60s Popeye: Sure, I heard of a Sheepish Sheep-Herder


This week’s King Features Popeye takes us back to Larry Harmon’s studio. So, you know, the future Filmation crew. The story is by Charles Shows, of Muskels Shmuskels, of Foola-Foola Bird, and of Childhood Daze. The director here, as in the three already mentioned, is Paul Fennell. Here’s Sheepish Sheep-Herder.

So, first continuity error: Popeye isn’t a sheepish character. He might go reluctantly into something if he doesn’t see why it’s his business, but that’s not sheepish.

Popeye’s interrupted watching his Western show by Olive Oyl, bringing a telegram that I guess Western Onion trusted her with. Poopdeck Pappy needs help with rustlers. Plus, hey, Poopdeck Pappy! He disappeared after Fleischer Studios became Famous Studios, to fit Paramount’s vision of their cartoons being “not so interesting”. (There were a couple cartoons in 1952 and 1953 with him, one a cameo, one disappointing, and one a remake of Goonland too racist to put on TV.) King Features, though, was glad to use everything they had a trademark on.

Popeye heads out, in the engine of a small train; is it his? Anyway, Pappy meets him with a shotgun. Pappy is, as traditional, a twin to Popeye, except with a beard. And, here, a red cap. And, another continuity error: Poopdeck Pappy is also never sheepish.

Poopdeck Pappy, clean-shaven so he looks like Popeye, standing in cave with both eyes half-opened and looking off-screen. He's supposed to look devious, but the pose could also be read as sultry.
Sultry, yes, I’ll grant you Poopdeck Pappy is sultry sometimes. But not sheepish.

Brutus comes in, wearing a long coat, to swipe some sheep and I am childishly delighted that his plan is “sneak sheep out under his trenchcoat”. It’s the joke you’d make if you were a podcast host joking about the premise. The sheep are cute in this vaguely UPA style tool. Brutus goes in with a helicopter, too, having abandoned the trenchcoat plan because … I don’t know. This one outright fails.

Brutus orders Popeye out of town at gunpoint. Popeye uses the countdown to twist the gun barrel and, in a joke I like, ends up pointing it at himself and getting blasted anyway. He asks what he did wrong. It’s not only a good cartoon joke; it’s a joke building on decades of confident cartoon protagonists twisting the barrels of hunters’ guns.

Poopdeck Pappy, shaving, overhears the gunshots. Did you notice that he’s shaving? Because that’s important. But it’s also a good plant for what’s to come, and I imagine seven-year-olds who figure this out feel really clever. Anyway Brutus has tied up Popeye and shoots at his feet until he hops off the cliff. This seems like extra work to go to throw him off a cliff. But, confident he’ll never see Popeye again, who walks in but Popeye? In a red hat this time. Did you notice it was a red hat? … Not that it would be bizarre if Popeye were to be back on top of the cliff. That kind of thing happens in cartoons.

Brutus ties up Pappy with a stick of lit dynamite, and runs off. Popeye runs in, extinguishes the fuse and frees Pappy, and doesn’t say anything to his father. Nor does his father say anything back. I’m surprised by how much the animators are trusting the audience to follow what’s going on. I don’t think they’re wrong to, but I’d expected a reassurance line to emphasize that Pappy looks like Popeye now.

Oyl family reunion; Castor Oyl, Nana Oil, and less familiar relations are standing around. Popeye: 'I don't understands it. How can you be related to these people not look like any of 'em?' Olive Oyl: "I think there's a family resemblance.' Popeye: 'Resemblance sure, but why ain't ya all identical? Takes me family, f'rinstance! I yam the spittin' image of e'ryone in me family. If ya compares me to Pappy, or even me great grandpappy Patcheye we is practically clones o'each other. [ Pictures of Poopdeck Pappy and Patcheye, who look like redraws of Popeye ] Even peoples what marries into the family, like me dear old Ma or sainted Granny. Sure, they looked diff'rent before [ pictures of Popeye's mother and granmother, normal-looking figures ] but after gettin' hitched in, they started lookin' jus' like the rest of us. That's how you know they is family! That's how family works!' [ Pictures of Popeye's mom and grandmom, who look like redraws of Popeye.] Olive Oyl: 'I suddenly don't mind that we've never gotten married.' Popeye: 'It's just as well. This old world can only handle so much beauty.'
Popeye’s Cartoon Club made a reappearance this week, with a bunch of strips from Randy Milholland. This one, from the 30th of May, talks a little about everybody in the Popeye clan looking like Popeye. By the way members of the Oyl family include her brothers Castor and Crude Oyl, her parents Cole Oyl and Nana Oyl [ “Banana Oil” was a slangy way to call something “nonsense” in the 1920s ], Castor’s estranged wife Cylinda Oyl; nieces Diesel Oyl (we’ll see her) and Violet Oyl; uncles Otto Oyl and Lubry Kent Oyl. And, when Bobby London was doing his thing, a sultry blonde cousin Sutra Oyl and corporate-magnate Standard Oyl. Wikipedia figures “Violet Oyl” is a play on “volatile oils”. I guess maybe that’s what they were going for? It’s a tough name, anyway.

Brutus, not having heard the dynamite explode, goes into the mine where he had tied up Pappy. I admit I’m cowardly around fireworks and such. My college summer job was in a nitrocellulose plant. Still, I would not go in to investigate a stick of dynamite that isn’t exploded yet. Popeye appears to encourage him to go in and look, which makes good cartoon logic but: why would you do that, Brutus? Think out what things could follow from the information you have. How many of them are good for you?

Going on inside is Pappy re-lighting the dynamite so it’ll go off when Brutus arrives. And he walks past Brutus, again raising the question whether Brutus is paying attention to what he’s looking at. The blast throws him out the cave, and on seeing two Popeyes he goes bouncing off the cliff. He’s caught by what seems like an excessively deep tree root, right where a sheep can kick him over and over.

This is a pleasant cartoon. Solid enough story. Between the trenchcoat, Popeye asking “what did I do wrong” at twisting Brutus’s gunbarrel, and the way we get into the duplicate Popeye stuff, there’s decent comedy here.

The animation is pretty solid. Not so solid that, like, we ever see a character’s legs when they walk. We instead pull tighter in while the figure bounces up and down. But we do get tight focus on people’s faces, which gives us something to look at. Also to wonder at how everybody’s leaning so far over all the time. Their backs have to hurt so. It’s not a great cartoon; there’s not a moment of great delightful surprise to it. But it’s pretty good throughout.

More identity explorations as we move into the plague summer


Here are some more identities you could develop while it’s safe here, now, what with nobody knowing what to do.

You could be the person who floats their head to the side of the screen, letting it drift sideways up and down, in every group video chat. This is what I do. Cut it out. We may be technically correct that Ernie Kovacs would do this, but only David Letterman and I care. Also, as mentioned last week, it’s most often a bad idea to do things like me. It involves a lot of books set across the tops of other books on bookshelves until the whole thing collapses.

You could, though, develop some particular niche hobby to incredible, almost cartoon-like depth. This is a great idea. For instance, I know two people who are amazingly deeply into squirrels. Everyone they know is always sending them squirrel plush dolls and videos of every squirrel being cute or clever on the Internet. Every report of where a squirrel, say, causes a stock market panic because they chewed through an Internet cable. Every time Mark Trail has a giant squirrel talk over a log cabin. They’re so renowned for being into squirrels that their hobby’s self-sustaining now. Their friends do all the work, and all they have to do is sometimes acknowledge that yeah, that squirrel sure got onto that bird feeder all right.

You could become that person with an amazing stock of music knowledge. For example: remember 1981? That year, three-eighths of all sounds were radio plays of the Theme to The Greatest American Hero. (Believe it or not!) I know, I’m surprised too. I remember 1981. I would have sworn it was at least three-and-a-half eighths of all sounds. Anyway, the guy who sang that, Joey Scarbury? He went on, with Desiree Goyette, to record “Flashbeagle”. You know, for the Charlie Brown special It’s Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown. Yes, Desiree Goyette, the voice of Irving’s other girlfriend Brenda from the 1987 Cathy cartoon. Anyway, drop a fact like that into any conversation and you’ll have changed it forever! I’m afraid that’s about all the music knowledge I have for you. Sorry. It has to be your thing, not mine, anyway.

You could become a know-it-all, but one who tempers every statement by prefacing it with “it’s my understanding that”. This doesn’t work. Also, it’s the kind of nonsense I do, and again, you should avoid doing things like I do.

You could be a person with a deep-dive podcast into some small mystery of life. Like, you could be the person who finally solves why the nutritional information for a noodle packet gives you both the cooked and the uncooked nutrition. Like, are there an appreciable number of people who’ll eat the Hamburger Helper mix — dry shells, powder and all — without any hamburger or water or help or anything? Who are the people tearing open packets of ramen to eat them raw? Where are they? Are they coming after us? Are they getting nearer? At the end of fourteen deeply thoughtful segments you come to the realization that everybody runs at minimum about 25% freak and, you know? If your freak turns out to be “chomps down on raw Noodle-Roni”? That’s fine. It’s not like you’re hurting anyone like you would if your freak had something to do with, I don’t know. Enchanting poodles or anything that’s professionally titled “arbitrage” or something. The good thing is if you do enough of this series, your audience may start doing fan art or sending in tips and then the thing becomes self-sustaining.

You could become a neighborhood legend. You maybe imagine that requires an incredible load of effort, such as by stealing three golf carts from the course on the north side of town, chaining them together, and RV’ing your golf cart train around the neighborhood park. Not at all. You can make do with two golf carts chained together, if the people who are Extremely Upset Online in the neighborhood Facebook group are representative.

What’s important is not so much what you do but that you choose something that feels right to you, a person you are trying to not be like. There are ways that this makes sense.

A mystery of the arts


You know, musical science tells us that there should have been a wave of annoying, acoustic covers of Born in the USA done in minor keys and being completely unavoidable even though nobody liked them that much. And we should have gotten sick of people complaining that the minor-key covers missed the point of the song. The most amazing thing is that this should have happened a decade ago, certainly no later than 2015. There is no explanation for this gap in the field.

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? Why is Gasoline Alley in reruns? March – May 2020


I don’t know why Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley went into reruns this last week. GoComics commenter 436rge asserted that Jim Scancarelli is preparing something for the 100th birthday of Skeezix. This seems plausible. Skeezik’s arrival in the strip made this comic. And others; it’s a landmark in comics history. It was key in giving us comic strips that are about people with life stories. And strips in which characters grew older and changed. It would be odd if Scancarelli did not make a big production of this.

