60s Popeye: Mirror Magic, and look, it’s Popeye’s mother!


Today we’re back to the Paramount Cartoon Studios, and another Seymour Kneitel-fest. He gets credit for story, direction, and production in this 1960 Popeye cartoon. So let’s give that to him and see what Mirror Magic is all about. It’s not much magic, especially not compared to Popeye and the Magic Hat.

There is a curse to competence. It tends to be boring. The last couple Jack Kinney cartoons I looked at had sloppy stories and a lot of animation cheats. But that also gave them this weird, unpredictable nature. Here, Paramount Cartoon Studios, which had been animating Popeye for 27 years already, gets all the craft of cartooning right. But it’s less fun.

The story is an adaptation of Snow White. For once it’s not a story Popeye tells to Swee’Pea. Jackson Beck in his narrator voice sets the stage, in the land of Muscleonia, where the strongest man rules. Little Popeye, whom we meet as an infant lifting his grandmother in her chair, is destined to be strongest in the land. We see it in scenes like Popeye bringing all the cows in the pasture in when his mother asks him to. Also we see Popeye’s Mother, the only time — in animation or in the comic strips — I remember seeing her.

King Brutus doesn’t suspect until the Magic Mirror, Jack Mercer doing his best Ed Wynn, drops the news that the change of might has happened. And so Brutus goes in disguise to kill an unsuspecting Popeye. He tries by dropping stuff that would kill a normal man, all of which Popeye shrugs off. Funny enough. Also interesting: despite the title, there’s no use of magic besides the Wynn Mirror’s ability to tell who’s strongest in the land. And not warn of anyone stronger growing up. Brutus drops his disguise, for not much reason, but gets the drop on Popeye, who eats his can of spinach. I was surprised he had a can. I’d expected the vase he was knocked into to happen to contain spinach.

Popeye, having noticed the back of his outfit was chopped off by a fallen scimitar, turns around to see Brutus, in his old-lady guise, about to smash him with a chair.
“He’s got a chair! He’s got a chair! Oh, what a moment for the referee to have turned his back to scold Popeye’s manager!”

It’s all done competently. The one moment I didn’t understand was Popeye saying how he couldn’t hit an old lady, and Brutus tearing off his old-woman guise, declaring “So you’re not as strong as the mirror said you were!” But that’s a tiny logic gap, so compelled by the plot needs you might miss it. And there are a few neat bits, mostly animation of Brutus leaning into the camera. But that’s all. You can tell from how much of this essay is recapping what happened that I just watched the story, nodded, and didn’t have deeper thoughts about it. The cartoon proves that not everything this era was badly made. But I know which of the last couple cartoons I’ll remember in two months.

At the end of the cartoon Popeye sings about how he’s Popeye the Sailor Man, even though he’s been established as the Pleasant Peasant throughout, and has not been in the same frame as any more water than the glass he holds. I trust there is an explanation for this blunder.

60s Popeye: Popeye and the Magic Hat; yes, this is finally the one where Popeye’s a giraffe


We come to the finish of this little run of baffling Jack Kinney-produced cartoons. With a story by Osmond Evans (whose only story credit before this was Popeye the Fireman, though he has animation direction credits) and animation direction by Ken Hultgren, this 1960 short takes us on a tour of moments that raise the question, “Huh?” Here is Popeye and the Magic Hat.

So there’s a line here where Olive Oyl says of stage magician Brutus that she thinks he’s a big fake. This comes after she’s gone to see his show. He’s produced fireworks, a stream of water, several brass instruments, and petunias which he gave her. Brutus has taken Popeye as a volunteer. Brutus has made Popeye’s clothes jump off his body, then back on, then turn into a baby’s outfit, then a caveman’s, then a clown’s, then a ballerina’s, and then into a matronly gown. And then had a Jeep — Eugene, I assume — appear, crawling all over Popeye. Then had an apple appear on Popeye’s head. Then made Popeye’s legs disappear, along the way to making all Popeye’s body vanish, right out there on stage. And then gave him a body that would be big for Aunt Eppie Hogg over in Toonerville Trolley.

What sensible reason does Olive Oyl have for calling Brutus a “fake”? What would constitute “real” magic?

On stage, Olive Oyl is transformed into a seal from the neck down. She looks startled. Popeye leans in from behind the curtain looking aghast.
Is this one of the ordinary risks you assume by attending the show that they warn you about on the ticket to get into the studio? Olive Oyl in the seal form wears this nice teal scarf that I had mistaken as an accessory she was wearing as a human. She wasn’t, so I’m curious why it so evoked Olive Oyl to me. Maybe the color was enough like that blouse she wore in some of the 1940s shorts.

I focus on this as representative of this short’s baffling nature. The rough outline makes sense and has been done before. More than one time. (With variants.) The specifics are weird. Why does Olive Oyl call Brutus a fake after that? Why does Popeye say something like “Dreamy Squeamy, [ Brutus ] gives me the popcorn!” Why is Eugene the Jeep hanging around Brutus? Is he actually doing the magic and Brutus only does the patter? How much of this short is made up of Brutus waving his magic wand down and up once? I like Brutus responding to Olive Oyl’s cry of “fake” by turning her flowers into fish. Why does he then turn her into a seal? And then do a stunt of bouncing 10- and 16- and really-heavy weights off her nose and at Popeye?

And then we get a string of transformation jokes. Popeye asks if Brutus is trying to make a monkey out of him, because he hasn’t learned from past cartoons like this. And then he’s a monkey for a bit. Brutus turns them back to normal. Then turns Popeye into a giraffe and Olive Oyl into a flamingo, because of reasons he doesn’t share with us. Popeye grabs the wand, creates a Delux [sic] Giant Size can of spinach and turns everything back to normal. Brutus flees into his hat, and Popeye and Olive Oyl follow. The resulting fight decimates Liddsville, but saves the animation budget because a hat jumping around is easy to animate. (There is a lot this short that’s easy to animate. The characters mostly stand still on a blank background, alone, while looking at the opposite corner.) And then the hat opens out wide and everybody pops up, a happy performing family talking about how “you were both adorable!”

Olive Oyl, holding her hands together, looks up at Popeye, who's been transformed into a giraffe and stands so tall that nearly his whole neck is out of frame. The giraffe wears an adapted version of Popeye's shirt.
“Popeye! You come down here this minute and explain why your shirt changed to fit you as a giraffe but your pants just disappeared!”

So … uh … what? What just happened and why? Was this all a stunt, with Popeye and Olive Oyl confederates making it look for the TV audience like they were fighting? And now breaking the scene to let everyone know it’s all right? Having written that out, I admit, I can read that as clever. That Popeye and his cast are performing the roles of antagonists in hundreds of these little scenes. There’s a reason his comic strip was named Thimble Theatre.

There are thrills in looking hard at these 60s cartoons rather than, like, the Fleischer cartoons that everybody loves. One is how weird the cartoons could get. There wasn’t the time and money (and maybe talent) available to make clear stories well-animated. This can produce a wild, bracing freedom. Until it happened I had no idea this cartoon would involve Olive Oyl turned into a performing seal. That surprise is a delight and I’ll take that, if the cost is my being sure why these things happen in this order.

On stage, Popeye is startled to find he's wearing a blue clown outfit with yellow polka dots, including a big pointed cap and humongous clown shoes.
Hey, it’s Popeye as the host of a 1960 kiddie cartoon presenting Popeye cartoons! Which goes along with the idea that all this action is “really” a show the gang is putting on for the audience within the cartoon and also the one at home. It’s probably a coincidence.

