So I spent the early part of the day wondering how long the cartoonist spent deciding whether they wanted the animal here to be a raccoon, or a cat, or a raccoon, or a cat, before finally remembering, it’s a Ziggy panel. They didn’t have to work out which in this situation would be funnier, cat or raccoon.
This Talkartoon was released the 22nd of August, 1931. This was not quite a month after Bimbo’s Initiation. But Wikipedia tells me this was the first entry of the 1931-32 film season. It doesn’t seem like much of a season break. But there are changes. Most importantly, Bimbo’s no longer the sole credited lead character. There’s no credited animators, and I don’t see any clear guesses about who’s responsible.
So one of those things I never knew was a thing growing up: “Moving Day” didn’t used to just be whenever it was you roped a couple friends into lugging a couch down three flights of stairs and back up a different three flights. Used to be — per Edwin G Burrows and Mike (Not That Mike) Wallace’s Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 — a specific day, the 1st of May. Most leases would expire then and the city would convulse in a mad dash for cartage as everybody tried to get to a new spot. Gotham doesn’t make clear to me when this Moving Day lapsed. I would guess during World War II, given the housing shortages, when rational people might leap at the chance to sleep inside the fireplace since at least it’s a warm spot in walking distance of the defense plant. But my point is that when this cartoon was made, and when it was first shown, “Moving Day” likely had this suggestion of a specific, big event that people went through nearly annually.
The core of any Moving Day cartoon is, yeah, how to carry stuff in silly ways. The short doesn’t disappoint in having good approaches for this. My favorite is the overall busy scene breaking out at about 3:24 in, when movers toss furniture down the rain gutter and pop the roof off to throw stuff down to the patio and so on. It’s got that big-complicated-mechanism action so dear to the Fleischer Brothers. There’s some other fine silly bits, such as carrying the stove or the bathtub out. Or Bimbo carefully bringing furniture out the window and untying it to drop. And very well, too, with an almost perfect call from below of “I got it!” after each drop.
At least when the moving action finally gets started. The short does take its sweet time getting there. It isn’t all wasted time. Yes, we’ve got the idea that it’s Bimbo’s Moving Van after about three seconds of seeing the moving van. But there is some fun to be had seeing the horse pull the van in a silly way. Also to spot the well-done background, moving at an angle and years before multi-plane cameras were a thing. Also there’s establishing the gorilla and the small cat. Also, I’m apparently incapable of not giggling every single time the cat gets squashed or walks underneath the gorilla and emits that poor, sad little “mew”. I’m not sure it needs as long as it gets. But, oh, that helpless “mew”. Also there’s one of the few jokes you could miss this short if you blinked; a wheel falls off the van and the vehicle staggers until it gets things back.
I’m still more tickled by the cat’s many little “mew” cries. Between those and the guy down below yelling how he’s got the furniture Bimbo’s dropped, this might be a new high-water mark for Talkartoons having funny lines from characters.
This is the first cartoon titled Bimbo and Betty — no Boop, yet — which I suppose shows how the Fleischers realized that Betty had something Bimbo just hadn’t. I’m surprised they recognized it so early. Here she’s got more screen time than, I think, since The Bum Bandit. But all Betty does is spend her time clipping her toenails (complete with a face on her toe, a joke the studio would come back to) and setting up a decent if stock, slightly racy, joke from Bimbo. She could bring a little more to the proceedings.
It’s not a bad cartoon. Lesser than Bimbo’s Initiation, but most cartoons are. It’s got a larger cast than average, and I keep finding the extra cast more interesting than the main. I’m not sure if the horse, gorilla, and cat show up in other cartoons. They make a good impression, especially considering how little they get to do. It’s got to be in the cat’s pathetic little crushed “mew”.
After getting some stuff for the fish in the really cool pet store with the artificial river and koi the size of Buicks, I walked a block east toward where there might or might not be a large lump of abandoned coal. There’s a new store there, one of those places that sells used shiny discs that hold on them movies or TV shows you don’t have time to watch or PlayStation games you don’t get around to playing, that sort of thing. Also prints local artists made of, like, Freddy Kreuger hanging around the Peanuts gang so you know what it’s like now.
And while I kneeled down to look at something on the bottom shelf, a cat trotted up to me, looked me in the knee, and hissed. Then the cat hissed again. And then the cat trotted off towards CDs of music you don’t have anything to listen to with. I can’t disagree with the cat’s assessment of me. I like to think I have a lot of nice sides, but I also know, I’m kind of tiring to keep dealing with. Making your life interactions with me a matter of two quick hisses directed at me knee? I can’t fault that. Well, maybe the second. The first hiss, yes, absolutely. But what was communicated in the second hiss that wasn’t in the first? Now that I write it out I maybe need to go back and have words with the cat.