Skeezix entered the strip the 14th of February, 1921. I have no information about whether Gasoline Alley will be in repeat through February of next year. It’s possible, but it’s not a sure thing.

If you’re reading this essay after about August 2020, we’ve probably left farms far in the distance. There should be a more up-to-date plot recap in a post at this link. Thanks for reading.

Gasoline Alley.

2 March – 23 May 2020.

So shy are farms like scrapbooking, but for food? A couple years ago the schoolteacher in Gasoline Alley promoted scrapbooking to the kids, as a good creative thing they should do. And Jim Scancarelli’s comic strip talked about it a lot. Or so it felt like; probably it was just a month or two of the characters being really into scrapbooking. That memory’s lodged itself in the Gasoline Alley snark-reading community, anyway. It’s a fun reference whenever a comic strip seems to start obsessing over something, whether it’s Mary Worth and CRUISE SHIPS or Gasoline Alley again and … farms. So that’s what I was on about last week.

Baleen Beluga, the new and personality-rich waitress at Corky’s diner, was getting closer to T-Bone, the cook. He’d like to get closer to her too, but rejected her Sadie Hawkins Day proposal trick. I don’t know the details of the Sadie Hawkins tradition but I’m pretty sure getting someone to agree that “I do [ know what leap year is ]” doesn’t make a breach-of-promise suit. Her feelings were hurt by T-Bone’s reluctance. Then her body was hurt, by slipping on the floor somehow. And you know what that means: visiting mirror-touch synesthetic physician’s assistant Peter Glabella at the clinic.

Beluga, crying: 'Boo-hoo! You care more for the soup than you do me!' T-Bone: 'Please don't cry, Baleen! Listen! We've got to work here at the diner! Let's talk about all this later!' Beluga: 'Leave me alone!' (Black panel filled with crashing noises: BANG! CRASH! E-YOWCH! Tinkle!) T-Bone: 'Baleen! Are you OK?'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 7th of March, 2020. I swear I’m not one of those needlessly literal readers who needs every single step explained. But I’d like to know what Baleen was doing, sitting down, that she could fall badly enough to hurt herself. Also I’m not sure that if I were doing the strip I’d have put ‘TINKLE’ there, just because, you know, bad laughs.

After a couple weeks of waiting-room gags Beluga meets Aubee Skinner. She’s the three-year-old latest generation of the comic strip’s star family. And we follow her and her mother home, to Rover Skinner. (Grandson of Walt Wallet, original centerpiece of the strip.) The handoff is done … oh, I’ll call it the 24th of March. You could date it as early as the 12th, when they arrived at the clinic, if you like. Or the 19th, when Aubee climbs into Beluga’s lap.


Rover is getting ready for the Farm Collective’s meeting. And he talks his teenage son Boog into coming along. (Wikipedia tells me Boog was born in September 2004, and Aubee in September 2016. So, yeah, these ages still check out for being real-time.)

The point of the meeting: to promote “saving our farmlands”. Attending the meeting are a bunch of the local farm families. Skinner’s thesis: without family farms, they’ll pave over the land, there’ll be no food, and people will starve. Checks out; that’s what must happen. But Skinner expands on the problem: land is expensive. And that’s all he mentions before explaining his special guest speaker isn’t there yet.

The Molehill Highlanders band plays, particularly, the World War I ditty “How’re You Gonna Keep ‘Em Down On The Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree?)”. Boog sees in this century-old paean to the dullness of farm life a way to get people excited about farm life. His father agrees, and soon everyone is buzzing about their campaign’s theme song. Also they have a campaign, I guess. Charlotte, Boog’s girlfriend, also has a great idea. Wouldn’t it help cut down farm expenses if local teens did the farm work, but for free? It sure would!

Boog: 'Hey, Pops! Charlotte came up with a cool suggestion! How 'bout us teens helping out some farmers with chores, planting, etc etc? They wouldn't have to pay us and ... ' Boog's father: 'How about you doing chores, etc, around your own home for free?' Boog and Charlotte: 'Gulp!' Comedy Parrot: 'Oh, brother ... er ... father!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 27th of April, 2020. Wait wait wait, have an agricultural labor force made up of unpaid and under-paid persons from a socially disadvantaged group? Is that possible?

She’s thinking internships or something. Anyway after all this, special guest speaker Eric Helmet arrives. He’s got a broken tractor and a bunch of farm-life jokes. And talks about how farming is expensive and hard. But, he figures, what if they had some kind of outreach program so that people understood agriculture? Also, Don Henley wrote “A Month Of Sundays”. That’s a fanciful ballad imagining a time in 1957 that bankers were friends to farmers.

Eric Helmet, speaking to the crowd: 'My memory must be in erase mode! I forgot to tell you something! There's a song by Don Henley called, 'A Month of Sundays!' It's about a farmer's feeling and the changing times! You can Google the lyrics! They sure are poignant!' Comedy Parrot: 'Does that mean *loud*?'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 11th of May, 2020. Now, if you google the melody instead of the lyrics, you find out Don Henley forgot to write one, but hey, some folks like that.

I don’t mean to make this sound disjointed. But what we see on-camera is disjointed. And shallow, considering it went on for about two months. I’m willing to trust that in “reality” Helmet talked in some detail about being a struggling farmer, or as it’s known technically, “being a farmer”. And I understand Scancarelli wanting to tell corny but amiable jokes. It’s more readable than the screwed up parts of agricultural policy, or as they’re known technically, “all of agricultural policy”. But it did read like a slightly weird obsession.


There’s no handoff to the current storyline. It just started the 18th of May. It’s also a repeat, something I would not have noticed (at this point) without reading the comments. It originally ran from the 19th of April through the 5th of June, 2010. So that’s six more weeks of this storyline. As it is, Walt Wallet is home from the hospital, after a stretch of being a hundred and twentyten years old. Gertie looks over his pills and worries about the side effects. We’ll see what happens after the 6th of July.

Next Week!

Why does James Allen’s Mark Trail look weird? I’ll share what I have learned. (I have learned nothing.) But we’ll see what the story has been.

Working on a further future project


After we edit-war Wikipedia into accepting “Colourado” as how United Kingdom folks spell the state name, how about adding in the astounding fact that after the Revolutions of 1848, the short-lived Republic of Colorado tried to form an alliance with France, offering to name itself “Tri-colourado” if it went through? But then, you know, Napoleon III and all that.

60s Popeye: Go see Sea Serpent, you’ll see it and serpent, I love it


Never mind the subject line. I was referencing this one Saturday Night Live bit from 1989 where they were really laying it on that Gene Shalit guy. They had him say, “Go see Sea of Love, you’ll see it and love it!” For some reason, my brain has decided this is one of the most important things I could ever remember.

Anyway I had good feelings going into this week’s cartoon, Sea Serpent. First, I’m a fan of sea serpents. I support the work they’ve been doing. Second, this is another Famous Studios production. The story’s by Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer. Director Seymor Kneitel. I could expect the cartoon to be competent in writing and animation. And how did those expectations pan out?

Olive Oyl’s a reporter, a promising start. I wanted to say it’s a new role for her, but I have the nagging feeling there was some Famous Studios cartoon with the same gimmick. I can’t place it, though. The gag of Olive Oyl’s typewriter barrel flying loose and having to be put back in place is standard, but I always like it. Popeye’s expositional lump that he never gets to see her since she took this job seems at odds with her anticipating her first assignment.

Editor Mr Byline — Jackson Beck, showing that he’s got range — sends her to Loch Ness on rumors there’s a Monster there. This reminds us that newspapers used to have travel budgets for their staff. Loch Ness seems like a far place to send a new reporter, especially on rumors. Maybe it’s not the Loch Ness in Scotland, though. Could be it’s a local lake that happens to share the name. This would be consistent with Brutus not affecting any kind of accent, and charging $10 an hour and $5 per picture for visitors.

Popeye protests he’s never seen a sea serpent, and you know, I think that’s right. He’s seen Jeeps, Goons, whiffle hens, and The Rokh, but a sea serpent? … Oh, wait, he has encountered a sea serpent too. Well, the serpent wasn’t the main menace. Maybe it slipped Popeye’s mind. Anyway Popeye agrees to take Olive Oyl to Loch Ness. If this is the one in Scotland, then he managed a long sailing expedition without getting shipwrecked, so his day’s looking up.

Brutus is tour guide, answering my notes’ question about why he wasn’t the newspaper editor. He’s got a nice fake Loch Ness Monster but business is awful, and he sees in Olive Oyl one really good mark. She ought to be counted as a loss leader, good press bringing in good business. But maybe Brutus has been at this a while and knows the attraction is tapped out.

Olive Oyl buys everything Brutus presents. Popeye uses his Columbo-like powers to tell right away who the bad guy is. Granted, if he just guesses “It’s Brutus” he’s going to be right … I think all the time? For the King Features cartoons anyway. But Popeye’s buying none of it, so Brutus kicks him into … the cave where he left the fake Monster foot. Olive Oyl won’t believe Popeye’s discovery and insists he made it, in seconds, without tools or raw materials. In fairness to Olive Oyl, the rules about what a character can and can’t do with a few seconds of work are vague. Especially when it could be Popeye’s eaten his spinach.

Brutus has more evidence: a sea serpent egg. This turns out to be a rock, which is not a pun here. Popeye learns that it’s a rock by Brutus dropping it on his head. This ruins a perfectly good rock. Can’t be easy finding egg-shaped rocks that size. Brutus must be readying to burn the Loch down for the insurance money.

Olive Oyl scolding Popeye, who's smugly holding his hand up to a green door. The green door is the chest panel of a Godzilla-like sea monster. There's a control panel of circles and an analog meter hanging in the center of the black void within the sea monster.
Olive Oyl is having absolutely none of Popeye’s claim that with vacuum tubes you get a warmer, better-rounded analog sea-monster roar.

Brutus has got a great centerpiece, though. An actual remote-control robot sea serpent. Or, well, off-brand Godzilla anyway. This is a heck of an up-front expense for his Loch Ness Monster tour thing. I too am surprised Loch-zilla is not drawing crowds. As it rises from the waters, Popeye races in so fast he doesn’t have time to have his eyes colored white. (Look at about 10:16, a rare, and trivial, animation error for Famous Studios.) Popeye sees the remote control, then swims out to take local control of Loch-zilla. With the creature storming out of control, Brutus out-runs Olive Oyl out of there, and Popeye laughs at all this.

Popeye explains how all this was done. This makes Olive Oyl angry, because she’s a person and that’s how people work. Popeye shrugs it off, saying he came for the laughs and this was funny! The end.

