What’s Going On In Judge Parker? Why did Abbey burn down her hotel? August – November 2021


I mean, for the insurance payout to salvage something from a failed business? At least that’s the obvious motive for the obvious suspect. What we don’t know is whether how much to trust what we’ve seen. Later on I go over some possible explanations and what does or doesn’t make sense in them.

There are many ways that Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker could go. This should catch you up to where it is as of mid-November 2021. If you’re reading this after February 2022, or news about the comic strip breaks, you may find a more useful plot recap here.

In my other project, describing mathematics terms, I got up to “Triangle” last week. There are so many things people can say about triangles. I tried to not say them all.

Judge Parker.

29 August – 20 November 2021.

An early-morning fire destroyed Abbey Spencer’s failing bed-and-breakfast in time for my last Judge Parker recap. So that’s been the big important event and focus of how things changed in the summer-to-autumn time gap. I’ll get there.

[ An early fall day in New York City ... ] Toni Bowen: 'So how are things, Sophie?' Sophie: 'Well, Abbey's worried she's going to be charged with Arson soon ... Sam is in hot water because of a massive lawsuit he filed against the town .. .and Neddy just texted me that the trailer for her drama series is online.' Bowen: 'Wow ... I actually meant how are things at school.' Sophie: 'Oh. I did laundry yesterday. So you know I rocked my Saturday.
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 26th of September, 2021. Yeah, so … that covers this essay, really. Thanks for joining me. See you next week if all goes well!

But first the sideline. The trailer for Converge, the series inspired by Neddy Spencer and Ronnie Huerta’s writing, dropped. Thrill for them and for Huerta’s fiancee, Kat, whose last name I can not find. Less thrilled: April Parker, who kind of held Neddy and Huerta at gunpoint to make them Tell Her Story Right. They complied, yes, but there’s no controlling how TV shows mutate on the way to production. Also we learned that Charlotte is with April Parker. We presume the missing Randy is too, but haven’t yet seen that.

Neddy returns to Cavelton to support Abbey in her troubles (see below). Huerta wants to use the chance of “housesitting” Neddy’s place to get some breathing space from Kat before their wedding. She explains to a Kat who did not have any idea Huerta wanted to be away from the person she was marrying. They have a discussion that escalates quickly. Neddy reassures Huerta that Huerta and Kat will get back together. That’s been a painful side plot. Not that the reactions of everybody hasn’t been plausible. We’ve seen Kat being insecure and high-maintenance. Also perceptive and quick to cut through the ways people kid themselves. We haven’t seen enough of what makes Kat desirable, although that perceptiveness and sincerity is a solid start.


On to the Spencers. Abbey’s devastated by the fire. Also by the verdict that it was arson. Mayor Sanderson vows, at every public event including ordering lunch, to investigate every reason Abbey Spencer did it.

Abbey, at a confrontation in the coffee shop: 'Now, wait a minute! I didn't burn down my B-and-B!' Woman: 'Then who did? Elves? We heard the mayor! We know you don't pay taxes!' Abbey: 'But I do pay taxes!' Woman: 'Yeah, a check every year to the mayor's campaign fund!' Next woman in line: 'Wait, I thought she and the mayor were enemies.' Man: 'They're all crooked, but at least the mayor's telling the truth!'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 20th of October, 2021. So I know order-through-our-apps and self-checkouts are scams to offload the work of customer service on people who are already paying to be customers. But also, mm, I see the value in setting up life so as not to interact with humans.

And it takes hold. In a weird scene at the coffee shop the cashier, and other customers, harass Abbey for being at fault for everything wrong in town. This seems at first like a weird reaction. Like, the previous mayor of Lansing got in a lot of fights with people, but I can’t remember anyone who cared enough to join in. He fought mostly city council members, or other political figures. The owners of a just-built bed-and-breakfast destroyed in a fire that luckily didn’t kill or hurt anyone, or any animals? Why get in on this fight?

