60s Popeye: Popeye’s Corn-Certo (I wonder if Hungarian Rhapsody #2 gets played)


It does not. Today’s King Features Popeye is another Jack Kinney-produced short. The story’s by Joe Siracusa and Cliff Millsap. Both are new names around here, and the Internet Movie Database lists this as the only writing credit of any kind for both. Cliff Milsap was also editor for about two dozen of these shorts and that’s all IMDB knows about him. Joe Siracusa has more of a filmography, although nearly all of it as editor or composer or music editor, all the way up to the 80s G.I.Joe and Transformers. He was also drummer for Spike Jones from 1946 through 1952. Animation direction is credited to our old friend Eddie Rehberg. From 1960 here’s Popeye’s Corn-Certo.

This short has the feel of one of the theatrical Popeye cartoons. It’s a return to the plot line where Popeye and Brutus compete in showing off their expertise. Eventually Brutus incapacitates Popeye and tries making off with Olive Oyl. Popeye eats his spinach, we get some quick fighting, happy ending. The specific of competing by musical instruments calls to mind 1948’s Symphony in Spinach.

There are some structural differences from a theatrical version of this plot. The major one is Popeye and Brutus don’t take turns showing off. Popeye gets several instruments in a row to play the “3rd movement from the 2nd Pizzicato by Mozarella, the big cheese of the musical world”, which sounds like the Popeye the Sailor Man theme. (I like the choice. I imagine it’s for budget reasons. But it also plays as tweaking the artifice of the premise.) That seems like an improvement. It lets us get a bunch of Brutus-sabotages-an-unaware-Popeye jokes in a row. And it doesn’t require Popeye to sabotage Brutus or to find so many ways Brutus’s playing can go wrong. I’m not sure that would work for every challenge cartoon like this, but it works here.

Brutus smiling at the camera and pointing to himself. His index finger is very long and fat, but not to the point it would distract you if I didn't point it out. His mouth is a bit blurry from the next animation cel being a little visible on-screen here. Brutus's eyes are half-open and he looks sleepy.
I couldn’t get a screenshot of this moment that didn’t have a bit of blur in it. They must have decided to animate this moment on the ones, or the YouTube compression worked against it. Anyway you can see how Brutus, even if he did cheat by using a player piano here, is a natural piano player when he has fingers that long.

And the short offers several good little bits. The performing contest being introduced as though it were a boxing match, for example. Or Popeye getting a couple of muttered interjections in, such as saying “Man the lifeboats! I sprung a leak!” or “I should’ve played `Over the Waves`” when his flute produces water. That sort of throwaway joke could have been a muttered 30s gag and fit right in. It’s a good energy to invoke. There’s even a gorgeous throwaway bit. When Popeye says he’s beginning to smell a rat we see a delighted Brutus smiling at the camera and pointing to himself. It’s playful, in a way the best Popeye cartoons are. I got good feelings from watching this.

Given how well this works I don’t know why Siracusa and Millsap didn’t write more shorts. Maybe they didn’t enjoy the writing. Maybe they saw a chance to adapt Symphony in Spinach but didn’t see another theatrical short they were interested in. Too bad. The writing is strong enough to make a good cartoon within the studio’s constraints.

Another Curious Gap That Pop Culture Science Tells Us Should Be Filled


You know this phenomenon about things that have big enough fandoms. There’s some group that champions whatever the least important, least-loved part of it was. They’ll explain why everybody’s assessments are clouded by faulty expectations or big stereotypes or peer pressure. And they’re not being contrary hipsters. They really do think Zager and Evans deserve to be remembered for whatever song they did that wasn’t In The Year 2525.

So here’s what I’m getting at. There must be Beatles fans who figure the best, most purest expression of what was great about The Beatles was in their Saturday morning cartoon. Not the movie Yellow Submarine, understand, but the cartoon churned out in the mid-60s where Paul Frees and that guy who wasn’t Paul Frees did all the voices. The one you can get from the guy selling “totally legal” DVDs with the names written on the case in marker.

And the idiosyncratic fans are not being snarky, is the thing. They see themselves as advocates for an overlooked gem where, like, the Beatles are rehearsing in a haunted house but there’s a vampire and a ghost and a werewolf out to get them. Reason tells us they must exist.

But you don’t see them. They’re not out there raising squabbles and telling us how A Hard Day’s Night is not good, actually. There are very silly flame wars that are missing. So where are they? They must be massing their forces, gathering energy and organizing and getting ready to intrude on the public consciousness at some point. What are they waiting for and when will the invasion start? If you should know please give me a tip so I can avoid the Internet that day. Or make sure I don’t miss it because … like, I haven’t seen the cartoon but I’m guessing there’s probably an episode where, like, the Beatles swap bodies with a set of singing dogs, the Beagles, and I don’t want to miss that.

Statistics Saturday: Some People It Is Incorrect to List as “the Fifth Beatle”


  • George R R Martin
  • That Guy From Oasis
  • Beatles cartoon producer Al Broadax
  • Pelé
  • St Francis of Assisi
  • The Archies
  • Erasmus Darwin
  • Grover Cleveland
  • Tommy Smothers
  • 1982 Senior PGA Tour Champion Don January
  • Pope Sixtus IV
  • Alan Arkin

Reference: Over Here! New York City During World War II, Lorraine B Diehl.

Statistics Saturday: The Alphabet In Order Of Its First Appearance in _We Didn’t Start The Fire_


  1. H
  2. A
  3. R
  4. Y
  5. T
  6. U
  7. M
  8. N
  9. D
  10. O
  11. I
  12. S
  13. E
  14. C
  15. J
  16. P
  17. F
  18. W
  19. L
  20. G
  21. X
  22. B
  23. K
  24. V
  25. Q
  26. Z

Reference: Uniforms: Why We Are What We Wear, Paul Fussell.

March Pairwise Brackety Contest Thing: The Final Pairing: HTML’s span element vs Pizzicato


HTML’s span element

The Case For: Span, short for ‘spaniel’, lets you add a dog to any web page.

The Case Against: Semantic confusion as this adds any kind of dog, not just spaniels.

Pizzicato

The Case For: Thoroughly fun sound to hear and one of music’s beautiful words to say.

The Case Against: When you’re nine years old and taking violin lessons it hurts your fingers to do.

March Pairwise Brackety Contest Thing: The Last Quartet: Pangaea vs Beethoven


Pangaea

The Case For: Turns out to be just the most recent supercontinent, not the only one, and they’re looking at making supercontinents again, and isn’t that cool?

The Case Against: Nerds used to say how they would put a “Pangaea Reunification Front” on their desk to make HR send out a memo about not posting political stuff and we were expected to pretend we believed that happened.

Beethoven

The Case For: Has a crater on Mercury named for him.

The Case Against: Only wrote the one opera, which is only one more than I’ve written, and I can’t even write music.

March Pairwise Brackety Contest Thing: Godzilla vs The Yukawa Potential


Godzilla

The Case For: Deft, seamless artistic blend of gods and Nilla wafers.

The Case Against: Too whiny anymore to stomp on the pointy skyscrapers around the financial district.

The Yukawa Potential

The Case For: Is so, so good at describing pairwise particle interactions mediated by either a massless or a massed particle.

The Case Against: Is not the name of any noteworthy prog rock band or album.

March Pairwise Brackety Contest Thing: Carols vs Rural Free Delivery


Carols

The Case For: Really nailed a kind of music for Christmas.

The Case Against: Hasn’t been a good April Fool’s Day Carol in, like, forever.

Rural Free Delivery

The Case For: Greatly reduced the cost of delivering rural areas to one other.

The Case Against: Sending cities to one another remains a money pit.

March Pairwise Brackety Contest Thing: Bruce Springsteen vs Sandwiches


So, I’m aware that this is the season for putting things up against other things. And heck, I can think of things. So, here’s my first-ever March Pairwise Brackety Contest Thing. I panicked when I was filling out the forms for bracket contest names. Sorry.

Bruce Springsteen

The Case For: All-time classic songs like Born in the USA and Born to Run, plus other non-birth-related songs.