Seeing Popeye as a monkey and Olive Oyl as a flamingo got me wondering. So far as I know there hasn’t been a short that cast the Popeye gang as animal versions of themselves. (I’ve forgotten almost all the Hanna-Barbera series, but King Features has got some of it on their YouTube channel. And I’ve seen none of Popeye And Son.) It could freshen up a stock plot if you have new-looking animation and can toss in a bunch of animal jokes among the regular dialogue. I suppose it would cost too much, redesigning the characters and having to replace all the stock animation cycles for the one short. Could be it’s somewhere in the comic books, or should be. I’m interested in seeing adventures of Popeye the Monkey and Olive Oyl the Flamingo.

60s Popeye: Hamburgers Aweigh, featuring gross violations of Wimpy’s autonomy


Paramount Cartoon Studios gives us today’s 60s Popeye. The producer is, as ever, Seymour Kneitel. He’s credited as director as well. Story is by Joseph Gottlieb. From 1961 here’s Hamburgers Aweigh.

The Popeye Wikia does not say this cartoon was adapted from the comic strip. I do wonder, though. It’s got a curious structure, feeling as though important pieces are missing. For example, we start with Popeye and Olive Oyl setting off on a voyage. To where? For what purpose? The cartoon ends at sea, with all their food eaten, and there’s not a hint of what they’ll do about that. (Granting the comic strip often forgot to resolve whatever the instigating event of the story was.) Popeye is able to call on the magical Whiffle Hen Bird. The Whiffle Hen Bird is an old and important piece of Popeye’s story, older even than spinach. But why is the Whiffle here? Why is Popeye able to call on him for a wish? (Eugene the Jeep hangs around Popeye enough that his presence doesn’t need explaining. But his magic seems defined in a way that the Whiffle Bird’s isn’t, and that would prevent what’s needed here.) Why did the Sea Hag stow away on Popeye’s ship? It can’t be the Whiffle Bird: she never knows this fantastic wish-granting creature is on board. Is it related to the unknown objective of Popeye’s voyage? (She offers to split the hamburger cargo with Wimpy, but that is the thing to bribe Wimpy with.) If this is condensed from a comic strip story, the condensing was done well. None of these questions really matters, apart from why the Whiffle Bird happens to be here.

A wide-eyed happy Wimpy stares at the camera as his body shakes, freed of all magic spells. The Whiffle Bird is in the air beside him, happy also.
No quarreling with Wimpy’s priority of getting all those spells off him, but it does seem like he’s uncharacteristically slow to see the power of having a bird who grants wishes on hand.

This is a cartoon with far more mind control than I expect from Popeye. And all about mind control of Wimpy, which also seems unusual. Wimpy is almost one of the magic cast himself, wandering through adventures barely touched. It’s weird when he’s turned into a werewolf or, here, gets the most important element of his personality wished away.

There’s some good plotting here. Particularly, the Sea Hag orders Wimpy to toss all of Popeye’s spinach overboard. Good thinking. It’s dumb ironic luck that the spinach cans land where her vulture drops Popeye. It’s particularly nice as the Sea Hag had just cackled how everything was going according to plan. I’m not clear what the plan was. It involved tying up Olive Oyl, only to have her walk the plank. Also it involved catching Popeye unaware, except also flying her flag so anyone could see she was up to something. I don’t quite follow her reasoning, but children’s cartoon villains sometimes have to cut some story-logic corners.

Sea Hag and her Vulture stand, glaring, next to Wimpy, who stands guard with a giant knife/saber resting on his shoulder.
“I regret, Miss Sea Hag, that no one over 48 inches may ride Pirate Boats and the park strictly enforces this policy.”

Popeye, unable to hit the Sea Hag, has no trouble giving Olive Oyl spinach so she can hit her. He’s ethical but he’s not above obvious loopholes. Meanwhile Wimpy’s used the Whiffle Bird to take all the magic spells off of him. Interesting that he’s aware of all the mind control and that nobody wished for him to be content with his new programming. If she had thought of it, the Sea Hag … well, she would have been in the same fix. But Popeye and Olive Oyl wouldn’t be doomed to starve at sea after Wimpy eats all 200 cases of canned hamburger. Live and learn, mm?

It’s all a competent, reasonable done cartoon. Something about it gives me the feeling there’s more to this story. Or it could be Joseph Gottlieb conveyed the tone that there was more going on than they could show. I’ll still be thinking about this one a while.

60s Popeye: Quick Change Olie and another Whiffle Bird cartoon


We’re back with Paramount Cartoon Studios today, in a 1960 cartoon. Quick Change Olie has a story by I Klein, and direction and production by Seymour Kneitel. And two special guest stars, too! Let’s watch.

We start (and end) at the Rough House Cafe, getting a view of Rough House himself. We don’t get any dialogue from him. But what could he do that would be useful? Complain about Wimpy calling his food poisonous?

They have some talk about ye olden days, with Wimpy imagining the chance to eat things like roast venison, roast boar, or roast full oxen. Wimpy’s gluttony shifting from hamburgers to “just lots of food” is a change of character although not a ridiculous one, seems to me.

A still-hungry Wimpy catches the Whiffle Bird with plans to eat her, because he did not learn from that time he got turned into a werewolf. Yes, yes, that cartoon’s from 1961 and only a fool demands continuity between Popeye cartoons anyway. Whiffle explains how rubbing her feathers grants wishes. Wimpy wishes them back in Ye Olden Days, and they’re lucky the Whiffle Bird doesn’t think this is a caveman cartoon or something. A minute and 57 seconds into the cartoon we’re finally at a castle.

A king crying woe is me, and who for a wonder is not Blozo, tells his tale. Olie the Wicked Magician kicked him out of his castle and kidnapped the princess. Popeye doesn’t need much encouragement to go saving the day. Wimpy, who got everyone into this fix, meanwhile vanishes.

Olie turns out to be Brutus, wearing robes, saying “ye” instead of “you” and sometimes affecting a generic accent. He’s a legitimate magician, though, using his powers to disappear when Popeye tries to punch him, or turn to flame when Popeye grabs him. Popeye counters with spinach magic, and a jackhammer punch that shrinks Olie to half Popeye’s size. This drives him off, because the cartoon is running out of time. Otherwise, like, this is the first thing Popeye’s done that’s at all effective against Olie. And I’d think if you can make yourself a giant at will it’s no great threat to be shrunk.

In a vaguely medieval castle, a large and ugly Princess holds Popeye in her arms and off the ground. Popeye's reaching a hand eagerly to the Whiffle Bird, who looks sad at having been captured again by Wimpy.
Is it possible that the Whiffle Bird isn’t actually good at magic and that’s why she keeps getting into these fixes?

But as I said, there’s not time for more action, or something that would exhaust Olie. So the King has his castle back, and Popeye would get to marry the princess except — ho ho — she’s ugly! And fat! And has a grating voice! Not to worry; Wimpy’s reappeared in the story. While he was out, it seems, he couldn’t find anything to eat, so he grabs the Whiffle Bird who also decided to be in the story again. Wimpy figures to eat her, an unaccountable lack of insight from a normally sharp operator. Popeye knows what to do and wishes them back to Rough House’s Cafe. Or restaurant, whichever.

