60s Popeye: Giddy Gold — and wait, could Popeye return to the comics page?


First things first: so, this is going around.

The survey asks what classic King Features comic strips people would like to see brought back, and what ones they would not. Included on the list are Popeye/Thimble Theatre, Apartment 3-G, Krazy Kat, Mandrake the Magician, and some others, plus spots to write in your own. I certainly have my preferences, but do encourage you to vote as you like. I would love to have more story strips, to read and to recap. I notice that The Amazing Spider-Man is not on the list of possible revivals.

And I’m aware that revivals and new-artists to comic strips are a controversial thing. I’m not sure if, besides Annie, there’s been a revival of a moribund comic strip that’s succeeded. One can fairly ask whether comics page space should go to Johnny Hazard, who’s a heck of a forgotten character, when some new and original idea might flourish. But if comic strip readers are reading more online, then there’s less of a limitation on space; the constraint is how much editorial support the organization can give. I assume the effort of supporting 55 strips is not so much more than that of supporting 50. (To pick numbers arbitrarily; I don’t know how many they’re maintaining offhand.) If a new Heart of Juliet Jones makes the whole enterprise a bit less fragile, good, then, let’s have it.

Does an online survey result in anything? I don’t know. The last time I saw something like this from Comics Kingdom it was choosing among possible names for John Kovaleski’s comic strip Daddy Daze. So it’s at least plausible. We’ll see.


Giddy Gold is another 1961 cartoon made by the Paramount Cartoon Studios crew. The story’s credited to I Klein; the direction, to Seymour Kneitel. It’s a basic story, yes. But it’s another cartoon in the era of Deep Cuts of Thimble Theatre cast. No, Roughhouse still hasn’t appeared on-screen. I swear, he appears eventually.

Popeye, like Superman, has an ambiguous relationship with magic. He lives in a world full of it, and people who can use magic to produce wonders. But he’s not comfortable with magic, since he can’t punch it. The Sea Hag is the most frequent source of magic imposed on Popeye’s world. Sometimes there’ll be a magic ring or a genie introding. Sometimes it’s Eugene the Jeep, whose powers — at least in the Fleischer cartoons — stick mostly to fortune-telling and harmless mischief. But there is another magical creature. She’s the thing you need to know to enter the club of Hardcore Popeye Fans. This is Bernice the Whiffle Hen.

Bernice the Whiffle Hen was a magical, luck-giving bird from Africa, given to Castor Oyl by uncle Lubry Kent in a 1928 sequence of Thimble Theatre. Castor Oyl hired the first sailor he saw to sail him to the gambling casino on Dice Island and that’s how Popeye joined, and took over, the comic. And more: Bernice’s luck gave Popeye the super-strength and invulnerability he needed to survive the gamblers shooting him. Popeye’s super-strength would eventually be explained by spinach. Bernice would (in a 1930 story) meet a Whiffle Rooster. She looked ready to leave with him, but came back, and now they live wherever the heck Ham Gravy and other lesser characters went. When Popeye needed a magical animal companion, Eugene the Jeep would do.

So here, now, we finally get an appearance by the Whiffle Hen. Or at least the Whiffle Bird, as Popeye calls her. Jack Mercer does the voice for the Whiffle Bird too, in a voice that sounds male. Really that sounds like he’s trying to do Wallace Wimple (Bill Thompson) from Fibber McGee and Molly. I don’t know why not have Mae Questel do the voice except maybe they didn’t want to give her three parts?

The Whiffle Bird is about to land on the Tunnel of Love boat. Popeye is delighted to see Whiffle; Olive looks surprised but interested.
Is it economy of storytelling or just the assumption that kids don’t ask questions that keeps anyone from explaining how the Whiffle Bird is magical? I mean, the Whiffle Bird saying he’ll grant a wish explains that, but what preps kids for the bird talking other than that kids don’t see any reason a bird shouldn’t talk if it has something to say? (In the comic strip she says nothing but “Whiffle”.)

This is one of the few Popeye cartoons we can place to a specific time: the Whiffle Bird says it’s the 7th of day of the 7th month. July the 7th, then. Also, it’s the 7th hour, so Popeye and Olive Oyl are at the amusement park way too early in the morning. Maybe it’s the seventh daylight hour. Our Heroes are in a Tunnel of Love ride. I’m an amusement park enthusiast and I love particularly the more old-fashioned rides. So between that and the Whiffle Hen this cartoon is tightly aimed at my niche interests. There’s not many Tunnel of Love rides — also called Old Mill rides — out there anymore. I’ve been able to get to three, at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, Rye Playland, and Kennywood Park.

The cartoon’s depiction is basically right: you putter in a boat past scenes of, like, gnomes digging in emerald mines and stuff. Rye Playland’s got a really great example of this and if you can get there when the pandemic is over, I recommend you do. (Kennywood’s, last I visited, had themed their Old Mill ride to Garfield. It’s been re-themed since then, but I haven’t been able to see it.) Olive Oyl wishes the fabulous scenes were real and the Whiffle Bird decides to make this of all possible wishes come true.

Olive Oyl’s eyes bug out and stay bugged out. Popeye, instinctively distrustful of magic and easy riches, wants to drop the buckets of treasure. Especially when he hears there’s three dangerous dangers to overcome before they can leave. The first danger’s a stone tunnel slapping shut in a move that looks like a platformer game 25 years early. Popeye’s able to clip through it, of course.