The Case Against: Though he was born in the USA, his strengths are singing and songwriting. His running is nothing of note.

Sandwiches

The Case For: For over 25 years now the most convenient way to keep hot meatballs in your hand.

The Case Against: Hasn’t been a good sandwich song in the Top 40 in months.

Sorry, I’m Stuck Thinking What I’d Use for My Passive-Aggressive Karaoke Fight


So that’s what’s got me late. I’m thinking about this in case I ever end up in a situation like Wilbur Weston’s. Except that in my case it would be different because I would feel wronged for actually legitimate reasons, unlike other people, such as him.

But there’s other problems. Like, at karaoke I can do a thing that satisfies most technical definitions of singing. But I can only sing one significant note, plus something that’s 75 to 85 percent of the way to a minor third above that note. There’s not a lot of songs written for that vocal range. It’s mostly “Mrs Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter”, except that I can’t control what the significant note will be. Also I know about four normal songs, like, ones that anyone has heard of. I could imagine getting someone pretty good with that old Frank Crumit song about being a guy who builds outhouses. But that’s not as on-point as you’d imagine. Plus it’s not going to be in most karaoke machines.

It might be less trouble to just talk sincerely to people I’m mad at.

What Song Was That in the Betty Boop Cartoon ‘Bimbo’s Initiation’?


Until recently I would have said the very catchy song about “Wanna Be A Member”, centerpiece of the Talkartoon “Bimbo’s Initiation”, was made for the short. I mean if you had asked me. Or if we had a relationship where you expected me to come offer my uninformed opinions about Talkartoons. For example, if you were reading my thoughts about the short. But I should have known better about the music. This got brought to my attention:

I’m delighted to learn the extremely catchy tune has an existence outside the short. The Twitter thread there also links to another 1919 performance, one that ties the tune to Theda Bara. That’s again a name I would not have thought of for the tune, but which I should have. Theda Bara was one of the big sex symbols of the last decade of silent movies, mostly in roles of the exotic, seductive master of the scene. (Unfortunately only a half-dozen of her films are known to still exist.) This connection must reinforce the role Betty Boop plays in the short, even though the music starts before we ever see her. I’m delighted to be able to share something new about this cartoon.

Today’s Thought in Observance of the Inexorable Passage of Time


It’s a strange and amazing thought, going to the good thrift store and walking through the selection of electronic organs. It makes you appreciate just how amazing it is that each and every one of these was the consolation gift for some game show contestant in the 1970s. Imagine the tales they could tell about having been photographed for a hurried voice-over at the end of Tic Tac Dough, Card Sharks, Whew!, Lee Trevino’s Golf For Swingers, or How Do You Like Your Eggs?. All those orange-shag-carpeted voices, quiet now, and you have to ask someone to plug them in. How strange is life.

Tempus Fugitive


Sorry to be late, but I’m still trying to process how it is the satellite radio playing “Monster Mash” at me the other day. This is the time of year the satellite radio should be playing “Alice’s Restaurant”. What is “Monster Mash” doing out of its season?

Statistics Saturday: 15 Things You Can’t Believe Happened Earlier In 2021


  • Bean Dad
  • Sea shanties on TikTok
  • Like three probes orbited or landed on Mars and one of them had a helicopter
  • Balloon Boy
  • The Kellogg’s strike
  • That morning we all found a box of Peak Freans on our counter even though they haven’t made Peak Freans since like 1989 and nobody could explain where all these Peaks Freans came from
  • That guy did that really good impression of Robin Williams learning of John Belushi’s death
  • Culture Club released the hit song “Karma Chameleon”
  • The imperatives of state bureaucracy drove European governments to impose family names on all their inhabitants, without regard to local culture or the lack of community need for such things
  • The controversial “Rashomon” episode of Scooby and Scrappy Doo aired
  • Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins died
  • Ken Russell’s film adaptation of The Who’s Tommy uses rather a lot of beans, is unconnected to “Bean Dad”
  • End of the Recombination era of the universe, when electrons and atomic nucleuses finally became cool enough to bind together into atoms, allowing photons to travel great distances, causing space to no longer be opaque for the first time
  • Boss Baby 2 came out
  • Audiences were enchanted by that “so good … but no lumps!” commercial but can’t remember, was it for gravy? For Alka-Seltzer? But Alka-Seltzer was that “Mama Mia, that’s a spicy meatball” commercial, right? That was like four years ago?

Reference: American-Made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA, Nick Taylor.

Reposted: The 36th Talkartoon: Crazy Town, a place to visit


In spotting characters from other shorts, last time I looked at this, I failed to mention the bootblack in the barber shop. He looks a good bit like the earlier, screwball, model of Bimbo, that faded out as Betty Boop got a definitive appearance. I also mention cursing myself for not geting that book of Fontaine Fox Toonerville Trolley comics. I’m happy to say I found a copy of the book, and bought it, and it’s generally quite good. It’s a panel comic, mostly highlighting the outsized personality of one of the town residents. Also I bought that Top 100 Frank Crumit Songs album on iTunes and it’s largely enjoyable, but there are some songs with racist attitudes or themes. There’s also about 14 versions of “Abdul Abulbul Amir”, including sequel songs about the wives and the children of the original song’s characters, any one of which is an interesting curio but which, if you listen to the album all at once, will drive you to crazy town.


So after that weirdness of two Talkartoons released the same day, the Fleischer Studios went to a more relaxed pace. They didn’t release the next short until the 25th of March, 1932. This one was animated by Shamus Culhane and David Tendlar. Culhane has had credits here before. Tendlar is a new credit. He doesn’t seem to have any other credits on the Talkartoon series either. But he’d stick around, staying with Fleischer and then Famous Studios until that was finally shut down, and then to Filmation and Hanna-Barbera. I’m tickled that he’s got a lot of credits for Superfriends cartoons; a lot of my impression of what superheroes should be like are basically “like the one where the Wonder Twins are outwitted by an abandoned roller coaster”. I’m not sure Tendlar had anything to do with that one, but he is credited on the episode where a mad scientist sends a Stupid Ray back in time to prevent modern humans from evolving, so he can rule a planet of Neanderthals, and the plan would have worked except some Superfriends were visiting Skylab, which was outside the effect’s reach? … I’m pretty sure I have that right, and it’s still wrong. Anyway, here’s a Talkartoon.

The short starts with a familiar song, “Hot-cha-cha” with a fresh set of lyrics. We saw it back in Dizzy Dishes, that introduced who we’d know as Betty Boop. And it’s got a nice title sequence of looking at a booklet and letting that open into the action. Live action-and-animation hybrids were common in the 20s, always startling to people who think Who Framed Roger Rabbit or possibly Mary Poppins invented the idea. The Fleischers built their main series in the 20s on this sort of thing and it’s good to see they hadn’t lost that yet.

I also can’t see a cartoonish, overstuffed trolley without thinking of Fontaine Fox’s long-running panel strip The Toonerville Trolley, and cursing myself for never buying the book collecting strips from that used book store back in Troy, New York, in the late 90s. I don’t think there’s any reference being made here. The trolley driver and the banana-eating guy at about 3:00 in look to me like Old King Cole, from Mask-A-Raid. But that might just be that skinny old white guys in these cartoons tend to blend together.

The short itself is a long string of spot jokes. Betty and Bimbo travel to Crazy Town, and as implied, everything’s silly there. Mostly everything gets a basic reversal. A fish waves around a pole and catches a man. At the barber shop waving the scissors over a head makes hair grow. Big animals make tiny squeaks and a suspicious mouse (at about 5:45) roars like a lion. There’s not a lot of deep thinking going into the story-building here. This goes deep; the short isn’t even decided on whether Bimbo is a screwball character doing wild stuff (like early on, when he plays the trolley’s contact pole like a bass), or a straight-man to whom things happen (as when he and Betty watch with terror the approach of the Vermin Supreme ’32 supporter wearing hats on his feet and a boot on his head), or someone who comes around to embrace the weirdness (as when he gets into the barber shop’s logic). Betty doesn’t do much except react to stuff this short, but it does mean she’s got a consistent viewpoint.