But I can make the town caring sound more plausible. The Spencers also owned the aerospace-factory-turned-clothing-factory that collapsed in a sinkhole. That was the first story of Francesco Marciuliano’s tenure as author. Yes, that was Neddy Spencer’s project, and was in no possible way her fault. Fault would go to the site surveyor, the architect, and whoever supervised construction. But I understand the general public not caring about fine distinctions like that. It’s fair all they know is every time there’s a disaster that puts Cavelton into the regional news the Spencers are there.

So the family gathers around Abbey for support. Neddy comes in from Los Angeles. Sophie takes the semester off. Sam Driver keeps pointing out an indictment isn’t everything and besides they made bail. And then Deputy Mayor Stewart, taking a break from his job of making faces of pouty concern about Mayor Sanderson, steps into Driver’s office.

Driver protests, correctly but not for long, that he and Stewart can’t talk about anything while Driver has his suit against the mayor going. That lawsuit alleges Sanderson evicted people illegally for a gentrification project. Stewart talks oddly, too, for example saying he wants to get through this conversation before “I get so bored I ruin everything for the both of us”. Bored is not the feeling Stewart should be having in this moment.

Stewart holds out the prospect of getting the charges against Abbey dropped. And getting Driver to win the gentrification lawsuit. Driver listens, which seems like a believable failing of professional ethics.

Sam Driver, quoting Stewart: ''Enhance'?' Stewart: 'I mean zoom in on the drone footage of your B-and-B. They always said 'enhance' in 90s movies even though in real life in the 90s all they could get was pixels ... but thankfully, today we can get a much clearer picture.' We see the laptop screen showing a woman carrying cans of something to the B-and-B.
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 18th of November, 2021. So I guess Deputy Mayor Stewart is just one of those people who talks like he’s the self-aware fourth-wall-breaking character in a lightly comedic movie. I can’t say that’s the easiest sort of person to deal with. But I also admit more than once I’ve refocused a conversation with my love by asking, “So what do we do on this here podcast?” so we’re all difficult in our own ways.

What Stewart has is drone footage of Abbey Spencer carrying accelerants out to the bed-and-breakfast ahead of the fire. Not established yet is how any of this could help Abbey Spencer, Or how it could get the lawsuit about wrongful evictions settled.

Who Burned Down Abbey’s B-and-B?

So the obvious question is did Abbey Spencer burn down her own bed-and-breakfast? If not, who did? So here’s my quick thoughts about suspects.

  • Abbey Spencer (in her right mind). The obvious suspect, with a clear motive, as the B-and-B was a money pit. But, without expert handling, this could damage Abbey’s character beyond repair.
  • Abbey Spencer (not in her right mind). She burned the place down, but was sleepwalking or in some kind of altered mental state. This answers the objection that the B-and-B had survived the worst year it could have and would be less of a money pit for the future. But could mental illness, to the point of endangering lives, be handled in the story comics in a tasteful, appropriate manner?
  • Senna Lewiston. Abbey’s secret half-sister, seeking revenge on Abbey for “stealing” the comfortable life. She’s presumed dead, but we never saw the body.
  • April Parker. Presumably able to disguise herself as anyone useful for the plot. Motive is inscrutable. But she’s off in the world of super-hyper-ultra-secret agents where motive can be inscrutable anyway. Revenge on the main cast for somehow not doing something more? “Liberating” the Parkers or Spencers from Cavelton and get them to join her and Sophie and (we assume) Randy Parker? Revenge for how the show based on her story’s come out is untenable. The fire happened well before the trailer came out.
  • Plus+. Or someone connected with the show made about April Parker and Godiva Danube. They have actors who look uncannily like the Spencers for some reason. The motive would be publicity. But we’ve been signalled the people making the show are low-rent. That’s nothing like “willing to risk killing someone in the hopes it somehow gets a thousand new subscribers”.
  • CIA Agents. The motive here would be flushing out April Parker. Or getting the Spencers and Parkers to suddenly remember something they’ve been concealing. Or some other inscrutable reason.
  • As-Yet-Unknown Agents. It could have been someone we’ve never seen or suspected before! Some might complain about throwing in new villains, but, it would expand the setting and open up new sources for chaos.

