In Which I Am Discovered And Made Kind Of Famous-Ish


And so then this happened.

My readership hovers somewhere around 80 or so most days, and then suddenly jumps up to about 900 two days in a row, thanks to the AV Club.
A few weeks back I posted a graph about how my readership kept growing the more I wrote about Apartment 3-G and the less that happened in it. It’s less a funny-ha-ha and more a funny-yeah-that’s-true. I will never see numbers like this again, ever.

What happened is The Onion AV Club respects its duty to the parts of popular culture that aren’t really popular or part of the culture anymore. So it discussed the end of Apartment 3-G. Under the “Great Job, Internet” column they published an essay aptly titled “Comics bloggers say goodbye to Apartment 3-G”. And I got mentioned in it twice. As a result there’s been a rush of people reading my description of “disjointed and unfollowable” plots. As I write this the day (the 24th of November) isn’t quite over. But it seems plausible I might see a thousand page views for the day alone. That’s on top of 873 for the day before. Goodness knows what the next day will bring. I suppose fewer. It’d be odd if people were even more interested in what The AV Club says about what some other blogger says about a comic strip they weren’t following another day later.

I didn’t just get a stray link, though. I even got to be the second block-quoted text. I’m between commentary from The Lovely Ladies Of Apartment 3-G commentary blog and The Comics Reporter‘s essay on the conclusion. I am delighted to be quoted, especially since it’s as “Another blog, meanwhile”. Perhaps my name is just a little too implausible for the AV Club’s readers. I know most people trying to read my name are stumped by what to make of it. The “Nebus” part, I mean. Most folks know what to make of “Joseph”. They make “Joe” of it.

'Another blog, meanwhile, used the death of Apartment 3-G to speculate on the future of newspaper comics in general. After all, when one comic strip is canceled, that provides an opportunity to other strips to hoping to take its spot in hundreds of newspapers.' And then it quotes my 'so who won?' essay about 'not the soap opera strips'.
The Onion AV Club sees me fit to mention, kind of, as another blog, meanwhile, discussing the end of Apartment 3-G.

I know that when someone on the Internet says “I am delighted by” something, it normally means “I am not delighted by” that thing. But when I say “I am delighted by”, I don’t mean anything so complicated as “I am not delighted by”. I mean, simply, “I am delighted by”. The baffling of people by my name is only part of it. What also has me truly delighted is that the AV Club’s article was written by Joe Blevins. I know that guy.

Well, kind of know him. He and I were both participants, back in the 90s, on the Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.tv.mst3k.misc. Usenet groups were kind of like web forums, except that you could read them using any software you like and they didn’t have ads crowding out your web browser and making them crash. And you could follow threads and sub-threads with ease. So you see why they couldn’t compete with the modern Internet experience. But he and I were both active members in the MiSTing community.

I’ve posted a couple MiSTings here. They’re the fan fiction version of Mystery Science Theater 3000, taking Usenet posts or bad fan fiction or whatnot and making fun of it. We’d post these to rec.arts.tv.mst3k.misc, which was for Mystery Science Theater 3000-related activity. This included fan fiction. I haven’t seen Blevins in ratmm, as we abbreviated a phrase that already included four abbreviations, in ages. But then who has?

So this makes things a tiny bit different. This isn’t just any old writer coming across my name and having no idea what to make of it. This is a guy with whom I collaborated in making fun of Marrissa Picard stories not knowing what to make of my name. The name “Marrissa Picard” may mean nothing to you. This is because your life has gone right in some important ways. Trust me on this. Point is, after experiences like that, I would expect my name to get recognized even after a decade.

So is Joe Blevins snubbing me? I can’t imagine why he would, unless he’s still upset about losing to me in the Web Site Number Nine MiSTing Awards for 2002, category Best Single Riff. Back then I won a devastating victory with a line in “Jaded Views”. That was a Sonic the Hedgehog fanfic about two characters who were kind of like the authors, only they were badgers and didn’t realize they made themselves out to be terrible people. I’ll own up, I don’t think my winning riff was the best one published that year, let alone the best one I’d written.

I’m not saying that “Just because they’re trapped in a desperate struggle for survival against a crushing worldwide war machine doesn’t mean they can’t maintain a very active theater community” isn’t a funny line. I just think that even in that same MiSTing, I did better with the credit “Based on a sneeze by Harlan Ellison”. I’m just passing on what the voters for MST3K fan fiction awards thought at the time. Other folks may have done beter, and Blevins may have even been one of them. While I was delighted to have a fanfic award long ago, it’s not as though I’ve spent four days a week gloating about beating him out about it. For goodness sake, there’s my award for writing that sketch in which Tom Servo gets all huffy and thoroughly debunks the theory that Casper the Friendly Ghost is the afterlife fate of Richie Rich. I’m much prouder of that.

I hope he’s not snubbing me. I’m certainly not snubbing him. I am delighted by all this. And I’m delighted to learn that a decade-plus after we last had contact he’s gone on to being a freelance writer for a leading pop culture web site. He’s always been a funny guy and I hope he’s doing well enough to support his writing habit.

Meanwhile, I am already reaping lasting benefits of an extra 1500 or so page views in two days. I’ve already had literally more than one new person subscribe by e-mail to new humor blog posts. And the readership boost hasn’t been as pronounced over on my mathematics blog, but it has been detectable. And isn’t “detectable” all that anyone on the Internet wants to be? Yes. Yes it is.

Advertisements

Nothing Has Happened In Apartment 3-G: So Who Wins?


With the final demise of Apartment 3-G in not just artistic but also actual production terms, the natural question is: who wins? That is, who gets the spot suddenly opened up in about three hundred newspapers?

Let me take this second paragraph to point out the most recent Reading The Comics post over on my mathematics blog. Thank you.

I should point out, I don’t know how many newspapers Apartment 3-G was running in at the end. I say “about three hundred” because whenever a comic strip’s circulation is mentioned it’s usually given as “about three hundred”. “About three hundred newspapers” is the comic strip circulation figure equivalent of “has a girlfriend in Canada”. It’s possible enough, and disproving it would take more work than anyone cares to invest.

Margo walks across an empty city, reflecting how she has been told everything, and would give 'anything' to see Eric again but that won't happen. 'My parents are getting married today! So smile, Margo, and move on.'
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 21st of November, 2015. The daily comic strip ends as it has spent most of the past year, with Margo wandering around the wide-open spaces of Manhattan, talking to nobody at all, while two of the 3-G ladies aren’t involved. Tommie, last we heard, wanted to sell out her share of the comic strip. Lu Ann we haven’t heard from in a while. I imagine Lu Ann has curled up in Margo’s sock drawer to sleep until she comes back. Also, I’m not positive, but I believe that in the second panel we see the reflection of Count Weirdly’s time machine from Slylock Fox.

Certainly not winning are the soap opera strips. As a genre they’re dead, probably squeezed the same way soap operas proper are dying (in the United States). Kids don’t grow up reading them, and adults have better things to do than follow the soaps. I don’t know when the last new syndicated soap opera strip to launch was. The closest might be Dan Thompson’s Rip Haywire, which is an action-adventure strip, but a humorous, self-spoofing one. That means the main story would be serviceable for an action-adventure strip, but every panel includes a joke about how stupid the Kardashians are or something like that, and when the villain reveals his plan he owns up that this is a kinda dumb thing to do. It’s a fun strip, one of Thompson’s nearly six dozen good daily strips that he’s producing, but it’s not a soap. And I’m not positive it appears in any newspapers.

I would expect Greg Evans and Karen Evans’s Luann and Tom Batiuk’s Funky Winkerbean to make the most gains from the spaces available, actually. Both strips have moved into the semi-serialized format that’s the closest the market will support to a soap-opera strip. In this format — I think of Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury as the defining example of it — there are a couple of story lines going on, and each week will advance one of the stories. But nearly each daily strip will contain a punch line, or an attempted punch line, so the strip doesn’t quite abandon the joke-a-day format.

(This isn’t to suggest that humor strips with story lines are a modern development. Walt Kelly’s Pogo mastered the form, and strips like E C Segar’s Thimble Theater/Popeye were certainly doing that. But they would have typically one story going at a time, and focus on that for as long as conditions warranted. I think the markers of the semi-serialized format are that there are multiple story lines going on for the various characters, that one of them will be picked up for any given Monday-to-Saturday sequence, that the following week is likely to follow a completely different thread, and that the full week will be devoted to a single thread. Funky Winkerbean, for example, has so committed to this that its snark community gets confused when the strip does six days of unconnected gag-a-day jokes without an overarching topic.)

