The 21st Talkartoon: Twenty Legs Under The Sea (there’s more; I counted)


There’s a new animator credited in today’s Talkartoon. Willard Bowsky’s turned up repeatedly here, including in Wise Flies and Swing You Sinners!. The new name is Tom Bonfiglio. He’d do a couple more Talkartoons and then, if I’m reading this right, jump over to Disney studios. After that I have a looser sense of what’s happened to him. At some point he changed his name to Thomas Goodson. I can find one biography of Joe Barbera suggesting Goodson worked at Van Buren Studios in the mid-30s. And I can find another biography suggesting Goodson was working in educational films in the 1960s. That’s not much, I admit. It’s what I have.

So here, from the 5th of May, 1931 — just a week and a half after The Male Man — is the next Talkartoon in the series, Twenty Legs Under The Sea.

There’ve been a lot of underwater scenes in animation. They’ve always been hard to do. There’s great freedom in characters not having to stick to the ground. But it’s also hard to convey the resistance water offers to movement. And there’s the convention of putting a wavy-motion visual effect over everything, even if a real camera wouldn’t see anything like that. I think it took until Finding Nemo for a cartoon not to use that convention.

This is another cartoon where Bimbo’s pulled into a surreal landscape. He isn’t quite simply minding his business. If he’s going fishing, it’s fair that the fish respond. Even in Swing You Sinners Bimbo did something to earn his torments. But it supports my idea that the animators knew they had a reliable story here. The good part of these Bimbo-in-surreal-landscape cartoons is they give lots of space for weird gags, and the Fleischer Studios were really into weird gags. The bad part is that it wipes out Bimbo as a character. If he’s too screwy a character then he’s not inconvenienced by being in a screwy setting. A strong character in a crazy setting can work, because Duck Amuck, but Bimbo’s no 50s Daffy. He’s not got enough to do to stand up to the setting.

Also this isn’t so wild and surreal a cartoon, really. It starts off promising: Bimbo trying to fish, having a few little weird incidents, and then getting pulled undersea by a giant fish/whale who’d asked for help putting the hook in his mouth. He gets a shave from a lobster barber, and then … is … the King of the undersea world suddenly? Some more songs and then he leads his people to their death. It’s a punch line reminiscent of the grimness of The Cow’s Husband although after many fewer gags.

It’s weird that what we see underwater is a barber and then a throne room. My understanding is that in the silent era shorts were plotted by giving a lead animator the theme and letting them do what seems amusing. I’m not sure how much that was still going on in this era; making the cartoon match with a soundtrack loosens how much the people drawing it can improvise. Bimbo puttering around a town where everything’s normal but it’s done by sea creatures makes sense as a cartoon. Bimbo finding himself somehow king of a weird place makes sense as a cartoon. Shifting between them without obvious reason doesn’t make sense, and in the bad ways. I wonder if one scene was animated by Bowsky and the other by Bonfiglio/Goodson. I also wonder if some connective tissue was lost, or just never animated. The short comes in at 5:52. The last couple weeks have been just over six minutes, and, for example, The Cow’s Husband is seven and a half minutes long. Even ten seconds can be a lot of plot.

There is a lot of music. After the lack of any really featured cartoon last week there’s an abundance now. Anchors Aweigh, My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean with some good bits of a whale and the Sun fighting it out, a bit of doggerel that I guess you’d call We’re Going Over To Maggie’s (which I can’t find information about, so I guess it’s original to the short? Or a now-forgotten folk song, maybe), what I guess is an original piece about We Are The King’s Bodyguards. The last has a riff that sounds to me like Merrily We Roll Along, which was a then-very-new song. (And isn’t it weird to think that song was ever new?)

There’s no mice. Where would they even fit in? (Easily: just put a couple in the boat.) There is a really solid body-horror gag as a pair of fish swim ahead of their own bodies, so their faces and skeletons can eat tiny turtles about 4:25. (Yes, their skeletons swim ahead with their faces. It’s a little hard to make out with the contrast as it is here. Watch as they emerge from their bodies and as their bodies catch up.) The sun trying to bite at the whale/giant fish is a nice touch of weirdness. And I would rate as a blink-and-you-miss-it joke how Bimbo’s lighter doesn’t work when he’s in the boat (he has to do a nicely complicated bit of lighting a candle), but works perfectly when he’s underwater.

