So we’ve only got a couple days left before the eclipse. I think we’re basically set. But we should go over some last-minute arrangements before we do.
First. I’ve talked with about two-thirds of all the dragons I know and they’ve agreed they aren’t going to go eating the sun while everything’s happening. They also agree not to eat the Moon. They’re making no promises about not eating Saturn, though. I know, I know, I kept pointing out how much we like the rings. This one silver dragon asked when’s the last time I looked at them and that’s just not fair. I’m not on Saturn-ring-watching duty. That’s, like, I want to say Eric? I think Eric signed up for that.
Second. We don’t need paper plates or plastic silverware. We have Jakebe signed up to bring them, and we’ve even got someone who’s going to tell him. Don’t worry. I’ve known him for years and I’m pretty sure he’s got this. Or will. Ooh, do you think he has those little wicker baskets you put the paper plates in? They make picnics just so much better.
Third. Egg salad. Here we do need help. We need someone who’ll whip up enough egg salad for everybody who’s on the path between 80 percent and totality. We’ve got enough egg salad for the 40 percent through 80 percent bands, and we’ve found that most of the people in the 40 percent and less bands are figuring to get their own lunches so we’re not worrying about them. They’re missing out, though. Should say, we want the egg salad with a little bit of dill picked from the yard just as if it were all right to grow plants in your yard and pick them and eat them. I know, we’ve been doing this for years but it still feels like we’re getting away with something. Please check the sign-up sheets and it’s all right if we have extra left over.
Fourth. As the sun passes behind the mountains of the lunar horizon we may see Baily’s Beads. We need about four more people to get up and polish them to a good shine so they’re really presentable. We’ve got the polishing rags, since we somehow have twelve camera-lens-cleaning cloths and we don’t know why we needed more than, like, two.
Fifth. Cloud cover. After the Transit of Venus we’re all rightly fed up with clouds obscuring stuff like this. We’ve got enough volunteers to go up in the sky and eat as many clouds as they can. That’s not going to be able to cover all the eclipse path, so we also need people who can go up and wave fans around to blow any clouds out of the way, then get out of the way before totality sets in. Please bring your own fans! We can’t arrange everything. Pro Tip: write your name or e-mail address on the fan’s handle so if it gets separated from you we know how to get it back.
Sixth. People to handle leftover egg salad. Yes, I said it’s all right if we have extra left over. That’s because we are going to have people to handle this left-over stuff. Look, it’s hard enough getting a big event like this organized. I’m not going to waste my time trying to make sure we exactly match up egg salad needs with egg salad availability. I say, make all the egg salad we can and we’ll work out what to do with the extra. I’m thinking spare lunches, but am open-minded.
Seventh. Oh, this is important. The music. Our band backed out because the guy who plays guitar has some impossibly complicated problem going on. You know the sort, where everything is caused by like four other causes and they’re all cross-feeding each other. So. I know how great it was back during the Annular Eclipse of 1994 when we just grabbed whatever CDs we had in our cars and did a jam of that. It’s temping to do that again but there’s a shocking number of you have cars that can’t even play CDs. I think we’re just going to have to stick to everybody listening to whatever podcasts they’re already behind on. Disappointing, but these are the times we live in. But if you do know a good band that’s got guitarists who aren’t caught up in crazypants drama please let us know. No, we’re not doing Pink Floyd covers again.
So I think we’re all set. If you want to do any last-minute sign-ups do it by 11 am Sunday. We are not pushing things to the last second and this time we mean it. And let’s try to get this right; this is our last full rehearsal before April 2024. Good luck and enjoy!
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The trading floor is empty today. After a bit over a year at this and growing the Another Blog, Meanwhile index from 100 to 400, the analysts and traders agreed that they had done everything they could have hoped for, and that to carry on would just be to spoil the memories of what they had accomplished. All have agreed it was some of the best times of their lies, and agreed to stay in touch, all the while knowing that while everybody basically likes everybody else, they’re going to dissolve into bunches of at most two or three people who stay Facebook friends. They’ll now and then think of one of the others, and maybe even make contact, agreeing that they should totally get together sometime again, but never exactly do. And that’s all right. It’s fine to have friendships that aren’t ended, or estranged, or anything, just left after a contented while and occasionally revisited like an old home that’s not yours anymore.
