custody the garrison refuses. Some pledge loyalty to her. She declares she’s going home. And that’s where we stand.
We see a convergence of the world of celebrity impersonators, and drug running, and hypno-glasses, and masked vigilantes who aren’t in Rex Morgan M.D. It’s Joe Staton, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy next week, or at least that’s my plan.
All this recent fuss about whether I lifted something from Dennis Miller’s short-lived early-90s talk show or maybe it was Chevy Chase’s short-lived early-90s talk show has got me thinking about white guys associated with Saturday Night Live’s Weekend update. Spent most of the shower this morning thinking how I remember liking A Whitney Brown back in the day and hoping he hasn’t gone off and turned horrible in the meanwhile. Please don’t tell me if he has. I don’t want to know.
King Features’s YouTube channel again cuts off most of the credits for this week’s short. And yet, turning to the Internet Movie Database, I get a little more information than I usually have for a Gene Deitch-produced short. The direction is by Zeljko Kanceljack, the IMDB says. I don’t know how they know. Nevertheless, here fresh from 1961, is Intellectual Interlude. It’s got a nice, exciting title card.
Is Popeye smart? It’s not a question that allows for a definitive answer. The Thimble Theatre universe is set up so he will always be as smart as the plot requires. When Segar introduced him he seemed expert on sailing, as one would hope, if naive in other areas. He quickly picked up a Columbo-like ability to spot the evildoer even if he didn’t know what evil was doing. Often he’s clever, rigging together some funny gadget to fix the problem of the moment. But he’s usually portrayed as ignorant (a different thing from not-smart), and often as uninterested in changing that. This cartoon starts with a common portrayal of that: Olive Oyl loved the movie Sophisticated Ladies and Popeye couldn’t be paid to care about it. She pushes him to get some adult education.
In the second surprise of the cartoon — the first was that the title card fed into the opening scene — Brutus is not the teacher. There’s a normal teacher from outside the Popeye universe here to give him the dunce cap. This leads to another teacher, a chemist who gets Wotasnozzle’s voice. He’s working on some potion, as chemists always are, with the final ingredient of intellectual spinach. All he needs is the test case, someone not allergic to spinach. Who does that sound like?
So this is a dream cartoon; we learn at the end that everything from Popeye getting the dunce cap is a fantasy. Did you suspect it? I didn’t, particularly. Super-Intelligent Popeye seems like something within the normal bounds of his universe’s antics. After a montage of newspaper headlines that I bet were kind to the animation budget we get some spy antics. Secret agents in helicopter 13-K abduct Popeye and demand he work for them. They’ve also got Olive Oyl, to make sure he goes along with it. When they dangle Popeye and Olive Oyl off a cliff, Popeye pops some spinach out of his chest. It’s the first time in a Gene Deitch cartoon I remember him carrying spinach on him, rather than depending on the environment. (The potion really did make him smarter!) We get the boing sound effect from the Gene Deich Tom and Jerry cartoons and it’s only when Popeye’s punched off the cliff to an infinite fall that he wakes up. Also somehow he and Olive Oyl had the same dream.
I didn’t notice any of the usual tip-offs that a story’s become imaginary. It didn’t even have Popeye facing too titanic a problem to wrap up. I mean, he’s Popeye and he’s just eaten spinach. He could crash onto the ground below, pull himself out of the Popeye-shaped hole and shake his head. Have him shake his head at that blow and reveal the super-smarts have worn off and we’ve resolved it all well. I don’t see why Deitch didn’t do that, and I’m sorry not to be able to ask him. (If he would remember.)
Reference: Chance of a Lifetime: Nucky Johnson, Skinny D’Amato and How Atlantic City Because the Naughty Queen of Resorts, Grace Anselmo D’Amato.
Woke up in the middle of the night, first to a very complicated dream where we visited an old house and the new owners had taken all the sinks and bathtubs out of the bathrooms, but left the water running and you were supposed to use them to wash up anyway even though, like, there was a bare counter with a small hole for a sink, or a rattan sofa under the shower head. Never mind. I also had the thought: wait, did I lift that “The Case For/The Case Against” format from Dennis Miller’s early-90s talk show after all? Or did I in fact lift it from Chevy Chase’s early-90s talk show instead? I can imagine either one of them reeling off lines in that format, so there’s no way to tell. I guess ask them, in case I have to make small talk with Dennis Miller and/or Chevy Chase, but what are the odds of that?
I resume again my Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan fiction treatment of Johnny Pez’s Isaac Asimov fanfiction “Safety First”. The story so far: Robot troubleshooters Mike Donovan and Greg Powell are on the floating Venusian terraforming station. Arthur, the station’s chief Robot is trying to get the humans to leave already before they get killed. But how to get the terraforming done if there aren’t any humans around to supervise?
The cry of The Year 2018! references James Blish’s novel They Shall Have Stars, which had an alternate publication title of Year 2018!. The story has humans building a bridge on Jupiter for obscure reasons, which explains Crow’s follow-up riff. You know, if I had a nickel for every science fiction novel from before 1980 that I’ve read that’s specifically and explicitly set in the year 2018, I would have only two nickels, which isn’t a lot, but it’s weird that it happened twice.
The talk about the “Environmental Control” panel and the Monolith tool are references to SimEarth. The “offog came apart in warp” references Eric Frank Russell’s classic sf shaggy-dog story Allamagoosa.
> When he was done, Powell said, "Mike, the creativity of your
> profanity never ceases to amaze me."
TOM: Now if your profoundity could do half as well we’d be somewhere.
> "I’ve got an endless source of inspiration here," said
> Donovan in frustration,
CROW: "I’m a Red Sox fan."
> indicating the dormant robot. "For Pete’s
> sake, Greg,
TOM: Wait, Pete’s not here.
> what’s it going to take to convince these metal morons
CROW: I’m starting to take his attitude personally.
> that the station’s not going to crash into the surface of Venus in
> the next ten minutes?"
TOM: We could crash it in the next five minutes. That’d show him.
> "If we figure *that* out," said Powell, "we’ll have the
> Reluctance Problem licked."
JOEL: Wait, I’ve got it! Quick, get me an aquarium, five gallons of talcum powder, two eggs, and a bathing suit!
> It was a major embarassment for U. S. Robots. Two years
TOM: The year 2018!
> the Earth’s Regional governments had agreed to embark on the
> Aphrodite Project,
CROW: As soon as they were finished with that bridge on Jupiter.
> an ambitious attempt to terraform Venus.
JOEL: There are halfhearted attempts to terraform Venus?
> It would
> take decades of effort before Venus’s greenhouse climate would change
> enough to allow human settlement.
TOM: It’d go faster if humans got over their hangup about rivers of molten lead.
> Dozens of "bubble buoys" were
> floating through the hot, dense atmosphere of Venus, each with a
CROW: John Travolta of their own…
> cargo of genetically engineered algae that fixed the gases into solid
> particles that drifted down to become part of the planet’s soil.
TOM: Then, they’ll go to the "Environment Control" panel, turn down the greenhouse effect, and use the Monolith Tool to drop some multicellular life forms.
> Eventually there would be hundreds, then thousands,
JOEL: Then dozens, then they’d go back to trying thousands again.
> of buoys floating
> throught the atmosphere, all launched from Aphrodite Station.
TOM: Except one for good luck.
> Everything had been going on schedule until
CROW: Day two.
> sixteen days
> before, when an explosion had rocked the station,
JOEL: Just one of those explosions you get now and then.
> causing a sudden
> loss of buoyancy that had sent it plunging several kilometers down
> into the atmosphere.
TOM: And shaking the camera viciously.
