What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? And What’s Marty Moon’s Problem? December 2017 – March 2018

Content warning: I’ve got a lot of content here about Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp today. It should help you catch up to where things are by mid-March of 2018. Check your local time coordinates. If it’s a lot later than March 2018 the story might have moved on too far for this to be useful. If I’ve written another essay catching the story up it should be at or near the top of this page. Good luck finding what you need.

Gil Thorp.

18 December 2017 – 10 March 2018.

Last time I shared what I knew of Milford, the story was centered on Rick Soto. Rick’s a promising offensive lineman: in just one story he’s gotten an ankle injury and taken a knee to the head. Watching over this is his uncle Gary. Gary tries to argue that Rick’s repeated injuries suggest maybe he’d be better off being the superstar singer that he wants Rick to be.

Gary presses the whole “concussions are bad stuff” angle even after the strip brings in an expert to say that Rick’s fine. This exhausts Gil Thorp’s reserve of not caring to the point that he steps up and gets someone else to google Gary Soto. He gathers Rick, Gary, and Rick’s Mom together for a conference in which he reveals the shocking facts of the situation. Gary’s law license was suspended and he’s bankrupt. His only career prospect is finding talent, eg, Rick, and managing him through his friend’s talent agency. Also Thorp brings Rick’s Dad back from his construction project in Dubai. Rick’s Dad apologizes for letting Gary get in the way of watching out for his family. And berates him for all this trying to push Rick from football into music. And throws Gary out of his house. So, uh, yeah. It may take a while to get Coach Thorp riled but when you do, you’re jobless, bankrupt, and homeless at Christmas. So maybe I’m going to go do some editing around here.

Rick Soto's Dad: 'Maybe Connie can't believe you'd try to cash in on our son, but I do!' (Soto's Mom or maybe Gary) 'Richard!' [Dad and Mom hug.] Dad: 'I'm so sorry, Connie. I let work get in the way of watching out for my family.' [ Turning to Gary.] 'As for you, start thinking of what you'll tell Rick about why you're leaving tonight.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 26th of December, 2017. “Uhm … uh … I have to get to work on the new Starbuck Jones comic book? He’d buy that, right?”

And that wraps up the Rick Soto plot, with the 1st of January. With the 2nd of January Rick announces his intention to move over to the basketball plot, which is the one we’re in now. Likely we’ll see Rick some more, but in supporting roles. One thing Gil Thorp does it keep characters around for plausible high school tenures. I list the dates because it’s weirdly useful to have the starts and ends of stories logged somewhere.

This story starts with Marty Moon, local radio sports-reporter jerkface. Moon notes the number of football players on the basketball team this year, calling it a lack of depth on the basketball team. Coach Thorp gets asked if he’s going to complain about the insult to his multi-sport athletes but remembers that he really doesn’t care.

The team’s depth problems have a temporary respite anyway. Jorge Padilla and his sister Paloma are temporary students. They’re staying with a cousin after their home in Puerto Rico was smashed by the hurricane and the Republican party. Paloma is angry in the way young student activists often are. She’s not only upset by her personal loss but by the willingness of mainland residents to be fine with abandoning Puerto Rico. Jorge is just happy to be somewhere safe and warm and playing basketball.

Paloma’s the first to play, although she can’t get through the first game without fouling out. She grumbles that the referee just keeps calling on the Puerto Rican girl. Other, whiter members of the cast roll their eyes at the implausibility of that idea. As if authority figures might disproportionately identify “problematic” behavior from a person of a minority ethnicity when they’re there to spot actual violations of the objective, clear rules about unsporting behavior. Anyway.

Jorge fits in great on the team and sees them to a couple strong showings. And then Marty Moon goes and opens his mouth, which is always his problem. “That hurricane was the best thing that could have happened for the team — and for Georgie Padilla” he says on air.

[ Jorge Padilla's 3-point play seals a win against New Thayer --- and as he comes off the bench for 11 at Central ... ] Marty Moon: 'That hurricane was the best thing that could have happened for this tea --- and for Georgie Padilla!''
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 8th of February, 2018. Yeah so in town there was this guy figuring to open a new hipster tavern he wanted to name Rajje’s (“It’s A Circus In Here!”). Rajje was this circus elephant that got loose in 1963. Rajje, panicked by the local residents, ran through a discount department store and another two miles before police shot and killed her. In a retrospective article Lansing residents talked about how gads, they can’t believe they were so awful as to harass this poor frightened elephant, ultimately, to her death. The tavern isn’t going to open.

A couple students from the vaguely-focused politically-active group that Paloma’s joined visit Moon. He laughs at the idea he ought to get Jorge Padilla’s name right and besides, “I’m just trying to help him seem more American”. The kids point out (a) he is American, and (b) by the way, no, having home destroyed by a hurricane is not good for him. He considers how in an excited moment he said something pretty obnoxious. So Marty tells the kids they’re big dumb dummyheads who are big and dumb.

Here, by the way, let me share one of the about four things I’ve learned in life. Nobody has ever said of someone, “She’s a great person except for how she owns up to it and backs off like right away when you call her on her bull”. If someone’s angry that you said something insensitive and a little cruel, refusing to apologize will not ever convince them that you aren’t insensitive and cruel. If you didn’t think you were being insensitive and cruel? Typically you can, with honesty, say, “I apologize for sounding like that. It’s not what I wanted to express”. Both you and they will be better off.

In fairness to Moon, he does ask Jorge if he’s got problems with how he says his name, and Jorge doesn’t. “I don’t get into that stuff,” you know, political stuff like what his name is. I can understand not getting worked up about this. The guy who runs one of the pinball leagues I’m in has some mental block that has him keep pronouncing my name “Newbus”, and I never stop finding this amusing. Any chance that I might tire of it was obliterated at the 2017 Pinburgh tournament finals, lowest division. The tournament official announced my name as “Newbus” too. I’ve lived my whole life with my last name mispronounced. Or dropped altogether as the speaker reading my name freezes up when they somehow can’t work it out. I understand you think I am joking here but no, there’s something in the pause of public speakers what I can recognize as warming up to my name. Anyway I’m delighted that my being part of a thing is enough to make ordinary routine stuff go awry.

Paloma asks Jorge why he doesn’t care whether the sports reporter gets his name right. He says he’s got other things to think about. This is another character beat. Jorge’s got a Georgian accent and Paloma a Puerto Rican one. He explained to someone that the family moved when he was a bit older than she was. But he added the thought, also she wants to sound like that.

Next men’s basketball game Marty Moon considers the people he unintentionally offended, and doubles down. They always do. He talks about “HORR-gay Pa-dee-ya from the beautiful and utterly flawless island of Puerto Rico”. Les Nessman phones in to ask, dude, what’s your problem? Well, Marty Moon’s problem is he’s Marty Moon. It’s something Marty Moon has struggled with his whole life. Also he’s Marty Moon trying to show his power over a bunch of teenagers. Also he’s trying to help the radio station land some advertising from a Mexican restaurant. This results in an overworked, weeping neuron causing Marty to say “Padilla earned his burritos with that one” after a good field goal. “That was a two-burrito shot for Padilla.” And then, “Padilla snags the rebound! He’s like a Mexican jumping bean out there!” At this point Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder leans into frame to say, “Yeah, I’m not with him.”

So. Paloma and, if I’m not misreading it, most of the women’s basketball team take up seats behind Marty’s desk next game to chant “No More Moon” over him. (Also I don’t know if this is going to pay off. But the women’s team has noticed they never get radio coverage.) Marty scolds the kids to shut up and finds that somehow doesn’t work. He then turns to Coach Gil Thorp, telling him he’s got to make them stop. Coach Thorp digs deep into his bag of not really caring and announces he doesn’t really care. And in this case, at least, I’m not sure how it would be his business. I don’t think he’s got any responsibility for the women’s teams. He certainly hasn’t got any for the students who aren’t on any team. Marty tries to start again after halftime, and can’t. So he runs off, promising that the protesters will regret this.

[ Marty Moon signs on again ] Marty: '... Bringing you the third quarter. We hope.' [ And finds an even larger chorus. ] Protesters: 'No more Moon! No more Moon!' Marty: 'Fine. I'm leaving. But you'll regret this!' Paloma: 'See you later, Mar-TEEN Moon!'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 10th of March, 2018. Marty Moon overestimates how often in life people have regretted his leaving. In fairness, how many of us would be functional if we knew that kind of data? Meanwhile yes, I am aware that in Mark Leiknes’s Cow and Boy strip one of the (many) running jokes was a giant panda who achieved his dream and destroyed the Moon. I would so love to bring you a link of a giant panda, if I remember correctly riding a space-going whale alongside a triton-wielding sea-god Justin Bieber, crying out “NO MORE MOON!”. I can’t find it, though, and you would not believe where trying to search for this has brought me, Internet-wise. The whale and triton-wielding sea-god Justin Bieber were also running jokes in Cow and Boy. It was kind of an odd strip.

And that’s where we stand. I was annoyed, some might say angry, with the end of the Rick Soto story. I expect the stories in Gil Thorp to assume that organized sports are good things that people should support. All right. But look into Rick Soto’s story. The only person who expresses doubts that football is an actually safe thing to do is presented as a scheming grifter trying to lure a kid out of football in a daft scheme to wallpaper over his own repeated personal failures and who only spreading doubts to further his own agenda. The two times that Rick got injured badly enough to need medical care? Oh, that’s nothing; he can almost walk them off.

Rubin and Whigham have an indisputable vantage point here. They can decide exactly how bad Rick Soto’s injuries are, short-term and long-term. If they’ve decided those injuries aren’t anything to be particularly concerned about, then they’re right. (And they can come back around later and change their minds.) And I trust that they know the generally accepted high-school-sports understanding of what kinds of injuries are likely to result in Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. And how head injuries would be evaluated today. But I am at a point in life that when I read a story whose through-line is “EVERYTHING FINE HERE, DON’T WORRY”, I want to see how the work was done.

The Marty Moon story, meanwhile, is tromping through even stickier grounds. It’s presented Paloma as this outsider who’s stirring up trouble over issues that the real people don’t care about. Jorge doesn’t care if Marty Moon can say his name right. Nobody but her Disgruntled Students Group was shown objecting to that hurricane-was-good-for-Jorge comment. And it’s Paloma and her group actually protesting Marty Moon during a game.

So the story has a motif of “Everything would be swell if those interlopers would just stop telling people it isn’t”. It’s not an attitude I can get behind. I don’t think this is what Rubin and Whigham mean to express. Story comics work under some terrible constraints. Too many characters in any story, in any medium, confuse the audience. A story comic has maybe three or four panels a day to show anything. Readers can be expected to have forgotten or missed all but the major threads of a story. And Gil Thorp generally keeps stories to about three months long, in order that they better fit the sports seasons. Many of the things that would defuse the “we’d have nice things if only agitators stopped whining” theme are difficult to fit into the story at all. And, after all, Rubin and Whigham could have shown Marty Moon not being a jerk. At least insofar as Marty Moon is capable of non-jerk behavior. But he is the one who responded to a “hey, not cool” like he was Donald Duck noticing that Chip and Dale were sniffing around his hammock. It’s his choice to escalate the conflict. This is how you end up straitjacketed by your hammock, dangling from a tree over the edge of Death Ravine, while an angry bulldog the size of a Packard Super Eight bites at you edging your way back to safe ground all night long, and two chipmunks get to drink your lemonade. He could have saved so much effort if he’d just said yeah, sorry, he should’ve got Jorge’s name right in the first place.

Next Week!

I did not realize until it was like 4:45 pm Sunday just how much stuff there was to write about three months’ activity in Gil Thorp. (I’ve got about 1850 words, according to Hemingway Editor. It’s the tool I use to make me notice when I accidentally wrote a 375-word sentence.) What might top that? Could three moths of Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker beat the two-thousand-word mark? We’ll see.

And in things that were less than two thousand words: my comic strip review on the mathematics blog. Features some Zippy the Pinhead content, in case you like that!


In Which A Comics Syndicate Makes A Terrible Mistake

I was trying to look something up about a comic strip and I got one of those pop-up boxes to take a survey. It was asking me to rate the three most appealing names for a comic strip that they’re thinking about syndicating. None of them was a name that made me even the slightest bit curious about what the comic strip might be. What are they doing asking me if something is interesting? I warned everybody about this just a couple weeks ago for crying out loud. I don’t know how to tell whether a thing is interesting. Day School for Daddies? I dunno if I care. Cash, Tokens, and Transfers: a History of Urban Mass Transit in North America? I keep checking the university library to see if that’s in. I guess what I’m saying is if someone’s trying to figure whether to launch a comic strip about the inter-urban transit lines of the 1910s, don’t make any plans based on how interested I am. Gads. (Yes, I know about Toonerville Trolley and I know where to get my hands on a collection if the stock at this used bookstore in Troy, New York, hasn’t changed much since 2002.)

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Sundays)? December 2017 – February 2018? (Walking)

Hi, Sunday readers of Tony DePaul and Dave Weigel’s The Phantom. If you’re not reading this in early 2018 the story might have moved on to the point this plot summary isn’t at all useful. If I have written another essay about the storyline, it should be at or near the top of this page, although the recap of the separate storylines in The Phantom weekdays edition, by Tony DePaul and Mike Manley, might be in the way. Also, Tony DePaul keeps up a blog, which you might find interesting.

I have another blog myself, and it reviews mathematically-themed comic strips at least once and sometimes several times a week. You might like that, too. I do.

The Phantom (Sundays).

3 December 2017 – 25 February 2018.

The last time I checked in on the Sunday continuity of The Phantom, the Ghost Had Walked into Boomsby Prison. An exceedingly confident prisoner had tried to trade information about his ex-partner for a lesser sentence. The warden laughed at him. His ex-partner sent a hit man into the cell. The man was hit by The Phantom.

The Phantom offers to break The Rat out of prison — for the night, at least. To lead him to The Rat’s ex-partner, “a cop killer”. Afterwards he still gets returned to jail, maybe with time off his sentence. The Rat takes the deal, weak as it may be. His reasoning: well, once he’s out of the prison he can stay out. He has delusions of killing The Phantom, but you can’t blame someone new to the strip for imagining that.

(Leading The Rat, blindfolded, through the autopsy room.) The Rat: NOW we're headed down! It's about time! But how do we get out!? [ The way out of Boomsby! The dissection room of a bygone era ... ] Rat: 'Where are we?' Phantom: 'Stand where you are.' Rat: 'Smells like bad, *bad* juju in here .. man, like ... like *real* bad.' Phantom: 'Good nose!' (Manipulating some surgical implements on a panel). Phantom thinks: 'One hook turns left, one turns right ... [ secret passage opens ] ... and we start making our way down again, out of the eaves of Boomsby!'
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 7th of January, 2018. Just did want to call your attention to the level of detail here, down to individual bricks in the far wall, the grain of wood doors, and the spiderwebs in the last panel. The original art has to be staggering to look at. … And because something’s always a little wrong in my thinking, I looked over the jar with the abnormal brain and wondered how long a formaldehyde (or whatever preservative) jar like that would stay full if it wasn’t specifically sealed to be museum-grade airtight but was rather in a jar for still-working purposes. (Also curious about the abandoned skeleton, since my impression is good-quality replica skeletons are surprisingly recent things so one in good shape would be moved to the new autopsy lab. But I may be wrong and there’s no reason to suppose the skeleton is actually still usable. Don’t see a right arm on it for example, and there’s no information about whether the hips and legs are still there.)

The Phantom blindfolds him, and leads The Rat on a long, long walk through the prison. Up the spiral tower. Through the old execution chambers. Into the old dissection room. Through the secret cabinet behind the old surgical tools. Down the tower walls. Past the Abbé Faria’s physiology lesson with Edmond Dantès. Into the sewers, although The Phantom insists “I’m not saying we are in the sewers” as part of his headgames with The Rat. Past Jean Valjean hauling Marius Pontmercy’s body around. And then back up into the Batcave, until they find the tracks of an old mine cart.