The show starts with some upbeat music, cheery stuff that keeps threatening to have a tune. The credits dissolve to Jeff, who’s wearing a blue shirt along with his tool belt. “Hi there,” he says, “And thanks for joining us for another episode of Fixed In A Jeffy. We’ve been working for the last several weeks on a lovely ten-story single-family dwelling in Naugatuck, Rhode Island, and we’re going to continue not listening to those spoilsports at the historical society who say it’s Connecticut. Let’s check in with Jeff and see what he’s found.”
They cut to another Jeff, who’s got a red shirt but lacks a tool belt. He says, “This lovely building, with a footprint of nearly 120 square feet, was originally built in late 1886 as a cotton distillery who saw potential in the Pawcatuck River and didn’t know where they were. It was rebuilt as a different cotton distillery in early 1887 and again in 1893 by people who had a knack for assembling these things. During the Second World War employees in this facility put strands of the finest, strongest treated wool across the Norden bomb sight until the War Department caught them. We’re hoping to convert it to fit a small family like ours.”
The first Jeff says, “And there’s some real time pressure here. We’ve only got about a week until the owner gets back and probably picks some kind of fight with us. So let’s take a peek at a home in Eddie Foy, South Carolina, which much like Jeff’s here has got walls.”
There’s a musical interlude and the show comes to another Jeff, who’s got a green shirt and doesn’t care who sees him. This Jeff steps into the two-story hall with cats running up and down the stairs. “Homeowner Jeff has been gutting this absolutely gorgeous room, and it turns out to be because of a common mistake made the last time the house was renovated. Can you tell us what that was, and how many people are making it even without looking?”
Homeowner Jeff, wearing a white collared shirt that’s got two nonconsecutive buttons undone says, “We were experimenting with a nontraditional wall covering. We hoped to cover from floor to ceiling with a sparkling red lycra and that didn’t work at all. In the first place, cats would leap at the walls and get stuck, and then they’d be angry at whoever un-catched their claws. Un-caught their claws. Unclawed their catches.” Other Jeff slaps his shoulder, breaking him out of this loop. “We could have lived with that, but we also got joggers. Non-competitive, of course.”
The first Jeff (third of that name) nods. “Of course; this isn’t the badlands. Still, you don’t want flocks of joggers coming through and breaking up your private community space. Still, it begs the question — ”
The first Jeff (the first one) cuts in, smiling, but not meaning it. “Now, Jeff, we’ve talked about this. You mean to say this raises or asks the question. Back to our recorded segment from South Carolina.”
The third Jeff (the third one) nods, on tape. “You’re right of course. This raises the question, why lycra in the first place?”
The fourth (second) Jeff says, “We got there by a very interesting path and let me share the story with you. But first, I want to show you something.” He opens the door and they walk through a dissolve cut to the bottom of the driveway. “I designed my own mailbox so that it would look like an obscure dolphin called the melon-headed whale. You just slip a piece of paper in here — ” and he does, “And a little flag pops right up through its blowhole!” Which it certainly does.
Jeff (one of them) nods, saying, “Thank you. That is a creative and distinct way to comply with no currently known postal regulations.” A cat races out of the open door, leaps up the left Jeff, and lands on the flatbed of a truck that’s puttering down the street, which carries it out of sight. “I think some of this might be useful to you up in Vermont. Jeff?”
They return to the second Jeff. “Now, we’ve talked about this. Vermont and Rhode Island are radically different places, what with being represented in completely separate divisions of Lechmere’s Department Stores back in the day.” The camera pulls back to reveal he’s standing in front of the air conditioner unit behind the house. “So. We’ve found something alarming back here that isn’t just a repeat of the hornet incident. Join us for next week’s Fixed in a Jeffy when we look into that, won’t you please?”
Yes, I suppose that I shall.
I’m not sure who I’m asking this favor from. But I know out there at least one of you is in an Internet community that’s talking about movie sequel subtitles. And that’s looking around for what’s the right all-purpose movie sequel subtitle to use now that we’re moving past Electric Boogaloo and even The Squeakquel is starting to wear out. I’m not saying that anyone is wrong in supporting The Secret Of The Ooze or The Legend of Curly’s Gold as all-purpose subtitles either. And I don’t dispute you putting those in as your votes for all-purpose sequel subtitle.
It’s just that I think we’re forgetting about the second Cats and Dogs movie, which is a shame, as its subtitle The Revenge of Kitty Galore is clearly ready to be put underneath all sorts of movie franchise titles. So whoever’s in that discussion for all-purpose movie sequel subtitles? If you could enter The Revenge of Kitty Galore for me, I’d be grateful. Thanks and take care, please.
