Two questions about today’s Bizarro cartoon

Today’s Piraro-only Bizarro (it’s a Sunday; Wayno’s doing other things) —

The gargantuan chalking project is, it seems, debilitating (if you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 11 in this strip — see this Page)

— is comprehensible only if you recognize the huge inert creature in it as the legendary prehistoric ape of a century of film, King Kong; and you recognize the fact that cops are drawing an outline around the creature in chalk as a sign that this is a scene of suspicious death. Kong is not just sleeping in the street, he’s dead; the cops are tracing Corpse Kong.

Two questions then occurred to me, and might well have occurred to others:

Q1: What do you call that chalk outline?

Q2: Just how big is / was King Kong?

Both questions have answers. Both answers are unsatisfying, but in different ways.

Q1: What do you call the chalk outline of a dead body used by crime scene investigators, as seen so often in popular-culture representations of murder investigations?

A: A chalk outline.

Oh dear, that’s a fully compositional ordinary-language expression used as a specialized technical term in a very specific context. Not all chalk outlines are chalk outlines; only the ones around dead bodies at murder scenes are. (Do not stone me for writing that; I’m reporting a usage, not inventing it.) A truly careful answer would be something like:

A′: Technically, that’s called a chalk outline. [set off by a slow emphatic articulation of the term]

Compare, oh, bug. You’re walking with an entomologically informed friend and you come across an unfamiliar small insect. You ask your friend, “What do you call that bug?” And they reply, “A bug” — meaning ‘a Hemipteran insect’. A truly careful answer would be something like, “Technically, that’s called a (truebug.”

Now, it’s probably always a bad idea to adapt ordinary-language expressions as technical terms (to technicalize them, as I’ve put it). Certainly, it’s a risky move. But it happens.

From Wikipedia on the technical term:

A chalk outline is a temporary outline drawn on the ground outlining evidence at a crime scene. The outline provides context for photographs of the crime scene, and assists investigators in preserving the evidence. Modern investigators almost never use chalk or tape as outlines at a crime scene to avoid contaminating the evidence. Although rare in modern investigations, they have become a literary trope in popular culture.

… While chalk outlines were occasionally used in the past, they often were drawn by the police for press photographers, not for investigative purposes. It allowed the press to take a picture and represent the scene without the gruesomeness of a body.

… Chalk outlines of bodies are familiar tropes in popular culture. Often they are used in humorous ways depicting awkward positioning or meticulous precision, or portending a character’s impending death by having them prematurely fall into a drawn outline. The Naked Gun series made extensive use of the prop, as have a number of other comedies.

More generally the term has become synonymous with tragic death and has been used in literature, music, and visual arts.

Q2: How big is / was Kong Kong?

A: At least 18 ft tall, but on occasion 24, 42, 55, 104, or even 337 ft.

Unsatisfying again, but this time because we get (at least) six different answers. Ah, you think, sagely, Kong was different sizes in different movies, and this is absolutely, indeed spectacularly, so. But it’s worse. Kong was different sizes at different points in the same movie, right from the very first one. Carefully extracted from Wikipedia:

In his first appearance in King Kong (1933), … Kong’s size changes drastically throughout the course of the film. While creator Merian C. Cooper envisioned Kong as being “40 to 50 feet tall”, animator Willis O’Brien and his crew built the models and sets scaling Kong to be only 18 feet tall on Skull Island, and rescaled to be 24 feet tall in New York.

This did not stop Cooper from playing around with Kong’s size as he directed the special effect sequences; by manipulating the sizes of the miniatures and the camera angles, he made Kong appear a lot larger than O’Brien wanted, even as large as 60 feet in some scenes.

… In the 1976 [King Kong], Kong was scaled to be 42 feet tall on Skull island and rescaled to be 55 feet tall in New York. Ten years later, Dino De Laurentiis got the approval from Universal to do a sequel called King Kong Lives. This Kong … was enlarged, scaled to 60 feet.

… In the 2017 film Kong: Skull Island, Kong is scaled to be 104 feet tall, making it the second largest and largest American incarnation in the series until the 2021 film Godzilla vs. Kong, in which he became the largest incarnation in the series, standing at 337 feet.

Let’s say, very crudely, that the height of a human head is about 10% of the height of the whole body. And so estimate the height of Corpse Kong in the Bizarro cartoon from the height of its head there.

The head looks to me to be about 2 cops tall. Taking a standard cop to be 6 ft, that would make the head about 12 feet tall, and Kong to be about 120 feet tall. So definitely in the upper range of filmic Kongs in height. It would take a hell of a lot of work to make a chalk tracing around a body that big. No wonder Ellis is exhausted.

Ellis is exhausted
Tracing dead Kong
He is bent over in pain
He cries out for Meyers, Meyers must help

No chalk will last
Throughout the task
What will they do?

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