60s Popeye: Ace of Space, in lifelike 2D


And now for another 1960-dated flying saucer cartoon. This one’s produced by Larry Harmon, so of course the story is by Charles Shows. Direction’s credited to Paul Fennell. Please enjoy, best you can, Ace Of Space.

There’s a moment this cartoon where Popeye says he doesn’t believe in flying saucers because he’s never seen one. The Popeye Wikia warns this cartoon is “Not to be confused with Popeye, the Ace of Space.” Good luck; the titles and premises are close. But Popeye, the Ace of Space is a big, sometimes frightening, theatrical cartoon released in 3-D. This is a more modest affair.

This one has a neat little twist. The typical Earth specimen that the aliens — robots, this time — pick is Olive Oyl. Popeye seems almost slighted, and lassoos the flying saucer to get back in the action. That’s also a little twist. Usually this sort of cartoon the alien has to drag Popeye in. Once Popeye’s aboard, Olive Oyl is back on her erratic anti-fighting thing. She scolds Popeye for “this nice space man! He’s just taking us for a ride!” This might set the record for Olive’s fickleness.

The Martian robot spaceman brings out a ray gun and shoots Popeye. The ray gun doesn’t seem to do much, but Popeye still gets out his “spinach ray”. This is him eating a can of spinach and blasting … a spinach flame from his pipe? Something? I’m not sure what exactly’s supposed to happen. You know, as is usual for Larry Harmon studios.

Olive Oyl watches nervously while Popeye is held at arm's length by a Martian robot.
Finally someone discovers Popeye’s weakness: arm reach.

It’s not that anything is specifically wrong. But, for example, Jackson Beck, as the news reporter for K-PLOT radio, says a flying saucer was observed “flying south over North Dakota”. It’s got the shape of a joke, but isn’t quite one, although a kid might laugh anyway. Better joke-shaped is a bit where Popeye demands Olive Oyl from the flying saucer, and the Martian Robot squirts a bit of motor oil. “Not motor oil, Olive Oyl!”

There’s a cute reversal of fortunes at the end. The robot floats out of the flying saucer, and Popeye commandeers it to fly back to Earth. The robot ends up in Popeye’s suspiciously-tiny-trunked car, though, driving that happily along. It’s a cheery enough ending to question the Popeye Wikia’s characterization of the Martians as “sinister”.

60s Popeye: There’s No Space Like Home, the rare alien-mailbox-free flying saucer cartoon


There’s a weird bit of fanfare to start the credits. So you know what that means: it must be a Gene Deitch cartoon! Except the pipe sound effect comes in time with Popeye blowing his pipe. So … not Gene Deitch? … Nope; it is. There’s No Space Like Home is another 1960 cartoon from Gene Deitch’s team and I’m sorry not to have better credits for you.

We open with Popeye reading the news about flying saucers over town. And … what, again? We just did a Gene Deitch cartoon about Popeye meeting flying saucers. Well, the subject can go a lot of ways. In Partial Post, it went really weird, with aliens taking the form of mailboxes to mess with Popeye’s head.

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.

A battered Popeye, wearing a spacesuit, slumps against the doorframe as two short space aliens in spacesuits and helmets fling the door closed. There's the confetti and ribbons of a party strewn about.
I guess when you look at the aliens and their miniskirt spacesuits you really can see how Brutus would mistake one of them for Popeye.

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.

60s Popeye: Partial Post, featuring alien behavior and a flying saucer


1960’s Partial Post is a Gene Deitch cartoon, so that’s about all the credits we get for it. I’d love to tell you more.

So, this is a weird one. I mean weird even for a Gene Deitch cartoon. I like it, mind you. I won’t think ill of people who feel the story is gibberish. But the ridiculousness is so proudly worn that I can’t hold that against the cartoon. I mean, it’s about an alien mailbox stealing Olive Oyl’s rose and messing with Popeye’s head. I’ll give it a hearing.

This has me wondering about the origins and writing of the cartoon, although not quite enough to see if Gene Deitch’s web site said anything. A flying saucer cartoon makes sense, especially for 1960. The alien messing with Popeye and Olive Oyl is inevitable from that. Why is the alien a mailbox? Why is it grabbing random objects? But rejecting Popeye’s mail? It feels like a parody of something and I can’t think what.

Olive clasps her hands together and looks happily at Popeye, who's poking his head out of the Mailbox Alien.
Do you suppose Popeye wondered what the fire hydrant was doing in that mailbox with him?

There’s some alien behavior this short, and not all the Mailbox From Space. Popeye and Olive Oyl have a bunch of dialogue where they talk past one another, or past the scenario. Like, Olive Oyl says her rose is gone, and Popeye answers, “yeah, it’s real gone,” like he thinks he’s in a Beatnik cartoon. Or, as the Space Mailbox tries to inhale Olive Oyl, Popeye says, “That’s a pretty good trick, but I thought you wanted to go for a walk.” These are lines funny for being inappropriate to the scene. I like the comic style of characters talking past one another (see every episode of Vic And Sade). But again, I understand the viewer who keeps asking, “The heck am I watching?”. Popeye getting to Olive Oyl’s and saying how “the feeling is mucilage” is great, though.

