60s Popeye: Go see Sea Serpent, you’ll see it and serpent, I love it


Never mind the subject line. I was referencing this one Saturday Night Live bit from 1989 where they were really laying it on that Gene Shalit guy. They had him say, “Go see Sea of Love, you’ll see it and love it!” For some reason, my brain has decided this is one of the most important things I could ever remember.

Anyway I had good feelings going into this week’s cartoon, Sea Serpent. First, I’m a fan of sea serpents. I support the work they’ve been doing. Second, this is another Famous Studios production. The story’s by Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer. Director Seymor Kneitel. I could expect the cartoon to be competent in writing and animation. And how did those expectations pan out?

Olive Oyl’s a reporter, a promising start. I wanted to say it’s a new role for her, but I have the nagging feeling there was some Famous Studios cartoon with the same gimmick. I can’t place it, though. The gag of Olive Oyl’s typewriter barrel flying loose and having to be put back in place is standard, but I always like it. Popeye’s expositional lump that he never gets to see her since she took this job seems at odds with her anticipating her first assignment.

Editor Mr Byline — Jackson Beck, showing that he’s got range — sends her to Loch Ness on rumors there’s a Monster there. This reminds us that newspapers used to have travel budgets for their staff. Loch Ness seems like a far place to send a new reporter, especially on rumors. Maybe it’s not the Loch Ness in Scotland, though. Could be it’s a local lake that happens to share the name. This would be consistent with Brutus not affecting any kind of accent, and charging $10 an hour and $5 per picture for visitors.

Popeye protests he’s never seen a sea serpent, and you know, I think that’s right. He’s seen Jeeps, Goons, whiffle hens, and The Rokh, but a sea serpent? … Oh, wait, he has encountered a sea serpent too. Well, the serpent wasn’t the main menace. Maybe it slipped Popeye’s mind. Anyway Popeye agrees to take Olive Oyl to Loch Ness. If this is the one in Scotland, then he managed a long sailing expedition without getting shipwrecked, so his day’s looking up.

Brutus is tour guide, answering my notes’ question about why he wasn’t the newspaper editor. He’s got a nice fake Loch Ness Monster but business is awful, and he sees in Olive Oyl one really good mark. She ought to be counted as a loss leader, good press bringing in good business. But maybe Brutus has been at this a while and knows the attraction is tapped out.

Olive Oyl buys everything Brutus presents. Popeye uses his Columbo-like powers to tell right away who the bad guy is. Granted, if he just guesses “It’s Brutus” he’s going to be right … I think all the time? For the King Features cartoons anyway. But Popeye’s buying none of it, so Brutus kicks him into … the cave where he left the fake Monster foot. Olive Oyl won’t believe Popeye’s discovery and insists he made it, in seconds, without tools or raw materials. In fairness to Olive Oyl, the rules about what a character can and can’t do with a few seconds of work are vague. Especially when it could be Popeye’s eaten his spinach.

Brutus has more evidence: a sea serpent egg. This turns out to be a rock, which is not a pun here. Popeye learns that it’s a rock by Brutus dropping it on his head. This ruins a perfectly good rock. Can’t be easy finding egg-shaped rocks that size. Brutus must be readying to burn the Loch down for the insurance money.

Olive Oyl scolding Popeye, who's smugly holding his hand up to a green door. The green door is the chest panel of a Godzilla-like sea monster. There's a control panel of circles and an analog meter hanging in the center of the black void within the sea monster.
Olive Oyl is having absolutely none of Popeye’s claim that with vacuum tubes you get a warmer, better-rounded analog sea-monster roar.

Brutus has got a great centerpiece, though. An actual remote-control robot sea serpent. Or, well, off-brand Godzilla anyway. This is a heck of an up-front expense for his Loch Ness Monster tour thing. I too am surprised Loch-zilla is not drawing crowds. As it rises from the waters, Popeye races in so fast he doesn’t have time to have his eyes colored white. (Look at about 10:16, a rare, and trivial, animation error for Famous Studios.) Popeye sees the remote control, then swims out to take local control of Loch-zilla. With the creature storming out of control, Brutus out-runs Olive Oyl out of there, and Popeye laughs at all this.

Popeye explains how all this was done. This makes Olive Oyl angry, because she’s a person and that’s how people work. Popeye shrugs it off, saying he came for the laughs and this was funny! The end.