I don’t think I can name a blink-and-you-miss-it joke. Everything’s given about the time it needs. I can say the train station joke, with the station holding still and the city sliding behind it, catches my imagination. For its practical benefits, of course. But also because I think of how in a couple years the Fleischers would develop that set-back camera, which let them put animated stuff in front of real-world models that move. It’s always a stunning effect. It’s often the best part of a dull cartoon. And I think of what the city-moving-behind-the-station joke would look like with that effect.

The central song, “Foolish Facts”, wasn’t written for this cartoon. It looks like it should be credited to Frank Crumit. He was renowned for recordings of “Frankie and Johnnie” and “Abdul Abulbul Amir” and writing the fight song for Ohio State University. And he recorded titles that sound like the titles you’d make up about a phonograph star of around 1930, like “She Gives Them All The Ha-Ha-Ha”, “I Married The Bootlegger’s Daughter”, “Oh! Didn’t It Rain”, “There’s No One With Endurance Like The Man Who Sells Insurance”, and “The Prune Song”. Yes there’s a Top 100 Frank Crumit Songs album available on iTunes for only US$5.99. Warning, at least one of the “Foolish Facts” verses not used in this cartoon does one of those 1930s oh-ha-ha wives-are-the-worst-right-fellas jokes. But if you can take that I have to say that’s a good value for a heaping pile of songs that all sound kind of like old-time cartoon music.

Reposted: The 34th Talkartoon: Minnie the Moocher, you know, that one.


So here’s one of the big ones, one of the Talkartoons everybody knows. I talked about it at great length back in 2018 and I can’t think of much to add here. Maybe that I still can’t stop seeing a bit of Homer Simpson in the Cab Calloway Walrus. There’s better thoughts to have.


Today’s Talkartoon is a famous one. One that people might have heard of. Possibly by name; it often lands on the top of lists of all-time great cartoons and certainly of all-time great black-and-white cartoons. Possibly by reputation. It’s got images that define, for many people, the surreal world that pre-color cartoons did all the time. It’s a cartoon for which we have credits. The animators were Willard Bowksy, Ralph Somerville, and Bernard Wolf. Bowsky we’ve seen on (particularly) Swing You Sinners! and Mysterious Mose. Somerville is a new credit. Wolf was on Minding The Baby. From the busy 11th of March, 1932, here’s Minnie the Moocher.

Back around 2000, when the Star Wars prequels were still looked on with optimism, Conan O’Brien visited an animation studio. He played around with the motion-capture gear. They used it to render a particularly silly version of C-3PO. Jerry Beck, then with Cartoon Brew, noted that Conan O’Brien put in a great motion-capture performance. He was a natural, putting in big, expressive movements that turned into compelling animation well.

Before motion-capture there was rotoscoping. The Fleischer Brothers hold the patent, United States patent number 1,242,674, on it. The technique, filming some live-action event and using that to animate a thing, made it possible to draw stuff that moved like real stuff did. If you don’t see what I mean, look at anything animated by Winsor McCay. This line work was always precise and well-detailed and fantastic. Then look at how any object in his cartoons falls down. Yeah.

It got a bad reputation, especially in the 70s, as a way studios would finish animation cheaply. Film a guy doing the thing, and then trace the action, and you’re done. But as with most tools, whether it’s good or not depends on the source material. Use the rotoscope footage to guide the line of action and you get better results. Start from interesting live-action footage and you get interesting results. And here, finally, is my point: this cartoon starts with great live-action footage.

It starts with Cab Calloway and his Orchestra, in what Wikipedia tells me is their earliest known footage. That’s worth watching on its own. Calloway moves with this incredible grace and style, beautiful and smooth. There’s moments I wondered if the film was being slowed or sped up, with the tempo of the film itself changing. Surely not; that sort of trick is easy enough today but would take far too much coordination for an animated feature of 1932. They’re building the short on rotoscoping some awesome footage.

So awesome it barely matters that Betty Boop is in the short. Even less that Bimbo is. There’s a bare thread of a reason for any of this to happen. A hard-to-watch scene of Betty’s father berating her, leavened by the weirdness of her father’s rant turning into a well-played record. And to ramp the weirdness up a bit, her mother changing the record. Betty’s given comfort by inanimate objects around her that she doesn’t notice, then decides to run away from home. She writes a farewell letter, and about 3:06 in draws Koko the Clown out of the inkwell. It’s a cute joke; most of the Koko the Clown cartoons did start with Koko being pulled out out of the inkwell. Koko’s also the figure that the Fleischers first used rotoscoping to animate. They can’t have meant that subtle a joke. It’s enough to suppose they saw someone dipping a pen in an inkwell and referred to that. But it does serve as this accidental bit of foreshadowing of what would happen.

What happens is Cab Calloway, rotoscoped and rendered as a walrus and singing “Minnie the Moocher”, then a brand-new song. Betty and Bimbo spend the song watching the walrus sing and dance. The backgrounds smoothly dissolve between nightmare scenes. Weird little spot gags about skeletons and ghosts and demons and all carry on. Eventually a witch(?) arrives and everybody runs off, possibly chasing Betty back home, possibly running from the witch(?).

(Quick question: why is Bimbo here? He doesn’t do anything besides be scared, and Betty’s already doing that. Is he lending his star power to the short? … Well, I can think of a purpose he serves. There’s a sexual charge in a strange, powerful menacing a lone woman. That the being is a rendition of a black man adds to the sexual charge. That the woman is here depicted as young enough to be living with her parents heightens that further. But having Betty and Bimbo together diffuses that charge. It’s not eliminated, and I think the short benefits from that charge being present. But it leaves the menace more exciting than worrisome. I don’t know that the animators were thinking on that level. It’s enough to suppose they figured the series was a Betty-and-Bimbo thing so of course Bimbo would be there. Betty hasn’t had a solo vehicle yet. I think it’s a choice that makes the short work better though.)

So there’s not much of a plot. And Betty and Bimbo don’t do anything interesting. That’s all right. This short is built on its technical prowess. Cab Calloway’s dancing is this wonderful magical thing. It turns into animation that’s magical. (For the most part. There’s a bit of the walrus chucking ho-de-ho-de-ho at about 6:58 in that my brain insists on reading as Homer Simpson laughing. That’s not this short’s fault and I hope I haven’t infected you with the same problem.)

There’s all the body horror you could want in this short. To me, the creepiest moment is the cat nursing her young; you, take your pick. The joke that I think it’s easiest to blink and miss has a well-established setup. That’s in how Betty, running away from home, rolls up the one thing she plans to keep, her toothbrush. The joke is she tosses it aside before jumping out the window. It’s so quick a thing did you even notice it when you first watched? I don’t spot any mice in the short, which surprises me since they could fit the ghosts-and-spirits styling easily. Maybe they ran out of time.

Reposted: The 32nd Talkartoon: Boop-Oop-A-Doop, At Last


When I reviewed this I couldn’t identify a blink-and-you-miss-it gag. I think I’ve spotted one, though. As lion tamer Betty Boop cracks her whip at the lions, there’s one moment where the whip grows a hand that snaps at the lion. That’s a cute, silly little thing. And I seem not to have noticed it before. As the subject line suggests, my thesis is that this is finally a fully-formed Betty Boop cartoon, with all the elements in place and working together. But that includes sexual assault, done with more explicitness than usual. Please be advised if you don’t need that in your recreational reading.


It’s another Talkartoon without animation credits. There’s one more, after this, for which we don’t know or have a strong idea who the animators were. And it’s a shame (as it always is) to not know, since this is a cartoon with several noteworthy claims to historic interest. It also needs a content warning. There’s a lot of Betty Boop cartoons with sexual assault as subtext. This time around it’s pretty text. If you duck out at about 5:40 you can avoid the whole thing.

Also I apologize that the archive.org version is so badly pixellated. There’s a much clearer version on YouTube, but I am not at all confident that’s an archival-quality URL. At least for right now here’s a much cleaner version.

