What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? What happened for Skeezix’s centennial? November 2020 – February 2021


So … uh … nothing. The 14th of February, 1921, was the day that Gasoline Alley turned into a comic strip anyone but a specialist would have heard of. It’s when Walt Wallet found an abandoned infant on the doorstep. The child was soon named Allison (Get it? Alley-Son), but everyone’s called him Skeezix. It was a milestone for the comic, and for comics. It pioneered the comic strip where characters grow up in something like real time.

The comic strip’s long acknowledged this big deal, as it should. And this year, for the 100th anniversary of the moment there was … a pleasant enough Valentine’s Day card and acknowledgement of Skeezik’s 100th birthday (observed). And that’s all, to my shock. I had expected this to be feted. I imagined at least another visit to the Old Comics Home. I have no explanation for why this wasn’t a bigger deal. Over at The Daily Cartoonist, D D Degg has similar thoughts, plus a good number of historic Gasoline Alley strips observing the day. This including Skeezix’s first appearance.

So this essay should catch you up to mid-February 2021 in Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley. If you’re reading this after about May 2021, or if any news on the strip breaks, I’ll have an essay here may be of more use to you.

Gasoline Alley.

8 November 2020 – 14 February 2021.

When I last looked in, Slim Wallet had finished running a Halloween haunted house successfully, only to hear noises downstairs. It was his mother Lil, and his cousin Chubby. It’s an unwelcome-houseguests story, the kind where a vague relative visits. The kind where they have heavy trunks and don’t move them upstairs.

Slim, looking at a turkey: 'Mother! How did you manage to get this huge gobbler?' Mother: 'Easy! I shot dice with the butcher and ... ' Chubby: 'She won!' Slim: 'Honestly?' Mother, with her fingers crossed behind her back: 'uh ... honestly, I won!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 25th of November, 2020. Still, they did think to get a turkey for everyone for Thanksgiving, so it’s not like they’re impossible houseguests.

Despite their help with thanksgiving, Clovia’s quite stressed having them around. Slim’s not too thrilled by them either. So in the tradition of old-time-radio and old-fashioned TV sitcoms, they hatch a Scheme. They’ll use the haunted house props to make Lil and Chubby think the place is haunted. To work! Lil’s makeup kit is out of place. The clocks are set wrong. A weird figure appears before them. This convinces Lil and Chubby, who flee. Clovia’s proud of her husband’s haunting. Slim’s baffled because he hadn’t even started haunting yet. But how could that happen?

Clovia: 'Slim! Lil and Chubby ran out of here like they'd seen a ghost! If you didn't scare them off, who did?' Ghosts behind Clovia, unheard: 'We did! We messed with the clocks again ... ' Clovia: 'Brr! A cold feeling just came over me and ... did you hear a voice?' Slim: 'Cut it out, Clovia! You're scaring *me*!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 7th of December, 2020. You’d think Slim and Clovia would be used to it with this sort of thing happening to them all the time. Well, if we were good at noticing the patterns in our own lives we’d all have lives with different problems.

So that wraps up the story, on the 8th of December. The 9th of December started the next, again centered on Slim and Clovia, so there’s little transition needed. Bleck’s Department Store asking Slim if he can play Santa again this year. Trouble is in washing it. The dryer doesn’t work.

Clovia: 'Wake up, Slim! The electrician's here!' Slim: 'Grok! Umph! Huh?' Slim, rousing himself: 'You were due yesterday! What took you so yawn, er ... long?' Frank Nelson: 'Oooh! It's a long way from the north Pole to here by reindeer!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 17th of December, 2020. The story had a lot of the Frank Nelson character. I understand some of that, since he’s a fun person to write and probably the Jack Benny Program regular most easily plucked out of that context. Having him in two key roles seems like maybe too much, though.

The dryer repair person says the dryer is fine. Dire news from the electrician: he’s the Frank Nelson character. He figures the dryer needs a new power cord. Fixing that doesn’t help. His next diagnosis is the circuit breaker. Now the dryer works … once. They yield to the inevitable and go shopping for a new dryer. The dryer salesman is Frank Nelson again.

This leads to a couple weeks of delivery attempts by Sidney and Lew. They feel like a reference to me. I can’t figure out who, though. There’ve been a lot of delivery-team scenes in the past. In the first delivery attempt, Slim’s fallen asleep and can’t hear them. On the second attempt, Slim and Clovia are awake. But they notice a dent on the back of the dryer, and touch-up paint on the front. I’m not clear where the damage came from. Frank Nelson offers them a $150 discount to take the dryer, but Clovia suspects it’s not a new dryer. She’s convinced by the promise of a discount, though, and Sidney and Lew are happy to leave. And the new dryer doesn’t work.