My bet? I’d put about half my stake on Senna Lewiston, a third on CIA Agents, and a sixth on Abbey Spencer not-in-her-right-mind. But I don’t write any narratives more complex than MiSTing host sketches, and don’t get any tips either. If someone’s heard something on a Judge Parker podcast, please let me know.

Next Week!

Mole men! A suitor for Aunt May! The last Roman Emperor of the West, still alive in the 21st Century! It all comes together in
Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s The Amazing Spider-Man!

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? Did the widow Rufus was dating die? July – October 2021


No. The current Gasoline Alley story mentions the old Emmons house, and that the widow Sarah, resident there, had died. That is not that woman dating Rufus in an incomplete storyline from 2017. Rufus’s date was the Widow Leela, or as I knew her, the Widow Emma Sue and Scruffy’s Mother. We haven’t seen her since the comic strip came back from its never-explained long hiatus in early 2018.

So this should catch you up to mid-October 2021 in Gasoline Alley. If you’re reading this after about December 2021 there’s likely a more up-to-date recap here. And if news about the strip breaks out I’ll share it at that link too.

And if you’d like some heavier reading, my Little 2021 Mathematics A-to-Z is a glossary of mathematics terms. The second essay of this year’s set tried to explain Addition, and how we can tell it from multiplication.

Gasoline Alley.

19 July – 10 October 2021.

I last checked in near the end of the story where Rufus and Joel get strange signals from outer space. They spent a week or so talking about that, and then went off to their job garbage-collecting. They passed Boog and Aubee Skinner, the young kids who’re the latest generation of the Wallet clan. And that, the 4th of August, was the transition to the current story.

Ferd Frog: 'You thought I was going to say I was a prince, weren't you? I'm a prince of a fellow; handsome; and I sang country music until I was turned into a frog!' Aubee: 'I don't believe it!' Ferd: 'Kiss me and you'll believe it!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 14th of October, 2021. I don’t know, I’d think hearing Ferd try would prove he hasn’t sung country music since he was turned into a frog. I don’t know why Ferd said “weren’t you” instead of “didn’t you” in the first panel there. I suspect a last-minute rewrite went wrong.

Aubee has a school assignment to collect leaves. She skips a rock across a pond and hits a narcissist unicorn talking frog. Ferdy’s an old friend of Boog, who of course talks with the animals. The rather large Ferd asks for a kiss on the lips to restore his ‘real’ life as a country music singer. She has enough of his schtick and he leaves, saying the only way for her to grow is “older”. Which is true but seems like the punch line for a conversation they didn’t have.

The next animal met is Boog’s best friend, Bear. Who is what you think from the name, and so frightens Aubee. Boog is still too young to understand how to keep people informed. Bear has seen her before. Her mother, Hoogy, was a very pregnant forest ranger and went into labor deep in the woods. But Bear and his forest friends knew where to find Chipper Wallet, Physician Assistant. (Gasoline Alley has more good things to say about physician assistants than even the American Academy of Physician Assistants does.) It’s a swiftly-told tale of the animals grabbing Chipper by his shirt and pulling him over to the very pregnant lady. From there, they let nature take its course.

Bear: 'Temptation is something that leads you into a situation that sounds good, but you might not like it later! So if you kissed Froggy, he would have gotten a kiss ... and you would have gotten a bad taste on your lips! See?' Aubee, making a sour face; 'Yuk! Yes!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 17th of September, 2021. Boog knows the frog as Ferd, by the way, while Bear speaks of him as Froggy. I’ve gone with ‘Ferd’ because Boog, as a friend of the frog, seems more likely to be addressing him by his preferred name. This is the sort of thing I have running around my brain.

After that tale Bear mentions how Ferd is a hoax, trying that “country singer line” on people for years. And she shouldn’t give in to temptation, such as the temptation to kiss a frog. It’s a good lesson, I guess, although she was never tempted and nobody suggested she was.

