I’ve said how the original Thimble Theatre premise was that these characters were actors, who’d take on the role that fits the story. This faded out of the comic strip as it became a comic-adventure, even before Popeye came in to take it over. We had some trace of that in the cartoons, which were always comfortable starting with Popeye, Bluto, and Olive Oyl in different settings and different relationships. Mississippi Sissy embraces this. Popeye, Olive Oyl, Bluto, and Wimpy are all in and playing parts in a riverboat melodrama. It all fits together well.
So we start out with Popeye strumming a banjo and narrating a story. I think he’s supposed to be singing it? That he starts with a rhyming couplet suggests that. But if he is supposed to sing nobody told Jack Mercer that. Or nobody had at least a temp track for the music to be. It’s usually a flaw in the cartoon if the viewer can’t tell whether something core is being done on purpose.
There’s a sloppiness to the whole cartoon. Of course there is. They didn’t have the time or budget to be careful. There’s plenty of animation glitches this cartoon, moments where Popeye’s pipe ends not particularly near his face, or where a character grabs something that isn’t near their hands or whatever. But here, it feels more like the cartoon is casual and relaxed about its business. I suppose that’s because I’m already enjoying the cartoon. You don’t complain about the mistakes in something that’s entertaining you.
And there’s good stuff too. Particularly I’m impressed that the animation has Olive Oyl and Bluto drawn in perspective, rounding a corner. That’s more work than the usual trot from one side of the screen to the other. It’s clearly paid for by things like Olive Oyl holding the envelope noticeably in front of her mouth to speak, and that’s fine. It’s good priorities. No normal person will notice a scene of talking about a letter, however good the animation on it is. They will notice a good complex line of action as the camera zooms in. There’s also a nice bit where Popeye is pulling Olive Oyl out of the river, running up the anchor chain, and he pulls up the chain behind him. It would have been very easy to just have him run up the chain; lifting it as he moves make the cartoon look better.
There was an interesting design choice in making the story a riverboat melodrama. Who among the kid audience would know what was being spoofed? Heck, who as an adult would know that? What riverboat melodramas have you seen? Maybe your high school production of Show Boat, if that counts, and what? It’s a genre that exists entirely in parody, as best I can tell. (Periodic reminder that silent movie villains did not tie women to railroad tracks.) It doesn’t matter. The Popeye characters are cast well enough that the character types they represent are clear. Well, Wimpy as Olive Oyl’s father is a bit weird. But any choice for Olive Oyl’s father is going to be weird, unless you get into the obscure Thimble Theatre characters like, uh, her father Cole Oyl.
That the characters are playing to archetypes, even if we maybe don’t know what they are, does well at excusing the action. Taken literally, there’s no good reason for how Olive Oyl keeps changing her mind over whether Popeye should take the letter. Maybe in the kinds of story being spoofed here there’d be reasons for her to change her mind. Doesn’t matter. Fickleness is built into Olive Oyl’s character, as is Popeye’s willingness to put up with her nonsense.
It all comes together unreasonably well. It’s made one of the best of the 60s series that I’ve looked seriously at.
Everyone’s excited for the show over at Galexia Sanctuary Master Command. It’s a smaller operation than you might imagine. Serena Galexia herself is someone name of Angie. She’s the public face. The mastermind of the operation is Brother Almonzo. Or, as he’s known to the strip, Rene Belluso.
The last few years of Wilson’s writing saw a lot of people finding reasons to throw incredible good fortune at Rex Morgan and family. In particular, young Sarah Morgan turned out to be an artistic prodigy. A local mob widow took an interest in her, and sponsored art lessons. Her tutor: Rene Belluso. When Terry Beatty took over writing much of the over-the-top stuff got dialed down. Sarah Morgan’s artistic super-geniusnessocity, for example, got wiped out by a car accident that gave her Soap Opera Amnesia. She forgot a year of her life and how to draw.
On the way to this, one of Sarah’s painting lessons got interrupted. Two rather grim-looking men pulled up in a car, and that freaked Belluso way the heck out. He apologized, said Sarah might not ever see him again, pulled off his wig, and bugged out of the strip for a while. The men told Sarah and her babysitter Kelly that Belluso had pocketed the money given him to buy some stuff in Russia. This was one of the final straws before June and Rex Morgan pulled Sarah out of the mob widow’s sphere.
Back to this year. Rene Belluso’s new scam is this health-scam marketing business. They’ve got the meeting room, they’ve got the merch, they’ve got a good twenty people signed up for the seminar. What could go wrong? Well, Rex Morgan could recognize Belluso right away and reveal who he is to the whole crowd. But, on entering, Rex thinks there’s something familiar about Brother Almonzo, but can’t place it. So, no problems then, right?
But then Angie Serena Galexia mentions how Brother Almonzo painted portraits of her spirit guides, Chiro and Ninazu. That’s the clue he needed. Morgan steps over to the side and demands — he’s not sure what exactly. But Belluso is happy to refund Merle’s money, that’s doable. Rex declares no, he’s going to shut this down. Belluso makes an offer. He could give kickbacks if Morgan referred hypochondriacs their way. Morgan has a counter-offer. He won’t tell Belluso’s mobster pals where Belluso is if he leaves town and never returns. Now. Belluso takes the deal.
Brother Almonzo shuts down the seminar. And her calls Galexia “Angie”. Galexia calls him “Rene” back. Merle starts suspecting something is wrong. So do other followers. You know, the way people will when something weird embarrasses someone they’ve given lots of time and thousands of dollars to. Merle pulls of Belluso’s fake beard and wig. He and Angie flee into the night.
Merle admits that yeah, he fell for an incredibly obvious scam, he’s sorry. Lana admits that yeah, Merle felle for an incredibly obvious scam. Also she’s going to grab some bath salts and candles from the merch table because, what the heck. They’re owed it.
Rex goes home and recaps the story for June. So if you wanted to you could just read the week from the 1st of September and skip this whole essay. Sorry to take up so much of your time.
With a phone call on the 6th of September the new story begins. Yes, it’s the rare midweek segue. It’s Buck Wise, reporting, “It’s time.” He and Mindy are going to the hospital.
So yeah, that was a surprise. Who knew the characters in a story comic could have sex? And in a subplot? I mean, when June was pregnant she was carrying for like 27 months and I don’t think that’s even my exaggeration.
But from that point we’ve been in flashbacks. First, Mindy having a lingering heartburn. She turns to the Morgan Clinic for medical help. June diagnoses pregnancy. Mindy didn’t think that possible, because of her polycystic ovarian syndrome. But June explains that only makes pregnancy extremely unlikely, which isn’t the same thing as impossible.
The ultrasound showed a very small tear in the placenta, which should heal on its own, but they’re cautious. Fair enough. The strip since then has been Mindy trying to actually get bed rest. It’s a tough prescription to get, because nobody believes how fatiguing that is.
