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:
Opening Theme. So now you see how this quiet bit of customization is going to go.
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.
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.
Song. Peggy Taylor sings “Birth of the Blues”.
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”.
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”.
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.
Closing Remarks. No teaser for next week; the first episode said the Barbara Fritchie bit would be here.
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.
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.
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. That’s a big crack they drilled 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.
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.
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.
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.
[ 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Hong Kong SAR China
Trinidad & Tobago
United Arab Emirates
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!”
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.)
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
What’s Going On In Judge Parker? (I changed the URL to the tag page that always shows the most recent essay, since people were finding the first-ever Judge Parker essay I’d written and they should get something more current.)
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:
Hong Kong SAR China
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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?
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!
“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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
I thank all you kind readers interested in what’s happening in Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant. This is my recap for mid-to-late January 2018. If it’s gotten far past that, this essay might not help you very much. But! If it’s past about April 2018, I should have other essays getting closer to your present. If I have done that, they should be at or near the top of this link. Good luck.
When I last checked in on Prince Valiant things had reached a happy conclusion. Valiant had helped a refugee village smash a band of marauders. The marauders who weren’t so much into the marauding thing were settling down to join the villagers. And he was leaving behind some of the supporting cast where they were sure they’d be happy. With that, they were to sail down the river, hoping ultimately to get home.
They raft along the Yinchu. This river’s now known as the Syr Darya, one of the rivers in Kazhakstan that leads to the Aral Sea, which was a vast body of water that existed in Prince Valiant’s time. Along the way the party runs into (checks encounter table) a nasty swarm of insects. They escape the insects, but not before Valiant’s stung or bitten or otherwise harassed by one enough to fail his constitution check. He falls into a delirious sleep, and that night, pursuing the vision of his mother, he falls into the river.
Valiant hacks his way through taunting visions of the witch-prophet Horrit and stumbles into a village. Jahan, the ruler, hooks him up with some salix tree extract, which naturally works great. Jahan explains their deal. His people are healers. They keep their neutrality in the wars between the Persian and Turkic people around them, ministering to both sides. And he’s atoning for a time when he kind of accidentally got the village cursed by not treating an ill stranger. (Jahan wasn’t sure if healing the stranger might alienate either of the warring sides around him.) Now, though, with “a good man — a man with an important destiny” treated despite being a stranger, he’d balanced the wrong.
Valiant’s companions find him. He’s sprawled out in the ruins of some ancient village, one massacred a long while ago. But then … how did Valiant find salix tree bark to chew on and to save his life? And with this (I found) charming bit of light Twilight Zone/folklore play Prince Valiant can get back to pondering the nature of reality and all that. For a couple days, anyway, while Karen and Vanni talk about healing herbs and chatter a bit with the local ravens. There’s a joke that the raven is passing word of their safe travels back home, but it turns out that is exactly what it’s doing.
Something I didn’t pay attention to while it was happening, possibly because the one was taking place weekdays and the other Sundays: both the current weekday Phantom continuity and Prince Valiant include major, confusing, delusional dream-encounters for their strips’ titular characters. It also features what’s surely just a coincidence of words: Jahan speaks of Prince Valiant as “a man with an important destiny”; Savior Z speaks of The Phantom as “an important man of your kind”. All coincidence, surely. But I’m tickled to notice this.
So how did that bunco squad raid on the movie theater turn out? Is the strange Moon Governor Or Something closing in on Dick Tracy’s granddaughter from his abandoned farm base? How is Mister Bribery’s plan to bring someone from outside the strip in to murder Dick Tracy turning out? Did the strip acknowledge Gasoline Alley sending Joel over to visit? If all goes well, next week, I’ll read three months’ worth of Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy and let you know what the heck’s going on.
Good evening, you many people who’d like to understand what’s happening in Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop. This is my effort to bring people up to date to what’s happening as of early January, 2018, reader time. If you’re reading this later than about April 2018 I probably have a more recent update available. That’ll be at or near the top of this page. If I don’t have a more recent update, then this will be at or near the top of that page. This seems only fair.
If you’ve got an interest in mathematically-themed comic strips I can help you there. On my other blog I review some of last week’s comics, and along the way help you to learn why the new year comes when it does and what I think the cube root of 50,653 is. It’s easier than you imagine!
16 October 2017 – 7 January 2018.
The Land of Moo was facing a great peril last time we checked in, as rich idiot M T Mentis III had big plans for Dr Wonmug’s time machine. Mentis had the idea to use the time machine to go fixing up history. Wonmug can’t think of a better way to explain how problematic this is than to drop Mentis and his bodyguard Gunther off in Moo and say, “see what you can do with this”.
What he can do is get his hat stepped on by dinosaurs, at least until Alley Oop warns him to shut up. Approaching are raiders from Farzoon, which legend says has a major construction project going on that they need slaves for. Oop figures to get back home and warn everyone. But Mentis figures he’s such a brilliant dealmaker that he can teach the Farzoonians the errors of their ways. He sneaks out to try explaining to the raiders that they would, in fact, get better labor by advertising for employees and offering good wages.
Part of me admires Mentis for arguing, rightly, that a well-paid class of workers free to do as they choose is better for everybody than slavery is. And part of me admires his courage in stepping up to an actual slave-capture party, with cage and a trained vulture that uses anesthetic-tipped claws to knock out victims and all, with no defense save reason. The rest of me wonders whether Mentis has ever met people, or studied any history, or ever read any story about anyone or anything ever. I love the Enlightenment-derived ideal that rational discussion is the best way to make people’s lives better. I just want faith in that ideal to be discernible from complete oblivious stupidity.
So Oop and Gunther set out to rescue Mentis. Technically before they even know for sure that Mentis is captured. Well, they’re properly going off to fight off the Farzoon raiders, but have to have known Mentis needed rescue. They bring some antidote potion that Wizer has, and one of the shields that fended off the Jantrullian frog-plant alien’s mind-control rays earlier in 2017.
They find the dollar bills that Mentis brought to the past for some reason, and from there find the caged Mentis and his captors. Gunther sets out to slip Mentis the antidote and get him back on his feet. Oop stands in the slaver’s way and, when challenged, hits their trained vulture with his club. With the bird out of commission, Oop and Gunther are able to smash the slavers’ cage and knock the Farzoonians unconscious and help Toni have what she tells Brad is sex. It’s a stirring conclusion that just raises the question of why Alley Oop was so afraid of these guys to start with. He handles them with his normal Popeye-ish aplomb. I guess it makes sense Alley Oop would want everyone warned in case he failed. But it’s not like that’s ever really come up.
In a dangling plot, Mentis gets knocked over a cliff and dangles a while. He’s saved by Dinny, getting Mentis to admit that maybe there is a place for dinosaurs in Moo. (On first arriving in Moo, Mentis figured the place needed their dinosaurs killed since history knows that humans and dinosaurs never coexisted.)
And then we got a couple weeks of determined epiloguing. Oop talks with Wonmug about how he figures Mentis has learned his lesson about interfering with history. Here I question this time-travelling caveman’s pedagogy. Wonmug tries another approach, pointing out that time travel could be used to understand the normal person and the challenges history’s non-winners face, allowing a fuller and more true understanding of the courses of societies. It’s a good plan that as far as I’m aware Wonmug has never used his time machine for. But maybe it is for want of funding; Mentis declares his willingness to fund research expeditions.
Gunther floats the idea of staying in Moo. King Guz likes his attitude, and Ooola likes even more of him. Wonmug’s appalled by the idea, and Oop figures there’s no way he can let Gunther stick around while he’s holding arms with Ooola and stuff. Funny enough bit of business.
As they’re dematerializing back to the present, Mentis sneezes, and all over Oop. Mentis thinks it’s allergies. Wonmug worries he’s going to spread a cold in Moo. (Cross-time infections seem like the sort of thing that should have been a concern and to have happened sooner in the comic’s history. But it’s not the sort of story that people would find interesting in Like 1941. And it’s a legitimate concern, I think, so might as well do the story now as ever.) They zap back to the present and tell Alley Oop to find some echinacea, so, good luck with that. I, being aware of the laws of dramatic economy, trust this is the hook on which we’ll hang the next storyline. And yeah, the last panel for the 7th of January is Alley Oop sneezing. As ever, I’m amazed the change of story matches so closely my recaps.
It’s the return of The Return of the Locust, revisiting Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom, weekday continuity. There’s been someone living on top of the Ghost Who Walks’ Southwest-American butte. He wants to know who’s still living there and shooting at him. I think many of us would have similar questions in his place.
Hi, enthusiastic reader of Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s The Amazing Spider-Man newspaper comic. I’m happy to help you catch up on what’s been going on. I write this the last weekend of 2017. If for you it’s later than about March 2018, there’s probably been a later essay bringing things closer to date. If I have one, it should be at or near the top of this page. I hope it helps.
If you’re interested in mathematically-themed comic strips, please give my other blog a try. Each week I spend some time talking about mathematical themes as expressed in the syndicated comics. I like it.
The Amazing Spider-Man.
8 October – 30 December 2017.
I said last time I figured we were at the end of the Tyrannus Invades The Surface World storyline. Tyrannus had begged for mercy, and River of Youth Water, after Spider-Man took a key supporting position in Kala’s plan to stop her husband’s nonsense. With an Imperial Promise from Tyrannus to stop all the invading, all seemed well. We just had to figure a reason that Aunt May could not engage in wedded bliss with Melvin, deposed ruler of the Mole-Men. At the risk of being one of those people who successfully predicts darkness arriving after sunset, I was completely right.
Though she rather fancies Melvin, Aunt May can’t move down to the subterranean world with him. She’s allergic and trying to adapt would kill her. And with Tyrannus sworn to retreat to his former kingdom, the Mole Men can’t think of who to lead them if it’s not going to be Melvin. So he’s got to go back to them just long enough to get an elected Presidency set up. They’ll have to part, neither of them remembering that there are dozens of ways to keep in contact with a distant loved one. Yes, yes, they’re older than calendars are, that doesn’t mean they can’t Skype. I mean, I can’t Skype, but that’s just because I’m boring. They don’t have that excuse.
So. 2nd of November and a new story starts. With Aunt May safely off to home as far as he knows, Peter goes to Miami to catch up with Mary Jane’s press tour. Also with J Jonah Jameson, there for a publishers’ conference that hasn’t actually played any part in the story, if I didn’t miss it. Maybe it’ll be important in the close of this story, which hasn’t come just yet.
With a couple days free, Peter suggests they visit Doctor Curt Connors, who yes, had become The Lizard, rampaging monster … lizard … man, but who’s been doing very well since he started taking aspirin for it. At Connors’s old lab Peter’s met with the traditional greeting of a gigantic metal comic-book science thing whomping him in the face. It’s Connors himself, trashing his lab in a rage fueled by grief over his wife’s death. But once he gets to hit Peter Parker with some gigantic metal comic-book science thing the rage disappears. I mean, I’ve fumed about unfair tilts on pinball games longer than Connors spent getting over his laboratory-trashing rage. They were pretty unfair tilts, though.
Connors invites Peter and Mary Jane to his emergency backup lab, in the Everglades. He’s hoping to do some science work to regrow his lost right arm only without turning into a giant rampaging lizard-man monster. And who better to assist than a stage actor and a staff photographer for a New York daily newspaper? Peter admits the sense in hanging around since he did know some science back in the day. Plus when the mad science starts maybe Spider-Man will be able to find another superhero to nag into action. So they venture out to the Everglades.
Mary Jane figures her best chance to stay in the story is to appreciate the natural beauty of the setting. So she steps out to find some Everglades nature and get eaten by it. As the alligator attacks a mysterious figure that I initially snarked was Mark Trail decides he can’t stand by while she dies. He tries to intervene, but is body-checked by Connors, who’s heard all the shouting. Before anybody knows what the heck is going on the Incredible Hulk declares his intention to smash. He picks up the alligator and throws it into Moo’s neighboring land of Lem.
Peter Parker’s delighted in the success of his “attract another superhero when the mad science goes down” plan. But to get The Hulk from throwing all of them into a neighboring comic strip he’ll have to do a proper superhero fight. He figures the alligator-injured Connors is too delirious to work out any superhero identities. So he strips to his Spidey-Suit. From this I infer he’s been wearing two layers of long-sleeved clothing in Florida. Mary Jane interrupts the ritual punching match upon the meeting of two superheroes. She warns if they don’t stop they’ll have to go to their rooms. And this calms the Hulk back to his human form, the figure I thought was a dissolute Mark Trail earlier.
Bruce Banner had been lurking around the emergency backup lab because he thought Dr Connors might help with his Hulk problem. Dr Bruce Banner, I should point out since this seems like it’s going to matter. But Banner thinks Connors might be able to help. Why, they even have the same rare blood type, Banner points out in an expository lump so perfectly clumsy I genuinely admire it. Anyway, Connors is losing a lot of blood, and they’re going to have to rush him to a hospital somehow, and probably arrange a transfusion. At the risk of forecasting the arrival of darkness after nightfall, I suspect there might just be one that has awkward side-effects. If they can get him to a hospital in time, anyway.
As my tone maybe suggests, I’m enjoying all this. It’s got the cheery daftness that I enjoy in comics about the superpowered. And the stories are moving well enough, certainly if you go back and read them all a couple months at a time. I’m looking forward to 2018 with this crew.
I don’t know how many movies I was introduced to by SCTV. Possibly everything that wasn’t a kid’s movie. (Indeed, just last night I caught a moment of The Unholy Rollers and realize I just saw the source for one of SCTV’s Movies of the Week although I can’t place the title just now.) But I was also introduced to a genre by SCTV. They ran a soap opera spoof, The Days Of The Week. It started with a simple premise, the town’s respected surgeon trying to con a widow out of her fortune by setting up a patsy to play her long-lost son. Within a half-dozen sketches they had dozens of conspiracies unfolding at a wedding interrupted by multiple gun-weilding fanatics. And somewhere along the line I realized they had made a ridiculous yet strangely legitimate soap opera. They just chose to make every possible storyline go crazy, and cling to the crazy.
When I last checked in on Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker the strip had just jumped three months ahead. April Parker was in super-duper top-secret jail after being framed for a complicated CIA-based fiasco. Randy Parker’s been united with his daughter Charlotte, through the workings of April’s father Norton. But the craziness and Alan’s secrecy has smashed his relationship with his wife Katherine, and she’s leaving. It had blown up what of the status quo hadn’t been blown up already. It was crazy.
Alan fumbles the last chance of Katherine reconciling with Alan. She sees he’s mining their scenario for his stalled-out novel. Sophie Spencer, recovering from her own kidnapping at the hands of her mother’s long-lost half-sister, buys a replacement guitar. And talks with Neddy, who’s herself recovering from when her ill-conceived clothing factory fell into a sinkhole. And Neddy agrees with Sophie that yeah, she needs to have some focus for her life again. That’s a couple weeks spent working out older stories and setting them basically in order. A not-crazy order.
Then we got to the end of October, and focus on April Parker. She’s spending her three-year prison sentence the way Calvin might spend having to sit in the corner and almost as successfully. She picks fights with her cellmate, her blockmates, the guards, the plumbing, the air, and several imaginary friends. So the early-release plans are off. Randy isn’t able to talk her down and fears she’s going to go crazy.
One night Alan’s pondering how screwed up everything is when Norton breaks in. Norton dismisses Alan’s complaints that his scheming and conspiracies have destroyed his life. And explains that he’s there to reunite the family, for example by breaking April out of her maximum-security federal prison. And flee the country with Randy and Charlotte. And Norton won’t discuss whether there’s any options that don’t involve doing the craziest possible thing.
And this past week the crazy thing happens. Norton kidnaps Alan. His operatives break April out of prison. April breaks in to her and Randy’s house, collects Charlotte, and informs him they’re going to become a family of fugitives. He tries to point out, this is crazy.
So something like sixteen months into his tenture writing Judge Parker Francesco Marciuliano has thoroughly embraced the Days of the Week style plotting. It’s almost seemed like a search for status quos to blow up. And clings to that.
Did Aunt May marry Melvin the Mole Man after all? Who’s this one-armed fellow in Florida that Peter Parker’s hanging out with? Who’s throwing all these alligators around? And why isn’t there more Rocket Raccoon? There’ll be answers to some of this when I get back to Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s Amazing Spider-Man. Spoiler: no, somehow, Aunt May did not get married.
Thanks for finding me in your search for an explanation of what’s going on in Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp. This is, for me, the middle of December. So if you’re reading this much past December 2017 the story might have resolved and gone on to the next, or even one after that. If it’s far enough past December 2017 there’s, I hope, a more up-to-date description of what’s going on. It should be at or near the top of this page. Good luck.
Gary’s pushed his program of getting Rick out of football and into music. His first strategy: concern-trolling. That was a great touchdown, Ricky. “Do your eyes look cloudy? Cloudy eyes can be the first signs of a major problem. You know my wife Dead Lisa died of death. And her eyes were cloudy at some point I’m going to suppose.” That doesn’t get Rick or his mother to think about dropping football.
The football season carries on like like football seasons do. There’s a couple games and the action seems to be football. I admit I’m not a football fan. I’m aware of it and only have the normal moral objections to it. But I grew up in the New York City media market in the 80s, with the Giants and the Jets, so grew up without professional football except for 1986. And I went to Rutgers, which played in the first intercollegiate football game in 1869 and is hoping to someday play in a second game. So I missed a lot of exposure back when I was young enough to learn things. When I watch football what I see is:
Somebody kicks the ball toward the field goal posts.
Somebody catches a passed ball and runs, then stops.
Everybody collides into a huge pile, and then the person with the ball runs straight into the pile as if that should help clear matters up.
After any of these there’s three yellow flags, two red flags, a checkerboard rally flag, and a Klingon insignia tossed on the field. Then everyone has to wait about eight commercials to straighten it out before the next play. It’s all jolly good fun and if you like that, please don’t let my ignorance stop you. I’d like to see if the sport could be played with less brain injuries. Anyway the talk between Coach Thorp and other people about how they’re going to improve their strategy doesn’t mean much to me. I will trust that it’s relevant to football. But I’ll defer to fans about whether it’s sensible to say, “we’re adding pieces of the veer offense. It’s sort of like the read-option, but the running back and the QB go the same way”.
Gary doesn’t understand the football talk either, and points out to Rick that cat videos are popular things and he should try going viral. Rick rolls his eyes and I did not mean that, but you’ll notice I let it stand. And now I’m curious if the whole arc was built out of Rubin or Whigham thinking of those words together and figuring “why not?” Gary suggests Rick sing the National Anthem to Coach Thorp, every ten minutes. And he offers to e-mail the suggestion more often if it’ll make this happen. Coach Thorp digs deep into his reserve of not really caring and decides he doesn’t really care. And even if he did care, he couldn’t have one of his linesmen singing the National Anthem when he’s needed right after that on the … line.
But Gary has a stroke of luck when Dead Lisa phones in a bomb threat to the airport (some December 2010 silliness in that comic). Plus, Rick has a sprained ankle and has to skip a game, so he’s free to sing. Gary arranges a camera crew. They make a video that goes viral among the National-Anthem-before-high-school-football-games crowd, a group I accept exists. Gary seeds the video with the story of how the concussed Rick wanted to sing and had a father posted overseas and all that. Rick’s father isn’t in the Army. He’s a contractor in Dubai, helping the United Arab Emirates build the world’s largest slab of diamond-clad concrete. It’s a prestige project that, when done, will allow them to smother the workers building the world’s largest slab of diamond-clad concrete beneath the world’s largest slab of diamond-clad concrete. Rick’s annoyed, Gary’s proud, and Rick’s mother is a person who exists and has feelings about all this, I would imagine. Rick’s father might, too.
In his next game Rick takes a knee to the helmet, when Gary arranges to have a squad of knees thrown at Rick’s helmet. The team doctor doesn’t see any reason Rick shouldn’t keep playing. But Gary explains how they should cover Rick in a soft, protective layer of foam and bury him in a cube of feathers eight feet across to rush to the hospital. And his new round of concern-trolling does give Rick’s mother reason to doubt this football stuff is a good idea. Rick’s pediatrician says this looks all right. And a concussions expert says Rick’s all right. So Gary has to go back to the closet of Dead Lisa videotapes to see what advice she has about quitting football and being a professional singer.
And that’s where we have gotten: to multiple people in this comic strip about sports issues saying “don’t worry about all those blows to the head”. Part of me is sympathetic: we should act on realistic estimates of risk. To respond to a long time of under-estimating the risk of head injuries with a period of over-estimating the risk does not make things better. But part of me also thinks: there’s a lot of money which would very much like it to be believed football-caused head traumas aren’t so bad. If nevertheless we’ve heard they’re this bad, they’re likely worse. I will accept the author’s intention that Rick’s injuries are routine and unthreatening. And that the medical professionals who’ve cleared him repeatedly are acting according to the best evidence they have. Neal Rubin would know. It’s still a weird tone. The premise of the athlete being pushed out of sports by a noodge of a relative is good enough. I would feel less weird about it if it weren’t about football-caused head injuries. I feel weird that my essay about all this has been so merry, considering.
But that’s where things stand for the middle of December, 2017. The story feels at least a couple weeks away from resolution to me. I’d expect the basketball-season story to start in around a month, unless there’s a major twist coming. And we’ll see; sometimes they happen. The softball-season story took such a major twist last year. These things happen.
The satellite TV dial is filling with these Christmas music channels, more every day. And we were looking for them and discovered there’s this weird huge block all labelled NUDE. I guess they’re specific nude channels, since the show listings talk about how it’s stuff like “girls kissing 24/7” and my love pointed out how tired their lips have to get. Probably their whole faces get worn out.
But the channels all look like that, and that’s disappointing. Why couldn’t they just be a bunch of regular channels only nude? I’d be interested in, like, Nude Discovery Channel, or Nude Comedy Central. Heck, Nude Animal Planet is like 70 percent of the way to reality. Naked A&E.
Look, I know there’s a killer Nude Channel joke to be made here somewhere. I haven’t found it, but we’ve been scrolling for like 18 hours and we’re not through all the channels we don’t have, because of all those video-on-demand channels each offering Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. The right application for this concept is somewhere.
Hi, enthusiast of Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. trying to figure out what’s going on. This is my best effort at catching up what’s happening in the strip as of mid-December 2017. If you’re reading this after around March 2018, barring some surprise, I’ll have some more current essay describing its events. You should be able to get that essay here. And, must say, it looks to me like the strip is transitioning from one story to another. So if you’re reading this in, say, February and don’t know what’s going on, and can’t wait for me, you’ll probably have it all if you just go back to mid-December in the archives and catch up from there.
I keep remarking how it seems like my story comic summaries coincide with new stories starting in the comics. Some of it’s luck. Some of it’s the ease of confirmation bias. I get to each strip about every 12 weeks. If I’m off by half a month that’s still one chance in three of being “near” the start of a story. Still, last time I checked in on Rex Morgan, M.D. I was like right on the end of a story. June Morgan’s old childhood friend Margie Taylor, dying of plot, had got the Morgans to agree to adopt her child. And she had just vanished, leaving only a pile of problem-clearing paperwork and nice enough kid Johnny in her wake.
Like the week after my last essay the strip went around the horn, touching on some of the major storylines. Wealthy industrialist Milton Avery was shown settling back in his old home in England, no longer recognizing his wife Heather, and unaware that she’s pregnant. The Avery’s house-sitters for their on-panel house are shown to be … nice people that I guess have something going for them. Edward, the kid who tried to bully Sarah during the gas-leak year when she was resident child artist at the municipal art gallery, comes over to show off a dog that’s supposed to be fantastically weird that he can only be shown as a Dick Tracy-style explanatory caption.
And then, come October, we started the real story of the last couple months. It involves the highest form of art according to the people who write comic strips, which is, comic books. Early this year the Morgans helped their friend Buck reconnect with Great 50s Horror Comics artist Hank Harwood. Since then “Horrible” Hank’s gotten some satisfying late-in-life glory from fans who had just supposed he was dead or something, plus a bunch of commissions. But, following an anonymous Internet tip Harwood’s son discovers: somebody’s posting fake Horrible Hank art on auction sites.
Buck, who’s been managing Horrible Hank’s return to the money factory that is commissioned comics art, is horrified. He lodges complaints with the auction site. The counterfeiter responds by saying (a) their stuff is too legit and (b) here’s some news stories about Buck being arrested for art forgery so nyah. Buck is offended by what he calls “doxxing” and files a complaint with the Commissioner of the Internet to get these untrue things removed.
But his certified letter to the Commissioner of the Internet is barely mailed when a major clue steps in. Buck’s getting-quite-serious girlfriend Mindy recognizes the women who spent an hour lingering around her antiques store. It’s Doris, Buck’s abusive ex-wife, who’s supposed to be in jail after this incident where she nail-gunned his head and came after him with a knife. He’s supposed to be under a protection order and get notified when she’s released, but, you know, things happen.
Mindy texts Buck when Doris re-visits the antiques shop. Buck immediately charges into the scene, which goes as well as you could hope for doing the dumb thing. She misses hitting him with a paperweight, runs off, and lets him catch her in her apartment. Her plan: ruin Buck’s reputation as a legitimate comics-art dealer, thereby breaking up his relationship with Mindy, after which she’ll get Buck all to herself. Well, I’ve heard dumber schemes. A disgusted Buck tries to leave, but Doris charges, ineptly, and falls down the steps just after a witness arrives to see the whole thing.
With the crazy ex put back in jail, Buck can look forward to a life as a reputable comics-art dealer. And, with his son’s encouragement, he asks Mindy to marry. She’s happy to. Horrible Hank finally gets to see some of the forgeries. And he recognizes the artist: Rene Belluso. The guy who was giving Sarah art lessons up until Terry Beatty took over the comic and dialed way down the “free stuff for the Morgans” theme.
And besides that Rene Belluso is still out there forging art, that wraps up that storyline, one week ago. This past week was spent delivering the news that Margie Taylor had, indeed died. I intend no guess as to whether that’s starting a new thread about the adoption of Johnny or simply resolving the previous thread. Still, it’s a bunch of successfully deployed soap opera plotting, so, well done.
Viral videos! Micro-managing stage uncles! Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy! No word on the playdowns! It can’t be anything but Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp. Please stop in and see what football players are singing and for what reasons.
I’m glad to offer you kind readers an update about what’s going on in The Phantom. There’s two continuities at play in the strip, both written by Tony DePaul. This is an essay about the Sundays-only continuity, drawn by Jeff Weigel. If you’re interested in the weekday strips, or if you’re reading this essay much past December 2017, please look to the essays on this page. The Weekday continuity, and any later essays I’ve written about the Sunday continuity, should be right up top there.
And I also keep reviewing comic strips with mathematical themes on my other blog. I’m glad if you want to read that.
The story was mostly wrapped up then, though. Three killers had escaped Jungle Patrol custody. The Phantom, relying on his intelligence network and drummers in the Bandar tribes, managed to capture them all the same night. Also to give them the impression he had captured them simultaneously, burnishing his reputation of being everywhere and timeless. Since my last essay the Jungle Patrol had found the three where the Ghost Who Walks left them. Guran covers up the bit early in the story where he knocks a Jungle Patrol officer unconscious, and reminds the Jungle Patrol about the yet another old jungle saying about how time is nothing to The Phantom. Hawa Aguda and Kay Molloy, women who years ago quit their humdrum jobs and joined the Jungle Patrol with the iconic declaration “I quit! We’re joining the Jungle Patrol!”, wonder if this might have something to do with the mysterious “John X” whom they suspect might be the Unknown Commander of the Jungle Patrol. (He is.)
With the 8th of October began the new story, the 186th, “The Rat Must Die”. The initial setting: Boomsby Prison, Bangalla’s spot for the most dangerous criminals. One is an as-yet-unnamed prisoner who looks like one part Daddy Warbucks, one part the closet monster from the end of The Brain That Wouldn’t Die. The warden laughs at Closet Warbucks’s proposed deal of his freedom in trade for the guy who was supposed to break him out of Boomsby. It’s not clear at this point the guy’s relationship to Closet Warbucks. My thought was he was someone hired to break him out, and who either reneged on the deal or who Closet Warbucks figured to double-cross on the way to getting out. It would be a kind of stupidly overcomplicated plot, but I could rationalize the logic. He’d either break out, or get buy his freedom by spoiling a break-out attempt. And if you’re not coming up with a stupidly overcomplicated plot you’re kind of wasting your superhero’s time.
Closet Warbucks’s attempted deal is the gossip hit of the prison. Pretty soon the guy — his ex-partner-in-crime, it turns out — gets word of the deal. And the prison janitor, another criminal who’s in the last 125 of his 1200-year sentence, send a note to Walker, Box 7, Mawaitaan. He quickly gets back the Consumer Information Catalogue, Pueblo, Colorado, 81009.
The letter brings out The Phantom, impressing me with his ability to separate valuable information from the noisy, messy volume of tips rolling in. The Ghost Who Walks arrives just as the ex-partner’s hit is on. A corrupt guard delivers a knife and opens the cell doors to a guy who smirks more than the whole cast of Funky Winkerbean, if such a thing is possible. The killer sneaks into the cell, draws his knife, and gets clobbered by The Phantom, who’s taken Closet Warbucks’s place on the bunk. The corrupt guard doesn’t fare better.
And there’s the action as of today. I don’t suspect we’re near the end of the story, not just because the last several Sunday-continuity stories have run at least a half-year each. But I’d imagine doing something about the ex-partner-in-crime has to be high on The Phantom’s agenda. No sense getting roused all the way to Boomsby just to foil one assassination of one failed prison snitch. And indeed, The Phantom told Closet Warbucks that he was taking this partner-for-freedom deal. Also maybe we’ll find out why Closet Warbucks wasn’t interested in selling out his partner before the trail began. We’ll see.
If all goes to plan it’s a chance to stop in again on Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. and learn all about how the Morgans are adjusting to life with — er, no, actually, it’s a surprising amount of text about comic-book art forgery and crazy exes and the physical infirmities that we all will endure if we live long enough. Join us, won’t you please?
I know, I know, I’m the Internet’s leading resource on recapping the plots of story strips like Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth. Believe me, I’m doing my best to keep my modesty at an appropriate level. My professionalism compels me to warn you: this is a recap written at the end of November 2017. Stories move on, though, and if it’s much past November 2017 these stories won’t be more than deep background for you. If it’s sometime after March 2018 when you read this, then (all going well) I’ll have another, more-recent-to-you story summary available. You should be able to get it here. Thanks for looking to me for help with exactly what my subject line says.
We had a real, proper, soap-operatic situation going on last time I checked in on Mary Worth. Dawn Weston, working for the Local Medical Group, is outright smitten with Dr Ned Fletcher. Medical assistant Jared, himself a-smitten with Dawn, discovers that Dr Ned is still married. He reports this to Dawn, who doesn’t want to believe it. Also I’m not sure whether Dr Ned is open with his wife about his side thing, or whether he’s lying to her about what he’s doing those late nights at the office. I suppose he’s lying to her. The Mary Worth universe can support adultery. No way can it support poly relationships. (Plus, even if it did, Dr Ned’s a serious heel for lying to Dawn about his status.)
At a L’escargot Mensonger dinner, Dawn asks and Dr Ned fesses up: he is married. He doesn’t think that has to change things, because it’s never the guy who lied about his relationship status who does. Dawn runs out on dinner and into the gardening-tool-handling hands of Mary Worth. Mary advises sticking to principles like “not dating married men”, even if it costs the job, and that a man who’s “available and doesn’t trouble her conscience” will be along. Since Dawn was only working for the summer and it’s already a September strip this is a financially viable decision to make, at least. Dawn quits, and tells Jared that he was right all along, and maybe they’ll talk or something later. Mary shows up with muffins and hugs and the confidence that comes from knowing yeah, she’s still the center of the strip.
But there’s other people in the comic. Wilbur Weston left Charterstone and threatened to leave the strip altogether some time ago. He’s got a new gig, interviewing survivors of disasters around the world about their experiences and about the sandwiches they eat now that they’re not dead. And his story returns the 2nd of October. He FaceTimes Iris, his girlfriend back home, with the news he’s staying out a while longer. He’s met someone in Bogota he’s got feelings for, and you know, it was her idea they put their relationship on pause while he globetrotted some more.
Iris is devastated and falls into a long self-inquisitive spiral about whether she could have saved their relationship. Mary Worth, writing Wilbur’s “Ask Wendy” advice column, pontificates on the idea that love is all around, no need to waste it, you might just make it after all, thank you for being a friend, sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name, and brother Dick was lost at sea without his water wings; now he is an angel, and he tries to do amazing things. But that’s all just for the audience; there’s no hint Iris reads the column or knows this advice is out there ready to be heard.
Anyway, while walking around in a good healing mope, she runs across Zak. You maybe remember Zak. We last saw him early in 2017, taking some classes with Iris at Local Community College. Iris liked him, what with his being attractive and having a pleasant, natural dopiness, but she decided she was waiting for Wilbur. And hey! What do you know? Zak is doing well, having made a game that got popular and buying a briefcase and a car and everything. And he’s up for coffee and dating, so, lucky them.
Meanwhile in Bogota, Wilbur’s been busy having a life, and who saw that coming? His relationship with Fabiana has gotten quite serious. Wilbur’s taking dance lessons and buying her Green Lantern rings. He’s embracing his new life, and her, with an enthusiasm previously reserved for pork roll. She’s consistently looking not quite at him. But he doesn’t notice this until one day when he arrives for salsa lessons early and finds Fabiana deep in the arms of her cousin Pedro. Wilbur begins to suspect that they aren’t even cousins, and that he’s been a fool. There’s no salsa here. There’s not even any chips. Poor guy.
And there we are. It’s easy to suppose the situation is exactly what it looks like. Fabiana hasn’t been showing having a conversation with Wilbur that wasn’t about how he could buy her things, for example. But it also seems early in Wilbur’s little story segment here. After breaking up with Iris on the second of October his story went on the backburner. The Wilbur-Fabiana thing has only had primary focus since the 13th of November. It seems like there should be time for some twists and turns yet. On the 26th as Wilbur storms out Fabiana does chase after, swearing it isn’t what it looks like and begging her love not to go; so, what the heck. I’m willing to see. Plus, you know, after the last bit of Wilber-Iris-and-Zak storytelling we got CRUISE SHIPS. I don’t know what can match them, if anything, but it’s a good omen going forward.
