Turner Classic Movies (United States feed) has scheduled the 1931 movie Skippy for this Wednesday, the 27th of February. It’s set for 10:15 pm Eastern and Pacific time. I’ve mentioned the movie before but, what the heck. There’s people reading this who missed earlier mentions.
The movie is based on Percy Crosby’s comic strip Skippy. It’s a great comic strip. It’s an influential one, too. It’s one of the comics that Charles Schulz had in mind when making Peanuts. And, with considerable help from Schulz, it’s influenced incredibly many comics. Crosby supposed that kids had feelings and desires and interests that they took seriously, and that good stories would come from taking them seriously. Every comic strip that follows the child’s point of view owes something to it.
It’s not only influential, though. It’s good. I mean, a lot of early comic strips are good, but you have to work a bit to understand them. Like, I enjoy George Herriman’s Krazy Kat, but if take any given day’s strip and ask me what the joke is I’ll often be in trouble. Not Skippy, though. Crosby’s sensibility is close enough to the modern one. There are exceptions, but you can look at the comic and understand what’s supposed to be funny. Clean up the dialogue and redraw it for modern comic strip art sizes and you could run it on a modern newspaper page.
The movie, starring Jackie Cooper, came out in 1931, when the comic was a few years old. It’s got to be among the first full-length movies based on comic strips ever, really. Percy Crosby gets a writing credit, and I believe it. I’m not sure if any specific strips were adapted into the screenplay, but the tone and attitude absolutely is. (Neither of the strips I’m including here are used in the movie, mind.) And much of it is the sort of casual hanging-out of kids who just have some free time and places they’re not supposed to go and the occasional excitement that somebody has some money and things like that.
The movie has a plot, although it takes a while before you see that it’s more than just hanging out. And there is something worth warning: when the plot does swing into action it includes an animal’s death. It’s taken seriously when it happens, and it devastates the character it’s supposed to. But it also includes the attitude that if, say (and to use an animal not in the film, so that I don’t give away just what happens more than necessary), your goldfish dies it’s all right because you can get another goldfish. I know there are people who even today have that attitude, but I don’t understand it myself.
Anyway, if you don’t need that in your comic strip movies, that’s all right. If you want to enjoy what you can without facing that, watch roughly the first hour. Up through the bit where Skippy and Sooky put on a show. Duck out after that and you avoid the shocking stuff.
Director Norman Taurog won an Academy Award for Best Director. Jackie Cooper was nominated for Best Actor. The screenplay, by Sam Mintz, Norman McLeod, and Joseph Mankiewicz, got a nomination for Best Writing. And the whole movie got a nomination for Best Picture. So Turner Classic Movies brings the movie up at least every February, as part of its 31 Days of Oscar. And, well, it’s a solid movie. Worth noticing.
Greetings, nature fans. I thank you for coming here in search of a quick explanation of the current plot in James Allen’s Mark Trail. If it’s later than about April 2018 when you read this, the essay might be hopelessly out of date. But if all goes well I’ll have a follow-up essay, maybe several. You should be able to find them at or near the top of this page. And if you’re interested just in what was going on in Mark Trail in the winter of 2017-18, please read on.
Also I apologize for the short notice, but I only discovered it myself earlier today. TCM, United States feed, is showing Skippy, the 1931 movie about Percy Crosby’s classic and influential comic strip, at 2:30 am Sunday night/Monday morning (Eastern Time) the 11th/12th. I’d mentioned this last time they ran it, early last year. But I haven’t seen the movie yet as our TV died shortly after recording and we had to get a new DVR and, look, somehow it got all complicated, okay? They’re also showing Jacques Tati’s Mon Oncle on Tuesday the 13th, at 10 pm Eastern Time. Jacques Tati films will not be to everyone’s taste. But if you can sit and watch it, without distraction, you may just discover one of the most wonderful things the 20th century has to offer.
21 November 2017 – 10 February 2018
The Bank Robber was disarmed. His Accomplice surrendered to Johnny Lone Elk. Light-aircraft pilot Alan Parker was in custody. Things were looking good for Mark Trail last time we checked in. They had one problem left. It’s side effects of that time Mark Trail declared at the top of Mount Olympus how he was so much more awesome than the whole Greek pantheon.
The Sheriff advises getting into the bank. It’s only technically speaking on fire. But it’s also got tunnels that he and Johnny Lone Elk had used to get back into the plot. Everyone has to get in, not quite far enough to encounter Samson the grizzly bear. Zeus curses his lack of foresight. He’s still feuding with Hades and can’t get to them from underground, and asking Artemis to send out the bears is right out this year. With the Sheriff mentioning he’s out of the candy bars that pacify Samson the Grizzly the story ends. I call it for the 28th of November, pretty near ten months after the story began (about the 24th of February).
With the 29th, more or less, starts the new story. There’s an epilogue on the Bank Robber story two weeks later. It establishes that Mark wants to go home and not count the prairie dogs of Rapid City, South Dakota. Indeed, he never even sees a prairie dog, a pity because I hear prairie dogs are making a comeback. The Bank Robber and his Accomplice never get named that I saw.
The new story starts by following Chris “Dirty” Dyer. He was shown coming back from Africa early in 2017, immediately before the Bank Robber story started. (He’d been part of at least one story before, in 2014. If there’s a Mark Trail wikia with full summaries of earlier stories and character histories and such I don’t know it. But the Comics Curmudgeon reports on this are likely good enough.) Dirty reads about the circus closing on his way to a meeting with Batman ’66 villain King Tut. Dirty’s figuring to fence some African diamonds. King Tut will only offer five thousand and a recommendation to go on vacation. He takes the advice, and his Crocodile Dundee knife, and the chance to stab (off-panel) King Tut. Chris Dirty then passes out of our storyline, apart from some talk about how he’s got to get in shape to take on Mark Trail.
Mark and Cherry also don’t believe in the giraffe, and bring up that time Rusty daydreamed about dinosaurs. Still, strange things are happening. Doc, sitting on the porch, sees a monkey dressed for organ-grinding duty and riding an ostrich. Nearby, Shannon and Kathy, who as far as I know are original bit players to this story, are camping. At least until a rhinoceros rampages at them, grabs their tent, and runs into the lake. ([Edited to add because I didn’t notice this in today’s strip at first] The Sunday panel for the 11th of February, about sea turtles, sends “special thanks to Shannon and Kathy Davidson” for unspecified services. Going to go out on a limb here and suppose that part of the thanking is having them get chased down by a rhino. I had the plot summary written up before that strip was published.) There the rhino terrifies a guy out fishing until he decides that actually some days fishing are not better than all days working. (And I’m sorry to murder the joke this way. It’s done over the course of three days and pretty funny done so.) And that’s the current action.
This also highlights how James Allen has gotten the storytelling in the strip to be more sophisticated. And without shifting its tone much. We, the readers, understand what’s going on well ahead of Mark Trail. And it’s not because Mark’s shown to be dense. He lacks information that he couldn’t be expected to have: Artemis has forgiven Zeus just enough that they can launch the Revenge of Nature plot. By this time next month maybe Doc will have been eaten by rampaging quolls. Let’s watch!
Sunday Animals Watch!
Animals or natural phenomena featured on Sundays recently have included:
The Purple Frogs of Bhupathy India, 19 November 2017. They’re probably dying.
Pigs! 26 November 2017. There’s some in the Bahamas that have learned to swim out to tourists.
Sperm whales, 3 December 2017. They nap in collective groups that don’t look at all like the creepy moment right before a Revenge of Nature movie gets to the good stuff.
Vangunu Island vikas, 10 December 2017. White folk finally noticed them and they’re probably all but dead now.
Worms, 17 December 2017. We’d be dead without them and there’s this invasive one that’s got a powerful neurotoxin so good luck.
Mistletoe, 24 December 2017. It’s in good shape, but is a parasite to trees and shrubs so enjoy?
Penguins, 31 December 2017. Adelie penguins are in trouble thanks to global warming so, great.
Moths, 7 January 2018. This crazypants Australian one went viral, apparently (I missed it) just on the strength of looking like a crazypants Australian moth.
Tapanuli Orangutans, 14 January 2018. We just found them and they’re incredibly endangered.
Mosquitoes, 21 January 2018. Not endangered but we’re figuring to try releasing some bacterium-infected males in an attempt to create a new Revenge of Nature movie.
Cryptobranchus Alleganiensis, 28 January 2018. Might get named the Official State Amphibian of Pennsylvania!
Virginia Opossums, 4 February 2018. Not endangered.
Sea turtles, 11 February 2018. Crazy endangered.
I had expectations about where Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth was going, last time I checked in on them. How close were my expectations to reality? You should find out next week when it’s the chance for a certain food-making advice-giver to be recapped here. And I don’t want to get your hopes up too high. But if there’s one word that’s been on every Mary-watcher’s lips the past week it has been: muffins.
I’ve mentioned Percy Crosby’s comic strip Skippy in the past. It’s one of the all-time great comic strips. It’s also deeply influential. It was one of the first “thoughtful child” comic strips. It was a model for Charles Schulz, and through Schulz, every other comic strip that tries to be about kids since then. It’s also a rather modern comic strip. It’s funny in the ways that comic strips made after 1950 are funny. It’s curiously like Robert Benchley, whose essays are a touch dated but come from a style of humor that’s still current. It was ripped off by a renowned manufacturer of buttered peanuts.
Why mention all this? Besides that the strip is available and rerunning on gocomics.com, I mention because Turner Classic Movies (United States feed) is scheduled to run it this weekend. Saturday at 7:45 am, Eastern Time, it’s to run the 1931 movie Skippy. The movie stars Jackie Cooper. And in a fair trade, the movie made a star of Cooper. It was directed by Norman Taurog, who’s also renowned for directing The Adventures of Young Tom Sawyer, Boys Town, Young Tom Edison, It Happened At The World’s Fair, and Doctor Goldfoot And The Bikini Machine, because it was 1965 and who even knows from movies anymore.
I can’t say much about the movie’s quality; I’ve never seen it. According to the (sad; meanness to animals involved) article TCM.com has on the making of the movie, it was successful at the time, though the sequel was not. That I could never find a copy to watch before doesn’t necessarily mean much. Early-sound-era films are almost as hard to find as they are to listen to. I mean, there’s bits of The Cocoanuts where it seems sure Groucho Marx and company are saying funny stuff, but who could guess what?
To give folks who stick around here something to read, though, might I offer a pair of installments from Winsor McCay’s classic comic strip Little Nemo in Slumberland? The backstory is a little involved and hard to summarize since, well, it’s dreamland, but in the installment from September 29, 1907, Nemo and company are sneaking around, best as giants can, Manhattan. In the installment from October 6, well, the sneaking has really advanced to knocking the city over. These things happen.
But it all shows off McCay’s style: incredibly gorgeous artwork drawn with stunning precision — in the second strip look at how consistent the city buildings are between panels 1, 2, and 5, even though it wouldn’t make any difference if they were to vary — and with the loose dreamy narrative that the title of the strip implies. It’s not the kind of comic strip that I could imagine running in the newspapers today. Partly that’s because weekly narrative strips are, except for Prince Valiant, dead; partly that’s because this sort of whimsy is a very hard thing to create or to sustain.
I feel I should say something about Impie, but I don’t know what. The character was picked up earlier along Nemo and Flip’s adventures and I don’t know what I can say.
There’s an excellent chance you don’t know Percy Crosby’s comic strip Skippy, and that’s a shame. You know its progeny, though. It was one of the first worldly-child comic strips, focused on kids but paying attention to them as thoughtful beings with deep and complex emotions of their own. If this sounds kind of like Peanuts, it should; Percy Crosby was one of the people Charles Schulz drew influence from, and every kids comic strip since then has been a reaction to Peanuts.
The comic is contemporary to George Herriman’s Krazy Kat, but is wildly different from it, not just because it gets remarkably little attention from modern cartoonists considering its influence. It’s also, though, contemporary to Robert Benchley, and in I think a very important way: you see, Skippy as a comic strip is funny, and in about the ways you expect a modern comic strip to be funny. It may be dated in its references, just as a Benchley essay (or film) might be, but in structure, in pacing, in characterization, in what jokes are about it could fit on the contemporary comics page without that standing out of place.
Happily the strip’s been revived on gocomics.com, and I wanted to bring an example of it to your attention. This one originally ran on the 24rd of July, 1927, and I admit it’s not a knee-slapper. It’s more of the sentimental, faintly inspirational comic strip, but in ways that work for me. In the dialogue I can certainly hear the forebears of Linus and Charlie Brown, or Pogo and the Rackey-Coon Chile, or Quincy and his friends, or Calvin and Hobbes, or many more great personae. I hope you like.