Dear Wendy, have you ever tried to explain Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth? Have you ever got angry about a story, and worried about that anger considering you’ve been offended by two Gil Thorp storylines in a row now?
Signed, Person Writing From So Far After Mid-May 2018 That This Essay Isn’t Any Use Anymore.
A content warning. The last couple months of Mary Worth have included a character sexually assaulting another. They’ve also included a despairing character considering suicide. If you don’t need that in your recreation, you’re absolutely right. Go on to something that won’t be needlessly miserable instead. I’ll catch you next time.
18 February – 13 May 2018.
When I last checked in Mary Worth was looking to become rich and famous through muffins. Ted Miller, vaguely associated old friend of Mary’s eternal beau Jeff, was crazy for Mary Muffins and insisted the world would be too. His plan: Mary bakes muffins, and he sells them, and then they both get rich and she gets famous. What could go wrong? And it was a glorious time. For one, yes, people in-universe always praise her food. But Mary Worth’s cooking always looks like it’s from one of those Regrettable 70s Food blogs. You know, the ones where we were supposed to make a tuna-jello fondue with a 7-Up glaze and bake it to look like a lamb, with a dyed mashed potato “lawn” around it.
There’s a motif in comic strips where a character gets to be successful after five weeks of kind of trying. It’s a reliable giddy delight. For another, people kept saying “muffin” or, better, “Mary’s muffins”. Over and over and over. This blend of silly story and silly phrasing could not go wrong.
Do you have no idea why I should be giddy about the concepts of muffins? Yet you’re interested in what the heck the current storyline is in Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth? That might be because it’s not February or maybe March 2018 when you’re reading this, and the story’s moved on. If it has, please check this link. If I’ve written another essay describing the plot since this one, it should be at or near the top of that page.
My last essay on the events in Mary Worth came at an exciting moment. Wilbur Weston, travelling the world to ask survivors of disasters how they felt about not being dead, had found his girlfriend Fabiana in the arms of her “cousin”. He stormed out of the dance studio. I thought it was too early in the storyline for his relationship with her to have collapsed. She’d only been introduced a few weeks before. Right as Wilbur told his on-hiatus girlfriend Iris that he’d met someone else and it was after all Iris’s idea to go on hiatus. Not so, though. He flies back home and shows no sign of ever wishing anything to do with Fabiana ever again.
Wilbur strolls back into his home life. He calls Iris with all the confidence of a balding, sandwich-based newspaper advice columnist who wears a bathrobe made of the curved fabric of spacetime itself. And he’s shocked to learn that she’s got plans with a guy named Zak that she hooked back up with right after he dumped her. Wilbur takes this well. I mean that he spends a couple weeks crouching in bushes to figure out how much of a rebound this guy is. And just how temporarily Iris will be interested Zak. He’s a young, rich, generically attractive man who owns his own game company and a car and chin stubble that looks like it’s on purpose and not that he’s incompetent at shaving. Wilbur figures to win Iris back, and gets the first step — roses — ready to deploy when he hears Iris and Zak telling each other “love you”. And that convinces him it’s all over.
This takes us to the 1st of January. And something I could not have appreciated at the time. In the midst of cleaning up Wilbur’s emotional mess, Mary Worth points out that she’s made muffins.
I do not think I am the only reader of Mary Worth blindsided by the strip’s turn to muffins. But let me give you this to consider: the 18th of February was the 49th day of the year. Since the 1st of January, 2018, Mary’s Muffins have either been shown or been named in no less than 48 separate panels. That’s not counting panels in which the characters are talking about Mary Worth’s muffins. Or discussing the implications of the fact that these muffins exist in the Worthyverse. This is literally just the panels in which a muffin is shown or the word “muffin” appears in text. And yes, this is in no small part because Mary’s Muffins have somehow transmogrified from an alliterative phrase that sounds like it might be naughty into a plot to rival CRUISE SHIPS. But that’s also with the first several weeks being devoted to getting Wilbur to stop his nonsense about how he’s through with love. Of the 133 panels the strip presented from the new year through to Sunday, more than one in three has focused on muffins. I don’t believe that Karen Moy and June Brigman are creating drinking games for the snark community. But I can’t rule it out either.