Martin and Gabby recap how they've fired fake psychic Diane. Margo explains how she's not planning to marry Greg. But she'd love to see Eric, who has gone back to being dead, 'so that won't happen. So smile, Margo, and move on.'
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 22nd of November, 2015. I honestly didn’t think there was going to be a last Sunday installment. While the strip couldn’t arrange for a reunion of all the important human characters, it did bring in all the background knickknacks of the past two years in for one last appearance. No, I have no idea what the deal is in the last panel with the dog. I also don’t know why they have a crock-pot sitting on top of the dresser there either. And as traditional, the weekly recap consists of the stuff that happened the past week in the daily strips, only with different backgrounds.

You may protest that Luann and Funky Winkerbean are already successful, commercially if not artistically. (There is a lot to snark about the plotting in both comic strips.) And yes, they’re probably doing about as well as syndicated comic strips not drawn by Charles Schulz half a century ago can hope to do. But success and acclaim tend to attract success and acclaim. That newspaper editors have heard of them makes it easier to pick them up, in newspapers that haven’t picked them up already. This may be cosmically unjust, but it is an unjust trait every human field has.

If King Features Syndicate were really on the ball, they would be pushing some of their semi-serial comics, such as Norm Feuti’s Retail, heavily. But then if King Features Syndicate were on the ball, some editor would have stepped in on Apartment 3-G sometime the past two years. (There is a rumor that Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock had strips, or at least scripts, prepared through to January 2016. If true, this would explain why the last few weeks of the strip so ineptly wrapped up events. I would be fascinated to see these strips and learn if they were pulled because they somehow managed to be even worse, or if the syndicate just decided to cut its losses finally.)

I have seen reports of King Features placing Niklas Eriksson’s Carpe Diem into newspapers. That’s basically a panel strip, although done in the long rectangular dimensions of a three- or four-panel comic. It’d be a good choice for any newspaper that doesn’t already carry Mikael Wulff and Anders Morgenthaler’s WuMo, if there are any. King Features has also started recently Take It From The Tinkersons, by Bill Bettwy, which is unlike other family comics by being about the Tinkerson family instead of other family-comics families; and David Reddick’s Intelligent Life, which hops on the bandwagon of The Big Bang Theory with the speed and precision we expect from the comics page.

Universal Uclick should be able to place Dana Simpson’s Phoebe and her Unicorn into at least a few of those emptied spots. Simpson’s is the first comic Universal Uclick has launched into newspapers in several years, and it’s got a pleasant, charming whimsy. It’s also benefitted from well-meaning reviews that claim it’s a female version of Calvin and Hobbes. It’s no girl-based clone of that comic, though. It really only shares the superficial traits of being well-drawn and starring a child and an animal with Bill Watterson’s masterpiece. But the syndicate would be fools not to trade on good publicity, and I’d expect many readers to like what the strip actually is once they’ve read it.

But it’s also sadly possible that no comic strip will reap a bonanza of new spots from this. It might all go to the tire ads instead. November 2015 has been a harsh month for syndicated comic strips, and that in a bloodbath year. While everyone was watching Apartment 3-G collapse, Larry Wright’s impossibly gentle panel strip Kit ‘n’ Carlyle ran its last installment, on the 7th of November. And come the 29th, Julie Larson’s The Dinette Set panel is to retire. Kit ‘n’ Carlyle was about a kitten making a mess of its owner’s dates or food or drapes, rather like Patrick McDonnell’s Mutts without the despair and misanthropy. The Dinette Set was all bite, daily peeks at some horrible people who don’t get it. It doesn’t really have punch lines, more of an atmosphere of awkward unpleasantness. I can’t fault the many readers who never got what was supposed to be funny in this.

I don’t know that I ever saw Kit ‘n’ Carlyle in an actual newspaper, but then I don’t remember when I last saw Apartment 3-G on paper either. The Dinette Set I remember seeing at least a few times, so maybe it runs in four hundred newspapers. Also finished this year were Fred Wegner’s Grin and Bear It and Steve Sicula’s Home and Away. Jan Eliot’s Stone Soup last month switched from daily to Sunday-only publication, which is almost as good as stopping altogether. Daily and Sunday comics pages are only loosely connected. Terry LaBan and Patty LaBan’s family strip Edge City is ending with the close of 2015. Given all this, I wouldn’t blame a comics page editor for taking the chance to reorganize everything and drop all but the cheapest or most popular comics. Or the tire ads.

If there are still comics page editors, or newspapers, soon.

Nothing Is Happening In Apartment 3-G: A Statement That Will Be Only More True After Tomorrow


Apartment 3-G is, by all reports, to end on Saturday, the 21st of November. I am sincerely sad, and not just because people trying to find out what was with the plotless void of the summer have driven my readership to all-time highs. Well, they’re only all-time highs so far. I don’t like seeing long-running stuff end. I especially don’t like seeing them end on sad, pathetic notes.

And before I forget: Over my mathematics blog I look over recent comic strips and discuss their mathematical themes. I’ve also been giving a tour of sets that mathematicians use a lot as domains and ranges for functions. Please give them a try.

Back to business. What’s the final week of Apartment 3-G held, though? It seems to be trying to make an honest attempt at tying down as many of the loose plot threads as it can, finally. On Monday the narration box opened with the declaration “Four Weeks Later, At Their House … ” to show Margo’s parents talking. This time-jump to get away from the mess of unresolved stories is something the strip has used before.

In this 2013 sequence, a homemade bomb explodes in the Apartment 3-G room. Greg, Margo's boyfriend of the time, wakes, dresses 'hastily', and summons help.
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 23rd of January, 2013. The revealing thing about this nearly-three-year-old sequence was that bomb-setter Evan was deeply jealous of this “Eric” whom Margo kept talking about in her sleep. I honestly had not noticed at the time that Margo so remembered her dead fiancé as to be dreaming about him. This makes dead fianceé Eric’s return to haunting her without ever speaking to her in a non-delusional state somehow even worse.

A couple years back a crazed boyfriend of one of Margo planted a bomb that blew up in a charming Christmastime vignette. (Because of comic strip time, the event actually happened a month after Christmas, but that’s not doing too badly.) The comic strip took this promising chance to tell stories about where the characters lived and what they did, presumably separately, while the building was repaired, and the presumably interesting police and court action to follow, and piddled it down its leg. After some admittedly exciting rescue scenes and a few hospital scenes in the burn ward, we got a narrative box that it was “a few weeks later”. Everyone moved back in to an apartment that looked just like it had before.

Still, jumping ahead a couple weeks is an efficient way of getting story threads nailed down quickly. You can just drop anything you don’t have time to deal with. A character can fill in anything essential Mad Libs style. They mention they’re happy now that ___(DEAD FIANCEÉ ERIC)___ has gone back to ___(BEING DEAD IN HIMALAYALAND)___. That reads like a resolution and takes almost no time.

Margo's mother Gabby tells psychic Diane that she should've known she was going to be fired.
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 17th of November, 2015. Part of the farewell tour of beloved Apartment 3-G characters such as the lamp, affectionately known as Lampy; the various dressers with knickknacks; and what might be a wine decanter of some kind or possibly a lost genie bottle in the first panel? Anyway, if the laws of perspective held, that’d be a pretty tall dresser to put stuff on top of. It was in this strip that I realized that at some point within the past year, Gabby has in earnest delivered “I know you are but what am I?” as a retort.

Monday through Thursday was entirely Margo’s parents talking to one another, violently not making eye contact while taking a tour of the few random backdrops left to the artwork. Granted the things Margo had been thinking about, before her eight-month sojourn through the Manhattan wastelands, had all related to her parents’ wedding and her mother’s falling under the spell of a fake psychic. It’s still an odd choice to have the last week of the comic strip basically feature none of the main cast.

Gabby, Margo’s mother, broke up with her fake psychic because of the reasons, so that’s one storyline and the proximate cause of Margo’s breakdown resolved. And the Martin/Gabby wedding is apparently on, since they speak of “our” wedding on Wednesday. They speak of this prominently enough that only the reader who’s ever read any other piece of fiction, ever, would suspect this was setting up for a double Martin/Gabby and Margo/Greg-or-possibly-dead-Eric-who-died-of-death wedding to close out the comic strip’s run.

Gabby is so happy at how Margo looks that she could cry. Martin agrees they're lucky to have their daughter.
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 19th of November, 2015. Possibly our last view of that strange kind of pine-needley plant that gets dropped in wherever the white void of nothingness gets a little too much for the comic strip. Also I think Gabby and Martin are wearing the same outfit but in different colors. This makes it remarkable that the randomly applied flood-filling that’s done to colorize the daily comics managed to get the colors correct literally every panel this week.

Thursday takes place in a nearly featureless void, with a plant growing out of the date box. It would be appropriate for the start of a double wedding ceremony. Granted, Gabby and Martin aren’t dressed for a wedding, certainly not one they’d be part of. They’re more dressed to experience that vague awkwardness of maybe being a little overdressed for TGI Fridays without being actually, clearly, too dressed up for it.

