We have another Gene Deitch cartoon this week. It’s directed by John Halas, Joy Batchelor, and Tony Guy, so it’s one of the British-made cartoons rather than the Czechoslovakian ones. But no story credit that I’m aware of, unfortunately. Here is 1960’s Dog-Gone Dog-Catcher.
Popeye is a good character. He is not particularly lawful, though. He’s aware authority can be corrupt or malevolent or wrong. A lot of his best moments are standing up to bullies who happen to have rank. There are shorts where Popeye has to talk up how he obeys and respects, mostly, the police. But cast Brutus as the authority figure and have him make a few snide comments to the camera and Popeye can clobber him without bothering anybody.
So I’m bothered that this short doesn’t quite get it right. The setup is all right. Popeye’s given Olive Oyl a new dog, a poodle who’s described as male, possibly the only male poodle in pop culture. His name is Zsa Zsa. Brutus comes along as a thieving dogcatcher and scoops up Zsa Zsa. Popeye goes undercover to free him. He wears one of those cartoon dog outfits that’s so seamless your every real-world Halloween costume disappoints.
My problem is that it’s not clear Brutus was in the wrong here. He was shown wanting to steal a dog and make life hard for the owner. But he is also the city dogcatcher. We see Zsa Zsa let loose, without a collar or license, and menacing-or-something a cat. An honest dogcatcher would likely try to grab Zsa Zsa given that. It throws the moral balance of the cartoon off. It already started wobbly, with the time-constrained need to put Zsa Zsa out unsupervised early on so the story could start. It makes Popeye and Olive Oyl look like negligent dog-owners.
I don’t demand that characters be all one tone. That’s boring, and it’s not realistic. Characters should also make mistakes. But it’s usually better form, when they get it wrong, for it to be part of the story hat they have blown it. But these cartoons are too short, and the audience-appropriate plots are too direct, for Popeye to explore the difference between being good and acting rightly.
If you can get past this — I imagine many of you can — there’s a fun cartoon here. Popeye’s in an impossibly perfect dog costume, which freshens up the action some and lets him mess with Brutus’s head. We get a spinach-flavored dog biscuit, a rare Deich cartoon case where Popeye doesn’t trust to luck for spinach to show up. (Also a weird edit where we have to infer he eats the dog biscuit.) Popeye declaring “I am smarter than the average dog” and I’d love to know if that’s meant to be a Yogi Bear riff. Popeye getting stopped by a cop and explaining he only has a dog license. The cop asking Brutus if dogs can talk, and a rabbit popping up between them to say, “I never heard anything so preposterous!”
That’s all solid stuff. I just don’t like that I’m not sure Popeye was in the right.
For the second cartoon in this bundle, King Features offered the full credits. Which is odd since this is a Gene Deitch-made cartoon; apart from his name and William Snyder’s we don’t get any credits. The Internet Movie Database offers no insight about who offered the story or animation for 1961’s Disguise The Limit.
I have mentioned mentioned I have no idea how King Features Syndicate chose what cartoons to bundle up where in their YouTube channel. There must have been some deliberation to put two Popeye-the-detective shorts next to one another. I don’t know whether the lack of a third reflects their not having another Popeye-the-detective short. (I do find that Paramount Cartoon Studios made a 1960 short with Disguise The Limit as title, but as far as I know the only common elements are voice actors. There’s also episodes of Courageous Cat And Minute Mouse, Kwicky Koala, Darkwing Duck, and That’s So Raven with the title.)
The introduction sets up another cartoon of Popeye and Brutus competing over a job. In this case, a gorilla’s escaped the city zoo, and they called a detective agency, as one will. Apart from Brutus flirting with Olive Oyl about his plans for the reward money we weren’t told existed, we don’t get that. Instead, once things get going, it’s a mistaken-identity farce. Popeye-and-Brutus competing is an always solid premise. But a good madcap mistaken-identity farce holds a more special place for me.
Brutus and Popeye put on gorilla costumes to go to the zoo and catch the gorilla, as one will. Olive Oyl insists Popeye should dress as a female gorilla, something achieved by putting on a hat “with ribbons yet”. It’s silly, yes, but it also makes the mistaken-identity stuff possible. It almost reads as a joke about how cartoon design treats female as a declension from the male, marked by accessories like hats and perfume. I don’t know that this joke was intended. But I’m amused by it even if it wasn’t put in on purpose.
