What’s Going On In Alley Oop? What are the new writer and artist doing to Alley Oop? December 2018 – March 2019


Greetings from the past. If you’re reading far enough in my future I have a more recent recapping of Alley Oop‘s plot at this link. If you’re reading this around March 2019, this is the current plot.

Also, if you’re interested in some mathematically-themed comic strips, why not look at my other blog? I have fun writing those posts. You might like reading them.

Alley Oop.

Oop under a tree, rubbing his head: 'Wow! I just had the craziest dream! There was this time machine. I was in the future, and then in the past. And there were these weird scientists, and ... ' King Guz, fighting a T-Rex: 'You were DREAMING? Just NOW? Is that why you're not HELPING ME FIGHT THIS DINOSAUR?'
Joey Alison Sayers and Jonathan Lemon’s Alley Oop for the 7th of January, 2019. The first of the new creators’ regime and, yes, one that had me quite worried. I mean, King Guz doing a thing? That seems out of character.

10 December 2018 – 2 March 2019.

I last checked in on Alley Oop during a rerun of a Jack Bender and Carole Bender story. It seemed to be the end of the story. Doc Wonmug had brought Alley Oop back from 1816 Switzerland and made some speculations about Mary Shelley. But there was about another month’s worth of 2013-vintage reruns until Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers took over. I guessed there might be some puttering around in the present day.

Not to brag but I was right. During the Switzerland expedition Alley Oop fell off a cliff and got dead a little bit. (Wonmug had a defibrillator which somehow helps with falling from great heights.) Wonmug wants him checked out by a real doctor in a doctor’s office and all. The doctor’s receptionist won’t let him in without an insurance card. Alley Oop laughs at this, as if health care were not a fundamental right of all humans. Doctor Lambert tries getting some of Oop’s basics down. But they haven’t got a clear answer for what Alley Oop’s birthday or age should be. Wonmug seems to be keeping quiet about how Alley Oop’s from prehistoric times, and I don’t know why. Maybe he was keeping his time-travelling stuff quiet? Except, like, he has a sign pointing “To Time-Travel Laboratory” on his mailbox.

Doctor examining Oop: 'You've got a good strong heartbeat but I'll order an EKG to get a complete picture. Let's get some blood to make sure that's OK. You'll just feel a little sting.' Oop, looking at the doctor's syringe: 'Holy cats! Whaddya think you're gonna do with that?' (The doctor can't get through Oop's skin.) 'You broke my needle! Your skin's as tough as dinosaur hide!' (Putting gloves on.) 'Now I'd like to have a look at your insides!' Oop: 'How are you gonna do that?' (Wonmug whispers to Oop.) Oop: 'No way! No how! No EKG! No blood test and no searching inside my guts! I'm getting outta this nut house! If I need any doctorin I'll go t'Wizer! You comin', Doc?' Wonmug: 'Sorry, Mark! Give Mabel my regards, and have her send me a bill!' Doctor Lambert: 'Will do, and don't worry about your friend! He's healthy as a horse!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 30th of December, 2018. It originally ran the 1st of December, 2013, so if you want to see what story this originally lead to, please enjoy. When Oop returned to Moo, Oola was going off on her own adventures. She meets a pterodactyl and ends up in the neighboring land of Lem. Oh, in the Sunday strip the doctor wants to do an EKG; in the dailies he’d wanted to do an MRI, but Oop didn’t like this talk about going in a narrow tunnel.

The doctor diagnoses Alley Oop with a lot of head injuries, which, fair enough. He wants to give Alley Oop an MRI. But it’s hard enough to get a blood sample, since his skin is so tough. There’s talk about a colonoscopy, quickly written off. Dr Lambert puts on a rubber glove with the intent of checking Oop’s prostate. When Wonmug whispers what that is, Oop gets up and storms out of the doctor’s office. This is a funny idea that doesn’t have any homophobic connotations. And it’s not like a prostate ever causes actual heath problems for a person anyway! Doctors are being all weird when they want to check it.

Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s reruns end on that unhappy note. Wonmug sends Alley Oop home in a sequence that, back in 2013, started a new adventure. Instead, we start a new adventure … with new artist and writer.


That new adventure started the 7th of January, 2019. With, at the risk of being cliched, someone waking up.

Alley Oop thinks he’s had a crazy dream about time-travelling and scientists from the future and all. I was not at all comfortable with this. One of the benefits of a long-running character is the building-up of a continuity. Its mass and often apparently contradictory nature give it verisimilitude. Sometimes you get caught in an actual contradiction that can’t be rationalized away. In that case I’m usually willing to give the creators the tool of “just don’t bring up the contradictory stuff again”. Or start repairing things and pretend the older problems never happened.