And that’s where the story is right now: in the flashbacks of Mindy getting bedrest, while she’s actually getting to the hospital. Everything seems all right despite the mishaps. But I have no information on whether that’s a fake-out ahead of a suspenseful delivery scene or what. You’ll have to check whatever the successor essay to this one is to know. Or just read the comic, that also works.
It’s looking like it’ll be in the 70s all weekend. It’ll creep up into the 80s on Monday, but then it’s going to drop into the 50s and stay there the rest of the week. So you might want to look at getting your poodle skirts out of the attic since there’ll be plenty of chance to wear them. And that’s your time forecast for the week ahead.
Emotion-Sensitive Switches. It’s fine having the lights come on or go out depending on whether the room is moving. But what if you want the lights to stay on even when you’re just puttering around in place? Or you want the lights to go out because it’s really important to be sneaking up on the cat? Emotion-Sensitive Switches allow for electric control tuned to various moods, including: cheer, frustration, the nagging sensation you left the car trunk open, overwhelmedness, feeling just how much butter is “too much” butter, and the joy of finding a twenty-dollar bill you forgot existed.
Contact Information. If we know anything about the recent system update, it’s that it has made something worse. Not a major thing. Some tiny, little thing you didn’t even realize used to happen until now it doesn’t. Somebody decided to change that. Someone broke that. For a reasonable fee, you can find out who! And how to get in touch with them! And when to show up at their home to get an explanation. (Author’s note: I’ve already ordered this, selecting for me the person who decided that when I paste a URL in Safari’s address bar and hit return, the web browser reloads the previous page and deletes the URL I just posted in. That’s such an innovative way to just screw things up!)
Dog Flume Ride. This exciting amusement park ride comes home to you, in form convenient to assemble requiring no more than ordinary personal welding equipment. It’s worth it as you settle into the car, float your way forward to the lift hill, and at the top are set upon by a pack of enthusiastic Labrador retrievers and licked all over. Also available in golden retriever, water spaniel, mastiff, were-poodle, and non-vampire beagle.
New Roman Numerals. The Roman system of using popular letters for numbers and having rules about adding and maybe sometimes subtracting them was fun, but it doesn’t begin to handle all the complexities of mathematics since the discovery of multiple-entry bookkeeping. With highly original numerals we can handle digits the Romans never dreamed of, like 75,000, as well as negative numbers, decimals, and transfinite quantities. Finally the Praetor can work on his MA!
Inaccurate Lyrics. What’s more annoying than finding a tune stuck in your head? Not being able to get it out, certainly, but another annoying thing is not knowing what the lyrics to your song are. This leaves an unresolved, semi-complete tune wending its way hopelessly through your mind drowning out all thought. Thus the solution: given the tune, get lyrics that have nothing to do with the original song but will surely match well enough that you can’t get the tune or the new lyrics out again. This will help you more rapidly go mad. It’s also a particularly efficient way to lose the friendship of people who really know and love the song.
Special, Improved Hours. Nobody gets enough sleep anymore, not since the exciting example set by Napoleon Bonaparte, for whom it got him exiled to a desolate island in the South Atlantic Ocean. If you want to avoid that fate you’ll need to cut back your policy of invading every European nation real and imaginary, yes, but you’ll also need more time to sleep. Yet it’s almost impossible to find more hours for sleeping. The solution? Hours with more minutes in them. You may only be able to sleep from 1 am to 6 am, but if each of those hours has upwards of a hundred minutes in it, isn’t that just as good as sleeping over eight hours a day? Sure it is. Don’t worry about what happens to the seconds. Warning: do not get up in the middle of the night to pee.
Self-Propelled Halloween Countdown Calendar. It’s great tracking how long we have until Halloween sets in. But isn’t it better to have the holiday track itself down? Thus this calendar, which will zip around the house letting you know how many days it is until the end of October. Go ahead and try to catch it! Also available in Thanksgiving, Easter, and New Jersey Big Sea Day editions.
The next of this block of 60s King Features Syndicate Popeye cartoons is Caveman Capers. It’s produced by the Larry Harmon studios. So, you know, names like Hal Sutherland and Lou Scheimer who’d go on to give us Filmation. Going into the cartoon from that, I expected, if nothing else, all the characters to be faintly angular, and to move like they’re in a Flash web cartoon from about ten years ago. Let’s watch.
I would swear there are other Popeye-as-caveman cartoons out there. I’m not invested strongly enough in the question to look them up. But there’s a long record of caveman jokes in cartoon (and live-action movie) history. And, what the heck, we might as well try Popeye out in that setting. At minimum it gives us different props that he can play with.
We get a framing device on the action. I’m not sure why. Maybe they didn’t want to waste having designed a Popeye who’s squatting on legs one-third the length of his arms. Having a frame like this lets the cartoon paper over any gaps in the plot. But the cartoon doesn’t use that power.
I so dislike Popeye explaining how Prehistorical Olive “was a striking beauty, so grandpappy struck her, as was the custom in that day”. I know the premise is just a stock Caveman Settings joke. That doesn’t mean I have to like it. I was thinking about skipping this cartoon altogether. Still not sure I shouldn’t have skipped it anyway. I guess Prehistorical Olive reacting like Krazy Kat hit with a brick makes it less bad. Her putting up with this a while and then telling Popeye and BlutoBrutus to settle this like gentlemen and fight it out makes it more silly.
What I do like here is the color scheme. The world is green- and blue-tinted, while the characters are a clear bright tan. It reads pretty well in color. I imagine it also looked good on black-and-white televisions. I also like Popeye hanging out with a dinosaur; it has a nice Alley Oop vibe. I’m a bit surprised they didn’t try making a Eugene-the-Jeep dinosaur. They can’t have thought that would confuse the premise too much, with kids expecting a Jeep dinosaur to be doing magic tricks or something, could they?
There’s some dialogue I like. Prehistorical Popeye asking BlutoBrutus when it’ll be his turn to hit and getting the answer “not yet”. Prehistorical Popeye declaring that he’s gonna “call this stuff spinach, cause it looks like spinach”.
There’s a nice little fight cloud between Popeye and BlutoBrutus at about 5:02. It looks to me like the same fight cloud from when Popeye fought Irving. But this requires redressing Popeye and drawing BlutoBrutus in place of the robot monster. Which is worth it, surely. Once you have the motion traced out for a Popeye-versus-big-bruiser fight cloud just painting in different clothes isn’t too much work. I’m sue that as a kid I’d never have noticed that, though.
I suspect they had no idea how to close this cartoon.
I’m happy to say I’m handling my tendency toward compulsive behavior well. Why, I realized this week that I don’t even have a designated spot to put my chapstick down, so it could be on any of three sides of my wallet when I set my pocket contents down on the table. Obviously one side is unavailable lest it roll off the table. But, like, here I am, not even caring whether I’d be able to find it in the dark just by its relative orientation compared to my wallet! That’s exactly the sort of thinking that people do!
