60s Popeye: Bullfighter Bully, a 60s Popeye cartoon with bullfighting


For today’s cartoon it’s one of the handful of Larry Harmon-produced cartoons. The story’s credited to Charles Shows and the direction to Paul Fennell. Here’s 1960’s Bullfighter Bully.

I opined once that (American-made) bullfighting cartoons are always on the side of the bull. This rule, like all, isn’t quite right. The staging of a plot can overwhelm how much the bull is set up to be the aggrieved party. The main bull for this cartoon, though, is a calf, a rather cute and innocent-looking animal. Popeye’s been cast as anti-bullfighting before. That earlier one and this cartoon gave me the impression Popeye was always strongly anti-bullfighting. This because I forgot things like 1953’s Toreadorable. Well, here’s a list of Popeye cartoons with a bull in them. You figure out his personality.

Popeye smiling and holding out his hand, pointing to the calf and Olive Oyl in the stands. Both of them are smiling, the calf with a particularly exaggerated grin that makes it look like it's concealing a deep secret or possibly a crush.
On the other hand, a calf with a grin like that is certainly not innocent. He may not deserve to be stabbed to death, but he probably has earned a censure, maybe disbarment proceedings.

The villain here is El Diablo, who looks uncannily like Brutus and has the same voice Brutus used when pretending to be Don Juan back when he turned young. I’m not going to fault Jackson Beck for not having two distinct “Brutus with a Spanish accent” voices. The bull this time is a cute calf, and Popeye and Olive Oyl come to defend them. This seems like it should be enough of a story, especially for a cartoon that’s under five minutes of screen time. But then Charles Shows went and had a grown-up and dangerous bull run into the story. I understand the impulse to add some peril, since Brutus El Diablo wasn’t cutting it. But it isn’t very frightening and Popeye goes and off-frame kills the bull. Yes, he punches a bull into a pile of meat in most every bullfighting cartoon he’s in. That usually doesn’t work for me then, either.

The animation’s done by the team that would create Filmation. So, it’s got the lushness and subtlety of expression you’d expect from that. A lot of interactions handled by an off-screen sound effect. Well, at least Popeye gets kissed by a calf at the end. That’s something.

Statistics November: How Many People Wanted Me To Fix Mark Trail Last Month


November 2020 was an exceptional one for me, as it was for many people. The big one is I went into a low-power mode. This has been a very stressful year. I had great fears for the United States elections. I needed to shift to things I could do when more emotionally fragile. And that’s reprinting a Mystery Science Theater 3000 fanfiction and reviewing a lot of Popeye cartoons. What did readers think of this?

They didn’t notice, because they wanted to know about Mark Trail. But that’s all right since, by good fortune, I had the plot recap for Mark Trail posted in the middle of the month. I’m sure I can’t stay in low-power mode forever. But for now? This is an easier way to manage my blog, and I’ll keep at that until I’m ready to go back to normal. Probably after the new year.

According to WordPress, there were 6,284 pages viewed in November. This is fewer than in October, but October was the greatest number of page views I’d had in a month. November was the second-greatest. I can’t be too fretful about that. The twelve-month running average leading up to November was 4,282.9 page views per month. So a lot of people are upset about Mark Trail and they’re coming to me to ask about it.

Bar chart of monthly readership, which mostly rose for about a year's worth of figures; November saw a drop from October but is still quite high.
I absolutely dare Google Ad Technologies Inc to come up with a way to make money on me talking about the Popeye cartoons of the 60s.

There were 3,868 unique visitors logged around here in November. Again that’s down from October, but October was my record high. 3,868 is still my second-highest unique visitor count on record. The twelve-month running average is a mere 2,517.7 unique visitors.

The things where people interact with the page in some way were up, also. WordPress recorded 136 likes given to posts in November, above the running average of 94.8. It’s the greatest number of likes I’ve gotten in a month since July of 2019. And there were 48 comments given, way above the 29.9 running average and my greatest number since … well, April, which also saw 48. But no month’s had more than 48 comments since January 2019, when 70 comments came in here. Again, people really want to argue about Mark Trail, or Alley Oop. I’m spoiling the fun by not being too obviously angry about or fannish of either strip.

What was popular around here in November? Everything with “Mark Trail” in the subject line. But to be more exact, the most popular things posted in October or November have been:

I’m delighted that my needless mocking of an unimportant cartoon captured people’s imagination. Also that my Statistics Saturday piece for my Dad was received so well. Dad, if you have other statistics ideas, please, let me know; apparently, they play well. The most popular long-form piece was the first chapter in the MiSTing of The Tale of Fatty Coon. Chapters of that should keep going through the month, at least.


I of course intend to keep publishing my What’s Going On In series. Coming up are some of the comics that were pretty big draws back in their day, before everybody got mad at Mark Trail and Alley Oop. If pressing news, or pressing life, doesn’t force a change I expect to publish:

I’m aware that The Amazing Spider-Man is still in repeats and is almost certainly not coming out again. My plan, right now, is to cover the strip until it starts repeating things I’ve already recapped. I’ll change that if I get bored making retread Spider-Gags.


87 countries sent me readers in November, up rom a couple months of 77 countries each. The roster this month was:

Country Readers
United States 4,941
India 207
Canada 187
United Kingdom 142
Philippines 107
Australia 72
Germany 41
Sweden 40
France 35
South Africa 33
Spain 31
Brazil 30
Finland 26
Mexico 26
Bosnia & Herzegovina 25
Italy 24
Malaysia 18
Japan 15
Ireland 14
Morocco 13
Peru 13
China 12
Jamaica 12
Netherlands 12
El Salvador 10
Russia 10
Belgium 9
Norway 9
Trinidad & Tobago 9
Indonesia 8
New Zealand 8
Saudi Arabia 8
Thailand 8
Switzerland 6
Denmark 5
Estonia 5
European Union 5
Kenya 5
Poland 5
Romania 5
United Arab Emirates 5
Chile 4
Croatia 4
Lebanon 4
Montenegro 4
Nigeria 4
Oman 4
Taiwan 4
Ukraine 4
Egypt 3
Portugal 3
Singapore 3
Argentina 2
Czech Republic 2
Greece 2
Hungary 2
Kuwait 2
Pakistan 2
Panama 2
Serbia 2
Slovakia 2
Slovenia 2
South Korea 2
Sri Lanka 2
Bahrain 1 (*)
Bangladesh 1 (*)
Bulgaria 1
Cayman Islands 1
Colombia 1
Costa Rica 1
Cyprus 1
Ecuador 1
Ethiopia 1
Guadeloupe 1
Hong Kong SAR China 1
Israel 1 (*)
Latvia 1
Macedonia 1
Mauritius 1
Myanmar (Burma) 1
Nepal 1
Qatar 1
Senegal 1
Turkey 1
Uzbekistan 1
Venezuela 1
Vietnam 1 (*)

Bahrain, Bangladesh, Israel, and Vietnam were single-view countries in October also. No countries have been single-view for more than two months in a row, just now.

Map of the world with the United States in deepest red, and most of the world except Africa and central Asia in a light pink. Greenland and Iceland are blank, though, like always.
Victoria II map challenge here.

Between the introduction of the second-generation iPod and the start of December I posted 2,860 pieces here. They gathered 201,752 views from 114,113 logged visitors. Oh, man, think if I’d gotten one more visitor. That would have been so nice.

For all that November was an easy month, it was not a terse one. WordPress records me as writing 25,140 words in November, for an average of 838.0 words per posting. Well, these routine, bulk-quantity Popeye cartoons give me a lot to talk about, all right? It means that for 2020 I’m averaging 551 words per post, a jump of nearly thirty words per post since October. I need to say less stuff about these cartoons, I guess.

Will I? You can find out by adding my essays to your RSS reader. Don’t have an RSS reader? Sign up for a free account with Dreamwidth or Livejournal. You can add any RSS feed to your reading page there, using this link for Dreamwidth or this link for Livejournal. If you’re on WordPress, too, you can click “Follow Another Blog, Meanwhile” on this or any post’s page.

Thanks for the reading.

60s Popeye: Popeye the Ugly Ducklin, a good outing for the Goons


So, yes, this is not Sunday. You might wonder why I’m doing another King Features Popeye cartoon review so soon. Mostly, I’m feeling very overloaded, and very worried about what the week ahead will bring, and I need stuff that’s easy and even fun to write. Watching questionably good cartoons that I loved as a child? That’s right up my alley. I’m not giving up on the comic strip plot recaps, or something long-form for Thursday nights, nor Statistics Saturday, but for right now I’m taking the other days more easy.

Today’s cartoon is another Jack Kinney joint. Story’s by Ed Nofziger. Animation directors our friends Volus Jones and Ed Friedman. I remember this team from Out Of This World, which took a great premise and was not, and Shoot the Chutes, a sky-diving contest. Here, we have Popeye the Ugly Ducklin.

We start with what looks like Swee’Pea asking for a fairy story. Instead he’s asking what Popeye was like as a kid. Same structure, although it does open to Popeye telling a fairy tale that has reason to cast him in a role. Popeye denies he was strong and handsome as a kid. Well, denies he was handsome, anyway. And he proves it with a picture in the family album, which he has right there. I don’t know who was keeping this family album since Popeye was an orphink right up until he found his Pappy.

Anyway, we get one of those few cartoons showing Young Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Brutus. They’re playing school and shunning Popeye as somehow the ugly one. After being mocked enough, he runs away, landing eventually on Goon Island. This is an interesting riff on Popeye’s father being captive on Goon Island, in one of the Fleischer cartoons. Popeye’s been harassed even by the sea creatures on his way there. The Goons, ugly themselves, show him nothing but kindness, though.

Then some scenes of his growing up, reading books like The Wizard of Goon or playing goonball. Incidentally, if I’m reading things right The Wizard of Oz — the original book — was in the public domain by 1960. Why wasn’t there a Popeye version of this? Also, I notice the boat in the background of the goonball game is the Sea Hag. I’m not sure what that signifies. Back in Strange Things Are Happening the Sea Hag had henchgoons, of course, but different cartoon, different continuity, perhaps.

Kid Popeye dancing the Sailor's Hornpipe, while two Goons play flute and cello for him.
Not answered: is Alice the Goon one of the Goons who raised Popeye? Or was she in his age cohort? It seems like something that affects their relationship, whatever way it turns out.

There’s a nicely done growing-up montage of Popeye eating spinach at the table. Then it’s time to return “home” for some reason, so they give him a song and a pipe and the chance to grab a whale. Grown-up Olive Oyl is still a teacher, only now she finds Popeye cute. Grown-up brutus is still a lousy student, and hasn’t improved his bullying game any. A can of spinach later and Popeye is punching Brutus through the school, a pretty fun stunt, before finally knocking him to Goon Island. It’s supposed to see if the Goons can teach Brutus a lesson. I suppose we have to conclude they didn’t. And we close on the bare end of Popeye’s little rhyming couplet, starting at “Cause I eats me spinach”. I don’t know why not the full thing.

It’s all an okay origin story, sure. I like Robert Altman’s movie more, but this one is a lot zippier. It hasn’t got the snappy moral of The Ugly Duckling, although I’m not sure The Ugly Duckling has that snappy a moral either. Um. I guess something about how a thing you find ugly, you might just be holding to inappropriate standards. Which is a good thing to remind snarky Internet critics.

In Which I Foolishly Ask About A Peanuts Special


I absolutely should not ask questions about It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. The cartoon barely has a plot, just a bunch of scenes abutting one another. And that’s great, because usually the more a Peanuts cartoon has a plot the worse it is. But, watching the DVD again this year, something new nagged at me.

Do you think Schroeder was invited to provide music for Violet’s Halloween party? Does he just carry his piano to every social engagement he ever attends, holding it all casually under his arm, waiting for an excuse to say, “Hey, you know, I just happen to play a little” and then whip out a bit of Für Elise? What was the plan?

60s Popeye: Jeep is Jeep


The title seems clear enough. And the credits are promising: it’s another Paramount Cartoon Studios product. That is, the people who’d been animating Popeye since 1933 and could do it in their sleep, and from 1952 to 1958 did. There’s the guarantee of basic competence here. The producer and animation director are Seymour Kneitel. The story’s another by I Klein. Here’s 1960’s Jeep Is Jeep.

This cartoon looked ready to be great. I’m a Eugene the Jeep fan from way back. You’ve seen my icon here. And in the first scenes we see Popeye is not in his Boring Suburban House. He’s in a Boring Suburb, sure, but his house is boat-shaped. Usually a good sign.

