What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? Also, what’s wrong with Funky Winkerbean? June – September 2019


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.


Station for an amusement park's antique car ride, labeled 'Gasoline Alley'.
They are really big fans of Gasoline Alley over at Knoebels Amusement Park in Elysburg, Pennsylvania. To the right is the lift hill for the Phoenix roller coaster, and if you like roller coasters at all you should get over and ride that.

Now back to my real business.

Gasoline Alley.

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.

Rufus, putting a coin into the wishing well's slot and thinking: 'I wish, when I gets home, Willow will be gone!' Joel: 'Y'all done? I see yo' exorcised all yo' change! What'd yo' wish fo'?' Rufus: 'Can't tell! If'n I did, it won't come true!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 8th of July, 2019. The wishing well is as good a way out of an unpleasant scene as any you might try. I like the touch that the well was set up with a coin slot. It’s a fun touch.

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.

Rufus, to jewelry store clerk: 'I want to buy something' real nice an' elegant, but not too gaudy or expensive!' Frank Nelson: 'What price range were you wanting to dabble in?' Rufus: 'Hmm! What'll $5 get me?' Frank Nelson: 'Thrown out of here probably!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 22nd of July, 2019. Jack Benny: “Now cut that out!”

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.

Hoagy: 'My daughter Aubee got very listless and confused! Her skin got real pale ... uh ... sort of like yours is now!' Glabella: 'Did she get into a medicine bottle?' Hoagy: 'Oh, no! She was outside playing! Do you feel OK, Doctor?' Glabella: 'I feel she's dehydrated!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 23rd of August, 2019. And here we get introduced to Glabella’s superpowers, and start to form questions about, like, what triggers his empathic relation? Like, is he feeling a mix of both Hoagy and Aubee’s physical conditions right now? What’s the range? Is he sensing what the person the next room over feels, too, but faintly? These are all questions it does not make any difference to answer.

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.

Glabella, to Walt Wallet: 'Let's take some blood, and see what's causing your difficulty! OK?' Walt: 'Is it painful?' Glabella: 'It'll hurt *me* more than you!' (And thinks, 'ouch'.) Walt: 'I'm ready when you are!' Glabella: 'Too late! It's over!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 5th of September, 2019. So you can see why Glabella would not go in for being a surgeon. Also in this Glabella did the bit of tapping Walt Wallet’s knee with a hammer, only to have his own leg jerk back in response, so that’s some fun business.

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.

Next Week!

Gold mines! Smugglers! Animals! And now … cryptozoology? It’s James Allen’s Mark Trail, coming up, barring surprise developments. Thanks for reading.

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Gasoline Alley is trying to make a fool of me


So yes, I do enjoy the couple hours I spend each week perusing the story comics so that I can write a plot summary. And even the writing of the plot summary. If I am doing a public service, good. It’s fun, and it seems to help people out.

So I would have written this past Sunday’s recap of Gasoline Alley in any case. But I feel a little disheartened that Jim Scancarelli posted this on Wednesday, and it goes and does the whole plot recap thing in three panels.

Melba: 'How did you meet this Willow woman?' Rufus: 'Her little dog scared off a wolf that was chasin' me and she hadn't eaten in days an' passed out in my place an' never left!' Melba: 'Sounds like *you* passed out in the vineyard an' never left!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 26th of June, 2019. By the way, this is a nice use of a continuous background with only implicit panels. I enjoy that sort of composition.

Anyway I’m just hoping that this was coincidence. I’d hate to think Jim Scancarelli was trying to undercut me. I thought it was clear that jokes like saying he was trying to get installed as an exhibit at the Museum of Old-Time-Radio were affectionate. I mean, I’d love to be at the Museum of Old-Time-Radio myself.

Well. At this rate I’m wondering what James Allen is planning to do to me come Tuesday.

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? What’s with the woman living in Rufus’s house? April – June 2019


I’m happy to be one source of plot summaries for Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley. If you’re reading this after about September 2019 I may have a more up-to-date summary at this link. I also have a good number of older essays at that link. If you want to know the last couple years’ story developments. Thanks for using them.

On my other blog I look for mathematics topics as discussed in the syndicated comics. You might enjoy that too. I enjoy it all. But for now, back to the story strips.

Gasoline Alley.