The Avari people live in the Misty Mountains. Theirs is another totalitarian state next to Bangalla. Rough neighborhood. The Khagan and a squadron of her warriors entered Bangalla, abducting an Avari dissident. The Phantom goes to do something about this. He’s encountered the Khagan before. Been captured and escaped and all that. The Phantom strides into the camp tent where the Khagan and her guards hold the dissident. He gives the Khagan a talking-to about the rule of law and democracy and all. She gives him a dagger into the heart.
So that’s a bit of a surprise.
The Khagan takes her retinue, and her prisoner, and tromps back to the Avari lands. Meanwhile the Phantom lies there trying to work out what exactly it is he’s doing not being dead. This is a good question. He notes himself that if he were impaled by a knife big enough for that holster he’d be dead long ago. Instead, this? It’s not a knife; it’s a barbed thingy for injecting a paralyzing drug. The Khagan has a history of poisoning people, such as her brother, and drugging them. All right. He concludes that the Khagan wanted to be overheard giving her gloating speech. One about how The Phantom, if he’d been wise, would have become her consort and ruled the Avari in front of her.
Next night, the Phantom sneaks into the camp. He tries “quietly” this time. He unties the kidnapped dissident and we finally getting us a name for her. It’s Clotilde. He sends Clotilde to wait by the horses for their dramatic escape. He’s going for a non-dramatic escape, this time. He goes off to slice up the Avari’s riding tack. Clotilde … goes. Yes. But she notices some of the Avari warriors whom The Phantom tied to a tree. And she, having fought for a free Avari for so long … She takes a sword and she readies to kill them.
The Phantom stops Clotilde. His argument is don’t let the enemy turn you into them. Good advice. They sneak out.
This is where we’ve gotten. The only real downside of these Sunday-only continuities is when I do list the events like this, they come out about 100 words long. That’s all right. I can write short, sometimes, I tell myself.
September 2019 was, it appears, the second-best-read month I have ever had around here. Certainly the best-read month since the final collapse of Apartment 3-G. I don’t know how I’ll feel if I ever do cross the readership threshold from that month I briefly caught the attention of The Onion A.V. Club. It would be all right, though. Getting somewhere near that readership every month is more soothing to the part of me that wants to be popular.
There were 4,094 pages viewed around here in September. This is substantially above even the twelve-month running average of 3,229.1 page views. Unique readers were more abundant too. There were 2,293 logged unique viewers in September. The twelve-month running average was 1,837.9. These numbers, of course, do not and cannot count people using the RSS feed to get essays. So that all feels nice and popular.
The other side of popularity, of course, is that I’m afraid of interacting with people and would rather not do it if possible. And here, too, September delivered. There were 120 things liked in September. (This isn’t necessarily stuff posted in September, although recent posts tend to be more often liked than stuff in the archives.) That’s well below the twelve-month running average of 159.5. And there were 19 comments received in September, way down from the twelve-month running average of 38.3. Also I don’t know how my twelve-month average can be nearly forty comments per month. I guess it looks like the end of 2018 was chatty is all.
The per-posting averages show the same trends. There were 136.5 views per posting in September, compared to a running average of 106.0. There were 76.4 visitors per posting, compared to a running average of 60.4. 4.0 likes per posting, compared to the running average of 5.3. 0.6 comments per posting, down from the running average of 1.3. If I didn’t just somehow have something every day those per-posting averages might be funny or weird or different.
460 different posts, other than my home page, got any page views in September. 166 of them got only a single page view, which is all right. For some of those that was too big a readership. The most popular postings were, as usual, comic strip reports:
The piece about Richard Thompson was some thoughts written after he died. Thompson’s Cul de Sac was such a fantastic comic strip, the best of this century so far. It’s in eternal reruns on GoComics and worth reading.
This is also a good moment to reiterate a content warning about Funky Winkerbean. That comic is in the midst of a story including a character’s suicide. If that’s not stuff you need in your recreational reading, be advised. I’ll post a note when the storyline’s concluded.
73 countries sent me at least one reader in September. 13 of them sent me a single reader. In August that had been 74 countries and 14 single-reader countries. I assume this means that some country which existed in August has just evaporated. It’s the only answer that makes sense. Anyway, here’s the roster of what countries in the world are left:
United Arab Emirates
Hong Kong SAR China
Trinidad & Tobago
Bolivia is the only country that was also a single-reader country the previous month. No countries are on a three-month single-reader streak. I’m surprised to have as many Hong Kong readers as I did, considering how busy things seem to be over there. On the other hand, look at the United States and how are people thinking about Funky Winkerbean against that backdrop?
The Amazing Spider-Man is still in repeats and I haven’t heard any reason to think it’s coming out anytime soon. But, what the heck, I stuck with Gasoline Alley when it was in unexplained reruns for nearly a year. I can extend Spider-Man some patience.
From the dawn of 2019 through the dawn of October 2019 I’d published 271 pieces, with a total of 157,438 words among them all. This was 16,685 words published in September. That makes for an average of 556.2 words per posting in September, up from the August 505.0 words per post. It’s also down from the 581 average words per post for the year so far.
For the whole year there’ve been 361 total comments around here for an average of 1.3 comments per post. That rate has stayed constant for four months now. There were 1,337 total likes on the year, so far, for an average of 4.9 likes per posting in 2019. That average has been dwindling down; it was 5.0 at the start of September, 5.2 at the start of August, and 5.3 at the start of July.
If you’d like to be a regular reader, thank you. You can add the blog to your WordPress reader by using the “Follow Another Blog Meanwhile” button on the upper right corner of this page. Or you can use the RSS feed, https://nebushumor.wordpress.com/feed/ in whatever reader you like. A free Livejournal or Dreamwidth account will do, for example.
While I am still officially on Twitter as @Nebusj I haven’t posted there in over a month. There’s an automated scheme from WordPress that posts announcements of new essays, for this and for my mathematics blog. But Twitter’s been timing out rather than let me connect and I haven’t had the energy to do something like try from a different web browser or anything. Sorry. I’ll say something if I ever can again, I suppose.
OK, but is this the sheep district of the country or what because this is getting to be far too many sheep.
Dan tried to get away without calling it “Diet Pupsi” and couldn’t. But he did realize that over this trip everyone had tried, one time or other, just saying the name of it right. The implication is that everybody’s ready to let this in-joke go, but nobody wants to be the one to say it. Dan resolves to bring this up at a good moment, but hopes so very much that someone else brings it up first.
Sophie starts the practice of deliberately misreading the highway signs now. Taking “Williamsport” as the game of Williams promises some great fun, but all it really leads to is stories of times their satellite navigator had no idea how to pronounce a street name. “Malcolm the Tenth Street” is judged the best of those. There’s just not enough good towns in the area, though.