I can’t call this a good cartoon. It’s an amiable one, and I’m not sure that We’re Going Over To Maggie’s isn’t going to become part of the soundtrack of my puttering-around-in-life. But there isn’t a story, just a string of set-pieces. And the set-pieces are all nice enough, but not all that exciting or funny or weird. There’s some stronger ones coming.

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Watching Some Cartoons: Educated Fish


I realized I haven’t done one of those posts where I talk about a cartoon in a while. So here’s one. It’s from every 1930s animation fan’s favorite studio if they don’t admit that, yeah, Disney was doing amazing things then: Fleischer Studios. (It is hard to come up with an era when Disney wasn’t outclassing everybody on technique and story, although they often could be beaten for comedy or pacing.)

This is Educated Fish, an entry in the Color Classics series. It was originally released the 29th of October, 1937, and it was nominated for Best Animated Short. It lost to, of course, Disney, which put up the short The Old Mill the 5th of November. Tough competition; The Old Mill is the short in which Disney unveiled the multi-plane camera, as well as special effects for rain, water, wind, and careful realistic depiction of animal behavior. Disney would use the technology and skills showcased in that to make Snow White, Fantasia, Bambi, and a long train of cartoons after that. It’s hard to argue with the Academy’s choice.

I’m a bit sorry to get on the competition. Educated Fish can’t really compete. It’s a competently done example of the naughty-child-repents genre. There’s not enough of the Fleischer studio’s real strength, clever mechanical design. The flashes that are there of it elevate the cartoon, as do the more energetic moments. The structure of the plot doesn’t allow for fast stuff to happen until the end; when it does, the cartoon picks up.

Still, there’s some fun bits. The sardines arriving in a tin is the sort of thing that tickles me. The student giving the teacher an apple. The lesson being done as music. The naughty Tommy Cod playing pinball in his desk — alas, in that era, pinball machines were flipperless. Tommy swimming so fast he pulls his skeleton out of his body, the sort of whimsical body horror that made the Fleischer cartoons famous. The cartoon doesn’t reach the full potential of Fleischer studios, but then, fish are really challenging things to animate. It’s a good question whether anyone did them well before Finding Nemo. I mean besides Disney’s whales. You know how it is.

In Which I Am Amused By Fish Lip Research


Before I get to it, here’s my mathematics blog with last week’s comic strips. Thanks.

Now, amusing me is this Reuters article about a kind of fish I never heard of before, the “tubelip wrasse”. It lives in the Indian Ocean and the central-western Pacific, which seems to narrow its existence down to one-eighth of the globe. I suppose that’s enough detail for a news report anyway. It’s not like I was going to go visit them anyway, not without more research. What’s interesting is that it eats corals, which are hard to eat, what with how they’re all coral-y. The secret is in their mouths: they have mouths that let them eat coral, and once you have that, eating coral is easy. Anyway, they have this quote in:

“To our knowledge, this type of lip has never been recorded before,” James Cook University marine biologist David Bellwood said.

It’s a beautiful sentence and I want everyone to take a moment just to admire that. But it’s also a beautiful sentence with this beautiful implication: there’s some record of all the adequately studied lips out there. There are people whose jobs include the task of overseeing and keeping up-to-date some portion of the world’s record of lips. Maybe even someone who oversees all the lip records known to humanity. Suppose there is. Then that is a person who either grew up wanting to be the master of humanity’s record of lips, or else it’s someone whose life went through twists and turns to bring them there. Either way, is anything about this not delightful? No, it is not.

If that were not enough for you, somehow, Víctor Huertas of the James Cook University in Australia offered this detail about the coral-eating process:

“It looks exactly like a quick kiss with a distinctive ‘tuk’ sound,” Huertas said, “often leaving a coral ‘hickie,’ which is actually a patch of flesh sucked off the skeleton.”