Oop: 'Doc, tell me again how we ended up in an alternate dimension.' Wonmug: 'You see, Alley, our time machine creates a Hamlin field. Last time we travelled, our Graue manipulator slipped, causing us to be bombarded with Bender particles, which made our dimensional alignment ... [ Oop looks on with calm, smooth incomprehension ] Our time machine had a flat tire.' Oop: 'Ohhhh, that makes PERFECT sense!'
Joey Alison Sayers and Jonathan Lemon’s Alley Oop for the 15th of January, 2019. So as you might guess, the names dropped in the technobabble of the second panel are from the comic’s past creators. V T Hamlin created the strip, as a caveman strip, and then seven years later added time-travel to it. Dave Graue, Hamlin’s assistant, took over the daily strip in 1966 and the Sundays in 1971. Jack Bender took over as illustrator in 1991 and Carole Bender joined in 2001.

A clean-slate reboot has advantages when the core idea is good, but there’s stuff that can’t be reconciled or repaired. Often this is a difference in attitude. There’s no fitting the Adam West Batman and the 90s cartoon Batman in the same continuity, and no sense trying. So … would this be such a different approach that it didn’t make sense to treat them as in-continuity?

Ooola comes in to assure Alley Oop that it wasn’t a crazy dream, he just got hit in the head by a coconut. The time-travel stuff is real and they’ve been doing it for years. But … something happened and they’re in an alternate universe. It’s much like the knew, except that tacos will never be invented. Oop drops to his knees and cries out in agony.

Do you find this funny? Because this is the major writing difference between the old Alley Oop and the current one. Sayers and Lemon are still telling a serial adventure comic. But there is much more emphasis on joke-telling. Every strip ends with a punch line, even if it has to be forced in there. It’s an effect quite like Dan Thompson’s Rip Haywire, a strip I’m thinking about adding to these what’s-going-on-in reads.

If this style isn’t working for you, then you’ll probably find the new team to be a bust. To my tastes, the punch-line-panel bit has been getting better, as the jokes have been more based on character and situation. A zany, out-of-nowhere punch line can be great fun. We wouldn’t have had web comics in the 90s without them. And a story can be good with this sort of wackiness. Readers love to accept stories. All they demand is some combination of the characters, plot, writing, and concepts to be interesting enough. Where wacky, zany punchlines disappoint me as a reader is when they aren’t tied enough to the characters or the situations. If you could reassign a joke to another character, or another day’s strip, without making it less funny? That’s often a symptom of a weak joke. To my tastes, that’s been happening less as Sayers and Lemon inhabit the characters longer.

Wonmug: 'This is the Golden Gate Bridge, a marvel of human engineering.' Ooola: 'It's orange.' Wonmug: 'Actually, it got its name from the Golden Gate Strait ... ' Ooola: 'There's no gate.' Wonmug: 'Well, that's because ... ' Ooola: 'Is this thing even a bridge?'
Joey Alison Sayers and Jonathan Lemon’s Alley Oop for the 28th of February, 2019. This is another exchange I like, not just for the guy doing the “Actually” drawl getting cut down. And yeah, in this strip you could swap Oop in for Ooola and have the joke land as well. You could swap Ooola and Oop’s roles in the strip for the 27th, too (see below). But for either day’s jokes to make sense you need a character who’s a longtime adventure hero and who doesn’t know San Francisco. From that perspective, either Ooola or Oop does just as well. Just because a line can be given to another character doesn’t prove the line is weak. It’s a symptom is all.

So the story. After a week of Ooola explaining the premise of the strip to Oop, Dr Wonmug popped in. He has a mission. They need to venture to the far-off world of 1986 to retrieve a mixtape. This isn’t just zany wackiness. Wonmug asserts it’s “very important and extremely time-sensitive”. So far he hasn’t explained what’s important. We’ll leave aside how a time traveller can face a time-sensitive problem. So far as I can tell, time travel in Alley Oop works like it would in Old Doctor Who. You know, where you don’t do that thing of coming back to your home time after fewer days than you spent in the other time.

Wonmug, reading the ransom note: 'Friends, it's worse than I feared. The tape has been stolen. The thief wants three things.' Oop: 'No problem! Here are three things: a rock, a stick, and a leaf! Let's get that tape back!'
Joey Alison Sayers and Jonathan Lemon’s Alley Oop for the 30th of January, 2019. I find the punch line funny enough. But if Oop had held up a leaf, an insect, and a bit of dirt? The joke would have been as funny. And would have been a cute reference to the pretext of the previous, rerun, story.