It seemed like this should be a good way to pass a few miles. But sharing the most important thing in their lives that they’ve given up correcting their parents about? Like, where it’s just too much effort to explain what’s really going on, and it’s easier to let them go about being wrong and correct people whom their parents in turn mislead? Yeah, so it turns out that for everybody it’s just “exactly what it is we do for work”. That’s weird itself. Like, you’d think for someone it would be a relationship or some important aspect of their personality or something. No, though. It’s just what everyone does in exchange for money. This seems like it says something important about modern society, but who knows?
All right, but that is definitely a two-story strip mall, putting to rest an earlier squabble.
Josh is irrationally offended by the name of the Creekside Inn Hotel, citing “redundancy”. His status is not helped when it turns out to be near the Riverfront Cemetery Memorial Park.
The historical marker turned out to be a surprisingly good stop. It’s just a note that this town was somehow too small for Lincoln’s Funeral Train to stop at, but they have this amazing picture of the train just going through town. It’s not a very good picture but for an action scene in 1865? That’s pretty amazing anyway. But the real question is how everything in town is covered in black crepe. Where did that all come from? The town isn’t anything today, and back then? It was so nothing it couldn’t even get the funeral train to stop. Why would they even have enough crepe to shroud all downtown? Or if they didn’t, where did they get it? Did they have enormous quantities of regular crepe and just dye it black all of a sudden? Amanda’s joke that maybe it was crepe of all colors and it just looks black is judged to be “too soon”. But that doesn’t answer the real question.
It’s become so tiring to read all the highway signs that the town or towns of Portage Munster are passed without comment.
Now it’s time for the search for a place to have dinner. This is a complex triangulation of where they are, how fast they’re going somewhere, and what towns of any size are going to be anywhere near dinnertime. The objective: find someplace genuinely local to go. And after fifteen minutes of searching, success! It’s a well-reviewed barcade and they even have a menu online with four vegetarian-friendly options, plus great heaping piles of fried things. And it’s been open since like 1938. It is closed today, and tomorrow, for the only two days it’s set to be closed between Easter and Thanksgiving this year.
By now the group has gotten past making up redundantly-named landmarks and is annoying Josh with oxymoronic names.
At least everyone can agree: after all this time driving, we’re all walking like badly-rigged video game models. This is what’s so good about taking a road trip. You get to enjoy everything in new and different ways.
I’m skipping what would’ve been the next 1960s King Features Popeye cartoon. It’s not that the cartoon is dull. The cartoon would be Azteck Wreck. It has Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Eugene the Jeep tromping around Aztec ruins looking for gold, and being menaced by Bluto Only He’s Mexican. It hits all the plot beats reasonably enough and it actually has good backgrounds. And it opens with Eugene the Jeep riding in a jeep, which seems like a joke somehow. But I don’t feel like expressing an opinion about playing Bluto as a bandito and you know what? I don’t have to.
So instead? Popeye and the Spinach-Stalk. Once again it’s produced and directed by Jack Kinney. Not sure if King Features is just front-loading Kinney for these videos or whether he’s just responsible for that many cartoons.
Jackson Beck narrates. He wasn’t just Bluto’s (main) voice actor. He was also an announcer or narrator for about 85% of old-time radio shows. There are only two things weirder than hearing Bluto’s voice setting up a story, like this one. Those two things are Beck playing super-sleuth Philo Vance on radio, and Arthur Q Bryan — the voice of Elmer Fudd — playing a cop on Richard Diamond, Private Detective. This gives you a feel for how Beck sounded whenever he narrated. (He also did the narration for the Fleischer Superman cartoons.)
The Thimble Theatre characters slot smoothly into the fairy tale. Popeye makes a decent Jack, well-meaning but easily bamboozled. Olive, the Sea Hag, and Bluto are all well-placed and Eugene is a good substitue for the Goose That Lays The Golden Eggs. I guess shifting things from Olive selling off the family cow to trying to sell pies saves the trouble of designing a cow or making the cow’s fate something to worry about. Pies are easy to draw and can be funny too. Switching out magic beans for spinach, too, makes sense.
Where things don’t make sense are little plot holes. Like, Popeye seems to sell one pie for a can of spinach, and all right, that’s a problem. But what about the rest? The giant Bluto has captured Olive Oyl; when, and how? Yeah, it doesn’t matter. It does allow some fun business of Olive Oyl protesting she can’t play the harp, and doesn’t really sing, and that going on until Bluto agrees. Popeye-as-Jack knows Eugene the Jeep by name; how? Like, was Eugene his and Olive’s pet that Bluto also abducted? Bluto demands to know what makes Popeye so tough, but all he’s seen at that point is Popeye talking big. Told that it’s spinach, why does Bluto feed Popeye spinach? It makes sense for Bluto’s hubris to lead to his downfall, but hubris usually works better when it’s built up.
I know that as a kid I never noticed any of this. There’s not a lot of time, and it’d be dumb wasting time on questions like “why does Bluto want Olive Oyl rather than someone else to make pies?” This is probably also why they set up the premise with a quick Jackson Beck narration rather than reusing the bit of Swee’Pea asking Popeye to tell him a story. It saves a good half-minute or so.
It’s hard to film a giant, even in illustration. It’s hard to compose a scene so you can really see the size. There’s a couple of angles on Giant Bluto that work, though, a good view pointing up that makes him look large. This particularly in Bluto doing his Fee-Fi-Fo-Fan rhyme, and then later as he’s running after the escaping heroes. It’s good seeing such moments done well.
The friend who can’t remember he has the same birthday as I do, so every year he’ll tell me it’s his birthday, and then I answer, “You say it’s your birthday? It’s my birthday too, yeah”. Well, I’m not going to get tired of this.
For example: Comics Kingdom has opened up a comics merchandise store. And yes, they have a Mary Worth collection. It leans to the ironic reader’s tastes, which is probably what a Mary Worth merch table has to do. This is why it has stuff about Mary Worth’s muffins. Also stuff about Aldo Kelrast, a plot from like fifteen years ago about a man who decided to stalk her. The storyline, and its resolution, is a cornerstone of the modern Mary Worth snark-reading community. At least those who don’t mind making quite so much light of one of the scariest things a person can suffer through.
Anyway, the store has stuff for other comics, including my best fist forever Popeye. It’s also got comics-adjacent characters like Betty Boop and Cuphead. (Yes, I know there was a Betty Boop comic strip in the 30s. Comics Kingdom Vintage even runs it today. It’s quite bad and correctly forgotten.) The biggest mystery: they’re not slapping a Krazy Kat logo on some bricks and shipping those out? C’mon, this is right there. Use the Priority Mail flat-rate boxes, guys. Anyway, on to Mary Worth’s doings.