1 April – 22 June 2019.

The story seemed over last time I looked in on Gasoline Alley. Major “Buy-Buy” Bertie’s career of real estate fraud had collapsed. So had his relationship with Mayor Melba Rose. Rufus was now free to try getting his feelings requited.

Rufus takes Melba to Corky’s Diner. It goes well. Rufus is walking on air as he heads home. He’s also walking through the woods, which gets him chased by a wolf. The wolf gets stopped and scared off by Toro, a small dog. Toro’s there with Willow, a young woman wandering the woods. Toro’s hungry. Willow claims that she isn’t, right before passing out.

Rufus, to the dazed Willow, on his bed: 'That's OK, Willow! Yo' take th'bed an' I'll sleep on the porch! It's a nice night ... outside ... er ... ' (Willow collapses on the mattress and instantly falls asleep.)
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 29th of April, 2019. I only ever seem to write about the art in these photo captions. So be it: that’s a great-looking sloppy bedroom there. It looks like it was fun to draw. Also in minor plot points notice that Toro is still growling at Rufus, long after their first meeting. This is because Toro is part of the Gasoline Alley snark community, who would like rather less of Rufus but aren’t sure who they’d like to see more of instead.

Rufus feeds both of them, and offers Willow a place to sleep. He sleeps on the porch, in the rain. By morning, when Joel picks him up to go in to work, he’s a mess. And please consider how bad he has to look for Joel to think he’s a mess. They go to the thrift store for some better clothes and run into Frank Nelson. It’s a rare non-Skeezix-connected appearance for Frank Nelson in these pages. They get a fresh coat and head on.

At the Used Thrift Shop. Joel: 'We better stop in the Used Thrift Shop an' get you a new used jacket!' Rufus, to the clerk at the suits: ''Scuse us fo' protrudin', but do yo' work here?' Frank Nelson: 'Oooooh! No! I'm a display mannequin on break!' Rufus, to Joel: 'Wha's he mean?' Joel, to Rufus: 'He's a dummy - yo' dummy!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 10th of May, 2019. It’s interesting that Scancarelli framed that first panel so that Joel would appear to have mule ears. Maybe even a tail, if you read the lines of Becky’s harness wrong. I suppose Joel’s had a stubborn insistance that Rufus should dump Willow. But that’s a weird small point to reinforce in artwork. It might just be an accident. Scancarelli tried to fit Rufus, Joel, vehicle, and door together in frame. Maybe he couldn’t avoid the composition making something unintentionally funny. I do feel like the repetitions of ‘used’ in the first panel are meant to be funnier than I found them.

At the end of the day Rufus returns home. Willow’s sleeping, but she offers to make dinner. If Rufus has brought any more food, since she finished what was there. And Toro is still a growling, angry little dog. This after being fed several times and getting to see that Rufus is a good guy. I mean, you may find the comic tradition he comes from annoying. But he’s been consistently kind and generous this story.

Come bedtime Rufus heads out to Joel’s. He doesn’t want to sleep on the porch in the rain again. He doesn’t like how Toro’s chased out his own cats. Joel has harsh advice on this: stop feeding Willow and Toro. If she’s sick, take her to the emergency room. If she’s not, then — what’s she doing?

Rufus, dressing, in the hay next to Becky the mule: 'Sorry 'bout the commotion last night, Joel!' Joel: 'Don't give it no never mind! Becky ain't used t'sleepin' with humans!' Becky, thinking: ''Specially if they haven't bathed in a while!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 4th of June, 2019. Rufus’s bathing habits, and general odor, have been a running gag in the story. It’s not been a plot-relevant thing, just, a little something we’re supposed to find funny.

And it’s a fair question. Rufus spends the night sleeping with Joel’s mule. He stinks of it when he gets to work. He covers this up with the free perfume samples at the department store. This is too much in a different direction. But he’s able to tone his odor down to “existing” by lunchtime. He and Melba walk the streets downtown. And then he sees …

Melba, pointing in a store window: 'Oh, Rufus! Let's look at these shoes in the window! It'll only take a sec! That brown pair is divine, isn't it?' Rufus, looking to the side: 'Hmm!' Melba: 'Rufus! You're not looking!' Rufus, thinking: 'Yes I am! But not at shoes!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 20th of June, 2019. It’s a good, cinematic selection of panel shots here. And yet I’m distracted by reasoning that actually, yes, Rufus’s face should look about like that when seen from that angle, that close up. It’s somehow not what I expect, but the reasoning behind it seems correct. I don’t know; this is just one of my problems again.

