60s Popeye: Skinned Divers, not a repeat, but does feature a mermaid and a Michigan tourist trap


This is a Jack Kinney cartoon — produced by him and story by him. The animation director is our friend Rudy Larriva again, but otherwise, it’s Jack Kinney’s vision here. Let’s look back at 1960’s Skinned Divers.

There are things I’d like to know about the 60s King Features run of cartoons. One of them is where story ideas came from. Like, did someone at King Features toss out a couple hundred possible story points? There were a couple cartoons based on stories from the comic strip. Maybe some came from the comic book. One was a remake of a Woody Woodpecker cartoon. And here? It’s another skin-diving cartoon.

I looked forward to comparing how Jack Kinney’s skin diving cartoon to Buddy Brutus. That short got reviewed in these pages just a couple weeks ago. Turns outBuddy Brutus was also a Jack Kinney cartoon. So I guess in about 1959 Jack Kinney got into skin-diving and wanted everybody to know. The early joke about how all you need to skin dive is this long list of equipment feels like a new-hobbyist’s joke. We again use the convention that there’s no reason Popeye or Brutus need to come up for air.

As before, Popeye and Brutus come to the same spot to dive. They’re both looking at the complementary treasure-map X. This time they don’t team up. Popeye goes and gets his foot caught in a clam’s mouth. This is exactly the peril promised by Cheboygan, Michigan’s famous 500-Pound Man-Killing Clam. Sea Shell City, with its theoretically killer clam, opened in 1957 and I’m curious whether someone at Jack Kinney Studios knew of the thing. I haven’t had the pleasure, but my love has, and we have a fridge magnet for the site.

In an underwater scene Popeye pulls his foot, trying to free his swim fin from the closed jaw of a large clam. He does not notice an octopus's tentacle reaching from behind him.
The 500-pound clam closing on your feet and keeping you pinned until your air runs out is the hypothetical mechanism by which it would kill you so, good job on this cartoon for depicting the danger. To the best of my knowledge there are no warnings about octopuses in Cheboygan, Michigan. But maybe when it’s safe to go to tourist traps again I’ll be able to report back.

Popeye’s saved from the man-killing clam by an octopus whom he figures likes him. They team up, which will be important. Popeye gets around to eating sea spinach, sure. But it’s the octopus that does more of the fighting. Popeye discovers a treasure, is knocked out by Brutus’s anchor, and is woken — with the splash from a bucket of water — by the mermaid version of Olive Oyl. Getting wet underwater is another joke Kinney relied on in Buddy Brutus. I agree that it’s a good gag. We get to the climactic Popeye-versus-Brutus fight, although the octopus takes on a lot more of the fighting duties. It’s rare to see Popeye with useful allies.

I like this cartoon, even though Popeye ends up the spectator at the end. It’s the octopus who throws Brutus out of the cartoon. It hasn’t got Buddy Brutus’s weirdness, the attitude that decided Atlantis should be an Old West town populated by octopuses. In comparison everything here is motivated beside Olive Oyl having a mermaid twin. And, hey, 500-pound man-killing clam, how can that be anything but exciting?

The Big-ish Idea


We all know about the largest things. They’re those structures extending through the cosmos, made of trillions of super-galaxies, themselves made of trillions of galaxies, themselves made of so many stars that it all seems vaguely sinister. Try not to think about it. A super-galaxy is a pretty big thing, but we have almost no responsibility for it. “Hey, super-galaxy, call if you need help,” we might say to it, trusting that it’ll never really call. We just want credit for being nice enough to offer.

But what about the generally-largest-thing? That is, not the biggest thing, but the biggest thing you could expect to have to deal with? The question is inspired by many needs. For example, what’s the largest amount of wrapping paper we might need at any time? Or if we needed to get something through a door, how big should that door be? And there’s definitely thousands of other problems that could be solved if we had a generally-largest-thing to run experiments on. “Is this,” for example, “enough thing to deal with the generally-largest-thing?” If it turns out not to be enough, we can get more of the thing. Or we can decide we don’t need to do the thing at all. It’s important that we have a process for figuring out what to do with this kind of thing.

Oh, I know what skeptics will say. “Even if you have a generally-largest-thing,” they’ll start, “by wrapping it, you’ve made an even generally-largerest-thing. And then you have to deal with that!” The skeptics really think they’ve got me on this one. Not so. Why, for example, would you take a generally-largest-thing that you’ve already wrapped and go and wrap it again? The premise makes no sense. I’m not going to waste my time addressing it. And I won’t even hear about wrapping up a generally-largest-thing and then trying to fit it through the door. Obviously you would only wrap it once it was set in place. You’d tear the wrapping paper trying to move it afterwards.