Anyway. Plot. Wilbur declares he is through and will live the rest of his life without love. Mary points out that’s ridiculous: he may have lost Iris as a girlfriend. But he still has mayonnaise. And here’s a large pile of muffins that aren’t going to eat themselves. And he’s got a daughter he kind of waved to between coming home from Colombia and creeping on Zak and Iris. Plus, this is the Worthyverse so he will pair-bond with some appropriate heterosexual partner and they will be happy together or else. He takes a bag of muffins to his daughter Dawn. They have a heart-to-heart that’s uncomfortably close to how my every phone call with my mother goes (“How’ve you been?” “Pretty good, and you?” “Good. … Uhm … so … guess I’ll catch you next week?”). He walks through a couple sunrises and figures, hey, he’s not dead. That’s doing pretty good these days.
The 22nd of January the current wonder of a storyline gets going. It includes a panel that does not explicitly feature muffins. It does have clear muffin-related content since it’s got a bag of flower, and a bowl with more flour in it, and a stirring spoon. Jeff’s old friend Ted Miller is in town, and Mary’s happy to treat him to dinner. Ted Miller loves dinner. He loves even more the muffins that Mary serves as appetizer while the rib roast finishes. He’s a former salesman, so he knows ways of the business world, such as how to keep his face open to the exact same wide-eyed smile for days on end.
Ted’s sure that Mary Muffins could become a major success in the bread-adjacent food products line. And that could just be the start of a whole Mary Worth Food Universe of in-principle consumable matter. He plies her with the idea of fame. She’s enchanted by the idea, but in the way any of us are, not enough to do something. He tells her of how she could make a fortune. She’s got dreams of immense wealth, again as we all do, but she’s comfortable as she is. He finally deploys generically positive aphorisms like “Nothing in life is guaranteed! Does that mean we shouldn’t live it?” and “Don’t let fear stop you from doing something great!” and “Don’t be afraid of risk!”. Ted’s found her weak point. She goes to work making test muffins.
By the time that muffins became two-thirds of all the words spoken by all the characters in Mary Worth the ordinary reader had one question. I don’t know what it is. I know the question that the alert, partly-ironic reader had. That was: what’s Ted’s deal, anyway? He mentioned a couple times how Mary Worth would have to put up an investment to get Mary Muffins going. And that she’d really have to do work in making the stuff while he dealt with marketing and “details”. Could it be as simple as Ted Miller scamming a woman who could be flattered into believing the world needs to know how well she bakes?
Possibly. It seems a bit odd to have an old friend of Jeff’s turn out to be a scam artist. But the strip had Jeff back down on how well he did know Ted, saying (on the 17th of February) that he knew him “casually, a long time ago”. And also this past week we’ve had Ted declare how he and Mary Worth will be a great team, and go in for a hug that he doesn’t go out of for several days of strip action. Not until Mary warns she’s got an appointment and shoves him into the linen closet. Is it possible he’s a masher?
Could be. I admit I am not sure what Ted’s deal is. A confidence scam based on Mary Worth’s cooking abilities would be a believable development. Let’s remember that she introduced the comics snark community to salmon squares. I remember them as a plate of material the color of a Macintosh Performa 6115. She also did innovative work with shrimp scampi. The strip’s had confidence men pulling scams before, although not on Mary so far as I know. An attempt by Ted to flatter his way into a personal relationship would also fit. Jeff mentioned on the 17th that Ted was divorced. And, heck, a dozen years ago the strip even sustained a stalker plot, the famous Aldo Keldrast story. The Comics Curmudgeon made his name in the snark community covering that one. Could be a story like that coming around again. Or maybe it’ll be something more bizarre yet. I refuse to make a guess about whether Mary Muffins will turn into the next great baffling food thing or whether they’ll be forgotten as the Ted plot unfolds. Also I refuse to guess whether we’re ever given any hint what kind of product Ted ever sold. If you’d like to guess, please, leave a comment and we’ll see if we can make the text support any or all of them!