Never mind the stuff about flesh ripped off skeletons since that isn’t so jolly as I’d hoped. Think of fish giving hickies to coral and making a little ‘tuk’ sound doing it. You’re welcome.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose eighteen points today as investors thought it was just too hot to short any contracts, however obviously they’re set to fall. It sounds good for everyone who’s going long but, you know, heat snaps end. Just saying.

221

Statistics Saturday: 22 Kinds Of Mongoose Or Rabbit Ordered By Center Of Mass


  1. Arctic Hare
  2. Common Mongoose
  3. Volcano Rabbit
  4. Banded Doomed-Madagascaran-Marshlands Mongoose
  5. Invisibunny
  6. Meerkat
  7. Silver Marten Rabbit (which sounds like somebody being ironic or something)
  8. False Dwarf Rabbit
  9. Anglican Slender Mongoose (Reformed)
  10. Flat-headed kusimanse
  11. Mongoose Civique
  12. Bluffing Giant Hare
  13. Furtive Upper-Tailed Cape Gray Mongoose
  14. Belgian Hare IPA
  15. Mer-goose (properly, a fish which takes on the appearance of a mongoose in order to punch snakes)
  16. Morekat
  17. San Jose Brush Rabbit
  18. Trans-Canada Pika
  19. Robertson square-headed kusimanse
  20. Antelope Jackrabbit (which is not a jackalope we swear)
  21. Thumper
  22. Yellow Mongoose

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose twelve points as investors’ moods were buoyed by surveys asking what they would do if they had a robot donkey friend, with factions split between whether this would be a regular four-hoofed robot donkey or if it would be a humanoid robot donkey with two hooves but able to, like, shake hands and stuff like people swear they remember from that 80s cartoon about robot cowboys in Space Texas and that wasn’t just a crazy dream. Anyway, everybody’s enthusiastic after all this robot donkey friend talk.

165

Statistics Saturday: Aquaman Enemies That Sound Like The Jokes You’d Make About Aquaman Enemies


Excerpted from Wikipedia’s list of Aquaman enemies.

Character First Appearance Wikipedia’s Description
Captain Rader World’s Finest Comics #127 (August 1962) Undersea pirate, used submarine disguised as giant fish.
Electric Man Adventure Comics Vol. 1 #254
(November 1958)
Roy Pinto was an escaped prison convict who decided to keep a low profile. His specialty was electric eels. Constantly handling them mutated him, granting him immumity to electric shocks. Later escaped from prison with five other villains in JLA No.5 to battle the JLA, but was captured by Green Arrow.
The Fisherman Aquaman vol. 2 #21
(May 1965)
A villain who uses fishing gimmicks to commit crimes, member of the Terrible Trio
Gustave the Great Adventure Comics #261 (June 1959) AKA the Animal-Master; an expert animal trainer, Gustave would perform daring crimes on the side. Since Aquaman stopped him while in action, Gustave swore revenge.
The Human Flying Fish Adventure Comics Vol. 1 #272 (May 1960) Vic Bragg was a swimming champion before turning to crime, before he fell in with Dr. Krill, the brilliant medical doctor and marine biologist who had also turned to a life of crime. After several months of recovery and training, Bragg began his career as the Human Flying Fish. One of the few Aquaman villains to appear in the Super Friends comic book.
Iceberg Head DC Special Series #6 (November 1977) Ice creature, caused worldwide cold wave so world would be frozen like himself, convinced by Aquaman, Aqualad and Mera to desist, “melted” and became water creature. [ Editorial note: ahem. ]
The Malignant Amoeba Adventure Comics #135 (December 1948) Giant artificial life-form created by scientists, eats everything in its path; the scientists spent ten years containing it until it escaped and encountered Aquaman.
The Octopus Man Adventure Comics #259 (April 1959) Roland Peters, conducted illegal experiments on marine life to transfer minds between species, transferred Aquaman’s mind into different fish.
“Shark” Wilson Adventure Comics #203 (August 1954) Criminal who was magically transformed into a shark.
Taggert Aquaman #19 (January 1965) Unethical showman who enslaved Atlanteans.
Tom Lariar Adventure Comics #170 (November 1951) Used telepathic machine to command fish to commit crimes.
V’lana Action Comics vol. 1 No.539 (January 1983) Current Queen of Xebel a kingdom located in Dimension Aqua, and enemy of Queen Mera.

