Mind, Some Of The 90s Are Still With Us


So here I’ve gone and learned that WebRing.org is still up and even running. I’m delighted. I only hope that it’s formed partnerships with five similar discover-the-web sites, and that three of those are down. This is wonderful.

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What’s Going On In Judge Parker? Did Marie kill her husband? December 2018 – February 2019


Hi, person searching for Judge Parker plot information. If it’s after about May 2019 I’ve probably written a more up-to-date recap of Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s comic strip. That more current recap should appear at this link.

On my other blog I talk about mathematics that comic strips mention. Might like that, too.

Judge Parker.

2 December 2018 – 17 February 2019.

What was happening last time I checked in on Judge Parker? An exhausting set of plot twists. The most salient was Neddy Spencer being back home. She’s nursing her emotional wounds after witnessing, among other things, April Parker murdering the CIA agent who killed — oh, it’s a lot of blood. Sam Driver was getting snotty about Neddy retreating for shelter, but I’m on Neddy’s side in this. Sophie Spencer scolded Neddy about her shunning Ronnie Huerta. Huerta had backed off from Neddy after witnessing altogether too many murders, but was trying to reach out again.

Neddy, to Sophie: 'You know, talking about Marie really shows just how lucky you and I are to have the people we do in our lives.' (Her phone rings and she looks at it.) 'And just how often I take those people for granted.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 13th of December, 2018. Neddy, talking with Sophie, about Marie, when Ronnie calls, seems like a lot of people in two panels to have the -ie sound as the end of their two-syllable names. Well, that’s most likely coincidence.

Neddy tries to call … Marie, the Spencers’ old reliable … housekeeper? I think? I wasn’t sure about her position and the strip only talked about her being on vacation. Marciuliano is sometimes too scrupulous about characters not explaining things they should know to one other. No character, for example, ever says what country Marie is vacationing in, or what island she’s on. This even though her vacation becomes a plot.

Well, Wikipedia says she works as their maid. All right. Anyway, Marie’s off on vacation. More than that: she’s eloped with her boyfriend-of-eight-years, Roy Rodgers. Well, the shock that Marie has her own happiness gives Neddy reason to call Ronnie Huerta again. And to apologize. After Christmas, Neddy plans to set back out to Los Angeles, to pick up whatever she figures her career there to be. A family crisis not of her making postpones this.

Katherine, talking about Norton's gift of rings: 'How could he have left the rings the last time? We weren't back together yet.' Alan: 'You know Norton. He probably thought this would either make him look like a prescient genius or let him get away with one last cruel joke.' Katherine: 'Did I ever tell you how much I hate your in-laws?' Alan, crumpling the note: 'Not more than I do.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 22nd of December, 2018. Must admit, sometimes I think about doing a dive into the story comics from before I started doing regular recaps. The point would be to track down things like how Alan Parker got around to faking Norton’s death and all that. But there is a long of old story strip out there. And I have the slight dread of finding that the comic spent, like, two days on that in the midst of a twenty-week stretch of a car dealer begging the Parkers to take this like-new RV off his hands since he’s getting fired anyway so what does he care if they pay for it with “whatever’s left on this $5 gift card to Radio Shack”? (There was a lot of this sort of people-giving-the-main-cast free stuff going on in the old days.)

There’s some unsettling stuff. One of the Christmas presents Alan Parker finds is from Norton. It’s wedding bands and a note about how he knew Alan and Katherine would reconcile. Norton’s supposed to be dead. Sam Driver swears he’s dead. Driver’s seen pictures. He’s got this from “multiple contacts”. Norton must have snuck it in sometime before he went into Super Hyper Ultra CIA Duper Jail. Norton’s alive, of course, but the CIA is passing the story that he’s dead. Katherine avows how much she hates the Norton subplot, and Alan agrees.


All that was cleared up by the 29th of December. This is when the current plot got underway. (Huh; that’s almost the same day the airplane adventure got under way over in Rex Morgan, M.D..) Marie calls the Spencers, crying. Her husband’s missing. He had left that morning, promising a “surprise”. His clothes were found on the beach and nothing else. Sam Driver flies to whatever island it is exactly that Marie and Roy were honeymooning on. It must be in Greece. The 16th of January’s strip shows the logo of the Hellenic Police. And the story of a man gone missing on his honeymoon turns into one of those exciting missing-person media frenzies that we used to have. You know. Back in the before-times. When there was time to think about anything besides the future Disgraced Former President.

Katherine breaks the news that Toni's memoir will reveal Alan helped Norton fake his death. Randy: 'This is all my fault! If I'd never said one word to Toni ... ' Alan: 'It's MY FAULT, Randy. How could I have done this?' Katherine: 'OK, all the mea culpas in the world won't help us now. We have to figure out a plan. I can try to get Toni to cut it. I mean, we haven't talked in a while, but ... ' Alan: 'If news get [sic] out you tried to quiet this, it will only make things worse.' Katherine: 'Maybe ... Maybe I can stop my publisher somehow ... but how?' Alan: 'There is no 'how'. You try that, news gets out, we're all ruined. I ... I don't think there is anything we can do to stop this.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 13th of January, 2019. See, here, that name thing mentioned the 13th of December was coincidence. Here we have Randy talking about Toni … uh. Well. I have to agree with Alan Parker here that trying to suppress the story is just going to make it worse. I’d imagine that the publishers would insist on the manuscript sticking as close as possible to what’s in the public record already. Or that she had direct evidence for, which may not be much beyond Randy’s claims. I don’t know whether this is true, but Alan could probably plausibly claim to have been coerced, at fear for his life or his family’s life, and at least seem plausibly not-so-bad-ish a guy.

While he’s on the plane there’s time for still more Norton-related chaos. Katherine Parker works for the company publishing Toni Bowen’s memoir. The draft of it contains the (correct) bombshell that, at one point, Alan Parker helped Norton fake his own death. Randy Parker had mentioned this to her while these two were dating. Katherine wants to suppress the story. Alan thinks the least bad thing to do is nothing. Let it come out and take his lumps. Randy curses himself for his foolishness but I don’t think recommends any particular action. Alan points out that Norton is dead, and Katherine points out, this is a soap strip. More, it’s one Francesco Marciuliano is writing. Nobody’s dead until you’ve incinerated their dismembered corpse. And even then we’re somehow not done with Norton.

Back to Greece. Sam Driver wants to know how this missing-groom story hit the global news wires before it even hit the local media. He’s promised an answer at Commissioner Christou’s press conference. Rodgers disappeared the 30th of December. They think he either drowned or met with foul play. They believe Marie Rodgers was the last person to see him alive. She hasn’t answered any questions since Driver showed up to serve as legal adviser.

Driver goes to Christou after the conference, which didn’t answer his question. At least not on-panel. Christou has the good news that Marie is being released from custody but is not to leave the island. It’s a baffling development. The next morning, Christou calls Driver. They’ve found Rodgers. He was arrested in a bar in Madeira. It’s an impressive distance to swim from Greece, considering.

Early morning, Sam goes to see Marie at her hotel ... Marie: 'Sam, what are you doing here so --- you heard something didn't you?' Sam: 'Police commissioner called me directly.' Marie: 'Oh no, oh no! They found his body, didn't they! Oh Roy! My --- ' Sam: 'Marie? Marie! Roy's alive.' Marie: 'Wha ... WHAT?' Sam: 'He's alive. He didn't drown. He wasn't eaten by sharks.' Marie: 'This is wonderful, Sam! I have to see him! Take me to him!' Sam: 'Oh, Marie. I'm afraid I can't.' Marie: 'Why ... why not?' Sam: 'Because he's being held by police in Madeira.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 3rd of February, 2019. I’m willing to suppose the Hellenic Police checked whether the missing Roy Rodgers might be wanted by police for anything. It’s striking that he was wanted, though, since he and Marie had just left on vacation … well, time is an elastic thing in a story strip. But quite recently anyway. It makes sense Roy would flee when he figured the cops were close to arresting him. I’m just not quite clear what the Portuguese police would have arrested Roy Rodgers for. (Fraudulent passport?) Like, who’s requesting extradition and from whom?

Driver has a hypothesis. It’s pretty bonkers, so it makes for a good soap opera story. Maybe it’s based on some real incident. I don’t tend to follow true-crime/missing-persons stories, so what would I know? The idea, though: Rodgers wanted to fake his death and start a new life. Driver thinks Christou saw through that, though. And made Rodgers’s presumed death as big a story as he could. This to fool Rodgers into thinking he had faked his own death, meanwhile letting every cop in the TV audience know what he looked like. That this gave Marie a public reputation of being Probably A Murderer was a side effect, regrettable but worth it for the sake of Justice.

Toni Bowen, reporting on TV while Neddy and Sophie watch, jaws dropping: 'Roy Rodgers' business partner, Handyman Harvey Stonehouse, has been working with authorities to trace the 1.5 million Rodgers allegedly stole from their home repair company. The once-thriving firm has lost most of its contracts over the past three years ... '
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 13th of February, 2019. No, I don’t know why I keep including strips from the 13th of the month. It’s some mildly weird coincidence. Anyway, I was so tempted to take a screenshot of this comic inside my web browser, and then post a photograph of that screenshot of this comic, so that this second panel would have a good fake mise-en-abyme effect.

And the hypothesis seems to hold up. Back home in Cavelton, Toni Bowen reports on the collapse of Rodgers’ home-repair company. They’ve lost a lot of contracts the last several years. Rodgers himself is under suspicion of stealing one and a half million dollars from the failing company. And Katherine Parker “reaches a breaking point” with Bowen’s reporting about her family and family’s close friends. She figures to return the favor. That’s sure to be a very good idea that works out well and leaves her happy. By the next time I recap Judge Parker’s plot — probably around May 2019 — I’m sure we’ll see how much better this has made everybody’s lives. Can’t wait.

Next Week!

The comic strip still claims that Stan Lee is writing The Amazing Spider-Man. And isn’t admitting that Roy Thomas has something to do with it. Well, what have Thomas and Alex Saviuk gotten up to? I expect to say, next week. But we’ll see what happens and how Luke Cage and this purple guy with the mind control voice are doing.

Statistics Saturday: Some Early Radio Soap Operas


  • Clara, Lu, and Em
  • Myrt and Marge
  • Betty and Bob
  • Judy and Jane
  • Tess and Tessier
  • Louise of Saint Louis [ from 1934, “of Decatur, Illinois” ]
  • Mary, Marlon, and the Midge
  • Danielle and Danny
  • Betsy’s Other Herself
  • Ann, Annie, Andrew, Andy, and Vivian
  • Bob, Bill, and Betty of Binghamton [ from 1934, “of Boston” ]
  • John Jane and Jane Johns
  • Jane Jones, Department Store Attorney
  • The Girls Of Decatur, Illinois [ from 1934, “of Saint Louis” ]
  • Tomorrow’s Yesterday
  • When Will Love Ever Find Aunt Kitty?
  • Aunt Bachelor Wife
  • One Pepper
  • Barry and Billiam [ from 1934, “of Binghamton” ]
  • Secret Bride
    • Reference: Chariots for Apollo: A History of Manned Lunar Spacecraft. Courtney G Brooks, James M Grimwood, Loyd S Swenson Jr.

Where I Am And Where I Am Not, Today


Where I am: I successfully managed to start my car with fewer than three trips back to the door to confirm that I had locked it, the way I have always locked it when going out to my car.

Where I am not: I left my iPod in the house so I had to go back for it, spoiling my good work in the door-locking trades.

Some Things To Understand About The 1980s


Here are some things worth explaining about the 1980s, or that are getting explanation anyway.