The Rat, ripping off his blindfold: 'T-The way out! WHERE is it? SHOW ME!!' Phantom 'Put the blindfold ON or I'll leave you here. No one in the prison will hear your cries as you wander the dark.' [ The way out known only to the Phantom! ] (Walking through the sewers.) Phantom, thinking: 'Men have tried to escape Boomsby through the sewers ... the WATER has to get out! So they follow the water ... to their doo. No one ever thinks to walk AGAINST the flow ... in THIS tunnel ... and ONLY this one!' The Rat: 'W-we're going up again? BACK the way we came!?' [ Phantom leads ... The Rat follows ... ] (The panel shows a cross-section of the ground, and the tunnel down and back up that they're following, with insets showing where past panels took place.)
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 4th of February, 2018. That final panel gave me a nostalgic thrill, and after some thinking I pinned down why. It reminded me of those little “bonus” pages in the back of, like, G.I.Joe comics showing the cross-sectional layout of the Joe’s secret base underneath the motor pool of whatever Army base they were stationed in (they were a secret team, you see, operating covertly in like six enormous subterranean levels that most of the base personnel never even suspected was there). Or, later, when I discovered reprints of Silver-Age crazypants DC Comics and maps of the Bottled City of Kandor or other such wild and delightful fancies. The inset dots particularly amazes me and I’m only sad that this wasn’t a strip I could see sprawled out over a half-page of a true broadsheet newspaper.

So this has not been one of the most plot-dense sequences of The Phantom. It’s been very heavy in atmosphere, and in showing off all sorts of great shadowy corners of the Boomsby Prison. Jeff Weigel has gotten to show off his ability to compose these detailed, deep pictures with a lot of light and shadow and moody color choices, most of them in the purples.

Where we haven’t got is particularly close to The Rat’s ex-partner; heck, we’re barely out of prison. The story began the 8th of October, so it’s now reached twenty weeks. Most Phantom Sunday stories have run about 26 weeks the last several years. The last-but-one story, “The Wiseguy”, did run 41 weeks, although that story of crime syndicate scion Mickey D’Moda and the people who put up with him, just barely, had a couple major phases that kept it from seeming that long. I’m guessing that something like that will be at work this story. It would be a bit odd to spend twelve Sunday strips sneaking out of Boomsby Prison and then deal with the ex-partner in two.

Next Week!

Comics art forgeries! Highly adoptable orphans! Old people peeking in on you at the mall! Estranged family members! And, might Terry Beatty be setting up the craziest of all possible things, Rex Morgan, M.D. doing some medical care of some kind? Well, no, probably not that. But come around next Sunday, if all goes to plan, and we’ll see.

What’s Going On In Mary Worth? And What Are We Going To Do With All These Muffins? November 2017 – February 2018

Do you have no idea why I should be giddy about the concepts of muffins? Yet you’re interested in what the heck the current storyline is in Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth? That might be because it’s not February or maybe March 2018 when you’re reading this, and the story’s moved on. If it has, please check this link. If I’ve written another essay describing the plot since this one, it should be at or near the top of that page.

Also, I review comic strips for their mathematical contest. That’s over on my other blog, and if you’d like to hear about story problems as deconstructed by Flo and Friends please give that a try. I’m pretty sure I didn’t make up Flo and Friends as a comic strip title.

Mary Worth.

27 November 2017 – 18 February 2018.

My last essay on the events in Mary Worth came at an exciting moment. Wilbur Weston, travelling the world to ask survivors of disasters how they felt about not being dead, had found his girlfriend Fabiana in the arms of her “cousin”. He stormed out of the dance studio. I thought it was too early in the storyline for his relationship with her to have collapsed. She’d only been introduced a few weeks before. Right as Wilbur told his on-hiatus girlfriend Iris that he’d met someone else and it was after all Iris’s idea to go on hiatus. Not so, though. He flies back home and shows no sign of ever wishing anything to do with Fabiana ever again.

Wilbur, thinking: 'I broke up with Iris ... but these things are fluid. We can make up. And it'll be like it never happend!' (He calls her.) Iris: 'Hello?' Wilbur: 'Iris, it's Wilbur. You must be surprised to hear from me, but I'm back in Santa Royale! And I have so much to tell you!' Iris: 'Um ... ' Wilbur: 'No, don't say anything! Save it for tonight. I want to take you to dinner! We can catch up and I can explain ... ' Iris: 'Wilbur, I can't! I have other plans ... and his name is Zak!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 10th of December, 2017. Have to say Wilbur is more energetic and outgoing after spending a year on the road than I am after spending a weekend at Holiday World amusement park. But he’s the one raking in those big newspaper-advice-columnist and feature-report paychecks.

Wilbur strolls back into his home life. He calls Iris with all the confidence of a balding, sandwich-based newspaper advice columnist who wears a bathrobe made of the curved fabric of spacetime itself. And he’s shocked to learn that she’s got plans with a guy named Zak that she hooked back up with right after he dumped her. Wilbur takes this well. I mean that he spends a couple weeks crouching in bushes to figure out how much of a rebound this guy is. And just how temporarily Iris will be interested Zak. He’s a young, rich, generically attractive man who owns his own game company and a car and chin stubble that looks like it’s on purpose and not that he’s incompetent at shaving. Wilbur figures to win Iris back, and gets the first step — roses — ready to deploy when he hears Iris and Zak telling each other “love you”. And that convinces him it’s all over.

This takes us to the 1st of January. And something I could not have appreciated at the time. In the midst of cleaning up Wilbur’s emotional mess, Mary Worth points out that she’s made muffins.

I do not think I am the only reader of Mary Worth blindsided by the strip’s turn to muffins. But let me give you this to consider: the 18th of February was the 49th day of the year. Since the 1st of January, 2018, Mary’s Muffins have either been shown or been named in no less than 48 separate panels. That’s not counting panels in which the characters are talking about Mary Worth’s muffins. Or discussing the implications of the fact that these muffins exist in the Worthyverse. This is literally just the panels in which a muffin is shown or the word “muffin” appears in text. And yes, this is in no small part because Mary’s Muffins have somehow transmogrified from an alliterative phrase that sounds like it might be naughty into a plot to rival CRUISE SHIPS. But that’s also with the first several weeks being devoted to getting Wilbur to stop his nonsense about how he’s through with love. Of the 133 panels the strip presented from the new year through to Sunday, more than one in three has focused on muffins. I don’t believe that Karen Moy and June Brigman are creating drinking games for the snark community. But I can’t rule it out either.

Anyway. Plot. Wilbur declares he is through and will live the rest of his life without love. Mary points out that’s ridiculous: he may have lost Iris as a girlfriend. But he still has mayonnaise. And here’s a large pile of muffins that aren’t going to eat themselves. And he’s got a daughter he kind of waved to between coming home from Colombia and creeping on Zak and Iris. Plus, this is the Worthyverse so he will pair-bond with some appropriate heterosexual partner and they will be happy together or else. He takes a bag of muffins to his daughter Dawn. They have a heart-to-heart that’s uncomfortably close to how my every phone call with my mother goes (“How’ve you been?” “Pretty good, and you?” “Good. … Uhm … so … guess I’ll catch you next week?”). He walks through a couple sunrises and figures, hey, he’s not dead. That’s doing pretty good these days.

Dawn: 'While you were gone, I pictured you on the road. And I tried to send you good thoughts through the ethers. I missed you, Dad. I thought a lot about you and your travels.' Wilbur: 'My travels were full of extremes ... high and lows. It's comforting to be home, Dawn. To be stable in a familiar place, with familiar people. I want to start the new year with the right perspective. I saw so much while I was overseas. I realize now ... I'm lucky. I'm blessed. And I'm loved.'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 14th of January, 2018. Did you spot the muffin in this comic strip? Look again! IT’S RIGHT BEHIND YOU!

The 22nd of January the current wonder of a storyline gets going. It includes a panel that does not explicitly feature muffins. It does have clear muffin-related content since it’s got a bag of flower, and a bowl with more flour in it, and a stirring spoon. Jeff’s old friend Ted Miller is in town, and Mary’s happy to treat him to dinner. Ted Miller loves dinner. He loves even more the muffins that Mary serves as appetizer while the rib roast finishes. He’s a former salesman, so he knows ways of the business world, such as how to keep his face open to the exact same wide-eyed smile for days on end.

Ted’s sure that Mary Muffins could become a major success in the bread-adjacent food products line. And that could just be the start of a whole Mary Worth Food Universe of in-principle consumable matter. He plies her with the idea of fame. She’s enchanted by the idea, but in the way any of us are, not enough to do something. He tells her of how she could make a fortune. She’s got dreams of immense wealth, again as we all do, but she’s comfortable as she is. He finally deploys generically positive aphorisms like “Nothing in life is guaranteed! Does that mean we shouldn’t live it?” and “Don’t let fear stop you from doing something great!” and “Don’t be afraid of risk!”. Ted’s found her weak point. She goes to work making test muffins.

Ted, ecstatic over muffins: 'A new BUSINESS VENTURE! 'Mary Muffins are so GOOD, they're a GIFT for your taste buds!'.' Jeff: 'Ted's a former salesman.' Mary: 'I can tell.' Ted: 'YOU can make the muffins! I can handle the marketing! We can BOTH make it RICH!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 26th of January, 2018. Going out on a limb here and guessing that Ted was not invited back to the advertising team’s copy-writing sessions.

By the time that muffins became two-thirds of all the words spoken by all the characters in Mary Worth the ordinary reader had one question. I don’t know what it is. I know the question that the alert, partly-ironic reader had. That was: what’s Ted’s deal, anyway? He mentioned a couple times how Mary Worth would have to put up an investment to get Mary Muffins going. And that she’d really have to do work in making the stuff while he dealt with marketing and “details”. Could it be as simple as Ted Miller scamming a woman who could be flattered into believing the world needs to know how well she bakes?

[ WHEN TED MILLER CALLS MARY ... ] Ted: 'Mary, have you thought about marketing your muffins?' Mary: 'I have! I'm actually baking test batches now! Would you like to come over and join me for some taste tests?' Ted: 'I'M ON MY WAY!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 5th of February, 2018. So the last time I specifically remember making muffins was in home ec in 8th grade, and that mostly because it was as fun as middle school can possibly get to be baking stuff in a little kitchen inside the B Wing. Also that they had wartime-propaganda-style posters warning DON’T OVERMIX – BECAUSE IT CAN’T BE FIXED if you were to make your muffins wrong. As an eighth grader I accepted this was something to warn about, although my father, wise beyond even my years, asked what exactly was the big deal about over-mixed muffin batter. The poster suggested it would cause the tops of the muffins to be more conical than the show breed ideal. I … guess that’s it? Anyway, flash forward to today and I don’t make anything more complicated than Noodle-Roni, except I slice up some Morning Star Farms vegetarian sausages and toss them in to make it as exciting as butter noodles can be.

Possibly. It seems a bit odd to have an old friend of Jeff’s turn out to be a scam artist. But the strip had Jeff back down on how well he did know Ted, saying (on the 17th of February) that he knew him “casually, a long time ago”. And also this past week we’ve had Ted declare how he and Mary Worth will be a great team, and go in for a hug that he doesn’t go out of for several days of strip action. Not until Mary warns she’s got an appointment and shoves him into the linen closet. Is it possible he’s a masher?

Could be. I admit I am not sure what Ted’s deal is. A confidence scam based on Mary Worth’s cooking abilities would be a believable development. Let’s remember that she introduced the comics snark community to salmon squares. I remember them as a plate of material the color of a Macintosh Performa 6115. She also did innovative work with shrimp scampi. The strip’s had confidence men pulling scams before, although not on Mary so far as I know. An attempt by Ted to flatter his way into a personal relationship would also fit. Jeff mentioned on the 17th that Ted was divorced. And, heck, a dozen years ago the strip even sustained a stalker plot, the famous Aldo Keldrast story. The Comics Curmudgeon made his name in the snark community covering that one. Could be a story like that coming around again. Or maybe it’ll be something more bizarre yet. I refuse to make a guess about whether Mary Muffins will turn into the next great baffling food thing or whether they’ll be forgotten as the Ted plot unfolds. Also I refuse to guess whether we’re ever given any hint what kind of product Ted ever sold. If you’d like to guess, please, leave a comment and we’ll see if we can make the text support any or all of them!

Dubiously Sourced Quotes of Mary Worth Sunday Panels!

The car care place down the street has shifted from that dubiously sourced Jimi Hendrix quote over to this message, which is more cryptic but which I have no particular reason to doubt.
  • “Life is full of surprises.” — John Major, 26 November 2017.
  • “You’ve got to learn to leave the table when love’s no longer being served” — Nina Simone, 3 December 2017.
  • “Above all, don’t lie to yourself” — Fyodor Dostoyevskky [sic], 10 December 2017.
  • “Love has reasons which reason cannot understand” — Blaise Pascal, 17 December 2017.
  • “No one wants advice — only corroboration.” — John Steinbeck, 24 December 2017.
  • “Love is the only gold.” — Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 31 December 2017.
  • “Gratitude is riches. Complaint is poverty.” — Doris Day, 6 January 2018.
  • “The best thing to hold onto in life is each other.” — Audrey Hepburn, 13 January 2018.
  • “Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the Earth are never alone or weary of life.” — Rachel Carson, 21 January 2018.
  • “You begin with the possibilities of the material.” — Robert Rauschenberg, 28 January 2018.
  • “Your big opportunity may be right where you are now.” — Napoleon Hill, 4 February 2018.
  • “The risk of a wrong decision is preferable to the terror of indecision.” — Maimonides, 11 February 2018.
  • “Enthusiasm is everything” — Pele, 18 February 2018.

Next Week!

I get to practically relax and take it easy. I have three months of Sunday strip continuity to catch up on, as we’re set to revisit Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom, Sunday strips. Does the Rat get out of jail? Does he get put back in jail? Is The Phantom just screwing with everybody? Come back and find out, or, actually, you could read the comic yourself at least as easily. But I’ll put it together in like a thousand words, there’s that.

Statistics January: Cartoonists Dying Or Going Missing Is Good For My Readership

I do like starting months with a recap of how many people read stuff around here the month before, and what was popular. I’m not sure I’ve ever used this to good ends, but it’s interesting reading when it’s there. So. I’m not precisely sure what happened, but January 2018 was my second-best month for readership — page views and unique visitors — ever. There were 3,902 pages viewed, and from 1,671 unique visitors. The only time I’d gotten more was in the Apartment 3-Gocalypse, when the Onion AV Club linked to me as “another blog, meanwhile” commenting on the sorry end of the strip. (Also last month I finally realized it would have been so much more graceful to call it Apocalypse 3-G. Ah well.)

January 2018 readership: 3,902 views from 1,671 visitors; 227 likes; 148 comments. A weird outlying tower of readership that nearly but not quite matches November 2015 way at the other end of the graph.
Can’t lie: I’m going to be sad when my little AV Club boost back in November 2015 finally times out of the monthly statistics view. I have no idea how to get graphs from earlier months and I suspect it’s not even possible. Also, I’ve accidentally created a bustling city skyline where most of the skyscrapers are clustered together but there’s this one place fifteen blocks away from downtown where some developer imagined they were going to start a new core part of the city right ahead of the massive recession that left the city flooded with empty offices for 20 years.

It’s not hard to explain all this, given the most popular posts in January:

So. Judge Parker has had an outburst of crazypants plot development and I’m a bit sad it’s so far down the rotation in my story strip review. Gasoline Alley has gone three months without a new daily strip, and a month without a new Sunday strip, and without any word from or about Jim Scancarelli and people are, naturally, nervous. (I’ve replaced the links for the What’s Going On In, which all went to my very first reviews of these strips, with the links for the category pages that always show the most recent recap or news, on the suspicion that’s what people are really looking for.) And then comic strips ending, or in the case of Nancy possibly ending, are always intriguing. Thinking About Mort Walker pretty clearly only missed the top five of the month because it had two days to attract readers. (My most popular original, long-form piece for the month was In Which I Discover A Way To Make A Modest But Respectable fondant Sum Of Money, all about the Peanuts page-a-day calendar that I still have not gotten, by the way.)

I’m happy to pass on what I hear about the comic strips, especially the story strips, but I should emphasize that I don’t write any news about them. I just pass on what I hear from actually informed people. The story strip plot reviews I do, and I love doing them. But, like, it would take talking to a person to figure out what’s happened to Jim Scancarelli and I’m not up to that sort of work. I have a hard enough time not hiding from the clerk at fast-food places.