So, of course, having teased the idea of a double wedding Friday dashes that. Margo makes her first appearance in a week and a half to say she isn’t marrying Greg, who she wasn’t planning to marry even before she spent 2015 wandering around a featureless void.

Gabby tells Margo how Greg adores him. Margo explains that she's not marrying him.
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 20th of November, 2015. I choose to believe that Gabby is watching Margo in the mirror, just in case Margo reveals herself to be a vampire. Meanwhile Margo reveals herself not to be interested in marrying Greg, because she’s saving herself for her dead fianceé Eric, or she’s hoping the strip will get rebooted as a CBS Digital Download next year. Also because she thinks someone was proposing she get married to Greg?

Obviously this’ll be the last Friday-night-Eastern-Time post recapping the nothing happening in Apartment 3-G. I do mean to have some closing thoughts, after the final strip posts. I don’t suppose there’s another story strip likely to capture the strange baffling charm of the last few years of Apartment 3-G.

Nothing Is Happening In Apartment 3-G: Do They Know They’re Ending Soon?


With Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G down to its last eight days the question each new strip invites is: did anyone tell them the strip was cancelled?

Before moving in to that, though, let me mention again that my mathematics blog reviewed comic strips with the appropriate theme. I get to nitpick a Sunday Luann comic strip, which is even more fun than you imagine.

Eric feels that his advanced age of forty and compromised health, what with his being dead. Tommie doesn't see why he shouldn't be with the woman he loves, and to whom he was engaged before he died. She does have a point, which is probably why she gives up on her stance so quickly.
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 10th of November, 2015. You might chuckle that Eric looks like a surprisingly old forty, considering he looks older than his fianceé Margo’s father does. But he has had legitimate hardship in his past, what with dying in an avalanche in the Himalayas and coming back from the dead, which will make anyone look worse. Also, he has the problem of occasionally shrinking six inches.

Last week I outlined the loose plot threads, as best I remembered them. Most are centered around Margo, who’s spent the past week suddenly waking from her coma, again and again. But some involve Tommie or other people in the comic strip. I thought it might be possible to get at least the most important, Margo-centric, threads resolved, if the comic strip used its time efficiently to wrap up storylines.

But it’s gone for a loop instead. Eric, Margo’s fiancé who died in the Himalayas and came back as a needlessly elliptical speaker, would seem to be acceptable as a final boyfriend for the strip. He sat up at Margo’s side through her unconsciousness, and so, why not settle with them rekindling their romance and declare that a happy, or at least any, ending?

Eric figures that Margo deserves to be happy, so he's leaving her to Greg.
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 11th of November, 2015. Eric and Tommie work out Margo’s future boyfriend plans, without going to the work of asking Margo what she might like. But then she hasn’t had a non-delusional conversation with Eric since he died five years ago, and hasn’t talked with Greg since she broke up with him two years ago, so why shouldn’t Eric and Tommie decide that Greg is the boyfriend of record for the comic strip to go out on? The first panel may make it sound like Tommie hasn’t got the idea of object permanence, but bear in mind, the environment has worked hard to teach her that nothing lasts panel to panel.

And instead he seems to be getting out of the fading, increasingly-poorly-drawn picture in favor of Greg. Greg was another of Margo’s former boyfriends. He’s an actor who in-universe is the new James Bond, and Margo was his publicist until she broke up with him and left publicity behind in favor of wedding planning. Why should he come back now, and why should Eric bow out of the picture, without ever having a conversation with a conscious Margo, in his favor? Other than that Eric’s a ghost, I mean. I don’t know, and this would be a good plot for a comic strip that had no particular limits on its time. For one that has sixteen panels left to wrap stuff up, plus a seven-panel Sunday? That’s just weird.

I must admit, this refusal to wrap up storylines is intriguing. I don’t see how they can get to a satisfying conclusion from here. I’m just worried they’re not going to get to one at all. Could it be coincidence that the story lurched out of its nothingness to some shambling resemblance of action just as the cancellation decision must have been made?

Eric says he's leaving to say goodbye to Margo. Meanwhile, the car that might be facing either direction has finally been revealed to be a truck! Or a tiny Smart-car class car in front of a building or an icebox.
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 13th of November, 2015. Eric has worked out that there’s no way for him to get out of this conversation with Tommie except by fooling her into thinking he’s going to talk to Margo. He shouldn’t despair so. If he just stands still long enough there’s a good chance he’ll be drawn in a different background, talking to somebody else. And possibly he’ll be drawn as some other person too.

I suppose we’ll know this time next week.

Nothing Is Happening In Apartment 3-G: And It Will Stop November 22nd


It appears that the final day for Apartment 3-G has been set, and it’s even sooner than I imagined. According to a comment posted to the ComicsKingdom site back on Tuesday:

Thanks for your message. Apartment 3-G will be ending on Sunday, November 22, 2015. We appreciate all of the support the strip has received from readers over the years, and especially in response to the news of its cancellation.
–The Comics Kingdom Team
Thanks,
support [at ] comicskingdom [dot ] com

So let me first get in my plug while the plug-getting is good. My mathematics blog has another installment of The Set Tour. This week’s essay will get you warmed up in the field of differential equations, too. And a few days ago I had another Reading the Comics installment, which doesn’t explain Apartment 3-G. Sorry.

Back to the cancellation, though. The lead time for syndicated comic strips is a bit of a mystery. Its length seems to vary with the strip, with how far ahead the artists are able to work, and which house Jupiter has entered. We can infer it for daily-joke and news-based comics when they react to current events. Sometime between three and eight weeks after the event, we see illustrations of the same jokes the late night talk shows did in their monologues the night of the breaking news. Soap opera strips barely need to acknowledge the real world, and generally don’t.

But it seems plausible that the sudden intervention of the Just End The Story Already Fairies coincided with the cancellation notice coming down. We did get, finally, to snap out of Margo Wandering Around Random Landscapes, get her diagnosed with a hyperthyroidism, and then have her suffer a “thyroid storm” that she recovered from in under a week. Story strips just don’t work that fast.

Greg pops in, unaware he was dropped from the strip. Margo wakes up, unaware that she's in a hospital bed, and asks for 'the man who loves me'.
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 1st of November, 2015. Greg, who isn’t just Eric wearing a different jacket, stops in despite having been dropped from the strip two years ago. Margo has taken the chance to come out of her “thyroid storm” coma, freshen up, get dressed, and decide that since the strip is ending she’ll just wrap it up with whichever of the estimated 75 boyfriends she’s had is nearest to her.

So the question is: is Shulock trying to wrap up all the lingering stories before the cancellation? Because I don’t see how that’s possible, even at the breakneck pace of one or two plot points a week. Margo has to get out of the hospital. There’s whatever her relationship with dead fiancée Eric is to deal with. Margo’s (biological) parents are getting married, and they wanted her to arrange the affair since her most recent job was wedding planner. Margo wanted to break up her (biological) mother’s relationship with a presumably-fake psychic adviser. If that weren’t enough Margo’s other ex-boyfriend Greg has just popped in. And in non-Margo news, Tommie declared she’s quitting her (nursing) job and selling out her share of the apartment. (The Apartment 3-G leads own the building they live in.) Also, presumably, Lu Ann is doing something or other, because she gets into trouble when she’s left unsupervised.

Greg, apparently superfluous extra guy in the comic, tells Margo how he missed her. Margo says she's okay after her year spent crazy and asks how 'that other fellow' is doing.
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 5th of November, 2015. Margo may not be out of the hospital yet. It’s hard to tell, with settings here. But she’s clearly feeling better. She’s been able to change outfits and cruelly ignore the person who’s talking to her. You know, since the guy she’s ignoring here is, in-universe, the new James Bond, that makes Margo’s references to ‘The Man Who Loves Me’ earlier in the week sound like a slightly corrupted James Bond reference and somehow a stranger vague put-down.

I don’t see how there could be time to deal with all this. For comparison, this past week — a busy one, by soap opera strip standards, with Eric, Greg, Tommie, Margo’s Parents, and Margo all doing things they hadn’t before — only actually resolved that Margo had been in a coma. I figure on the Tommie and the psychic plots being forgotten if they haven’t been already. Margo maybe embraces the job of planning her parents’ wedding after all and promises to better relate with the men rushing into her life now, and go out on some kind of ending.

The thing is, I can’t quite square that with Shulock bringing Greg back in. There was already a heavy load of dangling story. Why bring Greg in for the last three weeks of the comic strip? He’d already been broken up with Margo for vague reasons and I don’t think he’d appeared in the comic for two calendar years. And why have Margo confused about who she’s seeing and who she’s talking to? That would be a tolerable enough story if they had time for stories, but they don’t, so, what the heck is going on? And why do some people have difficulty seeing Eric — which would be a marker that he was a ghost or some hallucinatory presence — while other folks don’t?

To paraphrase Tom Servo, watch out, we’ve got a lot of plot threads flying around loose here. Someone could get hurt.