The next danger is Medusa. Olive Oyl finds the menace laughable because she hasn’t been paying attention. Medusa turns her, and her buckets of treasure, to stone. This includes precious gems that, as a know-it-all, I must point out were already stone. Popeye offers a beauty salon treatment to beat Medusa, which is a good 1960s-tv-cartoon solution. It works, breaking the spell, when she accepts the beauty treatment. I’m sorry there wasn’t time for, like, twenty seconds of Popeye as a beautician. I’m not sure where to cut the time from, though.

Olive Oyl, carrying two buckets full of treasure, is turned to stone and stands mid-step on a plinth inside a long tunnel.
The town of Chester, Illinois, is more indoors than I thought! Anyway if a Medusa is going to turn you into stone make sure you’re posing so you have natural balance. Medusa should provide the base that you stand on, though. Don’t give her any money for one! If a Medusa asks you for plinth money, however good her rationale sounds, it’s a con. Turn around and have a board-certified basilisk petrify you instead.

The last peril’s the Siren, and I have to say, this is a great Tunnel of Love. Popeye tip-toes towards her charms in a way I’m not positive wasn’t sarcastic, at least to start. Olive Oyl eats Popeye’s spinach and slugs the mermaid, which is enough to get them past the perils. They get to the boat, emerge into the sunlight and oh! Bernice(?) forgot to mention that the spell would wear off when they reached daylight. I understand the instinct to reset the status quo, although it’s hard to think why the Whiffle Bird would cast such a limited spell. Maybe s/he just likes causing mischief. I can respect that.

Making the Whiffle Bird talk, and cause mischief like this, expands her role from the comic strip. But it gives her character a clear separation from Eugene the Jeep. And she can introduce mischief in a way that Eugene couldn’t, at least not outside the Popeye’s Island Adventures shorts. So as character retcons go this is probably a good one. At least as long as talking animals don’t break the rules you perceive Popeye’s world to have. We’ll see her, or maybe him, again, although not enough.

60s Popeye: Tiger Burger, which you can go ahead and join in progress


I came pretty near noping out of another King Features Popeye cartoon this week. I’m not saying you’re wrong if you do. Tiger Burger, another from the Jack Kinney studios, has a story by Cal Howard and animation direction by Harvey Toombs.

It is set in “Darkest Injia”. This is bad. But the use of “Injia”, as though Popeye’s quirky pronunciation were the “correct” thing, cut the bad down a little. The start of the cartoon is all like that. If you want to get to the part of the cartoon that doesn’t need excuses? Start from about 19:30 and proceed from there. My embedded link will be the whole cartoon, though.

So. Yeah. The first two and a half minutes of this are stuff you have to rationalize to keep watching. It bottoms out about 18:08 when we get the sign “You are now entering Puka-Puka, Fastest Growing Slums In Kasha County” which ugh. This is undercut, not swiftly enough, by going to the sign for the Optimists Club. If this cartoon were aimed at adults, this could be a wry comment on the misery of society. And how some people refuse to acknowledge that, a thing both good and bad. The cartoon is not thinking deep enough to get away with that. Not 60 years on, anyway.

The village of Puka-Puka doesn’t look great either. Not crazy about Popeye wondering about the native hospitality, but at least he does address everyone as “sir”. The cop that Popeye talks to is given a British accent and puffs a Churchill-class cigar, icons that are … oh, a bunch to unpack. They do seem to me to be things that would, to a white middle-class American audience of 1960, signify “civilized” and “respectable”, so there’s that. If the cop had been Jackson Beck trying to do Apu I might have dropped this whole series never to touch it again.

Anyway, all this — all this — is to establish that Popeye and Wimpy are hunting Gonga the man-eating tiger. (Yeah, I see the reference.) Gonga’s given a big build-up as “the most vicious, cruel, meanest, low-down, ferocious, good-for-nothing, low-down, fiendish man-eating tiger in all of Injia”. We don’t see a lot of Gonga’s fiendishness. He just yoinks Wimpy off of their turtle. But since Wimpy’s been whining the whole cartoon about wanting to eat hamburgers it’s hard not being on Gonga’s side.

A tiger has one paw wrapped around Wimpy's shoulder, and looks at the camera, with one eye drooping. Wimpy, both eyes open just a tiny bit, is holding up one finger while looking off-camera and apparently whispering.
Look, let them have their time together.

Monomania usually works great for comic characters. And Wimpy is almost the definition of a monomaniacal comic character. I’m not sure why it doesn’t work here. Possibly because there’s so much of him talking hamburgers with nothing else going on. Wimpy can’t interrupt the action with his little thing if his little thing is all the action.

It’s hard to sell me on a Popeye-hunts-an-animal cartoon. While he’s far from consistent, his “always be kind to children and dumb animals” philosophy is a great statement of goals. There’d be some respectability in the plot if he were protecting the village from a menace. I guess that’s the point of the cop’s declaration of Gonga’s wickedness. But Popeye and Wimpy didn’t know about this tiger going in. And we didn’t see Gonga doing anything particularly wicked. So it’s hard to get past the impression Popeye’s being a jerk here.

There’s a couple bits that try to salvage the cartoon. Popeye challenging Gonga to “come out and fights like a man” and Gonga calling back, “come in and fight like a tiger”. Popeye answering how he didn’t come to India to eat hamburgers which, yeah, I wouldn’t. Or the wacky choice to have Popeye and Wimpy riding on a turtle, rather than an elephant. It seems to have been done for the silliness of a howdah on a turtle. And to let the cartoon stop on a joke about how turtles are slow. And if we just stick to that the cartoon is all right. But it’s not much salvage and it comes after a lousy start.

Why does Mark Trail look different? Did James Allen leave Mark Trail?