The decade was heralded by an argument between seven-year-olds who were friends, yes. But the question was whether the year following nineteen-seventy-nine would be nineteen-eighty or whether it would be nineteen-seventy-ten. And whether the decade would have to get all the way up to nineteen-seventy-ninety-nine before it flipped over to nineteen-eighty. The party taking the nineteen-seventy-ten side was very cross at the calendar-makers for not leaving the matter up to the public to dedide.

The President had a press spokesman whose name was Larry Speakes, and it seemed like it was amusing that he had a first and last name that sounded like you were describing what your friend Larry did for his job. His middle name was ‘Melvin’, but nobody could come to an agreement about what it was to Melvin a thing, or whether ‘Larry Melvin’ was a credible name. There was similar but baffled delight when we noticed that Buzz Aldrin’s mother’s maiden name was ‘Moon’. This was very important because lists of trivia about people and their names could point out that Buzz Aldrin walked on the Moon. And while it’s possible he walked on his mother, we’re pretty sure she wasn’t a maiden when he did it. There was also a bit of a flap about how if you took Neil Armstrong’s name and discarded the ‘rmstrong’ part, and then spelled it backwards, you got ‘Alien’. This seemed like it ought to have something to do with his job, although by the 1980s, Neil Armstrong’s job was “chair of a company that made drilling rigs”. This seems highly significant.

Although we had pop culture, it was seen as really swell to make a kid version of popular. Looney Tunes as kids. The Flintstone Kids. Scooby Doo, but a puppy. The trend reached its peak with the 1989-90 Muppet Babies Kids, the exciting follow-up adventures to the animated adventures of the toddler versions of the live-action-ish Muppets. The show was a computer game, because why not? You know? Why not?

With the advent of the pizza-on-a-bagel American society finally handled the imaginary problem of not being able to get pizza anytime. But by putting pizza-related toppings on a bagel we did finish off the problem of bagels not being terrible. I think the problem is bagels had just got introduced outside the New York City metro area. I mean, there was a little stretch in the late 30s when Fred Allen was talking about them. But that was in joking about people who mistook bagels for doughnuts as part of the surprisingly existent controversy about dunking doughnuts in coffee. So explaining them as a pizza-foundation technology let people understand bagels in terms of things we had already accepted, like putting pizza on French bread. Also we could put pizza on the bottom halves of French bread. We don’t know what was done with the top halves. There’s an excellent chance someone at French Bread Pizza headquarters is going to open a forgotten cabinet door one day and get buried under forty years’ worth of abandoned French bread tops. People will call for rescue, but however many times they explain it to 9-1-1 the dispatch operator hangs up.

We had movies, back then. They were a lot like movies today, except everybody’s cars were shoddier. I mean, not that they were 80s cars, although they were, but they were more broken-down 80s cars than you’d get in a movie set in the 80s now. It was part of the legacy of 70s New Hollywood. We might have gotten rid of the muddy sound and action heroes that looked like Walter Matthau, but we were going to keep the vehicles looking downtrodden until 1989. And there was usually a subplot about smugglers who’re after some stolen heroin diamonds. Anyway, when going to the movies it was very funny to observe the theater had, like, six or even eight whole screens. For example, you could say “I’m going to the Route 18 Googolplex” to describe how amazing it was you might see any of four different films that were starting in the same 45-minute stretch of time.

The decade closed with an argument between seven-year-olds about whether the following year was nineteen-eighty-ten or not. These were different seven-year-olds from before. It would have been a bit odd otherwise. You’d think they would have remembered.

Do not dunk bagels in coffee.

An Open Inquiry Based On This Dream The Other Morning


So it was an ordinary enough dream. Mundane, even. I’d had a long time after work going around to different Target-class stores buying things like you sometimes need but don’t ever find interesting. And then I got home, where I was living with my parents, in the house that was more or less my father’s parents’ home only with way more hills and religious statuary than it ever had. There, I was met by my father, who was practically rocking on his feet and giggling at how wrong I was in thinking I was going inside and unpacking. Well, why not? I finally got out of him that we had to go off and see someone, and, all right. That’s a thing that happens. But I insisted I needed, at least, to go to the bathroom first and my father was insisting no, no time for that, but he wouldn’t tell me who it was we were going to meet.

Anyway, if I know three things, then one of those things is that if I dream that I have to go to the bathroom then I should wake up and go to the bathroom. And by then it was late enough in the morning it wasn’t really worth going back to bed to see how things turned out. And yet the fire of curiosity has been lit.

So. Would whoever it was that it was so all-fired important my parents and I go off and meet the other dream-morning please drop me a comment, and let me know who you are, and what it was we had to see you about? Thank you for your consideration.

Popeye’s Island Adventures: Popeye gets a birthday without Shorty for once


King Features Syndicate has clearly decided to try reintroducing Popeye to the popular culture for the 90th anniversary of his debut and 100th anniversary of the Thimble Theatre comic strip he debuted in and took over. Part of this is a cute weekly comic feature, drawn by a host of different artists, called Popeye’s Cartoon Club. Part of this is surely this whole Island Adventures project. This week’s cartoon, Popeye’s Birthday, suggests that the two-minute shorts started publishing a few weeks late. The cartoon just missed the 90th anniversary of the character’s debut. (I don’t know whether Popeye has a canonically established birth date. I would imagine if he has, then it’s been contradicted several times. His debut date is as good a choice as we can have.)

After last week’s honestly baffling cartoon this was a comfortably straightforward story. Olive Oyl organizes a surprise birthday party for Popeye. Bluto tries to crash it. Along the way, Eugene has to delay Popeye from stumbling into the party before it’s ready. Everybody’s doing things for reasons that make sense.

So here’s something I noticed about Bluto trying to crash the party: nobody even knows he’s doing it. That Olive Oyl is able to hang Bluto as a piñata by accident is absurd in a way that I like a little bit more each time I think about it. Later, he tries to grab Popeye’s spinach(?) cake with a fishing line, and just swipes the garbage instead. Nobody cares. In principle, I like the subtle ridiculousness of his schemes failing so badly he goes unnoticed. But it does mean the first time Olive Oyl or Popeye see him is when he falls on the cake. And that’s a thing he wasn’t trying to do.

This is another good bit of situational irony. But it makes Popeye’s and Olive Oyl’s retribution disproportionate. It feels unfair, at least unless you suppose Popeye knows when someone deserves it. Which, yes, Popeye does. One of the earliest Thimble Theatre stories with Popeye has him slugging the bad guy every time he’s on panel, with no in-character justification beyond a Columbo-like awareness that this is the bad guy. Hm. Maybe I’m the one interrogating this text from the wrong perspective.

I like how Eugene’s best idea for distracting Popeye is to shove him into a chair and start juggling. And the off-screen escalation of the juggling that still bores the Sailor Kid. Bluto’s fantasy that a big can of spinach will let him turn into a giant and chase Popeye is a cute, odd bit of kid logic. Although I guess it’s not out of line with what happened to Bluto’s tooth. (It’s reusing the walk cycle from Scramble For The Egg and I would have sworn at least one more cartoon, too. The same banana model’s being reused, too.)

It’s nagging at me how much Popeye’s been a reactive character the last few storylines. In each case it’s understandable. You can’t throw much of a surprise birthday party for someone and have them be the character who drives the story, unless the story is them spoiling the surprise. But not every short has to have every character doing everything. Even if there were more than two minutes for it.

Is the project to reintroduce Popeye working? I don’t know. My love noticed at the mall this weekend a small child wearing a winter jacket with Olive Oyl and Eugene the Jeep on it. And one of the contestants had to guess the price of a can of spinach ($1.29) on The Price Is Right today. So that’s something. Meanwhile I keep watching Popeye’s Island Adventures, and leaving my thoughts about them at this link.

A Friendly Reminder Before You Mail Those Cards Off


So I know everybody’s rushing to get their valentine cards in the mail and I’m sorry if this is too late for you. But, thing to remember, when these cards are received and unpacked they’re left in the stock room for goodness knows how long. And even a store that’s being nice and tidy is still going to have insects wandering around, rodents, the occasional bird that gets in and doesn’t know how to get out, or figures the stock room is a better way to spend the winter than the outdoors is. So, y’know, don’t overreact to the threat of animal-transmitted diseases, but be sensible. Wash any cards before you mail them out. If you aren’t sure your sender is washing the cards, run them through the dishwasher or the laundry before you open them. You’ll be glad you did!

What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? Is Gil Thorp Going To Be Fired? November 2018 – February 2019


No, Gil Thorp is not going to be fired. But I’m happy to provide recaps of the stories in Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the indefinite future. If you’re in the definite future of after about April 2019 there’s probably a more up-to-date recap at that link.

I don’t just read the story strips for the plots. I also read lots of comic strips for the mathematics, and write about that on my other blog. You might enjoy the results. I do, myself.

Gil Thorp.

26 November 2018 – 9 February 2019.

Some well-intended but dumb schemes were under way last time I checked in. Thomas Kyle “Tiki” Jansen’s family transferred him from New Thayer to Milford when his old gang of friends went bad. The gang got into vandalism, burglary, assaulting Jansen for ditching them, that sort of thing. Jansen’s family had rented but not used an apartment to give Jansen a technical address in Milford. Joe Bolek, that kid who wants to talk about the cinema, figured to help. Record the New Thayer gang beating up on Jansen and boom, Coach Thorp will be glad to let him stay on the team, right?

Jansen, in the locker room: 'I sent our little Oscar-winner to my ex-friends back in new Thayer. They agreed it was better to call a truce than see it blasted all over the Internet.' On the field, a teammate asks: 'Great. Does that mean you're switching schools again?' Jansen: 'Not any time soon.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 30th of November, 2018. Meanwhile, over at New Thayer, at least a third of the gang is asking, so they shouldn’t have Snapchatted chasing down and trying-but-failing to beat up Tiki Jansen, then? Snapchat is a thing that non-old people do, right? Also it’s a thing to do? Please advise. I haven’t understood any social medium since IRC.

Coach Gil Thorp sees the video and doesn’t really seem to care. Whoever it is decides these things rules that Jansen’s eligible, so, he plays. With the note that he might transfer back after a year when the seniors in the gang graduate. And Joe Bolek goes meeting up with Kelly Thorp. Both are glad to know someone else who’s interested in Movie Nerd stuff. Gil Thorp is a good partner, but his interest in movies is that they’re important to his wife. That’s great, but a primary interest is still different.


Monday, the 10th of December, opened the new plot. Its main action promised to be glorious and it has been holding up. It’s a sequel, and to a storyline from before I started doing regular recaps. That’s all right. The text fills in all the backstory you need.

It opens with a young man buying space on two billboards. So right away you know it’s a 20-something-year-old who actually falls for the billboard company ads about “See? Made you look!” or “our texts go to the whole Milford area”. Still, it’s exciting. The “Billboard Advertising: It Works” sign comes down, a month before reaching its six-year anniversary. The replacement message: “Is Mediocre Good Enough?” And with that bold demand on the commuters of Milford … nothing happens and nobody much cares.

Howry, arms spread wide, seen from above: 'First, ask the question --- ' Then a close-up of his fist slamming into his other hand. 'And then knock 'em over with the answer!' Later, in the school, one of Filion's teammates asks: 'Make time for the Bucket after practice. Soto's gonna try to eat three banana splits!' Filion: 'I'd better pass.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 15th of December, 2018. “Are you positive you wanna pass? They’re using the same banana model that Eugene the Jeep uses to cure purple-ness.” “Um. I’m supposed to be an eighteen-year-old in 2019. What do you imagine the syllables `Eugene the Jeep’ mean to me?” And in non-snarky commentary, I like the camera angles in the first two panels. They put a healthy amount of energy into a single character talking to himself about his plans for revenge against his high school basketball coach.

