60s Popeye: County Fair, and that’s about all there is to say about it


Are we back to 1961? Yes, we’re back to 1961, and Paramount Cartoon Studios. County Fair is directed by Seymour Kneitel, like every Famous Studios or Paramount Studios Popeye short. The story’s credited to Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer.

The Popeye Wikia for this short summaries it: “Popeye and Brutus are farmers who enter a county fair contest to see who is the best. As per usual, Brutus resorts to cheating.” It’s a struggle to think of more to say about it. This group of people had been making Popeye cartoons for 28 years when this was made. They could probably have done it in their sleep.

What I expect from a Paramount-made cartoon, here, is that it’ll be crafted correctly. The animation will be sluggish, but it won’t have errors. The writing will be plain, but will make sense. We’ll never have a baffling fiasco of a cartoon. The worst that will happen is the cartoon will be dull.

And that’s what we have. It’s your standard Popeye-versus-Brutus contest, going several rounds with Brutus cheating. Remarkably his cheats work half the time. In this sort of setup I expect either all the cheats to work or none of them to work. The score being tied at the last event is novel. Also the last event is spinach-eating. That’s an odd choice; all the other events sound like County Fair contests. But, it’s a Popeye cartoon, the spinach has to be somewhere.

Farmer Brutus and the pig he holds looking shocked and amazed that Farmer Popeye has his arms full of dozens of wrapped hams.
Oh, here’s the other moment of personality this cartoon. Popeye winning the hog-calling contest demands he do something spectacular with calling a hog. So it has to be either he gets an enormous number of pigs, or at least one tremendous pig, or, this, here to horrify that adorable pig Brutus has.

Fleas a Crowd I liked as a solidly competent cartoon with flashes of wit or imagination or silliness. Here’s another cartoon solidly competent. It lacks those flashes, though; even the cartoon’s title is a generic content description. Its only distinctive part is Popeye and Brutus trying to distract each other at the tastiest beef-burger contest, about 7:00 in the video. (Why not say ‘hamburger’? Surely there weren’t enough turkey burgers or other variants in 1961 that you’d need to specify a beef-based hamburger.) They do a couple rounds that are almost literally, “Hey, look at the distraction!” I can imagine being annoyed by this and calling it laziness if I were in a foul mood. As it is, I’m basically happy, so I see it as a gleeful embrace of the artifice or something.

Still, I’ve watched this cartoon three times in the last 72 hours, and will remember nothing of it 72 hours from now.

60s Popeye: Popeye Thumb, the most Seymour Kneitel-iest of cartoons


There are a lot of King Features Popeye cartoons that do fairy tales, yes. But how many of them have a story by Seymour Kneitel, and direction by Seymour Kneitel, and are produced by Seymour Kneitel on top of that? You’d think there was no one else at Paramount Cartoon Studio in 1961 to help with Popeye Thumb, our cartoon for the day.

There’ve been a bunch of Popeye fairy-tale cartoons. Most of them seem to be framed as Swee’Pea demanding a story. Here’s one with a bespoke frame, though, in which the fairy tale is supposed to illuminate some problem on Swee’pea’s part. I like this as structure for a story. It must take a bit more work to introduce a bunch of generic kids playing baseball and for Swee’Pea to have woes with them. It does slow down getting into the “real”, fairy tale, story. But we open with Popeye walking along, scatting, so they can’t have been too pressed for time. It’s not the full scat, though. Just an abbreviated version.

The fairy tale itself is a version of Tom Thumb, like the title suggests. Popeye’s cast as Tom. Poopdeck Pappy’s cast as the father. I don’t recognize Popeye Thumb’s mother. She’s circling around the Sea Hag character design, but not, you know, ugly or anything. Olive Oyl’s cast as the Good Fairy who hears their wish for a son. They don’t make the wish aloud, but I suppose fairies don’t have to hear only what you say. Pappy did neglect the part of the fairy tale where he wishes for a son, even if he were only as large as my thumb. So giving them a tiny son seems like a weird passive-aggressive bit of spontaneous wish-granting on Olive Oyl’s part.

