Before I do, though, here’s my mathematics blog, which looked at only a couple of comic strips this week because nobody gave me anything to write about from Tuesday through Saturday last week. I blame the crazy guy who writes Dilbert because, you know, why not?
Anyway. No time for a full update about the plot in Mary Worth because it’s mostly been “cruise ships are awesome” and “smokers are mostly crooks”. I just want to talk about the title panel from Sunday’s strip. Normally these include a quotation from a person too famous to have their quotes be reliably sourced and, when they turn out to be legitimate quotes, to usually mean in context the opposite of whatever they seem to say in a Mary Worth quote box. Here’s Sunday’s.
Mary Worth can quote Mister T now?
So I’m thinking here an Indiegogo to hire some suitable actress who’ll portray Mary Worth doing nothing but reading Mister T’s greatest lines, and a handful of his most mediocre lines for contrast. I’m accepting donations and nominations for what to have Mary Worth read but obviously I’m putting the highest priority on memorable quotes from the Ruby/Spears Mister T cartoon, if there are any. That interview mentioned in my picture caption is also a good mine of stuff to say.
The index rose another point today to what everybody’s pretty sure is an all-time high? It seems like it ought to be, anyway. Point being now everyone’s miserable because they just know there’s now way that is going to last and we’re probably going to crater to, like, sixty before the week is over.
If readers have any expectations for Mary Worth it’s that there will be a series of relentlessly literal, linear stories resolved by people having very heteronormative romances ideally ending in weddings, thank you, and recapped on Sunday with the decoration of a dubiously-sourced quote of dubious relevance. I’m not saying the strip doesn’t provide that anymore. But I do think it’s getting a little more textured than that.
When last we left things Iris and advice-columnist Wilbur had agreed to a pause on their relationship while he went around the world interviewing sandwiches of other lands. Mary Worth gives Iris some legitimately useful advice, helping her ambivalence following a dinner invitation from Zak, a much-younger community college student pursuing an Associate’s degree in Probably Being A Rotten Millennial, Those Rotten Millenials.
Meanwhile Mary Worth keeps on grinding out “Ask Wendy” columns for Wilbur, who’s too busy globetrotting to tell people to listen to their hearts. She gives some wishy-washy advice to a person torn between two jobs, and that surprised me. The relationship between the two-jobs and the two-boyfriends questions is obvious. But it seems unusual to me that Mary Worth would manage the trick of having characters talk about something that isn’t directly the plot. It’s a basic storytelling craft, but it’s one of those crafts for a story that’s more than just a plot delivery service. Case in point: Mary’s original advice isn’t enough, and she has to give it again, at a later point in Iris’s Zak-versus-Wilbur debate.
Iris tries dating Zak some. She goes to a concert with him and some of his rowdy college friends, who notice that she’s way older than him. She makes a reference to Casablanca that goes completely over Zak’s head, and she decides it isn’t working out. This might be premature. There’s a lot of pop culture from before you were born to catch up on, even the great movies. On the other hand, “Here’s looking at you, kid” is not an obscure reference these days shut up I’m not old have you thought about how you’re the old one instead huh? They part amiably, anyway.
Now for the next bit that surprised me. Before the Zak story started, Iris’s son Tommy got addicted to Vicodin. But he’d been assigned a help group and resolved to stop getting fired and that seemed like the resolution of that. The storyline reappeared, though, at the end of Zak’s adventures in the comic. The Sunday panel even noted how recovering from an addiction like that isn’t a straight path; one will have setbacks and feel like any progress is lost. To see that fact faced directly in the comic feels novel. I expect a problem fixed to stay fixed. It’s another bit of better crafting.
Life continues. Wilbur Weston pursues his around-the-world tour for his column about disaster survivors, showing up to ask people who’ve been through a mudslide why they haven’t died. Just imagine. You’re in Sao Paolo. The earth itself slides out from under you, and from above you, washing away the whole world in a cataclysm that takes a moment yet goes on forever. You make it out somehow. And then, there, is longtime Charterstone resident Wilbur Weston. He’s standing with notebook in hand, camera strapped around his neck, and a jar of mayonnaise wedged under his opposite arm. He says one thing to you, heedless of whether you speak English: “What are you doing, being alive like that?” He surely must be an image from the deepest recesses of … well, not the deepest recesses. Maybe one of the lighter ones, from the less-serious areas. A vision from the outskirts of the Greater Heck Metropolitan Statistical Area, the place where it’s all strip malls and commercial office parks just before the farmland takes over from the main drag of Heck. Seeing that wouldn’t haunt me to the end of my days, but it would throw me off for as much as a half-hour, like the time the cashier at Wendy’s saw me come in and warned they were out of potatoes. How can I have gone to any Wendy’s enough times they know I’m there for the potatoes and Freestyle Coke machine? How?