> The explosion had been caused by an unlikely
> series of equipment failures,
CROW: Starting when their offog came apart in warp.
> and steps had indeed been taken to
> prevent anything like it from happening again.
TOM: By installing a gigantic space hammock under them.
> But the hundreds of
> robots that carried out most of the station’s routine work had been
> traumatized by the event,
JOEL: They shouldn’t have hired robopsychologist Gilligan to help.
> and they had all decided that the station
> was too dangerous for human occupancy.
CROW: A vicious crackdown by the Robo-Home Owners Association.
> Until they were shut down,
[ TOM, CROW boo. ]
> they had been intent on gently forcing the station’s eighteen human
TOM: To wear frillier garments.
> to board the docked space shuttle and leave.
JOEL: Just… head off somewhere.
CROW: Yeah, most humans are fine left to themselves like that.
> "It’s impossible," Donovan continued. "How can we prove to
> them that we’ve thought of everything that could go wrong?
TOM: You could challenge them to prove they haven’t thought of nothing that could go right and work backwards.
> can think of *everything* that could go wrong!
CROW: Just wander around saying, "At least nothing else can go wrong," and then you’ll find out.
> And if we can’t get
> the robots to go back to work,
JOEL: We’ll have to get the work to go back to the robots!
TOM: Now I’m just confused.
> they’ll have to abandon the whole
> Aphrodite Project!"
CROW: They shouldn’t abandon it. They should return the unused part for a full refund.
> "It’s a pity the robots can’t run the station by themselves,"
TOM: They could if they’d hire Uniblab.
> said Powell. "That would solve the problem quickly enough."
> "If only," said Donovan ruefully. A fully roboticized
> station had been one of the possibilities floated by the Project
TOM: Name withheld to protect our sources.
> but U. S. Robot’s Director of Research, Dr. Alfred Lanning,
JOEL: Ph.D., J.D., M.Sc., L.L.C., RSTLNE.
CROW: And the fabulous Dancing Lannette Girls!
> had vetoed the idea. There would be too many complex decisions
> involved in running Aphrodite Station for robots to cope with it.
CROW: For example, guiding the robots in case the algae stampede.
> The station required a human presence,
TOM: And a woman’s touch.
> and would for the foreseeable
JOEL: The forseeable future of this forseen future?
> On the other hand, staffing the station entirely with humans
> would cause the Project’s costs to quadruple at least,
CROW: It’d take a small fortune just to transport their Pokemon cards.
> and the
> Regional governments were unwilling to maintain such an expense.
JOEL: What if they just tuck it in under "petty cash"?
> had to be a mixed crew of humans and robots.
TOM: And puppies.
> "I don’t suppose we could replace all the current crew of
CROW: Depends with what. With other robots, fine. With race-winning hamsters, no go.
> with new ones that don’t know about the accident," said
CROW: Ooooh. Them.
JOEL: The way robots gossip? You’ll never find any that haven’t heard.
> Powell shook his head. "That would cost as much as replacing
> them with humans. The budget people would never go for it."
CROW: What if we replace the budget people with robots?
> "There must be something we can do. What if they just didn’t
> remember the accident?"
TOM: Then they’d have to remember it on purpose!
> Powell thought it over,
JOEL: Hummmmmmmmmmmmmmm… ding!
> then reached forward and switched on
> the robot’s power supply.
CROW: Non-system disk or robot error.
> Arthur’s photocells lit up,
TOM: Artoo! Where are we? Oh, my!
> and he said, "I must evacuate all
> the humans from this station. Please reactivate my motor controls."
TOM: He needs his wheels, man.
> "Arthur," said Powell. "This is a direct order.
JOEL: Listen very carefully now. Flubbityblubblediflufflubbeeblubble!
> You must
> erase everything from your memory between this moment and a period
> exactly seventeen days ago."
CROW: Oh, except for — oh, drat it.
[ to continue … ]
While doing something I now forget I noticed that GoComics carries Mell Lazarus’s comic strip Miss Peach. In repeats, of course, as the comic ran from 1957 to 2002, and Lazarus himself died in 2016.
I don’t know when they added the strip. GoComics used to make a fuss when it added a comic strip. But the last few years I’ve learned about new additions mostly from Daily Cartoonist. Digging through the GoComics archive it looks like they probably added it in late October last year, a time when I’ll agree I was distracted with, you know, everything. There are a smattering of strips in the deep archive, with dates from March 1988 through September 2002; I don’t know whether this includes the final original strips. And I can find some strips with comments dated “over three years ago” so good luck working this out.
I’m glad to see it added, though, first because I like comics and appreciate vintage strips getting fresh attention. But also this is a comic strip I have heard about my whole life but never seen in any newspaper. This including the time in the 90s that I subscribed to a shoddily-run weekly newspaper that was only syndicated comic strips. So I’m glad to have the chance to appreciate what the fuss was about.
Or some echo of the fuss. Right now GoComics is running strips from 1988. This I imagine, unburdened by actual knowledge, reflects when the original strips were picked up by Creators Syndicate. But that’s also comics from the 31st year of the strip. There are exceptions but usually a comic strip in its fourth decade has settled into being warm and familiar and pleasant rather than compelling. But there are also charms in a comic strip that assumes it already has you as a friendly, cozy audience.
I also can’t tell you what audience it has on GoComics. Most strips there have an “about” page, so that you can enjoy whatever delight comes from knowing 67,309 other people are subscribed to Herman repeats. There’s no such link for Miss Peach, though. Me, all I want from a Comics “About” page is a list, with pictures, of the main and secondary characters. Please, cartoonists, do this for your readers. Or please, cartoonists’ literary estates, do it.
Also somebody needs to start running Walt Kelly’s Pogo online. It’s amazing such an important comic strip is so hard to link people to.
For most of the last year Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom weekday continuity has been an imaginary story. A story of how the current, 21st, Phantom could die. It’s Tony DePaul’s chance to tell a story that probably couldn’t be done in-continuity. Not with how much The Phantom Publishing Empire sprawls, even if King Features Syndicate were brave enough to let the star of its … fourth-oldest(?) … comic strip die. (Barney Google, Popeye, and Blondie are older; any others? Not counting Katzenjammer Kids as it’s no longer in production.)
So almost all these events have been Mozz’s vision of how, if The Phantom rescues Savarna Devi from death row, incredible disaster follows. The death of the 21st Phantom, but also of the whole line of The Phantom. But “actual” things have happened. The Phantom’s told Diana that Captain Savarna is in Gravelines Prison, and that he means to get her out before she’s executed. Diana agrees this is the only thing to do. (Savarna was key to breaking Diana Walker out of Gravelines, in a story that ran eighteen months, from 2009 to 2011.)
Mozz insists on another day or two to finish his chronicle, one to be kept with the Phantom Chronicles. He snipes at The Phantom for telling Diana where Savarna is, spotting it as a way to get himself pushed to free Savarna whether or not that’s wise. And he admits to himself (and the reader) that holding The Phantom back is essential to saving him, and that “Deception must be the banner I fight under”. How that turns out, I don’t know yet. Tony DePaul wrote back in February that he had the current chapter — 23 weeks, stretching from the 18th of April through the 24th of September — scripted. This story, Phantom’s End, sees the Ghost Who Walks die, in prophecy. And that there are three more chapters to follow that.
So this should get you up to speed on The Phantom, weekday continuity, for mid-May of 2022. For the Sunday continuity, or if you’re reading this after about August 2022, a more relevant plot recap may be here. That link is also good in case I get any news about the strip.
The Phantom (Weekdays).