Well, he’s sure he saw Willow’s reflection. Why would she be in town despite her fatigue and dizziness? We’ll see in the next few weeks what her deal is. The strip has gone to some length to paint her as a mooch and even an unpleasant person. But I notice it hasn’t committed to anything that couldn’t be rationalized. I don’t say there is a plot twist coming. I think it’s plausible there will be, is all.

Before writing a What’s Going On In … essay I try to remember the highpoints of the last three months’ of a comic. I go on to re-read the whole comic run, yes. But I like to think of what my impressions were. It helps me figure whether I need to schedule time for another 2,000-word doorstop of an essay. This time around I realized I couldn’t think what had happened exactly. Rufus and Melba Rose … were on a date back in early April, and then this last week … they still were? Something like that? With an odd week of Frank Nelson in the middle?

Mind, there’s nothing wrong with a story strip not being that plot-dense. Jim Scancarelli writes a casual comic, with low stakes. I’m surprised that it has been this little. I suppose this is why I expect Willow not to be what she obviously is. I’m also surprised by Rufus getting two stories in a row. Also that there’s a mention to the unresolved story of his courting The Widow Emma Sue and Scruffy’s Mom. I’d assumed that story was dropped in favor of Rufus courting the Mayor. So, even if not much is happening there’s still surprises coming around.

Next Week!

We’ve got desert. We’ve got a gold mine that might exist. We’ve got a guy with facial hair. We’ve got obscure raccoon-like mammals in the foreground. If there’s not some major breaking news we’ll have James Allen’s Mark Trail featured in a week. Thanks.

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? Why Is Somebody Trying To Steal A Moonshiner’s Land? January – March 2019.


If you’re looking for plot recaps for Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley, and it’s later than about June 2019, this essay is probably out of date. There should be a more current one here. There’s also my complete back catalogue, so you can see what was going on in months gone by, including during the long Centennial celebration. If you just want to understand the first three months of 2019, in the context of this one serial comedy strip, this is a correct place.

And if you’d like to read a discussion of the mathematical content of three comic strips featuring a bear, please consider this link. Thank you.

Gasoline Alley.

7 January – 31 March 2019.

We were near the start of the story, as the year got started. It was about Rufus, who’s got a job as City Hall janitor. He’s smitten with Mayor Melba Rose, who doesn’t notice this smittening.

Joel gives Rufus advice. None of it involves the 2017 storyline where Rufus courted the Widow Emma Sue and Scruffy’s Mom. Rufus was set up for heartbreak there, averted when The Widow turned down rival Elam Jackson’s proposal. But the strip went into reruns and I guess we’re dropping that thread now that it’s out again. In the current storyline, Rufus faces heartbreak when Melba Rose won’t acknowledge him. Anyway, Joel’s advice is to stop feebly asking out Rose and tell her he’s taking her out. This is because Joel and Rufus come from a world where it’s still a 1940s radio sitcom. Or a 1920s Harold Lloyd movie. This advice fails, as it always has. The next day Rufus doesn’t even recognize Rose, who’s dressed up and has different hair and also a boyfriend.

Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 28th of January, 2019. I feel like Bertie needs to listen to a true-financial-crimes podcast. I mean if someone ever starts one. (I don’t know the true-crime podcast genre. I just make jokes about it.)

She’s dating Major “Buy-Buy” Bertie. She’s impressed with him. Bella, one of the cleaning women, isn’t impressed. She explains Bertie’s nickname comes from his land speculations, but that he’s not honest. He’s not even an actual Army major; that’s his middle name. (This reminds me of President James Garfield’s doctor. Garfield’s doctor was named Doctor Bliss. Like, Doctor was his first name. Doctor Bliss had a medical degree too. But, tragically, it was in 19th century medicine. This in turn reminds me of why everybody treated me like that in middle school.) Rufus rushes back to Joel with the news; Joel already knows. Everybody who knows Bertie, except for Rose, knows he’s a fraud.