Sidney, trying to hold the dryer up against the front steps: 'Ring the door bell, Lew! [ Ungh! Oof! ] I can't hold this elephant forever!' Lew: 'Hush, Sidney!' [ He rings the bell. ] Sidney: 'Nobody's home! Let's leave it on the steps!' Lew: 'How many times to I have to tell you to hush, Sidney?' Sidney: 'Two thousand, two hundred, and twenty-two times!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 18th of January, 2021. You see what I mean about this feeling like a reference, though? I’d expect if Sidney and Lew were screen characters that there’d be, you know, one tall skinny guy and one short fat guy. They’re almost identical, which evokes a Heckle-and-Jeckle or Mac-and-Tosh pairing. Or maybe this is just Scancarelli making up something that feels like a callback. He’s got the talent to do that.

So if you like this mode of American Cornball plotting? (I do, by the way.) You likely enjoyed Scancarelli’s skill respecting the styles and conventions of the genre. If you don’t like this, the story was like chewing tin foil. You know, these are the sorts of stories he wants to tell.

Sidney and Lew return, to take out the broken one and return a new one. And that seems to work, and to end the story, with the 6th of February.


Last Monday the current story began. It features Gertie, Walt Wallet’s live-in caretaker. At the supermarket she encounters someone in distress. She’s lost her glasses, and crying. Gertie volunteers to help. I don’t know where this might lead.

Next Week!

It’s Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom, Sunday continuity. How does the Ghost Who Walks help a Bangallan detective return from the dead? We’ll see, or we’ve already seen. All I do is recap what anyone could read. See you then, unless something urgent comes up.

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley?


[ Edited the 24th of May, 2017 to add: ] Hi, fans of Gasoline Alley looking for summaries of the plots. I’m glad to provide what I have. This post might be out of date, though. My most recent report on what’s happening in the strip should be at or near the top of this page. The rest of this essay is about what was going on as of February 2017, which it no longer is, and is becoming less so every day. Thanks for being around.


I, too, thought I was done with story strips. And then I realized I’d forgot one. And what a one to forget: it’s, I believe, the oldest syndicated comic strip that isn’t in perpetual reruns. Coming to us from the 24th of November, 1918, it’s …

Gasoline Alley.

If you know anything about Gasoline Alley you don’t need me to tell you anything about Gasoline Alley. It’s one of those comic strips that’s been around forever even though the last child to grow up enthusiastically reading it went on to fight in King Philip’s War. Have to admit, a someone who only started paying attention to it in adulthood, the kids are missing something. That something is a lot of old-time radio references. I honestly wonder how artist/writer Jim Scancarelli wasn’t hired to draw the Lum and Abner comic strip.

So the comic strip is a slice-of-life serial comic. Its big gimmick, and the thing that’s let it last nearly a century, was the day in 1922 when protagonist Walt Wallet discovered the orphan Skeezix on his doorstep. Since then most of the characters in the strip have aged more or less in real time. People get born, they grow up, they move off, they move back, they marry, they have careers, they bring new people into the strip, they retire. The whole cast is impossibly vast and interconnected in ways that only Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury compares to.

Walt Wallet is still around, even though the progression of time makes him something like 115 years old. I imagine Scancarelli is a little too sentimental to kill the comic’s original star, even if there have been like four whole generations of plausible lead characters since then. He doesn’t even have to kill Walt. Scancarelli embraces a bit of magic whimsy in the comic (a lot, really), and one of the conceits is the Old Comics Home. It’s the boarding house for all the characters from the classic old comic strips. They have a visit every year or so. I can’t imagine anyone objecting if Walt, and maybe Skeezix too, were to pay their annual visit to Mutt and Jeff and Buster Brown and Smokey Stover or whoever and just … not come back.

But Walt Wallet does come back. And the current storyline, begun the 16th of January, stars him. He’s inspired by a newspaper advertisement offering “big bucks for your inventions”. After several days sleeping on it he has an inspiration. It’s a combination freezer-fridge-stove-grill-microwave-TV, the sort of thing you might create as a dubiously practical all-in-one contraption for a 60s sitcom. Wallet admits he got the idea from thinking about how in Dick Tracy the B.O. Plenty clan had a stove with a built-in TV set. I don’t know that this actually happened, but I believe it. Scancarelli shows a love for this particular kind of pop culture. He is not so reference-crazy as the actual current staff of Dick Tracy, but then neither is the writing staff of Family Guy. Still, he could hold his own in a highly referential conversation with them.

'Isn't this the invention of a lifetime? A combination freezer, fridge, stove, grill, and microwave! Well! Aren't you going to say anything?' 'I'm speechless!'

Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 30th of January, 2017. There’s an optional TV also. No, it isn’t connected to the Internet, because there is no non-ridiculous reason to connect your refrigerator to the Internet. Will say that’s a pretty good example diaram considering so far as I know Wallet hasn’t been trained in graphic design and he’s also older than graphic design.

Wallet’s idea underwhelms Skeezix and his nurse. But he attracts the attention of Gasoline Alley TV’s Shark Bait. So he goes to the TV studio to pitch his idea — or really the novelty of a 115-year-old inventor — to the jury of millionaire investors. He gets to the studio and meets, who else but Frank Nelson.

You know Frank Nelson. OK, you know that guy on The Simpsons who goes YYYyyyyyyyyeeeeeess? That’s Frank Nelson they’re impersonating there. He appeared in a lot of Jack Benny Program episodes as the clerk or ticket-taker or information desk guy or anyone at all that Benny would have to get information from. And he’d instead get “YYYyyyyyyyyeeeeeess” and “OOooOOOoooh” and insults. This may sound like thin stuff, but, again: character actor. And done for one or two minutes a week, two weeks a month, the character doesn’t exactly get old. It gets familiar, the way a fun running gag does. Frank Nelson’s reappeared in Gasoline Alley to torment Walt Wallet because, like I said, Jim Scancarelli’s an old-time radio fan. The comic probably reads fine if you have no idea what’s being referred to here. If you know how the lines should be read, I imagine they’re funnier.

But I don’t know what it reads like to someone who doesn’t get the references. Scancarelli likes them, and will keep making them. Even if they’re a little baffling. A while back he introduced Molly Ballou, radio reporter. Who’s carefully introduced as the sister to Wally Ballou, famously mis-cued reporter for Bob and Ray. And shortly after that he introduced Polly Ballou, Wally and Molly’s other sister. I understand wanting to do a little Bob and Ray fanfic because who would not? And it’s simple professionalism to do it with your own character, because that way, if you screw up nobody’s qualified to tell you you’re wrong. (Frank Nelson’s appearances have, I believe, avoided coming right out and naming him, allowing for some deniability if the character goes completely wrong. At the cost of confusing people who realize there’s a reference to something here that they don’t have enough stuff to Google.)

But why make them Wally Ballou’s improbably young-looking sisters? In the comic strip that defined “comic strip that passes more or less in real time”? Why not make them his daughters, or granddaughters? And why Molly and Polly, when it seems like one would do? Maybe it’s pure self-indulgence. As cartoonist self-indulgences go this seems quite tolerable to me. Or maybe I just like that I get the references.

'Uh, excuse me! Where do you want me to go?' 'Oooh! I'd love to tell you ... but I can't.' 'Why not?' 'This is a family newspaper!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 20th of February, 2017. Fine, call it a dumb old joke. It was my best laugh of the day from the comics. Also I hadn’t thought of it before but now I realize Scancarelli could totally slip in Harold “The Great Guildersleeve” Peary in too. He’s got the basic design down.

So, as of this week, Walt Wallet’s gotten onto Shark Bait. It’s going out live because Gasoline Alley TV just does that. You can roll with it or you can read something else, okay? There’s an odd bit of confusion in the show’s opening about whether the jury is a panel of millionaires or billionaires and that might be a hint there’s some mischief up. I make no predictions for how it’ll resolve except that at the end of it Walt Wallet will not be a millionaire. The strip doesn’t break reality that much, plus, think of the biographies of every inventor you know. How many of then end with “died in poverty after long court fights with the companies that ripped off his/her patents”? Yeah.

This is the storyline running Monday through Saturday. On Sundays the comic strip runs separate gags. They’re usually one-off panels, not connected to any storyline. And they’re usually the sort of big dumb old-school sketch comedy stuff that was old when old-time radio was new. And Scancarelli draws it in this warm, friendly, very gentle style. It works for me. I like that kind of comedy. Don’t know that it communicates today.

'I'm the Genie of the Lamp! I'll grant you 3 wishes for letting me out!' 'Can I have 10 billion dollars?' 'Your wish is my command!' 'How about world peace?' 'Easier done than said! What's next? This is your last wish! It better be a good one!' 'Make me lose 200 pounds and look like I did when I was 20!' 'Gad-zooks, man! I don't have that kind of power! I'm only a genie!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 5th of February, 2017. The typical sort of Sunday business for Gasoline Alley. Since the joke is old, take the chance to look at the art. This is some pretty lively stuff, especially considering the scene is just two characters talking and would play just as well without any visuals. There’s not enough good art on the comics pages; good on Scancarelli for insisting on it in his work.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index fell eight points following uncertainty as to which of the paczki is the strawberry and which is the red raspberry. This might have been weathered but similar doubts were raised regarding the blueberry and the prune ones.

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