Greg doesn't understand who 'the other fellow' is. Margo says it's the 'beautiful man with the white hair', in case anyone meets that description.
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 6th of November, 2015. Perhaps Margo isn’t yet ready to leave the hospital room with its impressionistic paintings of Pogo’s Albert Alligator on the wall. But she’s clearly heading that way, unless the door turns out not to be in Saturday’s strip. Also happening this week: Margo’s parents agree that she would love to see dead fiancée Eric, who begs off breakfast because he has plans. Based on his movements this past year, his plans involve never letting her see him while she’s in a non-delusional state. Refusing to be seen when non-delusional is a common early warning sign that someone is in an unhealthy relationship.

So I can’t say it’s impossible that the comic strip is just going to stop, mid-story. It may all be left dangling around until Joe Staton and Mike Curtis send Dick Tracy over for a posthumous crossover. And yes, I’m aware that Mary Worth and The Phantom are doing a crossover this week, and that nothing’s happening in that. It’s just not so good a nothing as this.

Nothing Is Happening In Apartment 3-G: Where Did My Spring Go?


Sorry to stand in the way of Apartment 3-G but I do have a mathematics blog to support. I’ve had things to say about the integers — the counting numbers — some of which may surprise you. And though I don’t figure to have another installment until tomorrow, I do regularly review the comic strips that mention mathematical topics. It’s my chance to talk about several of my favorite subjects together.


So, I have heard nothing in the past week to suggest that Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G is not doomed. (Their official blog has nothing to say, of course.) I would not be surprised if James Allen of Mark Trail was pushing to get King Features Syndicate to change its mind. It seems a long shot, but the syndicate does obviously make some of its decisions sentimentally. They run Bill Griffith’s Zippy the Pinhead, after all.

I like Zippy, and I understand why it would make sense to have tried it out a generation ago. But have you ever seen it on an actual newspaper’s comics page, and if so, does it make sense existing even in the same medium as Over The Hedge or JumpStart? Yet it’s still running. That fact is logical only when you consider that reality has merged with Zippy the Pinhead. As the character said long ago, life is just a blur of Republicans and meat.

As a more obvious triumph of sentiment over economics, the syndicate still has Hy Eisman draw new installments of The Katzenjammer Kids. That can only make sense as a point of pride. I accept that the economics of Apartment 3-G are marginal. I would nevertheless like to try “good art, strong stories” a try. If nothing else, it would be happy if the strip were to close out on an improving year.

As for what the heck happened this week. I suspect the Just End The Story Already Fairies have gotten a deadline for when everything has to be wrapped up. And lacking other tools, they’ve used the climax of Alfred Bester’s The Demolished Man and are tearing apart the very idea of perception. The backgrounds have gotten to be so generic that it’s really not possible to say they’re insides or outsides or wrong or anything, and by Friday they weren’t even there.

The Thursday and Friday installments suggest we are actually literally going to have an “it was all a dream” resolution. After the exhausting nothingness of this year’s non-story I’m willing to accept this. I haven’t been so willing to accept an “it was all a dream” resolution since I was three-quarters of the way through Stephen Baxter’s god-awful novel Titan. (Spoiler: the book was bad enough that it wasn’t even all a dream.)

'Margo, it's me, Greg. I told you I'd be back. We'll get through this and when ...' And then Margo opens her eyes and demands, 'Where did he go, Tommie?' 'Where did who go, Margo?'
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 29th of October, 2015. Greg who is not Eric is, possibly, the witness to Margo waking out of her coma. If Greg exists. Margo seems remarkably well-dressed as she demands to know where “he” went of Tommie, portrayed in the second panel by Penny Marshall immediately after being hit in the face with a football.

Dead fiancée Eric has most recently appeared on Monday, ordered by Tommie to go get some sleep. Tuesday saw the arrival of Greg, a bundle of strange backstory for Margo. While Margo was working as a publicist, Greg was her boyfriend and an actor who landed the part of James Bond. We’re to take it to be that James Bond. Margo and Greg broke up for the reason of there was some reason, probably. On Thursday Margo suddenly opened her eyes and demanded to know where “he” had gone. Friday Margo demanded to know where “the man who loved me” had gone. I would have thought Shulock would know better by this point than to use any pronouns. On the other hand, names don’t help much either because there is literally no guessing who Bolle is going to draw into any scene. Is she talking with Tommie? Eric? Greg? Why not Dost Mohammad Khan, founder of the modern Afghan state, at this point?

Margo demands 'the man who loves me, where is he, Tommie?' of Greg, while Margo insists she means 'the other one'.
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 30th of October, 2015. Margo addresses Greg or possibly Eric as “Tommie”. Perhaps she is hallucinating, since she is wearing a stylish blazer while in her hospital bed. Unless the hospital bed was part of the hallucination and nothing happened the whole past year because it was all a dream.

The action this week reminds me of some single-season sitcom that blew my young mind. The last episode had the male lead going off to Other Land Somewhere, with a teary farewell scene at the airport, and he exits. Then the guy came back on camera and said he wasn’t going, because “it was cancelled”. “The flight?” “No, the series,” and the actors turn to the camera and wave bye. At that age I didn’t know you could do that, at least not outside shows that were built around talking to the audience, like Rocky and Bullwinkle. Maybe we are building up to the whole roster of jilted, abandoned, separated, and deceased boyfriends popping back in and saying their goodbyes in front of a blank wall. I hope it will be better than that.

Failing that, well, let’s just have the whole cast on stage to sing the Kinks’ “Where Did My Spring Go?” and call that an end.

Statistics Saturday: Why I’m Always Running Late. Plus: Apartment 3-G News?


Before the big funny picture of the day: it appears that Mark Trail cartoonist James Allen has confirmed that Apartment 3-G is cancelled. I can’t tell you exactly what he found, or how desperately final the cancellation is. Posts on his Facebook account require a Facebook account in turn to read, and I haven’t got one. But https://www.facebook.com/groups/228474710549025/permalink/990545454341943/ has the news, if I understand the commenting about this correctly. I am saddened, not merely because it’ll hurt my readership to have fewer people coming here trying to figure out what is going on in the strip.


Well. On to my report on measuring something or other for the week, then.

Why I’m Always Running Late, And Sad

The enormous block of time I figure it'll take. About 95 percent of it is time spent evading whatever it is I need to do. About two percent is the time it actually takes. The rest of the time is spent in shame and regret.
Not depicted: the time I spend thinking I could probably draw better-looking rectangles and shade them so they look a little more artistic if I really, really tried.

Nothing Is Happening In Apartment 3-G: Has Apartment 3-G Been Cancelled?


Before chatting about Apartment 3-G, may I remind you that I regularly talk about comic strips over on my mathematics blog? In this series I explain mathematically-themed comic strips, which lets me talk about monkeys a lot more than you might have guessed. I’ve also been doing a sequence of essays about the kinds of sets mathematicians see a lot. It’ll completely revolutionize your sense of small talk.


On to Aparment 3-G. Let me first get this out of the way. From Sunday’s recap strip:

'It's time we took a walk outside', says Martin, outside.
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 18th of October, 2015. Honestly. Look at that first panel.

I mean, honestly. Let’s look at that first panel again:

'Time we took a walk outside', says Martin, 'At the E.R.' that has a bush and a clear blue sky in it.
Seriously, this is the first panel of a Sunday Apartment 3-G. At some point it crosses the dividing line between sloppiness and sabotage.

RrrrrrrrrrrRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRrrrrrgh.

So. I trust you’re all here because you heard the rumor. According to Joe McQuaid’s Publisher’s Notes column at the Manchester (New Hampshire) Union-Leader — a newspaper that dropped the strip earlier this year, citing its catastrophic decline — Apartment 3-G is to be cancelled later this year.

It’s a plausible enough rumor. No story strip is in good shape, reader-wise, and few of them are in creatively good shape. Mike Staton and Joe Curtis’s Dick Tracy is producing good, energetic stories, but they’re all built on fandom-pandering and nostalgia. (The current storyline appears to be some kind of Mirror Universe/Earth-3 plot. This lets them pull out every character that got killed off in the 40s back on-screen, to be killed again.) James Allen’s produced several exciting and well-paced stories at Mark Trail, although they’re all based on nature trying to kill us. This makes for some rollicking adventures but seems off-message.

I can’t find confirmation, though. All the reporting on this seems to be based on McQuaid’s comment. And in the same column McQuaid talks about having lunch with “my friend, The Donald” and how they totally should have played nine holes of golf like he said even though The Donald mistakenly thought the weather would be too bad. So McQuaid deserves to be wrong, and punched.

Frank Bolle’s web site is obviously derelict. Its latest news announces Bolle’s upcoming appearance at San Diego Comic-Con for July 2004. Margaret Shulock’s blog was last updated in June of 2012, with a post that she was back, she thinks. Comics Kingdom’s News Around The Kingdom blog today has nothing to say about the strip one way or another, even though the strip’s fate is the biggest news about a King Features Syndicate comic strip property this week. Syndicated comic strip fans live in a weird space.