And hey, I thought of some more applications. Grant me that we’ve got a generally-largest-thing. Then we’d pretty quickly know just how much paper it took to wrap the generally-largest-thing. Still with me? If not, please go back to the start of this paragraph. I’ll wait. Okay, so. If we had the paper to wrap up this generally-largest-thing, then we’d have a solution to the problem of wrapping smaller things. We would make the smaller things larger until they fit the size of wrapping we had already.

It would also offer great prospects for roadside tourist attractions. The roadside tourist attraction industry has been hurting lately, since nobody has gone out driving just for the fun of it since 2003. It’s all been commuting, shopping trips, and people trying to finish listening to their podcasts since then. Going nowhere particular, and stopping because you figure you could take a picture of a thing? It’d be terrible if we lost that entirely. Having an exact idea of the generally-largest-thing would let us set the thing up, for photographs. And set up a backdrop picture of the thing, for pictures when the crowds around the original thing are too big. Maybe a counter where they sell those strange candies you don’t ever see in real stores. It’d be great.

It just remains to say what the generally-largest-thing is. I want to say that it’s a parallelepiped. This is because I trained as a mathematician, and it’s so much fun to say. The rhombohedron just can’t compare. But I do seriously propose that it’s a roughly rectangular-box-shaped thing, maybe five feet front to back, six feet side to side, and about eight feet tall. And there’s maybe a bit of a blobby part on one side. It looks like you could tamp it down, but if you try it just ends up looking worse somehow. Better to let it be. I would be interested to hear about the results of others’ research.

What’s Going On In Rex Morgan, M.D.? Choking and Corporate Intrigue, March – May 2018.


Hey, is it sometime near the end of May or any of June 2018? If it is, great. If it’s sometime around, oh, August 2018 or later you might want to look here instead. If I’ve written a more recent update about what’s happening in Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D., it should be there.

Rex Morgan, M.D.

4 March – 27 May 2018.

I last checked in with Team Morgan a couple weeks into the start of their new storyline. It was about the Morgans’ babysitter Kelly and her boyfriend Niki. They noticed their friend Justin had taken up this habit of choking every time he tried to eat or drink anything. Justin took this nonchalantly. His friends worried that, y’know, at some point he’s got to eat, right?

Title panel, T-Rex Morgan, M.D. Sarah draws 'Glenwood - One Million Years BC'. Dinosaur versions of her parents come in, roaring 'GRONK' and 'GRAAAAAWK' and such. This is caption-translated. T-Rex: 'Hey, Punkin. We're getting teh boys to bed, Sarah. Can you get your jammies on?' Sarah: 'Sure, Dad.' T-Rex: 'When they're asleep, I'll come back and we can read a chapter of our Oz book, okay?' Sarah: 'Sounds good!' T-Sarah: 'And don't forget to brush your teeth before bedtime.' Sarah: 'Of course, Mom.' T-Sarah: 'We'll be back in a bit.' Sarah: 'Life's a whole lot more fun when you pretend your parents are dinosaurs!'
Terry Beatty’s T-Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 1st of April, 2018. Really, the best April Fool’s prank I saw on the comics page. I’m glad Beatty indulged in a flight of fantasy like this. It’s always fun when a cartoonist stretches artistically. And any excuse to put dinosaurs in one of the story strips is a correctly made excuse.

Maybe not; he’s cool with seeing how this plays out. Kelly asks Rex Morgan, M.D., what to do about this. Rex can’t diagnose anything, of course; you need someone who does medicine for that. But he does suggest trying small bites of peanut butter and honey sandwiches until Justin can get seen by a doctor. Justin can eat the peanut butter and honey, solving one immediate problem. But he’ll need a doctor’s note to bring peanut butter in to eat at school. The school participates in the “Let’s Have Angry Old People In The Comments Section Tell Us How Food Allergies Are A Made-Up Thing” program. He finally gives in to peer pressure, and lets Kelly make an appointment with the Morgans. If there’s a promise of no shots and not getting his knee hit with that little hammer. Also if the Morgans make that promise. “Oh never fear,” chuckles June, “we don’t use the little hammer anymore.”

So it turns out Justin has a real actual medical condition that really actually occurs in the real world. It’s called achalasia, in which the muscles of the esophagus don’t work right. It’ll take surgery to treat, so Rex Morgan calls in a friend who practices medicine for it. In non-snarky fairness, I would expect the procedure — a “Heller myotomy” — to be something you get a specialist for. And, come early April, we get some word about why Justin was so weird about seeing a doctor. His mother’s terrified of hospitals. This follows the family story of how her great-grandfather died on the operating table in 1923. This seems ridiculous to me, but ridiculous in a way that people actually are. So I’m cool with it. She’s cool with it too, once Justin gets a haircut and, I trust, promises to wear clean underwear for if he dies.

