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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What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? Why Is ‘Peggy Lee’ In It? July – October 2018


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.

Gasoline Alley.

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.

Frank Nelson: 'Where will you gentlemen go in your new dapper suits?' Walt: 'Diaper suits?!' Skeezix: 'No, Uncle Walt! Dapper! You know! STYLISH!' Walt: 'You don't have to yell! I'm not deaf!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 23rd of July, 2018. Oh, yeah, so why does Skeezix call his adopted father ‘Uncle’ Walt? Well, you see … I don’t know. I assume it was explained at the time. It keeps throwing me when I want to describe the action and there’s that ‘Uncle’ throwing me off about the relations among like five generations of the Wallet family.

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.

(Pulling up in the car.) Skeezix: 'Wake up, Uncle Walt! We're here! I don't remember it being so big before!' (The Old Comics Home sprawls out over the whole strip, a mass of porches, overhangs, gabled roofs, conical rooves, floors, and walkways, like it was built by a guilt-ridden guns manufacturer's widow and if they ever stopped building they'd die.)
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 3rd of August, 2018. And for all that the Old Comics Home is this sprawling, rambling, architecturally incoherent thing, it doesn’t provoke the spontaneous laugh from me that about two-fifths of the McMansion Hell spectacles do. Possibly because it does look like someplace it’d be fun to wander through.

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.

Mutt, as emcee: 'OK, Walt Wallet! Here's a photo of where it all began --- in the alley behind your house!' (Mutt holds a black-and-white photo of a small house and tiny garage.) 'And here is a shot of you and Avery, Doc and Bill, working on your autos in Gasoline Alley --- Nov 24, 1918!' (Black-and-white rendition of four very 1910s young men around a car. It's captioned 'Sunday morning in Gasoline Alley - Doc's Car Won't Start') Mutt: 'Isn't that how the town got its name?' Walt: 'Yeah! Uh, which one is me?'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 13th of September, 2018. I have heard that a “gasoline alley” was the slang term for anywhere bunches of young men would get together to tinker over cars that might someday even run. This seems plausible enough, and of a kind with the “radio shack” that the bunches of young men into ham radio would build. And would explain why there are places named “Gasoline Alley”, some of them even still having anything to do with cars. But I don’t know of citations for the term “gasoline alley” that predate the comic strip. Google’s NGram viewer doesn’t seem to have examples of the phrase from before the comic strip. And after the “Skeezix” word-origin mystery I want to be careful about passing on anything that isn’t at least a bit researched.

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.

Walt, recounting events of finding young Skeezix: 'Doc, Avery, and Bill came over to help bathe the little feller! I thought we'd wash and polish him like we do cars, then dry the moisture off, leaving the body finish in sparkling condition!' (Illustrated by the young men coming in, and drying off a baby while holding mop, sponge, and car wax, none applied to the baby.)
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 21st of September, 2018. I like seeing art done closer to the style of the original character designs and I’m surprised how well they work on the modern screen. Also, I admit, I’m a little glad the action is being narrated, because actual comics of the day had way too many words in them, and then would throw in eye-dialect to make it that little bit more of a task getting through everything.

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.

Mutt, as emcee: 'Peggy Lee told me she has read all the adventures of Gasoline Alley since 1918!' Peggy Lee: 'I did indeed!' Mutt: 'But wait a second! How could you have? You were a baby in 1918!' Peggy Lee: 'I was a fast reader!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 4th of October, 2018. Really, to have read all of an historically important comic strip is pretty amazing. The only important comics I could make a similar claim about are Peanuts, Calvin and Hobbes, and Bloom County, although I’m probably close enough for jazz for The Far Side. And four of those made it easy by being, in the scheme of things, pretty short-run comics. (I want to count Cul de Sac, since it was so fantastic, but I don’t know that it lasted long enough to be important.)

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.

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!

Some More Interesting Comics


Over on Gocomics.com, the feature Origins Of The Sunday Comics which is exactly what it says on the label ran a strip of some historical significance: the first Sunday comic George Herriman did for the New York World, from late September of 1901. Herriman would go on to Krazy Kat, which directly or indirectly influenced pretty much everybody doing comics except Berkeley Breathed, although I have to confess this installment doesn’t really get across why.
The feature also has another early Herriman example, from early November 1901, which shows that I guess in those days everyone just had to do their own Katzenjammer Kids.

Meanwhile the mock history of Working Daze which I like for its craft and research even if I didn’t like the overall strip continued through the 40s and (with today’s installment) the 50s. Naturally I liked the riffing on They’ll Do It Every Time — I remember that comic as being one of the things that awakened me as a kid to irony and the little ways we’re hypocrites even to ourselves — but the 1950s and “magazine cartooning” style really gets me. Partly that’s because it’s a graphic style I might as well have been programmed to like; partly it’s because over on dailyink.com I’ve been reading the vintage 1950s Hi and Lois, (which unfortunately it’s not easy to link to so as to give people a sample) a comic strip more broad in scope than its modern version, and one rich in 50s anxieties, including the fear of electric brains.