Turner Classic Movies has sometimes been showing cartoons before the Tarzan movies on Saturday mornings. Whoever writes the cable guide summaries described one, airing before Tarzan Putters Around In Manhattan For Some Reason, like this:
In this early-1930s precursor to the cult tv series Lost, Popeye and Olive Oyl find themselves shipwrecked on a… New.
So, Wild Elephinks is not a good cartoon. It’s from early on, before the Fleischers realized that Popeye had a personality. It’s also one of the surprisingly many cartoons that start with Popeye shipwrecked, one of those little recurring things that make you wonder exactly how good a sailor he is. He and Olive Oyl wash up on an island with a bunch of animals on it, all of which Popeye beats up, because what’s more attractive in your hero than punching a mink to death?
I appreciate whoever wrote this caption having a bit of fun given how much nothingness the cartoon’s real premise had. But why do they have to cut off all the TV show summaries that early? Has anyone told the summary writers that they have, like, 130 characters to work with? If they haven’t, why haven’t they? Don’t these summarizers ever go home, check on their work, and realize that everything after the first twenty words was cut off? Does that make them angry? Does that make them sail to a remote island and punch every animal? These are all questions I feel I cannot answer.
Moving a plant is not a chore you should rush. Really you shouldn’t be rushing any chores, what with how they’re chores. A rushed chore feels skittish, much as you might, and will try to run off. A defensive chore ends up spraying out side tasks as distractions. You may have noticed the results of this. You start off trying to organize the shelf of Books That Friends Who Don’t Read Gave You. You’ve barely gotten to alphabetizing the fourth copy of the novelization to The Thirteenth Floor, which you spent a quixotic two months defending as far superior to The Matrix before remembering that you could go outside and roll down a grassy hillside all afternoon.
Somehow you find yourself in the refrigerator, shelves cleared, sponging off some congealment that seems to be maple syrup hybridized with vinaigrette and store-brand Dr Pepper equivalent. In someone else’s house, one you’re thinking of buying at the tax auction. You have no recollection how it happened. I couldn’t tell you how many times this has happened to me, not since they put all those tags on the cinder-block house two streets over. This is just how chores work.
Nevertheless before moving a plant — remember that? — you need to prepare. Without proper planning even something as simple as cutting down a weed tree could cause the Moon to tumble out of its orbit and go rolling through Appalachia, leaving many stricken West Virginians considerably flatter. How is left as an exercise to the student.
The first step is to warn the plant as early as possible that it will be moved. Moving is traumatic. The plant needs to appreciate the friends and familiar places it’s about to be torn from. They also can get started dreading the new cliques they’ll be plunged defenselessly into a month before the end of the school year. Remember to insist to the plant that it has a say in this move, although not one that would change your plans.
The next step is to have a place to move the plant to. There are great ideas to grow plants hydroponically, without any particular location. It turns out hydroponically means that it’s four spindly lima beans in injected-foam cups during second grade. This may not fit your plant-relocation needs, what with how you have a fourth-grade understanding of fractions and compound sentences.
A great place to deposit a plant is inside a hole. You can purchase a hole, of course. But a great many people with mobility issues depend on pre-dug holes. I feel guilty taking any stock away from them. Funny, that’s the same look the person at the garden supply store gave me. Anyway, I’m able to dig roughly cylindrical holes myself. I encourage that for people who can do it, since it’s such a great experience.
The easiest way to dig a roughly cylindrical hole is with a post-hole digger. Yes, it’s way too much mechanism for this task. It’s just so much fun to lift the digger in the air and toss it in the ground with this satisfying CHUNK, and squeeze it and twist it around and scoop up a heap of dirt and swing it over, dropping the dirt on an unsuspecting smaller sibling. Of course you need a post-hole digger for this. And you can’t just wander in to the grocery store and go to the “P” section and buy the first thing you see. They’ll be filed under “D” for digger. Unless your grocery store uses Reverse Polish Notation, in which case you’re back to “P” again, but who does that? Who isn’t trying to make a point, I mean?
You should keep digging until you have enough hole, which comes when you feel the sense of inner tranquility that comes from outgrowing the idea that you’re a giant long-necked dinosaur used down at the quarry and settling into the idea that you’re pretending to be a hydraulic pile driver. One you do, ponder how it is you have no idea what a pile driver does. I mean, there’s the obvious: it temporarily flattens cartoon animals, but gets broken by the mighty skull of Popeye the Sailor Man. It turns out pile drivers are used to drive piles. Here a pile is a long cylinder of something that’s pretty stern. They get driven into soft soil so that the piles make a better foundation that the dirt does. This may help you feel a sense that the world is abundant in things that are ordinary and unobtrusive but really quite clever.
This might make the plant seem like a rather provincial concern. That’s all right. Explain this to the plant and it will figure out arrangements for itself.
Oh, all kinds of things are going on in Joe Staton and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy. (Also, Shelley Pleger and Shane Fisher routinely work on the Sunday strips. I’m not sure how often they work on daily strips. I want to be fair about crediting the people who make the comic but I don’t always know.) This is my best attempt at bringing you up to speed for mid-April 2018. If it’s a lot later than that, try at or near the top of this page. If I have later-written summaries they should be up there.
Back in late January, Dick Tracy and the Major Crime Unit were arresting Mister Bribery. The crime boss himself was going mad after his meeting with the former Governor of the Moon. The Lunarians had abandoned their city in the no-longer-habitable valley on the moon and gone into hiding … elsewhere. The Moon Governor himself was just poking around to figure out the deal with Honey Moon Tracy and the surgically-created Second Moon Maid, Mysta Chimera. Can’t exactly blame him for not taking all this well.