The conclusion’s a little weird. Never mind that Popeye never eats spinach, or comes near it. The end feels unresolved. After confident dismissing of a sea serpent as a possibility, and debunking Brutus’s hoax, it feels like comic logic requires an actual sea serpent. Or at least Olive Oyl getting some final line in. I wonder if they ran out of time for that.

Besides the unfinished resolution, this is about what I expect from a Famous Studios-made cartoon of the era. The story’s quite sensible, if a bit plodding. The animation’s solid, never doing anything great but never being bad. It has a couple of nice small touches, including the camera looking over characters’ shoulders. I’m always impressed when this era of cartoons lines up the characters in anything besides a plane parallel to the screen.

Really it’s all satisfactory. I would like more sea serpent, is all.

Statistics Saturday: The Phonetic Alphabet (Simplified)


Letter Phonetic Alphabet (Simplified) Representation
A Aaaay
B Baaay
C Saaay
D Daaay
E Eaaay
F Faaay
G Gaaay
H Haaay
I Iaaay
J Jaaay
K Kaaay
L Laaay
M Maaay
N Naaay
O Oaaay
P Paaay
Q Quaay [ pronounced “keey” ]
R Raaay
S Saaay
T Taaay
U Uaaay
V Vaaay
W UUaay
X Xaaay
Y Yaaay
Z Zaaay [ “zeday” outside the United States ]

Reference: Keystone: The Life and Clowns of Mack Sennett, Simon Louvish.

A thought about a career I never felt like trying


I realized that I’m glad I never got into a field that looks for experimental results. I realized that’s got to be pretty bad. I mean, imagine you do some research and it gives you the expected result. Everyone’s going to answer, “No duh”. But imagine you did the research and it came out surprising. Then everyone’s going to answer “No way”. Whatever happens you’re getting worn down. The only safe harbor is research that nobody has any response to. I couldn’t hack it in the field of getting responses.

Some further explorations of identity in the Plague Spring


So things are still a bit rough. I’m understating. On the roughness scale, which starts at 1 and goes up to “fell off the roof, scraped down the porch overhang, then plummeted into the crabapple bush”, things are averaging around “ … and then dropped into the wheelbarrow full of lava rocks heaped on the gravel driveway”. Still, this is a chance to try out a new identity, and be ready to unleash it on a changed and unsuspecting world. Forming a new identity is tough, but you can use some templates. It’s all right to try being the same person someone else is. Your attempt will be different from everyone else’s, and that makes your them a different them than their them is as you see it. Yeah, that sentence made me dizzy too. Best to move on. Here’s a few options to consider instead:

You could be the person who puts their lawn waste in collection bags from regional stores from other parts of the country. This is a good way to lightly bewilder the neighborhood. “This is Lansing, Michigan,” neighbors will say, if you live in Lansing, Michigan. “The nearest Price Chopper is in Syracuse! Are you driving seven and a half hours out of your way, crossing through Canada, to get these or do you have people mailing them to you?” They won’t ask you about it, but you’ll collect many excited looks from your neighbors.

You could be a person who can explain to me what exactly ‘var’ does in Javascript. I have to warn you, this is a tough one. Oh, for non-computer people: Javascript is what lets your web browser be slow, and make all the things on a page jump around until you give up reading it. It’s how web sites keep you from reading them anymore. Anyway, ‘var’ is this thing that sometimes you have to put in, except you don’t have to, so you don’t, and then sometimes it stops working, until you put it back in? I don’t know. I’ve had this explained to me like thirty times in the last twenty years and I still think it’s a prank whipped up by Javascript Master Command. Maybe it does something, but I don’t think it does, and anyway, I’m not going to remember why it does that.

You could become an immortal comic legend. This one is easy, in comparison. It just takes one step. Work out some kind of wordplay so that, after you’ve said your good joke, someone else can respond “… literally” and have that be a good joke too. I don’t have any idea what that would look like. But there was this paper in the Journal of Theoretical Joke Structures last month which said one can exist.

You could try being me. I recommend against it. Not that I can’t mostly put up with me. It’s that being me involves a lot of standing up from a comfortable enough chair, walking four feet, rubbing my hands, and deciding to sit back down again. It’s not much of a pastime. But when you consider what my knees are like it’s a lot of strain to no good purpose. Sometimes they make the noise your car makes when you have to replace that brake thing that’s $600 but if the mechanic can find some spares, only be $580. But, you know, I committed to being me, so who am I to say I was wrong to do that? Ask me when I’m staring at the ceiling at 5:30 am, tonight and every night.

You could be yourself, but two feet over to the left. This is attainable by just about everybody, unless their apartment is too small.

You could become a world-renowned puppeteer. You can even pick the world you want. They’re finding new ones all the time, so you can be renowned all over that world. How is anybody going to check on you? It’s not like they can get to the observatory any better than you can. You can even make up the world, and that’ll work with all your friends except the astronomers you know. And how many astronomers do you know? I mean well enough they feel like they should come to your parties but don’t? If you’re like me, and I still don’t recommend being me, you know four at most. You can get them to play along. Just agree to cover them for their new identities.

Anyway whoever you choose to be, good luck. Let me know how your knees work out.

A very little video game I remember from the 80s


You know something I got with some pack of cracked 80s video games? A Smurfs game. I’m not sure what genre it was. It was like a platformer, except that nothing happened. All that you had to do was not step on a dangerous spot. The thing was, the cracked version had this thing where you could turn off one or both of the sprites that made up Generic Smurf. One of those sprites was the upper half of his body, and the other the lower half. So if you turned off the lower half of his body, you wouldn’t ever hit the dangerous spots. You could just have the torso and arms and head of Generic Smurf floating over very many slightly different terrains, all while the tra-laaaaaa-lala-lala song plays over and over and over again, until you go mad.

What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? How was Shaky’s extortion of Tess Tracy supposed to work? February – May 2020


There is no possible way that Shaky’s extortion of Tess Tracy could have worked.

I’m happy to catch you up on Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy. If you’re reading this after about August 2020 I probably have a more up-to-date plot recap here.

Also, if you’re interested in comic strips with a mathematical theme? I am, too, and I write about them regularly at my other blog. Plus there’s some other interesting stuff happening there. I hope you enjoy.

Dick Tracy.

23 February – 17 May 2020.

Shaky, nephew of a Dick Tracy antagonist killed in the 40s, was attempting revenge. His plan: give an alibi to James McQueen, who he doesn’t care anything about. McQueen had been convicted of first-degree backstory. The evidence against him was gathered by Tess Tracy’s detective agency. Shaky figured to extort Tess Tracy. His deal: she pays him to suppress his (fake) evidence, or he goes to the press saying she suppressed evidence.

Shaky is confident in his plan, even though his plan is quite bad. The only way it could fail is if Tess reports the scheme to her husband, star detective of the Major Crimes Unit. Somehow, she does. Shaky shows up for his first payoff, and Dick Tracy provides it by shooting him. Shaky shoots Tess, though.

[ The Tracy Agency ] Shaky: 'Time's up, Mrs Tracy! Your payment is due today and I'm here to collect.' Dick Tracy: 'And I'm here to arrest you for extortion, Shaky!' Shaky: 'Aw, heck no! BACK OFF, TRACY!' He reaches for a gun; Tracy shoots him. Shaky shoots wildly(?), hitting Tess Tracy.
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 8th of March, 2020. Tess Tracy would spend a while in the hospital. I’m not sure we’ve seen her discharged yet. We did see several days of doctors agreeing this was very serious and Dick Tracy seen from behind, standing somberly.

Shaky and his wife(?) Edison flee to a safe house. “Ugly” Crystal, daughter of undercover cop Lafayette Austin and (the late) Ugly Christine, is there. I think we’re supposed to take that Shaky got a key to the house from Mister Bribery, Ugly Crystal’s uncle. Crystal takes this intrusion with calm. She nags him about smoking until he flees, and then calls the cops.

Shaky and Edison show up at the door of his cousin Quiver Trembly. Who tells him to get lost: she’s dealt with Dick Tracy twice and has had enough. But he has ideas to help Trembly’s charity-donation scam. So she agrees to deal with his crazy. Within minutes, the cops converge on him. Trembly says she’s not even gonna fight this. I’m not clear that she has any reason to think Dick Tracy knows she exists, but I understand her wanting to skip to the end. Edison gets out of the car and tries to get lost in the crowd. Shaky, though, he’s got a plan.

Shaky, on a steel girder, shooting down: 'Stay back, you lousy cops!' Dick Tracy, through a megaphone: 'Shaky, throw down the gun or we'll shake you off that girder!' Shaky: 'The devil you will!' Tracy, to crane operator: 'Start moving the girder!' Shaky: 'NO! STOP IT! I GIVE UP!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 5th of April, 2020. I’m supposing the interrogation of Shaky mostly centers on “what about your plans made you think they were anything but quite bad?” and “have you considered that you’re not good at crime?”. Maybe, “so have you ever had a plan that turned out like you planned?”. Certainly at least “do you have other interests that might get you not-arrested sometimes?”.

Shaky is confident in his plan, even though his plan is quite bad. Shaky holds a construction crew foreman at gunpoint, demanding to be raised by a crane on a steel girder, the better to shoot Dick Tracy. So, you know something? Using a handgun? From 50 feet off the ground? When you’re on a steel girder? Held only by ropes? That you cling to? When you’re a guy named “Shaky”? Turns out that’s a bad way to be a sniper. The cops arrest Shaky, and Trembly for good measure. And figure they’ll get the accomplice (Edison; they don’t know who she is) later on.


The 7th of April saw the new, current story start. Its center is B.O. Plenty, Junior Tracy’s father-in-law. And like many Staton/Curtis stories, it’s steeped Dick Tracy lore of the 40s. Breathless Mahoney was, before Madonna played her in the movie, step-daughter of the original Shaky. I learn from the Dick Tracy wikia, which tries to explain the Plenty-Mahoney connection. If I have it right, Mahoney, on the run, stumbled into the Plenty farm. While hiding there she drugged Dick Tracy and, with fled to the city with Plenty for some reason. They got separated, but reunited when Plenty stole the car she was hiding in. Plenty strangled Breathless “nearly to death” while robbing her. She got arrested and recovered from the battery, but died in prison anyway of plot disease. B.O. would reform and become a respectable citizen and part of the Tracy clan.

B.O. Plenty, reading the paper: 'Some outfit is shooting a movie in this city! About Breathless Mahoney! Gertie don't know anything about me and Breathless, and I want to keep it that way. My lettle Sparkle don't know her pappy was almost a murderer!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 8th of April, 2020. I guess B.O. Plenty’s explained things just fine here. I don’t know that I need to detail it further.