So, the guy did not get eaten by a hyena. I apologize for the mistake, but it was after all only my best projection as to where the story was going. The fellow was a new Tracy-esque villain named Selfy Narcisse, whose gimmick was that he was always taking selfies. They can’t all be The Pouch.
Narcisse had been embezzling campaign donations to Representative Lois Bellowthon (herself proposing some anti-Lunar-people legislation); he was fleeing with a literal satchel of cash after poisoning the finally-wise-to-him Congressman. Yes, he used his selfie stick to inject the poison, so at least that keeps on-theme. He took refuge in the zoo where he had a friend willing to disguise him as a zoo keeper, which is a thing that happens in real big-city zoos.
His cover fell apart when his hat fell off for a moment and zoogoers put pictures that happened to have him in frame on social media. So again, that’s good work by Mike Staton and Joe Curtis in being on-theme. His friend accidentally drank Narcisse’s poison stash, thinking it alcohol. Narcisse tasers Tracy and drags him into the water buffalo pen. One of the water buffalo, annoyed by the villain’s selfie-taking, gored Narcisse, but was scared away from Tracy when his Wrist Wizard handheld computer’s battery exploded. Yes, I wrote that sentence, and you read it. Go back and read it again until you believe it.
The Spirit’s in town because one Perenelle Flammel is auctioning off the immortality formula that’s kept her from dying since the 14th century. The auction brings together The Spirit, Dick Tracy‘s own super-science-industrialist Diet Smith, Oliver Warbucks (as Staton and Curtis are fostering the orphaned Annie cast), Mister Carrion (whom Wikipedia tells me is one of The Spirit’s recurring villains, and whom the story revealed to be an agent for The Octopus, which Wikipedia says is another of The Spirit’s recurring villains), and the Dragon Lady (allowed into the story via special passport issued by Terry and the Pirates). The preliminary auction helps convince bidders the formula might be legitimate because it checks out with a Doc Savage reference. Low-level con men Brush and Kitchen attempt to rob the preliminary auction’s treasury but get easily caught by Tracy and Spirit. And Tracy, doing some actual detective work for once, finds that Carrion brought cash from a bank robbery, so he’s out of the plot or so we think.
And then Flammel turned up dead, because the immortality serum doesn’t protect you against strangulation. Flammel’s bodyguard, recurring Tracy villain Doubleup, seems a poor suspect as he was being paid in Scarlett Sting comic books, so we’re on to Flammel’s valet and then check out anyone else who’s been in the story.
In miscellaneous plot threads, since there’s a lot of those planted in spaces between the main action: Sam Catchem’s wife has finished chemotherapy and been declared cancer-free. A crime boss name of Posie Ermine noticed Mysta Chimera, who had been his daughter Mindy before the mad science treatment that destroyed her memory and made her into a synthetic Moon Maid replica. He crashed his car into hers to try to recover her. This didn’t get him permanently back in her life, but he’s undeterred. I’m sympathetic to Posie Ermine here and not even being snarky about that. There’s some deeply emotionally messy stuff going on here.
Somewhere deep in an Antarctic valley someone who appears to be a Lunarian pledges to investigate “the halfling”, “my granddaughter”, which has to be Mysta Chimera. This matches a couple references in October with Mysta asking Honey Moon Tracy if she’s heard any telepathic contacts from anybody else. Tracy and the Spirit have been trading stories including The Spirit mentioning how he went to the Moon too. I think that’s all the stuff that sounds like threads ready to go somewhere, but for all I know that Pogo reference for the Christmas strip is setting up a scene late this year when Albert Alligator mistakenly swallows Gidney and Cloyd. We’ll see.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
While the Another Blog, Meanwhile index rose another three points during trading nobody trusts the result and everybody is walking gingerly on the trading floor lest they tip something over.
So something weird has happened with story strips lately. I suppose it’s coincidence, properly. But something’s happened to them since last year’s Apartment 3-Gocalypse. I figured to take some time and write about them. I’m going to start with the strip that had the most dramatic and first big change of the lot, one going back far before the end of that comic.
