What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? Doesn’t Martinez Know You Can Have Two Starting Pitchers? March – June 2023

One thread in the baseball-season story in Henry Barajas and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp is that Valley Tech coach Luke Martinez isn’t giving his son, Pedro Martinez, chances to pitch. He’s got a foreign-exchange student, Kwan Tak, who’s hogging all the glory. But you need more than one starter for a baseball team, and Pedro Martinez was bred to be a hall-of-famer. He’s got allegedly a 90 mph fastball; between Kwan and Pedro, Valley Tech should be winning games they aren’t even in. I saw one Gil Thorp commenter ask whether Henry Barajas even knows how the game is played.

I imagine Barajas does. There are a couple things going on here that you might miss if you aren’t reading three months’ worth of story at once. While you need multiple starters, there’s the starter you give the most important games and there’s your second-chair. And that hurts. And Luke Martinez is busy screwing up his relationship with his kids, including Pedro Martinez. The last we saw him on-screen, Pedro was upset that his father had made their win against Milford all about his coaching, rather than Pedro’s playing. Pedro didn’t play basketball for Valley Tech, a gap you might have thought was just because not everyone plays every sport. Except that last month Marty Moon asked Martinez why Pedro didn’t play. That attention makes the picture clearer.

Pedro: 'Are you @#$@# serious?' Luke Martinez: 'Make the call, Coach Kim'. Pedro: 'You're *petty*.' Martinez: 'You're *grounded.' Calling to Kwan: 'Kwan, let's show them what you got.'
Henry Barajas and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 19th of May, 2023. I understand the desire, to avoid apparent conflicts of interest, in Coach Martinez deferring to his assistant in formally deciding to replace Pedro with Kwan. However, Kwan is still Kim’s cousin, so the problem remains. Anyway, between this and the Marty Moon line about Pedro not playing basketball we get that the relationship between Pedro and his father is getting explosive.

The picture: Pedro Martinez is angry at his father. He didn’t play basketball, either on Pedro’s or Luke’s initiative we don’t know. Now? It appears Coach Martinez wants a more compliant pitcher than even his own son. Whether he’s actually not playing Pedro at all, or whether he’s benching Pedro for the bigger games, is ambiguous so far. Pedro’s sense of rejection is understandable to me.

So this should catch you up to early June 2023 in Gil Thorp. All going well, I’ll have another plot recap by September 2023 at this link, so look there if you’re reading this in my far future. And if you need to catch up more quickly. Now back to the sports department.

Gil Thorp.

13 March – 4 June 2023.

My last visit to Milford saw the basketball season nearing its end. To seal up an undefeated season, assistant coach Emmett Tays brings in a friend. It’s special celebrity guest star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar! Who gives advice about outlasting the competition; he recommends it, himself. (Later, for Free Comic Book Day, we get special celebrity guest star Steenz, Heart of the City‘s cartoonist. And we get one more special guest star in the window of strips I’m discussing.)

The competition will be a tough one: Valley Tech versus the undefeated Milford for the 2023 Boys Basketball Championship. The game starts, reader time, the 24th of March. (Marty Moon says he’s joined by “the legendary Lachlan Maclean”, a name unfamiliar to me. A commenter at GoComics found that he’s a Louisville, Kentucky, sports reporter, so counts as our third celebrity guest star! Let’s give him a big hand and congratulate the strip on more celebrity ‘gets’ than Dick Tracy managed this cycle.) It’s a hard-fought match, both teams playing well and Coach Martinez not being all weird about Gil Thorp. It’s either team’s game until an accident with one minute left to play. Rodney Barnes — who with Tobias Gordon was selling vape sticks to support the sports program — collides hard with a Valley Tech player. He’s knocked out hard enough Tobias starts giving CPR. Rodney’s taken off by ambulance, and he’ll be in the hospital until the next storyline starts.

Basketball announcer: 'We've got a minute left on the clock!' Rodney, calling for the ball: 'Tobe!' But he crashes into a Valley Tech player and falls, hard. Announcer: 'That was a nasty crash!' Tobias, shaking the unconscious Rodney: 'Rod?! Get up, man!'
Henry Barajas and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 4th of April, 2023. That was a surprise and part of me was expecting that Rodney might die here. Don’t tell me it can’t happen; Neal Rubin had a very effective storyline where a player-character got killed in a freak traffic accident, and Barajas is more eager to take narrative leaps than Rubin.

After Rodney’s taken away — and they get the news he’s conscious — the teams agree to finish the game, telling one another it’s what Rodney would want. So he would: Milford gets the final basket and tops a perfect season with the local championship. Martinez congratulates Gil Thorp on a good game, “but know this … this ain’t over,” causing people in adjacent comics to roll their eyes. “C’mon, mate,” Ginger Meggs chides. “You don’t have to be all weird like this. Cricket wallaby billycart.” But he does, and he’s only going to ramp it up for the baseball story.

The baseball story — also, Chapter 3 of Henry Barajas’s first year here, “The Prestige”, begins the 12th of April. There’s miscellaneous little pieces of business. Coach Thorp’s kids are still hanging out with Luke Martinez’s kids. Martinez’s younger kid wishes his dad were nice like Gil Thorp. Marty Moon asks Luke Martinez why Pedro — signed up to be Valley Tech’s star pitcher — didn’t play basketball. Marty’s so used to being told “because shut up is why” he doesn’t even register there’s a story there. It’s right up there in my prologue.

But he does find the long-simmering story of the vape sticks. A leading comment from Gil Thorp sends Tobias freaking out that someone knows what they’re up to. He’s swears that he’s out, even if Rod won’t quit yet, just as Marty Moon snaps pictures of their dealing.

Mimi Thorp’s on the golf circuit. She gets a bouquet of roses and a supporting card on the start of this tour. They’re from Ericka Carter, who’d been giving her lessons.

Dorothy; 'I wanted to *thank* you.' Keri: 'I hope you'd do the same for me ... but I doubt you've ever been in a fight.' Dorothy, hugging her: 'I still hate you for beating me up [*] that one time! I'll follow you on Instagram tonight, bye!' Keri, thinking: 'She even smells pretty.' [ * Editor's note: read the strip from 11/16/2022! ] Later, Mimi Thorp, picking her up: 'Keri Harper Thorp. How was your first time serving detention?' Keri: 'Honestly? Rad.'
Henry Barajas and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 1st of June, 2023. The strip from November 16, 2022, saw Keri slug Dorothy for not-undeniably-laughing-at-her. And before you ask how Keri didn’t serve detention for that: Gil Thorp called in a favor, and Keri got mandatory counselor visits but not detention yet.

And Keri Thorp, playing on the girls’ team, has a strange encounter with her bully Dorothy Wolfe. Wolfe’s been pitching a great season, topping it with a no-hitter. Someone on the losing team congratulates her with an elbow into the chest. It starts a brawl, and Dorothy’s stunned when the rest of the team comes to her defense. Wolfe hugs Keri, who startles me by thinking, “She even smells pretty”. It’s a gentle open to a much-needed Pride Month. Also between this and Ericka Carter, Mary Worth has like 350 years of social catching-up to do.

The central sport of all this is baseball, or possibly softball. Someball, anyway. Gil Thorp’s having some trouble finding a pitcher. Kaz gives his old boss one more good tip by reminding him of Greg Hamm, star of Neal Rubin’s final story for Gil Thorp. And Hamm is up for a special guest appearance, giving faintly Yoda-ish lessons about how to feel the air, the sunlight, the position of the catcher. And to make your pitches count; you don’t know how many you’ll get.

Luke Martinez, meanwhile, is almost sick for choice in pitchers. His own son would be killer enough. But Martinez goes all the way to Korea, to coax assistant coach Kim’s cousin into coming over as a foreign exchange student. He offers the promise of being a hugely noticed fish in their pond. Martinez even shows off that he speaks Korean to do this. I like learning buffoon-leaning characters like Martinez have unexpected skills. I assume he’s doing all this on his dime. I can’t imagine Valley Tech has a huge recruiting travel budget for the boys baseball team.

Keri: 'Luke benched you *again*?' Pedro: 'Dad has a new favorite son.' Keri: 'Do I sense some jealousy, babe?' Elsewhere on the field. Kwan: 'Screwball? More like 'Screw Loose'!' Martinez: 'Haha! You're killing me, Kwan!'
Henry Barajas and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 3rd of June, 2023. I’m not sure whether Coach Martinez is genuinely blown away by Kwan’s wit, or is supporting him for doing this well in wordplay in a foreign language. Absent contrary indications, I’m going to suppose Martinez is impressed Kwan is joking like a native speaker and building him up for that.

Kwan Tak, “The Korean Nightmare”, comes to Valley Tech. Martinez bunches his own son to start Kwan, raising eyebrows from Gil Thorp and scowls from Pedro. Kwan — staying with the Martinezes, for that extra dose of energy — gets along great with Coach Martinez. But also (we learn this week) feels isolated and pressured by his family. They have unrealistic high expectations for accomplishment in the field of high school baseball.

And this, more or less, is where we’ve reached by early June. I don’t know how much of this will wrap up before Barajas’s one-year anniversary of the strip, coming up in five weeks, but we’ll learn together.

Milford Sports Watch!

Who’s Milford playing? Who’s Milford talking about? These teams, and these days. If you want their win-loss record you can work it out from here.

Next Week!

It’s spies! And betrayals! And family intrigue! And probably a three-month jump ahead to the next season! Three months of Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker gets reduced to like 800 words next week, I hope. See you then.

My Favorite _Raising Duncan_ Strip Just Reran

When Chris Browne, longtime artist of Hagar the Horrible, died earlier this month I mentioned my fondness for a particular panel of his wholly original strip, Raising Duncan. The strip ran for only a couple years, and GoComics has decided to keep it in endless repeats. I’m glad for this, as they recently got to that favorite strip of mine, and I wanted to share it here:

Adelle, hugging her husband: 'Marry me!' Big Daddy: 'I did!' Adelle: 'Marry me *more*!' Big Daddy, holding her arm, 'Aw!'
Chris Browne’s Raising Duncan for the 2nd of April 2002, and reprinted the 30th of May, 2023. (Original run here, though it looks just the same.) Duncan is the cute dog sleeping in the first panel there. I am surprised this hasn’t been used as an anniversary-card comic, though.

That isn’t to say the strip doesn’t have a good number of ‘husband’s a lunk and his wife is the tolerant sensible one’, but it’s quite gentle and kindly, in a way it’s easy to get wrong. I recommend at least one read-through of the comic.

What’s Going On In Rex Morgan, M.D.? What’s this beef Terry Beatty has with you? March – May 2023

Terry Beatty does not have any beef with me. There is maybe one chance in sixty that Terry Beatty is even aware I exist, and if he is, his opinion is “there are other people out there for me to have opinions about”. But, this is like the third time he’s run a plot recap of his own, on or near the week I had scheduled for my plot recaps of his Rex Morgan, M.D., seen here. (See January 2022 and also February 2021.)

Well, if he’d rather do the plot recaps than trust me to do it, that’s fine. I can use some easy weeks, believe me. Next week is for Henry Barajas and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp, after all, and that’s got a lot of things happening. Reducing it all to a plot recap will take work.

Rex Morgan, M.D..

4 March – 28 May 2023.

Last time, Hank Junior Harwood and Yvonne Grey were planning their honeymoon on a cruise ship. How did that go?

Horrible Hank Sr: 'Hey, kids --- welcome back. Hope you enjoyed the cruise.' Hank Jr: 'We did. But you're not going to *believe* who was there and what happened!' [ Hank Jr and Yvonne recount their cruise adventure. ] Hank Sr: 'Rene Belluso!?!' Hank Jr: 'Yeah --- can you believe it?' Senior: 'I can't believe you jumped into the ocean to save him. He hardly deserves it.' Junior: 'Couldn't help it, Pop. You taught me to care about everybody.' Senior: 'That was *me*? More likely your *mom*. I hardly like *anybody*.' Junior: 'You're a nicer man than you pretend to be, Pop.' Senior: 'Shush. Don't ruin the illusion. 'Horrible Hank' has a reputation to maintain.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 28th of May, 2023. Rene Belluso, multi-failed con artist, was in the ocean because he missed while trying to shove Hank Junior in. This because Belluso suspected, correctly, that Hank Junior recognized him as the ‘Professor Augustus Mirakle’ whose snake-oil therapy had coaxed the wonderfully bombastic ‘Mud’ Murphy into being a nice, gentle person. This prompted Murphy to write and perform a lot of treacly, pointless numbers that disappointed his fans, Hank Junior and Yvonne included. I don’t care for the implication that an artist has to be screwed up to be good — it leads to the idea that it’s a good thing to make artists miserable — but it’s not a notion Beatty invented from nowhere. Anyway, Murphy has to deal with the realization that a scammer helped him to fix some of the many issues in his life. But he can use the accidental wisdom and blend that into his life. Plus a children’s TV producer thinks Murphy’s twee little musical doodlings are just what kids want to hear. So that’s all happy endings, including for Rene, who somehow escaped from the ship’s brig, to be seen in some later story.

Thanks for checking in! See you next time.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Sundays)? Why do the secret furries live in the 19th century? February – May 2023

The animal-like people in Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom‘s Sunday-continuity story, “Return to the Temple of the Gods”, came about from an Ancient Egyptian Cult that somehow developed a race of super-men. This was introduced in a daily-continuity story back in 2005. I’m considering doing a special recap of that as the Return starts its second year.

That cult, we learn, died out sometime in the late 19th century. With the lack of surface contact, the underground race of animal-men here have had to develop with their small population and resources. So things have a strong fin-de-siècle vibe.

This essay should catch you up to mid-May 2023 in the Sunday Phantom. If you’re interested in the weekday continuity, or if you’re reading this after about August 2023, I should have a more useful essay up here. And now back to the underground domain of the near-humans.

The Phantom (Sundays).

26 February – 21 May 2023.

The Phantom and Diana Walker and Devil were finally in. Teydra, a lion-like humanoid, brought them into The Domain, an underground city guarded by a gigantic mural of The Phantom. The 3rd Phantom, centuries ago, visited here … but after a terrible fight he retreated and wrote nothing in The Chronicles about a subterranean city. Why?

Diana and Kit Walker’s supposition: The 3rd Phantom never got to the underground city. Instead, after the ferocious battle, the cult built up his image as a protector and warning for and to the almost-humans.

Teydra said the Phantom’s appearance, so like the legendary warrior, would not go unnoticed. In case anyone risked not noticing she finks on him to the Council. (I assume it’s The Council.) Her suspicion: the human called Walker secretly found images of the Champion of Old, and adopted that image for his own secret purposes. It’s an interesting hypothesis, as you could argue it’s true. The Council sets Phantom and Wife in an apartment, under the supervision of a guard who’s not nearly stealthy enough. The guard quits after a good clonk in the face.

Mina Braun, hugging: 'PHANTOM!' Teydra, thinking: 'Walker knows her name? And she knows him but calls him ... Phantom? ... That's what she called the champion of old on the day I saved her life.' Braun, fainting: 'Phantom ... ' Diana: 'She's Fainted!' Phantom, grabbing: 'I've got her!' Teydra: 'What goes here, Walker? You know the human female? And she you?' Diana, thinking: 'Mina Braun!? How many times did I hear *that* name on our Trek through the Chamber of the Gods?' Diana kneels at Braun's side: 'Mina ... ? Can you hear me?' Teydra, to The Phantom: 'Mina Braun just called you by the same name she cried out when she saw the image of The Champion who stands guard at the gates!' Flashback to Braun seeing the giant Egyptian-style portrait of The Phantom, underground: 'It's him!! The Phantom! The man who drew me here in my mind! ... My dreams!' Teydra: 'I alone bear responsibility for bringing you here, Walker. Tell me who it is I've brought to the domain of the almost humans.' Phantom, thinking: 'As ever, the legend is the answer ... ' Phantom, aloud: 'I'm known by many names, Teydra. Mina Braun has known me in many guises ... Walker among them. Say nothing ... moments from now, you'll see her call me Walker as well.'
Tony Depaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 7th of May, 2023. Phantom is pretty lucky the legend has sprawled out so far as to cover cases like this. Also he’s lucky Teydra isn’t asking about Towns Ellerbee or John Doe. Also I thought The Phantom Wiki had a list of aliases The Ghost Who Walks has used but if it does, I can’t find it.