So, someone’s making a bio-pic about Breathless Mahoney. B.O. Plenty tries and fails to keep the news secret from his family. The lead actor, Fortuna Dyer, wants to know everything about Mahoney. So she’s talking with everyone who knew her. And she’s telling people to call her Breathless during the film shoot. And while she talks with Dick Tracy. And while she looks over Mahoney’s career and works out exactly when and how she blew it. She mentions how she’s a method actor. So she’s looking forward to a long life as a respectable and respected member of society.


Those are all the major plot threads that have been going on the last few months. There are a couple of minor ones. The most ambiguous is a two-week Minit Mystery, written and drawn by Charlie Wise. It’s about Mysta Chimera, who used to be Mindy Ermine, a crime boss’s daughter. She got mind-wiped and genetically engineered to be the new Moon Maiden. So now she’s a Lunarian with sci-fi powers that Chester Gould would hilariously insist was based on real science. In the “Mystery”, Chimera gets kidnapped. It’s by Scarmony Corybant, former cellmate of Mindy Ermine. Corybant’s looking for plans for the Space Coupe, Diet Smith’s famous magnetically-driven spaceship. Which, again, Chester Gould would hilariously insist was based on real science.

[ Minit Mysteries ] Corybant: 'You can't imagine what it was like after you stopped writin'! I waited, always hopin!' Mysta Chimera: 'I was kidnapped! They took away my memory!' Behind them is a jail cell, with the figure of Corybant curled up and shown only in silhouette, to reflect it being a memory. Corybant: 'You really won't remember? We were gonna buy a pony farm together.' Chimera: 'IS THAT WHAT THIS IS ALL ABOUT?!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 20th of April, 2020. Guest artist and writer Charlie Wise. I won’t quarrel with you if you don’t like the way Charlie Wise drew the characters. But having Corybant’s memory be shown behind them, with herself in a featureless outline (done several times in the sequence) is a quite good choice.

While fighting Corybant, Chimera says how now she remembers hating her jokes. Corybant complains how Ermine broke her promise to write her cellmate. Or to, when they got out, buy a pony farm, which Chimera finds as weird as I do. They fight long enough for Dick Tracy to arrive, and catch Corybant. Chimera, though, thanks Scarmony “for showing me who I was,” and does buy a pony farm. And sends Corybant, in jail, pictures from it.

So, first, this wasn’t any kind of mystery. Not in any aspect. Second, it seems to establish that Chimera is regaining some memories of her life as Mindy Ermine. Is that part of the continuity now? I would be surprised if Staton and Curtis would let Charlie Wise change something about a major character in a way they didn’t approve. But it does mean they have an excuse to revert this change if they decide they don’t like it. So I’m not quite sure what we did watch, then.


Another little bit: Annie Warbucks has been accepted into the Young Journalists Academy. One of her teachers is another cancelled-adventure-strip star, Brenda Starr. I wasn’t figuring on some vague wordplay when I started that sentence, but you’ll notice I let it stand.


Mysta Chimera, who’s been having a heck of a year, got a visit from Dennis Deyoung, of Styx. This in a follow-up to her being kidnapped by a Mister Roboto-themed Styx fan.


And Dick Tracy put off talking with Fortuna “Breathless II” Dyer a bit to recommend against paroling William “Broadway” Bates. Bates is a con artist, going back in the strip to 1932. He’s also The Penguin’s brother, but in ways that could be denied in front of a trademark hearing. So that’s a refresher that the character exists and might do a thing.

Next Week!

Farms: they’re like scrapbooking, but for food! What does this weird string of words mean? My recap of Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley should have an answer. Someone remind me to answer that.

Just thinking out some future projects here


So how many people do you think would have to fight a dedicated Wikipedia edit war for about a month before people would accept as true that folks in the United Kingdom spell the US state name “Colourado”? I think we could do it with, like, six people unshakable in their resolve.

60s Popeye: Little Olive Riding Hood, I’m gonna keep my sheep suit on


Fun fact: Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs’s “Little Red Riding Hood” is my go-to song for karaoke night. This is because you can do an okay job on it if you can only hit one note, and that’s all I can do. There’s no guessing what note I will hit, but I can keep to it all right.

This week’s 60s Popeye episode is Little Olive Riding Hood. The title gives me expectations. So do the credits. The story’s from Ed Nofziger, who also did the story for Swee’Pea Thru The Looking Glass and Hamburger Fishing, besides other cartoons not obviously based on fairy tales. (And fairy-tale adjacent things, like the Alice stories.) Animation Direction is credit to Harvey Toombs, who directed Hamburger Fishing and several other cartoons I’ve already gone over. Coffee House, for example, the Beatnik episode. We’ll see more of him. As you’d guess if you’ve been around here, this is all a Jack Kinney production.

We start in Popeye’s Boring Suburban Home again. Telling Swee’Pea a story is the framing device. Sometimes Swee’Pea demands a story. This time, he’s happy Popeye is telling one.

The cartoon starts off well. Fairy tales are a pretty good starting point for a Popeye cartoon, especially one like this that has to be done quick and cheap. The audience knowing the fairy tale plot takes the burden of plotting a story off the cartoon. They can riff around scenes and still have something which makes sense. … And, yet, somehow, it all falls apart anyway.

So Olive Oyl is the Riding Hood, Wimpy her sick grandmother, the Sea Hag the wolf, and Popeye the brave woodchopper or whoever the other guy is in the Little Red Riding Hood story. It’s decent casting, although I wonder again why not Brutus. Maybe Kinney Studios wasn’t sure that Brutus was available? Or maybe they just felt BlutoBrutus was worn out. Or maybe too much physical menace for the cartoon.

There’s good stuff early on. Introducing the characters, for example. The Sea Hag crashing into Wimpy’s house and mourning she’s gotta get those brakes fixed. Wimpy sitting up at the table, knife and fork at the ready, licking his lips and wanting ham-[pause]-burgers. Or after this, the Sea Hag sitting up exactly in imitation of Wimpy’s pose, with his hat on her head. While Wimpy is off in the forest sitting on a tree stump.

But we get to Little Olive Riding Hood encountering the Sea Hag, and doing the-better-to-eat-hamburgers-with bit. The Sea Hag jumps on Olive Oyl, and … why? Because the narrative of the original fairy tale requires it, sure. But we don’t get a hint Olive Oyl wasn’t going to give her Wimpy’s hamburgers, not yet. We get a fight, or at least the camera shaking around and zooming in and out while the uptempo music plays. This brings Popeye back to Wimpy’s house to fight. This even though Popeye can’t hit a woman even if she is the Sea Hag. But since we never see him doing anything, we can’t say he’s hitting anybody either. Maybe he’s just punching the tree he dragged into the house a lot.

Olive Oyl, dressed as Little Red Riding Hood, stands before a dining table. Seated at it is the Sea Hag, wearing Wimpy's hat, and holding up knife and fork.
Thanks for coming out to support Thimble Theatre Improv Night everyone, it’s your support that keeps spontaneous comedy alive.

Wimpy joins in the off-camera action, and the bounciest picnic basket in the world goes out the house a couple times. Finally Popeye catches it and declares the hamburgers ain’t for free, and ain’t for no stealing witch. So sure the Sea Hag shouldn’t get the hamburgers, but why not Wimpy? Riding Olive said she was taking the burgers to a sick friend who was in Wimpy’s house. If Popeye saw through Wimpy’s scam shouldn’t he have said something about it so dumb Olds like me aren’t confused?

Wimpy’s promise to pay for the burgers later is implicitly turned down, and he and Sea Hag go off to try Roughhouse’s. This yet another mention of Roughhouse and his cafe without his appearance. The King Features animators are really sure we’re going to recognize and be interested in Roughhouse when he finally appears. I don’t want to deflate their hype but all he is just “a guy who hates Wimpy but falls for his scams”. He’s basically Geezil without the uncomfortable Jewish coding.

The notion of paying for the burgers comes up again, with Popeye offering to buy some, but not getting to. And Olive Oyl eats her burgers, declaring how she loves them especially when they are paid for. It’s the punch line for a joke not set up. With the coda, in the frame, of Swee’Pea now declaring he’s hungry and wants hamburgers. You know, the way it’s funny that someone who hears a story about a particular food might decide they’d like to eat that food.

It’s weird that I can’t say the ending is bad. Just that it doesn’t fit the start. It’s close to fitting, though. Add a line about Popeye figuring out that Wimpy isn’t really sick. Drop the talk about paying for burgers. Then, yeah, you’ve got a fairy-tale riff that hangs together. It seems like it’d be easier to not write the broken version of this. What happened?

There remain great mysteries in the making of these cartoons.

Statistics Saturday: The Phonetic Alphabet


Letter Phonetic Alphabet Representation
A Able
B Baker
C Chewie
D Doorbell
E Exsanguinate
F Fluorocarbon
G Golf
H Habardasher
I India Golf
J Jiminiy [ as in Jumpin’, and pronounced with the Scandinavian accent of a minor Rankin/Bass stop-motion animation character; following it with “by gum” or “golly gee” is allowed but deprecated since 2006 ]
K Kabibble
L Lawn India Golf
M Metropolitan
N Netropolitan
O Orange
P Pekoe
Q Quincy Wagstaff
R Ratiocinate
S Siesta
T Turtle
U Umbridge
V Humbridge
W Wumbridge
X X-TREME!!!
Y Why Not?
Z Zeddmore

Reference: The Unknown Dominion: Canada and her People, Bruce Hutchison.

Continuing in the Me/iTunes Conversations


The scene, earlier today:

Me: That’s it. I’m finally going to do whatever it takes to make iTunes stop showing me episodes of podcasts that I listened to one episode of, once, and never subscribed to.

Ben Franklin’s World podcast: What do you know about the origins of the 11th Amendment? Join us as we explore why the United States added it to its constitution.

Me, nodding: Yes, well-played. Very well-played, that.


For those who don’t remember this one: the 11th Amendment is the constitutional amendment which specifies zzzzzzZZZZZZZZZZ [ falls out of the chair ]

Oof. Sorry there. right. No, the 11th Amendment is an important part of federalism because it guarantees zzsnrrrrZZZ [ falls asleep again, does not wake up until March ]


(PS: the episode is twelve minutes long in its entirely and about half of that is the host explaining how the schedule is changing and they’re trying different formats, so the actual content is maybe five minutes, which I think counts as officially dunking on the 11th Amendment.)