So, wait, there are laws about developing fish-mind-swap technology? I guess I’m glad there’s some regulatory oversight. I’m just wondering which is the governing body. And are the fish-mind-swap and fish-mind-control technologies independent lines of fish-mind science or do they blend together? Like, what’s the difference between two fish swapping minds and two fish controlling each other’s body? Anyway it’s really just “Dimension Aqua” that gets V’lana on this list.

Nothing To Do With Grand Strategy Games, Really


Sorry, I’d like to say something funny about a grand strategy game, or something that’s going on around town. But I’ve been too busy kicking myself over a really lousy performance on my part at restaurant trivia night last night. Also that it’s possible to train fish to spit at certain people’s faces, which solves so many problems! But mostly that the satellite navigator thinks the word is pronounced “rester-aunt”, like, your mother’s sister who can be counted on to nap. I suppose I just don’t understand the modern world.

About This Typeface


This book was typeset in Moins Michael. The typeface was first crafted by a now-unknown craftsman in 1540s Warsaw. We think he was well-liked in his circles at the time. It stayed behind to wait for the first typesetting machine to reach the Polish capital. This made a good laugh since at the time Krakow was the capital of Poland, and they’d had typesetting machines since like the 1470s. Good joke on everyone, wasn’t it?

The typeface was popular with authors who had much to write about fish. The descenders made for rather good hooks that didn’t tend to catch the boring kinds. This is a rare accomplishment for typefaces of the era. Even much later ones such as Caslon are known to attract interest from ugly and unattractively-named fish that we only catch and eat because we’ve already eaten everything else in the sea.

The typeface was implicated in various partisan struggles during the era of the English Civil War, the Protectorate, and the Restoration. Following a well-placed tip it fled London just ahead of the Second Anglo-Dutch War. Though safe it did lose some of its less interesting letters, such as tet or cade. Though this would lose it much work in the setting of Phoenician texts, the typeface was now more slender and nimble. It enjoyed a reputation for hussling better and this would serve it well in the times ahead.

Moins Michael held out for a long while against an italic form, claiming that such a space-saving form was beneath its dignity. So it might be, but then you have to explain its blackletter variant. The best we can say for that is it was the 1740s. This explains all, to those who are sympathetic.

A major opportunity for the typeface came about in 1869, when it had a chance to appear in the evacuation-of-Moscow sequences in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s War And Peace. This was thanks to the help of some friends playing a prank, whom the typeface later forgave. One of them was only forgiven in 2010, so don’t go thinking it’s a patsy. It’s just willing to be reasonable when there aren’t any alternatives left.

The Great Depression was a difficult time for it, but you could say that about anyone. But, despite temptation, Moins Michael held on to its investment in selenium stocks an as a result had a nifty latter half of the decade. There were persistent rumors the typeface was bribing comedians to make jokes about electric eye and other photo-sensing technologies so as to boost its stocks. But no allegations were ever proven. And most of the investigators recovered from when they accidentally slugged themselves across the back with crowbars eighteen times.

The typeface returned to Warsaw in 1954, but couldn’t find anyone it still remembered and the restaurants didn’t seem any too good. It was being fussy and wouldn’t even talk to anyone. It apologizes for the wasted trip, saying it now understands how to be a good tourist and more open to promising experiences. Case in point, in its 2006 visit it had nothing but great times and in the suburbs found the “most unbelievable” Thai place in existence. We could not verify the most-ness of its unbelievability before press time.

A noteworthy quirk that many of the typeface’s advocates praise is that Moins Michael has no space. Historically typesetters would use spaces from a compatible font, such as Garamond or Bodoni Extra Spaces. Computer versions of the typeface include a space created by the foundry company. Piracy lawsuits are often settled by the tell-tale differences in the interpolated spaces.

Moins Michael had hopes of being the first Western typeface to orbit on a spacecraft. Though it performed well in all the physical exercises it got cut from the program in favor of a sans serif typeface. That was to save weight. It considered bringing a discrimination lawsuit. But the courts have always been unwelcoming to this sort of complaint, being as so many of their documents are filed in monospace. It asserted to have no hard feelings about the matter, and did buy a flight to the International Space Station for one week in 2002.

This text was set in 14 point. It may appear smaller than that, owing to the typeface’s habit of leaving two or three points in the junk drawer just in case.

Betty Boop’s Life Guard


Previously listed as a first Betty Boop:


Each of the last several weeks I’ve said it was the last of the Betty Boop firsts. I’ve been wrong each time. I thought of another and this time I think it’s the last of the firsts, and why would I be wrong yet another week in a row?

Betty Boop’s Life Guard came out the 13th of July, 1934. This makes it the first of her cartoons released after the creation of the Production Code Administration, the enforcers of the Hays Code. Their rules about suitable public entertainment would tamp down Hollywood’s most risque elements. And Betty Boop would be tamed.

This cartoon doesn’t show much harm its post-Code release. Betty Boop isn’t introduced with her “Made of pen and ink/ She can win you with a wink” refrain. Many commentators say that, and her winking and hip-shaking, were too suggestive for the Hays Code. I haven’t seen a source for that.

But the plot’s appealing. The opening shot, of the seashore and waves removing and putting back the beach crowd, is one the studio would reuse into the 1950s. They were right to; it’s a good gag. Lifeguard Fearless Freddy warns Betty about going out too far in the ocean. She’s confident because she has her inflatable rubber horsey. I’m amazed to learn they had inflatable rubber horseys in 1934. They barely had men going shirtless at the beach back then.

Still, as foreshadowed, Betty’s inflatable rubber horsey deflates, and she goes underwater. This presents a nice sequence of undersea jokes featuring Betty as a mermaid. Everyone goes about singing “Where’s Freddy?”, up to the point that Betty gets chased by a sea serpent. The sea serpent reminds me of the Jabberwocky from Betty In Blunderland, Betty Boop’s Alice In Wonderland/Through The Looking-Glass cartoon released in April of 1934. For that matter, the plot is pretty much that of Betty In Blunderland, a fantasy sequence of Betty in a surreal and wondrous land interrupted by a monster come to grab her away. Betty In Blunderland is a great cartoon, worth attention on its own. I’m not surprised the Fleischers would remake it just three months later. It seems a little odd that Betty and everyone else are so hot for this Freddy fellow, but wondering where he is at least gives something for the musical number to be about.

So here’s a question: how much did the enforced Hays Code affect the cartoon? The Production Code Administration was only established the 13th of June, 1934, too late for major changes in a cartoon getting released a month later. But the newly enforced code wasn’t a surprise dropped onto Hollywood from nowhere in the middle of June either. The very similar Betty In Blunderland would probably have passed without major changes. That Betty Boop was famous for risque jokes didn’t mean that was all she could do.

In Life Guard there’s a little bit of business about 5:30 into the picture with a Jewish rag-collector fish. It seems to me like it should have run afoul of the Code’s prohibition of “willful offense to any nation, race or creed”. But perhaps it like too many ethnic jokes was perceived as just playful. Goodness knows blackface jokes would take decades to finally register as objectionable.

Betty Boop’s cartoons generally got less entertaining after 1934. It’s easy to blame the Hays Code, although this entry shows that perfectly sound Betty Boop episodes could be made under its dictates.

Statistics Saturday: How Many Things It Takes To Make A Hundred Of Things


Thing How Many It Takes To Have A “Hundred” Of That Thing
Bowstaves, oars, and staves for hogsheads, as well as other certain types of pieces of wood 120
Canvas and linen cloth 120
Cod, Ling (which turns out to be cod), and Haberdine (which is also cod) 124
Dried fish that’s somehow not just cod? 160
Drinking glasses 100, mercifully
Eggs 120
Fish, not excluding herring 120
Onions, Garlic 225
Pins, Nails 120
Sheep or lambs, in Roxburghshire and Selkirkshire 106

Reference: http://www.sizes.com/units/hundred.htm, from the Index to Units and Systems of Units page, which is just absorbing every minute of my time anymore because there’s things like a “stathmos” that’s equal to “about five parasangs”, which clears up things if you’re in Ancient Greece and taking units from the Persians when they aren’t looking.