So some breaking comic strip news, that I learn through Daily Cartoonist again: James Allen is leaving the story strip Mark Trail. In a Facebook post for his Edge of Adventure comic strip Allan says the strip will continue, “with a bit of a new direction”. And, in comments, that the choice was “a bit of both” his choice and King Features’s. Allen says “I’m tired and they wanted a new direction”.

I have heard nothing about who the new writer or artist (or both) will be. Nor about just when the transition will happen. In comments on that Facebook post Allen says he will not finish the story that’s just begun, and doesn’t know if the new person will.

If I get any news on Mark Trail I’ll post it at this link. If I get any news about any story strip, I’ll post it at this link.

[Edited 25 September 2020: Good news!  Jules Rivera is taking over the comic as of the middle of October.]

60s Popeye: Popeye’s Trojan Horse and what it can teach us


Popeye’s Trojan Horse is another Jack Kinney cartoon. Story by Ed Nofziger. The director’s Ken Hultgren, whom so far we’ve only seen in Jingle Jangle Jungle, another Nofziger story. Let’s watch.

This is framed, again, as a tell-me-a-story cartoon. Ed Nofziger did something similar with Little Olive Riding Hood and Hamburger Fishing. Why is there a frame, though? A frame lets you put the characters in a weird position without explaining why, but, is that needed? At least for Popeye? Do we get anything that wouldn’t be served by Jackson Beck narrating that “this story takes place in the time of the Ancient Greeks”? Do we need any explanation for the weirdness? Nofziger’s Swee’Pea Through The Looking Glass just let the action “really” happen, for example.

There is something having Popeye and Swee’Pea as frame offers, though. A bit of it was done in Hamburger Fishing. They can comment on the story. Several times over the action pauses so that Swee’Pea can snark about the action. I’m interested in the choice. It offers some story benefits. Popeye declaring “then, they went and — ” is as good a transition as you need to let anything happen. Stock footage of Popeye and Swee’Pea talking saves the animation budget, too.

Trojan horse, that resembles Gumby's pal Pokey, kicking its hindleg at a castle's tower. Brutus is atop the tower waving his hand angrily.
So one of the fun things I did instead of useful stuff this week was look up historical interpretations of the Trojan Horse. It’s fascinating, really, that we stay interested in a story about people so foolish that they would invite death into their homes — strangling the person who correctly warns them of the danger — because it was so very pleasant to imagine that the destruction so imminent for so long had just … gone away. Also I love that the pose here so clearly reads as Brutus demanding the Horse quit that, and the Horse acting all innocent, like, “Quit what?”

Having the characters watch and snark on a story is part of a respectable enough tradition too. It runs loosely from the Greek Chorus through, like, that bit in A Midsummer Night’s Dream where Hippolyta and all can not believe Nick Bottom’s play, to Rocky and Bullwinkle and The Muppet Show and their many influences. (Mystery Science Theater 3000 is near but just outside this lineage, for my purposes. I’m looking at texts that contain their own riffing. MST3K depends on adding jokes to something by a different writer.) When it’s done well, it adds to a story you were already interested in, often with commentary about the artifice of story and the demands of narrative logic. When it’s done badly, it’s any of those Pearls Before Swine strips that are seven panels filled wall-to-wall with text for a pun, followed by the characters insulting the cartoonist for writing that.

So a thing about Popeye is he’s always been kind of self-riffing. The definitive thing about the Fleischer Studios character is his mumbled, improvisational jokes about the story. This self-aware tradition faded, but never left the character. When Brutus asks “what is this?” and Spartan Popeye punches him, then says, “This horse is a gift, o Prince! … Never look a gift horse in the mouth!”, it’s not a strange moment. It’s completely in-character.

Does it add anything for Swee’pea to comment that “history was never like this”? I’m not sure. The Trojan Horse story does well at being absurd. But I try to remember what I thought as a kid, among the intended audience for this. Did I register that it was absurd for Trojan Brutus to be huddling up in a Generic Medieval Castle complete with moat and drawbridge? I think I registered it was weird there was a sawfish in the moat. Shouldn’t that be alligators or at least sharks? But a castle right out of my Fisher-Price Play Family Castle #993 set? I don’t remember that registering. Swee’Pea’s line may be more than just the writer worrying there’s a space for a joke here.

Popeye riding through the sea on the back of a large shiny grey dolphin; both have smug grins on their face.
Additionally, I am delighted that Popeye got a pool toy from the Tuesday Morning store to swim him to Troy!

Given that we have a frame, though, it saw good use. Each of the cuts back to Popeye and Swee’Pea comes at a reasonable moment, and gets a decent joke. The main storyline goes along at a good pace. I like Popeye’s Trojan Horse being built with several modes including “buck”. All I wonder is why Spartan Popeye wanted his horse to look like Gumpy’s pal Pokey?

60s Popeye: returning to the Aladdin’s Lamp


It’s another Paramount/Famous Studios-produced 60s Popeye today. The title, Aladdin’s Lamp, is a mix of expectations. Toss in a genie and you have an excuse to do any crazy idea that couldn’t fit into a reasonable story. But for the seasoned Popeye-watcher there’s knowledge. Whatever they do must pale before the Fleischer Studio’s two-reeler Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp. There’s just not the time or budget to do anything that ambitious. The story’s by Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer, as usual for Famous Studios work. The director’s Seymour Kneitel again. Let’s take a few minutes to see Aladdin’s Lamp.

I’m sure that she isn’t the most common villain. But it does seem like the Sea Hag gets to be the antagonist for a lot of these 60s Popeye cartoons. There’s good reasons to use her. After 250 cartoons, the depths of Bluto/Brutus’s character may have been exhausted. Or at least gotten boring. Sea Hag lets the writers pull in magic, to send stories going weird directions. And there’s the good plot dynamic that Popeye can’t hit a woman even if she is the Sea Hag.