Next morning Teydra takes the humans to meet their goal. That would be the other human, the assistant missing since the mauling of an explorer that set off this whole story. The Phantom wants to know that she’s okay and that Teydra’s claim that she wants to be there is correct. The assistant proves to be Mina Braun, who was in the 2005 (reader time) story which introduced all this to the Phantom’s world. (She was on the trail of a 1945 desperation mission by Nazis to bring animal-people super-soldiers into the war on their side.) Guran, using the Bandar Potion of Amnesia, suppressed her memories of this. And yet … she recognizes The Phantom on sight. She’s relieved these muddled memories were not a fever dream during a jungle-induced illness.

Diana considers what the imperfection of Guran’s Potion means. Among other things, it makes it harder to ignore the moral problems in mind-wiping. Also that now Braun is wrapping herself tight around The Phantom. She’s overwhelmed in the joy of an island of safety in a swampy confused nightmare. That’ll probably be easy to straighten out.

Next Week!

What’s better than cruise ships? How about serial con artist Rene Belluso teaming up with “Mud” Murphy for a blockbuster story-comics extravaganza? I plan to cover three months’ worth of Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. next week, if I can! See you there.

Did I Just Discover Something About Charlie Brown’s Family?

So last week I was reading the Peanuts repeats, because I don’t see any reason I should ever stop that. And last week we got to this pleasant enough exchange at the Charlie Brown Talking Wall:

Charlie Brown: 'I have a grandfather who is 76 years old. He just lost out in the first round of a tennis tournament.' Linus: 'Is he the kind who hates to lose?' Charlie Brown: 'No, he takes it quite well ... he says it's all part of growing up!'

Charles Schulz’s Peanuts for the 13th of May, 2023. Originally run the 15th of May, 1976. Also, I mean, half of everybody oses out in the first round, there’s no shame in that. Unless it’s a double-elimination tournament and even then, half of everybody’s gone by … I have no idea when. But half of everyone loses their first round and half of everybody loses their second.

This strip, like almost all those repeats for this year, is from 1976 originally. So Charlie Brown’s grandfather was born in 1900. And hey, wait a minute, you know who else was born in 1900? Of course, the longtime star of Gasoline Alley, Walt Wallet. I hadn’t been sure whether he was born in 1900 or if we just assumed that, but here’s a strip from Jim Scancarelli which seems to make the case:

Official: 'Mr Wallet! I'm from Social Security and we've got a few questions to ask you.' Walt Wallet: 'Gulp!' Official: 'You've been drawing a check from us for quite a long time! Exactly what is your social security number?' Walt: '2!' Official: 'Two? How can that be?' Walt: 'I was second in line when it all started! I'm so old I can remember when General Motors was a Second Lieutenant!' Official: 'Hmm! Our records show your age as 114! We know that's a mistake! How old are you?' Walt: 'Age is just a number - and mine is unlisted!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 5th of January, 2014. Walt’s got some nice schtick going here, but may I suggest: “I’m so old I can remember when Jack Benny was 38”?

Is Walt Wallet Charlie Brown’s grandfather? I think we have to say he’s not, no. Never mind the temporal shenanigans that would have to be waved away for Charlie Brown to appear in a Wallet family reunion. I don’t see where there’s a Wallet who could be Walt’s child and Charlie Brown’s parent. And I know there can’t be an unaccounted-for Wallet relative, because if there were Jim Scancarelli would absolutely have done a strip about finding a lost Wallet. Also if Walt was 114 the first week of January, 2014, there’s a 98% chance he was born in 1899 anyway. So, not him.

(Also there is no reason to think this strip has to happen the 5th of January. Among other things, the day was a Sunday, when it’s not likely a social security official would be poking around on non-crisis business.)

Ah, but what other legendary comic strip character was born in 1900? And then we get to this repeat from a couple weeks ago:

1905 'Little Nemo in Slumberland' strip set on New Year's Eve, in which Father Time brings Nemo to the hall of ages. Each year that Nemo touches brings him to that age, and he grows to his mid-40s before Father Time helps him back to being five years old. The newly five-year-old touches '1999' and ages to 99 years, for the end of the dream.
Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland rerun for the 6th of May, 2023. Originally run the 31st of December, 1905. So, this Tome Morgue they’re visiting … why isn’t there a uniform spread between one row and the next? In panel five, for example, we have jumps from one row to the one below of 17 years, 12 years, 15 years, 19 years, and 24 years. In panel nine, we have gaps of 15 years, 21 years, and 24 years. Is part of the trouble that Father Time doesn’t have good organization skills?

So. Character born in 1900, unaccounted-for since 1927, always learning such useful lessons as “don’t wantonly grab the Time Drawers once you’ve already seen touching them can make you old and dressed uproariously out of fashion for 1948”. There’s no obvious reason Little Nemo couldn’t have grown up to play tennis and offer soft lessons about maturity to Charlie Brown. Do we have a match? What do you think, sirs?

If you don’t like this I have theories about Dumbo and Gertie the Dinosaur you might like better. Just warning you.

What’s Going On In Mary Worth? Why is everyone insisting Wilbur’s a great guy? February – May 2023

The story dominating Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth since February has been about Estelle. She’s got a new boyfriend, and a new job working for him for some reason. But there’s been a lot of talk about how Wilbur Weston feels about this. A touch of this is appropriate. Estelle was fed up Wilbur’s Wilbur-ness. And the suspicion that Wilbur was creeping on her helped her interest pair-bonding with Ed the Veterinarian.

But Wilbur’s getting more mention than he needs. It may be because he is a glorious punching bag, all unjustified self-confidence and unaware incompetence. But this makes him a snarker’s delight. There’s a reason we (me included) like to talk about his mayonnaise expertise and such. So it may be that the strip is contracting self-awareness and that Moy and Brigman are playing to the fans. I hope it’s more that it’s fun seeing mildly bad things happen to Wilbur. And that they’re looking to develop more characters that hit that right level of ridiculousness. Hugo the guy who’s totally not making up being French shows they can do it in other tones.

[ As Mary consoles Wilbur .. ] Mary Worth: 'Let me take you to karaoke. You'll feel better if you express your emotions ... I'll go with you, Wilbur. You don't need to do this alone!' Wilbur, teary: 'Okay ... sniff!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 21st of April, 2023. “What you need is to do a public performance in front of a slightly drunk group of strangers who all think they could do better plus one most trusted friend watching you with steely-eyed determination to constantly judge your feelings. That’ll help you!’

I hope here to catch you up to mid-May 2023 in the comic strip. I keep all my plot recaps for, and news about, Mary Worth at this link. If you’re reading this after about August 2023 there’s probably a more up-to-date plot recap there.

Mary Worth.

19 February – 14 May 2023.

Estelle, haunted by possibly imaginary visions of Wilbur Weston, orders him out of her life. She brings with her the highest possible authority: getting Mary Worth to agree Wilbur’s gone too far. Estelle throws her time and interests into Ed Harding, her veterinarian and witness to the classic Wilbur Karaoke Fight. They seem to hit it off, but —

Ed: 'I'm human. I don't like that my private life comes second, but the work with the animals is essential.' Steven: 'I can't be a good veterinarian if I'm burned out ... how do you balance work with private life and self-care, Uncle Ed?' Ed: 'I don't.'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 9th of March, 2023. I was surprised how impassive — cheerful, even — Ed shows in admitting this. His expression sells the idea that he doesn’t realize this is a bad answer to have. He looks like he thinks why should he change? The world is the one who sucks, not him.

Ed has to cancel a date. And another. And more. He’s been having a hard time at work, with a lot of animals needing care. And his assistant, Steven, can’t cope with the demands of the job, and quits. Estelle, taking the chance that Ed isn’t hiding from her, leaves a message suggesting Not One More Vet. It’s a (real) group for veterinarians who have mental health crises. Ed remembers how he told Steven he simply doesn’t balance his work and life and wonders if that means anything.

They get together for a third date and it goes great. Even their pets get along great. Stella thinks this is love, so we can only imagine what the fifth date will be like. (That’s the one with Pet Yoga.) But Ed’s looking into therapy too, and he’s prepared to admit they’re short-staffed at work. Stella offers what if she were to work as a volunteer for a couple hours a week? It’s a little weird, but she’s into weird. But she’s good at doing whatever needs doing. And she gets to see Ed doing great stuff like rescuing a choking dog. Ed talks about making this something serious: putting her on hourly.

Large man wearing a ten-gallon hat and a huge snake around his shoulders: 'Harry, my boa constrictor here, stopped eating! Can we see Dr Harding?' Estelle: 'Sir, there's another veterinarian that specializes in exotic animals just three blocks away ... I'll give you his name and address.' Man: 'Thank you, ma'am.'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 11th of April, 2023. First, cute emoting on the snake there. Second, hey are you the famous country singer ‘Mud’ Murphy? No? Totally different guy we’ll see when I get around to Rex Morgan, M.D. in a couple weeks? Okay, I can wait.

Meanwhile, Wilbur’s coping with Estelle’s latest breakup by weeping on Mary Worth’s plates of salmon goo. She coaxes him into going out to karaoke, singing sad songs while Stella and Ed thank each other for loving them.

With all that resolved what is there to do but thank Mary Worth? And for Stella and Ed to congratulate each other on pair-bonding so hetero-monogamously. Also that Ed’s now taking enough time off to not feel burned out. So everyone’s happy, right?

And with the 7th of May Stella and Ed’s story comes to its conclusion. The 8th, Dr Jeff calls up Mary Worth to invite her to a surprise. He’s got a much bigger boat and absolutely no intentions of asking Mary Worth to marry him again. She loves both of these. And they agree how great it is Stella and Ed found each other even though Ed is so not like Wilbur. Also but they bet someone’s out there for Wilbur Weston even though he’s so “eccentric”.

Jeff and Mary Worth eating is usually a signal for a new story to start, so my recap week is well-positioned once more. What’s coming next, and will it involve cruise ships? I don’t know, nobody tells me anything.

Dubiously Sourced Mary Worth Sunday Panel Quotes!

But one thing I know without being told: every Sunday Mary Worth quotes something a person almost always did not say! If they did, it wasn’t in context, or it wasn’t that Socrates, or something like that. Here are some recent examples.

  • “Nightmares are releases.” — Sylvia Browne, 19 February 2023.
  • “Dating is … weird.” — Jennifer Coolidge, 26 February 2023.
  • “When things are a disappointment, try not to be so discouraged.” — Carol Burnett, 5 March 2023.
  • “Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.” — Albert Einstein, 12 March 2023.
  • “Faith is a knowledge within the heart, beyond the reach of proof.” — Khalil Gibran, 19 March 2023.
  • “Patience attracts happiness: it brings near that which is far.” — Kate Phillips, 26 March 2023.
  • “There’s nothing like music to relieve the soul and uplift it.” — Mickey Hart, 2 April 2023.
  • “No one is useless in this world who lightens the burden of another.” — Charles Dickens, 9 April 2023.
  • “The world needs people who save lives.” — Frederick Buechner, 16 April 2023.
  • “Life is like an onion. You peel it off one layer at a time and sometimes you weep.” — Carl Sandburg, 23 April 2023.
  • “It’s not so much our friends’ help that helps us as the confidence of their help.” — Epicurus, 30 April 2023.
  • “Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction.” — Antoine de Saint-Exupery, 7 May 2023.
  • “We can only learn to love by loving.” — Iris Murdoch, 14 May 2023.

Next Week!

Is it possible there are downsides to memory-wiping a person who’s been taken by a superhero into a land of Victorian animal-men? Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom, Sunday continuity, has explored the question. I’ll explore their exploration next week, I hope. See you then.

The Guy Who Draws _Beetle Bailey_ Has Seen More Squirrels

I apologize for pushing Mary Worth down the schedule a day. Don’t worry, it’s just people talking up how Wilbur Weston, huh, what are you going to do? I don’t know why that’s more important than even telling Mary Worth how great she is at advising stuff. But my weekend was busy so this is the compromise I make.

And that compromise does allow me to bring further good news on the Beetle Bailey squirrel art front: the guy who draws the strip has seen more squirrels and has got a better handle on drawing one that looks like a squirrel but also like it fits the art style of the comic.

Sarge: 'Get to work! You've been lollygagging all day!' Beetle Bailey, lounging against a tree: 'What does that mean?' He takes out his phone: 'Definition: 'to spend time idling'.' Sarge: 'Now you're lolly-googling!!' In the background a squirrel stands between them, watching Sarge disapproving.
Gret Walker, Mike Yates, and Janie Walker-Yates’s Beetle Bailey for the 12th of May, 2023. I am curious why the squirrel is there. The background animal doesn’t add to the gag any. Is it to define the horizon in the second panel? But there’s the patch of Schulz Grass for that. If there were any reason for Zero to be in this strip the squirrel would be a natural companion, but Beetle? (No, there is no chance they tossed it in to see if I’d react. There is nobody so interested in my reaction as to draw a squirrel to see it.)

I’ll agree there’s something a little Muppet in the way the squirrel’s standing but that’s all right. Nobody has any reason to feel bad for getting a bit of Muppet in their light entertainment.

Please watch this space for further Beetle Bailey animal-seeing news. Thank you.

Also I’m a little surprised “lolly-googling” wasn’t something talked about as the fad of wasting time on computers at work got reported on around the year 2000.

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? Why is this leprechaun guy in Mark Trail? February – May 2023

The last few days in Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail have introduced us to Jebediah Jeter. He’s a journalist who went missing while investigating a nature retreat. Rather than being attacked by bears, though, he claims to have befriended them. He seems to be going through some stuff.

So this should catch you up to early May 2023 in the comic strip. If you’re reading this after about August 2023, or news about Mark Trail comes out, I should have a more useful essay here. For now, back to the Lost Forest Non-Municipal Area.

Mark Trai.

12 February – 7 may 2023.

Last time I figured Mark Trail was going to do a story about the alligators in the Lost Forest. So did Mark. Bill Ellis vetoed the story, though, figuring nobody would care unless Mark Trail got eaten by alligators or something cool like that. But he does have another story, one within commuting range. Water Bear Country is this place for rich STEM idiots to reconnect with nature. But True Tech Magazine reporter Jebediah Jeter’s vanished from it. True Tech’s editor thinks he was attacked by a water bear. Mark Trail concedes the possibility but that such an attack would not be a big deal.

Violet Cheshire: 'Cherry! My office is totally washed out! How did this happen??' Cherry Trail: 'Isn't it next to the new driveway? If rainwater can't absorb into the earth, it runs over to the next closest thing.' Violet: 'So what you're saying is ... this driveway caused the flooding?' Cherry: 'Heavens no, Violet! The storm did that. The driveway routed the rainwater to your office door.' Violet: 'Thanks for clarifying.'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 21st of April, 2023. I, too, appreciate Cherry’s desire to be precise about the matter. And tha she wants to be intellectually honest enough about her answer not to just blame the disaster on the concrete driveway she hates.

Back to that in a moment. I’d like to outline the Cherry Trail story, which gets to another round of conflict with Honest Ernest over the Sunny Soleil Garden Society. He’s planning to pave over the garden outside the clubhouse. Society president Violet Cheshire is all for this too. Ernest’s (ex?-)wife Caroline wants nothing to do with him, and poured his homemade lawn toxin sideline down the drain. So now he’s into paving. Violet Cheshire won’t hear any arguments against the parking lot, and all Cherry Trail can do is salvage some rose bushes ahead of the concrete pour.

Then comes the rain pour. A heavy but not exceptional storm rolls through and with the soft, absorbent ground gone, the water rolls into Violet Cheshire’s office. She’s not happy about that, either, but what are you going to do? Think about how we get rain sometimes?

Back to Water Bear Country. Mark Trail can’t get anyone to say they understand that “water bears”, tardigrades, are microorganisms remarkable for their hardiness and incapable of threatening a human. He does get a greeting from Water Bear Country Retreat organizer and AI writing/art scammer Simon Stump. And he gets to meet the current set of campers. Re-meet, most of them: there’s people like ‘Cricket Bro’ Rob Bettancourt that he’d like to punch. Or Professor Bee Sharp, whose punching is less necessary. There’s also a lifestyle influencer named Holly Folly he doesn’t know anything about.

This gang goes off on a nature hike. Mark Trail figures it’s a good chance to find out why there might be macroscopic bear problems in the village. Possible causes? Lots of food left in attended dumpsters. He can barely consider what this means for park management when Holly Folly runs in calling for help. The trail collapsed and Cricket Bro and Bee Sharp fell down the ravine. Mark Trail drives home and picks up Andy and a cart to wheel Bee Sharp back up.