Toby mentions to Mary Worth how the two of them haven’t been in any stories worth anything in donkey’s years, hint hint, and they figure to take a cruise. Mary’s longtime would-be fiancee Jeff doesn’t come along, what with Mary figuring he probably wouldn’t have any fun anyway what with his knee and how it connects his upper to his lower leg through a complex mesh of cartilage and muscle and she’ll totally talk with him about how he didn’t want to go after they get back.
And here I’m not sure if the storytelling is getting clever or if I’m just giving them too much credit: Wilbur’s current round-the-world trip interviewing disaster survivors got its start when he went on a cruise and that ship had your usual sort of cruise-ship disaster. He was so moved by the experience of not dying he wanted to find out about other people not dying from stuff instead of writing the “Ask Wendy” advice column he’s turned over to Mary. Are cruise ships a new leitmotif of change and new beginnings? Or is it just fun drawing people on boats? We’ll see. I’m just surprised the craft is getting more advanced like this.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The index fell seven points today as someone came across the French franc on the street and it started haranguing them about how nobody calls or visits or checks up on it anymore, and the whole scene was so awkward and tense nobody was in a good mood all day.
Some of the story comics have undergone changes that aren’t hard to explain.
Most of the story comics are written and drawn by teams of people. The only exceptions I can think of are James Allen’s Mark Trail and Dan Thompson’s Rip Haywire. Mark Trail I’ve talked about. Rip Haywire is a weird case. It’s a humor adventure strip for one thing. Also Dan Thompson is apparently some superhuman force as he produces an estimated 14 to 22 daily comics as it is. I don’t know if any of them appear in newspapers. They should.
For the most part, though, story strips have an author and an artist and they’re separate people. It’s easy to think that the important part of a comic strip is the writing. After all, if the story is boring who cares if the art is good? And there are drearily many comics that get by on pretty good writing and indifferent art. So it seems like the change of artist, such as happened with Mary Worth this spring, shouldn’t change much.
People who pay attention should know better. They’d remember Bill Watterson writing of how when he had a weak Calvin and Hobbes joke he’d go all out on illustrating it. Somehow a lavish picture makes a weak joke better. Or they might remember how that experiment in redrawing Apartment 3-G turned a disastrously bad strip into one that at least parses as a story. And yet I was taken by surprise too.
First things, though: it’s not like the art was bad when Joe Giella was drawing it. Above is his last Sunday strip. It’s composed well enough, with a good balance of close-ups and distant shots, and the camera movement is clear enough. Where people are relative to each other is never confusing, and we never get close to that mess where the character on the right speaks before the character on the left. The worst you can say is that the faces seem a bit weirdly flat — Dawn’s hair does not do her any favors, especially in the third row there — and the fingers look weird. Fingers always do. I don’t think newspapers provide enough space for fingers not to look weird anymore. But if I could draw as well today as Giella did, I’d not be beating myself up for not taking drawing more systematically when I was eight.
Joe Giella retired this year, to enjoy rolling around in the piles of syndicated newspaper story comic money I’m sure he has. June Brigman, last artist for the Brenda Starr comic and a longtime comic book artist, took his place. I can’t deny it took time to get used to her style, and I’m not sure we’ve yet met all of the Charterstone Regulars.
The art’s gotten better, though. Brigman’s doing better at getting a sense of volume into the confined spaces of modern comic strips. And she seems to show more ambition in the choice of camera angles. We’re more likely to see the view from higher above or far below figures. It conveys motion even in a static panel.
I can’t say the stories have changed since Brigman (with the help of her husband) took over the art. The stories have been quite the usual for Mary Worth: Dawn pursues a relationship with one of her instructors that every college and university warns its instructors not to do. Tommy gets injured at work and turns his Vicodin prescription into a Vicodin addiction in no time. Charterstone regular Wilbur Westin, who survived a cruise ship, is taking a sabbatical year to interview survivors of other disasters. His girlfriend is pondering whether to date someone she met at community college even though Zak is decades younger than she is. In some of these stories Mary Worth has something relevant to say. In some of them she just makes a cameo to remind you who’s in charge here.