We open on Sea Hag, who happens to wonder what happened to Aladdin’s Lamp. Turns out right then Olive Oyl bought it. Think how lucky the cartoon was that the Sea Hag didn’t look up the lamp two days earlier. Sea Hag steals the lamp, using a great big horseshoe magnet, because she respects cartoon conventions. Popeye’s off in pursuit.

Sea Hag summons the Genie, who looks faintly like they were going for Jeeves and who talks with Wimpy’s voice but cleaned up. Sea Hag starts making wishes, something we see from a nice three-quarters view with her right hand making great sweeping motions. I recognize this animation from Voo-Doo To You Too. Well, it helps the cartoons come in on budget. The genie turns various ship equipment into treasures. This seems great since doesn’t need the ship’s equipment as ship’s equipment.

On a ship's deck, a ghostly pink genie holds up his arms, having just shrunk Popeye to about the size of his foot. In the background a wooden barrel is now 14 karat gold.
Popeye: “I wish this sort of thing would stop happening to me! … Saaaaaay!”

Popeye races in. Sea Hag orders the genie back in the lamp. She feeds Popeye a line about her love of antiques getting ahead of her. She uses this distraction to rub the lamp and orders: “Quick, Genie; ‘fore he can get the spinach from his blouse// Shrink Popeye down to the size of a mouse”. I have questions. Yeah, the dictionary insists it’s fair to call what Popeye wears a “blouse”.

So why order the genie into the lamp and then back out again? It seems like this gives Popeye the information about there even being a genie, which I expected to come back to bite the Sea Hag. Maybe she panicked. Also, why shrink Popeye to the size of a mouse? Why not wish him to outer Mongolia or something? Sea Hag did cast her wishes, for treasure and for Popeye’s shrinking, in rhymes. Is that part of the rule? I can’t blame her not having a rhyme for “outer Mongolia” off the top of her head. I suppose she could wish to have a rhyme for “outer Mongolia”, but that’s a bootstrapping problem. Also, how large are the Sea Hag’s mice? Is she not distinguishing between mice and rats, and has she still got somewhat large rats?

Popeye rolls with being small pretty well: he ties the Sea Hag’s dress into a knothole. Uses that diversion to grab the magic lamp. Here’s where I figured he’d start making wishes. He’s been coming up with rhyming couplets, at this point, for 28 years. He can do anything as long as he ends it “… Popeye the Sailor Man! [ toot toot! ]” Not so, though. Sea Hag catches in a can which, of course, is a not-quite-empty spinach can. His spinach can, he says, even though he hasn’t pulled out a can this cartoon. Maybe it’s from an earlier adventure.

The spinach returns him to normal size, like you’d expect. And next time Sea Hag summons the genie, he’s ready with an office-cooler water bottle(?) to catch, cork, and toss away the genie. Being tossed into the sea breaks the spell that transformed the Sea Hag’s ship’s equipment into treasure, for the reasons. And she goes swimming off after the genie. Since that takes her and the genie out of frame, it’s done.

Popeye gleefully has the ghostly pink genie caught in a large glass jug and is about to cork it.
So, you’re a genie. Is moving from that small brass lamp to this big glass bottle a step up, because there’s space, or a step down, because there’s no privacy? Discuss. (Before taking this screen grab I hadn’t noticed the shadow of the ship’s mast here. It’s a good detail to put on the background. It doesn’t really cost more to paint it this way and it makes the ship look more real.)

Popeye brings the lamp home, triumphant, and of course his work was in vain. Olive Oyl has a new lamp, one that — get this — is also a coffee grinder! The joke is adequate, but I do admire how ugly this new lamp is.

I still like the premise. Maybe I’m an easy touch for genie stories. I’m disappointed by what’s done with it. I don’t think just because it’s lesser than the two-reel cartoon was. (Also I’m amused that in writing up the two-reel cartoon I wondered whether the Sea Hag might be a fitting villain.) Not enough magic, or not enough wild magic for me. Shrinking Popeye is a good bit of business, but I feel like the Sea Hag could do that herself. Why not trap Popeye in the lamp, or give him some other reality-breaking problem to punch his way through? The genie acting as a valet is a decent character. Why not a set of quick gags of Popeye going up against the genie and being dismissed with a snap? The premise is almost pure play; why not play more?

60s Popeye: Go see Sea Serpent, you’ll see it and serpent, I love it


Never mind the subject line. I was referencing this one Saturday Night Live bit from 1989 where they were really laying it on that Gene Shalit guy. They had him say, “Go see Sea of Love, you’ll see it and love it!” For some reason, my brain has decided this is one of the most important things I could ever remember.

Anyway I had good feelings going into this week’s cartoon, Sea Serpent. First, I’m a fan of sea serpents. I support the work they’ve been doing. Second, this is another Famous Studios production. The story’s by Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer. Director Seymor Kneitel. I could expect the cartoon to be competent in writing and animation. And how did those expectations pan out?

Olive Oyl’s a reporter, a promising start. I wanted to say it’s a new role for her, but I have the nagging feeling there was some Famous Studios cartoon with the same gimmick. I can’t place it, though. The gag of Olive Oyl’s typewriter barrel flying loose and having to be put back in place is standard, but I always like it. Popeye’s expositional lump that he never gets to see her since she took this job seems at odds with her anticipating her first assignment.

Editor Mr Byline — Jackson Beck, showing that he’s got range — sends her to Loch Ness on rumors there’s a Monster there. This reminds us that newspapers used to have travel budgets for their staff. Loch Ness seems like a far place to send a new reporter, especially on rumors. Maybe it’s not the Loch Ness in Scotland, though. Could be it’s a local lake that happens to share the name. This would be consistent with Brutus not affecting any kind of accent, and charging $10 an hour and $5 per picture for visitors.