Dubiously Sourced Quotes of Mary Worth Sunday Panels!
“Life is full of surprises.” — John Major, 26 November 2017.
“You’ve got to learn to leave the table when love’s no longer being served” — Nina Simone, 3 December 2017.
“Above all, don’t lie to yourself” — Fyodor Dostoyevskky [sic], 10 December 2017.
“Love has reasons which reason cannot understand” — Blaise Pascal, 17 December 2017.
“No one wants advice — only corroboration.” — John Steinbeck, 24 December 2017.
“Love is the only gold.” — Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 31 December 2017.
“Gratitude is riches. Complaint is poverty.” — Doris Day, 6 January 2018.
“The best thing to hold onto in life is each other.” — Audrey Hepburn, 13 January 2018.
“Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the Earth are never alone or weary of life.” — Rachel Carson, 21 January 2018.
“You begin with the possibilities of the material.” — Robert Rauschenberg, 28 January 2018.
“Your big opportunity may be right where you are now.” — Napoleon Hill, 4 February 2018.
“The risk of a wrong decision is preferable to the terror of indecision.” — Maimonides, 11 February 2018.
“Enthusiasm is everything” — Pele, 18 February 2018.
I get to practically relax and take it easy. I have three months of Sunday strip continuity to catch up on, as we’re set to revisit Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom, Sunday strips. Does the Rat get out of jail? Does he get put back in jail? Is The Phantom just screwing with everybody? Come back and find out, or, actually, you could read the comic yourself at least as easily. But I’ll put it together in like a thousand words, there’s that.
I don’t know how many movies I was introduced to by SCTV. Possibly everything that wasn’t a kid’s movie. (Indeed, just last night I caught a moment of The Unholy Rollers and realize I just saw the source for one of SCTV’s Movies of the Week although I can’t place the title just now.) But I was also introduced to a genre by SCTV. They ran a soap opera spoof, The Days Of The Week. It started with a simple premise, the town’s respected surgeon trying to con a widow out of her fortune by setting up a patsy to play her long-lost son. Within a half-dozen sketches they had dozens of conspiracies unfolding at a wedding interrupted by multiple gun-weilding fanatics. And somewhere along the line I realized they had made a ridiculous yet strangely legitimate soap opera. They just chose to make every possible storyline go crazy, and cling to the crazy.
When I last checked in on Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker the strip had just jumped three months ahead. April Parker was in super-duper top-secret jail after being framed for a complicated CIA-based fiasco. Randy Parker’s been united with his daughter Charlotte, through the workings of April’s father Norton. But the craziness and Alan’s secrecy has smashed his relationship with his wife Katherine, and she’s leaving. It had blown up what of the status quo hadn’t been blown up already. It was crazy.
Alan fumbles the last chance of Katherine reconciling with Alan. She sees he’s mining their scenario for his stalled-out novel. Sophie Spencer, recovering from her own kidnapping at the hands of her mother’s long-lost half-sister, buys a replacement guitar. And talks with Neddy, who’s herself recovering from when her ill-conceived clothing factory fell into a sinkhole. And Neddy agrees with Sophie that yeah, she needs to have some focus for her life again. That’s a couple weeks spent working out older stories and setting them basically in order. A not-crazy order.
Then we got to the end of October, and focus on April Parker. She’s spending her three-year prison sentence the way Calvin might spend having to sit in the corner and almost as successfully. She picks fights with her cellmate, her blockmates, the guards, the plumbing, the air, and several imaginary friends. So the early-release plans are off. Randy isn’t able to talk her down and fears she’s going to go crazy.
One night Alan’s pondering how screwed up everything is when Norton breaks in. Norton dismisses Alan’s complaints that his scheming and conspiracies have destroyed his life. And explains that he’s there to reunite the family, for example by breaking April out of her maximum-security federal prison. And flee the country with Randy and Charlotte. And Norton won’t discuss whether there’s any options that don’t involve doing the craziest possible thing.
And this past week the crazy thing happens. Norton kidnaps Alan. His operatives break April out of prison. April breaks in to her and Randy’s house, collects Charlotte, and informs him they’re going to become a family of fugitives. He tries to point out, this is crazy.