Still, they read better. They do feel like stuff is happening. The little shortcuts and elided bits of logic needed to carry on a story when you get two or maybe three panels a day haven’t stood out so much. I don’t remember any strips showing action or emotion that might have challenged Giella. But a comic strip is the writing and the art, and it turns out somewhat better art does make the comic enormously better.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The Another Blog, Meanwhile index was unchanged today following the first significant snow of the year. In response to this traders spent so much time cleaning off the driveway and dusting the snow off the tops of their cars that it would be a shame to come in and do any work, honestly. By about the sixth major snow of the year they’re just going to be brushing off about two-thirds of the windshield and car hood, after all, and around the tenth major snow of the year they just brush off a two-square-inch patch and hit the windshield wiper fluid a lot. We should celebrate the real cleaning while it lasts.
Now finally I can get to considering what October meant around here, readership-wide. I’m sorry for the delay but I have good reason for not getting to it sooner: I didn’t get to it sooner.
It was a busy month, though! WordPress reports that I had some 1,507 page views from 974 distinct visitors over the course of October. That’s much more than in September (1,130 views, 697 visitors) or August (1,416 views, 779 visitors). It’s the largest number for either since last November and the Apartment 3-Gocalypse. There haven’t been any other major comic strip collapses since then and I’m glad for that. A couple of strips have ended but none that went out in any bizarre ways that needed updating and gawking.
But it’s probably not just people reading my witticisms around here and being thrilled that got my readership numbers so high. The most-read post of the month was from July, Does Mary Worth Look Different?. The answer’s simple; they have a new artist. Joe Giella retired after a career of drawing comics and comic books to roll around on the piles of money he surely made doing that. June Brigman and Roy Richardson have taken over the art, daily and Sunday.
I don’t know why this question got to be particularly urgent this month. I’d imagined it might have been a spurt of interest in the strip after last Friday, when longstanding amiable sandwich-eater Wilbur Weston announced he was taking a year off to finally wed mayonnaise.
Not so, though. The most intense interest seems to have come the weeks of the 10th and 17th, when nothing very much was happening. I suspect some popular blogger mentioned me without my knowing it.
Readership engagement figures were way down, as will happen. I have no idea how to keep them steady. The number of ‘likes’ was at 160, down from September’s 190 and August’s 187. The number of comments was 32, way down from September’s 69, but up from August’s 24. I need more Caption This! contests.
So what was popular over the past month? … None of my long-form pieces, which, all right, I can take that. My bit about not knowing what to dress as for Halloween made the top ten, which is doing pretty well for a piece that only had three days to gather readers. What did make the top five:
Why Does Mary Worth Look Different? and, you know, maybe I should do a proper discussion of the remaining story comics because they’re very different creatures to what they were at the start of the year.
My most popular day of the week, with 16 percent of page views, was Monday. Mondays got the plurality, 16 percent of page views, in September too. Midnight was the most popular hour, with 10 percent of page views. That must be Universal Time. And that was up from 8 percent of page views so clearly WordPress isn’t just making these numbers up.
November starts with my blog having 42,091 page views from 22,156 distinct visitors. WordPress figures I have 698 followers on WordPress plus over a hundred via Twitter. That’s up from 687 at the start of October. You can follow this blog by using the “Follow Another Blog, Meanwhile” button. You can follow me on Twitter over as @Nebusj, where I post not too many times per day. I promise.
And now for the truly popular thing: the roster of what countries sent how many readers.
Northern Mariana Islands
United Arab Emirates
Poland’s the only country to have been a single-read country last month. Nobody’s on a two-month streak. The European Union rose from one last month. Yes, I’m hurt that Singapore was a single-read country. There were 42 countries listed as sending me any readers at all, if you pretend the European Union’s a country and I still don’t know what the designation’s supposed to mean.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
Maybe it’s not that the Another Blog, Meanwhile index is getting stuck. Maybe it’s the whole rest of the universe that’s got stuck and the index is just reflecting that fact. General relativity implies that if you had a spinning bucket full of water it’d be impossible to know whether the bucket or the water was spinning unless there was other stuff in the universe, so why not this with the index? Ever consider that? Why or why not?