I like the idea of this cartoon a good bit. Whether it succeeds has to depend on your patience for how everybody gets confused about which gorilla is which. Brutus punching Popeye’s hat off and it happening to land on the actual gorilla makes enough sense for a cartoon for me. Reasonable people can disagree. I’d like the action to have been a little faster, and maybe for one or two more rounds of the characters losing track of who’s a gorilla and who’s in a costume. Maybe if Brutus’s gorilla outfit looked like the others and he wore some prop. But either of these might have made the short too complicated for the intended audience. (Although every time I watch Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July I realize I’m not young enough to understand Winterbolt’s scheming anymore.) Or just demanded too much screen time.
The short has a couple beats that sound like that classic old Popeye muttering, but promoted to front-line dialogue. Like, Popeye planning, if the reward money turns out to exist, to “buy a new hat, I suppose”. Or after noticing the gorilla “bent the bars like they were butter” declaring “We’ll look for a gorilla with butterfingers”. The response doesn’t make sense except as riffing on some already funny words. I like that sort of dialogue, though, and want to encourage cartoons that have it.
Here we have a more normal story. It’s much easier to like as it’s easier to say what’s going on and why. Popeye decides to go to Olive Oyl’s costume party as a spaceman. Brutus gets Popeye arrested for this. But then he mistakes a tiny blue-skinned guy for the costumed Popeye, and accidentally gets the aliens to go to war with Earth. Or, well, with Olive Oyl’s underpopulated costume party. Popeye, having broken out of jail because he didn’t see any reason to stay there, gets to the party in time for the aliens to roughhouse with him. Brutus declares this is dire enough he has to feed Popeye spinach. More fanfare, Popeye punches the aliens, and throws their spaceship so it gets stuck in the moon.
There’s nothing this cartoon does wrong, and compared to Partial Post it does a lot more well. It’s always clear why people, including the aliens, are doing what they’re doing. The only truly baffling moment is Brutus mistaking a tiny blue guy for Popeye. Maybe Brutus is even worse at recognizing faces than I am. The cartoon’s well-paced, and pretty well-animated too. Freeze the video at any spot and the picture’s expressive. (And character walk cycles match the pace at which the background moves.) And we get Brutus recognizing how he’s out of his league here and turning the whole fight over to Popeye. It’s the touch that makes Bluto/Brutus’s relationship with Popeye interesting.
But there is this curse to competence. Partial Post is full of stranger, more alien choices. That sticks more solidly in my mind. I’m curious whether that’s because I am impressing so many of these cartons into my brain, and it looks for the novel and the weird. And so There’s No Space Like Home seems less good. This even though it’s clearly the better 1960 Gene Deitch-animated cartoon about Popeye versus flying saucers to show someone.
We don’t yet know! The current story has a mysterious Visitor who looks and acts like The Phantom apart from walking past everyone, ignoring them. Our Ghost Who Walks is sharing what he knows, from the Chronicles, about That Ghost Who Walks Too. But we haven’t got much specific information yet. It’ll be a good gag if it turns out there’s a parallel line of fathers passing down to sons a sacred obligation to sometimes mess with The Phantom.
It begins with Babudan, master tracker of the Bandar people, seeing The Phantom walk right past, ignoring him. Which is strange on several grounds, not least that The Phantom is away from the Deep Woods. Dozens of people, including Diana, see The Ghost Who Ghosts Them, including inside Skull Cave.
The Phantom knows what this is, though. And he’s excited, almost giddy. It’s fun to see. He invites the Bandars’ “best listeners” into Skull Cave, so he can show off his newly-renovated Hall of Costumes. The renovations better show off the outfits past Phantoms wore. He’s been waiting for an excuse to show this off.
So what’s the deal with Other Phantom? The 3rd, 6th, 12th, and 16th Phantoms encountered it too. He’s started telling about the Third Phantom’s encounter. This is the encounter that gave The Ghost Who Haunts The Ghost Who Walks And Who Also Walks the less cumbersome name of “The Visitor”. The Visitor, too, appeared in the contemporary Phantom’s garb and walked past Bandar villagers, shunning them. The Visitor left footprints, so is not a ghost. The footprints vanish, the way a ghost’s might. And that’s about all we know so far.