So something like sixteen months into his tenture writing Judge Parker Francesco Marciuliano has thoroughly embraced the Days of the Week style plotting. It’s almost seemed like a search for status quos to blow up. And clings to that.
Did Aunt May marry Melvin the Mole Man after all? Who’s this one-armed fellow in Florida that Peter Parker’s hanging out with? Who’s throwing all these alligators around? And why isn’t there more Rocket Raccoon? There’ll be answers to some of this when I get back to Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man. Spoiler: no, somehow, Aunt May did not get married.
I know, I know, I’m the Internet’s leading resource on recapping the plots of story strips like Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth. Believe me, I’m doing my best to keep my modesty at an appropriate level. My professionalism compels me to warn you: this is a recap written at the end of November 2017. Stories move on, though, and if it’s much past November 2017 these stories won’t be more than deep background for you. If it’s sometime after March 2018 when you read this, then (all going well) I’ll have another, more-recent-to-you story summary available. You should be able to get it here. Thanks for looking to me for help with exactly what my subject line says.
We had a real, proper, soap-operatic situation going on last time I checked in on Mary Worth. Dawn Weston, working for the Local Medical Group, is outright smitten with Dr Ned Fletcher. Medical assistant Jared, himself a-smitten with Dawn, discovers that Dr Ned is still married. He reports this to Dawn, who doesn’t want to believe it. Also I’m not sure whether Dr Ned is open with his wife about his side thing, or whether he’s lying to her about what he’s doing those late nights at the office. I suppose he’s lying to her. The Mary Worth universe can support adultery. No way can it support poly relationships. (Plus, even if it did, Dr Ned’s a serious heel for lying to Dawn about his status.)
At a L’escargot Mensonger dinner, Dawn asks and Dr Ned fesses up: he is married. He doesn’t think that has to change things, because it’s never the guy who lied about his relationship status who does. Dawn runs out on dinner and into the gardening-tool-handling hands of Mary Worth. Mary advises sticking to principles like “not dating married men”, even if it costs the job, and that a man who’s “available and doesn’t trouble her conscience” will be along. Since Dawn was only working for the summer and it’s already a September strip this is a financially viable decision to make, at least. Dawn quits, and tells Jared that he was right all along, and maybe they’ll talk or something later. Mary shows up with muffins and hugs and the confidence that comes from knowing yeah, she’s still the center of the strip.
But there’s other people in the comic. Wilbur Weston left Charterstone and threatened to leave the strip altogether some time ago. He’s got a new gig, interviewing survivors of disasters around the world about their experiences and about the sandwiches they eat now that they’re not dead. And his story returns the 2nd of October. He FaceTimes Iris, his girlfriend back home, with the news he’s staying out a while longer. He’s met someone in Bogota he’s got feelings for, and you know, it was her idea they put their relationship on pause while he globetrotted some more.
Iris is devastated and falls into a long self-inquisitive spiral about whether she could have saved their relationship. Mary Worth, writing Wilbur’s “Ask Wendy” advice column, pontificates on the idea that love is all around, no need to waste it, you might just make it after all, thank you for being a friend, sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name, and brother Dick was lost at sea without his water wings; now he is an angel, and he tries to do amazing things. But that’s all just for the audience; there’s no hint Iris reads the column or knows this advice is out there ready to be heard.
Anyway, while walking around in a good healing mope, she runs across Zak. You maybe remember Zak. We last saw him early in 2017, taking some classes with Iris at Local Community College. Iris liked him, what with his being attractive and having a pleasant, natural dopiness, but she decided she was waiting for Wilbur. And hey! What do you know? Zak is doing well, having made a game that got popular and buying a briefcase and a car and everything. And he’s up for coffee and dating, so, lucky them.
Meanwhile in Bogota, Wilbur’s been busy having a life, and who saw that coming? His relationship with Fabiana has gotten quite serious. Wilbur’s taking dance lessons and buying her Green Lantern rings. He’s embracing his new life, and her, with an enthusiasm previously reserved for pork roll. She’s consistently looking not quite at him. But he doesn’t notice this until one day when he arrives for salsa lessons early and finds Fabiana deep in the arms of her cousin Pedro. Wilbur begins to suspect that they aren’t even cousins, and that he’s been a fool. There’s no salsa here. There’s not even any chips. Poor guy.