[ mark helps with a rescue after two campers got hurt badly in a trail collapse ... and Andy's making new friends too. ] Andy's harnessed to a wagon, and Bee Sharp's resting in it. Holly Folly, petting the dog: 'What a good boy!' Andy: 'Arf!' Mark Trail: 'Glad we all made it out safely. How's everyone feeling?' Rob Bettancourt, holding up a branch: 'I'm bored. Can you turn a tree branch into a selfie stick?' [ No good deed goes unpunished, Mark. ]
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 23rd of March, 2023. I love the little hearts floating around Holly Folly and Andy in the second panel there. This may also be a good spot for a discussion question. Does it work that we don’t have any knowledge of Holly Folly’s problems before Mark Trail announces they exist? In structure it’s a deus ex machina, a thing not set up in the story that gets Mark Trail to the next point. But it’s something she has reason not to bring up, and that Mark Trail has reason not to bother looking at until he’s gotten this clue about Bee Sharp. So is that fair?

The camp’s emergency plan is to point and say, “Look, a big, distracting thing!” before Stump explains journalists are smug and he’s going to destroy them. So Mark Trail gets his own first aid kit, and drives Sharp to the hospital himself.

Mark Trail doesn’t relish telling Rusty that his favorite science guy has a broken leg. Rusty doesn’t care, though; he’s declared Bee Sharp “cancelled”. This because of a video where Sharp claimed hippos were closely related to pigs. This is something you could find in any pop nature book a generation ago but which has turned out to be wrong. (Other things to catch the Old Pop Nature writer? Skunks aren’t mustelids, and red pandas aren’t in the raccoon family.) Rusty Trail embarrassed himself in class repeating Sharp’s mistake uncritically. And when Sharp wouldn’t even issue a retraction? It seems harsh, but we have to hold our science popularizers to standards.

This is the clue Mark Trail needed. Professor Bee Sharp’s in that credibility deathspiral where middle schoolers say mean stuff about him. The Bettancourts have been losing all their money from their NFT and crypto scams turning out to be scams. Holly Folly’s facing a workplace lawsuit. Almost everyone at the camp is broke. But what does that mean? Does it relate to Jebediah Jeter’s disappearance?

Mark Trail: 'Jebediah, everyone has been looking for you! What happened? I hope nothing too wacky.' Jones: 'Well, I was digging around Sid Stump's office and I got too close to the truth! They marched me out in the middle of the night ... to fight with a bear! But then I ran into the woods, with the bear giving chase. We became friends!' [ Making friends with bears isn't wacky, right? ]
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 28th of April, 2023. What could be wacky about a guy named ‘Jebediah Jones’, a name which doesn’t sound at all like a character Conan O’Brien had on to introduce the next show’s guests from 2004 to 2006? … And it has struck me that “Jebediah Jones” and “Holly Folly” are self-consciously silly names in a way that, like, “Rob Bettancourt” or even “Professor Bee Sharp” aren’t. Even “Chet Chedderson”, the shipping magnate who’s the only person at the camp with actual money has a slightly goofy name. This isn’t a novel thing for the strip, as see Kelly Welly. I wonder if it’s an attempt to consciously make the temporary and minor characters more preposterous and therefore easier to remember.

Luckily, Jebediah Jeter pops right up and shares his story. He was digging around Stump’s office and, he thinks, got too close to the truth. So “they” — Stump and I’m not sure who — marched him off into the night to fight with a bear. He fled, and so did the bear. And … they became friends, all right. But what’s the truth Jeter got too close to?

Sid Stump plans to unleash AI automatic content generation on the world. He’s running the camp as a way to get investor money. But the camp is shoddily run — the cliffs were ruled unstable years ago, and haven’t got any better — and everyone coming to the camp is themselves looking for money. But even if they succeed … AI automatic content generation sucks. It writes plausible-sounding nonsense, because STEM idiots don’t know what epistemology is or how to get one. Mark Trail offers Jeter what he’s most needed — a ride to safety — but it may be too late. He’s led Sid Stump to Jeter.

And that’s our cliffhanger, at least until the cliff collapses out from under us.

Sunday Animals Watch!

    The past several months have leaned into the interpretation of Sunday strips as slices of Mark Trail’s articles. He even mentions needing to write about tardigrades a few days before they turned up in the Sunday strip. So I guess here’s a listicle of Mark Trail writing for you:

  • Iguanas, 12 February 2023.
  • Wolves and why there aren’t “Alpha Wolves”, 19 February 2023.
  • Tardigrades, 26 February 2023.
  • Great Horned Owls, 5 March 2023.
  • Wind Storm Safety, 19 March 2023. (Mark Trail recommends it.)
  • Bears and trash safety, 26 March 2023. (Mark Trail recommends both.)
  • Monarch Butterflies, 26 March 2023.
  • Concrete, 2 April 2023.
  • Saint Bernard dogs, 9 April 2023.
  • Hippopotamuses, 16 April 2023.
  • Sargassum Wave, 23 April 2023.
  • Spadefoot Toads, 30 April 2023.
  • Eastern Box Turtles, 6 May 2023.

Next Week!

The course of true love never runs straight, but will it run through volunteer work at the animal clinic? How about through Pet Yoga? And most important, has Dr Jeff bought his own CRUISE SHIP All this and Wilbur at Karaoke, too, as we look at Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth in around a week.

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? How could Walt Wallet have met Abraham Lincoln? February – April 2023

He couldn’t. Walt Wallet was born over two weeks after Abraham Lincoln’s murder. However, the current story, wrapping up, in Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley builds on a claim he’s made about having shaken Lincoln’s hand. His reasoning, first explained in February, is that his great-grandfather shook Lincoln’s hand, and his great-grandfather shook his grandfather’s hand, and his grandfather shook his father’s hand, and his father shook his hand, and therefore …

Walt Walet: 'Hey, kids! What would you say if I told you I shook hands with Abraham Lincoln?' Ava Luna: 'You couldn't have, Mr Uncle Walt! You're not old enough!' Walt: 'I haven't heard those words in years! My great-grandfather, Waldo Wallet, actually shook hands with President Lincoln. Now Waldo in turn shook hands with my grandfather, Arval Wallet, who shook hands with my father Woodrow Wallet, who in turn shook hands with me. That means *I* shook hands with President Lincoln too, right?' Aubee: 'Did they wash their hands after shaking?' Ida Noe: 'We visited with Sana Claus in the North Pole! Now *that* was really something!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 19th of February, 2023. So some trivia about Walt Wallet’s family tree here, to be entered into the Gasoline Alley wiki at your earliest convenience. Also I’m amused by the notes in the center panel bottom row, when we see the hands of Uncle Walt and Walt’s Father tagged as such, and the tags admitting not knowing if it’s the other way around. Good little detail.

Yeah, I wouldn’t have bought this as a kid either. It’s cute, but I understand the skepticism of the kids who hear the story. And when they hear it a second time, in the daily story. If I do my job well, this essay should catch you up to the end of April in the daily continuity. If you’re looking for something after about August 2023 there’s probably a more up-to-date plot recap here. Here we go.

Gasoline Alley.

6 February – 29 April 2023.

Boog Wallet, of the youngest generation of the strip, started February hanging around his friend Bear, the bear. Bear talked a bit about the problems of encroaching civilization, like how loud it is. Boog gives Bear some earplugs to help his hibernation and heads for home.

Boog shivers in the woods through a snowstorm: 'Brrr! I know these w-woods like the back of my hands!' The snow is presented as being blown on him by a Jack Frost head on the body of the literal word 'SNOW', partly obscured by bare trees. Boog: 'B-but now, I can't see the woods or my hands, front or back!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 10th of February, 2023. Presenting Jack Frost in the first panel there, with a body literally reading ‘SNOW’, and obscured by trees, is a magnificent bit of staging. Does a lot to make the scene feel colder.

Unfortunately snow’s rolling in. It’s wonderfully illustrated stuff — Jim Scancarelli let himself play here, with happy results — but it also threatens Boog’s life. After a quick prayer he stumbles across the stairs of his mother’s forest-ranger station. So he survives, which is good for him. And he even had a backup miracle. Bear woke up, saw the snow, saw Boog’s prints, and knew he wasn’t dressed warm enough for this. Bear is a good and loyal friend who happens to be bad at hibernation.

Boog’s mother drives him home, though, and around the 4th of March we pass on to Boog’s little sister Aubee and her friends Sophie and Ava Luna. Also Ava Luna’s magic doll Ida Noe. They’re off, first, to see Unca Walt Wallet in case he wakes up.

Some great news: he does wake up! He shakes the kids’ hands and tells them they now can claim to have shaken hands with Lincoln. While anyone can claim that, he baffles the kids by explaining his logic. Also baffling them is the sense they did this before, in the Sunday strips, what’s the deal? (They’re reintroducing it for people who only get the dailies.)

Ini 1863 Ava Luna sees: 'Uh-oh! Here comes trouble!' Officer: 'Good day, children! Constable Matthew Waffles! To whom do I have the pleasure of talking with?' Aubee, Sophie, and Ava Luna introduce themselves in turn, Ava Luna gulping first. Ida Noe, the doll, starts, 'Ida Now! Oops!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 7th of April, 2023. So I’m going to nerd out here rather than annoy you in the main text. Aubee starts to take out her phone, but is talked into not messing up history, which, good goal there. But it is a shame she couldn’t have taken a discreet movie of the Gettysburg Address, for many reasons, among them that we don’t actually know precisely what Lincoln said. We have several drafts of the speech, with minor variations, and of course Lincoln wouldn’t be bound to deliver the text in front of him exactly. Newspaper reports manage to make matters worse, with “transcriptions” of the speech running from vastly shorter to vastly longer versions. In every real sense it doesn’t matter. Nothing of substance would change if in one spot he said ‘in’ where we think he said ‘with’. But wouldn’t it be sweet to know?

Never mind the odd claim. They wonder could it be true that Walt’s great-grandfather shook hands with Lincoln? Since he passed away in March of 2016 it seems there’s no way to know. Unless …

Ida Noe, the magic doll, observes that since they could wish themselves to visit Santa Claus, why couldn’t they wish themselves back in time? And so they’re off to 1863. Their belated desire not to mess up the course of history lasts until they meet Constable Matthew Waffles and want to know if he knows Officer Barbara Waffles. The Constable is amused by notions like women being cops or having the vote or getting credit cards in their own name. But he takes a liking to the strange kids and brings them to front-row center-stage seats for The Gettysburg Address.

They’re excited, sure, but a gust of wind kicks up and blows President Lincoln’s notes away! This is the job for a couple kids who are young and energetic and don’t know whether that back-of-envelopes story is true. They gather up the notes and, fortunately, a large white guy is there to take over once the work is done.

Ava Luna, explaining the notes: 'We've got the president's speech ... ' Aubee: 'Before it blew away!' Waldo Wallet: 'Thank you youngsters, for your quick thinking! I will hand them up to President Lincoln!' Sophie: 'Haven't we seen him before?' Aubee: 'Yeah! But where?' Ava Luna: 'He reminds me of Mr Uncle Walt!' Ida Noe, thinking 'Yeah! But much, much younger.'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 24th of April, 2023. Another nice artistic flourish in a season that’s been full of them: the design of Waldo Wallet is more closely fashioned on the style the comic strip had when it started, a century-plus ago, so that Waldo Wallet looks of a different time from the kids. I knew Jim Scancarelli knew we would notice that.

They realize the fellow bringing Lincoln’s notes back to him and shaking the President’s hand looks a lot like a young Uncle Walt. And indeed, turns out his name is Waldo Wallet. As they head home they reflect that yes, the core of Walt’s story was right. Also they can’t think why they didn’t shake Lincoln’s hand while they had the chance. No sense waiting to return home, though. The code of magic doll time travel forbids it.

And so we end, I think, a cute trifle of a story that gave Jim Scancarelli even more chances to play with the visual style. If you didn’t enjoy, well, there’s probably another story coming in the next week or two.

Next Week!

And in my blog here next week or so? More bears! Bears that attack! Bears that befriend! Bears that are microscopic and lack the ability to attack or befriend! All that and architecturally-assisted flooding in Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail, if all goes well.

The Guy Who Used to Draw _Beetle Bailey_ Saw a Bear

I have a fresh, 57-year-old development in the question of what animals the artist behind Beetle Bailey has seen! Or more exactly figured out how to draw in a style harmonious with both the animal’s shape and the stylized Cartoon Moderne look of the strip. Yes, Mort Walker has been dead for years now, so he can’t be offering ongoing advice about how to draw what here, but his example is there for those of us who want to draw some funny interaction between Zero and a bear.

Cookie climbs into a tree as a bear ransacks and seats the bivouac kitchen. Climbing down later his assistant says, 'It's time to call the men for chow, Cookie ... what do we do?' Cookie, sheepishly, takes a banana and softly taps the dinner bell.
Mort Walker’s Beetle Bailey for the 10th of October, 1966, reprinted the 27th of April, 2023. If I could ask the spirit of Mort Walker one question and it had to be about this strip specifically, I would ask about the banana in the third panel. Did he draw the banana as partially peeled because as soft a noise as a banana would make, a peeled banana makes an even softer one, adding to the exaggeration? Or did he do that just because a peeled banana is quicker to read as ‘a banana’ in comic strip form? Either way it’s a good choice, I’m just curious how much was basic craft and how much was heightening the joke.

What’s Going On In Prince Valiant? Why is King Arthur a monk? January – April 2023

For all I talk about the story strips, I didn’t pay serious, regular attention to them until a couple years ago. There’s a lot of backstory I didn’t know because I never saw it and Wikipedia doesn’t get decent updates. Part of why I do “What’s Going On In” articles is to fill that gap for other people.

When Prince Valiant returned from his journey out to Asia, the strip mentioned how Arn and Maeve were co-regents of Camelot. King Arthur’s absense now has an explanation that I know. He retired to a monastery, where he could shelter from the trauma of leadership in a place of rhythm and structure. But as we also see, he’s ready to step in when he must deal with mundane problems.

This should catch you up to late April 2023 in Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant. If you’re reading this , after about July 2023 there should be a more up-to-date plot recap for you here. Thanks for reading.

Prince Valiant.

29 January – 23 April 2023.

With Dialyodd the Witch Hunter dead, slain by a fortuitous hail of stones from the sky, Prince Valiant looks to the aftermath. The math he wants after: what secret pact did Camelot have with the fanatic Dialyodd that he could go around burning accused witches? He’s in a good position to demand this of the regents of Camelot, as they’re his son Arn and daughter-in-law Maeve.

Arn’s reasoning is dreadful in its practicality. Saxons are attacking the west coast with greater intensity. Dialyodd defended Camelot in exchange for religious liberty that Arn didn’t know included burning women and children. Or claims not to have known, anyway. Arn throws his father out. And then throws himself out. He vacates his co-regency, recommending Queen Aleta take his place while he’s not there. Valiant knows where he’s gone.

After a day in the presence of their beloved former king, Val and Arn are gently urged to depart. They linger over goodbyes, fond sadness in their eyes. Arthur will have none of such sentimentality. 'Don't look so mournful - I'm not dead yet. We'll no doubt meet again ... now get out. You need each other's company more than you need mine.' Father and son, following Arthur's advice, ride away together. Both assume the wear of itinerant warriors. They travel for a time in uncomfortable silence, as is their wont, before Arn offers: 'The strange thing is, he mentioned Dialyodd, although I never spoke specifically of that.' Val chuckles. 'I think our Arthur pays more attention to the outside world than one would expect of a monastic!'
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 12th of March, 2023. I am enjoying this story a good bit. It’s doing well at filling in backstory to the witch-hunter story that explains why Dialyodd would have been in the position he was. And to explore how someone can rationalize their way into a bad situation because there aren’t available ways to do better.

It’s to the monastery where King Arthur retired. Arthur understands Arn’s doubts about his own judgement. He offers that a ruler needs to know something of the conditions on the ground, and Arn might do well to get back to adventuring. Before Arn can consider the advice, Valiant arrives. Arthur won’t put up with their bickering and tells them what they need. It’s a father-son bonding trip, out to the west coast to see how Dialyodd got to where he could protect Camelot and kill women.