And how about the listing of countries of the world? I’m glad to list them, because I’ve put together this nice little word-processor macro that makes the table all neat and pretty and I barely have to make any effort for it.

Country Readers
United States 3295
Canada 99
India 97
United Kingdom 59
Sweden 31
Brazil 27
Germany 25
Philippines 22
Australia 21
Argentina 13
New Zealand 12
France 9
Hong Kong SAR China 9
Russia 9
Italy 8
Turkey 7
Finland 6
Indonesia 6
Ireland 6
Portugal 6
Spain 6
Japan 5
Pakistan 5
South Africa 5
Thailand 5
Ukraine 5
Vietnam 5
Austria 4
Bangladesh 4
Denmark 4
Georgia 4
Netherlands 4
Norway 4
Romania 4
Hungary 3
Kazakhstan 3
Mexico 3
Nigeria 3
Serbia 3
Venezuela 3
Belgium 2
Bulgaria 2
Cape Verde 2
Greece 2
Jamaica 2
Kyrgyzstan 2
Lebanon 2
Poland 2
Slovakia 2
Trinidad & Tobago 2
China 1
Colombia 1 (*****)
Ecuador 1
El Salvador 1
Estonia 1
European Union 1
Guyana 1
Kenya 1
Kuwait 1
Laos 1 (*)
Lesotho 1
Malaysia 1
Maldives 1
Moldova 1 (*)
Montenegro 1
Morocco 1
Mozambique 1 (*)
Myanmar (Burma) 1
Saudi Arabia 1
Switzerland 1
Tunisia 1
United Arab Emirates 1

So that’s 72 countries altogether sending me readers. 21 of them were single-reader countries. There’d been 61 countries in December and 68 in November. There were 18 single-reader countries in December and 22 in November.

Laos, Moldova, and Mozambique were single-reader countries in December 2017. Colombia has been a single-reader country for six months now and I’m starting to wonder who it is.

Oh, yes, reader engagement. It was a good month for reader engagement, with 227 things liked around here, up from December’s 182 and November’s 165. Greatest number of likes since the boom times of 2015. It was also a very good month for engaging with comments, mostly Ray Kassinger: 148 comments all told, way up from December’s 59 and November’s 35 and the largest number of comments going back to September 2015, which is as far back as I can get out of WordPress. That’s like half the number of comments I got in all 2017. I like the trend, it makes me feel all pleasant and wanted and all that. Just tired thinking about it is all.

Oh yeah, and I see on the Insights panel the report that for 2018, I’m averaging two comments, seven likes, and 764 words per post. And got to 25,217 total words so far. This all seems very high to me but they’re the ones with a computer, not me.

February 2018 starts with Another Blog, Meanwhile having recorded 73,304 total page views, from 40,540 unique visitors. If you’d like to be one of them, good news: you are! And you can keep this up by hanging around here, or adding the Another Blog, Meanwhile to your WordPress reader to join the 811 who already had by the start of February. There’s the “Follow Another Blog, Meanwhile” button in the right column of the page here. Or you can follow by e-mail if you want to see what I schedule to post before noticing the weird, misplaced and unnecessary word that always turns out to be in the third paragraph. Thanks and we’ll see what turns up this month. And on Twitter I’m @Nebusj, and if you see me on Discord then at least one of us is hallucinating, since I’m not there and I don’t understand exactly what it is. Thank you.

What’s Going On In Prince Valiant? October 2017 – January 2018

I thank all you kind readers interested in what’s happening in Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant. This is my recap for mid-to-late January 2018. If it’s gotten far past that, this essay might not help you very much. But! If it’s past about April 2018, I should have other essays getting closer to your present. If I have done that, they should be at or near the top of this link. Good luck.

I also review comic strips for their mathematical themes, over on a blog trying less to be about comedy. You might find that interesting too.

Prince Valiant.

28 October 2017 – 21 January 2018.

When I last checked in on Prince Valiant things had reached a happy conclusion. Valiant had helped a refugee village smash a band of marauders. The marauders who weren’t so much into the marauding thing were settling down to join the villagers. And he was leaving behind some of the supporting cast where they were sure they’d be happy. With that, they were to sail down the river, hoping ultimately to get home.

They raft along the Yinchu. This river’s now known as the Syr Darya, one of the rivers in Kazhakstan that leads to the Aral Sea, which was a vast body of water that existed in Prince Valiant’s time. Along the way the party runs into (checks encounter table) a nasty swarm of insects. They escape the insects, but not before Valiant’s stung or bitten or otherwise harassed by one enough to fail his constitution check. He falls into a delirious sleep, and that night, pursuing the vision of his mother, he falls into the river.

Bukota, Karen, and Vanni are jerked from their sleep by the sound of a great splash. The Ab'saban warrior immediately realizes that the feverish Val is gone from his bedding and is nowhere to be seen. Karen is close to panic with concern for her stricken father, but frantic eyes can find little in the moonless dark. Flint is hastily struck to iron and a torch is set ablaze. Bukota wades to shore and sees evidence that Val has passed into the tall grasses, but the trail is soon lost. 'We must wait for dawn, and hope his fever does not lead him to destruction.' Meanwhile, a delirious Val stumbles forward, chasing the elusive phantom of his long-dead mother, a vision that suddenly transforms into the terrible figure of Horrit, the witch-prophet of his youth! 'Why do you hurry so, O Prince?' [ Next: Past and Future ]
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 19th of November, 2017. I admit I’m a bit impressed Valiant could get this lost this fast, given that he would have to get to the edge of the river. On the other hand, consider how easy it is to have something you’re holding in your hand drop eighteen inches onto a table, make some rattling noise, and then never be seen again. So yes, I am suggesting that Prince Valiant is kind of like that great dragon earring that was just here.

Valiant hacks his way through taunting visions of the witch-prophet Horrit and stumbles into a village. Jahan, the ruler, hooks him up with some salix tree extract, which naturally works great. Jahan explains their deal. His people are healers. They keep their neutrality in the wars between the Persian and Turkic people around them, ministering to both sides. And he’s atoning for a time when he kind of accidentally got the village cursed by not treating an ill stranger. (Jahan wasn’t sure if healing the stranger might alienate either of the warring sides around him.) Now, though, with “a good man — a man with an important destiny” treated despite being a stranger, he’d balanced the wrong.

Valiant’s companions find him. He’s sprawled out in the ruins of some ancient village, one massacred a long while ago. But then … how did Valiant find salix tree bark to chew on and to save his life? And with this (I found) charming bit of light Twilight Zone/folklore play Prince Valiant can get back to pondering the nature of reality and all that. For a couple days, anyway, while Karen and Vanni talk about healing herbs and chatter a bit with the local ravens. There’s a joke that the raven is passing word of their safe travels back home, but it turns out that is exactly what it’s doing.

Jahan the Healer continues to tell his story to the recovering Val. 'Our village maintained a delicate balance, providing remedies to the two powers surrounding us, until one day a man, dressed like none we had ever seen, rode into our village and collapsed. As headman, it was my decision as to how to treat the very sick stranger. But I was afraid --- he was neither Persian nor Turkic, and I feared that healing him might alienate one of those two clients. And so I chose not to treat him. The desperate man saw my intent to abandon him and, with the last of his strength, spewed forth a terrible curse. Then he died, and it was thereafter that disaster struck this village. But now I have saved a good man --- a man with a important destiny. I have balanced my wrong. I am finally free to go.' And as Val watches Jahan disappear into shadow, three worried figures track the prince's passage through the tall grass. [ Next: The Salix Tree ]
Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 17th of December, 2017. There’s a lot that I like in the art of this panel, including Jahan introducing the audience to a scene presented behind him, the stranger’s desperation and anger as he curses the village, and all the fabric patterns. The vases aren’t bad either.

Something I didn’t pay attention to while it was happening, possibly because the one was taking place weekdays and the other Sundays: both the current weekday Phantom continuity and Prince Valiant include major, confusing, delusional dream-encounters for their strips’ titular characters. It also features what’s surely just a coincidence of words: Jahan speaks of Prince Valiant as “a man with an important destiny”; Savior Z speaks of The Phantom as “an important man of your kind”. All coincidence, surely. But I’m tickled to notice this.

Next Week!

So how did that bunco squad raid on the movie theater turn out? Is the strange Moon Governor Or Something closing in on Dick Tracy’s granddaughter from his abandoned farm base? How is Mister Bribery’s plan to bring someone from outside the strip in to murder Dick Tracy turning out? Did the strip acknowledge Gasoline Alley sending Joel over to visit? If all goes well, next week, I’ll read three months’ worth of Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy and let you know what the heck’s going on.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Weekdays)? October 2017 – January 2018

Are you hoping to get up to date on The Phantom‘s 248th weekday-continuity story, The Return of the Locust? Then you’re in luck, if you want to know how the story stands as of mid-January 2018. If you’re looking for later parts of the story, possibly including its conclusion, you’ll need a later essay. If I’ve written one about Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s comic strip, it should be at or near the top of this page. It has to share that page with the Sunday Phantom continuity, a separate story being revealed to us in parallel. But it’s there. This is about the strips running Monday-to-Saturday.

If you’re interested more in comic strips that are about mathematical topics, and the mathematics those imply, please consider my other blog. I try to round up the past week’s comics and explore the ones that give me something good to talk about.

The Phantom (Weekdays).

23 October 2017 – 13 January 2018.

The Ghost Who Walks had been encouraged to take up flying last time. He got a curious summons from The Locust, a Mandrake-class magician working out of the American Southwest. The Phantom flies his private plane to Walker’s Table, a remote and impossibly inaccessible pillar of rock somewhere in New Mexico that’s been in the Phantom’s family since the father of the first Phantom explored the desert in 1499. And it turns out there’s anti-aircraft gunners on the Table.

So he withdraws, and checks in with the local diner to ask what the heck’s going on. He talks with the guy who runs the diner. He’s called the General and speaks the way characters with backstory do, although I don’t know what it is. The Phantom Wiki doesn’t have anything logged about it either. May just be written like he’s an old hat. Anyway, the General explains how there’s squatters on top of the Table. They hook up with the helicopter pilot who’s been delivering supplies to people he just trusted were supposed to live atop a massive cylinder of rock.

Helicopter pilot: 'That's YOUR place? And you don't even know these people?' Phantom: 'Afraid not.' Helicopter pilot: 'Man, they said it was THEIR place! I'm way too trusting!'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 7th of November, 2017. “I can be so gullible! Well, nothing to do now but throw my lot in with the stranger nobody in town has seen or heard from in years who claims that two dozen generations of his family have owned the most remarkable geographic feature in this part of New Mexico!”

The Phantom arranges for the helicopter pilot to fly him, at night, to somewhere out of gunnery range above the Table. And to drop him, in one of those cool wing-suits used by those people who talk with Conan O’Brien about how they jump off of skyscrapers. With this he’s able to land on the Table without drawing attention until he’s ready to shout at or punch people.

Savior Z: 'You're here! You're now! Y-you're really here!' The Phantom: 'I own this place. Of course I'm here.' Savior Z: 'So many said I --- I made it up! I-in my mind! But it's true! Y'you're here! An important man of your kind! ... Important like I am!' The Phantom thinks, 'This is more than I knew a moment ago: he's out of his mind!'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 1st of December, 2017. Not even slightly Tony DePaul’s fault but Savior Z’s open of “You’re here! You’re now!” puts me in mind of some late-60s audio clip about something being a happening thing and I can’t track down what I’m thinking of. No, it is not The Peanut Butter Conspiracy’s “It’s A Happening Thing”.

On the ground he finds Spock’s half-brother Sybok, sporting a long green coat and talking about this proves everything he ever said. He’s got a bunch of followers, a bunch of mostly young, racially mixed young adults living in tents. They call Sybok the “Savior Z” and cling to his every word, such as “Stop him!” and “He’s getting away!” and “Don’t let him throw all our guns off the edge of the cliff!” and “don’t let him bludgeon us with that meteorite!

After shoving the cult’s artillery over the edge and bluffing Savior Z into giving up his pistol, the Phantom asks what the heck their whole deal is. Savior Z tells his followers that this is exactly the way he foresaw all this playing out, and his followers are fools to question him. His followers look around and shrug and agree, this is definitely all in Savior Z’s vision and they’re not fools to question this. Savior Z has some story about an amassing alien invasion fleet gathered behind the far side of the Moon, and insists The Phantom is the vanguard of the invasion.

Savior Z, to his followers: 'So don't be deceived! We came here to fight! To defend the good!' The Phantom, grabbing him: 'Enough! You've had your say. Now here's mine. Get some rest. In the morning, we're walking out of here.'
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 21st of December, 2017. Now I’m picturing what it’d be like if The Phantom was a weary assistant professor dealing with yet another round of plagiarized essays turned in for his intro class. Also that every college instructor would like the power to punch hard enough that it leaves a skull-head imprint forever.

By the way, Savior Z isn’t automatically delusional for saying this. The Phantom takes place in a continuity with a lot of wild stuff happening. Within the past decade the Ghost Who Walks himself helped transplant a small population of lizard-men to a more remote, defensible spot here on Earth. And sister strip Mandrake the Magician has, in the past two decades, chased off aliens (these aren’t the only ones in the past four years of reruns) and time travellers abducting people to the far-distant future in order to teach them how to be spanked. In the vintage strips from the 1940s that Comics Kingdom also runs, they’ve dealt with giants, a floating city in the clouds, and I’m pretty sure at least one iteration of Atlantis. When that’s the standard for normal, why couldn’t Savior Z know that the Emperor of the Moon is up to his old tricks?

(And my thanks to the Mandrake The Magician blogspot, without which recaps I couldn’t have found those two instances before my patience ran out.)

Well. The disarmed Savior Z explains they can’t just leave because the elevator’s unsafe. He shows the skeptical Phantom what the problem is: it’s the concussion grenade he booby-trapped the elevator with. The unconscious Phantom dreams he’s visiting his son, off at his Tibetan finishing school. Although his dream starts to fall apart when he realizes it doesn’t make sense, a phenomenon that sometimes happens to dreaming people. (My love has this happen all the time and I’m always amazed by it.)

Savior Z, over the (concussed) Phantom: 'These exoplanet warriors! Just look at him! Hardened in intergalactic battles your small minds cannot imagine! All in my vision! All foretold!' Followers: 'He foretold it all ...' 'I love Savior Z ... follow him anywhere ... '
Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom for the 12th of January, 2018. I am expecting in another day or two that the Ghost Who Walks will try some kicking and stuff. But I am also curious that something like four months into The Return of the Locust we haven’t seen that much of the Locust. Can’t blame The Locust if he figured all he had to do was place an ectoplasmic call in to deal with this oddball cult, but it seems like very little of a return. But, then, Tony DePaul isn’t afraid of long storylines. Six-month storylines aren’t rare, and a couple years back he ran one about the kidnapping of Diana Palmer designed to run over a year and a half.

Some of Savior Z’s followers are a bit put off to learn the elevator was booby-trapped. But some of the others figure out why this isn’t a creepy, manipulative, controlling thing for their cult leader to do: he was protecting him from their own weakness. Lest his cult figure out they don’t even need him to dominate their thoughts anymore, Savior Z tells them that their doubts are exactly part of his plan, and for their part in fulfilling his vision they should enjoy this punch. Also, they should roll The Phantom over the edge of the cliff.

And that’s where the story ended Saturday.

Next Week!

We return to the fantastic and bizarre Far East, as Prince Valiant and his companions try to head back west. Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant, having conquered his enemies, now has to overcome the elements and find his way home without dying.

What’s Going On In Alley Oop? October 2017 – January 2018

Good evening, you many people who’d like to understand what’s happening in Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop. This is my effort to bring people up to date to what’s happening as of early January, 2018, reader time. If you’re reading this later than about April 2018 I probably have a more recent update available. That’ll be at or near the top of this page. If I don’t have a more recent update, then this will be at or near the top of that page. This seems only fair.

If you’ve got an interest in mathematically-themed comic strips I can help you there. On my other blog I review some of last week’s comics, and along the way help you to learn why the new year comes when it does and what I think the cube root of 50,653 is. It’s easier than you imagine!

Alley Oop.