Maybe there was a real-life cat given the name “Garfield” before 1977, when the comic strip debuted. It’s not a ridiculous name, after all. And James A Garfield was a fairly popular president especially after he was shot and spent the summer dying on the Jersey Shore. They even built a short-haul railroad to better update people on how he wasn’t getting any better, you know that? So there must’ve been some cats named for him in the 1880s if people even named cats back then. And then there must be clubs and historically minded people and whatnot who picked “presidents” as themes for their pets and gave them names from that. Even without the presidential theme, “Garfield” isn’t a bad name for a thing. It’s a normal enough name, not embarrassing to say in public but not terribly likely to get confused with the people around you since it’s a tolerably rare human name too.
But then surely after 1977 bunches of cat owners started naming their cat Garfield because who wouldn’t want to name their pet for one of the most popular yet insufferable characters on the comics page? There must’ve been a peak in like the early 80s when every surface and product in the world was covered in Garfield images. And it would fade too. Even though you’d think people stopped really paying attention to Garfield in Like 1992 and the Internet discovered how much fun the strip was without Garfield in Like 2008. Oh and I guess there was that time in Like 2004 when the Internet discovered that weird Halloween storyline that implies Garfield died in Like 1989 or something and this tied into fan theories about Lyman. Still, there’s a lot of people out there and they remember reading Garfield even if they don’t really anymore.
So there must be some number of cats named Garfield, right this day. And some larger number of cats that have ever been named Garfield. How many? 10 is definitely too few. A million? Probably too high. Ten thousand? Somehow that still feels low; the strip has been going on for a really, really long time. A hundred thousand? That seems possible and yet still seems like a weird number to ponder. But still, long time the comic’s been out there, lot of people with cats, lot of people who want to give their cats pop-cultural reference names.
To sum up then, I’m sorry, I haven’t put any thought at all into what I want in my Denny’s Build Your Own Grand Slam breakfast. Could you come back in a few minutes?
Let me start, before getting to the bafflement, with a plea that you read Reading the Comics, December 30, 2015: Seeing Out The Year Edition. It’s my mathematics blog’s last review of comic strips for 2015. There’s a Jumble puzzle and everything. Now, on to a baffling comic strip:
So. What does Margaret Shulock’s Six Chix for this Tuesday even mean? I keep feeling like understanding is dancing just beyond my reach … like … the cat is jealous of the Christmas tree? But then why have the cat’s daughter in on things? And why a Christmas tree standing in the middle of the floor? Why have the floor drawn to look like an ocean? Why the Shriner’s fezzes with a couple malt balls inside? At least I understand there being two copyright notices, since one seems to apply to the Six Chix concept while the other applies to the specific strip of the day. The other cartoonists seem to do that most of the time. But the strip still remains weird. I feel like, as with the last time Shulock appeared here, it feels like there’s something deeply personal going on that’s not quite open to us.
Hi, everyone, thanks for being back for the next part of this novel-writing walkthrough. You remember last time my leads had gone off down the wrong street. It’s so hard to keep a book on track when the characters drift off like that. Plus, there’s the risk of them doing something that a reader knows is wrong, and the reader then tweets something snotty about you. So what, you say? Well, how do you know that the tweet isn’t going to go viral? And you aren’t going to wake up one day underneath an Internet Dogpile of people mocking your naivete? The public pressure grows until the publisher recalls and pulps every copy of your book, and then goes after you for the money. You’re left with no choice but to escape your home, leaving behind all your loved ones and all the belongings that don’t fit in your cargo pants. And you have to flee to some obscure Canadian province where you eke out a bare living by working as an off-season basketball hoop. Then things get dire the second day.
But. Here’s how I’m going to double down and turn this accident into bonus points. See that? Second lead mentions how, you know, this is the part of town where Jonathan Lethem set most of Chronic City. Main lead didn’t know that but admits he never read it. Second lead reflects how he never read it either, he just heard this was the area. They shrug and get going back to where they should’ve been. Little detour is good for, like, 125 points total.
Why? First the obvious stuff. I get to mention a more popular author’s book, but not in any way that makes me look envious or sour. Readers who’ve heard of him now know I heard of him too, and they like me more because they figure we’ve got stuff in common. Even if they hate Lethem, that’s OK, because I point out the characters didn’t read him. More subtly, now, the story looks like I’ve used its specific setting. Major bonus in making the events feel grounded in reality. I get that even though if you look you realize I haven’t actually referred to any real details.
And if I have the reference wrong, I have a built-in excuse right there in text for getting it wrong. Even the most hostile reader has to agree, characters can get wrong details about books they haven’t read. Doesn’t say anything about what I screw up. Finally, having them talk about a book they haven’t read makes an echo of their talking about quantum mechanics they don’t understand. Almost nobody reading it going to pick up on that. But it adds this nice extra underpinning of security to the story.