Joel leads Rufus over to Zeb, a local moonshiner. Joel and Rufus need more of what they term medicine. While there, Bertie drives up to see Zeb. Bertie’s carrying a million-dollar check and a contract to buy Zeb’s land off him. Or so he says; he breaks Zeb’s glasses before he could read anything. Bertie gets Zeb to sign the contract, and then whites out part of it. Zeb doesn’t notice this. Rufus and Joel, standing by the window, do.

Zeb: 'OK, Major! Lemme see the contrack! Befo' I signs anythin', I likes t'know what I'se readin' an' vice-versa!' (Rufus and Joel watch this from outside the window.) 'Now where's my glasses? I can't see nuthin' without 'em!' Bertie, stomping on Zeb's glasses: 'Nothing? Oh, good! Here they are!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 8th of February, 2019. It’s startling that a guy who’d drive out to buy a moonshiner’s farm at 3 am would be underhanded in his dealings, but, what the heck.

After Bertie leaves Rufus and Joel ask Zeb what’s this all about. Like, selling twenty acres to someone for a million dollars is fine, but the contract’s been whited out to make it a sale for a thousand dollars instead. Zeb is offended by this double-dealing. The check still says it’s for a million dollars, though. What if they get to the bank before Zeb can stop payment?

Now at this point you’re either going along with it, appreciating its slightly dopey old-time sitcom plotting. Or you’re tearing your hair out because of its slightly dopey old-time sitcom plotting. It’s a Rufus and Joel story. It’s going to be like this. At this point the story gets really old-time sitcommy. If you’re not liking this, you might want to bail of the rest of this summary.

Bertie: 'Nice doin' business with you, Mr Zeb! There is one more thing. I expect you to vacate the premises by next week!' Zeb: 'But how can I move all my equipment in such a short time?' Bertie: 'That's your problem!' Meanwhile a dog growls and bits at Bertie's leg.
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 15th of February, 2019. It didn’t fit the main recap, but the dog leaves with Bertie. Joel and Rufus think, on top of everything else, that Bertie has stolen Zeb’s dog. No; it’s Bertie’s dog. I can’t say I laughed at the joke, but I admired its construction. Anyway, bigger plotting problems: granted Bertie is trying to buy Zeb’s land with a bad check. Why is he being nasty now, before it’s clear the check is bad? Wouldn’t Bertie be wiser to play friendly? Pass off a line about how yes, Zeb has to get his equipment off the land, but we’ll work out something practical? Build up enough goodwill that when the check bounces, Zeb will give Bertie the time whatever scam he’s pulling needs to become irreversible? Bertie wants to delay Zeb from going to the cops, the courts, or his shotgun, after all, and too fast a heel turn lets you know what you’re in for.

So they get to the bank. It’s not open, but there is an ATM. Rufus and Joel and Zeb are characters from a 1968 sitcom at the latest. How can any of them deposit a check in an ATM? They give it their best try, and the machine eats up the check. Zeb takes this as well as you or I might. He goes to apply reason to the machine and also a sledgehammer. Also a crowbar. And some moonshine. They rode their horse cart into town, which is why they have the tools to break into an ATM.

At the ATM. Rufus: 'The ATM won't give you' check back, Zeb!' Joel curses it. Zeb gets a sledgehammer: 'My granny uster say --- what it needs is some encouragin' words!' (Zeb swings the sledgehammer back.) 'Give th'check back if yo' knows what's good fo' you!' Rufus: 'That's encouragin'?'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 1st of March, 2019. Fun fact: Zeb is an experienced software engineer and showing off the Best Coding Practices for debugging Javascript. He just does moonshining as a craft hobby, something to feel like he’s doing something of value to the community after a hard day spent trying to get people to click on advertising.

Or to try breaking in. They’ve made no progress getting in when the Gasoline Alley City cops intrude. The cops — one of them named Barney, by the way — are starting to arrest them when bank manager J Thaddeus Pelf stops them. He claims the ATM’s been eating checks and these are the guys hired to fix it. It’s a convenient coincidence, but, you know? I accept it. If the machine’s eating checks, it makes sense it would eat Zeb’s check. It also makes sense that someone would be coming to fix the machine. I understand if you’re not sympathetic to this style of plotting. But it defuses the characters’ crisis in a way that’s believable enough. If you’re a sympathetic reader. I understand if this makes you grumble. (If you do, meet me around back and we’ll say snarky things about Luann some.)

