What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? What happened for the Gasoline Alley centennial? October 2018 – January 2019


Thanks for checking in on Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley, now into its second century. If you’re reading this far in the future of January 2019, there’s probably a more up-to-date plot recap at this link.

And yes, Joey Alison Sayers and Jonathan Lemon take over Alley Oop with their first strip slated to run tomorrow. I’ll write about it if and when appropriate. The last of the Jack Bender and Carole Bender reruns offers a cliffhanger, Ooola facing a sabre-toothed tiger, that started off a new story when this first ran in 2013, but I don’t know whether Sayers and Lemon will want to take up this hook.

Last, I talk about mathematically-themed comic strips over here. Yes, Andertoons will appear soon.

Gasoline Alley.

14 October 2018 – 5 January 2019.

When I recapped the plots in mid-October, Gasoline Alley was in the Old Comics Home. This is a fantastical place, filled with the characters from mostly long-gone comic strips. They were holding a celebration of Gasoline Alley‘s centennial, starting ahead of time. Mutt, of Mutt and Jeff, was emcee.

Gump: 'At his worst, my cartoonist could draw better than yours, Mutt!' Mutt: 'Your guy couldn't draw his breath, and you know it, Andy!' Gump: 'If he was doing this strip, you'd regret it!' Mutt: 'If my guy was doing this strip --- you wouldn't be!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 30th of October, 2018. This kind of exchange — possibly this exact exchange, mutatis mutandis — would appear when Jack Benny or Fred Allen visited the other’s show and groused about who was getting the better lines of dialogue. That feels to me like a sufficient reason for Scancarelli to write this joke, and maybe to set up a whole Mutt-Gump feud. … Also, while Mutt doesn’t really have anybody drawing him anymore, he has appeared often enough in Scancarelli’s visits to the Old Comics Home that he feels, to me, at least part-time adopted by Gasoline Alley in a way that the Gumps don’t. So it reads to me weird they’re writing this as if it were neutral ground.

October saw Mutt and Walt Wallet explaining early events in Skeezix’s life. The mail-in contest that got his unused name of Allison. The hiring of caretaker Rachel. The adoption of a pet dog and a cat. The question of whether Mutt looks like Andy Gump. You know, of the hit 1920s serial melodrama comic The Gumps. There is some resemblance. Maybe Gumps cartoonist Sidney Smith did take a few elements from Bud Fisher’s Mutt and Jeff. Maybe it was quite hep in the 1920s to joke about Andy Gump being a clone of Augustus Mutt. (I mean, even their names are similar.) I never heard of such, though. It seems like a weird diversion for Gasoline Alley‘s centennial.

But this is an example of a thread in Gasoline Alley’s centennial celebration. Jim Scancarelli would fill out the panels, and the storyline, with comic strip characters from the long-ago days. And I would disappoint Roy Kassinger. I’d have to admit I don’t recognize any of the characters from Dok’s Dippy Duck. And I only know the figures everyone recognizes from Fontaine Fox’s Toonerville Trolley. I know what everyone says about reading the comments. But GoComics.com has a good community of people who can pin down character cameos. It’s worth checking the full comments if you see a figure that’s got to be from something and don’t know what.

Mutt: 'Skeezix! You were really in the thick of things during WWII!' Skeezix, narrating: 'Yeah! One night we were on our way in Jenny the Jeep from repairing a Howitzer, when ... ' (And showing recreated footage of Skeezix and partners in the jeep, and a nearby explosion overturning the jeep and throwing them on teh ground.)
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 12th of November, 2018. The redrawings of old strips does underscore, besides Scancarelli’s abilities, just how much more action there used to be even in the non-adventure story comics. I’m not asserting that I want, say, Mary Worth to go to a war-torn site. But some adventure and action does give a strip suspense, and a reason to look forward to the next day’s installment that isn’t (say) about rolling your eyes at Tom Batiuk.

Gump and Mutt come close to a fight, and then write the whole thing off as an orchestrated joke. This doesn’t actually make sense — it was set off by a chance comment by Walt Wallet — but who cares? Everyone gets back to highlights of Gasoline Alley‘s history. Like the time, after Walt Wallet and Phyllis married, when they found another abandoned baby, this time a girl dubbed Judy. Before we can start asking what kind of reputation the Wallets were getting the story advances to World War II. Recapped here — surely not coincidentally the week of Armistice Day — was Skeezix’s wounding in World War II. We see only a few moments of it. It’s easy to imagine the suspense of the events.

And then another interruption from an ancient comic strip character. This time it’s Snuffy Smith, pointing out how the comic strip he took over from Barney Google is about to turn 100. Where’s his celebration? This befuddles Mutt. Smith, ornery in a way he hasn’t been in his own comic strip in decades, starts a grand custard-pie fight. And this silliness is what’s going on when the strip takes a moment the 24th of November, 2018, to observe its centennial. With a strip that got used for the 90th anniversary, a choice which logic I’m still not sure about.

A strip commemorating Gasoline Alley's 100th Anniversary, showing the hand of Jim Scancarelli doing realistic illustrations of past Gasoline Alley cartoonists Frank King, Bill Perry, and Dick Moores.
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 24th of November, 2018. For the next day, the Sunday strip, Scacarelli drew an ornate ‘100’ figure, with insets of the signs ‘100 Years on One Tank of Gasoline Alley’, Benjamin Franklin congratulating Walt on his century mark, and Walt answering, “I’d say the same to you, Ben, but no one will get it”, while holding up a $100 bill. Which might be overexplaining the joke, but is probably about the right amount of explanation so that a bright eight-year-old poring over the strip would get it and feel smart, which is one of the things comic strips should do.

Despite the intervention of Fearless Fosdick the custard pie battle rages. Walt Wallet and Skeezix decide to leave. This again passes up the chance to let Walt die of old age or prevent noodges like me pointing out the man is three years older than the Ford Motor Company. Or, for that matter, seven years older than the comic strip Mutt and Jeff. All right. They return their custard-stained tuxedos to sales clerk Frank Nelson. (Who’s working, I noticed this time, at Tuxedo Junction, a name I imagine is a reference to the Glenn Miller song.) So there’s the indignities of dealing with him. And a total $400 cleaning bill. And, on top of that, a parking ticket.

Skeezix: 'I am so sorry! I put my parking ticket in by mistake!' Sidewalk Santa: 'We all make mistakes!' Skeezix: 'Here! I'll trade you this for my ticket!' Sidewalk Santa: 'A $20 bill? May your kindness never be obliterated!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 19th of December, 2018. I don’t know whether this is a Santa figure who’s appeared in the strip in past years; I wouldn’t be surprised if it were. I also wouldn’t be surprised if the figure appeared in one of those storylines with the punch line of “wait, if that was just a sidewalk volunteer then why do we hear reindeer hooves on the roof?”.

The parking ticket — received the 15th of December — starts the segue into what looks like the new storyline. Skeezix, grousing about the ticket, accidentally drops it in a street Santa’s donation box. Skeezix swaps that out for a $20, and then grumbles about giving away money he needed. And then finds on the sidewalk enough cash to pay his ticket, affirming the sidewalk Santa’s claim about how God will be generous to the generous.

Skeezix heads to City Hall, where he runs into Rufus, of the Joel-and-Rufus pair. Rufus we last saw in November 2017, before the strip went into unexplained reruns. That was a story about him courting the Widow Emma Sue and Scruffy’s Mom. She probably had a name of her own. But she was also pursued by Elam Jackson. Rufus was heartbroken by Jackson proposing marriage. But he had just learned The Widow had turned Jackson down. That’s not resumed, or even mentioned, here. It’s the first chance to, though. This is the first story since the stretch of reruns that wasn’t about the centennial.

Rufus: 'Miz Melba! 'Scuse me for protruding! But after I dumps yo' trash, I ... would yo' join me in a cup o'coffee?' Melba Rose: 'Rufus! Don't be silly! We couldn't fit in a cup, separately or together!' (She has a thought balloon of the two of them inside a giant coffee cup.)
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 4th of January, 2019. I think the good mayor is overlooking some fine coffee- and tea-cup rides still present at many amusement parks. Just saying.

Rufus is working as janitor. He’s smitten with the Mayor, Melba Rose. He asks if she’d join him in a cup of coffee. She answers that the two of them wouldn’t fit, indicating that the mayor is either Gracie Allen or Commander Data. While I have my suspicions what sort of character she’ll be, I don’t actually know yet. And I don’t know whether the earlier storyline, abandoned but at a natural stopping point, will get mentioned.

The whole centennial celebration leaves me, as ever, with mixed feelings. The device is a good one. And it’s one appropriate to the comic, playing as it does on Scancarelli’s love of older comedy. And on the Old Comics Home that’s been one of the comic’s recurring scenes for ages now. And reviewing the strip’s history is a great use of the premise. And the conceit that the audience is every comic strip character ever is also great. Plain old recaps of plot developments are boring. Breaking them up with jokes or slapstick or cameos from other characters allows for good pacing. Also for Scancarelli to show off that he can draw every comic strip character in history. (I know, I know, he’d pick ones his style made convenient, or practice ones he absolutely needed until he got three panels’ worth of good art. But it’s a good stage illusion of omnicompetence.)

But the execution fell short. What actually got recapped? That the strip started out as a couple guys trying to make cars work. That Walt found and adopted Skeezix in an event that got nationwide publicity. Then some weirdly fine-detailed things like how Walt hired a housekeeper, or how they adopted some pets. Later, World War II happened. And that’s it. Time that could have outlined the Wallet family tree went instead to real-life centenarian Gasoline Alley fan Peggy Lee. Or to how Mutt, who’s appeared outside of Gasoline Alley as recently as the Reagan Recession, looks like Andy Gump, whose strip ended the 17th of October, 1959. That’s literally so long ago that Linus Van Pelt had not yet said the words “Great Pumpkin”. It’s fair to suppose someone reading in detail about Gasoline Alley‘s centennial is interested in comic strip history, yes. But it’s fair to expect the story to be about Gasoline Alley. The in-universe story, yes. Maybe reappearances from Gasoline Alley characters who have died or wandered, unexplained, out of the comic. Maybe something about Frank King, its originator. Or about Bill Perry, Dick Moores, and Jim Scancarelli, who’ve written and drawn the strip and who don’t get so much attention. A storyline that’s gone from July through December, and that has a goal of one task, shouldn’t feel like it wasn’t enough time. But it does feel like the centennial didn’t get some important things done. Maybe the bicentennial strip will summarize everything better. We’ll check back in in 2119.

Next Week!

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!

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Author: Joseph Nebus

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

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