16 October 2017 – 7 January 2018.

The Land of Moo was facing a great peril last time we checked in, as rich idiot M T Mentis III had big plans for Dr Wonmug’s time machine. Mentis had the idea to use the time machine to go fixing up history. Wonmug can’t think of a better way to explain how problematic this is than to drop Mentis and his bodyguard Gunther off in Moo and say, “see what you can do with this”.

What he can do is get his hat stepped on by dinosaurs, at least until Alley Oop warns him to shut up. Approaching are raiders from Farzoon, which legend says has a major construction project going on that they need slaves for. Oop figures to get back home and warn everyone. But Mentis figures he’s such a brilliant dealmaker that he can teach the Farzoonians the errors of their ways. He sneaks out to try explaining to the raiders that they would, in fact, get better labor by advertising for employees and offering good wages.

Mentis, arguing to Farzoonian slavers: 'Excuse me, Gentlemen, could I have a moment of your time? As I understand it, you recruit workers by kidnap and forced employment! I assure you, though, that you'd get the best workers by advertising and offering good wages!' The slavers: '? Wages?!' Mentis: 'Paying makes a stronger, happier work force, and I guarantee people will come begging to work for you when they find out you're offering payment!' Korvo, the raider: 'Is that so? Whadya use for pay?' Mentis, taking out a bankroll: 'Where I come from, we use this ... ' Korvo grabs the cash. 'We'll give it a try! Thanks!' Mentis: 'Wait, no! That's not for you! It's only of value where I'm from!' Korvo: 'I knew it! You lied! It *is* worthless!' And he throws the money in the air. Mentis: 'What are you doing? That's a fortune!' Korvo: 'Ha! You just said yourself that it's worthless!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 5th of November, 2017. Don’t tell me you aren’t also enchanted by this comic strip fantasy of a billionaire like Mentis arguing in favor of well-paid, freely-employed workers. Unfortunately Roxly and Korvo take the dollars and start rambling about how bitcoin is a thing of real value unlike even gold or silver.

Part of me admires Mentis for arguing, rightly, that a well-paid class of workers free to do as they choose is better for everybody than slavery is. And part of me admires his courage in stepping up to an actual slave-capture party, with cage and a trained vulture that uses anesthetic-tipped claws to knock out victims and all, with no defense save reason. The rest of me wonders whether Mentis has ever met people, or studied any history, or ever read any story about anyone or anything ever. I love the Enlightenment-derived ideal that rational discussion is the best way to make people’s lives better. I just want faith in that ideal to be discernible from complete oblivious stupidity.

So Oop and Gunther set out to rescue Mentis. Technically before they even know for sure that Mentis is captured. Well, they’re properly going off to fight off the Farzoon raiders, but have to have known Mentis needed rescue. They bring some antidote potion that Wizer has, and one of the shields that fended off the Jantrullian frog-plant alien’s mind-control rays earlier in 2017.

They find the dollar bills that Mentis brought to the past for some reason, and from there find the caged Mentis and his captors. Gunther sets out to slip Mentis the antidote and get him back on his feet. Oop stands in the slaver’s way and, when challenged, hits their trained vulture with his club. With the bird out of commission, Oop and Gunther are able to smash the slavers’ cage and knock the Farzoonians unconscious and help Toni have what she tells Brad is sex. It’s a stirring conclusion that just raises the question of why Alley Oop was so afraid of these guys to start with. He handles them with his normal Popeye-ish aplomb. I guess it makes sense Alley Oop would want everyone warned in case he failed. But it’s not like that’s ever really come up.

Alley Oop: 'This road's closed to you!' Roxly: 'You can't stop us!' Korvo: 'Yeah! Our secret weapon says we can go anywhere we want!' Gunther goes up to the unconscious Mentis, thinking, 'Time to rescue Mentis!'. Oop: 'Oh yeah? You mean that?' (He clobbers their vulture.) 'Looks like he won't be a secret weapon anytime soon! Not so tough now, are you?' Korvo: 'That's what you think!' Gunther, giving the antidote: 'Here you go, boss! This is supposed to wake you up!' And then Gunther joins Oop: 'Need some help, Oop?' They fight, knocking out the Farzoonian raiders and smashing the cage, but also bumping Mentis over the cliff.
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 26th of November, 2017. The Sunday strips are recaps of the action from Tuesday through Saturday before, and a preview of Monday, which occasionally results in oddities like where in the second row Gunther seems to give Mentis antidote drops twice over. When that’s action on separate days it’s less obvious they’re underlining the action for people who missed a day.

In a dangling plot, Mentis gets knocked over a cliff and dangles a while. He’s saved by Dinny, getting Mentis to admit that maybe there is a place for dinosaurs in Moo. (On first arriving in Moo, Mentis figured the place needed their dinosaurs killed since history knows that humans and dinosaurs never coexisted.)

And then we got a couple weeks of determined epiloguing. Oop talks with Wonmug about how he figures Mentis has learned his lesson about interfering with history. Here I question this time-travelling caveman’s pedagogy. Wonmug tries another approach, pointing out that time travel could be used to understand the normal person and the challenges history’s non-winners face, allowing a fuller and more true understanding of the courses of societies. It’s a good plan that as far as I’m aware Wonmug has never used his time machine for. But maybe it is for want of funding; Mentis declares his willingness to fund research expeditions.

King Guz: 'Good work, Oop!' Oop: 'Thank Gunther too! It was a team effort!' Wonmug: 'Gunther?! Oh, thank goodness you're okay! And look at you, M.T.! Looks like you had a little rouble out there!' Mentis: 'I admit, Doc, that I wasn't prepared for this trip! I just wanted to help the world! Maybe I went about it the wrong way, but I still think I could fix some problems with time travel!' Wonmug: 'Perhaps you still could, but let's look at it in a different way! Since history is written by the winners, we only hear one side! If we could use time travel to witness history in the room where it happened, so to speak, think of how much we could learn! If you really want to use time travel to fix our problems, why not partner with our time labs and use your wealth to fund trips for research purposes?' Mentis: 'You know, with the memory fresh in mind of what happens if I try to change things in the past ... I think you've got an excellent idea, Doc Wonmug! I'm happy to join your team!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 17th of December, 2017. I am, legitimately, interested to see whether this addition of Mentis as the money behind Wonmug’s time-travel operation sticks. How Wonmug supports his research is the sort of thing I’d have expected to have been covered in the comic long before, but I suppose the nature of financing is that it’s always needing replacement.

Gunther floats the idea of staying in Moo. King Guz likes his attitude, and Ooola likes even more of him. Wonmug’s appalled by the idea, and Oop figures there’s no way he can let Gunther stick around while he’s holding arms with Ooola and stuff. Funny enough bit of business.

As they’re dematerializing back to the present, Mentis sneezes, and all over Oop. Mentis thinks it’s allergies. Wonmug worries he’s going to spread a cold in Moo. (Cross-time infections seem like the sort of thing that should have been a concern and to have happened sooner in the comic’s history. But it’s not the sort of story that people would find interesting in Like 1941. And it’s a legitimate concern, I think, so might as well do the story now as ever.) They zap back to the present and tell Alley Oop to find some echinacea, so, good luck with that. I, being aware of the laws of dramatic economy, trust this is the hook on which we’ll hang the next storyline. And yeah, the last panel for the 7th of January is Alley Oop sneezing. As ever, I’m amazed the change of story matches so closely my recaps.

Next Week!

It’s the return of The Return of the Locust, revisiting Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom, weekday continuity. There’s been someone living on top of the Ghost Who Walks’ Southwest-American butte. He wants to know who’s still living there and shooting at him. I think many of us would have similar questions in his place.

What’s Going On In The Amazing Spider-Man? October – December 2017

Hi, enthusiastic reader of Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s The Amazing Spider-Man newspaper comic. I’m happy to help you catch up on what’s been going on. I write this the last weekend of 2017. If for you it’s later than about March 2018, there’s probably been a later essay bringing things closer to date. If I have one, it should be at or near the top of this page. I hope it helps.

If you’re interested in mathematically-themed comic strips, please give my other blog a try. Each week I spend some time talking about mathematical themes as expressed in the syndicated comics. I like it.

The Amazing Spider-Man.

8 October – 30 December 2017.

I said last time I figured we were at the end of the Tyrannus Invades The Surface World storyline. Tyrannus had begged for mercy, and River of Youth Water, after Spider-Man took a key supporting position in Kala’s plan to stop her husband’s nonsense. With an Imperial Promise from Tyrannus to stop all the invading, all seemed well. We just had to figure a reason that Aunt May could not engage in wedded bliss with Melvin, deposed ruler of the Mole-Men. At the risk of being one of those people who successfully predicts darkness arriving after sunset, I was completely right.

Though she rather fancies Melvin, Aunt May can’t move down to the subterranean world with him. She’s allergic and trying to adapt would kill her. And with Tyrannus sworn to retreat to his former kingdom, the Mole Men can’t think of who to lead them if it’s not going to be Melvin. So he’s got to go back to them just long enough to get an elected Presidency set up. They’ll have to part, neither of them remembering that there are dozens of ways to keep in contact with a distant loved one. Yes, yes, they’re older than calendars are, that doesn’t mean they can’t Skype. I mean, I can’t Skype, but that’s just because I’m boring. They don’t have that excuse.

Melvin: 'So you see, dear May, I'm torn on the horns of a dilemma. I fear my former subjects, the Subterraneans, will perish with no one to lead them. Thus, I must take back the crown I was content to have lost.' May: 'Perhaps ... perhaps there's some way I could come with you. Some medicine I could take to help me adjust to your underground realm.' Spider-Man: 'You know that's not possible, Mrs Parker. You learned, down below, that you're subject to Spelunker's Lung. It inflames the lungs, makes it a torment to breathe.' May: 'Yes, I know. But ... I dared hope.'
Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 29th of October, 2017. You know, it’s been a couple years since Aunt May was last kidnapped by Melvin. There might have been some work done on Spelunker’s Lung. Have we ruled out that she might wear a CPAP machine or something? It’s a bit of a hassle but they do make a happy couple.

So. 2nd of November and a new story starts. With Aunt May safely off to home as far as he knows, Peter goes to Miami to catch up with Mary Jane’s press tour. Also with J Jonah Jameson, there for a publishers’ conference that hasn’t actually played any part in the story, if I didn’t miss it. Maybe it’ll be important in the close of this story, which hasn’t come just yet.

With a couple days free, Peter suggests they visit Doctor Curt Connors, who yes, had become The Lizard, rampaging monster … lizard … man, but who’s been doing very well since he started taking aspirin for it. At Connors’s old lab Peter’s met with the traditional greeting of a gigantic metal comic-book science thing whomping him in the face. It’s Connors himself, trashing his lab in a rage fueled by grief over his wife’s death. But once he gets to hit Peter Parker with some gigantic metal comic-book science thing the rage disappears. I mean, I’ve fumed about unfair tilts on pinball games longer than Connors spent getting over his laboratory-trashing rage. They were pretty unfair tilts, though.

Peter Parker, opening Connors's door. 'The door's not locked --- so let's find out who the INTRUDER is!' Mary Jane: 'Oh, Peter --- please be --- careful!' And Peter's clobbered by a something or other.
Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 14th of November, 2017. People in the comics-snark community talk a lot about how many head traumas Peter Parker suffers, but in fairness, he takes a lot of head traumas. And that was really funny back before we were paying attention to what football does to people. And yes, I am legitimately angry at Gil Thorp the past two weeks ever since this update.

Connors invites Peter and Mary Jane to his emergency backup lab, in the Everglades. He’s hoping to do some science work to regrow his lost right arm only without turning into a giant rampaging lizard-man monster. And who better to assist than a stage actor and a staff photographer for a New York daily newspaper? Peter admits the sense in hanging around since he did know some science back in the day. Plus when the mad science starts maybe Spider-Man will be able to find another superhero to nag into action. So they venture out to the Everglades.

Mary Jane figures her best chance to stay in the story is to appreciate the natural beauty of the setting. So she steps out to find some Everglades nature and get eaten by it. As the alligator attacks a mysterious figure that I initially snarked was Mark Trail decides he can’t stand by while she dies. He tries to intervene, but is body-checked by Connors, who’s heard all the shouting. Before anybody knows what the heck is going on the Incredible Hulk declares his intention to smash. He picks up the alligator and throws it into Moo’s neighboring land of Lem.

Peter Parker’s delighted in the success of his “attract another superhero when the mad science goes down” plan. But to get The Hulk from throwing all of them into a neighboring comic strip he’ll have to do a proper superhero fight. He figures the alligator-injured Connors is too delirious to work out any superhero identities. So he strips to his Spidey-Suit. From this I infer he’s been wearing two layers of long-sleeved clothing in Florida. Mary Jane interrupts the ritual punching match upon the meeting of two superheroes. She warns if they don’t stop they’ll have to go to their rooms. And this calms the Hulk back to his human form, the figure I thought was a dissolute Mark Trail earlier.

[As the last vestiges of the Incredible Hulk fade.] Peter: 'Good to have you back, Bruce.' Bruce: 'Peter? Peter Parker? Now I remember! I saved MJ from a python.' Mary Jane: 'You sure did!' Bruce: 'And then --- a big gator rushed me and --- and --- that's all I can remember!' (He flashes back to the Hulk throwing an alligator.) Peter, thinking: 'And now that my shirt's closed let's keep it that way! We've got more important things to worry about.' Peter, aloud: 'How's Dr Connors?' Mary Jane: 'He's lost a lot of blood from that gator bite. We've got to get him back to the city --- fast! Or he'll die!'
Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 24th of December, 2017. I am, at this point, confused about whether Newspaper Incredible Hulk knows that Peter Parker is Spider-Man or not. As I follow the action Peter figured that Connors is either unconscious or delirious and probably won’t remember things reliably, and Mary Jane knows full well her husband’s recreational pastime. Bruce Banner certainly knows Peter Parker, and the Incredible Hulk recognized the Amazing Spider-Man, but that’s as far as I am sure.

Bruce Banner had been lurking around the emergency backup lab because he thought Dr Connors might help with his Hulk problem. Dr Bruce Banner, I should point out since this seems like it’s going to matter. But Banner thinks Connors might be able to help. Why, they even have the same rare blood type, Banner points out in an expository lump so perfectly clumsy I genuinely admire it. Anyway, Connors is losing a lot of blood, and they’re going to have to rush him to a hospital somehow, and probably arrange a transfusion. At the risk of forecasting the arrival of darkness after nightfall, I suspect there might just be one that has awkward side-effects. If they can get him to a hospital in time, anyway.

As my tone maybe suggests, I’m enjoying all this. It’s got the cheery daftness that I enjoy in comics about the superpowered. And the stories are moving well enough, certainly if you go back and read them all a couple months at a time. I’m looking forward to 2018 with this crew.

Next Week!

Check in on Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop. The Land of Moo versus a time-travelling idiot with a lot of money: who! will! win!?

What’s Going On In Judge Parker? October – December 2017

Hi, reader interested in figuring out what’s going on in Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker. It’s an exciting ride. It’s also one that’s probably gone off a couple of tracks since I wrote this in late December 2017, if you’re reading it more than a couple months after late December 2017. If I’ve had a more recent story summary it should be at or near the top of this page.

Also, my other blog has reviewed the handful of comics with mathematical themes from last week. I helped it some.

And finally, if you’re interested in having opinions on Mary Worth, the Mary Worth and Me blog has opened voting for the best of the year in various Mary Worth storytelling events. I wouldn’t dare tell you what the greatest floating head of the year that strip was. But I am baffled by the thought that there might be a better storyline than CRUISE SHIPS. Well, each to their own, even when they’re wrong, I suppose.

Judge Parker.

2 October – 24 December 2017.

I don’t know how many movies I was introduced to by SCTV. Possibly everything that wasn’t a kid’s movie. (Indeed, just last night I caught a moment of The Unholy Rollers and realize I just saw the source for one of SCTV’s Movies of the Week although I can’t place the title just now.) But I was also introduced to a genre by SCTV. They ran a soap opera spoof, The Days Of The Week. It started with a simple premise, the town’s respected surgeon trying to con a widow out of her fortune by setting up a patsy to play her long-lost son. Within a half-dozen sketches they had dozens of conspiracies unfolding at a wedding interrupted by multiple gun-weilding fanatics. And somewhere along the line I realized they had made a ridiculous yet strangely legitimate soap opera. They just chose to make every possible storyline go crazy, and cling to the crazy.