Sawtooth, hired by Mister Bribery to kill Dick Tracy in a slow and painful manner, skips town. Tracy wasn’t killed slowly nor painfully. Lee Ebony breaks her months-long cover as bodyguard T-Bone to arrest Bribery. Meanwhile Honey Moon rescues Crystal Ugly, Bribery’s niece and a new friend, from where she’d fled in the snow. All seems settled. The 11th of February there’s a coda about the Moon Governor meeting Diet Smith and Honey Moon Tracy. And about Lee Ebony going on vacation.
And that starts the next big plot, the one that’s dominated the last several months. It’s at Pepper’s, a popular restaurant apparently unrelated to the setting of the ended Tina’s Grove comic strip. Billionaire Simon Stagg — whom commenters identified as someone from DC Comics that I don’t know about — has a briefcase full of cash to buy Pepper’s restaurant. But Pepper declares he’s got no intention of selling. He’s poisoned the billionaire, after establishing that Stagg had eaten fugu earlier in the day. The coroner thinks it’s blowfish toxin, accidental poisoning. But the mayor has doubts, and calls Dick Tracy in from his fishing vacation with Popeye and Alice the Goon.
Tracy goes to Pepper’s with just a few questions, and Pepper allays them by chasing him off the property, the way innocent people with nothing to hide do. Tracy returns, hoping to talk with the chefs while Pepper’s caters a political dinner at the Winrock Mansion. One of the cooks offers that he can talk, if Tracy will meet him outside, away from witnesses, over by Ambush Rock. Tracy’s good for it, and the cook’s good for clobbering him with a bowling pin, like he was in a George McManus cartoon.
Pepper takes Tracy’s own handcuff and hooks him up to his trailer hitch. This raises several questions, like: wait, would a handcuff actually keep someone on a trailer hitch for a twenty-mile ride by country road? I’m never confident those things are secure with actual proper hitches and it sure looks like the handcuff should pop right off the first good bump in the road. The second question: wait, so Pepper figures he’ll get away with murdering Stagg if the city’s most famous detective, whom the Mayor and the Major Crimes Unit know is investigating Pepper, goes missing and maybe turns up dead? (Although, in fairness, it was barely two months since the last time Dick Tracy was abducted and left for dead so maybe his murder would be lost under a buffet of suspects.) Third question: what does Pepper hope to gain from killing Tracy instead of, like, actually hearing any of his questions?
Despite the high speeds Tracy’s able to call Sam Catchem. And to get his handcuff key, maybe to get free. Before he can, Pepper has to stop short, avoiding a deer in the road. Tracy gets free and shoots out the truck’s tire before Pepper can run him over. Pepper’s truck crashes down the ravine, and the restauranteur makes his escape before Tracy can follow.
Pepper finds a hideout with Phishface, who — reluctantly — sets Pepper and his fugu chef up in an unused part of the city aquarium. That’s good for almost days before, fleeing staff, Pepper falls into the tank hosting the new Portuguese Man-of-War. And so, the poisoner himself dies with appropriate dramatic irony but not the particular involvement of Dick Tracy, who was busy arresting the fugu chef.
And this highlights a bunch of other questions. First: wait, what the heck? Second, like, what did Pepper hope to gain from killing Stagg in the first place? Simon Stagg’s money seems like a good enough motive, and (on the 28th of March) the fugu chef does think he’s making off with Stagg’s briefcase full of cash. But it seems weird to kill a guy for money he was going to give you in an actual legal and above-board transaction. I guess keeping the money and the restaurant is good, but, sheesh, having a restaurant grow successful enough to be worth selling out is winning the lottery. What more does he want? Third, so, the final toxicology report (delivered the 22nd of March) is that Stagg died of blowfish toxin. I take it this is meant to signify that Pepper got away with it, killing Stagg in a way that looked like it was an unrelated accident.
In which case, yeah, Pepper committed a perfect crime and undid it by kicking Dick Tracy until the super-detective got curious. This isn’t by itself a problem. People committing crimes they aren’t actually smart enough to succeed in can make for great storytelling. Elmore Leonard, the 2016 Electoral College, the Coen Brothers, and the Florida Man Twitter feed make compelling material out of this. And Tracy (on the 31st of March) says he hasn’t met any smart criminals yet. All right, but if the point is that Pepper piddled away his chance to get away with killing a rich man for money, I’d like that made clearer. Tracy didn’t even ask Pepper any specific questions; why was he panicked already?
One of the hallmarks of the Staton/Curtis era of Dick Tracy has been rapid, relentless pacing. And that’s great; story strips don’t need to be lethargic, much as they seem to be trying to be. But they do fall into a counterbalancing failure, where the plot logic and the motivations behind things are unclear or just baffling. I have no idea why Pepper figured “try and kill Dick Tracy” was the sensible thing to do after killing Stagg. I’d like it if I did.
The new, and current, storyline started the 9th of April. Britt Reid, publisher of the Central City Daily Sentinel, is in town, poking around organized crime. This has attracted the interest of old-time radio fans, because yes, it’s a crossover. Britt Reid was known for years on radio, and for about one season on TV in the 60s, and for about 45 minutes in the movies in like 2011, as the Green Hornet. Reid’s gimmick, then and now, was to pose as a respectable newspaper publisher — so you see how far back this schtick goes — pursuing the super-villain the Green Hornet. But the Green Hornet is himself Reid, using the reputation of being a super-villain to infiltrate and break up actual crime rings.
This is unrelated, but, there was a little bit on one of Bob Newhart’s albums where he thought about the TV show I Led Three Lives. This show was about one Herb Philbrick, who was a communist for the FBI. Not from the show I Was A Communist For The FBI. Newhart opined that he wished, just one, in one of the Communist cell meetings that someone should have stood up and said, “Say, has, ah … has anyone else ever noticed, uh, whenever we assign Philbrick to anything, we all get arrested?” I’m not one to spoil a good golden-age-of-radio gimmick, but, like, the original Plastic-Man was only able to use this same approach about four issues before the mobsters caught on that Plastic-Man’s secret gangster identity was bad luck.