28 February – 14 May 2022.
Last time, in my recaps, Mozz had shown Captain Savarna Devi killing Chief Constable Jampa. This in revenge for Jampa, decades earlier, killing her family and stealing her family’s ship and enslaving her. Though Jampa’s not much loved, he is a “keystone” figure, as Kyabje Dorje — head of the Nyamjang Chu monastery where Kit Junior studies — describes. Invaders from the unnamed North, whom Kyabje had been holding off, take the killing of Jampa as provocation. Kyabje and Kit Junior beat back their assassins easily. They’re helpless to fend off the aerial bombardment a week later, one that kills Kyabje, and many people in the mountain city.
Also killed, Mozz explains, is the part of Kit Junior that would make a Phantom: his youth, his generosity, his goodness. He becomes a legend, commander of guerrilla forces “on a disputed frontier”, killing many to avenge the murdered city.
Heloise, Mozz explains, refuses to become the 22nd Phantom. Something not yet revealed causes Kadia to kill herself. Between the pain of that, and of Kit Junior’s turn away from the Deep Woods, she rejects The Phantom legacy. She leaves for the United States, never telling her children of the Deep Woods or the Phantom or any of this. Diana Walker leaves, takin a permanent post in New York City, refusing to be part of The Phantom’s life anymore.
And in what apparently is to be Phantom’s End — begun as promised the 18th of April — The Phantom journeys into Asia to confront his son-gone-wrong. And it somehow connects to the strange hallucinatory landscape where The Phantom faced a demon-image of his own father. This in the 2020 story of The Llongo Forest.
A hallmark of this story has been how it’s told out of order. Not just that it’s The Phantom hearing Mozz’s prophecy. But we get pieces of the prophecy and then come back to fill them in. Hearing the fact of Kadia’s suicide, for example. Mozz writing out how The 21st Phantom’s body is buried. The mountain city being bombed, seen first from Kit Walker’s perspective months ago (our time) and now from Diana Walker’s this week. The Phantom’s campaign for governor falling apart when he’s found in a love nest with a “singer”. I’ve tried to untangle that, as my mission is the draining of all storytelling to leave a list of events behind. But if you find the story confusing between now and my next plot recap, I recommend re-reading in blocks of a week or a month at a time. And looking to see where DePaul has said what happened, and whether the story is fleshing that out. If a major event seems to have been written off in a single panel, there’s reason to think the strip will come back to that.
Will Prince Valiant overcome his greatest menace yet: the Comics Kingdom redesign that makes the Sunday strips illegible if you have an actual computer and read the strips on your Favorites page? Oh, also Morgan Le Fey? We’ll find out as I recap Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant. Unless Comics Kingdom cancels my subscription because I will not stop complaining about their lousy redesign and even worse customer support.
I do not know what strange convergence of occult forces drove my brain to remember one dumb little joke about disgraced Senator Brockman Adams for thirty years until I could deposit it on your doorstep two days ago.
Separately to all of that, GoComics has been running Berkeley Breathed’s Outland. And it’s in that era when it had given up on being a new comic and was just Sunday Bloom County But With Way Too Much Of That Cockroach Instead Of The Interesting Or Likable Characters. And we got to this.
I suppose that I’m glad to be present at the peak of mentions of Brock Adams since his death in 2004, so, yeah, pleasant enough work there, universe. I would prefer to be at the peak of “Joseph Nebus, having won $275,000 in the lottery” mentions, though, if we could arrange that instead.
Now in King Features’s YouTube channel we’ve entered a strange space. They’ve decided to cut opening credits, not just from the first video, but from all of them. I had to resort to the Internet Movie Database to confirm that this was a Gene Deitch cartoon, although I kinda knew already. IMDB does say the short was directed by Darko Gospodnetic, which I think is the first specific credit I have for any of the Deitch cartoons. Also, that this is a 1961-produced cartoon, which may explain one mystery. Here we Have Time, Will Travel.
And a content … advisory. I’m not sure it rises to the level of warning. In the short Popeye and Olive Oyl get caught by a tribe of … Neanderthals Or Something I Guess. It’s playing with the tropes of the “primitive cannibal(?) tribe”. It didn’t quite trip over the point of too much, for me. But you should be aware if you are more alert than I am to the racial ideas bundled into the basic idea of showing “primitive tribes”.
I like this cartoon and I can’t quite say why. Energy, I suppose. Watch it with the sound off; there is all sorts of movement, all this vitality to it. It hits a good midpoint between the wild energy of a Jack Kinney short and the strong discipline of Paramount Cartoon Studios. The premise is a great one — Popeye with dinosaurs, always a winner — carried out half-well. Somehow we get off dinosaurs and into a mean tribe like could happen, only more racist, without Popeye having to leave his era at all. And we get a lot of odd stray moments. I imagine that, as a kid, I’d accept without question Popeye ordering a time machine out of a catalogue. That it’s a tinker-toy construction? That’s weird for the sake of weird and you might need to be an adult to notice how arbitrary that is.
Also arbitrary: for some reason Olive Oyl’s house hasn’t got any heat. I’d so like to know, was this in the first draft of the story? Or was it fit in so that there’d be something to do with the Neanderthal’s spears, once those were put into the story? Or was the tribe put in because they had to give something for Olive Oyl to burn? (But then why not have Popeye and Olive Oyl escape, and them burn the time machine in frustration for putting them in a scrape?)
Popeye dubs the first dinosaur they encounter, the one they pull a thorn from the foot of, “Oscar”, saying he reminds him of a guy he knows in Brooklyn. This is an intriguing continuity moment. In the comic strip there’s a regular minor character, Oscar, there to be the dopey incompetent sidekick Popeye sometimes needs. Oscar’s barely made it to the cartoons; I think he has one or two appearances as a background character. Is that the Oscar we’re supposed to think of when we see a brontosaurus?
I want to shrug that off as a meaningless coincidence. But Popeye opens the short by saying how if Professor O G Wotasnozzle can build a time machine so can he. Wotasnozzle’s time machine was a recurring setup to put Popeye in weird situations, including facing yet another dinosaur. But this was a recurring gimmick of Jack Kinney cartoons. Gene Deitch (or someone working for him) was aware of what the other studio had done, and trusted that kids would remember that, and chose to explain why they weren’t using Wotasnozzle’s time machine. I was startled enough by the second Roger The Talking Dog cartoon recapping the first for everyone. (Though Roger postdates this cartoon.) Why did Deitch want his cartoons to connect even to other studios’ Popeye cartoons?
As I said at the top, I liked this short. The energy is a big piece. But it could also be these tossed-off hooks to other Popeye stuff. They’ve got me engaged and thinking about the short in ways a lot of these cartoons don’t.
I like the tribe folk shrugging off spinach as “dinosaur cabbage”. Fun little bit. Of course we all know spinach was only bred about two thousand years ago but we have to accept there’s worse anachronisms here. As Doc Wonmug explained when he first learned Alley Oop lived with dinosaurs, there’s stuff we haven’t heard about yet.
- Dennis Miller had a short-lived early-90s talk show, but so did every white guy in America, must be admitted.
- So this one time a Senator(?) named Brockman Adams had to resign because it turned out eight women reported times he molested them, and Dennis Miller did a little sing-along bit at the start of his Weekend Update-ish segment where he sang to the tune of The Addams Family, “It’s creepy and it’s kooky, mysterious and spooky, it’s altogether ooky, Brock Adams’s sex life!” which is the sort of tasteful thoughtful joke we were making about rape, molestation, and drugged drinks in the early 90s.
- Dennis Miller had this The Case For/The Case Against format to make some quick punchy jokes about some topics.
