Statistics Tuesday Eventually: October 2016 For My Humor Blog


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.

Wilbur says, 'Mary, I hate to ask ... can you continue doing 'Ask Wendy' for another year?' 'Another year? I'd be happy to do it, Wilbur. I enjoy advising your readers. But why can't you do it?' 'I have news ... '
Karen Moy, June Brigman, and Roy Richardson’s Mary Worth for the 28th of October, 2016. While it’s polite of Mary to wait for Wilbur to offer her the advice column, I have questions. Like, Mary Worth is definitely collecting the addresses of people who write for advice so she knows where to go to meddle people into having severely heteronormative relationships, right? Also she has a list of over four hundred reasons she can’t give the column back anytime this lifetime?

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:

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.

Country Page Views
United States 1219
Canada 47
India 39
United Kingdom 30
Germany 29
Australia 20
New Zealand 18
France 16
Philippines 9
Sweden 8
Mexico 6
Norway 4
Brazil 3
Finland 3
Greece 3
Ireland 3
Japan 3
Kenya 3
Netherlands 3
South Africa 3
Ukraine 3
Argentina 2
Colombia 2
European Union 2
Italy 2
Spain 2
Bahrain 1
Belgium 1
Ecuador 1
Israel 1
Malaysia 1
Morocco 1
Nigeria 1
Northern Mariana Islands 1
Pakistan 1
Poland 1 (*)
Qatar 1
Singapore 1
Switzerland 1
Turkey 1
United Arab Emirates 1
Uruguay 1

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?

97

Has the comic strip _Momma_ come to an end?


Mell Lazarus, cartoonist for Momma and Miss Peach, died about two months ago. And now we know how far ahead of deadline he was able to work, between original strips and reruns. This appeared last Sunday, when I was trying to cover up being away from home with a week of my own reruns:

Characters gathered around Momma's gravestone: 'RIP Sonya Hobbes, 1927 - 2016. I Told You I Was Sick'. Surrounding the gravestone are Cathy and Electra, Jeremy from Zits, Luann, Earl and Mooch from Mutts, Farley from For Better Or For Worse, Snoopy, Billy from The Family Circus, the dad from Baby Blues, the guy and dog from Ballard Street, and Tom Doozie from the Doozies. Plus some Sergio Aragones marginal figures.
Mell Lazarus’s Momma for the 10th of July, 2016. I admit, I laughed, and felt bad about the laugh, which is what you want for this kind of joke. None of the characters are Lazarus’s, which does seem a little odd. The fellow on the far right holding the dog is from Jerry Van Amerongen’s Ballard Street. The very sketchy fellow on the far right is from Tom Gammill’s The Doozies and yes, it’s that Tom Gammill. If you don’t know that Tom Gammill, don’t worry.

I doubt anyone saw that coming. Momma was never a continuity-heavy strip and so there wasn’t any reason to think it would need a finale. I’m impressed that Lazarus or someone working with him had thought to have a closing comic. Also that it’s a perfect capstone for the comic.

It is curious to me none of Lazarus’s characters appears in the strip. For that matter, Cathy, For Better Or For Worse, and Peanuts are in officially announced perpetual reruns, with Schulz even dead for quite some time now. The Family Circus is in unofficially announced perpetual reruns. I don’t know what to make of this set of characters, other than that perhaps they reflect creators Lazarus considered particularly good friends.

Is the comic strip leaving syndication? I haven’t seen any announcement the syndicate means to drop it, although it’s hard to suppose there’ll be any more new strips. But the perpetual-rerun is now a tolerated part of the syndicated comic offering: besides the above-mentioned strips Doonesbury and Get Fuzzy are new only on weekends, and there are many minor strips that are new only on the weekends or not at all. And Momma hadn’t offered a new daily strip since February.

What I gather is that Momma is still being offered to newspapers, but that might reflect Creators Syndicate not having decided what to do after Lazarus’s death. If I hear of anything more I’ll say.

According to posters on the Usenet group rec.arts.comics.strips, Jok Church’s feature You Can with Beakman and Jax is ending this week. And according to the strip itself Kevin Frank’s Heaven’s Love Thrift Shop is ending at the close of the month. The past twelve months have been a brutal one for syndicated comics and related features.

On The Passing Of _Momma_ Cartoonist Mell Lazarus


Years ago I got a book about skyscrapers. It was a collection of articles from Architectural Digest or some similar quasi-trade publication. The articles were mostly about what contemporaries thought of buildings at the time. It was one of those this-looks-interesting-in-the-dollar-bin purchases, since I know less about architectural criticism than you imagine. No, less than that.

One essay catching my attention, though, was about a circa 1910 skyscraper. The article praised its design for having finally solved the problem of skyscraper proportions. And the picture looked … normal. Boring. There was nothing distinctive about this building. You could drop this maybe fifteen-storey thing into any city and not be noticed. It was a mystifying phrase until I understood the context. If this solved the problem, well, of course it wouldn’t stand out nearly a century later.