But there is the blood in the water. I can’t think of any comic-strip cancellation rumor from the past five years that turned out to be wrong, with the possible exception of Dick Tracy. (I forget just what rumors were running at the end of Dick Locher’s tenure on it.) Still, apparently James Allen is pitching himself as a new artist, possibly new writer, for Apartment 3-G to King Features. (I say apparently because he posted this on Facebook, in an account not available to folks like me that happen not to be on Facebook. I’m inferring its content from what other people say about his posting.) I do not know how his revitalization of Mark Trail has gone financially. If good work were rewarded, the strip would be holding its own or growing in subscribers again, and we would live in a world different to this one.

And many have noted that the occasional “flash forward” week done that Francesco Marciuliano writes for Sally Forth. These depict Hilary Forth and her friends Faye and Nona ten years in the future, as a trio of women sharing an apartment while struggling as young women in The City. The resemblance is uncanny. Coincidence? Perhaps, although Staton and Curtis did write and draw a Dick Tracy adventure with the serial numbers filed off to show what the comic strip could be like, with fresh writing and solid art. Why not Marciuliano and Allen? (I have no information to suggest Marciuliano is interested. The original flash-forward read as a simple lark, and the premise is enough to sustain revisiting it now and then.)

Future Hilary Forth listens to Nona's advice not to give up on her writing career, and takes it. Jetpacks are mentioned.
Francesco Marciuliano and Jim Keefe’s Sally Forth for the 16th of October, 2015. This is part of a flash forward sequence depicting Hilary and her friends in the future, a trio of young women making it in The City.

I would like to think so. If Bolle and Shulock aren’t interested in, or aren’t able to, carry on the strip then I would like it to be in enthusiastic hands. Soap opera syndicated comic strips should be good, and the people who like reading them should have them available. And I would sincerely like to see more soap opera strips be good enough that they don’t support snarky, ironic readership. It’s not a law of nature that the story strips have to be bad. I hope that if Shulock or Bolle are leaving the strip then King Features Syndicate will find interested talent who can give us interesting, well-drawn stories.

Nothing Is Happening In Apartment 3-G: But It Is A Lovely Day Outside


When last we looked in on Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G the flow of time had broken down entirely, with something like ten months of reader time taking about two days in-strip. I was willing to let that pass. Margo was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism, and her dead fiancée Eric was sent out to tell her parents.

This past week has seen Eric, who spent months (our time) hovering around a confused Margo without telling her who he was or why he was there, doing his bang-up job communicating Margo’s condition to her parents. To be fair, he did meet Margo’s Dad. In the daily strips Margo’s Dad turned out to be Eric drawn from the other side. In the Sunday recap it turned out Margo’s Dad was Eric but fifteen years younger. He got them to the hospital, which appears to be the same room as the diner and every apartment in the strip. Margo’s Dad suggested they go outside for no reason other than the strip was going to start being drawn outside anyway. Margo’s Mother didn’t understand this, or why Eric wouldn’t come along, and they started bickering.

They kept this up all week, ultimately making Tommie appear out of the aether to join them in squabbling. Tommie asserts that Margo’s taken a turn for the worse. This might be because she disappeared on the streets back on the 22nd of September and wasn’t seen since. Invisibility will complicate even the simplest of medical conditions.

Eric materializes at Margo's Parents' place, and informs them he has always loved Margo. Also Margo is in the hospital.
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 11th of October, 2015. Certainly the natural answer to your fiancé’s question, “Do I know you?” is “It’s a long story, but I’ve always loved Margo.” Also, I don’t want to nitpick, but Margo’s Dad picks up the name “Eric” from nowhere. I’m assuming at this point that Eric is his actual name. There was an equally existing character named Tim in the strip recently and if they swapped places I couldn’t tell.

The storytelling has been stumbling ahead all right. The Eric-and-Margo’s-Parents thing looked like action without actually being anything. But it’s at least consistent with Eric’s incompetence at telling people things he is aware they ought to know. And Margo taking a turn for the worse is at least a development, placed reasonably at Thursday, a spot where it can be reiterated enough times for people to get that it happened.

The art continues its sad decay. Margo’s Dad — Martin — may have swapped ages with Eric; I’m honestly not sure. That’s been more or less consistent for the week, at least. Margo’s Dad suggesting they leave the Apartment Diner Hospital in favor of outside almost looks like writer Margaret Shulock working around artist Frank Bolle’s background shifts. When they suddenly start Wednesday’s strip outside the reader can suppose the characters chose to go outside and we were spared the details of the decision. The backgrounds look almost natural.

This implies that characters are now going to start suggesting they change their locations, so that when the backgrounds do inevitably shift it’ll have some narrative justification. This also implies the conversations will turn into a series of characters saying, “Let’s go to the diner”, being answered, “Let’s go outside”, and countering, “Let’s go to the apartment”, with nothing ultimately happening. I am not sure this is worse than the actual dialogue, which this week ran something like this:

Margo’s Mom (Gabby): What about you, Eric? Why don’t you come with us?
Eric: That’s very kind, Gabby. Maybe later.
Margo’s Mom: Why later? Do you know something we don’t?!
Margo’s Dad (Martin): Calm down, Gabby. You’re scaring yourself for no good reason.
[Suddenly outside] Margo’s Mom: You don’t understand how a mother suffers! You have no feelings, Margin!
Margo’s Dad: I’m not going to fight with you, Gabby. There’s no point.
Eric: Martin and Gabby, please don’t argue. We’re all very upset.
Margo’s Mom: See, Martin?

I know a story stalling for time when I see it.

So that’s this week’s action, for all who are confused. Margo’s Parents are now aware that she’s in distress, and is getting worse. And they’ve apparently gone to one of those famous Hospitals Without Walls, so it just looks like everything is happening outdoors. They’re in front of that car that might be pointing either direction.

Nothing Is Happening In Apartment 3-G: Yes, They Actually *DID* Break Time


So the first thing: Margo’s complete bodily disappearance since Tommie used her imaginary stethoscope on her continues. She’s allegedly been checked into Manhattan General and diagnosed with hyperthyroidism. It’s not much of anything, but it will do.

The real shocker this past week was delivered on Friday, and repeated on Sunday. If we are to believe the silly things that come out of Tommie’s mouth then Margo’s entire journey of amnesiac wandering through a city haunted by people she kind-of recognizes was an experience lasting two days. This is staggering news. Besides the months of aimless wandering and two-shots Margo had a bit of business eating breakfast and yelling at people. If I’m tracing all this back correctly she set out on the streets in January, ten months ago. The character makes references to feeling “so tired” in December 2014. (“So tired” isn’t given in-strip as a symptom of hyperthyroidism. But it’s probably meant to be a signal of such, by the rules of soap-opera medicine.)

Tommie explains that Margo's whole calendar year of confusion and aimless wandering has been two days of hyperthyroidism. Meanwhile, the background setting is 'generic apartment' although it's supposed to be the hospital, probably.
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 4th of October, 2015. Before you snark that this doesn’t look much like a hospital please consider that Manhattan General is one of those hipster-friendly indie hospitals. It’s got lots of overstuffed old chairs and odd, mismatching mugs for coffee and tea, gluten-free BiPAP masks, and there’s board games that migrate around all the wings and they hold open-mic prescription poetry readings every Monday evening, and the lobby there’s this old taxidermy raccoon dressed like the Eleventh Doctor. So don’t go saying that doesn’t look like a hospital room when you just don’t know the style of the place.

So this entire calendar year has taken up between one and two days of time. This, amazingly, isn’t a record. When Brooke McEldowney first broke free of all editorial control and good taste and coherent storytelling ability his 9 Chickweed Lane spent eight months covering the events of one weekend in Belgium. Rex Morgan is nearing the fourth calendar year of the first trimester of June Morgan’s pregnancy. Still, it’s one of the most lopsided reader-time-to-character-time ratios to be seen outside web comics.

After the preceding week’s bout of actual information being delivered, thus counting as stuff happening, this week looked ready to slump back into absolute nothingness. Eric was declared to have spent the night in “that chair”, presumably in Margaret’s hospital room. Then Tommie has the idea to send Eric to tell Margo’s parents what’s going on. This might be because she doesn’t know how to contact her roommate’s parents. This might be because she knows they aren’t going to listen to the things she says either.

This may sound like I’m being pointlessly mean to Tommie. But remember, her idea is to have Eric convey important information to another person. Eric is the person who figured the best way to let Margo know he was not in fact dead was to haunt her as she wandered aimlessly around Manhattan without identifying who he was or why he was there, in actions which dragged on for months, our time. I would expect Tommie could more efficiently deliver information to Margo’s parents by tossing a bottle into the ocean and hoping it’s found by someone who would then write a message about Margo’s condition and toss it back into the ocean.