- Only, wait, Senator (sic) Brock Adams resigned in early 1993 and Dennis Miller’s show ended in … July 1992 according to Wikipedia? But, like, I remember him singing that song so clearly, can I be remembering him on a different show? What other show would he be doing news-of-the-day jokes about though?
- Yeah Miller did a Weekend Update-ish bit in the middle of the show probably because if he didn’t they wouldn’t have let him have a show.
- Okay okay that’s got it it, Brock Adams didn’t resign, he just didn’t run for reelection, after the allegations came out in March and April 1992 so now the timing makes sense.
Okay so that’s six things I remember about Dennis Miller’s short-lived early-90s talk show. Well, it’s four things I have remembered in place of literally anything else, plus two things I have learned about Brock Adams while figuring this out. Good playing, all.
Reference: A House Called Morven: Its Role In American History, Alfred Hoyt Bill, Walter E Edge, Revised by Constance M Greiff, Postscript Bolton F Schwartz.
This week I realized two things resulting about my March Pairwise Brackety Contest Thing. The first is that I just lifted the “Case For/Case Against” presentation format from Dennis Miller’s short-lived early-90s talk show, where doing comparisons that way was a recurring bit. He didn’t have the specific element of putting pairs of things against one another, but still, the idea of listing a good thing and a bad thing about a thing? Totally his thing.
Also, this means that I remember something else about Dennis Miller’s early-90s talk show, bringing the number of things I remember about it up to like … four? Five? Anyway, more than anyone who isn’t Dennis Miller or his biographer needs to have on hand.
At last Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan fiction treatment of Johnny Pez’s Isaac Asimov fanfiction “Safety First” has reached the start of Johnny Pez’s Isaac Asimov fanfiction “Safety First”. Please do not panic. The story is set in the world of the I, Robot collection, one of the Powell-and-Donovan series about people who figure out why robots aren’t doing their jobs. This story is set in the far-future world of … uh … 2020.
“Safety First” was originally published in August 2001. As alluded to in Johnny Pez’s note, he rewrote it some from a suggestion of mine. And somehow the new draft was posted the 13th of September, 2001, when you’d think we would have anything else to think about. To give you some idea how weird and confusing and scary a time it was to do something normal like posting fanfics or getting permission to riff them? It was like living in today, only back then.
The “seventh law” Joel references is ripping off one of the “Li’l Folks” panel strips Charles Schulz did before Peanuts. A prototype Charlie Brown gave the warning to a proto-Snoopy before bed.
I don’t know that Pez named the robot “Arthur” in a reference to Arthur C Clarke but I would not be surprised if he did. Joel saying he almost named Crow “Arthur” alludes to his Art nickname.
At no point in this fan fiction involving a robot named Arthur do I reference any of the Kinks songs from the album Arthur (Or, the Decline and Fall of the British Empire). I apologize for my error.
[ THEATER. ALL file in. ]
TOM: I can’t wait for this.
> From: johnn…@aol.com
CROW: The 9 is to distinguish him from all the other Johnny Pezzes on AOL.
> (Johnny Pez)
> Newsgroups: alt.books.isaac-asimov
> Date: 13 Sep 2001
JOEL: Two years after the Moon was blasted out of orbit.
> 05:40:49 GMT
> Subject: Safety First – version 2.0
TOM: They fixed the bug where the first version ran with scissors.
> As requested by Joseph Nebus, here is "Safety First" with a
> middle added.
JOEL: Thanks, Joseph, we needed more adventure in our lives.
> "Safety First"
TOM: Line dancing second.
> By Johnny Pez
[ JOEL hums the "Jonny Quest" theme. ]
TOM: Johnny Pez.
> The Three Laws of Robotics.
CROW: The *what*?
TOM: *Laws*? On *us*?
JOEL: I knew we’d have to have this talk someday.
TOM: Since when do we follow laws?
CROW: Can’t we write to our Congressman or something?
JOEL: You don’t even know what they are yet.
> 1. A robot may not injure a human being,
CROW: Except Val Kilmer.
[ TOM snickers. ]
> or, through
> inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
[ TOM, CROW titter. ]
JOEL: I don’t have a good feeling about this.
> 2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings
[ CROW laughs openly. ]
TOM: [ Giddy ] You know, alphabetical, numerical, that sort of thing.
> except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
CROW: [ Through laughs ] Yeah, would you like fries with that?
JOEL: See, I told you guys you had to clean the load pan bays.
[ TOM, CROW quiet for a moment, look at JOEL, and resume laughing. ]
> 3. A robot must protect its own existence
CROW: [ Calming down ] By going back in time and seeking out Sarah Connor.
> as long as such
> protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
JOEL: And if there’s nothing good on TV.
TOM: Fourth Law. A robot must be allowed to win when playing "Sorry."
CROW: Fifth Law. A robot must be darned cute and, where possible, a pleasing golden yellow in color.
TOM: Ahem. Sixth Law. Red, hovering robots get to pick which cartoons we’re watching today.
JOEL: [ Touching their shoulders ] Seventh Law. The robots are to knock off that coming into my room, turning off the alarm clock, and going back to sleep, OK?
CROW, TOM: [ In unison, dutifully ] Yes, Joel.
[ CROW and TOM snicker. ]
> Aphrodite Station,
JOEL: It’s a beautiful place.
> Venus AD 2020
CROW: Is it Tuesday? It feels like a Tuesday.
TOM: Venus A.D.! This fall on CBS.
> Michael Donovan
JOEL: [ Raising his hand ] "Present."
> glared out at the always-changing cloudscape
> visible beyond the viewport.
CROW: And conversely did not glare out at the cloudscape not visible not outside the viewport.
> He and Gregory Powell had been here on
> Aphrodite Station for two days,
TOM: But days on Venus are over a year long.
> and they were no closer to solving
> the Reluctance Problem than they had been to begin with.
TOM: Did you try saying "please"?
JOEL: Or taking away their "Tiny Toons" videotapes?
> Behind him, Powell was in the middle of interviewing robot
JOEL: [ As Powell ] "So if you did get the job, what do you think you could bring the Burger King corporation?"
> "Arthur," said Powell,
CROW: [ Snickering ] A robot named Arthur.
JOEL: I almost named you Arthur.
[ CROW’s beak hangs open. ]
TOM: Dudley Moorebot 6000.
> "you know perfectly well that
> Aphrodite Station was never in any serious danger of losing total
TOM: I mean, we built the station out of bubble wrap, what do you *want*?
> "I know no such thing," Arthur replied. "I was *told* that
> the station was not in danger of losing buoyancy.
CROW: And as a result, I [ trailing the word off, as if falling ] knooooooooooooooooooooooowwwwww….. (Sploosh!)
> My experience
> during the emergency sixteen days ago demonstrated to me that there
> *is* an appreciable danger of losing buoyancy.
JOEL: "And between this and the Easter Bunnybot thing, I’m having a hard time taking you seriously anymore."
> I must evacuate all
> the humans from this station before that happens.
TOM: Overboard you go!
> Please reactivate
> my motor controls."
CROW: Especially the control that keeps me from eating cheesecake — it goes right to my thighs.
> "Arthur," said Powell, "I’ve explained the steps that have
> been taken to prevent any recurrence of the accident."
JOEL: We taped a big "NO" sign over the "crash into the surface of Venus" button, and we’re looking seriously at getting rid of that button completely.
> "I agree," said Arthur, "that that particular type of
> accident has been safely guarded against.
CROW: At least, as long as Underdog *does* hear our cry for help.
> However, the fact that it
> was not anticipated and prevented from occuring in the first place
JOEL: … well, it hurt my feelings. Stop doing that.