Bear then moves into telling about the dangers of forest fires. It’s another good lesson, I guess. And it’s presented with some good creative work, the kind where Jim Scancarelli shows off his drafting skills. It’s also something that hadn’t been an issue. Bear mentioned how he and Boog had saved each other from “school bullies” and “forest fires”. And later mentioned the pair had been in three forest fires since Boog’s birth in 2004. This seems like many forest fires, especially as they have to have come before I started doing these recaps like five years ago. But then Bear goes on to share some of his anti-forest-fire poetry, hammering down a lesson nobody needed to learn. Aubee and Boog hadn’t been doing anything that could start a fire, or even talking about doing anything.

Bear: 'Aubee! A tiny spark can cause a tremendous catastrophe!' Aubee: 'How?' Bear, speaking over a large panel in which the trees of the forest are arranged to spell out the word 'FIRE', itself burning, or are reacting in horror and leaning away from this fire: 'Easy! That tiny spark can start smoldering in a pile of dry leaves! It'll grow big, then bigger, and in minutes it will catch our forest on ... ' and the word balloon leads up to the blazing tree sculpture reading 'FIRE'.
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 21st of September, 2021. I admit I’ve had trouble following the connective tissues between the conversations Aubee’s having with Ferd and Bear. This even though each individual conversation makes sense, and offers chances for good stuff like this second panel. It could be Bear is just someone who figures he’s got to be dispensing life advice, even if there’s no help needed. Kind of a Polonius/Dean Pelton figure. Yeah, maybe that works.

Rain starts, so Aubee and Boog head to their mother’s ranger tower. They forget the leaf collection in the surprise downpour, but not to worry, Bear brings it to them. And talks with their mother some, somehow not warning her about the danger of transporting firewood great distances. (It spreads invasive insects.) This, the 2nd of October, seems to finish that story.


Back home, Hoogy shares that the forest rangers are putting on a Halloween party. They don’t have a spooky enough place for it, though. The kids suggest the Emmons house, fallen into disrepair since the widow Sarah died. And that’s where we are on the new story, started the 4th of October. I look forward to sometime just before Christmas talking about how this Halloween story turned out.

Next Week!

Rather more bees than we had expected visit us in Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail, if all goes to plan. See you there!

What’s Going On In Judge Parker? What happened to Randy Parker? June – August 2021


Randy Parker had taken his daughter Charlotte and disappeared, at the urging of ex(?)-wife April, last time. This to foil a vaguely-reasoned CIA plot to murder Randy and Charlotte to flush April out of hiding. We have seen nothing of Randy and Charlotte and April since then. We don’t even know that they got away and that the evil CIA plan failed. That doesn’t mean their disappearance hasn’t devastated the rest of the cast. And that’s been much of the focus the past three months.

So this should catch you up on Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker to the end of August 2021. If you’re reading this after about November 2021, or any news about the comic breaks out, you may find a more useful essay here. And now, to recap what has gone on.

Judge Parker.

6 June – 28 August 2021.

Some, more inclined to snark than I am, will say nothing happened. Hardly so, but I’ll grant that much of the last twelve weeks read like setting up for new things to happen. These things divide into four major focuses and I’ll take them as separate pieces.

First: Neddy Spencer. Her plans to hang around Los Angeles and someday find a place get kicked up when Ronnie Huerta and Kat get engaged. Which makes it even harder for her to keep crashing at Huerta’s place. She picks out a “beautiful little 1930s Hollywood-style bungalow apartment” that’s not guaranteed to not be haunted. As her first visitor, Huerta points out Spencer has been doing Los Angeles stuff for three years and not had a romance plot yet. So I’m looking forward to Neddy Spencer finding whoever is the exact opposite of Funky Winkerbean main character Les Moore.