Again I thank people who’re looking for help working out what’s going on in Joe Staton, Shelley Pleger and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy. If you’re reading this much later than June of 2017 there may have been a new update. The update should be at or near the top of this link along with any miscellaneous but important news that’s broken about the comic strip’s production. For example, if the artist changes or something like that.
12 March – 3 June 2017
I last checked in on Dick Tracy as a mega-super-hyper-crossover event over twelve percent bigger than usual was going on. Perenelle Flammel was murdered just before the climax of the auction for her immortality formula. Tracy and Will Eisner’s The Spirit were going around the special guest stars looking for clues, but Oliver Warbucks, Tracy‘s own Diet Smith, Terry and the Pirates‘s Dragon Lady all have solid alibis, and Spirit recurring villain Mister Carrion was already arrested and sent back to the Old Comics Home under Jim Scancarelli’s supervision. With no other suspects in the picture Tracy and Spirit turn to God.
God in this case is The Great Am. He’s from Little Orphan Annie, when Harold Grey figured he needed some supernatural aid in railing against the New Deal. I don’t understand his deal exactly, except he’s one of those Ambiguously God characters that can add a pleasantly mystical touch to a setting. And at least in some of the strips I’ve seen he could add a charming wicked little cynicism about human nature.
The Spirit, aware that the strip is almost out of characters, guesses that The Great Am has a body double for the vague security reasons that make impossibly rich people in pulpy adventure stories have body doubles, and what do you know but he’s right? Am’s Double and Flammel’s longtime servant Ramon Escobar are found in a state of cahootsing, still on the books as a vice rap. The two flee, with Double Am caught in a choke hold by The Spirit and Escobar struck by lightning.
The plan, explained: Escobar, denied his choice of wife by Flammel, hoped to steal first the auction money; when Kitchen and Brush failed (as recounted last update) they tried to steal the immortality formula proper. When Flammel discovered the attempted theft, Double Am strangled her. And so everything is settled basically sensibly.
I have mixed feelings about the resolution. The story seems to hang basically together, in that if you grant the premise the participants have good reason for what they do and why. The weak point as a whodunnit mystery is there’s nothing that hints, prior to The Spirit’s question, that the Great Am has body doubles. Perhaps I missed the clue, though, or perhaps somewhere in the Great Am’s past appearances this was established and Staton and Curtis just supposed that of course we’d remember. On the other hand, part of detective work is asking slightly speculative questions and sometimes those do turn out to be valuable. So one can slight the Double Am’s existence as being a deus ex machina used to give the story a plausible killer. But then Escobar’s being literally struck by lightning as he’d otherwise have gunned down Tracy? — Ah, but, this is a part of the story dominated by the Ambiguously God character of the Great Am. Doesn’t letting Ambiguous God into the story serve as all the warning you need of a dei ex machina? I’m not sure, but realizing that about the story structure made me smile, so I’m going to have to allow it.
After a couple rounds of banter the new story began the 7th of April, with some guests from the Harold Teen comic strip that I never heard of either. Also a story with Shelley Pleger doing the daily art duties in place of Joe Staton. Pleger had been part of the team doing the Sunday art before. Staton’s credit is back on the first daily after this story resolved, so I suppose it to be a temporary post.
The story’s centerpiece is a cosplay convention, which Honeymoon Tracy and her friend Astor are thrilled to attend. Honeymoon guides Tracy gently into the world of people who cosplay, a friendly mass of folks who try to work out what he’s supposed to be, anyway, Inspector Gadget? But it also makes me think about this.
A recurring minor character in Dick Tracy is The Pouch. He had been a circus freak-show fat man attraction, but lost most of his nearly 500 pounds of weight. He took his enormously many loose, flappy bags of skin and sewed them into clasping pouches, the better to conceal and smuggle items while selling balloons at the zoo. And while you ponder the question, “wait, what?” let me give you this point: He once used a popcorn popper to kill a man. And now this question: if that is the baseline normal for what human beings are and can do in the Dick Tracy universe, where do you go for imagination and fantasy characters?