Dubiously Sourced Quotes of Mary Worth Sunday Panels.
“Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain’t going away.” — Elvis Presley. 3 September 2017.
“And if that isn’t the truth, it would be a lie.” — Colin Mochrie, 10 September 2017.
“Change your opinions, keep to your principles; change your leaves, keep intact your roots.” — Victor Hugo, 17 September 2017.
“The greatest healing therapy is friendship and love.” — Hubert H Humphrey, 24 September 2017.
“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” — Albert Einstein, 1 October 2017.
“Let go. Why do you cling to pain?” — Leo Buscaglia, 8 October 2017.
“Love can sometimes be magic. But magic can sometimes … just be an illusion.” — Javan, 15 October 2017.
“And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” — 1 Corinthians 13:13, 22 October 2017. OK, I’m like 60 percent confident this one is legit.
“Love is like the wind. You can’t see it, but you can feel it.” — Nicholas Sparks, 29 October 2017.
“There is only one happiness in this life, to love and be loved.” — George Sand, 5 November 2017.
“Work like you don’t need the money. Love like you’ve never been hurt. Dance like nobody’s watching.” — Satchel Paige, 12 November 2017.
“Money can’t buy love, but it improves your bargaining position.” — Unknown, 19 November 2017.
“Life is full of surprises.” — John Major, 26 November 2017.
I return to the challenge of doing these recaps without fear or favor, despite knowing that Tony DePaul reads them, as I get to his and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom, Sunday continuity. A new storyline had started shortly after my last update, so this is a much-needed refresher.
Greetings, fellow creature who fears nature. If you’re interested in the current storyline in James Allen’s Mark Trail, great! I describe it here. At least I do if it’s not too much later than mid-November 2017 for you. If you’re reading this after, like, February 2018 things have possibly moved on and this won’t help you any. If I’ve written a follow-up explanation of the stories I should have them at or near the top of this page. Please check there to see if that’s more useful. If it’s not, well, try this and we’ll see what it can do for you.
Twelve weeks ago I last reviewed James Allen’s Mark Trail. I predicted then the story was near its end. I had good reason. The story had already been running since something like the 25th of February. (There were a couple weeks of apparently extraneous character setup that looks like teasing for a later story. But it could yet intervene in this story.) And the major story elements seemed to be all set out. Mark Trail, held hostage by an unnamed Rapid City, South Dakota, bank robber, had got to the point where he punches people. He’d also worked out the big plot twist. The woman held hostage with him was not just a snarky comics reviewer but also, secretly, Bank Robber’s accomplice. Trail had arranged his friend Johnny Lone Elk to fake being lost to a ravine accident, the better to come back and punch people. The FBI in cooperation with the local sheriff were closing in on the ghost town to which Trail lead Bank Robber. And severe weather was closing in, ready to fill the story’s quota of “Nature: Too Deadly For Humans” narrative. Also, there may or may not be a bear.
We’re still in this story. I’m as startled as you are. Maybe eight percent more startled. What all has Mark Trail been doing with his time? Let’s recap.
Johnny Lone Elk teamed up with the Sheriff into the bear-bearing caves that lead to the ghost town. While they do have to pass the notoriously cranky Samson, the grizzly is content to let them on their way in exchange for a couple of odd-brand candy bars. So all you people teasing me for stockpiling Zero bars and Squirrel Nut Zippers? Go get eaten by a bear. Johnny and Sheriff get to the tunnels underneath the ghost town. Sheriff fills in some backstory about why the empty town has enough tunnel space to build the Second Avenue Subway.
Mark Trail leads Bank Robber and Accomplice into the ghost town, ahead of the tornado. They’re just in time for the windmill to come flying off the tower and chase them down. But Mark outwits the loose windmill vanes. The horses bolt, but Bank Robber’s able to grab the sack of money off one of them. They take shelter in the town saloon. Across the street, in the bank, Johnny Lone Elk and Sheriff emerge from their subplot, just in time for the rain to clear.
Bank Robber whips out his iPhone, in what looks like an Otter protective case. Have to say, I’ve had good experiences with the Otter cases, so, good decision and all. He’s calling for his pickup. Still, Trail warns there’s no reason there can’t still be a tornado, and maybe a hurricane, and maybe a swarm of killer bees piloting tiny F-18s for good measure. Accomplice warns Trail could be right. Bank Robber’s having none of it, and forces Accomplice and Trail to the nearby abandoned airstrip. Sheriff orders them to freeze, and they do, except instead of holding still Bank Robber shoots back. Accomplice does take the chance to run out of the conflict and into Johnny Lone Elk’s custody.
Bank Robber keeps Trail hostage, though, walking to the airstrip where his escape pilot — a young-looking Judge Alan Parker sporting a ponytail — ponders how surely there could have been a less complicated getaway plan. But before a vehicle can be safely used for its intended purpose, nature intervenes, and the plane is smacked down by a tornado. Trail tries to use the chaos to grab Bank Robber’s gun, but Bank Robber answers with fists. But a punching match with Mark Trail is almost dumber than force-feeding Popeye a can of spinach. So Bank Robber grabs his pistol. Sheriff throws an axe at Bank Robber, smacking him hard and breaking his hand. (By the time Sheriff could get a clear shot on Bank Robber, his rifle jammed, is why he’s diddling about with an axe.)
And aircraft pilot Alan Parker? He bailed out just before the plane was destroyed by the tornado. And his parachute was working all right until the tornado turned and hit that, sending him plummeting into a barn. Parker says he’s surprisingly okay, though: “I’m lucky there was still some hay in this old stable!” So he is. Come this Monday the tornado’s going to drop four cows and a cruise liner on him.
So. Like you see, that’s a lot of stuff happening. It seems like it’s got to be near done now. Accomplice gave herself up to the guest star. Bank Robber’s had all his guns cudgeled out of his hands. Alan Parker’s a shoe-in for a forthcoming Ripley’s Believe It Or Not panel. What really makes sense is for someone to eat pancakes and to do something about counting up the prairie dogs near Rapid City. I still haven’t forgot that was the reason Mark Trail came out here. I’m not leaving this story until I hear about the comeback the prairie dogs are making.
Sunday Animals Watch!
Animals or natural phenomena featured on Sundays recently have included:
Coqui Frogs of Puerto Rico, 3 September 2017. They’re invasive in Hawaii and soon California.
The 2010 Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill, 10 September 2017. Oil-eating microbes seem to be making things less awful than expected.
Hurricane Season, 17 September 2017. This was a couple weeks after Harvey, right after Hurricane Irma, and just as Hurricane Maria got started.
Nile Crocodile, 24 September 2017. They’re dying
Dracula Orchids, 1 October 2017. They’re terrifying.
Black rat snakes, 8 October 2017. They’re eight feet long and emit musk when threatened.
Bobbit Worms, 15 October 2017. They’re horrifying.
Hydnellum Peckii fungus, 22 October 2017. They’re a “ghoulish” fungus.
Trapdoor Spiders, 29 October 2017. Gads, yes, but we need them.
Mysterious cross-species altruism, 5 November 2017. It’s not just for social media anymore.
Quolls, 12 November 2017. They’re dying.
The Purple Frogs of Bhupathy India, 19 November 2017. Too soon to tell but I bet you they’re dying.
If you like comic strips that aren’t necessarily story strips you might look at my mathematics blog. There I regularly discuss the recent syndicated comics that did something mathematical. Ideally I don’t ruin the jokes.
21 August – 11 November 2017.
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley has, since the 27th of April, been running a very dangerous story. Not that the stakes in it are that high. But in that it’s a crossing of two of the strip’s styles of stories. One is the weepy melodrama. Poverty-stricken kids Emma Sue And Scruffy, and their widowed mother, The Widow Emma Sue And Scruffy’s Mom, moved into the abandoned mill. The kids ran across the curmudgeonly codger Elam Jackson, who softens when he meets them all. Elam Jackson starts repairing The Widow Etc’s mill. Also he begins acts of courtship with The Widow Emma Sue And Scruffy’s Mom.
The danger is that it’s crossed with another of the strip’s story types. This is the Joel And Rufus Story. Joel and Rufus are preposterous, silly characters. They’d make sense on Green Acres. They can have adventures easily. Attaching emotions to them, though? That’s a tall order. Still, Rufus had encountered Emma Sue and Scruffy. He and Joel played Santa for the impoverished kids, back before the August update. Rufus gave some newly weaned kittens to the kids. He’s also got romantic designs on The Widow Etc.
So this storyline has to balance its absurdist-clown streak with its weepy-melodrama streak. It’s tricky. Anything goes wrong and all narrative could collapse. When we left off Elam Jackson’s courting of The Widow Etc had reached the point of actually kissing, in silhouette, off where Rufus could see. Rufus immediately despairs, a state not at all natural for this goofball. He storms home, puts a note on his mailbox that “I’ve gone away! Ain’t comin’ back! Pleze hol’ my mail!” and even leaves his cats without supervision. Well, he leaves them to Joel, about the same thing.
The news of Rufus’s disappearance spreads slowly. Scruffy recovers from his bike accident and with Emma Sue visit Rufus’s place to find him missing. They go back home to hear Elam Jackson talking seriously about marriage with The Widow Etc. The worldly Scruffy explains how he knew it was coming to that. But Jackson’s leading questions are left hanging in the air, the 16th of September, and we have not seen these characters since.
But Joel knows things are awry, and so, starting the 19th of September, begins searching in the logical place: other comic strips. Joel and Rufus are at the core of this slapsticky, absurdist, fourth-wall-breaking streak of the comic strip. Why can’t he pop over to Dick Tracy if he likes? So Joel meets up with Tracy slapsticky hillbilly character B O Plenty and then the super-scientific detective himself. Tracy has enough of this within a week and sends Joel back to his own comic strip, right where he left off.
Just in time, too, since he’d left Becky (his mule) right by a poster for the circus. And Joel knows what this means. He hasn’t become one of YouTube’s top hosts of ‘Let’s Play’ JRPG videos without learning how to recognize the plot rails. He makes his way to the circus tents to see if he can get the next plot point going. It’s hard work, including swinging hammers around, sleeping with the elephants and mules, being haunted by visions of Rufus at all the sideshow posters, and being pressed into clown duty by owner P T Beauregard’s son, a Young Ralph from Sally Forth. This sends Joel to an encounter with another of the Gasoline Alley universe’s many Frank Nelsons. Also it offers some name-drops of Emmett Kelly, Otto Griebling, and (in Joel’s confusion) Walt Kelly. And gives Scancarelli an easy extra 25 points in his bid for installation into the Museum of Old-Time Radio.
The show begins! And we get a good week or so of acts and animals and Joel cringing before some well-rendered lions and the like. And then, finally, the 27th of October we learn what’s come of Rufus. He’s the Human Cannonball, like it or not, and over Halloween he’s shot out of the cannon, through the Big Tent’s walls, and into Joel’s haystack. He explains: after seeing Elam Jackson kissing The Widow Emma Sue and Scruffy’s Mom he was heartbroken, ran away from home, and joined the circus. Along the way to the human cannonball job he’d been the beareded lady, the thin man, the four-legged dog, all the stuff Joel saw posters for. It’s not that complicated a story, but it had been two months since readers last saw Jackson or The Widow Etc or the kids. I don’t blame Scancarelli for giving a recap like that.
This week Rufus, deciding he’s had enough of the circus, rides with Joel back to the normal Gasoline Alley continuity. And Joel has hopeful news for Rufus. After getting the mill up and running again, The Widow Etc “done canned yo’ ex-‘fr’end, Elam!”. This is consistent with my reading of The Widow Etc’s reluctance and talking around Jackson’s questioning. It also raises some good questions. For one, how could Joel know that? Based on what we’ve seen on-camera, anyway? For another, what is the difference in pronunciation between “fr’end” and “friend”?
So that’s how the comic balanced the weepy-melodrama and the goofy-slapstick sides of things. Stepping out into another comic strip is going to work for some readers. Doing a month of circus jokes should work for others. But it forgot the weepy melodrama for several months. That’s probably as best as can be done. I’m not sure Rufus (or Joel) can sustain the pain of unrequited love. His getting shot out of a cannon fits him more easily. I’m surprised that Elam Jackson seems to be getting sent back to the primordial xylem of supporting characters from which he came. But I was also surprised to learn Rufus considered him a friend. I had supposed they were people in town who didn’t have much reason to interact.
The story reads as though it’s coming to its conclusion. This extends the strange synchronicity between story strips concluding stories around my recaps. (Of course, a story ending two or three weeks before or after my recap seems “around” my essay. With a margin like that it’s amazing a strip is ever not in synch with my recaps.)
The Sunday strips, not in continuity, have been the usual bunch of spot gags. Can’t say that any of them really stand out. And there’s no story, so, if you want to read one just go ahead and read it; you won’t be confused.
Prairie dogs are making a comeback. Mark Trail came to South Dakota to count these coming-back prairie dogs and blow up vehicles. And he hasn’t got near a prairie dog yet. Stop in here next week to, I hope, see bank robbers, abandoned mining towns, and vehicles exploding, all the important pieces of James Allen’s Mark Trail. Also, never ever EVER go outside. The parts of nature that aren’t trying to kill you are filled with weird life forms that can poison you or be really, really eerie. And the parts that aren’t trying to kill you and aren’t full of horrible lifeforms? The parts that are adorable little creatures like quaggas or obscure variations on hamsters or sharks that look like puppies? They’re dying. (Recommended soundtrack: Sparks, “Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth”.)
I apologize to everyone hoping for my latest novel that I’m not going to participate in National Novel-Writing Month except to reassure friends that it’s fine they missed the 6th, the 9th, and the 14th through 29th except for that time on the 22nd that they realized that a whole page was garbage and they made negative 620 words progress and then finished the 30th at 2,055 words. But I’ve given the world plenty of evidence of what happens when I think of stories. I like to believe I stay on the “kind of charming through enthusiasm” side of things, but, who can tell from inside their own narrative? Anyway it’s all good, the triumph is in trying and if it doesn’t work this time, that doesn’t mean it can’t work.
But to also kind of support folks without doing anything may I offer my guide from a couple years ago, a novel-writing walkthrough? If not, just let it pass and it won’t hurt anyone.
Hello, readers of Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Price Valiant. And thanks for coming here to get an idea of what the current storyline is! I’m happy to help. If it’s much later than November 2017 by the time you read this, this essay might be too out of date to help much. Any successor essays I have should be at or near the top of this link, and that might help you get caught up to whatever your present-day is.
Where we’ve been. Prince Valiant and a couple of his closest player-characters have been poking around the Far East. They’ve gotten roped into the troubles of this small band of refugees, themselves victim of many raids. The brigands were doing this as a sideline to being in tyrant Azar Rasa’s army. And now that Valiant and company blew up Rasa the maraduers were in it for themselves. With the help of training sequences Valiant and crew helped the refugees fight off the maraduers. And there’ll never be any trouble for them anymore.
Valiant offers one of the captured bandits a deal. The prisoner gives enough information for Valiant and his trusted aides to raid the bandit camp. In exchange, Valiant tells the wall of angry refugees with pointy sticks to hold off a while. With this surely sound and reliable information, Valiant makes his plan. He’ll recapture refugees stolen for the slave markets. Taloon, one of the refugees, insists on going along even despite her wounded leg. She’s had a hero-crush on Valiant ever since her appearance in the 1961 story The Savage Girl.
Valiant and companions follow Taloon’s sound guidance and (checking encounter table) run into one of the bandit camp’s sentries. He never knows what kills him although “knife” is a good guess. At least that’s how it looks in the strip for the 27th of August. The next week he seems to be tied to a tree. The narration for this mentions Valiant uses a technique he “was taught by the natives of that land across the Great Western Sea”. There is a lot I don’t know about Prince Valiant so I have to ask more experienced readers. Are they saying Prince V made it to North America centuries before even the Vikings did? Because, wow, then.
Still, the sun is going to rise soon, and Taloon is ready. She’s got tar-soaked flaming arrows and is ready at dawn to shoot them into all the tents of the bandit encampment. And Valiant charges. Surprise and early morning and general drunkenness of the brigands make up for his smaller numbers. The Hessians try to reorganize near King Street (now Warren). Numair and Vanni, at Valiant’s direction, destroy the horse corral. The stampede adds a nice dose of chaos to the proceedings.
The brigands surrender, except for the chief. He tries to take a girl hostage. He doesn’t know that Karen, of Prince Valiant’s troupe, is a player-character. She beheads him as cleanly as you might imagine they do on the comics page. The freed prisoners — the ones who were refugees — are stunned by all this. The now-prisoners — the ones who were brigands — beg for mercy. They were drafted into Azar Rasa’s army, and when deserting they couldn’t get anything but raiding for the bandit chief Ghorko.
Numair speaks up for the brigands, saying he was like them once himself. There’s recaptured horses, and the ten or so brigands, and the recovered prisoners. This might be enough to establish a successful village. The brigands are enthusiastic about this plan, considering how it hasn’t got any part in it where they have their heads chopped off. I like this in plans for myself too.
The refugees are skeptical. But there’s no disputing the recovery of the kidnapped women and the potential breeding stock of horses. Plus there’s the sense their story’s getting pretty close to its natural end. So they’re willing to give this a try. And the captured brigands are happy to get to work, cutting down the logs to build Valiant and company a couple rafts that might lead them to the next story.
And with the 22nd of October, they’re under way. Numair is staying with Taloon, the both of them hoping to start a new life and sort out these refugees’ problems. Murshid is also staying, pairing up with the refugee leader Khorsheed. With that done, Valiant, Bukota, Karen, and Vanni set sail down the river with the ultimate goal of getting back home.
Abraham Lincoln! Moon Men! Casablanca! The Carpenters! What I was honestly expecting to be the dentist from Little Shop of Horrors but was not! This bundle of subjects can only mean one thing: it’s time to check in on scientific super-detective Dick Tracy, as overseen by Joe Staton and Mike Curtis. Be there or miss a great cameo appearance by The Avenger, short-lived old-time-radio duplicate of The Shadow! Or something at least as good.
So before you go ahead and take my Urban-Fantasy writing group’s side in throwing me out into the mall food court by the Chinese food stand with the unsettlingly outgoing staff let me explain my work-in-progress. The important thing is the premise. If you don’t have a premise all you have is a bunch of characters milling around. I’m going ahead and assuming that’s literary fiction. I don’t know, I can’t be bothered reading stuff.
So here in this story that’s just on the edge of tomorrow and the limits of possibility, how about a story built around the new digital genie of tomorrow? And it’s a digital genie based on the Freemium model. Yeah, don’t your eyes light up at this prospect? Because you can already hear the digital genie reporting, “You can modify the results of your last wish in 23 hours 58 minutes! Or you can hurry that up by spending 10 Sigloi. Did you want to buy a small bag of Sigloi, a medium bag of Sigloi, or a large bag of Sigloi?”
And I wasn’t even done cackling at my genius when some spoilsport asked, “Sigloi? Really? You can’t just say a bag of coins like every other stupid game like this ever?” and someone else asked, “What is your problem? Are you just in this to research … freaking ancient Persian coins? Is ‘Sigloi’ even plural or is it supposed to be ‘Siglois’ and it doesn’t look any more like a real word the more we look at it”. The person who brings windmill cookies to all the meetings asked whether I see writing as anything but an excuse to do weirdly specific bits of research. “And it’s not even deep research,” she pointed out. “You just put ‘ancient Persian coin’ into Google.” I explained how I did not: I use DuckDuckGo. The conversation was not productive.
My scene speculating this would come to the genie saying, “You don’t have to buy Sigloi! You can earn them by completing a quest! Your first quest: match these advertising slogans up to the fast-food companies that use them and share the results on Facebook!” before four of the group flopped over and played dead until the bookstore sent the Children’s Books section manager around with a push broom to nudge them.
I was barely through describing the central conflict of the book. It’s one of the digital genies coming face-to-face with the partially developed open-source clone digital genie project. There’s all kinds of deep philosophical questions about identity that raises if you don’t actually think very hard about deep philosophical questions. So it’s perfect for my kind of writing! I especially liked the scene where developers complain about people reverting the open-source genie back to the first wish. They say “it screws up the machine-learning routines plus we all see what you’re trying to do there”.
This prompted a customer to quit his project of reorganizing the books in the Computers section to fit his tastes and berate my failure to have the faintest idea of how revision control works. I pointed out that I could well learn plenty about how revision control works except it’s too boring. And the head of the writing group said, “How can a person who owns multiple books about the history of containerized cargo and has opinions about the strengths and weaknesses of them call the center of your own book too boring to learn about?”. Plus the bookstore café people came over to ask what all the shouting was about.
So just before they threw me out the group organizer asked, “Do you have even the slightest idea of what Urban Fantasy is?” No, I do not. I guessed it’s, like, the protagonist is coming to terms with learning she’s part-Billiken while she teaches English as a Second Language classes to zombies in-between her relationship troubles with Bigfoot, who’s always being called off for some crisis at his tech startup company.
They picked me up to evict me more effectively.
Oh but if Bigfoot’s tech startup is involved in the digital genie project then it all counts, right? They have to let me back in now, the rules say!
Are you looking for the latest updates about the happenings of The Phantom, the weekday continuity written by Tony DePaul and drawn by Mike Manley? Then you’re in luck! If you’re reading this in late October 2017 or maybe November 2017. If it’s a lot later than that the story will have progressed some. Maybe gotten resolved entirely and gone on to something not even hinted at here. In that case, you might look at this page, which should gather any Phantom essays yet to be written. Future-to-this-writing updates should be there, although they’ll be mixed in with the separate Sunday continuity, written by Tony DePaul and drawn by Terry Beatty.
Last time I checked in on the weekday continuity we were deep into The Curse Of Old Man Mozz, a story filled with portents of doom for the then-current Ghost Who Walks. Several times in past years there’ve been foreshadowings of the death of the 21st Phantom. And these foreshadowings grew more urgent when disputes between writer Tony DePaul and the syndicate led to his quitting the comic he’s written for decades. DePaul and the syndicate reconciled and he’s resumed writing. But the end of a story DePaul thought “would have been a superb sign-off to my Phantom career sure sounds like Kit Walker might have his last bad day.
The story started with Old Man Mozz having a vision of the future: The Phantom doing his work at a factory that seems to be churning out thugs at a good rate. One of them, hiding behind a waterwheel, gets the break of the century and this nobody shoots The Phantom dead. Diana Walker learns of the vision and gets the Ghost fully briefed on it. Though his friends advise laying low a couple weeks to let the problem pass, Walker insists on going through and doing something about the factory. The nobody killer finds the good hiding spot by the waterwheel and is set for Walker’s raid.
The Phantom has trouble getting his groove. He’s plagued by a sense of being watched. And thinking how he just knows this is where and when he’ll die, a sense he’s certain his ancestors had as their times came. Which, like Guinan told Riker, is a good way to get yourself killed. But he figures to go out with a bang, and a thud, and a klonk, and also setting all the bad guys’ cars on fire. In all the fire and klonking and panicky gunshots by the gang Walker feels the strange comfort of knowing he’s finally in the zone.
The guy Old Man Mozz foresaw dives for cover and waits for The Phantom to finish punching, smacking, or throwing bricks at everybody. His cover’s the waterwheel, as Mozz predicted. And The Phantom, figuring that everybody not punched hard enough has run into the forests, thinks the night over. Except Walker’s got this sense of suden doom, what with this just feeling like the prophecy of death he heard. The nobody at the waterwheel raises his gun, and gets shot and killed by an arrow.
Walker looks at the waterwheel guy, whom he walked past just like the prophecy said. And finds who fired the arrow. It’s Babudan, an archer from the Bandar tribe. He wasn’t sent by Diana exactly; she just described the problem to him and let him figure out whether to save the guy who’s been superheroing all over the place for decades now. Still, Kit Walker’s of surprisingly mixed emotions about not dying by a coward’s hand. He’d sent Kit Junior off to a remote Himalayan school so his successor wouldn’t even hear about his death when it happened. Diana’s “changed the future for all of us,” and he considers how that’s an “awesome responsibility she bears now, for all that follows”. Which, all right, is true enough but most of us carry on despite the existential haze.
Normal readers don’t need that much help. The Locust walks on stage, is shot as a trespasser, and dissolves into a cloud of locusts. The Phantom explains to one of the baffled archers that he knows the deal. He met the guy in New Mexico once. The Locust has magic powers to rival Mandrake the Magician, who you might remember does exist in the same continuity as The Ghost Who Walks. So that crazypants story about the far-future Time Ladies who kidnap Mandrake to teach them how to be spanked? That’s in-universe for this storyline. The Locust knows The Phantom isn’t an immortal unkillable creature of myth. Also he’s passing himself off as the creator-god of the Navajo people’s mythology, according to The Phantom. I’m sure there’s nothing going on with that which might be uncomfortable in this comic strip about the generations of white guys who’ve tasked themselves with the saving of an African nation.
The Phantom figures this is the Locust’s way of asking for a meeting, and the logical place is atop Walker’s Table, a remote desert butte accessible only by airplane, which The Phantom luckily has.
Not so luckily: as The Phantom flies in, an anti-aircraft gun crew starts shooting him from atop the Table. As we left the action Saturday, The Phantom was hiding from the artillery in the shadow of the butte, and working out what the heck to do next. It’s a good question for him. For me:
I had gotten nearly one-third of the way through the logline for my next book before the reading group tackled me, sending the manuscript flying into the air and threatening a turnover and significant loss of yardage. But I reached up mightily and regained possession and while it didn’t help me gain the down any, I was able to eventually make my voice heard over the howls of preemptive and I think unjustified pain.
So it starts with ancient alien astronauts and see that’s about where my group started to scream. I didn’t even get to explain how I didn’t mean this in the racist way where we suppose that, like, the Egyptians of thousands of years ago couldn’t think of “pyramids” without help. I don’t see why anyone figures ancient peoples needed help thinking of the idea of “build stuff using stones”. It’s not like they had a stone shortage.
Anyway, my premise — stop tackling! — is how what if ancient astronauts did come to visit the Egyptians in the era of the great pyramid-building phase? Only the aliens don’t use their advanced technology to help the Egyptians build pyramids. Instead the Egyptians are able to use their pyramid-building skills to give the aliens much-needed guidance on how to get their advanced technology to actually work? And then came another round of tackling and a question about “the heck are you thinking” and “even if there is some non-offensive way to do this” and I know, I know. But I’m willing to do the work to treat this material responsibly. I’m like this close to looking up like what millennium was the great pyramid-building boom and getting a book about what Egypt was like as close to then as the branch library has, so you know my sociology would be not provably wrong and that demonstrates my story to be worth telling!
And I can answer questions about how the pyramid-building era of Egyptians could have stuff to tell alien astronauts about their technology. Who are we to figure that they wouldn’t have stuff to teach the other thems? I mean at a responsible, appropriate tutoring rate. I figure any species sophisticated enough to traverse the stars is too ethical to take someone’s consulting advice without fair compensation. If they don’t I don’t want them in my creative universe anyway.
So what do the aliens need help on? Oh, heck, I don’t know. It’s alien technology. It’d be futuristic even today. How am I supposed to go into details? Maybe something about sphere-packing. That’s a mathematics problem about how you can stack together balls of the same size so there’s the least possible wasted space between them. And the best way to do this turns out to imagine you’re the grocer seen in the comedy putting oranges out on a huge stack for the hero to send the villain crashing into. That is, make pyramids.
Now obviously I don’t mean to say the Ancient Egyptians had some supernatural powers of pyramid-building. I think we’ve got a decent idea of roughly how they went about pyramid-building. But imagine you’re an ancient astronaut and you’re put down somewhere with a big pile of stones and a sense that it’s important to start making pyramids. What would you start out by doing? Exactly. There’s all these little skills that you pick up by practice. You don’t just start out at the top of your thing-stacking game. You start out with what seems obvious and you share tips with outer people who want to do this stuff well, and you try some of what they do, and you get it a little wrong and maybe it works out all right. Eventually, you’re a master of the thing.
And that’s what I figure the Ancient Egyptians would be giving in this cultural exchange that I’m sure can be written up into a culturally sensitive and not at all insulting novel. I’m saying I think that issue of Skeptical Inquirer magazine was premature in leaping off the shelves and slapping me senseless and into a balled-up mound of flesh over by the board games. I bet my next draft changes everything.
Is this even secret history? I don’t know what to call it. I just mean stuff we don’t realize happened because there was a lot of stuff that happened and we can’t hear about it all.
Do you need to know where we are in Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop? I’m happy to do my best to catch you up on the storyline. I have my limits, though. I’m writing this in mid-October 2017. If you’re reading this much later than that, the story might have got so far advanced that this isn’t useful. In that case, try checking the top of this page. If I’ve written a further update it should be at or near the top there. Meanwhile, story. here.
If you’re interested in comic strips that talk about mathematics stuff, you probably already saw this on my other blog, but what the heck. Never hurts to remind people that a thing exists, until they get tired of it and turn to rioting.
24 July – 15 October 2017.
Last time you’ll recall Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop was still wrestling with a spinoff of the pantsless-alien-frog storyline. The alien plant-frog-guy had left behind a mind-control ray gun that Alley Oop smashed and tossed all the way to the rival kingdom of Lem. There, King Tunk patched the thing together and figured to zap his way into, at last, the conquest of Moo. His attempt backfired, and shooting the thing left himself zapped and in King Guz’s power.
Guz orders Tunk to turn over his lands, his power, and his crown, and Tunk can’t refuse. Oop, fed up with this disrespect for consent, smashes the ray gun to pieces. Tunk comes to his senses, calls “no way” on his cession. He chases Guz, and the last pieces of the pantsless mind-controlling alien-frog storyline, out of the comic.
The new, and current, story started the 1st of August. “Meanwhile” in the 21st century (it’s their convention, run with it or read some other comic strip), Doctor Wonmug faces civilization’s greatest current menace. Rich white guy idiot M T Mentis III is interested in the time laboratory. His objectives are unclear at first. But the Time Lab could always use some more money. How could you make a profit with just the ability to traverse space and time to an exact spot at any exact second? So after a tour of the slick modern computerized time machine Mentis says what he’s up to.
He’s bored of his career of fixing up struggling companies. He wants to do something with meaning, by which he means buying the Time Lab and using the machinery to fix history. Wonmug is aghast at the idea of deliberately altering history. Even trying could force the comic strip to face potentially premise-wrecking consequences. You prove everything is strictly ordained somehow. Or you make the time travellers complicit in all the atrocities of human history. Or you make the time travellers responsible for destroying every living thing in the present timeline. Any of that’s heavy stuff for a comic strip that does better with, like, Alley Oop punching dopes. Yes, I am aware none of those verb tenses withstands any thought but I’m not getting paid enough to give them proper thought.
Since Mentis isn’t getting this, Wonmug sends himself, Mentis, and Mentis’s bodyguard to Moo and says, “see what you can do with this”. What he does is get chased by dinosaurs until he runs into Alley Oop and falls over, knocked out. When he recovers what he uses as his senses Mentis, shaking the idea that this is a movie set or something, works out a plan: he needs to kill the dinosaurs. After all, humans and dinosaurs shouldn’t coexist and they’re drawn kind of off-model and colored all weird. Alley Oop isn’t having any of it.
Oop does admit that King Tunk of Lem is a problem, what with his invading now and then and being kind of a jerk the rest of the time. Mentis proposes a wall, and Oop rolls his eyes so far back into his head they threaten to come around the other side. Mentis figures, well, how about better defenses than Oop’s ax and his fists? Mentis’s bodyguard Gunther epically failed trying out Oop in hand-to-hand combat. But how about if Mentis shows off his superior strategy? Mentis shows off his plan. It’s “holding enough spears and axes and swords and knives at once that Oop barely has to stop laughing long enough to kick him unconscious”. I’m not saying I’d be much better at uplifting the poor noble cavemen if I figured that was my business. I’m not sure what I’d introduce them to, exactly. Soap, I guess. Clean water. A Lockean concept of the social contract. Potatoes. The categorical imperative. I know I wouldn’t try showing off that I could hold too many weapons at once to be able to hold without the whole pile falling and stabbing my foot.
Here Oop asks a good question: the heck is Mentis’s deal, anyway? Before the rich idiot can mansplain why he figures he can patch up history despite his manifest incompetence some actual plot intrudes. It’s raiders from Farzoon, seeking slaves for some massive project. Mentis wonders if it might be Stonehenge or the Great Wall because I’m going ahead and assuming he thought Chariots of the Gods was nonfiction. Oop and Mentis hide, but the Farzoonian raiders have their scent.
And that’s got us caught up.
So, still not answered: what is Mentis’s deal, anyway? It’s hard to square someone being bright enough to save struggling companies repeatedly with not being able to see any problems whatsoever in meddling with history. So what’s h out for? I guess it would be admirable if he did just want to fix the messy, terrible sides of history. And that would show up Wonmug and Oop for laughing at him. But if he is then he’s done a pretty poor job thinking through what that implies which, yeah, isn’t impossible. Especially given the casual, light tone of the Alley Oop world.
But it’s also baffling story for the Benders to write. As far as I know Alley Oop has avoided setting out the rules about whether, and how, history can be changed in its time-travel view. The storyline seems to threaten to commit them to something. Dr Wonmug says that history can change and time-travellers have to take care not to screw things up. But I don’t know what his evidence for that is. They seem to have a pretty casual attitude about time-travelling if they are afraid of messing up stuff. Alley Oop can activate the time machine to destinations of his choosing. Alley Oop’s an upstanding person, and he gets up to speed in situations quickly. But would you want to count on a caveman dropped into (say) the Battle of Manzikert to not do something off-script?
I suppose it’ll be avoided, or at least left ambiguous. I’m also curious how Wonmug figures that getting his hat stomped by dinosaurs will help Mentis learn about the interconnectedness of events or whatever his vague lesson is. You’d think just “what if you set it so your parents never met?” would get the point across. I suppose a reasonable person might learn from being shoved headfirst into Moo just how complicated and messy and big the world is and so how implausible it is to “fix” the timeline. But I’m not sure a reasonable person would have done more than have fantasies about history-fixing either.
So, I’m curious whether we’ll learn Mentis has some ulterior motive, or whether he simply believes he’s worked out the killer app for time travel.