I feel like these descriptions get more plot-recappy the less I like what’s going on. There’s a fair enough premise here. And I liked in principle that Ye Olden Days characters weren’t King Blozo and, for the princess … well, I don’t know. Olive Oyl if you want the princess to be attractive, the Sea Hag if you don’t. But that creativity’s messed up by having Olie be Brutus in a new costume. I like Olie being actually able to do enough magic to mess with Popeye. And, yeah, once Popeye eats his spinach the villain is vanquished. This all felt too abrupt, though. An extra half-minure or so in Ye Olden Days could have done very well. Let Olie come back from being shrunk, and Popeye punch (or whatever) him out of the castle. Then I think I’d be more satisfied.

I don’t understand the cartoon title. It nags at me. I want to say it’s an old theatrical or vaudeville, term. Maybe meaning something that explains why the villain isn’t called Brutus. I can’t confirm or refute that, though.

What’s Going On In The Amazing Spider-Man? Why are you covering The Amazing Spider-Man reruns? October – December 2020.


I want to, and that’s that. The current story first ran from the 17th of July through to the 20th of November, 2016. So, if I’m reading this all right, the current storyline should last another 13 weeks. That’ll be around the 28th of March, 2021. The story after that features Rocket Raccoon. I started my plot recapping around the back half of the Rocket Raccoon story. So my plan for now is to keep recapping until I’ve looped myself and then retire this reading. Or I’ll reprint old recaps and take an easy week every three months. Or I might start covering Rip Haywire after all; there’s not much good reason I’m not. We’ll see.

So, this gets you caught up on Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s The Amazing Spider-Man repeats for the end of December 2020. I’ll post later plot recaps, and any relevant news, in an essay at this link.

And, finally, it’s Worthy Awards time over on Mary Worth And Me. If you’ve got opinions on who should win Outstanding Floating Head, Favorite Inconsequential Character, or other aspects of Mary Worthiness, go over and cast your vote. If you don’t remember anything from the past year of Mary Worth, I’ve got your plot recaps right here. Thanks for reading.

The Amazing Spider-Man.

4 October – 27 December 2020.

Mary Jane Parker had offered to marry evil sorcerer Xandu. This to get him to stop fighting Dr Strange, whom Xandu thinks is her boyfriend, and Spider-Man, who is her husband. Xandu uses the Wand of Watoomb to bring more and more of the Nightmare World into lower Manhattan. And there’s not much anyone can do about it. Spider-Man has to hide behind Dr Strange’s magic shield to not be mind-controlled … oh, OK, so Spider-Man runs out from behind the magic shield and he can’t be mind-controlled. He fights off a bunch of New Yorkers whom Xandu mind-controls into fighting him. But how could Spider-Man be immune to mind control? Don’t go making the quick and easy joke, now.

Xandu: 'How could you resist the spells of the Wand of Watoomb?' Spider-Man: 'I didn't ... not really. Dr Strange put me under HIS control --- so you were really fighting HIM the whole time!' Dr Strange: 'It was all Spider-Man's idea.' Narration: Watch it, guys! Xandu isn't finished YET!
Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s Amazing Spider-Man repeat for the 16th of October, 2020. I give Spidey credit for reasoning that he can’t be mind-controlled if he’s already mind-controlled. He’s just lucky Dr Strange plays so many first-person shooters using the weird remote cameras so he was any good at fighting remotely, is all. (Well, and that Xandu couldn’t break Dr Strange’s mind-control, but you have to take some chances when you’re superheroing.)

So since conquering New York City isn’t working out, Xandu goes back to the Nightmare World, and drags Mary Jane off with him. Spider-Man and Dr Strange follow because of the reasons. But Dr Strange is also frozen by the thingy with the magic doohickey. So what choice does Spider-Man have but to run away from Xandu’s magic blasts of magic blasterness? Ah, but there’s strategy to Peter Parker’s running away.

Xandu, shooting energy beams at Spider-Man and the statue he's bounced off: 'You're getting WINDED evading my bursts, wall-crawler. This is the SECOND time you've landed on the immobilized Nightmare!' Spider-Man: 'Hey, I don't know if you've noticed --- I can't fly --- and around here, I can't exactly come down to earth!' Xandu: 'Too true! So it is high time I disposed of you --- FOREVER!'
Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s Amazing Spider-Man repeat for the 28th of October, 2020. Here again, have to give credit to Spidey for out-thinking the bad guy. One might sulk about how things get explained to the reader, but it’s hard to tip off readers to this kind of thing, especially when everything in this kind of superhero comic is energy beams blowing up abstract shapes.

Way earlier in the story Xandu froze Nightmare, master of the world, in a layer of magic freeze stuff. Xandu misses Spider-Man, but hits Nightmare, freeing him. And he’s right fed up with all this nonsense. A revived Dr Strange offers the deal: if Nightmare lets the four humans go, they’ll leave. This sounds great to Nightmare, who drops them all off in Washington Square Park. Dr Strange takes the opportunity to wipe Xandu’s memories, he says just long enough to remove Xandu’s magic powers. I’m sure this is the sort of resolution that leaves Xandu a happy, beneficial member of society again forever and ever. And on that unsettling note — the 22nd of November — the story ends.


And the next story begins. The Daily Bugle has a new owner. J Jonah Jameson’s cousin Ruth, longtime silent owner, has died. Her widower thinks it would be fun to run a newspaper. He’s Elihas Starr. Or as Peter Parker knows him, the supervillain Not That Egghead. This Egghead is a fellow who uses long words and fights Ant-Man. Since Starr figures to publish the paper himself, he doesn’t need J Jonah Jameson any more.

J Jonah Jameson: 'You're the super-brainy hoodlum they call Egghead? I thought he was a 'Batman' bad guy!' Egghead: 'THAT Egghead was just an insignificant figment of television. I am the GENUINE ARTICLE, and of considerably greater stature.' Peter Parker: 'Or so you thought ... till Ant-Man cut you down to size!'
Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s Amazing Spider-Man repeat for the 3rd of December, 2020. Yes, Peter seems to be butting into the conversation with a needless insult. But we do learn later that Egghead once stuck Ant-Man to a sheet of flypaper, so we understand that Egghead knows how to have a giggle.

He does need Peter Parker, though. Starr figures Peter should put his talent at taking pictures of Spider-Man to a good use: taking pictures of Ant-Man. Peter does not know what Egghead is up to. Ant-Man might know, but Peter also doesn’t know where to contact Ant-Man. He’s met Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man, but who’s the current Ant-Man? With the help of Mary Jane he has the idea that Hank Pym might know. I understand they have to lay out the thought process for readers who you can’t assume see every strip. But this is the kind of thing that gave Newspaper Spidey that reputation.

Anyway, the past week of comics Peter’s been trying to get to Hank Pym’s Long Island laboratory. Me, I’d try calling or sending an e-mail first. Too much genre-awareness can be a bother. But Peter Parker should know it would be exactly his luck to get all the way out there and find out Pym is visiting with Doc Wonmug for a week of shenanigans.

Next Week!

Oh, Doc Wonmug and his shenanigans are back in a week. I start the new and I hope better year with Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop, if things go according to plan.

60s Popeye: The Whiffle Bird’s Revenge and Rough House’s Screen Debut


Journey with me now back to 1961 and a Paramount-produced Popeye cartoon. The story’s by I Klein and direction, of course, by Seymour Kneitel. The Whiffle Bird’s Revenge is aware there’ve been a bunch of werewolf movies recently. Let’s see what it has to say in response to that developing genre.

And here, finally, it is. 91 cartoons in, and something like 81 of these reviews in, and we finally see Rough House. He and his diner have got some mentions before. This is the first time we’ve seen him in animated form. I don’t know whether this was the first cartoon produced with him in it.