Rufus and Joel and Zeb got the machine open and unclogged. The grateful manager offers to cash Zeb’s check right away, and trusts Rufus and Joel to put the machine back together. There’s the bad news for Zeb you might expect: of course Bertie doesn’t have a million dollars. Or any dollars, as his account’s overdrawn and closed. I’m not sure those are actually logically compatible states. Pelf may be speaking for dramatic emphasis. Sad news. Rufus, Joel, and Zeb head out, in time for the actual ATM repairers to arrive.

Melba Rose, sobbing: 'Rufus! It hurts the most when the person who made you feel so special yesterday makes you feel so unwanted today!' Rufus: 'Gulp! Yesm'! I knows th'feelin'!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 26th of March, 2019. Bet you didn’t know Rufus had such an A-level game in subtweeting.

Back to work. Rufus sees Mayor Rose in City Hall. She’s miserable. Major Bertie’s been arrested, for “falsifying contracts, an’ passing bad checks, an … falsifying his affections to me!” Rufus explains what he knows of Bertie’s attempt to buy Zeb’s land, although I’m not clear that this is part of the rap against Bertie. Or at least isn’t yet. I had thought this came the same day as the ATM shenanigans. But that isn’t explicit, or necessary. Anyway she says the million-dollar check is one of the reasons Bertie’s arrested. This does make the breakup of Bertie and Rose something related to the story. Rufus tries to console Rose. He’s not very good at it, but she does take him up on the offer of a consoling ice-cream sundae.

It’s too soon to make it official. But I suspect we’re at the end of this storyline. Among other things, Bertie’s already been sentenced to “never mention his name again” status. Also ten years in prison, which seems like a pretty speedy trial, considering. But they used to wrap up loose ends fast in old-time sitcoms. I expect a transition over to some other characters in the next week. I mean besides the transition to another comic strip I’ll be making next week.

In short, I have no idea why Bertie wanted to buy Zeb’s land, although I guess if it worked then getting twenty acres for a thousand dollars would be worth the effort.

Next Week!

Mexico! Mysterious artefacts in the Yucatan! The strange and wonderful wildlife of Central America that we somehow haven’t killed yet! … Wait, hold on, we’re not there. We’re in the Sonoran Desert! It’s James Allen’s Mark Trail, featuring a gold mine, a new biome, and maybe obscure raccoon-like mammals that live in the desert! We’ll just see.

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!

Gasoline Alley Is 100 Years Old As Of Saturday


Gasoline Alley, as of Saturday, is a century old. If I haven’t overlooked something, it’s the second (American) syndicated newspaper comic strip to reach that age without lapsing into eternal reruns. (The Katzenjammer Kids was first; it started running in 1897, and was still producing new strips once a week until 2006, and we noticed that in 2015.) And I’d like to add my congratulations to it, and to Jim Scancarelli for being the cartoonist there at the milestone. He’s only got to keep at it through 2027 to beat Frank King’s tenure on the strip. (As credited artist and writer, anyway. Scancarelli was assistant to Dick Moores, responsible for the comic from 1956 to 1986.)

There are some more comic strips that, barring surprise, will join the centennial family soon. The next one, if it counts as a comic strip, will be Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. Robert Ripley’s panel first appeared the 19th of December, 1918, as a sports-feats panel. It mutated by October 1919 into the general oddball-stuff report that it still is.

Barney Google: 'Snuffy's right, Mutt! We're almost a 100! Shouldn't we get a little limelight?' Snuffy Smith: 'You could throw us a bodacious wing-ding with lots o' fiddlin' an' banjer picking'!' Mutt: 'Uh ... ' Google: 'That's what we thought you'd say!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 20th of November, 2018. I, ah, can’t include the actual centennial strip because I won’t see that until at least five hours after this essay posts, so, sorry? Anyway, this is a continuing part of the Gasoline Alley celebration at the Old Comics Home. Barney Google and Snuffy Smith have interrupted the action to demand some attention for themselves and yes, it’s gotten to a pie fight.