Remembering the home computers of the 1980s


I wanted to share my experiences in home computing in the 1980s. I may not remember it quite right, but I remember it at all. You, I can’t trust to remember my experiences at all. I mean apart from my dad, who tells me he reads these things. But as I remember it, what he would remember is I disappeared into my room for up to 84 hours at a stretch. I’d emerge just because the groceries needed to be put away. And by putting them away myself I could put things in the freezer correctly, unlike everyone else.

Also I could get dibs on the microwave fried chicken. The microwave fried chicken was awful, understand. But it was convenient. Also the thighs would taste weird, which is not to say the same as good. But if I didn’t get away from the computer, someone else might eat that first. I don’t know whether my dad remembers this, but it’s got little to do with my computer experience. It would have looked the same to him if I spent all that time in my room re-reading the Star Trek comic book where the Excalbians went to Space War with the Organians because they were bored.

Big thing to remember is that how you got software was different. There were all these magazines that offered the promise of neat stuff, like, going around riding a dragon. And anyone could play this, if they just typed in six pages of three-column column text and trying not to get too much of it wrong. Then it turned out to be fun for maybe one-fourth the time you spent typing it in. Not everything was games, no. If you had a Commodore 64 you could type in programs that would let you use the graphics and the sound on the Commodore 64. It wouldn’t help you have anything to draw or … sound out. But if you ever thought of something, you were ready. Sometimes we would swap out the ROM version of the computer’s operating system for a RAM copy that was identical, except it didn’t throw a fit if you tried to find the ASCII value of an empty string. There were reasons this was important.

Still, games were great, because the only other software out there was spreadsheets and word processors. It still is, but now the spreadsheets and word processors are in a web browser so annoying ads can flash at you. But if you didn’t want to type in a game, you could get a professionally made game.

Compute! magazine issue #90 cover, showing a watercolor illustration of a kid riding on the shoulder of a large green wyvern, to advertise the text-adventure game The Hermit.
What rational person could resist getting this magazine and typing in the cover program? I mean, the chance to load, run, rename or delete IBM files at the touch of a key? Paradise! Fun fact: you could speed your Atari up to 30% just by tilting it backwards so as many electrons as possible were running downhill.

Thing to understand about computer games back then is that nobody ever bought them. You just … got them, somehow. Not really clear how, or who from. But they came on tape cassettes or on discs that a friend loaded you and you copied, or that they copied and gave you. There were stores that claimed to sell software, yes. They had welcoming names like Professor Technofriend’s Software Empori-fun. Doesn’t matter. They never sold anything. The top-selling game of the 80s, Broderbund’s Karateka, saw sixteen copies sold in stores. There was never a game for the Amiga that sold. Game companies didn’t even try. They just gave the gold master disc to someone who knew this guy who worked(?) somewhere (??). He’d crack the copy protection and then make a kabillion copies with a fun message on the first screen. Every playground would have copies, although there was only one kid in school who had an Amiga. So that oversaturated the market.

The traded tapes, though, they’d have like 428 games on them. This seems like great value, what with them being free. The drawback is the games were mostly boring. There’d be, like, tic-tac-toe only it’s a grid of four rows and columns. Or Blackjack, except there’s no graphics or placing bets and you can’t do that thing where you split a hand when you’re dealt doubles. You’d just press space and watch numbers come up in a row until someone busted. In hindsight, I don’t know how it is I spent so much time on this. Oh, well, there was a Wheel of Fortune game that was great. It was even better after I memorized all six puzzles and could start solving puzzles after five letters. I typed it in from a magazine.

I know this all sounds ridiculous. But if it weren’t ridiculous we wouldn’t have done it. This is still true.

In which I talk back to the clickbait


I am sorry, YouTube clickbait promising the “top ten moments of Transformers The Movie (1986)”, but that would be the entirety of Transformers The Movie (1986). Though I have not seen Transformers The Movie (1986) since college I am certain it is exactly as awesome as I remember and has no segments that are now really embarrassing or painful.

OK, Wheelie was bad. But otherwise every bit of Transformers The Movie (1986) was the greatest thing humanity has ever done, not excepting the extinction of smallpox, Voyager’s “Pale Blue Dot” photograph, and every scene where a Simpsons character gives a false name.

What’s Going On In Prince Valiant? What are those women doing with bats? February – May 2020


They’re collecting guano as fertilizer. So thanks for catching up on Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant here. If you’re reading this after about August 2020 I should have a more up-to-date plot recap at this link, where you’ll also find past plot recaps. And if you want to be up to speed for the time of King Arthur, as seen in May 2020, please keep on reading.

Prince Valiant.

16 February – 10 May 2020.

Prince Valiant was heading home! Or at least to Camelot. It turns out his ‘home’ thing is complicated. Our Heroes are about a day out from Camelot when they run into a village trying to execute some witches. The evidence is pretty strong: they’re women. They’re doing a lot with bats. And shortly after criticizing the women, the old Baron Imbert died. Sir Gawain rides in, adjudicating a land dispute between Imbert and Afton, one of the locals. The land has a cave on it that legend says restores youth. And there’s the rumor that Afton, or one of the women, summoned a demon to clear Imbert away.

Aleta figures the women aren’t witches. Valiant agrees, but they are out there being weird, and that’s all your average peasant needs to tag women as witches. Valiant and party go to the tavern for dinner. They’re confronted by a drunk and belligerent Gareth. Gareth was Imbert’s son, but was not recognized as his heir, so I got that wrong last time around. I’m sorry. Goaded by his mother to “claim what is rightfully ours” he stumbles out in the night. Gareth’s mother, Hadwise, reiterates that he totally has a claim on the dead lord’s estate. Valiant and Aleta groan that they’ve got plot to deal with now.

Having their interest in the death of the local lord met with treachery, Val and Aleta choose to retreat to their room at the village inn. Val braces the lone chair against the door and places the Singing Sword at the ready. 'So much for a romantic evening to ourselves', says Val ruefully. 'We have stepped into a rat's nest, and will need to watch our toes.' Aleta reflects on the eventful day: 'There seems to be no obvious explanation for Lord Imbert's death. Afton and Audrey are passionately jealous of their land, and as such are easy to blame, but there are others here with equal reason ... ' 'Gareth, certainly,' muses val. 'He has an entitled demeanor and so a motive. Hadwise, as well. She is a scorned woman with much to gain from the Baron's demise, and the men who waylaid me acted out of fear of our inquiries ... ' He stops. There is a shuffling outside their room. A light flickers under the door, and shadows move across that light ...
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 22nd of March, 2020. So, fun recreational puzzle for you. Prince Valiant, like most of the story strips, is designed so that you can lay it out for a broadsheet newspaper, two broad rows of panels, or a tabloid, with three narrow rows of panels. How can you rearrange these panels to fit the tabloid format without redrawing them all? If you’re stumped, The Daily Cartoonist’s D D Degg solved the problem, albeit for a different Sunday page.

A band of 1d4+2 ruffians who overheard all this confront Valiant outside the tavern. They warn him off asking questions. And mention that what was done was ‘at the baron’s behest’. Valiant wins the fight, although since all the ruffians except the one he knocked out fled, he can’t get more information.

In the morning Hadwise is outside, calling out the mob. Gareth’s dead and she blames the women as witches. Aleta tries to break this up. She points out if they are witches who’ve magically killed Imbert and Gareth maybe don’t rile them up? This buys a little time for investigations.

Gareth’s corpse is in Imbert’s manor house, looking pretty well twisted and tortured. The cook was the last to see Gareth alive. The drunk Gareth came in, declaring he was the new Lord, and demanded the same supper Imbert would have. The cook decided making it was less hassle than arguing, fed him, and left. Aleta can’t find any poisons. And the staff is cleaning up the room where Gareth’s body was found, so there won’t be any fingerprints or usable DNA. Oh, also the mob has gone off to burn down the accused witches. Which, great. They race off for the cottage.

Turns out that’s a misunderstanding: the women are doing a controlled burn of their fields. All right. And Valiant and Aleta’s son Nathan has a discovery too: the women are not witches. They’re just very observant, have looked around, and found that the dark ages sucks. They want to zip right to the era of Jethro Tull. The agriculturalist, not the band. For bands they’re more into Pink Floyd, or as they exhaust everyone by saying, The Pink Floyd Sound. Valiant sighs but accepts it’s his duty to work out their land dispute.

Val and Aleta finish their wild ride back fro Imbert's manor to find Nathan enthusiastically working on a field burn: 'I've had the most wonderful time with Afton and Audrey! They are not witches - they study the natural world and its phenomena! When they saw that I understand the studies they conduct with the bats, they invited me to join them. And they are observant farmers - they have learned that burning old growth off their fields promotes new growth, which is made even more bountiful when fertilized with the droppings of the bats.' The burn completed, Afton and Audrey join the group. 'The boy is a fast study,' says Afton. 'Tonight Audrey goes to the bats' cave to collect more of our fertilizer, the best in all the land. Much better than that of the pigs the stupid locals use.' Gawain, who is a slow study, cannot resist ;'Then, to afford protection against what dangers may lurk in the underworld, I insist that I should accompany the fair Au --- ' 'You most certainly should not insist', Audrey snaps, 'Unless you wish your right eye to match your left!'
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 3rd of May, 2020. Sir Gawain has not had a lot to do this story, but what he has done is “be Johnny Bravo”. So that’s why he’s got one black eye and is cruising for another.

The women are proud and defensive of their discoveries. And would like to point out the villagers are idiots who’ll mess with the bats in the cave. Valiant wants to see this cave that everybody’s so excited about.

And that’s where we’ve gotten. I understand the women’s interest in the cave. And Imbert’s, although where he had gotten the idea the caves would grant youth from is a mystery yet. And we’re still lacking an answer for how Gareth died. It could be something in his being an angry entitled drunk demanding lots of food. We’ll see what develops over the next several months.

Next Week!

It’s the traditionally busiest of these plot recaps. I look at
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy, if nothing disrupts my schedule.
But it’s 2020. It’s the year of un-disrupted schedules. For decades to come we will be saying, “2020 was the most rupt year of our lives”. Can’t wait to start work on it. Thanks for reading.

Around the house


So we’ve reached the point where I keep thinking that I see my love’s phone, poised on the edge of every single table, simultaneously. Sometimes on more than one edge of the table. I blame this on how every piece of consumer electronics we buy anymore is a hand-sized black rectangle. The next time we buy an external hard drive it will be absolutely anything that comes in pink and is a hexagon. It doesn’t even have to be a regular hexagon and it can be up to twelve inches on any one side. Hard drive makers, work on this.

60s Popeye, Invisible Popeye: the heck am I watching?


Settle in, kids. We got a weird one. I know, I can hear you getting excited. The weird cartoons are fun even if my review just becomes live-tweeting.