Popeye protests he’s never seen a sea serpent, and you know, I think that’s right. He’s seen Jeeps, Goons, whiffle hens, and The Rokh, but a sea serpent? … Oh, wait, he has encountered a sea serpent too. Well, the serpent wasn’t the main menace. Maybe it slipped Popeye’s mind. Anyway Popeye agrees to take Olive Oyl to Loch Ness. If this is the one in Scotland, then he managed a long sailing expedition without getting shipwrecked, so his day’s looking up.

Brutus is tour guide, answering my notes’ question about why he wasn’t the newspaper editor. He’s got a nice fake Loch Ness Monster but business is awful, and he sees in Olive Oyl one really good mark. She ought to be counted as a loss leader, good press bringing in good business. But maybe Brutus has been at this a while and knows the attraction is tapped out.

Olive Oyl buys everything Brutus presents. Popeye uses his Columbo-like powers to tell right away who the bad guy is. Granted, if he just guesses “It’s Brutus” he’s going to be right … I think all the time? For the King Features cartoons anyway. But Popeye’s buying none of it, so Brutus kicks him into … the cave where he left the fake Monster foot. Olive Oyl won’t believe Popeye’s discovery and insists he made it, in seconds, without tools or raw materials. In fairness to Olive Oyl, the rules about what a character can and can’t do with a few seconds of work are vague. Especially when it could be Popeye’s eaten his spinach.

Brutus has more evidence: a sea serpent egg. This turns out to be a rock, which is not a pun here. Popeye learns that it’s a rock by Brutus dropping it on his head. This ruins a perfectly good rock. Can’t be easy finding egg-shaped rocks that size. Brutus must be readying to burn the Loch down for the insurance money.

Olive Oyl scolding Popeye, who's smugly holding his hand up to a green door. The green door is the chest panel of a Godzilla-like sea monster. There's a control panel of circles and an analog meter hanging in the center of the black void within the sea monster.
Olive Oyl is having absolutely none of Popeye’s claim that with vacuum tubes you get a warmer, better-rounded analog sea-monster roar.

Brutus has got a great centerpiece, though. An actual remote-control robot sea serpent. Or, well, off-brand Godzilla anyway. This is a heck of an up-front expense for his Loch Ness Monster tour thing. I too am surprised Loch-zilla is not drawing crowds. As it rises from the waters, Popeye races in so fast he doesn’t have time to have his eyes colored white. (Look at about 10:16, a rare, and trivial, animation error for Famous Studios.) Popeye sees the remote control, then swims out to take local control of Loch-zilla. With the creature storming out of control, Brutus out-runs Olive Oyl out of there, and Popeye laughs at all this.

Popeye explains how all this was done. This makes Olive Oyl angry, because she’s a person and that’s how people work. Popeye shrugs it off, saying he came for the laughs and this was funny! The end.

The conclusion’s a little weird. Never mind that Popeye never eats spinach, or comes near it. The end feels unresolved. After confident dismissing of a sea serpent as a possibility, and debunking Brutus’s hoax, it feels like comic logic requires an actual sea serpent. Or at least Olive Oyl getting some final line in. I wonder if they ran out of time for that.

Besides the unfinished resolution, this is about what I expect from a Famous Studios-made cartoon of the era. The story’s quite sensible, if a bit plodding. The animation’s solid, never doing anything great but never being bad. It has a couple of nice small touches, including the camera looking over characters’ shoulders. I’m always impressed when this era of cartoons lines up the characters in anything besides a plane parallel to the screen.

Really it’s all satisfactory. I would like more sea serpent, is all.

60s Popeye: Little Olive Riding Hood, I’m gonna keep my sheep suit on


Fun fact: Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs’s “Little Red Riding Hood” is my go-to song for karaoke night. This is because you can do an okay job on it if you can only hit one note, and that’s all I can do. There’s no guessing what note I will hit, but I can keep to it all right.

This week’s 60s Popeye episode is Little Olive Riding Hood. The title gives me expectations. So do the credits. The story’s from Ed Nofziger, who also did the story for Swee’Pea Thru The Looking Glass and Hamburger Fishing, besides other cartoons not obviously based on fairy tales. (And fairy-tale adjacent things, like the Alice stories.) Animation Direction is credit to Harvey Toombs, who directed Hamburger Fishing and several other cartoons I’ve already gone over. Coffee House, for example, the Beatnik episode. We’ll see more of him. As you’d guess if you’ve been around here, this is all a Jack Kinney production.

We start in Popeye’s Boring Suburban Home again. Telling Swee’Pea a story is the framing device. Sometimes Swee’Pea demands a story. This time, he’s happy Popeye is telling one.

The cartoon starts off well. Fairy tales are a pretty good starting point for a Popeye cartoon, especially one like this that has to be done quick and cheap. The audience knowing the fairy tale plot takes the burden of plotting a story off the cartoon. They can riff around scenes and still have something which makes sense. … And, yet, somehow, it all falls apart anyway.

So Olive Oyl is the Riding Hood, Wimpy her sick grandmother, the Sea Hag the wolf, and Popeye the brave woodchopper or whoever the other guy is in the Little Red Riding Hood story. It’s decent casting, although I wonder again why not Brutus. Maybe Kinney Studios wasn’t sure that Brutus was available? Or maybe they just felt BlutoBrutus was worn out. Or maybe too much physical menace for the cartoon.