As typical, Deitch animates cheaply but well. It starts with a good use of a long camera pan to simulate animation. If the aliens had any reason to send a mailbox, it must be that this is an easy figure to draw. There’s lots of shots of the characters looking funny. As far as I know there wasn’t any overlap in animators between this and Jay Ward studios. But they had a similar attitude that limited animation doesn’t justify drawing boring poses.

I won’t fight you if you don’t like this, but I’m happy with it.

Picturing Me


So the new thing in the world of competitive pinball is not telling people the world of competitive pinball exists. That’s the old thing. It goes back to when pinball first started being competitive, which was about ten minutes after the second guy saw someone doing it. But the new thing is “Selfie Leagues”. This is a thing where they base your seeding in a tournament on your high score during some qualifying tables the weeks before the match. You prove your score by taking a selfie with the score displayed. And we know people can’t cheat because of that big, distracting thing over there.

I’m not a natural selfie-taker. I have no objection to them. It’s just I’m not much on taking pictures with people in them at all. I’m one of those people who can somehow photograph a boardwalk on the Jersey Shore at the height of summer and catch the one moment everybody’s ducked inside for a frozen custard. Or at least is looking away as if embarrassed. The height of summer is 14 feet, two inches.

I have some photographs of people. Most I took on dares. And I have a couple pictures of myself too. Most of those are from the early 2000s, when I lived in Singapore, and per request I got some pictures of myself in front of local landmarks. This was to prove to my parents that I was in Singapore and not just slow about answering their e-mails. I should probably send them some pictures sometime. But those were old-fashioned pictures of me, done with a camera tripod and a timer. Oh, I could have asked someone to take a picture of me, but that would involve me talking to a person and I went from 2003 through 2005 not doing that.

When I look over the pictures I took of myself I notice a couple things. The first is that I don’t look good. I couldn’t help that. I was quite fat at the time. That’s because, as I’ve mentioned sometimes, somewhere around age eight I realized that instead of eating a bagel I could eat two bagels. Also that instead of eating a bagel smeared with a little cream cheese, I could eat a bagel smeared with as much cream cheese as I could load up on before my parents caught me. And, now, I’m from what we regard these days as a large family; nearly all of us are over nine feet tall. (My little brother is the only one who’s not, and that’s because the rest of us kept pressing his head down while we were growing. He makes up for it in other ways, such as by punching us in the shins.) Large-family folks learn to make and eat food as fast as possible, before anyone can catch us. I’m not saying I’m an Olympian-class competitor for eating the 25-meter bagel. But I could go on to regionals and hold my head high, as long as I held my upper lip higher.

But the thing about being fat is if you’re also tall, then you don’t look fat. You just look badly proportioned, like you’re drawn by an art student who’s not quite good enough not to use references, or maybe by an elephant working on her MFA. So I have pictures of me standing beside, say, the sign at the Cavenagh Bridge as the unrealistic part of the scene. The Cavenagh Bridge is this small downtown pedestrian bridge that has an old sign warning about how it just looks like you’ve spelled the name wrong but you haven’t. (It’s named for Major General William Orfeur Cavenagh, so the committment to looking like it’s not spelled right goes back a long way.) If you visit Singapore you’re required to get a photograph of it. I was able to stretch a two-year contract into four years by “happening” to forget my camera when I went downtown that way.

Police notice: Cavenagh Bridge: The use of this bridge is prohibited to any vehicle of which the laden weight exceeds 3 cwt and to all cattle and horses. --- By order, Chief Police Officer.
Singapore’s Cavenagh Bridge, photographed by me. Me nearly wholly omitted for clarity. Elbow awkwardly poking in from the right: me. Messenger bag I’m carrying: one of maybe a dozen identical ones my father picked up free from a company he did consulting for in like 2001. For a decade after every time one wore out, usually by the strap breaking, I grabbed the next off the stack.
The ‘cwt’, or ‘hundredweight’, is an old British measure for a weight which is not a hundred pounds.

I could improve a photograph of me by having less of me in it, of course. But that gets balanced by other problems. Particularly, the less you see of me the more you see of my face. I have three expressions in this kind of picture. One is, “Is the timer ever going to go off?” The next is “My eyes look closed, as if I’m asleep”. The last is “I’m trying so hard to not look asleep that I look as if I’m watching cattle transmogrify into flying saucers right here in the middle of the hipster bar! I don’t dare blink lest I miss the good part”.

But since those days I’ve lost a good bit of weight. (I didn’t really lose it. I just tucked it all in these plastic bins I left in the cellar where nobody will see them, because they’re disgusting.) But the result is I have what pass for normal proportions. And with other people, folks who aren’t me, taking the picture I can focus on better facial expressions. If I’m just off thinking about whatever, I have the look that says “the water bill’s been uncharacteristically low the past three months. I wonder if the metering system is faulty”. If I’m really interested what’s going on, paying attention to it all, my face expresses, “the FOOLS! I shall crush them all!”

Despite all this progress I’m not good at being photographed. Which all ties back to my original point which was … wait, let me check. Pinball? … This was about pinball? I … huh. Well, that’s what it says up there, isn’t it? Weird. I’m going to have to think about this and come back next week with an update.