When I last checked in on Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker the strip had just jumped three months ahead. April Parker was in super-duper top-secret jail after being framed for a complicated CIA-based fiasco. Randy Parker’s been united with his daughter Charlotte, through the workings of April’s father Norton. But the craziness and Alan’s secrecy has smashed his relationship with his wife Katherine, and she’s leaving. It had blown up what of the status quo hadn’t been blown up already. It was crazy.

Alan fumbles the last chance of Katherine reconciling with Alan. She sees he’s mining their scenario for his stalled-out novel. Sophie Spencer, recovering from her own kidnapping at the hands of her mother’s long-lost half-sister, buys a replacement guitar. And talks with Neddy, who’s herself recovering from when her ill-conceived clothing factory fell into a sinkhole. And Neddy agrees with Sophie that yeah, she needs to have some focus for her life again. That’s a couple weeks spent working out older stories and setting them basically in order. A not-crazy order.

Neddy: 'Hey, Sophie. Mind if we chat for a moment?' Sophie: 'What's up?' Neddy: 'I know we discussed me moving forward. But every time I try to determine a new career path, I draw an absolute blank. All I can see is that factory imploding. All I can hear are people's accusations. All I can d is ... nothing. I feel like I can do absolutely nothing.' Sophie: 'Okay, let's start simple. Write a list of everything you're good at. Don't be modest or self-deprecating. Just do it.' Neddy: 'That ... that sounds like a good idea.' Sophie: 'You should probably do it now.' Neddy: 'Oh, right.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 12th of November, 2017. My experience with depressed people is they are not able to think of things they’re good at, and will not accept other’s testimony about what they are good at. Which is not to say I think Sophie’s giving bad advice, nor that she’s acting improperly for her character. (And I suppose Neddy is more guilt-wracked than depressed, but I imagine the problem is similar.) Mostly, depression: who’s responsible for that being a thing we have, you know?

Then we got to the end of October, and focus on April Parker. She’s spending her three-year prison sentence the way Calvin might spend having to sit in the corner and almost as successfully. She picks fights with her cellmate, her blockmates, the guards, the plumbing, the air, and several imaginary friends. So the early-release plans are off. Randy isn’t able to talk her down and fears she’s going to go crazy.

Charlotte: 'Mama!' April: 'Charlotte! You ... you said your first word!' Charlotte: (crying) 'Mama! Mama!' April: 'Mama is right here, sweetie. Right here.' Charlotte: (crying, fidgeting out of April's arms.) 'MAMA!!!' April: 'I'm here, Charlotte! I'm right --- ' April wakes up, alone, in prison.
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 5th of November, 2017. Marciuliano’s tenure has been a very plot-heavy one, with stuff happening in the middle of other stuff happening. But that doesn’t keep the strip from pausing to soak in the torments inflicted on its characters, such as in this nicely effective page.

One night Alan’s pondering how screwed up everything is when Norton breaks in. Norton dismisses Alan’s complaints that his scheming and conspiracies have destroyed his life. And explains that he’s there to reunite the family, for example by breaking April out of her maximum-security federal prison. And flee the country with Randy and Charlotte. And Norton won’t discuss whether there’s any options that don’t involve doing the craziest possible thing.

And this past week the crazy thing happens. Norton kidnaps Alan. His operatives break April out of prison. April breaks in to her and Randy’s house, collects Charlotte, and informs him they’re going to become a family of fugitives. He tries to point out, this is crazy.

Alan: 'You're ... you're making me a prisoner in my own house.' Norton: 'Alan, this is all about freedom. All of ours. Trust me, you'll never feel freer than when you're away from all this.' Alan: 'But if ... if you break April out, her life will be ruined. My son's and Charlotte's too. We can't become fugitives. We ... we just can't give up everything.' Norton: 'My daughter has been without her family long enough, Alan. She will not leave without Charlotte. Asking you and Randy to come is for your benefit, so you can keep the family together. And speaking of family, shame we had to destroy your phone. It appeared Katherine had left a message.' Alan: 'She did?!' Norton: 'Of course not. She's moved on. This life is over, Alan. So start getting ready.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 10th of December, 2017. I … I had not noticed how often Marciuliano uses a word that’s trailed off and repeated after ellipses until I started transcribing the dialogue for the alt text. Just … just saying. Also yeah, breaking April out of Federal prison and taking her whole family into a fugitive life is one thing, Norton, but that talk about Katherine is going a bit far.

So something like sixteen months into his tenture writing Judge Parker Francesco Marciuliano has thoroughly embraced the Days of the Week style plotting. It’s almost seemed like a search for status quos to blow up. And clings to that.

It’s also all been surprisingly funny. The scenarios a little funny, yes, in the way that Doctor Strangelove presents an irresistible argument for a nightmare. But also funny in the writing of daily strips. There’s well-formed, logical punch lines often, and characters keep reaching for them. A woman tells Neddy she heard what happened. “What, that Hank and I broke up or that I fear my life is devoid of all direction, purpose, or even the faintest ember of hope?” Norton tries to allay Alan’s suspicions of something being in the coffee. “Here, I’ll prove I’m not poisoning you … oh … uh-oh … this … this is some expired creamer.” It all happens a good bit. It’s not overwhelming and doesn’t threaten to shift the comic into the serial-comic form of, say, Sally Forth or Funky Winkerbean or Luann. That it’s not every strip, not by far, helps. That it’s playing against such big, breathtaking plotting, helps too. It’s people responding rightly to the craziness around them.

Next Week!

Did Aunt May marry Melvin the Mole Man after all? Who’s this one-armed fellow in Florida that Peter Parker’s hanging out with? Who’s throwing all these alligators around? And why isn’t there more Rocket Raccoon? There’ll be answers to some of this when I get back to Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man. Spoiler: no, somehow, Aunt May did not get married.

If You Need 654.5 Cubic Inches of Gil Thorp then Today Is Your Lucky Day

My love and I went to Ann Arbor over the weekend because the University of Michigan Natural History Museum is moving to a new building after this month, and we wanted to see the charmingly old-fashioned diorama labels before they get thrown out in favor of some boring old accurate-to-stuff-we’ve-learned-since-1963 text written in Helvetica. But we also stopped in the Dawn Treader used bookstore because why would you not go to a used bookstore like that? And there we spotted … the 1991 Science Fiction Fan Directory, a list of among other things all the bookstores that have major science fiction sections. So there, in the Dawn Treader bookstore, I found the address listed for the Dawn Treader bookstore. And that I found that funny gives you some idea why I am a humor blogger instead of a successful humor blogger.

Anyway, we also found this on the Comics/Humor shelves.

Eight _Gil Thorp_ collections on a bookshelf at the Dawn Treader, Ann Arbor.
Also in the shop, if you want: one of those collections of “the funniest stuff on the Internet” that the publisher insists in the foreward is too in the public domain because it was on the Internet so shut up asking questions. My love took a photo of the introduction and I’m encouraging putting that up on the Internet to insult the guy. Also, really, nothing in that book is going to be as funny as this time on sci.math that someone tried to explain that the then-resident crank’s proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem was wrong by using the crank’s method to attempt to show that 15 should be equal to 3 times 5. It went on for hundreds of words and got nowhere near that or anything else, and I just bet that wasn’t included. Also besides that I think someone bought the collection of the web comic User Friendly that had been there last time.

So yes, that’s eight collections of Gil Thorp comics. Most of them were printed in the mid-2000s, although the Silver Anniversary yearbook on the far left there is dated 1984. It’s a slightly weird set. The books give off many of the signs of being self-published, such as the publisher’s contact information including a comcast.net e-mail address. But not entirely! And the Silver Anniversary book is dated two decades earlier yet looks just about the same, apart from not listing the publisher’s comcast.net e-mail and having a silver rather than white cover. (Trust me on this.) They’re all 8.5-by-11-inch pages, and as you can see, there’s eight books there and it’s got to be at least seven inches thick of reading to get to. That’s why I estimate the volume so.

Obviously Playdown Pandemonium intrigued me because of the promise of explaining what the deal is with “playdowns”. What I learned from skimming it is: the “playdowns” first appeared for the basketball storyline of 1963-64. The introductory text makes it sound like the playdowns are a format for a bunch of teams to get gradually eliminated — played down — to a final two. But that description also matches every playoff format ever, so I’m not enlightened.

Despite the temptation I didn’t buy any of the books, or all of them. But now I have another source of possible bonus content for my Patreon subscribers. We’ll see. Let me know if I have a Patreon.

Oh, also, I had another couple comics with mathematics themes over on the other blog. Thanks.

What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? September – December 2017

Thanks for finding me in your search for an explanation of what’s going on in Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp. This is, for me, the middle of December. So if you’re reading this much past December 2017 the story might have resolved and gone on to the next, or even one after that. If it’s far enough past December 2017 there’s, I hope, a more up-to-date description of what’s going on. It should be at or near the top of this page. Good luck.

Also, I review mathematically-themed comic strips of the past week over on my other blog. Thank you.

Gil Thorp.

25 September – 16 December 2017.

My last update came about two weeks into the current Gil Thorp storyline. What we knew back then: Coach Thorp had tested all his players’ brain function so parents will stop asking questions about Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. Rick Soto is a promising offensive linesman with musical talent. His uncle Gary — really Les Moore, taking some time off Funky Winkerbean to see if he can be the most punchable person in two comics at once — hopes to move from his attorney job into being a pushy stage-mother agent for Rick. And since then?

Gary’s pushed his program of getting Rick out of football and into music. His first strategy: concern-trolling. That was a great touchdown, Ricky. “Do your eyes look cloudy? Cloudy eyes can be the first signs of a major problem. You know my wife Dead Lisa died of death. And her eyes were cloudy at some point I’m going to suppose.” That doesn’t get Rick or his mother to think about dropping football.

Rick's Mom: 'If it's NOTHING, why did you tell Rick his eyes looked cloudy?' Gary: 'Ease up. He barely heard me.' [At lunch.] Rick: 'Hey, Pelwecki, do my eyes look weird?' Pelwecki: 'Vacant, empty ... nope, same as always!' Somebody: 'Yo, Soto! Get up here and sing the Milford fight song!'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 9th of October, 2017. There is no Milford fight song that anybody knows, which is fine by me. Rick Soto goes on to sing something or other that my research indicates is a correctly-formed tune that’s popular with the kids and so we shall accept this as correctly formed. Also, wow but it’s annoying how teenage boys can only talk to one another in insults, but that’s not the comic strip’s fault.

The football season carries on like like football seasons do. There’s a couple games and the action seems to be football. I admit I’m not a football fan. I’m aware of it and only have the normal moral objections to it. But I grew up in the New York City media market in the 80s, with the Giants and the Jets, so grew up without professional football except for 1986. And I went to Rutgers, which played in the first intercollegiate football game in 1869 and is hoping to someday play in a second game. So I missed a lot of exposure back when I was young enough to learn things. When I watch football what I see is:

  1. Somebody kicks the ball toward the field goal posts.
  2. Somebody catches a passed ball and runs, then stops.
  3. Everybody collides into a huge pile, and then the person with the ball runs straight into the pile as if that should help clear matters up.

After any of these there’s three yellow flags, two red flags, a checkerboard rally flag, and a Klingon insignia tossed on the field. Then everyone has to wait about eight commercials to straighten it out before the next play. It’s all jolly good fun and if you like that, please don’t let my ignorance stop you. I’d like to see if the sport could be played with less brain injuries. Anyway the talk between Coach Thorp and other people about how they’re going to improve their strategy doesn’t mean much to me. I will trust that it’s relevant to football. But I’ll defer to fans about whether it’s sensible to say, “we’re adding pieces of the veer offense. It’s sort of like the read-option, but the running back and the QB go the same way”.

Gary doesn’t understand the football talk either, and points out to Rick that cat videos are popular things and he should try going viral. Rick rolls his eyes and I did not mean that, but you’ll notice I let it stand. And now I’m curious if the whole arc was built out of Rubin or Whigham thinking of those words together and figuring “why not?” Gary suggests Rick sing the National Anthem to Coach Thorp, every ten minutes. And he offers to e-mail the suggestion more often if it’ll make this happen. Coach Thorp digs deep into his reserve of not really caring and decides he doesn’t really care. And even if he did care, he couldn’t have one of his linesmen singing the National Anthem when he’s needed right after that on the … line.

Rick, watching his video on a phone: 'What IS this?' Friend: 'Some website that my grandpa goes to with his old Marine buddies. Check it out --- Rick's singing at the homecoming game!' Someone: 'You sound even better than you did on the field. But what are you doing online?'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 10th of November, 2017. That last panel is also my face when my father tells me how he read the thing I posted last week, the one that included my annual kind-of-racy slightly off-color joke, and he’s making sure all his friends and all my aunts and uncles see it.

But Gary has a stroke of luck when Dead Lisa phones in a bomb threat to the airport (some December 2010 silliness in that comic). Plus, Rick has a sprained ankle and has to skip a game, so he’s free to sing. Gary arranges a camera crew. They make a video that goes viral among the National-Anthem-before-high-school-football-games crowd, a group I accept exists. Gary seeds the video with the story of how the concussed Rick wanted to sing and had a father posted overseas and all that. Rick’s father isn’t in the Army. He’s a contractor in Dubai, helping the United Arab Emirates build the world’s largest slab of diamond-clad concrete. It’s a prestige project that, when done, will allow them to smother the workers building the world’s largest slab of diamond-clad concrete beneath the world’s largest slab of diamond-clad concrete. Rick’s annoyed, Gary’s proud, and Rick’s mother is a person who exists and has feelings about all this, I would imagine. Rick’s father might, too.

As Rick Soto watches the last four minutes, Milford holds off New Thayer, 30-20. Rick's Mom: 'You can ride home with us.' Rick: 'Thanks, but I'd rather ride the bus an act stupid with my friends.' Rick's Mom: 'We just want you to be with us, in case you ... you ... ' Gary: 'Have to go to the hospital!'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 1st of December, 2017. “You know, my dead wife Dead Lisa had a videotape about how great it would be to have her football surgically removed before it could kill her! Would you like to read my three-volume graphic novel collection about that?”

In his next game Rick takes a knee to the helmet, when Gary arranges to have a squad of knees thrown at Rick’s helmet. The team doctor doesn’t see any reason Rick shouldn’t keep playing. But Gary explains how they should cover Rick in a soft, protective layer of foam and bury him in a cube of feathers eight feet across to rush to the hospital. And his new round of concern-trolling does give Rick’s mother reason to doubt this football stuff is a good idea. Rick’s pediatrician says this looks all right. And a concussions expert says Rick’s all right. So Gary has to go back to the closet of Dead Lisa videotapes to see what advice she has about quitting football and being a professional singer.

And that’s where we have gotten: to multiple people in this comic strip about sports issues saying “don’t worry about all those blows to the head”. Part of me is sympathetic: we should act on realistic estimates of risk. To respond to a long time of under-estimating the risk of head injuries with a period of over-estimating the risk does not make things better. But part of me also thinks: there’s a lot of money which would very much like it to be believed football-caused head traumas aren’t so bad. If nevertheless we’ve heard they’re this bad, they’re likely worse. I will accept the author’s intention that Rick’s injuries are routine and unthreatening. And that the medical professionals who’ve cleared him repeatedly are acting according to the best evidence they have. Neal Rubin would know. It’s still a weird tone. The premise of the athlete being pushed out of sports by a noodge of a relative is good enough. I would feel less weird about it if it weren’t about football-caused head injuries. I feel weird that my essay about all this has been so merry, considering.

But that’s where things stand for the middle of December, 2017. The story feels at least a couple weeks away from resolution to me. I’d expect the basketball-season story to start in around a month, unless there’s a major twist coming. And we’ll see; sometimes they happen. The softball-season story took such a major twist last year. These things happen.

Next Week!

Spies! International intrigue! Prison drama! Divorce, kidnapping, and deliberately smashed cell phones! What else could it be but Judge Parker, the most “What” of What’s Going On In comic strips for 16 months running! Francesco Marciuliano’s writing has brought a lot of changes to the strip, but don’t worry. He hasn’t gone so far as to make Mike Manley illustrate any judge work.