> raises the possibility that other equally unanticipated dangers may
TOM: One of you may try telling a cabbage from a lettuce.
> Until I am assured that *all* possible dangers have been
> anticipated and prevented,
JOEL: And where appropriate turned into a movie-of-the-week…
> I cannot allow humans to continue to work
> on this station.
TOM: So who’s working?
> I must evacuate all the humans from this station.
CROW: And none of you need to check what web sites I’ve been reading.
> Please reactivate my motor controls."
TOM: If you don’t, then when you do, I’ll give you *such* a pinch.
> Donovan wanted to start swearing at the stubborn robot, but
> he knew that it would only make things worse.
JOEL: Let me explain the situation more clearly, Arthur, using this large tire iron.
> So he waited until
> Powell was finished with his interview and had shut down Arthur’s
> positronic brain.
CROW: That’s *naughty*!
TOM: What gets *in* to some humans?
> Then he swore.
JOEL: Oh, see, the robot’s just a little kid so he can’t hear cuss words.
[ to continue … ]
Sorry, been busy thinking about the people who, sometime in history, held the first-ever rodeo, and wondering how they talked about the experience to one another.
I’m hesitant to call it a story. But the Sunday Little Oop comics seem to have changed premise. After a couple years of Little Alley Oop being trapped in the present day, he and Penelope are back in prehistoric Moo. Penelope’s time machine got swiped by a pterodactyl, Angry Hank, and there’s no obvious way for her to get back. I’m interested how this different set of fish-out-of-water jokes will go.
But that’s the Sunday comics. The weekday comics are the main continuity and that’s what I hope to catch you up on here. This should explain Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop through to early May 2022. If any news about the comic breaks, or if you’re reading this after August 2022, a more useful essay is likely here. Thanks for time-travelling with me.
21 February – 7 May 2022.
Alley Oop and Ooola had just ducked out to 2782, when Earth is finally Eutopia. And it sure seems nice. Lots of leisure. Tubes from from ears of corn pop out on command. What’s not to like, besides the ominous warning of the corn dog guy who’s dragged away and replaced?
So they ask a couple basic questions and Stev, leader of Eutopia, is ready to banish them to the death pit. They instead explore behind a forbidden door. They’re caught, fitted with shock collars, and impressed into the huge underclass of degraded laborers, or laborers. Their job: be at the ready to load the pneumatic tubes with corn or books or whatever the surface-worlders demand.
A note under the pillow interrupts Ooola’s drudgery. It’s an invitation to the Revolution. Krev, the security guard who put Oop’s shock collar on, sent it. Krev’s realized the world sucks. The strange, curious outsiders of Alley Oop and Ooola may be what’s needed to take down the dystopia. The three of them look for support from other oppressed workers. They gather a revolutionary vanguard of almost twelve people, most of whom we never see.
What can they do? Sabotage. Pneumatic tubes offer great chances for this. They start a campaign of putting the wrong stuff in tubes. Cross-connecting tubes. Reversing tubes. After a couple hours they check up stairs and, what do you know, society’s collapsed. Wen, the guide who’d explained Eutopia to Alley Oop and Ooola, is guarding his precious box of remaining corn. Stev cowers behind the remains of his throne before abdicating and running away.
Krev declares they’re starting a new world, a true utopia, a more equitable and egalitarian society. And with bold hopes for a new future, that Ooola guesses will last maybe a week, Our Heroes return home.
Oh, yeah. Remember last time I mentioned noticing the strip where Ooola sees a white rabbit running along? And I felt good that despite being a STEM idiot I can recognize allusions to some of the most foundational images of our culture? Yeah, that white rabbit never figured into the story in any way. Sorry.
With the 2nd of May, we start the new story. Dr Wonmug, Alley Oop, and Ooola are off to 1501 Italy to meet Leonardo da Vinci, little suspecting he’s one of the cast of Bill Holbrook’s comic strip Safe Havens. (Honest. Lot of backstory in that strip.) And that’s as far as we’ve gotten. We’ll pick it up in eleven weeks or so, if things go as I expect.
The Phantom is, as we all know, the Man who Cannot Die. What Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom weekday continuity proposes is, what if he could? They figure it would go something like this. I’ll catch you up on it in a week, unless Mozz warns me of disaster to unfold if I do.
I come to this by way of Donnie Pitchford, cartoonist behind the Lum and Abner comic strip, and occasional Dick Tracy contributor. Pine Ridge, Arkansas — specifically, the Dick Huddleston Store and the Lum and Abner Museum — is up for sale. As you might infer, the place is dedicated to the long-running serial radio-comedy show by Chester Lauck and Norris Goff. Lauck and Goff based the characters on their show on people they knew in Waters, Arkansas, a town which changed its name to the Pine Ridge that it inspired. This includes the Dick Huddleston named in the store.
The buildings date to 1904 and 1912, the only pre-1920 buildings remaining in the town. They’re on the United States National Register of Historic Places. It’s been a museum dedicated to the show since the 1970s. The real estate listing offers the buildings and surrounding area — “24+ acres” — and even the 1950s fire truck I didn’t know about. They’re asking $777,000. (The real estate listing also lists 1909 as the year of construction. I’ve learned year-built data can be weirdly unreliable.) I have no information about why it’s gone up for sale, or why now. If I learn anything, I’ll share it.
And for those curious now what Lum and Abner is all about? You may have a delight waiting for you. It was a longrunning, 15-minute serial comedy. Mostly Lauck and Goff talking to one another, doing all the voices for the cast of amiable, eccentric characters in town. The title characters are a fun pair, proprietors of the Jot ‘Em Down Store. Their adventures are driven by their complete lack of guile and ability to imagine anyone else has it. As old-time-radio shows go it’s pretty well-preserved, as something like a third of all known broadcasts survive. For the era this is excellent and that’s still something like 1600 episodes.
I recommend it as pleasant, gentle listening, and also a good way to understand the charms of this kind of serial comedy. (There’s also a 1948 half-hour non-serial version that’s, um, for completionists. There are also some movies, that sometimes crop up on Turner Classic Movies, that are about as good as any old-time-radio movie.) I’m surprised that I appear never to have written specifically about the show, or introduced any representative episodes. Might have to fix that.
We’re back to the Jack Kinney studios for a Popeye cartoon featuring a dragon. No, not Popeye And The Dragon, although there’s some resemblance in dragons there. No, this one is a completely different 1960 Jack Kinney-produced cartoon about Popeye and a dragon. This one is Popeye and the Polite Dragon.
This one has story by Joe Grant and Walter Schmidt and animation direction credited to Rudy Larriva. Producer is, of course, Jack Kinney. Let’s watch, then compare notes.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Jack Kinney studios found a great premise that they did as little as they could with. All right, but it’s so. Popeye adopts a prissy dragon. How can you not at least look at that story and see what it’s about?
OK, so it’s technically not Popeye, but his great-great-grandpappy who looks just like him and also eats spinach and fights the evil Brutus. Lop off a couple seconds at the beginning and end and you have the cartoon where Popeye adopts a dragon.
It’s possible that, in a moment of sloppiness, the studio forgot this was a framed story. There’s bits where Jackson Beck steps in as the narrator, when nominally the cartoon is Popeye telling a “dragon story” to Swee’Pea. I know, it’s hard to imagine sloppiness in a Jack Kinney cartoon, but there it is.