So I don’t want to alarm anyone with the inevitable passage of time. But here’s a startling demographic truth. Given her perpetually fixed sixty-something-ish age, sometime within the next fifteen years, Mary Worth is going to become part of the Generation X age cohort.
Yes, I was as excited by the prospect of her giving out self-aware irony-tinged and highly sarcastic advice for everybody around her and their stupid problems. (“Surely forming an incredibly heteronormative relationship and making babies will fix your sense of ennui at work, because how could that plan ever fail in the real world we live in?”) But you know that Gen X Mary Worth is going to be written either by a Millennial who thinks Generation Xers are just Baby Boomers insisting they do too know how to use the Internet even though they remember the last summer they didn’t have Internet because that was a thing only school offered, or else by the last lingering Baby Boomer who’s somehow not dead yet. We’re going to be left on the sidelines, grumbling, which to be fair is our generation’s voice.
I know people wonder this, and will find my blog while searching for questions like “why does Mary Worth look different” and “is there a new artist on Mary Worth” and all that. In early May Joe Giella retired from drawing the Sunday editions of Mary Worth, which are mostly a recap of what had gone on the previous week but in fewer panels. I mean “had gone on” in the serial story comic sense, which is not to say that all that much happens, but it is doing better than Apartment 3-G. June Brigman and Roy Brigman began doing the Sunday strips.
Monday, June Brigman and Roy Brigman took over the daily art as well. Karen Moy’s blog explains that Giella is retiring, after a long career in the syndicated comics. That follows a long career in comic books, too, so I’m sure he’s taking some time to be by himself and roll down hills made up of his money. Moy points out that Giella does plan to still take commissions for painting and other artwork and that he’ll be at conventions, so this is your chance to commission that Mary Worth fanfic you’ve had in mind for years now.
I did it! I managed to go the month without obsessively watching WordPress’s daily statistics report. But also, I got to see, for the first time since the Apartment 3-Gocalypse, some growth in readership figures again. I’m going to credit this to finally acting cool enough people don’t suspect how needy I actually am.
But the numbers speak for themselves, once someone says them. In May there were 1,198 page views around here. April had a meager 1,043, and March a less-meager 1,107. The visitor count was up also, to a not-so-meager-exactly 677 from April’s 583 and March’s 632.
The number of likes isn’t changing much, one way or another. It was 201 in May, compared to 213 in April and 201 back in March. I may have hit a plateau.
The number of comments was way down, but part of that is an accounting change. I worked out that, apparently, WordPress counts it as a comment if I make a link to the full URL of something, nebushumor.wordpress.com/etc. But if I use the short URL, wp.me/etc, that doesn’t count. So I tried doing that to see how many people said stuff without counting my own cross-linking. This suggests there were 25 for May. And while that’s technically down from April’s 50 and May’s 36, I don’t know how that compares in actual comments. Shall have to wait and see.
And what was popular around here in May? Of course, the lead article was something written by a guy who died when I was seven:
I apologize for putting all that in a bullet list when one sentence would do, but I read that it somehow makes readers happier to see bullet lists of things. I don’t know why either. Among my special interest countries: Singapore gave me five page views, India 23, and Poland none at all. Poland, is everything OK? Also the European Union somehow is listed with three page views.
Single-reader countries this time around were:
The (*) countries were single-reader countries last month too. Nobody’s on a three-month streak.
Search terms bringing people here include:
challie chaplin quat about laying woman (I dunno, quat about laying woman?)
what kind of an essay a winter tree please help me i’m stuck? (Again I dunno. Maybe try scattering some sawdust and that’ll help traction?)
a cartoon comic strip of two scientists fighting that one believes in the progression theory (This suggests that there weren’t shorter search queries that could turn up any pages which were relevant, and he got mine instead, which wasn’t?)
cartoon of kid swipes a pirate peg leg (I dunno, but it seems like if you just watch any syndicated panel strip for a couple weeks they’ll do this.)
mary worth artist change? (Oh yes! Mary Worth has got a new artist for the Sunday strips. The Sundays are now done by June Brigman. The Monday-to-Saturday strips are still by Joe Giella. And yeah, the current story is what you think it is from reading any given day’s strip.)