They journey west. Their first night camping in what we call Wales they encounter a pack of 1d4 wolves, scared off by fire. Further along they find what seems to be a shepherd’s home in good order, except for having no sheep, or anything but 1d6 drunk Saxon warriors inside. Arn and Valiant have no trouble capturing the Saxons. The prisoners spin a story that they’ve done no harm to anyone. They’d come that far inland searching for food, as the coast is starving, torn by war between mad lords.

And that’s what we know of the situation out west. Next week: to the sea.

Next Week!

For Prince Valiant that’s to the sea, anyway. For us, it’s to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania? Enjoy a classic Bob Newhart routine with Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley next week, if all goes well.

What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? Why didn’t the last two stories finish? January – April 2023

THe last two stories in Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy did finish, with reasonable enough conclusions. They share the quirk that both had a big, unresolved piece, and the same one: a mysterious person putting out a hit on Dick Tracy, and Tracy doesn’t know who or why. OK, that’s not a unique element in Dick Tracy stories. One of these may be setting up a future story. The other is a sort of prequel. So the coincidence in resolution is probably coincidence.

This all should catch you up to mid-April 2023 in the comic strip. If you’re reading after about July 2023, I probably have a more current plot recap here. I’ll also post any news I need to share about the comic at that link. Now on to the action.

Dick Tracy.

29 January – 15 April 2023.

Team Tracy was taking all-around forger Art Dekko into custody. While they walk him to the car, a sniper on the roof of a nearby building shoots at him. Or at Dick Tracy; they don’t know. Tracy has Dekko and Officer Lee Ebony indoors while he chases the sniper. The sniper is Kryptonite, or was, as he and Tracy shoot each other, Tracy more successfully.

Art Dekko: 'Tracy, who was shooting at me?' Tracy: 'Dekko, how do you know they were shooting at you? I might have been the target. In any case, he won't bother anyone again. The shooter was the contractee known as Kryptonite. We've been after him for a while.'
Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 8th of February, 2023. Though the characters don’t know who the target was we the audience do. Kryptonite said to himself he recognized the yellow trenchcoat as Dick Tracy and that “I’ll bag him someday”. He, uh, doesn’t.

Art Dekko spins a tale of how the mysterious 99 coerced him into forging a Leonardo da Vinci painting. The attempted murder is evidence for his story. Tracy’s able to find evidence linking 99 to various extortion and money laundering schemes. She’s escaped to Miami, though, and we overhear her on the phone talking with someone who promises, “listen to me, 99, and you’ll always be one step ahead”. Who is doing the speaking? And what for? We don’t know, as of the story’s close the 25th of February.

The 12th of February was a week of reruns, a repeat of the Minit Mystery solving the death of Ultraman TV star George Reeds. It’s a one-week story and the mystery is solvable from the clues we get, so, do enjoy. It was an oddly-timed interlude in the conclusion of the Art Dekko story.

The 26th of February started the just-concluded story. It’s told in flashback, Dick Tracy telling Sam Catchem of the time he met Nero Wolfe. Yes, that Nero Wolfe, of many charming cozy mysteries. Also a couple of old-time radio series that are free for the listening. The best-cast is the one with Sydney Greenstreet as Nero Wolfe, although none of his actual stories were adapted to that series. Nero Wolfe is a massive detective who would rather not leave home, good day. His factotum and right-hand snarker Archie Goodwin goes into the world to gather evidence and flirt with any women who happen to be in the story. Wolfe solves the crime, he prefers, without standing up.

Tracy’s story starts with Archie Goodwin appealing for Dick Tracy’s help. Nero Wolfe’s been kidnapped, he says, and is somewhere in Tracy’s distractingly unnamed city. What Archie knows: Wolfe got a telegram of such import that Wolfe left home without eating dinner. It’s a turn of events so unlikely that Nero Wolfe fans hearing about this right now are writing Internet Angry comments about how no he did not. He did so, and Archie has the telegram to explain it. The telegram sender offered Nero Wolfe some of Basil St John’s unique black orchids if Wolfe visits him alone. All those Internet Angry people are now saying, okay, yeah, that checks out then. Wolfe is even more motivated by orchids than Eugene the Jeep is. Tracy agrees to investigate Wolfe’s disappearance, even if it isn’t shown to be a kidnapping yet.

[ An undisclosed location ] A man brings in a cart of black orchids, saying, 'Mr Wolfe, I have a surprise for you.' Wolfe puts down his book and stands, overjoyed: 'Ah! The cypriped pubescens! They're beautiful!' Duncan, monitoring behind a one-way window: 'He's very excited, Mr Zeck.' Zeck: 'We'll give him a few more minutes and then take them away. After all, I did promise him black orchids.'
Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 12th of March, 2023. I’m not sure how Zeck got the black orchids. He claims to have snagged them from Basil St John (Brenda Starr’s beau), but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything besides that Mike Curtis knows he can tie in more references to things. (By the way that appearance of Oliver Warbucks back in late January hasn’t developed into anything yet.)

Wolfe, meanwhile, may be kidnapped but he’s having a fine time of it, mostly sitting in a chair reading while supervised by ‘Duncan’ and ‘Mr Zeck’. And this is a big tipoff to the Nero Wolfe fan. Arnold Zeck is a crime boss who appeared in several of Wolfe’s novels, in case you wondered whether Nero Wolfe had his own Moriarty. Of course he does.

After a week of this they give Wolfe the tease of seeing some black orchids. Meanwhile Tracy and Goodwin are on the trail by going around asking if anyone has seen a really fat guy. No, fatter than that. If you don’t understand how he’s moving without the aid of Oompa-Loompas you’re not thinking fat enough. This isn’t a fat joke because Nero Wolfe wears his enormity with pride and he’s got the coolness to back it up. I’ll get there.

Mr Zeck, meanwhile, meets with someone he’d like to hire for a second job. It’s Dick Tracy’s own Moriarty, Flattop, who’s happy to take on a kill-the-cop job. He figures he can roll it in with another bank job, even if his short-tempered big brother Blowtop doesn’t agree. The top brothers end up in a duel: Blowtop’s to do the bank job, Flattop to do the Tracy hit, and whoever brings in the most money for their work wins … uh … control of the family, I guess. And from the tone of this the hardcore Dick Tracy fan realizes this is not only a prequel to Nero Wolfe’s Moriarty. It’s also the prequel to Flattop’s adventure with Dick Tracy, a story that ended, reader time, before my father was one year old.

Nero Wolfe, on the street, agitated by a womN: 'Madam, you're mistaken. THESE ORCHIDS ARE NOT FOR SALE!' He sees Archie Goodwin: 'Archie? ARCHIE! Tell this woman I'm not selling my black orchids!' Archie: 'Coming, boss! ... Ma'am, if our brownstone were on fire and he could save only his orchids or me, I know who'd win.' Wolfe, to Dick Tracy: 'You seem familiar ... I'm Nero Wolfe.' Tracy: 'Detective Dick Tracy. Archie and I have been looking for you.' They shake hands. Wolfe: 'Dick Tracy! I've heard of you.' Tracy: 'Pleased to met you, Mr Wolfe!'
Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 2nd of April, 2023. I can absolutely buy Wolfe and Goodwin’s dialogue here, but I’ve listened to the old-time-radio series enough that I hear the actors performing it and adding their charisma to things. Anyway, yes, the resolution did end up being that once Nero Wolfe decided he’d had enough of this and was leaving, it was impossible to stop him. Fair enough.

Tracy, in a stroke of luck, spots the bank robbery as it’s starting. Flattop sees a chance to finish his side gig; it’s foiled when Archie Goodwin fires a warning shot. Mr Zeck is annoyed with Flattop, thinking now how he’ll have to deal with Wolfe himself. And no, he won’t. Nero Wolfe, having had enough of captivity, has taken his black orchids and left. He meets Archie and Dick Tracy as they were at the end of his trail. It’s like that episode of the Adam Weest Batman where he had to stop fighting the Green Hornet because plot got in their way.

Wolfe explains his escape, pausing to sneer at the ineptness of his kidnappers. All the time he spent “reading” was his studying the routines and operations of his captives and observers. When he knew Mr Zeck was gone he pulled out the knife he’d secreted on his person, a trick he learned in his youth as a spy. And tossed it right at some ambiguous but important part of Duncan’s body. With that, he got out to the street and phoned the cops. Along the way this freed some other captives we didn’t hear much about. Duncan and, we presume, Mr Zeck fled before the cops arrived and neither of our super-detectives know who was kidnapping them or why. But that is where Dick Tracy leaves off his reminiscence.

[ The Federal Bank robbery as retold by Brad. ] Brad: 'The leader wore a mask with a pair of dice on it. You know, Snake Eyes.' Sam Catchem; 'We'll get the security video soon. Is there anything else you remember?' Brad: 'Well ... the leader asked his guy to do something to a sign. That's all. ' Catchem: 'Thanks.' Officer: 'Excuse me, Detective Catchem . I saw what he's talking about.' Catchem: 'Yeah? Show me.' He sees a street sign with Boardwalk and Park Place on it: 'Oh, that's not right!'
Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 9th of April, 2023. From this I guess we learn Sam Catchem’s not a fan of Monopoly, probably more a Mice and Mystics player. Anyway, I know people just happen sometimes to be named Brad and it’s something they do all right, sometimes even thrive on. But ‘The Federal Bank robbery as retold by Brad” feels like a weird sentence. I can’t give a good reason why.

The 7th of April began the current story. A man with dice on his mask robs the Federal Bank (incidentally the bank that the Tops had tried robbing). He leaves behind a calling card: the street sign outside changed to show the intersection of Boardwalk and Park Place. And you get to thinking, wait, the new Dick Tracy villain is a guy who’s way too into Monopoly?

No, of course not, that would be silly. Gameboy, his name is, leaves a note behind referencing the Shenanighoul. This was a monster who appeared in the 1960s kids game show Shenanigans that I know from like two references on Mystery Science Theater 3000. Gameboy robs a rare prototype board game from the Toy Museum, and promises more. Sam Catchem has an idea for the next target: an 1860s Milton Bradley board game on display at the Gould Library. Sounds plausible to Tracy, at least, and me too. I don’t know in detail where this is going. But I too would bet on Gameboy trying to play his Get Out Of Jail Free card. We’ll see.

Next Week!

King Arthur is back in the days of Prince Valiant! And … he’s right back out again! What is all that about and why did we see him at all? I’ll finally recap the plot in Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant next week, all going well.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (weekdays)? Are tribesmen really going to conquer a prison? January – April 2023

Well, not only tribesmen. Women are there too. But yes, the current story in Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom, weekday continuity, has the Bandar tribe’s warriors attacking Gravelines. It’s the maximum security prison for fascist Rhodia. Tony DePaul has tried to make this a fairer fight. The prison’s a lousy posting. The already-lousy posting got a heap of new, under-trained soldiers. This is the consequence of cracking down after The Phantom broke The Trusted One out of the prison. And the Bandar have numerical superiority.

And most important, the battle is bonkers. Militias don’t attack maximum security prisons. It’s not something the prison guards could train for. The Bandar don’t even battle “correctly”, refusing to pick up the loot boxes the Gravelines guards drop when they’re killed. So there’s reasons to think Gravelines would be too confused to make a sensible response. Still, have to admit, I’d have to put my money on Gravelines. Except that the Bandars’ battle plan is being improvised and lead by The Phantom, which counts for a lot.

Lieutenant, storming into the command center: 'Lights, landlines, cellular, our radio repeater ... everything's down, warden! This is no breakout ... we're under assault!'
Tony Depaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 18th of February, 2023. This has got me wondering what actual prisons have in mind against mass assaults. I have to figure their training is built more around a riot inside the grounds and maybe a couple vehicles trying to crash the gates. Conceivably a helicopter grabbing someone out of the exercise area.

So this should catch you up to mid-April 2023 in The Phantom’s weekday continuity. If you’re interested in the Sunday continuity, or if you’re reading this after about July 2023, there’s likely a more useful essay at this link. Thanks for reading.

The Phantom (Weekdays).

16 January – 8 April 2023.

The Phantom, having relied on Mozz’s prophecy of wrack-and-ruin like a strategy guide, is still breaking Savarna Devi out of Gravelines. And then the whole Bandar nation rolls in as backup. Their poison-tipped arrows are great ways to kill the tower guards. Savarna, not one to escape quietly, grabs some heavy weapons to blow up the tower and alarm everyone. The Phantom wonders if this is Mozz’s prophecy, for all he’s worked to subvert it, will happen in substance anyway.

But also: how different could things go? And realizing he has considerable surprise, and numbers, and the chance encounter’s started anyway … why not do something really crazy? Why not try and get everybody out of Gravelines? Is that maybe the reason Mozz had his vision of wrack-and-ruin, and was set in motion to change that?

The Phantom, pondering, as the lights tower crumbles in the background: 'How much of his is Mozz and how much is beyond the ken of even that extraordinary mind? Might freedom for the innocent be the unseen good working behind the wrack and ruin of the Mozz prophecy? The unforeseen purpose of Mozz stopping me on the trail to Gravelines that day?'
Tony Depaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 10th of February, 2023. A thing that’s gone unexplored is: granted there are many prisoners kept there for acknowledging transgendered people have rights and that abortion is a necessity and other truths fascists can’t tolerate. But aren’t there surely people who are there for legitimate reasons, like the serial murder of sex workers? There’s hardly time to examine everyone and I realized it doesn’t matter. One hallmark of fascism is the disregard of truth in favor of power. In that condition no court judgement — which is, ideally, a determination of truth — can be legitimate. Even the guilty have to be treated as having been framed.

And so, with the 13th of February, we begin ‘Dungeons Undone’, the sixth part of this story since it began in May of 2021(!). It is about the assault on Gravelines. With a few interludes checking in on Diana Walker, who’s staying, along with Bandar non-combatants, on the Bangalla side of the border. Babudan, leading the warriors into Rhodia, secured her promise to stay in safe territory. He warned he could only keep one Walker safe and if he had to choose, he’d protect her. So she waits and thinks of what she read in the Chronicle of Mozz.

What she read was enough to tell Guran of the need to send as many people as possible to support her husband. Which is how he has a militia on hand to make this assault. He’s optimistic enough. He’s sure the prison guard morale is so low that they’ll declare they didn’t sign up to be poisoned by hundreds(?) of bow-wielding jungle-dwellers. And The Phantom can’t keep Savarna from blowing up stuff. Some of this is of clear tactical use, like the power plant. Some is targets of opportunity. Some is just, she set an egg in the microwave for ten minutes. All in the service of confusing Gravelines’s forces.

And they are confused. As mentioned in my preamble, the attack doesn’t make sense, at least by the standards they expect. The warden, lacking power and communications in the command center, decides to find the leader of the attack himself. He leaves behind a sergenat with orders to guard the command post with his life.

Sergeant, on the phone, looking over his shoulder at The Phantom: 'Warden, the commander of the assault, he's, uh ... well, he'd like a word with you, sir.' Warden: '!! He's *in my office*!? Which you, Sergeant, have *failed* to defend *with your life*!?'
Tony Depaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 6th of April, 2023. You have to admire The Phantom’s strength of will that he is not just breaking up laughing right now because, goodness but this is funny-ridiculous. And, you know, he is the costumed superhero who’s delighted at being a superhero. I guess he’s saving it for the Chronicle-writing.

The warden doesn’t find The Phantom because, you know that saying, he finds you. Or The Phantom finds the sergeant and the sergeant figures yeah, he doesn’t have to do this. The lieutenant calls his boss, and The Phantom urges the warden to set down his weapons, order as many of his men as he can get to do the same, and leave.

It’s transpired this week, so a little outside my scope here, that The Phantom is calling in the Jungle Patrol too. This makes some good sense, as the Jungle Patrol has modern equipment and could arrange, say, the air evacuation of hundreds(?) of Gravelines prisoners. On the other hand, as angry as Rhodia would (reasonably!) be at the Bandar attack, to have the Jungle Patrol join in will not make things better.

Next Week!

I’m shuffling up the order of these strips a little. So that brings me, sooner than otherwise expected, with … a guy who’s way too into Monopoly? I, too, am eager to know what’s going on in Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy and with luck will tell you in a week.

What’s Going On In Little Oop? Are they not in the Stone Age anymore?

There is, once more, not enough story in the Sunday Little Oop installments of Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s strip for me to do a narrative recap. I’d like to, yes, but all I could do is repeat the strips without saving you any work besides looking at pictures.