What’s Going On In Rex Morgan, M.D.? September – December 2017

Hi, enthusiast of Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. trying to figure out what’s going on. This is my best effort at catching up what’s happening in the strip as of mid-December 2017. If you’re reading this after around March 2018, barring some surprise, I’ll have some more current essay describing its events. You should be able to get that essay here. And, must say, it looks to me like the strip is transitioning from one story to another. So if you’re reading this in, say, February and don’t know what’s going on, and can’t wait for me, you’ll probably have it all if you just go back to mid-December in the archives and catch up from there.

And if you’re just interested in mathematically-themed comics, I’ve got a week’s summary on my other blog. The mathematics one.

Rex Morgan, M.D.

18 September – 10 December 2017.

I keep remarking how it seems like my story comic summaries coincide with new stories starting in the comics. Some of it’s luck. Some of it’s the ease of confirmation bias. I get to each strip about every 12 weeks. If I’m off by half a month that’s still one chance in three of being “near” the start of a story. Still, last time I checked in on Rex Morgan, M.D. I was like right on the end of a story. June Morgan’s old childhood friend Margie Taylor, dying of plot, had got the Morgans to agree to adopt her child. And she had just vanished, leaving only a pile of problem-clearing paperwork and nice enough kid Johnny in her wake.

Like the week after my last essay the strip went around the horn, touching on some of the major storylines. Wealthy industrialist Milton Avery was shown settling back in his old home in England, no longer recognizing his wife Heather, and unaware that she’s pregnant. The Avery’s house-sitters for their on-panel house are shown to be … nice people that I guess have something going for them. Edward, the kid who tried to bully Sarah during the gas-leak year when she was resident child artist at the municipal art gallery, comes over to show off a dog that’s supposed to be fantastically weird that he can only be shown as a Dick Tracy-style explanatory caption.

And then, come October, we started the real story of the last couple months. It involves the highest form of art according to the people who write comic strips, which is, comic books. Early this year the Morgans helped their friend Buck reconnect with Great 50s Horror Comics artist Hank Harwood. Since then “Horrible” Hank’s gotten some satisfying late-in-life glory from fans who had just supposed he was dead or something, plus a bunch of commissions. But, following an anonymous Internet tip Harwood’s son discovers: somebody’s posting fake Horrible Hank art on auction sites.

Mindy: 'Someone is pretending to be you and selling forgeries of Hank's drawings on the Internet?' Buck: 'That's the gist of it, yeah.' 'Sounds crazy to me.' 'It may sound crazy, but scammers can make serious dough selling fakes online. Autographs, comic art, you name it.' 'I see plenty of reproductions in my antiques business, but that's usually just people who are mistaken about what they have. Intentionally defrauding people with fakes? I just can't understand the mindset of someone who'd do that.' 'They see others as marks, just victims to take advantage of.' 'Pretty darn sad, if you ask me.' 'No kidding'. ELSEWHERE. Mysterious woman handing over envelope: 'Your payment.' Rene Belluso: 'Thanks. I'm pleased with the quality.' Mysterious: 'You're good at what you do. Most people would never know these are copies.' Rene: 'Let me know when you want more.' Mysterious: 'I will, Rene. Thanks.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 8th of October, 2017. I don’t know, not my place to quarrel with someone else’s preferences in art. I just think that forged Horrible Hank piece is not all that good a portrait of a young maiden looking discreetly away from the viewer is all. And don’t get me started on the duckrabbit.

Buck, who’s been managing Horrible Hank’s return to the money factory that is commissioned comics art, is horrified. He lodges complaints with the auction site. The counterfeiter responds by saying (a) their stuff is too legit and (b) here’s some news stories about Buck being arrested for art forgery so nyah. Buck is offended by what he calls “doxxing” and files a complaint with the Commissioner of the Internet to get these untrue things removed.

But his certified letter to the Commissioner of the Internet is barely mailed when a major clue steps in. Buck’s getting-quite-serious girlfriend Mindy recognizes the women who spent an hour lingering around her antiques store. It’s Doris, Buck’s abusive ex-wife, who’s supposed to be in jail after this incident where she nail-gunned his head and came after him with a knife. He’s supposed to be under a protection order and get notified when she’s released, but, you know, things happen.

[MINDY IS TEXTING BUCK]: 'This woman has been poking around the shop for an hour. What do you bet she ends up not buying a thing?' [EVENTUALLY] ... (Woman): 'I'll just take this.' Mindy: 'Okay then. Thanks for stopping by. Do come again.' Woman: 'It's a lovely store. I'll be back.' Mindy thinks: 'I thought she'd never leave! I can close up, finally.' [LATER AT BUCK'S PLACE] Mindy: 'What are you looking at, Corey?' Corey: 'Some old pics of Dad. Just kind of comparing these with him now to see how much weight he's lost.' Mindy: 'May I see?' Corey: 'Well, yeah. Though a lot of these pics have Dad's ex, Doris, in them --- not sure you want to see her.' Mindy: 'THAT's Doris? But that's the woman who was in my shop today.' Corey: 'Oh, that can't be good. We'd better tell Dad.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 22nd of October, 2017. I can attest, as a person who has lost a lot of weight, how weird old photographs look. There was this time, when I was first thin, that I thought the weird part was the current me and this weird figure looking back in mirrors and new pictures and all. But that changes. Now I look at old pictures of me and I can kind of see myself, only my hair isn’t grey, and I appear to be incompetently smuggling an inflatable raft out of the sporting-goods store. I also kept one of my old shirts from when I was enormous and it’s hard to believe but it’s large enough to house my car.

Mindy texts Buck when Doris re-visits the antiques shop. Buck immediately charges into the scene, which goes as well as you could hope for doing the dumb thing. She misses hitting him with a paperweight, runs off, and lets him catch her in her apartment. Her plan: ruin Buck’s reputation as a legitimate comics-art dealer, thereby breaking up his relationship with Mindy, after which she’ll get Buck all to herself. Well, I’ve heard dumber schemes. A disgusted Buck tries to leave, but Mindy charges, ineptly, and falls down the steps just after a witness arrives to see the whole thing.

Doris: 'Buck, don't leave! I love you!' Buck: 'You have no clue what love is, Doris. I feel sorry for you --- but we are more than done.' Mindy: 'Buck!' (She throws a paperweight and misses.) Buck: 'You really have to stop throwing those paperweights, Doris.' Doris: 'YOU CAN'T LEAVE ME! I WON'T LET YOU!' Buck: 'Goodbye, Doris.' (Neighbor pokes his head out the apartment.) Doris: 'BUCK!!! DON'T YOU DARE!' (She jumps after him, and falls down the steps.) Neighbor: 'You want I should call 911?' Doris: 'Ow ... !'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 12th of November, 2017. I feel bad that I keep getting a little giggle every time I read that last panel.

With the crazy ex put back in jail, Buck can look forward to a life as a reputable comics-art dealer. And, with his son’s encouragement, he asks Mindy to marry. She’s happy to. Horrible Hank finally gets to see some of the forgeries. And he recognizes the artist: Rene Belluso. The guy who was giving Sarah art lessons up until Terry Beatty took over the comic and dialed way down the “free stuff for the Morgans” theme.

And besides that Rene Belluso is still out there forging art, that wraps up that storyline, one week ago. This past week was spent delivering the news that Margie Taylor had, indeed died. I intend no guess as to whether that’s starting a new thread about the adoption of Johnny or simply resolving the previous thread. Still, it’s a bunch of successfully deployed soap opera plotting, so, well done.

Next Week!

Viral videos! Micro-managing stage uncles! Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy! No word on the playdowns! It can’t be anything but Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp. Please stop in and see what football players are singing and for what reasons.

What’s Going On In The Phantom (Sundays)? September – December 2017

I’m glad to offer you kind readers an update about what’s going on in The Phantom. There’s two continuities at play in the strip, both written by Tony DePaul. This is an essay about the Sundays-only continuity, drawn by Jeff Weigel. If you’re interested in the weekday strips, or if you’re reading this essay much past December 2017, please look to the essays on this page. The Weekday continuity, and any later essays I’ve written about the Sunday continuity, should be right up top there.

And I also keep reviewing comic strips with mathematical themes on my other blog. I’m glad if you want to read that.

The Phantom (Sundays).

10 September – 3 December 2017.

My last recap of The Phantom Sunday continuity came near the end of the storyline “The Phantom Is Everywhere”. The Phantom Wiki says this was the 185th Sunday story, running the 26 weeks from the 9th of April through the 1st of October. I accept these claims. Also at some point over the storyline the Sunday artist switched from Terry Beatty to Jeff Weigel and I failed to point that out. I apologize to Beatty and Weigel.

The story was mostly wrapped up then, though. Three killers had escaped Jungle Patrol custody. The Phantom, relying on his intelligence network and drummers in the Bandar tribes, managed to capture them all the same night. Also to give them the impression he had captured them simultaneously, burnishing his reputation of being everywhere and timeless. Since my last essay the Jungle Patrol had found the three where the Ghost Who Walks left them. Guran covers up the bit early in the story where he knocks a Jungle Patrol officer unconscious, and reminds the Jungle Patrol about the yet another old jungle saying about how time is nothing to The Phantom. Hawa Aguda and Kay Molloy, women who years ago quit their humdrum jobs and joined the Jungle Patrol with the iconic declaration “I quit! We’re joining the Jungle Patrol!”, wonder if this might have something to do with the mysterious “John X” whom they suspect might be the Unknown Commander of the Jungle Patrol. (He is.)

With the 8th of October began the new story, the 186th, “The Rat Must Die”. The initial setting: Boomsby Prison, Bangalla’s spot for the most dangerous criminals. One is an as-yet-unnamed prisoner who looks like one part Daddy Warbucks, one part the closet monster from the end of The Brain That Wouldn’t Die. The warden laughs at Closet Warbucks’s proposed deal of his freedom in trade for the guy who was supposed to break him out of Boomsby. It’s not clear at this point the guy’s relationship to Closet Warbucks. My thought was he was someone hired to break him out, and who either reneged on the deal or who Closet Warbucks figured to double-cross on the way to getting out. It would be a kind of stupidly overcomplicated plot, but I could rationalize the logic. He’d either break out, or get buy his freedom by spoiling a break-out attempt. And if you’re not coming up with a stupidly overcomplicated plot you’re kind of wasting your superhero’s time.

[A Bid for Freedom ... ] Closet Warbucks: 'What are you laughing at? I know every crime he's planning! I can TAKE YOU to him!' [Meeting's over.] Guard: 'Warden has work to do! Move!' Warbucks: 'Y-you're TURNING ME DOWN!?' (As they walk down the hall, janitor listening. Warbucks: 'That stupid, lousy SUIT! I'll LEAD THE TEAM to my partner's door!' Guard: 'Yeah, yeah, MOVE IT!' Warbucks: 'You don't even have to give me a GUN!" Prisoner: 'There goes a real rat.' [ Nothing said in Boomsby stays in Boomsby ... Nothing ] (as prisoners pass word around.)
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 22nd of October, 2017. So I’ll return to my traditional role of talking about the art in captions rather than the text proper: this is a really well-composed strip. You know what’s significant here even if you don’t read the word balloons. They’re worth reading, since they paint such a sad picture of the Rat, but

Closet Warbucks’s attempted deal is the gossip hit of the prison. Pretty soon the guy — his ex-partner-in-crime, it turns out — gets word of the deal. And the prison janitor, another criminal who’s in the last 125 of his 1200-year sentence, send a note to Walker, Box 7, Mawaitaan. He quickly gets back the Consumer Information Catalogue, Pueblo, Colorado, 81009.

The letter brings out The Phantom, impressing me with his ability to separate valuable information from the noisy, messy volume of tips rolling in. The Ghost Who Walks arrives just as the ex-partner’s hit is on. A corrupt guard delivers a knife and opens the cell doors to a guy who smirks more than the whole cast of Funky Winkerbean, if such a thing is possible. The killer sneaks into the cell, draws his knife, and gets clobbered by The Phantom, who’s taken Closet Warbucks’s place on the bunk. The corrupt guard doesn’t fare better.

(Phantom holding his mouth over Closet Warbucks's mouth, in the dark.) [ The rat fights for air! But darkness awaits him ... A corrupt guard shames the uniform for dirty money.] (Guard letting out the assassin.) 'Step back! And don't forget what I said! Make a move on me and THE RAT won't die --- YOU DIE! Make it quick!' (Pushes the assassin into Closet Warbucks's cell.) 'And leave the shiv!' (The assassin approaches the bunk, where The Phantom has taken The Rat's place.)
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 19th of November, 2017. And this is another well-composed strip. The art isn’t monochromatic, but it evokes the sort of intense suspense that you can get from black-and-white thrillers. And it’s easy to tug my eye away from that final panel and its promise of action.

And there’s the action as of today. I don’t suspect we’re near the end of the story, not just because the last several Sunday-continuity stories have run at least a half-year each. But I’d imagine doing something about the ex-partner-in-crime has to be high on The Phantom’s agenda. No sense getting roused all the way to Boomsby just to foil one assassination of one failed prison snitch. And indeed, The Phantom told Closet Warbucks that he was taking this partner-for-freedom deal. Also maybe we’ll find out why Closet Warbucks wasn’t interested in selling out his partner before the trail began. We’ll see.

Next Week!

If all goes to plan it’s a chance to stop in again on Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. and learn all about how the Morgans are adjusting to life with — er, no, actually, it’s a surprising amount of text about comic-book art forgery and crazy exes and the physical infirmities that we all will endure if we live long enough. Join us, won’t you please?

The Seventh Talkartoon, And The One Anyone Knows Anything About: Dizzy Dishes

Finally maybe back on track. I’m up to the seventh of the Talkartoon series. It’s arguably the most famous one. It’s one I’ve already reviewed, because it’s the debut of Betty Boop. But, heck. I’ve seen the cartoon many times. What’s one more? From its original release the 9th of August, 1930, here’s Dizzy Dishes.

Bimbo’s looking different from how he did in his debut in Hot Dog. It’s a common fate of characters in those days. It’s a small change, mostly: his head’s black rather than white. Or maybe I was wrong in Hot Dog and Bimbo was supposed to be the cop. As mutations go this isn’t a big one. Betty Boop would change much more between this, her first prototypical look, to the iconic image and then a bit more to her final appearance in her own cartoons.

Bimbo does a fair job driving the action this short. Everything that goes on relates to how he’s the waiter and apparently chef of this cabaret and not all that interested in being either. It’s a strange choice. I mean, it’s amusing, yes. Fair enough he should find a flood of rhyming orders annoying. That he goes the long, ridiculous way around actually preparing roast duck? That he puts it off for a dance number? The internal logic is weird. Granted that Gus Gorilla (if the Internet Movie Database is right in identifying him) looks menacing. How is he going to be less dangerous if he’s served his roast duck? How does hacking a chopping block into a locomotive engine help matters any?

And I guess the answer has to be that Bimbo, this cartoon has a personality. And that personality is the zany screwball. He’s not as fast-paced or as wild as black-and-white Daffy Duck. But try imagining this cartoon done with that early Daffy Duck as the waiter. It kinda fits, doesn’t it? … And then it makes sense that Bimbo doesn’t even try to placate a menacing-looking customer. A screwball doesn’t work if he cares.

The cartoon devotes a lot of its time to a song, like all these shorts have done so far. And that gives what everyone agrees is the debut of Betty Boop. She hasn’t quite got the form that would have her eighty years later still be put on bumper stickers I’ve never seen on an actual car. Really, her original, Grim Natwick-designed model is kind of hideous. Bimbo’s smitten, although I can’t say that’s due to her inherent charisma. It seems like any singer-character put in this role would do just as well. Her voice is appealing enough, but I might think that because of later associations. There is a weird little irony that in Betty Boop’s debut Bimbo steals nearly all the chances to sing “boop-oop-a-doop”. I’m not sure anyone could look at this and realize, yeah, that singer’s the character who will take over this series and then get her own cartoon series after that.