'Eric knocks and ... ' talks with Margo's Dad on the streets of the city.
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 8th of October, 2015. Margo’s Dad, Mr Margo’s Dad, walks around the streets of Manhattan carrying a small door that anyone wishing to speak with him must knock on. It’s carried below the waist so as not to interrupt people.

But, possibly to get the story ended already, Eric instead rushes directly to Margo’s Dad, who’s on the streets of Manhattan in front of that car that might be facing either direction again. At least on Thursday he wasn’t doing well at getting information across, but he is doing very well for having been dead for five years (in strip time, maybe a week?) and for being Margo’s Dad seen from the other angle.

Margo's Dad and I'm just going to go and guess Margo's Mom have a conversation interrupted by Eric who's Margo's Dad from another angle and a little bit smaller in his shirt.
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 9th of October, 2015. It cannot be easy to carry on a conversation with yourself from a different angle.

Oh, yeah, my mathematics blog: Here’s the Monday comics and that wasn’t nearly enough; here’s Friday’s. Please read them in case the flow of time resumes.

Nothing Is Happening In Apartment 3-G: Could Bringing In Artists Help?


Let me get my publicity out of the way first. A couple days ago my mathematics blog gave serious thought about how the teachers in Barney Google and Snuffy Smith could do better. Also I reveal its fictional location, based on a reference to a 1940 story where Snuffy Smith brings the United States Army over for training. Really.


So. What has gone on in Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G since I last explained the nothingness? We’ve gotten actual information, is what. I think this reflects the Just End The Story Already Fairies taking hold and trying to get out of this failed storyline as soon as possible. Tommie somehow examined Margo’s heart without visible stethoscope on the streets of Manhattan, and then rushed her to Manhattan General, which I guess is the hospital Tommie supposedly works at. Or worked out. She made noise about quitting but goodness knows if her supervisors or even she took it seriously.

This week, Tommie and Margo’s dead fiancée Eric have been talking, while standing randomly on the streets of 1958 Albany. Tommie revealed that Margo’s problem is hyperthyroidism. Tommie says typical symptoms are anxiety, impatience, and depression, which I suppose fits Margo well enough. I do not think that wandering around in an amnesiac fugue state for months is one of the symptoms of hyperthyroidism. However, I won’t get in the way of the Just End The Story Already Fairies in trying to use that to get out of things. To demand medical authenticity out of a soap opera strip is to demand scientific authenticity out of science fiction. It’s not what the genre is about.

Since the story has been progressing well enough that makes the ineptness of the art stand out more. The week’s strips have been Tommie and Eric standing around random street scenes talking with one another. I suppose since they’re just casually (if understandably) violating health privacy rules they could be speaking anywhere. I’d put the action in the hospital or in either of their apartments, but this is an artistic choice that can be defended.

If it’s a made choice. And here the strip from Sunday, the 27th, stands out. As usual the Sunday strip repeats the action from the previous week: Tommie listening to Margo’s heart, declaring they have to get her to the hospital, and telling Eric they won’t give up. During the week before, the action switched at random between street and apartment setting. And, amusingly, Margo stopped appearing altogether after the panel in which Tommie declares she’s going to listen to Margo’s heart and breathing.

Tommie listens to Invisible Margo's heart, and demands an ambulance. Eric and Tommie appear inside a building for one panel, then back out on the street, resolving not to give up.
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 27th of September, 2015. Note the one panel that isn’t set in the middle of a street.

In the Sunday redraw of this, the action takes place entirely on the street, except for the penultimate panel in which they’re suddenly back inside an apartment somewhere. Then it jumps back again. This doesn’t even parse.

And here we have a convenient experiment. One of the supererogatory commenters on the Comics Curmudgeon site, A Lee, took the Sunday strip as scripted and laid out, and redrew it. It’s inked in, only, not colored, but the effect is radical.

Tommie listens to the heart and lungs of a Margo who's present and existing, and she discusses the matter with Eric. They're inside rooms and look at one another and stuff like that.
Comics Curmudgeon poster ALee’s redrawing of the Apartment 3-G above. Yeah, the ‘here is the plan — we don’t give up’ word balloon points to the wrong person but that’s a minor glitch.

Nothing more happens, but it at least looks like things are happening. I don’t know whether tight, controlled, and well-composed artwork like this would wear better day-to-day. Things are still only barely happening and that because the Just End The Story Already Fairies have stepped in. But at least in this example the strip reads well. I would rather the strip were well-drawn and well-plotted. But it’s astounding how much effect simply making the artwork better has.

Nothing Is Happening In Apartment 3-G: Medical Professionals May Be Brought In


And now to again explain to confused people what is going on in Apartment 3-G. After months of Margo wandering around in a confused and confusing daze, she’s been captured by the Just End The Story Already Fairies. These are blessed people who sometimes haul off and make a serial adventure stop by whatever method gets us out of a plot that might have been promising once but just isn’t working out. In this case the Just End The Story Already Fairies had available Margo’s dead fiancée Eric and Margo’s roommate Lu Ann.

Those aren’t powerful forces to Just End The Story Already with, but they’re making do. Margo was put back in The Apartment I Guess. And Tommie was brought back to examine her, despite Tommie’s declaration that she was quitting everything and leaving the apartment, her friends, her job, whatever it is she has. This might reflect Tommie deciding to postpone her new life in the face of Margo’s crisis. It might equally reflect that even Tommie can’t pay attention to whatever Tommie is going on about. Anyway, Tommie’s declared that Margo needs to get to the hospital. Despite Tommie saying this, this is correct, and by Friday they’ve whisked the action off to an indistinct set of backgrounds the narration box says is the hospital.

Given where this sagging mass of incidents was at the end of last week, this is a reasonable set of story developments. Unfortunately that draws the eye back to the decline in Frank Bolle’s artwork. Monday’s is the most unintentionally funny. The characteristically random arrangement of characters here makes it look like everyone is just watching a deranged Margo wandering around the room. It feels like a scene from a Mel Brooks spoof. Although, on reflection, I think the specific thing it’s reminding me of are the dousing scenes from the marginally competent 1958 movie The Thing That Couldn’t Die. I mean the ones the Mystery Science Theater 3000 crew riffed by making revving engine noises.

Margo wanders aimlessly around the panels while Eric and Tommie determine she can't hear them or feel anything.
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 21st of September, 2015. Though she seems unable to see, hear, or feel anyone, there is no evidence that Margo has got any pinball skills.

So naturally the next day Tommie has, presumably, fetched her wireless, receiverless, and sensorless stethoscope. And they all teleport to the street, the better to listen to Margo’s heartbeat. And good grief. I’ve seen the occasional joke that maybe the syndicate is assembling panels out of clip art, or just pulling old stock images out of the library. It’s a hard line to disprove when this happens. I mean, at least wireless stethoscopes are a thing that exists. Draw the generic room backgrounds, or literally no background at all, and a circular dot on Margo’s chest and the art would have actually matched the story.

Tommie's teleported Margo to the streets of some tiny city in order to listen to her heartbeat, which is a natural and sensible thing to do.
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 22nd of September, 2015. Fun activity challenge: in what direction is the car from the first panel facing? Or is it a building with an unstable foundation?

Where is this leading? Who knows. The elements of Tommie wanting to leave and Margo having some weird extended amnesiac event feel like the sort of thing the strip might do if it were handing off the production to a new writer, or artist, or both. But the strip’s had a couple of similar events in the past few years with nothing coming of them. A couple years ago a crazed boyfriend set off a bomb in the apartment, just before New Year’s; the excuse of the place needing remodeling would be a natural “new showrunner” point. And before that the women got makeovers as part of one of those you-dress-horribly TV shows on the minor cable channels. This defies part of the strip’s premise — that it’s three stylish, hip young women living in the City — but would have been a fair concession to the strip being pretty dowdy and old-fashioned anymore. But the makeovers didn’t figure into anything, and the new outfits and hairdos didn’t last anyway. I suspect that ultimately the Just End The Story Already Fairies will be content if Margo’s psychotic break is put in the past and we go on to … oh, I guess it’s Lu Ann’s turn for a meandering and confused storyline.


That’s enough complaining. Over on the mathematics blog I talk about comic strips too, and since it’s been that sort of week, I talk about them a second time too. Please enjoy not all that ironically.

Statistics Saturday: The Effect Apartment 3-G Has On My Readership


The less stuff happens, the more words I use to write about it, and then *even more* eagerly people read me about it.
There must be some optimal balance between stuff-happening and me-explaining-nothing’s-happening.

The evidence is plain. I should use even more words to describe how much nothing is going on there.