The National Cartoonists Society announced yesterday the death of Mell Lazarus. He was renowned in comic strip circles for Miss Peach and Momma. Miss Peach, particularly, I keep hearing singled out for brilliance, and I confess I don’t get it. Probably that’s from lack of exposure. It was never running in a newspaper when I was growing up, and I never saw it on a newspaper’s web site before the strip closed up in 2002. I may have seen it parodied, mostly in Mad Magazine, more than I’ve seen the original. It’s hard to understand what’s great in something that way. It looks like an average example of that Mid-Century Modern comic strip style shared by every comic strip from between about 1960 and whenever it was Dilbert became trendy. But see the problem of the solved skyscraper.

Momma, though, that I read growing up and through to the present day. The family dynamics are awfully screwed up, but in a way normal enough for a joke-engine daily strip. The art, at least at Lazarus’s peak, had that style that looks shaggy and undisciplined, but which you learn is really tightly controlled when you study it seriously or, better, try to imitate it. And the jokes may have gotten harder to parse lately, but it’s hard to land every joke successfully, especially in a comic strip with a necessarily small cast of characters and limited set of continuing stories.

Anyway, by all accounts, Lazarus was a fantastic person and your life was considerably better if he was in it. That’s a great thing for people to be able to say about you.

A Momma Comic Strip I Don’t Understand, Plus Some That I Do


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.

'My children never tell me they love me anymore. I think I'll just call and ask them if they do,' says Momma to a couple friends(?) marching in on her. As they keep walking toward her very large phone she thinks, 'On the other hand, why take the chance?'
Mell Lazarus’s Momma for the 25th of February, 2016. Among the things baffling me is the total change in attitude of the second person marching in from the right. She seems cheery and content in the first panel, and then suspicious and nearly angry in the second. What’s changed, besides her wondering exactly how tall Momma’s telephone has to be for it to be larger than any of their torsos?

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.

As Mary and Olive enjoy the Empire State Building observatory ... 'New York is GREAT!' 'Especially from UP HERE! I'm going to miss this city ... AND YOU, OLIVE. But don't worry! I'll be back!' 'Maybe I'll visit YOU next time. I LOVED Santa Royale, except for that ... ahem ... thing with the pool!' 'You're always welcome to stay with me, dear! And no need to go swimming!'
Karen Moy and Joe Giella’s Mary Worth for the 21st of February, 2016. While everyone is upset to see Mary Worth leaving New York City, nobody has a more frowny face about it than the observation deck’s telescope, which just looks heartbroken in the first panel of the second row there. Also I’m not sure about the perspective here but I think there’s a guy in light green pants hovering behind Mary there.

Anyway, there’s comic strips I understand very well. Many of them have mathematical themes, and I chat about them some on my other blog. If you’ve got the chance to read them, please, do.

Mother Of The Arts


I do worry in highlighting comic strips that I get too relentlessly snarky and downbeat on them. For one, I really do love comic strips, even though the syndicated newspaper comic strip is not a form of art that’s near a creative or commercial peak. For another, well, you can get high-quality snark about the comics from pretty near every blog ever on the Internet and I would like to offer something a little bit different.

So let me point out Saturday’s Momma, in which Mell Lazarus presents a joke that I find perfectly well-formed. It’s punchy, a little tartly mean, and worth a grin at least. I even like Momma’s offended look in the second panel. And I appreciate that the strip shows the characters doing something, when the joke would read at least as well if it were just a couple of two-shots of the characters standing in a featureless void and the strip would’ve been quicker to draw.

Momma and a friend are painting. The friend explains her children used to tell her everything. 'Then they stopped telling me *anything*, and our relationship improved.'
Mell Lazarus’s not-at-all baffling Momma for the 28 of February, 2015.

I admit I am a little distracted by how Momma is looking everywhere except the canvas as she paints a human head onto a potted plant, and that I do not know what form of art Momma’s Friend is engaged in. I’m thinking it’s some kind of sculpting done with hypodermic needle? Well, it’s something in the beret genre.

And as sort of post usually indicates, I talk about some mathematics-themed comics over on my other blog, where there aren’t any equations in case you worry about those, but there is some talk about the calendar.

Comic Strip _Momma_ Not Neglecting George Washington, Either


OK, so, something first: on my mathematics blog it’s the “19th Century German Mathematicians” edition, although it really only mentions two 19th Century German Mathematicians by name or any detail, and one of them thought he could prove that Francis Bacon wrote William Shakespeare’s plays. So, you know, being good at infinity doesn’t mean you know everything.