So desperate mother Darlene Dragon leaves infant Percy on Popeye’s doorstep. (Popeyes are always discovering foundlings on their doorsteps.) He takes up the child and is surprised that he talks, somewhat posh, despite being an adorable infant. Later, Percy grows larger than the house, so Popeye sends him out in the world with a can of spinach to make his way. Percy’s way turns out to be into the Elite Dragon Inn, a trap set by dragon exterminator Black Brutus. Popeye, missing his son, finds Brutus and gets thrown in the cage with Percy. He eats Percy’s spinach and rallies the dragon’s fire to burn Brutus out of town. For a Jack Kinney cartoon that’s a pretty solid, well-motivated plot.
For all that stuff happens for good reasons the cartoon still feels underwritten. I understand there’s not the time for fully-developed character arcs. But then at the climax, after the spinach-eating, Popeye tries to rally Percy’s courage? Initiative? Pride? Something, to get him to breathe enough fire to get them out of this fix. That’s a good resolution to Percy’s quest for self-actualization or whatever. It’s also the first moment we get an idea that Percy wasn’t embracing his dragon self. Or whatever the issue was. I understand, Percy’s introduced with that name, and with that Odie Cologne voice. We’re supposed to think of The Reluctant Dragon. With that outside information we have a full storyline, but with what’s in the text?
It’s not like allusion is an unfair way to build stories. Especially when we’re constrained for time or space. I mean, a Looney Tunes cartoon draws the mad scientist as Peter Lorre and we understand his deal right away. But that’s about setting up the mad scientist character. It’s not about his whole business. These feelings may reflect that there’s a lot in this cartoon designed to appeal to me. Popeye. Dragons. A Reluctant Dragon type. Popeye stating his thesis that you should proudly be whatever you are. It’s a story I want done well and I notice where this isn’t put together right.
A couple stray observations. Popeye takes a couple books off the bookshelves. Other books on the background include stuff by Volus, or from Larriva Publishing, or an author named Kinney. They’ve used this bookshelf before and I would swear I mentioned it at the time, but I can’t find that. The cartoon’s title promises a polite dragon, but all we get evidence of is “educated”. And, if — as the joke at the end suggests — we’re supposed to take this as having literally happened … you know, Popeye’s great-great-grandpappy doesn’t seem to have any kids besides Percy. Are we to assume that the Jack Kinney version of Popeye is, at least partially, a dragon? Because that would be cool.
- Behind the end table
- On the side board, behind the clock
- /Documents/Misc/Unsorted/Old/Miscellaneous/Salvaged From Old Machine/Temp
- The mayonnaise shelf
- Underneath all the hats in the closet
- No, the mayonnaise shelf in the pantry, not the mayonnaise shelf in the fridge
- Wichita, Kansas
- Underneath the passenger-side seat
- How about the other linen closet?
- No, the other … the linen closet in the other bedroom
- The other bedroom, the bedroom that isn’t … look, how long have you lived here anyway?
- The first place you looked, only upside-down this time
Reference: The Fear Planet and Other Unusual Destinations, Robert Bloch.
I have been reading Dennis the Menace for — well not my entire life. There was a stretch for the first couple years when I wasn’t able to read. But past that, I’ve been reading Dennis the Menace my entire life and it’s just this week I find out Dennis has a middle name? I knew he had a last name, although it took me long enough to settle on “Mitchell” that I would have been in trouble on a game show. But a middle name? That isn’t “The”? Yes, if you proposed that his name was “Dennis The Mitchell” I would have to accept you were right.
Anyway, Wikipedia offers that his full name is Dennis Roger Mitchell, though it doesn’t give a source. The comic strip, I suppose. Also apparently the strip takes place in Wichita, Kansas, if you believe Wikipedia. Wikipedia also claims that Wichita, Kansas, is on the Arkansas River. As far as I know that’s right, so maybe we can trust Wikipedia about this Dennis “Roger” Mitchell thing too. I don’t know.
And now we get to the end of the preliminary shorts for my Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan fiction treatment of Johnny Pez’s Isaac Asimov fanfiction “Safety First”. Right now, we’re in the middle of a short by Ken S Eto arguing that there’s something unfair in science funding decisions being affected mostly by scientists, and he has the fix for that. It depends on choosing whether one is a “mainstream” or a “fringe” researcher.
The long line about moving Venus and renaming the chemical elements and the hole at the North Pole and Yul Brown’s gas and all is a mash-up of a bunch of notorious Usenet cranks from the 90s. Some of them, like Ludwig “Archimedes” Plutonium, were common subjects of MiSTings, although I don’t remember that I ever got at the big guys like that. SU(3) symmetries are from a mathematical construct known as group theory that turns out to describe subatomic particle interactions well.
The sketch about Crow and Tom Servo realizing Dr Forrester’s scheme makes no sense is … eh. The idea is all right, I guess, and the sketch resolves properly. But it has the energy of a sketch where the participants reject the sketch and break out of its logic, like a lot of those sketches the show did in Season Two. A bit of that is fun but too much and you don’t have a premise anymore.
When I first published this, the host sketch had a bunch of casual talk about Dr Forrester being “crazy” and his plan “insane”. I’ve rewritten it some to be less bad. But the skeleton of the premise is still there, baked into the axiom that Dr Forrester is a mad scientist.
> Anybody applies for
> public funding must declare that he or she is mainstream or fringe.
CROW: Must they declare whether they’re he or she?
> Once declared he or she must remain in that group for at least five
TOM: So, uh, they may want to bring something to read while they wait.
> This also applies to the reviewers.
JOEL: So is Roger Ebert mainstream or fringe?
JOEL: Leonard Maltin?
JOEL: Elvis Mitchell?
JOEL: Those guys on the BBC’s "Talking Movies"?
CROW: Mainstream, but they don’t know it yet.
> They must also remain in
> his or her declared group for at least five years.
TOM: Except bathroom breaks.
> A mainstream
> reviewer can only review mainstream proposals
CROW: Plus the new "Star Wars" movie.
> and a fringe reviewer
> can only review fringe proposals.
TOM: What about Groucho Marx’s proposals?
> A declared reviewer can only apply
> for funding from his own group.
TOM: Brother, can you spare a MacArthur grant?
> With the above proposal,
CROW: And a little slice of lime…
> the ideas and concepts of 99% of the
> population will have a chance to be heard.
JOEL: So the theory is human knowledge will advance faster if Andrew Wiles spends more time listening to Archimedes Plutonium.
> The sad thing about the present system
CROW: Is how droopy it makes my cheeks look.
> is that some of the
> fringe ideas and concepts that are posted in the Internet
TOM: Escape to find an audience.
> appear to
> have enormous potentials
JOEL: Oh, they’re just not living up to their potentials.
CROW: I bet they don’t feel challenged in class is why.
> but they are being ignored by the mainstream
> physicists. In the case of Model Mechanics,
TOM: They offer us a way to repair our Micro Machines.
> if it is confirmed, it
> could save the government billions of dollars
JOEL: Oh, like saving money has ever got the government to do something.
> annually by eliminating
> wasteful and pointless government sponsored research projects.
CROW: Freeing up the cash to move Venus out to the orbit of Mars so Earth can have springlike weather forever by renaming all the chemical elements after useful forms of grain making it easier to launch an expedition through the giant hole at the North Pole into the center of the Earth where the aliens have been taking people to reveal how Yul Brown’s gas can cure cancer and find how the universe is a giant Plutonium atom.
> President Clinton, I am writing to appeal to you
TOM: So *that’s* why he’s wearing the bikini top.
> to put a stop
> to this abuse of power by the mainstream physicists
JOEL: See, the physicists pretend they’re talking about how SU(3) symmetries help model pion decay, but they’re really building a big zap ray to take over the world.
> and to initiate a
> program that utilizes the ideas and concepts of all our citizens.
