60s Popeye: Which is Witch, inviting the question: what was Popeye’s objective here?


We’re back to 1960 now, and back to Gene Deitch’s studios. So there’s no story credit and the producer credit is William L Snyder. I don’t know what the organization of these videos is. So here’s Which Is Witch to watch.

Something it’s hard for kids to learn is that just because a good guy does a thing doesn’t mean they’re doing something right. A hazard of stories, especially short ones with familiar characters, is jumping to the action without justifying it. This is a good example. Popeye and Olive Oyl are sailing to Sea Hag Island. Why? They’re going to surprise her. All right, but why? Sea Hag eventually mentions she’ll get back to piracy. But it’s not clear she was doing anything before Popeye stirred up trouble.

Yes, yes, of course. Sea Hag’s a villain, we know she’s villaining even when Popeye isn’t there. But, as of the start of the cartoon, what has she done that needs a response? Going off living on an island shaped like her, and running an army of off-model Goons? (They’re the same model Goon as in Goon With The Wind, so I suppose this is how Gene Deitch liked them to look.) There’s warnings there, but what is Popeye responding to?

If we get past the motivation problem, though, we’ve got a pretty snappy cartoon here. Popeye’s sneaking up fails. Sea Hag has, of course, a duplicate robot Olive Oyl ready to dispatch and stir up trouble. We’ve had duplicate Popeyes before; I’m not sure if this is our first duplicate Olive Oyl. We also have the Sea Hag’s pet vulture. In the comic strip he’s named Bernard. Here he’s Sylvester. I have no explanation for this phenomenon.

Olive Oyl pointing an accusatorial finger at her robot duplicate, who's turned away, frowning, with its heart dangling sadly on a long spring. Popeye looks on at the confrontation.
Trapped in a dungeon with his girlfriend’s heartbroken robot twin, or as Popeye knows it, “Monday”.

There’s also a bunch of little points that almost but don’t quite make sense. Olive Oyl sees Popeye kissed by a woman about Olive Oyl’s height and about Olive Oyl’s weight and wearing Olive Oyl’s clothes, on the Sea Hag’s island, and her first suspicion is not “the Sea Hag’s pulling some stunt”? Popeye left his spinach behind in the boat because … ? The Robot Olive Oyl is more in love with Popeye than willing to follow the Sea Hag’s directions. That one I’m all right with, actually, since the slightly-too-perfect duplicate is a good bit.

Despite my doubts about the plot, the cartoon’s got a lot to commend it. A good pace. Pretty fluid animation considering its limits. A lot of camera pans to make a little bit of motion seem like more. A plot with twists, too, as the Sea Hag outsmarts Popeye’s sneaking-up, and the Robot Olive Oyl betrays the Sea Hag. Some pretty lively voice acting, too, especially from Jack Mercer.

This is another cartoon with a wrong title, though. Which Is Witch, and a premise that there’s a duplicate Olive Oyl, implies a story where it’s hard to tell two Olives Oyl apart. Popeye’s a little confused, but it doesn’t last, and it doesn’t complicate the story any. I wonder if the title fit the story outline, but the finished product mutated away and nobody had a better title.

I’m still left wondering, in an echo of a Mystery Science Theater 3000 riff: what was Popeye’s plan? Go in, get captured, and escape? Mission accomplished, I guess?

What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? Is Gil Thorp really not doing a pandemic story? April – June 2020


Yeah, so, as of the end of June, 2020, Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp has not mentioned Covid-19 at all. The story strips, as I’ve mentioned, have trouble addressing fast-moving real-world events like this. Even a strip that only runs dailies, like Gil Thorp, has a lead time of at least two to three weeks. And a whole storyline should be sketched out months ahead of time. Granted I suspect that the word “should” there carries a large load. I’m sympathetic to wanting not to throw out large amounts of work, and putting off addressing the pandemic until later. Possibly the summer storyline.

If you’re reading this after about October 2020, I should have another Gil Thorp plot recap at this link. It shall also have any news about the comic strip that I don’t want you to miss.

Gil Thorp.

6 April – 27 June 2020.

The spring storyline had just begun the week before the last recap. We hadn’t even met its star, Mike “The Mayor” Knappe. Like most Gil Thorpe teens he has a dumb but harmless eccentricity. His is eating weird. Like, eating a normal thing (scrambled eggs) in a weird way (out of a baggie, using a spoon). Or weird stuff (orange juice with banana slices) had normally (drunk from a thermos). But he’s popular and outgoing. And keeps celebrating his teammates, and the girls softball team too. So he’s easy to get along with.