It’s another cartoon from the Jack Kinney studios. Hugh Fraser gets credit for the story and for the animation direction. Here, featuring Professor O G Wotasnozzle, is Invisible Popeye.

O G Wotasnozzle, inventor, was created by Elzie Segar to give us a reason to read his other comic strip, Sappo. He migrated to Popeye, bringing the strip the occasional wacky invention. In the King Features cartoons he showed up a fair bit, usually with the time machine that Olive Oyl dusts at the start. The cartoon does nothing to explain what this is or why it would do anything, but you know? When you’re seven years old? Somehow you never need anything explained. Each year I regret I can no longer follow the plot of Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July. To a kid, it makes intuitive sense. Of course Olive Oyl should accidentally activate the time machine and get sent off to … somewhere.

Olive Oyl gets a cute line about how “scientists don’t seem to mind a little dust as long as it’s cosmic”. That is such a 1960 line. It’s not that space scientists have lost an interest in cosmic dust, but when do you ever hear about it anymore? Also Olive Oyl looks back over her shoulder at the camera. For this era of cartoon, it’s a subtle movement. This is also about where everything falls apart.

Wotasnozzle comes in and, using stock footage, discovers his time machine tampered with. And in other stock footage realizes that “they’ve” got Olive Oyl. Also that “they” are an entity that exists. Who are “they” and what do they want with Olive Oyl? … Great questions.

Professor Wotasnozzle smiling wildly while patting the input of his time machine, which is this big clock face with an eye, a mouth, some computer-y grids, a light bulb, and a satellite dish.
He has fun.

Wotasnozzle phones Popeye, who’s in what looks like stock footage of sleeping. His half of the call has something to do with something being “decontaminated”. And what was contaminated? Great question. Popeye rushes over to Wotasnozzle’s lab and eats his spinach right away. It’s the sensible thing to do, but raises the question why he doesn’t start every cartoon with the spinach power-up. Other than for fear of making the cartoons too short. Then we see the time machine as its stock footage normally works. Thus the gloved mechanical hand sliding Popeye through the air while Wotasnozzle runs merrily around the machine. Given all the work Wotasnozzle has to do to make this run it’s surprising Olive Oyl could get sent anywhere without help.

The time machine sends Popeye to my heart’s deepest desire, a great domed city. Apparently it’s in space for how Popeye flies around it. But he can’t break through, so Wotasnozzle hurries him back for more preparation. The tool that will make all the difference: invisibility pills. He swallows them in a cross-section animation. I recognize it from early-60s parodies of some indigestion-relief pill. I don’t know which. All I know is the parodies.

Does the invisibility work? Sure does, illustrated by using stock footage of Popeye doing the sailor’s hornpipe but leaving out parts of the animation cells. You have to animate invisibility somehow, and Fraser goes for having Popeye just not be seen. When we the audience have to know where he is, it’s footprints. It’s a workable answer. It doesn’t explain how Wotasnozzle can follow along on his viewscope, but there is a lot about Wotasnozzle’s lab that isn’t explained. Anyway this has all been a bunch of plot. Now it’s time for the cartoon to really sit on our heads and make us beg for mercy. There’s three minutes, 15 seconds left.

Back in the future(?), Popeye figures he can now sneak past the guards. What guards? Where did they come from? Wasn’t the problem an impenetrable dome? … Great questions.

He strides past a robot(?) guard to the civic center. He pushes through a crowd made up of the robot(?) helmets, without bodies, because to walk around he’d have to take two steps to the right. He reads that Olive Oyl’s on exhibit. Off to the monorail for a ride to the Palace Circle. This is important because it sets up a monorail chase that won’t make sense later.

A giant robot statue holds a vast opaque dome. Near it, a zig-zaggy glowing line forms a bridge-of-light between two short walls, one of which is attached to a ladder. The background, however, is the panel for an interior of a spaceship, with riveted panels and windows, wholly out of scale. It's disorienting to look at.
The thing is a bridge isn’t just about letting you get somewhere you couldn’t easily get otherwise. A bridge can be about getting there in style.

He arrives at a giant robot statue holding an enormous dome. It looks like the cover that snooty waiters use to bring food to the Marx Brothers. And then we jump to the completely wrong background. We’re supposed to see Popeye trying to figure how to get over a moat to the Olive Oyl exhibit. But since what we see is a giant interior of a monorail car. So good luck figuring out why Popeye can’t walk across what looks like as open a plaza as anything on the Brutalist college campuses I attended. Also how do we know this is Palace Circle? How do we know Olive Oyl is here? Where do those two guards blip to when they disappear? … Great questions.

Popeye frees Olive Oyl from her captivity, a chair that doesn’t have armrests. Also a ball and chain. He tears off the ball and chain, throwing it at the guards to get them fighting. His invisibility starts to wear off, giving him the chance to use the sailor’s hornpipe stock footage again, this time with bullets shot at him. Then he swallows the other invisibility pills Wotasnozzle gave him for just this sort of emergency. There’s a curious glow around where Popeye’s chest should be here. It’s a neat effect, suggesting maybe that he’s supposed to become visible again. But there’s so little of this cartoon that seems like it was animated on purpose. I can’t rule out that it’s a long-lived compression artifact in the YouTube file. The glow starts about 20:46, though, which probably means it’s just some weird effect.

Two short robots shoot bullets at the feet of Popeye, whose legs are the only visible thing in frame. Popeye is doing the sailor's hornpipe dance. There is a weird patch of light about where Popeye's chest would go.
Even allowing that they’re shooting at an invisible guy it seems like they shouldn’t be missing.

Popeye ties the guards’ antennas together, which starts them electrocuting each other, which seems like a design flaw. Olive Oyl warns they’re calling out the guards and what do you know, but the giant robot statue in the Palace Circle orders the guards called out. Also the statue is itself a robot, I guess. It could be the robot king. Who knows?

They make a getaway in the monorail, which is brilliant except for being stupid. It turns out that cars behind and ahead of them converge on Popeye’s car. Popeye declares that he’ll “bam-bobble them with me invisible muscles”. By this he means he’ll have his car go on the underside of the monorail, which is a thing that monorail cars can do. The pursuing cars collide. Also Popeye’s car crashes into the robot statue back at the Palace Circle, which is an occurrence that makes sense. Popeye and Olive Oyl climb out from right where they started and Wotasnozzle remembers he can just bring them back now.

Popeye’s got one of the robot(?) helmets stuck on his head. Still, he knows they’re home safe and sound. While sneezing, Olive Oyl inhales two invisibility tablets right off the counter, which is a thing that happens, and she blips out of the cartoon. Well, she kisses Popeye some. The Sailor Man declares, embarrassed, “this invisibility has ruined my visibility”. The declaration seems like it meant something to somebody at some point.

Two cars on the top of a monorail track race toward each other. A third car races away, clinging to the underside and racing toward a support pylon.
Try this one weird trick to make your railroad friend hate you!
… Of all possible features for Future Space Robot Mars why is the church the one we can make out?

This cartoon invites us to ask many questions, but most of them are versions of “the heck am I watching?”. It’s not that this has to be an incoherent story. The premise is good, and up to Popeye’s return to the future it’s presented well. But then we’re hit with what seem like missing scenes, such as establishing that there’s a guard for Popeye to get past. Or that the giant robot statue is not just decoration but can bark out orders. Or that the robots even speak: they’re mute for so long that it’s weird when the robot starts to speak. Add in the animation glitches and what should be a straightforward cartoon loses coherence.

It’s also a disappointing vision of the future. It’s basically a domed city, a monorail, and the light bridge. These are good props but there’s not much done with them. And the background error makes the introduction of the light bridge seem pointless. Certainly having Olive Oyl get lost, and Popeye get sent after her, demands a good chunk of the five-minute run time. But why not have Popeye interact with a local instead of push his way past a crowd they don’t want to really draw? Popeye having a false start and having to return to Wotasnozzle is a nice bit of business, but would the cartoon have been better if we met the Future Robot(?) King instead?

But if they didn’t have some good jokes about of future-life to, it’s better not to force it. I’m content with a weird cartoon where everything falls just short of being motivated. It’s better than Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Brutus doing their usual routine in a Suburban Boring house that also has computer buttons. Which, you’ll trust me, they could do.

Statistics Saturday: Morse Code … codes


Letter Morse Code … code
A dot dash
B dot dash dot dot
C dash dot dash dot
D dash … dot … dot?
E dot
F dot dash dash?
G dash dash … dash?
H dot dot
I no, this is dot dot
J dash dash dash something
K dash dot dash
L dot dash dot dot
M dash dash
N dot dot
O dash dash dash
P dot dash dot dot
Q dash dash dot dash
R dash dot dash
S dot dot dot
T dash
U [ is not represented ]
V dash dash dash doooooot
W dot dash dash(?)
X dot dash dot dot
Y dot dash dot dot
Z [ user’s choice]
zero [ transmit nothing ]
one dot
two dot dot
three dot dot dot
four dot dot dot dot
five dot dot dot dot dot
six dot dot dot dot dot dot
seven dot dot dot dot dot dot dot
eight dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot
nine dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot
period dot!
question mark dot?
exclamation point dash!
apostrophe d’ash
quote ironic dot
colon dot dot [ transmitted sideways ]
semicolon why are you doing this, seriously, just stop

Reference: The Birth of Neurosis: Myth, Malady, and the Victorians, George Frederick Drinka.

Which title is better?


I noticed this documentary while looking over the schedule on Turner Classic Movies:

tcm.com banner describing the movie 'No Maps On My Taps (1978), with the note that it is 'Also known as: No Maps On My Taps'.
TCM does make the documentary, about jazz tap dancing, sound interesting. But do remember that I am a person who finds every documentary and every bit of nonfiction interesting. I would happily watch 65 minutes on the North American Numbering Plan even if it didn’t include rare footage from the 1930s.

What do you think? I get where No Maps On My Taps makes sense as a title for this film, but it’s hard to see where that’s preferable to No Maps On My Taps.

How to Shake Hands


I write this for some future reader. I suppose I always have to, but this is more specific. Particularly it’s for readers who, after the Covid-19 pandemic wraps up, don’t remember how to shake hands anymore.

You may laugh. I hope you do. But you think that shaking hands is like riding a bicycle, you never really forget. Ah, but have you tried bicycle-riding after a long time away? You start with a sensible helmet, judging the wacky helmet in poor taste for these times. Then you try putting both feet on the pedals, but the kickstand is in the way. You put a foot on the ground and try pushing the kickstand back. But you have to push it in and press backward while letting it slide out and before you know it you topple over. You fall into the bag of leaves the city isn’t collecting yet so it doesn’t hurt. But you’re making no bicycle-riding progress.