I’m not sure when I started reading Dick Tracy as an adult. I know it was in the 2000s, and that it was encouraged by partners in Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.comics.strips. And that’s because the strip was awful. Not just bad, mind you, but awful in a super-spectacular fashion. The kind the most punishing yet hilarious Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes are based on. In the last years of his tenure on the comic Dick Locher’s storytelling had collapsed into something like a structuralist parody of comics. Nothing would happen, at great length, endlessly repeated. I observed that if you put together a week’s worth of the daily strips — which the Houston Chronicle web site used to make easy to do — you could read the panels top down, first panel of each day of the week, then second panel, then third panel, and have exactly as coherent a story. It was compelling in its outsider-art insanity.
That came to an end (and I’m shocked to realize this) over five years ago. From the 14th of March, 2011, the team of Joe Staton and Mike Curtis took over. The change was immediately obvious: the art alone was much more controlled, more precise, and easier to read than Locher’s had been. And the stories had stuff happen. My understanding is Staton and Curtis were under editorial direction to have no story last more than a month; Locher’s last years had averaged about three to four months per storyline.
So finally we had a story strip with pacing. You know, the way they had in the old days. There were drawbacks to this. Four or five weeks at three panels a day — more can’t really fit — plus the long Sunday installments still doesn’t give much space. To introduce a villain, work out a scheme, have Tracy do something about it, and wrap it up? Challenging work. The first several stories I came out thinking that I didn’t know precisely what had happened, but I’d enjoyed the ride.
They’ve had several years now, and are still going strong. They’re allowed longer stories now. They’ve gotten to be astoundingly good at planting stuff for future stories. They’re quite comfortable dropping in a panel that doesn’t seem to mean anything — sometimes with the promise that it will be returned to — so they have the plot point on the record when they need it a year or more later. And they’ve brought a fannish glee to the stories. I still don’t understand exactly what’s going on, but the pace and the art and the glee are too good to pass up.
Staton and Curtis show all signs of knowing everything that has ever appeared in pop culture, ever. And they’re happy to bring it in to their comic. Some of this is great. They brought [ Little Orphan ] Annie into the strip, resolving the cliffhanger that that long-running-yet-cancelled story strip ended on. And has brought her back a couple times after. They’ve called in Brenda Starr — another long-running-yet-cancelled story strip — for research. They spent a week with Funky Winkerbean for some reason, which might be how Sam Catchem’s wife got cancer.
And they’ve dug through the deep, bizarre canon of Dick Tracy. I mean, they brought back The Pouch, a minor criminal who after losing hundreds of pounds of weight sewed snap-tight pouches into his acres of flesh, the better to be an informer and courier when not selling balloons to kids. I love everything about how daft that is.
Back in the 60s the comic’s creator, Chester Gould, went a little mad and threw in a bunch of nonsense about Moon People and magnetic spaceships and all that and wrote funny stuff about how this was just as grounded in fact as the scientific investigation methods of Tracy. One might snicker and respectfully not disagree with that. But it was a lot of silly Space Race goofiness, fun but probably wisely not mentioned after the mid-70s.
So they brought this back, and mentioned it. Not just in passing; a major theme in the comic the past five years have been struggles for Diet Smith’s Space Coupe technologies and the mystery of whatever happened to the Moon Valley and the making of new, cloned-or-whatever Moon Maid with electric superpowers and everything. I suppose it’s plausible if we grant this silliness happened that it would become big stuff, certainly for Tracy’s circles. But could we have let the silliness alone? Space-opera antics are fun, and there’s no other comic strip that can even try at them, but Dick Tracy is supposed to be a procedural-detective strip about deformed people committing crimes and dying by their own, if detective-assisted, hands.
A matter of taste. There’s something to be said for embracing, as far as plausible, the implications of world-breaking stuff the comic did in the 60s.
Less disputable, though: everything in the strip is a freaking reference to something else anymore. Everything. There’s less referential seasons of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Not just to Dick Tracy‘s long history, or even to other story strips. They made the Jumble word game part of a storyline. Last year they went to a theatrical production of A Christmas Carol with Mister Magoo for crying out loud. Think about that. Earlier this year villain Abner Kadaver lured Tracy to the Reichenbach Falls with just a reference to meet him at “the fearful place”, because of course Tracy would pick up on that reference. And yes, they struggled at the falls and went over the side. I don’t think we’ve seen his body, although Kadavner’s even more immune to death than normal for compelling villains in this sort of story.