The other plot thread. It’s basketball season. Milford’s off to an indifferent, one might say mediocre, start. And guard Nate Filion is having a bad time of it. He’s not hanging out with the other basically well-meaning if dumb kids on the team. Or much of anything else. And the billboard takes on a new message: “Don’t Our Kids Deserve Better?”

Filion’s teachers get worried. All that seems to engage him is quoting That 70s Show. That’s no way for a healthy teen to live. Thorp prods a bit, but can’t get anything. And then the billboard goes to its newest message: “Save the Kids — Fire Gil Thorp”, and includes a link to the blog of Robby Howry. Also his podcast. Howry explains his motives to a reporter for the Milford Star who turns out not to be Marty Moon. I don’t know the reporter’s name. You can tell he’s not Marty Moon because his hair is a little different and Marty Moon’s sideburns don’t grow down to join his goatee. I don’t keep doing the six-differences puzzles in Slylock Fox for nothing.

Howry explains to the reporter that he was more than an equipment manager, he was “unofficial assistant coach” for Thorp years ago. And that his conscience would not allow him to let Milford “wallow in mediocrity” any longer. And that he loves the comic strips and wants the story strips held to high standards of plot, character, and art. Anyway, he left because Thorp “didn’t share my commitment to winning.”

That isn’t how Thorp remembers it. But he keeps his memories to himself, his assistant, and us nosey people in the audience. He remembers Howry as the equipment manager and up-and-coming stats nerd. And, dear lord help us, one of those people who insists that you need to be a brand. Before he could be mercifully kidnapped and terrorized by The Ghost Who Walks, he got dumb. He gave in to Maxwell “Max” Bacon’s pleas for Adderall. Except he didn’t in fact do that. Howry gave Bacon aspirin tablets, figuring that’s all Bacon really needed. And who could get in trouble for taking aspirin on game day? Thorp suspended Bacon and dropped Howry altogether. But feels he can’t explain this in public without humiliating students who didn’t deserve that.

Gil Thorp: 'Bobby Howry --- I mean, Robby --- is attacking me on a billboard?' Assistant: 'And a web site, and a podcast.' Thorp: 'Well ... I guess it's good to see he's well-rounded.' (At a coffee shop.) Reporter: 'Tell me about yourself, Robby.' Howry: 'I'm just a multi-dimensional guy who cares about Milford.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 11th of January, 2019. So what is better: the second panel where Gil Thorp is barely able to believe Robby Howry has decided to make this his life’s goal? Or the implied fourth panel where the Milford Star reporter sighs, puts his pencil and notepad down on the table, and says, “Before I continue you must tell me whether you have ever addressed a woman as ‘milady’ unironically”, resolved that if Howry has then this interview and all interactions with Howry forever are now ended.

And that old incident I think serves as a good example of the Gil Thorp storytelling style. It has a lot of stories driven by how teenagers are kinda dopey. But there’s almost never actual malice involved, not from the kids anyway. They don’t think of being truly nasty. And they’re limited in how much trouble they get into anyway. Partly because as teens they have limited resources. Partly because as teens they’re a little dopey, so their lack of foresight saves them. That’ll come back around.

And yes, also saving them is the writer. Part of the Gil Thorp style is that nobody’s really involved in serious wrongdoing. Several years ago there was a storyline about a guy selling the kids bootleg DVDs. Except, it turned out, they weren’t bootlegs. The guy got legitimate DVDs. He put them in bootleg-looking cases so his teenage customers thought they were getting away with something. It was a bizarrely sanitized minor transgression. I wondered if Rubin and Whigham were mocking someone who’d sent them a letter about what it was acceptable to portray teenagers doing. Or if they were trying to see if they could fool Luann into imitating it.

(I owe gratitude to the Comics Curmudgeon, for posting about the bootleg-DVD story in a way that I could search for the strips. I’d never have dug them up otherwise.)

So we already had a delightful story about Robby Howry’s quixotic lurch for vengeance going. What takes it up to glorious heights? The involvement of Marty Moon, of course. Moon is delighted to read of someone dishing Gil Thorp-related dirt. Howry is glad to tell Moon at length about how Coach Thorp just lost the game to Jefferson by six, or whatever. And Marty feigns understanding what Howry is going on about when he talks about these pre-measured mattress kit delivery eyeglasses who sponsor the podcast.

Thorp tries his best to ignore Howry, focusing instead on what’s bothering Filion. This goes so far as to remind the whole team about a suicide hotline number and insist they put it in their phones. Possibly overreacting (“Coach, we only lost to Jefferson by six!”) but he does insist he’d rather overreact.

It may earn him loyalty. The basketball team finds people who remember Howry. They work out that as best they can figure, yeah, he needs a swirly. They are correct, but Thorp overhears and tells them: NO. Leave him alone, you idiots. The team, thinking cleverly but stupidly, finds the loophole. They weren’t explicitly told not to go to Howry’s “Fire Gil Thorp” billboard and graffiti it. They’re foiled. Oh, sure, they thought of a great wisecrack about Tiny Tim. But none of them thought to bring a ladder. Which is lucky, since some cops show up. They notice the players look like they’re popular kids, so he lets them go with a warning and a call to the school.

At the billboard. Narrator: 'Two cars, four kids, four cans of spray paint, and ... ' One kid: 'Seriously, Andre? You didn't think to bring a ladder?' Andre: 'I thought there'd be one here.' Kid: 'Right. And maybe a cooler full of snacks marked 'For graffiti artists only'.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 30th of January, 2019. I don’t blame them for not thinking out how you get up onto a billboard. I would have guessed there’d be something built into one of the support pillars, if for no other reason to let someone caught on the sign get down safely. Anyway, the real question is, in that first panel are we looking at the front or the back end of the car with the ‘MILFORD’ license plate?

Thorp gives two-game suspensions to the participants and calls Filion in to his office. This is exactly the sort of stupid thing Filion should have done; why wasn’t he? Which is an odd tack but, yeah, I’ve known people I had to deal with that way. Filion finally opens up. With the end of high school coming, he feels like everything is ending. He doesn’t know how to handle that. Now Thorp’s able to hook him, and his parents, up with counseling. And there’s the promise that the team might play better too.

My words alone might not express how much I’ve enjoyed this plot. I’d said last week how I love when story comics get a preposterous character in them. And this is a great one. It’s the story of Robby Howry, a maybe 21-year-old guy, seeking revenge on his high school basketball coach. And going to great effort about this, starting a blog and podcast and talking daily with Marty Moon. And laying out hard cash. I don’t know how much it costs to rent two billboards for a month-plus, but boy, that’s got to run into the dozens of dollars. Add to his mission fanaticism some grand self-obliviousness. He’s confident nobody will mind his whole fake-prescription-drug-pushing thing. Not if the alternative is losing buzzer-beaters to Arapahoe High School. Probably it won’t be as grand a comeuppance as happens to Marty Moon in every Marty Moon story. But it’s so promising.

Milford Schools Watch

People sometimes wonder where Milford is. The real answer is nowhere, of course; it’s meant to be a place that could be any high school. And then mucks things up with the idiosyncratic use of “playdowns” where normal people say “playoffs”. Anyway, here’s some schools or towns named in Gil Thorp the last several months. I offer this so you can work out your own map of the Milford educational system.

  • Arapahoe
  • Central City
  • Danbury
  • Jefferson
  • Madison
  • New Thayer
  • Tilden
  • Valley Tech

Okay, “Danbury” really sounds Connecticut. But then there was the thing a couple years ago where they name-checked famous Ohio I-75 highway sign Luckey Haskins.

Next Week!

What is reliably my greatest challenge. What’s going on in Judge Parker? Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley know. I’ll try to figure it out.

Statistics Saturday: Some Grammy Awards


  • Largest Bowl of Anise Hard Candies Fused Together
  • Distinctive Tiny Scented Soaps You’re Most Afraid To Use
  • Silverware And Plate That Together Make The Most Undefinably Eerie Scraping Sound
  • Most Refrigerator With The Crushed-Ice Dispenser You’re Not Allowed To Use
  • Room That Most Smells of Cedar Despite Having Nothing Cedar In It
  • Scratchiest Blankets Covering The Most Of The Sofa
  • Sleekest Television Set Put On Top Of The Widest 1970s Color Television Set That’s Easily Four Feet Front To Back
  • Land-Line Telephone That Most Has Push-Buttons But In A Circle Like It Was A Dial Phone Somehow
  • Most Boiled Selection of Off-White Dinner Foods
  • Room That Least Smells of Cedar Although The Cedar Chest Is In It

Reference: The Rocket Men: Vostok and Voskhod, the First Soviet Manned Spaceflights, Rex Hall and David J Shayler

A note about research methods. Some may accuse this department of focusing entirely on its own experiences and not adequately sampling the full conceptual space of grandmotherly presences. To this we answer no, we called our grandmothers ‘grandma’ and ‘mom-mom’, none of this casual ‘grammy’ stuff for us and so therefore nyah.

Please Send Cables


So you know that stage in life where everything you have is plugged in to an adapter of some kind? And those adapters themselves are plugged in to some other kind of adapter? And you’re not sure whether something is broken, or the adapter it’s plugged into is broken, or the adapter after that is what’s broken, or whether everything is working as designed and it’s the adaption concept that’s broken?

That is a stage of life, right? That’s normal to be in, right?

Well.

Back to seeing what happens if we unplug things and then re-plug them.

How To Clear The Snow On Your Sidewalk


Do you need to clear the snow on your sidewalk? That’s not a trick question. If you have both snow and a sidewalk, yes, you do. The question is how.

The best solution to snow on the sidewalk is to live inside a domed city. Within this sparkling beautiful environment you don’t have any kind of weather, just a steady mediocrity. If you want to have snow, you can get it delivered. It’ll be placed thoughtfully on your property by a team of specially developed snow-bots, working under the direction of a snow artist who’s moody and introspective and has deep thoughts about the aesthetics of stuff on your lawn. In this case you can get the snow-bots to put snow on your sidewalk. And then you can have them remove the snow again because, hey, it’s not like they have lives to get back to. At least until it turns out the snow-bots do have deep internal lives. And the snow artist falls under the sway of a mysterious, deep-feeling red-haired woman who was left over from an unpublished J G Ballard short story. Then there’s a good chance that you’ll be the person whose house is being tended while The Revolution gets started. This is jolly good excitement, but you can’t count on that happening more than maybe one time out of four. (The Revolution discovers that outside of the city dome, the Earth has transformed from radiation-scarred wasteland to Griffith Park.) Also, living in a domed city is likely to attract me. I don’t think that’s a problem, but I definitely understand if you do.

What should be a nearly-as-good method is to have a fire dragon on hand. A fire dragon can handup two ten inches of snow by something as simple as laying down. Problem solved, right? At least until that eleventh inch comes down. Not so, sad to say. There are no fire dragons. What you can get in most places are fire snakes. These are a considerably smaller species. They come from Australia, which tells you something about why that continent’s gotten a cumulative total of about four inches of snow in recorded history, which thanks to the indigenous peoples there, stretches back about 50,000 years. A lone, four-inch-long, Australian fire snake has enough heat capacity to singe the eyebrows off the entire population of Europe four times over. This will come in handy if there’s ever a blizzard of European eyebrows on your sidewalk. This doesn’t often happen. If it did, you’d know, because the weather map would make it look like the Interstate is making Groucho eyes at you. Still it’s nice to know the capacity is there. Do not try to import this species. You can’t get the necessary straw mice to feed them without the pet store getting suspicious.