There’s good stuff early on. Introducing the characters, for example. The Sea Hag crashing into Wimpy’s house and mourning she’s gotta get those brakes fixed. Wimpy sitting up at the table, knife and fork at the ready, licking his lips and wanting ham-[pause]-burgers. Or after this, the Sea Hag sitting up exactly in imitation of Wimpy’s pose, with his hat on her head. While Wimpy is off in the forest sitting on a tree stump.

But we get to Little Olive Riding Hood encountering the Sea Hag, and doing the-better-to-eat-hamburgers-with bit. The Sea Hag jumps on Olive Oyl, and … why? Because the narrative of the original fairy tale requires it, sure. But we don’t get a hint Olive Oyl wasn’t going to give her Wimpy’s hamburgers, not yet. We get a fight, or at least the camera shaking around and zooming in and out while the uptempo music plays. This brings Popeye back to Wimpy’s house to fight. This even though Popeye can’t hit a woman even if she is the Sea Hag. But since we never see him doing anything, we can’t say he’s hitting anybody either. Maybe he’s just punching the tree he dragged into the house a lot.

Olive Oyl, dressed as Little Red Riding Hood, stands before a dining table. Seated at it is the Sea Hag, wearing Wimpy's hat, and holding up knife and fork.
Thanks for coming out to support Thimble Theatre Improv Night everyone, it’s your support that keeps spontaneous comedy alive.

Wimpy joins in the off-camera action, and the bounciest picnic basket in the world goes out the house a couple times. Finally Popeye catches it and declares the hamburgers ain’t for free, and ain’t for no stealing witch. So sure the Sea Hag shouldn’t get the hamburgers, but why not Wimpy? Riding Olive said she was taking the burgers to a sick friend who was in Wimpy’s house. If Popeye saw through Wimpy’s scam shouldn’t he have said something about it so dumb Olds like me aren’t confused?

Wimpy’s promise to pay for the burgers later is implicitly turned down, and he and Sea Hag go off to try Roughhouse’s. This yet another mention of Roughhouse and his cafe without his appearance. The King Features animators are really sure we’re going to recognize and be interested in Roughhouse when he finally appears. I don’t want to deflate their hype but all he is just “a guy who hates Wimpy but falls for his scams”. He’s basically Geezil without the uncomfortable Jewish coding.

The notion of paying for the burgers comes up again, with Popeye offering to buy some, but not getting to. And Olive Oyl eats her burgers, declaring how she loves them especially when they are paid for. It’s the punch line for a joke not set up. With the coda, in the frame, of Swee’Pea now declaring he’s hungry and wants hamburgers. You know, the way it’s funny that someone who hears a story about a particular food might decide they’d like to eat that food.

It’s weird that I can’t say the ending is bad. Just that it doesn’t fit the start. It’s close to fitting, though. Add a line about Popeye figuring out that Wimpy isn’t really sick. Drop the talk about paying for burgers. Then, yeah, you’ve got a fairy-tale riff that hangs together. It seems like it’d be easier to not write the broken version of this. What happened?

There remain great mysteries in the making of these cartoons.

1960s Popeye has Plumber’s Pipe Dream


I’m taking this week to build myself some margin in the Popeye’s Island Adventure series. I’m doing that by filling in a week with an older cartoon. This one, Plumber’s Pipe Dream, is part of the notorious 1960s series. In that, King Features made over two hundred short cartoons over the course of about three years to fill television with a heap of content. Doing this required hiring, like, everybody who could hold a pencil. This is a short that I thought King Features had on their official YouTube channel. They have a couple dozen of that run. So I’m posting a copy I can find. If you find it’s been removed, please let me know. I’ll try to find a replacement. It could be King Features will have added it to their official channel by that time.

This cartoon, at least, I can give credits for. It was made by Jack Kinney Productions. Jack Kinney worked for Disney in the Golden Age — he directed sequences in Pinocchio and Dumbo. And he worked for UPA Studios at its peak too. You could get that idea from the stylish title card. By 1960 he had his own studio doing television work, King Features cartoons among it.

This is not a good cartoon. It is one I enjoy watching. It’s weird that those go together. A strain in pop culture, especially on the Internet, celebrates bad stuff. It’s been celebrated so long that we can forget that this is a strange choice to make. What’s fun about a bad cartoon, or movie, or book, or story?

I think it’s something you have to grow into. You start out taking in stories (cartoons, movies, whatever) and accepting them as stories. Then you get to knowing stories well enough. You can tell good from bad, and maybe why some are good and some bad. Most of us then stick to the good stories, and live a happy life with our entertainment choices. But some of us, in what feels like a nerdy thing to do, break that. I think some of us get so obsessed with studying stories, and why they work and why they don’t, that we overthink it. Like, we notice that most good stories follow (sensible) rules. A genuinely bad story, though? That won’t follow rules. Or it follows a weird distorted idea of the rules. It surprises in a way that a well-made story can’t. The surprise and novelty is great if you’ve consumed so much of a particular kind of story that normal ones are boring. And it’s great for showing by its mistakes how good stories come together. And, yes, a good story that defies rules and breaks expectations is also cherished. But there’s probably more ways to make a bad story than a good one.

So how does this hypothesis matter to this cartoon?


We start with Olive Oyl having a leaky faucet. Good premise. Plumbing cartoons are usually fun. Leaking water gives things a sense of urgency, and that often builds comic energy well. Swee’Pea suggests having it fixed, something Olive Oyl never thought of, even though they have the same voice actor. Olive Oyl insisting she wouldn’t have thought of that, and looking up “plumbers” under “P as in Plop”, are a couple cute throwaway dialogue jokes. They’re not quite laugh lines, but at least they’re cheery.

Popeye’s the designated plumber, and mentions how this call roused him from a snooze. There’s a weird momentary fade to black at about 1:31, before we see Popeye’s face making some weird expressions. This turns out to be plot-important, but you only know that in retrospect. Popeye’s first attempt only makes the leak worse and he rushes to the basement to turn the water off. This by the way takes about as long as a whole Popeye’s Island Adventure does. So I appreciate how much story compression has to go into those shorts.

Popeye can’t remember which apartment he needs to turn off, so he breaks that pipe too. So he figures now he has to go to the water main and runs out to the city sewer. Here, given the direction to turn the wheel right he turns it back and forth until it breaks off, sending even more water loose. You have get to wondering whether Popeye was always this incompetent. Boring Suburban Popeye, the character he mutated into in cartoons of the 50s, had a lot of problems. (And yes, this is Popeye in the city. But it’s the way he acts when the cartoon makes him the owner of a boring home in a boring suburb.)

Now the apartment is flooding to the point it looks lost at sea. Popeye needs to get to the city mains before a J G Ballard novel can break out. He hails a taxi, that gets there on distinctly dry streets, and calls out, “The City Water Works!” The shocked driver asks, “It does?” and so help me that makes me laugh every time. This is because I am a nerd. That a phrase might have more than one meaning is always funny to both nerds and four-year-olds. Four-year-olds it makes sense. They’re delighting in the discovery of how language works. Nerds, I don’t know. Might be we so like having things explained and sensible that a sentence which resists mono-meaning is delightful.

Now the water comes, with the city streets flooding or flooding more. Popeye swims toward the water works, only to find the water’s risen so high that it threatens to extinguish the Statue of Liberty’s torch. You know, the torch that has never been a literal fire.

There’s some spinach floating by, that Popeye grabs happily and eats. He gets his power-up fanfare and … water squirts out of his muscle bulges. Well, he puddles to the drowned shutoff valve, which opens a drain, threatening to suck him down. And then what do you know but it’s all a dream, and he’s still getting another call from Olive Oyl. He rushes to Olive Oyl’s apartment and once again forgets to turn off the water. The end.

Lay out the storyline like that and it seems workable. Making a small problem ever-worse is a standard comic method. It’s standard because it works so well. And there are a bunch of funny little drawings. Popeye asleep in his chair looks weird, but in a funny way. The taxi driver has some nice bugged-out eyes when he sees the flood coming. There’s more nice casual jokes than I remembered were in this short. It isn’t quotable, but that’s because all the jokes depend on their context to be anything. And a cartoon doesn’t have to be quotable to be good.

But what’s bad. Mm. Well, little things. Every scene takes a few seconds longer than it needs. The music was done by hitting shuffle on the King Features 1960s Background Themes playlist. I’ll give them a pass on how much animation gets reused within this short. They had like $20 and a heap of Green Stamps for an animation budget, and as many as twelve minutes to draw the thing. But did a third of all the dialogue have to be Olive Oyl crying out “Heellllp” in an endless repeated chant? (I likely find this more annoying than other people because the same chant gets used in many of the 60s cartoons. I recognize it like I recognize the exact same gunshot sound effect in half of all the M-G-M Tom and Jerry cartoons.)

For the most part, this cartoon is boring. Or it’s annoying, when Olive Oyl is crying out “Heellllp” in a sound clip they used in every King Features Popeye. It’s going a bit loopy, with the speed and magnitude of the flooding. But it’s not until 3:55, it changes. This is when Popeye notices the Statue of Liberty is almost drowned. Now the cartoon is not only bad, but great bad. Making the flooding worse by fixing it? That’s a normal line of action. That’s the plot thread that you could make a good cartoon around. Making the flooding “Oh, and it’s going to extinguish the flame in the Statue of Liberty’s Torch”? That’s not a logical thought. The cartoon leaps into some surreal, dream-logic territory. It’s surprising and weird. The rules of plot logic that we’re used to fail and that’s thrilling. Plus there’s a nice alarmed look on the statue’s face.

That it’s all a dream is … eh. The cartoon could as easily have had the big drain open up and let the city dry. Making it all a dream retroactively excuses Popeye making dumb mistakes, at least. And it sets up the here-we-go-again punch line. The cartoon manages, at least for a while, to be a great bad cartoon.


Next week I should get back to Popeye’s Island Adventures with a fresh essay at this link. Now watch as King Features double-crosses me and doesn’t post a new cartoon this week. Well, I have 219 other 1960s cartoons to look at. Plus they’ve posted episodes from Popeye And Son. I can wait them out.

Popeye’s Island Adventures ditched me this week so here’s another Popeye birthday with the Jeep


So, there hasn’t been a new Popeye’s Island Adventures uploaded since that one for Popeye’s birthday. I have not the faintest what this signifies, or even if it’s anything more than “the person who approves these cartoons before posting them had a vacation week coming”. It throws me off, though. I’d been expecting something to review. For a wonder I’ve got stuff to post sketched out for nearly a week ahead. But today? No, all I have for today is the conceptual fragment “the largest-ever spill of working fluid from the Shrinkatorium, a volume estimated at nearly four tablespoons” and it’s possible I might build that into something, but it’s not there yet. (I also think I should do more with “Muppet Babies Kids”, but at least I was able to put that idea somewhere it did some good.)

Well. King Features’s Popeye account posts stuff besides these weird new Flash(?)-animated two-minute shorts. They’ve also been posting stuff from the King Features archives. So here’s one from the 1960s run, that I picked out because I didn’t have the time to watch a half-hour episode of the 70s-80s Hanna-Barbera run, nor of the late 80s Popeye and Son. It’s from 1960, one of the mass of 800 billion cartoons they made in ten minutes: Jeep Is Jeep.

The cartoon was animated by Paramount Cartoon, their Famous Studios, and for that matter the former Fleischer Studios. The credited animators were Morey Reden, Isadore Klein, and William B Pattengill. Reden had done a couple of Pluto shorts for Disney, moved over to Famous Studios in time for, like, The Anvil Chorus Girl, and would go on to animate stuff like Beetle Bailey and Milton the Monster before getting into the Hanna-Barbera circuit. Klein was an animator some in the 40s, then moved into story for a long while for Famous Studios (he’s also credited with the story here), and then back into animation. Pattengill was also a career Famous Studios artist, starting with (it looks to me) the Little Lulu cartoons, Herman and Katnip, and Popeye. He did also work on the 1973 Charlotte’s Web. And Seymour Kneitel directed, like, everything the Fleischer or Famous Studios ever put out.

Toward the end of the Famous Studios run the Popeye cartoons were getting pretty dire, boring things with mediocre animation. But among the 1960s King Features cartoons, mediocre animation looked pretty good. And they knew the characters and settings well.

Very well, at that. The short is almost made up of scraps of other cartoons. I’m not counting the mention that it’s Popeye’s birthday, although that makes a nice link for me to last week’s cartoon. Also apparently Popeye’s birthday is in April, or the present is arriving quite early or late. But Popeye getting a mysterious box which contains Eugene? And a note that explains it all? Fleischer studios did that in 1940, in Popeye Presents Eugene, the Jeep. Swee’Pea gets out of babysitter Popeye’s care and Eugene the Jeep leads him in a rescue? That was Popeye With The Jeep, from June 1938. Yes, Eugene appeared in a cartoon before he got “presented”. Just roll with it. Popeye has to keep performing to keep Swee’Pea from crying? I Likes Babies and Infinks, 1937.

So this cartoon isn’t an improvement on any of those. Knew that going in. There’s some good stuff here. One is getting Eugene the Jeep back in action. For whatever reason the Famous Studios cartoons never used Eugene. For all the mistakes of the King Features run, they got back interesting characters who’d been forgotten after the Fleischer Studios closed up (Eugene, Poopdeck Pappy, Goons), or that somehow never got used at all (the Sea Hag, the Whiffle Hen, Roughhouse). He’s a bit more angular here, and his patterning is simplified, but what the heck, it works for me. Eugene here is a gift from “the Maharaja of Pasha”, a character I think was made up for the short and that shows how hard they worked on “foreign” names back then.

Eugene the Jeep has traditionally been from Africa; I’m curious why he’s from India now. Or, I guess, they just establish he got to India, without quite saying the Jeep is an Indian animal now. All right; no problem with Eugene having a life before he meets Popeye. But I’m curious if the shift to India reflected some pop-cultural idea of India as a land of mysticism and magic. Or if they just had that great “Maharaja of Pasha” joke ready to go and were going to use it. Or if they couldn’t think of a joke African name. I’m sure a circa 1960 joke African name would have aged well.

The jokes about Eugene’s magic seem reused, even if I’m not sure he actually did make traffic vanish in an earlier short. I notice Popeye gets hit by the same two cars that Eugene made vanish. So it’s comforting to know Eugene didn’t banish them to the cornfield, he just moved them like two blocks away instead. Eugene walking through a wall and Popeye chagrinned that he can’t do that too was done before, along with mutterings about why he can’t do that too.

Popeye punches a locomotive into oblivion. It’s a move he’s made before. Really seems like he would have had an easier time grabbing Swee’Pea and running. But we need some action. Also Swee’Pea riding Eugene like a horse is adorable.

Eugene’s ability to teleport gets set up properly, but doesn’t come into play. And that muddies one of the few moments of animation style here. Popeye teleporting around the room searching for Swee’Pea should be a good, cheap way to show frantic energy. But if we’ve just had Eugene teleporting with the same style? I’m sure this never bothered me as a kid; today, it seems a misstep. At least Popeye needed to move around with a swooshing noise instead of the bell chime. His walking through walls at least pays off with a joke. And it gets used for a nice bit where Eugene walks at an angle toward the camera, a rare and welcome moment of characters not just walking perpendicular to the camera. The characters crossing the street is a similarly welcome, not-quite-perspective movement.


Well, if Popeye’s Island Adventures comes back, I’ll review them at essays available on this link. If it doesn’t, I’ll do something else.

Some Stuff To Look At


Over on my mathematics blog, yes, I looked at comic strips again. No equations, I promise.

Otherwise I’d like to bring people’s attention to Comics Kingdom, the web site for King Features Syndicate. They have a great selection of vintage comic strips, mostly soap-opera and story comics. And they’ve just added Elzie Segar’s Thimble Theatre, or as every person in the world knows it, Popeye. My love and I are a bit Popeye-mad and this is a chance to read him as he was introduced to the world, one strip a day.

Castor Oyl and Bernice the Whiffle Hen are haunted by a mysterious, shrouded figure.
Elzie Segar’s Thimble Theatre (Popeye) for the 1st of January, 1919. Popeye is a few weeks from being introduced and taking over.

The reruns are beginning from about three weeks before Popeye makes his debut. This does join the story — centered around the magical Whiffle Hen, Bernice — several months into its run. Some folks on Usenet group rec.arts.comics.strips have complained about that. I don’t think it’s a bad decision, though. Segar is good about explaining the story to those joining it in progress. And the strip pre-Popeye is competent but a bit dull; Popeye explodes across it and takes over by about his third sentence. Better to get to the good stuff sooner.