So this was the second Talkartoon of January 1932, coming out on the 16th. And it’s of historic significance. It’s the first appearance of the title song “Sweet Betty”, Betty Boop’s theme. I believe it’s the first time we get Betty Boop’s name shown on-screen. And we’ve finally got a very clear example of the Betty Boop Template Cartoon. It’s several minutes of puttering around with spot gags and little jokes, and then the Big Bad, with lust in his eyes and cutaway x-ray of his heart, tries to abduct Betty Boop, until her more desirable suitors pursue and vanquish him.

To my tastes the first part of the cartoon is the best. A circus offers plenty of room for little jokes. And for great dramatic angles. I like the severe angle for the high-diving act, but one could argue that’s the only shot that would make the joke read at all. The angle for the lion sneaking up on Betty is a more free choice, and it’s a great one, very nicely heightening the sense of danger.

That’s also the completely plotless part, though. Not that any of the jokes are bad. Just there’s no reason they have to be in this or any other order, and none of them build to anything. My favorite would be the fat girl who grows and shrinks with each cycle of an air pump. You take your pick. All the jokes are established well enough I don’t think there is a real blink-and-you-miss-it joke. Maybe I blinked and missed it. The closest would be that the bearded lady’s beard is growing so fast that her helper is cutting it every beat. There are some suspicious-looking mice, appearing about 1:12 in as the Tall Man falls apart. (If you don’t recognize what’s going on with the elephant and Koko the Clown, it’s this: the elephant has a giant inkwell on his back. The elephant pokes his trunk into the inkwell and squirts out a drop that turns into Koko, an imitation of how silent-era Koko the Clown shorts started.)

So this time around Koko the Clown takes billing above Bimbo. Bimbo appears, he just doesn’t get billing. He gets a decent runner of a joke, as the peanut vendor. And gets to have Aloysius, it looks to me, as target for his vending. The choice seems odd. If you don’t recognize Aloysius then it’s just an odd choice to cast an infant in a role that any character could do. But if you do recognize Aloysius as Bimbo’s little brother then it’s a really odd choice to cast him in a role that any character could do.

And after five and a half minutes of amiable small jokes the plot kicks in. The ringmaster’s heart grows lusty and he — you know, as the template plot develops it gets less explicit. You get a big bully-type character who just abducts Betty Boop. Coming into her tent and asking if she likes her job? That’s a little raw. It’s a relief that Betty Boop seems to be adequately fighting him off. Also that Koko leaps in to her defense. I’m amused that he gets kicked right back out five times over, and he’s only able to successfully fight off the ringmaster by fighting ridiculously, with a big ol’ hammer.

Betty Boop sings “Don’t Take My Boop-Oop-A-Doop Away”, one of the enormously many catchy little tunes that Sammy Timberg wrote for the Fleischer Studios and, later, Famous Studios. The most-used of them has to be “It’s A Hap-Hap-Happy Day”, which you can hear in the introductory scene on ever Famous Studios cartoon from 1940 to 1966. And I know what you’re thinking but no, “I’m Popeye The Sailor Man” was written by a completely different Sammy working for Fleischer Studios. Sammy Lerner.

It’s the first cartoon with “Don’t Take My Boop-Oop-A-Doop Away”. It’s not the first time Betty Boop’s sung it, though. Because, but good grief, on the 26th of December, 1931, Paramount dropped a live-action short starring Rudy Vallee. In Musical Justice Rudy Vallee and his band are the judge and jury at the Court of Musical Justice. It’s one of a peculiar genre of shorts from back in that day. In this genre, modern music is held up as this terrible stuff that’s degrading society and all that. But it’s argued, successfully, that this stuff isn’t really bad. Sometimes there’s an argument that modern music reflects classic rules of composition and all. Sometimes even that it uses bits of Great Music.

Anyway, so, in Musical Justice Betty Boop, played by Mae Questel for what I think was the first time, pleads for Judge Rudy Vallee and the jury the Connecticut Yankees to let her go on singing heartfelt lines like “Boop-oop-a-doop”. I think the song gets a couple more uses, but not so many. That’s all right. It’ll stick in your head already.

Reposted: The 24th Talkartoon: Bimbo’s Initiation, the only Bimbo cartoon you ever heard of


So here in this repeat performance we get to the one Talkartoon people who aren’t into black-and-white animation might have heard of. It’s really good. Funny, well-paced, weird, with snappy music and amazing technical skill. The only reason not to use it to convince someone of the worth of black-and-white cartoons is they might expect everything will be like this. And this comes right after the high point of The Herring Murder Case. The studio was having a great season. This cartoon has an edge over The Herring Murder Case and Swing You Sinners! by avoiding obvious ethnic or racial jokes.


I knew when I stumbled in to reviewing the Talkartoons that there were few cartoons my readers might plausibly have seen. There’s The One That Introduced Betty Boop (Dizzy Dishes). There’s The One Where Cab Calloway is a Walrus (Minnie the Moocher). And then … there’s this. It’s always listed as the best Bimbo cartoon. It’s often listed on the top-50 or top-100 cartoon shorts. It’s listed as one of the best Betty Boop cartoons, on the basis of a few seconds of cameo appearances. I learned, almost memorized, it watching it on the eight-VHS Complete Betty Boop series in the 90s. The animator is uncredited. This is so unfair. Everyone says Grim Natwick. It was originaly released the 24th of July, 1931, and Wikipedia says it ended the 1930-31 film season for the Talkartoons.

Let me clear out the bookkeeping. There’s a Suspiciously Mickey-Like Mouse at 0:35, putting the cover on the sewer and locking Bimbo into his adventure. The strongest body-horror gag has to be when Bimbo’s shadow gets beheaded. I’m inclined to think all the jokes here are so well-framed there’s not a blink-and-you-miss-it gag. But I also remember the guy I hung out with weekends in grad school blinking and missing the bit where Bimbo reaches for a doorknob and it flees to the other side of the door, so that counts for that. On to the bigger-picture stuff.

There’ve been several Bimbo-trapped-in-a-surreal-landscape cartoons. I’d rate this as the best we’ve seen, but would entertain arguments for Swing You Sinners!. It’s certainly the most nightmarish. Previously Bimbo’s at least transgressed in some way, however minor, before getting tossed into the nightmare. Here he’s minding his own business and the weirdness comes out to eat him. Hurrying right to the craziness also means there’s plenty of time to stuff the cartoon full of it.

This cartoon shows an incredible amount of skill behind it. There’s no slack points. There’s some quieter moments in the craziness, yes. They’re deployed with this great sense of pacing, chances for the audiences to rest before the action picks up again. Too much frenetic action is exhausting; here, the tempo varies well and reliably enough that the cartoon stays easy to watch.

And the cartoon is framed so well. There’s a healthy variety of perspectives. There’s changing perspectives, several times over, as Bimbo comes to the end of a tunnel and gets dropped off into a new room. Changing perspectives is always difficult for animation. Even in the modern, computer-drawn or computer-assisted era it’s difficult to make look right. And Bimbo’s Initiation pulls the trick several times over.

The segment that most amazes me every time I watch it starts at about 4:45, after Bimbo’s swallowed by the innermost door. Watch the line of movement. Bimbo’s falling towards the camera, tossed side to side by the chute. He then runs toward the camera and to the left, in roughly isometric view, as axes fall. Then he hops onto the spiral staircase, running down while the camera rotates around his movement. Then he jumps off the staircase into a hall to run to the right. His second, beheaded shadow, runs up and joins his actual shadow. Then he turns and starts running toward the camera as steel doors snap shut behind him. This is all one continuous, seamless shot, without an edit until 5:26. And when it does edit it’s to zoom in tighter on Bimbo, with the doors behind. He keeps running toward the camera until he falls out that chute and the camera pivots to the side, at about 5:42. It’s such an extended and well-blocked sequence. That 57 seconds alone shows how misleading it is to say cartoons of this era were nearly improvised. There was planning going in to how much stuff would fit here, and how it would fit together. The music supports this too. I’m not sure there’s been a Talkartoon with as tight a connection between the tune and the action.