Dawn, leaving a store in Santa Royale’s prestigious Three Doors Mall, bumps into Hugo Lambert. They took Classic Literature from Professor Cameron last year. He’s their French Foreign Exchange Student. He’s extremely French. He has to use the mother tongue for sentences like“My name is Hugo” or “I speak English”. You know, things no one who’s learned a foreign language ever has trouble remembering.
Or he wants us to remember he’s French. Hugo will sometimes go as much as a whole word balloon without lapsing into his native tongue. Or mentioning the glories of France. This is no complaint from me. Story comics are better when at least one character is preposterous. Not that pride in one’s homeland is by itself preposterous. Being barely able to talk about anything else? That makes delight into the baseline for all his appearances. The story has not reached the glories of CRUISE SHIPS, and its heap of characters reacting all out of proportion to the situation. But it’s been fun reading. The worst story comics are when all the characters are a vague mass of undifferentiated beige. Give a character an obsession, and ratchet that obsession up, and you’ve got life.
They have lunch. Hugo negs on the typical American diet of fried high-fructose corn syrup smothered in bacon, which, fair enough. Not Dawn’s eating, though. She eats almost as good as they do in France. Hugo loved the part in Literature class where they talked about Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame. He agrees with Dawn that the fire at Notre Dame was terrible. He negs Americans’ cultural appreciation, which is typically livetweeting their rewatches of Knight Rider. Again, fair enough. But Dawn points out America has good stuff too, like how we let French people in and … value … Americanism and stuff. Hugo likes Dawn, despite how she’s an American living in America in American ways.
Dawn thinks they’re hitting it off!
Meanwhile the snarkier readers start looking for evidence that, like, Hugo is really a guy from Yonkers who made up his French identity as a lark when he went to college and now he can’t get out of it, so he’s trying to make it so broad and ridiculous that people catch on without his having to tell them he was lying. I am sure Karen Moy did not mean us to go looking for evidence that Hugo was running a weird head-fake here. But it added an extra something wonderful and silly to read each strip for.
Anyway, they have a decent summer romance. Hugo’s spending his last month before going home painting his host family’s house. Dawn spends the time emitting French words hoping to get a response. “Guy de Maupassant! Eiffel tower! Pizza!” She panicked. Anyway, they spend time doing fun summer activities like leaping in fountains and sitting on the beach and all.
But the sad part is they know when Hugo will go home. Dawn worries their relationship — oh, hi, Mary Worth! How did you know? Well, Mary Worth offers the obvious but useful advice that Dawn should talk with Hugo about what happens after he goes home. And that he might not want a long-distance relationship. And that it’s all right to have a relationship that’s delightful for a month and then ends.
Dawn brings up the topic gently, on a trip to the Santa Royale Aquarium. Dawn suggests they might visit the far superior Cineaqua in Paris, when she visits him. He says, why speak of the future? In the aquarium he points to the fish who have their tanks and their place and accept it, and why don’t we accept the here and now? And, boy, if you want to subvert the text and read this as Hugo trying to not confess his secret? The text is almost on your side here.
She decides not to take the hint. Driving him to the airport she finally asks if they can Skype together or something. He says no, it couldn’t work. His Internet won’t send to anytime later than 2012 when France Télécom shut down Minitel. Dawn points out, this is Mary Worth, they’re all living in like 1972 at the latest. This shakes him, but he leaves for his plane.
Dawn, weeping, gets a visit from a guy with parentheses all over his face. Since he has a deformity he’s there to deliver inspirational words about God not giving people more than they can handle, and leave. (This did surprise me. I thought Inspirational Guy might be Dawn’s quick-setting rebound relationship.) She goes home to cry.
It’s not Mary Worth knocking on her door. It’s Hugo.
His flight’s delayed to tomorrow. So he went to her. And, he’s willing to try a long distance relationship now. Dawn is overjoyed. And Mary Worth approves of this. She notes there are challenges to a long-distance relationship, but, come on. This is officially 2019. Over 96 percent of all relationships start out as long distance.
And that’s our story! It does seem pretty well wrapped up and the ritual of thanking Mary Worth is barely under way. We’ll see what’s changed the next time I check in, likely around December.
Dubiously Sourced Quotes of Mary Worth Sunday Panels!
Where would Mary Worth Sunday pages be without an inspirational quote ripped out of all possible context and maybe assigned to a famous person at random? Shorter, for one. Here’s some things recently said to have been said:
“Just living is not enough … one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.” — Hans Christian Andersen, 7 July 2019
“We cannot wish for what we know not.” — Voltaire, 14 July 2019
“People are pretty much alike. It’s only that our differences are more susceptible to definition than our similarities.” — Linda Ellerbee, 21 July 2019
“Normality is a paved road: it’s comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow through.” — Vincent van Gogh, 28 July 2019
“La vie est un sommeil, l’amour en est le rêve.” — Alfred de Musset, 4 August 2019
“I live in the moment. The moment is the most important thing.” — Rita Moreno, 11 August 2019
“You may be deceived if you trust too much, but you will live in torment if you don’t trust enough.” — Frank Crane, 18 August 2019
“True happiness … is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future.” — Lucius Annaeus Seneca, 25 August 2019
“In every living thing there is the desire for love.” — D H Lawrence, 1 September 2019
“Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” — Alfred Lord Tennyson, 8 September 2019
“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” — William “Hamlet” Shakespeare, 15 September 2019
“Life’s supposed to be an adventure, a surprise!.” — Anton du Beke, 22 September 2019
“Distance means so little, when someone means so much.” — Tom McNeal, 29 September 2019
I know what you’re wondering. No, the auto care place has not changed its inspirational yet despairing message yet. Yes, I’m worried too.
So I had a leaky car tire again. Nowhere near as bad as last time. This was just a little hardware screw that got stuck in the tread. Very easy to patch. I mean for someone else to patch. Still, you know how you go through that period in your 20s when all your car troubles are how the alternator’s broken? With this car, it’s always the tires going flat. I swear to you, the next car I buy I’m getting one without any tires.
No, Dan, we are not stopping the car already just because you’re not sure you packed your toothbrush. It can wait. Yes, well, you know where it’s possible to get a toothbrush any time, day or night? Only in every store ever, including freaking Best Buy if you really need.
Sophia explains how you can just ask the front desk at the hotel for a toothbrush. Amanda and Dan insist they just will never have one. Josh says he’s read about how they will, it’s just nobody ever thinks to ask. Sophia insists that they may or may not, it depends on the hotel. All are willing to grant that it doesn’t hurt to ask. Then Josh explains about the time he did ask, and the “toothbrush” they had was just weird. Like, it was this credit-card-size flat thing that unfolded a tiny bit, and it had like eight bristles, and he probably would have been better brushing his teeth with his finger.