Ronnie Huerta, toasting: 'Get this --- our series is premiering this November! Right after Thanksgiving!' Neddy Spencer: 'Our show about a murdered actress, assassins, and a drug lord is being pitched as a holiday show?' Huerta: 'No, no, I mean, I hope they don't mean that. Huh ... Maybe we should ask if we can get a peek at the marketing ... ' Spencer: 'Either way, that does deserve a toast.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 28th of August, 2021. Oh, also, the show that Neddy and Ronnie Huerta pitched is actually made and airing. Remember they wrote it under April Parker’s direction to tell The Truth About Her Life. And they (as would make sense) lost control of the series and had little but a created-by credit for it. Still, that’s great work for them. And it sets up a new conflict with April Parker, if she gets out of Secret CIA Jail.

Second: Alan Parker, original Judge of the strip, and Sam Driver, who took over the comic in the 60s. Alan’s been hit hard by the loss of his son and granddaughter, finding comfort in drink and misanthropy. He also blames Sam Driver for not doing something to keep Randy out of CIA Jail or a Norton plot or whatever. Driver pushes his way back into Parker’s life, arguing that they need a mission and he has a useful one. This in forming a new law partnership, one that can sue Cavelton Mayor Sanderson for gentrifying the people out of the city. Parker, in time, accepts. And it gives him a new energy and purpose.

Mayor Sanderson, ranting: 'What was that? I'm blindsided at my own press conference by a baseless lawsuit?! FROM DRIVER AND PARKER OF ALL PEOPLE?!' Stewart: 'We can --- ' Sanderson: 'Did you know anything about this, Stewart?!' Stewart: 'Um, I found out in the middle of your press conference ... ' Sanderson: 'From who?!' Stewart: 'Someone on my staff texted me.' Sanderson: 'So why didn't they tell ME directly?' Stewart: 'Because you told everyone to go through me so you wouldn't have to deal with them.' Sanderson: 'So you're saying it's my fault I'm out of the loop. Real classy, Stewart.'
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 25th of July, 2021. So you feel a bit for Stewart as we’ve all had to deal with a person who interacts like this with everyone. But he did decide he wants to be Deputy to this Mayor. I am interested how we’ve several times seen him noticing the boss is nuts but without (so far as we know) taking any effective action.

Their first lawsuit starts great. They file on behalf of tenants arguing they were wrongly evicted so Sanderson could sell property to a corporate donor. This catches Sanderson off-guard at a press conference. And it lets Deputy Mayor Stewart add to his collection of faces of pouty concern.

Third: Sophie Spencer. She’s facing a second year at college having made no friends in New York City. And her only serious friend in Cavelton is Honey Ballenger, who she hasn’t been talking with much. Ballenger calls, though, and they reconnect. Partly over lunch, more over early-morning jogging. They never meant to stop talking, they just lost the power to call the other first. It’s a feeling I know and I wasn’t even ever kidnapped by Abbey Spencer’s previously-unknown half-sister. One early-morning jog they’re almost run off the road by fire trucks, heading …

The top, throwaway, row is Sophie Spencer crying 'Nooooo!!!' The main Sunday panel is a single picture of fire crews working on a massive fire destroying Abbey Spencer's bed-and-breakfast.
Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker for the 8th of August, 2021. The local news mentioned (16 August) the fire as “captured on multiple cell phones”. But it was also a fire that started during Sophie and Honey Ballenger’s 5 am run, and in a place that’s out of town. Who were all the people with cell phones? It’s possible that’s a plot point for development. Or it could be that a massive fire lasting for hours with smoke visible from miles away drew onlookers. In theory, I suppose.

Fourth: Abbey Spencer. Her bed-and-breakfast, made out of converting (part of?) the horse barn, has been a money pit, from doing the renovations and from opening at the start of the pandemic. Indeed, its first event — a rally for Alan Parker’s mayoral campaign — brought Covid-19 to Cavelton (17 August). So is it a good thing that the whole structure burned to the ground in a catastrophe that hurt no person (or horse)? Is it a suspicious thing? Mayor Sanderson was happy to assert, on TV, that the city would investigate every reason Abbey might burn the place down for the insurance money (18 August). We have yet to see what caused the fire, or that it was the CIA trying to make Randy Parker’s family suffer enough that he turns in April Parker. Or that something else happened. (Now I like the notion that Randy and all have been in Secret CIA Jail as we assumed April’s super-spy super-skills got them super-out of super-trouble.)