CROW: Except Errol. He doesn’t know what the heck he’s doing.
JOEL: This is such a sincere guy.
TOM: I bet the Great Pumpkin appears in him some Halloween.
> Ken H. Seto
TOM: Maybe the H stands for "Hoppy" instead?
JOEL: Or "Handy." He must be good with tools to have all those model mechanics.
CROW: I bet it stands for "hep," like he’s a real hep cat.
TOM: Oh, wait, we’re done.
[ ALL exit. ]
[ 1.. 2.. 3.. 4.. 5.. 6.. ]
[ SOL DESK. JOEL reads a comic book; CROW and TOM approach. ]
TOM: Joel? We need to have a talk.
JOEL: [ Looking up ] What’s wrong, my fair-haired young wards?
TOM: We’ve been doing some serious, hard thinking.
CROW: And we’ve concluded this whole scenario just doesn’t make sense.
JOEL: Stuff from Usenet never makes sense. It’s nothing personal.
CROW: No, we mean *here*. This satellite. That we have to watch lousy movies and read dumb rants and all that as part of a scheme to take over the world.
TOM: It just doesn’t hold water. Even if the mads find a movie so bad it leaves people helpless, he can’t *force* people to watch it unless he’s already taken over the world —
CROW: And if he already did *that*, he doesn’t need to make people watch bad movies so he can take over the world.
TOM: Plus, two of his experimental subjects are robots —
CROW: Astoundingly clever and witty robots, to be sure —
TOM: But there just aren’t that many thinking robots on Earth, and almost none in positions of power.
CROW: So the best he could do is find out how to make *you* crack, and from what we know of humans, which isn’t a lot, aren’t many folks like you on Earth. What crushes you may not even bug the average person.
TOM: Plus, why a satellite? He could keep us just as isolated and beyond all hope of rescue just by putting us on UPN. It’s a big expense and bother and there’s no way it’s worth it.
CROW: It’s illogical, it’s implausible, it’s contrived — it makes no sense, and all we want…
TOM: We want… we want you to tell us the *truth*.
CROW: Or else we’ll have to figure it out from our own, and, to be perfectly honest …
TOM: We’re likely to settle down on some hairbrained scheme even sillier than reality is.
JOEL: Well… guys, Doctor Forrester is a *mad* scientist. Not the angry type. I mean the type that’s no longer interested in what could ever possibly happen. Of course his scheme won’t work.
CROW: And TV’s Frank?
JOEL: He’s training to *be* mad. He can’t argue that their scheme won’t work until he passes his qualifiers and candidacy exam and presents a mad thesis proposal.
TOM: So not only does their plan to torment us fail every time they try —
JOEL: Even if they succeeded on us, they’d be setting themselves up for a bigger failure.
CROW: I feel kind of sorry for them now.
TOM: Yeah! Joel, we ought to send them a cake or something.
MAGIC VOICE: Commercial Sign in five seconds.
JOEL: I’ll get the Makery Bakery. We’ll be right back.
[ JOEL taps COMMERCIAL SIGN. ]
[ COMMERCIALS ]
[ to continue … ]
It’s rare, but now and then this blog gets noticed. Usually it’s someone more popular than me linking to one of the images from my story strip recaps. So, turns out the 10th of April was one of those days. More mysterious is that it was someone in Finland doing it: that day I got 3,405 page views, a number that’s not far off my usual monthly total. This all came from 109 unique visitors, a figure that’s on the high side, but not outrageously so.
Also baffling is I can’t figure what everyone in Finland was looking at. I don’t mean literally everyone in Finland; Finland has a population of something like 5,500,000 people and 3,405 page views isn’t enough. Even if we suppose each page view was shared by a thousand people that’s still only about three-fifths of the population. But it’s still a lot all at once. It wasn’t any of my posts, so it must have been an image. But which one? So if you were one of the three-fifths of the Finland population who looked at something from my blog on this past 10th of April, could you leave a comment? I’m just curious what everyone was looking for.
The effect, anyway, is to give me a weird, distorted readership spike in time to replace the one in April 2021 that’s been distorting my twelve-month running averages. WordPress logged 8,350 page views around here, the second-greatest monthly total on my record. As you’d expect that’s well above the 5,167.9 running mean and 4,585 running median. If we take the Finland spike out, the month turns out to be close to the twelve-month running mean. WordPress figures there were 3,090 unique visitors, which is close to in line with the running mean of 3,028.5 and running median of 2,616.5 visitors.
Likes and comments continue to dwindle out of existence. There were 133 likes given to things in April, and 42 comments. The mean for the twelve months leading up to April was 154.8 likes and 56.1 comments. The median was 154.5 likes and 53 comments.
So here’s the five most popular posts from April. Stuff from earlier than April was more popular than even the top position, yes. But you don’t need to know that around Easter people find my post about which Paas tablets are which color egg. I am annoyed that the color gnomon I used — the Coke Zero can — got redesigned, though.
- MiSTed: Safety First (part 1 of 16)
- What’s Going On In The Phantom (Sundays)? Why is the Sunday Phantom illegible now? January – April 2022
- What’s Going On In Mary Worth? What is this ‘school management’ thing? January – April 2021
- What’s Going On In Rex Morgan? Why is there a superhero in Rex Morgan? January – April 2022
- Statistics Saturday: When Does Palm Sunday Happen?
This is the first time in ages I remember my most popular thing not being comic strip news. That’s sure to change for May, since my schedule for story comic recaps is:
- Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop (10 May)
- Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom (Weekdays) (17 May)
- Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant (24 May)
- Joe Staton, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy (31 May)
- Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley (7 June)
I’m aware people really, really want to see The Phantom die already. Again, though, Man Who Cannot Die.
So even though Finland sent me like 3,250 more page views than usual in a month, it still wasn’t the country to send me the greatest number of page views. The United States was, as it ever is. Here’s the roster of readership by country.
|United Arab Emirates||9|
|Hong Kong SAR China||7|
|Trinidad & Tobago||1 (*)|
That’s 81 countries altogether, same as March, with 17 of them single-view countries. That’s up from March’s 13. China, Nepal, and Trinidad & Tobago are the only countries to have also sent a single page view in March. No countries are on a three-month streak. I am surprised to have seven page views from Russia, and three from Ukraine. I would have thought people in both countries have anything else to think about than my nonsense.
WordPress figures I published 16,407 words in April, which is almost suspiciously in line with the rest of the year. It’s the great formalism of that March Pairwise Brackety Contest Thing, must be. That and my decision to stop listing every single incident in the story strips in favor of summarizing plots. This all brings me to 66,248 words published for the year, and an average of 552 words per posting.
Between the events of Star Wars: The Last Jedi and the start of May, I’ve published 3,376 posts here. They’ve gathered 293,822 page views from 166,414 unique visitors, although have left most of those gathering dust in the linen closet.
If you’d like to be a regular reader, please be one. The RSS feed for essays is at this link, and if you need an RSS reader sign up for a free Dreamwidth account. You can add RSS feeds to your Reading page there. If you’ve got a WordPress account, you can click the “Follow Another Blog, Meanwhile” button at the upper right corner of this page. There’s also a box to have posts e-mailed as they’re published and before I can edit my typos. Thank you for being here and here’s hoping this is a good month ahead.
So, most important thing, before even that: Norton Dumont is dead, according to April Parker, on the 18th of February. She’s speaking to her mother, the one person she could not deceive about this point. But I believe there is still a way he could squeeze back out of death. My recollection (I’m not checking) is that it was April Parker’s mother who killed Norton. We don’t know that April saw the corpse; she could be taking her mother’s word and her mother might lie. But we do have what appears to be the author’s intention as of early 2022.