Knappe, holding up bagels: 'Today's breakfast a la bus: sesame bagels!' Girl: 'That sounds surprisingly normal.' Knappe, holding up peanut butter and a smooth knife: 'With peanut butter!' Girl, hiding her face: 'I stand corrected.' English Teacher: 'Can we start class now, please?'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 29th of April, 2020. I understand that many people come from food microecosystems for one reason or other, but … I mean, if she’s cover-her-face embarrassed by bagels with peanut butter? She’s going to literally melt when exposed to Cincinatti chili. Anyway I stand by my assertion that cottage-cheese-with-sour-cream is NOT a freak combination of fridge dairy.

This goes on for like a month, inspiring the question: is there even going to be a story? We finally reach “yes” the 29th of April, when Knappe shows off, in English class, today’s weird meal. Sesame bagels with peanut butter. I know people who find peanut butter bagels to be the worst. But as weird goes? If you can get it prepackaged at Wawa it’s not weird yet.

What is weird is that Knappe’s English teacher goes to … I’m not sure. I guess the guidance counsellor, although it might be the school physician or an assistant principal. Dr Pearl, anyway. Pearl joins Gil Thorp at softball practice, and they have Knappe in for A Talk. Knappe realizes his mistake right away, and worries that someone had an allergic reaction to the peanut butter. No, the problem is he brought a knife to school. At this point, if you ever read the comments on Gil Thorp, you should stop. No thread you read will ever lead you to joy.

Because the thing is that a knife is a weapon. Yes, even a butter knife is a knife. And bringing a weapon to school is a bad thing. Even if it is a butter knife. There’s a zero-tolerance rule: mandatory expulsion.

Knappe, at the Conference: 'I'm being suspended for bringing a knife to spread my peanut butter? How long?' Gil Thorp: 'District policy doesn't call for suspension, Mike.' Dr Pearl: 'It's mandator, young man. You're expelled.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 11th of May, 2020. I’m … not clear why Gil Thorp is here, as opposed to (say) Knappe’s homeroom teacher or whoever’s on record as his guidance counsellor if that’s not Dr Pearl there already. I get Thorp would be in the loop on the results but he’s not the teacher who ratted on Knappe or anything that gives him a need-to-know.

Knappe is devastated, reasonably. His classmates are, too, and there’s some short-lived talk about a student walkout. This comes to nothing, which is a pity. It’s good for high school students to do walkout protests, so they can learn what a walkout protest gets. It gets one paragraph in the local newspaper, which quotes no students and carries the principal’s lie that the walkout disrupted no classes and ended within five minutes.

The Knappes consult a lawyer, but there’s not much hope. The point of a zero-tolerance policy is to allow officials to harass minorities while using the formalism of equality. It’s regrettable when a popular white male kid suffers a consequence. But making an example of Knappe means the institution will get to torment dozens of Black boys and girls for a decade or more and claim it’s impartial treatment. The Knappes can’t do anything effective.

Knappe figures his life is over. He’s been expelled, his admission to Generic State University is threatened. And it’s for lousy reasons. Coach Gil Thorp settles in to doing something. He talks with Knappe, explaining how moping can’t make anything better. Going to the alternative school, Valley Modified, can. And being with other people will. Knappe bows finally to the inevitable.

Ardis Carhee, student at the Alternate School: 'Never ask why someone is here.' Knappe: 'Um ... OK. Sorry.' Carhee: 'No worries. You always find out. But the tradition is that you don't ask. I was what they call 'chronically truant'.' Knappe: 'You should probably make up a better story.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 23rd of May, 2020. Carhee: “That … that was my better story.”

Within minutes he’s making friends, though. And finding that his old friends still like him even though his new shellac of Drama. Within hours, Knappe has a plan. Valley Modified doesn’t have any sports teams, but they’ve got individual athletes. Why not a Milford versus Valley Modified softball match?

OK, it’s weird, but weird is Knappe’s thing. Thorp turns down the request to use Milford’s field and equipment; that’s against the rules. But he does point out places they could play and ways to scrounge equipment, so there’s that. Milford’s varsity team wonders … why waste a day beating juvenile delinquents, and the best argument is, Knappe’s a cool guy and it’s better playing than not playing. About the same argument works for Knappe’s new gang.