Kelly: 'We're going to see Justin after his surgery today, right?' Niki: 'Yeah. If we're lucky he'll still be groggy and we can catch him on camera saying some stupid stuff.' Kelly: 'You are SUCH a good friend to him, Niki.' Kelly: 'Hey, what are friends for?' [ The day of Justin's Surgery. ] In the hospital room. Rex: 'Are you ready for this, Justin?' Justin: 'As I'll ever be, I guess.' Rex: 'All the tests confirmed my initial diagnosis of achalasia --- and we have the TOP specialist in the country set to do the surgery.' Justin: 'Sounds good.' Justin's Mom: 'I'm still so worried about my little boy.' Rex: 'I understand a parent being nervous about their child having an operation, but there's really nothing to worry about here. The success rate for this surgery is very high, and Justin is otherwise healthy as a horse. He'll be just fine.' Justin's Mom: 'I know, but *still*.' Justin's Dad: 'My Son, the Horse. Get through this Justin, and we'll buy you a big bag of oats.' Justin: 'You crack me up, pop.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 8th of April, 2018. So, like, “the top” specialist in treating acalasia has to be a specific person, right? Do they know they were referenced, albeit anonymously, in Rex Morgan, M.D.? Did Beatty give her a heads-up or was it just left as a surprise? And wouldn’t it be a kick if somehow the top specialist in Heller Myotomies didn’t read Rex Morgan, M.D. somehow and had to have this pointed out to her by a friend?

And as for Justin, who did not die, he would go on to disappoint his friends, who hoped he would do something dopey while recovering from anaesthesia. No; he simply survived a weird medical problem without incident. End story, the 15th of April.

The 16th began the next focus, about the marriage of Buck and Mindy. They’re having it in Las Vegas. They sent invitations to the other player-characters in the comic. “Horrible” Hank Harwood, rediscovered 50s-horror-comics artist, and his son, rent an RV to road trip to it. They’re hoping to make a grand tour of the country. They’ll stop at all the great roadside attractions and see whether Zippy the Pinhead is talking to any of them about Republicans or meat.

(By the way, this week my love and I were at meals reading collections of Zippy the Pinhead comics from completely different decades. And reading individual strips out loud to each other. We’re delighted by early examples of later Bill Griffith obsessions and jokes that could run in normal comics too. There are many more accessible Zippy the Pinhead strips than the comic’s reputation suggests.)

Interwoven with Buck-and-Mindy’s wedding and Hank-and-Hank’s road trip is a less giddy story. Milton Avery, multimillionaire industrialist, died, the same day that his wife Heather Avery gave birth. Heather Avery flies back to Glenwood, where the strip’s set, partly to console herself with the company of the Morgans. Partly to work out how the expected succession crisis at Avery International plays out. This promises great excitement. The last time the succession of Avery International was addressed was when Woody Wilson wrote the strip. Back then, Heather Avery got Rex Morgan to lie. Morgan claimed Milton Avery was mentally competent and in full possession of his faculties and all. So there’s good reason for the Board of Directors to be up for a good rousing fight.

[ The Harwoods plan for their Las Vegas trip. ] Hank Jr: 'Hey, Pop. Come look at these options for renting a camper. And I need to know how long before Buck's wedding you want to leave on the trip.' Hank Sr: 'Long enough to see the sights along the way and get lost a few times!' [ At the Avery Mansion in Glenwood. ] Michelle: 'You've heard from Heather, Jordan?' Jordan: 'Yeah. Says she's making the trip back as soon as she and the baby get the okay to travel.' Michelle: 'Do you have any idea what Milton's passing will mean to Avery International or your employment here?' Jordan: 'And my free access to this fantastic house?' Michelle: 'Yeah, that too.' Jordan: 'Not a clue, Michelle. I figure I'd better be prepared for anything.' Michelle: 'I had a feeling this was too good to last.' Jordan: 'Wasn't ever meant to be permanent. I figure we're lucky to get whatever time we have here.' Michelle: 'Then let's make the most of it, shall we?' Jordan: 'Y'know, I like how you think.'
Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. for the 6th of May, 2018. I didn’t find space in the main article to write about the housesitters for Heather and Milton Avery, but this strip pretty well explains their plot thread. And is a decent recap of what Milton Avery’s death implies for the storylines too, so, all the better.