And this is where we stand at the end of August.

Next Week!

Time and space travel! A secret discovery at the Apollo 11 landing site! All this and video games as I look at Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop next week, all going well. And yes, ordinarily I’d be looking at The Amazing Spider-Man. I’m bumping that a little bit so I can cover the end of the Rocket Raccoon story and, so, have a neat wrap-up to the What’s Going On In Spider-Man series. Not to spoil things too completely, but Spider-Man and Rocket Raccoon save the Earth.

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? Does Mark Trail still look all weird? March – May 2020


Yes, it still looks weird, although it’s looking less weird. I still have no explanation.

I apologize if this isn’t as merry a plot recap for James Allen’s Mark Trail as usual. I’m tired of how much misery my country will go to rather than punish killer cops for killing an innocent man we saw them kill. I don’t have a lot left over after that.

Anyway I’m hoping this catches things up to the end of May 2020, though. If you’re reading this after about September 2020 there’s probably a more up-to-date plot recap here. And, if you like other kinds of comic strips, I’ve been reviewing mathematically-themed comic strips on my other blog. You might like that.

Mark Trail.

8 March – 31 May 2020

The story had started the 29th of February, with Mark Trail joining Geoff Aldridge, head of the Forest Explorers. The Explorers do nature outings for “troubled children”. So we got a lot of parents and kids introduced all at once.

Also the art style was weird. The unsourced rumor I keep hearing is that James Allen had to move in with a relative to provide support and care. And, away from his studio, he’d had to adapt to new drawing techniques, which probably means digital art. That takes time to learn. When this story had started, Comics Kingdom commenter George K Atkins hypothesized that the strip was presenting a comic strip drawn by Rusty Trail, rather than “real” events. It’s a great hypothesis, but, it’s not so. It’s a shame; that would have given Allen plenty of time to learn how to draw in strained circumstances.

At the campsite some of the kids start mocking Kevin, a homeless kid. Rusty invites Kevin along, though. Kevin’s inexperienced in things like fishing. Geoff Aldridge is kind and supportive, but other kids see weakness. Eric Crowley particularly takes the chance to attack. Meanwhile Geoff Aldridge mentions to Mark Trail that the Crowleys are thinking of adopting someone. It’s a nice though, although it added a slight reality-show “Who Wants To Be Adopted” cast to the proceedings.

Eric: 'Don't think I don't know what you're doing ... ' Kevin: 'Huh?!' Eric: 'You don't have a family of your own, and you're trying to steal mine!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 26th of March, 2020. Later, the Young Funky Winkerbean will wonder if he said anything to drive Kevin off. They’ll bond, though, over the junior novelization of Starbuck Jones III: Starbucker Jonesiest.

At night Eric reveals motivation: jealousy. He suspects Kevin is trying to steal his family. But he promises Kevin, nobody likes him. Kevin resolves to run away. Rusty overhears him leaving the campsite and offers to join him. And, in a moment of cleverness, sets his alarm clock to wake Mark Trail and bring adults after them. In a moment of less cleverness, he sets it to go off in an hour, rather than like, ten minutes. Still, for a kid, it’s good quick thinking.

The alarm clock gambit works, though, waking Mark Trail, who rouses the other adults. And Rusty’s left clues to their trail. Also he’s left a thunderstorm brewing. That’s great news: a good storm will do something about the drought. Specifically, the lightning will set the brush on fire. So that’s our big Attack of Nature for the story, which kept to the one. But Rusty and Kevin are walking toward the wildfire.