Something second: Mell Lazarus’s Momma. The comic strip recently turned to Almanac-based humor, and last week raised questions about Abraham Lincoln as well as Canada’s “Heritage Day”, like, “does Canada have a `Heritage Day’?” And, since the comic strip gave us Abraham Lincoln just hanging around for no particular reason, would George Washington get the same treatment? Sure he would.

Momma and Francis see George Washington, who's alive and sitting angrily in a chair, and who thinks Momma and Francis don't appreciate how much hard work it is being George Washington.
Mell Lazarus’s Momma for the 22nd of February, 2015, celebrating George Washington’s birthday by making us wonder what he’s so angry about anyway.

And I’m still baffled by it all, since while I have no trouble believing that Washington has carved a dresser out of a giant block of yellow butter, I’m stumped working out why he would have triangular pennants for the battles of Concord and of Saratoga, or the Treaty of Paris, which he had nothing to do with. And where the heck is the pennant for Monmouth Courthouse? Why not the winter encampments at Morristown, New Jersey? Heck, what about Newburgh? Also, are his drapes pattern that of a bunch of clouds, or is it Keith Knight characters mooning us? These are all questions I feel I cannot answer.

Really, Though, Comic Strip _Momma_ Going Quite Mad


I don’t mean to harp on this too much, but, did you see Mell Lazarus’s Momma for today? No, because there’s only fourteen people under the age of 50 who read the comics and most of them have better sense than to read Momma. But, well, just look at the strip for the 17th.

Momma notes yesterday was Presidents Day; someone agrees and points out it was Heritage Day in Canada. Another woman says we shouldn't compete with Canada, 'After all, they're always our allies', and two women beyond her say 'true' three times. That's it.
Mell Lazarus’s baffling Momma for the 17th of February, 2015. Also, I question whether it was actually Heritage Day in Canada.

While I criticized a couple strips last week for not making sense, I have to admit that at least the comic from the 13th is a joke-like construct: Francis talks about how his boss yelled at him for seven hours, Momma asked a question about this, and we get back a non sequitur response. Momma’s question doesn’t make contextual sense, but it at least has the grammar; the structure is right even if the humor is lacking.

Francis says he made a mistake at work, his boss yelled at him for seven solid hours and threw him out of the office; then the scene teleports from the front porch to the living room.
Mell Lazarus’s crazy Momma for the 13th of February, with a setup that just … I don’t know. I just don’t know.

The Lincoln’s Birthday one hasn’t got the structure of a joke, but it does have the pop-cultural-reference form of things, by showing off a thing (Abraham Lincoln) and then some things that remind you of that original thing (“four score and seven years”, “civil”, “mint julep” — well, he was born in Kentucky). This “here’s a thing that reminds you of another thing!” form in brilliant hands gives you Mystery Science Theater 3000, the movie Airplane!, and those Bugs Bunny cartoons stealing jokes from then-current radio comedians. In clumsy hands, it gives you the Scary Movie franchise and Animaniacs and the like. These might be the humor equivalent of junk food — a quick laugh that, on reflection, you really can’t justify having found funny — but it is at least a form that inspires a giggle.

Lincoln, I guess, tells Francis he's thirsty, so Francis asks Momma to bring him a mint julep, which is 'very civil' of us. It doesn't make more sense in the illustration. Sorry.
Mell Lazarus’s crazy Momma for the 12th of February — Lincoln’s birthday — 2015.

But this, well, I don’t know what there is even to giggle at. Maybe some vague nervousness at elderly people acting kind of daft? That seems cruel in an abnormal form for Momma, though.

So as not to be too negative on an otherwise decent day, let me close with this picture of our pet rabbit doing that thing where he’s nodding off but keeps waking himself up when his head droops too fast. Also he might be melting through the bars of his play area.

Our Flemish giant, nestled up against the bars of his play area, as he naps.
Our pet rabbit doing that thing where he’s nodding off, but keeps waking himself up because his head droops too fast.

Comic Strip Momma Extends Descent Into Madness


I’m neither the first person to notice this, nor is this the first time I’ve noticed this, but Mell Lazarus’s comic strip Momma is going full-on crazy. Consider the entry from the 12th of February, which observes Lincoln’s Birthday with a comic strip that makes you really wonder: why did he sign his name to it in two separate places not counting the copyright notice? Also, what the heck is any of it supposed to mean?

Lincoln, I guess, tells Francis he's thirsty, so Francis asks Momma to bring him a mint julep, which is 'very civil' of us. It doesn't make more sense in the illustration. Sorry.
Mell Lazarus’s crazy Momma for the 12th of February — Lincoln’s birthday — 2015.

The strip for the 13th is no less baffling, because once again Mell Lazarus signs his name twice plus puts it in the copyright notice, and I’m not sure that the drawings of Momma in the first and last panel are even on the same model. I admit that Lazarus’s style has always been so loose that it’s hard to say when someone is quite off-model, but … I honestly wonder if the strip isn’t being assembled from reprints of past scenes that more or less fit the script. It would explain the setting jump from Francis on the front porch to Francis lounging on the sofa holding a beer between panels.