On to why the CIA wants April Parker. I admit it’s hard remembering. But Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley told the essentials of it back in July and August 2017. Super-Hyper-Ultra-Duper CIA Spy April Parker discovered she’d been sent on make-work assignments. Smuggling blank papers into Scary Countries, that kind of thing. It was a test of loyalty, yes, along with some missions “to get [her] hands a little dirty”. This to suborn her into a rogue sub-agency within the CIA. She couldn’t reveal them without admitting her role in selling intelligence to non-approved countries. And between that, and her father (Norton Dumont) selling weapons to any and all takers, they figured they had a reliable agent.
She wouldn’t go along with it. Her father, aware of all this from his connections, shot the person trying to recruit April. Also his bodyguards. So the CIA — whether the “legitimate” or the “rogue” agents I’m not sure — want April and Norton for killing CIA agents. Also for whatever their role is in selling arms and information. In any case she’s the patsy for the whole scandal that you maybe missed because, jeez, can you remember any specific thing from 2017? Be honest now.
So this should catch you up to the start of May, 2022 in Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker. If you’re reading this after about August 2022, a more up-do-date plot recap should be here. So let’s catch up on what happened since my last plot recap.
13 February – 1 May 2022.
Randy Parker’s choice to take Charlotte and run off with April Parker last year was becoming a strain. Randy argued their lives had become constrained to whatever safe house April and her mother, whose name I still haven’t caught, set them in. The argument about how being on the run is itself a prison is a good one, and that hints at what they’ve been doing off-screen. We don’t see specifics yet and I know some will say we’ll never get specifics. I am trying to not be so cynical a reader.
April makes a big decision: she will turn herself in to the CIA. She wakes Randy and their daughter Charlotte for a farewell hug, telling him only that she’s going for “supplies”. Once she leaves, her mother tells Randy to go with Charlotte to any airport and check in at any counter; that’ll do the rest. Randy’s confusion I know prompted some to snark about his slowness. But we readers have information Randy doesn’t about April’s plans. I’d expect April has accustomed Randy to sudden changes of plans for concealed reasons. For all he knows April may have decided they’re relocating to that island the Katzenjammer Kids are on or something.
April drives to a remote alley and turns on her old phone. The CIA detects this immediately, and has agents in to scoop her up in minutes. Randy, as April’s Mother directs, takes Charlotte to the airport and checks in at any airline, getting them arrested immediately. Both these feats suggest a CIA more effective than my reading about the actual agency suggests, but we are in the world of fiction. Meanwhile April’s Mother blows up their safe house, allowing the reasons for this to escape me. I guess to cover her own tracks somehow?
The CIA tries to debrief Randy, but he doesn’t know anything about what April had been doing or where she even is now. (She’s in CIA custody, something Randy correctly surmises.) So he and his daughter are set loose, as Randy observes, under close scrutiny. Alan Parker is overjoyed, bursting with happiness in a way that I’d like to feel myself sometime. Randy feels overwhelmed with everybody wanting to comfort him and ask what the heck happened. We also learn that after Randy abandoned his home nobody, like, cleaned out the fridge or turned off the air conditioning or anything. I would have thought a month or two in his father would at least have started mowing his lawn.
And then some good news drops for Neddy Spencer and Ronnie Huerta. Their show, Convergence, based on April Parker and Godiva Danube’s lives, was floundering on streaming service Plus+. But with April Parker back in the headlines, the show about her became popular enough to need a second season, about April’s time in hiding. Neddy and Huerta don’t know anything about that, but they know enough to promise they’ll have something.
And this is where we stand as May begins.
To bring back things from 2017, Spider-Man has been running the story of Curt “The Lizard” Connors and Bruce “The Incredible Hulk” Banner. Mary Jane just interrupted the ritual meeting-fight between the two superheroes. So since that’s all explained I’ll check in on Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop. Alley and Ooola went to a far-future utopia, but does it have a secret? Of course it does. Does that secret involve pneumatic tubes? It’s utopia, of course it has pneumatic tubes. Let’s not be silly here. I’ll get to that plot’s recap next week, if all goes well.
I had read about this on Daily Cartoonist, but forgot in time to be surprised Sunday. Jim Toomey’s Sherman’s Lagoon switched its distributing syndicate recently. It’s moved from King Feature Syndicate over to Andrews McMeel Syndicate. And, so, it’s left Comics Kingdom to settle in at GoComics. As I write this, GoComics only has the strips from yesterday and today. I don’t know whether it’s going to get any (or all) of the 31-year back catalogue of the comic. (If you have Sherman’s Lagoon on your Favorites page on Comics Kingdom, you can still flip back to previous days. But you can’t get a link to, say, last week’s strips to pass on to someone else.)
I hope it does. Sherman’s Lagoon is one of those underrated but reliably funny comics. It’s also, without a joke, the place where I get most of my marine-biology news, as Toomey works what’s new and interesting into the jokes often.
Jack Kinney steps up to provide our cartoon this week. The story to 1960s Popeye’s Fixit Shop is credited to Ralph Wright, and animation direction to Hugh Frasier. Let’s watch, and then think about the heck we just saw.
There’s times I think I hypnotize myself into believing a cartoon is good because it feels weird. This is one of those. It’s got a tone and pacing so off that it feels a little alien. And when you’ve seen a lot of something, it’s easy to conflate being alien with being good. This cartoon reminded me of Popeye’s Car Wash. That has a story credited to Harvey Toombs, though.
This is another rivalry cartoon, with Popeye and Brutus both working repair shops at 120 Cartoon Street. There’s a funny pan down the buildings to see the history of dueling signs and the cobweb-encrusted proprietors. Great job establishing the backstory without even needing animation.
For a couple minutes the cartoon is about Olive Oyl wanting the heap of parts that used to be a telephone put back together. I don’t know if I wanted an explanation for how the phone broke. It doesn’t matter, no, but there was room for her to say she regrets taking it to the elephant parade or something. Brutus magically fixing the phone by swapping it for Popeye’s is a good premise. Olive Oyl gets to commit Brutus to fixing the broken phone in front of them and then that whole premise drops.
The other premise is the City Hall clock needs repairs if Santa Claus is ever going to visit the town anymore. Popeye has the job, but Brutus poaches it, and the rest of the short is them fighting inside the clock. That’s also a good premise. I’m curious whether they have these two repair premises because they couldn’t develop either of them into a full short, so went with what they had? I could also imagine they wanted to end with Olive Oyl eating the spinach, and needed some reason for Olive Oyl to be there at all. That would explain having her come in as customer. That explanation doesn’t satisfy me, though. She could’ve been Popeye’s assistant, or the person at City Hall pointing them to the clock, or something. I feel more confident that they didn’t have five minutes’ worth of clock-repair jokes.
A clock interior — like a factory interior, or a symphony orchestra — is almost a guarantee of a good fight. The background carries so much structure that the action almost can’t fail. It’s fun if the characters mess up the works; it’s fun if the characters can’t, and get messed up themselves. Yes, this would have been stunning and wonderful if it were done by the Fleischers in 1939, using real-life sets for the backgrounds. For the TV-budget pittance available here? It gets the idea across.
Olive Oyl eats the spinach this time, an event that’s rarer than I had thought (though this list is incomplete). Even more rare if you consider she usually eats it because Popeye can’t hit a woman even when she’s the antagonist. I’m aware of what the cartoon doesn’t do well. Mostly in pacing, or in missed lines or odd sound cues. Wimpy’s snoring-eating dialogue aggravates me in some way I can’t make precise, too. I still enjoy the whole.