But the cartoon’s got a decent flow to it. There’s fewer dull segments, and few bits where the cartoon is clearly just repeating an amusing gag until everybody in the audience gets it. There’s a suspiciously Mickey-like mouse back in this cartoon, applauding at about 4:30 in. The roast duck laying an egg that hatches into another roast duck (about 4:10 in) is such a weird moment. When I showed a friend this, back in 1998 when we only had episodes on videotape — nobody had solved the problem of sharing video online back then — he was horrified enough he nearly refused to watch the rest. You don’t get cartoons like that anymore.

And as long as I’ve got Betty Boop under discussion: I just discovered that Comics Kingdom has started reprinting the Sunday installments of the Betty Boop comic strip. They started this months ago; I hadn’t heard is all. I hate to admit, but the strip — about Betty Boop’s foible-filled life as a movie star — is pretty dire. But at least you can make out where the jokes are supposed to be. I have my suspicions that possibly Max Fleischer didn’t actually write and draw every panel.

What’s Going On In Mary Worth? September – November 2017

I know, I know, I’m the Internet’s leading resource on recapping the plots of story strips like Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth. Believe me, I’m doing my best to keep my modesty at an appropriate level. My professionalism compels me to warn you: this is a recap written at the end of November 2017. Stories move on, though, and if it’s much past November 2017 these stories won’t be more than deep background for you. If it’s sometime after March 2018 when you read this, then (all going well) I’ll have another, more-recent-to-you story summary available. You should be able to get it here. Thanks for looking to me for help with exactly what my subject line says.

Also, if you’re interested in my talking about mathematical comic strips, I have a review of last week’s comics from that perspective. One story strip, this time, although it’s not a syndicated newspaper-grade comic so it doesn’t get included here.

Mary Worth.

4 September – 26 November 2017.

We had a real, proper, soap-operatic situation going on last time I checked in on Mary Worth. Dawn Weston, working for the Local Medical Group, is outright smitten with Dr Ned Fletcher. Medical assistant Jared, himself a-smitten with Dawn, discovers that Dr Ned is still married. He reports this to Dawn, who doesn’t want to believe it. Also I’m not sure whether Dr Ned is open with his wife about his side thing, or whether he’s lying to her about what he’s doing those late nights at the office. I suppose he’s lying to her. The Mary Worth universe can support adultery. No way can it support poly relationships. (Plus, even if it did, Dr Ned’s a serious heel for lying to Dawn about his status.)

Dawn: 'You told me you were divorced ... and I fell for you ... believing that!' Dr Ned: 'If I told you the truth, that I'm still married ... I KNEW you wouldn't give us a chance! And as we got to KNOW each other better ... I fell deeper in love with you. I KNOW you feel the same about me, Dawn. My being married DOESN'T have to CHANGE what we have!' (As Dawn flees the restaurant.)
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 10th of September, 2017. So not to show off the two years in middle school and two years in high school that I took French, but Google Translate points out how “L’escargot Mensonger” means “the false snail”. So points to Moy and Brigman for the small points like that. It’s a nice bit of thematic awareness.

At a L’escargot Mensonger dinner, Dawn asks and Dr Ned fesses up: he is married. He doesn’t think that has to change things, because it’s never the guy who lied about his relationship status who does. Dawn runs out on dinner and into the gardening-tool-handling hands of Mary Worth. Mary advises sticking to principles like “not dating married men”, even if it costs the job, and that a man who’s “available and doesn’t trouble her conscience” will be along. Since Dawn was only working for the summer and it’s already a September strip this is a financially viable decision to make, at least. Dawn quits, and tells Jared that he was right all along, and maybe they’ll talk or something later. Mary shows up with muffins and hugs and the confidence that comes from knowing yeah, she’s still the center of the strip.

But there’s other people in the comic. Wilbur Weston left Charterstone and threatened to leave the strip altogether some time ago. He’s got a new gig, interviewing survivors of disasters around the world about their experiences and about the sandwiches they eat now that they’re not dead. And his story returns the 2nd of October. He FaceTimes Iris, his girlfriend back home, with the news he’s staying out a while longer. He’s met someone in Bogota he’s got feelings for, and you know, it was her idea they put their relationship on pause while he globetrotted some more.

Iris is devastated and falls into a long self-inquisitive spiral about whether she could have saved their relationship. Mary Worth, writing Wilbur’s “Ask Wendy” advice column, pontificates on the idea that love is all around, no need to waste it, you might just make it after all, thank you for being a friend, sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name, and brother Dick was lost at sea without his water wings; now he is an angel, and he tries to do amazing things. But that’s all just for the audience; there’s no hint Iris reads the column or knows this advice is out there ready to be heard.

Zak: 'When ZAKIKS exploded in the gaming world ... I created my company, the Zakiks Studio, which is doing Gangbusters!' Iris: 'A new look, a new business ... Zak, I'm impressed! I always knew you had it in you!' Zak: 'Aw, thanks. Iris, though it all ... I thought about you, and I'm glad you're proud of me!' Iris: 'I am. And so happy for you! You deserve it!' Zak: 'You deserve to be happy, too. Are you?' Iris: 'I experienced a recent breakup. 'Happy' hasn't been in my vocabulary for a while.' Zak: 'I'm going to change that.'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 5th of November, 2017. So, yes, since spring Zak has had a lot of good life dropping onto him. But what’s he doing being aware of “Gangbusters” even being a word? For crying out loud the radio show ended sixty years ago and this is a guy who didn’t recognize “Here’s looking at you, kid” as a reference to anything. Can the Soap Opera Personality Transplant Fairy instill in people an awareness of old-fashioned catchphrases and slang terms? Well, yes, that’s how the Personality Transplant Fairy works. I just think Zak would say whatever Millennials say for “going like Gangbusters”, if anyone knows what that would be. Oh, ‘Zakiks’ was the game he made, and I got the vibe it was supposed to be a computer game that took off, but the text never actually commits to that. It might be a trendy board game or something.

Anyway, while walking around in a good healing mope, she runs across Zak. You maybe remember Zak. We last saw him early in 2017, taking some classes with Iris at Local Community College. Iris liked him, what with his being attractive and having a pleasant, natural dopiness, but she decided she was waiting for Wilbur. And hey! What do you know? Zak is doing well, having made a game that got popular and buying a briefcase and a car and everything. And he’s up for coffee and dating, so, lucky them.

Meanwhile in Bogota, Wilbur’s been busy having a life, and who saw that coming? His relationship with Fabiana has gotten quite serious. Wilbur’s taking dance lessons and buying her Green Lantern rings. He’s embracing his new life, and her, with an enthusiasm previously reserved for pork roll. She’s consistently looking not quite at him. But he doesn’t notice this until one day when he arrives for salsa lessons early and finds Fabiana deep in the arms of her cousin Pedro. Wilbur begins to suspect that they aren’t even cousins, and that he’s been a fool. There’s no salsa here. There’s not even any chips. Poor guy.

Wilbur: 'Do you believe me now when I tell you I love you, my love?' When Wilbur buys Fabiana an expensive piece of jewelry. Fabiana: 'Wilbur ... I LOVE it! I LOVE it!' Wilbur: 'I like making you happy.' Fabiana: 'I'm VERY happy NOW, mi amor!' Wilbur, thinking: 'Although my BANK ACCOUNT my not like it as much ... Eh! What's money anyway? Compared to AMOR? And I have SOMETHING in the works that will make you even HAPPIER ... '
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 19th of November, 2017. Can’t lie: after the L’escargot mensonger bit of slyness I’m disappointed the jewelry store is just named what Google Translate tells me is “jewelry”. Also wasn’t the dubiously-sourced quote of the week something Milo Bloom told Opus one of the times the penguin tried dating? I’m pretty sure Moy and Brigman could quote Milo on that one.

And there we are. It’s easy to suppose the situation is exactly what it looks like. Fabiana hasn’t been showing having a conversation with Wilbur that wasn’t about how he could buy her things, for example. But it also seems early in Wilbur’s little story segment here. After breaking up with Iris on the second of October his story went on the backburner. The Wilbur-Fabiana thing has only had primary focus since the 13th of November. It seems like there should be time for some twists and turns yet. On the 26th as Wilbur storms out Fabiana does chase after, swearing it isn’t what it looks like and begging her love not to go; so, what the heck. I’m willing to see. Plus, you know, after the last bit of Wilber-Iris-and-Zak storytelling we got CRUISE SHIPS. I don’t know what can match them, if anything, but it’s a good omen going forward.

Dubiously Sourced Quotes of Mary Worth Sunday Panels.

Auto Surgeon message sign: Knowledge Speaks But Wisdom Listens -Jimi Hendrix.
Oh yeah, so the car care place down the corner has had this as the quote for a couple months now. It’s not telling nearly as evocative a story as the usual auto-care-sign messages go, but it really feels Mary Worth-ready.
  • “Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain’t going away.” — Elvis Presley. 3 September 2017.
  • “And if that isn’t the truth, it would be a lie.” — Colin Mochrie, 10 September 2017.
  • “Change your opinions, keep to your principles; change your leaves, keep intact your roots.” — Victor Hugo, 17 September 2017.
  • “The greatest healing therapy is friendship and love.” — Hubert H Humphrey, 24 September 2017.
  • “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” — Albert Einstein, 1 October 2017.
  • “Let go. Why do you cling to pain?” — Leo Buscaglia, 8 October 2017.
  • “Love can sometimes be magic. But magic can sometimes … just be an illusion.” — Javan, 15 October 2017.
  • “And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” — 1 Corinthians 13:13, 22 October 2017. OK, I’m like 60 percent confident this one is legit.
  • “Love is like the wind. You can’t see it, but you can feel it.” — Nicholas Sparks, 29 October 2017.
  • “There is only one happiness in this life, to love and be loved.” — George Sand, 5 November 2017.
  • “Work like you don’t need the money. Love like you’ve never been hurt. Dance like nobody’s watching.” — Satchel Paige, 12 November 2017.
  • “Money can’t buy love, but it improves your bargaining position.” — Unknown, 19 November 2017.
  • “Life is full of surprises.” — John Major, 26 November 2017.

Next week!

I return to the challenge of doing these recaps without fear or favor, despite knowing that Tony DePaul reads them, as I get to his and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom, Sunday continuity. A new storyline had started shortly after my last update, so this is a much-needed refresher.

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? August – November 2017

Greetings, fellow creature who fears nature. If you’re interested in the current storyline in James Allen’s Mark Trail, great! I describe it here. At least I do if it’s not too much later than mid-November 2017 for you. If you’re reading this after, like, February 2018 things have possibly moved on and this won’t help you any. If I’ve written a follow-up explanation of the stories I should have them at or near the top of this page. Please check there to see if that’s more useful. If it’s not, well, try this and we’ll see what it can do for you.

And on my other blog, there’s mathematically-themed comic strips. Please consider that too, if you’ve got the time for another blog in your life.

Mark Trail.

28 August – 19 November 2017.

Twelve weeks ago I last reviewed James Allen’s Mark Trail. I predicted then the story was near its end. I had good reason. The story had already been running since something like the 25th of February. (There were a couple weeks of apparently extraneous character setup that looks like teasing for a later story. But it could yet intervene in this story.) And the major story elements seemed to be all set out. Mark Trail, held hostage by an unnamed Rapid City, South Dakota, bank robber, had got to the point where he punches people. He’d also worked out the big plot twist. The woman held hostage with him was not just a snarky comics reviewer but also, secretly, Bank Robber’s accomplice. Trail had arranged his friend Johnny Lone Elk to fake being lost to a ravine accident, the better to come back and punch people. The FBI in cooperation with the local sheriff were closing in on the ghost town to which Trail lead Bank Robber. And severe weather was closing in, ready to fill the story’s quota of “Nature: Too Deadly For Humans” narrative. Also, there may or may not be a bear.

We’re still in this story. I’m as startled as you are. Maybe eight percent more startled. What all has Mark Trail been doing with his time? Let’s recap.

Johnny Lone Elk teamed up with the Sheriff into the bear-bearing caves that lead to the ghost town. While they do have to pass the notoriously cranky Samson, the grizzly is content to let them on their way in exchange for a couple of odd-brand candy bars. So all you people teasing me for stockpiling Zero bars and Squirrel Nut Zippers? Go get eaten by a bear. Johnny and Sheriff get to the tunnels underneath the ghost town. Sheriff fills in some backstory about why the empty town has enough tunnel space to build the Second Avenue Subway.

The spinning blades rip off a windmill. Accomplice shouts 'Look out!' The spinning blades fly toward Mark Trail. Maybe. The perspective seems weird.
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 8th of September, 2017. Of the action sequences the last couple months of Mark Trail I think the windmill collapse was the least effective. It’s cinematic, sure. But if the reader has a vague idea how big an Old West Ghost Town windmill is (like I do) then it’s really hard to judge how threatening the thing is. And in still pictures it’s hard to judge how fast it’s moving, or how futile dodging might be. I’ll accept easily that one of them falling loose and flinging at a person would be catastrophic, but it also seems unlikely. Fair enough to have bad luck throw your characters into peril, but it did mean I started out not quite believing what was going on, and then the art didn’t sell me on it.

Mark Trail leads Bank Robber and Accomplice into the ghost town, ahead of the tornado. They’re just in time for the windmill to come flying off the tower and chase them down. But Mark outwits the loose windmill vanes. The horses bolt, but Bank Robber’s able to grab the sack of money off one of them. They take shelter in the town saloon. Across the street, in the bank, Johnny Lone Elk and Sheriff emerge from their subplot, just in time for the rain to clear.

Sheriff shooting at the crooks and Mark Trail. Trail: 'You two should just give up now!' Bank Robber: 'SHUT UP, TRAIL! EVERYBODY STAY DOWN!' Accomplice: 'I'm not cut out for this!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 19th of October, 2017. You know the midlist has gotten bad when Sir Arthur C Clarke has to take up bank-robbing and hostage-taking.

Bank Robber whips out his iPhone, in what looks like an Otter protective case. Have to say, I’ve had good experiences with the Otter cases, so, good decision and all. He’s calling for his pickup. Still, Trail warns there’s no reason there can’t still be a tornado, and maybe a hurricane, and maybe a swarm of killer bees piloting tiny F-18s for good measure. Accomplice warns Trail could be right. Bank Robber’s having none of it, and forces Accomplice and Trail to the nearby abandoned airstrip. Sheriff orders them to freeze, and they do, except instead of holding still Bank Robber shoots back. Accomplice does take the chance to run out of the conflict and into Johnny Lone Elk’s custody.

Small aircraft pilot in storm clouds and rain: 'Boy, that wind is getting fierce ... I sure hope he knows what he's doing! ... Seems like we could've planned a less complicated way to pull off this job and get away with it!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 30th of October, 2017. Really not sure how there could possibly be a simpler bank-robbery getaway plan than ‘take a hostage at the airport rental counter and have him drive to a remote town that has an abandoned airstrip where you can fly in and recover him’. I mean, what else could they do, go to some bus-and-train terminal and buy two dozen tickets to random other cities while driving out under cover of being in a 2014 Chevy Malibu too boring to even appear in security camera footage?

Bank Robber keeps Trail hostage, though, walking to the airstrip where his escape pilot — a young-looking Judge Alan Parker sporting a ponytail — ponders how surely there could have been a less complicated getaway plan. But before a vehicle can be safely used for its intended purpose, nature intervenes, and the plane is smacked down by a tornado. Trail tries to use the chaos to grab Bank Robber’s gun, but Bank Robber answers with fists. But a punching match with Mark Trail is almost dumber than force-feeding Popeye a can of spinach. So Bank Robber grabs his pistol. Sheriff throws an axe at Bank Robber, smacking him hard and breaking his hand. (By the time Sheriff could get a clear shot on Bank Robber, his rifle jammed, is why he’s diddling about with an axe.)

Mark Trail yells 'LOOK OUT!!' as he and Bank Robber are thrown forward by the exploding small-aircraft.
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 3rd of November, 2017. If I were to claim that BOOOM was a short-lived early-60s Mad Magazine imitator noteworthy mostly for once featuring a script by Alan Arkin and a couple spot cartoons by Crockett Johnson of Barnaby and Harold and his Purple Crayon fame, would you believe me? I thought so.