I’m not sure there are any poorly-composed or poorly-considered shots in the cartoon. The shot of Bimbo lighting a candle, seeing the rope snap tight, and then following that to the spikey trap above is as perfect as I’ve ever seen in any cartoon or movie.

Insofar as there are any weaknesses here, it’s that the setting does obliterate Bimbo as a character. There were a couple cartoons where he was developing into a low-key screwball character. He could be sort of an Early Daffy Duck that isn’t so tiring to imagine around. Here, he can’t say or do anything interesting enough to stand up to the setting. Looking at the list of future Talkartoon titles I don’t see any that feature Bimbo as much of a character. The studio’s shifting to Betty Boop. It’s an interesting choice considering she hasn’t had a good part yet. Bimbo’s moving to be her boyfriend or partner or the guy who’s around while she’s center stage. Shame he doesn’t get better parts, but at least he could be the star of this. How many characters never get even one good outing?

Reposted: The 23rd Talkartoon: The Herring Murder Case


When I first reviewed this one I mentioned its strange lack of a dedicated Wikipedia page. It still lacks one, for reasons not obvious to me. It’s one of the strongest Talkartoons. I might nominate it as the best-plotted one, too. It’s got a lot happening, almost all of which works. And it’s the sort of cartoon that shows why black-and-white cartoons get devoted fans. I’m sorry not to have a cleaner print, or one with better sound. But you can still enjoy a packed, almost over-full, cartoon here.


I’ve been trying to watch these cartoons in the order of their release. And that I get from Wikipedia’s page about Talkartoons. Some individual cartoons have their own Wikipedia pages. Many of the earliest don’t, but as the series shifts from “any old thing with a song” to “Bimbo” and finally “Betty Boop Cartoons” fewer entries lack pages. This week’s hasn’t got a page and I’m surprised by that. It’s talked about in Leslie Cabarga’s The Fleischer Story in the Golden Age of Animation, the book on the studio’s history. Not much, but think of all the cartoons that don’t get even that.

Wikipedia does credit this as the first appearance of Bimbo in his “canonical” form. And as the first sound cartoon appearance of Koko the Clown, the character that made the Fleischer Studios and star of extremely many cartoons about him being drawn, getting into a fix, and then being poured back into an inkwell. Would really have thought those two points noteworthy enough for a page to be made. Anyway, the credited animators are Shamus Culhane (then listed as “Jimmie”; when he went into business for himself he took on a more distinctive-to-Americans name) and Al Eugster. Both have already had cartoons in this series before. Originally released the 26th of June, 1931 — more than a month after Silly Scandals — here’s The Herring Murder Case.

Quick content warning: there’s a pansy-voice character and a couple lines approaching (Jewish) ethnic humor. I don’t think they spoil the cartoon (one could even say the ethnic-humor bits are just characterization). But they are there.

So, for the record, the first words spoken aloud by Koko the Clown — at the time, a character a dozen years old and the flagship character of the studio — were “[ stammering gibberish ] my come — come on, the poor — poor herring- herring was sh- sh- shot, oh my, come on, help”. Not an auspicious start. But it is plot-appropriate, for the rare Talkcartoon that has a clear and direct plot.

That friend you have who doesn’t quite like anything however much he likes it has a complaint about Who Framed Roger Rabbit. And, like your friend at his most irritating, he kind of has a point. Toontown looks like a great place. But it has an inauthenticity to it. Actual cartoons of the Golden Age of American Animation weren’t so frantic and busy and packed as the Toontown sequence was. It’s defensible artistically. For one, the daily lives of each Toontown citizen is their life story with themselves as protagonist; that we normally only have to take six minutes of a character at once doesn’t mean the rest of their days aren’t like that. But it does mean there’s much more stuff happening visually than an actual cartoon of around 1947 would have.

Most of the time. Some cartoons do get that dense and packed with weird activity. And here, from 1931, is one that’s like that. Especially right after the Herring’s murder: the scenes of the city are full of everything happening, including buildings come to life and writhing in a panic. And then special effects get in the way. After Koko comes on, in animation I assume is swiped from an older Out of the Inkwell cartoon, he runs through a city street haunted by ghostly cat heads for the reasons. It’s one of a lot of showy bits of animation technique in the cartoon.

Another: Bimbo following footsteps up the stairs. It’s a walk cycle, yes, but it’s one that moves in very slight perspective. It’s well-done, and a bit hypnotic. They’ll do a similar walking cycle on steps in the next cartoon, one with more amazingly done animations. But there are a lot of extreme perspectives and stuff moving in on the camera and tricky camera moves throughout the short. In ranking of animation ability the studios have always been Disney first, and everybody else behind. But the Fleischers were often second, and this is one of those times they were a close second.

Among my favorite cartoon motifs is doing simple stuff in complicated ways. The short offers plenty of that, starting with the gorilla’s shooting a gun that itself shoots out a bird that does the shooting. Koko putting his head through the window twice while trying to lead Bimbo to the crime scene. Koko running ahead of his “shadows” and having to go back to get them. The elevator opening up to a set of stairs.

Did you blink and miss that the level indicator makes two full circuits while getting the stairs down to ground level? That’s my favorite quick little joke. But there’s plenty to choose from, such as the moon being blown along by the heavy winds as Bimbo and Koko get to the house. The secret panel offering Bimbo a short beer is too well-established to be a blink-grade joke. But it gets a little more charge when you remember the short was made in 1931, still during Prohibition.

The female herring gets Mae Questel’s voice this short, so there’s no figure who can at all be credited as a proto-Betty-Boop. A shame, since Betty’s involvement however fleeting would probably have got this cartoon more notice. Its got a clear story, quite a density of jokes, a soundtrack that clearly ties to the action, and even a sensible ending. I like 30s cartoons, especially from the less-than-Disney studios, but recognize that as one of my eccentricities. This is one I don’t think an ordinary person would understand as funny.

There’s another of those mice popping in, one with Happy Feet at about 5:21, and then possibly a different one fleeing the gorilla at about 5:50. I trust that “They shot me! Holy mackerel, is this the end of the Herring?” is an imperfect quoting of Little Caesar, which opened in January of that year and made Warner Brothers all the money in the world. Can’t blame the Fleischer studios for riffing on that.

Reposted: The 22nd Talkartoon: Silly Scandals, My Second Look


I thought, and Wikipedia confirms: this is the first time Betty Boop’s gotten the name “Betty”. She doesn’t have a last name yet. Looking at this cartoon yet another time, I’m struck by how huge the stage is, and how big the putative production is. I suppose it isn’t preposterously out of line for what real productions were like at the time. But it still seems like, wow, that’s a lot of penguin dancers the show has to pay for. No wonder movies creamed this sort of show. Probably I shouldn’t watch this and think about what the weekly payroll would have to be. Well, it’s better you learn that I’m like this sooner or later.


I’ve looked at this Talkartoon before. It was part of my sequence of Betty Boop firsts. This is credited as the first cartoon in which Betty Boop is named, and that’s half right. She’s named Betty, at least, which is a step up from what she’s been before. And it’s animated by Grim Natwick, at least according to Wikipedia; the animator goes unnamed by the actual credits. From the 23rd of May, 1931 — two and a half weeks after Twenty Legs Under The Sea — here’s the next Bimbo cartoon, Silly Scandals.

So in 1930 everyone who was capable of making a sound recorded a version of Walter Donaldson’s You’re Driving Me Crazy. I’m up for that. It’s a solid, catchy song about the sense of obsession with a lost love. And the singer avoids sounding terrible about their obsession. I’m surprised it hasn’t been used more in cartoons. But perhaps its use was limited by how the song doesn’t make sense unless there’s a credible target for this obsession in the cartoon. And once you get past Betty Boop there’s a shortage of female cartoon characters who are, at least in-universe, supposed to be sexy. Desirable, perhaps, but someone who could appear on stage with a racy song and not seem at least a bit ridiculous for doing it? Might have to wait for Jessica Rabbit there.