Incidentally, some anonymous soul at the Comics Curmudgeon has gone through the last several months of Apartment 3-G and transcribed the dialogue, so that it can all be read at once, without interruption and in as nearly natural a voice as one could hope for. That’s not meant to be snarky. Serial-story dialogue has to sound a bit stilted and redundant. Readers have to be reminded what the status had been, and new readers have to be inclued to the setting, and there’s not much room for that. This is a constriction of the medium. Someone adapting the story to, say, YouTube video would need to rewrite the dialogue so the endless reintroduction of scenes doesn’t happen.

Anyway. Here is the Apartment 3-G Transcription Project for the 15th of June to the 15th of July. Then is the 16th of July through the 15th of August, and finally to date, the 17th of August through the 18th of September. This omits the Sunday strips, which are repeats of the week before’s action. (Of the serial strips only Spider-Man [ and Dick Tracy which I originally forgot about somehow ] really advances the action on Sundays. The Phantom runs an independent, alternate, story on Sundays. Mark Trail uses Sunday strips for animal-information panels independent of the weekday storyline. Alley Oop uses most of Sunday to recap the previous week’s action, but advances it some in the last panel, which is itself repeated the following Monday.)

Nothing Is Happening In Apartment 3-G: Maybe Things Are Getting Done Not Happening


OK, on my mathematics blog there’s a couple of comic strip review posts. They’re called the Back To School Edition and the Back To School Edition, Part II, because there’s just so many that came up about as school (United States schedule) got really going again.

But I know what folks are really looking for, and that’s any idea of what the heck is going on with Apartment 3-G lately. I insist that nothing is happening because I’ve been following this closely, maybe too closely, and believe me, it’s not going on.

Lu Ann tries to thank Eric, who says he's never been so frightened in his life. Lu Ann confirms that Eric loves Margo.
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 16th of September, 2015. I’m fairly sure Eric doesn’t mean to be frightened by Lu Ann’s thanks.

However, it does appear that Margo’s aimless, unfocused wandering through random outdoor stock shots might be at an end. Formerly dead fiancée Eric has gone off and found Margo, and stayed in the two-shot with her until Lu Ann could appear. Then Margo got to disappear, allegedly into the apartment, although we don’t actually see that. Lu Ann and Eric reappear on the street, either because they figure that’s the best place to watch a severely delusional person who’s been wandering aimlessly for months, or because the backgrounds really are being randomly assigned. Tommie gets summoned, as if her presence could help anything, even though the last time we saw her she was talking about quitting everything and leaving forever.

An hour later, after no answer from Tommie, Tommie enters. She wants to know how long Margo has been 'white as a sheet'.
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 18th of September, 2015. I’m honestly a touch amazed the strip focused on Tommie entering rather than showing us every minute of waiting around for an hour.

What does it signify? I don’t know. It’s structurally very similar to 2014’s chasm of Apartment 3-G meaninglessness, when Tommie and a guest star spent literally and without exaggeration six weeks telling each other they had to talk without actually talking. During that sequence the designated boyfriend-ish character disappeared to “confront some ghosts” of his past. That might’ve been interesting to see, although we didn’t. He just reappeared after being gone a couple of months and declared things were over.

Both the 2014 and 2015 story voids started out with some potential. 2014 saw a burnt-out Tommie trying to rescue the world’s most nightmarish deer, and stumbling across a crusty-yet-endearing etc upstate veterinarian and the soap opera of his past life. 2015 set up Margo furious and confused by her father and the woman she always thought was the maid but was actually her mother getting married, and falling under sway of a psychic, and wanting to do something about the woman she thinks is scamming her biological mother.

These are potential-rich setups. But they played out with summers of nothing. The parts just shuffled around without advancing for months, and then abruptly stopped. 2014’s crusty-yet-endearing vet came back saying all was well and Tommie went back to work. 2015, apparently, was about putting Margo in a hallucinatory fugue until she got rescued by the first characters to pop into the author’s mind. I would not be surprised if by early October all of this has been dropped and we’ve gone on to some other storyline.

I can’t believe the stories were meant to look like this. The long stretches of random piece-shuffling and the abrupt conclusion make it look like the author (Shulock) had no idea how to advance the stories, but had them planned to last until September. And then forgot when it was close to September and had to rush to wrap up things. Every serial story author does some piece-shuffling and some conclusion-rushing. But this is two major storylines in two years that collapsed.

Recently the Manchester (New Hampshire) Union-Leader dropped the strip, on the grounds that nothing was happening and nothing was going to happen. I can’t fault their reasoning. But I don’t want the story strips to die out. I admit I didn’t care about them as a kid. And in adulthood I’ve seen most of them in a senescent state. But there’s no reason they can’t be good, and I want them to be.

Nothing Is Happening In Apartment 3-G: What Was That Something That Happened In Apartment 3-G?


I don’t want people to think I haven’t been tracking the atomized remnants of plot from Margaret Shulock and Frank Bolle’s Apartment 3-G of late. I’m watching. The most understandable thing is that Bolle’s name has reappeared on many of the strips, and his initials are in some of the others.

Since the last time I checked in on the nothing going on, Margo has apparently gotten hungry. This is fair enough since she’s been wandering aimlessly around a fence and a building with windows ever since breakfast back in January. She ran into some woman that I thought was the waitress back in January but apparently isn’t. Non-waitress agreed to get her a roll with butter in exchange for all the money in her bag. I’m ashamed they’re playing in to hacky jokes about New York City’s cost of living.

A woman offers Margo 'a nice roll with butter' in exchange for all her money, which Margo can't believe.
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 4th of September, 2015. I note that in neither the daily strips nor the Sunday recap was Margo’s name ever given to the woman who’s charging her all her money for a nice roll with butter. Yes, I don’t need to see every single bit of normal interaction but since the setup was that Margo was wandering confused and befuddled and apparently unaware of her surroundings — she was starving and across the street from DINER with a bag of money and couldn’t work this out — it would be nice to know whether she even knows who she is.

Eric, Margo’s formerly dead fiancée who’s been wandering around seeing her without telling her who he is, suddenly sits upright next to his bed. The bedside is decorated with a travel alarm, a nuclear power cooling tower-shaped coffee mug sitting on an Art Deco riser of some kind, and a large ellipsoidal end-table hump. He chants a little from yoga, tells his brother Tim to go home, and then finds Margo!

No, I don’t know how he found her, other than that the strip has two outdoor locations anymore, “fence” and “diner”. Maybe he got lucky. Maybe the strip just threw background elements at random together until two named characters were accidentally on-panel at once. I don’t know.

Margo's dead fiancee Eric finds her and she doesn't know who he is or whether he knows her.
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 10th of September, 2015. No, you did not miss anything. I promise.

There is an interesting and surely accidental dramatic symmetry here. Margo’s long wanderings started with her determination to bring down the fake psychic interloping in her mother’s wedding. And now apparently Eric has been drawn to her by luckily-timed and accurate psychic vibes. I don’t imagine that’s deliberate, because nothing about this storyline suggests any kind of planning or thought or really anything at all. Why would Eric hover around but not identify himself to Margo all summer long, and then suddenly decide to do it now? Why has Margo been wandering around? Why has she gotten suddenly amnesiac and befuddled? What basis has she got for thinking theres “as much [ money ] as you need” in her bag? Where did the woman buying Margo’s life with a buttered roll disappear to? And … what about Naomi?

I have no answers. I don’t believe anyone has. The problem is not you reading it. I must admit it’s a nice change that for at least this while the problem is more the writing than the artwork. The artwork is still shoddy but I don’t think it’s the source of confusion the past few weeks.


With that hopefully all cleared up, please consider my humor blog, where I had comics up for review on the 5th and then another essay just for comics on the 6th and I probably could’ve put one up today if I had really felt like it. Thank you.

Statistics August! How The Humor Blog Did


So, blog readership for August. It was off a tiny bit, with 1,115 views from 639 visitors in August. In July were 1,126 views from 669 visitors. I’d say the view numbers are tied; the visitors numbers, down not much. Either way is considerably up from June’s 739 views and 380 viewers. I still suspect there’s missing page counts but these are the numbers we have to live with until the next revision of whatever system does the view-counting.

August did see me reach my 20,000 page view here, as well as my 10,000th visitor. September starts with 20,211 viewers and 10,161 visitors, and 603 total WordPress followers. As near as I can tell the 20,000th recorded viewer came the 26th of August, just before midnight. The 10,000th visitor came sometime the 25th.

The count of ‘likes’ continues to dwindle, down to 331 in August from 349 in July and 365 in June. The number of comments was way down, to 44 in August from July’s 76 and June’s 59. I think I need to write more open and inviting humor pieces.

The greatest number of readers this month came from the United States for a change; there were something we’ll call 886 of them. From Canada were 40, Australia 32, and the United Kingdom 30. India sent two, which seems disappointingly few. July I had eighteen.

My single-reader countries this month were Bangladesh, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Chile, Egypt, Greece, Maldives, Mexico, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, and Ukraine. That’s a lot, but to be fair, only Belgium is a repeat from last month. I’m very slowly amusing the world very slightly.