The discussion leads naturally to kind of bragging about the biggest glob of toothpaste everyone’s eaten. Also the discovery that Amanda is afraid of swallowing toothpaste because it turns out this is on the boxes? This is fun enough that everyone registers they just passed a funny city-destinations sign but can’t remember what was funny about it.
The party’s definitely travelled a good distance now. It’s not just the third-tier but the second-tier fast-food restaurants that they don’t have back home.
Amanda finds it very significant that this town’s Cheese House specialty cheese shop mascot is very much a ripoff of forgotten Famous Studios cartoon mouse Herman or Katnip, whichever one of them was the mouse. Probably Herman. That would be the less obscure joke to make in naming them. Anyway this is very important to Amanda and she’s not going to let it go until everyone agrees this is an important revelation.
All right, so Dan tosses this out: what if a place like the Outback Steakhouse, only instead of theoretically being Australian, it’s Scottish themed? Nobody actually knows offhand what Scottish food is. “Fried … bladders or something?” offers Josh, who admits he’s maybe thinking of what bagpipes were made of. Not the fried part. But that doesn’t matter. You could serve anything. Just put some fun stuff on the walls.
This feeds into the discovery that Amanda had been to the town where Andy Capp was from. Like, the comic strip Andy Capp. Also that it’s based on a real actual town. There’s a statue of him there and everything, a claim that threatens to be laughed at for miles except that they find pictures of it. With her newfound expertise the party is willing to accept Amanda’s claim that “Andy Capp” is supposed to be a pun on the word “handicap”. She blows it completely when she tries to claim that English newspapers don’t run Fred Basset on Sundays and those strips are made just for the American readers.
OK, but you can agree where it would be correct structuring of a joke if the mouse were named Katnip, right?
Everyone over-plans the next gas station stop. They’re trying to figure how to look casual while timing Dan to see how long he needs to remember to check his toothbrush. Everyone’s disappointed he remembers almost right away, before even going in to the bathroom. He does have his toothbrush, although it’s in the wrong plastic bag. The gas station chains are all weird around here too, although they take the same customer-loyalty card. This is disappointing.
Everyone agrees there is no satisfactory reason why these nachos should be soggy.
Josh finally explains that phone number on the no-longer-sticky note in his glove compartment: he doesn’t know what it is. But it looks a lot like his writing. It must be too important to throw away or else why would he have put it there? Could he call the number and find out who it is? No, absolutely not under any circumstances.
You expect to discover new places when you road trip. You don’t expect to find out how all your friends are freaks.
It’s amazing how many people use the word “delicate” wrong when casual examination shows it’s the negation of the word “licate”, which means “to handle a precious or fragile object using the medium of licking”.
Sports are a good base for a comedic cartoon. The characters playing something automatically gives them something to try doing. The rules give the plot something to struggle against. And since it really can’t ever matter who wins a sporting event, there’s a built-in absurdity to the proceedings. The smaller the sporting event, the better, for the comic baseline. So, Popeye and Bluto playing ping-pong? That’s a secure base, I’d think. After The Ball Went Over is another Jack Kinney-produced cartoon from the 1960s heap.
In some of the King Features cartoons Popeye’s antagonist doesn’t get named. This reflected that time when they weren’t sure whether Bluto was a character created by their cartoonists or by Fleischer Studios/Paramount. Why else have Popeye call Bluto “Fatso”, “Fatty”, “Lover Boy”, “Blubber-head”, everything but his name? And then we finally get Olive Oyl calling him “Brutus”. Mystery partly solved.
Ping-Pong is a good sport for limited animation. You can use the same couple frames for a volley. And if you want the ball to do something weird, well, you draw a white circle and slide it around the frame. Combine that with the estimated 38 billion times that Popeye goes running off, in a Groucho Marx stoop, after the bouncing ball and you get a cartoon that must have come in under budget. This even with a bunch of scenes — a henhouse, the city sewers, the … dynamite shed — used for their own jokes.
This cartoon keeps trying to be bad. Particularly it just doesn’t have any story structure. Popeye and Brutus start a volley, some spot joke happens, and repeat. That shapelessness works fine for, like, Wile E Coyote. But Popeye cartoons are supposed to build in peril and tension until someone, usually Popeye, eats his spinach.
And then the cartoon skips that. It’s one of that small but noticeable set of spinach-less cartoons. And Popeye talks about that. Early on he talks to Olive Oyl about the absurdity of even having this contest, since if he’s in danger of losing he can just eat his spinach. In the end, he complains about needing a new writer who’ll put his spinach in the script. Popeye’s made cracks about being a cartoon character before. Most Fleischer cartoon characters were at least somewhat self-aware cartoon actors. But that had mostly gone fallow during the 50s.
And this attitude, Popeye barely committing to the premise that he’s in a ping-pong cartoon, elevates it. It’s exhausting to always have a character who won’t just be in the story. As an occasional thing, though? This time, at least, it works for me. I’m curious about the writing choices that went into this. I wonder if the writers decided they just didn’t have that many good ping-pong jokes after all, but needed something, and decided that having Popeye trying to no-sell the whole cartoon was the best way to be interesting about it. This would explain the oddness of Popeye, our putative hero, pulling stunts like replacing the ping-pong ball with an egg, or putting explosive into the ping-pong ball. That’s villain stuff; what’s Popeye doing acting like that? Other than, well, giving up on this.
If it was a choice to try saving a weak premise, it was a great one. At least for one cartoon. It makes forgivable much of the cartoon’s sloppiness, like … oh, the bit at about 21:40 where Popeye’s shown laughing without the sound. Or random bits of weirdness, like Brutus serving to the rallying cry of “Viva Zapata!”.
Maybe it is all just shoddily made. I won’t argue that it isn’t. But it is amiable in that shoddiness. I don’t want a lot of cartoons like this. If sometimes Popeye just isn’t going to take the cartoon’s takes seriously, though? I can go for that.
And I am sitting and thinking about its disclaimer, data provided `as is’ without warranty. Where would I go if I needed a projected fall equinox date with warranty? If I had the warranty and fall didn’t arrive on that date, who would I send the unused portion of the season to, and what kind of form would I fill out?
Nature finally got around to trying to kill Mark Trail last time I checked in. He, Doc, Leola, and J J Looper were following a map to a gold mine seen decades ago by Doc and his friend. (His friend, Leola’s husband, had recently died, the incident putting the map into the story.) Looper, owner of a supply store, was their guide. At least until Nature sent a flash flood in that swept everyone away and left Looper nowhere to be found. This is an inconvenience, what with Looper maybe being dead and having the only copy of the map.
But. Doc finds the terrain familiar. He recalls a pile of rocks covering the mine entrance and that’s exactly what Leola sees. It’s a great discovery. And oh, here’s J J Looper! And he’s sharing a gun with them! He has reasons. Envy of Mark Trail’s easy lifestyle of globetrotting while animals are nearby, sure. But also thoughts of his hard life. He can barely make a living teaching tourists to pan for gold. Actual gold, now, that would solve some of his problems.