And there we are. It’s easy to suppose the situation is exactly what it looks like. Fabiana hasn’t been showing having a conversation with Wilbur that wasn’t about how he could buy her things, for example. But it also seems early in Wilbur’s little story segment here. After breaking up with Iris on the second of October his story went on the backburner. The Wilbur-Fabiana thing has only had primary focus since the 13th of November. It seems like there should be time for some twists and turns yet. On the 26th as Wilbur storms out Fabiana does chase after, swearing it isn’t what it looks like and begging her love not to go; so, what the heck. I’m willing to see. Plus, you know, after the last bit of Wilber-Iris-and-Zak storytelling we got CRUISE SHIPS. I don’t know what can match them, if anything, but it’s a good omen going forward.
Dubiously Sourced Quotes of Mary Worth Sunday Panels.
“Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain’t going away.” — Elvis Presley. 3 September 2017.
“And if that isn’t the truth, it would be a lie.” — Colin Mochrie, 10 September 2017.
“Change your opinions, keep to your principles; change your leaves, keep intact your roots.” — Victor Hugo, 17 September 2017.
“The greatest healing therapy is friendship and love.” — Hubert H Humphrey, 24 September 2017.
“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” — Albert Einstein, 1 October 2017.
“Let go. Why do you cling to pain?” — Leo Buscaglia, 8 October 2017.
“Love can sometimes be magic. But magic can sometimes … just be an illusion.” — Javan, 15 October 2017.
“And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” — 1 Corinthians 13:13, 22 October 2017. OK, I’m like 60 percent confident this one is legit.
“Love is like the wind. You can’t see it, but you can feel it.” — Nicholas Sparks, 29 October 2017.
“There is only one happiness in this life, to love and be loved.” — George Sand, 5 November 2017.
“Work like you don’t need the money. Love like you’ve never been hurt. Dance like nobody’s watching.” — Satchel Paige, 12 November 2017.
“Money can’t buy love, but it improves your bargaining position.” — Unknown, 19 November 2017.
“Life is full of surprises.” — John Major, 26 November 2017.
I return to the challenge of doing these recaps without fear or favor, despite knowing that Tony DePaul reads them, as I get to his and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom, Sunday continuity. A new storyline had started shortly after my last update, so this is a much-needed refresher.
Thank you for being interested in Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth. I’m writing this to help people understand the end of the cruise ships storyline, and then whatever non-cruise-ship-based story followed. So this is timely, if the time is late summer or early autumn 2017 for you. If it’s much past that, the story might have moved on. Sometime around December 2017 or January 2018 I hope to write a follow-up piece, and if it’s even later than that for you, I might have a more current piece yet. It should be at or near the top of this page. Thanks.
19 June – 2 September 2017
If there is anything to say about where we left of Mary Worth it is: CRUISE SHIPS. Mary and Toby had spent months thrilling to concept and experience of cruise ships. Meanwhile, first-time cruise ship patrons Derek and Katie Hoosier have been having problems. Derek was breaking his resolution to quit smoking. Also he’d kind of let Esme, the cruise ship’s talented yet smoking singer, try to break up his marriage, locking Katie in the bathroom in Haiti and kissing him on the smoking deck and all that. That’s where the cruise left off, last time I checked in.
Things got tempestuous. Derek rejects Esme’s latest proposition and storms off the deck. Meanwhile Katie, still angry that she saw Esme kissing Derek and that Derek was smoking the cigarettes, stomps around the deck until she sees Esme and warns her off. As a storm rolls in, they start fighting, and Esme falls past the railings. Katie pauses momentarily, realizing that this story could really shut up snarky comics bloggers if she let Esme drown. But she can’t do it, and pulls her rival up from certain doom. Esme promises, yeah, she’ll stop pitching woo at Derek.