Heather’s opening salvo is to explain how she’s thrilled with the way they’ve been running the company. And she doesn’t see any reason anything needs to change. Corporate/Economic historian Robert Sobel in his 1972 The Age of Giant Corporations: A Microeconomic History of American Business identified this as the ol’ “Not the face! Don’t punch me in the face!” boardroom maneuver. But she also explains how if they screw this up she’ll feed them to a June-Morgansaurus. Should be exciting.

While we wait to see how that plays out might you consider reading up on mathematically-themed comic strips? I’ve got a bunch on my other blog that you might like to hear about. This week I get to show off the Maclaurin series for the cosine of an angle measured in radians! You’ll understand why that’s a thing by the end of the article.

Next Week!

Oh, you know how much I’m annoyed with Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp right now? Just wait a week and you’re going to see.

Stuff In Town That I Won’t See


Last week around these parts I mentioned this huge lump of coal. It was dropped off a train in Lansing over a century ago. It was around in 1976 to take school bus tour groups to. Now it isn’t there. As far as I can tell. I want to give a full report about the spot where it’s supposed to be, so I can say what’s there now. Maybe the coal was gone but it had been replaced with a heaping pile of bauxite, for example, or perhaps potash. Maybe jute or some naval supplies. But I didn’t have the chance to get over there. Well, I got in the area, since it’s near the pet store. But I had to go over to the pet store under emergency circumstances. They didn’t allow for a side trip to go looking for deposits of cinnabar or whatever. But I looked at the place on Google Maps Streetview and I didn’t see anything. I think.

But lumps of missing coal aren’t all the interesting stuff described in Helen E Grainger’s 1976 book Pictorial Lansing: Great City On The Grand. I think there’s supposed to be a colon there. The cover isn’t quite clear. I’m sure it’s not Pictorial Lansing Great City On The Grand That Changed The World. The book’s got, for example, a picture of Ransom Olds’s mansion. He’s the person who invented the Oldsmobile. Just like you might guess if you were bluffing your way through the question “Who invented the Oldsmobile?” and you rejected “Biddle Jehoshaphat Mobile” for no good reason. The Olds mansion was torn down in 1966 to make way for an Interstate, which is a wee bit on-the-nose, people. The mansion had an Aeolian organ that was “sold and delivered to Oregon”. So if anyone in Oregon’s seen an Aeolian organ and doesn’t know where it’s come from, here’s a lead.

Then there’s the Lions Den. It’s also known as “The Lawrence Mansion”, “Squire Haven’s 1861 House”, and “Brauer’s 1861 House”. It is “now, in 1976, the oldest building in Michigan that has a restaurant in it”. Somehow the phrasing of that sentence makes me doubt my conceptual model of restaurants. It shouldn’t. There’s nothing revolutionary about the idea of a restaurant that doesn’t take up a whole building. Or a building that doesn’t have a restaurant. The phrasing just fills me with doubts. I don’t know. Anyway, a neat feature of the 1861 Lawrence Brauer Squire Haven 1861 Mansion House is a glass on top. The book says “the day [construction workers] finished it, all the working crew had a drink from a wine glass and then one of the workers climbed up and put this little wine glass upside down on top of the spire that goes up in the sky from the cupola”. The next page has a picture of the glass on the cupola on the spire on the building on whatnot.

It’s also gone. My love did some research and found that the glass was replaced at least once. And it was painted over and paint-welded to the spire at least once. And sometime last decade the building got declared architecturally unsound. It was down before it could slide downriver and crash into an Interstate. They were planning to build condos there, if I have it right, and then noticed it was 2008 so they decided to instead not build condos.

Now for something that is still there. I know it is because I keep seeing it along Michigan Avenue. But never up close because it’s on the median and there’s not anywhere nearby enough to park without looking weird. I’m glad the book tells me what it is so I don’t have to go experience it myself. It’s a blurry copper-I-guess plaque on a stone that doesn’t look at all like coal and if the book is right it reads:

This block of concrete represents the efforts of Lansing’s pioneer residents in the laying of one of the first and longest stretches of concrete pavement in the world, between Lansing and East Lansing.

That’s like four miles, downtown-to-downtown. Grainger didn’t know when the plaque was put up. The Highway Commissioner named took office in 1933, so, probably it wasn’t 1931, but otherwise who knows? Can we rule out 1954 in its entirety? But that’s all right, because Grainger didn’t know when the concrete pavement was put down either. She guessed not later than 1914. So I want you to appreciate all this. It’s a plaque I technically speaking have not read, put up sometime we do not know, commemorating an event that happened at some time we do not know. I’m not saying this is the funniest thing in the world. I’m saying this is one of the more giggle-worthy things I’ve run across in easily twenty-two days.

