Before I get to Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley I want to give a heads-up about Tom Batiuk’s Funky Winkerbean. According to newspaper articles, Funky Winkerbean is in the next couple months doing a story with the suicide of a character. People who do not need that sort of thing in their reading-for-fun may want to drop the strip for a while. I’ll try to give an all-clear when the immediate aftermath has passed.
It is a startling development. Since the 2008 time-jump, skipping a decade in which Les Moore spectacularly failed to deal with the death of his wife Lisa, Funky Winkerbean has moved mostly past its misery porn incarnation. This is the most serious topic for a storyline in quite a while.
I hope for the story to be a good, thoughtful exploration of why a person would suicide, and how the people around them react and are changed. I’m always hoping for this. I will snark so far as to admit that after the storyline about gay students going to the prom (the principal says of course gay students can go to prom since there’s no rule that says they can’t, and we never even see the gay students on-screen), and the storyline about a fictional version of the Virginia Rappe killing and what that did to Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle (in this version, a talking chimp killed her), I … well. Just.
All right, I expect the story to be handled with all the deftness of Inspector Clouseau, unaware that he’s swallowed the horse tranquilizer, stomping about Charles-Philipe-Louis Desuetude’s Irreplaceable Antiques Boutiquery, while he’s wearing roller skates and somehow has his hands trapped inside cans of potted meat. But, I promise, I hope it’s a good story. I just want people who do not need even a well-handled story about suicide in their recreational reading to know, and to plan accordingly.
Now back to my real business.
24 June – 14 September 2019
Oh, right, Jim Scancarelli was making a fool of me last time. Rufus had taken in Willow, a woman fleeing from wolves. She moved in, ate all his food, and (passively) kicked him out of the house. As Rufus tells his woes to Mayor Melba Rose, he thinks he sees Willow. On the ride home with Joel, Rufus worries how to make her leave. He even puts a coin in the wishing well to hope the problem goes away.
And … it works. Willow and her dog Toro are gone. She’s cleaned the house, and done Rufus’s laundry. In the note she also mentions seeing Rufus’s lovely Lady Friend, Melba. It’s the ending everyone wishes for from awkward social interactions. The unpleasant person is gone, leaving behind nothing but a note of thanks and the scent of fresh-cut flowers.
So, the 19th of July, we get into the new story. It looks like it’s more of Rufus courting Melba. He stops in the jewelry store for another encounter with Frank Nelson. In-between insults Rufus is able to buy a $15 cubic zirconia brooch. But, leaving the store, he trips and wrenches his ankle. Plus a crow swipes the brooch.
A cop takes the note that Rufus slipped on a broken sidewalk. This seems like the setup for something not yet paid off. And he brings Rufus to the Gasoline Alley Care Clinic, even turning the siren on for Rufus’s delight. And, hey, the crow flies back, dropping the brooch on Rufus’s head. So everything’s turning up Rufus.
The 13th of August Rufus finally gets to the clinic and we see more of the current story. Chipper Wallet, physician assistant and established character, is on vacation. But they have a substitute, Peter Glabella. He’s uncannily empathetic, and is able to treat Rufus quickly.
Glabella is good at more than diagnosing Rufus’s problems. Hoagy Skinner brings in her daughter Aubree. (Hoagy Skinner’s the wife of Rover Skinner, Skeezix’s grandson.) She’s listless, confused, pale … rather like Glabella is now. He feels she’s dehydrated. She has only the one head and no signs of cauterized sword wounds. He joins her in some sugar-free soda. And in almost no time she’s in good spirits. Physician and patient burp together.
Finally Walt Wallet comes in. Glabella nearly forgets to act like a normal hew-mon. He asks how long Wallet’s left knee has been bothering him before Wallet can say anything. But he goes through the diagnostics of a man so old that when he was born, Jack Benny was telling people he was 32. It’s hard taking on temporarily the ailments of a man that elderly, but he does it.
Chipper Wallet finally comes back from vacation and meets Glabella. This makes me question the clinic’s hiring practices but, all right. Glabella explains that he has “mirror-touch synesthesia”. It’s a “gift of sorts” that he’s always had. I think it’s also something they wrote into Lieutenant Ilia’s backstory, when they thought Star Trek: The Motion Picture was going to be a TV series. It’s why she does that thing where she heals Chekov’s burns instead of letting Doctor Chapel do it by medicine.
Where this is going, I can’t say. That’s as far as we’ve gotten. It may seem to defy reality that a magic doctor is in the comic. But one of Scancarelli’s modes for the comic has long been this light, sitcom magic touch. The sort of magic where, you know, how could that department-store Santa have known what I wanted as a kid unless … . So this fits that tradition squarely. A bigger break is that Gasoline Alley names are often some kind of wordplay, often gentle puns. If “Peter Glabella” means something I don’t get it.
Sometime around December 2019 I plan to check in again, with an essay about Gasoline Alley at this link. Also if there’s any news about the comic strip I’ll have it at this link.
And, as ever, I look at the mathematical content of comic strips on my other blog. The mathematics blog is also going through all the letters of the alphabet to explain something of each of them, this week and through November, all going well.
Gold mines! Smugglers! Animals! And now … cryptozoology? It’s James Allen’s Mark Trail, coming up, barring surprise developments. Thanks for reading.