The next — and it’s been mentioned this week in Gasoline Alley — should be Barney Google and Snuffy Smith. That comic started the 17th of June, 1919. I don’t know whether Barney Google is planning any centennial events, but they’re missing a chance if they aren’t. Thimble Theatre, known to mortals as Popeye, began the 19th of December, 1919. The strip has only been in production on Sundays since the early 1990s, though. And Popeye took nine years to show up in it.

But to Gasoline Alley … I admit not having childhood memories of the strip. It probably ran in the New York Daily News, so I’d see it occasionally at my grandparents’ house. But I don’t remember the experience. I’ve come to it late in life, when part of my day is just reading lots and lots of comic strips, including the story strips. I’ve also heard the occasional episode of its adaptations to radio. Not enough to understand the series as a radio show. But enough to be driven crazy trying to think where I know that voice from.

It won’t surprise anyone that I like the comic strip. I like comic strips to start with. And Gasoline Alley has this nice, cozy tone. It’s got an old-fashioned style of humor that feels nostalgic to me even when it’s new. That Scancarelli shares the love I have for old-time radio adds a layer of fun as, hey, I recognize he’s tossed in a character from The Mel Blanc Show.

And then I always have a weird reaction to things. I recently read the Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics, a 1977 compilation that tried to give some idea of the breadth and scope of American newspaper comics. The editors felt it impossible to show Gasoline Alley fairly by samples of the daily strips, as the stories needed too much context for any reasonable number of dailies to make sense. But it included some Sundays, which — under original artist Frank King, as with today — would be stand-alone panels. And one of them was just … this full-broadsheet-page, twelve-panel piece. The whole page, together, was an aerial view of the neighborhood of Gasoline Alley: houses, streets, parks, businesses. Each panel was just a tiny bit of stuff going on at that spot at this time on this day. And it was beautiful. The composition was magnificent. Each panel made sense, and each panel was magnificently drafted. Houses with well-defined, straight rooflines, streets that lead places, fences that have structure. And each panel fed logically to the next, so the page was as good as a map. And somehow I was angry, that a comic strip could be this beautiful.

It’s not as though we don’t have beautiful comics now. There are magnificently drafted comic strips, Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley quietly among them. The compositional conceit of a strip that’s a vast area seen at one time is hardly gone. Even the specific variant of the vast area being rendered in panels is rare but still done; indeed, I think Frazz has even done it recently in daily panels. No newspaper comic has the space that Frank King had, a century ago, true. I can’t even show you the comic; it’s too large, at the reduced size for book publication, for me to scan, and taking a photograph of the page would leave the thing illegible. And no web comic could achieve that effect of space, except for those people with the six-foot-wide computer monitors. But to be angry to see a beautifully done comic strip? That’s a strange reaction. To have that dominate my thinking as the comic reaches its centennial? That’s even stranger.

Well, may everyone who creates at least once do something that makes someone angry that it was that good.


And when I do recap the developments in Gasoline Alley I’ll put the reports on a page at this link. Thanks as ever for reading.

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!

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? What Is Walt Wallet’s Toothpaste Conspiracy Thing? April – July 2018


I’m glad to be here. I’m glad to say that Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley seems to be back out of reruns and into new strip production. If I write anything after about mid-July 2018 about the strip it should be on this page. So if the story I describe clearly has resolved by the time you read this, maybe that page will help you to a more useful story summary.

Comic strips with a mathematical theme I review on my other blog, each week. The latest essays about that are on this link. Thanks for considering me.

Gasoline Alley.

29 April – 21 July 2018.

Last time I checked in, Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley seemed to be running new strips on Sundays. After months of reruns every day of this week this was a good sign. It didn’t get the strip back to its full healthy serial-comic main nature. But it was evidence that Scancarelli was at least alive and well and getting the strip, in its 99th year, back on its feet. The daily strips — the ones that run a serialized, comic story — were running repeats from 2007. They’re not, anymore. It looks to me that since mid-June the comic strip has been new, telling what as best I can tell is an original story. But let me get those old stories out of the way.

Corky’s Diner. The perpetually drunk and incompetent Suds wants his dishwashing job back. The perpetually perky and incompetent Joy and Dawn want the dishwashing job. They’re having a race to see who can clean the most dishes. Joy and Dawn win by one plate, which they accidentally break while celebrating their victory. Joy and Dawn decide they don’t want the dishwashing job anymore. They thought it might be “the fast track to management”, and instead they’re washing dishes. So they quit, to try to their hand somewhere else, because they still believe in capitalism. And Suds has his job back.