Though Esme is as good as her word, keeping Christmas in her heart every day, Derek remembers that Mary Worth hasn’t gotten to do anything but talk up cruise ships this story. So he confesses to her about how he was smoking with Esme. Mary Worth sizes this up and advises him to be honest about the situation, go back to his true love Katie, and get married. He points out they’re already married, and she advises him to get super-married. Katie thinks this is a splendid idea, especially as Derek resolves to get a patch that’ll help him break up even more with Esme.
Since all that’s worked out, Mary Worth spends a solid two weeks telling Toby how great it is to have great relationships with people you communicate honestly with, and also how great it is that she spent all this great time on this great cruise ship with Toby and not her eager suitor Jeff ProbablySomeLastName. And then, like a light going out, the CRUISE SHIP story finally reaches its destination of Tuesday, the 18th of July. Wednesday the 19th starts the new and current story.
Dawn Wilson is helping herself through college by working data-entry at the Local Medical Group. She’s subbing for a woman who’s on maternity leave and I’m just going to go ahead and assume it’s Rex Morgan’s clinic, since we never see Rex Morgan there. Dawn’s enjoying her work, what with people talking to her and everything. And then one day after some overtime charming young Dr Ned Fletcher takes her to dinner. She’s soon smitten with him, sending out thought bubbles of Ned’s face where anyone can see.
One of those people seeing is Jared, one of the medical assistants, who’s himself smitten with Dawn. But as he’s lower-ranked professionally all he can afford is to take her out to lunch and then look sneeringly over while Ned asks Dawn to do some office work in the office during work hours. Also when Ned asks Dawn to do some dinner-eating with him outside the office after work hours.
Jared sees where he might have an opportunity, when he overhears Ned on the phone talking with someone who sure sounds wifely. In the daily strips it sure sounds compelling, too: “I hate when I have to WORK LATE too. I’ll be home when I FINISH. I know it’s not fair to you dear, but you SIGNED UP for this. REMEMBER? For BETTER or for WORSE?”
Jared sulks for a couple days, considering that breaking up the boss’s affair would be not good for his job and probably not good for his potential relationship with Dawn. But he finally comes out and tells her, over bagels: Ned’s married. Dawn accuses Jared of being crazy and she bets even jealous.
And there’s where we’ve gotten. While it hasn’t got the giddy, delightful catchiness of months of praise of cruise ship experience technologies, it has at least got into a proper and plausible enough soap opera story. I confess I’m not into it so much as I am the CRUISE SHIPS, but who could be? I’m a mere mortal, reading these strips. Mary Worth has yet to be summoned to teach people to be faithful heterosexual married pairs having babies. But there’s plenty of story time left.
Dubious Mary Worth Quotes Of The Sunday Title Panels
“I was dying to be seduced by you, knowing it would kill me.” — William Chapan, 18 June 2017.
“It is in your moments of decision that your destiny is shaped.” — Tony Robbins, 25 June 2017.
“Love involves a peculiar unfathomable combination of understanding and misunderstanding.” — Diane Arbus, 2 July 2017.
“People need revelation, and then they need resolution.” — Damian Lewis, 9 July 2017.
“Resolve, and thou art free.” — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 16 July 2017.
“Everyone else my age is an adult, whereas I am merely in disguise.” — Margaret Atwood, 23 July 2017.
“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” — Ernest Hemingway, 30 July 2017.
“Trust not too much to appearances.” — Virgil, 6 August 2017.
“I always wanted to be my own boss.” — John Barry, 13 August 2017.
“Most virtue is a demand for greater seduction.” — Natalie Barney, 20 August 2017.
“Nothing makes us so lonely as our secrets.” — Paul Tournier. 27 August 2017.
“Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain’t going away.” — Elvis Presley. 3 September 2017.
Interested in Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth? Sure, who here wouldn’t be? If you’re looking for a recap of the current plot, it’s cruise ships. But in case the cruise ships plot ever ends there might be something more to say. So if you’re reading this much later than June 2017 you’ll want to see my most recent story summary. It’ll be at or near the top of this page. Good luck, meanwhile.