In a forest fire, a woman and child run as a flaming tree trunk falls toward them. Kevin calls out: 'Look out behind you!' They leap(?) and avoid the flaming tree trunk's fall.
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 27th of April, 2020. It’s an exciting scene, and shows that Allen is getting more comfortable with drawing figures. Compare it to the tent scene from the above comic, or from ones from earlier in March. I admit I’m not sure what they did in response to Kevin’s warning, though.

Mark Trail, unaware of the fire, organizes a search. Eric admits what he did and why. While the adults plus Eric set out in search parties, Rusty and Kevin encounter the fire. They turn around for the campsite, and along the way find Eric and Mrs Crowley. A burning tree threatens to fall on Eric and Mrs Crowley, but Kevin saves them by shouting a warning. Eric and Mrs Crowley are happy, of course. And Mark Trail hears the shouting too, so everybody’s able to gather together in the forest fire.

They move together, getting first to the campsite and then to their vehicles. This is in time to meet the fire fighters. Everyone gets out safe. And the forest fire can be put out before it does too much damage.

Eric apologizes to Kevin, and says he hopes they can be friends. Kevin shakes his hand. And, Mr Crowley announces his intention to adopt Kevin. It’s a happy resolution, although it also feels a little like a bonus prize round rather than a moment of true affection.


The story wrapped up the 23rd of May, with Aldridge inviting Mark Trail to future camping trips. Mark Trail thanks him, but says he wants to go home to spend time with his family “and my big dog Andy”. It seems like a curious declaration, until you know that the current story is an Andy special. It has Andy, playing loose in the yard, wandering over to a home under construction. He jumps into a truck trailer ahead of some rain, because you know how dogs hate getting wet and muddy. The truck driver, not noticing Andy in the trailer, closes it up and drives off. Andy’s missing, then, and that’s the start of the story.

Sunday Animals Watch!

What nature does Mark Trail want us to watch out for? The last couple months it’s been this:

  • Police dogs, 8 March 2020. Dogs are great. Don’t force them to become cops.
  • Pikas, 15 March 2020. The other lapine, besides rabbits and hares. They’re great. Human-caused climate change is killing them.
  • Banyan Trees, 22 March 2020. Wait, they’re fig trees? Really? Wow.
  • Animal tracks, 29 March 2020. They’re all amazing. People creeped out by raccoon paws? You all are wrong.
  • Jellyfish, 5 April 2020. They’re not like in that Popeye cartoon but they’re still weird and wondrous.
  • Müllerian Mimicry, 12 April 2020. That’s the thing where one dangerous creature camouflages itself as a different dangerous creature, so that anything preying on it turns to camera and goes, “Seriously? … Not. Fair.”
  • Poison Ivy and Poison Oak, 19 April 2020. Yeah, it’s actually not trying to poison you, by the way.
  • Birds, 26 April 2020. Bee hummingbirds are smaller than you would think!
  • Tornadoes, 3 May 2020. Not the kind you get on the hot-roller grills at the gas station. They don’t issue alerts about those. (The alert would be “they’re out of the cheesey pepper-jack tornadoes”.)
  • Hippopotamuses, 10 May 2020. Most of their attacks on humans are caused by people playing that song too much at Christmastime.
  • Frogs, 17 May 2020. The Wallace’s Flying Frog can actually glide from tree to tree, reminding us what a shame it is that the comic strip Spot The Frog didn’t last.
  • Pigs, 24 May 2020. Mark Trail is a fan of much of Pink Floyd.
  • Thorn Bugs, 31 May 2020. They avoid being eaten by making themselves look like thorns. This keeps them alive, if you call that a life.

Next Week!

Uh-oh! Dawn was trying to have an emotional life! Could Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth fix that? We’ll see next week.

60s Popeye: that time he tried being Popeye the Fireman


It’s another Jack Kinney-produced cartoon this week. This one gets a story by Osmond Evans, a new name around here. Osmond Evans is also the animation director, which means I go in with no idea what it’s going to look like. Or what the story will be like. So here, then, is 1960’s Popeye the Fireman.