The conclusion’s a little weird. Never mind that Popeye never eats spinach, or comes near it. The end feels unresolved. After confident dismissing of a sea serpent as a possibility, and debunking Brutus’s hoax, it feels like comic logic requires an actual sea serpent. Or at least Olive Oyl getting some final line in. I wonder if they ran out of time for that.

Besides the unfinished resolution, this is about what I expect from a Famous Studios-made cartoon of the era. The story’s quite sensible, if a bit plodding. The animation’s solid, never doing anything great but never being bad. It has a couple of nice small touches, including the camera looking over characters’ shoulders. I’m always impressed when this era of cartoons lines up the characters in anything besides a plane parallel to the screen.

Really it’s all satisfactory. I would like more sea serpent, is all.

Popeye’s Island Adventures battles a kraken but only has two minutes for it


I continue not to know anything about the production of these Popeye’s Island Adventure cartoons. There’s stuff we can infer, but only about the tools used to make them. Who’s writing them, who’s drawing them, who’s designing the figures for the computers to animate? In what order they’re being finished? I assume roughly in the order they’re released, although I’d be surprised if a cartoon were never bumped ahead or back a week for the reasons.

Well, here’s the seventh of the new run of cartoons. It’s titled A Kraken Good Race, and the title does promise both kraken and race.

The story’s stronger this week. The cartoon’s the best, I think, since Scramble For The Egg. Eugene sets Popeye and Bluto on a boat race; Bluto tries to cheat, and it doesn’t work. Solid, straightforward idea that can be completed in two minutes and be coherent.

The action’s efficiently done. It leaves space for personality, though. The scene starts with Olive Oyl carving a wood sculpture of Eugene. Why? Just to do it, and that’s enough. Eugene encourages Popeye and Bluto to race to an island mostly to get them out of his hair for a while. It’s curious to see Eugene acting as the grown-up here, or at least the peacemaker. But it doesn’t feel out of place, at least to me. Bluto’s entrance capsizes Eugene’s pool ring; that’s enough reason for Eugene to want to quiet things down.

There’s a good bit of escalation in Bluto’s attempts at cheating. He tries drilling into Popeye’s boat; Olive Oyl uses the hole in the anchor to beat that. Bluto tries harpooning Popeye’s boat; Popeye shifts his own speed up from “some kind of cat I guess” to “spinach” and rips the muzzle off Bluto’s own gun. (I don’t quarrel with the slow speed being ‘tortoise’ and the fastest speed being ‘spinach’, but I would like the middle speed to either be ‘hare’, matching tortoise, or more clearly a cheetah or similar fast cat. I’m not sure what is meant.) Then Bluto deploys the kraken, although all we ever see is one giant tentacle. Still, good third attempt there.

Popeye pops open a can, and we get the new record for spinach-induced body horror this series as his arm turns into a kraken-y tentacle. I like that, as fun and appropriate. I can imagine people not finding this quite so merry. Popeye doesn’t fight the kraken so much as arm-wrestle it. I like this, for being silly but reasonable. I’m not reading the YouTube comments to see how many people are upset there wasn’t more punching. The kraken’s left a hole in the boat, but Olive plugs it up with the muzzle of Bluto’s harpoon gun. That’s a moment that impressed me. It gives the story that little bit extra structure, and a bit more strength.

Popeye uses his kraken-tentacle arm to propel the boat to the island. This is a great success, and builds up a tidal wave to come crashing down on the island and Eugene. And there’s another bit of good story structure: Eugene proposed this race because he’s chagrinned at getting soaked by Bluto. He ends the cartoon chagrinned at getting soaked by Popeye. It’s a good beat to close on.

My impression has been that these cartoons have been getting better. I’m curious whether this follows from the creators getting more experienced at what does and doesn’t work. Or whether there’s several writing teams and one of them better fits my tastes. Well, I like the overall direction this is going. Is there any other important measure?


And for however long I keep watching Popeye’s Island Adventures, the reviews should be here.

How To Sketch A Thing


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.

Realistic sketch of anything. Sorry, ArtRage wanted to round off all my lines.
Realistic sketch of anything. Sorry, ArtRage wanted to round off all my lines.

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.

Cartoony sketch of anything. I forgot to put anything across the egg head.
Cartoony sketch of anything. I forgot to put anything across the egg head.

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.