26 March – 18 June 2017
I mentioned last time the new Mary Worth had lurched into action. Mary Worth had taken Toby’s warnings that they hadn’t been important to a story in ages. Mary Worth decided to make her big story a cruise ship. I had understated then just how much Toby and Mary Worth told each other about how awesome cruise ships were. You know, how they let people with different interests have fun despite travelling together and all that. This had been the focus of like 18 weeks of strips in a row before my last summary. I thought that had all been prologue to make sure no readers questioned why someone might decide to go on a cruise ship as a recreational activity. And I imagined most of you would be willing to take that as read.
Since that time, Mary Worth and Toby have gotten to the cruise ship and been on the cruise ship. A lot. I’m not sure the cruise ship vacation will ever end. I’m not sure it’s capable of ending. This is a cruise ship vacation that my parents and their friend who always went on cruise ship vacations with them might well say was too much cruise ship.
Mary Worth overheard Derek and Katie Hoosier thinking about how this was their first cruise and latched onto them with the resolve and determination of Lieutenant Columbo noticing that Patrick McGoohan is in this episode. But she establishes pretty quick that the Hoosiers are indeed linked in an approved heterosexual monogamous relationship. What possible problem could they have? Well, Derek’s hoping the cruise will help him finally break his smoking habit.
Mary Worth and Toby talk with each other about how CRUISE SHIPS offer all manner of relaxation and entertainment options, including towel folding, lamb chops, and theater. Derek and Katie go to one of the professional entertainments, a show featuring professional entertainment professional entertainer Esme, who sings and dances and wins the wide-eyed gaze of Derek. And that attention is returned by Esme, who meets him at a secret smoke break. She’s smitten by him, which is understandable. Women with tolerably successful entertainment careers are hard-pressed to ignore starstruck young-adult males who exist and have definite physical properties and are able to set cigarettes on fire.
So smitten, in fact, that when the CRUISE SHIP stopped in Haiti for a bathroom break, Esme locked Katie Hoosier in the nation’s bathroom. Derek gets all tense and worried about this. Not unreasonably, I should say, and I’m reminded of an anecdote my father tells about their honeymoon whenever he needs my mother to roll her eyes at him, about what turned out unexpectedly to be a pay toilet in Spain. They knew about the Spain part going in. Not so much about the pay part, nor about the attendants making sure users didn’t leave without paying. Mary Worth suggests Derek try checking Haiti’s bathroom, and what do you know but she was right and everyone was silly not to ask her sooner. All return to the CRUISE SHIP, but Derek ponders what kind of world he lives in that innocent American tourists can get locked in foreign bathrooms.
Derek fumes about this all the way through the CRUISE SHIP’s stops at Jamaica and Cozumel. At least he joins Esme for smoke breaks through all this. The smoke breaks aren’t enough for Esme, who follows Derek to one of the CRUISE SHIP’s piano lounges to give an impromptu concert. Katie catches Derek committing some solo smoking and kicks him out of their cabin if he’s going to be doing that to his lungs. Moments later Katie checks on him and sees that not only is he smoking, but he’s kissing Esme, a woman who is not her. Derek protests that it wasn’t what it looked like. The entertainment professionals on CRUISE SHIP will just naturally pursue and kiss innocent smoking passengers.
Katie is having none of these excuses. Fair enough given that her husband’s been acting like the character in a Jam Handy film whose thoughtless behavior we, the audience, are supposed to discuss amongst ourselves. Plus she got locked in Haiti’s bathroom. It’s going to take a lot to get her to like CRUISE SHIP vacations again. But, then, Mary Worth has barely had anything to do this story except explain to the Hoosiers how CRUISE SHIP carpeting will show you which way is forward and which way is back. And eating things. And going to that towel-folding demonstration. Plus, after all, Katie and Derek are having one actual breach of trust (the smoking thing) and one crazy-but-basically-a-misunderstanding issue (Esme). I bet she has them meddled back into a happy marriage, possibly with children, well before the CRUISE SHIP finishes its tour, if it ever does.
The index rose seven points today as someone finally explained how to make a cell phone actually scan a QR code so it does something, although projections are for the market to drop precipitously tomorrow what with how we’ve already forgotten how to do it.
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.