That’s a paragraph that tells of my disappointment. Not that it’s another introducing-the-Jeep cartoon. And not that it’s introducing the Jeep after we’ve had several cartoons, including from Paramount, with Eugene. That part’s almost a tradition. Popeye Presents Eugene, the Jeep, in which Popeye’s introduced to Eugene by Olive Oyl, came out two years after Popeye the Sailor with the Jeep, in which Popeye introduces Eugene to Olive Oyl. That’s fine. This is not a serialized comic.

The problem is first it takes forever — at least, until 1:45 — before Eugene gets into the cartoon at all. This in a cartoon that runs 5:40, counting the credits. And then another minute explaining his gimmicks: he’s magic, can walk through walls, and can answer any question.

Animation cel of Swee'Pea riding bareback on Eugene the Jeep, who seems happy to be his steed.
OK but this part? Life goal.

Finally, at 2:42, Swee’Pea wanders off. Understandable, since what kid would be interested in a magic dog that’s just arrived? And Popeye finally notices this, about 2:58 in, and the story finally starts: Eugene leading Popeye to Swee’Pea. The premise is all right, if a low-animation-cel remake of Popeye the Sailor with the Jeep. At least one joke — Eugene walking through a stone wall, and Popeye punching his way through — is directly reused. (It also ends with Popeye doing one of his oldest animated moves, punching a train into stopping.) The cartoon’s this low-energy remake even before Eugene finally arrives. Popeye doing tricks while babysitting Swee’Pea evokes the Fleischer’s I Likes Babies And Infinks, but very slow.

There’s no blaming people for reusing jokes, or even whole plots, especially not 22 years later. But the original cartoon had more and better jokes. And it had the punch line that Eugene was mischievously leading Popeye on a needless chase. Without that? It’s a slow march through not much fun.

So I only just today got this Far Side comic


Like my subject line says. I’ve seen this particular Far Side now and then for thirty-plus years. It was only today, when I saw it bundled with other historical strips under the History Shmistory label, that I realized Gary Larson’s joke. This now takes, by far, the record between me seeing and me getting the joke. It was previously held by another Far Side strip, the famous “I think you misunderstood … I’m Al Tilly, the bum” incident.

In a career counseling office. The counselor tells a seated bearded man holding a ten-gallon hat, 'Well, Mr Cody, according to our questionnaire, you would probably excel in sales, advertising, slaughtering a few thousand buffalo, or market research'.
So “Al Tilley, the Bum”. It was this scene at a castle rampart and the guard has thrown his spear at this hobo, and missed, and the hobo says, “I think you misunderstood” and it was like twelve years later that I twigged to how the joke was the guard thought he’d said he was Atilla the Hun. But the scene was funny already even without the name confusion, right? Anyway, nobody ask why the door sign implies they’re outside the career counseling office, OK? It’s a comic strip convention and once you notice this you’ll never enjoy a setting again, ever.

In my defense — and this applies to the Al Tilly the bum incident too — part of my slowness was that it wasn’t obvious I was missing a joke. Imagine if the caption read, “Well, Mr Smith, … ” instead. It’s a fine enough non-sequitur joke that someone might be good in sales or market research or buffalo-slaughtering. Larson played fair, of course. If the identity of the person seeking a career didn’t matter, he’d have been named Smith or Jones or even not addressed by name. The beard and ten-gallon hat were also cues, although it’s not like comic strip characters won’t have long beards or quirky fashion choices either.

I suppose it’s all a reminder that you can tell any joke you like, but you can’t control what joke the audience hears.

Statistics September: How September 2020 Looked At Me, And What For


As I’ve said before I like starting the month with a look at what got read around here, and how much. I’m sure this is going to be fun. WordPress kicked me off the Classic, or “good”, post editor and the New, or “bad” one is really bad. Like, it was annoyingly many steps to embed pictures in yesterday’s Popeye cartoon post. And every attempt working through the Bad editor to embed the video starting at the right time marker failed. I had to post it and then edit it using the back path to get the Good editor back. It takes some doing to screw up stuff like that. Don’t worry. You’ll hear a lot more from me on this topic.

All the statistics I track around here were up this past month, which is to say, good. WordPress reports 4,479 page views in September, which is the third-highest month I have on record. (April 2020 and November 2015 were higher yet.) That’s a good bit above the twelve-month running average of 4,018.7 views per month.

These views came from a recorded 2,623 unique visitors. That, too, is up from the running average 2,347.3. I think that’s also the third-highest unique visitor count, but WordPress doesn’t make that number easy to track. There were 130 things liked, which is above the average 94.4 and the largest number since July of 2019. And there were a positively chatty 41 comments, well above the 25.7 average. That was the greatest volume of comments since April 2020, owing to people turning caps lock on.

Bar chart of monthly readership. The last several months have seen around four thousand page views and two thousand to 2500 unique visitors each month.
You don’t suppose it’s possible I got like a thousand page views between 7:59 pm and 8:00 pm when the new month started, do you?

What articles were popular here? The most popular things published in September were:

I was, in the interest of fairness, looking for top things posted in August too, but it turns out nothing from August was as popular as the Jules Rivera news. That’ll happen.

Mercator-style map of the world with the United States in darkest pink, most of the Americas, Europe, Russia, and the Pacific Rim in light pink, and scattered African countries, plus India, also in pink.
I feel like I’m far less popular this month in Africa, but it turns out the difference is two page views from Zambia and one from Ethiopia. Well also that Ukraine wasn’t interested in me this month either.

77 countries sent me any readers last month. That’s down from August’s 78 and July’s 82, and not at all significantly so. There were ten single-view countries, noticeably down from August’s 18 or July’s 28. I suppose next month there’ll be minus two.

CountryReaders
United States3,108
India223
Canada149
Brazil135
United Kingdom114
Australia103
Philippines99
Sweden38
South Africa34
Germany32
Norway31
Italy27
Finland26
Spain25
Japan23
Netherlands23
France15
Denmark14
Nepal14
Trinidad & Tobago14
Mexico12
Indonesia11
Belgium9
Portugal9
Argentina8
Singapore8
Turkey8
Colombia7
European Union7
New Zealand7
United Arab Emirates7
Hong Kong SAR China6
Ireland6
Switzerland6
Thailand6
Chile5
Honduras5
Malaysia5
Peru5
Slovenia5
Venezuela5
Fiji4
Greece4
Hungary4
Qatar4
Taiwan4
Austria3
China3
Czech Republic3
Ecuador3
Guyana3
Israel3
Kazakhstan3
Kuwait3
Myanmar (Burma)3
Pakistan3
Poland3
South Korea3
Vietnam3
Bulgaria2
Egypt2
Guadeloupe2
Kenya2
Nigeria2
Puerto Rico2
Romania2
Russia2
Belize1
Bolivia1
Costa Rica1
Croatia1
El Salvador1
Iceland1
Jamaica1
Maldives1
Mauritius1
Paraguay1 (*)

Paraguay is the only country that was a single-view country in August. And no countries are on a three-month or longer streak. So that’s fun.


My plan for the next several weeks of story comics is to do these, on these days:

All this is subject to revision in case of news or anything getting in my way. I am thinking of what I might shuffle around to make sure the week of Election Day is as low-stress for me as possible, around here at least, for example. I’ll have some What’s Going On In The Story Comics post, or news, at this link. And hopefully a plot recap every Tuesday, Eastern time.

Also in my plans: a long-form essay Thursday evenings, Eastern Time. Also Statistics Saturday posts, Saturday evening, Eastern Time. And I’m hardly out of 1960s Popeye cartoons to talk about Sunday evenings.


Through the start of October I’d posted 2,799 things here. Those collected 188,327 views from 106,121 unique visitors. WordPress thinks I posted 16,141 words this past month, an average of 538.0 words per posting for all thirty posts. My average post, year to date, has been 548 words, so my goal of writing shorter was going great until I started this post.

If you’d like to be a regular reader here, please click the “Follow Another Blog, Meanwhile” button on this page. Or if you’d rather read without being tracked, add the RSS feed for this page to your reader. If you don’t think you have a reader, get a free Dreamwidth or Livejournal account. You can add RSS feeds to your friends page from https://www.dreamwidth.org/feeds/ or https://www.livejournal.com/syn as you like. And my @nebusj Twitter account announces posts. Don’t try to contact me through it, though. Safari often refuses to let me see Twitter. I don’t know why, and I don’t know what the pattern is. Am I going to make the surely slight effort it would be to clear up the problem? No, not this year. Why would I want to see more Twitter than I already do? In 2020? Thank you for your understanding.

I don’t know I ever heard Robert Benchley performing with Groucho Marx before this


Among my weekly listening is the Radio Entertainment Network’s podcast. It picks an hour of old-time radio each week. The episode for the 21st of September had two half-hour episodes. The first of these is Columbia Presents Corwin, a 1945 sustaining series in which Norman Corwin got the chance to be all weird, in case that advanced the state of the art of radio programming.

This installment, “The Undecided Molecule”, was a comic rhyming court battle over what Molecule X shall do. It’s also got a heck of a cast: Groucho Marx as the judge, Robert Benchley as the interpreter for Molecule X. Vincent Price. Keenan Wynn. Also Sylvia Sidney, who had mostly dramatic roles in her career. It’s a heck of a comic lineup, though.

It’s the only time I can remember to have Robert Benchley and Groucho Marx trading lines. I can’t say it’s the only one, since there were a lot of radio shows like Command Performance that would toss together improbable sets of actors. But, like, Robert Benchley’s default screen persona is “ordinary guy overwhelmed by the mundane”. That’s not the sort of pomposity or self-absorption that Groucho Marx is needed to deflate. And it’s really hard to think of a reason for Vincent Price to act against either of those types. I’m impressed the thing comes together at all.

A quick content warning: there is a reference in here — I lost just where — to current events of summer 1945. It’s a reference to having beaten the “Hun” and going to beat a short way of referring to Japanese people. I’ve clearly decided that isn’t a gross enough problem to outweigh the value of hearing the episode, but did not want people who’d reason otherwise to be caught unaware.

The second show in this podcast, starting about 30 minutes in like you’d hope, is an installment of Arch Oboler’s Lights Out. This was a horror series, often dipping into the supernatural. This particular episode is about two typists who’re handling the script for Lights Out when things get unsettling. (If I’m reading things right, the script they’re typing up seems to be for the episode “The Dark”, about a strange fog that turns people inside-out. It got riffed on a Treehouse of Horror episode of The Simpsons.) Whether the episode works for you at all probably depends on whether you can accept the acting conventions. Old-time-radio acting used a different theatrical style than we do today. And the characters have to tell each other things that they really should just see, like, lights going out. And, particularly, Arch Oboler had a wry humor, so there may be stuff you think is just laughable and not realize that he did too.

If you’re of a sufficient age you might remember listening to Bill Cosby routines without trouble. Also particularly listening to a Bill Cosby routine in which he tells of staying up to listen to a radio story that scares the pants off him. In the episode a chicken heart escapes from a lab and one thing leads to another and it kinda eats the world. This is a retelling of a different Lights Out episode. (And an episode only known to exist in a truncated, edited form, so Cosby’s telling is valuable for describing what the experience was like.) So, if you can find the right mood, you might really like this series. You’ll also see that this, one of the first horror series, taught Rod Serling a bunch of tricks.

Shoe almost completely on other foot; Bruce Tinsley returning to Mallard Fillmore


(Thanks for the headline, Garrison!)

So, yes, as of last Monday, the 14th, we’re getting daily Shoe strips signed as by Susie MacNelly and Ben Lansing. Lansing has been assisting with the strip for a long while, which may be why the change in art was hardly noticeable. There are some more Gary Brookins-drawn Sunday strips for Shoe still in the pipeline, but that’ll be it.

At the diner, Cosmo asks, 'I'll have an order of pretzel nuggets, please.' Roz, waitress: 'Dipping sauce?' Cosmo: 'What are my options?' Roz: 'Yes or no.'
Ben Lansing and Susie MacNelly’s Shoe for the 14th of September, 2020. I like the joke well enough, but I’m still basically fond of American Cornball humor. Also, I would never have the nerve to tell the server, “I’ll have”. I am resolutely on the “Could I please get” side and feel an illicit thrill when someone who does order “I’ll have” gets answered, “No you won’t”.

So far as I know, this is the first time that the regular cartoonists for Shoe and Pluggers have been different people. Pluggers had been drawn alternately by Gary Brookins and Rick McKee for several months before Brookins finally retured from it a month ago.


Also, D D Degg, at the Daily Cartoonist, reports that Bruce Tinsley is returning to Mallard Fillmore. The strip had been in reruns from November 2019 through March 2020, when Loren Fishman took over. So we can expect to transition from not reading Mallard Fillmore by Loren Fishman back to not reading Mallard Fillmore by Bruce Tinsley in the next couple weeks.

There are many small things to watch on TCM tonight


I apologize for the late notice; I only learned myself a couple hours ago. TCM (United States feed) is spending tonight showing “Leonard Maltin’s Short Film Showcase”. It’s a bunch of short films, as you’d think. Some of them I’ve seen; some are new to me. Many of them are comedies. There are a handful of travelogues, musical shorts, and dramas too.

Robert Benchley gets a couple entries, with “A Night At The Movies” right around … now, Eastern time. Three hours from now, less about ten minutes, Pacific time. Or, “How To Sleep”, sometime after 5 am Eastern and Pacific. Thelma Todd gets four entries, two of them with ZaSu Pitts. I’d recommend any Thelma Todd or ZaSu Pitts piece sight unseen. Some of the shorts, including at least one Thelma Todd one, star Charley Chase. Chase is an interesting person. In the silent era he was one of the second-tier comedians who kept edging his way up into the first tier, right up until he attempted a movie adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and made basically every choice wrong. That’s not on tonight and you’ll think better of Chase for that. There’s also, somewhere around 12:45 am, “Buzzing Around”, starring Roscoe Arbuckle, about inventing a magic rubber coating that makes things unbreakable. Other miscellaneous things include a bunch of Pete Smith specialties. Pete Smith made a lot of short films, mostly comedy documentaries, all with a reliable American Cornball tone. You’ll either kinda like it or not.

As I say, I don’t know how much of any of this I’ll watch. It is probably good for dipping into as you have ten minutes. One I am warily curious about, and that’s running sometime around 5:20 am, is titled “The Black Network”. The summary: “In this short film, the owner of a shoe polish company sponsors a radio show that showcases black performers”. So this does sound like a chance to see people whose talents were discarded. But, ooh, that mention of shoe polish does not sit well at all. Mm.

60s Popeye: Potent Lotion, when ‘Popeye Punch’ was just sitting there ready for the naming


This week I’ve got another Popeye cartoon directed by Gene Deitch. So there’s no information about story credits or specific animators or anything. Just his bunch in Czechoslovakia. Sorry. Here’s Potent Lotion, a title that seems like it should be a rhyme yet isn’t.

This is a weird cartoon. I know, a Gene Deitch cartoon turning out weird? Who imagined that? The core of the weirdness is that this is quite a well-made cartoon. The characters are all pretty angular, but that’s not a bad thing. The cartoon looks fresher than the usual. I think it’s the movement. The characters move like paper doll silhouette puppets, with discrete joints. Or like a Flash animation from about 2006.

Certainly the animation, while limited, does more than it needs. Everyone moves with their whole bodies. Brutus’s face clearly moves under his mask, when anyone would accept just not seeing anything there. When several characters are in a walk (or run) cycle, like the henchmen or the two cops, they’re out of phase, so it looks like there’s more movement than there really is. Or when Brutus is splitting up the loot. His hand reaches into the bag, and pushes the bag down. It’s an extra bit of life.

And it’s got a strong plot. Popeye gets a bottle of shaving lotion, and a telegram from Olive Oyl to meet her. Everyone he passes on the way punches him. It’s a mystery until we see Brutus and his henchmen robbing a bank. The cops are more interested in punching Popeye than chasing the robbers. Popeye works out it’s the aftershave that’s made him so punchable. He finds the gang’s hideout and in the end drops enough Punch Lotion on Brutus’s head to break up the gang. There’s more to the story but that’s the important stuff.

It’s well-organized, too. Even in the little things. Like, Popeye signs for the delivery package; he doesn’t sign for the telegram. First time through I noted that as a discrepancy. But then he comes back around, when he finds the gang’s hideout, and says he forgot to sign for the telegram. The henchman uses the chance to say he’ll get a slip of paper, and gets Brutus instead. Everybody’s being smart.

Two cops punching Popeye. One has hit him in the head so hard Popeye's smashed down to about half-height.
All Popeye said was “of course Black lives matter”, but he would go on to ask why the cops have chemical warfare weapons banned by the Geneva Convention.

So I can’t pin down just what about the cartoon feels off to me. I want to say it’s Brutus’s setup of robbing a bank, with a plan only incidentally involving Popeye. But that can’t be right. We’ve had any number of cartoons where Brutus is an actual villain. Even ones where he’s a bank-robber or other desperado. Those are usually set in Old Western towns, though, or in Yukon Gold Strike towns or things like that. And they usually have the setup where Bluto/Brutus hasn’t met Popeye when the action starts. Maybe that’s the weird thing. He’s not usually in Anytown USA and aware of Popeye and still scheming against society rather than against Popeye. Or maybe it’s that usually, once the cartoon starts, Brutus/Bluto focuses on besting Popeye. It’s rare that he treats Popeye as a feature of the landscape.

It’s also a bit weird that after eating his spinach — sorry, Brutus’s spinach. Still, it’s common enough for Popeye to eat environmentally-provided spinach — Popeye just uses the chance to break his bonds. He pours Punch Lotion on Brutus to get the gang to slug him. This is a good plan, yes. It’s just surprising to see Popeye resort to his smarts first and his fists second.

My reservations are weird, idiosyncratic, and not that important. This is a cartoon worth watching, and it’s one that shows even in the dire circumstances of 60s television animation, with characters who had already been wrung through three decades and hundreds of cartoons, there’s still good cartoons to make.

60s Popeye: Spare Dat Tree and where it lost me


We’re back with Jack Kinney studios this week. The story is again by Ed Nofziger. That usually signals some genial weirdness. The animation director is Ken Hultgren. Don’t have a large enough sample to say what to expect there. I was on edge when I saw the spelling of “dat”, but I suppose they were trying to approximate how Popeye would say “that”. The title’s referencing a poem and song — “Woodman, Spare that Tree!” — published by George Pope Morris in 1837. I only know it from the occasional cartoon that references it, and a song adaptation that Phil Harris did.

With that all introduced, here’s Spare Dat Tree.

I believe I’ve adequately documented how I was a weird kid. I was in fact as many as three weird kids stacked on top of each other. I do remember something weird about this cartoon bothering me as a kid. It bothers me today.

The cartoon starts at Popeye’s Boring Suburb House. We’re saved from that by it being a Swee’Pea “tell me a story” frame. In this, a nature story, Popeye’s the forest ranger and protects two monarch trees, each five thousand years old. Brutus — a Brutus, the cartoon notes, as if it were an occupation — comes to chop down the trees. Eventually Popeye gets to eating some spinach … some wood spinach, that I guess is its wild counterpart(?) … and punches him to the state capitol, in Poland.

The trees are presented with faces, and voices, done by Jack Mercer and Mae Questel. It would be a cute riff on Popeye and Olive Oyl’s voices if I thought it was a choice. The cartoons only had three voice actors. And there is this strange dreamy circularity to their dialogue. Especially the Queen Tree’s asking the King if it hurts and the King answering variations of “only when I laugh”. Little exchanges, though, like the Queen Tree fussing about how cute Ranger Popeye is, share that light dreaminess. Also the Queen Tree telling the King to get back down here, once he’d been blown into the air, and his wearily agreeing to comply.

It’s a small thing but Ranger Popeye spends a lot of this cartoon squinting angrily. It’s a good look.

Scene showing Brutus having burrowed underground, and having dug open a tunnel wide enough to chop the subterranean trunk of the King Tree.
By the way I was surprised to see that Jack Mercer’s credited for the old male tree’s voice since I did not expect him to do that good a job sounding different. But then I remember he was tagged to do a lot of old-man voices for Paramount cartoons. Still, this tree put me in mind of Allen Swift’s portrayal of Simon Bar Sinister, which maybe better shows you how long it’s been since I watched Underdog.

What bothered me as a kid, and bothers me today, is after Brutus goes underground to cut the King Tree. (And that’s a good loophole-joke way around “no logging on these grounds”.) Brutus succeeds! He cuts the tree the whole way through. And I knew there was no coming back from that. I would accept the trees talking with Popeye and maybe Brutus. I accept unquestioningly Popeye’s spinach-induced super-strength. Also the tree trunk going a good eight feet underground instead of being roots. But that all the tree needs is to be set back in its hole?

Every story depends to some extent on suspending disbelief. Many of these are small things, like stories reaching a clear resolution. Or they’re things that we accept if we’re taking in the story at all, like how spinach makes Popeye even more super-strong for a while. Why was “the giant talking tree just needs to be set back in the ground again” too much ask of me? I don’t know.

I’m sure if Popeye had fed the tree spinach then I’d have accepted it. That would have made good sense.

60s Popeye: Frozen Feuds to warm the Goonish heart


This week’s is another Jack Kinney-produced cartoon. The story’s by Eddie Rehberg, who also did the direction. And layout. It suggests possibly a story that reflects an individual vision. Or a disaster as a writer is pressed to direct, or vice-versa. (Or, perhaps, a disaster but because a writer wanted the experience of directing.) Let’s see how Frozen Feuds works out.

Elzie Segar liked creating weird animals for Thimble Theatre. Two and a half of them stuck in the pop culture. The half is the Whiffle Hen, who’s mostly remembered by people who want to show off they remember what Popeye’s first line in the comic strip was. Eugene the Jeep is the big success. And the last is Alice the Goon. She got introduced as a terrifying minion to the Sea Hag, then defanged a good bit when it was revealed she was a guh guh guh girl. Goons got one appearance in the Fleischer-era cartoons, and somehow didn’t rate more mentions. Alice got her first animated treatment in the 60s cartoons and I’m curious now whether this was the first-produced cartoon with her.

It’s a fair introduction to her. Goons may be fearsome-looking creatures, and in Goonland they’re quite the menace. But Alice is gentle, even genial. It’s the kind of clash between appearance and personality that can really drive a story. Also about 80% of Harvey Comics protagonists. That said: does she need so much introduction? I don’t remember that she needed much setup in other appearances. She just was, and we accepted that she looked strange. On the other hand, if you have a good character why not give them a rollout?

(Yes, I remember Goon With The Wind, although that was produced by Gene Deitch. And it’s a different design for Goons. If any of them are Alice it doesn’t show.)

The story feels like it drifted between the original idea and completion. Starting out with a Vaguely Claghorn-like senator promising to rid Alaska of the critter ruining their tourist trade. If you accept the hypothesis that a strange humanoid cryptid would hurt the tourism industry. It’s an interesting premise, though: 1960 was just before the Bigfoot legend really caught on. But it was several years after the Abominable Snowman legend got big enough for, like, Sir Edmund Hillary to explore whether there might be a Yeti in the Himalayas.

Popeye, making finger-gun poses, walks past Alice the Goon. Alice is sprawled out on the ground, one arm on her hips, holding a rose in her mouth, and looking hopefully at Popeye.
Look, fine, if you want my DeviantArt account you can have my DeviantArt account, just stop creeping on my DeviantArt account.

Olive Oyl gets a good long earwormy song telling the legend too. It seems seems to make the Senator’s speech (to who?) unnecessary. But then we finally swing into action and get an Alice sighting. Popeye saying that’s just Wimpy, who ducked out after writing a stack of IOUs. Olive Oyl asking how come she’s turned white, then? So Popeye’s off to find Alice.

Which is then where we turn from a cartoon about a menace to a goof. Olive Oyl wants the Goon’s hat. Alice is smitten with Popeye and tries to get his attention. He misses her wholly, until she finally tosses a note tied around a rock at him. Oh, and now Popeye can understand Alice and arranges a trade, his picture for her hat. Olive Oyl’s thrilled with the hat. Popeye’s picture is actually pictures of him on TV. Alice sings us out of the cartoon. The Senator’s promise goes unresolved.

It’s an odd shift and I wonder what motivated it. A serious search for an exotic creature is fine. A goofball search for an exotic creatures is fine. Why patch them together? Did Rehberg start out writing one way and find there wasn’t enough story, then try the other? Really, if the Senator’s introduction were cut out the cartoon would flow with a reasonable if dreamy logic, and there’d be some more time for Alice flirting with Popeye. Was Rehberg just too fond of the Claghorne pastiche to cut that?

Once again I’d love to know more of how these cartoons were made.

Some nice animation bits I didn’t have a good place to mention: when Olive Oyl sings her song, she gets her foot caught in a spitoon and tromps around in that. She slides when she steps with that foot. It’s a touch you never see done in cheap made-for-tv cartoons like this. And later, when Olive Oyl tells of her horror at seeing the Goon, we see her head from front-on. Her head’s swinging clockwise and counterclockwise, while her mouth stays fixed. It’s eerie and unnatural and I believe that’s a deliberate creepy wrongness to it.

60s Popeye: Shoot the Chutes, a Popeye cartoon they made in the 60s


We’re back with Jack Kinney’s gang today. Shoot the Chutes, the name, refers to the golden-age-of-amusement-parks ride in which you in a big boat go down a sloped waterfall to a big splash. Many amusement parks today have revivals of this. So of course it’s a cartoon about parachute jumping, which is a correct pun. The story is by Ed Nofziger, and the direction by Volus Jones and Ed Friedman, the team we saw going Out oF the World last week. So here’s Shoot the Chutes.

Last week, I thought we had a great premise poorly used. Here, we have a more mundane premise, Popeye and Brutus at a parachute-jumping contest. I want to say it’s also poorly used, but something holds me back.

I will not try to convince anyone this is a good cartoon. It hasn’t got enough delightful moments to be good. And it’s got too much that’s annoying. Most annoying in this is Olive Oyl brattishly demanding that Popeye win her the parachuting trophy. But out of that come bits that seem smarter than that. Like, Olive Oyl’s cheerleading chants. “Trophy, trophy, rah rah rah! Gimme that trophy or I’ll sock you in the jaw!” does not make Olive Oyl seem like a pleasant person. But it is a silly chant for a ridiculous demand. Similarly, “Yakkety Yack! Snik snak! Win that trophy or get the axe!” is goofy. The same happens when Olive Oyl gets tired of waiting for Brutus and Popeye to finish falling and declares “hurry up with that trophy!” It’s a funny demand, and makes the stakes on this tournament ridiculous.

What doesn’t work is that even if a character is supposed to be ridiculously bratty, she’s still being bratty. Working a bit better is Popeye and Brutus quipping their whole way through the parachute drop. I like Brutus swinging the parachute upside-down and then declaring, “Hey! I’m losing!”

So the best interpretation I can put on this is that Nofziger spruced up a stock plot by the characters not taking it at all seriously. Done well, this is great. It depends on the audience knowing the characters well, and knowing the storyline well. But it turns the experience into something I’ve dubbed Cartoon Existentialism. People who know they’re doing these things because what else are they going to do? The Hanna-Barbera cartoons of the 50s and early 60s let this creep in quite well. See any short where, like, Snagglepuss wanders into the story of the Three Little Pigs or something.

Cartoony vulture on the end of a flagpole imitating Popeye's walk cycle.
Oh, yeah, I don’t know where this vulture is from, but I like them. Bringing a little spoof of Popeye’s walk is the kind of touch we need.

Here? It’s not so good. Olive Oyl being obnoxious ironically is still Olive Oyl being obnoxious. Popeye quipping his way through a perilous scenario is an inherent part of his character. It’s only a bit less so for Brutus. After The Ball Went Over, another Jack Kinney-produced cartoon, does this much better. The characters know they’re going through a scenario because they have to do something and if their hearts aren’t in it, they’re at least being weird.

Also, while I can credit Nofziger with sprucing up the stock plot, he also made the stock plot. They’d done flying cartoons before, albeit in the black-and-white era, like Pest Pilot and I Never Changes My Altitude. Why not use some of their plot ingenuity?

The animation’s basically fine. All those seconds with Brutus swinging his parachute side to side seems like it saved the budget. The music was made by hitting shuffle. I don’t know who contestants 1 through 11 were.

Statistics June: How June 2020 Treated My Humor Blog


June 2020 was another recessional month around here, as most of my readership figures have it. The number of page views dropped about 250 from May, to 3,964. I’m still hanging on ahead of the twelve-month running average, of 3,842.8 page views, but it’s a closer thing. The number of unique visitors dropped about 150, to 2,336. This is again above the running average of 2,217.0, and a bit more comfortably above that.

The number of likes jumped nearly twenty, to 87 given in the month. The secular decline somehow continues, though. The running average is 105.0 likes in a month even though I haven’t seen that kind of number since January 2020. And to give you some idea how long ago January 2020 was: remember how long ago June 2020 was? January was twenty times that long ago.

The number of comments dropped seven, also, to 32 in the month. This still has it above the average of 21.0, though.

Bar chart of monthly readership for the past two and a half months. After a spike in April the readership and unique visitors counts are declining again.
Couldn’t get a picture of the statistics at exactly the start of July, Universal Time, because we were going to a drive-in movie showing Ferris Bueller and The Breakfast Club as part of their “what the heck, let’s just be the 80s” program. This week: Ghostbusters 1984, the one with the toxic fandom.

The per-posting averages have almost an identical story. Since I have something posted every day that’s not much of a surprise. The views per posting and visitors per posting are almost exactly the twelve-month average: 127.9 visitors per posting, compared to an average 126.1; and 75.4 unique visitors per posting, compared to an average 72.8. 2.7 likes per posting, compared to the average 3.4. 1.0 comments per posting, better than the average 0.7. The per-posting averages are more useful on my mathematics blog, where I’ll let days go without a posting.

The most popular postings in June were, as often happens, not ones that were posted in June. One of them I totally understand, though, and it’s probably going to be a steadily inappropriately popular post in the months to come:

What things from June were popular in June? Nothing involving June Morgan, it happens. Instead we had these:

Altogether, 577 distinct pages, plus my home page, got at least one view in June. 330 pages, counting the home page, got at least two views. 78 pages got at least ten views. That’s right about the same as in May. Probably these figures can’t change much until someone goes and gets me some viral bundle of attention.


77 countries or things like countries sent me viewers in June, which is the same number as in May. 20 of them were a single view, which again is the same count as in May. Here’s what they all were:

Mercator-style map of the world with the United States in darkest red, most of the Americas and Europe in a uniform pink, and also South Asia, Australia, and New Zealand.
Yes! Landed both Czech and Slovakia this month! Next month: everything that used to be part of the Federal Republic of Central America.

Country Readers
United States 2,640
India 226
United Kingdom 177
Macedonia 163
Australia 123
Canada 118
Finland 60
Germany 37
Brazil 32
Italy 26
Philippines 26
South Africa 25
Netherlands 22
Sweden 21
Norway 20
Mexico 13
Spain 13
France 11
Indonesia 11
Denmark 10
Ireland 10
Malaysia 10
Peru 10
Kenya 9
Nigeria 9
Romania 9
Japan 8
Singapore 8
Hong Kong SAR China 7
New Zealand 7
Kuwait 6
Taiwan 6
Trinidad & Tobago 6
Belgium 5
Switzerland 5
Hungary 4
Slovenia 4
United Arab Emirates 4
Austria 3
Greece 3
Israel 3
Thailand 3
Zambia 3
Argentina 2
Bulgaria 2
Croatia 2
Egypt 2
Jamaica 2
Oman 2
Pakistan 2
Panama 2
Poland 2
Russia 2
Serbia 2
South Korea 2
Ukraine 2
Vietnam 2
Belize 1
British Virgin Islands 1
Brunei 1
Colombia 1
Costa Rica 1
Cyprus 1
Czech Republic 1
European Union 1
Kazakhstan 1
Lebanon 1 (****)
Myanmar (Burma) 1
Nepal 1
Paraguay 1
Portugal 1
Qatar 1
Slovakia 1 (*)
Sri Lanka 1
Tanzania 1
Turkey 1
Venezuela 1

Slovakia’s been a single-view country two months running now. Lebanon’s been one for five months now. Macedonia hadn’t sent me any readers in May so I’m wondering if there was maybe something miscommunicated to the Balkan nations regarding my content here. Again, I’m always glad to have readers, wherever they’re from. I just know how far short I am of discussing anything like universal truths regarding the human condition.


My plan for the coming month is very like my plans for past months. A long-form essay posted Thursday evening, Eastern Time. On Saturday evening, Eastern Time, a Statistics Saturday piece. And on Tuesday evenings, What’s Going On In the story comics. My plan for the next few weeks — barring something special that forces me to change plans — is to cover there:

As of the start of July I’ve posted 2,707 things here. That all has drawn 175,391 page views from 98,598 unique visitors. There were a relatively slender 14,534 words published here in June, for a sleek average of 484.5 words per posting. I like that. For the year to date I’ve published 97,880 words, averaging 547 words per post. That average is down from the 556 at the start of June. This is doing well considering that every time I think I can cut a review of the 60s Popeye cartoons down to a couple well-chosen paragraphs they sprawl out to 1200 words.

I’m always glad to have more readers, either as subscribers or just stopping in for a while. You can subscribe through WordPress by clicking the ‘Follow Another Blog, Meanwhile’ button. You can use the RSS feed in whatever reader you like, which can include a Friends page on a free Dreamwidth or Livejournal account. New posts are announced to my Twitter account, @nebusj, although I only sometimes can actually post to it manually. Sorry. Nice to see you in any form, though.

60s Popeye: Out Of This World and it’d be nice if it were


We’re back to the Jack Kinney studios for 60s Popeye this week. Once again the story is from Ed Nofziger, who’s given us some great fairy tale riffs and some general weirdness. The directors are Volus Jones and Ed Friedman, new names to me. So let’s have some thoughts about 1960’s Out Of This World.

First, I have to amend an earlier entry. While reviewing Invisible Popeye, with a better premise than execution, I wrote “it’s better than Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Brutus doing their usual routine in a Suburban Boring house that also has computer buttons. Which, you’ll trust me, they could do”. Perhaps they could. But I was thinking specifically of this cartoon, in which they do not. There’s no Brutus here. There’s just the disembodied voice of Jackson Beck. We do have Swee’Pea, though. And we have Suburban Boring, but in The Future. Invisible Popeye at least gets weird.

It’s another O G Wotasnozzle cartoon. And another where he uses his time machine to send Popeye to a novel setting. Eventually. This cartoon runs five minutes, 41 seconds not counting the closing credits, which King Features has chopped off here. One minute 43 seconds of that is credits and the generic footage of Wotasnozzle deciding to send Popeye somewhere in time. “What the heck,” the great inventor thinks, “he’s probably just sitting at home listening to his theme on the Dixieland station”. So that’s why Popeye’s sent to either the year 2500 or 2500 years into the future. The framing device almost explains why everybody’s in the future, and lets the cartoon be one-fifth stock footage.

Also Olive Oyl and Swee’Pea are in the future too? Or Popeye hangs with their Future counterparts? Wotasnozzle says he sends Popeye somewhere by pot luck, so how are Olive Oyl and Swee’pea there? Popeye doesn’t seem thrown by the strange world of The Future. There’s a bit where water flows to the ceiling and he complains about something going wrong with the gravity. But that makes equal sense for either 20th or 25th Century Popeye to observe.

This is a standard circa-1960s view of The Future. Flying cars. Flying lounge chairs. Tourist space rockets to the Moon. Skyscrapers built into helter-skelter slides. Swee’Pea is splitting atoms and getting neutrons all over the rug. The ambiguously defined family of Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Swee’Pea eat roast beef pills and soup-and-salad-crystals and all. It seems like they have to eat a lot of pills. Maybe they’re eating their trail mix?

Establishing shot of a City of the Future, with one apartment tower that's surrounded by a spiral walkway, and mousehole-shaped entrances all along its length. Other buildings have a similar style and the place is arranged without clear communal flow.
Hey, it’s the John F Kennedy tower back in Troy, New York! I loved the look of that building. … Do you suppose anyone lives in that Grandma’s Weird 50s Table Lamp in the background?

And, yeah, you don’t watch cartoons like this for The Future. You watch them for The Present, spoofed by its placement in future trappings. And obviously a cartoon that has four minutes for all its business can’t compare to The Jetsons, still in the future when this was made. So we can look at what parts of The Present of 1960 the cartoon thought worth spoofing?

Well, the home. I read the place as suburban, but just because it seems boring. I guess it’s meant to be the City of Tomorrow. And then the road trip. Particularly the trip done by either bus or train. (I guess a five-minute rest stop is more a bus than a train thing, especially by 1960. I know train stops at eateries used to be a thing. I’ve been in the room while parts of The Harvey Girls were on TV.) It’s a fair premise, but there’s nothing done with it. Swee’Pea gathers asteroids. Why not go to a roadside attraction? You have a perfectly good chance to show, I don’t know, the largest robot cog this side of the asteroid belt and don’t use it?

Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Swee'Pea emerge from the rocket ship. They each wear small propellers above their heads, attached by poles to a mechanism strapped to their chests, to float around.
Oh sure, you laugh. But you also laughed at that Segway guy when he said they were going to re-engineer whole cities to cope with how that gadget changed civilization and who’s laughing now?

Then we get the Moon as a quaint, rustic tourist destination. The Upper Peninsula to Earth’s Michigan. There’s a similar notion in Futurama, where the Moon is part backwater, part tacky tourist trap. Arthur C Clarke’s novel Rendezvous with Rama has a line about how in the politics of the solar system, the Moon was a suburb of Earth and always would be. (I don’t remember it being clear what that meant exactly.) I am sure neither is responding to this cartoon. The idea is too sparsely entered.

We get a joke about the rustic moon offering old-fashioned stuff like the cars, gas stations, and airplanes of 1960. “Our present is, to the future, the past” isn’t a deep observation, but it is the sort of observation a kid in the target audience would appreciate.

So as seems to happen a lot, I like the characters, and I like the premise. I just don’t like that nothing happens, and that the premise isn’t used well. If I could wish any Popeye-related product into existence, though, a Popeye Of The Future comic might be it.

60s Popeye: neat meet with the Track Meet Cheat


… I’m a little surprised that wasn’t the actual title of this short. We’re back to Larry Harmon productions for the cartoon this week. It’s another short directed by Paul Fennell, with story by Charles Shows. Let’s take a moment to watch Track Meet Cheat. The moment takes about five and a half minutes, with credits.

So the cartoon is animated as I’d expect from the future Filmation team. The characters are angular; Brutus is almost a triangle. The movement well-defined or stiff, depending on how good a mood you’re in. The story is … now that’s interesting.

If you watch this when you’re seven years old, or if you watch it while distracted, the story makes good solid sense. Brutus is showing off at the extremely thin stadium. Popeye has enough of this, and challenges him to the track-and-field events. Popeye does great but Brutus cheats until Popeye has enough, spinach, fight, triumph, end.

The thing is that’s not quite what we see. Like, Brutus is showing off, yeah, but he’s also there to put on a show. If we take his ballyhoo in earnest, he is setting world records. And we don’t actually see Popeye challenge him, nor Brutus accept the challenge. If we didn’t know the series we could see this as a relentless heckler spoiling the show. Connective tissue is missing.

It’s not just skipped steps in setting up the story. There are anomalies in motivation all over. For example, in tossing the ball-and-chain, Brutus makes a good impressive throw. Then he runs out and catches it. It’s an impressive stunt, but it spoils the throw as an athletic performance. Popeye does a high jump by tying balloons to himself; how is that supposed to impress the judges? Brutus hands Popeye a bomb, which explodes, and then Brutus wonders where the guy he just blew up went. Why?

Picture of Brutus looking up, nervous, and holding a small consumer-grade circa 1960 camera.
Brutus looks like he’s only now realizing the horror that setting a bomb in Popeye’s hand would actually be. That or he’s sorry he doesn’t have a Polaroid.

If you’re a kid watching this, there’s no trouble. These things just happen because it makes sense for the scene. You know Brutus and Popeye act like this because that’s what they’re doing. If you watch while distracted there’s no problem. You, having learned how narratives work, imagine a connective tissue that makes sense. There’s a hole that swallows up Popeye’s pole, when he tries to vault? Brutus probably dug that to sabotage his opponent.

So there’s a curious anomaly here. The cartoon makes perfect sense, unless you’re an adult paying attention to it.

I’m not saying it’s bad. The stunts are nice, many of the jokes work for me. I love any chance for Popeye to do that angry chimney-puffing on his pipe. Wimpy hawking spinach burgers is a more interesting way to get the spinach than just pulling out a can would be. Wimpy not wanting anyone to actually eat the spinach burgers makes his participation an existentialist absurdity. Or just painting a joke onto an already non-sequitur plot element. It’s just a cartoon that works better if you don’t scrutinize it.

60s Popeye: Popeye’s Trojan Horse and what it can teach us


Popeye’s Trojan Horse is another Jack Kinney cartoon. Story by Ed Nofziger. The director’s Ken Hultgren, whom so far we’ve only seen in Jingle Jangle Jungle, another Nofziger story. Let’s watch.

This is framed, again, as a tell-me-a-story cartoon. Ed Nofziger did something similar with Little Olive Riding Hood and Hamburger Fishing. Why is there a frame, though? A frame lets you put the characters in a weird position without explaining why, but, is that needed? At least for Popeye? Do we get anything that wouldn’t be served by Jackson Beck narrating that “this story takes place in the time of the Ancient Greeks”? Do we need any explanation for the weirdness? Nofziger’s Swee’Pea Through The Looking Glass just let the action “really” happen, for example.

There is something having Popeye and Swee’Pea as frame offers, though. A bit of it was done in Hamburger Fishing. They can comment on the story. Several times over the action pauses so that Swee’Pea can snark about the action. I’m interested in the choice. It offers some story benefits. Popeye declaring “then, they went and — ” is as good a transition as you need to let anything happen. Stock footage of Popeye and Swee’Pea talking saves the animation budget, too.

Trojan horse, that resembles Gumby's pal Pokey, kicking its hindleg at a castle's tower. Brutus is atop the tower waving his hand angrily.
So one of the fun things I did instead of useful stuff this week was look up historical interpretations of the Trojan Horse. It’s fascinating, really, that we stay interested in a story about people so foolish that they would invite death into their homes — strangling the person who correctly warns them of the danger — because it was so very pleasant to imagine that the destruction so imminent for so long had just … gone away. Also I love that the pose here so clearly reads as Brutus demanding the Horse quit that, and the Horse acting all innocent, like, “Quit what?”

Having the characters watch and snark on a story is part of a respectable enough tradition too. It runs loosely from the Greek Chorus through, like, that bit in A Midsummer Night’s Dream where Hippolyta and all can not believe Nick Bottom’s play, to Rocky and Bullwinkle and The Muppet Show and their many influences. (Mystery Science Theater 3000 is near but just outside this lineage, for my purposes. I’m looking at texts that contain their own riffing. MST3K depends on adding jokes to something by a different writer.) When it’s done well, it adds to a story you were already interested in, often with commentary about the artifice of story and the demands of narrative logic. When it’s done badly, it’s any of those Pearls Before Swine strips that are seven panels filled wall-to-wall with text for a pun, followed by the characters insulting the cartoonist for writing that.

So a thing about Popeye is he’s always been kind of self-riffing. The definitive thing about the Fleischer Studios character is his mumbled, improvisational jokes about the story. This self-aware tradition faded, but never left the character. When Brutus asks “what is this?” and Spartan Popeye punches him, then says, “This horse is a gift, o Prince! … Never look a gift horse in the mouth!”, it’s not a strange moment. It’s completely in-character.

Does it add anything for Swee’pea to comment that “history was never like this”? I’m not sure. The Trojan Horse story does well at being absurd. But I try to remember what I thought as a kid, among the intended audience for this. Did I register that it was absurd for Trojan Brutus to be huddling up in a Generic Medieval Castle complete with moat and drawbridge? I think I registered it was weird there was a sawfish in the moat. Shouldn’t that be alligators or at least sharks? But a castle right out of my Fisher-Price Play Family Castle #993 set? I don’t remember that registering. Swee’Pea’s line may be more than just the writer worrying there’s a space for a joke here.

Popeye riding through the sea on the back of a large shiny grey dolphin; both have smug grins on their face.
Additionally, I am delighted that Popeye got a pool toy from the Tuesday Morning store to swim him to Troy!

Given that we have a frame, though, it saw good use. Each of the cuts back to Popeye and Swee’Pea comes at a reasonable moment, and gets a decent joke. The main storyline goes along at a good pace. I like Popeye’s Trojan Horse being built with several modes including “buck”. All I wonder is why Spartan Popeye wanted his horse to look like Gumpy’s pal Pokey?

Statistics May: How the past month treated my humor blog


So how do my readership figures for May look? And how do they look compared to past months? And the short answer is that it’s down from April, because nobody cares about Easter egg dye colors anymore. But it’s still a comfortably large number. Not quite the figures I saw at the end of Apartment 3-G, but surprisingly close.

Specifically, there were 4,292 page views here in May 2020, spread across 2,505 unique visitors. That’s above the twelve-month running averages for these figures. The average was 3,769.6 page views from 2,179.8 unique visitors. The twelve-month running averages are increasing month-to-month too, but I’m not going to start tracking that because that’s getting daft.

Bar chart of two years, four months, in total views and unique visitors. The trend is generally upward, though falling back after a spike above 5,000 visitors in April.
By the way the default chart shows two years and five months’ worth of figures. I write this because every month I swear I’m going to remember just how much it shows, and then I forget, and I look at all the month tabs and I get lost and I guess it’s about two and a half years. Which it is, although why 29 months instead of 30 is another of those mysteries.

The disappointing figure in all this was the number of likes, which have been trending down forever now. There were 67 things liked in all of May, way below the running average of 109.5. More important than that, though, was that 39 comments came in over the month, well above the 19.8 average. That’s also three months in a row with more than thirty comments, which makes me feel so much better, really.

The per-post averages are all rather similar. There were on average 138.5 views per posting in May; the twelve-month average is 123.7. There were 80.8 unique visitors per posting in May; the average is 71.6. There were 2.2 likes per posting in May; the average was 3.6. There were 1.3 comments per posting; the average was 0.6.

There were 556 distinct postings that got at least one page view in May, up from April’s 514. 359 of them got more than one page view, up from 323. Only 72 pages got more than ten views, slightly down from April’s 76.

The most popular comic strips were a recurring mystery, and then a bunch of comic strip stuff:

I continue to have no idea why that months-in-reverse-alphabetical-order is popular, or why it’s staying popular. I feel like it must have got put on a list incorrectly. Or there’s just that many bots who got something wrong.

All those posts are old ones, though. The most popular thing posted in May was a comic strip recap, What’s Going On In The Phantom (Weekdays)? Why is the Phantom punching terrorists? February – May 2020. My most popular May piece that was intended to be funny was Remembering the home computers of the 1980s, one of my long-form essays that’s still a mushy nostalgic haze.


There were 77 countries, or things like countries, that sent me any readers in May. There’d been 78 in April and 73 in March, so that’s all normal enough. There were 20 single-view countries, just like in March, and basically like in April, when there were 19. Here’s the roster of what countries they were, and how many views each got:

Mercator-style map of the world with the United States in deepest red. Most of the Americas, western Europe, South Asia and the Asian Pacific nations are in a uniform, less intense pink. Almost no African countries are pink.
I do kind of wish WordPress would use a different map projection, because every single month I give this the alt-text ‘Mercator-style map of the world’ and every single month I have to look up whether it’s ‘Mercator’ or ‘Mercatur’. And I’m the map freak here. Me! Anyway if they could do an equirectangular or maybe a Gall or Lambert I’d save myself that little bit of monthly embarrassment.

Country Readers
United States 3,171
India 177
United Kingdom 135
Canada 128
Australia 65
Germany 59
Sweden 58
Brazil 46
Italy 35
South Korea 33
Philippines 28
Finland 24
France 20
Spain 19
Colombia 14
El Salvador 13
Ireland 13
Russia 13
Mexico 12
Portugal 12
Norway 11
Argentina 9
Indonesia 9
Malaysia 9
Vietnam 9
Kenya 8
Netherlands 8
New Zealand 8
South Africa 8
Serbia 7
Singapore 7
Taiwan 7
China 6
Denmark 6
Jamaica 6
Japan 6
Poland 6
Turkey 6
Hong Kong SAR China 5
Pakistan 5
United Arab Emirates 5
Belgium 4
Chile 4
Czech Republic 4
Peru 4
Croatia 3
European Union 3
Iceland 3
Israel 3
Romania 3
Venezuela 3
Barbados 2
Bolivia 2
Costa Rica 2
Ecuador 2
Morocco 2
Zambia 2
Bahamas 1
Bangladesh 1 (**)
Belarus 1
Bhutan 1
Egypt 1 (**)
Greece 1
Guam 1
Guatemala 1 (*)
Lebanon 1 (***)
Mauritius 1
Panama 1
Puerto Rico 1
Saudi Arabia 1 (*)
Slovakia 1
St. Lucia 1
Switzerland 1
Trinidad & Tobago 1
Tunisia 1
Uruguay 1 (*)
Zimbabwe 1

Guatemala, Saudi Arabia, and Uruguay were single-view countries last month too. Bangladesh and Egypt have been single-view countries three months in a row. Lebanon is on its fourth month so.