And what was popular this month? Well, in July I discovered something I did trying to riff on a stupid bit of clickbait turned out to be riotously popular. In August I decided to try reproducing the experiment. It … wasn’t so riotously popular. The “What We Found In The New 2015 Penny” was August’s most popular post: it came in at over 230 views. That’s on top of the 325 it got in July. It’s already in double-digits for September.

My attempt at duplicating this? “What Warren Buffett Is Warning America About”? That was successful, sure, with 53 views in August. But that’s clearly of much less interest. Maybe clickbait-baiting isn’t the thing for me. Or maybe I picked a bad example. I’m honestly not sure it’s ethical to write something that’s popular because of a particularly disreputable form of advertising.

Anyway. The other top five articles were various posts about the nothing going on in Apartment 3-G. I don’t feel bad about having so many page views for that because I do think I’m helping people who are honestly trying to understand what’s happened with Apartment 3-G. The various Apartment 3-G posts, all told, drew in at least 138 page views in August. For the sake of not boring people with a comic strip that isn’t doing anything, I’ve just listed one representative Apartment 3-G explanation in the top-five summary.

  1. Statistics Saturday: What We Found In The New 2015 Penny
  2. Statistics Saturday: What Warren Buffett Is Warning Americans About
  3. Nothing Is Happening In Apartment 3-G Update: Did Something Happen In Apartment 3-G?
  4. Why I Am Not Learning About The History of Socks
  5. Statistics Saturday: How Many Good Episodes Of Star Trek: The Next Generation I Figured There Were Versus Time

What search terms brought people here in August? Mostly, stuff about the 2015 penny. Some, Warren Buffett. And Apartment 3-G. Well, Fonzie’s favorite album came up, at least. Also month in alphabetical order which is one of those silly little things I like. Still, people really want to know why nothing is going on in Apartment 3-G.

Nothing Is Happening In Apartment 3-G Update: What Is Happening To Apartment 3-G?


OK, it’s been another week of nothing going on in Frank Bolle and Margaret Sholock’s Apartment 3-G. Let me recap for the sake of people searching desperately for any hint of what’s going on. After finding his plan of “wandering around Manhattan occasionally running in to Margo but not telling her who he is or why he’s there” somehow failed to make a connection with Margo, Eric Mills has gone to Apartment 3-G. There, Margo’s roommate Tommie was telling Lu Ann she had been set free. I assume this means that Tommie intends to go out in the fields and frolic. Within days Tommie will be dead, having been attacked and eaten by butterflies.

Eric explains that he is Eric and is not dead, raising protests of “but you died five years ago”. Lu Ann takes this news better than I imagined, because her head does not explode in a shower of electrical sparks at this paradox while she begs, “Norman, co-ordinate”. She instead agrees that Eric couldn’t have expected Margo to know her because she’s been wandering in a delusional funk through Manhattan for 28 weeks now. In the Sunday recap all this is explained again, although instead of taking place in Apartment 3-G the action takes place again on the streets of the backdrop from your high school’s junior year production of Our Town. Except for the final panel because of course.

Eric Mills explains he is not dead, while Tommie and Lu Ann teleport around one another. He's interested in helping Margo, but not so interested as to actually say anything meaningful to her.
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 30th of August, 2015. Seriously, what are the backgrounds even supposed to mean there?

Now. As soap opera strips go this is a fair bit of development. Characters find out stuff they didn’t know at the start of the week. It’s no Mary Worth, where Professor Ian, in his guise as Pomposity Lad, managed to in three weeks turn sucking up to his boss into a marriage-threatening crisis. But it’s something.

But the most eye-catching thing is that the artwork has gotten appreciably worse. It’s been bad for a while now, yes. But it’s fallen in another step the past week. Backgrounds have been randomly assigned collections of objects all year, but now they’ve started vanishing altogether. And the characters have begun looking much more sketchy and unfocused. It almost looks like we might be seeing Bolle’s pencil art, without inking and cleanup. But the static poses and arbitrary arrangement of characters, not to mention the random selections of backgrounds when they’re remembered, mean this doesn’t convey energy or vitality, the virtues of unlinked and un-cleaned artwork. It looks more worrying. Is Frank Bolle all right? And past that, is King Features interested in running an Apartment 3-G that’s at least a competent comic strip? I have no answers.


What can I say without a sense of Batiukian despair? Well, on my mathematics blog, there’s comic strips talked about there in which some things happen. In my favorite, someone gets pies thrown at him repeatedly. That is a thing that happens and that is illustrated by Tom Toles.

Nothing Is Happening In Apartment 3-G Update: Did Something Happen in Apartment 3-G?


Since nothing has happened in the comic strip Apartment 3-G all year, you might be wondering: has anything happened in Apartment 3-G this past week? The answer is … it’s not clear, exactly.

Tim reminds Eric that everybody thought Eric was dead. Eric reminds Tim that he loved his fiancee even though she was Margo.
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 23rd of August, 2015, summing up a week of work in five panels. However, bonus points for getting the characters consistently colored so that it’s possible to tell who’s supposed to be who.

I mean, Margo is still wandering around a hallucinatory and ever-mutating landscape yelling at people who seem to recognize her. That’s still going on, but since that’s been going on since the Battle of Manzikert that doesn’t count as anything happening anymore. However, this week, two of the vaguely human-shaped lumps that have been following one another identified one another as Tim and Eric. And this matters because Eric was one of Margo’s fiancées who soap-opera-died six years ago in a Himalayan avalanche. Tim’s his brother.

Now, yeah, their names were revealed in some of the many, many weeks of nothing happening before. And people who pay close attention to the comic strip action would remember Eric as the name of a fairly recently soap-opera-killed fiancée. But this does make clear that it isn’t just a coincidence of names or anything. These are supposed to be the same people as back then. The readers are confirmed in information about who is on screen and why they might be there.

After consideration, I concede this qualifies, technically, as having something happen. It may be Tim and Eric explaining things they already know to one another. Tim reminds Eric that everybody thought he was dead. Eric reminds Tim that he was going to marry Margo. But that is what passes for exposition in a non-humorous story strip. The readers know something they were only just kinda sure of before. I must turn to Greg Evans and Karen Evans’s Luann for my nothing-happening action this week.

Something that didn’t make the Sunday recap was Eric explaining that “Tibetan nuns” saved his life. And that’s kind of an interesting revelation because, because that means Eric has gone through the Origin Story for either The Shadow or Plastic-Man. It depends whether he was dropped in a vat of mysterious chemicals by his partners in crime first. If he is the new Plastic-Man then the comic strip has an excuse for his features being putty-like and ever-changing. There’s possibilities here that won’t go anywhere, is what I’m saying.

Anyway. My mathematics blog has some comic strips although since they’re all humor strips, things happen in them.

Nothing Is Happening In Apartment 3-G: Mid-August Update


I have another installment of mathematically-themed comic strips reviewed over on my mathematics blog. So I hope you enjoy that. And I’d also like to check back in on what’s happening in Apartment 3-G. This is a regular feature for people who don’t understand what’s happening in Apartment 3-G. This week, nothing happened in Apartment 3-G, because nothing is happening in Apartment 3-G. You’re welcome.

Margo wanders around lost, and rebuffs men named 'Tim' and 'Eric'. Tim says to let her go, while Eric says he had to try.
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 16th of August, 2015. In it, nothing happens.

Admittedly, the nothing that’s happened over the past week looks like more than actually went on. In the most recent batch of strips, Margo wanders around the ever-changing yet generally yellow buildings of some town or other. Men offer to help her and she curses them out. This is just as has been going on the last eighty weeks. However, this week’s nothingness might look like something more because two of the figures were named: Tim and Eric. These are the names of some of the many, many past boyfriends who died before they could marry her. If something were to happen in Apartment 3-G this would imply we are seeing more of Margo’s emotional breakdown or possibly that she’s being haunted by the ghosts of past plots. Those were plots in which something happened, so that is not what is happening, because, again, nothing is happening in Apartment 3-G.

Statistics Saturday: What Warren Buffett Is Warning Americans About


'Warren Buffett Just Gave Americans A Big Warning' ... also there's a tooltip warning there's a breakthrough causing people to lose too much weight.
I forget what the breakthrough was that causes people to lose too much weight.


Biggest ones: 'Nothing is happening in Apartment 3-G. NOTHING'. Also: 'handled in a facility that contains ingredients', and, 'That's no ordinary guinea pig!'
Just missing the cut: ‘You’ll find Fallen London a way more interesting game than you expect’.

So apparently I’m okay with using clickbait advertisements as inspiration. Not sure how knowing that makes me feel about myself.

Also, happy National Day, Singapore. That hasn’t anything to do with anything here, but how often does a nation observe its 50th National Day? Except the nations that claim they’re 50 years old every single year, like some of those Caribbean islands do.