Tracy got rescued, of course. By an obsessed fan. Not of Tracy; he’s already been through that story in the Staton-Curtis regime. An obsessed fan of Sherlock Holmes, who insists on thinking Tracy is actually Holmes and won’t listen to anything contradicting him. An obsessed fan named Dr Bulwer Lytton. Good grief.
I was set for a little Misery-style knockoff, but Staton and Curtis faked me out. They do that often, must say, and with ease and in ways that don’t feel like cheats. That’s one of the things that keeps me enthusiastic about the strip. Instead of an intense psychological thriller about how to make his escape, Tracy just stands up and declares he’s had enough of this. Mercifully sane. But part of me just knows, Staton and Curtis were trying to think of a way to have Graham Champan wearing a colonel’s uniform step on panel and declare this had all got very silly and they were to go on to the next thing now. I figure they’re going to manage that within the next two years.
It’s quite worth reading, if you can take the strangeness of advancing a complicated story in a few moments a day and that not everything will quite hang together. But the more attention you pay the more you realize how deftly crafted everything about it is.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The alternate Another Blog, Meanwhile index rose five points. Trading was hurried as everyone had forgotten to do anything until market analysts came in just before deadline to ask how things had turned out so they could say why that happened instead of something else entirely. Now analysts are trying to figure out if any of this happened for a reason or if traders were just throwing any old nonsense together. They’re suspicious.
Inventing the “float glass” process for inexpensive and very uniform transparent glass.
All the theatrically released Mister Magoo cartoons.
Establishment of the Ottoman Empire.
Disestablishment of the Ottoman Empire.
Domestication of guinea pigs.
The Third Punic War.
Composing the epic poem The Song Of Roland.
Laying at least six trans-Atlantic telephone cables.
Development of Metropolis-Hastings Monte Carlo algorithms.
Inventing hotels, California.
Landing people on the Moon and returning them to the Earth.
The invention of photocopiers.
Final adjudication of the “wedge” of territory west of Delaware’s Twelve-Mile Circle and claimed by Delaware, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.
Every performance of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show.
On the one hand, many of these seem like much more important things to accomplish first. On the other hand, as swell a song as it may be, it doesn’t seem like “Hotel California” should have taken that much effort to create, does it? History is a curious thing.
So folks who hang around here have something to read, I’d like to bring up a couple of comic strips I like and suggest people try reading. It’s easy to despair about the state of syndicated newspaper comics. There are always reasons to not.
First, Agnes, by Tony Cochran. It’s a well-written strip in the wise-child genre, focusing on Agnes, her grandmother, and her best friend Trout. This makes it one of the too-rare kind of comic for which the lead characters are all strong girls or women. I’m drawn to the writing, though: Cochran doesn’t just make Agnes an imaginative and weird girl. Cochran brings great craft to the writing. A line such as “you look like the mammal version of a parfait” is not just funny but brings to mind how many ways a joke like this could be written that wouldn’t be so well-constructed (“you look like a human candy cane”, for example).
Next, Understanding Chaos, by Gustavo Rodriguez. It’s set in the suburbs and divides time between the kids and their families and the animals and their lives. It’s funny, often surreal; but I’m particularly taken by the art. The drawings are evocative, but the compositions and the coloring are great. A comic strip about worms playing band in the flower-pot of a plant that’s actually an extraterrestrial scout would be funny enough. To do that in an illustration worth studying is accomplishment.
I mentioned last week the first of the 1960s run of King Features-commissioned Popeye cartoons, “Hits and Missiles”, which was produced by Paramount Pictures Cartoon Studios, which had been Famous Cartoon Studios and before that Fleischer Studios, who made all the great Popeye cartoons that animation fans speak of in reverential whispers. I thought, why not discuss this one, which I had characterized as “not too bad”.
The obvious thing to say about this is: it’s cheap. You can really see the budget in the editing, both in its sluggishness and how many inset shots are of a character standing by himself or herself on a featureless background, or when the walk cycle shows no evidence of getting out of the cycle. Or how there’s almost as many as three people doing all the voices (and you can really hear the different recording sessions they were using). Or how dialogue (especially between Popeye and the Big Cheese once Popeye breaks out of jail) doesn’t actually quite flow. Besides the things obviously being laid in for reuse (isolated characters on featureless backgrounds) there’s stuff that was recycled from earlier, better cartoons; even the premise of Popeye accidentally blasted into space was done before, in Popeye’s “Rocket To Mars”. I could swear a Popeye cartoon had done the gag about a rocket punching a hole in the Big Dipper, but can’t think which one (it’s not “Popeye, The Ace Of Space”), and even if they didn’t, someone had.
And yet there’s some good stuff in it. First, throwing Popeye into space is a sensible modernization of the “send Popeye on a fantastic voyage” motif that generates so many of his best stories. The mountain of Swiss cheese that Popeye and Olive fall through is a good sequence, and would make a great amusement park ride. And the cartoon throws in little bits of business that are amusing even when they serve no role in the plot, like Wimpy’s under-the-hat frying pan, or Olive Oyl’s little makeup table. Remove them and, yeah, you’d have to get the rocket accidentally launched slightly differently, but Olive’s makeup table is there just as an amusing throwaway gag. Considering they’d have been justified just showing the Big Cheese and Popeye talking instead, it’s good they showed a gag. It’s an attempt to fill the cartoon with funny pictures.
The overall cartoon is not great, no; but compared to the lethargic efforts Famous Studios was putting out a couple years before such as “Popeye For President” or “Parlez Voo Woo”? The cartoon suggests that the TV run of Popeye might be decent.
Apparently, the Secret of the Moon Sphinx is that it’s a bit of a jerk, really. Also, I understand the Ancient Egyptians were busy being Ancient Egyptians and building astounding stuff for thousands of years, but it seems like if they were building sphinxes on the moon to laser-eye spaceships they were kind of losing focus on their really important projects, like land-surveying and the Sothic Cycle and the Hittites. Of course, I do some things that the Ancient Egyptians would probably consider outside my real focus, so who am I to tell them they were wasting their time? At least they got a laser-eye sphinx up on the moon, while all I can do is look at those astronauts and think they’re monkeys in spacesuits until I look again and see once more that it’s just the things on their heads giving me that impression.
So, back in the first third of the 20th century, the cartoonist Frederick Burr Opper created a comic strip featuring a hobo named Happy Hooligan. I admit knowing the name mostly because it was one of those archaic references occasionally passed down from my father or old cartoons or the like. (The character’s way too old for my father to have read in the papers, although he did reappear in the short-lived Sam’s Strip by Mort Walker and Jerry Dumas.) Like many comic strips it got adapted into a cartoon, and this A Trip To The Moon is an example of the set. It’s only half a reel, as I make it out, and I think the ending a disappointment, but it’s got that engaging oddness I appreciate silent cartoons for.
In my reading I just came across a mention that the moon has something called the draconitic cycle, or sometimes, the draconitic period (or “draconic” if someone is getting all tense about “draconitic” as a word). The term is a bit of a holdover from medieval astronomy, when everybody was worried all the time that an eclipse might sneak up on them, and so you can see the use in a term which represents how long it takes between successive passages of the moon through its ascending node. Really, it’s amazing they thought they needed to name that at all; surely the idea of successive passages through the ascending node is so common that it barely needs a word, the way we express such concepts as “ ” or “ ” or even “ ” by leaving a gap hanging in our conversations and just waving our arms frantically at people who don’t know what we’re going on about. Anyway, it picked up the name “draonitic cycle” just as you might expect, by astronomers watching the skies night after night to see how long it takes the Moon to be run over by a bicycle, which took until about 1890. Before then bicycles were just those hilarious things with a giant front wheel and a tiny back one that you could ride for parts of a second before tipping over and falling down. The cycles are much quicker these days.
One of the delights in reading Krazy Kat like this, once a day, much like the original readers got it, is catching the artist, here George Herriman or his assistants, catching on to something and riffing around it, and getting to see the improvisation as it gets worked out. Herriman was apparently in a Moon mood, run at least from September through November 1943, and I’m curious to see how the theme works itself out. (There are also a couple of other Moon-themed strips I might run here.)
The experience is different from that of reading the comic strip in book collections, the way probably most Krazy Kat readers know the strip, probably because book collections for all their considerable virtues do encourage gulping down months worth of the strip at a sitting. Sipping allows you to realize that you’ve seen the same topic spread over different days, and to bind the remembrance of those days together.