The last couple weeks, though, have done something with Penelope trying to fix her time machine and return to the present. In particular, it’s now reached the point where it can send them through time but she doesn’t have control over where or when they end up. I know, I’m excited by the prospect of a comic strip adaptation of Voyagers! too.

Penelope and Little Oop zang!ing into a room. Oop: 'Whoa, your time machine is working again, Penelope!' Penelope: 'Sort of. I can't seem to control where or when we end up.' Oop, pointing to a wooden printing press: 'What is this? Some sort of panini maker?' Penelope: 'It's a printing press! We arrived in the 15th Century, right after Johannes Gutenberg printed his very first leaflet.' Oop, handing over a sheet of paper: 'What's it say?' Penelope: 'Make money from home selling essential oils and spaetzle to your friends and family. Not a pyramid scheme!' ... 'That's not how I expected to use my one semester of German for the first time.' Oop: 'Who cares? Just tell me where to sign up!'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 19th of March, 2023. OK, the advertisements are nothing but the stories those pamphlets will spread to keep you reading? Those can be something else.

I don’t know if this reflects a permanent change in the strip’s premise. It seems fair after having spent a year or so with Alley Oop trapped in the present, and then Penelope stuck back in the Bone Age, that they should shake it up again. A while spent lost in time could be fun, if also close to the comic’s day job.

Also, this is a fun day to talk about Alley Oop a little more as we’re on the anniversary of when Doc Wonmug was first introduced, back in 1939, and turned a caveman comic strip into a thing still going 84 years later. GoComics has that ancient story, so you can read how Alley Oop first came to the modern day and punched out a train. And now you’ll go and check whether that actually happened. Enjoy!

What’s Going On In Alley Oop? What was that fungus woman’s dark secret? January – April 2023

The dark secret of Myc, the alien fungus creature who adopted Alley Oop and Oola as parents, is that she didn’t have one. That story, which was under way when I did my last recap, surprised by having no heel-turn or particular shenanigans. It was a story of Alley Oop and Ooola experiencing something strange and wondrous. I liked it. The gentleness is a nice change of tone. But I speak as a fan of Hal Clement’s and Clifford Simak’s science fiction novels, in which everybody’s pleasant enough and nothing all that bad happens [1].

So this should catch you pu to early April 2023 in Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop. If you’re reading this after about July 2023, I hope to have a more up-to-date plot recap for you here. I’ll also post there in case there’s news people should hear from me for some reason.

Alley Oop.

9 January – 1 April 2023.

Myc, a fungus from beyond space, had settled in Alley Oop’s cave. She reveals that she has botanical powers, having the ability to make watermelons blossom, if that’s what watermelons do, at will. She has a desire to help humanity. Under her vaguely defined spell Alley Oop recognizes fire as hot without sticking his hand in, for example.

Ooola, at Myc's deathbed: 'So this is it, Myc? Are you leaving us?' Myc: 'I am. I'm glad you were my parents, even if I only lived for four days. It was the best four days of my life. But as a fungus, I'll always be here. I'll be an unseen part of the soil, sharing my wisdom. Maybe someday we'll meet again.' (She evaporates.) Alley Oop: 'Come back! I just thought of a really great Dad Joke!' Ooola: 'I think we chanterelle see her any morel.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 20th of January, 2023. Alley Oop and Ooola as parents is pretty much the goofball-dad/sensible-mom but it still worked nicely, to me.

But Myc grows old, a decade or more each day. Soon she’s quite old, promising that she’ll always be a part of their lives. And, as she’s got a root network dug deep through Moo, she’ll be able to re-emerge in human form some also. She does die in the human way, though, and Our Heroes reflect on the strange wonder they’ve experienced.

Returning to Doc Wonmug’s lab in the present day they learn Myc has re-manifested as human several times. And Wonmug met her, back in 1982, in her seventh time growing above ground.

We then get a little interlude, less than a week focused on lab assistant Ava Peckedge. She’s been particularly starved for attention in the Lemon/Sayers run. A couple days of her trying to invent and finding she’s no good at it isn’t much, but it might be a seed for a story.

An actual story got started the 30th of January. And it’s wrapped up this past week, making this another suspiciously well-timed installment for me. It begins with Octavius Scrod, who wants their help finding the pearl of Queen Conger, recently-deceased queen of Aquatown. This is an Atlantis-like place, only real. He claims the pearl has sentimental value and he tosses around bags of money to get it.

There’s more than sentiment: he claims to be the son of Queen Conger and rightful owner of the pearl. Our Heroes aren’t going to turn away many sacks of money. They sail to the Arctic Circle, finding the location of Aquatown by the hole in the ocean where its hot spring surfaces.

Haddock: 'Allow me to formally introduce myself. My name is Detective Haddock.' Alley Oop, sulking: 'Haven't we been in enough jails in the multiverse?' Haddock: 'I'm looking for help with something very important, and you three seem perfect.' Wonmug: 'As it happens, we're actually rather busy.' Haddock: 'I need you to guard the pearl of Queen Conger.' Wonmug (nervous): 'I don't know ... ' Haddock: 'Why not? Are you planning on stealing it?' Alley Oop: 'How does he ... oof' (as Wonmug elbows him in the stomach) Wonmug: 'We'll take it! The job, that is. Not the pearl.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 25th of February, 2023. Mostly I like the dynamic that the stuff Our Heroes expect to be hard is easy instead. It does mean we miss out on things like the heist that would have involved stealing the pearl, though.

Doc Wonmug, Alley Oop, and Ooola dive down. (They have gills for this story because genetic engineering blah blah go ahead.) On entering the reclusive Aquatown they’re approached by Detective Haddock,. He hires them to guard the pearl of Queen Conger while he does some business. This sounds like a nice easy mission, then.

It goes wrong within minutes. Or days, reader time. The pearl’s stolen. They go to the police where they discover nobody’s ever heard of a Detective Haddock. There’s a Prince Haddock, but he was a jerk and everyone’s glad they kicked him out of the royal family. So we have a nice twist here: Haddock had hired these strangers as guards while he stole the pearl, the better to make his claim for the throne of Aquatown.

Scrod shows up, having somehow heard they’ve botched the pearl-theft mission. And Ooola asks a quite good question; why do they care who takes the throne of Aquatown? Why not just leave? Wonmug and Alley Oop have the only good answer, which is, who wants to miss Drama like that?

Wonmug: 'Deciding who gets the pearl is a nearly intractable problem. To solve it, I took inspiration from a very famous judge.' Alley Oop: 'TV's favorite sassy judge, Sassy Judge Nancy?' Wonmug: 'Since you both want the pearl so bad ... I shall cut it in half!' Haddock: 'Oh, okay.' Scrod: 'Works for me.' Wonmug: 'Hey! That's not how it's supposed to go.' Scrod: 'I suppose we could cut *you* in half.' Wonmug: 'OVERRULED!'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 25th of March 2023. Left unaddressed in all this is who Aquatown figured their ruler would be. Haddock had been kicked out of the royal family. Scrod wasn’t it, since he didn’t have the pearl. We’re told that Queen Conger died only days ago, so fair enough if they haven’t done formal coronations and all that. But someone should’ve been heir apparent and we don’t get any of their side.

Wonmug tries to come up with some reasonable way of deciding who should get the pearl. Nobody’s got any good ideas, so he suggests cutting the pearl in half. (This gimmick, by the way, is also being used in the 1956-era Vintage Phantom comics running on Comics Kingdom. In a marginally more serious story the Wambesi and Llongo tribes are fighting over rights to use a river dividing their lands. So The Phantom, with the Bandar people, is damming up the river to split it into two.) Wonmug, who hasn’t caught on to how nonsense flows around here somehow, is surprised they’re both good with this. But good, as Alley Oop’s already split the pearl. Haddock will take one half and rule Aquatown; Scrod will take the other and rule the land from his base in Schenectady.

All told, a happy enough ending. Apart from being paid; Scrod isn’t willing to pay for Our Heroes achieving nothing of what he hired them for. (Well, they got him half the pearl.) Also, Scrod didn’t realize there’s already rulers for pretty much all the spots on Earth. Ooola offers that he could rule some patch of the Arctic Circle, if he wanted. And we close on him ruling the polar bears hanging out above Aquatown’s hot spring.

That brings us to this weekend, so that brings me to looking at …

Next Week!

On this side, a maximum security prison with guard towers and machine guns. On the other side, a tribe of jungle-dwellers equipped with arrows and the element of surprise! Who will win? Oh, also the jungle-dwellers have Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom on their side. Place your bets before next week when I hope to look at the longest-running story in the funny pages right now. See you then, I hope.

[1] Yes, I have read Simak’s 1939 Cosmic Engineers, in which boring people of the far-future year of 1939 But Set In 6939 blow up seven-eighths of the universe because another universe full of baddies is crashing into ours. Don’t you make the same mistake.

Wait, you can just pop Snuffy Smith’s head off like it was nothing?

This changes everything!

Loweezy: 'Lawsy me!! Whar am I? What happent?' Circus Ringmaster: 'You fainted, madam --- you looked inthe tiger cage and - PLOP!! - out you went.' Loweezy: 'SHORE --- now I reckymember! I had me a dretful vision --- I thought I seen my man Snuffy standin' thar wifout no punkin' haid' Ringmaster: 'Oh, SURE!! He lost his head, lady, but he's okay ... BOTH OF HIM!' Loweezy, looking in the tiger cage 'I SWOW! Ye shore had me scairt thar fer a secont, paw.' Snuffy's inside the cage, his detached head on the ground, drinking from the jug of corn squeezings that his body holds in its hands.
Fred Lasswell’s Barney Google and Snuffy Smith for the 19th of October, 1948, reprinted the 30th of March, 2023. This is at least as exciting as the time in the vintage Wizard of Id comics where the King of Id spent a week being a rooster.

Seriously, I have been reading this comic my entire life and I had no idea you could take his head off and, I assume, put it back on and everything would be fine. Why are we piddling around these days with stories where Snuffy helps Barney Google get over a woman dumping him when we could be seeing which characters can take off which of their appendages and still carry on their business? I’m not telling John Rose how to do his business, but I am saying we’re missing many possibilities in not making human jigsaw puzzles out of the cast.

What’s Going On In Olive and Popeye? Is it enough to make a regular feature of this? December 2022 – March 2023

I don’t know that enough is happening in Shadia Amin and Randy Milholland’s Olive and Popeye to make it a regular part of my What’s Going On In … writing. I’ve limited these columns to the story strips. And particularly the ones where the story is involved or long enough that a new reader would need months to catch up.

Popeye, to the sea monster that's got him tied up in their tail: 'Yer really bein' a pestk, huh? --- Wot's this?' From afar Olive Oyl comes in on a jetski, screaming Popeye's name: 'WE ARE SPENDING VALENTINE'S TOGETHER!'. Later, after sunset, the two clink wine together while sitting on the head of the knocked-out sea monster. Olive: '... And I forgot to reply. I'm so sorry!' Popeye: 'Fer wat? Spendin' the day witsk me sweet? Arf arf arf!'
Shadia Amin and Randy Milholland’s Olive and Popeye for the 14th of February, 2023. There happen to have been more plot-bearing strips in Milholland’s installments, run on Thursdays, than in Amin’s, run Tuesdays. This is not to slight Amin, just a side effect of what I’m trying here. But this makes a nice example of the scenarios that Amin likes illustrating. (Olive Oyl had failed to reply to Popeye’s text that he could put off the sea monster business if she wanted to see him tonight.)

Olive and Popeye has had stuff happen. Not so much action and adventure, although there’s a few with that. It’s rather a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern take on Olive and Popeye’s own life. One of the bits of action the past several months was Popeye having to beg off a date to go punch a sea monster, for example. With Milholland starting to do short stories in the Popeye Sunday strips perhaps between the two of these there’ll be enough for me.

Whatever does happen I’ll bundle all my Olive and Popeye plot recaps here. I’ll figure on doing at least one more of them, which should come around June of 2023, and we’ll see what follows from there.

Olive and Popeye.

27 December 2022 – 27 March 2023.

In the first several months of Olive and Popeye we mostly had characters get back together. This includes the return of Ham Gravy, one of the original cast of Thimble Theatre. He was set out as Olive Oyl’s beau, but couldn’t hold his own against the pillar of charisma and intrigue that is Castor Oyl. When Popeye took over the strip he didn’t have a chance.

And we also meet some new characters. Whaler Joe was, created by Elzie Segar himself back in 1931, as part of a newspaper feature explaining Popeye’s past. As far as I know he’s not been on-screen so he’s effectively a new character. Unmistakably new is his daughter Petunia. She’s an aspiring marine biologist who’s up for learning what Popeye knows of the sea. This is a lot of trouble with monsters and such.

Pappy: 'First yer ma an' aun come t'town an' ye say nothink! And now Joe?! I'm startin' t' suspeck yer ashamed of me!' Popeye: 'Lemme know when yas wants confirmation.' Pappy: 'What's yer problem?' Popeye: 'You, Pappy! Ya wanna be included in e'rythink, but ya also antagonize e'ryone! Ya know wot that's like?!' Pappy: 'Yeah. Hilarious.' Popeye: 'I meant fer others peoples.' Pappy: 'There ya goes, pretendin' other people has feelinks again.'
Shadia Amin and Randy Milholland’s Olive and Popeye for the 19th of January, 2023. Pappy is getting written a bit more sociopathic than I think is quite true to his character. But it’s being played so preposterous that it works for me.

Meanwhile Poopdeck Pappy wonders why Wimpy is being so nice to him and hanging around all the time. This is because Popeye’s paying him to keep Pappy away from Whaler Joe. Popeye’s not worried about his mother Irene or his Aunt Jones (wife of Davy “Locker” Jones) knowing him. They get along great, in fact, with the worst that happens digging out old photos of Popeye’s teen goth phase.

Still, Pappy is jealous and he won’t take any of the abundant good advice he gets to back off. I know it’s the mode of modern cartoons and comic strips to have emotionally aware characters. Still, when you think of how many Popeye adventures have depended on bonkers headgames it’s odd to see Olive and Popeye being mature. It fits well enough, moreso on Popeye, but still.

Irene, with Aunt Jones, taking tea from Whaler Joe: 'I yam so glad ye took care of me boy. He weren't any trouble fer ye, was he?' Whaler Joe has several flashbacks: running after a young Popeye, who's holding a baby sea monster right in front of the parent, yelling 'No!' Catching Popeye and a friend with firecrackers, yelling 'No!' Patting a forlorn-looking Popeye with a patch over his eye, gently saying, 'No.' The present, Joe, softly saying, 'No.'
Shadia Amin and Randy Milholland’s Olive and Popeye for the 16th of February, 2023. Boy is that a sweet comic, though. You do have to suppose Popeye was a difficult child, but also that he probably responded well to boundaries that made sense to him.

And it turns out Pappy and Whaler Joe knew each other anyway. Pappy had used a young, naive Whaler Joe as lackey on the first ship Joe ever sailed on. That ended when Pappy accidentally got Whaler Joe fired. It’s a gag solid enough that it feels more like a stroke of Dickensian plotting than a shrinking of the Thimble Theatre world. Pappy leaves, wondering why everyone treats him as the jerk. Whaler Joe is gracious and we learn Popeye’s taken up that same good grace.

Stuff’s been happening with Olive Oyl too, although I’m less sure there’s a story there. Some avoiding of the new flirtations by Ham Gravy (who, with Castor Oyl, had a fun five-week sequence in the Sunday Popeye strips failing to vanquish all, or any, of Popeye’s foes). Some getting-together with her family and with Petunia and offhandedly vanquishing Susie the Sea Nymph. Rolling her eyes and sneering at Bluto. Being nice to Brutus, and the Sea Hag’s intern, for a Pi Day strip. A lot of the stuff that would be the thing going on when an adventure starts. I don’t know that it’s going anywhere but it’s all fun to see.

Next Week!

I get serious about our favorite time-travelling cave people and how they encounter a claimant to the throne of Schenectady. Also the oceans. Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop gets some love from me next week, if things go to plan.

What’s Going On In Judge Parker? How was that a detective story? December 2022 – March 2023

The story, recently concluded, in Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker had Sam Driver investigating the murder of Judge Duncan’s family. But he didn’t do a lot of clue-gathering. It was more he drove around and saw who shot at him, which turned out to be, most everybody, until finally a witness explained what the heck was going on.