It’s like this with handshakes too. Try it now, by yourself. Reach your right hand to your left and shake. Ah! You see, right? You can’t shake a left hand and a right hand! What you have done there, my friend, is applaud. This is why you need my guidance.

I’ll get to specific instructions in a moment. But you need to know a long-range goal. A handshake done well will be both good and firm. It’s obvious why you want a handshake to be good. We all strive for the good through the limitations of our understanding and perceptions. Plato’s students wrote three false Socratic dialogues about the nature of a good handshake. (That was because they needed publication credits, though.)

But why firm? I don’t know. I think it’s to be sure we understand what it’s like being handled by an adjustable crescent wrench. It may not be comfortable but it’s better than an unadjustable crescent wrench. It also could be just that guys set the standards, and the guy standard for everything is that it should be done until someone weeps.

So that’s the long-term goal. Now to practical steps. First, with your handshakes, check that you have at least one hand. No one, however much they want a handshake from you, will fault you if you haven’t got hands. This is an out, by the way. If for some reason you can’t bear handshakes, then “accidentally” leave them back home when you go out. I don’t know how you’ll lock your door, sorry. Maybe you live in a good neighborhood.

Ready for a handshake, though? With the help of at least one other person — remember the lesson about applauding — get ready. First, hold up your handshaking hand. Spread your fingers out and then close them back until you feel comfortable. You feel comfortable when you can hold your fingers at that separation for at least 120 seconds without feeling strain. (Practice this before your actual handshaking! You want it to look automatic.) Reach your thumb out perpendicular to your hand, then touch your palm, at least two but not more than three times.

Reach your hand towards your handshake-partner’s, starting with your palm held vertical. Turn it slowly horizontal. Your model here is the Space Pan-Am spaceship space-docking in the Space Hilton from 2001: A Space Odyssey. With your space hand — sorry, hand — accidentally slipped into your partner’s sleeve, apologize. Tap your forehead and say you don’t know where your thoughts are today. You are “spaced out”, as they say. Smile with a glint in your eye. After a hearty chuckle go on about your post-handshake business.

Does it seem like the handshake’s gone wrong? You have good insights, my friend. The handshake has gone wrong, but this is what you want. By sharing in a “blunder” you’ve shared a very mild embarrassment with someone. They now see you as the partner in a special little moment of common humanity. They’ll like you more even though they have no actual reason to. And that is the secret true goal of shaking hands.

[ Me, thinking I’ve closed the essay file. ] Ha-ha! Got them all now, didn’t I? Now I can reveal my intrigue! They have forgotten that I am incompetently germ-phobic! I have always hated handshakes! I am using this as a chance to quash the habit for once and all! They have no choice now but to try hugging or just nodding nervously!

Statistics April: How That Month Treated My Humor Blog


Better than I expected! Well, that covers that. See you next month, everyone.

Well, I have to talk a little more. My blog set a new readership record in April, topping — finally — the November 2015 spike when The AV Club noticed I wrote so much about how nothing was happening in Apartment 3-G. This can almost be explained by one thing: Easter. Particularly, Easter egg dying. I had taken pictures of what Paas-brand Easter egg dye tablets looked like, and what color they actually made eggs, and put that up on the web. And people were looking for exactly that. That page alone drew 1,057 views in April. This was even more than the home page for this blog, ordinarily the actual most-viewed page, drew. I figured that this would be a much-referred-to web site. I did not expect it to be that viewed.

Take away the 1,057 page views caused by the Paas corporation, though? And then … I … still have a record month for me. November 2015 saw 4,528 page views. April 2020 had 5,606 page views. That’s a gap of just more than 1,057 page views. It’s quite the spike. Some of that is probably spilloer from Paas-tablet-readers. But otherwise? Who’s reading and why? That’s what I look for here.

Bar chart of the last two and a half years' worth of monthly readership figures. After a drop in January 2020 the number of views and visitors have risen the last two months, with May towering above everyone.
The really good thing is now I have a replacement abnormally-great-readership-spike to look back on, as the November 2015 spike fades so far into the past that even the longest-range bar charts soon won’t be showing it.

So, yeah, the numbers look good, if we take more to mean good. 5,606 page views, way above the twelve-month running average of 3,638.5. Even discounting the Paas page, 4,549 page views would be a new record. There were 3,356 unique visitors, again way above the running average of 2,101.6. The down beat was that there were only 70 things given likes in all April, below he average of 123.1. Comments, though? There were 48 of them, way above the average of 16.6, and my best commenting month since January 2019.

Per-post, the figures are just about the same: 186.9 views per posting, above the average of 119.3. 111.9 visitors per posting, above the 69.0 running average. 2.3 likes per posting, below the average 4.0. 1.6 comments per posting, way above the 0.5 average. I’d like to think this sort of viewing and commenting is a trend that’ll continue, but I understand how much of it is juiced by Paas.

So what was popular? Paas tablets and what else? The top posts in April were:

  • Which Color Paas Tablet Is Purple? Which is Red? Which is Pink?
  • Why does Mallard Fillmore look different now? What happened to Bruce Tinsley?
  • Statistics Saturday: The Months Of The Year In Reverse Alphabetical Order
  • What Is Going On With Mark Trail?
  • Why does Mark Trail look funny? Did something happen to James Allen?
  • As you see, what people really want to know from me is why comic strips look weird today. Mallard Fillmore, that’s easy to say. Loren Fishman has taken over as “guest cartoonist” until Bruce Tinsley returns. Don’t care. I’m not reading Mallard Fillmore unless I hear it’s great from multiple independent lines of trusted references.

    April’s most popular thing I wrote in April was Emotional Drafting, one of my long-form essays. And one focused on a little bit of coping with Covid-19, in an extremely small and me way. The most popular statistics piece was Where Comic Strips Are Set. I mention because I hope linking to it will make it easier for people to find. Legitimately: Wikipedia reports Chic Young, the creator of Blondie, asserted in 1946 that the strip was set near Joplin, Missouri.


    514 posts got at least one viewing in April, up from 484 in March. 323 got more than one view, up from 302 in March. 76 of them got at least ten views, which is basically tied with March’s 75.

    78 countries sent me any viewers at all in April. That’s right about March’s 73 and February’s 71. 19 of these were single-view contries, basically the same as March’s 20 and February’s 18. And here’s what they were:

    Mercator-style map of the world with the United States in darkest pink. Most of the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Australia and New Zealand are in a roughly uniform pink. A random smattering of African nations are similarly pink.
    Hi, reader in Burkina Faso.
    Country Readers
    United States 4,474
    India 191
    Canada 149
    United Kingdom 125
    Australia 90
    Germany 57
    Italy 42
    Sweden 33
    Mexico 28
    South Africa 26
    Philippines 24
    Brazil 21
    Colombia 21
    France 19
    Netherlands 18
    Ireland 16
    New Zealand 15
    Kenya 14
    Spain 14
    Finland 13
    Pakistan 12
    China 10
    Indonesia 10
    Norway 10
    Peru 10
    Russia 10
    Singapore 9
    Belgium 8
    Portugal 8
    Turkey 8
    United Arab Emirates 8
    El Salvador 7
    Malaysia 6
    Poland 6
    Switzerland 6
    Ecuador 5
    Hungary 5
    Thailand 5
    Argentina 4
    Romania 4
    Taiwan 4
    Bulgaria 3
    Chile 3
    Israel 3
    Laos 3
    Moldova 3
    Nigeria 3
    American Samoa 2
    Bahrain 2
    Costa Rica 2
    Czech Republic 2
    Denmark 2
    Estonia 2
    Hong Kong SAR China 2
    Jamaica 2
    Serbia 2
    Sri Lanka 2
    Ukraine 2
    Zambia 2
    Austria 1
    Bangladesh 1 (*)
    Burkina Faso 1
    Croatia 1
    Egypt 1 (*)
    European Union 1
    Guadeloupe 1
    Guatemala 1
    Japan 1
    Lebanon 1 (**)
    Mauritania 1
    Nepal 1
    Oman 1
    Saudi Arabia 1
    South Korea 1
    Suriname 1
    Uruguay 1
    Venezuela 1
    Vietnam 1

    Bangladesh and Egypt wee single-view countries in March too. Lebanon is on a three-month streak of single views. Also … really, wow? Only one page view from Japan? I know I write a painfully parochial blog, but Japan also has like 750 million people who can read English in it. I’d think just by accident it would have to out-draw, like, Suriname. Which again is nothing against Suriname; I just think of what I write and totally get nobody in Suriname caring.

    And what do I write? Well, late Thursday, Eastern Time, I post a long-form essay, trying to get to around 700 words. Saturday nights I post a Statistics Saturday thing, some joke that can be a list or a pie chart and that doesn’t save as much time to write as you’d think. And then, at least this cycle, I’m trying out putting my What’s Going On In Story Strips posts on Tuesdays. My plan for the next month is:

    This is always subject to change in the event of fast-breaking story comic news or my deciding I want to do something different.

    As WordPress counts things I posted 19,010 words in April, for an average post length of 633.7 words. This is quite up from March’s 17,019 words and 549 words per posting. So, yes, I’m getting longwinded again. For the year through the start of May I had published 67,888 words in 119 postings. This averages 571 words per posting.

    The start of May saw me posting 2,646 things, viewed a total of 167,135 times by 93,757 unique visitors.

    If reading a bunch of numbers about posts has encouraged you to read me regularly, all right, that’s a valid choice. You can follow this blog in your WordPress reader by clicking the “Follow Another Blog, Meanwhile” button. Or you can add my RSS feed to whatever reader you use. If you don’t have an RSS reader, sign up for a free account with Dreamwidth or Livejournal. Their Friends pages let you add RSS feeds from anywhere. And you can catch announcements of these posts on my no-longer-inaccessible Twitter account, @nebusj. Thank you for reading, if that is what you’re doing here. Take care, please.

    What’s Going On In The Phantom (Weekdays)? Why is the Phantom punching terrorists? February – May 2020


    I mean, if he’s not punching terrorists, he’s underachieving as a superhero. Anyway, this is a recap for three months’ worth of the weekday continuity for Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom. If you want to know about the separate Sunday continuity, my most recent recap of its plots are here. And all my plot recaps, Sunday and weekday, are at this link. If you’re reading this after about August 2020 there’s probably a more up-to-date plot recap here, too.

    The Phantom (Weekdays).