Anyway, Britt Reid and Dick Tracy meet, to review what they know: Central City mobster Cyrus Topper is trying to hook up with the Apparatus, the organized crime syndicate in Tracy’s town. The Green Hornet seems to be following. Tracy’s sure that Topper and the Hornet will get justly deserted. No, neither one of them knows what’s happened to Jim Scancarelli. You’d think he’d be all over this meeting of former Golden Age of Radio crime-detection superstars. And that’s about where things stand.
There’s only a few threads left loose from the last couple months’ stories. One is Matty Squared, the artificial intelligence/uploaded semi-personality of Mister Bribery’s former accountant. He was last seen the 10th of February, planning to head to “the server farms down south”. His companion: a mouse named Ignatz that’s got to be the oddest Krazy Kat reference in a long while.
It’s never said what the Moon Governor talked about with Diet Smith, Honey Moon Tracy, and Mysta Chimera. The Moon Governor himself emerged from the Lunarians’ secret hideout (somewhere on Earth) to investigate telepathic signals. Mysta? Honey Moon? Someone else? It hasn’t been said explicitly so anything might be yet entered into evidence. And no, I haven’t forgot that someone’s trying to scare B O Plenty and family out of their estate by making ghost noises.
A thread that hasn’t been brought up, and might never be: Britt Reid was, canonically, the grand-nephew (or something like that) of the Lone Ranger. The characters have been owned by separate companies since the 50s, so allusions to this have to be more deniable or involve more negotiation ahead of time. But the comic strip did show Vitamin Flintheart and Joe Tracy watching a Vista Bill movie. I think that’s made up for the in-universe continuity. But a western hero with the wonder horse Comet crying out “Fly, Comet! And Awaaay!” is reminding people of something. Merely for world-building? Perhaps, and plausibly so. For something more? Goodness knows.
What’s going on in Gasoline Alley? There’s evidence that at least someone is there as reruns go into their sixth month. What’s going on with Jim Scancarelli? I haven’t heard anything today. But a whole week from now? Maybe that will have changed. Come on around and let’s see what we might find out.
So, first, I found that Twitter bot that spoofs that HGTV show about people buying the second house they’re shown. Well, someone else found it and tweeted it where I could see it, but that still counts. An example of its work:
WIFE: I run a startup for weasels HUSBAND: And I sell underwear for squirrels WIFE: Our budget is $1.8 million
Also I was poking around deep in the Comics Kingdom archives of Bud Sagendorf’s Popeye to try working out why the lettering in the last couple days’ reprints were strange, because that’s the result of many decisions I’ve made in my life. And it’s always dangerous to read a single installment from a story strip because without context anything looks unnecessarily baffling but then how do you respond to this?
And the answer is, of course: Popeye is absolutely correct. There shouldn’t be argument about this point.
There’s some more stuff to talk about, but I promised only a “couple” of things so I’ll have to hold off some.
Drawing a thing can be a fun recreational and creative pastime, people who are able to draw tell us. For the rest of us it’s a lot of being angry at how we have this killer hilarious cartoon in our heads and it will never, ever be manifested in a way that doesn’t look like it was rendered by a squirrel that was handed a crayon and told there was an almond inside. And is now angry about being lied to. But still, you can’t get good at drawing without learning to sketch some, so let’s look into how to do that.
Before sketching the thing you should decide what kind of sketch to do. A “traditional” sketch is done with a pad of paper and pencils that have been handed down, from house move to house move, since you were in high school because they cost more than your house. I mean, yeow. They’re six-inch tubes of wood with colored lead inside, how do they run so much? Is the Koh-i-noor company thinking it will get rich piggybanking on artists? Have they considered, like, selling pencils to people with more money, like the folks with cardboard signs standing at streetcorners asking for any help and promising God blesses stopped cars? Good grief. Anyway. Traditional sketches are good because they’re easy and portable and you can hide them in your messenger bag for a quick getaway if someone asks why you’re drawing a picture of a squirrel without permission.
The other kind of sketch is “digital”, done on some glass-covered rectangular thing that has to be recharged. This is a popular choice not just because it means you can put off your drawing for the day for six hours while the battery fills back up. It’s also liked because you can effortlessly hit “undo” until your sketch looks not so completely messed up. And then you can try again, until the drawing program crashes. The main drawback is finding a good drawing program. There are six things that a drawing program needs to be good. Coding Law dictates that every drawing program has to leave one out. The one that looks like it has everything? I’m sorry, if you use that program now and then they send someone around to punch you in the stomach. It turns out there’s a secret seventh thing a good program needs: it needs to not sometimes send someone around to punch you in the stomach.
So, choose wisely, and then spend part of every day reconsidering your choice and wondering why you didn’t make a better one. It’s a little something to help you doze off better at work after staying up all night cursing the immutability of the past.
Now you need to figure whether you’re sketching something that exists or something that doesn’t. The advantage of sketching a thing that exists is you can check back on it to see what you’re doing wrong. The advantage of sketching a thing that doesn’t exist is that other people can’t say you draw it wrong. “But wait,” someone might say. “Sea serpents don’t have Popeye arms and warp nacelles!” And then you can glare at them and say, “Prove it.” This doesn’t help your sketch any, but it lets you win the argument, and isn’t that an even more precious thing in these troubled times? You get into some tricky metaphysical territory if you want to draw, like, Garfield, who as a creature of fiction doesn’t exist but who does have a well-agreed-upon appearance that you can’t vary from too much without getting fired by the Guy Who Does Garfield from your job drawing Garfield. If that’s your situation I got nothing for you. Sorry.
And the last thing is to decide whether you’re doing a realistic or a cartoony sketch. To make a realistic sketch, start by drawing a big oval on top of a slightly offset square. Then add cylindrical tubes to the side and the base. Then at the bottom put in a couple of rectangular boxes.
