What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? What Is Walt Wallet’s Toothpaste Conspiracy Thing? April – July 2018


I’m glad to be here. I’m glad to say that Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley seems to be back out of reruns and into new strip production. If I write anything after about mid-July 2018 about the strip it should be on this page. So if the story I describe clearly has resolved by the time you read this, maybe that page will help you to a more useful story summary.

Comic strips with a mathematical theme I review on my other blog, each week. The latest essays about that are on this link. Thanks for considering me.

Gasoline Alley.

29 April – 21 July 2018.

Last time I checked in, Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley seemed to be running new strips on Sundays. After months of reruns every day of this week this was a good sign. It didn’t get the strip back to its full healthy serial-comic main nature. But it was evidence that Scancarelli was at least alive and well and getting the strip, in its 99th year, back on its feet. The daily strips — the ones that run a serialized, comic story — were running repeats from 2007. They’re not, anymore. It looks to me that since mid-June the comic strip has been new, telling what as best I can tell is an original story. But let me get those old stories out of the way.

Corky’s Diner. The perpetually drunk and incompetent Suds wants his dishwashing job back. The perpetually perky and incompetent Joy and Dawn want the dishwashing job. They’re having a race to see who can clean the most dishes. Joy and Dawn win by one plate, which they accidentally break while celebrating their victory. Joy and Dawn decide they don’t want the dishwashing job anymore. They thought it might be “the fast track to management”, and instead they’re washing dishes. So they quit, to try to their hand somewhere else, because they still believe in capitalism. And Suds has his job back.


New story. It started the 15th of May. It, too, started at Corky’s Diner, for a fairly graceful transition. The problem: Slim Wallet can’t sleep. The exhausted Slim does nod off at work, under a car. He bangs his head but good when he’s startled awake. He can’t stop hearing bells, a symptom baffling to everyone around him, who expected this was going to be a Sitcom Amnesia storyline. Right? I mean, doesn’t that write itself?

Still, it’s a good chance for him to get to the emergency room, and to do a couple week’s worth of old hospital/doctor jokes. “The form asks ‘sex’? I’m putting ‘none of your business’,” that sort of thing. The doctor prescribes some pills for Slim’s massive concussion. He’s shown with little bells orbiting his head even weeks later. It’s great visuals, but, like, it’s not like he’s a professional football player and we can pretend head trauma isn’t a thing.

Desert island women, in Slim's dream: 'Oh, Slim! It's great being shipwrecked with you!' Slim: 'Aw! Shucks, ladies.' Women: 'What'll we do on this deserted island?' Slim: 'Want to play post office?' Women: 'How can we? We don't have any way to do cancellations!' Slim: 'Silly! Who wants to cancel kisses?'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 14th of June, 2018. Of historic importance as we measure things around here: the strip with which reruns gave way to newly-drawn installments.

But the ringing does go down, and he tries to get through his insomnia, for which the doctor prescribed sleep. And Slim even gets to sleep, dreaming of being on a deserted island with some Kissing Women. This dream Clovia wakes him from, unaware of the astounding thing that’s happened.

The astounding thing is that, when this storyline first ran in 2007, Slim didn’t have this dream. He had a string of things getting him out of bed, including construction next door. They put in a basketball court, causing late-night basketball games that keep him awake. This lead Slim on a long and daft storyline in which he buys a meteorite off eBay and gets a friend of his to drop it from his helicopter. The hope is to destroy the basketball court in a way that couldn’t be traced back to him as long as nobody ever tried. Not Slim’s finest moment here.

But no; from the 14th of June, the strips are — as best I can tell — new. Whatever caused Jim Scancarelli to step away from the strip in early November seems to have passed. He did not resume the storyline about Rufus courting the Widow Emma Sue and Scruffy’s Mother. That storyline left off on the news that Elam, Rufus’s rival for her affections, had proposed marriage and got turned down. I have no information about whether the storyline will resume up or what the fate of Emma Sue, Scruffy, and their Widowed Mother might be.


With the 18th of June started the current, and best I can tell, new storyline. It’s about Walt Wallet, the original star of the comic strip from 1918 — a date he mentions in his first word balloon. It started with a bit of daft old-guy cranky conspiracy theorizing that I saw confusing a lot of comics readers. Walt’s thesis: toothbrushes have more bristles than they used to. That is, from the front to the back of the toothbrush there’s more bristles. Why would toothbrush makers do that? It’s obvious. Everyone puts on enough toothpaste to cover all the bristles. So the only point to putting more bristles on is to make people buy more toothpaste. As corporate conspiracies go this is … eh, you know what? At least it would be an honest corrupt conspiracy. You would at least get clean teeth out of it. I’ll take it.

Anyway this nonsense barely gets started. Walt’s got an invitation from the Old Comics Home. This is one of the reality-breaking, slightly-magical aspects of the comic strip. The Old Comics Home is this boardinghouse for the characters of retired or cancelled comic strips. Now and then Walt Wallet visits, letting Jim Scancarelli do a bit of work with Major Hoople or Buster Brown or Little Sammy Sneeze or whoever.

Walt Wallet, Orphan Annie, and Sandy singing: 'Who's that little chatter-box? The one with pretty auburn locks! Who do you see?' Gertie: 'Arf! It's her dog, Sandy!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 12th of July, 2018. I sincerely love the way Sandy looks, holding the sheet music upside-down and singing her heart out like this.

The Old Comics Home is having a roast. They want him to be a speaker as they poke fun at Little Orphan Annie. “Will she think it’s funny,” asks Walt’s caretaker Gertie, and a fair question. But an important part of the behavior of the hew-mon is that your friends have license to insult you, and you accept these insults as love. In hindsight, “chimpanzees with anxiety” was a bad foundation on which to build the human species. Next time around maybe we should try basing humans on, I don’t know, “pheasants with gemütlichkeit” instead.

Walt’s preparation comes to thinking of the jokes you would think of about the comic strip. He takes notes of stuff like how Gertie thought as a girl the strip was named “Little Arf an’ Andy”. I am sure that at least one time when Walt Kelly’s Pogo was riffing on Annie they called the comic strip that. But I’m too lazy to check, so will go ahead and give the strip credit for a multifaceted allusion.

Other jokes are less deep cuts: how do the characters see without pupils? They’d bump into each other all the time! Or: Daddy Warbucks leaves Annie unsupervised an awful lot! What if Child Protective Services investigated the billionaire war-manufactures oligarch, as though law constrained the rich? Or: Little Orphan Annie had a jingle when she was on the radio; what if they changed some of the words? Well, if I understand, the point of a roast is for everyone to tell dumb insulting jokes about someone as a show of how much they love them. They don’t need to be insightful commentary that changes one’s view of things. They just have to exist.

Frank Nelson: 'What can I do for your?' Skeezix: 'My uncle and I need new tuxedos!' Nelson: 'Is this for a funeral?' Skeezix: 'What makes you think that?' Nelson: 'You don't look so well!' Skeezix: 'Now cut that out!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 18th of July, 2018. Well, I find it hilarious, but I also know exactly how this would sound as done between Frank Nelson and Jack Benny. I’m sure at some point Benny needed a tuxedo and Nelson was the only person working in any store or information desk in town. How could he be everywhere? As Nelson would put it, “either you’re lucky, or I’m un-lucky”. (And now that it’s mentioned, I wonder if the Cathy gag where every store clerk is the same woman is an echo of the Frank Nelson joke. I had always taken it to be an artistic choice that, you know, these people all serve the same story role so why distract the reader with different character models for the shoe clerk and the swimwear clerk?) Still, I say it’s a good, tight bit of insult-joke construction.

At the tuxedo rental, Walt and Skeezix run into who else but Frank Nelson. This is a good chance to share some of the insult patter conversations Nelson did so well with Jack Benny. And that’s where we’ve got to by the end of the past week.

I trust the next couple of weeks will get the roast organized. Maybe Annie will go missing and need to be found or something. And the visit to the Old Comics Home will probably show off Smokey Stover or Ignatz Mouse or so on. It seems like time with the Old Comics would be a natural feed-in to Gasoline Alley reaching its hundredth year. But it won’t reach that until the 24th of November, four months off. A serial comic can drag its story out, but something this slight for that long? It’s hard to envision.

Just when you thoguht your funny paper was safe to read ... The Molehill Highlanders strike again. Bass player: 'Whatcha gonna sing, Rufus?' Rufus: 'A song I learnt off a old record album. It's called Music From The Heart; Sung Through Th'Nose'. Bass: 'That ain't possumable.' Fiddler: 'What gear is it in?' Other fiddler: 'Yo' need a nasal stray?' Rufus: 'Th'music kicks off way down at th'ticker --- then regress into th'diagram! Next, it palpatrates up th'asparagus an' out th'epipotamus an'naval cavity!' Bass: 'Rufus! I think I better see my dentist and get a dose o'penecillium or some phenobarbasol!' Rufus: 'That mean I can't sing m'song?'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 15th of July, 2018. Wikipedia notes Jim Scanarelli is a bluegrass fiddler, and a prizewinner at the Old Fiddler’s Convention, which apparently has been held annually in Galax, Virginia, since 1935. To give some idea how long ago that was: 1935 was so long ago that in 1935, Jack Benny would people he was thirty-eight years old.

Meanwhile. The Sunday strips are their own little thing. Standalone gags that don’t play off the weekday continuity. Many of these have sported a nice Gasoline Alley 100th Anniversary sticker in the title panels. These came out of reruns first, and were the first signs that whatever kept Jim Scancarelli from writing and drawing the strips might pass. You can dip in and read any of them. I would swear last Sunday’s was an adapted Jack Benny-and-Phil Harris bit, but I can’t pin that down.

But the important stuff. The Old Comics Home. Old-time radio riffs. Elaborate bits of doggerel for the Sunday strips. Yeah, Jim Scancarelli is back. If I ever hear where he’d gone, I’ll pass that along to you. Thanks for checking in.

Next Week!

Mexico! Mysterious artefacts in the Yucatan! The strange and wonderful wildlife of Central America that we somehow haven’t killed yet! Maybe even a Sunday informational panel about cacomistles. All this and more in James Allen’s Mark Trail, if Nature hasn’t gone and killed us yet!

Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there. He/him.

17 thoughts on “What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? What Is Walt Wallet’s Toothpaste Conspiracy Thing? April – July 2018”

    1. This is another very good question; that’s just the sort of joke right for him. I’m also curious whether Joy and Dawn reappeared after their 2007 appearance. I don’t remember them, but I’ve only been reading these story strips to the point I take notes for a couple years now.

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  1. Found a Roman numerals joke for you, “Nancy” 1/16/76 — Some kid draws IX on the wall and announces “that’s nine” Nancy asks him if he knows how to write six, her lucky number. He writes an ‘S’ next to the ‘IX’.

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    1. Oh, wow. That is fantastic; thanks for spotting it. … And I only saw this come through once. I think there might be some WordPress glitches the last few days.

      It likely won’t surprise anyone I’m an Edgar Bergen fan. I can’t swear (per the Strippers Guide speculation) that any of these jokes were taken directly from the show. But they seem to get the characters’ voices right.

      Also this leads me to learn there was — well, I suppose not a proper Flying Turns coaster. Those were a little out of date by 1939. But a bobsled coaster pretty near the Flying Turns, at the 1939 World’s Fair. And that it relocated to Coney Island to operate through to 1974, which is impressive.

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