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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still no new Island Adventures so here’s Popeye facing Biker Non-Mice From Mars


Popeye’s Island Adventures seems to be on hiatus, if it hasn’t shut down altogether. I figure I’ll close out the quartet of cartoons in the “Classic Popeye” video I’ve been going over. And then maybe do another Popeye cartoon bit for the couple weeks after that, since it would really help my life right now to have some writing ready a couple weeks ahead of time.

So. “Classic Popeye Episode 1”, the fourth cartoon. It’s another King Features Syndicate cartoon, From Way Out.

As a kid I knew what it meant if a cartoon was directed by Gene Deitch. It was one of those weird Tom and Jerrys. You know the ones I mean. Where the characters were on a different model, and the storyline moved in fits and starts, and the audio was recorded in the Perth Amboy YMCA men’s locker room. I know a lot of animation fans hate them. I didn’t, or at least I didn’t for long. I appreciated strange, off-beat takes on familiar things. I still do.

So when I saw this was among the Gene Deitch-directed Popeye cartoons I was happy. The cartoon might not be good in the way, like, Cartoons Ain’t Human is good. But it would be weird. It would have personality.

Popeye has encountered aliens before. I think this is the first time Popeye’s precipitated an alien invasion, though. A small invasion, granted. The animation’s too limited for it to be a full-scale invasion. And it isn’t exactly his fault. But, still. Taking the Martian Mauler for a kid and trying to play patty-cake with him? That’s pretty dumb stuff on Popeye’s part.

If I have one stereotype of the King Features Syndicate Popeye cartoons it’s that every shot is three characters standing in a row on a flat background, with cutaways to one character having an emotion. This cartoon … has an amount of that, yes. But it hides it well. The characters move a lot, and they move in funny ways. They move even when there isn’t a particular joke to what they’re doing. There are little animated jokes, such as the Martian Mauler’s pants slowly dropping as Popeye and the group examine his stolen belt buckle. But there’s nice silly bits that don’t need to be there, like the way Popeye’s hat swirls around in the air after he’s fallen through the hole.

And characters move in big, expressive ways. Look at the scene of Popeye spanking the Martian Mauler at about 20:30. I would not be surprised if there’s only two or four frames, repeated, in this scene. But they’re good frames, each funny pictures. Look at Olive Oyl dodging the Martian Mauler’s reinforcements at about 21:20, including a neatly-posed scene about 21:24 where she’s looking away from the camera and still moving. Heck, look at the Martian Mauler’s joy in terrorizing the terribly square Popeye and Olive Oyl, at 19:47. Seriously, freeze the playback there. Even in that still picture there’s life.

You might reasonably complain that the characters float off-model. I mostly wouldn’t. Yes, Popeye looks just weird at, like, 18:30 where he’s collecting stuff that fell from the Space Magnet. Olive Oyl doesn’t look much better shortly after that. Or look at Popeye’s poses at about 20:26, right before he spanks the Martian. I don’t mind the characters drifting off their canonical model, though. They look off-model in that way you get when someone draws the character in a quick, energetic rush, and that’s usually a good look. I do not like both Popeye’s eyes being opened, though. I get the comic value in, like, once in a decade something being so shocking that both Popeye’s eyes open. Having that for a low-stakes thing like spanking an alien biker is just … nah, not for me.

I do like, though, the animation of Popeye rolling the Martians up into a giant ball, and particularly his spinning throw from about 22:16. It’s not smooth and graceful like you’d see if this were a Fleischer cartoon. But it’s a much better line of reasonably complicated action than you see in most of these 60s cartoons.

The cartoon ends at about 22:28, with the characters all lined up listening to the Martians crash off-camera into something. And then we get a wonderfully odd, awkward ten seconds of the characters looking at each other. I don’t know if the cartoon ran short or if they had thought there’d be time for another gag or what. It plays like Popeye needs time to think of a decent closing couplet to sing. I am irrationally pleased with this strange quiet, though.

For some reason the Professor who invented the magnetic telescope was not Professor O G Wotasnozzle. It’s not even the same voice characterization being used. (I don’t know if it’s the same actor; Wotasnozzle was yet another voice by Jack Mercer.) I don’t know why not. Wotasnozzle got a fair bit of screen time in the King Features Syndicate cartoons. But this is one of the earlier batch of the cartoons. Possibly they weren’t sure whether they could use Wotasnozzle. Wotasnozzle never appeared in the Fleischer or Famous studio cartoons. But he was introduced by Segar in the Sappo comic strip, which you’ll note is not Popeye. Wotasnozzle did join the Popeye comic strip, but I don’t know when.

The magnetic-telescope thing seemed oddly familiar and I was able to place it. I don’t know that this is the source, but one of the Fleischer Superman cartoons of the 1940s was The Magnetic Telescope. It looked … well, like a much classier, Art Deco version of the giant-horseshoe-on-a-stand that you get here. The 1940s mad scientist didn’t attract any biker Martians, of course, because juvenile delinquents weren’t invented until much farther into World War II.

I grant I may be a soft touch for Gene Deitch’s style. But I think this cartoon is better than the script for it would imply, and that’s thanks to strong animation.

My Takeaways From This Book About Mapping


So here’s what I’m going to really remember from this 350-page book about Mapping in Michigan and the Great Lakes Region,, a history of mapping Michigan and the Great Lakes region:

  • There’s a couple of square miles in the upper peninsula of Michigan that aren’t in the Great Lakes watershed, while the rest of the state of course is.
  • Iowa’s official State Highway map for 1947 included on the back a story about a Martian seeking the best that Earth has to offer and being told to visit Iowa what with how “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 work will be rewarded”.
  • Michigan’s 1942 state highway map mentioned in a tire-saving blurb that “many roadside parks found `just around the corner’ from every community are expected to become more popular than ever” and apparently in 1942 “just around the corner” was such slangy talk it had to be safely cordoned off from a regular old sentence about how nice a park can be.
  • Iowa’s 1949 map included a poem titled In This State Called Iowa all about the garden that God was building in it.
  • When Michigan first started issuing state highway maps, in 1919 and the 1920s, the state prepared updated maps every two weeks, which seems like a lot even if they were like doubling the number of paved roads every two weeks in that era.