Questions Inspired By Great Science Fiction Covers of the Past


So, over in the world of DeviantArt, the Peterpulp account has been posting various cleaned-up images of old magazine and book covers. A couple days ago he posted this cover, to Brian Aldiss’s Bow Down To Nul, which I never heard of before either though I’ve heard of Brian Aldiss. Naturally it raises questions, to follow.

Seriously, isn't that Lyndon Johnson fighting off an alien by using a fish?
Peterpulp (of DeviantArt)’s posting of the cover to _Bow Down To Nul_, by Brian W Aldiss.

So:

  1. Is that Lyndon Johnson in the spacesuit there?
  2. Is Lyndon Johnson trying to stab the alien monstrosity by using a fish?
  3. Why?

I suppose the last is the easiest to answer, though. Obviously Lyndon Johnson’s plan is to offend the alien by making it think that he’s not taking the invasion the least bit seriously. The alien will stew over this and feel so offended it’ll go off and invade Vulcan or Endor or someone who’ll try to fight back with something that’s a serious weapon instead. I bet it ends up commiserating with an alien that quit an invasion when the resistance met it with yarn and bags of raked leaves.

The Leaves and the Fishes


Some good news on the yard front. With the help of a pilot boat that the chipmunks sent out I found the main drainplug, and pulled it, and based on the leaf level it should be drained enough to start raking within about eight days.

Meanwhile, the goldfish in the pond have taken note of the increasing cold and told me that I have until the count of ten to do something about it. I asked them to put me on my honor while I work out a solution to it all and they’ve allowed this so far, but, obviously, that isn’t going to keep them satisfied forever.

Once Again, Our Fish Protest


We had to put a net up over our pond in the backyard, because there’s about 700 trees in our and the immediate neighbor’s yards, and come this time of year we get approximately every leaf in the world falling on them, and it already takes roughly from the 15th of November through the following July to rake them off the land. The water just gets unmanageable. So we put up a net that catches the leaves for two or three days, then bows into the water, and then every weekend we go out and haul in a fresh supply of leaves which we bring to the farmer’s market, where the organizers throw sticks at us until we flee. It’s a very civilized process.

This year, though, we’ve got fish, and it’s their first autumn in our pond. They saw the net going up and now they keep banging on the side door and saying, “Hey, man, I thought we were cool. What’s with the net?” And they just are not getting the leaf thing. Also, they’re tired of this cooler weather and told us we should turn the summer back on. I’d like to oblige but we’re almost out of summer coupons for this year.

In Which I See Through A Chipmunk


So I was eavesdropping on that troupe of squirrels doing improv in the backyard when I noticed there was this chipmunk, dressed in a bow tie of all things, looking up at me and grinning in this way that just screams “sunflower seeds”. I tried to just sort of smile and shuffle off without committing to anything, but he started talking about how great it was that this gang had a venue in which to perform now, and how they were looking ready for great things, and how somebody really sharp with a modest investment could see them rocket out of the sticks and into at least regional importance.

I tried not to look offended that my backyard — mine, mind you — was being called the sticks, and I didn’t explain that all the giggling from the pond was not because it’d been installed as a laugh track (“it’s wonderfully awkward, laughing at all the wrong beats, it really throws the performances into this whole new area, and challenges the audience” which what?) but because we’d put fish in it.

Still, I made my getaway as quickly as I could. I know when somebody’s warming up to hitting me for cash.

Something For The Water


Long-term readers might remember I was having problems back at the end of winter with our pond sneaking out of the backyard and making a mess all over the neighborhood. The obvious thing to do was get some fish, since that way the pond would be too busy to go sneaking off, right?

Sure. Well, the fish-getting and putting-in went well and we haven’t caught it sneaking off. But it turns out we’ve somehow got a ticklish pond and every time one of them flicks a fin, it starts giggling. And no, don’t go suggesting we trade it in on a babbling brook, since we know better than to get into that kind of a fix.