Back to Cos-U-Con. A mysterious masked figure robs contest organizer Brian Miller and one of the Three Margies, a trio of women whose struggling costume shop donated thousands to the contest. The robber makes off with the ten thousand dollars cash prize. But — as was clear all along — it’s a fake. The Three Margies have arranged the theft. Big Margie and Little Margie celebrate by vandalizing a cemetery for Jewish people. And that’s rather a jolt. Yes, Dick Tracy is a crime-detection comic and that is the sort of offense that a major crimes unit would deal with. It’s just a dramatic change in tone for a storyline that, three weeks earlier, seemed to be about Dick Tracy ogling someone in a blue raccoon costume. But then isn’t “we were all having a giddy little time and then it suddenly got awful” just what the past eighteen months have been? Those nice-looking cousins all named Margie who run a costume shop turning out to hate Jewish people somehow fits.
Tracy and Sam Catchem, after asking the Three Margies about the convention theft, realize that as the other characters in the story the Three Margies are the best bet for the perpetrators. They confirm their suspicions with a Sunday strip’s worth of actual detective work. The Margies paid two months’ back rent in cash, and that one of the Margies had come six months ago from a town that suffered similar cemetery vandalism up to six months ago.
Tracy and Cachem stake out the Margies. Big and Middle Margie lead them to a construction site, where they’re trying to bury a satchel from the robbery. The Margies aren’t very good at this sort of crime, and get captured easily, dropping some surprisingly strong anti-Jewish words for the comics page and clearing Little Margie’s name on their way out of the story.
The story wrapped up, neatly for my purposes, the 2nd of June. Was it successful? I’d say so; once we grant everyone in the Dick Tracy universe going wild for cosplay the events hold together, and Tracy and Catchem do actual detective work that could logically lead them to the perpetrators. It’s not a very intense storyline, but they don’t all need to be; I appreciate that sometimes the initial major crime can be as simple as a ten thousand dollar robbery. If it comes apart because the Three Margies are not very good at laundering money, that’s fine; they seem to be dabblers in this sort of crime and naturally they’d leave an obvious trail.
A new story seems to have started the 3rd of June. It’s opened on the B O Plenty family. They’re hillbillies who long ago married into the comic strip. No guessing where that might lead. The last couple months have not included any one-off comic strips that seem to be there to set up long-running or future storylines. They’ve been on point to the current storyline.
Special Guest Stars Of Dick Tracy Have Included:
Will Eisner’s The Spirit
The Great Am
The Dragon Lady
I am certain I’ve missed some. The Cos-U-Con storyline included so many chances to draw characters in, and the only way to tell whether that’s actually Smokey Stover or just someone dressed as Smokey Stover is to talk with them. I do recommend going back looking over the art; there’s probably something you’re a fan of in there somewhere.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The index bounced up seven points today as investors had a spare five bucks when they noticed the reverse-bungee ride at the mall’s food court was running for a change. Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeee!
I stand in the midst of the Halloween store, trapped.
It’s one of those temporary stores, of course. What strip mall, however luxurious, could support having a Halloween store all the year round? With the collapse in the costume rental industry after that time in 2011 someone spread a rumor Netflix was opening a line of costume distribution by mail, anyway? OK, there was that spot in Worthington, Ohio, that had one going in May. But that was probably a fluke. They weren’t there the next year. Maybe they were just having too much fun selling fangs to stop that one time.
But what to buy? What to wear? What to go as for Halloween?
Halloween should be a great Halloween for me. There’s all kinds of things it’d be more fun to be than me. Someone who knows what to dress as for Halloween, for example. Or someone really confident wearing costumes for the sort of stuff I might be doing on a Monday, like going to the bagel place for lunch and reading the alt-weekly there.
My unsureness about what to dress as for Halloween goes way back. I think it does. I’m embarrassed to admit I don’t remember a lot of the costumes I wore for Halloween as a kid. I don’t think we made very many of them ourselves, because there were four kids in the household and my parents had a limit to how much time they were willing to spend collecting parts and sewing stuff so that we could dress up as something called an “Artoo” for three hours. Even if they got pictures.