[ The ballpark ] As friends, families, sun-seekers and the idle curious gather at town park ... Knappe, holding up a T-shirt to his fellow players: 'Check it out, everyone - team T-shirts!' Milford pitcher, to his catcher: 'What do you think ... should I go hard at these guys?' Catcher: 'Until they prove they can't hit ... yes.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 24th of June, 2020. So, this might seem patronizing or even just mean-spirited, but it is the high school varsity team against a team that’s played together for like two weeks total and isn’t even sure why it’s there. And it’s not like choosing to take it easy on them would be any less patronizing. It’s hard competing against someone you have good reason to think you outclass. Anyway that time I needed 90 minutes to beat that vague relative who was seven years old and really wanted a chess set and didn’t know that castling was not some weird thing I made up was for good reasons: I’m not very good at chess.

A surprising number of people turn out for the game. And you know how it goes, if you’ve seen any movie about the scrappy upstarts versus the elite snobs. Valley Modified gives up like 2,038 runs in the first inning, with the upstate returns not in yet, and then starts to falter. It’s embarrassing enough that Gonzalo “Gonzo” Aceves defects from Milford, joining Valley Modified to give them a bit of pitching help. Also equipment advice. It’s an act of kindness and mercy of the sort we all wish we had done for others in school. But he’s repaying Knappe for giving him an upgraded nickname.

Will the game turn out non-humiliating? Will Knappe get accepted into some college? And will Covid-19 hit Milford? We’ll see.

Milford Schools Watch

Who else is in the Milford school district? Or at least rates a mention in the sports comic pages? These schools, the past couple months:

Next Week!

OK, this is an easy one. I know Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker is addressing the pandemic and how it affects the race for mayor of Cavelton. See you in a week to discuss that, barring something urgent happening.

Georges Melies: The Skipping Cheeses (or: Is Brie Murder?)


I’m afraid this short doesn’t appear to be at archive.org, so I can’t be so confident that the embedded link will work indefinitely into the future. If it doesn’t, well, let me know and I’ll try to do something about it.

I wanted to share Georges Méliès’s 1907 short Les Fromages Automobiles, and if you think it’s a whimsical fantasy about cars made of cheese I’m afraid you’re just being silly. The English title at least as rendered on a recent set of DVDs of Méliès films is The Skipping Cheeses and that’s surely more something to giggle about.

The story meanwhile enjoys the simplicity of a dream: a cheesemonger boards the trolley, with her cheeses hid in a basket; the smell of them causes everyone else to look around and suspect everyone but the new arrival of causing the strange odor. When she’s found out, the police are called, and she’s hauled off on a count of transporting cheese on a public conveyance. Then the cheeses hop out of their basket and follow her into court, whereupon the brie (at least according to the DVD narrator) leaps up and smothers the judge. It’s really the classic story, inspiring as it does grand thoughts of “Wait, what?” If you get past that, you can file the image of vengeful cheese away for a more conveniently-timed nightmare.

Socrates and the Aftermath of the Aftermath


Another bit of the aftermath of that whole Battle of Arginusae thing: like I learned, the generals who were responsible for the victory over Sparta there were tried for failing to rescue so many Athenian boatmen. Fair enough. Wikipedia’s article reports how “all six generals [ there had been eight, but two of them ran away ] were found guilty and executed including Pericles the Younger. The Athenians soon came to regret their decision in the case of the generals, and charges were brought against the principal instigators of the executions. These men escaped before they could be brought to trial”.

The thing is, this happened all the time in ancient Athens. You could barely get the citizens together to express regret for the last time they had someone executed without their figuring they had to have somebody executed. Every gathering went like this:

Antisthenes: Boy, we were stupid to have Socrates killed.

Crowd: Yeah! Whose dumb idea was that?

Antisthenes: It was Meletus, wasn’t it? Let’s kill Meletus!

Crowd: Yeah!

Meletus: Ulp!

[ Two weeks later: ]

Next Guy: Man, we were idiots to kill Meletus.

Crowd: Yeah! Whose dumb idea was that?

Antisthenes: Me. Sorry, it was mine.

Next Guy: Let’s kill him!

Crowd: Yeah!

Antisthenes: Ulp!

Founders of Western Civilization and yet nobody pointed out they’re always sorry two weeks later. None of them ever gets the idea, “hey, if he really needs killing, he’ll still need it a month from now, so no rush”. I’m guessing this is what happens when your government consists of getting a couple hundred guys together where they have to shout to be heard at all while making sure they have all the wine they can drink.