New story. It started the 15th of May. It, too, started at Corky’s Diner, for a fairly graceful transition. The problem: Slim Wallet can’t sleep. The exhausted Slim does nod off at work, under a car. He bangs his head but good when he’s startled awake. He can’t stop hearing bells, a symptom baffling to everyone around him, who expected this was going to be a Sitcom Amnesia storyline. Right? I mean, doesn’t that write itself?

Still, it’s a good chance for him to get to the emergency room, and to do a couple week’s worth of old hospital/doctor jokes. “The form asks ‘sex’? I’m putting ‘none of your business’,” that sort of thing. The doctor prescribes some pills for Slim’s massive concussion. He’s shown with little bells orbiting his head even weeks later. It’s great visuals, but, like, it’s not like he’s a professional football player and we can pretend head trauma isn’t a thing.

Desert island women, in Slim's dream: 'Oh, Slim! It's great being shipwrecked with you!' Slim: 'Aw! Shucks, ladies.' Women: 'What'll we do on this deserted island?' Slim: 'Want to play post office?' Women: 'How can we? We don't have any way to do cancellations!' Slim: 'Silly! Who wants to cancel kisses?'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 14th of June, 2018. Of historic importance as we measure things around here: the strip with which reruns gave way to newly-drawn installments.

But the ringing does go down, and he tries to get through his insomnia, for which the doctor prescribed sleep. And Slim even gets to sleep, dreaming of being on a deserted island with some Kissing Women. This dream Clovia wakes him from, unaware of the astounding thing that’s happened.

The astounding thing is that, when this storyline first ran in 2007, Slim didn’t have this dream. He had a string of things getting him out of bed, including construction next door. They put in a basketball court, causing late-night basketball games that keep him awake. This lead Slim on a long and daft storyline in which he buys a meteorite off eBay and gets a friend of his to drop it from his helicopter. The hope is to destroy the basketball court in a way that couldn’t be traced back to him as long as nobody ever tried. Not Slim’s finest moment here.

But no; from the 14th of June, the strips are — as best I can tell — new. Whatever caused Jim Scancarelli to step away from the strip in early November seems to have passed. He did not resume the storyline about Rufus courting the Widow Emma Sue and Scruffy’s Mother. That storyline left off on the news that Elam, Rufus’s rival for her affections, had proposed marriage and got turned down. I have no information about whether the storyline will resume up or what the fate of Emma Sue, Scruffy, and their Widowed Mother might be.


With the 18th of June started the current, and best I can tell, new storyline. It’s about Walt Wallet, the original star of the comic strip from 1918 — a date he mentions in his first word balloon. It started with a bit of daft old-guy cranky conspiracy theorizing that I saw confusing a lot of comics readers. Walt’s thesis: toothbrushes have more bristles than they used to. That is, from the front to the back of the toothbrush there’s more bristles. Why would toothbrush makers do that? It’s obvious. Everyone puts on enough toothpaste to cover all the bristles. So the only point to putting more bristles on is to make people buy more toothpaste. As corporate conspiracies go this is … eh, you know what? At least it would be an honest corrupt conspiracy. You would at least get clean teeth out of it. I’ll take it.

Anyway this nonsense barely gets started. Walt’s got an invitation from the Old Comics Home. This is one of the reality-breaking, slightly-magical aspects of the comic strip. The Old Comics Home is this boardinghouse for the characters of retired or cancelled comic strips. Now and then Walt Wallet visits, letting Jim Scancarelli do a bit of work with Major Hoople or Buster Brown or Little Sammy Sneeze or whoever.

Walt Wallet, Orphan Annie, and Sandy singing: 'Who's that little chatter-box? The one with pretty auburn locks! Who do you see?' Gertie: 'Arf! It's her dog, Sandy!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 12th of July, 2018. I sincerely love the way Sandy looks, holding the sheet music upside-down and singing her heart out like this.

The Old Comics Home is having a roast. They want him to be a speaker as they poke fun at Little Orphan Annie. “Will she think it’s funny,” asks Walt’s caretaker Gertie, and a fair question. But an important part of the behavior of the hew-mon is that your friends have license to insult you, and you accept these insults as love. In hindsight, “chimpanzees with anxiety” was a bad foundation on which to build the human species. Next time around maybe we should try basing humans on, I don’t know, “pheasants with gemütlichkeit” instead.