I know, you’ve got questions, the most prominent of which is: so what? Yeah, fair enough. He’s been in the comic strip since 1932, or a year longer than Swee’Pea, if that helps. He runs a cafe and sees through Wimpy but kind of tolerates him. Yeah, he’s basically Geezil without the bad ethnic coding. For whatever reason the Fleischers never used him. Nor did Famous/Paramount Studios when they were making theatrical cartoons. The King Features cartoons, though, they tend to run a little dull. Bringing up the extended roster of Thimble Theatre characters is one of the thrills.

And we get a double dose of the extended roster, as the Whiffle Bird returns. And she’s called ‘she’. She’s not given a name; in the comic strip, she’s Bernice. Also in the comic strip, she does not have the power to speak or bestow lycanthropy on people. But you always change stuff in adapting to new mediums.

In Rough House's Diner, Were-Wimpy holds up a stunned Popeye in one hand while he swallows a tray full of dozens of hamburgers held in the other hand. Rough House looks on, startled.
[ Record scratch ] “Yup, tha’s me! I bets youze is won’nering how I gotsk meself into this sit’chee’ation.”

The plot is a simple one. A hungry Wimpy catches the Whiffle Bird. Since she’d rather not be eaten, she punishes Wimpy by making him turn into a werewolf whenever he says ‘hamburger’. As a werewolf he semi-effectively harasses Rough House’s diner, and Popeye, until Popeye can beg her mercy. There’s good stories to make of that. It’s not a deep plot but it’s got a clear enough fairy-tale logic. Also I like stories with a weird werewolfism trigger. I blame my watching too much Fangface at an impressionable age.

It’s not quite a good cartoon. The plot outline is working hard to make this all come together, and it keeps almost doing so. The animation is also doing its job. It’s your typical Paramount Cartoon Studios work. Everybody’s drawn precisely, and they move rigidly but in well-defined steps. Look at Popeye strolling in at the start of the cartoon; his pace about matches what his walk cycle is actually doing. It’s a small but clear bit of craft.

There’s story logic problems, none of which bothered me as a kid. Like, what caused Were-Wimpy to turn human? The first time he just changes, after walking away, exhausted. The second time it’s after eating a plate of hamburgers. I don’t need the rule explained but I would like to feel confident there is a rule. The tougher problem to me is that Wimpy’s change is set off by his saying “hamburger”. If you knew you’d turn into a werewolf on saying “hamburger”, and you didn’t want to be a werewolf, why would you say “hamburger”? The first time, sure, he’s testing. I understand that. Why ever after that? The Whiffle Bird’s curse doesn’t make sense. This is why usually the transformation is something the werewolf can’t control, like the moon or splashes of water or something. If Wimpy can’t even hear the word “hamburger” then his friends become a threat.

Which is probably something you’d need a longer cartoon to do. More story time, anyway. Five and a half minutes minus the credits doesn’t give room for a complex story. So maybe this is the most intricate werewolf Wimpy story that the series could support.

Whiffle Bird standing, with a wing raised, atop the unconscious Were-Wimpy.
“Funny thing is now I can’t remember how I thought turning Wimpy into a werewolf was going to solve any of my problems. Well, live and learn.”
[ Boop. ]

The bigger story problem: what does Were-Wimpy know? He’s hungry, sure, but so is Wimpy. He’s more aggressive than Wimpy, although we don’t see him actually being stronger. He just has less body fat. This seems strange for a werewolf. But if he is stronger as Were-Wimpy then the Whiffle Bird’s punishment is weird. “To punish you, you’ll sometimes become much bigger and stronger than you otherwise are.” Wimpy seems to be aware he’s Were-Wimpy, and seems embarrassed by the fact. Is it that he dislikes taking food when he should be cadging it?

The cartoon’s a showcase for Jack Mercer’s voice acting. He’d always done Popeye and Wimpy. To my ear, he’s also doing the Whiffle Bird. It also shows, unfortunately, that Mercer couldn’t think of a way to monster up Wimpy’s voice without doing Popeye. Jackson Beck at least gets a few lines in, as Rough House and I believe the news anchor. (Beck was always getting cast in narrator/news anchor voices.)

I’m probably asking too much for a five-minute cartoon. As it is, the story’s sensible, or close enough to sensible for most folks. If you ever wanted a magic bird to turn Wimpy into a wolf, your choices are this or my DeviantArt gallery. But I can feel the premise trying to be a better cartoon than this.

Any amount of Fangface is probably too much Fangface.

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.

What’s Going On In The Amazing Spider-Man? Could Jules Rivera take over Spider-Man too? July – October 2020


I do not know Jules Rivera’s schedule besides that her Mark Trail starts next week. Maybe she could, maybe she couldn’t take over The Amazing Spider-Man. It does seem like Marvel and King Features Syndicate should be able to find someone to, if they had any interest in carrying on the comic. But, for now, I update the reruns of Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s The Amazing Spider-Man and post news about the strip. If there is any. I figure to stop if we get to the point that the reruns are ones I’ve already recapped.

Meanwhile, on my mathematics blog, I’m writing essays about the words of mathematics. Coming up this week: the letter Q. It will not be about the quadratic formula.

The Amazing Spider-Man.

12 July – 3 October 2020.

Mary Jane Parker had just knocked on Dr Strange’s door. She’d wanted to, but actually doing so was an unexplained impulse. Dr Strange is pleased to meet both. He remembers Mary Jane Parker from seeing her on Broadway. He remembers Peter Parker as existing. Also as being Spider-Man. Dr Strange has those mind powers, you know, and can read scripts.

The impulse to knock on the door came from Xandu, trenchcoated street mystic master. He wants to steal Dr Strange’s Wand of Watoomb, which will make him happy. You understand. I smiled writing the first half of that sentence. He’d bumped Mary Jane and thanks to that can see what she sees, although not hear what she hears. More, he gives her the compulsion to walk to the forbidden upstairs and through the locked door to grab the Wand of Watoomb.

Mary Jane, under a spell, looking around Dr Strange's stuff: 'There are ... so MANY artifacts in this CHAMBER. Somehow, I know that the one I want ... is THIS one!' She reaches for a wand. Outside, Dr Strange races upstairs, Peter Parker trailing: 'HURRY, Peter! We may already be TOO late!'
Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the 24th of July, 2020. OK, so the haunt’s revealed with the magic wand in the Sacred Chamber, so that’s going to be haunt #32, The Lost. Whoever has the highest sanity is the Traitor.

A burst of magic and Mary Jane swaps places with Xandu. Xandu takes over Spider-Man’s body, which, like, keeps happening to him. Well, he has the proportional ability to resist magical body-control of a spider. Xandu compelling him to punch Dr Strange and then do nothing, standing still. You know, like snarkers always say he does.

Xandu leaves Dr Strange’s mansion and grabs Mary Jane along the way. He apprehends her, to become his Queen. He also misapprehends that Mary Jane is married to Dr Strange. He’s going to feel SO AWKWARD when he finds out. She asks to see his kingdom, to distract him from killing Our Heroes. And meanwhile Spider-Man and Dr Strange escape their magical bondage by remembering Dr Strange has a magic thingy around his neck.

Spider-Man: 'A whole ROOM FULL of 'mystic talismans' - and the one you plan to use was hanging around your NECK the whole time?' Dr Strange: 'I wa dazed by Xandu's attack ... needed to gather my WILLPOWER! And now ... I HAVE!'
Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the 22nd of August, 2020. Look, you get the Angel Feather, you put it in your inventory and just forget it’s even there until you remember it’s good for a sanity roll up to eight and you wasted four turns, all right? Lay off.