A cartoony sketch is very much like a realistic sketch, except that you draw while thinking about how you’re hungry. Start with an egg shape on top of a giant square food, such as a waffle. Instead of cylindrical tubes draw a couple of bloated hot dog shapes. Instead of rectangular boxes, draw mooshy dinner rolls. Then somewhere put in two dots with half-circles around so it has some emotion.
Now just add details to make your sketch look like the thing you wanted. Save it or scan it, and post it to your DeviantArt account with this caption:
Silly little sketch done to try getting back into the swing of things. Didn’t really come out like I figured but at least I like how that little mooshy dinner roll with the spaghetti curls came out. I’ll see if the art gods are nicer to me with tomorrow’s sketch.
Then, embarrassed by how much it is not what you thought the sketch would look like, put all your drawing equipment away for 34 months.
In other news, my love was directed to a pinball podcast from 2007. It features something like an interview with Python Anghelo, crazypants designer behind video games like Joust and pinball games like Popeye Saves The Earth, the game with the most intense backstory ever when you consider a Popeye pinball game really just needs to set up stuff that he can then punch.
The interview is enlightening because it tells me what it would be like to interview a Dr Bronner’s Soap Label that had gone into game design. I think the host asks two, maybe three question, one of which gets answered, and then just lets Anghelo talk. Here’s the specific episode, TOPcast show 42 from the 1st of July, 2007. In at least one point Anghelo seems to suggest he composed poems for guidance for his game concepts, and I don’t know of any of them which have come to light, but the poem for the cancelled Zingy Bingy must have been to die for. Or to kill your game division for.
For those who somehow don’t know the big names of 80s/90s pinball design: there were a bunch of big names in 80s/90s pinball design. Don’t worry about who’s who. Zingy Bingy was a concept for making an “adult” pinball game. According to legend it featured things like flippers that were shaped to resemble a part of the male anatomy which was not fingers and which could under the right circumstances grow. Also according to legend the project went on until an actual grownup at headquarters heard this was going on. That covers the essential background. Go, enjoy listening, and pause anytime you start feeling dizzy.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The Another Blog, Meanwhile index rose two points before trading was suspended in order that everyone could make valentines to give to all the other traders, thank you. Also to wonder about people who complain that they make kids give valentines to everybody else in class these days because they’re all pretty sure that’s the way it was done back when they were kids too, and it’s not like it was any hassle back then.
While we were all busy with whatever it was keeps us busy BBC News had this article: ‘Bionic’ plants can detect explosives. And while all we children of the 70s are thinking of a field of grain waving in extremely slow motion while that na-na-na-na-nanananana sound effect somehow suggests … speed or strength or something the lede tops us:
Scientists have transformed the humble spinach plant into a bomb detector.
I bet they’ve also made it not so humble either. I can picture spinach plants now calling out to other plants in the area. “Yo, eggplant over there, you ever save lives and protect property? Huh, how about that. Hey, broccoli! You ever detect a bomb? I thought not! Ooh, you sprig of lemon balm! You — oh, wait, never mind,” it says, falling back, as it remembers lemon balm’s courageous service for spinach’s father in the Clome Oven Wars. So it’s not completely full of itself. But it’s lost a certain natural humility too.
Researchers said they meant this as a proof of concept, that concept being that they can now get lunch to message their iPhones. This could see a future in which the whole process is fully automated and none of us have to interact with the salad courses ever again. Should be a great future we’re making somehow.
The Another Blog, Meanwhile index rose four points, bringing it back to the 100 that it started at so very long ago. Now traders are split on whether they should call the whole thing off as a near catastrophe narrowly averted or whether the whole sub-100-era should be written off as a learning experience and they’ll do much better now. Ah, but imagine if we were able to learn from experience. What would be totally different, wouldn’t it?
(The Meridian Mall is my favorite place to buy a dime’s worth of longitude.)
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The Another Blog, Meanwhile Index rose five points over the course of the day, owing to traders being undecided whether it should rise ten points or whether it should just stay right where it was since that had been working out so well for everyone. They compromised and everyone thought that a great idea except for the one who thought it should have just risen five points in the first place, and complained everyone stole her idea.
Dear Mr Kabibble,
Is music the food of lovers? — Z.V.
I know a lot of couples that are on a more than eighteen day diet. (17 June)
Dear Mr Kabibble,
Do you know what love is? — T.V.
No — but I was kicked by a mule once! (24 June)
Dear Mr Kabibble,
Does a jilted lover really die of a broken heart? — L.R.
I do not care to discuss the movies (5 July)
Dear Mr Kabibble,
Shall I propose marriage to a girl I know only for a week? — T.G.
If she remembers you, I think it O.K. (7 July)
Dear Mr Kabibble,
Do women like men who ignore them? — L.R.
You can’t ignore that kind, brother. (8 July)
Dear Mr Kabibble,
What do you think of husbands who go on vacations without their wives?
Why, then, think of the husbands (16 July)
Dear Mr Kabibble,
Why do lovers always quarrel? — L.R.
Can you imagine what they could do with a reason? (21 July)
L.R. has a lot of problems.
(You can nearly correctly suppose everything else parsed as a joke, specifically, “wives they so awful amirite fellas”. Honest. If you were trying to do a bit about hacky, misogynistic comedy of 1930 you wouldn’t imagine boldly enough to get at some of that stuff.)
Comics Kingdom runs a bunch of vintage comic strips. Among them they’ve got the original, 1930-era Thimble Theater. That’s from the time when Elzie Segar introduced Popeye to his comic strip. The current storyline is the one during which Popeye really took over. He’s going up against the Sea Hag, that’s just all about Popeye. None of the former cast is ever going to be the protagonist again.
Thing is, the last couple weeks, they’ve been running something extra. Whatever source Comics Kingdom has for the daily strips has included a weird little extra. It’s billed “Kabibble Kabaret — By Hershfield”. It’s from humorist Harry Hershfield, who created the ancient comic strip Abie the Agent and who apparently ran this in Chicago papers in 1922, and New York City newspapers from 1926 to 1935. And this little panel, a quick little daily joke, is exquisitely bad.
They’re mostly hacky, ancient jokes about what an awful thing marriage, like:
Dear Mr. Kabibble,
Do couples profit by their mistakes? – J.J.Z.
No = LAWYERS
Some are almost incomprehensible anymore, like this one originally from the 8th of January, 1930:
Dear Mr. Kabibble,
Do women like cavemen? – N.Z.
Most men are afraid to prove it
What Hershfield and the totally non-made-up N.Z. are getting at is this old idea of the different types of seductive men. One of the types was the forceful-brute-caveman type. I know this because I like silent movies and there’s a streak of comedies wherein, like, Harold Lloyd has a fantasy of dressing up like Fred Flintstone and dragging off a Jobyna Ralston-class actor. It’s solidly funny because, well, Harold Lloyd could be funny putting on his glasses. Here, well, it’s just weird. Lloyd probably should’ve used it on a Nola Dolberg type instead.
I have been cutting down on how much stuff I read for its ironic value. Too much snark is a bad thing for the soul. But this — this really hits some magic combination. The jokes are escapees from Fred Allen’s Graveyard of Dead Jokes. The social mores have shifted enough it’s hard to get why many of them are supposed to even parse as jokes. And they’re told so compactly that rather than having telegraphic snap they read almost like gibberish. Take this:
Dear Mr. Kabibble,
Shall I give my husband a lecture when he comes home late? – T.R.
He probably came from one — they go on for days sometimes
It’s like they’re designing this specifically for me to find it compelling.
And I will admit there’s a couple salvageable jokes there, or ones that I can imagine working with the right delivery. And the occasional one that I think just works as it is, eg:
Dear Mr. Kabibble,
Is love what it used to be? – N.K.
I was with a friend at the local hipster bar. I mean my local hipster bar. We weren’t anywhere near his. I know I talk about it a lot as the local hipster bar, but please understand. Their new logo is a rendition of their raccoon puppet, holding a couple of fireworks and a can of beer that’s labelled “Ham”. It’s a fine place and they’ve started having glazed-pottery nights.
My friend got to mentioning something or other coming up, and how he hoped it would go, knock wood. And he knocked on the bar. To this extent all seems well. I’m pretty sure the bar is wood and his knocking was in fine mid-season form. He carried off the knocking with no injuries and no dryads left stranded on base.
It got me thinking about the custom of knocking wood. It’s a good-luck gesture. It’s supposed to work by getting the attention of the wood-spirits who overheard you. You can see why that would work. Gumans drawing the attention of supernatural spirits has worked out well for the human according to every legend ever. “Well,” say many humans in these legends, “drawing the attention of that naiad or whatever it was sure has cured my problem of not being turned into a grasshopper!” Or else, “I used to think there was no way I would wake up chained every morning to be torn apart by hyenas. Then I stumbled into that pooka drinking party!” “I didn’t ever used to have a ferocious lightning-beast living in my belly button. But then thank goodness I fell through the wall of that Shinto shrine!”
Still, apparently the knocking of wood does help, if we can take any guidance from how rarely people at hipster bars get their eyes dipped in magic nectar so they can see the fairy creatures and then have their eyes gouged out so they can’t see the fairy creatures anymore. It did get me to thinking about one of those little cross-cultural differences. The English, I understand, merely touch wood, tapping the nearest piece lightly, rather than rapping sharply on it.
Full disclosure: I’ve never been a dryad. And I couldn’t find any to interview before deadline. I have to think if I were one, though, I’d be more inclined to do favors for someone who tapped me rather than knocked on me. It’s got me wondering about the cultural differences. Why should Americans figure the best way to get a magic spirit to do what you want, or at least leave you alone, involves punching it?
Well, because Americans are good at punching, I admit. Look at the great legendary figures of 20th Century American Culture: Popeye, Superman, Dwight Eisenhower, Muhammad Ali, Mary Richards. They’re all people who punch through problems. Even Captain Kirk only used his phasers when he couldn’t punch for some reason. And they’re all pretty successful so maybe they have something with their punch-based plans.
At least they look successful. But, like, if you watch the cartoons Popeye gets shipwrecked a lot. Probably that’s because he has more chances at shipwreck than the average person. Someone in, say, Havre, Montana, who never enters a body of water bigger than a coin fountain might expect to be shipwrecked only eight times in her life. Popeye must run a higher risk. Still, you have to wonder about if he shouldn’t pass up on sailing in favor of a punching-based lifestyle.
But punching is a cherished part of American culture. One of the leading myths of the early 19th Century Mississippi River valley was of Mike Fink, a bombastic, tough-talking, hyperactive bully who spent his time punching, shooting, or punch-shooting (punching with a gun) everything he could find, especially if it wasn’t a white male. His friends explained he was really a great guy, just you had to understand his point of view, before he punch-shot you. But that’s what friends of sociopaths always say so that they don’t get punch-shot-punched next.
I can’t draw any big conclusions about British touching and Americans knocking wood, though. Most of the differences between British and American cultures were invented by the Tourism Boards in 1958, so that people could share stories of how different things were on their vacations. I’ll bet any number of British people who don’t care about tourists knock wood whenever they feel like.
It still seems risky. I’d stick with touching, or if it wouldn’t be redundant buying the wood-spirits a round. Culture is a complicated thing.
Back when the first rumors of Apartment 3-G‘s cancellation came I wrote that King Features pays someone (Hy Eisman) to draw The Katzenjammer Kids, which “can only make sense as a point of pride”. It’s the longest-running syndicated comic strip, originally created in 1897 by Rudolph Dirks. In its day it had many imitators and, following a creators-rights dispute, a long-running duplicate strip The Captain And The Kids also created by Dirks. Its popularity has declined, certainly, what with Dutch humor taking some serious hits from the sinking of the General Slocum and the end of vaudeville and the World Wars and all that. But it was still there, logging in one new Sunday strip a week for an alleged fifty newspapers worldwide. A distribution of “about fifty newspapers” is what they claim about any strip that nobody has found in actual newspapers in living memory.
Eventually, Michael Tisserand with The Comics Journal did the ridiculous and contacted Hy Eisman. Eisman reported (says Degg of what Tisserand said) that the last Katzenjammer Kids comic he drew was in 2006. Nobody has been able to find any publicity or news attention given to the longest-running comic strip going into reruns. But Degg did discover that King Features mentioned right there in its 100th Anniversary supplement to the newspapers that the comic strip ended in 2006.
If I can work out, or find someone who has worked out, when exactly the new strips ended I’ll pass that on. (Comics Kingdom’s web site includes the strip going back to October of 1998 and there might be a hint in the copyright notices.) Or I’ll just wait and freeload on Degg’s work. Eisman is still, reportedly, drawing new Popeye strips for Sundays. But it does strike me that in 2008 the Sunday Popeye strips dropped a storyline in which Wimpy was running for Mayor without resolution. And his maybe running for Mayor was mentioned again in 2012. I haven’t caught an exact rerun yet, but now there’s reason to be wary.
Hi. OK, yes, it’s a week and a half after Thanksgiving and the only leftovers we have left are pies. Two kinds of pie. No, it’s really me. I swear. There’s good reason that we have pie left over that long: we didn’t eat so much pie as we figured. No, I swear, it’s me. Um.
No, I am not now the astronaut who draws Popeye. Well. Yeah, see, it turns out that drawing Popeye is a bad use of astronaut time. And astronaut work is a bad use of Popeye-drawer time, too. No, I swear to you, this really is me. Um. Well, no, I’m not an astronaut. They don’t need a lot of astronauts and I went through my 20s and 30s weighing like three times what an astronaut should. No, I don’t draw Popeye either. They don’t need him drawn so much these days either.
Well, there is good stuff, like, I’ve had pizza with the guy who plays Father Guido Sarducci. Who you don’t know, but trust me, in a couple years you’re going to be impressed by that. Oh, Dad knows who that is. He’ll think it’s neat. Anyway, uh. Hey, you know, it’s okay sometimes to eat only one bagel, instead of two or three, even though it’s so much harder to stop eating bagels. Also every movie or TV show about a circus is going to disappoint you because they’re all about how the circus can’t pay its mortgage. The people who make movies honestly believe that people fantasize about being part of a circus with money problems. Nobody knows what’s wrong with movie makers.
We’ll probably have the pie finished off in a day or two. No, none of them are minced meat pie.
Amusement parks are great places for cartoons. By definition an amusement park is the sort of strange, surreal place where anything might happen. And a cartoon is a way we represent the potential for reality, without losing the sense that something else might happen yet.
Popeye would go back to amusement parks several times. Surprisingly few times, I’d say, given the potential for Popeye to show off his superhuman prowess, and for the ability of an amusement park to provide any setting or prop useful. But for this week let me share Abusement Park. This was originally released to theaters the 25th of April, 1947, so it’s more nearly seasonally appropriate than King of the Mardis Gras, despite its other shortcomings.
The biggest shortcoming is that Jack Mercer doesn’t act in it. Mercer was the voice of Popeye most of the time from 1935 up to his death in 1984. But there were exceptions, such as a streak from 1945 to 1947 when he was, if I’m not mistaken, in the Army. In this cartoon Harry Foster Welch voices Popeye. Welch performed for most of 1945-to-1947. Abusement Park happens to be the last time he performed the character. His isn’t a bad voice, and he plays Popeye reasonably well, I think. It’s just hard escaping the most common performance.
The plot’s also a bit weaker than King of the Mardis Gras, I think because the earlier cartoon presents Popeye and Bluto trying to appeal to a whole audience, rather than attending just to Olive Oyl. There’s somehow a difference in trying to draw a crowd to trying to win a single woman’s attention. Also, and I admit this is a silly thing, but it has always bothered me, since childhood, that Popeye blows into a telephone and explodes a lighthouse. It’s not that I don’t think he could do it. It’s just such a jerk move. Sometimes the parts of the cartoons where Popeye shows off his strength forget that he’s also supposed to be nice.
As before the action ends on a roller coaster, an impressively gigantic one. While the action runs nicely wild — if you’re not satisfied with a battle fought in midair along a chain of elephants we just don’t have anything in common — Famous Studios doesn’t make use of the 3-D settings the Fleischer Studios did. I wonder if they even had the equipment anymore. There aren’t the wonderful and hypnotic movements along the course of the roller coaster track, where all those structural supports move in perspective. The roller coaster itself gets panning shots, or gets shunted off-camera fast enough. It doesn’t look bad, mind you. But it’s hard not to conclude the animation for this roller coaster sequence was a lot less trying than that for King of the Mardis Gras. The chipping away at budgets and animation and effort that would make 1950s Famous Studio cartoons such a chore weren’t bad yet, but they were coming.
I want to do some more amusement park/boardwalk shorts for July. I’m not aiming exclusively at cartoons, but they do offer some great examples of amusement park action. Probably that’s because they can actually be as wildly out of control as amusement park cartoons like to present themselves as being. (Of course, a cartoon is a thoroughly controlled medium. A real actor can ad-lib a facial expression or a bit of movement that even the best cartoon can’t. Freedom and control are weirdly entwined concepts.)
The Popeye cartoon King of the Mardi Gras was released the 27th of September, 1935. Really, what is the better time to watch a cartoon with Mardi Gras in the title and its catchy recurring song than six months after Mardi Gras? Or, for that matter, to watch a cartoon that says it’s happening at Coney Island than a month after the end of summer? I’m not sure they understood calendars back then.