Mark, Leola, and Doc uncover the mine entrance. It’s definitely where the mysterious stranger led his friends, decades ago, and took great piles of gold out. And now, having finally rediscovered the mine, there’s … nothing. No gold. No mining equipment. Just … a great big shiny thing! It’s Mark’s chance to punch Looper out, and get the gun away from him. Now they can see what the shiny thing in back is.
It’s a treasure chest. Its contents: a framed newspaper. Its headline, surprisingly large for the era, is of a gold dealer robbed at a gem show. Two of the robbers were later killed; the third, and the gold nuggets, were never found. The third was the bearded stranger who, five years later, brought him to the mine.
The rationalization: the three buried the gold, figuring to come back when the heat was off. With his partners killed the bearded stranger needed help getting the gold back. So he set up this mystery of a lost gold mine and all. Why couldn’t Doc and his friends couldn’t find the place again? Well, it’s hard to find stuff in the mountains. Especially under different light or from different angles or all. Especially because they were thinking of a mine instead of this, a cave just deep enough for someone to vanish in.
So Doc feels foolish for having believed a cave with gold inside was some kind of gold mine. Looper meanwhile feels like an astounding idiot, what with threatening to shoot people and all that. Looper begs forgiveness. Mark Trail points out, he was pointing a loaded gun at them. But in the awkward days of getting back to town, Mark Trail’s heart softens. After all, they were on a gold-digging expedition in the southwest. If someone desperately afraid of poverty doesn’t pull a gun on the rest of the party, has everyone really had the Gold Prospecting Experience? Of course not. And so Looper gets community service and probation.
We get, from the 12th through 17th of August, a little bit of nature in tooth and claw. It’s a mother cougar fighting a bear until she realizes it’s easier if she moves her cub out of the way instead.
After this interlude we see Mark Trail and Doc having an epilogue back at home. Telling what happens to Looper, and how Cherry Trail would rather Mark didn’t go get himself almost killed. The mention that Rusty Trail is reading the Jungle Jim comic on Comics Kingdom. And that people are mean in comments sections. It’s hard to not think James Allen is working out his frustration with comics snarkers here. Well, whatever gets the bad energies out.
And with the 2nd of September, the current story starts. Woods and Wildlife editor Bill Ellis has an assignment for Mark Trail. University Professor Harvey Camel, anthropologist and explorer, is searching for proof of the Yeti. Ellis is funding the trip, in exchange for first publication rights. Mark Trail is skeptical of any cryptozoology adventures. But this past April, the Indian army tweeted the discovery of a possible Yeti footprint. Mark is finally won over by the journalistic value of such an expedition, and how if legends are right, the Yeti has a lot of facial hair.
Cherry worries for his safety. She mentions how when Mark went to Africa, he had that encounter with “Dirty” Dyer, who’s still lurking around subplots ready to kill Mark with fire. Mark promises that he’s going to be fine, a promise that he can not in fact make. But she accepts his confidence, anyway.
(By the way, to let you know what a deep strain of Copy Editor Nerd there is in me: I would appreciate thoughts about whether to prefer writing “yeti” or “Yeti”. I know enough that the creature has some presence in legends around the Himalayan mountains. I’d rather refer to it in not-obnoxious ways when I do the next plot recap.)
Sunday Animals Watch
Each Sunday Mark Trail features some wonder of animals, plants, or nature itself, that we’re doing our best to eliminate by 2030. Here’s what’s leaving soon, and when it got featured.
Formosan Clouded Leopard, 30 June 2019. After six years being thought extinct some were found again.
Epomis ground beetles, 7 July 2019. They prey on frogs, which the frogs report is “totally bogus”.
Isopods, 14 July 2019. Deep-sea scavengers. They’re weirder than we realized.
Razorbacks/Peccaries, 21 July 2019. And this was before that “30-50 feral hogs” meme, so don’t go accusing James Allen of hopping on bandwagons here.
Giant Water Bugs, 28 July 2019. Oh, I think I know those guys. Yeah, they’re creepy but leave them alone and they’ll go about whatever their business is exactly.
Sumatran Rhinoceroses, 4 August 2019. It’s the only Asian rhino species to have two horns. But their outlook is grim.
Ravens, 11 August 2019. Particularly, white ravens. Do not cross them.
Golden tortoise beetles, 18 August 2019. So if you were wondering what was feeding on your morning glory, bindweed, or sweet potatoes see if these guys are the problem.
Raccoon dogs, 25 August 2019. The only canine species known to hibernate, by the way, so you’re welcome when this comes up during your Jeopardy! audition.
Amazon Parrots, 1 September 2019. Yeah, they’re great, but they have longer lifespans than do Fortune 500 Companies, so what to do with them after you die is a discussion you have to have a lot.
Grasshopper Mice, 8 September 2019. Not to be all animal hipster with you, but I knew about these guys in the 90s and I’m glad the Internet is discovering these weirdoes. Like, they’ll howl like tiny wolves, and stalk prey species, and they’re even immune to some animals’ venom. I know, right?
Sea slugs, 15 September 2019. OK, they’ve got an awful name but these critters do some amazing things with body design and color.
Hornet-Mimic Hoverflies, 22 September 2019. They look like hornets, but don’t sting, so if you have one hanging around you, relax!
Oh, how is Dawn Weston’s summer romance going? Is her beau, the For-Real French Foreign Exchange Student Jean-Luke Baguette really so heartless as to leave her, even for his home village of Mal-de-Mere, in the Bibliothèque province of France? Is there hope for true love winning out over all? In Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth? Will there be muffins? I’m delighted to have the answers to these and more silly questions, next Sunday.
So, like, after the events of the movie there had to be some investigations about how the Drax Corporation got the contract to build space shuttles, right? Like, there’d be some 70s Congressional Hearing, on TV, with people’s names identified in little white Helvetica chyrons. And you’d have the Deputy Director of Manned Space Flight or Whatever explaining, “Yes, well, the Drax Corporation’s project to eliminate all life on earth we rated as a task separate to and not reflecting on their ability to build or operate space shuttles. Our selection guidelines, as published by law in the Federal Register and I can provide you with the exact page reference, placed more weight on their operational ability. And every selection committee member gave them the highest possible marks for their task-management and organization computer-interface-system. Furthermore, their estimate for the first four years of annual operations management costs was only $17,250 above the Office of Management and Budget’s estimate. For all four years combined, that is. That alone was so dramatically better than Boeing, North American Rockwell, or Grumman’s proposals as to decide the matter. In any case we will in future requests for proposals include `not deliberately trying to provoke global extinction’ as soon as the NASA Office of General Counsel finishes advising us on the wording.”
So I’m not saying that that should have been the sequel, but I’d kind of like to know how the whole scandal played out is all.