Xandu and Mary Jane pop over to the Realm of Nightmare. It’s one of those 70s comic book realms where everything is droopy shapes and silhouettes that sometimes look like teeth. Nightmare, lord of the realm, rides his horse in to threaten Xandu and Mary Jane. Xandu uses the Wand of Watoomb to freeze him solid. And then has an even better idea, moving a chunk of the nightmare world to Washington Square Park. Dr Strange does a lot of work building up this menace to Spider-Man, and the audience. Xandu does the same, only using Mary Jane.

Me, I admit, I’m not shaken. The Nightmare Dimension doesn’t strike me as all that fearsome. There’s elevated walkpaths that don’t look safe, given how far they are from level and how none of them have handrails. And there’s silhouettes of spiders. I guess that’s annoying, moreso if you have mobility issues. But annoying isn’t the same as terrifying. Oh, and there’s lots of those energy clouds and bubbles flying around, like you see all over Marvel Comics. But if you didn’t buy the original premise of “ooh, this is scaaaary”, it’s not going to become scaaaary by having energy ribbons around it.

Xandu: 'Mary Jane Parker - have you decided you'll WILLINGLY be my queen?' Mary Jane: 'What girl WOULDN'T? You've got enough power to turn a city block into a dream world. All I ask is that you let Spider-Man and Dr Strange leave us in peace!'
Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the 1st of October, 2020. Oh, great, so it’s a two-phase haunt. That’s good to know. Now if we could get a single not-awful roll maybe we could make some progress here.

Well, Mary Jane, trying to keep Spider-Man safe, kind of suggests she might marry Xandu if he transforms the world into a nightmare land. So that’s the project he’s working on now, as October gets under way. If I am judging right from when this ran in 2015-16, we should finish around the 22nd of November. The follow-up story, back in 2016, was about J Jonah Jameson losing control of the Daily Bugle to Elias Starr, the villain Egghead. One of Ant-Man’s villains, which is why you’re thinking wasn’t that Vincent Price on the Adam West Batman? We’ll see what they do with the reruns, when we get to that point, though.

Next Week!

A journey to the greatest amusement park of all time! Plus Albert Einstein’s Clone. All this and more in Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop, if all goes well. Thanks for reading.

60s Popeye: Crystal Ball Brawl and a World Series winner


We’re back to another Larry Harmon cartoon this week. The director is again Paul Fennell, and the story by Charles Shows. Here’s 1960’s Crystal Ball Brawl.

You know the difference between the comic strip Popeye and the cartoon adaptation? Yes, yes, that BrutusBluto wasn’t an important figure in the comic strip. Not until the cartoons made him prominent. But the big thing in the comic strip is how much of its stories are driven by avarice. Not Popeye; he’s above greed. But he’s about the only one. Maybe Eugene the Jeep also avoids the struggle for wealth and status. But otherwise, everybody down to Swee’Pea will sell out Popeye for a bit of gold. For the most part, the cartoons avoid that. There’s some cartoons with a Macguffin of a gold mine or whatnot, but that won’t set Olive Oyl against Popeye.

So this cartoon teases a full embrace of the avaricious plot. Popeye’s magical uncle Abra-Ka-Dabra has died. The estate includes a crystal ball which Wimpy quickly discovers is giving stock tips. Also the forecast that The Bums will beat Boston in the World Series next week. Wimpy immediately acts on that and has a late-50s midsized convertible almost before Popeye and Olive Oyl have learned the premise. This is really on-brand for Wimpy. The current Thimble Theatre reruns on Comics Kingdom have been about Wimpy figuring out what he can do with the Sea Hag’s magic flute.

Brutus learns what’s up, finally, 3:11 into a five-and-a-half-minute cartoon. And here we threaten to get a good multi-party conflict going. Wimpy, Olive Oyl, and Brutus each trying to get the crystal ball, and Popeye trying to be the sane moral center? That would work.

We don’t get it, and that’s a disappointment. Brutus and Popeye fight for the crystal ball and that’s fine. Wimpy makes a couple attempts to get the crystal ball, but there’s no hint he’s keeping it to himself. He’s just securing it for its rightful owner. You know. Wimpy, the respectable, upstanding person who isn’t working a selfish angle. Olive Oyl forgets to even be in the cartoon. It’s all adequately played out. It spends way too long (about twenty seconds) on Brutus pranking Wimpy and Popeye into running into each other. But I would accept an argument that the joke is so basic that it only works if the buildup is very short or excessively long.

Wimpy, having delivered the telegram, holds his arms together and tries to look pleading and sad. Meanwhile Popeye's passed out, fallen over, nad has stars circling over his head.
Popeye’s less startled by inheriting his uncle’s estate than he is by Wimpy holding down a job.

The cartoon ends with, theoretically, the world changed: the crystal ball is there and working fine and Popeye has it. Of course it’ll never be seen or heard from again, but it’s interesting they don’t have the crystal ball get smashed or lost or lose its powers. Wimpy ends the cartoon still wealthy, too. Brutus ends the cartoon sitting on a cloud, asking “What did I did wrong?” in a weird French or French-Canadian accent. Why? No idea. I did entertain the possibility that for some unspeakable reason they grabbed an audio clip from a cartoon where Bluto has a French/French-Canadian accent. A quick review of Alpine For You and of Klondike Casanova didn’t seem to have it. I was looking for other cartoons where Bluto was, like, a logger when I realized this was not a good use of my time. It would still be baffling to pull a line from a decade-old cartoon when Beck is recording for the rest of this cartoon anyway. Maybe Jackson Beck was just having fun with a dull line.

And another tiny bit: Dead Uncle Abra-Ka-Dabra’s estate is being handled by Loophope McGraw, Attorney at Law. Popeye and Olive Oyl get the news that next month Loophole McGraw will be elected governor. Did the writer just not noticing he already used the funny name? Or should we suppose McGraw has used the crystal ball long enough to guide his own run for office? But is honest enough not to steal it? Not sure.

What’s Going On In The Amazing Spider-Man? Were they lying when they said Spider-Man would come back? April – July 2020


Well, lying has to carry with it intent. I wasn’t lying when I said I planned to do my comic strip plot recaps for Tuesdays, for example. Stuff just got in the way. And it’s not as if anyone’s 2020 has gone to plan, or else I’d have written this during slack moments of Pinburgh. But as we finish another quarter-year with no new creative team for The Amazing Spider-Man, it’s getting harder to believe that there ever will be. If I get any news about Spider-Man returning to the comics I’ll report it in an essay at this link. And, what the heck, I’ll keep it in the story-update cycle at least a bit longer. This story, from Roy Thomas and Larry Lieber, ran in 2015-16.

On my other blog, I am temporarily not reading comic strips except for my own pleasure. But I am looking at one mathematical term or concept a week, one for each letter of the alphabet. These are all essays I hope bring some fresh thoughts about some familiar old notion like what “normal” is. You might like, and you can suggest topics of your own interest that I might get to. Please consider that.

The Amazing Spider-Man.

19 April – 11 July 2020.

Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner, was threatening the surface world with destruction. He does that every now and then. Something about how the surface world despoils the oceans. As ever, he’s not wrong. He brought Pharus, an Atlantean boy who contracted Tiny Tim Disorder from human pollution. White Spider-Man and Namor fought, Mary Jane brought Pharus to Metro General Hospital.

J Jonah Jameson takes the injured Peter Parker to the same hospital. (Parker was woozy after his fight with Namor.) Partly to be a decent person, but also because Parker let slip that Pharus went there. Jameson meets Dr Liz Bellman, who’s got the toxins out of Pharus, and that’s all he can get before the soldiers arrive. They figure to take Pharus into custody. Parker slips out and, as Spider-Man, uses his spider-powers to open a door. Spidey kidnaps, or liberates, Pharus, who dives into the New York Harbor. And disappears. There’s one day until Namor declares even more war on the surface world.

Peter Parker, ducking into a hospital closet, thinking: 'Namor has a grudge against the human race ... but I can't let the *boy* he brought with him become a hostage!' Coming out, as Spider-Man, thinking: 'Dr Bellman must've come out of one of THESE rooms ... ' (Opening a door) 'Bingo!' Pharus: 'Are --- are you going to HURT me?'
Roy Thomas and Larry Lieber’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the 29th of April, 2020. Yes, I know, dramatic economy and it’s not like the story needs to be slower, especially given how heavy an exposition workload newspaper story strips have to carry. But, man, can you imagine how tough it would have been if Spider-Man had to choose among three doors?

Pharus swims to Namor’s ship, though, and tells of his treatment, and the kindness received. Namor doesn’t see this as any reason to call off the war, and sails back to the New York City pier he just left. He steps out to fight Spider-Man, because it would be rude not to. Spider-Man’s no match for Namor, but Pharus pleads for his life. And the life of the surface world, arguing that Spider-Man can be the brave leader who alters the surface world. Namor’s unmoved.

Mary Jane Parker arrives, offering to become his bride if he’ll spare Spider-Man. Namor refuses this, on the reasonable grounds a leader cannot put his desires ahead of his country’s.

Jameson, watching Spider-Man and Namor fight on TV: 'I don't get it Robbie! Wy isn't the army moving in on the Sub-Mariner? Heaven knows I'm no fan of Spider-Man, but that doesn't mean I want that waterlogged warmonger to kill him!' Robertson: 'Don't you see Mary Jane Parker there, Jonah? And that boy? If the army acts, they'll be caught in the crossfire!' Jameson: 'Isn't there anybody who can intervene?' Robertson: 'The President reached out to some folks who're on a mission out of the country ... but it doesn't look like the Avengers will arrive in time to save their fellow masked man!' Jameson: 'Then, whether I like it or not ... and I don't ... the web-crawler is history!'
Roy Thomas and Larry Lieber’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the 31st of May, 2020. So a recurring bit that always amuses me is when someone in the strip proposes getting Spidey some backup. This always leads to the discovery that all eight thousand other superheroes in midtown Manhattan alone are out on other business. Usually that’s enough spackle to put over the plot hole. But here, Namor has announced he’s going to war, Atlantean ships have been stopping surface ships, and Namor has come to New York City, a city he’s specifically threatened with destruction before, in a situation that’s been developing for … days, at least. Weeks, more likely. Plausibly a month or more. What other thing is going on that Captain America has to deal with this afternoon?

Finally Dr Bellman arrives, asking for mercy on her behalf. She’s the spitting image of her grandmother, Betty Dean, who talked Namor out of attacking the surface world back in 1940 or so. And who Namor’s been crushing on ever since. Bellman says Dean’s last words were begging to remind Namor of how the surface world and Atlantis can share the world peacefully.

And this changes his mind. Namor can now see how his way of going to war will only lead to war. He’ll give the surface world another try, and never bother with killing Spider-Man or whatnot. Namor sails his flying Atlantis boat out of the story on the 15th of June, although it takes a little while to quite wrap everything up. Dr Bellman heading out. Reporters showing up. Spider-Man telling the United Nations how there will be peace when the people of the world want it so badly that their governments will have no choice but to give it to them. That sort of thing. Spider-Man webs out, too, so that Peter Parker can learn how Jameson isn’t buying Spider-Man Versus Namor pictures.


We get the transition to the current story the 28th of June. Peter Parker and Mary Jane walk through the crowds. A trenchcoated figure starts following. He’s Xandu. He figures Mary Jane might just help him get the Wand of Watoomb, and that will make him happy. By a wild coincidence, though, the Parkers walk past the lair of Doctor Strange. Newspaper Spider-Man, sometime in the past, teamed up with Dr Strange to stop Xandu the sorcerer. Hey, what are the odds?

At Dr Strange's door. Peter: 'He mus not be home, Honey. Let's ... ' Mary Jane: 'Wait! The door's starting to ... ' [ The door opens with a slow kreeeeeek ] Dr Strange: 'Hello, I'm Stephen Strange. What can I do for you?'
Roy Thomas and Larry Lieber’s The Amazing Spider-Man for the 10th of July, 2020. Dr Strange is really at ease considering it was, like, maybe this morning that Namor was still planning to sink every surface ship that left port. I mean, the time transition is ambiguous so it’s maybe been a couple days but … like, were people just this chill two days after the end of the Cuban Missile Crisis?

Mary Jane wants to meet Dr Strange, but Peter can’t think of a pretext that isn’t weird or secret-identity-spoiling. Xandu can, though: he ‘accidentally’ bumps her hand and it sets off a weird tingling. She, claiming a strange compulsion to meet Strange, knocks on his door. Dr Strange is happy to take some time away from his job of wearing a giant pinball surrounded by flower petals to meet an actress like Mary Jane. So there we are.

This story originally started the 21st of February, 2016. It ran through the 17th of July, so, 21 weeks total. We should finish the 22nd of November this year if I haven’t counted wrong.

Mary Jane also name-drops Mandrake the Magician, another King Features syndicated comic strip. Mandrake’s a fun strip, sent into reruns in July 2013 when writer and artist Fred Fredericks had to step down mid-story, for health reasons. They’re probably going to get a new creative team for that one soon too.

Next Week!

So that rich guy who wanted ancient alien technology. I bet he was up to something good, right? We’ll find out with a check on Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop. Thanks for reading.

60s Popeye: Voo-Doo To You Too, and what it means to me


This cartoon lets me reveal something that every one of you, deep down, already knew about me. As a young kid watching Popeye on the local stations I wondered: how many cartoons are there? How many do they have? Do they run the cartoons in a set order, or is it random? There was no way to know, of course, except to keep logs. So I would think it should be easy to write down titles of cartoons as they came up.

This would be foiled, over and over, by the ability of an under-ten-year-old to keep a sheet of paper and a pencil near the TV day after day. Also to pay attention when he heard the sailor’s hornpipe starting up, so I could have a title to write. (It did not occur to me that I could leave a blank line for a missed title.) But this cartoon, Voo-Doo To You Too, with its punchy, rhyming, easy-to-remember title? It was always the scolding reminder that I should re-start my list.

Happily, I am today an adult. I can consult lists of cartoons on the Internet. And we don’t have to worry about Popeye running on the local stations on TV. Or about there being local TV stations either. I can content myself to writing 800 words about every one of them.

This cartoon was by Famous Studios, the ones that until recently had been the only ones drawing Popeye. Direction and story are both by Seymour Kneitel. I think he was at least nominally the director for everything Famous Studios ever did with Popeye.

The cartoon depends on a thing it calls voodoo magic. It’s portrayed with the research into Haitian and Creole spirituality that you expect from a hastily-made kids cartoon of 1960. If you don’t need that, you’re right. I have a punch line to my little story that appears right after the embedded video, and after that we can catch up again next week. For those of us willing to watch what an East Coast cartoon studio called “Voodoo” in 1960, let’s watch.

So the punch line is that however well I remembered the title, I mis-remembered which cartoon it attached to.


One good thing about the King Features Popeye cartoons is that they opened up the cast. The Famous Studios cartoons shrank the Thimble Theatre universe until it was Popeye, Bluto, Olive Oyl, sometimes Wimpy. I think even Swee’Pea vanished, his roles taken up by the two of Popeye’s Nephews who survived. King Features’s run was not so stingy. This cartoon stars the Sea Hag, who never appeared before the 60s run somehow. And Eugene the Jeep, who had vanished after Popeye cartoons stopped being black-and-white somehow. There’s smaller characters too. The Sea Hag’s pet vulture — Bernard, though he’s not named here — appears in a good supporting role. There’s even, in the first scene, a look at Rough House’s Cafe (Special To-Day: Spinach Burgers). Rough House never appeared before the 60s cartoons and I’m not sure that he ever did again, except in the Robert Altman movie.

We also get the Sea Hag as an actual character. Like, a real and imposing menace. Coming ashore, she picks a nice-looking house, and decides to enslave the owner to serve her. The owner is Olive Oyl. What are the odds? Popeye overhears this and does not leap right in to punch something. He remembers that he’s vulnerable to magic, and unwilling to hit a woman even if she is the Sea Hag. Instead he jumps into the bedroom and tries to persuade Olive Oyl out of her magical enslavement. She knows he’s in there anyway. Maybe the Sea Hag knows how these cartoons go.

The Sea Hag, holding up a wax magic doll imitation of Popeye and a long straight hair with which she intends to bind it.
So for those wondering why the Sea Hag never tried this trick again: magic doll wax is so expensive that there’s no sense getting it until Michaels sends you one of those coupons for at least 60% off your entire basket, special items included, and they don’t send those coupons out often.

Sea Hag shapes a candle into a voodoo doll of Popeye, and then binds it with an enchanted hair: Popeye’s arms are stuck to his side and there’s no moving them. It’s a great additional menace, taking away Popeye’s secondary superpower. (His primary superpower is standing up for what’s right, even if it hurts him.) And I do remember, as a kid, being frightened of a magic spell that would lock my arms to my sides. It’s rare to get actual nightmare material out of these cartoons.

She tosses the candle in a chest, and locks it, and sends Bernard to lose it in the wilds. Popeye searches for help with the chest, and who turns out to be in the cartoon but Eugene the Jeep? Luckily, Eugene’s magical powers include his knowing what the plot is. So Popeye doesn’t have to recap the situation right after he’s explained it to the audience. We get a slice of Popeye-following-Eugene, including a joke where Eugene walks through a tree that Popeye can’t. That’s a joke done in the Fleischer studios’ Popeye the Sailor With The Jeep, though since it had been 22 years we can forgive the reuse. Eugene can find the chest easily enough, and open it, but he’s helpless to untie the hair.

So, finally — and later than I would have tried — we turn to spinach. It does nothing to get Popeye’s arms free, and that’s where the cartoon really gets frightening. More powerful than spinach-charged Popeye? There’s genies who aren’t more powerful than spinach-charged Popeyes. Ah, but Eugene knows the rules of sympathetic magic: he feeds the doll some spinach, and doll-Popeye breaks his bonds. This leaves Popeye free. This also leaves under-ten-year-old me wondering, well, aren’t his arms stuck up in that triumphant pose now? Why not? And, like, is there anything they can do with the doll so it can’t be used against him again? If they melt it what happens to Popeye? So you can see that even as a kid, I was doomed to be like this.

Popeye standing next to the bound wax doll. Eugene is walking into Popeye's leg, magically disappearing into him.
Wh — what the — wh — Eugene, you’re making this magic-bondage/mind-controlled-zombie cartoon all weird.

Popeye runs back to Olive Oyl’s house, and gets a good fight in with Bernard, since he can’t hit the Sea Hag. This smashes up the house, but does send Sea Hag and Bernard flying away. Olive Oyl, freed from her trance, remembers none of this, but demands Popeye clean up the mess. Popeye protests he didn’t make the mess, which is wrong. He’s not to blame for the mess, but he totally did make it. Popeye closes on a rhyming couplet, not something he always does this series, complaining about how he finds women confusing. It’s a weak moment; what about any woman’s behavior here has been confusing, and why?

Never mind the weakness. This is one of my favorite King Features cartoons, even if I somehow let the title detach from it. It’s a good solid storyline. It’s got a rare menace for Popeye cartoons at all, never mind for cartoons of this era. It’s even pretty well animated, considering Famous Studios’ limitations. Anybody’s walk cycle is boring, but it’s pretty smooth and on-model. And we get a lot of scenes from interesting perspectives. The Sea Hag’s shown at three-quarters profile to cast her zombie spell on Olive Oyl, at about 6:47, and again at about 7:29 readying to fix that swab Popeye, and again explaining the rules of the voodoo doll at about 7:59. One may suspect important elements of the animation are being reused in all three appearances, but that’s good budgeting. Popeye’s conversation with Eugene the Jeep, starting about 8:46, is done from above Popeye’s and Eugene’s shoulders. They’re both interesting perspectives. We get some of that again when Eugene can’t untie the magical hair, or feeds the wax doll its spinach.

If more of the King Features cartoons were of this quality then the series would be fondly remembered.

Statistics Saturday: Some TV Show Episodes I’m Still Angry About Decades Later


  1. That “Lash Rambo” episode of The New WKRP In Cincinnati.
  2. The one where Worf’s Brother saves this village from a planet-wrecking crisis and everybody acts like he’s the jerk.
  3. The Mary Tyler Moore Show where Ted Baxter gets a job as a game-show host that he’d be great at, and everyone pressures him to give that up so he can go on being a local-news anchor who’s not any good at it.
  4. That Aladdin where Iago gets the Genie’s powers, and he makes a mess of things his first day and feels like a total failure, even though, what, you figured you were going to be an expert the first time you tried something? Why is this talking parrot unrealistic about the speed of his ability to master genie powers?
  5. The Star Trek: The Next Generation where the Evil Admiral built an illegal cloaking device and everybody’s all smugly disdainful of him but they use it anyway because doing without would be a little inconvenient and nobody calls them out for this hypocrisy.
  6. The Far Out Space Nuts where their Lunar Module got stolen, but the planet has a machine that can duplicate anything, and Chuck McCann gives the thing a picture of the Lunar Module and the machine makes a really big duplicate of the picture, and he and Bob Denver were expecting it to make a new spaceship for them because what were they expecting?
  7. The 1980s Jetsons where Elroy accidentally stows away on the Space Shuttle.

Also, while I do not remember this at all, Wikipedia claims this was the plot of a 1987-season episode:

George discovers that he has become stressed out lately due to his teeth, so his dentist creates special false teeth to relax him—but end up stressing him out even more.

I assume the episode guide writer is being wry.

What’s In The Refrigerator Still, Somehow


So sometime back I bought a pack of kaiser rolls. I’m not sure how far back, except I’m almost sure it was summer when I got them. We use them for (vegetarian) burgers, except I keep thinking they’re pretzel rolls when I’m not looking at them. That might seem like a curious mistake to make repeatedly but then remember I keep them in the fridge so they’ll last longer in the summer weather.

Thing is, we have four of them left in the pack. And we had four of them left in the pack last time we had burgers. I’m not sure when’s the last time we didn’t have four of them left in the pack, which is part of why I can’t really swear to just when we got the bag. It’s been a long while considering our veggie burger consumption.

Anyway, I just want to say I’m going to be cross if I’ve finally come across a magic endlessly-regenerating never-empty bag of something for my life, and it’s kaiser rolls instead of Boyer peanut-butter Smoothie cups. Or, I guess, pretzel rolls. Not that Mallo Cups are bad, just the Smoothie cups are harder to get in good shape.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

Also, I’ve learned that people really, really like numbers. At least numbers they don’t have to do anything with. If they can just see a number that’s different from the number it was last time — but is the same just often enough to be exciting — they’re happy. So who am I to fight that? So let’s try this. I’ll start the index at 100, so today it’s:

100

Story Free To A Good Home


So a modern-day genie can’t find an oil lantern and so takes up the first bottle available. It’s a shampoo bottle. Now, the genie’s all right with granting wishes and all that, except they come out all goopy and in need of a rinse and maybe conditioning. Also, the bottle-owner can always get a little bit more out of a wish by standing the bottle upside-down for a few minutes, as long as it doesn’t slip on the wet surface. And I’m not sure about this part but there may be an enchanted loofah.

Well, if you can’t do anything with that, I talk some more about mathematically-themed comic strips over on my mathematics blog. You can use that, surely.

Robert Benchley: The Rope Trick Explained


There is no such thing as the Indian Rope Trick, the stunt where a rope gets tossed up in the air, and an assistant climbs up it and vanishes. There never was. The entire stunt was a creation of 19th-century western magicians. I know, I was shocked to learn it too. Peter Lamont’s The Rise Of The Indian Rope Trick: How A Spectacular Hoax Became History describes much of the trick’s cultural history. Lamont mentions how the humorist Robert Benchley was an early and fervent skeptic that there was ever such a thing as the Indian Rope Trick.

In this piece, collected in My Ten Years In A Quandry And How They Grew, shows off some of Benchley’s skepticism about the trick, although it isn’t one of the pieces Lamont quotes, for fair reason.

The Rope Trick Explained

In explaining this trick, I need hardly say that it is known as “the Indian rope trick.” That is the only trick that everyone explains, as well as the only trick that no one has ever seen. (Now don’t write in and say that you have a friend who has seen it. I know your friend and he drinks.)

For readers under the age of three (of whom, judging from several letters at hand, I have several) I will explain that “the Indian rope trick” consists in throwing a rope into the air, where it remains, apparently unfastened to anything, while a boy climbs up to the top. Don’t ask me what he does then.

This trick is very easy to explain. The point is that the boy gets up into the air somehow and drops the rope down to the ground, making it look as if the reverse were true. This is only one way to do it, however. There are millions of ways.


While in India, a friend of mine, a Mr MacGregor, assisted me in confusing the natives, in more ways than one. We dressed up in Indian costume, for one thing. This confused even us, but we took it good-naturedly.

Then I announced to a group of natives, who were standing open-mouthed (ready to bite us, possibly) that Mr MacGregor and I would perform the famous Indian Rope Trick under their very noses. This was like stealing thunder from a child.

Stationing myself at the foot of a rope which extended upward into the air with no apparent support at the other end, I suggested to Mr MacGregor that he climb it.

“Who—me?” he asked, hitching his tunic around his torso.

This took up some time, during which part of our audience left. The remainder were frankly incredulous, as was Mr MacGregor. I, however, stuck to my guns.

“Up you go, MacGregor!” I said. “You used to be in the Navy!”


So, like a true yeoman, Mr MacGregor laid hands on the rope and, in a trice, was at its top. It wasn’t a very good trice, especially when viewed from below, but it served to bring a gasp of astonishment from the little group, many of whom walked away.

“Come on in—the water’s fine!” called Mr MacGregor, waving from his pinnacle (one waves from one’s pinnacle sideways in India).

“Is everything fast?” I called up at him.

“Everything fast and burning brightly, sir!” answered Mr MacGregor, like a good sailor.

“Then—let ‘ergo!” I commanded, sounding Taps on a little horn I had just found in my hand.

And, mirabile dictu, Mr MacGregor disappeared into thin air and drew the rope up after him! Even I had to look twice. It was a stupendous victory for the occult.


“Are there any questions?” I asked the mob.

“What is Clark Gable like?” someone said.

“He’s a very nice fellow,” I answered. “Modest and unassuming. I see quite a lot of him when I am in Hollywood.”

There was a scramble for my autograph at this, and the party moved on, insisting that I go with them for a drink and tell them more about their favorite movie stars. There is a native drink in India called “straite-ri” which is very cooling.


It wasn’t until I got back to our New York office that I saw Mr MacGregor again, and I forgot to ask him how he ever got down.

Statistics Saturday: My Reactions To Reading The Grimm Fairy Tales


The big ones: the devil has a kindly grandmother? What did you THINK would happen when you wished your child would turn into a raven? And man, don't EVER be a mouse.
Thoughts inspired by reading Jack Zipes’s translation of The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm.

Seriously. As best I can tell, in all 259 tales collected there’s one mouse that makes it to the end of the story, and he’s a spiritual manifestation of the King’s dream-state and not a mouse in his own right anyway.

George Melies: An Up-To-Date Conjuror


I forget how long it’s been since I brought the lovely films of Georges Méliès up here, and it would take whole minutes to check earlier videos and find out. Here, though, I offer his 1899 short, An Up-To-Date Conjurer. It’s a short film, barely a minute long, as the date almost implies. It’s almost plotless, too, another thing you might expect from the date alone (A Trip To The Moon was three years in its future), but that just means the action is all the camera-tricks and sight gags that define this style of silent movie. It’s just a minute of magic tricks, and a fun one at that.

Farmer Al Falfa: Magic Boots


For today I’d like to continue the Terry Toons theme that’s been going on around these parts with the 1922 short “Magic Boots”. This is another good example of the kind of loose and improvisational style that was so common in cartoons before sound. The action starts with some mice dancing, and turns to a bunch of cats, then cats at sea, then wearer-less boots marching around, and then before you know it things have reached Saturn and the Moon and … well, despite a weak ending that as far as I can tell isn’t set up at all, there’s steadily something interesting and weird going on. Do enjoy, please.

Felix the Cat Monkeys with Magic


The title for this Felix the Cat cartoon might set up some disappointment, as it turns out the title card means the verb form of “monkeys”. Ah well. It’s a cartoon that’s got a number of pretty good gags of the kind that 1920s cartoons excelled in, especially in visual tricks and in metamorphoses. It does have a rather dreamlike plot: the sense I get is the creators were trying to think of things where Felix could use a wave of the hand to do something, and if that means the viewer looks down a moment and looks back up and suddenly there’s a bear chasing Felix and then a cow turns into a car, well, that’s just the sort of world Felix lived in.

The Big Idea


There are many ways that you can become a giant, here defined as a person fifty or more feet tall, or long while lying down. The easiest is to be born as one, of course, although many mothers protest this for the obvious reason, that it’s harder to fit the giant toddler into preschool programs. Next is to fall through a portal into an alternate universe in which the general scale of things is different, but this has its hazards as the flow of time might be different and you might be stuck in a dopey cartoon of some kind. Being the subject of an experimental gigantification ray is a convenient approach for people who are looking to work with their local mad scientist, or if they prefer the equivalent there’s magic spells that are poorly understood. Surely the most exciting method of becoming a giant is to take a job as a self-trained scientific detective, find one can’t use the magnifying glass to find clues correctly, and go stumbling into gigantism thusly. The important thing isn’t how you become a giant, it’s that you try.