Scene of Poopdeck Pappy, dressed as a farmer, in a rocking chair; he and his wife are thinking of a son, who's Popeye in overalls with Elvis hair holding up a bushel of apples. Olive Oyl, as a fairy princess, watches over and waves her magic wand at this scene.
Writing challenge: 30 minutes writing a story to fit around this image. Advanced level: explain why Popeye is Roy Orbison.

That’s an unimportant quibble. What gets me about this tale is that Popeye Thumb doesn’t have any real conflict. I mean, in the original fairy tale, Tom Thumb spends his days getting swallowed by stuff. In the 1958 George Pal movie, he has some adventures at a carnival and saving his mother from the guards and whatnot. Here? He plants a spinach seed, and uses the strength from that to plow the fields, and uses the profits from that to buy his parents a castle with a TV and a butler who turns the TV on. I guess it’s nice having a story where everything works out well. It seems like it undercuts the value of it as a parable about not letting small size stop you from achievement, though.

No matter. Swee’Pea takes the hint, and Popeye’s spinach, and intrudes into the baseball game to hit a home run. Everyone loves this and wants him on the team and we’ll never see the baseball players again.

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? Why is Gasoline Alley in reruns? March – May 2020


I don’t know why Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley went into reruns this last week. GoComics commenter 436rge asserted that Jim Scancarelli is preparing something for the 100th birthday of Skeezix. This seems plausible. Skeezik’s arrival in the strip made this comic. And others; it’s a landmark in comics history. It was key in giving us comic strips that are about people with life stories. And strips in which characters grew older and changed. It would be odd if Scancarelli did not make a big production of this.

Skeezix entered the strip the 14th of February, 1921. I have no information about whether Gasoline Alley will be in repeat through February of next year. It’s possible, but it’s not a sure thing.

If you’re reading this essay after about August 2020, we’ve probably left farms far in the distance. There should be a more up-to-date plot recap in a post at this link. Thanks for reading.

Gasoline Alley.

2 March – 23 May 2020.

So shy are farms like scrapbooking, but for food? A couple years ago the schoolteacher in Gasoline Alley promoted scrapbooking to the kids, as a good creative thing they should do. And Jim Scancarelli’s comic strip talked about it a lot. Or so it felt like; probably it was just a month or two of the characters being really into scrapbooking. That memory’s lodged itself in the Gasoline Alley snark-reading community, anyway. It’s a fun reference whenever a comic strip seems to start obsessing over something, whether it’s Mary Worth and CRUISE SHIPS or Gasoline Alley again and … farms. So that’s what I was on about last week.

Baleen Beluga, the new and personality-rich waitress at Corky’s diner, was getting closer to T-Bone, the cook. He’d like to get closer to her too, but rejected her Sadie Hawkins Day proposal trick. I don’t know the details of the Sadie Hawkins tradition but I’m pretty sure getting someone to agree that “I do [ know what leap year is ]” doesn’t make a breach-of-promise suit. Her feelings were hurt by T-Bone’s reluctance. Then her body was hurt, by slipping on the floor somehow. And you know what that means: visiting mirror-touch synesthetic physician’s assistant Peter Glabella at the clinic.

Beluga, crying: 'Boo-hoo! You care more for the soup than you do me!' T-Bone: 'Please don't cry, Baleen! Listen! We've got to work here at the diner! Let's talk about all this later!' Beluga: 'Leave me alone!' (Black panel filled with crashing noises: BANG! CRASH! E-YOWCH! Tinkle!) T-Bone: 'Baleen! Are you OK?'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 7th of March, 2020. I swear I’m not one of those needlessly literal readers who needs every single step explained. But I’d like to know what Baleen was doing, sitting down, that she could fall badly enough to hurt herself. Also I’m not sure that if I were doing the strip I’d have put ‘TINKLE’ there, just because, you know, bad laughs.

After a couple weeks of waiting-room gags Beluga meets Aubee Skinner. She’s the three-year-old latest generation of the comic strip’s star family. And we follow her and her mother home, to Rover Skinner. (Grandson of Walt Wallet, original centerpiece of the strip.) The handoff is done … oh, I’ll call it the 24th of March. You could date it as early as the 12th, when they arrived at the clinic, if you like. Or the 19th, when Aubee climbs into Beluga’s lap.


Rover is getting ready for the Farm Collective’s meeting. And he talks his teenage son Boog into coming along. (Wikipedia tells me Boog was born in September 2004, and Aubee in September 2016. So, yeah, these ages still check out for being real-time.)