You know, I bet this is all good for up to 150 points. Well, that depends on your scoring system. I use the one I’ve always used, some algorithm that was built into emacs back in Like 1994, because it’s too hard to learn another. Some madman exported it to a separate PHP script in 2002 and I’ve been using that ever since. And yeah, there’s this patch that’s supposed to let you use the 2009 revisions to standard story scoring but I’ve never gotten it to work reliably. You can score by whatever your word processor uses, or a web site if you’re doing this competitively. I mean my points and that’s enough for me.
So we’re getting near the end of this installment. Before I go, the Comment of the Week is a special one. In subthread BlooPencil had the happy discovery that Cat Rambo is a well-regarded editor and writer of science fiction and not a novelty tumblr full of kittens photoshopped into 80s Action Movie scenes. I want to thank everyone for whimsical comments on that. And for the novelty tumblr you put together full of kittens photoshopped into 80s Action Movie scenes. That’s the sort of loving and creative community everyone wants the Internet to be for. Keep it up, gang.
About The Author: Though he has never had any work produced in the movie or television industries, Joseph Nebus has seen aquarium animals with names that are compatible with their being Arrested Development references.
Previously in Krazy Kat cartoon adaptations:
- Krazy Kat and Ignatz Mouse At The Circus, 1916 sometime.
- Krazy Kat in Love’s Labor Lost, January 30, 1920.
- Krazy Kat: The Stork Exchange, December 17, 1927.
- Krazy Kat in: Weenie Roast, September 14, 1931.
- Krazy Kat: Li’l Ainjil, March 19, 1936.
Don’t think I’m not extremely agitated at how the subject lines aren’t consistently formated.
I confess I don’t have a particularly strong historical reason for including this week’s example of Krazy Kat cartoons. This isn’t from a different studio or even a different run of cartoons from the earlier examples; it’s another Charles Mintz-produced cartoon, distributed by Columbia Pictures, and like nearly all the cartoons that preceded it any link to George Herriman’s comic strip is theoretical.
But I felt like it belonged anyway. The previous examples have been from the mid-1910s to the mid-1930s, an era showing animation being discovered as an art form. The cartoons were still experimental, sharing a certain vitality, but that also shows some crudity. The drawing wouldn’t be as refined or the animation as smooth as could be. Even sound was still learning the grammar of the animated cartoon.
So I’m putting “The Mouse Exterminator” out as a statement that, yeah, the Mintz studios got better. The cartoon looks and moves well: the animation is full, the backgrounds as lovely as anything you might expect in 1940, the camera moves with ease, and the story makes sense. The cartoons made for Columbia Studios have, it seems to me, been pretty well forgotten, surely the result of Columbia/Screen Gems not thinking much about them; but just because they’re forgotten doesn’t mean they couldn’t be competent.
But that competence … This cartoon’s theatrical release was the 26th of January, 1940. Fifteen days later MGM would release Puss Gets The Boot, later recognized as the start of the Tom and Jerry series. That wouldn’t be the best Tom and Jerry, but it was already an order of magnitude better. It’s a bit sad that the final theatrical Krazy Kat cartoon was merely a competent but unremarkable cat-and-mouse cartoon, but, it’s also not the end of the story.
So I know it’s the time of year for Christmas In July, but I couldn’t think of any good and plausibly public domain cartoons with Christmas themes, so here’s a fair Halloween one instead. It’s Felix the Cat Switches Witches, a remarkably short (three and a half minutes) cartoon from 1927, originally silent (the version embedded here plays the song “Mysterious Mose” over it, which is familiar to me from the Fleischer Betty Boop cartoon of that name), and is pretty much a string of metamorphosis gags even before Felix finds the witch. There is a bit near the start featuring a black guy getting scared by Felix, but it’s not as bad as “1920s cartoon featuring black guy getting scared at Halloween” might make you fear.
For today I’d like to continue the Terry Toons theme that’s been going on around these parts with the 1922 short “Magic Boots”. This is another good example of the kind of loose and improvisational style that was so common in cartoons before sound. The action starts with some mice dancing, and turns to a bunch of cats, then cats at sea, then wearer-less boots marching around, and then before you know it things have reached Saturn and the Moon and … well, despite a weak ending that as far as I can tell isn’t set up at all, there’s steadily something interesting and weird going on. Do enjoy, please.
9:30 am. Readied to set out. With the car loaded up, popped back inside to announce to presumed interested public about the start of the journey. Drawn into conflict about whether this should be “Day 1” or “Day 0” away from home on the grounds that a nontrivial part of the day was spent at home. Argument proved surprisingly violent; cats hid under bed, producing discovery that there were cats around.
Total Mileage: 0.