This is listed as one of the early Betty Boop cartoons. There’s good reason to call this Early Betty: she’s nearly reached the canonical character design. She’s got Mae Questel’s voice. She’s doing Betty Boop things: singing and receiving a male’s gaze. She’s not the lead of the cartoon; rather as in Dizzy Dishes, she’s just something that Bimbo stares at for the middle third of the picture. (Also as with Dizzy Dishes, someone else gets her “Boop-oop-a-doop” line.)

But it’s a Bimbo cartoon. He gets some nice business early on trying to sneak into the vaudeville theater. The best business is also the first bizarre visual gag here, his pulling up his own shadow to disguise himself as an umbrella. I like that sort of endlessly-morphing world joke in cartoons. They were more common in silent cartoons, which also tended to be high-contrast black-and-white stuff. Without having to worry about grey value or, worse, actual colors you could turn one shape into another with a minimum of distractions. After sneaking in there’s Betty’s song, and a bunch of standard someone’s-in-the-way-at-the-theater jokes. They’re done well enough, they’re just ordinary. And yeah, there’s a couple iterations of Betty’s dress falling down and revealing her bra. It’s not a very racy joke, but it is the sort of thing they’d never do after the Motion Picture Production Code got serious in 1934.

Bimbo once more ends up helpless and caught in a bizarre, surreal environment. It’s a good story shape. And it lets the cartoon close with a minute of weird body-morphing gags, hands and feet growing to weird shapes. And then 25 seconds of pure special effects, dancing circles and spirograph shapes and all that. It’s the sort of close that unimaginative people are joking about when they say the animators must have been on drugs back then. But it’s also structurally weird. The story has got the structure of “Bimbo transgresses/is caught/is thrown into a wild, surreal punishment” that he’s been through several times already. But the transgression — sneaking into the theater — isn’t one that the magician could have known about. Unless the transgression is just meant to be laughing at the flower trick not going according to plan. But that’s not a lot of transgression; if the magician can’t take someone giggling when a flower sasses him back, he’s in the wrong line of work.

There’s two blink-and-you-miss-it gags. The first, that I like better, is the curtain lifting to reveal two janitors shooting dice and getting the heck off stage fast. The other is just the curtain lifting again to show the tattered, ugly base. There is a solid bit of body horror, in the magician (meant to be the Faintly Mickey Mouse character this cartoon? He hasn’t got the ears but the snout and nose are evocative) terrifying a dog into becoming two strands of sausage links. Creepy stuff.

Reposted: The Tenth Talkartoon: Grand Uproar


Finally hit it: one of these Talkartoons I didn’t remember anything about from the title. Reading my original thoughts from 2017 helped some, but overall, not much. On rewatching I feel more confident saying the Gay Caballero and the Senorita are maybe not intended to be Bimbo and Betty Boop. But if this short had been included on that eight-volume Complete Betty Boop VHS tape series in the 90s, we’d accept this as an early Betty Boop cartoon.

The introduction talks about how this originally ran out of sequence, this time on purpose. Don’t worry about it.


The next cartoon would be Swing You Sinners!, but I just reviewed that for Halloween and I don’t think it’s been long enough I’d have different feelings about it now. So here’s the next, instead. From the 3rd of October, 1930: Grand Uproar, animated by Seymore Kneitel and Al Eugster. Kneitel’s already shown up here a bunch that we know of. This is Al Eugster’s first credited appearance. Eugster spent over six decades animating, from silent-era Felix the Cat to Disney’s Snow White to the last years of the Paramount studio, when Shamus Culhane and Ralph Bakshi made it their strange own, and on past the end of theatrical cartoon shorts.

The cartoon felt a little out of place, somehow. After a bunch of Bimbo cartoons in a row he doesn’t appear this time. At least unless one of the characters is meant to be him in a modified form. Perhaps one could argue the Gay Caballero is meant to be Bimbo. On the first look at the Senorita I wondered if she might be an off-model Betty Boop, but I don’t think that’s sustainable. She’d need more hair curls over her face, I think. And maybe they just weren’t thinking about Bimbo for this one.

Wikipedia gives the release date of this carton as the 3rd of October, 1930, barely a week and a half after Swing You Sinners! was released. That seems weirdly close to me; no other pair of Talkartoons their first year were released so near one another. It made me wonder if the short was made earlier, perhaps before Bimbo started to crystallize as a character, and got held up any. But it doesn’t look as primitive as, say, Fire Bugs did. I’m curious how the scheduling for the short worked out. It’s probably foolish to read too much into the timing of successive shorts, though. The release dates don’t seem to show any particular pattern. February 1931 has two Talkartoons released in a single week.

There’s no end of suspiciously Mickey Mouse-like characters in it. And I’m not sure I have a candidate for the blink-and-you-miss-it joke. All the clear jokes are made pretty clearly, with about the right focus to appreciate them. There are several Fleischer studios cartoons that feature stage presentations and, for my tastes, they always work. There’s something about putting on stage theatrics with cartoon mechanisms that works for me. But I also couldn’t get enough of the hippopotamus apologizing his way through rows of the audience, so, what do I know?

For all the title promises an “uproar” there’s really not one. The action is all fairly well controlled. Even the climax doesn’t feel like it’s getting out of control. It’s funny enough, I think, and fitting. Just the title promises more chaos than the short delivers. There’s nothing wrong with a cartoon like this that’s just a bunch of jokes in a setting. But that there isn’t a protagonist probably keeps it from being able to build to any particular finale. Possibly the cartoon needed more Bimbo.

I have the impression the early joke about looking at the hippopotamus with all those diamonds is a reference to something, but I don’t know what it is.

Statistics Saturday: Ten Most Amazing Facts Of The Week


  • Despite the name no so-called “universal remote” has ever in fact been remote from the universe.
  • No United States president has ever been born in the future.
  • The 100 pleats in a chef’s hat represent the 100 times that the guy who bought the hat-pleating mechanism insisted on showing this was too a good purchase and would pay for itself in time.
  • In the Star Trek episode “Court Martial” Spock discusses what would happen “if I let go of a hammer on a planet that has a positive gravity”, implying there are enough zero- and negative-gravity planets around he needs to shut talk about them down before it even starts.
  • There must always exist at least one breadbox that cannot be put inside another breadbox. However, if the universe were infinitely large, we could not count on this being true.
  • No episode of the 1980s animated series of The Smurfs establishes that Gargamel knows of the Snorks.
  • Those coworkers whose names you aren’t sure you have yet, and it’s too awkward now to ask about? Sara and Mike. If there’s a third, it’s Darryl or maybe Darren. Go confident on the “Darr” part and underplay the second syllable and you’ll get away with it.
  • D is known as “the sunshine vitamin” because it was first discovered by spectral analysis of the sun. It would not be seen on Earth for nearly a generation after its detection.
  • Not only could they make Blazing Saddles today, they did, which is where everybody was all day and why they’re all tuckered out. You should have come over and helped, you’d have had a great time. Maybe you can catch them next month when they hope to make Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One.
  • Despite every advance in the technology to write songs, they are likely to be outnumbered by unwritten songs through 2024 at the soonest.

Reference: A Diplomatic History Of Europe Since The Congress Of Vienna, René Albrecht-Carié.

In My Defense I Never Said the Song Was Bad, I Just Disagree With the Universality of Its Asserted Premise


Me, in 1984: Oh, Tears for Fears, you fools. I have not the slightest desire to rule the world! It would be no end of fussy petty decision-making. Every day would just be all this reading of data and projections and calculations to try and meet some goal it might not be possible to prove was met.

Me, from 1985 onward: [ Spends all his spare time playing ever-more-elaborate simulation and management games, apart from the time he spends thinking up even more ridiculous and fiddly management games. Earlier this year I had the idea for a game where you’re the Chief Financial Officer for a corporation big enough to need elaborate cash-management, such as by deciding how much to raise by stock issues, how much by bond issues, how much by commercial paper, how much by letters of credit, and so on. ]

Statistics Saturday: Some Song Sequels


  • Two Is The Loneliest Number
  • Love Potion Number 10
  • Theme to 78 Sunset Strip
  • It Ain’t 1919
  • Revolution Ten
  • Also Sprach Zarathustra, Also (Theme to 2002: Also A Space Odyssey)
  • In The Year 2626
  • Three Out Of Four Ain’t Bad
  • 867-5319 (Jenny’s Neighbor)
  • Land of 1,001 Dances
  • 4th of September, Asbury Park
  • 910

Reference: Mythematics: Solving The 12 Labors Of Hercules, Michael Huber.

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? What makes crickets “land shrimp”? January – May 2021


“Crickets are land shrimp” is the odd catchphrase of the current Mark Trail storyline. Wikipedia claims that spider crickets are sometimes called “land shrimp”, but that’s Wikipedia. I can find some older articles saying that spider crickets resemble shrimp, and … I guess? There’s a stronger way that crickets could be “land shrimp”, though. Note this Slate article from 2008 about a company selling crickets as food that pitches them as “land shrimp”. So it looks like some of the people who think they can sell Westerners on eating crickets instead of beef are calling them “land shrimp”.

In context, Mark Trail was pressed to say something interesting about a cricket, on no notice. It would be natural to pick up something weird that caught his mind once. So I guess that’s what happened. He remembered an odd bit about trying to sell cricket-eating and the line was popular.

So this should catch you up to the end of April 2021. If you’re reading this after about August 2021, or if any news breaks out about Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail, I should have a more up-to-date article for you here. Thanks for reading.

Mark Trail.

31 January – 1 May 2021.

Mark Trail had returned home. It wasn’t happy. His father, Mark “Happy” Trail, has made a successful trail-mix company. He’s done that, in part, by despoiling the former farm of his and Mark’s old friend Jolly Roger. Mark’s already stolen his father’s speedboat and led the maritime police on a chase that sure seems like it should have got him arrested. There’s only one way to finish his agribusiness story for Teen Girl Sparkle: interview his father.

Mark Trail: 'I didn't come here to fight. I'm sorry I lost my temper earlier.' Happy Trail: 'You started a fight with me over a speedboat! Which you destroyed!' Mark: 'And I should have destroyed it! That's what you raised me to be! What have YOU become?'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 11th of February, 2021. The touch of the older-style Mark Trail is one of the things Rivera does to reinforce that, different as it may be, this isn’t intended as a reboot of the Mark Trail universe. The 18th of March included a more explicit one, referencing the Jack Elrod-era rerun used between James Allen’s departure and Rivera’s arrival.

Mark approaches Happy Trail with backup. The harm speedboats do to manatees. Jolly Roger and his daughter Niecy. Cherry Trail and their son Rusty, whom Happy Trail seems not to have known about. It changes things.

Niecy makes the case for economic and environmental justice. Jolly Rogers’ land was appraised about one-third what it would have been for a not-Black landowner. It’s now poisoned by algae blooms. Niecy proposes selling it back, at cost, and letting Jolly fix it. Meanwhile Mark Trail looks at the crazy number of hunting trophies Happy has. His mother never allowed that. And Happy doesn’t have any, like, friends’ photos on the walls. Is he alone? And where is Mom Trail?

Faced with how he’s done a lot of harm and driven away many people who cared about him, Happy Trail makes an extraordinary decision. He tries to do better. He sells Rogers’s farm back to him, and works to help him clear the algae blooms. He’s delighted to know that Rusty, like he, is adopted. He makes up with Mark.

Happy Trail: 'By the way, you sucker-punched me on the pier, boy! You wouldn't get so far in a fair fight.' Mark: 'What?' Niecy Rogers, dragging her father out: 'Okay, now we bounce.' Jolly Rogers: 'Wait, I wanna watch this.' Niecy: 'No, you don't.' Mark: 'You're twice my age, Dad. Stop.' Happy: 'Really? Who taught you the two fists of --- JUSTICE?!' (Smacking Mark Trail in the face.)
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 26th of February, 2021. I understand people bothered to have beloved snarky commentary like “Mark Trail’s two fists of justice” put into the text. But it’s done so playfully. And, after all, Mark Trail did come around with facial hair. What did he expect?

With friendships and family healing many things get better. Happy Trail’s even able to arrange for the long-term care that Cherry Trail’s mother needs. Turns out having health care makes Cherry’s relationship with her sisters rather better. And Happy himself is able to work with Jolly Rogers in fixing that farmland.

Mark also asks Amy Lee, his editor at Teen Girl Sparkle, if she knew she was sending him to investigate his father. She allows that yes, she had an idea that Mark Trail, a nature guy from Florida, might have some relationship to Mark Trail, a nature guy from Florida. That settles the question of how she could have not known that. But it raises the question why she sent him to do investigative journalism against his father.

Still, that, the 6th of March that closes the story of Mark Trail facing his family shame.


The current story started the 8th of March, though pieces of it were set up earlier. Those pieces would be Rusty Trail making little BikBok videos. Rusty shows Mark how it’s done, challenging his father to say something about this cricket he found. Mark offers, “Crickets are land shrimp,” a declaration so odd it goes viral.

Mark Trail: 'So you're telling me the throwaway video my kid made got sampled by a hip-hop artist?' Amy Lee: 'Yep! Reptiliannaire's people are ramping up to shoot the 'Crickets are land shrimp' trap remix video and they want you in it! This is a golden opportunity to build your brand with the Teen Girl Sparkle audience. I suggest you take it!' Mark Trail: 'Because I'm such a good rapper?'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 25th of March, 2021. Hey, when fame comes, it is never for the thing you want. Or so I am told.

And it catches the attention of eco-rapper Reptiliannaire. The hip-hop artist sampled Rusty’s Bikbok video and that’s been popular. Reptiliannaire is re-shooting the video and wants Mark Trail for a cameo. Teen Girl Sparkle sees that as a great brand-building opportunity and all right, Dad, I see what you mean about not connecting with this strip any more.

Reptiliannaire is glad to meet Mark Trail and takes him into his weird but fun-looking home. The video’s getting a budget, too, from “Cricket Bro”. He’s a guy who turned his dumb tech fortune into a cricket protein powder startup. Turns out Mark knows him: it’s Rob Bettancourt. Rob knew Mark all the way back to grade school, when everyone called him “Marky Trail”.

Rob Bettancourt: 'Thanks so much for coming, professor. Say, have you met my old friend, Marky Trail?' Mark Trail: 'MARK TRAIL, award-winning nature journalist.' Professor Bee Sharp: 'Ah! I HAVE heard of you! Read your article on bats and human trafficking. Intriguing, if a little confusing.' Mark: 'My son is on the phone. Can you say a few --- ' Sharp, snatching the phone: 'GLADLY! Hiya there, sport!' Mark; 'But my phone!' He lurches toward Sharp and is blocked by a woman declaring ,'If you touch him, I BREAK you.' Narrator: 'Mark knew Hollywood women could be tough, but not *this* tough.'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 23rd of April, 2021. And here’s another reference to older stories, this one from early in James Allen’s tenure. The bats-and-human-trafficking story was from shortly before I did recaps, sorry to say. But Mark Trail went to do a story about white-nose syndrome in some bats in Texas caves, and got tangled up with human traffickers. Also an extremely long though gorgeous progression through caves with neat rocks and stranger (though realistic) life. The traffickers were eventually caught in Mexico. And the last James Allen story, never completed, was to be Hollywood adapting the story. So this was rather a keystone story in Allen’s tenure for Rivera to reference.

Mark also knows that Rob’s inspirational self-start origin story is nonsense; Rob’s parents are rich and that’s why he is. But Rob is also throwing a party and invites Reptiliannaire and Mark Trail and all.

All includes Professor Bee Sharp, a science video guy that Reptiliannaire geeks out over. Rusty, too, when he hears about this. Rob ostentatiously offers Mark help in building his career. Mark, harboring old pains, is not having it.

Meanwhile, Cherry Trail gets irritating news about her landscaping. The Sunny Soleil Committee, a homeowners association, wants her to take down the palm trees she and Mark Trail planted. Mark, scared by Cherry’s fury, downplays how the trip to Los Angeles is for something ridiculous and fun. He volunteers to send the committee an e-mail on her behalf.

Mark Trail: 'Cherry, I won't leave you hanging. I am gonna give that Sunny Soleil Committee the two fists o' justice ... in an e-mail.' Cherry: 'I appreciate that, sugar.' Mark: 'Oh, and I will get you the biggest agave I can get through airport security!' Cherry: 'Mark, don't do anything silly, now.' Narrator: 'Mark decides now is NOT the time to tell her he's flying to Los Angeles to star in a music video with a lizard-themed eco-rapper.'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 3rd of April, 2021. The narration box has been a much bigger player this story, and has been a wonderful commenter on the story. I do not know what Mark Trail did tell Cherry was his reason for flying to Los Angeles if it wasn’t this music video business.

Cherry meets with Violet Cheshire, who oversees the society. Cheshire explains that palm trees are prohibited, as exotic plants don’t belong. Cherry explains how there was one exotic palm, but the sabal palmettos otherwise planted are native. Cheshire says the society won’t have the villagers’ gardens looking like “unkempt jungles”.

Violet Cheshire: 'I cannot speak to whatever agreements you have with your landscaping clients, but the Sunny Soleil Society has its guidelines.' Cherry: 'My husband sent an e-mail explaining the situation.' Cheshire: 'I am well aware of your husband's e-mail. It was ... ' [ Flashback. Cheshire sees a man (her husband?) reading e-mail: 'By jove! This e-mail felt like it punched me in the face with two fists!' ] Cheshire, continuing: '... Confrontational!'
Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail for the 29th of April, 2021. I don’t know whether we are supposed to take the third panel as literally what happened or as Cherry Trail’s fantasy of what happened. Either way, it brings me delight. The only way it falls short of perfection is not having Cheshire and the man with her wearing monocles.

So that’s rather a standstill. And that’s where things stand as of the start of May.

Sunday Animals Watch!

  • Cicadas, 31 January 2021. Got any?
  • Barred Owls, 7 February 2021. Plus tips on how to get barred owls, in case you need some barred owls.
  • Lovebugs, 14 February 2021. Some more animals who’ve come to Florida, although apparently on their own initiative.
  • Virginia Opossums, 21 February 2021. They’re pretty great, really. Should give them a break.
  • Feral Hogs, 28 February 2021. They’re invasive, of course, and they’re probably smarter than us.
  • Southern Toads, 7 March 2021. They seem to be cute enough.
  • Crickets, 14 March 2021. The strip pushes the line about how crickets might replace cows as a source of protein, which they will not. The cricket-eaters will never accept this.
  • Foxes, 21 March 2021. It’s got three panels where a fox steals something, which is fun.
  • Eastern Black Rat Snakes, 28 March 2021. Which is the species of Ralph, one of the snakes Mark Trail talks with regularly now.
  • Beavers, 4 April 2021. OK, but have you ever seen a video of a beaver in a zoo carrying a bunch of carrots around? Look it up sometime. You’re welcome.
  • Ed Dodd, 11 April 2021. A special biographic panel to celebrate the strip reaching 75 years.
  • Five-Lined Skinks, 18 April 2021. They’re the ones with blue tails, as juveniles, that are able to drop off as decoys when predators come predating.
  • Striped skunks, 25 April 2021. Mark Trail feels they compare favorably with honey badgers.
  • Sabal palms, 2 May 2021. I did not realize they weren’t native to Southern California, and were imported to make the place look better. All right.

Next Week!

Romance! Inspirational quotes! Post-traumatic stress disorder! Working for “exposure”! All this and a lot of thanking Mary worth, in Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth, if all goes to plan.

60s Popeye: Wimpy’s Lunch Wagon so why is it about Popeye?


We have seen the name W Schmidt before. He was credited or co-credited for the story for Popeye the Popular Mechanic, for Popeye the Piano Mover, and Popeye the White Collar Man. The Internet Movie Database also credits him for the story for Popeye the Fireman, though the title card says otherwise. Given that pedigree it’s odd to see a cartoon suggesting Wimpy gets a job instead. Volus Jones gets the animation direction credit, and Jack Kinney produced. Here’s the 1960 sort Wimpy’s Lunch Wagon.

Why is Wimpy in this? I trust Wimpy enjoys rare expertise in the eating arts. But in cooking? Why not Rough House, who does run a cafe, and who in the 1960s was finally allowed into animation? It’s got me wondering which studios got to use which minor Thimble Theatre characters, although it’s far too late for me to start tracking that. All the character does is leave Popeye in charge, and then come back to see the aftermath of the chaos. That doesn’t have to be the more familiar Wimpy.

But also, why does Popeye need an excuse to be in charge of something? W Schmidt was comfortable giving Popeye jobs like piano-mover or fireman without explaining how he got there. Why not short-order cook too? It would make more sense out of pleasant little jokes like Popeye observing how the newspaper guy never misses.

In the kitchen, Brutus laughs at Popeye, who's fallen and is covered by a set of pots and pans and strainers and such. Popeye's oversized spinach hoagie sits on a table.
My friends with kitchen jobs tell me it’s like this all the time.

The conflict, once it starts, is Brutus pushing a juke box into the restaurant and shoving the organ-grinder (and monkey) out. This is surprisingly realistic, given how vicious the coin-op business could be back in the day. Popeye’s lucky not to have got shoved into a pinball machine. Brutus moves in, to “protect me business interests”, and we get a quick version of the Brutus-grabs-Olive-Oyl, Popeye-rescues-her storyline. It’s all ordinary enough, but well done and nicely decorated. There’s fun bits like Olive Oyl calling “save me, sir knight!” to a Popeye covered in tin pans. Or Olive Oyl answering Popeye “we’re out of duck … oh, that kind!” when she has to dodge. I don’t have any serious complaints about any of this; it does its business well. I just don’t see what Wimpy adds to the events, besides a punch line that everybody forgot the organ-grinder.

Statistics Saturday: The Duration of 15 Things as Measured by the Runtime Of Turbo (2013)


ThingDurations in Runtimes of Turbo (2013)
Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address0.05938
Apollo 14135
Bambi0.7292
Construction of the Empire State Building244.375
First non-exhibition/spring-training baseball game of the Houston Colt.45s, 10 April 19621.583
“The Gates of Delirium”, by Yes0.2274
The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island (including commercials)1.250
The Hundred Years’ War637,711.71
One second0.000 173 6
Robert Altman’s Popeye1.1875
The 1960 Summer Olympics262.5
Thunderhawk roller coaster (one ride cycle only), Dorney Park, Allentown, Pennsylvania0.01354
Turbo (2013)1
Turbo Teen (complete series, including commercials)4.0625
We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story0.7396

Reference: Roughing It, Mark Twain.

In which I raise a question about music


I turned on the 80s music station because look, I try to be interested in things that I wasn’t already interested in when I was fourteen but sometimes I just want to not try, all right? It’s been a rough year and the first really great light is that I’m scheduled for my first vaccination tomorrow afternoon. So this afternoon they were playing The Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated”. It was exactly 24 hours to go until I get my jab.

On the one hand, I would like to speak with whoever’s in charge of my soundtrack because that is trite. On the other hand, what else could fit the scene? Obviously no music I have. But, like, somebody must have done a concept album about overthrowing the dystopia that banned rock music only to have it revealed at the end it was a story about leukocytes fighting off tetanus, right?

What is it like to be a Beatle?


Sorry to be distracted like this. I just got to wondering, like, how often does Paul McCartney or Ringo Starr, like, just freeze up in the kitchen and think, “I was in the Beatles! And now here I am, peeling an orange! How does something like that happen?” I’m assuming that they occasionally peel oranges. The only reason I can imagine they wouldn’t is if they don’t like oranges. I realize that no life can be all transcendant experiences, but, you know,every now and then Buzz Aldrin must think, “I walked on the Moon and here I am peeling a banana. How?”

I guess it’s a good thing that the biggest thing that ever happened to me was sneezing on the President of Singapore or I’d never be able to handle the small stuff.


By the way, over on my other blog I looked at the Pi Day comic strips. How many of them were about serious mathematics and how many were about pie? The answer may surprise you!

%d bloggers like this: