60s Popeye: Spare Dat Tree and where it lost me


We’re back with Jack Kinney studios this week. The story is again by Ed Nofziger. That usually signals some genial weirdness. The animation director is Ken Hultgren. Don’t have a large enough sample to say what to expect there. I was on edge when I saw the spelling of “dat”, but I suppose they were trying to approximate how Popeye would say “that”. The title’s referencing a poem and song — “Woodman, Spare that Tree!” — published by George Pope Morris in 1837. I only know it from the occasional cartoon that references it, and a song adaptation that Phil Harris did.

With that all introduced, here’s Spare Dat Tree.

I believe I’ve adequately documented how I was a weird kid. I was in fact as many as three weird kids stacked on top of each other. I do remember something weird about this cartoon bothering me as a kid. It bothers me today.

The cartoon starts at Popeye’s Boring Suburb House. We’re saved from that by it being a Swee’Pea “tell me a story” frame. In this, a nature story, Popeye’s the forest ranger and protects two monarch trees, each five thousand years old. Brutus — a Brutus, the cartoon notes, as if it were an occupation — comes to chop down the trees. Eventually Popeye gets to eating some spinach … some wood spinach, that I guess is its wild counterpart(?) … and punches him to the state capitol, in Poland.

The trees are presented with faces, and voices, done by Jack Mercer and Mae Questel. It would be a cute riff on Popeye and Olive Oyl’s voices if I thought it was a choice. The cartoons only had three voice actors. And there is this strange dreamy circularity to their dialogue. Especially the Queen Tree’s asking the King if it hurts and the King answering variations of “only when I laugh”. Little exchanges, though, like the Queen Tree fussing about how cute Ranger Popeye is, share that light dreaminess. Also the Queen Tree telling the King to get back down here, once he’d been blown into the air, and his wearily agreeing to comply.

It’s a small thing but Ranger Popeye spends a lot of this cartoon squinting angrily. It’s a good look.

Scene showing Brutus having burrowed underground, and having dug open a tunnel wide enough to chop the subterranean trunk of the King Tree.
By the way I was surprised to see that Jack Mercer’s credited for the old male tree’s voice since I did not expect him to do that good a job sounding different. But then I remember he was tagged to do a lot of old-man voices for Paramount cartoons. Still, this tree put me in mind of Allen Swift’s portrayal of Simon Bar Sinister, which maybe better shows you how long it’s been since I watched Underdog.

What bothered me as a kid, and bothers me today, is after Brutus goes underground to cut the King Tree. (And that’s a good loophole-joke way around “no logging on these grounds”.) Brutus succeeds! He cuts the tree the whole way through. And I knew there was no coming back from that. I would accept the trees talking with Popeye and maybe Brutus. I accept unquestioningly Popeye’s spinach-induced super-strength. Also the tree trunk going a good eight feet underground instead of being roots. But that all the tree needs is to be set back in its hole?

Every story depends to some extent on suspending disbelief. Many of these are small things, like stories reaching a clear resolution. Or they’re things that we accept if we’re taking in the story at all, like how spinach makes Popeye even more super-strong for a while. Why was “the giant talking tree just needs to be set back in the ground again” too much ask of me? I don’t know.

I’m sure if Popeye had fed the tree spinach then I’d have accepted it. That would have made good sense.

Statistics July: how July 2020 treated Another Blog, Meanwhile


I say that, but I always mean how the readers treated Another Blog, Meanwhile. And by “treated” I mean “looked at one or more pages”. That’s what I’m really here for. Page views and the chance to think of a good joke about Prince Valiant, since nobody else is.

According to WordPress’s counter, in July there were 4,175 pages read here. It’s nice to see that above four thousand. It’s also above the twelve-month running average of 3,911.4 page views. These views came from 2,447 unique visitors, which is higher than the 2,260.6 running average.

Bar chart of about 30 months' worth of readership figures. The July figures are rising after a slight drop in June. There was a peak in April.
The tease to ‘accept payments for just about anything’ is a nice sentiment but it’s not as though I was turning away payments before. The trick is getting anyone to give me money for doing the stuff I have fun doing.

There were 95 things liked in July, which is a bit below the average of 100.3, but at least if my figures are representative, people don’t go liking stuff on WordPress anymore. I get about two-thirds as many likes as I did a year ago, and this with more page views and unique visitors. There were 35 comments given, gratifyingly above the average of 21.8, though.

So regarding the most popular posts: I’m getting a little tired linking to that months-of-the-year-in-reverse-alphabetical-order one. So I thought I’d just list the top five posts from July here. That’s a fine idea except there was a three-way tie for the fifth-most-popular piece, so, fine, have seven links. I’m glad that this includes at least one of my long-form pieces and also a Statistics Saturday piece. It gives a little more balance to things.

I should probably do something to account for, like, a post the last day of the month that gets most of its views the next month. But that’s getting to be a little too much work for me.


Where do my readers come from? For July, they were from 82 countries, a bit above the 77 that I’d seen in June and in May. 28 of them were single-view countries, which is up from the 20 of June and of May. Here’s the roster:

World map showing the United States in deepest red, most of the Americas, South and Pacific Asia, and Europe in a more uniform pink, and few countries in Africa or central Asia with any readers.
I missed my goal of getting all the nations formerly part of the Federal Republic of Central America: no readers from Costa Rica or El Salvador last month. Maybe next time!
Country Readers
United States 3,044
India 301
Canada 155
United Kingdom 131
Australia 78
Brazil 40
Finland 38
Germany 33
Sweden 29
Spain 25
France 24
Italy 22
Norway 18
Philippines 15
Austria 14
South Africa 14
South Korea 10
Portugal 9
Taiwan 9
Argentina 7
Indonesia 7
Ireland 7
Mexico 7
New Zealand 7
Poland 7
Netherlands 6
Singapore 6
Belgium 5
Colombia 5
European Union 5
Guatemala 5
Kenya 5
Peru 5
Denmark 4
Malaysia 4
Zambia 4
Bangladesh 3
Hong Kong SAR China 3
Japan 3
Nigeria 3
Russia 3
United Arab Emirates 3
Albania 2
Belarus 2
Czech Republic 2
Dominican Republic 2
Jamaica 2
Oman 2
Paraguay 2
Saudi Arabia 2
Switzerland 2
Thailand 2
Turkey 2
Venezuela 2
American Samoa 1
Barbados 1
Bermuda 1
Botswana 1
Brunei 1 (*)
Chile 1
China 1
Croatia 1
Cyprus 1 (*)
Ecuador 1
Egypt 1
Estonia 1
Honduras 1
Hungary 1
Israel 1
Jordan 1
Kuwait 1
Lebanon 1 (*****)
Mali 1
Mauritius 1
Nicaragua 1
Pakistan 1
Puerto Rico 1
Romania 1
Slovakia 1 (*)
Ukraine 1
Uruguay 1
Vietnam 1

Brunei, Cyprus, and Slovakia got a single view two months in a row now. Lebanon has had a single page view for each of six months in a row now. I’m not sure whether my longest streak is seven months or what, but that’s one of the longest single-reader streaks out there.


I’m continuing my plan for stuff to write this coming month. A long-form essay posted Thursday evening, Eastern Time. A Statistics Saturday piece posted Saturday evening, Eastern Time. More Popeye cartoons on Sunday evenings. And on Tuesday evenings What’s Going On In the story comics. My plan, barring special circumstances, is to cover the story comics in this order:


As of the start of August I’ve posted 2,738 things. These have drawn 179,564 page views from 101,044 unique visitors. Sorry to have missed you, visitor #100,001. You should have said something. In July I published 15,701 words, for an average of 506.5 words per posting in the month. And that brings my words per posting average for the year down to 541.

I’m happy to have more readers, if you know anyone who’d like to be one. You can subscribe through WordPress by using the “Follow Another Blog, Meanwhile” button. Or you can put the RSS feed for posts into any reader you have. This includes free accounts at Dreamwidth or Livejournal, if you don’t have anything else. You can add an RSS feed to your Dreamwidth page from https://www.dreamwidth.org/feeds/ and to your Livejournal friends page from https://www.livejournal.com/syn. I also announce new posts on my @nebusj Twitter account, that I can only sometimes post to manually. So if you need to contact me use literally any other method, including asking people you know if they happen to know me. It’s that bad, but somehow, too low-priority for me to sort out or just use a different web browser on. Sorry.

Statistics June: How June 2020 Treated My Humor Blog


June 2020 was another recessional month around here, as most of my readership figures have it. The number of page views dropped about 250 from May, to 3,964. I’m still hanging on ahead of the twelve-month running average, of 3,842.8 page views, but it’s a closer thing. The number of unique visitors dropped about 150, to 2,336. This is again above the running average of 2,217.0, and a bit more comfortably above that.

The number of likes jumped nearly twenty, to 87 given in the month. The secular decline somehow continues, though. The running average is 105.0 likes in a month even though I haven’t seen that kind of number since January 2020. And to give you some idea how long ago January 2020 was: remember how long ago June 2020 was? January was twenty times that long ago.

The number of comments dropped seven, also, to 32 in the month. This still has it above the average of 21.0, though.

Bar chart of monthly readership for the past two and a half months. After a spike in April the readership and unique visitors counts are declining again.
Couldn’t get a picture of the statistics at exactly the start of July, Universal Time, because we were going to a drive-in movie showing Ferris Bueller and The Breakfast Club as part of their “what the heck, let’s just be the 80s” program. This week: Ghostbusters 1984, the one with the toxic fandom.

The per-posting averages have almost an identical story. Since I have something posted every day that’s not much of a surprise. The views per posting and visitors per posting are almost exactly the twelve-month average: 127.9 visitors per posting, compared to an average 126.1; and 75.4 unique visitors per posting, compared to an average 72.8. 2.7 likes per posting, compared to the average 3.4. 1.0 comments per posting, better than the average 0.7. The per-posting averages are more useful on my mathematics blog, where I’ll let days go without a posting.

The most popular postings in June were, as often happens, not ones that were posted in June. One of them I totally understand, though, and it’s probably going to be a steadily inappropriately popular post in the months to come:

What things from June were popular in June? Nothing involving June Morgan, it happens. Instead we had these:

Altogether, 577 distinct pages, plus my home page, got at least one view in June. 330 pages, counting the home page, got at least two views. 78 pages got at least ten views. That’s right about the same as in May. Probably these figures can’t change much until someone goes and gets me some viral bundle of attention.


77 countries or things like countries sent me viewers in June, which is the same number as in May. 20 of them were a single view, which again is the same count as in May. Here’s what they all were:

Mercator-style map of the world with the United States in darkest red, most of the Americas and Europe in a uniform pink, and also South Asia, Australia, and New Zealand.
Yes! Landed both Czech and Slovakia this month! Next month: everything that used to be part of the Federal Republic of Central America.
Country Readers
United States 2,640
India 226
United Kingdom 177
Macedonia 163
Australia 123
Canada 118
Finland 60
Germany 37
Brazil 32
Italy 26
Philippines 26
South Africa 25
Netherlands 22
Sweden 21
Norway 20
Mexico 13
Spain 13
France 11
Indonesia 11
Denmark 10
Ireland 10
Malaysia 10
Peru 10
Kenya 9
Nigeria 9
Romania 9
Japan 8
Singapore 8
Hong Kong SAR China 7
New Zealand 7
Kuwait 6
Taiwan 6
Trinidad & Tobago 6
Belgium 5
Switzerland 5
Hungary 4
Slovenia 4
United Arab Emirates 4
Austria 3
Greece 3
Israel 3
Thailand 3
Zambia 3
Argentina 2
Bulgaria 2
Croatia 2
Egypt 2
Jamaica 2
Oman 2
Pakistan 2
Panama 2
Poland 2
Russia 2
Serbia 2
South Korea 2
Ukraine 2
Vietnam 2
Belize 1
British Virgin Islands 1
Brunei 1
Colombia 1
Costa Rica 1
Cyprus 1
Czech Republic 1
European Union 1
Kazakhstan 1
Lebanon 1 (****)
Myanmar (Burma) 1
Nepal 1
Paraguay 1
Portugal 1
Qatar 1
Slovakia 1 (*)
Sri Lanka 1
Tanzania 1
Turkey 1
Venezuela 1

Slovakia’s been a single-view country two months running now. Lebanon’s been one for five months now. Macedonia hadn’t sent me any readers in May so I’m wondering if there was maybe something miscommunicated to the Balkan nations regarding my content here. Again, I’m always glad to have readers, wherever they’re from. I just know how far short I am of discussing anything like universal truths regarding the human condition.


My plan for the coming month is very like my plans for past months. A long-form essay posted Thursday evening, Eastern Time. On Saturday evening, Eastern Time, a Statistics Saturday piece. And on Tuesday evenings, What’s Going On In the story comics. My plan for the next few weeks — barring something special that forces me to change plans — is to cover there:

As of the start of July I’ve posted 2,707 things here. That all has drawn 175,391 page views from 98,598 unique visitors. There were a relatively slender 14,534 words published here in June, for a sleek average of 484.5 words per posting. I like that. For the year to date I’ve published 97,880 words, averaging 547 words per post. That average is down from the 556 at the start of June. This is doing well considering that every time I think I can cut a review of the 60s Popeye cartoons down to a couple well-chosen paragraphs they sprawl out to 1200 words.

I’m always glad to have more readers, either as subscribers or just stopping in for a while. You can subscribe through WordPress by clicking the ‘Follow Another Blog, Meanwhile’ button. You can use the RSS feed in whatever reader you like, which can include a Friends page on a free Dreamwidth or Livejournal account. New posts are announced to my Twitter account, @nebusj, although I only sometimes can actually post to it manually. Sorry. Nice to see you in any form, though.

Hardly everything there is to say about The Story of Brick


So I read that book by the American Face Brick Association that I had noticed yesterday. How could I not? By the second page it’s got into how things had changed by the time of Nebuchadnezzar. When else do you ever hear about Nebuchadnezzar? There’s times that Linus is getting all scriptural in A Charlie Brown Christmas, and that’s about it. I’ll finish any book if it starts out by how the subject had changed by the time of good ol’ Nebuchadnezzar. “How will we get Joseph to finish reading this book about modern bowling alley management,” I can imagine a niche author wondering. “Make him aware such a thing exists?” says her co-author. The first, not realizing this is correct, says, “I know!” And hastily adds to page three a sentence, “by the time of Nebuchadnezzar the management of bowling alleys had developed some techniques familiar even today”. This would clinch the deal.

I know what you’re thinking, and no. So far as I know, “Nebus” is not a shortening of “Nebuchadnezzar”. I am aware of no relation to the ancient kings of Babylon, Sumer, Akkad, and the Universe. My family has always lived in the Universe but that’s about it.

The book is written by a true believer in bricks. I suppose we all believe in bricks to some extent. It’s not like we’ll pat the brick cladding of a building, lean over to our companion, and whisper, “Of course, you know what’s really going on with these.” I mean unless it’s that new kind of brick they build stuff with today, that’s somehow bricks that look like fake bricks. I mean we believe in bricks that look like bricks. We just don’t believe in bricks as much as this writer believes in bricks.

From this book I learn that, like Gaul, the clays used for brick are divided into three parts. The first is surface clays, “of which the commoner type of brick are made” and which I trust are the down-to-earth clays. Next are shales, “nearly reduced to the form of slate” by immense pressures, I trust from trying to avoid those commoner surface clays. The last group are fire clays, “so-called because of their refractory qualities”. Can you name three refractory qualities? Share your work below.

I wouldn’t have put Gaul into the matter except the book is written all like that. There’s a bit where it talks about how John Howard Payne made himself immortal with his universal lyric. Quick, name it!

Before I go further I should explain the difference between a brick and a face brick. A brick is that brick-like thing you call a brick or use for brick purposes. A face brick is a brick that sounds like you’re writing for a comic strip or maybe a network TV cop show and so can’t say “Facebook”. I hope this clarifies matters.

Anyway the American Face Brick Association feels quite strongly that whatever it is you’re doing, brick is a correct choice. “Whether you plan some elaborate baronial sort of mantel and fireplace or a cozy little ingle nook, you will find nothing either in point of durability or beauty that excels the right kind of brick.”, they say, and fairly. I can’t imagine they would have kept the manuscript draft that admitted ingle nooks are more a hardwood floors thing. I have enough trouble imagining what an “ingle nook” is, if not a transcription error. Maybe it’s the town in Connecticut that the physicist J Willard Gibbs was from?

If the book would like me to remember anything it is that bricks are cheaper than you think. Like, that time Tuesday when you and your friend were talking about how expensive bricks are? “This is a grave mistake based, as it is, on comparisons of forty or fifty years ago.” Add in the 98 years it’s been since this book was published, and you’re degrading bricks based on information that’s as much as 148 years out of date. I would urge you and your friend to apologize. Run to the door and cry out, “I apologize to the American Face Brick Association!” I don’t mean right now. It might be after 11 pm when you read this and that’s late to shout apologies to any face brick association.

To put all this in a word so far, though? Nebuchadnezzar. In two words? Nebuchadnezzar bricks.

60s Popeye: neat meet with the Track Meet Cheat


… I’m a little surprised that wasn’t the actual title of this short. We’re back to Larry Harmon productions for the cartoon this week. It’s another short directed by Paul Fennell, with story by Charles Shows. Let’s take a moment to watch Track Meet Cheat. The moment takes about five and a half minutes, with credits.

So the cartoon is animated as I’d expect from the future Filmation team. The characters are angular; Brutus is almost a triangle. The movement well-defined or stiff, depending on how good a mood you’re in. The story is … now that’s interesting.

If you watch this when you’re seven years old, or if you watch it while distracted, the story makes good solid sense. Brutus is showing off at the extremely thin stadium. Popeye has enough of this, and challenges him to the track-and-field events. Popeye does great but Brutus cheats until Popeye has enough, spinach, fight, triumph, end.

The thing is that’s not quite what we see. Like, Brutus is showing off, yeah, but he’s also there to put on a show. If we take his ballyhoo in earnest, he is setting world records. And we don’t actually see Popeye challenge him, nor Brutus accept the challenge. If we didn’t know the series we could see this as a relentless heckler spoiling the show. Connective tissue is missing.

It’s not just skipped steps in setting up the story. There are anomalies in motivation all over. For example, in tossing the ball-and-chain, Brutus makes a good impressive throw. Then he runs out and catches it. It’s an impressive stunt, but it spoils the throw as an athletic performance. Popeye does a high jump by tying balloons to himself; how is that supposed to impress the judges? Brutus hands Popeye a bomb, which explodes, and then Brutus wonders where the guy he just blew up went. Why?

Picture of Brutus looking up, nervous, and holding a small consumer-grade circa 1960 camera.
Brutus looks like he’s only now realizing the horror that setting a bomb in Popeye’s hand would actually be. That or he’s sorry he doesn’t have a Polaroid.

If you’re a kid watching this, there’s no trouble. These things just happen because it makes sense for the scene. You know Brutus and Popeye act like this because that’s what they’re doing. If you watch while distracted there’s no problem. You, having learned how narratives work, imagine a connective tissue that makes sense. There’s a hole that swallows up Popeye’s pole, when he tries to vault? Brutus probably dug that to sabotage his opponent.

So there’s a curious anomaly here. The cartoon makes perfect sense, unless you’re an adult paying attention to it.

I’m not saying it’s bad. The stunts are nice, many of the jokes work for me. I love any chance for Popeye to do that angry chimney-puffing on his pipe. Wimpy hawking spinach burgers is a more interesting way to get the spinach than just pulling out a can would be. Wimpy not wanting anyone to actually eat the spinach burgers makes his participation an existentialist absurdity. Or just painting a joke onto an already non-sequitur plot element. It’s just a cartoon that works better if you don’t scrutinize it.

Statistics May: How the past month treated my humor blog


So how do my readership figures for May look? And how do they look compared to past months? And the short answer is that it’s down from April, because nobody cares about Easter egg dye colors anymore. But it’s still a comfortably large number. Not quite the figures I saw at the end of Apartment 3-G, but surprisingly close.

Specifically, there were 4,292 page views here in May 2020, spread across 2,505 unique visitors. That’s above the twelve-month running averages for these figures. The average was 3,769.6 page views from 2,179.8 unique visitors. The twelve-month running averages are increasing month-to-month too, but I’m not going to start tracking that because that’s getting daft.

Bar chart of two years, four months, in total views and unique visitors. The trend is generally upward, though falling back after a spike above 5,000 visitors in April.
By the way the default chart shows two years and five months’ worth of figures. I write this because every month I swear I’m going to remember just how much it shows, and then I forget, and I look at all the month tabs and I get lost and I guess it’s about two and a half years. Which it is, although why 29 months instead of 30 is another of those mysteries.

The disappointing figure in all this was the number of likes, which have been trending down forever now. There were 67 things liked in all of May, way below the running average of 109.5. More important than that, though, was that 39 comments came in over the month, well above the 19.8 average. That’s also three months in a row with more than thirty comments, which makes me feel so much better, really.

The per-post averages are all rather similar. There were on average 138.5 views per posting in May; the twelve-month average is 123.7. There were 80.8 unique visitors per posting in May; the average is 71.6. There were 2.2 likes per posting in May; the average was 3.6. There were 1.3 comments per posting; the average was 0.6.

There were 556 distinct postings that got at least one page view in May, up from April’s 514. 359 of them got more than one page view, up from 323. Only 72 pages got more than ten views, slightly down from April’s 76.

The most popular comic strips were a recurring mystery, and then a bunch of comic strip stuff:

I continue to have no idea why that months-in-reverse-alphabetical-order is popular, or why it’s staying popular. I feel like it must have got put on a list incorrectly. Or there’s just that many bots who got something wrong.

All those posts are old ones, though. The most popular thing posted in May was a comic strip recap, What’s Going On In The Phantom (Weekdays)? Why is the Phantom punching terrorists? February – May 2020. My most popular May piece that was intended to be funny was Remembering the home computers of the 1980s, one of my long-form essays that’s still a mushy nostalgic haze.


There were 77 countries, or things like countries, that sent me any readers in May. There’d been 78 in April and 73 in March, so that’s all normal enough. There were 20 single-view countries, just like in March, and basically like in April, when there were 19. Here’s the roster of what countries they were, and how many views each got:

Mercator-style map of the world with the United States in deepest red. Most of the Americas, western Europe, South Asia and the Asian Pacific nations are in a uniform, less intense pink. Almost no African countries are pink.
I do kind of wish WordPress would use a different map projection, because every single month I give this the alt-text ‘Mercator-style map of the world’ and every single month I have to look up whether it’s ‘Mercator’ or ‘Mercatur’. And I’m the map freak here. Me! Anyway if they could do an equirectangular or maybe a Gall or Lambert I’d save myself that little bit of monthly embarrassment.
Country Readers
United States 3,171
India 177
United Kingdom 135
Canada 128
Australia 65
Germany 59
Sweden 58
Brazil 46
Italy 35
South Korea 33
Philippines 28
Finland 24
France 20
Spain 19
Colombia 14
El Salvador 13
Ireland 13
Russia 13
Mexico 12
Portugal 12
Norway 11
Argentina 9
Indonesia 9
Malaysia 9
Vietnam 9
Kenya 8
Netherlands 8
New Zealand 8
South Africa 8
Serbia 7
Singapore 7
Taiwan 7
China 6
Denmark 6
Jamaica 6
Japan 6
Poland 6
Turkey 6
Hong Kong SAR China 5
Pakistan 5
United Arab Emirates 5
Belgium 4
Chile 4
Czech Republic 4
Peru 4
Croatia 3
European Union 3
Iceland 3
Israel 3
Romania 3
Venezuela 3
Barbados 2
Bolivia 2
Costa Rica 2
Ecuador 2
Morocco 2
Zambia 2
Bahamas 1
Bangladesh 1 (**)
Belarus 1
Bhutan 1
Egypt 1 (**)
Greece 1
Guam 1
Guatemala 1 (*)
Lebanon 1 (***)
Mauritius 1
Panama 1
Puerto Rico 1
Saudi Arabia 1 (*)
Slovakia 1
St. Lucia 1
Switzerland 1
Trinidad & Tobago 1
Tunisia 1
Uruguay 1 (*)
Zimbabwe 1

Guatemala, Saudi Arabia, and Uruguay were single-view countries last month too. Bangladesh and Egypt have been single-view countries three months in a row. Lebanon is on its fourth month so.


Through the start of June, I had published a total 2,677 posts. They’ve drawn 171,428 views from a recorded 96,260 visitors. And I’m hoping some of them will stick around for my writing. Each Thursday, Eastern Time, I post a long-form humor essay. Each Saturday, similarly, I post something for Statistics Saturday, my Dad’s favorite feature here. And then, for Tuesdays lately, I watch What’s Going On In the story comics. My plan for the coming month, subject to breaking news, is to cover these strips:

WordPress estimates that I published 15,458 words here in May, in 31 posts averaging just over 515 and a quarter words each. For the year to date I’ve published 83,346 words, over 150 posts, for an average 556 words per posting. This is running a bit under the pace for 2019, which I am fine with.

I’m always glad to have more regular readers. If you’re on WordPress you can become a regular reader by clicking the “Follow Another Blog, Meanwhile” button on this page. Or you can add the RSS feed for articles to whatever reader you use. If you don’t have an RSS reader, good news: you can get a free account at Dreamwidth or Livejournal, and use their Friends page to look at any RSS feed you like. I also announce posts by automated service to my Twitter account of @Nebusj. But while I’d sort of like to be active there again, Twitter only sometimes lets Safari read it. I don’t know what its issue is, and I don’t have the energy to work it out. Sorry.

Statistics March: How March 2020 Treated My Humor Blog, At Least


They say that in times of crisis, keeping up routines is a good thing. That’s why I’ve moved the What’s Going On In series from posting late Sunday to posting late Tuesday: I don’t know what I’m doing. Also this lets me handle the Sunday-only strips more gracefully. Still, I do want to look at what kinds of things get read around here, and how much, and this is my first really good chance for that. So here’s a quick review of what my readership was like, according to WordPress, which I keep going ahead and trusting even when I don’t like the results. This is known as integrity or being too lazy to do something else.

Bar chart showing a little over two years' worth of monthly readership figures; after three depressed months the readership is back up again.
Yeah so I was at home at 8 pm Eastern Time on the 31st of March so I could take this snapshot at exactly the moment to have April not appear. Frankly, I would rather have been out messing around playing pinball at the hipster bar two blocks over.

So, three months of a slump seems to have passed. There were 3,963 page views in March, comfortably above even the twelve-month running average of 3,605.3 views per month. These came from a logged 2,385 unique visitors, which is also a fair bit high of the 2,083.3 running average. That’s all looking good from my perspective. The number of likes was flat, though, the same 75 as in February. This is a fair bit below the average of 131.5. This suggests a great fall-off in reader engagement. But then the number of comments rose to 30, its greatest number in over a year, and well above the twelve-month average of 16.1.

Pro-rating things per post gives a similar story. There were 127.8 views per posting for March, above the average 118.3. There were 76.9 unique visitors per posting, up from 68.4 as an average. Only 2.4 likes per posting, below the twelve-month average of 4.3. But 1.0 comments per posting, way above the 0.5 average. April is already looking nicely chatty, too. Now that I’ve said that I can watch comments shrivel up and die, apart from people upset about Mark Trail.

I am, as ever, not joking about Mark Trail. The most popular five essays last month were:

My most popular long-form essay last month was In Which I Am Very Petty About This Covid-19 Business, the first of what’s turning out to be a series of me rambling about my minor neuroses. It implies that I’ve finally figured out my niche, and it’s complaining about myself.

There really is no official word on what the deal is with James Allen and Mark Trail recently. I shared my best information, which is to say rumor and conjecture, and intend to post if I hear anything.

What else do I intend to post? In the comic strip plot recap lineup, these things, over the coming month:

These are subject to change in case of breaking news or something that demands my attention or whatever other chaos breaks out in the world.

484 posts got at least one page view in March, well up from February’s 401. 302 of them got more than one view, up from 245. 75 of them got at least ten views, compared to 56 in February.

Mercator-style map of the world; the United States is in darkest red. Most of the Americas, Europe, Russia, and Pacific and South Asia is in pink; little of Africa is.
Someday I will get a reader in Greenland and I won’t know what to do with it. … Hi, Greenland! I’m sure you have someone where who could read me!

73 countries sent me any viewers in March, right about February’s 71. 20 of them were single-view countries, close enough to February’s 18. Herees the full roster:

Country Readers
United States 3,030
India 161
Canada 121
United Kingdom 90
Philippines 68
Germany 50
Australia 38
South Africa 35
Brazil 34
Sweden 24
Spain 23
Papua New Guinea 21
France 17
Thailand 15
Finland 14
Switzerland 14
Italy 13
Portugal 13
New Zealand 11
Argentina 10
Netherlands 10
Romania 10
Denmark 9
Ireland 9
Norway 8
Pakistan 8
China 7
European Union 6
Singapore 5
Taiwan 5
Belgium 4
El Salvador 4
Japan 4
Kenya 4
Colombia 3
Croatia 3
Dominican Republic 3
Hong Kong SAR China 3
Indonesia 3
Malaysia 3
Poland 3
Russia 3
South Korea 3
Ukraine 3
American Samoa 2
Austria 2
Greece 2
Honduras 2
Jamaica 2
Mexico 2
Saudi Arabia 2
Sri Lanka 2
Zambia 2
Bangladesh 1
Belize 1
Chile 1
Ecuador 1
Egypt 1
Estonia 1
Iceland 1
Israel 1
Jordan 1
Kuwait 1 (*)
Lebanon 1 (*)
Nigeria 1
Peru 1 (*)
Puerto Rico 1
Serbia 1
Somalia 1
Trinidad & Tobago 1 (**)
Turkey 1
United Arab Emirates 1 (*)
Zimbabwe 1

Kuwait, Lebanon, Peru, and the United Arab Emirates were single-view countries in February also. Trinidad & Tobago has been on a single-view streak for three months now.

WordPress figures in March I posted 17,019 words. That’s 549 words per posting exactly, a rare decimal-free appearance for that figure. It’s my most verbose of 2020 so far, though. For the year to date I’ve posted 48,878 words, in 90 posts, for an average of 543.09 words per posting. The start of April saw me complete 2,616 posts altogether, drawing 161,530 views from 90,399 unique visitors.

And you could be among them! If you’re reading this, you already are. Unless you’re reading by way of RSS reader, in which case I’ll never know unless you say something to me. But you can also follow by clicking the “Follow Another Blog, Meanwhile” button on this page. Or follow me on Twitter as @nebusj, if you’d like. Thank you, however it is you’re doing things.

It’s okay, nobody else gets Sunday’s Funky Winkerbean either


Yeah so Tom Batiuk’s Funky Winkerbean this Sunday didn’t work. I haven’t checked everyone in the world, but everyone I have checked, agreed. It seems like the strip was going for a pun or at least some wordplay. Or an agreement that a thing sounded funny. But working out just what it was going for is hard. So it’s not just you. But here’s the strip:

Science Teacher: 'Which brings us to Ultima Thule [ Footnote: Pronounced 'Too-Lay' ]. Can anone tell me what Ultima Thule is?' Student: 'Isn't he the villain from the Thor [ Footnote: pronounced 'Tor' ] movie?' Teacher, putting his hand on his forehead: 'I wonder if it's too late to revisit the board's early retirement package?'
Tom Batiuk’s Funky Winkerbean for the 29th of March, 2020. Also granted none of the villains from the Thor movies, pronounced “too-vies”, has in fact had a name that sounds anything like “Ultima Thule”. It’s also true that many of the things which we, in jest, say would be good names for a band would, in truth, not be anything like good names for a band.

Ultima Thule as referenced here is this Kupier Belt object that’s about 45 astronomical units away from us, so we don’t have to do anything about it right now. The New Horizons probe flew by it in 2018, and we’re still getting data downloads of the encounter. Slow Internet out that far. It was formally named Arrokoth in November 2019, but Tom Batiuk reportedly works as much as a year ahead of publication. We can be forgiving of things like this, especially when we remember that we as a society still call it Kinko’s, fifteen years after they changed the name to “whatever they pretend they changed the name of Kinko’s to”.

If it weren’t for the footnotes I think everyone would have just read the strip and agreed, that’s got the structure of a joke. Teacher in a comic strip asks students to explain a thing, student has a wrong answer that even reference pop culture, teacher mourns his lot in life. What has this sticking in my mind is the footnotes. They’re fantastically unnecessary. A lot of jokes have some unnecessary bits. They can make dialogue or pacing sound more natural. Or they can clue the audience into the subject matter, so they have the right context for the joke. Or sometimes the word balloon is too large otherwise, as with the mention of “the board’s” early retirement “package”. The teacher could have wondered if it was too late to revisit early retirement.

But. Why the footnote explaining that Anamorphic Mark Twain pronounces Thule “Too-Lay”, in the Bandar Tongue? What would possibly be worse if the reader thought Anamorph thought it was pronounced “thool”, the way everybody actually says it? That, at least, we could defend as character, so that we know Anamorph is, gads, one of those people. You know, who pronounce “Caesar” as “kaiser”. I bet he volunteers that he thinks other people use the word “penultimate” wrong. He’s definitely complained about someone using “decimate” to refer to a thing that’s been more than one-tenth destroyed.

What launches this into the all-time baffling strips is the student’s pronouncing Thor as “Tor”, a thing that has never been done at any time by any person, ever, even by people who are trying to hypercorrect other people into saying something stupid. What is her deal supposed to be? Is it supposed to be that she’s mocking Anamorph for pronouncing “Thule” with a t- sound? Was she just going along with the teacher’s quirky choice about how “th” sounds? The smirk on her face last panel suggests not, but everybody in a Funky Winkerbean strip is smirking all the time. So it loses its power to signal that the smirker thinks they’ve said something clever. So what is that footnote doing there? Something as unnecessary as a footnote shouldn’t be there unless it’s serving the joke, but what joke?

I can defend the first footnote, about too-lay, as serving the joke and not just establishing Anamorph as a tool. It could be that the sound “too-lay” is supposed to make the reader think “tool”, which gets you to hammers, to Thor, so the punch line doesn’t seem to come from nowhere. I think that’s unnecessary, but I can understand a writer feeling that it needs more setup. But then the best I can think for the second footnote is that we’re getting a wacky-answer-to-teacher-questions overlapping with a make-fun-of-the-pedant joke.

So that’s my best guess about what we’re supposed to find amusing. It’s two jokes. Each of them are okay. But arranged as they are, they’re interfering destructively. It’s rather like the sloppier panels of Julie Larson’s The Dinette Set, in which the secondary bonus joke on someone’s T-shirt would distract the reader from the main joke.

The important thing is the problem is the joke, not you reading it.


Oh, and, what the heck. Daily Cartoonist mentioned that Brian Anderson, who does the fantastic Dog Eat Doug comic strip, is doing a half-hour livestream the 31st at 10 am Eastern Time, “How To Write Any Story”, a workshop for kids seven and up. May be worth seeing.

Statistics February: How the past month treated my humor blog


It seems like I did this just a couple days ago, doesn’t it? But at least I’m getting to my monthly review of readership numbers sooner this month than last. I do like taking a moment to look at what got read around here, and how much, since it serves as a reminder that I’m not as popular as I think I am. Also that I never will be. And that I used to be more popular. Or at least more less unpopular.

There were 3,181 page views around here in February. That’s the third month in a row at about that level, although it is rising a little. It’s a chunk under the twelve-month running average of 3,542.6. The numbers aren’t bad by themselves; it’s just this is like a one-quarter chunk of the readership from the previous three months vanished. I don’t know what happened there, or why.

It’s a similar story with the number of unique visitors. There were 1,969 of them in February, which is a bit up from the last couple months and is at least in the neighborhood of the Chuckletrousers running average of 2,038.3. Again, though, like a quarter of my readership vanished between November and December and I can’t figure a reason why.

Bar chart of monthly readership going back four and a half years; after the readership dropped about a quarter following December, it's been slowly rising again.
Now, this same chart but for my mathematics blog tells me the number of things posted in the month. It happens I know how many things I posted here in February; I had something every day. But why does that not get attention in the little pop-up window then?

After a couple months fluttering upward the number of likes has crashed again. There were 75 of them in February, way below the running average of 138.3. It’s the lowest number of likes in a month since 2013, which is amazing to consider because that was a time I would get, like, 300 views and 170 visitors in a month. Comments, too, have rolled over and died: six of them in February, below the average of 18.4 and the lowest since the first months of this blog, back in 2013.

Nevertheless, people are reading stuff. Mostly my comic strip talk. The most popular essays here in February were none at all published in February, but:

So if we learn nothing else, it’s that people really want to know what’s with Mark Trail leaving people for dead. Trust me, I’ll have words about this on Sunday. Also I have no idea why that months-of-the-year thing is proving so popular month after month. I think someone must have linked to it from somewhere trusted. The most popular thing I published in February was also about people wanting story comic characters’ motivations explained. That was What’s Going On In The Phantom (Weekdays)? Why is the Python held by the Wambesi? November 2019 – February 2020.

My most popular long-form essay of the month was It Is Supposed To Be Cold Tomorrow which shows how people like to see me vaguely complaining about stuff. I am thinking of other topics I can go on about in this vein. Anyway each Thursday night, US time, I try to post a long-form essay at this link. We’ll see what I can do with any of that.

Altogether 401 posts, plus my home page, got any views at all this past month. 245 of them got more than one view. 56 got at least ten views. There’d been 450 posts getting any views in January, and 277 more than one view then.

But I know what people really want to see and that’s my plot recaps of the story comics. The plan for the next several weeks is to feature:

As ever, this is subject to change for reasons of breaking news or broken schedules on my part. And, not to jinx myself, but: Mark Trail, Mary Worth, The Phantom, and Rex Morgan? In the story-strip-snark community we know these as the breadwinners. Gil Thorp, well, that’s the hipster breadwinner, a story strip for people who want to snark on something a little more obscure than Mary Worth.

Mercator-style map of the world, with the Americas, western Europe, South India, Australia, and Russia in a mostly uniform pink. There's only a few African countries to have sent any readers at all.
I acknowledge that I will never have a reader from Greenland but I’m startled to see Switzerland ignoring me.

71 countries sent me any readers in February. That’s right about January’s 68 and December’s 65. 18 of these were single-view countries, again right about January’s 20 and December’s 13. Here’s the full roster:

Country Readers
United States 2,313
Canada 182
India 116
United Kingdom 82
Australia 52
European Union 40
Germany 36
Brazil 35
Sweden 30
Philippines 25
Spain 20
France 17
Portugal 17
Norway 15
Finland 13
Indonesia 12
South Africa 11
Denmark 7
Israel 7
Poland 7
Argentina 6
Netherlands 6
New Zealand 6
Russia 6
Chile 5
Ireland 5
Italy 5
Kenya 5
Romania 5
Bangladesh 4
Colombia 4
Jamaica 4
Japan 4
Malaysia 4
Mexico 4
Pakistan 4
Puerto Rico 4
Serbia 4
Singapore 4
Taiwan 4
Austria 3
El Salvador 3
Hong Kong SAR China 3
Hungary 3
Nigeria 3
Thailand 3
Turkey 3
Cyprus 2
Ecuador 2
Latvia 2
Oman 2
Switzerland 2
Tanzania 2
Aruba 1
Barbados 1
Belgium 1
Bolivia 1
Ghana 1
Kuwait 1
Lebanon 1
Libya 1
Malta 1
Panama 1
Peru 1
Qatar 1
Saudi Arabia 1
South Korea 1
Sri Lanka 1 (*)
Trinidad & Tobago 1 (*)
United Arab Emirates 1
Venezuela 1

Sri Lanka and then Trinidad & Tobago were single-view countries in January. There’s no countries on three-month streaks. Italy’s dropped to a more typical number of readers after January’s spike of 170 page views. Most of my readers are from the English-speaking countries that I expect to see there.

I posted, counts WordPress, 14,874 words in February. This seems low. It averages to 512.9 words per posting, which is down from January’s 548. As of the start of February I’ve posted 2,585 things, and attracted 157,567 page views from a logged 88,016 unique visitors.

I’d be glad to have you as a regular reader here. You can put the blog into your RSS reader. (Friends pages on a free Livejournal or Dreamwidth account can serve as an RSS reader.) Or you can use the “Follow Another Blog, Meanwhile” button on this page and add it to your regular RSS read. If you’re on Twitter, you’re one ahead of my @nebusj account, but that link still announces postings. Thank you for reading at all, though, however it is you do it.

Statistics 2019: What Was Read Here, And How Much, Back Then


I have meant to do my usual readership-review thing, but for the whole of 2019. I can’t put it off much longer, either, or I’ll start running into February. Few people ever run into February on purpose; it just sort of settles on us instead, and then we get three weeks of our socks getting wet even through the waterproof boots. So let’s see what was popular around here last year:

Bar chart showing the mostly steady increase of readership, by year, from 2013 through 2019.
Boy, I’m glad the statistics for 2020 aren’t ending now because that would be a pretty sharp drop.

2019 was my greatest year for being read, which is nice to see. 42,746 pages got viewed at all, from 24,539 unique visitors. That’s also a record; 2018 saw only 39,130 views from 20,889 visitors. Also the unique visitors from 2019 was only slightly below the 24,695 total page views in 2017. That’s not a bad rate of growth. There were 1.74 views per visitor in 2019, which is down but probably not significantly from 2018’s 1.87. It’s up but probably not significantly from 2017’s 1.63.

Bar chart of likes per year, from 2013 to the present. It's hung around 1700 to 2300 most years, with 2015 abnormally high.
People really, really liked it when Apartment 3-G was dying and I was covering it weekly.

This is not to say I’m getting any more likable. The number of likes given out in 2019 declined to 1,715, my lowest number since 2013. Given the increase in readers, and page views, this decline’s particularly dire. I can understand the decrease in comments. There were 277 comments given last year, the lowest for a full year that I’ve ever had. But I get that: there’s little to say about a Statistics Saturday post, or any of those wordplay bits I was doing on Wednesdays. Even the What’s Going On In series only offers slight openings for discussion. I don’t make a lot of speculations about stories and since I spend three months getting back to any comic, anyone with a good joke about Mark Trail has used it in a more relevant spot first.

Bar chart of comments per year, 2013 to present. There were a good number of comments in 2014 and 2015, with a decline from there --- except for a huge number of comments in 2018.
Gosh, was it as long ago as 2018 that Ray Kassinger ran across this page and commented on everything I’d ever written? You never notice how fast time moves until it’s done, do you?

So perhaps I need, especially in the posts that are reviews, to write things that more invite comment. My brain is able to think only of adding, “What do you think?” to the ends of posts. So that’ll be a while to develop.

There were, besides the home page, 1,320 posts that got at least a single page view in 2019. 1,055 of them got at least two page views, and 524 got at least ten page views. 63 of them got over a hundred page views, and one of them was about Fearless Fred, Betty Boop’s boyfriend who even she forgot she had. The things people most wanted to read were, yes, comic strip stuff and S J Perelman:

Also someone went and put a single-star rating vote on the Rex Morgan, M.D. piece about Edward’s Dog. I don’t take any of these ratings personally but … what is their conceptual model for a two-star essay about why we don’t see Edward’s Dog on-screen? What would that have which I was lacking?

Anyway all the most popular essays in 2019 which were published in 2019 were What’s Going On In essays, and I’ll admit some overworked days I feel like I could drop everything but that and save myself some work. My most popular post of 2019 that wasn’t about comic strips was also not an attempt to be funny. It was an attempt to serve the public: Which Color Paas Tablet Is Purple? Which is Red? Which is Pink? Knowing the answer to this has become less urgent now that you can use either water or vinegar for all the colors, pink included. But it may still help people work out which color is purple and which is blue.

And the most popular long-form essay was In Which I Cannot Honestly Say I Dodged A Bullet Here, about an axe-throwing place that opened in town. It just barely beat out The Stages Of The Road Trip: Stage One, the start of a surprisingly long sequence about … just … driving. I really liked writing the road trip sequence though, and if I could manage one series like that every four months I’d feel I had reached the mastery I wanted.

The single-view pages are split between ones that I’m amazed didn’t get more views and ones I’m amazed got that many views. One view for On The Problems Of Credit In The 19th Century New England Economy is probably about right, though, given that it has a title like that. I don’t know what I was thinking with that one.

Mercator-style map of the world, with the United States in darkest red, and the rest of the world in a more roughly uniform pink. Countries sending no readers at all include Greenland, Cuba, the Guianas, a swath of central Africa, and Iran, Afghanistan, and some neighboring countries. Also Syria, apparently.
I notice the lack of Madagascar readers, mostly because I have always had an irrational fondness for the island-nation owing to its appearance in a Donald Duck comic book which asserted that it was the premier nation if you wanted papier-mache. I have no idea where the comic book got that idea but, some country has to be the best at papier-mache, so why not Madagascar?

136 country-like things sent me readers in 2019. The United States alone sent me 31,339 page views. This is more page views than I had in any year before 2018 and also shows just how amazingly provincial my writing is. Here’s the full list of page views, though:

Country Readers
United States 31,339
India 2,458
Canada 1,229
United Kingdom 957
Australia 722
Sweden 470
Philippines 422
Germany 385
Brazil 367
European Union 264
Italy 237
Spain 237
France 202
Hong Kong SAR China 187
South Africa 170
Mexico 153
Finland 145
Romania 137
Netherlands 131
Norway 131
Japan 115
Peru 112
Denmark 104
Kenya 94
El Salvador 89
Malaysia 88
New Zealand 84
Turkey 81
South Korea 75
Portugal 69
Indonesia 68
Singapore 68
Thailand 59
Ireland 58
Belgium 57
Russia 56
Taiwan 55
United Arab Emirates 55
Poland 49
Argentina 48
Colombia 46
Switzerland 46
American Samoa 42
Austria 42
Serbia 36
Israel 35
Slovenia 32
Greece 30
Pakistan 30
Chile 29
Jamaica 28
Ukraine 28
Puerto Rico 27
Nigeria 26
Hungary 24
Bangladesh 21
Saudi Arabia 20
Trinidad & Tobago 20
Nepal 19
Croatia 18
Czech Republic 18
Egypt 16
Uruguay 16
Slovakia 15
Ecuador 13
China 12
Vietnam 12
Morocco 9
Venezuela 9
Iraq 8
Kuwait 8
Georgia 7
Jordan 7
Macedonia 7
Zambia 7
Bolivia 6
Bulgaria 6
Cyprus 6
Guam 6
Guatemala 6
Kazakhstan 5
Lithuania 5
Sri Lanka 5
Bermuda 4
Bosnia & Herzegovina 4
Dominican Republic 4
Latvia 4
Mongolia 4
Montenegro 4
Qatar 4
South Sudan 4
Albania 3
Algeria 3
Bahrain 3
Estonia 3
Ghana 3
Honduras 3
Iceland 3
Lebanon 3
Malta 3
Moldova 3
Tunisia 3
Angola 2
Armenia 2
Brunei 2
Cambodia 2
Cameroon 2
Cayman Islands 2
Costa Rica 2
Curaçao 2
Liberia 2
Panama 2
Réunion 2
Uganda 2
Antigua & Barbuda 1
Bahamas 1
Barbados 1
British Virgin Islands 1
Gibraltar 1
Guadeloupe 1
Guernsey 1
Isle of Man 1
Libya 1
Luxembourg 1
Mauritania 1
Mauritius 1
Myanmar (Burma) 1
Nicaragua 1
Oman 1
Papua New Guinea 1
Paraguay 1
Sint Maarten 1
St. Martin 1
Tanzania 1
Uzbekistan 1
Zimbabwe 1

Hey, three countries with more than a thousand page views each! That’s … not different from my 2018 record. It still feels accomplished, though. My India readership almost doubled.

In all, WordPress says I published 204,420 words in 2019. It also says I published 363 posts, which does not square with my having published something every day. I have no explanation for this. This is my second-most-loquacious year, a bit down from 2018 with 233,406 words. I averaged, according to WordPress, 563 words per posting. I make out 204,420 divided by 365 to be just over 560 myself. Either way, it’s just a little more wordy than 2017 was, and with fewer comments and likes. Hm.

While it’s still early to say what the year ahead will offer, I know my plans. What’s Going On In the story comics, once a week. On Thursday evenings, US time, a long-form essay. On Saturday evenings, US time, a Statistics Saturday quick little joke. And I guess I’m reviewing the Popeye cartoons nobody cares about too. Plus whatever fills in the gaps, the other days.

Thank you for reading. What do you think?

Statistics December: How The Last Month Treated My Humor Blog


I like taking some time near the start of any month to look at what my readership is like. I would have liked to get to it earlier this month but I haven’t had the time to think, much less write. I’d also like to know why I like doing this. Well, I know why I usually like it. Usually the statistics tell me that I’m quite popular with a select group of people and that’s nice to see. December 2019, though? … well, not so much.

It’s an exaggeration to say this was a plummet. But there were “only” 3,064 page views around here in December. That’s about three-quarters what there were in November. It’s a fair bit below the twelve-month running average of 3,545.7 views per month. Looking at the number of views per posting seems less dire, even though there were more posts in December than in November. There were 98.8 views per posting in December, below the running average of 116.5 views per posting. This seems less dire because there are more decimal points in it.

Bar chart of several years' worth of readership figures. After several months of increase December 2019 sees a drop to near June 2019's level.
Boy, the end of Apartment 3-G was a long time ago, wasn’t it?

There was a roughly identical drop in the number of unique visitors. There were 1,760 logged unique visitors in December 2019, below the twelve-month running average of 2,034.3. Per post, that’s 56.8 unique visitors, below the average of 66.8. If there’s any bright spots to this it’s in the things that measure engagement. There were 104 things liked in December, a rise from November’s total of 92, and getting closer to the running average of 145.7. This is 3.4 likes per posting, still fairly below the 4.8 likes per posting average. The number of comments was up, though, with 21 received in December. That’s the greatest number since June, and is not that far below the twelve-month running average of 25.0. It’s also an average of 0.7 comments per posting, below but near the average of 0.8.

There were 420 posts, besides my home page, that got any views at all in December. That’s down from November’s 446. 159 of these pages got only a single view, which basically matches November’s 150 and October’s 162. The most popular pieces were nothing posted this December, it happens:

Those last three make me think I need to do something optimizing about my comic strip plot recap posts. My most popular long-form essay for the month was also a new one, Some Books You Can Get Me For Christmas. I’m quite happy about this because I really, really liked this piece and I’m glad other people do.

I plan to keep doing long-form essays every Thursday evening, Eastern Time, until someone likes them. I also plan to keep doing What’s Going On In Story Strips essays, normally posted Sunday evenings. My planned schedule, barring breaking news or other urgent developments, for the next few weeks is this:

65 countries or country-like entities sent me views in December. That’s down from November’s 74 and October’s 76. I thought last month I had found a level, and see where that’s got me. There were 13 single-view countries, down from November’s 15 and October’s 23. Here’s the full list of them:

Mercator-style map of the world with the United States in darkest red, and much of South America, Europe, South Asia, and Australia and New Zealand in a more uniform pink. A few African countries have also sent readers.
Yeah but seriously, is there anybody in Greenland? If you know anybody who’s going to Greenland could you ask them to send me just one page view so I know the system is working? Thank you.
Country Readers
United States 2,206
India 118
Canada 103
European Union 98
Philippines 91
Australia 62
United Kingdom 47
Sweden 44
France 26
Germany 25
Finland 21
Spain 17
Malaysia 14
Turkey 14
Brazil 13
South Africa 12
Netherlands 11
Italy 8
Denmark 7
Poland 7
Greece 6
Singapore 6
Taiwan 6
Ukraine 6
Croatia 5
New Zealand 5
Portugal 5
Russia 5
Colombia 4
Israel 4
Japan 4
Argentina 3
Czech Republic 3
Hong Kong SAR China 3
Ireland 3
Mexico 3
Romania 3
Serbia 3
Slovenia 3
United Arab Emirates 3
Angola 2
Austria 2
Bangladesh 2
Ecuador 2
Hungary 2
Norway 2
Pakistan 2
South Korea 2
Switzerland 2
Thailand 2
Vietnam 2
Zambia 2
Belgium 1
Cayman Islands 1
Chile 1
Iceland 1
Indonesia 1
Jamaica 1
Kazakhstan 1
Kenya 1
Lebanon 1 (*)
Macedonia 1 (**)
Nigeria 1 (*)
Peru 1
Slovakia 1

Lebanon and Nigeria were single-view countries in November. Macedonia’s been a single-view country three months running now.

I figure to do a review of all 2019 sometime later, most likely in 2020. But I can share some things. In December I posted 16,820 words altogether, for an average of 542.6 words per posting. That’s below the 2019 year’s average of 563 words per post. From the start of this blog to the start of 2020 I’d had 2,526 postings, which got altogether 151,278 views from 84,297 unique visitors.

I’m happy to have you as a regular reader. You can add https://nebushumor.wordpress.com/feed/ to your RSS reader. If you don’t have an RSS reader you can create one by using the Reading/Friends page on a free Dreamwidth or Livejournal account. Or if you’d like to show up in my statistics you can use the “Follow Another Blog, Meanwhile” button that’s on this page too. And I have an account on Twitter as @Nebusj which posts announcements of new pieces, although I haven’t got around to getting back into the account. For whatever reason Safari stopped letting me read Twitter and I haven’t had energy to protest this anywhere useful. But thanks for reading this here, at a minimum.

Statistics 2010s: Top Words Cut From My Essays Of The Decade Just Passed


  • just
  • not to say it isn’t
  • really
  • almost
  • microphone
  • a sort of
  • somewhat
  • (really almost any 10% would improve things somewhat)
  • simply
  • heptic

Reference: Mind Partner and 8 Other Novelets From Galaxy Science Fiction Magazine, Editor Horace Gold.

One Thing There Is To Say About How Language Evolution Helps Writers


If we know only one thing about the English language we’re probably counting wrong. Most of us know four things about English. Professors of English know even more. There are some who know well enough to explain to the lay audience six things. Still, one is the minimum number of things people know about the English language, if they know anything at all. And I’d like to see you get out of that one.

But one thing we know about the English language is that words change meaning. They often do this without warning, despite the custom that they do not do this without warning. That is, that they do it with warning. I’d like to see me get out of this one myself.

There are neat ways that words do change meaning. The most exciting way they change is through a graphitic fission. One thrilling example of this was in 1378. A team lead by Geoffrey Chaucer subjected the word “deer” to high-participle bombardment in a gerund-lined chamber. It split the word “deer” from its earlier meaning of “anything that isn’t a bird or fish but that people are still willing to eat, as long as it isn’t a plant or shoe”. All that remained was “Bambi-like life-form”. We’re left without a word for the earlier meaning of deer. We make do with the circumlocution “eh, I don’t feel like that” while standing in front of the fridge.

Still, the experiment was worth it. There were flurries of syntax over southern England for years, accelerating the evolution of the language. That’s not to say this is always without its perils. A 1752 attempt to fragment the word “meat” — applied back then to animal flesh, the innards of peaches, or large enough trees — resulted in war with Spain. In fairness, that sort of thing happened a lot in those days. Spain didn’t even know about the war for two more years. They just thought the English were being all snippy, again.

Another kind of word evolution is reverse mitosis. In this a word shoots out a cytoplasm-dissolving compound to envelop and absorb some other word’s definitions. The shorter words are better at this, wowing to surface tension. It might seem unfair to you that “run” has now taken over 80,954 distinct words and yet it doesn’t show any signs of breaking up. In fact, it is deeply unfair. There’s nothing we can do. But we aren’t expected to do anything either. That itself is a kind of relief.

And while this process can obliterate an old word, there’s no reason new words can’t join up. Any new conglomeration of letters can join the English language. The franchise fee is perhaps objectionably low. It hasn’t changed form its 1663 level of “five groat, a tuppence, and three cloves of onnyons”, which is obvious gibberish. A lost word can just re-form and try again. English is on like its fourth “gossip”, for example, and it’s not going to stop however hard we try.

Another bit of word evolution that’s a really hilarious freaking joke, guys, is protective camouflage. In this, we notice that a word means something. But if we actually meant that thing, whoever we called that would get angry and maybe slug us. So we use the word but get all arch and wry about it. This keeps other people from knowing whether they want to slug us or kiss us. The worst they’ll do is think we’re being witty. This frees up our time and saves us social anxiety. But it does mean that any word is at most three generations away from meaning the opposite of what it now means.

An awareness of this gives writers exciting new chances, though. Sentences are made up of words, I think you’ll agree. If you won’t then go ahead and make your argument. It won’t work, because every word in your argument will mutate to every possible meaning. I just have to look back at the right time and your literal words will mean what I want them to, so I win.

But the opportunity for writers. It’s hard finding the right words and stringing them along the right way. But it’s also unnecessary. Write absolutely anything and, someday, it’ll be what you wanted it to be. This should make all writers’ lives easier. It does not.

What My Brain Has Been Doing To Me Lately, A Quick Complaint


So my brain has been trying for two weeks now to convince me to write a follow-up note to that essay about the axe-throwing business in town. Particularly it wants me to riff on the “scurrilous rumor” that I have some responsibility for mysterious thuds outside Quality Dairy headquarters. My brain, which is working hard at making sure that I can be a humor blogger but never, ever a successful humor blogger, is convinced I should make some kind of squirrel joke here. This is because my brain is convinced I can do some oblique multi-lingual and taxonomic pun built on how scurrilous sounds kind of like “sciurrilous”, which seems like it ought to be a sciencey word for “squirrel”. And it will not be convinced otherwise. “Knock it off, brain,” I tell it, in the shower. “There is not a successful pun to be made out of this and you’ll only hurt yourself if you keep trying.” Then my love asks what I’m mumbling about in there, and I have to insist I’m not, and follow it up with an alarming coughing fit to cover up what I’m doing.

The punch line to this is there isn’t anywhere in the essay I talk about a “scurrilous rumor”. The first draft did, but I realized I had put the words without thinking, and rewrote the sentence to be better-considered easily minutes before deadline. So my brain’s been busy two weeks now trying to make me form a joke that could not possibly have worked in order to follow-up a joke that did not actually exist except for a couple-hour stretch of time on the 10th of January, 2019. I’m glad I have perfectly resisted the urge.

Statistics Saturday: Some Highfalutin Words And Their Better Alternatives


Highfalutin Word Better Alternative
multiple many
compartment bin, box
utilize use, make usable
systematize lose
initiate burn
harbinger warning
transpire distract, confound
adverse anthony
ubiquitous unavoidable
effluvium acetominophen
detrimental trimental [ “de” is here etymologically an intensifier to “trimental” and not, as carelessly assumed, a negation ]
hinder (as in to restrict, limit, or make worse) hinder (as in tuckus)
perpetuate paint
fluctuation fluctoid, inventory
eventuality [ best dropped altogether and never replaced ]
anomalous strawberry-flavored, bumpy, wiggly
dilettante Ben, at it again
fastidious plaid
ostracize ostrich-size
untenable not rounded off

Reference: A History of Mathematical Notations, Florian Cajori.

I Don’t Know Who’s Officially Writing Spider-Man Now


[ Edited the 28 of March, 2019 to add this. ] The newspaper comic strip is officially on hiatus. It’s showing reruns, for now, from 2014. The syndicate says that they are looking to put together a new creative team. I haven’t heard of one being hired, or auditioned, yet. I have some thoughts about the close of the comic strip’s run at this link.


Stan Lee has died. Many people have written better eulogies and retrospectives than I could for a man who was one of the most important writers and editors of comic books for like 14,680 years, going back to the discovery of pigments. It’s oversimplifying to say that if you think of a comic book, you think of something that was in part Stan Lee’s idea of what a comic book should be. But it’s a starting point toward truth.

What’s relevant around Another Blog, Meanwhile is: Stan Lee’s the credited author of the Amazing Spider-Man newspaper comic strip. What happens now that he’s died?

I don’t expect much. None of the people into the serious business of comic strips thought Stan Lee was literally writing the daily strips. I’d heard questions about whether he at least gave story ideas or overall direction, but never a clear answer that he particularly did, or didn’t. D D Degg, writing for The Daily Cartoonist about the retirement of artist Larry Leiber, mentioned “it is generally known that Roy Thomas is the ghost-writer” of the comic strip. Thomas didn’t start getting author credit when Leiber’s name dropped off the comics. Perhaps that will change.

Spider-Man, having stopped a car from crashing full-speed into a wall, fails to notice a cracked brick coming loose. It THONNKs him on the head, which *that* he notices.
Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man for the 14th of March, 2007. I do not know whether Thomas was the ghost-writer for this 11-year-old installment or how much Lee was involved in this particular but very popular moment

I’m three weeks out from my scheduled recap of The Amazing Spider-Man. But I may bump that up to reflect what I assume will be reader interest in what’s going on there.


Also yes, I’ve heard the news about Alley Oop. I’m hoping to write something for that for Wednesday.

Statistics October: How Good It Is For Me When Longrunning Comic Strips End


Given the choice, I’d rather comic strips not end. Oh, there are strips I don’t like, even ones I won’t read. But for the most part, I like comics. I like them carrying on. I love it when a new creator comes in and revives a moribund property. But even something that’s just marking time is this comfortable, familiar friend for whom nothing exciting is happening, but nothing bad is happening either. And that’s consoling, especially in the face of a terrifying world.

So I expected the ending of Hazel and then Henry to bring readers here, since who else writes anything about either? Besides actual comic strip news sites. Still, people did come. Partly from the comic strip news. Partly spillover from my mathematics blog, which hosted the Playful Mathematics Education Blog Carnival at the end of September. Give that a try, please. You might find something delightful there. Here’s how the figures worked out, precisely:

3,070 views; 1,681 visitors. 1.83 views per visitor. 31 posts published. 99 page views, on average, per day.
Yes, I am thrilled to be back above three thousand page views for the first time in four months.

WordPress tells me of 3,070 page views in October. That’s way up from September’s 2,644 and August’s 2,848. These views came from 1,681 unique visitors, again way up from September’s 1,436 but basically level with August’s 1,619. Still, there were 173 likes submitted around here in October. That’s basically the same as September’s 174, August’s 180, and really every month going back to April. It’s been in a 165-to-180 range all this time now. I don’t know. The number of comments jumped, up to 67, the highest figure since March. September had 50 comments and August 39. I’m trying to be comfortable with people talking to me.

Comic strip talk made up the bulk of my readership. Part of this is comic strip endings or major changes. Part of this is story strips getting really confusing. Here’s the top five posts for October:

Yes, none of them actually published in October. My most popular thing actually published in October was In Which I Am Distracted By Ziggy For Crying Out Loud, a cry of despair provoked by paying too much attention to the art one strip. I had a lot of well-liked short pieces, by the way, possibly because I got into this good groove of having an amusing trifle and being able to put it down in 150 words. My most popular long-form piece was, like, the 814th most popular thing around here last month. That was Regarding The Time When I Had Too Much Desiccant, showing that what really amuses people is me somehow having problems with petty stuff.

Here by the way is my schedule for upcoming What’s Going On In The Story Strip posts. Subject to change if some fast-breaking news breakfasts:

I also have another seven weeks of recaps of The Stan Freberg Show to run. Don’t think I’m not already panicked about what to write about after that.

Now for the running of the countries. There were 69 countries, if you count the European Union as one and Trinidad & Tobago as one other. And Bosnia & Herzegovina as another one. In August and September there were 60 such countries. In August and September there were 16 single-reader countries. In October? 17. So I’m clearly in a growth spiral here. Here’s the roster:

Country Readers
United States 2,329
Australia 140
Canada 96
United Kingdom 54
Spain 53
India 47
Italy 31
Philippines 26
Germany 24
Japan 19
Brazil 18
Mexico 17
Hong Kong SAR China 16
Netherlands 13
Romania 13
France 12
Saudi Arabia 11
Sweden 10
Belgium 9
Finland 9
Denmark 7
Sri Lanka 7
Colombia 6
Pakistan 6
South Africa 6
Ireland 4
New Zealand 4
Norway 4
Peru 4
Singapore 4
Taiwan 4
China 3
Czech Republic 3
Latvia 3
Malaysia 3
Slovenia 3
Thailand 3
Zimbabwe 3
Chile 2
Ecuador 2
European Union 2
Greece 2
Indonesia 2
Nigeria 2
Poland 2
Russia 2
Serbia 2
Slovakia 2
South Korea 2
Turkey 2
Ukraine 2
Vietnam 2
Argentina 1
Austria 1
Bahrain 1
Bangladesh 1 (*)
Bosnia & Herzegovina 1
Croatia 1
Curaçao 1
Cyprus 1
El Salvador 1
Estonia 1
Kazakhstan 1
Luxembourg 1
Madagascar 1
Maldives 1
St Lucia 1
Suriname 1
Trinidad & Tobago 1

Bangladesh was a single-reader country in September. No other countries were, though, and no country’s sent me a single reader each month for three months running now.

According to Insights, by the end of October I had published 195,599 total words in 304 posts for the year. This is 643 words per post total, on average. I had been averaging 641 words per post at the start of October. There were 18,418 words published around here in October, over 31 posts. That’s up a little bit from September’s total, although really only because there were only 30 September posts. Huh. Anyway, I’ve had 742 total comments for the year, as of the start of November. 2.4 comments per post this year up from 2.3 at the start of October. 6.1 likes, on average, per post, the same number as at the start of October. 1,844 total likes so far this year, by the way, if you wondered.

November opened with the blog having had a total of 102,048 page views, from 56,394 unique visitors. And yes, I reached my 100,000th page view this past month, and celebrated it with a special Statistics Saturday post.

If you’d like to follow Another Blog, Meanwhile, please do. You can add it to your WordPress reader. You can add it by RSS reader, using whatever tool you like to read my content, and maybe even get the versions with the dumb typoes and grammatical errors not corrected out. And if you’d like to see me on social media, that’s your business. But I’m @Nebusj on Twitter, so that’s an option. Choose wisely.

The Stan Freberg Show: The Second Episode; Meet A The Abominable Snowman


Archive.org has this really nice system to embed media in other pages. Both videos and audio files. The scheme works really well if there’s a single file on the archive.org host page. If there’s multiple files on the page, though — if it’s an archive page with whole collection of something, like, every episode of a radio series — then it gets harder. The simple “Share This Item” link gives code that shares the whole collection. And that defaults to the first item in the collection. A bit of URL hacking can fix that. But I’m never completely sure I’m doing it right. So if you play this, and it’s just last week’s episode again, please let me know. I’ll try fixing it.

So here’s the rundown for this episode, from the 21st of July, 1957:

Start Time Sketch
00:00 Cold Open. Stan Freberg interrupts one of his own comedy records again; only the one, this time. This record is “John and Marsha”, his first comedy record. The original is a story, in which a woman says “John” and a man answers “Marsha”, and that’s basically it. The comedy’s all in the structure; for me, it works. But that’s also why the interrupting Freberg saying they have a lot to say to each other is a punch line.
00:40 Opening Theme. So now you see how this quiet bit of customization is going to go.
01:30 Interview with the Abominable Snowman. This instance of the Abominable Snowman turns out to be ten and a half feet tall and wears size 23 sneakers. I do, really, have a friend with enormously long feet in real life and I’m not sure they don’t wear size 23. Not quite that tall, though. The narrator’s introduction about how the show “goes everywhere, sees everything, does everyone” riffs on newsreel hype.
08:00 Great Moments In History: the story behind Barbara Fritchie. Quick little sketch based on a poem that I only know because of a Rocky and Bullwinkle sketch, this bit, and a sketch from the Stan Freberg Presents the United States of America albums. The sketch shows that sort of cheery, lightly cynical existentialism that at least I see all over cartoons of the era.
09:15 Song. Peggy Taylor sings “Birth of the Blues”.
13:00 Carving A New Statue At Mount Rushmore. Absurdist bit about carving a 400-foot oleomargarine statue. The sort of sketch you can only do on radio or the cartoons. Mary Mararet McBride did a daily housewife-advice chat show on radio for decades, including what sounds like an admirably eclectic line of interview subjects. This sounds all respectable enough, although by 1957 she’d been on the air for roughly a quarter-century. Likely she served well as an old-enough-to-be-square reference. My favorite line is the carver declaring of someone, “I hate her but she’s a lovely girl”.
16:00 Wrong number. The major sketch this piece, without the political energy of last week’s Incident at Los Voraces. It’s a simple slow-build, slow-burn sketch where a onetime common accident just keeps getting bigger. My favorite line is its most instantly dated, the man declaring he’s so tired he “wouldn’t go out to see Davey Crockett wrestle Marilyn Monroe”.
23:50 Stephen Foster Medley. Is there any dated comic premise more wonderfully dated than the late-50s/early-60s hate-on-rock-and-roll bit? I say there is only if you divide the early-60s-hate-on-the-Beatles into its own genre. This sketch revives a record-producer character from Freberg’s record “Sh-Boom”, mentioned early on, who’d helped a recording get to true modern greatness by avoiding problems like the audience being able to make out a word the singers were performing. This is the same premise, doing a rock-and-roll version of Stephen Foster songs. It’s more cleverly done than funny, and I don’t think just because Freberg writes for clever. Nor because the premise is hilariously dated, embedded as it is in a moment when American popular music styles changed to what is still the default mode, and writing from the perspective of the now-obsolete styles. I think Freberg (or his writers) got caught in an authenticity trap. They got so committed to making plausible arrangements that, actually, “Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair” set to the tune of “Rag Mop” works. I’ve been caught in this kind of authenticity trap myself. I suspect it’s caused by certain nerd personality traits. Particular strains of cleverness and industriousness and perfectionism can combine to where the goal becomes executing an idea perfectly. It’s easy to forget that you haven’t developed or escalated the idea past the original premise.
28:00 Closing Remarks. No teaser for next week; the first episode said the Barbara Fritchie bit would be here.

The Stan Freberg Show: The First Episode


So my big idea what to do next was The Stan Freberg Show. This ran from the 14th of July through the 20th of October, 1957. It was a half-hour sketch-comedy show. And it ran after The Jack Benny Show, Sunday nights at 7:30 Eastern. Or, at least, it ran after reruns of the The Jack Benny Show. By 1957 the United States broadcast networks were shutting down scripted fiction radio. They wanted people to be watching television, with better advertising revenues, instead. By 1962 the last entertainment shows of this kind were off the air. There’ve been attempts to bring scripted fiction radio back. But it’s never lasted.

The Stan Freberg Show‘s interesting for being one of the last major original new programs. It’s built around Freberg, a writer and performer of wit and musical talent and a sort of gentle anger that everybody’s a fool. He’d become a voice actor on arriving in Hollywood. You might know him from the classic Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies as the male voice actor who isn’t Mel Blanc. (Or the guy who did Elmer Fudd.) In the early 50s he started recording comedy albums, many of them spoofs of popular music. My generation may know him best through a long-running commercial featuring him and his son, who had a report due on space, then he got the new Encyclopedia Brittanica, something that he thinks he made … abundantly clear.

So let me take a quick look over these shows. Here’s the first, originally aired the 14th of July, 1957.

Running down the sketches:

  • 00:00. Cold Open. Short bits from several of Freberg’s musical comedy albums, which start talking to one another and back to the “real” Stan Freberg. Good reminder to an audience that might know they remember this voice from somewhere, but not where.
  • 01:31. Opening Theme. We’ll come back to the lyrics.
  • 02:15. Opening Remarks. When Stan Freberg says “Goodnight, folks” and they start playing Hooray for Hollywood, it’s riffing on Jack Benny’s closing theme.
  • 03:00. Musical Sheep. A surprisingly Muppet Show-ready sketch, based on whalloping sheep to play a tune. It’s got me idly curious just how far back the “hitting animals to make music” bit goes. I suppose at least as far back as bones were used for percussion instruments. It’s also got me a bit surprised that Freberg — a puppeteer on top of everything else — didn’t ever guest-host the Muppet Show.
  • 07:15. Freberg’s Fable: Incident At Los Voraces. So, back in like 1995, The Dana Carvey Show opened its brief run as a prime-time sketch-comedy show with a bit where Carvey, as President Bill Clinton, breast-feeds live kittens. Long after the show’s cancellation one of the writers, I think Dino Stamatopoulos, described to Conan O’Brien how they had ratings reports, broken down by six-second intervals, and could just watch the size of the audience plummeting before they even got to the opening credits. Prime-time sketch-comedy was always a long shot. But it’s easy to imagine the show might have had a better chance had they opened with This Week With David Brinkley On A Roller Coaster.

    So, this sketch. I’m not saying it’s bad. It’s kind of wild. It builds off something already crazy, Texas Oil Millionaires. In the 40s and 50s, when not funding insane right-wing paranoia, they’d also build ludicrously oversized hotels, often in Las Vegas. To turn that into a parable about atomic war, though — that’s getting crazy.

    It’s earnest, certainly. It shows a desire to say something important about the most important thing there was to talk about. Along the way it has a bunch of great exaggerated jokes. The woman hoping to swim across the hotel pool, accompanied by naval escort, fits the American tall-tale comedy tradition. (It also reminds me, at least, of a commercial Freberg did for his own ability to make radio commercials. As a stunt for it, he would drain the Great Lakes, fill them with hot chocolate, and have a fleet of fighter jets cover them with whipped cream a mile deep, in under eight seconds, and try getting a spectacle like that on television.) The suggestion of airlifting a chunk of the Israel-Egypt border, and hosting a war for entertainment, is audacious. I’m still not sure if it’s in good enough taste for the laugh it earns. Still, it’s working at being crazy big. And there’s a lot of bits along the way that are wonderfully weird, like the Inaugurieties of 1960. Or that Rock-and-Roll-Romeo bit.

    But it’s also a twenty minute sketch about a pair of Las Vegas hotels that blow each other up. It’s well-made satire. But it’s grim stuff. I think the best you can say at the end of the sketch is, well, I’m not such a short-sighted fool as to use a neutron bomb for a firework. I’m more intelligent than the idiots of this world. It’s cold comfort, even if you’re completely sure of yourself.

    I can’t say this sketch killed the show at its start. I don’t know anything about how it was received at the time. I can say my reaction to this. I’ve listened to this episode a couple times. And my reaction was, oh gads, I already feel bad enough. This might be environmental. I don’t remember the sketch feeling quite as forlorn when I listened to it a couple years ago, before the current hyperfire started. Still, credit to the show for wanting to say something.

Did you notice the mention of Lawrence Welk?

On Looking At The Liberty Bell


Go to the next person you see and ask if she or he knows the shape of the Liberty Bell. Odds are the person will be taken by surprise. Probably, having expected a question like “how’s it going?” or “hot enough for you?” they’ll reply, “just exhausted” or “I got up this morning and the elm tree had melted”. This is why the most important rule in a conversation is to never just start talking about whatever you want to talk about. You have to lead up to it. Start with little cues, as much as four days ahead of time. Some shy people hire flag-bearers to approach. This is why in the introvert district of town you see all those people with bright orange banners that read, oh, “CAR TIRE” or “THAT SEMESTER YOU SPENT IN SPAIN” or “PEAK FREANS COMMERCIALS” or the like.

Anyway, so try again and this time after having given some clues you want to ask about the shape of the Liberty Bell. Then warn that you mean to ask a question about its shape. Try not to be frightened if your partner wants to know why you’re thinking so much about the Liberty Bell! Just explain that it’s for a school assignment. If challenged on the grounds that you’re not in school, plead that you do tend to procrastinate. No one will challenge you on that point. In any case, I’m willing to bet that your partner agrees that the Liberty Bell has a shape, and that they know pretty much what it is. It’s rather distinctive and pretty memorable. It’s kind of bell-shaped.

But there’s all sorts of things to notice about it. There’s, yes, the overall bell-ness of it. There’s the famous crack in it. There’s the know-it-all who would like to remind you how the big crack everyone remembers isn’t the actual crack. It’s instead a much bigger crack. They drilled so as to keep the small actual crack from turning into a much bigger crack. This plan worked with an extreme level of brilliance, except for how they couldn’t do anything about the original crack anyway. And there’s other stuff too. There’s the funky bits at the bottom where people stole metal off of it. There’s the way in the moulded text up top it includes most of the letters you really notice in ‘Pennsylvania’ at least.

Yoke and upper portion of the Liberty Bell, showing the wooden frame and the hoops of metal attached to them. Also, engraved text around the top: '... THROUGHOUT ALL THE LAND UNTO ALL THE ... ' and '... OF THE PROVINCE OF PENSYLVANIA [sic]'.
Since you maybe don’t know what I mean, here’s the top part of the Liberty Bell and where the metal pieces get all weird. I guess when you really look at it the shape isn’t all that weird, but it’s still kind of weird. Also this is the part where they swung and missed at spelling ‘Pennsylvania’.

And yet. Consider this. Where would the Liberty Bell be if it weren’t for the wooden yolk on which it hangs?

Well, a bit lower down, probably. Wouldn’t be surprised if they left the thing on its side, to save drawer space. Then it would roll around in these funny little spirals every time the ground shook in one of those notorious Philadelphia earthquakes. People would stumble across it in the midle of the night. Then probably one of the cats would wrestle the clapper until that fell down and the cat fled into the city’s laundry room.

And now at last I have reached mey point say my rough notes here. Without the yoke, we’d have much less of a Liberty Bell. Plus everybody would pay more attention to how weird and ungainly the top of the metal part looks. Seriously, take a picture where you can really see how weird the top looks. Pretty weird, huh? Thank you. You can find all sorts of discussions online about the bell and its metal and whether it ever actually rang. But the yoke? Nothing.

It’s made of American elm. Hm. So, imperfectly-cast British product brought overseas, re-cast and re-cast again by apparently, anyone in eastern Pennsylvania who had a bright idea and no expertise in bell-making between 1752 and 1860. And then, hung on American wood, it was finally a swell icon for bell-ness without actually being useful as a bell. I’m not sure if we can tighten this metaphor up any before the writing group reviews it. Maybe have a carpool of security guards going home for the day accidentally smash through the front porch of some Lenape family’s home.

Liberty Bell icon on what is labelled as a 'Butter Pat Wrapper, circa 1976'.
This picture hasn’t got anything to do with even what little the rest of the article has to do with itself. But it is a reminder that when they open or expand a museum, anything that any of the docents have that they can’t get rid of just might turn out to be an artefact! So if you can’t bear to get rid of stuff, make it work for you and open a museum. Also I hope to someday write something as amusing to me as is the ‘circa’ in the description ‘Butter Pat Wrapper, circa 1976’.

Anyway the yoke, for all it does to give the Liberty Bell shape and structural support, is just there. It’s got a nearly perfect record of not growing new cracks and needing to be re-casted. And they guess it’s the original, as far as anyone knows? So here’s to the pieces of wood that are important but don’t get much attention: this is an important lesson about something and darned if I know what.

What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? Who’s Provoking People Into Offensive Outbursts Now? March – June 2018.


Thanks for wondering what might be happening in Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp. I’m writing this when the Summer 2018 storyline has barely begun. So if you’re reading this too late into summer, or after Fall 2018, sorry, this won’t help. If I’ve got a more recent summary it should be at or near the top of this page. Thanks for checking. And, you know, if you want to just subscribe to Another Blog, Meanwhile, and get these updates in your WordPress Reader, there’s the blue strip to “Follow Another Blog, Meanwhile” on the right side of this page. At least until I change the theme as if I could find a theme that will make me happy.

My other content-generation scheme is my mathematics blog. Which comics from last week brought up mathematical themes, and what can I make of those themes? Good question, since one of those comics was published in 1971. But you maybe saw it again more recently.

Gil Thorp.

12 March – 2 June 2018.

[ Marty Moon signs on again ] Marty: '... Bringing you the third quarter. We hope.' [ And finds an even larger chorus. ] Protesters: 'No more Moon! No more Moon!' Marty: 'Fine. I'm leaving. But you'll regret this!' Paloma: 'See you later, Mar-TEEN Moon!'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 10th of March, 2018. So this is nitpicking. The correct answer is “you do know this is just a story, right?”. But: after Marty Moon got chased off here, what did the radio station broadcast? Later on in the story another broadcast gets interrupted and the station has no idea what to do, which, fair enough. Nobody actually has contingency plans for something before it happens. But here it’s happened; what did they do, and why wasn’t that ready in case of another broadcast interruption?

[ Record scratch. MARTY MOON, in voice-over. ] “Yup, that’s me. You’re probably wondering how I ended up in this situation.”

Yes. But nobody wants to hear what passes for introspection in Marty Moon’s mind. I’ll do it instead. It started with Jorge and Paloma Padilla, transfer students fleeing Donald Trump’s enthusiastic drowning of Puerto Rico by joining Milford’s basketball teams. Marty Moon, covering a game, says Hurricane Maria was the best thing that could’ve happened to the Milford basketball team and also to “Georgie”. And talks how Georgie “earned his burritos” with that great play. How he’s a regular “Mexican jumping bean”. He figures this weird, faintly-racist-in-that-way-60s-food-mascots-could-be stuff might help the radio station land a big advertising deal from a Mexican restaurant. Paloma’s Disgruntled Students Group comes to the station to ask what the deal is. Moon mansplains that they need to remember the one key thing in the world of high-school-sports radio-journalism: shut up. So they take seats right behind Moon’s broadcast table and heckle him. He runs off.

Moon recuperates in the time-honored fashion of white guys. He whines about political correctness gone mad and determines that it’s someone else’s fault (“or I’ll eat my sombrero”). Moon identifies coach Gil Thorp as the problem. It is a common thought in Gil Thorp commenting communities that Gil Thorp doesn’t really care about what’s going on. But in this case, well, yeah. He wouldn’t intermediate between Moon and the Disgruntled Students Group. But how is students protesting Marty Moon’s racist on-air jokes any of Thorp’s responsibility? But he rallies to action, and in a way I thought crafty. He tells the Disgruntled Students Group that they shouldn’t be drowning Moon out. But also there’s no reason Marty Moon should be the only coverage of sports games.

Moon: 'Get lost, you morons!' Levin: 'And that's our grumpy competitor as we broadcast here on the Milford Pirate Network! By the way, faithful camera guy Jarell Atkins --- who's winning?'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 3rd of March, 2018. Stepping back from the plot a moment, isn’t it just adorable how Marty Moon thinks he can win a snarky insult fight against teenagers?

The Disgruntled Students Group sets up the “Milford Pirate Network” on YouTube. Cute nerd Duncan Levin, wearing a pirate hat and fake parrot, narrates the game. He has the condescending nerd attitude that calls “sportsball” any game that doesn’t involve miniatures and weird-marked dice. No matter; the Milford Pirate Network’s real game is bear-baiting, and Marty Moon hopes to someday be sharp as a bear. Levin’s a hit, which, yeah, I can see. I don’t buy the strip’s claim that this would draw away people who would like to hear coverage of a high school basketball game. But I accept there’s people who don’t care about basketball who would like to watch a nerd heckling a clownish local-media personality. I’m going ahead and assuming he pads his reporting with Monty Python quotes and lines from the new Mystery Science Theater 3000 series.

But there’s still the hecklers, taking Gil Thorp at his word that the occasional outburst is normal. And Levin, poking his head in to ask if Marty Moon’s wife is a goer, knowwhudImean. And his boss complaining that this whole mess is Marty Moon’s own fault. Even Jorge has limited sympathy. It’s not that anyone threw Moon under the bus. It’s that he dug a pit for himself in the asphalt and then hugged a bus over top of himself. And then hired another bus to come and run over that bus. And then hired a third, bigger bus company to run a bus over that buspile. Then he got back to the first bus company and had them put monster truck tires on top of their tallest bus and drive it over them.

On to an away game. The Milford Pirate Network is there. Levin asks how Moon can possibly transmit without a fake parrot attached to his shirt. Moon curses out Levin live and on air, using even the # word, and gets an indefinite suspension for his troubles. Even though he totally sent an e-mail saying he apologized if there were any fragile snowflakes out there who were too sheltered in their safe spaces to able to tolerate his honest truth-telling.

[ Marty Moon loses control, cursing out Levin on-air. ] Levin: 'I don't think he can SAY those words on the radio!' [ And at WDIG, the engineer loses his MIND. ] Engineer: 'We're having, um, technical difficulties at the game. So --- ' [ Later ] Gil Thorp's Assistant: 'Kelly said they went to about 10 straight commercials --- and then a replay of some '60s show.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 3rd of April, 2018. I’m like 85% sure that Gil Thorp’s assistant in the last panel there has a name but I don’t know what it is. Sorry. There’s not a cast list on the GoComics site or on Wikipedia. This Week In Milford offers a helpful if outdated “Pantheon of Hair”. But especially given that this strip does like to have major characters from one story become supporting characters in another it would be good to have a list of just which guy is which.

The suspension has its downsides. It turns out that without Moon to heckle, Levin isn’t much of a sports commentator. I know, weird that someone who’d talk about how their big sweaty guy is better than our big sweaty guy doesn’t know how to craft a good sports narrative. But likely it would have petered out in any case. It’s easy enough to make fun of something once, maybe twice. Keeping at it after that requires work. You have to have writing skills. You have to run out of stuff to say and care about the subject enough to think of new stuff to say. And deep down, Levin doesn’t really care about basketball.

The YouTube coverage winds down. And there’s no radio coverage either, which I guess is a bad thing for the basketball team for some reason? I don’t know. This may be my background showing. I grew up in central New Jersey. A high school basketball game would not make the evening news unless something noteworthy happened, such as the Governor accidentally crashing a light aircraft into the gymnasium and transforming the six people nearest the crash site into superhero tiger-sharks, as happened in Egg Harbor City the 22nd of July, 1986.

So coach Gil Thorp puts aside his not really caring and intervenes again. Moon’s boss confirms that if they can do something that gets the Disgruntled Students Group off their backs they’ll put Moon back on the air. So Thorp goes to Paloma. He explains how this has all been jolly good fun, but now a white man is suffering a consequence. Surely she doesn’t want to be responsible for that? Which is where in this storyline I started yelling back at the comic. I may need to take a break.

But they work out a deal. The Disgruntled Students Group will drop their protest, if Marty Moon apologizes, takes an online course about Latin American history, and covers at least one girls game each season. I’m not clear if this is only girls basketball, or all the major sports. But the lack of media coverage of girls sports was mentioned, early in the story, and was one of the injustices Paloma noticed. Moon’s boss buys the deal for him. Moon says “I can’t believe you let those kids get away with this.” Thorp answers, “You sound like the villain on Scooby-Doo”. This moment endeared Thorp to me. It got the Scooby-Doo quote wrong in the way that a middle-aged guy who really doesn’t care about Scooby-Doo would. And that, with the 21st of April, ends the Marty Moon/Jorge Paloma story.


The current story, softball season, started the 23rd of April. Senior Kevin Pelwecki has got obsessive in that endearing teenager way about batting just right. And lecturing his teammates on the proper swing. Gil Thorp, spotting trouble early this time, steps in. He drills Pelwecki on batting, keeping him too busy to instruct his teammates, and away from where his teammates can flush him down a toilet. That’s all right; Pelwecki will find the time to teach his teammates about his new batting stance. In fairness, he is getting better pretty fast.

Meanwhile at school newspaper The Milford Trumpet, they have a plotline. Dafne, spunky young reporter who probably has a last name, has noticed Barry Bader. Bader’s a weirdly intense player on the team. She digs around and what she can find is interesting but incomplete. She learns that Bader’s father is in jail for killing a student while driving drunk. The story’s more complicated than that [*], but she can’t get much, since it happened the summer before I started doing these plot recaps. She figures: well, why not ask him about it? And in case of the one-in-a-million chance he doesn’t want to talk about it? Why not ask him again and again until he says something newsworthy?

[*]: While driving home drunk Bader’s father crashed his car into Milford girls’ softball star pitcher “Boo” Radley’s. Both were okay at first, but a truck that didn’t stop in time hit Radley’s car, killing her. The salient part starts here, the 2nd of June, 2016 and goes about a week. Also relevant: Bader’s father was already standing trial for driving drunk when this happened.

Dafne: 'I'm so full of confidence after our big win, I'm going to track down Barry Bader.' Friend: 'Great. Can I watch?' (Later) Dafne: 'I know your family's hurting, but it could have been any of us.' Bader: 'If their dads drove drunk, you mean?' Dafne: 'Right. And a story could ... humanize him.' Bader: 'He's already human --- and we don't need your pity!'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 16th of May, 2018. I mean, you hate to watch train wrecks, but when the trains keep refusing every chance to do anything in the world except wreck what are you going to do?

This goes well. A provoked Bader argues with an umpire until Thorp carries him back to the dugout. Later in the game Bader takes a runner’s slide into second as a personal affront, slugs him, and gets suspended for two games. His teammates laugh through his anger, because remember, guys are awful. Bader figures to channel his anger into interviews with Dafne. He says, “it can’t make things any worse”, apparently forgetting that he was calling his father’s judge in the first trial an “ugly cow” that someone ought to “smack” and that things said to reporters sometimes get reported. No matter; he’s busy this weekend. He’d told a bunch of Greek gods how he could perform a more beautiful melody on the lute than any of them. Now they’re going to have a little contest to see who’s right.

So we’re ready to see the interview happen. There are all sorts of ways this can go well; which will it be? I’ll know tomorrow; you’ll know, I don’t know. Next essay, probably.

Next Week!

When will the storyline-to-pop-culture-riff ratio in Judge Parker cross that of Sally Forth? Has it already? Tune in next week, same bat-channel, and find out how Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley are getting through this one!

Statistics May: What Readership Around Here Was Like So Recently


And now let me pause to figure out how many people read something or other on my humor blog in May. I’m guessing that the Nancy boom has worn off. You can’t count on exciting comic strip news like that every month.

OK, so it’s wearing off slowly, at least. It was another month of more than three thousand readers. It’s dropped again, a little bit, but the readers are still around. There were 3,227 page views recorded, down from April’s 3,590 and March’s 3,773. This came from 1,871 unique visitors, down not so much from April’s 1,988 or March’s 1,917. There were 175 likes registered in May; in April there were 177. This does nothing to dissuade me from thinking WordPress is making stuff up. My humor blog had 73 likes in both March and April. I know, right? It was a slight bit chattier here in May than in April. 54 comments, up from 43, but down from March’s 84. I think comments are going to pick up, though. In the story strip summaries we’ve got Judge Parker and Spider-Man coming up this month. And Gil Thorp might well draw a response from someone, considering.

Bar chart for the blog's readership, which was rising steadily to about 2,000 per month through December 2016 and then leapt up to the three-to-four-thousand range.
Most boring game of Tetris on record. By the way, are they still going ahead with pretending they’re going to make a Tetris movie or have they given up on that? Or has the movie come out and we’ve forgotten it already? Were they ever planning to make a movie out of the game Candy Land? Doesn’t that seem like one that there should have been?

So what all was popular in May? The biggest thing was me grousing about a truly awful footer to the vintage Thimble Theatre strips on ComicsKingdom. I suspect that somebody popular referenced my dazed and ironic reading of those awful Kabibble Kabaret alleged jokes that Harry Hershfield inflicted on a country already plunging into the Great Depression. The top five posts of the month:

As happens, the Spider-Man and the Gasoline Alley posts were to specific essays and I’ve changed the URLs to the tag links. They’re from before May, it happens. The most popular thing I wrote in May was What’s Going On In Mary Worth? Muffins And Despair. February – May 2018. I’m glad. I liked writing that one, much as some of the subject matter got bad. My most popular original long-form piece was in there eventually, What They Found Inside City Hall. My hypothesis is that one found that sweet spot of being about something relatable, being much more true than people realize (there legitimately is a hole in an upper-floor bathroom from which you can peer down through many storeys), and got refreshed each Monday with some extra bit of preposterousness. The state’s spite building and the walled-off escalator are for real too.

78 countries sent me readers in May. There were 76 doing so in April, and 75 in March, so I guess we’ve run out of countries in the world. Here’s that part of the world:

Country Readers
United States 2,491
India 142
Canada 136
United Kingdom 72
Germany 35
Australia 33
Spain 31
Sweden 25
Denmark 15
Malaysia 15
Finland 14
Netherlands 12
France 11
Italy 11
Brazil 9
Japan 9
Norway 9
South Africa 9
Mexico 7
Botswana 6
Hong Kong SAR China 6
Philippines 6
Poland 6
Portugal 6
Indonesia 5
Singapore 5
South Korea 5
Chile 4
Egypt 4
Israel 4
New Zealand 4
Russia 4
Austria 3
Bangladesh 3
Belgium 3
European Union 3
Ireland 3
Puerto Rico 3
Romania 3
Turkey 3
Argentina 2
Bulgaria 2
Colombia 2
Croatia 2
Czech Republic 2
Macedonia 2
Peru 2
Serbia 2
Trinidad & Tobago 2
Ukraine 2
United Arab Emirates 2
Uruguay 2
Vietnam 2
Brunei 1
China 1 (*)
Cyprus 1
Dominican Republic 1
Ecuador 1
El Salvador 1
Greece 1
Iceland 1
Jamaica 1 (*)
Kenya 1
Latvia 1 (**)
Lebanon 1
Madagascar 1
Malta 1
Nepal 1 (*)
Pakistan 1
Palestinian Territories 1
Panama 1
Saudi Arabia 1
Sint Maarten 1
Slovenia 1 (**)
Sri Lanka 1
Taiwan 1
Thailand 1 (*)
Zambia 1

There were 25 single-reader countries for May. That’s up from 21 in April and back to March’s 25. China, Jamaica, Nepal, and Thailand were single-reader countries in April. Latvia and Slovenia have been single-reader countries two months running now. The United States readership dropped a couple hundred people, and Canada’s a bit. But the India readership nearly doubled. I have no explanation for this phenomenon.

Insights says I start June with 87,587 total page views, from 48,298 unique visitors. It tells me that this year I’ve published 99,521 words through the start of June — so the 100,000th was somewhere in yesterday’s long-form piece. I’m not interested enough to figure out which word that was. But there’ve been, to the start of June, 151 total posts, which gathered 340 total comments and 982 total likes. This implies I had 16,968 words published since the last statistics review for the month, and that for May I averaged 565.6 words per post. (And add to that the 10,836 words I put on my mathematics blog and I’m writing at a rather good clip. And you see why I don’t feel guilty never making a NaNoWriMo attempt.)

For the year I’m averaging 659.8 words per post. That’s down from the start of May’s 682.3 words per post. Good. I’ve needed to save the time. I’m now at an average of 6.5 likes per post for the year, down from 6.7. These decimal points are going to kill me. I’m still averaging 2.2 comments per post and there seems to be no affecting that.

If you’d like to follow Another Blog, Meanwhile, I’d be glad if you did. You can add it to your WordPress reader by clicking the button on the upper right corner of this page. Here’s the RSS feed, if you want to read this page without my ever knowing you’re doing it. And if you want to follow me on Twitter, here I am. I announce new posts for here and for my mathematics blog there, and sometimes I even talk with friends. You know how that is.

What’s Going On In Mary Worth? Muffins And Despair. February – May 2018


Dear Wendy, have you ever tried to explain Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth? Have you ever got angry about a story, and worried about that anger considering you’ve been offended by two Gil Thorp storylines in a row now?

Signed, Person Writing From So Far After Mid-May 2018 That This Essay Isn’t Any Use Anymore.

Dear Person: Of course! I try about every three months to recap the plot in Mary Worth. You should find my most recent essays at this page. And oh yes, I get offended by some story developments and I’m not even talking about Gil Thorp for three more weeks yet. When you get angered by story strips you might see what mathematically-themed comic strips are out there. See whether a bunch of jokes about students misunderstanding a word problem make you feel better about life.

— Wendy.

Auto Surgeon Inc: 'No one is rich enough to buy back their past'.
I do not know how the car care place down the block manages to keep picking quotes that ought to be inspirational and yet somehow read as existential dread. It’s some wild talent they’ve got. (I’d have put this by the Dubiously Sourced Quotes section but don’t want the more intense strips to show up in the Twitter preview.)

A content warning. The last couple months of Mary Worth have included a character sexually assaulting another. They’ve also included a despairing character considering suicide. If you don’t need that in your recreation, you’re absolutely right. Go on to something that won’t be needlessly miserable instead. I’ll catch you next time.


Mary Worth.

18 February – 13 May 2018.

When I last checked in Mary Worth was looking to become rich and famous through muffins. Ted Miller, vaguely associated old friend of Mary’s eternal beau Jeff, was crazy for Mary Muffins and insisted the world would be too. His plan: Mary bakes muffins, and he sells them, and then they both get rich and she gets famous. What could go wrong? And it was a glorious time. For one, yes, people in-universe always praise her food. But Mary Worth’s cooking always looks like it’s from one of those Regrettable 70s Food blogs. You know, the ones where we were supposed to make a tuna-jello fondue with a 7-Up glaze and bake it to look like a lamb, with a dyed mashed potato “lawn” around it.

There’s a motif in comic strips where a character gets to be successful after five weeks of kind of trying. It’s a reliable giddy delight. For another, people kept saying “muffin” or, better, “Mary’s muffins”. Over and over and over. This blend of silly story and silly phrasing could not go wrong.

Continue reading “What’s Going On In Mary Worth? Muffins And Despair. February – May 2018”

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? Why Is He Making So Many Nerd Movie Jokes? February – May 2018.


Here’s my most recent recap of James Allen’s Mark Trail. At or near the top of that link, anyway. My recap here should cover the early part of 2018. Good luck.

And I discuss comic strips with mathematical themes on my other blog. I hope you find that interesting too.

Mark Trail.

11 February – 6 May 2018.

Last time in Mark Trail there were a bunch of animals in weird places. I mean weird by Mark Trail’s standards. A giraffe eating Rusty’s apples. An ostrich with an organ-grinding monkey teasing Doc. A rhino chasing down a couple of Mark Trail cartoonist James Allen’s friends. Mark could be baffled by these goings-on while we readers weren’t. And not because Mark or anyone was being dumb. We had information that they didn’t: “Dirty” Dyer read about how the Tingling Brothers Circus was making its last tour. How or why their animals were loose might be a mystery, but why there should be a giraffe at the Lost Forest at this time of year was not. Oh, also, Dyer is figuring to kill Mark Trail. But he’s taking his time and working up to it.

Mark, on the phone, seeing a tiger in front of him: 'Dusty, I think we have a problem! Give me a second --- I want to test a theory!' Mark thinks: 'Turn around slowly, don't make any sudden movements! I've got to get back in the house!' In the house, Mark says, 'Cherry, honey, will you do me a favor?'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 15th of February, 2018. Next panel, Mark says, “Call Brewster Rockit and see if Winky’s free.”

After hearing of Rusty and Doc’s weird-animal reports, Mark steps out on the porch and sees a tiger. He swings into action and steps back inside, to toss a ham outside. A big old ham, too, like you see in 1950s humor comic books. The tiger eats the ham, proving to Mark that this isn’t some hallucination, somehow? After that odd moment, though, Mark calls the authorities, who it turns out were coming to visit anyway. The Sheriff explains. The Circus train derailed and most of the animals got loose.

Then he launches into what’s almost a shaggy dog story. It’s built on the premise that the clown car took it hardest: “You should have seen it, Mark — greasepaint and rubber chickens on the tracks for miles!”. The story then goes into the clowns, who were all safely in the bar car, in full makeup and dress. The dazed group, led by the eldest and most respected clown, the Great Wilhelm — “the clown that never spoke, he just screamed a lot” — wandered away. They stumbled through a graveyard and toward a bonfire where some kids were having a camping night and telling monster stories and stuff. So you can imagine how well a pack of dazed, disheveled clowns stumbling out of the graveyard were received. The clowns, frightened by the kids’ screams, turned and fled. Old Man Basil, overseeing the bonfire, fired a load of rock salt and hit The Great Wilhelm in the back. “They said you could hear Wilhelm scream from the other end of the valley!”

Sheriff, telling of the clowns who survived a train derailment to wander into a kids' campout: 'As the clowns turned tail and ran, Old Man Basil loaded his shotgun with rock salt and fired off one good shot! They said you could hear Wilhelm scream from the other side of the valley!
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 6th of March, 2018. I mean, this is the Sheriff telling a tall tale, right? Because otherwise I’m stuck on why all the clowns were dressed and in makeup when they were just hanging out in the bar car while in transit. Which is a dumb thing to get hung up on, but I’m not sure I’m feeling merry about a guy who’s at least 80 years old — he’d been a clown at least 65 years — getting shot even if it is by rock salt at a distance.

Okay. So. First. I’m not afraid of clowns. Not in the slightest. I don’t get what is supposed to be frightening about clowns. I think the pop culture default assumption that of course clowns are evil terrifying monsters who have to be stamped out of society is a sickness. I’ll grant there are people afraid of clowns, but, I mean, there are people afraid of any living matter that has lots of holes in it, like some kinds of fungus have. We don’t grant that phobia a privileged place in society and tell each other that of course the phobia is correct. “But wait,” people trying to talk me into fearing clowns say. “What about the clown from It? Aren’t you scared of that clown?”

I’ve never read It, nor seen the movie. But as I understand it, the clown from It is an unstoppable supernatural monster dragging people to a horrible death. The scary thing there is “unstoppable supernatural monster dragging people to a horrible death”. That he manifests as a clown doesn’t enter into it. I would not feel less menaced if the unstoppable supernatural monster dragging people to a horrible death were a freelance insurance-claims investigator.

Second. Wilhelm Scream? As in the scream that I guess is in every movie nerds like. James Allen put into Mark Trail a nerd-culture riff like that? And I didn’t notice? Even though he quite fairly set it up and underlined it several times, talking about The Great Wilhelm who “just screamed a lot”. And I didn’t notice. Well, fair enough. I’ve never noticed the Wilhelm Scream sound effect even though it’s apparently in every movie I’ve watched more than three times, including the Marx Brothers’ Monkey Business and Mister Bug Goes To Town. (Don’t @ me. I’ve listened to the scream in isolation, and I’ve listened to scenes with it in. I’ve learned that it turns out I just don’t care.) I’m not sure how I feel about Mark Trail making nerd culture jokes. But he put in a good one, and did it well, laying out the setup where anyone could see and trusting people wouldn’t notice.

Anyway. Back to the story. Mark and Dusty go looking for animals. There’s the ground rumbling. Mark says “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” and I see what he did there. It’s an elephant. Mark gets to the tranquilizer gun and knocks out the elephant before anybody can come to particular harm.

Then a new, bearded, bald guy comes in. In Mark Trail tradition this signals that we’ve finally met the villain. But no: he’s Marlin Creed from the Eden Gardens Zoo. There is no villain in this piece. He and his assistant Jim are here to help trap the animals and to ask if you get the reference there. Well? Do you? BETTER SAY YES! (2 points to the first person who gets what my reference there is. That person will be Roymark Kassinger.). (5 points to the first person who figures out what I’m referencing with this points-to-the-first-person-who stuff.)

Rhinoceros knocking over a tiger while Marlin looks on.
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 29th of March, 2018. Maybe the rhinoceros and the tiger had a simmering dispute for months, even years, and it finally flared up after the train accident?

With the arrival of Marlin and Jim, and the news that the circus people are getting organized again, the story looks like it’s finally ended. Mark mentions he’s going to have a vacation in Mexico soon. And then it turns out there’s a ruckus off-screen. There’s a tiger fighting a rhinoceros, because hey, how often do you get to justify having a tiger fight a rhinoceros? I mean outside March Mammal Madness? (I have not forgotten #Unsettlegate. Don’t ask what this is all about. You’re better off not knowing.)

Marlin, in the jeep, chasing the rhinoceros: 'Yeeee-haww! This reminds me of the days when Jim and I were on that television show!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 3rd of April, 2018. I refuse to consider the possibility that the “Yeee-haww!” is a Dukes of Hazard reference. Just. No.

The tiger runs off in one direction, the rhino in another. Mark, Marlin, and Jim chase the rhino in a cool zebra-striped jeep. Meanwhile Joel Robinson in the corner of the screen whispers out, “Daktari”. After the Wilhelm Scream thing I’m not getting nerd-snookered again. Marlin sends Jim out to annoy the rhino with a stick. Mark asks “is that safe?” Marlin says “No.” Like in the jokes about Wild America made back when we made jokes about Marlin and Jim and Wild America. The rhino is successfully annoyed and smashes the jeep. But Mark’s able to shoot him with a tranquilizer dart.

With the 14th of April this story is officially closed. We’re told the circus has recovered all their missing animals. This includes “Twinkles, the flaming-log-juggling hippo”. I assume this is a reference to something and I’m waiting to see what it is in Dick Tracy.

Mark, with the rifle and tranquilizer dart, thinking: 'If that rhino comes out from behind that jeep, I can get a clear shot at him! I hope Marlin is okay --- ah! There's the beast!' (POW! as the gun fires.) Mark, thinking: 'That should do it!' The rhinoceros snorts over the wreck of the jeep.
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 10th of April, 2018. Also while it is exciting action I’m not sure how I feel about Mark Trail shooting two large animals within a month of reader time. Yes, yes, it’s tranquilizer darts. But tranquilizer darts aren’t phasers set on stun. I grant there might not be any sensible alternative, but there’s some real risk here that I feel gets treated lightly.

The 16th of April starts what might be the current story. It’s in the Bahamas where Dirty Dyer has been lounging on the beach and scaring resort guests with his knife-throwing practice. Also shooting off guns. Also reading Weapons For Dummies, Calvin and Hobbes, and To Serve Man. Dyer glad-handles the guy sent to report on how he’s alarming the guests into becoming his assistant.

I say this might be the current story. We’ve seen one or two-week interludes with Dirty Dyer before. James Allen is letting this story simmer. I don’t know whether Mark Trail is going to encounter Dirty Dyer yet.

So the 26th of April starts what is unambiguously the current story. The Trails are flying to Mexico. Rusty has an honestly endearing moment where he’s amazed at the size of the airport. “We’re only going to Mexico — I didn’t think we’d need an airport this big!” I sincerely like the kid-logic that how far you’re going should affect the size of the airport you go to. It’s even got enough bits of truth to it to make sense. Rusty Trail comes in for a lot of jokes about being a terrifying homunculus. I’m glad to see him being a normal-ish child.

Not much has happened here yet. While taking off Cherry Trail mentions a couple stories back where the island Mark was on exploded under a volcano. And Mark talks a bit about where they’re going. It’s called the Azyoulik, an ecoresort near Tulum. And right near the town of Santa Poco. Get it?

Yeah, me neither. Mark explains, “Interestingly enough, Santa Poco was saved from bandits in the silent movie era by three American cowboy actors!” So I do thank James Allen for explaining he was making a Three Amigos reference. Rusty’s already wandered off to meet someone named Mara, whose family is also going to Tulum. And that’s where we are as of Saturday.

So all in all, I don’t know why Mark Trail is making so many nerd movie jokes lately. I think Allen’s just having fun with the strip’s hip-because-square reputation.

Sunday Animals Watch

What bits of nature have been showcased on Sundays recently? These have been:

  • Sea Turtles, 11 February 2018. Really, really endangered.
  • Bougainvillea, 18 February 2018. Not endangered except by spelling bee contestants who’ve just been knocked out.
  • Prairies Dogs and Black-Footed Ferrets, 25 February 2018. Finally. The Black-Footed Ferrets are incredibly endangered. Prairie Dogs are making a comeback.
  • Spiders and Great Heights, 4 March 2018. While public-speaking on an airplane naked in front of the House Centipede convention.
  • Blue Tarantulas, 11 March 2018. Freshly-discovered and so very popular so we’re going to destroy it any day now.
  • Rhesus Macaque Monkeys on this island near Puerto Rico, 18 March 2018. They survived Hurricane Maria and the future disgraced former president hasn’t ordered their gizzards drilled for coal yet!
  • Black-Footed [wild] Cat of southwest Africa, 25 March 2018. Really, really endangered.
  • Feral Pigs, 1 April 2018. Endangering you. Seriously. That bit at the start of The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy falls in the pig pen and the Cowardly Lion’s farmhand’sona rescues her? That’s showing off his bravery. The movie thought that part out.
  • Tiger Sharks, 8 April 2018. ThunderCats, but for sea life, why wouldn’t this be a hit? Because it didn’t make sense even by the standards of the SilverHawks universe is why. I mean, when your show would have been less baffling if you didn’t include the pilot episode laying out how everybody came to be Tiger Sharks and what their powers and all were you have world-building problems.
  • Chameleons, 15 April 2018. All my attempts to learn about how their faces fluoresce were obliterated by noticing Mark Trail calling them “squamates” and I have to sit and stare at that word for a long while even though (a) I know full well it’s a legitimate way to refer to them and (b) I knew the root word “squamous” before Mark Trail got onto it so there.
  • Marbled Crayfish, 22 April 2018. You know, those crayfish that are doing way better since they stopped dealing with the males of the species.
  • Orange Crocodiles, 29 April 2018. Probably Just About Dead.
  • Harris’s Hawks, 6 May 2018. Not endangered yet, but just you wait.

Next Week!

Muffins. What are they, and what became of them? Can you put mayonnaise on a muffin? Come back in a week and I’ll share the weird message of existential despair from the car place down the block.

What The Heck Happened To Nancy and Why Does It Look Weird?


So, the comic strip Nancy has a new writer and artist. After Guy Gilchrist’s retirement there were a couple weeks of reruns, and a striking lack of news about the comic. Then this weekend I saw, on Usenet group rec.arts.comics.strips, the announcement that Olivia Jaimes would take over the comic, with the first new strip Monday, the 9th of April.

Michael Cavna’s article about this, in The Washington Post, reports that Jaimes is a pseudonym, and that Andrews McMeel Syndication is being secretive about her career. Editorial director John Glynn’s quoted saying he had seen Jaimes’ web comics and been impressed. And that Jaimes is a fan of Ernie Bushmiller’s Nancy.

I don’t know anything of Jaimes’ web comics (so far as I know). That she’s a fan of Nancy seems clear enough from the first strip, which is all I’ve seen as I write this. Much of what’s celebrated in Bushmiller’s style is a minimalist but well-drafted style, and a narrative flow that gets weird to surreal. The strip for the 9th is straightforward in form, but web-comic-weird or surreal in content.

Person looking at Nancy, who's got a slice of pie. 'That Nancy, she's such a sweet girl.' (Nancy sprinkles salt on the pie; also she's got a soda pop.) Person: 'Also a salt girl.' (Nancy holds a stick of butter; a hamburger and a muffin have appeared.) Person: 'And she doesn't shy away from that butter, either.' (Close-up on the person.) 'Wow, she is going IN on that cornbread.'
Olivia Jaimes’ Nancy for the 9th of April, 2018. This should not be pulling my focus but is … is salting pie a thing? I’ve heard about cheese on pie, as a thing New Englanders do to remind us that we’re not New Englanders and they’ll tolerate us being around but would rather we not. But that’s cheese. Salt is a new one on me, or on my pie.

So, I’m curious where this is all going. I don’t know anything about Jaimes that I haven’t said already. I also don’t know whether the strip is going to resume, or respect, the characters and situations that Gilchrist had developed. (The important ones there being Aunt Fritzi marrying Phil Fumble, and Sluggo being adopted by that pair of truckers.)

Also yeah, it’s never a good idea to read the comments. But you might want to read the comments. There’s a lot of GoComics.com commenters who hate the new look. I don’t fault them not liking it right away. The change in style is drastic and without transition. But, wow. I don’t know if it’s a bit, and I’ve decided I don’t care. The guy who hopes the new artist will “not [be] afraid to be politically incorrect and offend a few men-hating Feminazis [sic]”? That’s some of the choicest opinion on the goings-on of Nancy and Sluggo that I’ve seen in a long while. So, sure, go ahead and hope that Nancy will continue to be a bulwark against the onslaught of the New Atheists, Guy Who’s Watching The Culture-Clash Play Out In Nancy.

By the way, the reporting on this has made me aware of a new book by Paul Karasik and Mark Newgarden. It’s How to Read Nancy: the Elements of Comics in Three Easy Panels, and apparently it’s 274 pages that thoroughly investigate the Nancy comic of the 8th of August, 1959. I’m glad to have found a library near me that has a copy. I accept the thesis that Bushmiller’s work had more skilled craftsmanship behind it than people realize. I’m not sure I can imagine 274 pages about a single strip that isn’t even a Sunday panel. And yes, I say that as a person who owns more than 650 pages worth of book about containerized cargo. But you know your business better than I do. Enjoy, if you like.

Statistics March: As Apocalypse 3-G Disappears From My Monthly Stats Report


November 2015 was a great time for that part of me that’s interested in being read. Thanks to the passingly insulting intervention of Joe Blevins at The Onion’s AV Club I got 4,528 page views in one month as people wanted to know my thoughts about the end of Apartment 3-G. That readership peak has now disappeared from the normal monthly page view report. It’s still on the slightly secret one you can get at by using the old statistics page, but that’ll be gone next month. I have to put away past glories and content myself with present ones, as if we had glories in 2018.

But if I haven’t hit the peaks of 4,500 readers, I have hit a remarkable consistency: for the third month running there’ve been over 3000 page views here. March 2018 had 3,773 pages viewed, a bit up from February’s 3,695 and close to January’s 3,902. These came from 1,197 unique visitors, down somehow from February’s 1,982 but up from January’s 1,671.

A bar chart showing the 3,773 page views and 1,917 visitors from March 2018, with similar numbers for January and February, and lower numbers for other months going back to May 2016.
What I don’t understand is why my mathematics blog shows figures going back to November 2015 while this only goes to May 2016. There’s something ridiculous going on.

What are people interested in? Apartment 3-G showed me the way. What folks want to know about is comic strips ending. Or, if they’re not ending, at least a recap of what’s going on. The five most popular things around here:

I’m glad to be of use to people. And by the way, it sure looks like Nancy is just being left to rerun strips indefinitely since Guy Gilchrist stepped down. But who knows the future? Maybe Hy Eisman will come on to do new Sundays.

Eventually, yes, stuff that I wrote that was me trying to be funny turns up, although I admit way down the list. My most-read anything from March was My Excuse For Not Being Able To Get Anything Done Today, an exercise in realizing there’s something about my childhood memories that doesn’t quite add up. My most popular long-form piece was February’s Is Ray Davies A Normal Person?. I expected that one to have long legs. Most popular long-form piece from March was How To Know It All which again gratifies me, since that’s one I really loved writing. I mean, I like nearly all my writing, but some pieces just feel closer to my heart. Any time I can nerd-snipe over rules of succession I am a creature of boundless joy.

So past that, what’s reader engagement been like? I feel pretty well engaged with reader Ray Kassinger, of the Housepets! web comic, so that’s something. More quantitatively, there were 241 pages liked in March, up from February’s 207 and January’s 226. So not all the trend is just that there’s more days in March than in February. The number of comments drooped, down to 84 from February’s 121 and January’s 148. But that’s still going fairly well and I’m hoping to answer everything that needed answers soon. It’s been a busy weekend.

75 countries sent me readers in March, again allowing WordPress to decide what is and isn’t a country. That’s up from February’s 70. 25 of them were single-reader countries, up from 18. And here they are:

Country Readers
United States 3,111
Canada 107
United Kingdom 80
India 51
Italy 41
Australia 31
Sweden 24
Brazil 19
Germany 19
France 15
Denmark 13
Philippines 13
Spain 12
Jamaica 11
Norway 11
Romania 11
Indonesia 10
Austria 9
Israel 9
Japan 9
Hong Kong SAR China 8
Poland 8
Portugal 8
South Africa 8
Netherlands 7
New Zealand 7
Turkey 7
Belgium 6
Nigeria 6
Serbia 6
Singapore 6
Ukraine 6
Bangladesh 5
European Union 5
Hungary 5
Ireland 5
Russia 4
Switzerland 4
Colombia 3
Ecuador 3
Finland 3
Pakistan 3
Argentina 2
Bulgaria 2
Czech Republic 2
Dominican Republic 2
Malta 2
Mexico 2
Puerto Rico 2
Uruguay 2
Albania 1
Angola 1
Armenia 1
Azerbaijan 1
Chile 1
Croatia 1 (*)
Estonia 1
Iceland 1
Iraq 1 (*)
Jordan 1
Kenya 1
Kuwait 1 (**)
Kyrgyzstan 1
Latvia 1
Lithuania 1
Madagascar 1
Maldives 1
Moldova 1
Myanmar (Burma) 1 (**)
Nicaragua 1
Paraguay 1
Saudi Arabia 1
Slovakia 1
Slovenia 1
Taiwan 1 (*)

Colombia’s single-reader streak ends after seven months! There were three whole pages viewed from there. (I just know two of those people were skimming without paying attention though.) Croatia, Iraq, and Taiwan are on two-month streaks. Kuwait and Myanmar/Burma are on three-month streaks.

April starts with a logged 80,772 visits, from an admitted 44,439 unique visitors. I’m sorry to have missed number 44,444, who was there sometime April Fool’s Day. The WordPress Insights panel tells me that so far I’ve published 63,923 words (which includes stuff through to the 3rd of April, when I checked this), with 650 likes and 206 total comments since the first of the year. This comes to an average of 2.2 comments per post. At the start of March that was 2.3. At the start of March I got an average 6.9 likes per post. At the start of April that’s smoothed out to 7. The average post around here was, last time I checked my numbers, 711 words. As I check them this time, it’s 687.3 words. Yes, I’m skimping. I’ve been busy.

I can’t offer you the chance to follow Another Blog, Meanwhile by e-mail right now. I got a sudden rush of people with obviously fake names and four-digit suffixes from outlook.com e-mail addresses signing up. I don’t know what this means, but I know it’s something I shouldn’t be encouraging. In the meanwhile you can keep reading this through WordPress Reader, if you have one: use the “Follow Another Blog, Meanwhile” button in the upper right corner of the page. If you feel more comfortable adding this to your RSS reader, here’s a link to do it. I understand. RSS does a lot of good for the world. I’m @Nebusj on Twitter, and announce everything I post over there unless WordPress’s auto-publicize thing has broken and I’ve been too busy to deal with that. Thanks for being around.

What’s Going On In Mary Worth? And What Are We Going To Do With All These Muffins? November 2017 – February 2018


Do you have no idea why I should be giddy about the concepts of muffins? Yet you’re interested in what the heck the current storyline is in Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth? That might be because it’s not February or maybe March 2018 when you’re reading this, and the story’s moved on. If it has, please check this link. If I’ve written another essay describing the plot since this one, it should be at or near the top of that page.

Also, I review comic strips for their mathematical contest. That’s over on my other blog, and if you’d like to hear about story problems as deconstructed by Flo and Friends please give that a try. I’m pretty sure I didn’t make up Flo and Friends as a comic strip title.

Mary Worth.

27 November 2017 – 18 February 2018.

My last essay on the events in Mary Worth came at an exciting moment. Wilbur Weston, travelling the world to ask survivors of disasters how they felt about not being dead, had found his girlfriend Fabiana in the arms of her “cousin”. He stormed out of the dance studio. I thought it was too early in the storyline for his relationship with her to have collapsed. She’d only been introduced a few weeks before. Right as Wilbur told his on-hiatus girlfriend Iris that he’d met someone else and it was after all Iris’s idea to go on hiatus. Not so, though. He flies back home and shows no sign of ever wishing anything to do with Fabiana ever again.

Wilbur, thinking: 'I broke up with Iris ... but these things are fluid. We can make up. And it'll be like it never happend!' (He calls her.) Iris: 'Hello?' Wilbur: 'Iris, it's Wilbur. You must be surprised to hear from me, but I'm back in Santa Royale! And I have so much to tell you!' Iris: 'Um ... ' Wilbur: 'No, don't say anything! Save it for tonight. I want to take you to dinner! We can catch up and I can explain ... ' Iris: 'Wilbur, I can't! I have other plans ... and his name is Zak!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 10th of December, 2017. Have to say Wilbur is more energetic and outgoing after spending a year on the road than I am after spending a weekend at Holiday World amusement park. But he’s the one raking in those big newspaper-advice-columnist and feature-report paychecks.

Wilbur strolls back into his home life. He calls Iris with all the confidence of a balding, sandwich-based newspaper advice columnist who wears a bathrobe made of the curved fabric of spacetime itself. And he’s shocked to learn that she’s got plans with a guy named Zak that she hooked back up with right after he dumped her. Wilbur takes this well. I mean that he spends a couple weeks crouching in bushes to figure out how much of a rebound this guy is. And just how temporarily Iris will be interested Zak. He’s a young, rich, generically attractive man who owns his own game company and a car and chin stubble that looks like it’s on purpose and not that he’s incompetent at shaving. Wilbur figures to win Iris back, and gets the first step — roses — ready to deploy when he hears Iris and Zak telling each other “love you”. And that convinces him it’s all over.

This takes us to the 1st of January. And something I could not have appreciated at the time. In the midst of cleaning up Wilbur’s emotional mess, Mary Worth points out that she’s made muffins.

I do not think I am the only reader of Mary Worth blindsided by the strip’s turn to muffins. But let me give you this to consider: the 18th of February was the 49th day of the year. Since the 1st of January, 2018, Mary’s Muffins have either been shown or been named in no less than 48 separate panels. That’s not counting panels in which the characters are talking about Mary Worth’s muffins. Or discussing the implications of the fact that these muffins exist in the Worthyverse. This is literally just the panels in which a muffin is shown or the word “muffin” appears in text. And yes, this is in no small part because Mary’s Muffins have somehow transmogrified from an alliterative phrase that sounds like it might be naughty into a plot to rival CRUISE SHIPS. But that’s also with the first several weeks being devoted to getting Wilbur to stop his nonsense about how he’s through with love. Of the 133 panels the strip presented from the new year through to Sunday, more than one in three has focused on muffins. I don’t believe that Karen Moy and June Brigman are creating drinking games for the snark community. But I can’t rule it out either.

Anyway. Plot. Wilbur declares he is through and will live the rest of his life without love. Mary points out that’s ridiculous: he may have lost Iris as a girlfriend. But he still has mayonnaise. And here’s a large pile of muffins that aren’t going to eat themselves. And he’s got a daughter he kind of waved to between coming home from Colombia and creeping on Zak and Iris. Plus, this is the Worthyverse so he will pair-bond with some appropriate heterosexual partner and they will be happy together or else. He takes a bag of muffins to his daughter Dawn. They have a heart-to-heart that’s uncomfortably close to how my every phone call with my mother goes (“How’ve you been?” “Pretty good, and you?” “Good. … Uhm … so … guess I’ll catch you next week?”). He walks through a couple sunrises and figures, hey, he’s not dead. That’s doing pretty good these days.

Dawn: 'While you were gone, I pictured you on the road. And I tried to send you good thoughts through the ethers. I missed you, Dad. I thought a lot about you and your travels.' Wilbur: 'My travels were full of extremes ... high and lows. It's comforting to be home, Dawn. To be stable in a familiar place, with familiar people. I want to start the new year with the right perspective. I saw so much while I was overseas. I realize now ... I'm lucky. I'm blessed. And I'm loved.'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 14th of January, 2018. Did you spot the muffin in this comic strip? Look again! IT’S RIGHT BEHIND YOU!

The 22nd of January the current wonder of a storyline gets going. It includes a panel that does not explicitly feature muffins. It does have clear muffin-related content since it’s got a bag of flower, and a bowl with more flour in it, and a stirring spoon. Jeff’s old friend Ted Miller is in town, and Mary’s happy to treat him to dinner. Ted Miller loves dinner. He loves even more the muffins that Mary serves as appetizer while the rib roast finishes. He’s a former salesman, so he knows ways of the business world, such as how to keep his face open to the exact same wide-eyed smile for days on end.

Ted’s sure that Mary Muffins could become a major success in the bread-adjacent food products line. And that could just be the start of a whole Mary Worth Food Universe of in-principle consumable matter. He plies her with the idea of fame. She’s enchanted by the idea, but in the way any of us are, not enough to do something. He tells her of how she could make a fortune. She’s got dreams of immense wealth, again as we all do, but she’s comfortable as she is. He finally deploys generically positive aphorisms like “Nothing in life is guaranteed! Does that mean we shouldn’t live it?” and “Don’t let fear stop you from doing something great!” and “Don’t be afraid of risk!”. Ted’s found her weak point. She goes to work making test muffins.

Ted, ecstatic over muffins: 'A new BUSINESS VENTURE! 'Mary Muffins are so GOOD, they're a GIFT for your taste buds!'.' Jeff: 'Ted's a former salesman.' Mary: 'I can tell.' Ted: 'YOU can make the muffins! I can handle the marketing! We can BOTH make it RICH!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 26th of January, 2018. Going out on a limb here and guessing that Ted was not invited back to the advertising team’s copy-writing sessions.

By the time that muffins became two-thirds of all the words spoken by all the characters in Mary Worth the ordinary reader had one question. I don’t know what it is. I know the question that the alert, partly-ironic reader had. That was: what’s Ted’s deal, anyway? He mentioned a couple times how Mary Worth would have to put up an investment to get Mary Muffins going. And that she’d really have to do work in making the stuff while he dealt with marketing and “details”. Could it be as simple as Ted Miller scamming a woman who could be flattered into believing the world needs to know how well she bakes?

[ WHEN TED MILLER CALLS MARY ... ] Ted: 'Mary, have you thought about marketing your muffins?' Mary: 'I have! I'm actually baking test batches now! Would you like to come over and join me for some taste tests?' Ted: 'I'M ON MY WAY!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 5th of February, 2018. So the last time I specifically remember making muffins was in home ec in 8th grade, and that mostly because it was as fun as middle school can possibly get to be baking stuff in a little kitchen inside the B Wing. Also that they had wartime-propaganda-style posters warning DON’T OVERMIX – BECAUSE IT CAN’T BE FIXED if you were to make your muffins wrong. As an eighth grader I accepted this was something to warn about, although my father, wise beyond even my years, asked what exactly was the big deal about over-mixed muffin batter. The poster suggested it would cause the tops of the muffins to be more conical than the show breed ideal. I … guess that’s it? Anyway, flash forward to today and I don’t make anything more complicated than Noodle-Roni, except I slice up some Morning Star Farms vegetarian sausages and toss them in to make it as exciting as butter noodles can be.

Possibly. It seems a bit odd to have an old friend of Jeff’s turn out to be a scam artist. But the strip had Jeff back down on how well he did know Ted, saying (on the 17th of February) that he knew him “casually, a long time ago”. And also this past week we’ve had Ted declare how he and Mary Worth will be a great team, and go in for a hug that he doesn’t go out of for several days of strip action. Not until Mary warns she’s got an appointment and shoves him into the linen closet. Is it possible he’s a masher?

Could be. I admit I am not sure what Ted’s deal is. A confidence scam based on Mary Worth’s cooking abilities would be a believable development. Let’s remember that she introduced the comics snark community to salmon squares. I remember them as a plate of material the color of a Macintosh Performa 6115. She also did innovative work with shrimp scampi. The strip’s had confidence men pulling scams before, although not on Mary so far as I know. An attempt by Ted to flatter his way into a personal relationship would also fit. Jeff mentioned on the 17th that Ted was divorced. And, heck, a dozen years ago the strip even sustained a stalker plot, the famous Aldo Keldrast story. The Comics Curmudgeon made his name in the snark community covering that one. Could be a story like that coming around again. Or maybe it’ll be something more bizarre yet. I refuse to make a guess about whether Mary Muffins will turn into the next great baffling food thing or whether they’ll be forgotten as the Ted plot unfolds. Also I refuse to guess whether we’re ever given any hint what kind of product Ted ever sold. If you’d like to guess, please, leave a comment and we’ll see if we can make the text support any or all of them!

Dubiously Sourced Quotes of Mary Worth Sunday Panels!

The message: EXPERIENCED OIL CHANGE OR C TECH NEEDED.
The car care place down the street has shifted from that dubiously sourced Jimi Hendrix quote over to this message, which is more cryptic but which I have no particular reason to doubt.
  • “Life is full of surprises.” — John Major, 26 November 2017.
  • “You’ve got to learn to leave the table when love’s no longer being served” — Nina Simone, 3 December 2017.
  • “Above all, don’t lie to yourself” — Fyodor Dostoyevskky [sic], 10 December 2017.
  • “Love has reasons which reason cannot understand” — Blaise Pascal, 17 December 2017.
  • “No one wants advice — only corroboration.” — John Steinbeck, 24 December 2017.
  • “Love is the only gold.” — Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 31 December 2017.
  • “Gratitude is riches. Complaint is poverty.” — Doris Day, 6 January 2018.
  • “The best thing to hold onto in life is each other.” — Audrey Hepburn, 13 January 2018.
  • “Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the Earth are never alone or weary of life.” — Rachel Carson, 21 January 2018.
  • “You begin with the possibilities of the material.” — Robert Rauschenberg, 28 January 2018.
  • “Your big opportunity may be right where you are now.” — Napoleon Hill, 4 February 2018.
  • “The risk of a wrong decision is preferable to the terror of indecision.” — Maimonides, 11 February 2018.
  • “Enthusiasm is everything” — Pele, 18 February 2018.

Next Week!

I get to practically relax and take it easy. I have three months of Sunday strip continuity to catch up on, as we’re set to revisit Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom, Sunday strips. Does the Rat get out of jail? Does he get put back in jail? Is The Phantom just screwing with everybody? Come back and find out, or, actually, you could read the comic yourself at least as easily. But I’ll put it together in like a thousand words, there’s that.

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? And What Happened To Jim Scancarelli?


[Edited the 1st of October, 2018 to add] Jim Scancarelli is back, and writing the strip again. The current storyline is a nostalgic tour of the comic’s history, ahead of its centennial. There should be a full recap of this posted around the 15th of October, barring surprises. ]


So I say this for people in my future who’re looking for information about Gasoline Alley, the venerable, long-running serial-comic strip. If I learn more about what’s going on in it than I do now, the first weekend of February in 2018, I’ll post it here. Somewhere above this article on the page should be some more current idea of what’s going on.

Independently of that, I try to track mathematically-themed comic strips. I discuss them on my other blog, the mathematically-themed one. You can tell it’s different because it uses a serifed typeface for article headlines. The most recent of the comic strip posts is right here. I try to have at least one a week. The past few weeks Comic Strip Master Command has been sending me lots of stuff to write about, although it’s mostly “a student misinterprets a story problem”. But you never know when the teacher in your life is going to need something fresh taped to the door. So give that a try, please.

Gasoline Alley.

13 November 2017 – 3 February 2018.

My last review of the plot in Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley came at a key moment in the storyline that’d been running since the 27th of April. Rufus was back from the circus after wrongly thinking another man had won the dear heart of The Widow Emma Sue And Scruffy’s Mother. The day after my last plot review, Rufus — out of his Human Cannonball outfit and back to his regular duds — remembered he needed to get to choir practice. He needs the practice. The Thanksgiving Oratorio is coming up this Sunday. I didn’t think anything particularly odd about this. The commenters on Gocomics.com did.

Holly Luyah: 'We've got to hurry and practice for our Thanksgiving oratorio! It's this Sunday, you know! OK! Let's take it from the top!' Rufus: ''Scuse me fo' protrudin', but th'top o'what?' Luyah: 'Your sheet music! It would help if it was right side up!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 16th of November, 2017. Also his strip for the 25th of March, 2013, with a slightly enlarged word balloon the first panel and some text replaced. From the way it looks I’m assuming the replacement text was stitched together from letters Scancarelli had written in other word balloons. Wikipedia says he doesn’t use a computer to draw or letter the strip, so, someone pasting in a replacement makes sense of the weird spacing and inconsistent line in that panel.

Because Rufus had hurried to choir before. In March and April 2013, he rushed to add his vocal emanations to what was, then, the Easter Cantata.

Holly Luyah: 'We've got to hurry and practice for our Easter cantata! It's this Sunday, you know! OK! Let's take it from the top!' Rufus: ''Scuse me fo' protrudin', but th'top o'what?' Luyah: 'Your sheet music! It would help if it was right side up!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 25th of March, 2013. The secret revealed! I understand the need to fiddle with the word balloon for the first panel; space just doesn’t allow otherwise. The minor differences in coloring intrigue me, though. I’m surprised whoever at Tribune Content Supply Company And Antique Screen Door Manufacturers Inc who’s responsible for the reprints didn’t just use the colorized version of the original. Or else they recolored it all, making mostly but not entirely the same choices. Maybe there’s a reference sheet saying that Holly Luyah should be wearing that color, but wouldn’t it also specify her hair color? And wouldn’t there be some guide to whether Rufus’s shirt ought to be white or yellow? Or whether he wears slacks or blue jeans? In short, everything about the colorizing of daily comics is a strange and unnecessarily complicated mystery.

Nothing had been announced about planned reruns. It’s not unprecedented for a cartoonist to put the strip into reruns a while. They deserve holidays as much as normal people do. Or they have personal crises — a health scare, a house fire, a family emergency — and only a capitalist would complain about their taking time to deal with that. It’s a bit unusual for there to be no news about it, though. This stuff might not draw the front page of the Newark Star-Ledger. But to hear that a cartoonist has had a medical crisis and had to take a few unexpected weeks off is why comics sites have blogs. Also, Lincoln Pierce, of Big Nate, is “attending to family matters” and that’s why that comic strip went into reruns for a month. There’s not any word about when he’ll be back. It does happen, though. Darby Conley, of Get Fuzzy, stopped drawing new dailies altogether without notice over a decade ago. In the middle of a story, too, although it was a boring story he’d done many times before. No explanation, and he’d keep drawing new Sunday strips, although those have tapered off too. Why? No one who knows, says. Jeff Keane’s The Family Circus has been nothing but reruns from the 70s, sometimes touched up with modernized captions. We’re supposed to pretend we don’t notice. Dan Piraro and Wayno will redraw some vintage Bizarro, usually remaking a weekday strip as a Sunday. But that’s a complete redraw. And Bob Weber Jr and Sr’s Slylock Fox reuses puzzles. Sometimes, like, the Comics Curmudgeon remarks on both printings of a strip.

So what’s going on with Jim Scancarelli? I don’t know. I haven’t found anyone who does know and says. It’s an unsettling silence. It’s easy to imagine things that might leave Scancarelli unable to write or draw the strip. Few of them are happy thoughts. Gasoline Alley is — or at least had been — the oldest (American) syndicated newspaper comic not in eternal reruns. It’s terrible to think that the worst might happen and Jim Scancarelli might not be drawing the comic strip when it turns 100 years old this coming November 24.

(If my research doesn’t fail me, the next-oldest is John Graziano’s Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, if that counts as a comic strip; it began the 19th of December, 1918. Then there’s John Rose’s Barney Google and Snuffy Smith, begun the 17th of June, 1919.)

I’m sorry to have so little to definitely say. If I get news, or even any good rumors, that aren’t made under a pledge of confidentiality, I’ll share. In my entire life I have exactly once ever gotten a tip about comic strip news, and that was in confidence. So I couldn’t even go into Usenet group rec.arts.comics.strips and make an accurate “prediction” about what would happen and then be all smug when it came true. In fact, I predicted the opposite of what would happen, because that reflected what I would have thought if I didn’t have inside information.


Still, perhaps somehow you weren’t reading Gasoline Alley with care in 2013 or didn’t remember the story. So what did happen? Rufus sings awful. Choir director Holly Luyah and Pastor Present work out that there is one note Rufus can sing, and hold him in reserve for exactly that note. He signs that note with enough power to break a stained-glass window. Rufus and Joel replace the broken piece with part of a beer sign, and then scrub the letters, and all the color, off the window.

29th of November: the next rerun story begins, with Slim Skinner working as a Santa Claus for the Bleck’s Department Store. That’s a plot which ran November and December of 2008. Slim’s not all that enthusiastic about the Santa Claus job, but it gives him the chance for a bunch of jokes about awful kids. Then he gets a sweet bug-eyed girl who wants something nice for her Mommy, since Daddy was killed in Iraq. The weepy melodrama sort of story that the comic does. This was also when I realized something was awry in the dailies. Playing Santa Claus for a grief-stricken impoverished family was where the Rufus and The Widow Emma Sue And Scruffy’s Mother started their storyline.

Slim, driving the truck with a tree and presents to a rickety old cabin. 'Look, Clovia! It's snowing!' Clovia: 'Slow down, Slim! There's the little girl's home!' (In the house) Mother: 'Go to sleep, Mary, and say your prayers!' Mary: 'Yes, mommy! Santa will be here any minute! He promsied!
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 23rd of December, 2017. As also seen the 24th of December, 2008, though back then not in color. The strip reads rather well in black and white. I’ve assumed that Scancarelli does the coloring himself; it seems like it’d fit his working style. But I don’t in fact know. Not answered: Slim got arrested breaking into a good-sized house in a “ritzy neighborhood”. How did he get that house mistaken for this?

Slim figures to forego his own family’s Christmas and instead use the money to give the poor kid’s family a proper full holiday. With a fully-decorated tree and bunches of presents he breaks into the kid’s house. Before he can enter, he’s arrested by the Gasoline Alley police, which is about average for a Slim Skinner plot. The people whose house he mistakenly broke into don’t prosecute, and the police donate something to the poor girl and her mother. The girl’s name was finally given as “Mary”, because of course it would be. Close out with some talk about Slim’s resolutions for the New Year and that’s that.

With the 2nd of January the next (and current) story began its rerun. It first ran in January of 2007. It’s got Skeezix hanging out at Corky’s Diner. After a couple gags about about the food story interrupts in the form of Senator Wilmer Bobble visiting. He reminds Corky of the part he played in getting his Uncle Pert to sell Corky the diner back in 1950 (“I’ll talk with you, Corky, but not if Wilmer is in the deal!”). And they think back to the buying and early days of the restaurant that for all I know are faithful reconstructions of how the storyline back then went. And Bobble explains that now that his uncle Pert has died, and deeded the land to him, he’s evicting Corky’s Diner. He notes that “nothing lasts forever”, which is a pretty good line for a longrunning syndicated newspaper comic strip. He’s hoping to build a ten-story parking garage. The bulldozers will be here in two weeks.

Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 24th of January, 2018. And also from the 27th of January, 2007. Put aside the whole “smoking in a public place? C’mon, was 2007 really that long ago oh my Lord it was wasn’t it” issue. Bobble blowing a triple-decker of smoke into Corky’s face as the papers fly off the table is a good, Walt Kelly-ish bit of emphasis and action in the midst of a talky scene.

And that’s the rerun story where it stands, as of the 3rd of February. (If they keep rerunning the story without interruption, the story will be here about seven more weeks. Spoiler: it doesn’t end unhappily for the core cast.)

Rufus: 'What yo'think my brother Magnus would like fo' Christmas?' Joel: 'Seein' how he's behind bars --- how 'bout some files?' Rufus: 'Naw! Ain't enough room in his cell fo' a cabinet!' [ And after the throwaway panels ] Rufus: 'Oh, man! This is fun ridin' th'elevator at th'mall! Ain't it, Joel?' Joel: 'Well, it shore got its ups and down!' Man getting in elevator: 'Four, please.' Joel: 'Er ... four what?' Rufus: 'Joel! Don't yo' mean, what fo'?' Man: 'Never mind! I'll do it myself! (Sniff, sniff) ... Whee-ew! Someone's deodorant isn't working!' Joel: 'Don't look at me! I don't use th'stuff!' Rufus: 'Me neither!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 10th of December, 2017. Possibly, maybe, the last original strip he’s published? The other Sunday strips from December 2007 were reruns from December of 2007. Must admit I’d rather the comic strip go out on a stronger installment than this. So, according to Wikipedia Jim Scancarelli is an expert model railroader and a prize-winning competitor in the Old Fiddler’s Convention. I mention this as they’re possibly the two least surprising things I could learn about Jim Scancarelli.

The Sunday strips have been the usual spot gags, not part of any particular story continuity. Sunday strips have a longer lead time than weekday strips do. So it’s likely that the most recently published Scancarelli comic was one of the recent Sundays. I don’t know which. Commenters on rec.arts.comics.strips (particularly D D Degg) and on the GoComics.com pages have identified most of the rerun dates. This strip from the 17th of December was a rerun from 2007, as the phone suggests. The last new strip might be that of the 10th of December, 2017. Can’t say for sure.

(Late-breaking addition, punishing me for getting this all written up like 30 hours before deadline: I can’t find where the strip for today, the 4th of February, 2018, ran before. The lettering, to me, makes me think the strip is another from around late 2007 or early 2008. But I can’t find the original if it is out there. Maybe we worried for nothing? Or Scancarelli had a couple strips almost done and was now able to do the Sundays at least? Even if he isn’t able to get the dailies done?)

I promise. If I get news, and can share it, I will.

Next Week!

Has Nature killed you, or anyone you know? Has it dropped parachuters onto any bank robbers? Have you ever counted the prairie dogs outside Rapid City, South Dakota? If the answer to one or more of these questions is “the heck are you even talking about?” please join me as I check back in on James Allen’s Mark Trail. Be warned: it does involve geographically implausible appearances of giraffes. Also be warned: it appears to build a story around things mentioned during but not directly related to a previous story. Also it’s been years since we saw a giant squirrel discussing the smuggling poachers. Just saying.

Thinking About Mort Walker


When I was growing up there was one author and one comic strip on the pages that was just the comic strip, the thing so great it was kind of the reason newspapers were made, so it could carry this. That was Charles Schulz and Peanuts, naturally. But it’s not like that was the only strip I read. I read all of them, at least except for the story strips, which always looked like these dark, muddy things about realistically-drawn adults saying they’d have to talk about stuff. But the rest of the comics page was exciting stuff.

I knew there were better and worse strips, yes. But I also recognized there were some strips that just seemed central. Comics that all the other comics were kind-of-like. Some that drew closer to the Platonic Ideal of the 1970s/80s comic strip. So if you read the subject line or the comics news the past week you know what strips I’m talking about.

And yet I was kind of a dumb kid; it took a newspaper article about an upcoming visit Beetle Bailey was going to pay to Hi and Lois for me to realize they were made by the same guy, or were set in the same universe. Still, that was mindblowing, in the way that Muppet Show where they have to do the show from a train station because the theater was being fumigated was. It revealed to me something comic strips could do.

Beetle Bailey and Hi and Lois were the Mort Walker strips I always saw, of course. But somewhere along the line I realized that Hagar the Horrible had some connection to all this (Dik Browne, co-creator of Hi and Lois, created it). And now and then, in out-of-town newspapers, I’d see other weird alien comic strips clearly from the same hand, like Boner’s Ark or, rarely, Sam and Silo. And I do remember at least excerpts of Walker’s Lexicon of Comicana, about graphic design elements, appearing in newspapers and being read. (I have a particularly strong memory of reading one at the house of my aunt in Connecticut, on a family visit that I think coincided with when they took the toll booths out of the Connecticut Turnpike and the roads were torn up for that. I may be collapsing memories together.) I think that his last original comic strip, Gamin and Patches, might have run in a newspaper I read, but I’m just not at all sure.

Boner walks past the sign: Poultry Research Station! Caution! Chicken Crossing! Boner looks carefully, starts to talk. A giant chicken claw descends from the sky.
Mort Walker’s Boner’s Ark for the 10th of March, 1972 and rerun the 29th of January, 2018. Walker signed the strip “Addison” (his actual first name, somehow) so it didn’t look like he drew everything King Features offered. Also, if this wasn’t also a Gary Larson The Far Side or a Sydney Harris panel then both Larson and Harris have missed an easy one.

Oddly, for all that I recognized Mort Walker had this style that everybody was roughly imitating, and for all that I liked reading any of these strips, I don’t remember doing stuff like redrawing characters from it. Garfield, Popeye, Snoopy, sure, but somehow not these. Seems like a shame; I suspect that, like, Sarge or Beetle are pretty fun to draw. There’s something in their line.

Yes, I’m aware Mort Walker drew some “adult” installments of his strips, for the naughty fun of it. Not interested in them. I’m also aware there was an animated cartoon based on Beetle Bailey in the 60s, and a half-hour pilot made in Like 1989. I’ve never seen those but a a little curious. Apparently there was a musical, too, created in the late 80s because every comic strip made a musical in the 80s for some reason.

General Halftrack: 'Say! Maybe there ISN'T a Pentagon after all! That's it! The Pentagon doesn't even EXIST! I've been worrying for NOTHING!' Aide: 'I can't agree with you, sir. If there's no Pentagon, then who hangs up when we phone them?'
Mort Walker’s Beetle Bailey for the 19th of April, 1961, and rerun the 10th of November, 2017. That generation’s answer to the Ontological Argument. Another intersting thread that sometime got dropped, in these early-60s comics, was of Camp Swampy trying to launch satellites. It gives a setting for Space Race jokes that oddly tickle me even today, and it’s a shame that the comic strip did narrow its horizons to the point it couldn’t sustain a gag like that anymore.

Comics Kingdom has among its vintage comics Beetle Bailey and Hi and Lois from the early 60s. They also have Boner’s Ark, from the early 70s, running. There’s some interesting stuff in them, not least the running thread that the Pentagon told General Halftrack not to call them anymore and hasn’t sent any orders in years. One of the snark community’s recurring jokes is that Camp Swampy is this nonsense pretend camp the actual Army would be embarrassed to be affiliated with. I’m amused that Walker had that joke a half-century sooner. And the vintage strips are, mostly, better than their contemporary versions. There’s more detail to the art and the characters and scenarios are 55 years less worn down. It can be easy to forget that comic strips that seem old and fusty — things that have been running in every newspaper since the glaciers receded — mostly got there by being novel and exciting, and staying so for a good long while.

Art moves on, and styles pass from fashion. Mort Walker-touched comics aren’t as dominant in setting the style of newspaper comics anymore. So it happens. There’s a lot of art, and a lot of what people thought art could be, that he guided. It’s amazing work.

Also I’m reminded of a Mort Walker quote in some Peanuts retrospective about how, yeah, his comic strip took off in the newspapers way earlier than Schulz’s, starting nearly the same time, did. But when Schulz’s came out in book collections those books just started selling and never stopped. This point can’t fit in the essay at all logically, but I don’t want it to go to waste either, so here it is, in a paragraph after the end of the essay.

What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? November 2017 – January 2018


It’s been only a few short months since I last checked in on Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy and yet plenty of stuff has happened. I’m glad to try catching you up on that. More stuff might have happened by the time you read this. If it’s late January or early February 2018 for you, this is probably enough to catch you up. If it’s a lot later than that, maybe the story’s developed far past that. If I’ve written a later summary I shall try to have it at or near the top of this link. Also I mentioned this on my other blog, but GoComics.com broke something so that My Comics Page won’t load, and broke their “Contact Us” page so it won’t submit error reports. I’ve got workarounds, but I’m not happy with them.

Also, on my mathematics blog, I review comics with mathematical themes. My latest report on those should be at or near the top of this link. Thanks for checking that out, if you do.

Dick Tracy.

5 November 2017 – 27 January 2018.

Last time you’ll recall, Dick Tracy and team were closing in on audio-recording forgers Silver and Sprocket Nitrate. The pair were hiding out in the Lyric (movie) Theater, Sprocket on a date with novelist and Les Moore’s less-punchworthy twin Adam Austin, Silver in the Phantoms Of Theaters room. Silver watches his sister have a date so serious she even wears sandals for it. So he gives her half their take and alibis her. He goes to jail. She goes to California with Adam Austin, who I’m assuming is writing the novelization for the Starbuck Jones sequel. Silver Nitrate and his boss/jailbreaker Public Domain go to jail and that ends that story reasonably logically.

[ Chaos erupts at the Lyric Theater ] Lizz Grove: 'That's an emergency exit alarm!' Dick Tracy: 'Everyone cover the exits!' (Voices) 'Over there!' 'It's Silver Nitrate!' 'Stop! You're under arrest!' Silver Nitrate: 'Okay, okay! I give up!' Sam Catchem: 'Anybody come out this door?' Officer: 'Nobody's come this way, sir.' Catchem: 'Everyone's checked in, Tracy. No sign of Sprocket Nitrate.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 12th of November, 2017. I don’t mean to make light of what operational skill it requires to surround and secure a public theater with hundreds of people inside to secure one criminal safely. But Sprocket Nitrate is inside the secured building, and her costume is pretty much that she’s wearing sandals. Just seems like they could have checked.

And then, the 18th of November, came an odd interlude before the next story: a “Minit Mystery”. It was one of those adorable puzzle mysteries, you know, figuring out who killed the guy based on whether an umbrella is damp or figuring which jacket is underneath another on the coat-stand. It’s a week illustrated by Charles Ettinger, and it’s introduced as the start of a new series. There was just the one mystery presented this time around. Perhaps they’re waiting for the current storyline to resolve, or reach a logical pause, before showing the next. I’m not sure this is any more logically rigorous than an Inspector Danger’s Crime Quiz, but it’s a fun pastime. The story started the 19th of November and ran each day through to the 26th, when the solution was revealed.

Back to plotting, the 27th of November. Mister Bribery reappears, along with his niece Ugly Crystal and hired gun Sawtooth. Bribery’s hired Sawtooth to execute Dick Tracy. Tracy’s team has infiltrated Bribery’s organization, though, as their bodyguard, with Lee Ebony pretending to be “T-Bolt”. Bribery orders Sawtooth to carry out the execution plan, even though it’s not compatible with putting the shrunken head of Dick Tracy into a jar on his shelf. Okay then.

One of the dangling side plots comes back to the fore. The fellow you get by fusing Buster Crabbe and Alley Oop finds crime boss Posie Ermine. Ermine’s been disheartened since his daughter was abducted, surgically altered to be Mysta the new Moon Maid, and somehow brainwashed into a whole new identity who wants nothing to do with her biological father. Buster Oop has personal reasons for this. He’s the Governor of the Moon, and father of the original Moon Maid. (The original Moon Maid was killed in the 70s, when most of the really loopy science fiction stuff was written out of the strip, although her daughter — Honey Moon Tracy, Dick’s granddaughter — is still around and a critical character these days.)

Got all these relations? Because that just catches things up to early December 2017 and from there everything gets explosive.

Honey Moon Tracy and Ugly Crystal … Bribery, I guess is her last name? … meet cute-ish at the mall’s CD store. They get along surprisingly well, what with both having superpowers and Ugly Crystal envying Honey Moon’s antennas. I understand. I imprinted early on Uncle Martin’s extendable antennas from My Favorite Martian. And I’m not an ugly person.

Mister Bribery, out for a jog, shoves another jogger into the path of a minibus. It’s a startling moment. It establishes Mister Bribery’s villainy and menace in a way that his hiring someone to murder Dick Tracy hadn’t, somehow. I suppose it’s because you expect the villain to try killing the scientific superdetective. It’s normal and routine and built into the worldview and the name of the comic strip that the plan won’t work. But he can kill — or try to kill, as the victim survives with “minor injuries” — some nobody. And that it’s utterly unmotivated makes Mister Bribery’s danger more real. The murderous impulse doesn’t do Mister Bribery any good, either, as the city looks for whoever’s in the blurry video footage of the crime.

Mister Bribery, jogging: 'Ah, it's a beautiful, brisk morning for a jog!' [ He comes up on a woman jogging ] Bribery: 'That minibus is awfully close! Let's have a little room.' [ He shoves the woman into the minibus's path. ] 'SO much better!' [ Screech ] 'EEEE!' Bribery: 'What a hubbub! I'd better cut my jog short.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 17th of December, 2017. And … jeez, can’t you just see this happening? A lot of the Dick Tracy criminal plans are a bit outrageous — robbing banks to the tunes of Chumbawumba, hijacking Space Coupes, forging 19th-century audio recordings — but just simply shoving a person into traffic to kill them? I can see local news covering that. And I’m in mid-Michigan; this story might bump Larry Nasser off the top of the news feed, but only maybe.

Which might be too late: Sawtooth snags Dick Tracy — from right outside his son’s house on Christmas Eve-or-Day, by the way — and drags him out into the woods. Sawtooth drags him into the deep woods, in the blizzard, and ties him to a tree to die. Sawtooth does well enough tying up Tracy, who’s unable to get his hands free, never mind untie any of his ropes, nor answer his Wrist Wizard to call for help. What Sawtooth fails to account for: Rifle Ruby, who found and saved Dick Tracy deep in the woods where Mister Crime tried to drown him in a story in 1952. (I had not the faintest idea of this, but GoComics commenter RGGlick recognized this and provided people with the link.) She and her niece Rhett run across the shivering, starved Tracy and nurse him back to non-death.

Honey Moon Tracy and Ugly Crystal meet up again, under Lee Ebony’s supervision. Honey Moon gets a bit of brain freeze from the Moon Governor’s transmissions. The Moon Governor and Posie Ermine have been searching for Honey Moon. Meanwhile Mister Bribery’s artificial-intelligence assistant/digitally-uploaded former henchman Matty Squared has detected the Moon Governor’s Space Coupe. Mister Bribery orders Sawtooth to kidnap Honey Moon. The Moon Governor and Posie Ermine close in on Smith Industries, there to find Mysta the (second) Moon Maid. Yes, I’m getting tired just writing all this.

OK. There’s a shootout. Ermine’s killed. Sawtooth grabs the Moon Governor and Mysta and takes them to Mister Bribery. Mister Bribery wants the Moon Governor’s help getting to the Lunarian valley settlement, there to mine lunar gold and whatnot. The Moon Governor tries to squash these plans. He drops the bad news that there’s no oxygen left in the Moon Valley colony. (This we the readers have known since in 2012, in one of the last uses of Diet Smith’s Moon Coupe. And that also shows how long this team is willing to let a mystery simmer.) Also, it’s dumb to go to the Moon to mine gold. These days the fashion is to go to the Moon to mine Helium-3, which is even dumber. Plus there’s the whole Rocket Hat problem. He tells Mister Bribery to move on, “as we did”.

[ Bribery's office. ] Mister Bribery: 'Whee! I must be dreaming! It's the Moon Governor! What a prize! Naturally, you came to Earth in your SPACE COUPE. I can utilize that in my master plan! This is so perfect!' [ Elsewhere ] Sam Catchem, on Lee Ebony's wrist wizard: 'Come in while you can, Lee This blizzard's getting bad.' Glitch: 'T-Bolt? Is that a POLICE wrist wizard?'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 21st of January, 2018. All right, yes, he’s a sociopathic crime boss who just weeks ago tried to murder a woman for absolutely no possible benefit, but to say “utilize” when “use” would be the correct word? That’s put him beyond the pale.

Mister Bribery takes this with all the calm and grace of Donald Duck finding Chip and Dale back on his folding lawn chair. Meanwhile henchman Glitch spots Lee Ebony talking on her official police-grade wrist wizard, astoundingly sloppy undercover work. It’s okay, though, since Glitch has figured out this is the big meltdown and he’s just telling people to run while they can. Ebony arrests Ugly Crystal (I’m not sure for what, but I suppose that can be sorted out). Sam Catchem says they’ve got the rest of Mister Bribery’s gang. And Tracy is going in after Mister Bribery himself, who’s got the Moon Governor and Second Moon maid with him.

And that’s where we stand. It’s a lot of stuff happening, and with (so far as I noticed) no weird cameos or digressions, after the Minit Mystery interlude. I’ve only noticed one odd, unresolved mention of a thing either: on the 4th of December mentioning how Diet Smith’s “time machine was a bust”. I didn’t know there was ever a time machine in Dick Tracy, but I’m also not surprised, given how crazy Chester Gould went in the 60s.

The only outstanding thread that I haven’t seen advanced, or mentioned, was the suspected haunting of the B O Plenty lair, which started action back in June 2017.

Next Week!

Jim Scancarelli has been out of action since the last time I recapped the plot in Gasoline Alley! Why? Where? What’s happening? Will the story of Rufus’s courting of The Widow Emma Sue and Scruffy’s Mom ever resolve? I don’t know. But I’ll do my best to share what I know, or can find out. And to recap nearly three months’ worth of reruns next week, somewhere on this link. Here’s hoping there’s good news ahead.