Anyway. It’s a black-and-white Popeye cartoon, so you know already it’s almost certainly worth the watching. Wikipedia asserts this to be the first time Popeye’s voiced by Jack Mercer. Mercer would be the default voice for Popeye until 1980. There’d be a few substitutions, mostly while Mercer was in the Army. But whether Fleischer Studios, Famous Studios, King Features Syndicate, or Hanna-Barbera, Mercer would be the default voice. Even in this first appearance he’s got the voice down. The performance doesn’t have to change much to be right.
The plot’s got a nice natural build, with Bluto and Popeye taking turns out-doing one another’s stunts. It gives Bluto maybe the best line, too, the wail of everyone who’s tried to make a living as an artist on the Internet: “Don’t anyone want to see a man choked to death — free?”
Since the cartoon dates to 1935, the Fleischers make use of some live-action backgrounds, for a wonderful three-dimensional rendering of the amusement park. It’s gorgeous. And it’s almost a touchstone for roller coaster history, too.
At about the 40-second mark there’s a view of a roller coaster with a loop. That’s a curious choice. There were no loops on roller coasters in the 1930s. There were a handful of roller coasters that did loops made before about 1910, most of them with names like “Flip Flap Railway” or “Loop the Loop”. But these weren’t terribly successful. They didn’t carry many passengers per hour, and they weren’t very good rides, by accounts. These Loop the Loops were built before the innovation of “upstop wheels”. Those are the sets of wheels that clamp roller coaster cars to the top and bottom of the tracks. That keeps the car secured tightly to the track. Without those, though, a Flip Flap car would have to stick to the track by going so fast it couldn’t possibly drop off the loop. The result is the ride has to be not much except one small, tight, neck-breaking loop. So after a few seasons of this, the rides quietly disappeared before World War I.
In the 1970s new roller coasters, mostly using steel tracks, would make loops that could be more graceful, and less painful. As a result loops have almost become the default element of a roller coaster ride after the first drop. Sometimes before.
In the climax, Bluto runs off with Olive to a ride billed as a “Thrill Ride Scenic Railway”. “Scenic Railway” is indeed an old name for roller coasters. This normally connotes a ride that’s slower and less thrilling, but that takes one past tableaus of, well, scenery. There are few of those left, especially with scenery still intact. The only one the Roller Coaster Database lists as still operating is The Great Scenic Railway in Luna Park, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. There’s another at the recently-reopened Dreamland in Margate, Kent, United Kingdom, but it’s not yet opened. That’s a real pity, as that roller coaster dates to before automatic braking. A railroad brakeman has to ride with the car and slow it at the right moment. Imagine!
At about 7:26 there’s a fun sequence on the Scenic Railway where the track rolls a bit side to side, one side of the track going higher than the other. That’s a fun ride element known as “trick track”. It was popular in the 1920s, but faded out of use after that. The only roller coaster I’m aware of that still has any is the Shivering Timbers ride at Michigan’s Adventure, in Muskegon, Michigan. I don’t see why it’s gone extinct. It’s a fun and seemingly easy way to add excitement to what would otherwise be a straight block of track.
Just before that is a moment of the roller coaster going in a bow-tie loop. I don’t know if there were any early roller coaster that did that. There are modern examples of this, such as Magnum XL-200 at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio. I am curious whether the animators were building on stuff they might have ridden, or remembered hearing about, or were just imagining what might someday make a thrilling ride.
The Scenic Railway, besides its fun for an amusement park buff, is also an artistic triumph. The wooden roller coaster requires drawing a lot of track structure, in perspective, and moving quite rapidly. The Fleischers don’t skimp on that. I like to believe the work that’s gone into that makes the action funnier. But I admit I’m also amazed they didn’t build models of a railway and use pictures of that for the foreground railroad. That would have to have looked at least as impressive.
The mysterious drop in readers continues. I heard a rumor that WordPress’s statistics page has started failing to count views from mobile devices. I don’t know if that’s so, although it would explain why the number of readers here and my mathematics blog collapsed simultaneously, and why other statistics-watchers reported similar sudden drops. My mathematics blog has struggled back above the 1000-reader mark, I believe because of the Mathematics A To Z glossary project that got me posting something nearly every day. I can’t repeat that here, though, since I already post something every day, and posting two things in a day would just be madness.
Anyway, the number of page views in June was a mere 739, down from May’s 759 and April’s 808. The May and June numbers are nearly the same number of views per day, though, so perhaps I’ll see an uptick in July.
The number of unique visitors rose, though, for the third month: from 303 in April to 359 in May to 380 in June. That’s almost got me up to where I was in October, when I accidentally got noticed by fans of the Kinks. It’s the right direction anyway. This does mean the views per visitor has dropped for three months, from April’s 2.67 to May’s 2.11 and then to a mere 1.94 in June. But I can take mere, if there’s enough of it.
Might not be enough, though. There were 365 likes recorded for my pages in June. That’s down slightly from May’s 380 and more from April’s 402. It’s not awful, though. The number of comments was down. There were 108 in April, and 81 in May, and only 59 in June. I need to start asking more open-ended questions, I guess, and giving obviously wrong answers to inspire reader enragement.
WordPress tells me I start July with 585 viewers, and that I just crossed 18,000 total views on the 1st of the month. The 18,000 is a nice and orderly piece of data.
What were the most popular posts in June? Sayeth WordPresseth:
The United States as ever sent me the most viewers (546), with the usual Anglosphere nations following up: Canada (45), Australia (43), the United Kingdom (24), and New Zealand (13). India gave me five readers in June, too, up from two.
The single-reader countries were the European Union (?), Italy (see what I mean?), Mexico, Morocco, Russia, and South Africa. None of them are single-reader repeats.
Finally, I’ve read advice that it’s worth reminding people how to follow your blog, so that people who read it can be nagged into reading it again. This seems logical. Since I’m right now on the Twenty Fourteen theme here, there’s a green button on the upper left that reads “FOLLOW, PLEASE” which is good for that. On my machine the FOLLOW is split between two lines, because that somehow makes sense to the computer as a thing to do. Maybe it would be different if I changed to Twenty Fifteen.