It’s still a lot of fun reading the names of the streets off the overpasses. “Fangboner Road” alone threatens to keep the gang giggling for hours. “Preventorium Road” inspires everyone to toss out out their ideas of what this could even mean. This goes on for so long and for such a merry time that by the time anyone can think to look it up they can’t remember what exactly the road name was. They know it wasn’t Vomitorium Road, but that’s as far as the consensus will reach. Amanda’s claim of knowing a “Squankum” are shaken off. It feels like a bad laugh although they’re not sure exactly why.
The fourth great field of sheep is not so much fun as the first. Dan insists the problem is the sheep aren’t trying to be interesting. Sophia asserts that few things would be worse than sheep that compel your interest. The menace of the hypnosheep masters keeps the group’s spirits up for the next two fields of sheep before they sink beneath all possible commentary.
Is that a strip mall with two yoga centers? Josh says it’s three, but he’s definitely mis-reading tea room as a yoga center. Right? We mean it’s one of those tea rooms too fancy to be comfortable. Well, there’s definitely at least two. Maybe this is just the yoga center district of town?
Well, this is a restaurant. All right, it’s not a vegetarian-friendly restaurant. It seems determined to put meat into things that don’t even need it. There’s a high-pressure gun in the kitchen. It injects chicken and processed lobster food product into everything. “We just want some garlic toast,” beg Josh and Amanda. “We don’t need animals to have died for the cause!” The restaurant tries to cope with the concept of someone who wants the tomato soup that hasn’t had a fist-sized chunk of pig flesh ripped off and unked into it. But the effort fails. There’s a mishap in the kitchen, and it sprays chicken cutlets, which are dug out even of the glove box up to three months later. At least that’s how the story goes. Really it’s more that the waitstaff has to come back to apologize that they don’t have a second black-bean burger patty, would a portobello mushroom be all right? And it really wouldn’t, but Josh would take it to not cause trouble for people who have to deal with much worse customers. It’s all right, since it turns out they don’t have portobello either. He gets a plate of melted butter with a scoop of mashed potatoes. Later he tries to insist that mashed potatoes would be a good substitute for the burger patty, earning him so much grief.
That’s a weird bunch of sheep but nobody wants to reopen the subject.
All right but serious talk. Or anyway, comparing the bathroom stuff that different hotels give you. Everyone takes turns asserting they’ve seen the most preposterous blend of things. Sophia claims to have been at a long-term hotel once that had a single tube which claimed to be soap, skin lotion, shampoo, hair conditioner, toothpaste, mouthwash, energy drink, makeup remover, transparent nail polish, shoe polish, stain remover, windshield fluid, transmission fluid, and fish ick treatment. Two miles later she says she thinks she went on too long for the laugh she could possibly get. Dan says that a combination mouthwash and energy drink is a great idea and she should patent that. Amanda questions whether you could patent … what, coffee with way too much mint? This allows everyone to learn a little bit more about each other, as they say what kinds of things they can or can’t eat right after brushing their teeth. This causes everyone to realize their friends are daft. This is worse than when they learned what podcasts everyone else listened to.
All right but is that a two-story strip mall? Is it possible to be a strip mall if it has got a second story? Yeah, we know about that strip mall with the two-story Borders that used to be there, but that was just the one place. If the mall has a second floor with different shops upstairs isn’t that … well, we clearly don’t have the words for this concept. What is it and how many yoga centers can it have?
Popeye fears only one thing: ghosts. He can’t punch ghosts. I believe this was said explicitly, maybe as far back as Elzie Segar’s run that created the character. There are other inconvenient things, like the Sea Hag, who can’t be hit as she is a woman. But ghosts hold a special terror.
The promising opening is of a dark and stormy night. And a newscaster with the news that The Phantom is loose. The warning is what I’d expect for a notorious criminal breaking loose. Maybe a lion escaping from the circus and hiding over at Tom and Jerry’s place. Instead(?) I guess it’s a ghost. I would think that The Phantom’s a ghost being worth a mention in the news flash. Maybe also that ghosts are provably real things that torment the living. I hope when the TV station came up for its license renewal, someone mentioned this failure to serve the public interest.
Maybe not though. When The Phantom does appear he’s really not menacing. He looks vaguely like a Harvey Comics character. I don’t think it’s just that he wears a hat that looks like a quickly-drawn hamburger. But it’s also that his haunting amounts to little, faintly comic stunts. Like, so little that Popeye is certainly not going to turn his head and look at them. Then we get a solid 50 seconds of Popeye ducking almost far enough to avoid the … ghostly boats and giant wooden shoes and cars that The Phantom is driving? And that goes on until Popeye declares this is geting embarrassing, I assume for the Phantom. Popeye’s handling it with such casual disinterest that embarrassment can’t possibly stick to him.
The Phantom swipes Popeye’s spinach, which isn’t bad on his part. We do then get a solid minute and 40 seconds of Popeye trying to grab his spinach back from the ghost, missing when the ghost dematerializes at the last second. There’s some good stuff here. Popeye gets some funny looks of exasperation. The comic timing of the Phantom bapping Popeye on the head with the mallet is good. Popeye waving his flag of surrender and the ghost appearing as a butler is fun too.
Structurally though it’s about the same as those too-many cartoons where Popeye can’t outwit an animal. I think it works better than, like, Popeye not outwitting a gopher. The gopher’s just trying to eat. The Phantom is messing with Popeye and Olive Oyl. And The Phantom can be ridiculous in ways an animal can’t.
And then we get Popeye declaring these are friendly ghosts, an adjective and a plural not supported in the text. Popeye invites The Phantom to a game of bridge. I know three things about bridge and the second of them is that it’s a four-person game. I guess we have to suppose there are more than one ghost bothering Popeye and Olive Oyl. We only see one at a time. I guess that checks out. But it would be clearer if we saw a second ghost, even if it were the same model. The baffling moments keep coming. In the last seconds of the cartoon Olive Oyl, having been bothered by this ghost or ghosts all night, and played bridge with them for hours, declares she doesn’t believe they’re real. Things brings on a new round of ghostly laughter from a bodiless mouth. All right.
I know these cartoons give the impression of being written and animated in less time than it takes to watch. At least they give the impression of being done on a single draft. This one has a lot of things that could be fixed with quick tweaks. A moment of seeing a second ghost, for example, at the end particularly. The news reporter talking about The Phantom Gang and saying that they’re ghosts. … Really, that alone would at least make the storyline make sense. It would take more plot surgery to fix where Popeye doesn’t do anything for the first two and a half minutes. But we could let that slide. They were making about 750 Popeye cartoons a month. It’s refreshing if he doesn’t drive the plot in all of them. And maybe a story is better if it has some rough edges.
Still, it’s a cute Phantom design. I suppose we never see him again, which is a tiny shame.