Do I accept this as a story? Oh, you know me; I’m easy and I’ll take most anything that doesn’t trip over some some vague lines. But I’m also accepting of stories where the detective figures who did it by seeing who shot at him the most. Done well, you get swept up in the noir-ish style and energy. Done poorly, you get those old-time-radio shows based on the adventures of Sam Spade where it’s all right if you don’t pay attention. There’ll be a fistfight or snappy patter soon enough.

This is another case, by the way, where the comic strip pretty well explains itself in the week or two before I come around. This is how a paranoid mindset develops, you know.

But this should explain stuff through to mid-March 2023. If you want to catch up on Judge Parker after about June 2023, there’s probably a more useful link here. I mean if you’re here after about June 2023. If we’re not that far in the future there’s nothing I can do.

And finally a content warning. This story is built around murders, including some grisly ones, and explained as being fueled by the drug trade. There are people shot, off-screen, and people battered on-screen. To respect your choice about whether you want to deal with that in your recreational reading, I’m putting the rest of the article behind a cut.

Judge Parker.

18 December 2022 – 18 March 2023.

Continue reading “What’s Going On In Judge Parker? How was that a detective story? December 2022 – March 2023”

I Knew This Would Fail but Not How Much It Would Fail

I understand if you haven’t been reading Comics Kingdom’s 1943-vintage reruns of Dashiell Hammett and Alex Raymond’s Secret Agent X-9, what with by this time Hammett and Raymond having nothing to do with it. I think it was Robert Storm and Mel Graff by then, and Robert Storm didn’t even exist. But let me catch you up: Secret Agent X-9 is chasing down a baddy named the Little Corporal, a name which I’m sure had no significance at all to readers of 1943.

The Little Corporal has been trying to escape and after his first attempt — disguise himself as a gorilla in a midway show — failed, he ran to the Ferris wheel. It turns out you can’t really escape pursuit in a Ferris wheel, so he jumped down a tree, waved to Fatty Raccoon, and ran to the Scenic Railway roller coaster. So now you’re caught up to seeing how someone can escape on a roller coaster:

Cop: 'Watch out, X-9! Little Corporal is shielded behind that scenic railway car!' X-9, climbing into the launch station: 'I'm climbing up here!' Narrator: As Little Corporal falls, he trips the lever releasing the scenic subway car ... ' Someone offscreen yells, 'I've hit him!' while Little Corporal falls, gun tumbling from his hand, against the brake lever, and he drops into the roller coaster car. Someone (X-9?) off-screen describes: 'Great scott! The scenic railway is being dismantled! He'll fly off into space!' Narrator: 'Little Corporal tales his last ride ... ' And we see the roller coaster train dropping off the partially missing track just past the hill.
Robert Storm and Mel Graff’s Secret Agent X-9 for the 24th of September, 1943, reprinted the 17th of March, 2023. I know you’re wondering why the roller coaster happens to be being dismantled like this and you have to remember, there was a war on.

By the way the attempt to escape on the Ferris wheel wasn’t even the first time I’ve seen an adventure/crime comic where the bad guy tried to escape on a flat ride. There was a 1930s Dick Tracy adventure where the crook tried to escape on a Caterpillar ride. A Caterpillar was kind of like a Musik Express or Himalaya ride, cars going around and around on the track, but it had a canopy covering the cars most of the ride and the crook snuck out of the ride while the canopy was over. So that was a dumb plan but it was a better grade of dumb than “get on the Ferris wheel and try and climb out when the cops get to the ride platform”.

What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? Didn’t Mimi Thorp’s mother die back on New Year’s? December 2022 – March 2023

Christmas Eve. And no, we didn’t. We did see Mimi Thorp holding her mom’s hands while a parting song played on the radio. That would have sufficed as her death, particularly given Henry Barajas’s trust in readers inferring things. But not only is she not dead but is okay enough by Valentine’s Day to watch the kids. Granting I’m assuming the Thorp kids aren’t too burdensome these days.

And, yes, I’m late — even for postponing a day — in this plot recap for Henry Barajas and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp. This is not because the story has been that complicated. I’ve just had a bit of a week and hope not to have another like it soon. But if you’re reading this after about June 2023, and I haven’t had another week like it, a more up-to-date plot recap should be at this link. And in other questions I can’t answer: on the 26th of December we learned this was “Part Two: The Only Game In Town”. Henry Barajas wanted the first year of the strip to have an overarching story with distinct parts, like he was writing The Phantom or something. No, Part One was not named anywhere on-panel. I don’t know if Barajas provided it in the comments or on his own site.

That all said, let’s get to the story.

Gil Thorp.

12 December 2022 – 11 March 2023.

When I last checked in Milford and Valley Tech were finally playing football. Valley Tech coach Luke Martinez has made beating Gil Thorp the summum bonum of his life. So the match has a weird intense energy. Valley Tech wins in the last play of the game. Martinez is busy giving his speech for the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize in Academy-Award-Winning Medal of Freedom High School Coaching (GCMG) when he notices all he gets from Gil Thorp is a good handshake and promise to see you next year. So Gil Thorp one-hit-killed Martinez in all the ways that count.

While the kids from both teams congratulate one another Gil Thorp lectures Luke Martinez: 'We'll learn from this experience. But you've got to give these kids credit. The difference between you and me is *you* fear failure --- and I *welcome* it.'
Henry Barajas and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 22nd of December, 2022. So, welcoming failure sounds like a bad thing for a coach. But it is a respectable, somewhat Stoic, approach to any competition: ultimately, all but one participant in an event loses. You can drive yourself crazy thinking about that, or you can decide that doing your best is the real triumph. And, if you’ve taken the second, there’s nothing terrible about failure; it’s either random luck or teaching you what you can do better.

Part Two, the current phase of the story, began the 26th of December, with Milford looking over budget cuts. They have to look into fundraising ideas. Sports Team Candy Bars move okay-ish. Toby Gordon and Ron who probably has a last name an idea as brilliant as it is dumb: what if they sell vape sticks instead? I’m not clear how they finance this. Those details would have been the center of the Neal Rubin version of this story. As it is, they’ve raised enough money to stand out, but no grown-ups have figured out what’s going on here. Which is striking because that would absolutely have happened if this premise were done last year.

While that plays out, girls’ coach Cami Ohchoa has an idea for a Lift-A-Thon. People pay a buck for every four pounds their chosen athlete can lift. Fun enough idea. When Luke Martinez sees that Gil Thorp is going to be lifting, he gets a new goal in life. Even more important than telling boring stories of his glory days to his students? Out-lifting Gil Thorp. He focuses on this with the manic energy of a 24-year-old with ADHD who’s just fixated on Nixie tubes. He’s soon spending every waking moment training, to the point he even misses a practice. Valley Tech business-suit-wearer Paul Lastname calls him out on this. Martinez can’t hear Paul over the sound of out-lifting Gil Thorp. Martinez’s wife also calls out how this is being creepy and weird and he needs to think about something that isn’t out-lifting Gil Thorp. No luck getting through to him. He’s got out-lifting Gil Thorp to do.

Couple older teens? Young adults? sitting on the sidewalk: 'Ian, let me bum a smoke.' 'I'm out, Sue.' Ron and Tobias, wearing sunglasses, walk up and ask: 'Vape much?' Ron: 'We've got many flavors. How about Apple Atrocity or Peach Disorder?' They leave some with Ian and Sue: 'Thanks. How much?' Ron: 'The first vape's free.'
Henry Barajas and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 20th of January, 2023. I hope Ian and Sue are fellow high school students because if they’re even two days older than Ron and Toby, they’ve burst into laughing at these two bright young idiots the moment they were out of hearing range and are still, two months later, going. Also, I like ‘Peach Disorder’ as a string of words; I have no idea if that’s a plausible vape flavor.

Other stuff going on. Keri Thorp and Pedro Martinez are happy together, sharing a New Year’s Eve kiss. Toby, reassuring Gil Thorp, tells him how he’s the only man who’s ever apologized to his mother, one of those sincere compliments that makes the receiver feel the world is rotted beyond repair. Oh, but Mimi Thorp’s mother is doing better. And Mimi is taking golfing lessons in Scottsdale, Arizona, from someone named Ericka Carter whom Gil Thorp’s glad to meet. The Thorps have a happy Valentine’s day dinner, too, suggesting their relationship is getting back on track. Mimi still has doubts. She had told Carter “I don’t know if my husband even finds me attractive anymore”. But trust is hard to rebuild, I hear, so it reasons it wouldn’t be linear.

Meanwhile, Coach Kaz has, as promised last What’s Going On In, left Milford High. He’s now Milford Juvenile Sports Program Manager Robert Kazinski, and also his name was Robert Kazinski all this time. Keri is still being harassed by Dorothy, who keeps using her connections with Princess Ozma (rightful ruler of Oz) and Glinda the Good to stay out of trouble. And Pedro Martinez is still angry at his father. After Valley Tech’s football team had a perfect season, his father made it all about him. The actual players got a mention somewhere after the jump in the newspaper. Which is much like the injustice that kept Luke Martinez going for years.

Emmett Tays comes in as temporary assistant coach to fill Kaz’s place. Tays, whose glory days tale started Barajas’s run and also figured in Luke Martinez’s Origin Story, impresses the kids just by being there. I feel like he has more backstory than even this and I don’t know what. Sorry. Tays has some rough edges. Player Leo Atazhoon wears sneakers that are dozens of sneaker molecules held together by masking tape and good intentions. Tays starts to rag him about that. Thorp warns Tays off who suddenly sees, oh, right, poverty. Next time we see the two, they’ve got Atazhoon new sneakers, for the sake of team looking like a team.

Milford High players, talking Gil Thorp out of the weird kind of fight or whatever with Luke Martinez at the lift-a-thon: 'Coach, don't stoop to his level.' 'Dude is literally stealing candy from children.' Gil Thorp: 'The bench is all yours.' Luke Martinez: 'Jaja! Thorp, admit it, I beat you!' Gil Thorp: 'Luke, you raised $500 for us - and since you're representing yourself, we appreciate your donation.'
Henry Barajas and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 6th of March, 2023. A recurring motif here has been Gil Thorp doing his best to center the story on other people, and Luke Martinez wanting it to be about himself. It does well at making Gil Thorp be likable without forcing us to like him any. And it helps make scenes like this even more evocative of that episode of the 90s Superman cartoon with Mr Mxyzptlk.

But back to the lift-a-thon. That gets going in good, respectable order. And then Luke Martinez shows up for his out-lifting Gil Thorp. And he’s quite good at out-lifting Gil Thorp. He earns thanks from Thorp and like five hundred bucks for Milford sports. I assume not all in one lift because, like, two thousand pounds at once would be a stretch. (The 500 bucks may also not be literal. Barajas is willing to let people say things that are exaggerated or sarcastic in the ways regular people talk.) I mean if they were dead-lifting. They’re bench-pressing, though. And it’s two-handed. The important things are that Gil Thorp is gracious and congratulatory, and Luke Martinez is left demanding that Elmer Fudd does too have to shoot him now.

Are we nearing a Part Three? Is the vape-selling scheme about to come unravelled? Is Mimi Thorp’s mother going to die when she’s just got back into babysitting? We’ll see answers to some of these over the next couple months.

Milford Sports Watch!

Next Week!

Why are people trying to kill Sam Driver and why are they not better at it? It’s a tale of secrets, substance addictions, and off-screen gunshots in Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker that I recap next week, if things go right.

What’s Going On In Rex Morgan, M.D.? Why don’t you make forecasts about where story comics are going? December 2022 – March 2023

I’m posting this a day ‘early’ to prove that I can too sometimes make deadline and even when it isn’t one of the Sunday-only strips that have easier plots to recap.

Yeah so this is what happens when I try to think like a writer. Last story recap came after a couple months of dealing with ‘Mud’ Murphy, ten headaches of a performer stuffed into one gigantic body. I thought there were hints being dropped that Murphy was dealing, badly, with self-destructive issues. Maybe he is, but they went unexamined in the strip. Maybe a future storyline; Terry Beatty does like bringing back characters and Murphy’s bombast does play well.

This recap, meanwhile, should catch you up to early March 2023 in Rex Morgan, M.D.. Any news about the strip I’ll post here. And there should be a more up-to-date plot recap around June 2023, in case you’re in the far future and everything I write is more irrelevant than usual.

Rex Morgan, M.D..

4 December 2022 – 4 March 2023.

After everyone called Mud Murphy a Wilbur Weston for his attention-grabbing stunt he quit Lew’s Nite Spot and the strip, at least for now. ‘Truck’ Tyler apologizes to Wanda Lastname, who turns out to be the owner of Nick’s Diner. (I hadn’t known she was anything besides a server there.) They enjoy a happy after-hours dinner. Watch this space.

We transition over to watching Rex Morgan’s family the 13th of December. It’s some hanging around with family, particularly for the holidays. There’s a bunch of that, filling the strip from December through mid-February. The high points there are the kids worrying about getting Christmas right and then Valentine’s Day. Sarah is peeved to learn her little brothers, Michael and Johnny, have girlfriends and a whole life she (and the readers) don’t know about. It’s a deft touch. It might plant story options for the two young boys, although see my preamble for my ability to forecast what’s going on in a comic strip.

June Morgan thinks to herself as she goes into the grocery: 'Seems like Rex and I can hardly go anywhere without needing to help someone with a medical issue. It's not surprising someone would slip and fall on the ice in this parking lot, though. That fellow probably wasn't the first and most likely won't be the last. Anyhow --- that's over with, and I can get my shopping done. [ Inside the shop ] The asparagus looks good. Deli chicken's an easy choice.' Elder man, woozy: 'Excuse me --- I'm feeling a little dizzy. Can you help me?' Morgan: 'I'm a nurse, so, yes --- what's going on?' Man: 'I think my blood sugar's low ... '
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 8th of January, 2023. How did Rex, who works at the same clinic June does, get home before her?

But most of what we see is June Morgan having a full day, that gets started with January of the year. She’s trying to go to the supermarket. But a man slips on the ice in front of her and she does your basic first-response work, checking that he’s all right and able to get up and about and all. She recommends they go to the local hospital and that the Morgan Clinic is available for follow-ups.

It doesn’t end there, though. Inside, a man stumbles around asking for help. He’s diabetic and can’t read his blood sugar monitor. He is low; she gets him some orange juice and sits with him until it gets better. She scolds him to be more careful about watching his blood sugar levels and drops another plug for the Morgan Clinic.

And that’s not the end of her emergency medical caring. As she’s driving home she sees a car accident, caused by a teen driver going too fast on icy roads. The kid’s all right apart from how his dad’s going to kill him. The other driver is Melinda Jenkins, someone June knows from the PTA. I don’t know if Melinda Jenkins has been in the strip before worth mentioning. She needs an ambulance, but also calls out asking if Petey in the back seat is okay. Her son is named Tommy. Petey, it turns out, is their dog, who is fine if nervous. Once Jenkins has the ambulance crew watching over her, June’s day turns to delivering Petey to his home. That goes without incident. And it gives her time to authorize Rex to make frozen pizza like the kids have been asking for since the story started.

Valentine’s Day is the transition to a new story, based on the multiple sets of older men finding romance with diner owners current in the strip. It starts with Truck Tyler coming back to town and visiting Wanda in her diner. (She’d inherited it from her father.) He’s thinking of settling down, now that he’s doing well enough to not have to live out of his car. And Glenwood seems like a great place what with it being where his life turned around and Wanda being a lovely woman who doesn’t mind him. Wanda confesses to liking him too, and they kiss.

Sitting at the diner booth. Wanda: 'Y'know, you could have simply asked me out a date.' Truck Tyler: 'Yeah, but as bad as I've messed up my past relationships, I wanna put all my cards on the table. I'm a good deal older than you. I spend most of my time on the road. I'm twice divorced and, until recently, flat broke and livin' out of my car. I may not be most folks' definition of a 'good catch'.' Wanda: 'Good thing I'm not 'most folks', then, huh?' Tyler: 'Yeah --- that's what I like about you.' Wanda: 'The feeling's mutual, Truck.' Tyler: 'That's nice to know.' Wanda: 'Yeah --- it is.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 26th of February, 2023. I like how the relationships this strip get started, by the way. There’s not much drama in them, just the terror of opening up to someone you can’t ever be completely sure is going to be responsive. But it feels true to me. Like, imagine staging this scene; would it be hard to get actors to play this well? Compare even to how you’d need a pretty skilled line read to get June Morgan’s thought balloons in the other strip to not sound weird or smug.

As Tyler leaves for his upcoming gig, in walk Hank Harwood Junior and his new bride, Yvonne Grey, the Route 66 diner dowager. They talk a little about the diner and how nice it is to be retired from running one. And about their upcoming honeymoon, a country music cruise. No, Truck Tyler’s not one of the performers. This suggests where the story might be going in the next few months but, again, see my preamble. I’m not making guesses about anything.

Next Week!

And if it weren’t hard enough to guess where things are going, it’s time for my biggest challenge saying where they’ve been! Henry Barajas and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp is the next on my schedule, for next week. I need to start work a couple days ago.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Sundays)? Why are there furries in The Phantom? November 2022 – February 2023

OK, first, this is about the Sunday continuity for Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom. This has been a much lower-key story than the daily continuity, currently in a chapter about a massive impromptu jailbreak. If you’re interested in that story, or if you’re trying to catch up on the Sunday strips after about May 2023, there’s probably an essay of more use to you here.

Now the furries here come from the Temple of the Gods. As introduced in a story published 2005, the place is an ancient Egyptian compound populated by “Gods”. These creatures have the heads of animals and bodies of men. And they flee at the sight of The Phantom. The current Kit Walker discovered the Third Phantom had survived, barely, a battle with them. He tried to suppress the strange creatures there. But somehow word of it got to Dr Manfred Markus Meier, who was recording the discovery of a cave entrance when something mauled him. These semi-human creatures seem to resemble your classic Egyptian hieroglyphic figure. And, we learn, at least some of them regard themselves as much better than mere humans, and obliged to maintain that superiority. You know that sort of person.

The Phantom (Sundays).

27 November 2022 – 26 February 2023.

While exploring the Temple of the Gods, a onetime lair of an Egyptian cult with inhuman mummies, The Phantom, Diana Walker, and Demon were tracked. They got a glimpse of the woman tracking them. The Phantom approached her and something roared at him.

It wasn’t a human woman. She has a lion-esque head. She growls when asked if she understands. They tie her up and resume exploring the tunnels, finding at last the entrance where two adventurers — wait. Or is it? The Phantom and Diana started out searching for where two adventurers got mauled, on live-streaming, by some strange beast. There’s one human skeleton there. And one inhuman skeleton. Diana and The Phantom start to speculate on the second person, the assistant. They speculate she’s returned to Germany, possibly with documents that will lure even more people to this spot and rapid death.

[ The Phantom and Diana learn more about the ... creature? ] Teydra: 'I saw the formidable beast, a bloodthirsty lesser human, slaughter the human. And then I shot it.' Diana: 'Good grief! Why didn't you speak to us in the cavern!? You let us think you were an animal!!' Phantom, untying Teydra: 'You thought whatever we didn't know about you might be to your advantage in making an escape. Fair enough. Why choose to speak now?' Teydra: 'Call it the difference between my kind and yours, human. I kept quiet until I knew what there was to know. How many humans do that?' Phantom: 'Point taken. And as for ... 'your kind'?' Teydra: 'We are --- we admit --- *almost human*. Therein lies the warning we live by. We must strive *never* to *regress* to the merely *human state*!' Phantom, whispering to his wife: 'Clearly by 'almost human' they mean to say beyond human. What is that? Irony?' Diana, whispering: 'Oh, darling --- it's at least that.'
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 15th of January, 2023. Both the Sunday Phantom and the current story in Judge Parker feature characters whom it was assumed couldn’t speak, and used that as a way to gather intelligence. I’m sure it’s coincidence; after all, Judge Parker is drawn by the daily continuity Phantom artist and not the Sunday.

The lion-woman — Teydra, she claims — says no. The assistant is with others of Teydra’s kind. Teydra’s people strive very hard not to regress to being mere humans, and they keep the lesser beast-men, the ones more nearly human, in line and in the caves. The portraits of the Third Phantom, who centuries ago fought them to a standstill, serve as a still-potent warning. Teydra demands her gun back, so she can return to The Domain without being slain by the lesser-humans.

The Phantom is willing to let her go. But he insists on meeting the assistant and letting her leave if she chooses to leave. Teydra insists they do not take prisoners; that’s a human thing. The Phantom can’t just leave without investigating, though. Teydra leads them through the tunnels to the bring of The Domain. It’s guarded by, among other things, a giant portrait of the Third Phantom. Teydra expects that Walker’s resemblance will not go unnoticed.

Next Week!

Oh, thank goodness, I have two weeks to figure out how to describe what’s happened in the past several months of Gil Thorp. I have the one week to figure out how to explain what’s happening in Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D.. If you want to guess “mild, not-too-serious stuff to people who are maybe vaguely likable” you’re not far off. But I’ll use more words to say it.

Yeah I thought I was exaggerating about the _Dilbert_ guy

When I wrote yesterday about Scott Adams choosing to give up his comic strip career so he could be racist full-time I was exaggerating a bit. I knew he was getting a tremendous number of cancellations, many of them from newspaper chains that close off dozens of markets at once. It went even faster and deeper than that, though: Sunday Night Andrews McMeel Universal dropped Dilbert, cancelling the syndication contract, future book publishing, and such. According to The Daily Cartoonist, Adams said he had been cancelled “from all newspapers, websites, calendars, and books”.

This is probably hyperbole but I’m very curious what’s going to be left once newspapers get done with previously-published materials. (Comics, particularly Sunday comics, are often printed ahead of time, so that the presses are available for more time-sensitive material.) I can’t think of a comic strip implosion like this since hundreds of newspapers cancelled Li’l Abner over Al Capp’s sexual harassment and assault becoming public. And even there, Li’l Abner continued, diminished, until Capp’s health forced him to retire.

Anyway I can’t wait for the next installment of the Dogbert’s New Ruling Class e-mail newsletter.

(Dogbert’s New Ruling Class was, as you’d think, a newsletter that Adams published back in the 1990s, when the strip pioneered new ways of reaching an audience like “being the other daily comic strip on the Internet besides Doctor Fun”. I forget if it was monthly or quarterly. It was a good way for Dilbert fans to connect with other people who sent in stories that totally happened of how they outsmarted store clerks who had to check that their signatures matched what’s on the back of their credit cards. The title comes from how once Dogbert ruled the world those who helped his ascent — by signing up for the newsletter — would be, well, it’s right there on the tin. This is the sort of thing that was jolly good whimsical fun in the 90s.)

_Dilbert_ guy chooses racism over comic strip career

Failed burrito maker Scott Adams recently used a good-size chunk of his podcast to explain how Black people were a hate group. This after a Rasmussen poll found that a considerable number of Black people could identify a racist dogwhistle as a bad thing, actually. You can find Adams’s original podcast on YouTube or such, or rely on a number of better sources than me for transcripts. Anyway, having decided that Black people are a hate group, he’s decided to end his identification as Black, which he started “so I could be on the winning team for a while”, and go back to being white and urging white people to get as far as away from Black people as he could “because there’s no fixing this”.

So, this may be why your local newspaper is running a blank space in place of the comic strip. Per The Daily Cartoonist, the comic strip has been dropped from newspapers of the Advance Local chain, the MLive Media Group, USA Today/Gannett, Hearst Newspapers, the Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun, the Washington Post, and a host of other newspapers. GoComics seems to have already dropped their run of Dilbert Classics and Dilbert In Spanish; they’ve posted a “watch this space” announcement for the daily comic.

What comics will win the newly vacated spaces in all these newspapers? Not sure. There seems to be a shortage of office-themed comics. Bill Holbrook’s On The Fastrack (which is older than Dilbert) is the only one leaping to my mind (and would be an excellent choice). I imagine most editors are going to pick “I have to fill this content hole today”, and won’t be worried too much about matching the replaced strip’s audience. I’d root for comics like Will Henry’s Wallace the Brave, Tony Cochrane’s Agnes, “Georgia Dunn’s Breaking Cat News, or Liniers’s Macanudo. Nobody’s asking me. I guess I don’t need the stress of being looked to for advice anyway. Anyway, I’ll put my money down on “they somehow created a syndicated column version of Wordle” as the winner.

What’s Going On In Mary Worth? When did Iris get pets? November 2022 – February 2023

She didn’t. The current story in Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth started the 18th of January. A narration box introduced it with “When Iris takes her pets to the veterinarian”. Narration Box was confused. This was Stella bringing her pets to the vet. Probably the previous story being so much about Iris. That both Iris and Stella had bad experiences with Wilbur Weston, and having just made a joke about that recently, muddled things.

This should catch you up to mid-February 2023 in the comic strip. If you’re reading this after about May 2023 I should have a more useful plot recap here. And now on to the big wedding news.

Mary Worth.

20 November 2022 – 19 February 2023.

Zak and Iris, bonded over how they both prefer Zak to not fall off a cliff to his death, are marrying! I believe it’s the first actual factual marriage happening in Mary Worth since I started recapping the plots. What could disrupt this happy event?

How about a face from Zak’s past? We see Zak on the phone talking to someone he’s missed. Someone he says “I can’t wait to see you, dear” to. It’s Nan, his former babysitter. She’s in town, taking a vacation from her home in Hawai’i to visit Santa Rosa for some reason. Nan looks uncannily like Iris, a thing Zak never notices because they wear different earrings. Iris notices, though. Also how Zak and Nan have all sorts of bits they have to run through. Things like Nan surrounding her face with fingers or the two saying things like “yummy yummy yummy in my tummy tummy tummy” and all.

Iris, sulking at her drink, thinks: 'It's like looking at my *twin*! Seeing Zak interact with my lookalike feels strange ... and what's with all the *inside jokes* and *gestures*? .. .Hello? Remember me? Zak, your fiancee is sitting right here, or am I *ignored* because of her?' Zak and Nan are paying attention to each other, both making some weird smile while holding their hands up, fingers wide, at each other; it looks like some variation on peek-a-boo that means something to them and looks odd to us.
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 7th of December, 2022. Must say that all of Zak and Nan’s inside jokes and gestures, like whatever the heck they’re doing here, seem like stuff you might do with your babysitter when you’re six and she’s in high school. I guess it speaks well that they’re not embarrassed to do this stuff as grown-ups out in public, but I also see where it’s even more exclusionary than usual inside jokes are.

Iris was already insecure about how she and Zak had a nontraditional relationship: he’s never seen or heard of Casablanca while she takes thyroid medication. What if Zak’s interest is only in the spiting image of his first crush? Wouldn’t that be weird? Like, too weird for people to deal with? Zak insists no, insisting that he loves different things about them. And besides she’s happily married and he wants to happily marry. And they only look generally alike. And besides, “people fall in love all the time based on their past experiences”, a declaration true yet also not on point. Anyway Zak insists it’s not weird until he has to leave the room.

Mary Worth doesn’t comfort Iris more, but she offers a chilling comparison. You know who else was jealous of another person? Wilbur Weston. Iris is willing to do anything not the way Wilbur does things, but she’d still like to know someone else thinks it’s weird Nan looks so much like her. Mary Worth won’t even give her that and insists it’s jealousy that’s the real problem. So Iris surrenders, agreeing to marry a man she loves even though she looks a lot like his old babysitter.

Mary Worth: 'Iris, jealousy is unbecoming and unnecessary! Start off your married life with hopes for the best, not fears over the worst!' Iris: 'Mary, you're *right*. I let jealousy get the *better* of me. Nan is a warm, nurturing woman who helped Zak in the past. I ower her a debt of *gratitude*!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 23rd of December, 2022. So on the one hand, Iris seems to be wrong in being jealous, if we take all of Zak’s protests at face value and don’t think about his calling his former nanny ‘Dear’. On the other hand, nobody is giving Iris the dignity of taking seriously her feelings; if she feels this is dangerously weird it would be nice if any person said anything other than “what’s your malfunction here?”

The happy day comes the 2nd oF January, with a church ceremony before the eyes of God and Wilbur Weston, who’s invited because ?? ???? ??????? ???? ???? ? ???? ??. I guess to make sure he doesn’t stumble into doing something really embarrassing. All he does is comment to Mary Worth how, hey, most marriages end in divorce so he’ll be ready in case Iris breaks up with Zak after all. It’s the sort of comment you make when you know you’re charming and can be facetious and don’t notice everyone slapping their foreheads around you, like, all the time. Still, we did see Wilbur’s thought balloon sincerely wishing her happiness, so, I still don’t know why he was invited.

Everyone agrees it was lovely, though, and they’re very happy to see people married. Dr Jeff has learned well enough not to even suggest that Mary Worth marry him. So that’s all happy to see.

The current story, as mentioned, began the 18th of January. Stella and not Iris took her dog and cat to the vet, Ed. She’d gone out with him once before. That date got turned into a colossal karaoke battle between Stella and Wilbur Weston. Stella and Mary Worth remember it as the most awkward and embarrassing event they had ever been present for or could imagine witnessing. Wilbur Weston remembers it as “Tuesday”. The vet is up for another date, though. Stella and Ed bond over how they both would prefer companion animals not die, and how life is stressful. It seems a promising start to a relationship. And then Wilbur appears.

[ Later, as Estelle's yoga class ends ... ] The class does salutations toward the window, saying 'Namaste.' Stella sees Wilbur leaning in through the corner of the window and screams in shock.
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 16th of February, 2023. Early lead for the title of Funniest Single Mary Worth Panel of 2023 here. I’m sure Moy and Brigman are doing that for the fan delight and possible meme-ification but, you know? I’m still delighted.

He says running into Stella at the pet store is coincidence. His goldfish needed food. Innocent? Maybe, but as anyone who keeps goldfish will tell you, if you run out of goldfish food you’re feeding them too much. But then she starts seeing him leering into the window, looking like she threw away a jar with easily two dozen mayonnaise molecules still left. But is he actually there or is she hallucinating? This Sunday we see Wilbur’s face intruding on her dreams, which is a heck of a thing to have to dream about.

Dubiously Sourced Mary Worth Sunday Panel Quotes!

  • “The real meaning of enlightenment is to gaze with undimmed eyes on all darkness.” — Nikon Kazantzakis, 20 November 2022.
  • “Friendship is another word for love” — Unknown, 27 November 2022.
  • “Everything in adulthood can be traced back to childhood.” — Penny Junor, 4 December 2022.
  • “I look back to a happy childhood.” — Helen Spence, 11 December 2022.
  • “You can be the moon and still be jealous of the stars.” — Gary Allan, 18 December 2022.
  • “The love we give away is the only love we keep.” — Elbert Hubbard, 25 December 2022.
  • “Cheers to a new year and another chance to get it right.” — Oprah Winfrey, 1 January 2023.
  • “A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person.” — Mignon McLaughlin, 8 January 2023.
  • “If I get married, I want to be very married.” — Audrey Hepburn, 15 January 2023.
  • “I believe, in life, you always get a second chance.” — Fabio Lanzoni, 22 January 2023.
  • “It is not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.” — Hans Selye, 29 January 2023.
  • “One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.” — Bob Marley, 5 February 2023.
  • “Love is the ultimate expression of the will to live.” — Tom Wolfe, 12 February 2023.
  • “Nightmares are releases.” — Sylvia Browne, 19 February 2023.

Next Week!

I didn’t have a good spot to mention it in the main text but I’m delighted to see that the Santa Royale pet shop is now carrying eevees. They’re demanding pets but very rewarding if you put in the effort. But what about other strange animals with uncannily human-like features? The Ghost Who Walks was looking at some of them. I’ll recap the last couple months of Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s Sunday-continuity The Phantom next week, all going well.

I Hope I Didn’t Hurt the Guy Who Draws _Beetle Bailey_ With My Comments About Raccoons

Oh gosh, now, after sharing my thoughts about how the guy who draws Beetle Bailey draws raccoons, we got this Thursday’s strip!

At the chow line set up at a training bivouac. Beetle: 'Is this stuff edible?' Cookie, angry: 'What a stupid question! Of course it is! ... The raccoons loved it.'
Greg Walker’s Beetle Bailey for the 16th of February, 2023. I understand the compositional need for the layout to be like this but I’m confused by the line people are supposed to follow coming up to Cookie and going away with their plate of mashed potatoes or scrambled eggs or Mary Worth salmon pudding. Possible fix: in the second panel bring Cookie down to the bottom of the panel, so we see him from waist up, and put Beetle smaller and in the background so it looks like he walked off to his left. We lose some of Beetle’s expression that way, but it we don’t need much to see a grimacing face there.