I should explain this was the late 70s and early 80s, when photographs were something that took effort. You had to find that weird little camera that looked like a harmonica, and find where that flash bulb plug-in was, and find that it was totally spent. Then you had to wait to get to the store and buy a replacement. That would give you four or maybe eight flashes, good for up to six pictures. And then you could get the photos developed by driving around until you saw a teeny tiny little bitty house sitting in the middle of a parking lot. Then Mom drives up next to it, gives a roll of film, and then sometime later gets back dark, blurry pictures out of focus that clearly show some figures in the state’s fourth-place finalist, Most 1974 Kitchen Ever Contest. The one wearing the worst imaginable outfit in the picture? That’s me. And then we lose the photos in a minor basement flood. So it’s hard to tell what I was wearing back then.
At least a couple years we went to the Toys R Us and bought those licensed figure packages. You know the ones. You get a plastic face mask with eyes that don’t line up for some figure like The Incredible Hulk and then a T-shirt showing The Incredible Hulk going off and lacking credibility. It’s a surprisingly old model of costume, going back to the ancient Greeks and the year everyone went as Narcissus. People loved that outfit, especially Narcissus. But the costume industry learned the wrong lesson from that and figured we wanted to go as people who were fans of themselves. That breaks down when you’re someone like me who isn’t sure he can even be a fan of someone with enough self-esteem to be a fan of themselves. What you’d get is maybe me going out as The Incredible Hulk I Guess, if he wanted people to think he was always thinking about The Incredible Hulk while being confused and faintly disappointed in what I’m doing. I’m confused and faintly disappointed in what I’m doing all year anyway, so the costume always felt a bit hollow.
One year we got a new washing machine, and I seized on my rights as the eldest to claim it for myself. And I also grabbed as much aluminum foil as I felt like I could get away with. So I know one year I went as the ever-popular Kid In A New Washing Machine’s Box Wrapped In Aluminum Foil. I think it technically qualified as a robot costume. It taught me many things, like how I should have cut arm holes, and that absolutely nobody in the neighborhood would get that they would “input” candy to the big slot labelled “input candy”.
Then we moved, to a new neighborhood where they didn’t much like kids, and even if they did the neighbors didn’t much like us. And then I got into high school and even if I were invited to costume parties it was very important I spend every night watching The Wrath of Khan on videotape. In college it was more important I write incredibly detailed reports of what the student government was up to for the unread leftist weekly paper. It’s only the last few years I’ve tried getting into costumes again.
I grab a $4 raccoon mask and hope things will work out all right.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
Index traders would like to ask just how you know that bigger numbers for it are better? What if a lower number is better and then being down below 90 would be way better than being up above 140? Golf works like that, so why can’t the Another Blog, Meanwhile index? Huh? Is your mind blown yet?
I’m going ahead and guessing you want to know how the 80s Night came out. For me it was more dignified than the actual 1980s. It involved less weeping and much less Destro on my part. I was never in the running for the 80s Costume Contest. I did dress pretty much as I did in the actual 1980s, what with finding a shirt and a pair of pants that fit and wearing them around the correct limbs and segments of my torso. The contest was won by a women who came in a sweater so blue and puffy that it broke through previous cognitive barriers to find new yet somehow vintage colors of blue and textures of puffiness. It challenged well-known conceptual theories of blue puffiness. Everyone was outclassed, but I was outclassed the most.
Besides the costume contest there was music. If it weren’t for the music the night would just be people wearing unfashionable clothing, staring at each other, and wondering if the hipster bar wasn’t supposed to be closed that day anyway. It was and for some reason it wasn’t.
Still, running alongside the music was dancing. My love was happy to dance. I was willing to go along but am at rather a disadvantage. My love has learned such sophisticated dancing skills as “how” and “when to”. I’m still working on the part of dancing where I don’t look as though I’ve been pulled out of bed, stripped to my underwear, and shoved out onto an unfamiliar podium to give the State of the Union address. It is strong but faces great challenges if we are to remain great.
There was probably some point when I should have learned dancing. I guess when I was a teen and going to parties. Here I have to plead higher priorities. When I was in high school it was most important that I spend every Friday and Saturday night watching The Wrath of Khan. And, you know, while I was doing all that the movie didn’t change one bit. It would go on not changing for like fifteen years after that, when I was busy with other stuff and they released DVDs. I did as much as I could. I had similar results on Saturday and Sunday nights with The Search For Spock.
But my heroic sacrifice means I’m stuck for what to do when dancing. I understand that I should be moving my body, both wholly and in parts. Some part of me understands, for example, I should do something that coordinates with the movements of my love, who’s dancing in front of me. The obvious thing is to do what my love is doing. This could be in mirror — my love moves left, so I do too — or in rotation — my love moves left, so I move right. This leads me to think about the kinds of symmetry operations that are valid in dancing partners. How do they vary with dancing quartets, or trios, or arbitrary large groups of people dancing around a circle? Are they necessarily discrete symmetries or are continuous ones allowed too? This is what happens to people you let grow up into mathematics majors. By the time I’ve worked it out the DJ has finished with the Pet Shop Boys for the night.
But I’ll carry on trying anyway because I want to be a good sport. My basic move is what I learned from doing the step aerobics move on WiiFit. I don’t want to unnecessarily brag about my abilities there, but in two and a half years of daily exercise on that I got “perfect” scores on their two-and-a-half minute step aerobics literally more than four times.
None of this should imply that I raise my hands, by the way. I grant it’s theoretically possible to raise my hands above the level of my pockets while dancing. I don’t believe the rewards could be worth the risk. If I raised a hand how would I know someone wouldn’t try to shake it, or hand me the leash for a pack of werewolves harnessed together as sled dogs, or try to high-five me, or something? No, I’ll just be over here, shuffling at the steady beat of WiiFit Step Aerobics whatever the song’s beat is, circling around my love until I get dizzy and fall down. It’s what I can do well.
I do not know just how matters came to this, but the note from the Dream World is clear enough. Apparently over the course of nearly twelve years now I have been — and I want to emphasize that I did not realize this at the time — annoying her beyond the power of words to express. It seems that every single time that she tries doing some bold and showy performance in an elaborate and often sequin-bedazzled costume, she’ll have cause to touch my shoulders or something, and somehow I manage to have her costume gloves come off her hands and rest on me every single time. It may not always be gloves, it might be a scarf or bandana or some other piece of costume that comes off easily, but whatever it is, I’m just a jinx. And of course the staging of these sorts of things can’t be done to just avoid me, so I just make her performing life harder by adding a costume glitch to it.
Anyway, I am sorry. I don’t know what I’m doing that encourages it; I don’t mean to do it; I just hope that maybe we can find some safety pins or something while the show is on.
I admit normally my dreams seem to contain warnings about how to practically navigate various life scenarios. This one seems different. I’m pretty sure that this dream is telling of the next big fad in indoor mall-based entertainments, and it’s obviously got to be acted on soon because indoor malls have maybe four years left before the last one closes down.
Anyway, according to my dream, the next big fad especially among fraternity brother-model young males, is going to be renting these cheap but surprisingly well-crafted My Little Pony costumes and wandering around the mall just looking like the one that’s a kind of dusty grey. I don’t know why this would suddenly be a fad, much less how you could make these surprisingly flexible foam costumes, which are seamless except for the zipper up front, wearable for only five bucks an hour, but I have to admit, I love seeing the ordinary crowd wandering around a shopping mall with a surprising number of grey My Little Ponies puttering around silently.
This may be because along the way, all the vacant stores in shopping malls are apparently turning into unattended arcades, with another big attraction being a two-person replica of the contestants booths from Hollywood Squares, I’m guessing so people can play their own version of the game against a video monitor and recorded answers and all that. As a game show fan from way back, I approve, even if I never much cared for Hollywood Squares. It’s all a step towards getting Card Sharks back on the air.
There’s an engaging little spoof over at the Scientific American that claims the Nobel Prize in Physics is going to the Higgs boson rather than to any of the many, many people who deserve some attention and reward for that. It’s a little science-y but I think makes all the context clear enough. From Ashutosh Jogalekar’s report, so you can judge if you want to read the whole thing:
Since interviews with the particle could not be held for obvious reasons, the media was instead shown a graph displaying a bump supposed to indicate its existence. A member of CERN’s PR division also wore a large, squishy Higgs costume, doing his best to mimic the behavior of the fleeting particle as he whizzed from one end of the room to another, hid and emerged from behind a curtain and breathlessly answered questions about gauge symmetry and vacuum fluctuations.