In Which I Learn A Sad Fact About Iowa’s State Highway Map of 1947


So first of all, I discovered that the Iowa Department of Transportation has put what looks like all the Official State Highway Maps it’s ever issued up on its web site. So if you ever want to know how you might get from Des Moines to … Some … Other Moines, Iowa, using only the marked highways of 1922, there you go. By there I mean to one or the other Moines. Wait, they have a county named Grundy? How many Iowa counties do share names with Archie characters, anyway? Well, not my business.

But the sad thing. That story I had read about in Mapping in Michigan and the Great Lakes Region? About a Martian who comes to Earth looking for the best the planet has to offer and gets told to go to Iowa in a non-sarcastic manner? Overblown. The back of the 1947 map does talk about showing a Martian the best of Earth, but it’s not a story. I was so hoping for a cartoon with a lovely Prototype Gidney And/Or Cloyd looking at cornfields and zipping off in his flying saucer to tell fellow Martians about this, and yes I know Gidney and Cloyd were from the Moon thank you, but no. What they have is a story about the way this could be a story. And I want to quote it because I know I was giggling for a good while about what I like to think you were too and I should let Iowa’s enthusiasts have their chance.

We call it Iowa

Some day, when the mystery of space is no longer a mystery and voyages between planets are successfully accomplished, a neighbor from Planet Mars may visit Planet Earth. Should he do so, doubtless he will be curious to learn the way of the living creatures that are in ascendancy on Planet Earth. It is certain that in due time he will be directed to the United States of America, there to behold a land and a people filled with imperfections but, nevertheless, enjoying the greatest advances yet made upon this planet toward a comfortable and pleasurable existence.

Should all this come to pass, our neighbor from Mars is almost certain to find these United States of America very bewildering. In our great cities he will find the triumphant steel and masonry achievements of our builders within a stone’s throw of slum districts where human beings must live without hope of quiet and comfort and cleanliness, where are are no flowers or birds or grass or trees or open spaces. Is this the best this planet has to offer? In other sections of this land of ours he will travel, league upon league, through areas where living conditions are primitive and a meager and stunted existence is all that has been achieved. Is this the good life that he has come so far to see? Is there nowhere within our borders an area where our Martian neighbor may be shown a comprehensible segment of the best that Planet Earth, through the ages, has succeeded in evolving?

There is. We call it Iowa. It is located near the heart of the Nation. Its area and population are each slightly less than two percent of that Nation. Nature has favored it with a temperate climate, ample rainfall and productive soil; natural resources that attract thoughtful, industrious people who expect to work for a living and who have reason for confidence that their efforts will be rewarded. Of such fibre were our forebears, emigrants from many lands. Of such fibre are the more than two and one-half million people now dwelling within our borders.

In today’s complex social order we are all specialists. Through the centuries we have found it efficient for the individual or group to learn to do certain things well, and to exchange the resulting products of their efforts for the surplus products of other specialists. In Iowa we are primarily specialists in the production of food. The one million Iowans, for whom the farms of Iowa are home, produce the food consumed by many times their number. No other like number of people, dwelling upon a like area of the earth’s surface, are equally successful specialists in the art of food production. And nowhere on this earth is there greater opportunity for a satisfying life than on the farms of Iowa.

Sixty percent of our people dwell in our cities and towns. They too are specialists, but in many different and equally essential fields. Among these are found the usual quota in the professions and in the retail and service fields Many are engaged in processing and marketing the products of the farm; others in the manufacture and distribution of the equipment and suplies used by their farmer customers. While the major part of the industrial development of the State is closely related to its basic industry, Agriculture, the manufacturers of the State have won pre-eminence in other widely diversified lines, such as pearl buttons, road-building equipment, and washing machines. In recent years, several of the nation’s largest corporations have chosen Iowa for the location of important manufacturing branches. Here they find better living conditions and lower living costs for employees than in the crowded industrial areas. Undoubtedly these conditions are conductive to the friendly employer-employee relationship that is so essential to a successful industrial employee.

Yes, Good Neighbor from Mars, in a day’s drive over our highways or in a few hours by plane, we can show you an area that is emblematic of the best thus far developed on this Planet Earth. we expect to make it better. WE CALL IT IOWA.

So my impressions: (1) Did a different person write each paragraph? Because it seems like they lost the Martian thread along the way there. And (2) So the takeaways of what Iowa specializes in are:

  1. Agriculture
  2. Pearl buttons
  3. Road-building equipment
  4. Washing machines

So (3) I think this means my grandparents put together were Iowa? I don’t understand it, but there’s no arguing with the lovely line-art illustration of tall, barely-windowed buildings with smokestacks. It’s all right there.

The Twelfth Talkartoon: Up To Mars, thanks to a pantsless Mickey Mouse


This week’s cartoon happens to call out Merry Christmas. And to get a Happy New Year back. That’s the sort of subtle act of timing that’s really beyond my abilities; it just got lucky. But here’s Bimbo’s second cartoon in three weeks, and the second in which he was named as such. From the 20th of November, 1930, and animated by Rudy Zamora and Shamus Culhane: Up To Mars.

So why does this short start in an amusement park? (At least after some striking and neat special effects animation.) Why not, I suppose you could say. Also that it’s somewhere you could just have lots of big firecrackers hanging around. I suspect there’s a deeper reason. It goes back to A Trip To The Moon. I don’t precisely mean Georges Méliès and one of the maybe three silent movies even people who don’t care about silent movies recognize. But that helps. A Trip To The Moon was a ride at the Pan-American Exposition of 1901, in Buffalo, New York, showing exactly that. It was moved to Coney Island to be one of Steeplechase and then Luna Park’s signature rides. And to inspire trip-to-outer-space rides, to the Moon or Mars or other worlds, from there. So a trip to Mars starting at an amusement park might not be just because you gotta get rockets from somewhere. It might be because you could get to Mars from there.

Other planets, in the cartoons, were often wackyland places of reverse-logic and sight gags; see Tex Avery’s 1948 The Cat That Hated People for similar and I’ll admit better sight gags. I haven’t checked what earlier, and particularly silent, cartoons did with other planets. But the placement makes sense; jumping to another planet does give license to get weird and surreal.

It’s the second cartoon where Bimbo gets named. But he gets less distinctive stuff to do than even in last week’s Sky Scraping. I suppose he makes the choice to chase after the strikingly Mickey Mouse-like rodent that had been in his Roman candle. But that’s not a lot of character. And once up on Mars he has even less to do; he’s mostly just watching the shenanigans. Arguably the mouse does more to affect the cartoon. I kept waiting, once Bimbo fell in with the Martian soldiers, for him to be detected and that to become the story. Somehow it never did. He does get a few frustrated moments to snarl and snap at people in a satisfyingly dog-like manner, which is worth something certainly.

This is the second week in a row that the Moon gets punctured. Also the depiction of Saturn as a character with a big hat is one that I believe gets repeated in the October 1932 Betty Boop’s Ups And Downs.

It’s maybe too well-established to count as a blink-and-you-miss-it joke but I laughed when Bimbo tried to light the rocket and sets a cat’s tail on fire instead. The elderly Martian dancing with his detached legs and no body is a good reliable body-horror joke.

And It Was Just A Flyer For Cheap Tires Anyway


So we forgot to check the mail, and left it in the surprisingly leaky mailbox while something like 400 feet of rain came down in some rain-like process. We’ve had that kind of spring. And yet somehow the mail remained dry enough that NASA wanted to research it for possible Martian bacteria. Unfortunately, they told us of this interest in a letter they sent the next week, where it was out in a mild drizzle for four minutes between the time it was delivered and the time there was a convenient break in The Price Is Right so I could get it. And in that time the letter was dissolved into postage soup. Ah well. I don’t know who on Mars would even be writing us in the first place. Maybe that would’ve been one the things NASA studied.

Popeye: Rocket To Mars


Previously:


I mentioned last week that “Popeye, The Ace Of Space” was a partial remake of an earlier, 1946, Popeye cartoon. So why not show that cartoon? Here’s “Rocket To Mars”.

It’s closer to “The Ace Of Space” than I had remembered, although I would say it’s also superior in most regards. Some of that is surely the sound design. After a functional opening, and a couple of the Looking at Heavenly Bodies jokes you’d expect from that era, “Rocket To Mars” features bombastic music, with a driving, well, martial beat that gives real power to the scenes of Mars, Ready For War. And Bluto as the Emperor of Mars gets a deep reverberating voice that fits nicely the slight redesign that makes him tall enough to really tower over Popeye.

This cartoon has, to me, a real sense of menace behind it, and I wonder if that reflects it being made so near World War II. The cartoon was released in August 1946, but production was surely in production before V-J Day (it’s obscured in this cut, but the scene of Popeye spotting an 8-Ball in the sky originally featured a Japanese man ducking out from behind it; I understand having the scene during the war but it’s still surprising to me they bothered filming it after the Occupation began), and the slow multiplanar pans across fields of war plants feels informed by having living experience with a monstrously large war. For that matter, Jack Mercer, the normal voice of Popeye, only does the voice work for part of this cartoon; Mercer was drafted.

And I like the amusement park that Mars gets turned into, as the result of what seems like an earlier-than-average Eating Of The Spinach. It’s a shame that the premise of sending Popeye to Mars precludes giving the new place its obvious name: Luna Park.

Popeye, The Ace Of Space


Previously:


One of the 1960s King Features Popeye cartoons I was thinking about including in my review of the various studios’ efforts was a Larry Harmon-produced one titled Ace Of Space. I could find it online, but at a strangely distorted aspect ratio, the sort of thing that makes you wonder if people don’t know how to set their TVs to the right display settings.

The curious thing is that the same title was used for a 1953 cartoon. This cartoon has the same starting gimmick as its 1960 namesake, Popeye getting abducted by a flying saucer and fending off the aliens (a robot, that time); the 1960 version sees Olive Oyl brought along for the ride, though not to much good story purpose.

The 1953 Ace Of Space is a rather famous Popeye cartoon, as it was the series’s venture into 3-D cartooning. That was a fad as short-lived as 3-D movies in the 50s were, but it yielded an entry or two from all the major studios in which, well, they figured out a way to make the studio’s logo three-dimensional and then maybe did one scene with a panning background and that was about it. Famous Studios was not an exception; besides a scene of a Martian being thrown at the camera you’d probably never get a hint this was meant to be seen with 3-D glasses on.

In some ways this is about the last Popeye cartoon for which Famous Studios was really trying; the cartoons they made after this tend to be dull, remakes, clip shows, or blends of these. The artwork’s solid, the story moves along well, and if I’m not overlooking a case this is one is tied for the record of Popeye’s spinach consumption. Even so there’s hints of how the studio was slumping towards irrelevancy: the story draws a lot from the 1946 Rocket To Mars, which starts with a more extremely warlike Mars that gets punched by Popeye into a giant amusement park. The extremes here are watered down versions of those, as if the studio was afraid that the premise of “Popeye in space” demanded too much imagination.

But they’re still trying, and the cartoon’s drama shook me as a child, and still does (particularly, the Atom Apple Smasher scene). As a kid, I also didn’t understand the logic of how Popeye got out of the disintegrator ray aftermath; as an adult, now, I still think the cartoonists didn’t have a good idea themselves. Or they don’t know the difference between disintegration and invisibility, somehow. I’m just saying I see plot holes in this cartoon is all.

Felix the Cat: Astronomeous


I guess that I’m in a Felix the Cat mood this month, or at least it’s easy once you see one to see others popping up in YouTube. So let me play with that. For today here’s Astronomeous (that last syllable is supposed to suggest the sound a cat makes), from 1928, and it’s an extremely early sound cartoon. That is, the sound is just awful, but, please listen with sympathy: it’s kind of amazing there’s sound at all.

As ever, though, when you mix a silent- or near-silent-era cartoon with the heavens you’re in for a strange, surreal ride. Why shouldn’t the rings of Saturn be host to a bicycle race? Why not have a hammer monster of Mars? Why not punch a shooting star that’s terrorizing the king? Add to this mix some really quite good perspective shots — it’s not all characters moving in straight lines, camera left to camera right — and it’s a pretty sound six minutes, forty seconds.