And, well. I know how even the gentlest teasing can hit really hard if it gets to you at just the right moment. I mean the right moment for hurting you. My only intent here was to say I don’t think they’ve figured out how to style these animals in a way that fits with the models of the main characters of the strip, particularly Otto. I don’t want you to keep raccoons or other animals off-screen, just to admit the designs aren’t up to the rest of the strip’s vibe yet! I’m sorry and I’ll try to be more focused in my snarking Tuesday when I’ll say all kinds of mean things about Wilbur Weston.

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? Why was that kid so snide toward Rusty? November 2022 – February 2023

The recent story in Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail featured Robbie, a rival classmate of Rusty Trail’s. Their fight got started in class, as such things will, particularly in a quarrel about who had the better presentation about cryptids. Rusty Trail knew stuff about krakens that his classmate didn’t mention in the report. So you can understand Robbie’s being fed up with the know-it-all.

This should catch you up to mid-February 2023 in Mark Trail. If you’re reading this after about May 2023, there’s probably a more up-to-date plot recap here. Thanks for joining me.

Mark Trail.

13 November 2022 – 12 February 2023.

Stories were wrapping up last time we visited the Lost Forest. Caroline accused Cherry Trail of having an affair with her husband, Honest Ernest. Cherry accidentally lets slip it’s Violet Cheshire he’s seeing. Caroline wants to teach him a lesson. She accepts Cherry Trail’s suggestion of taking all of Ernest’s home-brewed lawn toxin to a waste collection facility. So that’s all fine, right?

Meanwhile at the Tiger Touch Center, escaped elephant Gemma has stormed into the scene, revenge apparently on her mind. Tess Tigress admits to Rex Scorpius why an elephant might want revenge against her. Years ago — at another, overloaded, zoo, she claims — the attempt to sell off Gemma and her sisters enraged her mother. They had to put the mother down. And Gemma remembered, which is plausible enough. I’m not clear how Gemma knew where to find Tess, especially across several states, with one of them Texas. It can be explained, we just don’t see it done.

[ The Tiger Touch Center plunges into chaos after a rampaging elephant tears through. ] Rex Scorpius; 'What a bust. The catgirl of my dreams turns out to be a cruel zookeeper. Now I have no girl and no family.' Mark Trail: 'That's not true. We're here for you!' Diana Daggers, driving up: 'Yeah, Rex. You've got people. Need a lift?' Mark Trail: 'Diana! We have two tigers to haul with us. Is that going to be a problem?' Diana: 'Hm ... I'll clear off the back seat.'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 26th of November, 2022. Wait, wasn’t this the first story in Skin Horse?

Gemma chases Tess out of town, and out of the country, and out of the story. The mysterious tent turns out to have juvenile tigers, ones too large for ‘therapeutic’ touching, and way too large for their cages. Luckily Diana Daggers drives back around, ready to pick up Rex, and Mark Trail, and the tiger cubs. The Tiger Touch Center gets closed up, people who weren’t sure they were in a cult go home. Tess Tigress is absent, and so is Gemma, threads for another story, one imagines.

The current story got started the 5th of December. It plays on one of the traditional Mark Trail snarks. A common story transition, particularly in the Jack Elrod era, was Mark Trail promising Rusty a fishing trip that the new story would preempt. James Allen actually got Rusty on a fishing trip. And now Jules Rivera has Mark Trail take up Rusty on his request from like three years ago to go fishing.

Thing is, Rusty’s a bit older, getting into the teenage years, and not excited to get up at 4 am on a Saturday to spend time with Dad without even someone else that Dad could talk to instead. Mark Trail fears the worst, that Rusty doesn’t like fishing. Cherry talks sense into him: ask Rusty what he would like to do today instead.

[ Mark notices Rusty get into a quarrel with one of his friends before the cryptid river boat hunt. ] Robbie: 'The Bassigator isn't real, Rusty. I can't wait for you to be proven wrong.' Rusty: 'You're the expert, 'Cuz you're wrong all the time.' Mark Trail: 'Whoa, boys! This is supposed to be a friendly trip. Let's not fight before the boat ride.' Rusty: 'But Dad! You fight around boats all the time! It's like your whole thing!'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 29th of December, 2022. Hey, Mark Trail has other hobbies, like probably avoiding the Florida police and Coast Guard.

What Rusty wants to do is cryptozoology. To wit: finding the bassigator, Mark Trail doesn’t believe there is such a part-bass, part-alligator, but what the heck. He can borrow a boat from the De-Bait Team. And a bunch of Rusty’s school friends, plus a promising new enemy he’s picked up. They’re rivals over the quality of their in-class reports about cryptid animals. This is ridiculous in exactly the right way to tickle me. It’s got that nerd-sniping chic to it.

So next week Mark Trail and Rusty and some of his classmates set out in a boat to find adventure. Or at least some coves, you can always find a good cove if you’re trying. The search bumps up hard against adventure and coves: alligators in the Lost Forest waters, farther north than they should be. And, worse, the boat runs aground in a cove full of alligators.

Cherry Trail doesn’t know exactly what happened. But Duke, who provided the De-Bait Team’s boat to the expedition, mentions knowing about the horseshoe-shaped cove with all the alligators. And Cherry, who’s slipped a tracking device into Rusty’s backpack, knows they’re at that cove. So they’re off to the rescue.

[ Mark gets out of the boat to push it back into the water. ] Mark Trail, pushing the boat barely ahead of the alligators: 'Rusty, when you feel the boat hit the water, throw the throttle in reverse.' Ian: 'Whoa! Mr Trail is so brave!' Mark Trail, confident: 'Bah! Thes gators can't scare me! I work on deadlines!'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 25th of January, 2022. That’s funny because I have definitely finished this article before its schedule deadline time of 7:15 pm Eastern the 14th of February, you know. Long before, long enough before I could re-read it and fix weird sentence conglomerations that crept in.

Mark Trail, meanwhile, has gone and rescued himself. With Rusty at the helm he hops off the boat to push it into the water. Rusty backs the boat away from the shore, and the kids help yank Mark Trail aboard before anyone can be eaten. They follow the tracker Mark Trail left on Cherry’s car, to a happy safe reunion. And all the kids, including Rusty’s imminent enemy, agree this was awesome. Fair enough.

And some more happy news. Bill Ellis is up for a story about alligators moving into the Lost Forest. So Mark Trail gets a writing gig he doesn’t have to leave home for. All’s looking great and there’s no way there’s any problems ahead.

Sunday Animals Watch!

Here’s animals or natural phenomena mentioned in the Sunday panels the last few weeks. Please forgive me not having some wisecrack about them. It’s been a pretty rough couple days and, I mean, the train wreck in East Palestine, Ohio, doing for the Ohio River Valley what the US Navy’s doing for Hawai’i, makes it hard to do my usual whistling past the graveyard here.

  • Roadside Zoos, 13 November 2022.
  • Rip Currents, 20 November 2022.
  • Pumpkins, 27 November 2022.
  • Elephants, 4 December 2022.
  • Muskrats and Beavers, 11 December 2022.
  • Moose, Reindeer, and Caribou, 18 December 2022.
  • Christmas Trees, 25 December 2022.
  • The Klamath Dams, 1 January 2023.
  • Alligators, 8 January 2023.
  • Squirrels, 15 January 2023.
  • Formerly Legendary Animals, 22 January 2023.
  • Snowflakes, 29 January 2023.
  • Mountain Lion P-22, 5 February 2023.
  • Iguanas, 12 February 2023.

Next Week!

Sure we’ve got platitudes, but we always have platitudes. What the past several months of Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth have given us is a wedding. And, even better, humiliation for Wilbur Weston.

Chris Browne has died

Chris Browne, cartoonist for everyone’s dad’s favorite comic Hagar the Horrible, died last Sunday. I get the news from D D Degg at The Daily Cartoonist, of course. He’s not the strip’s original cartoonist — that was his father, Dik Browne — but he has been the main cartoonist for the strip for most of its 50-year history.

I never had much substantial interaction with him (or with any other syndicated cartoonist). The one I remember is chatting on Usenet with him when I noticed a week of remakes of vintage Hagar comics. I think he explained that he was remaking a couple older strips as part of breaking in a subtle redesign of the characters for the modern comic strip formats. (I was quite young when the strip was new and in that exciting first rush of figuring itself out, so I was going to catch Browne reusing situations like Lucky Eddie not remembering the words to their drinking song. It’s nothing but the word “Drink!”, and was adapted into a commercial for Mug root beer when Mug had the Hagar license.)

The Daily Cartoonist offers a retrospective of the very many comic strips Browne drew over his career. My favorite of these non-Hagar strips is Raising Duncan, which ran for five years in the early 2000s and which GoComics is still reprinting. That one’s about a married couple of writers and their pets. The couple is cheerfully and demonstrably in love, and the dog and cat love one another too. It’s a quite happy strip, and we can use more of those. I keep thinking to remove it from my daily read, which is rather long, but moments like when the wife says, “Marry me!” and the husband says I did, and the wife (hugging him) says “Marry me more!” make it hard to cut.

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? Why does Gasoline Alley have a talking bear? November 2022 – February 2023

Gasoline Alley, at least under Jim Scancarelli’s tenure, is a lightly fantastic universe. That’s all. There’s elements that can’t exist, like the Old Comics Home, or the recent visit with Santa Claus, or the current story with Bear. There was an attempt at saying the recent visit with Santa Claus was imaginary. I think it’s not possible to make the talking bear only something in kids’ imagination. Scancarelli enjoys a strip that lets him step outside the already-gentle realism of the normal story and that’s that.

This should catch you up to early February 2023 in the comics. If you’re reading this after about May 2023, I should have a more up-to-date plot recap of Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley at this link. If you’re not, then, enjoy catching up here.

Gasoline Alley.

7 November 2022 – 4 February 2023.

Walt Wallet was finally writing up a bucket list. The least recklessly dangerous thing on it? Riding on the back of a garbage truck, something that caught his imagination as a child and that he never got to do. The trouble: nobody’s going to let a man who can remember when there were 45 states in the union ride the back of a garbage truck. Even if they would, they can’t; there’s no perch for that anymore. Hulla Ballew, reporter for the Gasette newspaper, thinks it’d be a fun story if he could. And Rufus, of the comedy-relief team of Rufus and Joel, has an in with Mayor Melba.

Walt Wallet standing before the garbage truck he's to ride, as the crowd gathers calling for a speech: '(Gulp!) I'm at a loss for words! Thank you for this opportunity to ride on one of our city's clean an' sanitary garbage trucks! It's been my childhood dream to do so!' Crowd member, to the woman beside him: 'Trucks weren't invented when he was a kid!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 7th of December, 2022. Snarky guy is not exactly wrong; EtymologyOnline gives 1913 for the introduction of ‘truck’ like we think of trucks in American English. But ‘motor truck’, certainly getting the same spirit of the thing, dates to 1901 which … I guess we usually suppose on 1900 as Walt Wallet’s notional birthdate. (The word itself goes back much farther, with the usual sorts of goofy mutations in meaning.)

Over dinner at Corky’s Diner Rufus asks if Walt Wallet could get a ride. Melba thinks it’s a great idea; fun for Walt Wallet and some good publicity for the sanitation department. Despite Skeezix’s reasonable concern, the bit of civic whimsy gets set up in good order. By early December the city has a garbage truck, with a platform on the back, and a harness so a theoretically 122-year-old man can’t fall off, ready to go. And so, in front of cameras, the press, and half the population of town, he gets his ride.

Though we see him take off, we don’t get to actually see his ride. We see him arriving back home and thanking the mayor, who thinks she’ll ride the garbage truck back City Hall herself. And, the 13th of December, he falls into a happy sleep.

The 14th starts the next story, with Aubee Skinner (great-granddaughter of Walt Wallet), Ava Luna, and Sophie visiting. Also Ida Noe, Ava Luna’s magic doll, who’s used as an excuse for Scancarelli to spend a week drawing The Twelve Days Of Christmas. Which was not the only Twelve Days of Christmas montage this season, either; Barney Google and Snuffy Smith had a take on the song too.

Rudolph, rushing in: 'Scuse me, Santa! Bzz! Bzz!' Santa, looking up from his iced drink under the palm tree: 'Uh-oh!' (To Aubee, Ava Luna, Sophie, and the magic doll Ida Noe) 'Sorry, ladies, but an emergency has arisen at home! We must get back to the North Pole in a hurry! C'mon, deers, saddle up and' let's get flyin'!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 3rd of January, 2023. You have to agree Jim Scancarelli draws a cute reindeer. Any animal, really; we’re a bit disadvantaged he didn’t get into drawing a full-time funny-animals comic strip.

After that — and after Christmas — Ava Luna says she’s going to take Santa up on his invitation last year to visit again. And in a poof they’re off to … not the North Pole. It’s after Christmas. Santa’s vacationing in the tropics. Not for long, though, as there’s a crisis back at the North Pole. Bunky, the Big Book Brownie — keeper of the list of naughty and nice kids (we met him in 2021) is resigning. He wants to strike out on his own, form some company of his own to do elf business. Santa is skeptical of this plan, which you can’t even call half-baked. It’s more resting in the mixing bowl waiting for someone to find the cake dish and start preheating the oven.

Bunky: 'Santa! My mind's made up! I have enjoyed my stay here immensely! I just want to be an entrepreneur and be my own person ... er ... elf!' Santa: 'I completely understand your feelings, Bunky! When I was a kid I wanted to ride on the back of a garbage truck!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 17th of January, 2023. I was starting to pitch a story about Santa deciding to use his worldwide overnight transportation network to gather all the trash from all over the world and then — using his amazing skills at creating things — salvaging what can be made into new goods and bringing the true waste to places it can be safely stored, dispersed, or left for future technologies that make it usable again, and then realized I was probably writing a Dinosaur Comics that already exists.

But Santa understands Bunky’s aspirations and mentions his own childhood wish to ride the back of a garbage truck. This, I’m sure, reflects Jim Scancarelli’s awareness of how The Jack Benny Show could turn anything into a runner. Anyway, Santa wishes him luck. He may be aware that the moment Bunky saw Santa’s new secretary, Allure, he’d insist on staying another 99 years. So everything is resolved in a happy if old-fashioned manner.

And then — you know, I’m going ahead and putting the start at Sunday, the 29th of January — we start what seems like the current story. Boog Skinner, Aubee’s older brother, is talking with the local wildlife again. Particularly, Bear, his best friend. Bear’s having some trouble sleeping, what with the racket of the city (Gasoline Alley) encroaching on the wilderness. Also all the fuss about Groundhog Day. Boog offers some earplugs and wishes him a good late hibernation and that’s where that story’s gotten.

Next Week!

It was an innocent attempt at cryptozoology; how we not end up exploding a boat over alligators? Other than because they were crocodiles? I try to answer next week as I recap Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail, all things going to plan.

We Have Information About Whether the Guy Who Draws Beetle Bailey Has Ever Seen a Raccoon

It was not quite four short years ago that we didn’t know whether the guy who draws Beetle Bailey had ever seen a raccoon. I know, time, right? Also I’m guessing the guy is Greg Walker, but the credits still claim Mort Walker, who died over five years ago at this point so I’m pretty sure that’s a polite fib. I mean, to give some perspective, in two years he’ll have been dead as long as Jacob Marley had been dead. Anyway, the fast-breaking-ish news is about this revelation, from yesterday’s comic:

Cookie, handing some bacon to Otto the dog: 'You did a good job chasing those raccoons from the dumpster, Otto! Here's some bacon as a reward.' Next panel Otto brings some of the bacon to a trio of raccoons standing around: 'Thanks for making me look good, guys! Here's your cut.'
Greg Walker’s Beetle Bailey for the 31st of January, 2023. By the way yes, I am being the jerk here. It’s really hard to figure how to draw a new animal stylized like this — a 50s Cartoon Moderne style at its core, rejiggered and mostly streamlined further to read well at the appalling size and print conditions of newspapers. Photorealistic raccoons would look even more hideous against Otto, who only loosely resembles the idea of a dog. At some point the artist has to stop figuring out how to draw the comic and actually draw it, and we can say it’s at a good thing they drew three raccoons who do look different. It would’ve been easy to use the same model repeatedly and instead here’s something where they’re distinguishable without dialogue.

I’m … not at all sure how to rate this. I think we’d have to say he got an okay glimpse at one raccoon, then a decent look at another raccoon, and then one last not-quite-enough look at a third raccoon. Well, glad to have that known. I’ll keep you posted of other animals-in-Beetle-Bailey development.

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