Also, why does his dating in the lower right corner smudged, like he changed his mind about the date?

Francis says he made a mistake at work, his boss yelled at him for seven solid hours and threw him out of the office; then the scene teleports from the front porch to the living room.
Mell Lazarus’s crazy Momma for the 13th of February, with a setup that just … I don’t know. I just don’t know.

While that’s all busy sitting on your head, I have a bunch of comics whose jokes I understand, since they’re trying to talk about mathematical topics, and pretty much succeed. I’d be glad if you gave reading them a try.

Momma demands I take back everything bad I ever said about Comic Sans


Over on my mathematics blog I had like a kerspillion comic strips to describe as having mathematics-related themes, so I got that taken care of. None of them involves really deep mathematical concepts, which is kind of a relief, although it does mean I was trying to find if there is anything interesting to say about punning “acute” and “a cute” angle. There isn’t. Sorry.

So let me chat a bit about the ongoing collapse of the very concept of artwork in comic strips. Mell Lazarus’s Momma I’ve mentioned before as shuffling its way toward madness, but lately it’s started intermittently running strips with computer-typeset letters. It’s always sad when a comic strip falls prey to this. The best-off strips are able to get typefaces based on the cartoonist’s lettering, and include some variants of each letter so that the result looks plausibly handwritten again. Lesser strips make do with more generic comic strip typefaces or, if all else fails, Comic Sans, which is not as bad as people make it out to be (admittedly, “Earth being swallowed by a black hole” is not as bad as people make Comic Sans out to be) but which is dull. Momma had fallen prey to Dread Helvetica several times, but here it’s fallen even farther into what I remember as Geneva, back in the early 90s when we thought PageMaker 4 was a pretty slick piece of newspaper-composition software. It’s stunning how a simple choice like typeface can make a wall of text a visually repulsive mass.

Momma reads off an awful lot of text presented in a horribly ugly way.
Mell Lazarus’s Momma for the 25th of January, 2015.

But if you can hack your way through the visual terror you can at least appreciate the dialogue, written in the charming “Ransom note hastily translated into English” dialect, and as you let the syllables wash over you can hear the deranged omnipotent-terror computer of a 1950s movie or a lesser episode of Star Trek getting ready to demand you explain to it what logic there is in a “kiss”.

Margo pauses at a cafe which appears to be unenclosed and to have no counters, tables, seats, or menus, and orders breakfast.
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 26th of January, 2015.

Meanwhile in Apartment 3-G the apparent ongoing war between artist Frank Bolle and writer Margaret Shulock continues, since the text is really sure that Margo is at a Manhattan cafe, while the art seems pretty confident that she’s just whirling around on the sidewalk barking out breakfast orders at random passers-by who kind of look like everybody else in Apartment 3-G only made of slightly dumpier putty. Who is right? Not, I think, the random passer-by who seems to think that wanting to have a Grand Slam Breakfast constitutes a “healthy appetite”.

Comic Strip _Momma_ Descending Into Madness


By everything I have ever heard on the topic, Mell Lazarus, the cartoonist for Miss Peach (which I have heard endlessly praised but never, ever seen, except in parodies of it) and Momma, is one of the sweetest persons to know. Having him in your set of acquaintances is reportedly a minor but noticeable blessing of life. I haven’t got any reason to disbelieve this. But whatever his greatness as a person is, there is the point that his comic strip is Momma, and like many comic strips that have been running since the era of the Petticoat Affair, it’s really not all that funny. You can make out the outlines where it was funny once upon a time, or should have been, but it seems to be around mostly because once a comic strip has been running for ten years nothing will ever stop its running.

On October 13, Mr Moon is a fan of Columbus. Someday he might grow up to be a planet. ... What?
Mell Lazarus’s comic strip Momma for the 19th of October, 2014. Good luck telling me what it means.

Lately, though, it’s taken a weird turn, to the point that I have to wonder if the comic really is descending into madness. The most recent baffling example of this comes from this past Sunday’s strip. I have nothing but love for the mock-factual comedic form; it’s always been one of my favorites. And I appreciate a comic strip delivering information with a light humorous tone; Tim Rickard’s Brewster Rockit, Space Guy! often does this for Sunday strips. But this … this just approaches the Dadaist weirdness of Bill Griffith’s Zippy the Pinhead, except for leaving me confused about “On Oct. 13th [Mr. Moon’s] a fan of Columbus” is even supposed to mean. At least Zippy I know is just stringing amusing syllables together.

Meanwhile, if that’s not enough for you, my mathematics blog has a couple of new comic strips up for discussion, although this time, none of them are actually pictured. You can just imagine what happend in them, or you’d rather, can follow the links. They’re in there somewhere.