The plan sketched out had Popeye bothered by the hypodermic needles Olive Oyl finds on the beach. So he buys the Glomar Explorer. With the help of Al Gore and H Ross Perot, he launches a space ark with two of every animal in the world. They journey to such worlds as Odorsphera, where the natives’ lack of noses causes the planet to smell terrible; a planet of spotted and striped people; a planet where everything is red; unisex gay world; and a planet with three moons. Finally they land back on an Earth ruined by total ecological collapse, with the few, disease-ridden human survivors resorting to cannibalism. Was the game as fun as this preliminary concept suggested?
Back in the 90s we didn’t think so. Usenet newsgroup rec.games.pinball judged this Bally/Midway table to be the worst thing humanity had accomplished in at least 875 years. It was so awful the group sentenced the game to the ignominy of having its name rendered without vowels. I believe they’re still calling it “P-p-y-” over there. And I’m not joking: nobody on the group questioned whether “y” served as a vowel in this context.
But I got to play the game this past week. I wanted to share my impressions of how the game lives up to its crazystuff potential. Sad to say, not much of the concept makes it into the game. What is there is just enough to baffle people who hadn’t read the nine-page document. For instance, there’s nothing in the game suggesting Popeye is going into space with any of the animals. Sure, the art on the side of the machine shows the Earth and Moon in the background of Popeye’s ark. But it also shows an eager young raccoon perched atop a giraffe who’s weighted down with a heavy, Funky Winkerbeanesque ennui. That could mean anything.
There is an environmental theme, with Bluto locking up animals that Popeye frees. And there’s these Bluto’s Cartel shots. In them Bluto does stuff like put bricks up across the video-display scoreboard. This the game explains as Bluto’s Earth Pavers. It’s always nice to see a shout-out to Usenet foundational group alt.pave.the.earth. But if Bluto is paving the Earth one cinder block at a time, he’s really not much of an environmental menace. Over a normal working life he might be able to pave, like, something the size of Rhode Island with cinder blocks. But that’s not so much of the Earth. Also he’s building walls, which are vertical. The surface of the earth is more horizontal, like a floor. If Popeye left him alone he’d probably screw up some wind farms and make a nasty shadow but that’s it.
Another Cartel challenge makes it look like you, as Popeye, and Bluto, as Bluto, are winching control wheels to drown the other in a tank of water. That’s a misunderstanding created by not paying attention when the challenge gets started. In fact you and Bluto are trying to drown one another in a tank of oil.
And that kind of describes the game. The playfield has a lot of fun art of animals lounging around or singing to themselves. There’s also tiger- and lion-men paying shuffleboard with turtles who are either really big or the lion- and tiger-men are really small. Lion- and tiger-men really aren’t endangered. Heck, they take over Pittsburgh one week every summer for Anthrocon. They don’t need Space Popeye. The game is full of mysterious asides like this. Like, I get why Wimpy would put a bottle of catsup in a champagne bucket, but why would Popeye put a wrench in his?
The video screen has some fun animations, must say. And the voice acting is not bad, considering that everybody born before 1980 learned how to do Popeye’s voice except the people hired to do Popeye’s voice in projects like this. And the game with everything working is not so bad, though I bet it broke all the time in annoying ways in actual arcades. And I could point out gameplay issues that make you hate everybody who takes pinball seriously, but why? The game probably deserves to have at least two of its vowels restored.
So, in conclusion, may I point to the side art again and ask: is that koala on the edge of Popeye’s space ark contemplating suicide? It’s a strange and disappointing game, but humanity has probably done worse things in the last 875 years. Well, 886 at this point.
Otherwise I’d like to bring people’s attention to Comics Kingdom, the web site for King Features Syndicate. They have a great selection of vintage comic strips, mostly soap-opera and story comics. And they’ve just added Elzie Segar’s Thimble Theatre, or as every person in the world knows it, Popeye. My love and I are a bit Popeye-mad and this is a chance to read him as he was introduced to the world, one strip a day.
The reruns are beginning from about three weeks before Popeye makes his debut. This does join the story — centered around the magical Whiffle Hen, Bernice — several months into its run. Some folks on Usenet group rec.arts.comics.strips have complained about that. I don’t think it’s a bad decision, though. Segar is good about explaining the story to those joining it in progress. And the strip pre-Popeye is competent but a bit dull; Popeye explodes across it and takes over by about his third sentence. Better to get to the good stuff sooner.
Still, the number of likes received over the month dropped again: from 443 in March, to 402 in April, to 380 in May. The number of comments similarly fell, from 113 in March to 108 in April to 81 in May. Perhaps I just didn’t have subjects that lent themselves to cross-chatter? Or that might reflect the end of the First Betty Boop Cartoons project, since listing all the previous firsts was counted by WordPress as a comment for reasons that make sense to WordPress’s statistics team.
If I’m reading it right stuff was basically fine except for the third week in May (the 18th through the 24th) when people just didn’t come around. I don’t see anything odd about that week’s selection of articles and cartoons and stuff, though.
Well, the month of June started at 17,231 page views, and 568 WordPress followers. Ten of them added in the month of May, so, hi there.
Now on to the popular business of listing stuff. The most popular articles in May were:
As for the popular listing of countries: the greatest number of readers in the reader-deprived month of May came from the United States (542), with runners-up the United Kingdom (33), the United Canada (28), and the United Australia (20). Sending me a single reader each were the United Belgium,
the United Bulgaria, the United Chile, the United Egypt, the United European Union, the United Finland, the United Hong Kong, the United India, the United Italy, the United Norway, the United Saudi Arabia, and the United United Arab Emirates. United Finland United is on a three-month streak of sending me a single reader. I don’t know how a reader can be coming from the United European Union considering there’s countries in it that are already listed.
Here’s some of the search terms I got. Good luck working out what they mean: