Yes, I’m also having a delightful time reading Buz Sawyer lately


Just wanted folks to be assured that yes, I’ve been following Comics Kingdom’s vintage Buz Sawyer storyline. The story so far: the Sawyers, driving cross-country, had a freak car accident with the Cobbs that sent their car down a thousand-foot ravine. Fortunately the Cobbs are wholly accepting of all blame, and eager to make it up to them, and have the money to buy them a replacement car, luggage, and what the heck, treat them to hotels and restaurants all the rest of the way to Los Angeles. And it’s been a madcap spree since then, Chuck Cobb spontaneously deciding to drive hundreds of miles out of the way, sometimes driving hundreds of miles back because the waitress at a restaurant thinks she recognizes his picture from the paper. Disappearing without warning. Coming back with buckets of cash hidden under his wife’s handbag, and his wife getting her hair dyed “always” changing it. And then, today in 1956, we got to this point.

Buz, reading the paper: 'Just listen to this, Christy! 'Early this morning the bank at Jackrabbit, Nevada, was robbed of $40,000.' Christy: 'Why, that's the town we spent last night in with the Cobbs.' Buz: 'Sporty gunman and red-headed woman made getaway in blue custom convertible.' Christy: 'Merciful heavens! The COBBS! Their car's a blue convertible ... and alll that money flying out of Bee's bag ... and having her red hair bleached ... oh, Buz, how horrible!' Buz, smugly: 'Easy, chum. Aren't you jumping to conclusions?'
Roy Crane’s Buz Sawyer for the 26th of July, 1956, and rerun the 18th of November, 2019. I mean, c’mon, we’re talking Jackrabbit, Nevada. The metropolis is just hopping with man-and-red-haired-woman couples driving blue custom convertibles. Also jackrabbits.

So yes, I am delighting both in how uproariously dense Buz is acting. Also waiting enthusiastically to see what goofball contrivance Roy Crane has in store to explain why Buz was, well, actually, right all along. I can’t rule out that he’s been doing all this under secret orders to find and keep contact with the Cobbs and the thing where the bear cub set off the accident was all a Part of the Mission. Or that it’s all a wacky coincidence of the kind you’d never believe. I can’t wait.

Notice From The Nostalgia Bureau


It’s looking like it’ll be in the 70s all weekend. It’ll creep up into the 80s on Monday, but then it’s going to drop into the 50s and stay there the rest of the week. So you might want to look at getting your poodle skirts out of the attic since there’ll be plenty of chance to wear them. And that’s your time forecast for the week ahead.

Quick Message To Some Part Of My Brain


I don’t know which part of you decided that I needed my day to be interrupted by a deep, documentary-narrator-class voice reciting “Grace Metalious” to me, and saying nothing more when I wait to hear where this is going. But, thanks. That’s made this day so very much more something or other than it would have otherwise been.

Things I Learned From 1950s Science Fiction


If I’ve learned anything from 1950s science fiction it was entirely my own doing. Back then science fiction was a literature of ideas, not this wishy-washy learning stuff. There’s no place in learning for ideas, and who wants to come out of a story having figured out something about people or situations or stuff like that? I don’t mean to sound defensive here, I just want to warn serious science fiction fans that I know this is all on me, not on the genre. By “serious science fiction fans” I mean “people who know Robert Heinlein’s middle name and will work it in at least once out of every four times they try to complete a sentence”.

Anyway, I like the science fiction of the 1950s for its many charms, such as that bunches of it got turned into radio shows you can listen to without the inconvenience of reading.

The most important is about plotting. If I’m ever stuck for getting a story started, now I know what to do. Start out with a stuffy scientist type. Then introduce the kind of character that gets called a tough. He should sound kind of like what you get from listening to a radio show adaptation of a Damon Runyon story. The tough can then talk slang in front of the professor. The professor will put that as talking “slang” in front of him. And the scenes just write themselves. The professor type can view the “slang” in the same way he might examine an exotic insect that turned up in his lunch. His lunch comprises 375 grams of iceberg lettuce pressed flat and cut into regular hexagons, and a dessert of melting ice served with vitamin pills, surely sufficient for all nutritional demands. As a bonus the story can end when the tough or the scientist double-crosses the other and then finds out he’s helpless, which is a good punchy conclusion.

Then there’s characters. Interstellar spaceship crews on voyages of discovery are a neat bunch, since they’re all grumbling and surly and none of them want to know a thing about where they’re going. Get one out in front of a wonder of the universe and they’ll only look up if it’s got that hook you use to pry open a beer. They’ll do their best exploratory work around a hotel room’s bathroom sink.

Computers make for good characters. They’re surly genies who don’t bother talking down to you because that might break their uniform line reads. I like to think in text this means they write in all-caps. Maybe the newer, more human, ones just capitalize the start of every word. (At the risk of peeking ahead: in the 60s they become relentlessly chipper, helpful genies. In the 70s they become mopey and introspective genies, while in the 80s they split between being comic pals and Seven of Nine.)

The tough and the scientist are good to have around, of course. A woman can be a nice character in 50s science fiction, although if she already knows things that’s because she’s waiting for a man to be submissive to. I guess she might get through the whole story knowing stuff as long as there’s the promise she’s going to find one soon. It’s great to have an advertising executive and a tycoon around, because they can yell into telephones and demand that money be put into stuff without having to think about where it comes from or why. Advertising executives are really good to have because they’ll never ever wonder why they’re taking the “alien invasion of Earth” contract.

Then there’s some things about scenarios. For example, if you’ve got a time machine cluttering up your story you might be worried about the contingencies of the universe and whether your grandfather has enough existence insurance. Turns out there’s no time-travel method known that can alter the course of history. This is because of a rule put in place by the people who’re on top of history and don’t see any reason that needs to change.

Wherever a character is and whatever he’s doing, if he needs a weapon, he just needs to reach into any drawer anywhere to pull out a loaded revolver. I don’t know who’s putting them there. The evidence suggests the Space Gideons have gone somewhat awry.

Every rocket, including the little bitty one used to ferry people from Jersey City to the Port Authority in Manhattan, has enough fuel to break the speed of light and go rocketing past the universe if someone just accidentally leaves their foot on the accelerator pedal.

If you’re part of a colonial force there might be natives on the planet and the characters are expected to be total jerkfaces to them. That’s all right. The natives have ways of turning the characters into space cows, so it all balances out.

It turns out there’s no problem a man can have — poor job prospects caused by the aliens’ invasion ad campaign, an annoying mother-in-law, getting stuck on an interplanetary spaceship in a different century — that can’t be solved by the man standing up to his wife. If he doesn’t have a wife he should go looking for the nearest woman who knows stuff. She’ll be about ready to be stood up to.

People say “robot” any way except correctly.

I’m sure I learned other things, but I forgot to jot down just what.

Imported Tea. Also, Comics.


It’s easy to forget that comic strips that’ve been around since the Battle of Manzikert, puttering on without anyone really liking them, earned their spot by being funny in the ancient past. That’s why I’m glad that Comics Kingdom, particularly, has a rich page of vintage strips so that I can see that Mort Walker and Dik Browne’s Hi and Lois really was … well, hilarious is a bit strong, but at least it was reliably funny in that Mid-50s Sitcom Moderne fashion, back in the 1950s. And the vintage strips allow for the rediscovery of aspects that the strip has dropped, like the number of boardroom jokes at the company where Hi works, or the fear of the god-like computer making decisions for the company. Some recurring gags got dropped because you just don’t do jokes like that anymore, and I’m thinking here of the Chinese Laundry. Chinese Laundry gags were discontinued sometime about 1970, when Racist Joke Command discovered there were a number of people from non-white countries who drive taxis and ordered a switch to joking about that instead.

And then there’s something like this one rerun last Thursday (originally run the 12th of July, 1957), which delights me in many ways. There’s the faint 50s Whitebread Xenophobia, particularly, at the idea of those scary exotic weird moon-man foods like imported tea or bagels or pizza or eggs Benedictus. (Is there anything weirder than running across a late-50s or early-60s punchline that depends on the idea that “eating pizza” is inherently a funny thing to do? Yes: it’s people freaking out at the “long-haired” Beatles of 1964, when they had individual hair follicles reaching out as much as three-quarters of an inch from their scalps.) I should be sympathetic: the 1950s in America were a time when suitable nutrition was believed to be pasty white things boiled into uniform shapeless mush, as seen on the plates of comic strip characters ever since. But she’s scared of tea.

And then there’s also the idea of being dependent on the recipe for a tea. I concede it’s possible for there to be tea that requires special preparation. But I also insist that if you go with “put it in boiling water; after a couple minutes, remove, if that’s what you like. Then put in sugar and milk if you like that” you’re going to be able to make a fairly palatable tea regardless of how finely imported it is. It’s maybe not as safe as making macaroni and cheese from a box, but, it’s still not something risky like making powdered oatmeal.

I guess what I’m saying is, if there is a Peak Hi And Lois this might well be it.

Lois buys some 'imported tea' despite her fear that 'those foreign things require special recipes' sometimes.
Mort Walker and Dik Browne’s Hi and Lois for the 12th of July, 1957. Possibly the most Hi and Lois-iest Hi and Lois to be found.

Meanwhile, while I was busy last week, my mathematics blog had two comic strip roundup post: the First Of The Year Edition, first, and then the second one, in which I give my best guess about what Berkeley Breathed thought was Jon Bon Jovi’s shorts size in 1989. If you missed the comics roundup, but read Bloom County obsessively back when everybody did, then you already know which strips I’m talking about in there. Also, I fiddled with the WordPress theme over there, from one I was just a little bit dissatisfied with to a new one that I’m dissatisfied with in different ways, which is always exciting.