Through the start of June, I had published a total 2,677 posts. They’ve drawn 171,428 views from a recorded 96,260 visitors. And I’m hoping some of them will stick around for my writing. Each Thursday, Eastern Time, I post a long-form humor essay. Each Saturday, similarly, I post something for Statistics Saturday, my Dad’s favorite feature here. And then, for Tuesdays lately, I watch What’s Going On In the story comics. My plan for the coming month, subject to breaking news, is to cover these strips:

WordPress estimates that I published 15,458 words here in May, in 31 posts averaging just over 515 and a quarter words each. For the year to date I’ve published 83,346 words, over 150 posts, for an average 556 words per posting. This is running a bit under the pace for 2019, which I am fine with.

I’m always glad to have more regular readers. If you’re on WordPress you can become a regular reader by clicking the “Follow Another Blog, Meanwhile” button on this page. Or you can add the RSS feed for articles to whatever reader you use. If you don’t have an RSS reader, good news: you can get a free account at Dreamwidth or Livejournal, and use their Friends page to look at any RSS feed you like. I also announce posts by automated service to my Twitter account of @Nebusj. But while I’d sort of like to be active there again, Twitter only sometimes lets Safari read it. I don’t know what its issue is, and I don’t have the energy to work it out. Sorry.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There remain great mysteries in the making of these cartoons.

Statistics April: How That Month Treated My Humor Blog


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

    Mercator-style map of the world with the United States in darkest pink. Most of the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Australia and New Zealand are in a roughly uniform pink. A random smattering of African nations are similarly pink.
    Hi, reader in Burkina Faso.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    60s Popeye: Voo-Doo To You Too, and what it means to me


    This cartoon lets me reveal something that every one of you, deep down, already knew about me. As a young kid watching Popeye on the local stations I wondered: how many cartoons are there? How many do they have? Do they run the cartoons in a set order, or is it random? There was no way to know, of course, except to keep logs. So I would think it should be easy to write down titles of cartoons as they came up.

    This would be foiled, over and over, by the ability of an under-ten-year-old to keep a sheet of paper and a pencil near the TV day after day. Also to pay attention when he heard the sailor’s hornpipe starting up, so I could have a title to write. (It did not occur to me that I could leave a blank line for a missed title.) But this cartoon, Voo-Doo To You Too, with its punchy, rhyming, easy-to-remember title? It was always the scolding reminder that I should re-start my list.

    Happily, I am today an adult. I can consult lists of cartoons on the Internet. And we don’t have to worry about Popeye running on the local stations on TV. Or about there being local TV stations either. I can content myself to writing 800 words about every one of them.

    This cartoon was by Famous Studios, the ones that until recently had been the only ones drawing Popeye. Direction and story are both by Seymour Kneitel. I think he was at least nominally the director for everything Famous Studios ever did with Popeye.

    The cartoon depends on a thing it calls voodoo magic. It’s portrayed with the research into Haitian and Creole spirituality that you expect from a hastily-made kids cartoon of 1960. If you don’t need that, you’re right. I have a punch line to my little story that appears right after the embedded video, and after that we can catch up again next week. For those of us willing to watch what an East Coast cartoon studio called “Voodoo” in 1960, let’s watch.

    So the punch line is that however well I remembered the title, I mis-remembered which cartoon it attached to.


    One good thing about the King Features Popeye cartoons is that they opened up the cast. The Famous Studios cartoons shrank the Thimble Theatre universe until it was Popeye, Bluto, Olive Oyl, sometimes Wimpy. I think even Swee’Pea vanished, his roles taken up by the two of Popeye’s Nephews who survived. King Features’s run was not so stingy. This cartoon stars the Sea Hag, who never appeared before the 60s run somehow. And Eugene the Jeep, who had vanished after Popeye cartoons stopped being black-and-white somehow. There’s smaller characters too. The Sea Hag’s pet vulture — Bernard, though he’s not named here — appears in a good supporting role. There’s even, in the first scene, a look at Rough House’s Cafe (Special To-Day: Spinach Burgers). Rough House never appeared before the 60s cartoons and I’m not sure that he ever did again, except in the Robert Altman movie.

    We also get the Sea Hag as an actual character. Like, a real and imposing menace. Coming ashore, she picks a nice-looking house, and decides to enslave the owner to serve her. The owner is Olive Oyl. What are the odds? Popeye overhears this and does not leap right in to punch something. He remembers that he’s vulnerable to magic, and unwilling to hit a woman even if she is the Sea Hag. Instead he jumps into the bedroom and tries to persuade Olive Oyl out of her magical enslavement. She knows he’s in there anyway. Maybe the Sea Hag knows how these cartoons go.

    The Sea Hag, holding up a wax magic doll imitation of Popeye and a long straight hair with which she intends to bind it.
    So for those wondering why the Sea Hag never tried this trick again: magic doll wax is so expensive that there’s no sense getting it until Michaels sends you one of those coupons for at least 60% off your entire basket, special items included, and they don’t send those coupons out often.

    Sea Hag shapes a candle into a voodoo doll of Popeye, and then binds it with an enchanted hair: Popeye’s arms are stuck to his side and there’s no moving them. It’s a great additional menace, taking away Popeye’s secondary superpower. (His primary superpower is standing up for what’s right, even if it hurts him.) And I do remember, as a kid, being frightened of a magic spell that would lock my arms to my sides. It’s rare to get actual nightmare material out of these cartoons.

    She tosses the candle in a chest, and locks it, and sends Bernard to lose it in the wilds. Popeye searches for help with the chest, and who turns out to be in the cartoon but Eugene the Jeep? Luckily, Eugene’s magical powers include his knowing what the plot is. So Popeye doesn’t have to recap the situation right after he’s explained it to the audience. We get a slice of Popeye-following-Eugene, including a joke where Eugene walks through a tree that Popeye can’t. That’s a joke done in the Fleischer studios’ Popeye the Sailor With The Jeep, though since it had been 22 years we can forgive the reuse. Eugene can find the chest easily enough, and open it, but he’s helpless to untie the hair.

    So, finally — and later than I would have tried — we turn to spinach. It does nothing to get Popeye’s arms free, and that’s where the cartoon really gets frightening. More powerful than spinach-charged Popeye? There’s genies who aren’t more powerful than spinach-charged Popeyes. Ah, but Eugene knows the rules of sympathetic magic: he feeds the doll some spinach, and doll-Popeye breaks his bonds. This leaves Popeye free. This also leaves under-ten-year-old me wondering, well, aren’t his arms stuck up in that triumphant pose now? Why not? And, like, is there anything they can do with the doll so it can’t be used against him again? If they melt it what happens to Popeye? So you can see that even as a kid, I was doomed to be like this.

    Popeye standing next to the bound wax doll. Eugene is walking into Popeye's leg, magically disappearing into him.
    Wh — what the — wh — Eugene, you’re making this magic-bondage/mind-controlled-zombie cartoon all weird.

    Popeye runs back to Olive Oyl’s house, and gets a good fight in with Bernard, since he can’t hit the Sea Hag. This smashes up the house, but does send Sea Hag and Bernard flying away. Olive Oyl, freed from her trance, remembers none of this, but demands Popeye clean up the mess. Popeye protests he didn’t make the mess, which is wrong. He’s not to blame for the mess, but he totally did make it. Popeye closes on a rhyming couplet, not something he always does this series, complaining about how he finds women confusing. It’s a weak moment; what about any woman’s behavior here has been confusing, and why?

    Never mind the weakness. This is one of my favorite King Features cartoons, even if I somehow let the title detach from it. It’s a good solid storyline. It’s got a rare menace for Popeye cartoons at all, never mind for cartoons of this era. It’s even pretty well animated, considering Famous Studios’ limitations. Anybody’s walk cycle is boring, but it’s pretty smooth and on-model. And we get a lot of scenes from interesting perspectives. The Sea Hag’s shown at three-quarters profile to cast her zombie spell on Olive Oyl, at about 6:47, and again at about 7:29 readying to fix that swab Popeye, and again explaining the rules of the voodoo doll at about 7:59. One may suspect important elements of the animation are being reused in all three appearances, but that’s good budgeting. Popeye’s conversation with Eugene the Jeep, starting about 8:46, is done from above Popeye’s and Eugene’s shoulders. They’re both interesting perspectives. We get some of that again when Eugene can’t untie the magical hair, or feeds the wax doll its spinach.

    If more of the King Features cartoons were of this quality then the series would be fondly remembered.

    Why does Heart Of The City look weird now? Who’s drawing Heart Of The City?


    OK, it doesn’t look weird, yet. But for once I’m ahead of the search queries to my blog and I’m enjoying that.

    As per D D Degg’s article in The Daily Cartoonist, the comic strip Heart of the City has a new cartoonist. Christina Stewart takes over the strip starting the 27th of April. She’s the creator of a fantasy graphic novel, Archival Quality, which I haven’t read but do see good things about. Her art blog, on tumblr, also looks quite good. She doesn’t intend to draw the strip the way its originator, Mark Tatulli, has.

    Tatulli, meanwhile, intends to keep on drawing Lio, and to focus on his own graphic novels. But, also, if you wondered why this week Heart has been looking over photo albums, we have an explanation.

    60s Popeye: how to be a Matinee Idol


    Suggested soundtrack: Sparks, Academy Award Performance.

    This week’s King Features Popeye cartoon is, it happens, directed by Gene Deitch, and produced by William L Snyder. There’s no story credit to it. Matinée Idol Popeye, another in the microgenre of cartoons where Popeye makes a movie.

    Though I’ve called it a microgenre, there really aren’t many cartoons where Popeye is making a movie. At least one of the times he is, it’s a clip cartoon recycling one of the two-reelers. The benefit of doing a let’s-make-a-movie cartoon is you can put Popeye in any scenario without needing any setup or resolution. But, then, when have we ever needed a reason that Popeye should be in Ancient Egypt? It’s old-style cartoon characters. They could just do that.

    The setup is Popeye and Olive Oyl making some Anthony-and-Cleopatra film. Brutus is director, sensibly enough. I’d wondered if this was a riff on the infamous Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton Cleopatra, and it seems … unclear. That movie, released 1963, had started production in 1958. So a 1960 cartoon could riff on it. But apart from its five-million-dollar budget what would stand out, in 1960, about the project? Probably it’s more generically a riff on that era of epic-style filmmaking.

    We get early on some nice visual jokes. Popeye turning into a ham when Brutus accuses him of being one, that sort of thing. It reflects one of the good lessons of limited animation: if you can’t show complicated action, at least show a bunch of funny pictures. Brutus tries to woo Olive Oyl, taking out of his pocket a heap of flowers bigger than he is; that’s better than anything which would make physical sense.

    The premise of the cartoon becomes that Brutus wants Popeye out of the way, but can’t fire him, so he has to get Popeye to quit or die. Bit gruesome, but, makes sense. We get the gag of Popeye’s head caught in a lion’s mouth, and him puffing his pipe to make the lion release him. That’s been done before; in the Famous Studios Tops in The Big Top Bluto even puts a slab of meat on Popeye’s head to ensure the lion tries to eat him. Here it’s just luck for Brutus that the plan starts to work. It’s a missed chance to make Brutus more villainous, but on the other hand, do we want Brutus to be that mean?

    Popeye's head is caught in the mouth of a slightly annoyed lion. Popeye's arms are raised as he figures to maybe do something about this.
    Popeye: “Why does this keep happening to me? … All right, it’s only happened maybe three times? But when you consider how often this happens to anyone else that’s still a lot.”

    Brutus chuckles “that’ll be good for the end title” when a vulture rests on Popeye’s head. It is, and it’s a missed resolution that the end of the short doesn’t have the vulture on Brutus’s head. We get some nice and really exciting music as the elephant comes in. It raises questions about what the filming schedule for this film was supposed to look like. I wouldn’t want to try to shoot a lion and an elephant and a crocodile scene on the same day. Obviously Brutus is throwing stuff together in the opes of getting Popeye to quit, but he does seem to be filming all this. Without giving Popeye direction of what he should accomplish in the scene, though. If this were an actual film it would be a heck of an avant-garde piece. It’d have some weird verite-like style anyway. Brutus is optimistic to think this will win an Academy Award, but it will have a good shot at being a cult classic.

    Brutus finally turns to just grabbing Olive Oyl, because he has not learned how people work yet. Popeye does a slick bit of crushing his can open by dropping a beam of wood on it; that gets us to the fight climax. More time’s spent on Popeye making a sphinx of himself than the actual fight. I’m curious whether they were trying to limit the violence or whether Deitch (or storywriter) thought that punching was the least interesting thing Popeye did. Before we know it, Brutus is harnessed and hauling Popeye’s chariot. This seems like it should violate a Directors Guild rule, but we have reason to think the production is outside proper channels, what with how there’s no other crew.

    This isn’t a lushly animated cartoon and after the initial business with the ham it doesn’t get too fanciful either. It does well with what animation there is. And it avoids having too many scenes that look like police lineups. We get a lot of close pictures of characters’s faces, or from chest up. Not so many of them standing in a line viewed from afar. I regret that it doesn’t show off the experimental energies I was talking so much about yesterday. But sometimes a cartoon’s just executed successfully after all.

    Some Thoughts About Gene Deitch


    Gene Deitch has died. Not, his family reports, from Covid-19. There are a number of good obituaries about the animator, including at Cartoon Research, at Cartoon Brew and, for a particularly detailed look at his career, Lambiek’s Comiclopedia. Many of these obituaries are written by people who met the man and knew him some. I am not among them.

    I knew Gene Deitch through his work, like many of my generation. And, I think like many of my generation, from knowing that every now and then there would be a really weird installment of a favorite cartoon. Tom and Jerry, most often. Popeye, some. Maybe something from the second-tier studios, like Terry Toons, which still got some syndication time when I was a kid. They would consistently look weird. I adopted that word because, as an undiscerning child who just loved cartoons, I didn’t grasp that they were also quite cheap.

    There is no way for me to say this without sounding like a hipster. But I always liked the peculiar weirdness of Gene Deitch cartoons. Especially the Tom and Jerry run, which stood out from the Hanna-Barbera cartoons before and the Chuck Jones cartoons made after. There is now a conventional wisdom that, sure, the average cartoon-viewer sees the Deitch Tom and Jerry cartoons as the worst but there were interesting visual and story experiments going on. I am happy people are agreeing and appreciating them more.

    Part of us wants to believe in cartoons as coming from somebody. They can’t. They’re an even more necessarily collaborative process than filmmaking ordinarily is. (There are animated cartoons made wholly, or substantially, by one person. There are happily more being made as computer tools are able to support animators. But, outside discussions of the origins of animation, they’re still a small influence in the art form.) This is what I like in the Deitch-made cartoons I’ve seen. Much like Chuck Jones he has this personality that comes through the filmmaking. It’s not usually as approachable as Chuck Jones’s work. It’s usually a bit weird. Deitch worked with UPA and was a true believer in its experiments in giving up photorealism for expressive exaggeration. Any studio he worked in he tried to make more experimental. It’s easy to love the results of successful experimentation. To get to success, though, you need to go through some weirdness.

    Some of this experimentation was forced on Deitch. His Prague studio, for example, was staffed by animators (Deitch included) who had seen no or very few Tom and Jerry cartoons to start with. The budget for each cartoon was whatever loose change Deitch found in the airplane seats flying to Czechoslovakia. But some of this experimentation was his desire to draw something different. It’s amazing that he was able to work so long and so faithfully to that goal.


    I’ve been reviewing Gene Deitch-produced cartoons as they come up here. But I have some older pieces maybe harder to find. If you don’t mind reviews built around YouTube links that have rotted, here’s some thoughts about Swee’Pea Soup, and then here’s some for the 60s Krazy Kat cartoon Housewarming, made under similar circumstances.

    Popeye and the Giant: body horror, weirdness, but no, not *that* Giant


    I complained that last week’s 60s Popeye was a competent cartoon. Every piece of it made sense, followed from the premise, and came out pretty bland. These are not faults for this week. It’s another Jack Kinney joint, this one with story by Noel Tucker and animation direction by Hugh Fraser. Noel Tucker is a name unrecorded by me, so far. Hugh Fraser we’ve seen having Popeye build a robot and being a Hawai’i tour guide. Both of those times I noted the animation was loose, or if you’re not feeling generous, sloppy. What does this imply for Popeye and the Giant? Let’s watch.

    The title gives me expectations: that it’ll be another Jack-and-the-Beanstalk take starring Popeye. They’ve done this before, during World War II and again later in the Famous Studios run. They also did it in the 60s run of cartoons. They’d do it again for the 70s run. But sometimes it’s possible that a Popeye cartoon might reuse a premise of another Popeye cartoon. I know, shocking. But, no; the cartoon decides to go in weird directions instead.

    And it keeps going weird. Weird to the point I am more curious than usual about its writing. It feels to me like Tucker had a couple ideas, found they were developing in curious ways, couldn’t fit them together, and went with what he had. The cartoon shifts direction several times over. The narrative doesn’t quite make sense. But it’s a good weird. It’s an unpredictable weird, at least.

    Follow the narrative. We start with Popeye carrying flowers, I assume to Olive Oyl. He’s not aware that he’s in footage recycled from another short. Wimpy appears, in a pocket universe, offering his usual pay-you-Tuesday-for-a-hamburger-today deal. Popeye ignores him and walks out of the cartoon. Jump to Brutus, who learns the carnival wants a giant. He guesses his plant-growth pills will work on Wimpy, so feeds him a pile of burgers so large Wimpy’s eyes poke out, the first of many body-horror moments. It has an effect: the camera waves around and loses focus, a rare moment of cinematography for these shorts.

    Gigantic Wimpy, with a large-but-not-proportional hat and tie, lecturing Brutus, whom he holds in one hand.
    I give them a pass on having Wimpy’s clothes gigantify along with him, and will allow Wimpy’s hat and tie not quite growing to fit as a way of demonstrating his bulk. But: we’re looking at Wimpy’s left hand here. How is that attached to his shoulder? So there’s one more moment of body horror for you.

    And it works, as Brutus declares, before we actually see anything happen. He jumps outside his house to laugh, a move that doesn’t look at all like they’re recycling footage from another short. Wimpy’s body bulges out and expands in a way that does look painful, an expressive bit for the animation limitations here. Brutus demands Wimpy sign a contract; Wimpy demands food, first.

    Here, I think, the premise got away from Tucker. Wimpy is a clever, gluttonous, and slothful character. Add to that physical power, though? That’s dangerous in a novel way. Unfortunately we fall back from that. Brutus agrees to feed Wimpy first, delivering a bunch of burgers on a conveyor belt, saying, “I can’t supply the demand”. It’s a curious line because it’s got the placement and cadence of a joke, but is a literal statement of fact. Was this a placeholder line, meant to be replaced with something funny?

    The carnival can’t use Wimpy, observing that he’s impossible to show or feed. Good observations. So Brutus turns to the Sea Hag, who’s set herself up as Shyster At Law. I’m sure this is a sly allusion to the Marx Brothers’ nearly-lost radio program, Flywheel, Shyster, and Flywheel. Good approach and it’s not a bad role for the Sea Hag either. The Sea Hag forgets her weird crush on Wimpy and declares this is a chance to mess with Popeye, who hasn’t been seen since the story actually started.

    Her plan: abandon Wimpy as a foundling child on Popeye’s doorstep. Here again I think the premise got out of Tucker’s control. Like, Brutus needed help to have the idea “make Popeye deal with this nonsense”? When Giant Wimpy’s first seen by Popeye, he’s sobbing like a baby. Why? A spell of the Sea Hag’s? That explains having the Sea Hag involved at all. But then Popeye has no doubt that he’s dealing with a giant Wimpy.

    Gigantic Wimpy laying on his back in a crib outside Popeye's house. A note is pinned to Wimpy's pants, which Popeye, leaning out the window in his bedclothes, is reading.
    I once again protest King Features animating my DeviantArt account without my permission.

    Told, by note, that the antidote is unknown, Popeye tries to find an antidote. He goes right to spinach — er, essence of spinach — showing that he’s aware of the rules of the universe he’s in. This makes Giant Wimpy bigger, animated by having the camera slide down a little. So instead he tries “essence of hamburger”, which looks to the untrained eye like a hamburger. Sure, we already saw him eat dozens of burgers that Brutus made, and again dozens more at the carnival. But this time? It’s a burger that shrinks him back to normal.

    Wimpy thanks Popeye, while Popeye can’t help mouthing along to Wimpy’s lines. And Wimpy’s hungry again, and that’s our laugh line to the finish.

    So, yeah, it’s all low-key bonkers. I mean this affectionately. Someone seeing only Brutus reading about this carnival offer would not guess it would have Popeye deal with a giant “baby” Wimpy. After watching the cartoon a couple times I guess I follow the threads, more or less, but it’s a weird path getting there. There’s two good premises — Wimpy as a demanding giant, and Popeye dealing with a giant baby — brought up and immediately forgotten. The story needed another draft or two to be a coherent whole, but I’m not sure that would be better. As it is, it’s all weird jagged edges.

    Most interesting about the animation is that Giant Wimpy is not Wimpy drawn larger. His proportions are all off. This is a good way of establishing that Wimpy is truly gigantic. It does mean they can’t use stock footage of Wimpy for all this time that he’s the center of attention. Having to do that is probably why they had to reuse footage from other shorts. It’s a worthwhile trade.

    This is a cartoon I’m going to have specific memories of next week.

    Statistics March: How March 2020 Treated My Humor Blog, At Least


    They say that in times of crisis, keeping up routines is a good thing. That’s why I’ve moved the What’s Going On In series from posting late Sunday to posting late Tuesday: I don’t know what I’m doing. Also this lets me handle the Sunday-only strips more gracefully. Still, I do want to look at what kinds of things get read around here, and how much, and this is my first really good chance for that. So here’s a quick review of what my readership was like, according to WordPress, which I keep going ahead and trusting even when I don’t like the results. This is known as integrity or being too lazy to do something else.

    Bar chart showing a little over two years' worth of monthly readership figures; after three depressed months the readership is back up again.
    Yeah so I was at home at 8 pm Eastern Time on the 31st of March so I could take this snapshot at exactly the moment to have April not appear. Frankly, I would rather have been out messing around playing pinball at the hipster bar two blocks over.

    So, three months of a slump seems to have passed. There were 3,963 page views in March, comfortably above even the twelve-month running average of 3,605.3 views per month. These came from a logged 2,385 unique visitors, which is also a fair bit high of the 2,083.3 running average. That’s all looking good from my perspective. The number of likes was flat, though, the same 75 as in February. This is a fair bit below the average of 131.5. This suggests a great fall-off in reader engagement. But then the number of comments rose to 30, its greatest number in over a year, and well above the twelve-month average of 16.1.

    Pro-rating things per post gives a similar story. There were 127.8 views per posting for March, above the average 118.3. There were 76.9 unique visitors per posting, up from 68.4 as an average. Only 2.4 likes per posting, below the twelve-month average of 4.3. But 1.0 comments per posting, way above the 0.5 average. April is already looking nicely chatty, too. Now that I’ve said that I can watch comments shrivel up and die, apart from people upset about Mark Trail.

    I am, as ever, not joking about Mark Trail. The most popular five essays last month were:

    My most popular long-form essay last month was In Which I Am Very Petty About This Covid-19 Business, the first of what’s turning out to be a series of me rambling about my minor neuroses. It implies that I’ve finally figured out my niche, and it’s complaining about myself.

    There really is no official word on what the deal is with James Allen and Mark Trail recently. I shared my best information, which is to say rumor and conjecture, and intend to post if I hear anything.

    What else do I intend to post? In the comic strip plot recap lineup, these things, over the coming month:

    These are subject to change in case of breaking news or something that demands my attention or whatever other chaos breaks out in the world.

    484 posts got at least one page view in March, well up from February’s 401. 302 of them got more than one view, up from 245. 75 of them got at least ten views, compared to 56 in February.

    Mercator-style map of the world; the United States is in darkest red. Most of the Americas, Europe, Russia, and Pacific and South Asia is in pink; little of Africa is.
    Someday I will get a reader in Greenland and I won’t know what to do with it. … Hi, Greenland! I’m sure you have someone where who could read me!

    73 countries sent me any viewers in March, right about February’s 71. 20 of them were single-view countries, close enough to February’s 18. Herees the full roster:

    Country Readers
    United States 3,030
    India 161
    Canada 121
    United Kingdom 90
    Philippines 68
    Germany 50
    Australia 38
    South Africa 35
    Brazil 34
    Sweden 24
    Spain 23
    Papua New Guinea 21
    France 17
    Thailand 15
    Finland 14
    Switzerland 14
    Italy 13
    Portugal 13
    New Zealand 11
    Argentina 10
    Netherlands 10
    Romania 10
    Denmark 9
    Ireland 9
    Norway 8
    Pakistan 8
    China 7
    European Union 6
    Singapore 5
    Taiwan 5
    Belgium 4
    El Salvador 4
    Japan 4
    Kenya 4
    Colombia 3
    Croatia 3
    Dominican Republic 3
    Hong Kong SAR China 3
    Indonesia 3
    Malaysia 3
    Poland 3
    Russia 3
    South Korea 3
    Ukraine 3
    American Samoa 2
    Austria 2
    Greece 2
    Honduras 2
    Jamaica 2
    Mexico 2
    Saudi Arabia 2
    Sri Lanka 2
    Zambia 2
    Bangladesh 1
    Belize 1
    Chile 1
    Ecuador 1
    Egypt 1
    Estonia 1
    Iceland 1
    Israel 1
    Jordan 1
    Kuwait 1 (*)
    Lebanon 1 (*)
    Nigeria 1
    Peru 1 (*)
    Puerto Rico 1
    Serbia 1
    Somalia 1
    Trinidad & Tobago 1 (**)
    Turkey 1
    United Arab Emirates 1 (*)
    Zimbabwe 1

    Kuwait, Lebanon, Peru, and the United Arab Emirates were single-view countries in February also. Trinidad & Tobago has been on a single-view streak for three months now.

    WordPress figures in March I posted 17,019 words. That’s 549 words per posting exactly, a rare decimal-free appearance for that figure. It’s my most verbose of 2020 so far, though. For the year to date I’ve posted 48,878 words, in 90 posts, for an average of 543.09 words per posting. The start of April saw me complete 2,616 posts altogether, drawing 161,530 views from 90,399 unique visitors.

    And you could be among them! If you’re reading this, you already are. Unless you’re reading by way of RSS reader, in which case I’ll never know unless you say something to me. But you can also follow by clicking the “Follow Another Blog, Meanwhile” button on this page. Or follow me on Twitter as @nebusj, if you’d like. Thank you, however it is you’re doing things.

    Dog Catcher Popeye, in which Popeye is not a Dog Catcher


    There’s familiar names in the credits for this week’s 60s Popeye cartoon. The story’s credited to Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer. Jack Mercer was the voice of Popeye, with a handful of interruptions, from 1935 through to the Robert Altman movie. He’d also written Popeye cartoons, and others, going back to 1942. The director’s Seymore Kneitel, who again had directed Popeye cartoons going back to Paramount’s taking over the Fleischer Studios. Basically, these are old pros. They could have done Dog Catcher Popeye in their sleep. Did they?

    There’s something a bit telling in the credit and title cards. They’re tightly organized, neatly lettered. Smoothly professional enough to be a little boring. This is an era where, yes, a lot of awful cartoons were being made under the Popeye brand identity. Often the most interesting thing about them is the title card, with some mid-century modern abstraction and the title painted in some way that’s maybe even hard to read. Not this; this is neatly stenciled letters. There’s no question what you’re seeing.

    And that’s the cartoon. This is a smoothly made production. There’s a clear storyline. A poor tormented dog catches Popeye’s attention; he rescues it. It wants to follow him; he tries to escape. Brutus the actual dog catcher notices the dog; Popeye saves the dog. At no point is there question what characters are doing, or trying to do, or why. All the action is clear and well-rendered. There’s even stuff, like the park entrance or the dog catcher’s truck, drawn in one-point perspective. It’s all well-crafted.

    Also boring. There’s not any personality in the cartoon. No weirdness. The only interesting shot is a couple moments seen from the dog’s point of view, where Popeye explains why he can’t adopt the dog. There’s a bit of novelty in the story from Brutus not really being out to get Popeye. Or even being in the wrong.

    It’s petty to complain about a cartoon being done with so much professional competence that I can’t even sneer at it. But I also know that I saw this cartoon about 480,000 times growing up, and I’ve watched it three times over the past week, and in two days I’m not going to remember even writing an essay about it. This weekend I also watched an episode of the Emergency +4 cartoon that existed for absolutely no decent reason. And that was fascinating for how it took a whole Mark Trail plot’s worth of dangers in the desert and made it all lifeless and dull. But its incompetence at establishing stakes for the characters? And the bizarreness of its choice to exist at all? Its bold choice to use the temporary music track for the opening and closing credits? I’m going to remember and think about that again.

    Popeye battles Woody Woodpecker for the love of the art world


    Today’s King Features Popeye cartoon is an interesting one. It’s one I like without having to apologize for its limitations. And there’s a mystery behind it.

    Take It Easel is a Gerald Ray-produced cartoon. There’s no story or writing credit. The Internet Movie Database credits Bob Bemiller as director and Milt Schaffer as writer, on what basis I don’t know. Well, director I know; it’s there on the title card. It’s got a nice roster of eight credited animators, though, promising that as with most of the Gerald Ray cartoons, there’ll at least be a bunch of good pictures to look at even if they don’t move much. So here’s 1960’s Take It Easel.

    This is a well-crafted Popeye cartoon. Popeye and Brutus are art students. There’s a contest in the art magazine, a thousand dollars for the best flower painting. Popeye and Brutus become rivals for the prize, and they set out to the desert. They find a lovely purple-petaled flower growing alone in the sand, and spend the rest of the short trying to paint the picture and undermine the other. Finally it all gets serious enough that Popeye has to eat his spinach. He smashes Brutus and the flower together in a canvas and presents that to the art world, which admires his bold work and lifelike nature.

    There is a lot of good stuff this cartoon. Not just in the storyline but in the jokes. Some of them are throwaway bits: the letter carrier whacking Popeye in the head twice with deliveries. Or Popeye leaping from the loft window right into his car, and Brutus leaping from the same window to … right where Popeye’s car was. Some of them are fourth-wall-breaking experiences, which was always a way to make the young me love your cartoon. But they seem to echo the artists-at-work theme of the cartoon. Brutus correcting his off-center painting by grabbing the thumb in it and sliding the thing over. Popeye’s painting of a flower wilting in the heat. Brutus painting a swimming pool. In setting up the climax, Brutus painting train tracks and the rope to tie Popeye. Popeye painting his can of spinach.

    Popeye studiously painting a desert flower, while Brutus draws a railroad track underneath him.
    Brutus knew the flower was going to get run over by the train too, right? He just didn’t care at that point?

    And there’s a lot of good back-and-forth dialogue, Brutus and Popeye sassing the other. Which allows for a deft bit of plotting. Brutus’s undoing is always letting Popeye get spinach. Why give Popeye a paintbrush, when experience indicates that any tool will let Popeye summon spinach from the misty void? Well, because he’s sassing Popeye back. It is a really well-crafted cartoon throughout. There’s even a bonus bit of Popeye signing his rhyming couplet, about people calling him Van Gouher when he paints a flower. It’s just another nice small bit of business.


    The cartoon is also a remake. In November 1956 the Walter Lantz studios released the Woody Woodpecker cartoon Arts and Flowers. The director was Paul J Smith, and the story’s credited to Homer Brightman and Frank J Goldberg. Smith directed roughly a hundred billion Woody Woodpecker theatrical cartoons. Brightman wrote about a billion of them. Goldberg is credited with this short alone. I don’t know whether this reflects him usually being credited under a variant name or whether this reflects “Frank J Goldberg” being a pseudonym summoned just for this one short. It stands out to me that Milt Schaffer was still getting story credits for Walt Disney shorts through 1956, then got a couple story credits for Woody Woodpecker, before going and joining Gerald Ray’s team.

    To me, this matters. If Frank J Goldberg was Milt Schaffer, then there’s no real harm done. It’s no crime to plagiarize yourself. If he wasn’t, though, then someone deserves a surely-posthumous-by-now scolding.

    I don’t know of an official YouTube channel for the Walter Lantz studios. I can share links which have Arts And Flowers, but there’s no reason to think they’re going to stay stable. So, let me know if the link rots and I’ll do my best to find a replacement. But Here’s one YouTube source for the cartoon, and here’s the cartoon from a web site I never heard of before looking this short up.

    There are important differences. The animation in the Woody Woodpecker cartoon is better. Walter Lantz’s studio was a second-tier theatrical place, but second-tier theatrical was still way ahead of even ex-Disney-animator television. Woody Woodpecker isn’t established as an artist or art student right away; he seems to get interested just by peeking at his neighbor’s mail. The art contest is more narrowly defined as being for a “desert flower”. And it promises only a big prize, rather than a thousand dollars, which turns out to be a picture of a bag of money. Artful Art — I never knew this name, but Wikipedia seems to have settled on it — and Woody Woodpecker sabotage each other right away, even before they’ve reached the desert.

    We get some of the same jokes, like Woody and Artful shoving their easels in front of the other. Here, it carries on until Artful falls off a cliff; on TV, Brutus is just baffled to find the flower no longer in front of him. I’m not sure which is the better joke. The Popeye version lets the cartoon move faster to the next beat.

    The Woody Woodpecker cartoon has a joke dropped from the remake, in which Artful gets distracted by a laughing hyena. The joke’s better off dropped. It’s funny enough, allowing that the idea of a crying hyena is of course a sufficient joke. It’s that the story is Woody versus Artful. Why throw in a distraction character? Put this in the short where Woody is trying to paint and nature conspires against him instead.

    The joke where Artful kicks Woody out of the scene, opens up his easel, and Woody’s in there is lost too. That’s a good joke but there’s no way to make that work with Brutus and Popeye. The joke of the desert daffodil shrinking into the ground and reappearing could have gone in the remake, though, and I’m curious why it didn’t. We get an undermining joke in which Brutus digs beneath Popeye and he sinks into the ground instead. Although come to it, we don’t actually see the moving flower is Woody’s doing, or how he does it. I’d just assumed, since, what else makes sense?

    Artful Art painting a flower while Woody Woodpecker draws train tracks underneath him.
    So who wore it better? I have to credit Woody for drawing train tracks that are much more realistically train tracks, even showcasing the complicated structure of the rails. But Brutus did think to draw enough track that the train could be coming from over the horizon, which is putting a lot of effort into killing your rival artist. Anyway, I think Woody Woodpecker comes out ahead, because he had more lines, which is the official ISO-approved measure of how good a drawing is.

    Most interesting, though, are two bits. In one, Woody paints an oasis. As is traditional for stuff cartoons paint on rocks, he can swim in it and Artful can’t. In the other, and most important difference, it’s Woody that paints the railroad tracks and railroad into existence. In the remake, these are tasks assigned to Brutus. To the villain. Woody Woodpecker was always a difficult protagonist. He’s supposed to be this zany agent of chaos. I think it’s telling that the stuff the audience is expected to root for in 1956 is so naturally slid over to the antagonist in 1960. I still like Woody Woodpecker, but appreciate more that he can only work if he’s harassing somebody who deserves it. Put him up against a well-meaning vague shape of protagonist dough, like Andy Panda, and Woody Woodpecker is awful.

    In the Woody Woodpecker cartoon, the ability to paint things like the train into reality is set up early. Woody paints a cactus that jabs Artful. Woody paints a woman holding a vase, who hits Artful with the vase. Woody paints a bulldog into existence to bite Artful’s tuckus. But is setting that up necessary? I didn’t have trouble believing that Brutus could paint a train into existence, and given that, Popeye painting spinach into the world is fine.

    So. Let me put forth the hypothesis that “Frank J Goldberg” was a one-off pseudonym used by Milt Schaffer. That Schaffer was working at Disney through 1956 suggests that maybe he had a foot in the door at Lantz, but didn’t want his name noticed before he had left Disney. This seems plausible enough. The Woody Woodpecker cartoon Niagara Fools came out the 22nd of October, 1956, with Schaffer’s name on it. This is before the release of Arts and Flowers, on the 19th of November, with I assume Schaffer’s name hidden. But that doesn’t say much about when production on the shorts got started or what whimsies of fate might have pushed Arts and Flowers to later in the year. It suggests that production of Niagara Fools started after Schaffer had left Disney, at least.

    Having done all this detective work, I’m just assuming there’s an article on Cartoon Brew or Mark Evanier’s page that describes all the various pseudonyms that Schaffer used and why he used them, and that I’m twelve years late to the party. That’s all right. That is closer than I normally ever am.