Sea serpent with Popeye arms and warp nacelles. He's happy, in his way.
Sea serpent with Popeye arms and warp nacelles. He’s happy, in his way.

Statistics Saturday: What The Full Moon Reveals About You


Source: The C E Hooper Radio Survey of the 2nd of June, 1939.

Werewolf, werebea, weredragon, werecat, weremeerkat, were-oh-were-has-my-little-dog-gone,were-gym-teacher,were-Dave,were-off-to-see-the-wizard,were-robot.
I’m as alarmed as the rest of you by how many people, even ones pure in heart who say their prayers by night, may become someone who can’t distinguish homonyms when the autumn moon is bright. Still, I’m refreshed that we don’t see significant numbers of were-abstract-concepts, like someone who turns out to be a were-supererogatory-behavior or a were-purple or a were-number or something. You’d think you’d see more of that just from how many abstract concepts there are. The only one I can think of even in fiction is Romeo, who spent so much time as a were-4 named “Art”.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile index rose sharply as everyone took the what-the-full-moon-reveals-about-you test and more people came out “were-dragon” than even they had secretly hoped. Even Mopey Pete who figured he couldn’t hope to do better than were-hyena and would have been okay with that came out were-sea-serpent and yes, that ranks below were-dragon but it’s still pretty cool, especially if it comes with a bay or major lake to were- in.

129

Betty Boop’s Life Guard


Previously listed as a first Betty Boop:


Each of the last several weeks I’ve said it was the last of the Betty Boop firsts. I’ve been wrong each time. I thought of another and this time I think it’s the last of the firsts, and why would I be wrong yet another week in a row?

Betty Boop’s Life Guard came out the 13th of July, 1934. This makes it the first of her cartoons released after the creation of the Production Code Administration, the enforcers of the Hays Code. Their rules about suitable public entertainment would tamp down Hollywood’s most risque elements. And Betty Boop would be tamed.

This cartoon doesn’t show much harm its post-Code release. Betty Boop isn’t introduced with her “Made of pen and ink/ She can win you with a wink” refrain. Many commentators say that, and her winking and hip-shaking, were too suggestive for the Hays Code. I haven’t seen a source for that.

But the plot’s appealing. The opening shot, of the seashore and waves removing and putting back the beach crowd, is one the studio would reuse into the 1950s. They were right to; it’s a good gag. Lifeguard Fearless Freddy warns Betty about going out too far in the ocean. She’s confident because she has her inflatable rubber horsey. I’m amazed to learn they had inflatable rubber horseys in 1934. They barely had men going shirtless at the beach back then.

Still, as foreshadowed, Betty’s inflatable rubber horsey deflates, and she goes underwater. This presents a nice sequence of undersea jokes featuring Betty as a mermaid. Everyone goes about singing “Where’s Freddy?”, up to the point that Betty gets chased by a sea serpent. The sea serpent reminds me of the Jabberwocky from Betty In Blunderland, Betty Boop’s Alice In Wonderland/Through The Looking-Glass cartoon released in April of 1934. For that matter, the plot is pretty much that of Betty In Blunderland, a fantasy sequence of Betty in a surreal and wondrous land interrupted by a monster come to grab her away. Betty In Blunderland is a great cartoon, worth attention on its own. I’m not surprised the Fleischers would remake it just three months later. It seems a little odd that Betty and everyone else are so hot for this Freddy fellow, but wondering where he is at least gives something for the musical number to be about.

So here’s a question: how much did the enforced Hays Code affect the cartoon? The Production Code Administration was only established the 13th of June, 1934, too late for major changes in a cartoon getting released a month later. But the newly enforced code wasn’t a surprise dropped onto Hollywood from nowhere in the middle of June either. The very similar Betty In Blunderland would probably have passed without major changes. That Betty Boop was famous for risque jokes didn’t mean that was all she could do.

In Life Guard there’s a little bit of business about 5:30 into the picture with a Jewish rag-collector fish. It seems to me like it should have run afoul of the Code’s prohibition of “willful offense to any nation, race or creed”. But perhaps it like too many ethnic jokes was perceived as just playful. Goodness knows blackface jokes would take decades to finally register as objectionable.

Betty Boop’s cartoons generally got less entertaining after 1934. It’s easy to blame the Hays Code, although this entry shows that perfectly sound Betty Boop episodes could be made under its dictates.