My humor blog starts June with 35,889 page views, from something like 18,551 distinct readers. While it’s overtaken my mathematics blog in visitors it’s still behind in total page views. WordPress says there’s 660 WordPress.com followers, up from 652 at the start of May and 647 at the start of April.
If you aren’t a WordPress follower, or an e-mail subscriber, but have been convinced by seven hundred words about numbers about other readers to follow me, please sign up! There’s a little blue button to “Follow Another Blog, Meanwhile” at the upper left corner of the page, to the left of the headline. And beneath that should be a Follow By E-Mail button. Or you can follow me on Twitter, where I post announcements of these things and also sometimes livetweet the awful cartoon I’m watching for some reason. That sort of thing.
So remember a month or two ago I was noting how the current Mary Worth story had gone on a long while without any actual story? It was all just mood-setting as Mary visits the recipients of some past meddling and they thank her all over again?
The sequence ended, with past meddlee Olivia talking about how great it was to have someone she could talk to, and Mary Worth agreeing how great it was Mary had someone listen to her. And … that was it. They spent several months in New York City, wandering around random tourist location, talking about how great the other one is. There wasn’t even anybody with a mild problem needing the order to get married or anything.
If the comic had just reached a noteworthy anniversary, I’d understand running a little victory-lap story like this. But Mary Worth started in either 1934 or 1938, depending on whether you consider Apple Mary to be part of the continuity. (It’s not an obvious question.) Either way the timing is off.
But there’s another reason one might do a valedictory sequence. D.D.Degg, of Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.comics.strips, brought to the group’s attention an interview with Joe Sinnott and Joe Giella. Sinnott inks the Sunday Amazing Spider-Man. Giella draws Mary Worth. The interview mentions:
Giella who will turn 88 years old in June, is still penciling and inking the daily Mary Worth newspaper strip. He told me that he’s on the last of the Sunday pages for Mary Worth, but will continue to draw the dailies for the newspaper.
A new artist for the Sunday strips? Possible. Dismal news for the Sunday strips? Also imaginable. I don’t know, but am interested to know.
It’s only half-true that I don’t understand Thursday’s Momma. Mell Lazarus’s comic strip has a couple reliable gags. Most reliable is Momma fretting that the awful, awful people she has as children might not love her, despite all she does to be needy and controlling an difficult. So the word and thought balloons suffice to explain the comic.
It’s the art. I can sort-of nearly make out Momma in this, although she’s way off model. Who are the other people and why are they slow-marching through her living room? What’s going on?
Meanwhile, Mary Worth really has gone on another month of Mary and Olive telling each other how much they like liking things, like the City and being open to doing things. And despite a moment of Olive fretting that her parents “don’t understand me” the way Mary does, “they seem to like me”, and that’s it. Also there’s something about how great it’ll be if Olive visits Mary again, ‘and no need to go swimming!’ OK, last time Olive was in the strip she did fall into the pool and could have drowned, so I understand not wanting to do that again, but that’s not swimming per se. That’s more having an emergency in the area.
I’m not looking to start any trouble. But, for those who’ve missed it, the current storyline in Mary Worth is in its eleventh week. It’s been entirely about Mary Worth visiting New York City, where she’s been taking little Olive out and about to Broadway plays and museums and shopping and everything. What’s Mary Worth’s relationship to Olive? Nothing really. In a story a while back Olive had a tumor, and she was scared of the surgeon. Mary Worth got Olive’s parents to listen to Olive’s fears, and it turned out the surgeon was on The Drugs so she was right and that’s it.
So this looked like a nice, unusual follow-up story of the kid and her parents after they went back home. Except you know how every Mary Worth story is about people who have an exceedingly simple problem that they can’t figure out until, ideally, some people finally obey Mary’s orders to get married? Writer Karen Moy forgot to include a problem this story. It’s just been Mary poking around taking the kid on a tour of Manhattan, where the kid lives, and talking in ways that straddle the line between “kind of creepy” and “might be coded messages to foreign agents”. It doesn’t reach Apartment 3-G-esque levels of inhumanity — nothing could — but it’s still dazzling.
The past week they’ve spent shopping for each other, with Sunday’s installment a fair representation of what’s going on, although the body language just keeps getting funnier. Special high points: Mary’s hunched-over, guilty, ready-to-flee look in the first panel of the second row; her far-off “and this is why I gave humanity the invention of warp drive” look in the first panel of the third row; and the shopkeeper’s “wait, where is every object in relation to every other object?” gaze in the final panel.