They get to Wonmug’s old room. But the mixtape is gone. There’s a ransom note. Whoever took it wants three things. First is a jelly bean from the desk of President Reagan. They take a bus to Washington, DC. Wonmug has a plan for sneaking in to the Oval Office. They’ll deliver his Presidential Portrait. Fortunately Oop’s whipped up one of Reagan with a chimpanzee.

Things are going their way. Ronald Reagan wakes up senile, racist, homophobic, and missing his eyeglasses. So he’s in a great mood when Wonmug, Oop, and Oola come in. He identifies them as George Bush, Mikhael Gorbachev, and Nancy Reagan. While Reagan hangs the picture of “a sunset”, Oop grabs a bunch of jellybeans, and eats all but one of them.

In the Oval Office. Ronald Reagan: 'Yes? Who is it?' Oop, carrying a portrait, Wonmug, and Ooola enter. Reagan: 'GEORGE BUSH, NANCY, and GORBACHEV! Come in. Take a seat.' He looks at Oop's painting of Reagan with a chimpanzee. 'Gasp! Is this painting for ME? It's such a beautiful sunset!'
Joey Alison Sayers and Jonathan Lemon’s Alley Oop for the 14th of February, 2019. I haven’t talked much about pacing. I’m not sure what I think of it yet. But the meeting between Oop and Reagan took maybe three days’ worth of strips. That feels fast. Still, this storyline is eight weeks old and has managed to establish three locations and travel to a fourth. The plot may be thin, and a lot of time is spent making jokes rather than doing things, but I can’t say it isn’t moving along. I’ve had trouble picking out a handful of strips to represent the storyline because of it.

The next item is in San Francisco. They need to grab the master copy of the game disk for Caves of Zgfrhkxp. And they’re going to get there in good time. Reagan agreed to let Wonmug, as “George Bush”, take Air Force Two to San Francisco. This is a fun historical shout-out. That’s what they nabbed Bush’s chief of staff John Sununu on, back when there were consequences to things. And this week they’ve landed in San Francisco.

Wonmug, Oop, and Ooola walking off the foggy airfield. Wonmug: 'Despite almost blowing our cover on Air Force Two, we made it! Welcome to San Francisco! It's a little foggy today.' Oop: 'I'm nervous. I've never been to a cloud city.' Ooola: 'We'll be treated as gods, since we come from the mystical solid lands.'
Joey Alison Sayers and Jonathan Lemon’s Alley Oop for the 27th of February, 2019. Now this is a punch line I like. I’m a sucker for the premise of longtime adventuring heroes assuming that of course they’re going on an epic journey through strange and exotic space-operatic settings and taking that attitude with them when they’re just going to the deli for pork roll.

And then there are Sundays. Often for story comics the Sunday strip is a recap of the previous week’s. Jack Bender and Carole Bender adapted this approach. Their Sunday strip usually recapped the previous Tuesday through the coming Monday. Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers are doing something different. Their Sunday strips are installments of Little Oop, the adventures of a middle-school-age Alley Oop and his friends.

Little Alley Oop: 'You think scientists will ever invent a number bigger than three?' Garg: 'I guess it's possible. There are three scientists working around the clock trying to come up with a new number.' Oop: 'Three scientists? Wow! That's a lot.' Garg: 'Maybe someday *we'll* be scientists. Then there'll be *three* scientists.' Oop: 'Nah, I think I want to be a fire-fighter. There are only three of those in the whole world.'
Joey Alison Sayers and Jonathan Lemon’s Alley Oop for the 20th of January, 2019. Another example I’ve enjoyed of jokes growing out of personality. And I’m a nerd, so I have a dreary literal mind, and thus love jokes built on smashing up the idea that words have meanings. You’d think I would pun more often than I do. This particular Sunday strip was one I could discuss on my mathematics blog, also.

These have been fun. Alley Oop at school. Alley Oop hanging out with friends. Alley Oop asking his parents for a pet dinosaur. They’ve been fun, and haven’t had the same sort of wacky zany punch lines. This might reflect the strips having enough space to build a scenario. What they haven’t been is an ongoing story. So I’m going to hold off on recapping those stories until I see that there are stories to recap.

Next Week!

The last time I looked at The Phantom‘s weekday continuity, Heloise Walker had got her roommate’s father arrested for terrorism and was trying to get her to flee the country. How’s that turned out? I expect to check back in Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom next Sunday.

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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