If you’re looking for the latest story developments in Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley, thanks for thinking of me. If you’re reading this after about January 2019, there’s probably a more recent article for you. It should be posted here, and good luck finding what you need.
On my other blog I talk about mathematics touched on by comic strips, which might interest you. Also for the last several months of 2018 I’m looking at words from mathematics and explaining them. You might find either of these interesting; please give them a try.
23 July – 13 October 2018
When I last recapped Gasoline Alley, the comic strip was publishing new strips again. Walt Wallet was trying to buy clothes from omnipresent clerk Frank Nelson. So that was going well.
Still, it’s productive. Nelson bemoans the world situation and, longing for a hero, asks “Where is Orphan Annie when we need her most?” Wallet picks up the line. He finds it the right close for his roast of Little Orphan Annie at the Old Comics Home. Skeezix and Walt drive to the Old Comics Home, which is bigger than it used to be. Also very empty. They don’t know what’s gone wrong.
Jiggs, of Bringing Up Father, rescues them. The dinner is at the new banquet hall. They could afford it thanks to “a famous cartoonist that included us in his will”. The commenters at GoComics speculate that Jiggs was talking about Mort Walker, who died earlier this year. That sounds good to me. You don’t think of Beetle Bailey as having raked its creator a great heaping pile of money, but remember, he also had those Boner’s Ark royalties coming in for years. They need the expanded home, too, as there’s more and more old-comics every day, what with newspapers having died in 2008.
They get to the banquet hall, and Jiggs passes off Walt and Skeezix to Mutt and Jeff. This opens things to a good spot of corny old dining jokes, and a lot of challenges to identify some 1930s comic strip character. But finally, with the start of September, the banquet reaches its point: it is not a roast of Little Orphan Annie. It’s a tribute to Gasoline Alley in honor of its centennial. Walt Wallet points out this is a couple months early. Mutt says “We know! We’ve got an Orphan Annie roast planned then!”
The strip began to recap the first century of itself. This included some nice-looking redrawings of vintage comics. This Scancarelli did using the original Frank King-style model sheets, or good adaptations of them to modern newspaper needs. And then jump ahead to reviewing the 14th of February, 1921, when a most important thing happened: Jack Benny turned 39. And the infant Skeezix was left on Walt Wallet’s doorstep. This is taken as the moment when Gasoline Alley leapt out of its original premise — jokes about guys and their obsessive tinkering with cars — into something people cared about, wildly. Walt Wallet adopting this foundling was a story.
The strip recounts what I am going ahead and trusting are early comics about Walt trying to take care of Baby Skeezix. And describes the nationwide poll that I’m trusting Scancarelli when he says was held, to pick a name for the child. The result, I am surprised to learn, was “Allison”, a bit of wordplay on his being the Alley’s son. And a reminder that any name we might think of as a girl’s was also a boy’s name at most three generations ago. But Skeezix stuck. Walt repeats the claim that Skeezix is “cowboy slang for a motherless calf”. Perhaps, but I can’t find support for that word-origin story that doesn’t come from Gasoline Alley. “Skeesicks”, or several variant spellings of it, does seem to be 19th century slang for a rogue or rascal. The connotation of the word softened as the 20th century dawned. By 1912 it was the sort of thing a P G Wodehouse protagonist (in The Prince and Betty) could call the stuffy old fellow with money who’s slowing the whole scheme down.
All looked ready to carry on with recapping a century’s worth of overarching stories when October, and a special guest, arrived. I expected Phyllis Wallet, who died in the strip in 2004. Part of Gasoline Alley‘s gimmick has been that the characters age, loosely in real time, which for a long-running strip means even the core characters have to die. Walt Wallet’s been spared, I imagine for reasonable sentimental reasons. But it does mean if you pay attention, he’s 118 years old. There’s two people in history who lived demonstrably longer than him. Moving Walt to the Old Comics Home seems like a natural way to avoid having to bring up his age without killing off the last of the comic strip’s original characters. Reuniting Walt with Phyllis and letting them stay together would make so much sense. It might yet be done.
But it wasn’t done this month. The guest was one Mrs Peggy Lee. Whom the strip tells us is a real person. That she’s drawn in a much-more-realistic style than any other character suggested this. And why Peggy Lee? Says the strip, she also turned 100 years old this year. This opens the door to a couple weeks of old-age jokes (“I knew I was getting old when it took me longer to recover than it did to tire me out!”). And why Peggy Lee as opposed to any other centenarian? Apparently she’s been a fan of the strip her whole life, and Jim Scancarelli came to know that. Well, that’s sweet.
And that’s what’s been happening. The Sunday strips have kept on being spot jokes. They don’t fill out any particular story, but do keep the other characters in the comic. I assume the comic is going to continue celebrating its centennial. That will come, barring catastrophe, the 24th of November, or just short of six weeks from now. It seems likely to me that Scancarelli’s already completed the centennial strip. Wow.
Gasoline Alley is the oldest (American) syndicated comic strip that’s still in production. (The Katzenjammer Kids lapsed into eternal reruns long ago, and I have no idea if it’s still offered to any newspapers anywhere or if it’s just posted to Comics Kingdom.) There are a few others that should join it soon, though. Ripley’s Believe It Or Not (if you count it as a comic strip) first appeared the 19th of December, 1918. Barney Google first appeared the 17th of June, 1919. Popeye first appeared, as Thimble Theatre, on the 19th of December, 1919, and it at least still has new Sunday strips. (Popeye himself didn’t join the strip until 1929.) I suspect none of them figure to do an anniversary celebration like this.
Mexico! Mysterious artefacts in the Yucatan! The strange and wonderful wildlife of Central America that we somehow haven’t killed yet! Yes, this storyline is still going on in James Allen’s Mark Trail, but never fear! I’ll catch you up!