The most popular method to clear the sidewalk is to flip a switch which causes the sidewalk to lift up on large hydraulic legs. Then the legs tip the sidewalk to the side, and a giant cartoony hand wearing gloves and holding a whisk broom goes back and forth, dusting the sidewalk clean. The sidewalk drops back into place and the hand tosses the whisk broom into the air and makes a happy OK sign before catching it and disappearing again. If you have a switch in the house and you can’t figure out what it’s supposed to do? It does that. If it doesn’t work that’s because the GFCI has tripped. Look for something that seems like a reset button and try that. Make sure you don’t ever use this while someone’s on your sidewalk.

If it isn’t working and you can’t find the reset button, I know what you’re thinking. No, you can’t take the hair dryer out and use that on the sidewalk. That isn’t hair. Well, all right, if you’ve got the European eyebrow blizzard that’s hair. But that also almost never happes. Best not to worry about it.

After clearing the snow, scatter enough rock salt that you feel like you’re using too much rock salt, but not quite enough that it feels like your sidewalk is actually getting clear of ice or slush.

In Which I Avoid Accidentally Reading a Book a Second Time


Yes, I did just resolve the question of “did I read this book about the Greek War of Independence 1821 – 1830 before?” by finding a passage I was certain I had read. What was that gripping section? A foot note about how at one point the executive council ought to have had five members, but there was a vacancy “left for a representative of the island, and [ Theodoros ] Kolokotronis insisted on filling it himself”. I may or may not be able to follow the sweep of empires, but don’t try bluffing me on the committee compositions!

So, yes, I continue to learn more about why everybody treated me like that in middle school.

Popeye’s Island Adventures: Bluto and his teeth get some attention, also spinach


It’s happened before that Bluto has been the viewpoint character for a Popeye cartoon. At least to start things in action. Focus usually returns to Bluto. This week’s Popeye’s Island Adventure might be the most that Bluto has been the protagonist for a cartoon. I say ‘might’ because I remember basically three scenes from the late-70s Hanna-Barbera run. And all I’ve seen of Popeye and Son is that sometimes it was playing, silently, on the TV in the kids corner of the Popeye’s Fried Chicken in Singapore. (There was the one Popeye’s, and it was in Changi Airport.) But let me just assert that Can’t Handle The Tooth is the most Bluto-focused cartoon, and let people correct me.

My first thought about this was the cartoon’s a mess. The second was that fluffy was going to need like four pass-throughs to follow it. I did too, really. The storyline’s still messy, but I don’t think it’s hopeless. The short needs time, though. Incidents keep happening, in a sequence that feels a bit like a dream, or like a kid attempting to tell a story. A bit more screen time would help non-kids like me follow along.

I’d have gotten some of the time from the cartoon’s start. Bluto digging into Popeye’s ship is a reasonable thing for him to do. But the action only starts when Bluto tries opening an errant can of spinach. That’s at least ten seconds of stuff we didn’t really need established. Bluto trying to open the can is decent stuff.

Half a minute in, Bluto finally has a loose tooth. Trying to get it fully loose, and having every attempt fail in stranger ways: that’s the short’s focus. I like the silent-movie-approach of tying a string to a door and how that would have failed even if Popeye had gone through the door. And I like that this sets off a briefly-glimpsed side plot where Popeye can’t catch an errant spinach can. That premise could have been a short on its own, too. It might yet be. (Maybe not. Perhaps something that’s amusing in brief glimpses in the margins of the short would be boring if it were the primary focus. At least I’ve heard of that dynamic happening. But I’m a nerd, so deep down, I believe that anything funny can only be way more funny if you do a lot of it.)

The strangest interlude is with Eugene the Jeep. It’s a moment that feels like a frustration dream. Bluto figures biting into an apple will loosen the tooth; Eugene magically swipes the apples. He even turns a bunch of apples into a baked pie. I’m not sure how I feel about Eugene’s shift to magic-assisted gluttony, but there we are. Olive Oyl stepping out in a welding mask, with a torch and pliers, is another bizarre moment. I guess she has reasons for it, as who doesn’t fix a wobbly table in the sand by applying flame and pulling things?

And then it gets really weird. It’s not new that spinach should do wondrous things for entities besides Popeye. Nor is it new that it works on inanimate objects. When a bit of spinach falls on Bluto’s finally-free tooth … it … becomes gigantic? I don’t get how that follows from the usual spinach superpowers, and I missed why Bluto, Popeye, and the tooth end up in this giant rolling ball. Popeye ends up falling on Olive’s repaired table, another showing where the Sailor Kid’s fairly hapless. Bluto ends up in the water, and loses his gigantified tooth. It’s not the first time I’ve felt bad for Bluto at the end of a cartoon, although this one feels particularly unfair to him.

I’ve watched the cartoon many times over now, so I have a fair idea what’s happened in it. I’m still struggling with why these particular things should have happened. I think it spent too much time establishing Bluto’s loose tooth, and squeezing out plot time from the attempt to pull it. More time for the failed attempts, I think, would have rewarded the short greatly. It might never make sense that Bluto’s tooth turns gigantic. But more time to process the events could have made it feel less tiring.

This is the cartoon that leaves me with the question: do teeth float?

This and my other reviews of Popeye’s Island Adventures cartoons should be here.

Statistics January: What Was Popular And Why, Here, Last Month


I like starting the month with a look back at what things were popular around here, and how much I got read, and all that. It’s a nice long article and it doesn’t take me being all that creative or anything. I don’t know. It works.

By the way, if you’d like to follow my blog, please do. You can do it in a way that doesn’t show up in my statistics by adding it to your RSS reader. For methods I know a little more about, you can use the button on the upper right corner of the page. Unless I do try out a new page theme and that button moves. Also, I’m also @Nebusj on Twitter. Each new posting gets a mention there, at least.

So what was readership like around here the first month of 2019?

Bar chart of about 30 months of readership; January is a high point after several months of fluttering but gradually declining readership.
Fun fact: somehow my views per visitor is always either 1.83, 1.76, or 1.90. No exceptions! I have no idea what makes a fact ‘fun’.

It was a busy month, with the greatest number of page views around here since June. 3,343 page views from 1,830 unique visitors. There’d been 2,866 page views from 1,632 visitors in December, and 3,077 page views from 1,732 visitors in November. I haven’t had this many unique visitors since May 2018. To what do I credit this? The obvious thing to credit is a couple mentions in the Comics Curmudgeon. Not on the main page, but from commenters who used my plot recaps to help people confused by the story strips.

Maybe I should push my story recaps more at these sites. It feels intrusive to mention someplace I don’t regularly comment, though. Also many of the commenters have less patience for the story strips than I have. But maybe commenters would forgive story strips more if they could see, like, that something which seems out of nowhere was set up months ago and they just forgot or missed it.

Still, the number of likes rose to 183, just barely more than I’d had any month back to March 2018. I’d been in this 165-to-180 zone most of last year, dropping to 150 in November and 137 in December. The number of comments was up to 70, from December’s 44, and November’s 88. There’s clearly no pattern anymore except that there’s not a lot to talk about.

What were the popular posts around here in January? Nothing posted in January, for one. What did make the cut:

  • What’s Going On In The Phantom (Weekdays)? What’s The Plan To Kill Heloise Walker? July – September 2018
  • What The Heck Happened To Nancy and Why Does It Look Weird?
  • Who’s Writing and Drawing Alley Oop Now? Who Is Li’l Alley Oop?
  • What’s Going On In Alley Oop? Did Alley Oop End? June – August 2018
  • Is the comic strip Henry ending? Is the comic strip Hazel ending?
  • This suggests what I ought to do this year is go through all the syndicated newspaper comic strips, write a post “Is the comic strip Mother Goose And Grimm ending? Why does Funky Winkerbean look weird?” (or whatever) and watch the page views roll in.

    My post popular piece actually published this past month was What’s Going On In Mark Trail? Who Are These Guys Mark Trail Is Punching? October 2018 – January 2019. This is a good lesson in how important it is to track who Mark Trail is punching. My most popular long-form piece was In Which I Cannot Honestly Say I Dodged A Bullet Here. This is a good lesson in how important it is that I just point at stuff that’s happening and call that humor.

    Map of the world with the United States in a deep pink, India in a less deep pink, and then a surprising amount of Europe and South America colored in at all. Most of Africa, China, and former Soviet republics besides Russia are not colored in at all.
    I admit I’m not surprised that all my talk about Mark Trail does not resonate with the people of Kyrgyzstan.

    There were 68 countries sending me readers in January. There had been 61 in December and 66 in November. So I’m in a sixties mood. But here’s the country list:

    Country Readers
    United States 2,460
    India 173
    United Kingdom 96
    Canada 92
    Australia 67
    Germany 42
    Sweden 27
    New Zealand 24
    Italy 22
    Philippines 22
    Denmark 18
    Norway 17
    American Samoa 16
    France 15
    Mexico 15
    Poland 15
    Spain 15
    Finland 13
    Romania 12
    Taiwan 12
    South Africa 11
    Thailand 10
    Croatia 9
    Japan 8
    Malaysia 8
    Netherlands 8
    Singapore 8
    Switzerland 8
    Slovenia 7
    Brazil 6
    Czech Republic 6
    European Union 6
    Hong Kong SAR China 6
    Ireland 5
    Uruguay 5
    Argentina 4
    Chile 4
    Israel 4
    Russia 4
    Indonesia 3
    Portugal 3
    South Korea 3
    Turkey 3
    Armenia 2
    Cambodia 2
    Georgia 2
    Hungary 2
    Puerto Rico 2
    Ukraine 2
    Bangladesh 1 (****)
    Bulgaria 1
    Colombia 1
    El Salvador 1 (*)
    Greece 1
    Guernsey 1
    Iraq 1
    Jamaica 1
    Kuwait 1
    Latvia 1
    Lithuania 1
    Malta 1
    Nepal 1
    Nicaragua 1
    Nigeria 1
    Saudi Arabia 1
    Serbia 1
    Slovakia 1
    Tanzania 1

    There were 19 single-reader countries in January. There had been 12 in December and 16 in November. El Salvador was a single-reader country last month. Bangladesh is on five months now for being a single-reader country. Huh.

    The Insights page tells me I start February with 111,870 page views total, from 61,588 unique visitors. In January I published a total of 18,290 words. I’d had an average 590 words per post (my 2018 average was 639 words per post). There were an average 1.7 comments and 5.7 likes per post.

    And the important material. All my story strip plot recap posts should appear at this link. The comics I expect to summarize over the coming month — barring some surprise or fast-breaking news which bumps something — are:

    I am expecting there will be comments made about Alley Oop, when I get there.

    What’s Going On In Rex Morgan, M.D.? Does the ham radio guy know what kind of plane this is? November 2018 – February 2019


    I’m always happy to help people follow the plot in Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D.. If you’re reading this after about May 2019, there should be a more current recap at this link. Older recaps should also be at that link. And I have mathematically-themed comic strips reviewed at this link. Now, to what’s happened in late 2018 and early 2019.

    Rex Morgan, M.D.

    11 November 2018 – 3 February 2019.

    What was happening: Delmer Robertson, childhood friend of and failed robber to Jordan Harris, has diabetes and failing kidneys. (For future reference: Jordan’s last name was given the 19th of November, 2018. I had a ridiculously hard time finding his last name. If anyone knows of a good Rex Morgan cast list please say so.) Jordan offers to donate one of his kidneys. It’s an admirable but quixotic gesture, but I’ll say later why I understand his rush to offer.

    A medically better source of transplant organs is Delmer’s family. Might be socially worse, though. Delmer, out of the army, dealt with his experiences by drugs and alcohol. It’s why he tried to mug Jordan in the first place. It’s also why his attempt faceplanted so badly that Wile E Coyote winced at it. Delmer figures his family all hates him for his life-wreck. Turns out they don’t. Once they learn of Delmer’s need, they’re good with it. His brother Dalton is a good match. Dalton insists Delmer has to clean up his act. Delmer’s eager to, though. They schedule surgery quickly. Rex Morgan doesn’t do it, since you want a kidney transplant done by someone who specializes in medicine. All goes well.

    A donor has been chosen from among Red's brothers. Dalton: 'So here's the deal. Seems I'm the best choice for a transplant donor.' Delmer: 'I don't know if I deserve you doing that for me. There's risks.' Dalton: 'I know all about the risks. And no, you probably don't deserve it, jerkface. But you are my brother so we're gonna do this and you're gonna accept it. One thing, though.' 'Yeah? What's that?' 'If I do this, you're gonna clean up your life. I'm not giving you a kidney so you can be a drunk, trying to mug people on the street.' 'Seems like a fair deal. If I get a new shot at life, I want to make something of it.'
    Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 25th of November, 2018. Delmer’s family was so immediately supportive of him once they heard of his circumstances that it’s a bit surprising he ever ended up screwed up in the first place. But perhaps the sharpened focus of “he needs this new kidney or will die within months” affected how much they felt able to do for him.

    Jordan talks with the recovering Delmer about his own breakthrough. Jordan lost a leg while in the army. He’s spun a story about losing it in battle. He was never in battle. He was a cook, and lost it to an improvised explosive device while going to the market. He told himself he made up a heroic adventure because other people expected it. But Jordan’s ready to be honest with people about this, now. And this is why I understand his offering Delmer his kidney. It would be a way to act the hero he felt he was expected to be. They both resolve to do better with their lives.

    Jordan: 'I don't know, Red. I've been telling myself I'm okay and handling these things just fine. But I can see now that I have some issues I need to deal with.' Delmer: 'Well, you saw how I handled *my* issues. Substance abuse and thievery don't seem like the best choices I could have made.' Jordan: 'They have counseling and therapy available here. I was thinking I'd sign up. How about you?'
    Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 19th of December, 2018. So this is all pretty well settled. Not addressed in the comic: do all the males in Delmer’s family look faintly like redheaded Abraham Lincolns? Or is this just something my brain has decided to fix on?

    Part of that resolution in action: Jordan and Michelle, whose last name I have not been able to track down, want to marry soon. [Edited to Add: Dawnpuppy was good enough to tell me her name. Michelle’s last name is Carter.] They’ve been engaged — I think — since before I started doing these recaps. Or I failed to log their engagement in these essays. It’ll be tough scheduling. Jordan has a restaurant opening soon. Michelle pledges she’ll do all the planning. And with the 29th of December, 2018, we leave Jordan, Michelle, Delmer, and that group, for the time being.


    The current story started with the new year. Well, the 31st of December. Rex is off to a conference in Phoenix. He’s told his family it’s a medical conference, so please adjust your snarky comments to match what’s in text. On the plane he’s seated next to Brayden, portrayed by that kid from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Brayden’s unnervingly cool about the flight, including the long delay before takeoff.

    Brayden: 'Hey, we're finally moving.' Pilot: 'Sorry for the delay, folks. We're now cleared for takeoff. We'll be in the air momentarily.' Brayden: 'Do you get nervous flying, Doc?' Rex Morgan: 'Just a little. I don't do it often enough to feel like it's no big deal.' (The plane takes off.) Brayden: 'Oh, there we are. Up in the air.' Rex: 'I'm sure it'll be smooth sailing from here on.' Brayden: 'I'm okay with the middle part of flying. It's just the takeoff and landing that get to me.' Rex: 'I don't think you're alone on that. But I'm sure everything will be okay.' Flight attendant, checking Brayden: 'Is everything all right here? Do either of you need anything?' Mr Cranky: 'HEY! I COULD USE A DRINK WHEN YOU'RE DONE WITH THE KID!'
    Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 13th of January, 2019. Crankshaft looks a lot younger when he isn’t in a Tom Batiuk comic strip, but then who doesn’t?

    Unnervingly not cool is another passenger. We haven’t got a proper name for him. Brayden’s called him Mr Cranky and I’ll go with that. He wants to know why he hasn’t got drink service yet. Or why he can’t go wandering around the aisles during the flight. Or why he can’t go into the bathroom right now just because someone else is in it. He’s the kind of supporting character you live for, if you read story strips. His emotions are big, bombastic, and way out of proportion to what’s going on. Yes, I know actual flights have this kind of cartoonishly hostile passenger too often. Doesn’t matter. Every story strip becomes one order of magnitude more delightful when some guest character rampages like a bull through the storyline. Big drunken guy on a flight? Excellent. The only thing better is when the rampaging-bull character’s emotions are wholly out of line with the narrative, or any credible narrative. Looking at you, past week of Mary Worth, and regretting how long it’ll be before I get back to that strip. I’m sorry the flight isn’t long enough he gets to have a fight about how he has a right to play the trombone, and where the stewardesses get off telling him this isn’t a bowling alley flight.

    Brayden: 'Hard to believe a grown man would act like that guy does.' Rex: 'It's good that even at your age you know what sort of behavior is acceptable and what isn't. Brayden: 'My folks may have split up --- but they've *both* taught me a thing or two.'
    Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 23rd of January, 2019. Brayden … Brayden is actually older than me, right? That’s why he talks like this?

    Extremely not cool is a long rumbling noise that starts the 25th of January. It even shakes the cartoonishly unflappable Brayden. It also shakes the plane. The flight attendants prepare for an “unscheduled landing”. They do this with the cool confidence of professionals who’ve recently reviewed the Schedule of FAA-Approved Euphemisms. Their attempts to explain the brace position for landing get interrupted by Mr Cranky. If you liked his rage at having to wait for drink service to start you’ll love how much he hates the flight ending at a ham radio shack so far out in the middle of nowhere that even The Ghost Who Walks doesn’t have a secret airbase there.

    Ham radio guy, outside his shack, going 'WHOA!' as a passenger jet trailing a nasty-looking dark cloud and making a rumbling noise comes landing on the road beside him.
    Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 2nd of February, 2019. “That’s the third-largest RV I’ve ever seen!”

    So far as I know. I wrote that bit before seeing this Sunday’s strip. We’ll see what happens. (It’s included a lot of people in the comments section complaining the airplane is no craft flown by any actual airline, and has way too much leg room. I am as bothered by this as I am by how people in movies can park downtown.) I kind of what it to involve Zippy the Pinhead berating a thing by the roadside.

    Next Week!

    What well-intentioned but dumb scheme did the kids in Milford get up to? What well-intentioned but dumb scheme did the kids in Milford get up to after that will-intentioned but dumb scheme? Is Marty Moon going to be set up to be a laughingstock? What blogger is hilariously overestimating how interested people are in second-guessing Gil Thorp’s decision-making process? Wait. I … Um. Well, I should be back on Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp in seven days.

    Statistics Saturday: Some Names Of Machines That Used To Be Personal Occupations


    • Computer
    • Typewriter
    • Calculator
    • Washer
    • Charger
    • Toaster
    • Mic [ previously “Mike” ]
    • Carousel
    • Fiddler
    • Grover
    • Bumper
    • Terrier
    • Fastener
    • Reuter
    • Rotor
    • Referrer
    • Rotolactor
    • Footballer
    • Compressor
    • Kangarobot

    Reference: Star Fleet Technical Manual, Franz Joseph.

    A Couple More Groundhog Predictions


    As there are possibilities I didn’t cover yesterday.

    Six more non-consecutive weeks of winter. This is foretold by the groundhog either seeing or not seeing its shadow (research department please clear this up) but being so distracted in the process there’s nothing jumbled thoughts incomplete returned to. While spring may arrive right about on time, there’ll be sudden bursts of winter throughout the whole year. It’s a bit inconvenient, because of the rush to put snow tires on and off again. But it’s pretty great to get, like, eight inches of snow in the middle of June when it’s warm enough to enjoy it. Plus it adds some realism to Christmas in July, if you’re lucky or if you have Christmas in July in June.

    Six more leeks of winter. Predicted when the groundhog emerges and sees (or does not see) the shadow of a potato. Yes, I know, you’d think it would be the shadow of an onion or maybe chives. But that’s just how the folklore settled down. We suspect there’s some weird Cockney rhyming slang behind it.

    Six more beats of winter. The groundhog is a dj and he’s got some vinyl rarities that are going to make this the best night ever.

    Six door-weeks of winter. The groundhog emerges with either a doorknob or the knocker for an ISO standard front door. In this case winter will be longer by approximately the same amount of time you spend opening doors in an average six-week span. This isn’t all that much, really, considering the time spent closing these doors is not charged to the winter account.

    Some Groundhog Predictions


    Here are some things a groundhog might predict.

    Six more weeks of winter. This occurs when the duly appointed groundhog for a region emerges and sees its own shadow. This commits us to six more weeks of cold weather. There is also an option on snow, freezing rain, and your car being somehow glazed. This is all per an ancient agreement that nobody remembers why humanity made. It must have solved some problem, but what?

    Six fewer weeks of winter. Unless that should be six less weeks of winter. This occurs when the duly appointed groundhog for a region emerges and sees its shadow. Or … no, wait, that’s supposed to be more weeks of winter. Maybe it’s you get more winter when the groundhog doesn’t see a shadow? Well, it’s one of those cases. This is what we have a research department for.

    Six wider weeks of winter. This occurs when a groundhog emerges and sees its shadow through the distortions of an anamorphic lens. It’s a great chance for everyone to wear horizontal stripes and to play out their favorite scenarios of not being able to fit through door frames.

    Six more eggs of winter. This happens when the groundhog emerges but is dressed in either a chicken or an Easter bunny costume. Extremely rare but valuable as it lets you make two more cakes than you otherwise would have. Alternatively, you can poach a couple of eggs in up to six bowls of ramen and that adds a little bit of joy, even when you’ve already gone to the Asian grocery and gotten some of those strange ramen packets with flavors like Spicy 3-Chili Artificial Pork With Broth.

    Six more beeps of winter. This is what to expect when the emergent groundhog is a robot of some kind. I don’t make any assertion of why the groundhog would be a robot. Maybe they’ve cut back on the budget for squirrel-family payroll. Maybe the area is too environmentally challenging for groundhogs to be there in person, and they have to be telepresent instead. Maybe you just live in the robo-ecosphere. I don’t judge.

    Six more shrieks of winter. Foretold when the groundhog emerges and gets a good, clear, direct look at the state of anything in the world. Not a winter for anyone with any anxiety.

    Six fewer eggs of winter. The terrible flip side of more eggs. This happens when the groundhog completely lacks a chicken or an Easter bunny costume, and can’t be coaxed into wearing that great peacock costume. “How could a peacock lay an egg?” the groundhog demands to know, and not completely unfairly. “It should be a peahen!” You try to answer: peahens are lovely birds. If it weren’t for peacocks stealing the spotlight they’d be rated among the most beautiful of birds. It doesn’t matter. Nobody even understands what this argument is supposed to gain. And there you are, deprived of the ability to make up to two cakes or six poached-egg bowls of ramen. You have within you the strength to survive this.

    Six more weeks of winter, all stacked on top of each other. When the groundhog emerges and turns out to be several groundhogs sitting on one another’s shoulders. No, not wearing a trenchcoat. So you think some years it just feels like February 24th goes on for like 48 hours? Wait until you spend forty-two days on the 24th of February. Stockpile some books and at least sixty pointless quarrels to have with your loved ones.

    Six more tweaks of winter. The groundhog does not emerge, as it is busy fiddling with a couple of inconsequential details in the confident hope that everything will be perfect when they are done. They are never done, so nothing ever has to be done, which is perfect.

    Six more beaks of winter. BIRDVASION! RUN! RUNNNNNN!

    Six more feet of winter. This we can expect when the groundhog turns out to be one or more spiders collaborating. This is great news for the hosiery merchants. It’s not so good for people who’ve laid in a huge stockpile of two-legged clothing. This is nature’s way of reminding us that it’s never worth hoarding pants. Last observed in Syracuse/Utica’s famous Leggy February of ’78.

    My Non-Cold Related Excuse For The Day


    I’m sorry, I’d really like to get something done, but I’ve been reading Fred M Grandinetti’s Popeye: An Illustrated Cultural History and trying to figure out just how many times in the 1960s cartoons they did “Brutus or the Sea Hag builds a Robot Popeye”. It’s somehow even more if you include “Brutus or the Sea Hag builds a Robot Olive Oyl”. And none of that considers the time the Whiffle Hen turned Wimpy into a werewolf.

    Also the book doesn’t have a word to say about the pinball game, somehow.

    Popeye’s Island Adventures battles a kraken but only has two minutes for it


    I continue not to know anything about the production of these Popeye’s Island Adventure cartoons. There’s stuff we can infer, but only about the tools used to make them. Who’s writing them, who’s drawing them, who’s designing the figures for the computers to animate? In what order they’re being finished? I assume roughly in the order they’re released, although I’d be surprised if a cartoon were never bumped ahead or back a week for the reasons.

    Well, here’s the seventh of the new run of cartoons. It’s titled A Kraken Good Race, and the title does promise both kraken and race.

    The story’s stronger this week. The cartoon’s the best, I think, since Scramble For The Egg. Eugene sets Popeye and Bluto on a boat race; Bluto tries to cheat, and it doesn’t work. Solid, straightforward idea that can be completed in two minutes and be coherent.

    The action’s efficiently done. It leaves space for personality, though. The scene starts with Olive Oyl carving a wood sculpture of Eugene. Why? Just to do it, and that’s enough. Eugene encourages Popeye and Bluto to race to an island mostly to get them out of his hair for a while. It’s curious to see Eugene acting as the grown-up here, or at least the peacemaker. But it doesn’t feel out of place, at least to me. Bluto’s entrance capsizes Eugene’s pool ring; that’s enough reason for Eugene to want to quiet things down.

    There’s a good bit of escalation in Bluto’s attempts at cheating. He tries drilling into Popeye’s boat; Olive Oyl uses the hole in the anchor to beat that. Bluto tries harpooning Popeye’s boat; Popeye shifts his own speed up from “some kind of cat I guess” to “spinach” and rips the muzzle off Bluto’s own gun. (I don’t quarrel with the slow speed being ‘tortoise’ and the fastest speed being ‘spinach’, but I would like the middle speed to either be ‘hare’, matching tortoise, or more clearly a cheetah or similar fast cat. I’m not sure what is meant.) Then Bluto deploys the kraken, although all we ever see is one giant tentacle. Still, good third attempt there.

    Popeye pops open a can, and we get the new record for spinach-induced body horror this series as his arm turns into a kraken-y tentacle. I like that, as fun and appropriate. I can imagine people not finding this quite so merry. Popeye doesn’t fight the kraken so much as arm-wrestle it. I like this, for being silly but reasonable. I’m not reading the YouTube comments to see how many people are upset there wasn’t more punching. The kraken’s left a hole in the boat, but Olive plugs it up with the muzzle of Bluto’s harpoon gun. That’s a moment that impressed me. It gives the story that little bit extra structure, and a bit more strength.

    Popeye uses his kraken-tentacle arm to propel the boat to the island. This is a great success, and builds up a tidal wave to come crashing down on the island and Eugene. And there’s another bit of good story structure: Eugene proposed this race because he’s chagrinned at getting soaked by Bluto. He ends the cartoon chagrinned at getting soaked by Popeye. It’s a good beat to close on.

    My impression has been that these cartoons have been getting better. I’m curious whether this follows from the creators getting more experienced at what does and doesn’t work. Or whether there’s several writing teams and one of them better fits my tastes. Well, I like the overall direction this is going. Is there any other important measure?


    And for however long I keep watching Popeye’s Island Adventures, the reviews should be here.

    Free To A Needy Improv Troupe


    Improvised mockumentary about Stanley Kubrick trying to make a movie, except that everything’s going just wrong enough that the whole project is impossible, and there’s no way he can get out of the project either. Except I’m like 65% sure that was just his life anyway.

    What’s Going On In The Phantom (Sundays)? Where in Africa is Bangalla? November 2018 – January 2019.


    If you’re here to catch up on Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom, Sunday continuity, good. If it’s past April 2019, a more current plot summary should be at this link. The link contains both the Sunday and the separate weekday continuities. But you’ll figure it out. And you may be able to use PhantomWiki, a guide to just what you’d think. I keep going back to check stuff on it myself.

    And if you’re here to see where the mathematically-themed comic strips are, the answer is over on my other blog. Glad to have you read a couple of paragraphs about such comic strips as Alley Oop, Ask A Cat, and Six Chix.

    The Phantom (Sundays).

    4 November 2018 – 27 January 2019.

    I teased last week the question of how that whole The Rat dying project was coming along. By the time of my last plot update, he had died, yes. The last bit of business was his funeral. The Phantom stole The Rat’s corpse from Boomsby Prison. He was buried instead in The Phantom’s Vault of Missing Men. The Phantom had felt bad about all those times he told The Rat he was going back to Boomsby after all. Also Skull Cave has a private mausoleum for people who’re Phantom-connected. I bet you Bruce Wayne never considered whether the Batcave needed one of those.


    The 18th began the new, and current, Sunday adventure, The Little Detective Who Disappeared. PhantomWiki lists it as the 187th Sunday story. It starts with a B-29 crew landing in a remote jungle airfield. Jungle Patrol is there, to take the three-man crew into custody. Evacuating just ahead of them: The Phantom — the Unknown Commander of the Jungle Patrol — along with his wolf Devil, and a girl. The Phantom brings the girl back to her home in a Xananga village. (The Xananga are a tribe in the Elephant Valley of Bangalla. If PhantomWiki hasn’t missed something this is their first appearance in the strip since 1991.)

    [Homecoming. A heroine thought to be lost forever.] Phantom, riding his horse with The Little Detective alongside, through a town square packed with celebrating people; he progresses through an afternoon and evening of celebrations. He thinks: 'A great people, thee Xananga. This girl has the grit of the Xananga leaders my ancestors encountered over the centuries. This celebration will go on for days. I'll slip away tonight ... home to the deep woods.'
    Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 23rd of December, 2018. The easy joke to make is that I share The Phantom’s feelings here, about sneaking out of a party long before it’s over. But that’s got no truth in it. It’s hard rousing me to go out and do a thing, yes. But once I’m there? I’ll stick around until the event’s over, and then put in another half-hour, and then when it’s gotten awkward that I haven’t left yet, will wait for some clear sign that it’s been too long. Ideally, this will involve my hosts apologizing but it has been four days now and they had promised to go do some other party, to which I wasn’t invited, correctly.

    That done, The Phantom returns to Skull Cave to tell his wife and Guran and also the audience about what just happened. In flashback it tells of The Little Detective, who’d followed strange noises. And disappeared, to her family’s distress. What she found was wildlife poachers, emboldened by Mark Trail’s long sojourn in Mexico. She was examining the crates in the airplane’s hold — including grey parrots being stolen from Bangalla — when the cargo door closed and the plane took off.

    Phantom, recounting: 'With the plane loaded and fueled our Little Detective made a bold move! [She found] grey parrots from Bangalla, pangolins from Asia ... a dozen species inhumanely created for transport. She was about to run for home when [ the door slams shut ]. The crew climbed into the forward compartment. [ The plane takes off. ] Our Little Detective was airborne! For destinations unknown!'
    Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 13th of January, 2019. That African grey parrots can be found in Bangalla suggests the place would be near equatorial Africa, on the western side. (But I’m aware the country’s location has been vaguely defined, and sometimes redefined, over the strip’s history.) Anyway, the important thing is: pangolins. Aren’t they great? We should be ashamed what we’re doing to them.

    The smugglers’ plan: use the B-29 as a show plane, moving across borders with little scrutiny. Vintage trucks and cargo crates were treated as props, and accepted as such by customs officials. Meanwhile the Little Detective, stowaway, found some projects and kept busy. She’d swipe food from the crew, encouraging them to fight each other. She’d drop notes to bystanders at air shows. She’d … I don’t know from there. That development brings the story to the 27th of January. Shall have to follow up in a few months, when we’ve seen more of what The Little Detective did.

    I’ve read comments skeptical that this airplane-show-smuggling scheme could work. It seems to depend on a particular laxity or incompetence on the parts of customs officers. My readings of how security-state organizations work leads to to believe they run at about 49% adequate, 51% fiasco, with occasional flutterings one way or the other that make it into true-crime podcasts. So I wouldn’t expect every customs official to ignore cargo being carried by a show plane. But I can absolutely buy an organization that manages to make themselves look boring enough to avoid close scrutiny by un-corrupted officials, at least for a while. I also understand people who figure that of course customs and immigration works like it’s supposed to. Anyway, it’s a story; we can suppose the bad guys are clever enough to out-think the obvious problems. It’s whether they should also be clever enough to out-think the protagonist that’s where credibility can be strained.

    Next Week!

    Would-be clumsy mugger Delmer Robertson has reconnected with his old pal and comic strip regular Jordan. But it’s just in time to learn he needs a new kidney. But where will we find anyone who can do something medical? I’ll check back in seven days with the plot recap of Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D.

    Statistics Saturday: Most Popular Posts Of The First Ten Years Here


    This weekend’s the anniversary of when I started this blog! So I thought to look back over its popular stuff again.

    Reference: A History of Modern France, Alfred Cobban.

    I’m still having trouble telling whether the guy who draws _Graffiti_ lives in this century


    I know I’m being hypocritical if I complain about how niche a topic is that someone decides to joke about. I once built an essay around this time in 1857 the Treasury Secretary estimated how many Jersey City municipal bonds were held by foreigners. And goodness knows I’m as up for type jokes as anyone who used to host a web site with information about Linotype operation would be. But here. This was Monday’s Graffiti comic strip.

    Written on a cinder block wall: 'Some typesetters don't know their ascenders from their descenders'.
    Gene Mora’s Graffiti for the 21st of January, 2019. When I was a kid and the world was at most thirty years old, I had this book of ‘children’s letters from camp’. It was a bunch of handwritten notes all of them kind of going on along the lines of Allan Sherman’s “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh”. I can’t swear it wasn’t written by Gene Mora. I have forgotten everything that might guide me to its title or author or why I have the impression there was a second volume too. But. This is just the sort of joke that sounds risque but doesn’t actually parse that would have been perfect for inclusion in that book, if there were ever any reason for a kid to be writing someone about some typesetters.

    I have no explanation for this phenomenon.

    Sensible


    I write this in the supposition you’ve never been knocked senseless. I haven’t either, at least so far as I know. I suppose if I had lost my sense of whether I was senseless I wouldn’t know about it. Well, maybe I’d have some confusing memory some from before the senseless-ness-knocking-out. But I’d mostly know that my course of action was altered by something I now couldn’t understand. “It’s as though I had the ability to sense whether some spongy substance was in the area, but that’s impossible … isn’t it?” would be my analysis of the memory. All because I didn’t know whether I should have a sense of sponge. So here, let’s review some of the senses you might have, or expect to have.

    The sense of taste. This is an important one, given the role it serves in letting you put the world in order. Without it there’s no consistent way to tell which of the three categories of tastes things are in. Is this vanilla? Is it chipotle? Is it chocolate? Or will they be forever unknown? Without this sense you’ll wander through a confused, shadowy representation of the lickable universe, or as it known professionally, the lickiverse. I mean an even more confused and shadowy representation. (I don’t want to get in even more trouble with the Tongue Neo-Platonists. I’m still trying to rebuild my reputation after that whole “what’s the taste of shadows” fiasco.)

    The sense of smell. This sense is important for making any room suddenly uncomfortable. Without it you might go months without interrupting your day with an investigation of every room in the building to see if something is smoldering. “It’s like someone microwaved a fish on a slab of car tires,” people who can smell are saying to each other, not all the time. “And then sprayed Febreeze so we wouldn’t notice. Why would a linen closet smell like that?” This is only more fun when you notice that strange, faintly evil smell when you’re in a car, two and a half hours from home, in the snow, with the heater almost keeping up against the cold. And there’s two friends you promised rides to sitting in the backseat. And something’s clicking, which you know through your sense of hearing. But even if you didn’t hear it, you’d know that ticking was there. It’s not the fan.

    The sense of balance. Without this sense it’s impossible, except by good luck, to arrange the layout of elements on a newspaper page. You can slog on through uninspired compositions, ones with rote placements of headlines, pictures, and rules to guide the eye. But the readers will know. Even if they can follow the article about the area’s axe-throwing businesses, their eyes will not be delighted. How are we to enjoy the visual feast of a morning newspaper when it’s just, ugh, head across four columns, no subhead, two-column picture set dead center in the middle two? No pull quotes? No cheeky use of a subhead? Yeah.

    The sense of dubious taste. This is a protective sense; you can ignore or do without its warnings, but it will make your life noticeably worse. It gets really active when you start pondering, say, whether there was ever a way Disney could have made a Song of the South everybody wouldn’t be angry with them about. And then maybe put the discussion up on Twitter. It can save you from lesser dangers too. For example, it’s the sense which alerts you to how much of your body you’re putting in a garment that’s international-warning-signal orange. Yes, there are people who can pull this look off. They’re among the dubious super-tasters. They know how to follow their sense’s warnings, and stay out of danger. The primary danger is that you are mistaken for a bollard protecting the approach to a bridge, or perhaps (by giants) a Cheeto.

    This is an incomplete list of senses, so far as I’m aware. If you find yourself not having a sense which is not on this list, please add it, and then to obtain a replacement sense from the nearest body shop. Most body shops don’t have whole bodies in stock, but they keep some nice accessories.

    What My Brain Has Been Doing To Me Lately, A Quick Complaint


    So my brain has been trying for two weeks now to convince me to write a follow-up note to that essay about the axe-throwing business in town. Particularly it wants me to riff on the “scurrilous rumor” that I have some responsibility for mysterious thuds outside Quality Dairy headquarters. My brain, which is working hard at making sure that I can be a humor blogger but never, ever a successful humor blogger, is convinced I should make some kind of squirrel joke here. This is because my brain is convinced I can do some oblique multi-lingual and taxonomic pun built on how scurrilous sounds kind of like “sciurrilous”, which seems like it ought to be a sciencey word for “squirrel”. And it will not be convinced otherwise. “Knock it off, brain,” I tell it, in the shower. “There is not a successful pun to be made out of this and you’ll only hurt yourself if you keep trying.” Then my love asks what I’m mumbling about in there, and I have to insist I’m not, and follow it up with an alarming coughing fit to cover up what I’m doing.

    The punch line to this is there isn’t anywhere in the essay I talk about a “scurrilous rumor”. The first draft did, but I realized I had put the words without thinking, and rewrote the sentence to be better-considered easily minutes before deadline. So my brain’s been busy two weeks now trying to make me form a joke that could not possibly have worked in order to follow-up a joke that did not actually exist except for a couple-hour stretch of time on the 10th of January, 2019. I’m glad I have perfectly resisted the urge.

    Popeye’s Island Adventure offers a sloppy Toast to Popeye


    The sixth of the Popeye’s Island Adventures continued the experimenting with format and story structure. Does this mean I’m happy? Have you ever seen evidence that I know how to be happy? Let’s watch A Toast To Popeye.

    Rube Goldberg machines are one of those things that got lodged so well in the pop culture that nobody even knows where they came from. They were comic strips, originally. At least comic panels. They’re shaggy dog stories, with a punch line of some trivial task, like the buttering of toast, done in as roundabout way as possible. Are they funny? Tastes vary. I think they do well in animation, where the camera can guide the eye. Where a long continuous shot can give the action a sense of inevitability, the way a good farce will. They do well also when the contraption has as many parts as possible, but each individual part is just enough to accomplish its task. It takes tight design. It takes sharp editing. And it takes time; the more pieces in the contraption, the better the result.

    So these are all problems working against this Island Adventure. There’s still only two minutes of animation; apparently the extra ten seconds last week was a concession to the need to carry so much story. The device Olive Oyl whips up to make and butter toast isn’t a bad idea. It does have the flaw of arbitrariness in it: once the balloon’s heated up, what makes it carry the toast over to the butter knife and the conveyor belt? No particular reason, just that if it didn’t, the machine wouldn’t succeed. What causes the mechanical arms to butter and spread jam on the toast just as the toast passes, rather than a moment before or after the bread goes by? No particular reason, just that if it didn’t, the machine wouldn’t succeed. So the device is a decent idea, but it doesn’t convince me. It’s not as funny as it ought to be. It could be fixed easily; put up a couple of rails, so the balloon has a direction imposed on it, and the machine would work.

    And this is reflected in the story. There’s a good enough setup here: Swee’Pea needs a snack after the popcorn’s gone, and nothing but toast will do. Why not fruits? Why not gelatin? No particular reason, just that if it would, the cartoon wouldn’t have anything to do.. Swee’Pea could want something hot, but he can’t say so. Popeye happens to see Swee’Pea’s machine in shadow at a moment she’s holding her arms up and weirdly still. Why then? No particular reason, just that if he didn’t, the cartoon wouldn’t have anything to do. The story structure is all right, but it doesn’t convince me. It’s not as funny as it ought to be.

    Coincidences are fine in storytelling. They’re usually taken better if the coincidence creates a problem rather than resolves it. But this is a case where the story has finished, and then remembers that Popeye hasn’t been in the short at all and he ought to do something. If there were a few more seconds, I’d have Popeye established on his boat, doing something, early on. Then return to him finishing the task and looking back on shore as Olive Oyl is doing her fist-bumps. This is still as coincidental a reason for Popeye to look just then, but it wouldn’t be a surprise that Popeye was in the short at all. And it might look more to Popeye like Olive Oyl was fighting some kind of robot monster.

    And there is very little Popeye. At about the one-minute mark I was wondering if they were doing without him altogether, and getting ready to applaud their courage. I’m sure there have been Popeye cartoons with even less Popeye in them. (Probably Wimmin Is A Myskery, which is mostly Olive Oyl’s dream about her and Popeye’s four sons, who in later cartoons would be transferred over to nephew status.) But, no; the story just needed Popeye not to be there, until he could show up and not actually help anything. (There’s also no Bluto, the first time he’s been absent from one of these shorts. But as little as Popeye has to add to the proceedings, what could Bluto offer?)

    While I wasn’t convinced by the story logic, there’s still important stuff I did like here. The first is that the direction’s getting better. The editing wasn’t as jumpy as it had been, and the camera movements all have clear purposes. The swiping of the lizard’s tongue is nice and funny to watch. I found it funny to have Olive Oyl pop out of a cake, holding another cake that the lizard pops out of, holding yet another cake. The hungry lizard’s reappearance at the end is a good closing. I like Swee’Pea swatting at his sandcastle while Olive Oyl goes looking for food; it’s something to do during a slow stretch. I like the strange, bachelor-making-a-sad-dinner attempt of Olive to just put a pear on a slice of bread and serve that as food. And, really, the more I write about this the more I like the short. I just can’t help feeling there’s an arbitrariness in the machinery, and the story logic, that keeps me from being convinced.


    And I’ve finally put together a tag for this series. All the stuff I’ve written about Popeye’s Island Adventures should be here.

    What Was Popular Around Here In All Of 2018


    So I like taking nice big kalend-y events as a chance to look back on what I’m doing and why. Mostly that’s the monthly blog review. It used to be WordPress also gave us a cute little animated representation of the year, showing each post made as fireworks, and somehow representing how popular posts were by how dazzling the firework was. That’s been gone for years. I don’t know why or whether it’ll ever come back. So I’ll do my own little version instead.

    2018: 39,130 views, 20,889 visitors, 1.87 views per visitor, and 365 posts published.
    Aw, only 870 views way from an even 40,000 views. You know, this is going to sound silly, but all day the 28th of December last year I was thinking I should pull up some post of mine and hit ‘refresh’ over and over to drive up my statistics. But I didn’t, and now I suffer the consequences. Well, no great loss. I was only thinking to hit ‘refresh’ to juice my statistics about 565 times at most, so that wouldn’t make anything better.

    So, wow. 2018 was my biggest year by far around here. I don’t think it was entirely from Roy Kassinger discovering my writing and putting up comments on stuff from, like, five years ago that I’d forgotten existed. For the sake of putting things up in a format I can more easily lose later here’s exact numbers about how much I posted, and what kind of response it all drew:

    Year Posts Published Page Views Unique Visitors Likes Comments
    2013 335 3,874 1,869 1,188 305
    2014 365 8,621 4,422 2,279 746
    2015 365 17,729 9,094 4,134 879
    2016 366 14,484 8,297 2,259 481
    2017 365 24,695 15,187 1,886 305
    2018 365 39.130 20,889 2,177 830

    So that’s all an exciting-looking trend in growth, if we take for granted that growing is a good thing. Well, who doesn’t, if they’re trying to do something for a mass audience? The thing I can’t understand is the stuff I think of as measuring how engaged readers are. The number of likes offered, the number of comments offered. Both are below the 2015 high point. The number of likes in 2018 were about half those of 2015. The number of comments in 2018 was close to 2015’s total. But considering the growth in page views, and unique visitors, that’s a relative decline. 2015 was juiced, though: that was the year Apartment 3-G finally collapsed. I got many readers in looking to understand what was happening in it. And I got a huge burst, all at once, when Joe Blevins — who I thought was a friend from the MST3K fanfic community — mentioned me on the AV Club, giving my blog a name without actually mentioning me.

    I can tell you what was popular in 2018. Five of the ten most popular things were even published in 2018. But what people really like to find is my recaps of story strips. That’s fair enough. Every day there’s people discovering that, say, Alley Oop still exists, and wanting to be caught up. And some of the story strips have well-established and easy-to-find snarking communities. But if we’re not talking about Mary Worth or Mark Trail, then where should people go? Here’s where they did go, last year:

    So, I’ve learned how to write headlines that look like questions people might ask. That has to help readers figure out Nancy‘s deal. The S J Perelman thing is from a habit of mine that’s almost fallen by the wayside, where I’d post something from the public domain. I used to think this was a good way to show off some of what’s shaped my comic sensibilities and save me the effort of thinking up and writing something. It turns out that selecting a good piece and curating it, so as to make the case that something is worth reading, is at least as hard as being original.

    I’m glad that Is Ray Davies A Normal Person? made the top ten. I originally imagined this blog as a way to write one long-form, roughly 700-word piece, once a week, with everything else as little stuff to support the weekly essay. That’s drifted, so now the blog is basically stuff propping up my story-comic recaps. But the weekly essay is still the part closest to my heart. And most of my essays I come away feeling dissatisfied with: that I’m carrying out a good idea poorly, or that I’m making the best of a weak idea. The Ray Davies one was an exception. That felt like a good idea carried out well. So I’m glad that people seem to agree. Or they’re trying to learn about Ray Davies’s health and I’m getting in the way. Whichever. It all works.

    A Mercator-style map of the world, with most of the countries outside central Africa, Iraq, Greenland, and some of the former Soviet nations in pink; the United States is in a much deeper pink.
    I totally understand people in South Sudan having more pressing things to do than read my silly comments about Mary Worth or stuff like that. What I’m trying to understand is why French Guiana is snubbing me like this. What else you have to do there, launch a rocket? C’mon.

    There were 144 countries of the world sending me readers in all 2018. 29 of them were single-reader countries. 20 countries sent me more than 100 page views. And for I’m guessing the first time there were three countries sending me more than a thousand page views. That feels good. Here’s the whole roster:

    Country Readers
    United States 30,556
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    So this helps me focus my energies this coming year on being a bit more interesting to readers in Sint Maarten. I don’t know how to do this, but will make a halfhearted attempt a little too late to do anybody any good. It’s important to have a plan.

    The Insights page reports that I published 233,338 words over the course of 2018. Don’t think I’m not burned up that I didn’t publish five fewer, or 99,995 more. That comes to an average of 639 words per post. So, yes, when I started this out I figured I’d do one, roughly 700-word, essay once a week and then some quick little jokes in-between. Except for 2016, though, my average post length has been growing year after year. So I’m doomed, yes. But the challenging part is I need to embrace the doom.

    What’s Going On In Mary Worth? Is That Student Really Infatuated With Professor Ian? October 2018 – January 2019


    If you’re looking for the latest plot recaps for Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth, you may want to check this link. If you’re reading this before about April 2019 I probably don’t have a more up-to-date post. But this essay just gets you up to speed for mid-January 2019.

    Also, each week I look at mathematically-themed comic strips, in another blog, with a very similar name.

    Mary Worth.

    28 October 2018 – 19 January 2019

    I was furious with Mary Worth last time I recapped its plot. This is just like any reasonable person who has strong emotions about Mary Worth. Saul Wynter, local curmudgeon, was grieving the loss of his beloved dog after 17 years of companionship. Mary Worth decided he’d had enough of that. She dragged him to the Animal Shelter and shoved a dog into his arms with orders to be happy now OR ELSE.

    Wynter complies, though. He sees something in Greta, a dachshund who shows signs of past trauma. Greta sees something in him. He takes her home. Greta’s shy at first. But Wynter’s patient, and supporting, and repeats Worthian platitudes about living life sad afraid and grumpy. She recommends not doing that. And Greta sees he’s already bought a food dish with her name on it.

    Saul Wynter, speaking to his dog Greta: 'I hope you know that I'm one of the good guys. This is unfamiliar territory for both of us! You're not Bella, but I'm glad you're here. You'll get to know me *and* your knew home. And you'll see that you don't need to e sad or afraid anymore. Greta, lifes' too short to be sad or afraid ... or grumpy.'
    Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 11th of November, 2018. I do know that look of hesitant distrust in Greta’s eyes, there. My love’s parents have a dog who has been afraid of, among other things, how the bowl holding some table scraps was just too large.

    So they get along, and pretty well. In a couple days Wynter’s going out again, introducing Greta to everyone, and smiling contagiously. It’s a sweet moment. It’s a touch odd: when the story started and he had the dog he’d loved for seventeen years, he was also a grouch. But I suppose everyone does sometimes fall into habits, even grumpy ones without realizing they’re doing it. Well, here’s hoping we can all get to a better place, but may it be through smaller traumas.


    The 19th of November started a corollary story. And a great one. Wynter’s story infuriated me with its clumsy-to-offensive handling of pet death. This follow-up, though, was almost uncut, gleeful hilarity.

    Mary gets a call from Animal Shelter. They need a foster home for one of their cats. Libby is a one-eyed cat with an appealing scruffy look. I’m surprised she wasn’t adopted already. Mary agrees to foster Libby. This leads to a great string of scenes where Libby goes about cat business, and Mary is put out in delightful ways. We don’t often see Mary Worth coming up against someone she can’t meddle into compliance with her view of life’s order. Pets are great. But you can’t have pets if you aren’t emotionally ready, at all times, to have any day transformed into “emergency vet visit because the animal was sitting in the living room surrounded by a three-foot-wide annulus of poop”.

    Mary Worth, thinking: 'Time to check my e-mail.' The cat is sprawled across her laptop, with her one eye wide open. Slight blep.
    Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 27th of November, 2018. Second panel: “Hello, ladieeeeeeeez.”

    We get a twist when Doctor Jeff visits for dinner. It turns out he’s explosively allergic to cats. He has to flee the apartment in minutes. It puts Mary in a quandary. She adopted Jeff years ago; it’s not fair to turn the old pet out in favor of the new. Good news, though. It turns out they had another Old Woman character in stock. Estelle likes the one-eyed Libby, and is very optimistic about being able to take care of a cat for the first time in her life. Libby goes off with Estelle. Both return to the primordial xylem of supporting cast members, and Mary reflects on trading the cat for Jeff after all.

    Mary: 'It's a relief that you'll be able to visit me at my place and enjoy my meals again!' Jeff: 'I do love your cooking. And I do love you.'
    Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 13th of December, 2018. That is definitely Mary looking very nearly in Jeff’s direction with very nearly a feeling as he kisses her temporomandibular joint!

    The 17th of December started a new, and the current, story. It’s about the marriage of Toby and Professor Ian. And starts, promisingly, with Toby telling Mary about how great it is that she and Ian have a nice boring marriage. With the benefit of separate day lives. Mary suggests, you know, they could try a cruise ship or something to spice things up. Toby chuckles about how not even God could sink this ‘ship.

    So, Ian teaches Shakespeare over at Local Collage. Jannie, a student, comes up after class to talk about how inspirational he is. How he has a great theater voice. How impressive his knowledge is. How she wants to bask in the glow of his brilliance. Toby snorts at how some students will do anything to butter up their instructors. Ian doesn’t see any reason he might not just be “nut-rageously amazementballs”, as he desperately imagines the kids say.

    Jannie: 'Just doing your job? You INSPIRE me, Professor Cameron!' Ian: 'Then I'm doing an ADMIRABLE job! It's the hope of every educator to spark that fire of learning in his students! To make a difference!' Jannie: 'Oh, you do *more* than that ... '
    Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 28th of December, 2018. So, I haven’t taught anything in a couple years. I don’t remember even the students who were enthusiastic about my mathematics instruction being remotely this appreciative of learning any prosthaphaeretic rule. (Prosthaphaeretic rules are ways to do calculations by way of trigonometric functions. This made sense, back in the days we didn’t have calculators but did have tables of since and cosines and stuff.)

    Ian is so convinced that Jannie is not buttering him up that he doesn’t even ask why their semester runs across Christmas and New Year’s. (I know this sounds like me not giving them the dramatic license to show events that happen out of synch with the reader’s time. But the strip does pause to explicitly say it’s New Year’s Eve, right in the middle of the plot. Yes, I know there are colleges on trimester systems that have classes running across New Year’s. I’m sticking to my joke.) Why, he asserts, she really and truly likes him. This inspires jealousy in Toby, and fears that she might lose her husband to this undergraduate. She sends up the Mary Signal.

    Mary gives Toby some good advice: tell him she’s concerned about this relationship. Toby dismisses this, because she doesn’t want to seem “clingy”. Well, what kind of relationship survives honest talk about the important stuff? Mary asks how she knows that Jannie actually has feelings for Ian. He might be misunderstanding things. Toby can imagine only one reason someone might say her husband “[stands] out as an educated man among Neanderthals”. All Toby will commit to doing is twisting in uncertain agony.

    Jannie: 'I don' *need* to *study* for Professor Cameron's class.' She thinks, 'I've charmed him into giving me an easy A'. Michael: 'Don't be fooled by the A he initially gave everyone! I heard he goes easy on his students at first, but expects them to deliver!' Jannie, thinking: 'Maybe you ... but not me!'
    Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 16th of January, 2019. Anyone who’s taught knows the wisdom of starting your class looking like you’re a creampuff and then getting harder and harder until finally, just before the student evaluations come up, you’re failing 95 percent of the class.

    Which all tees up some funny ironies. First, Ian isn’t wavering in his commitment to Toby. As best we can tell, he’s never considered that this should ever be more than listening to how awesome he is. He’s certainly never considered campus policy about appropriate instructor-student relationships, anyway. Second point, Jannie is just buttering him up. We learn this week that she’s figuring a hefty load of flattery will help her ace the rest of the course. And to complete a fun bit of frustrated-or-false crushes, this week we met Michael. Michael is one of her fellow young people. He seems interested in her and her exotic style of vaping though a six-inch countersunk-head nail. She’s too busy chuckling over how she’s out-thought Professor Ian to care about mere classmates.

    And that’s where things stand this weekend.

    Dubiously Sourced Quotes of Mary Worth Sunday Panels!

    [ Back to GRIFFY, on his quest --- he enters the MARY WORTH strip! ] Jeff, on the phone: 'What should I do? There's this oddly drawn guy here, looking for a missing girl!' Griffy: 'I need so see Mary!' [ Soon ] Griffy: 'Morning, Ms worth! I'm from th' Zippy comic! Can we talk?' Mary Worth: 'Young man, you need help, all right. Th'kind only a MENTAL HEALTH professional can provide!' (Griffy, thinking) 'Uh-oh! I'm frozen in place and unable to speak under th'withering gaze of Mary Worth!!'
    Bill Griffith’s Zippy the Pinhead for the 19th of August, 2002. The auto care place has not updated their sign since last time I recapped Mary Worth. Please enjoy these not-at-all despairing messages instead.
    • “The strongest principle of growth lies in the human choice.” — George Eliot, 28 October 2018.
    • “Dogs do speak, but only to those who know how to listen.” — Orhan Pamuk, 4 November 2018.
    • “Change is the end result of all true learning.” — Leo Buscaglia, 11 November 2018.
    • “In the midst of winter, I found there was in me an invincible summer.” — Albert Camus, 18 November 2018.
    • “Time spent with cats is never wasted.” — Sigmund Freud, 25 November 2018.
    • “Be miserable. Or motivate yourself. Whatever has to be done, it’s always your choice.” — Wayne Dyer, 2 December 2018.
    • “What greater gift than the love of a cat.” — Charles Dickens, 9 December 2018.
    • “We do not remember days, we remember moments.” — Cesare Pavese, 16 December 2018.
    • “Flattery is like chewing gum. Enjoy it, but don’t swallow it.” — Hank Ketcham, 23 December 2018.
    • “I will praise any man that will praise me.” — William Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra, 30 December 2018.
    • “To catch a husband is an art; to hold him is a job.” — Simone de Beauvoir, 6 January 2019.
    • “Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorry, it only saps today of its joy.” — Leo Buscaglia (again!), 13 January 2019.
    • “I was a disinterested student.” — David Fincher, 20 January 2019.

    Next Week!

    So … uh … the Rat? Did he Must Die yet? Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom, Sunday continuity, gets summarized in a week, barring surprises.