So this … this. It is a good idea for a cartoon. Popeye as a fire fighter? Sure, why not, as long as he’s not sailing he might as well be. He’s done it before, but that was hundreds of cartoons ago. We can revisit an idea. Popeye rescuing Olive Oyl from a high-rise hotel fire, and it turns out to all be Brutus smoking a cigar and punching? Yeah, that’s a reasonable skeleton. Hang some extra incidents, a couple jokes, maybe a little action and you have a competent cartoon.

You see where my opinion is going. The cartoon appeals to me right away, as the title card becomes the action. It’s a good start. We get a very stick-figure animation of Olive Oyl, but that could be forgiven. Then it turns out the cartoon really wants to be that cheaply animated all throughout. It’s no crime to be cheap, or even to look cheap. But there is a point where it’s distracting how little animation is going on, as for example Wimpy at about 18:00, chewing by having two frames swap out, once a second. That looks bad. When it gets cheap enough we have to infer what’s meant to go on? Here, I mean Popeye sliding down the ladder at about 21:03. It looks like the ladder is folding up. No; it turns out Popeye’s supposed to be sliding down it, breaking each rung.

But I can’t write this off as a sloppily-animated short. There’s a couple pieces where the animation gets really interesting. The most striking part is, like about 20:15, where the camera zooms in and out as Popeye, on the ladder, moves up, and the background moves alongside that. It’s a complicated shot, for all that it really is just sliding cells. It conveys a lot of movement, and a lot of three-dimensional movement. It’s not as lush as the equivalent scene would be in a late-30s Fleischer Popeye. But it evokes that, and within the budget and personnel constraints of these 60s cartoons. There’s a little bit around 19:47 where Popeye wheels the fire truck’s ladder around and to the front. That’s again movement in three dimensions. It’s startling. It’s great to see something leave the plane of the stage that so much of the action’s confined to.

Popeye holding on to a ladder that's elevating past skyscrapers. He's seen from in front.
Also I notice a lot of this cartoon sees Popeye with both eyes closed, which maybe balances out those cartoons of this era where Popeye has both eyes open all the time.

Yet again I wonder about the makings of the cartoon. It’s easy to imagine that this was Evans getting a director’s credit, and focusing his time on a couple of choice moments while letting the rest slide. I don’t know this, though. The IMDB doesn’t even list this short among his credits. It does say Evans was a segment director for the Mr Magoo version of 1001 Arabian Nights, and a couple of shorts in the 50s. So he can’t have been completely inexperienced. But perhaps he was new to the severe constraints of limited-animation tv of the 60s.

There are a couple interesting filigrees in the writing. Little bits like Wimpy considering it wasteful, at the fire call box, to have to break the glass and pull the lever. Or a bit so small and weird that it seems like a production error. The fire’s reported at the Hotel Star (see 18:38). When Popeye gets there, it’s the Hotel Ozmund (see 20:05). Is it meant to be something sharp-eyed viewers notice and chuckle at? I can’t tell. But all this is all along the way of a very slow story. It takes about twelve minutes for Popeye the Fireman to hear about the fire, and then another 34 minutes of rolling through traffic to get the fire truck to the Hotel Ozmund Star. There are a few jokes along the way, but there is a lot of easy-to-animate padding too.

As I say. It’s a good idea for a cartoon.

What, Just For This?


A six-storey industrial building photographed as fire spills out of several floors.
“A raging fire broke out at My CK building in Tampines on Wednesday (Aug 17). (Photo: Calvin Oh).” Tampines is a neighborhood in Singapore and the name is three syllables, tam-pin-ease, so now if you go visiting you won’t go calling it “tam-pines” and sound like a tourist in your head. Few of us go touristing in our own heads anyway since the landscaping is pretty dull there.

Aren’t you afraid of overreacting, BCA, whatever your initials stand for? I mean, they think the fire’s out and everything.

Well, it took a week but my mathematics blog is on about comic strips again. I write about stuff that isn’t comic strips too, but that takes more work.

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