    10 February – 2 May 2020.

    The Phantom had busted up a Rhodian column that was messing around in Wambesi territory. Their goal: Chatu, The Python, who a decade ago was the big terrorist nemesis of The Phantom. From a Bangallan prison he orchestrated the apparent death and actual imprisonment of Diana Palmer Walker, the Phantom’s wife. Since then he’s been held by his Wambesi countryment in a secret jail. And now The Phantom was settling in for a serious talk with Chatu about the deal and what is with it.

    The Python, laughing at his bleeding nose, looking through the bars at The Phantom: 'Oh, what fun! I see you DO KNOW that Diana Palmer Walker ... will be my revenge ... mourn her now, o Ghost ... start mourning her ... now ... '
    Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 18th of February, 2020. Before leaving, The Phantom taunted the Python one last time by complimenting him on that cool milk snake tattoo.

    The Phantom explains how he turned back the Rhodian column. Chatu says he doesn’t see why The Phantom is trying to mess with his head like that. As if the Ghost Who Walks would play head games. But it tells The Phantom that Chatu did not organize this breakout attempt. There’s no way to know how the Rhodians got word of Chatu’s secret prison, unless any Wambesi person said anything to any Rhodian person about it. Chatu taunts that he’ll kill Diana Walker yet, and The Phantom slugs him. Then heads home, along the way asking Babudan what was with his poking in around the corners of that last story. Babudan gives a noncommittal answer. And this wraps up the story.


    The 253rd daily-continuity story, Unfinished Business, began the 24th of February. The Phantom, riled up by punching The Python, heads to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he punches successor top terrorist The Nomad. … I figured this summary would run a bit longer, but that is the important stuff.

    The Phantom snuck in to Guantanamo Bay and disguised himself as Commander Burford. Eric “The Nomad” Sahara acts familiar with The Commander. I’m not clear whether it’s The Nomad being all smug or whether we’re expected to believe that American intelligence agencies will partner with the worst people in the world as long as they’re right-wing enough. The Phantom talks about the woman who captured him, Heloise Walker. The Nomad had thought Heloise Walker a Bangallan intelligence agent, and takes this as a sign the Americans have captured her.

    The Phantom, gloating over the unconscious body of The Nomad: 'My Heloise fought back! She settled the score nicely on her own. But as a father, and just on general principle, Nomad ... ' The Phantom steps on a cigarette beside The Nomad's head, extinguishing it.
    Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 7th of March, 2020. So this got me wondering if prisoners in CIA torture camps are ever given cigarettes, which is the sort of dumb thing that I wonder about instead of why we keep letting the CIA run torture camps.

    Then The Phantom reveals that he’s not Commander Burford. He’d been using shadows and night as cover. Saying he wants The Nomad to know he’ll never be safe from him, he slugs the prisoner enough to break his jaw. He gloats that his daughter fought back against him. With The Nomad unconscious, The Phantom escapes to the fishing trawler he’d used as cover to get to Cuba. The action may seem pointless, but it turned out also to be dumb. Now it’s got The Nomad wondering why Heloise Walker matters to The Phantom.

    Also, if you’re wondering how The Phantom could impersonate a lead interrogator at Guantanamo Bay at all? Burford had at least one interview up on YouTube. And then interrogated Burford at gunpoint, to get finer details. I cannot force you to believe this, but the text offers an explanation, and I find it within the bounds of superhero stories.

    The story ended the 28th of March, with now both the major international terrorist figures of the past decade vowing revenge from prison on the women around Kit Walker. This seems good.


    Warrior, speaking of plans for the poacher's guides: 'A quick death, for we Llongo are merciful! But death it is! by our Queen's command!' Phantom: 'Your queen wants these guides to stop bringing destructive men onto Llongo land. We can accomplish that without bloodshed! Friends, are you with me?' Wrrior: 'Our queen would want us to be with you, Phantom!'
    Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 9th of April, 2020. [ * In the Malay tongue. I know, right? I was expecting Llongo too. ]

    On the 30th of March the current story, The Llongo Forest, started. It’s the 254th daily-continuity story. The Phantom gets into a pickup hunt with some Llongo people. They’re looking for a poacher, someone who’s gone around shooting any animal he can find. Poachers are really Mark Trail’s thing. But Mark Trail is being drawn all weird and dealing with a possibly fictional forest fire. The Phantom has to step into the gap.

    The poacher’s easy to find; just follow the trail of slaughtered animals. His guides are nervous, afraid of what the Llongo people will do. The Phantom’s friends know: their queen’s ordered them dead. The Phantom talks them into seeing if they can’t stop the poachers without so much bloodshed. They’re up for it. They sneak up on the poacher’s camp and clobber the guides. The poacher himself needs more coaxing, by having Devil, the Wolf Who Walks, poised to rip out his throat.

    Warrior, looking over the wounded lion's trail: 'Blood trail leads there! We cannot [ accompany ], O Ghost who Walks! Forbidden forest!' Phantom, thinking: 'These are brave men. If they won't venture into those woods, the tribal tradition they honor must be a strong one.'
    Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 28th of April, 2020. Also I’m wondering if this is just the one Forbidden Forest for the Llongo, or if there’s a bunch of Forbidden Forests, and if different tribes respect others’ forest-forbiddings. Like, they probably come to some agreements about the territories, right?

    The Phantom checks out the poacher’s home movies. Turns out he had wounded a lion without killing it. That’s a problem, as a badly wounded lion might turn to hunting humans. The trail leads into a forbidden forest, which the Llongo warriors won’t venture into. All right. The Phantom puts the poacher and his guides in the Llongo’s care and recommends they be handed over to the Jungle Patrol. And resolves to go into the forbidden forest by himself to track down the wounded lion.

    That’s where the story sits as the first full week of May begins.

    Next Week!

    I get a lightweight week as one of the two-or-maybe-three Sunday continuity strips gets its attention. Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant comes up next time, and we’ll see how my shifting the publication date to Tuesdays helps.

    Observed while kind of watching the Star Wars movies today


    I had forgotten how much of The Empire Strikes Back is just “people falling off things”. Really a surprise. Movie would have been very different if they had put those rubber grippy-pad things for the shower on the floors. Would be hard on the foley artists, certainly. Yes, yes, Darth Vader’s menace would be undercut by his breathing harmonizing with the sqrk-SQRK-sqrk-SQRRK-sqrrrrk-SQRRK of walking on damp vinyl. But it would be easier on everybody’s knees and, I can say with the authority of someone whose knees would rather not be knees, that would be great.

    60s Popeye: Not much, What’s News with yous?


    A bit of fun business ahead of things. Fred Grandinetti was kind enough to let me know about an essay he wrote regarding the King Features Syndicate Popeye cartoons. Grandinetti offers some information about the technical aspects of production, things like budgets and how the cartoons were received. Received by audiences, that is; they always attracted negligible interest from critics. Grandinetti also discusses the six studios which got the work, and reviews their characteristic styles. It’s a much higher-level view than what I’m doing here, but the person out there who is interested in the 60s Popeye cartoons is likely to enjoy that.


    Now to the regular stuff. It’s another Famous Studios-animated Popeye cartoon this week. Once again Seymour Kneitel is credited for story and for direction. My expectation was that the cartoon would be professionally made, with everybody on model and the movement reasonably smooth, even if the story was a bit dull. So how foiled were my expectations? Let’s watch.

    We start with Popeye in the desert again. He spends a lot of time in the desert for a sailor. But he and Olive Oyl are taking over the Puddleburg Splash, newspaper for the laziest town in the world. The cartoon’s set in the Old West, although the era is only vaguely set. Mostly that Popeye writes with a quill pen. We never find out why he wants to run a newspaper, or why he picks a newspaper in a town he knows nothing about. I’m all right with that, though. I think there’s even a Segar storyline where Popeye takes ove a small western town newspaper for vague reasons. Popeye can just do that.

    We get a couple jokes about how lazy the townspeople are. Best is probably Olive Oyl having to point different directions, with the local telling her when she’s pointing in the right direction. It’s also got a slick little bit of animation, when Olive Oyl points at the camera. It’s a rare break from the standard police-lineup pose. Also a nice bit of animation is the sheriff lifting his eyebrow to raise his hat. This is all accompanied by some nice languid music. I suppose it’s something from the Famous Studios music library. It’s nice getting some different stock music.

    There’s more social commentary than I expect from these cartoons. The first is Popeye working out that he has to open a school, to teach people to read, so there’s demand for his newspaper. It’s a benign example of marketing into existence demand for the thing you want to supply. The second is the revelation that the people in Puddleburg aren’t unable to read out of laziness. The school Popeye builds is demolished by the Bruiser Boys, local thugs who figure an ignorant population is easier to control through terror. It’s a method of control, yeah. And it diffuses some of the conflation of laziness and stupidity that’s been in the cartoon.

    Curiously, the Bruiser Boys are not Brutus. Why have original cast for this? In Dead-Eye Popeye, which I once mentioned without reviewing, Brutus and two identical Brutus-oids terrorize the western town. I’m curious if this resulted from the confusion about whether Bluto was a King Features or a Paramount-owned character.

    There is an odd moment where newspaper-editor Popeye hires a cartoonist, B Looney Bologna. His panel is the chicken-crossing-the-road gag, used for generations now as the symbol for tired old humor. (I’m persuaded that it’s an anti-joke, myself.) I suppose it builds the direness of Popeye’s plight, that he can’t even use the funny pages to get an audience. Mostly it takes a spot of time for a joke about a bad joke.

    Inside a vandalized schoolroom, Popeye, sitting in a wheelchair and dressed up as an old granny, wheels his right arm back to knock one of the Bruiser Boys up the bell steeple.
    Why are there arithmetic problems on the board if Olive Oyl hasn’t been able to teach anyone yet? Was she practicing?

    In the climax Popeye decides that the townspeople have to learn the Bruiser Boys aren’t that tough. All right. He decides to show them that even a woman can stand up to them. … Why? I suppose they’re a bit more humiliated if a granny in a wheelchair beats them up than if the newspaper editor does it. But it’s not like they won’t be beaten up anyway. If it is important it be a woman, why not have Olive Oyl take her spinach power-up? It stands out to me that Popeye doesn’t eat any spinach this cartoon. I’m curious if Kneitel had some rationale here that got lost in editing. Or if the cartoon started out as an independent thing, or a story meant for another character, that got imperfectly rewritten for Popeye.

    Altogether, it’s a decently-made cartoon. The starting point might be odd, but it follows all well enough from there. It’s still odd that Popeye and Olive Oyl would be printing up rooms full of newspapers when nobody was buying them, though. Maybe he was misled about important things by whoever owned the paper before him.

    Popeye never reports a specific piece of news in this short.