So in all, I would like to say that here in mid-Michigan, there are things, or used to be, and that isn’t so bad an arrangement.

Trending, In Mid-Michigan


OK, so, what’s worse than seeing any city’s name trending on Twitter? Seeing your city’s name trending on Twitter. So, thank you, Twitter, for putting ‘Lansing’ right there as the third item under Trends for most of the last week.

Don’t worry. There’s, as of my writing this, nothing to worry about going on in Lansing. This has to be them Helpfully Localizing my content experience. It’s all been about normal recently. There was a power outage downtown last Friday during lunchtime and that’s been the big news. Sure, that’s the sort of thing that’s fun to go through, especially since it hit the capitol and the state office buildings and stuff. Power failures are the snow days that office workers get. So there’s the understandable thrill of, like, seeing State Supreme Court justices just wandering down Washington Square Street with nothing particular to do.

But is that thrilling enough to last a week? So a State Supreme Court justice figures he might as well head to the downtown peanut roastery. That’s not all that exceptional. Who doesn’t like peanut roasteries? Even the people deathly allergic can appreciate the carpet of expectant squirrels staring at customers who don’t know whether to follow the signs warning DO NOT FEED SQUIRRELS or whether there’s no way they’re getting out alive without dropping at least a four-ounce bag of cashews and running. We would go on about that for a while, sure, but a week? Not worth it.

And there’s one of the smallest measurable bits of excitement coming out of East Lansing. There’s been a ball python on the loose since the weekend. Channel 6’s article about calls it a “runaway” snake, which suggests the lede’s writer does not fully understand snakes. But it’s not an aggressive species, and it’s not venomous. It would eat small animals, but it’s way far away from the peanut roastery, so even the squirrels don’t get bothered by it. So while that’s kind of interesting again there’s no way this is trend-worthy.

One of the top items under ‘Lansing’ was remembering the birth of actor Robert Lansing, 1928 – 1994. Remember him? (Correct answer: no. I’m sorry but there is a Ray Davies song about this.) He was in the original Star Trek. In this backdoor-pilot episode he played alien-trained super-duper-secret-agent Gary Seven, the United States adaptation of the Third Doctor Who. Terri Garr played his human female companion. And if you want to protest that the episode (“Assignment: Earth”) was made and aired in 1968 (1968), years (2) before the Actual Third Doctor was even cast (1970), then let me remind you, time traveller. Sheesh.

And it isn’t like Lansing doesn’t have some stuff worthy of quirky Internet fame. I was reading Helen E Grainer’s Pictorial Lansing, which in 1976 put in book form the school field trip tours she gave kids. It mentions:

One of the early trains to Lansing brought a piece of coal as big as the front seat of a car. It is still sitting by the train tracks on Grand River Avenue east of Cedar Street.

I submit that even in this jaded age, a piece of coal as big as the front seat of a car, and that’s been sitting on the street for a century, is worth looking at. They have a picture of it, sitting in front of the train tracks and some house. But I’ve been to that spot. As best I can figure there’s no huge lump of coal there. The house is gone too. So Lansing apparently had a right big lump of coal that sat on the street corner for a century, and then someone went and took it. Also someone took the house. Taking a house is normal, although good luck explaining to a six-year-old why anyone thinks that’s normal. Taking a huge lump of coal? That’s noteworthy and is anyone tweeting about that? That’s getting freaky. You know, it would be a scandal if a State Supreme Court justice had pocketed both house and coal under cover of the traffic signals all being out.

Anyway. Twitter, stop letting place names trend. It’s not good for any of us. With thanks, trusting, yrs very truly, pls also vide letter of last week, etc, me.

The Bright Idea


It was while riding on the highway that I saw a huge incandescent bulb, maybe fourteen feet tall, sitting in the loading docks behind some big generic brick-faced structure. Why? It makes sense to have a sculpture of a giant incandescent bulb, sure, at least in the right contexts, such as demonstrating the technological breakthroughs that have made it possible to produce sculptures of giant incandescent bulbs. But then why hide this light under the bushel of the loading docks? And why hide it behind one of those big generic boring buildings that blossom in the outer half of Metropolitan Statistical Areas along the major highways? Why not put it out front, outside a strip mall or discount department store, where it’ll inspire people to buy light bulbs? What mad impulse drove someone to go to all the bother of getting a giant incandescent bulb statue — and from where, come to think of it — and then not put it to its best advantage?

Well, we got a little closer and it turns out it was just a dirty satellite dish sitting behind the main Post Office. I could go on to ask questions about this, but they’re much less interesting ones and my heart just isn’t in it. Sorry.