My love asked if I planned to keep doing comic strip reviews now that I don’t have Apartment 3-G to fill a weekly essay. And if I’m not, then what am I going to do instead? They’re good questions. I don’t know just what I’ll do yet, although I don’t figure on regularly snarking on another comic strip.
There’s plenty to snark about. And there are many fine, quality comic-strip snark blogs, and Usenet group rec.arts.comics.strips. RACS is a bit more likely to talk up the good side of comics, and the business and other sides, I should say. It isn’t all the making fun of any one comic strip, not since the glorious fiasco of Lynn Johnston’s For Better Or For Worse‘s end, an event known throughout all comic-strip commentary communities as the Foobocalypse. We still look back on it with glee. (“Here’s the strip where Johnston warns Elizabeth that if she doesn’t give up her life and marry Granthony soon then she’s going to start killing supporting characters, starting with Grandpa Jim.”) And a bit of snark is a healthy thing. It deflates self-importance, it melts pomposity, and it binds disappointed audiences in giddy consolation.
I came by my Apartment 3-G coverage honestly, when I was entertained by how baffled the comic strip left me. There hadn’t been anything so engagingly dadaist since the last years of Dick Locher’s run on Dick Tracy, when very few plot points were endlessly repeated and abstractly illustrated. There isn’t anything like it now. Even the stodgiest story strip (Mary Worth, by my lights) or the slowest-moving strip (Rex Morgan, in which June Morgan’s 27 months of pregnancy have just ended with her delivering a way overdue baby elephant) are relentlessly understandable. Apartment 3-G I was trying, honestly, to work out what was happening and why it was happening. And I meant to try understanding what was going on both on-panel and behind-the-senes. The jokes were flavoring used to make that more palatable.
So while I’m certainly going to toss jokes off in the direction of misfired comic strips (mostly in RACS, I figure), I don’t expect to make that a regular feature here. There’s nothing going on in Judge Parker that needs earnest explanation. Compu-Toon maybe. But I fear there’s something uncharitable in searching out a target for evisceration. If I’m going to put too many column-inches into ridiculing something, it should be with the hope that something useful will come of it. It should be for a better understanding of the bad, or to share with an audience that wondrous sense of strange outsider-art that true ineptness has. Sneering is an individual right, as quirky and as personal as the set of things we delete from our search histories. Nobody needs to be told to sneer at things. We need it to be at least a bit celebratory.
That said, yes, Mary Worth is getting a little creepy lately, and the dialogue reads ever-more like spies passing messages. (Mary Worth: “We can be more aware of how we affect each other and the environment.” Eight-year-old Olivia: “I like to think that change for the better … and not just the worse … can happen very quickly, too!”)
OK, it’s been another week of nothing going on in Frank Bolle and Margaret Sholock’s Apartment 3-G. Let me recap for the sake of people searching desperately for any hint of what’s going on. After finding his plan of “wandering around Manhattan occasionally running in to Margo but not telling her who he is or why he’s there” somehow failed to make a connection with Margo, Eric Mills has gone to Apartment 3-G. There, Margo’s roommate Tommie was telling Lu Ann she had been set free. I assume this means that Tommie intends to go out in the fields and frolic. Within days Tommie will be dead, having been attacked and eaten by butterflies.
Eric explains that he is Eric and is not dead, raising protests of “but you died five years ago”. Lu Ann takes this news better than I imagined, because her head does not explode in a shower of electrical sparks at this paradox while she begs, “Norman, co-ordinate”. She instead agrees that Eric couldn’t have expected Margo to know her because she’s been wandering in a delusional funk through Manhattan for 28 weeks now. In the Sunday recap all this is explained again, although instead of taking place in Apartment 3-G the action takes place again on the streets of the backdrop from your high school’s junior year production of Our Town. Except for the final panel because of course.
Now. As soap opera strips go this is a fair bit of development. Characters find out stuff they didn’t know at the start of the week. It’s no Mary Worth, where Professor Ian, in his guise as Pomposity Lad, managed to in three weeks turn sucking up to his boss into a marriage-threatening crisis. But it’s something.
But the most eye-catching thing is that the artwork has gotten appreciably worse. It’s been bad for a while now, yes. But it’s fallen in another step the past week. Backgrounds have been randomly assigned collections of objects all year, but now they’ve started vanishing altogether. And the characters have begun looking much more sketchy and unfocused. It almost looks like we might be seeing Bolle’s pencil art, without inking and cleanup. But the static poses and arbitrary arrangement of characters, not to mention the random selections of backgrounds when they’re remembered, mean this doesn’t convey energy or vitality, the virtues of unlinked and un-cleaned artwork. It looks more worrying. Is Frank Bolle all right? And past that, is King Features interested in running an Apartment 3-G that’s at least a competent comic strip? I have no answers.
I don’t want to bore you too much with the story comics, because they are story comics, engaged in some race to produce the most boring storyline imaginable, and last year’s sequence in Apartment 3-G — where Tommie and Some Other Woman spent literally and without exaggeration more than thirty days engaged in a series of two-shots talking about how they ought to talk about something — is a ferociously high bar of boredom to meet. But, well, just look at this Sunday’s Mary Worth:
Now, Hanna and Sean are getting married because they’re two unmarried people who got on-panel in Mary Worth, so they have to. Hanna’s daughter Amy is angry about the wedding because (a) she doesn’t know Sean at all, and (b) her mother has started refusing when Amy’s brought her child over to Hanna’s place, unannounced, for baby-sitting whenever Amy discovers she has an unexpected date for the night. Hanna concluded that it’s best if she just married Sean and let Amy find out about it afterwards, and Mary Worth agreed on-panel that this was a good idea. And then, today, well.
“These things tend to have a way of working themselves out, anyway”?
This is already a boring strip, but if Mary Worth is going to take up the attitude that all troubles will someday pass, and that to exert oneself unduly is counter-productive, then the comic strip could achieve a vast expanding swath of nothingness that destroys all possible content, so I guess the story comics aren’t in for a good decade after all.
I could go on, at disturbing length, complaining about all the things that have gone wrong in this storyline to have reached this point, but the main thing is the script reached the point of Mary Worth declaring “these things tend to have a way of working themselves out”. Yes, there was one time Captain Kirk let the planet of the week keep their omnipotent computer-god overlord too, but that was the time McCoy had contracted a fatal case of We Need Him To Go Off And Get Temporarily Married syndrome, so Kirk’s mind was on other stuff. Mary Worth hasn’t got any excuse.
I want to talk a little about playing pinball lately, and I know not everybody is even aware you can play pinball lately, what with it not being 1978 anymore, so let me bring folks up to speed. In the old days pinball machines were relatively sedate affairs: the backglass and playfield art would be a picture of, oh, whatever, wizards in space, or boaters being tormented by Neptune, or the background characters of Mary Worth singing. On the table there’d be a bunch of bumpers, which are the mushroom-shaped things you’d think would be called kickers that kick the ball around; and a pair of kickers, which are the triangular things above the flippers that you’d think would be called bumpers; and the flippers, which are just flippers; and a bunch of drop targets, which are the things you aim the ball at and that fall down when you hit them. And the rule set was pretty straightforward: the targets would be themed to either sets of playing cards or else pool balls, and you would try to knock them all down, and if you managed that, they popped back up and you try to knock them down again.
Then someone went and invented computers, and put them in pinball machines, and they also added ramps just too late for the people who made the Evel Kneivel pinball machine, and it all got complicated because the rules could change, giving you, like, eight seconds to shoot the world’s steepest, most inaccessible ramp ever, in exchange for 2.25 billion points. With scores that enormous being thrown around, of course, they had to get corporate sponsorship for their themes and so wizards playing 9-ball in a baseball park wouldn’t cut it anymore. These days a pinball machine is themed to a popular movie/TV show franchise, a comic book superhero, or a band, which is why pinball magnate Gary Stern has been polishing his Kiss Meets The Phantom Of The Park reboot script for years.
I should say that while pinball scores got kind of out of control back there in the 90s there’ve been efforts to rein them back in, so that a normal good score is only like tens of millions anymore. Some machines have been pretty serious about reducing the score, though: the current world record for The Wizard of Oz pinball is 4, although a guy playing in the Kentucky state championships this year has a new strategy he hypothesizes will let him score 6 or, if the table is generous about giving extra balls, maybe even 7. He’s daft.
Anyway, a couple weeks ago, I had a really good game of The Walking Dead, a pinball machine of such fantastic complexity that nobody knows what all the rules are. The leading theory is that there’s actually just a seed program inside that develops new rules on the fly, so that every time someone works out “OK, if I shoot the ramp three times something good happens”, it’ll suddenly change to, say, “you have to shoot the ramp four times after hitting the Creepy Zombie in the middle twice and identify which presidents George Clinton was vice-president for and maybe slip an extra quarter in the coin slot if you know what’s good for you”. But that one time, good grief, but I was hitting everything and starting modes that nobody even knew existed. I put together a score that was about what I would expect if you added together all my Walking Dead games for an eight-month period and put it together into one game.
So. The next league night, when we play for actual competitive points, I knew I was going to flop badly and yes, it happened. On the table Tales of the Arabian Nights I put up a score of 289,180, and trust me, your pinball friends are torn between laughing and thinking with horror of what if it happened to them. Arabian Nights dates to when scores were just starting to get out of hand, so it could have a theme as uncommercial as legends that have enchanted people for centuries, but still. People who walk past it without stopping to play routinely score 600,000, and people who put coins into other machines at the pinball venue — including the change machine or the machine selling gumballs — will often get a million points from Arabian Nights.
I didn’t just flop; I flopped epochally, like if the “Agony of Defeat” guy didn’t just stumble, but also burst into flames and smashed into Evel Kneivel’s rocket-sled on its way to draining. I honestly feel accomplished, and all set for the state championships this weekend.
I’m sorry to bother folks with the story comic strips, because they don’t know how to tell stories and they’re never really comic on purpose, but Monday’s Mary Worth got to me in that way these things sometimes do.
So: why does Mary Worth’s “chicken salad” have bones? Does she just arbitrarily assign names to randomly selected objects smothered in beige? “Oh, I hope you all enjoy my Baked Macaroni Whimsies! They’re made of pebbles and children’s scissors! And I’m not making promises but for next weekend’s potluck I’m thinking my Artichoke-Guacamole Dip since I’ve got to do something with this crop of chipped-up Star Trek: Nemesis DVDs I grabbed at the Blockbuster going-out-of-business sale!”
I do make a serious effort to track what’s being read and what isn’t around these parts, and for February 2014, it turns out the number of readers of pages around here went from 337 in January to 337 in February. At least they were different readers. Actually, the number of readers increased from 153 to 170, implying a page-per-reader count drop from 2.20 to 1.98, so I’m amusing more people, but they’re all a little less happy with what they see.
The most popular articles the last thirty days were:
As usual the countries sending me the most readers were the United States (261) and Canada (28), with the United Kingdom (8) and Singapore (6) coming up next. The countries that could just barely tolerate me were Denmark, Japan, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Russia, Spain, and Sweden. None of them were on last month’s roster, just as last month none of the countries were from December 2013’s roster of single-viewer nations, so my plan to amuse one person in every country in the world is continuing to exist.
This isn’t going to be a particularly sophisticated little installment. What sets it off is that I was reading the story comics. I didn’t think much of the story strips when I was a kid; they were just this inky-black column on the left side of the Star-Ledger‘s comics page where there were never any jokes and nothing seemed to happen. There’s still nothing happening, albeit at a much slower pace than back then, but I’ve come to understand the charms of their storytelling structures.
That’s not to say I won’t giggle where it’s really not meant as a result of the strip not doing what it wants. For the first, here’s Wednesday’s Mary Worth, by Karen Moy and Joe Giella, which is the usual setup in which Mary is using a tiny casserole to shove her way into someone else’s life. It’s just the looks on Mary’s and then Iris’s faces that makes me laugh. The two of them have plastered these wide-eyed stares and are looking any any direction except at the person they’re talking to. And then you notice in the second panel either Mary’s falling over backwards or else she’s thrusting her hips at Iris, and either way, well.
The other is from back in the day when they knew how to introduce and run through a story in a reasonable time. From April 1959 it’s Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon, and in this story Flash has been impressed into an alien army’s suicide squadron and is being put up against a training robot which … well, perhaps there’s a time when I would have taken “this knife-fighting robot — it plays for keeps!” in utter seriousness, but that time was before Futurama introduced us to robot criminal Roberto.
I laughed so at the reveal of the knife-fighting robot that my love called downstairs to ask if I was all right. I swear.
(Again I apologize for the comics being small on the page. If you click on them you should see a wider version, and appreciate the strips in more of their glory.)