The point of the meeting: to promote “saving our farmlands”. Attending the meeting are a bunch of the local farm families. Skinner’s thesis: without family farms, they’ll pave over the land, there’ll be no food, and people will starve. Checks out; that’s what must happen. But Skinner expands on the problem: land is expensive. And that’s all he mentions before explaining his special guest speaker isn’t there yet.

The Molehill Highlanders band plays, particularly, the World War I ditty “How’re You Gonna Keep ‘Em Down On The Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree?)”. Boog sees in this century-old paean to the dullness of farm life a way to get people excited about farm life. His father agrees, and soon everyone is buzzing about their campaign’s theme song. Also they have a campaign, I guess. Charlotte, Boog’s girlfriend, also has a great idea. Wouldn’t it help cut down farm expenses if local teens did the farm work, but for free? It sure would!

Boog: 'Hey, Pops! Charlotte came up with a cool suggestion! How 'bout us teens helping out some farmers with chores, planting, etc etc? They wouldn't have to pay us and ... ' Boog's father: 'How about you doing chores, etc, around your own home for free?' Boog and Charlotte: 'Gulp!' Comedy Parrot: 'Oh, brother ... er ... father!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 27th of April, 2020. Wait wait wait, have an agricultural labor force made up of unpaid and under-paid persons from a socially disadvantaged group? Is that possible?

She’s thinking internships or something. Anyway after all this, special guest speaker Eric Helmet arrives. He’s got a broken tractor and a bunch of farm-life jokes. And talks about how farming is expensive and hard. But, he figures, what if they had some kind of outreach program so that people understood agriculture? Also, Don Henley wrote “A Month Of Sundays”. That’s a fanciful ballad imagining a time in 1957 that bankers were friends to farmers.

Eric Helmet, speaking to the crowd: 'My memory must be in erase mode! I forgot to tell you something! There's a song by Don Henley called, 'A Month of Sundays!' It's about a farmer's feeling and the changing times! You can Google the lyrics! They sure are poignant!' Comedy Parrot: 'Does that mean *loud*?'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 11th of May, 2020. Now, if you google the melody instead of the lyrics, you find out Don Henley forgot to write one, but hey, some folks like that.

I don’t mean to make this sound disjointed. But what we see on-camera is disjointed. And shallow, considering it went on for about two months. I’m willing to trust that in “reality” Helmet talked in some detail about being a struggling farmer, or as it’s known technically, “being a farmer”. And I understand Scancarelli wanting to tell corny but amiable jokes. It’s more readable than the screwed up parts of agricultural policy, or as they’re known technically, “all of agricultural policy”. But it did read like a slightly weird obsession.


There’s no handoff to the current storyline. It just started the 18th of May. It’s also a repeat, something I would not have noticed (at this point) without reading the comments. It originally ran from the 19th of April through the 5th of June, 2010. So that’s six more weeks of this storyline. As it is, Walt Wallet is home from the hospital, after a stretch of being a hundred and twentyten years old. Gertie looks over his pills and worries about the side effects. We’ll see what happens after the 6th of July.

Next Week!

Why does James Allen’s Mark Trail look weird? I’ll share what I have learned. (I have learned nothing.) But we’ll see what the story has been.

Farmer Al Falfa and Kiko the Kangaroo: The Prize Package


And you know, what the heck, let’s keep going with the Terry Toons cartoons. Here’s one that brings together Farmer Al Falfa and the other silent or near-silent star, Kiko the Kangaroo, and what’s probably as close to an origin story as Kiko can get. It’s a fairly strongly plotted cartoon for the era, and I am curious whether the people at Paul Terry’s studio knew they were introducing a kangaroo that’d be good for a number of cartoons. The Terry Toons wiki, which of course exists, says Terry Toons introduced the cartoon after drawing inspiration from Mickey’s Kangaroo, a success over at Disney. Apparently only ten Kiko cartoons were made, over the course of two years, and she doesn’t seem to have been adapted into TV shows or comic books, but was merchandised for a while.

If all that isn’t fascinating enough, below should be an embedding of the same cartoon only converted at the wrong speed, allowing you to run an experiment regarding just how the timing of a joke affects the comic value of it.