And aircraft pilot Alan Parker? He bailed out just before the plane was destroyed by the tornado. And his parachute was working all right until the tornado turned and hit that, sending him plummeting into a barn. Parker says he’s surprisingly okay, though: “I’m lucky there was still some hay in this old stable!” So he is. Come this Monday the tornado’s going to drop four cows and a cruise liner on him.

So. Like you see, that’s a lot of stuff happening. It seems like it’s got to be near done now. Accomplice gave herself up to the guest star. Bank Robber’s had all his guns cudgeled out of his hands. Alan Parker’s a shoe-in for a forthcoming Ripley’s Believe It Or Not panel. What really makes sense is for someone to eat pancakes and to do something about counting up the prairie dogs near Rapid City. I still haven’t forgot that was the reason Mark Trail came out here. I’m not leaving this story until I hear about the comeback the prairie dogs are making.

Sunday Animals Watch!

Animals or natural phenomena featured on Sundays recently have included:

  • Coqui Frogs of Puerto Rico, 3 September 2017. They’re invasive in Hawaii and soon California.
  • The 2010 Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill, 10 September 2017. Oil-eating microbes seem to be making things less awful than expected.
  • Hurricane Season, 17 September 2017. This was a couple weeks after Harvey, right after Hurricane Irma, and just as Hurricane Maria got started.
  • Nile Crocodile, 24 September 2017. They’re dying
  • Dracula Orchids, 1 October 2017. They’re terrifying.
  • Black rat snakes, 8 October 2017. They’re eight feet long and emit musk when threatened.
  • Bobbit Worms, 15 October 2017. They’re horrifying.
  • Hydnellum Peckii fungus, 22 October 2017. They’re a “ghoulish” fungus.
  • Trapdoor Spiders, 29 October 2017. Gads, yes, but we need them.
  • Mysterious cross-species altruism, 5 November 2017. It’s not just for social media anymore.
  • Quolls, 12 November 2017. They’re dying.
  • The Purple Frogs of Bhupathy India, 19 November 2017. Too soon to tell but I bet you they’re dying.

Next Week!

Is there life after cruise ships? No, not really. But Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth has been doing its best to carry on as though there were. All goes well, next week, I’ll see what dubiously-sourced quotations from famous people they have to talk about a cruise-less story. Only connect to us, won’t you?

Friday Is Coming, We Hope

I don’t like to make promises of things I’m not sure can happen. I mean, I do it anyway, because work will send me tasks and if I started admitting how little I’m sure that I can accomplish anything this might encourage everyone to admit we’ve been bluffing our way through the world since fifth grade at the latest, and then where would we be? Sixth grade?

But. Here’s the important thing. Friday is supposed to be the next time the Silver Bells In The City parade marches through downtown Lansing. And the forecast has rain as a real, serious possibility. I can’t promise that the results will be as spectacular as last year, when a major storm rolled through and blew away dozens of marching bands and created a TV show experience I still want to give each and every one of you. I still haven’t seen if they have DVDs of last year’s parade. But yes, I’m hopeful, going in to this year’s spectacle. I mean, it’s already raining and so dark that a raccoon knocked on the side door and asked if we could turn on a light so she could see. So maybe we’ll get a fun dose of chaos, maybe.

Also I’m thinking of ways to weatherproof myself better, perhaps by wearing eight layers of raincoats, or perhaps getting a giant vinyl ball to move in. No, that’s probably a good way to end up washed down the street and into the Grand River. Must think seriously about this. You first.

Also, hey, I looked over some more mathematically-themed comic strips today so you can think about those instead.

In Which I Ponder The Thinking Of Criminals In Inspector Danger’s Crime World

This has been nagging at me since last Monday. It’s the Inspector Danger’s Crime Quiz. It’s sort of a Slylock Fox for people who like a touch more narrative. Also to have the crime be murder a lot. Also for the victims to often be dot-com millionaires or academics. (The latter makes me feel a bit personally targeted, but the academics always give a hint who murdered them by, like, typing out the number of letters in their killer’s name or something like that. So they probably were terrible to their grad students, if any, and deserved it.) In last Monday’s installment cartoonist Werner Wejp-Olsen put Inspector Danger through one of his routine methods of criminal-catching: going somewhere, leaving, returning, and noticing something. It’s an old gimmick but it works surprisingly well. And here’s what he saw.

Inspector Danger: 'Bud Norton has been on the run for two weeks - let's check out his hideout in the city.' He knocks on the door. '- Or his place in the countryside.' The countryside. 'No smoke from the chimney. But he have to make sure he's not hiding in this dump. Withered flowers! Apparently nobody has been living here for weeks. Maybe we should give his city place another shot.' Assistant Alfie: 'Are you sure, sir? You know how hard it is to find a parking space.' Danger, back at the city place. 'Here we go again.' Knocking to no answer. 'Not a peep - maybe this is just another wild goose chase? OK, let's call it a day. WAIT!' (The new front door mat indicates that the place is inhabited. Bud Norton is now back in the slammer.)
Werner Wejp-Olsen’s Inspector Danger’s Crime Quiz for the 6th of November, 2017. And hey, good contribution to the investigation with your observation about parking spaces there, Alfie. Really shows why Inspector Danger needs you to work at his best. Sometimes he gets to be relevant to the story. It’s just Danger gets on these rolls with his checking-out-two-hideouts business and there’s not even any point talking to him.

I admit I am not a person who takes great care with domestic niceties. Yes, once, when I lived in an apartment I did have a doormat. And I did even take it once, when I had to move from that building to another owned by the same company just because the first building was collapsing and probably dangerously unstable and the floor tilted, probably, only about five degrees downhill, even if the size of the living room made it feel like it was eight or nine degrees. But I only took the doormat because the new apartment didn’t have one, and then I left it in the trunk of my car because lazy, until my sister ended up owning the car and I think she lost it when the car was in an accident that left it too damaged to bother repairing.

What I’m saying is, were I a fugitive, I’m not sure I would bother replacing my apartment-door doormats even if they were in terrible shape. And this one doesn’t even look that bad. But I’m not sure I’d have bouquets of flowers either, not without someone to nudge me into action. In which case I’d expect that someone to replace the flowers in a timely fashion because goodness knows I’d never notice.

And yet I appreciate that in Inspector Danger’s world, criminals on the run worry about whether their doormats are nice enough. And replace them in the hours after the detectives have been around. It suggests a world of depravity on the level of the Adam West Batman, where the greatest expressions of human depredation are, like, a squat fellow who quacks a lot and has many specialized umbrellas, and all their worst crimes are stuff like stealing an unusually large violin. Don’t you wish that was as bad as humans got?

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? August – November 2017

I got back to Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley a bit quicker than I figured! Last time around I predicted I’d get back to this strip in December 2017, and here it is November 2017, way ahead of that. But the point I made in the preamble there stands. This is a recap of the comic strip’s most recent developments. But if you’re reading this later than, oh, let’s say April 2018 then the strip has moved on. I’ll be out of date. And I may have some more recent-to-you post about what’s going on. You should be able to find it at or near the top of this page.

If you like comic strips that aren’t necessarily story strips you might look at my mathematics blog. There I regularly discuss the recent syndicated comics that did something mathematical. Ideally I don’t ruin the jokes.

Gasoline Alley.

21 August – 11 November 2017.

Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley has, since the 27th of April, been running a very dangerous story. Not that the stakes in it are that high. But in that it’s a crossing of two of the strip’s styles of stories. One is the weepy melodrama. Poverty-stricken kids Emma Sue And Scruffy, and their widowed mother, The Widow Emma Sue And Scruffy’s Mom, moved into the abandoned mill. The kids ran across the curmudgeonly codger Elam Jackson, who softens when he meets them all. Elam Jackson starts repairing The Widow Etc’s mill. Also he begins acts of courtship with The Widow Emma Sue And Scruffy’s Mom.

The danger is that it’s crossed with another of the strip’s story types. This is the Joel And Rufus Story. Joel and Rufus are preposterous, silly characters. They’d make sense on Green Acres. They can have adventures easily. Attaching emotions to them, though? That’s a tall order. Still, Rufus had encountered Emma Sue and Scruffy. He and Joel played Santa for the impoverished kids, back before the August update. Rufus gave some newly weaned kittens to the kids. He’s also got romantic designs on The Widow Etc.

Rufus, to Emma Sue and Scruffy: 'I'll see yo' kids soon! Right now I'm goin' t'say bye t'yo'momma!' Emma Sue and Scruffy: 'Thanks fo' th'kitties! We love 'em, an yo' too!' Rufus at the mill: 'There's Mrs Ruffington over by th'mill wheel with m'friend Elam Jackson!' In the third panel Rufus sees The Widow Etc and Jackson kissing.
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 25th of August, 2017. The terrible moment that sends Rufus off to the circus, ultimately. Can’t fault him for being heartbroken after seeing that. But then we the reader know a bit more about what’s going on, such as — a few weeks later — the strips from the week of the 11th.
So this storyline has to balance its absurdist-clown streak with its weepy-melodrama streak. It’s tricky. Anything goes wrong and all narrative could collapse. When we left off Elam Jackson’s courting of The Widow Etc had reached the point of actually kissing, in silhouette, off where Rufus could see. Rufus immediately despairs, a state not at all natural for this goofball. He storms home, puts a note on his mailbox that “I’ve gone away! Ain’t comin’ back! Pleze hol’ my mail!” and even leaves his cats without supervision. Well, he leaves them to Joel, about the same thing.

Jackson: 'I'm sure hot and thirsty, Leela!' The Widow Etc: 'Oh Elam! I appreciate all the work you're doing on the mill! How can I ever repay you?' Jackson: 'How about a kiss?' The Widow Etc: 'How 'bout some iced tea? It'll quench your thirst and COOL you off!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 11th of September, 2017. A fair sampling of the ways The Widow Emma Sue And Scruffy’s Mom politely but unmistakably turns any talk away from romance. Which, given how much she turns away kisses this time, makes one ask what the heck was going on in the previous strip? That the embrace is in silhouette allows for all kinds of mistaken-identity shenanigans. But they also require putting in some character who hasn’t been in the story so far. So, you know? The heck?
The news of Rufus’s disappearance spreads slowly. Scruffy recovers from his bike accident and with Emma Sue visit Rufus’s place to find him missing. They go back home to hear Elam Jackson talking seriously about marriage with The Widow Etc. The worldly Scruffy explains how he knew it was coming to that. But Jackson’s leading questions are left hanging in the air, the 16th of September, and we have not seen these characters since.

But Joel knows things are awry, and so, starting the 19th of September, begins searching in the logical place: other comic strips. Joel and Rufus are at the core of this slapsticky, absurdist, fourth-wall-breaking streak of the comic strip. Why can’t he pop over to Dick Tracy if he likes? So Joel meets up with Tracy slapsticky hillbilly character B O Plenty and then the super-scientific detective himself. Tracy has enough of this within a week and sends Joel back to his own comic strip, right where he left off.

Dick Tracy: 'Joel! What're you doing in my comic strip ? Are you lost?' Joel: 'No! Rufus is! I was lookin' for 'Mr Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons', but reckymembered WE and HE ain't on radio no mo'!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 25th of September, 2017. Mister Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons ran on the NBC Blue Network/ABC from 1937 to 1947, and then CBS from 1947 to 1955. It’s mentioned because Jim Scancarelli is trying to get himself installed as an exhibit in the Museum of Old-Time Radio. Also, yes, Gasoline Alley was on radio several times. In 1941 (NBC, Red and then Blue) the daily serial even adapted the then-current storylines to the air. It also ran in 1948-49 in transcribed syndication. There’s some evidence that it was produced in regional radio as early as 1931, but John Dunning’s On The Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio doesn’t pin down where or when. Also, Dick Tracy ran as a kids’ police serial, starting on NBC New England stations in 1934, then bouncing between CBS, Mutual, NBC, and NBC Blue/ABC through to 1948. And this doesn’t matter but there was from 1932 to 1935 a syndicated comedy-mystery serial titled Detectives Black and Blue, about a pair of shipping clerks in Duluth who try for something more.
Just in time, too, since he’d left Becky (his mule) right by a poster for the circus. And Joel knows what this means. He hasn’t become one of YouTube’s top hosts of ‘Let’s Play’ JRPG videos without learning how to recognize the plot rails. He makes his way to the circus tents to see if he can get the next plot point going. It’s hard work, including swinging hammers around, sleeping with the elephants and mules, being haunted by visions of Rufus at all the sideshow posters, and being pressed into clown duty by owner P T Beauregard’s son, a Young Ralph from Sally Forth. This sends Joel to an encounter with another of the Gasoline Alley universe’s many Frank Nelsons. Also it offers some name-drops of Emmett Kelly, Otto Griebling, and (in Joel’s confusion) Walt Kelly. And gives Scancarelli an easy extra 25 points in his bid for installation into the Museum of Old-Time Radio.

Joel, on his mule-drawn wagon, looking very small amidst close-up pictures of tiger and lion and elephant and giraffe heads, while the ringmaster continues his spiel about the circus's offering: 'Lions, tigers, an elephant or two; this isn't all --- it's our pre-view!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 26th of October, 2017. Part of the entry of the gladiators and all that, and taken less because it’s key to the plot and more because I like the composition. There’s not enough craft in the drawing of newspaper comics and I’m glad Scancarelli resists the considerable pressures to put up simple, functional panels.
The show begins! And we get a good week or so of acts and animals and Joel cringing before some well-rendered lions and the like. And then, finally, the 27th of October we learn what’s come of Rufus. He’s the Human Cannonball, like it or not, and over Halloween he’s shot out of the cannon, through the Big Tent’s walls, and into Joel’s haystack. He explains: after seeing Elam Jackson kissing The Widow Emma Sue and Scruffy’s Mom he was heartbroken, ran away from home, and joined the circus. Along the way to the human cannonball job he’d been the beareded lady, the thin man, the four-legged dog, all the stuff Joel saw posters for. It’s not that complicated a story, but it had been two months since readers last saw Jackson or The Widow Etc or the kids. I don’t blame Scancarelli for giving a recap like that.

This week Rufus, deciding he’s had enough of the circus, rides with Joel back to the normal Gasoline Alley continuity. And Joel has hopeful news for Rufus. After getting the mill up and running again, The Widow Etc “done canned yo’ ex-‘fr’end, Elam!”. This is consistent with my reading of The Widow Etc’s reluctance and talking around Jackson’s questioning. It also raises some good questions. For one, how could Joel know that? Based on what we’ve seen on-camera, anyway? For another, what is the difference in pronunciation between “fr’end” and “friend”?

So that’s how the comic balanced the weepy-melodrama and the goofy-slapstick sides of things. Stepping out into another comic strip is going to work for some readers. Doing a month of circus jokes should work for others. But it forgot the weepy melodrama for several months. That’s probably as best as can be done. I’m not sure Rufus (or Joel) can sustain the pain of unrequited love. His getting shot out of a cannon fits him more easily. I’m surprised that Elam Jackson seems to be getting sent back to the primordial xylem of supporting characters from which he came. But I was also surprised to learn Rufus considered him a friend. I had supposed they were people in town who didn’t have much reason to interact.

The story reads as though it’s coming to its conclusion. This extends the strange synchronicity between story strips concluding stories around my recaps. (Of course, a story ending two or three weeks before or after my recap seems “around” my essay. With a margin like that it’s amazing a strip is ever not in synch with my recaps.)

The Sunday strips, not in continuity, have been the usual bunch of spot gags. Can’t say that any of them really stand out. And there’s no story, so, if you want to read one just go ahead and read it; you won’t be confused.

Next Week!

Prairie dogs are making a comeback. Mark Trail came to South Dakota to count these coming-back prairie dogs and blow up vehicles. And he hasn’t got near a prairie dog yet. Stop in here next week to, I hope, see bank robbers, abandoned mining towns, and vehicles exploding, all the important pieces of James Allen’s Mark Trail. Also, never ever EVER go outside. The parts of nature that aren’t trying to kill you are filled with weird life forms that can poison you or be really, really eerie. And the parts that aren’t trying to kill you and aren’t full of horrible lifeforms? The parts that are adorable little creatures like quaggas or obscure variations on hamsters or sharks that look like puppies? They’re dying. (Recommended soundtrack: Sparks, “Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth”.)