Walt’s preparation comes to thinking of the jokes you would think of about the comic strip. He takes notes of stuff like how Gertie thought as a girl the strip was named “Little Arf an’ Andy”. I am sure that at least one time when Walt Kelly’s Pogo was riffing on Annie they called the comic strip that. But I’m too lazy to check, so will go ahead and give the strip credit for a multifaceted allusion.

Other jokes are less deep cuts: how do the characters see without pupils? They’d bump into each other all the time! Or: Daddy Warbucks leaves Annie unsupervised an awful lot! What if Child Protective Services investigated the billionaire war-manufactures oligarch, as though law constrained the rich? Or: Little Orphan Annie had a jingle when she was on the radio; what if they changed some of the words? Well, if I understand, the point of a roast is for everyone to tell dumb insulting jokes about someone as a show of how much they love them. They don’t need to be insightful commentary that changes one’s view of things. They just have to exist.

Frank Nelson: 'What can I do for your?' Skeezix: 'My uncle and I need new tuxedos!' Nelson: 'Is this for a funeral?' Skeezix: 'What makes you think that?' Nelson: 'You don't look so well!' Skeezix: 'Now cut that out!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 18th of July, 2018. Well, I find it hilarious, but I also know exactly how this would sound as done between Frank Nelson and Jack Benny. I’m sure at some point Benny needed a tuxedo and Nelson was the only person working in any store or information desk in town. How could he be everywhere? As Nelson would put it, “either you’re lucky, or I’m un-lucky”. (And now that it’s mentioned, I wonder if the Cathy gag where every store clerk is the same woman is an echo of the Frank Nelson joke. I had always taken it to be an artistic choice that, you know, these people all serve the same story role so why distract the reader with different character models for the shoe clerk and the swimwear clerk?) Still, I say it’s a good, tight bit of insult-joke construction.

At the tuxedo rental, Walt and Skeezix run into who else but Frank Nelson. This is a good chance to share some of the insult patter conversations Nelson did so well with Jack Benny. And that’s where we’ve got to by the end of the past week.

I trust the next couple of weeks will get the roast organized. Maybe Annie will go missing and need to be found or something. And the visit to the Old Comics Home will probably show off Smokey Stover or Ignatz Mouse or so on. It seems like time with the Old Comics would be a natural feed-in to Gasoline Alley reaching its hundredth year. But it won’t reach that until the 24th of November, four months off. A serial comic can drag its story out, but something this slight for that long? It’s hard to envision.

Just when you thoguht your funny paper was safe to read ... The Molehill Highlanders strike again. Bass player: 'Whatcha gonna sing, Rufus?' Rufus: 'A song I learnt off a old record album. It's called Music From The Heart; Sung Through Th'Nose'. Bass: 'That ain't possumable.' Fiddler: 'What gear is it in?' Other fiddler: 'Yo' need a nasal stray?' Rufus: 'Th'music kicks off way down at th'ticker --- then regress into th'diagram! Next, it palpatrates up th'asparagus an' out th'epipotamus an'naval cavity!' Bass: 'Rufus! I think I better see my dentist and get a dose o'penecillium or some phenobarbasol!' Rufus: 'That mean I can't sing m'song?'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 15th of July, 2018. Wikipedia notes Jim Scanarelli is a bluegrass fiddler, and a prizewinner at the Old Fiddler’s Convention, which apparently has been held annually in Galax, Virginia, since 1935. To give some idea how long ago that was: 1935 was so long ago that in 1935, Jack Benny would people he was thirty-eight years old.

Meanwhile. The Sunday strips are their own little thing. Standalone gags that don’t play off the weekday continuity. Many of these have sported a nice Gasoline Alley 100th Anniversary sticker in the title panels. These came out of reruns first, and were the first signs that whatever kept Jim Scancarelli from writing and drawing the strips might pass. You can dip in and read any of them. I would swear last Sunday’s was an adapted Jack Benny-and-Phil Harris bit, but I can’t pin that down.

But the important stuff. The Old Comics Home. Old-time radio riffs. Elaborate bits of doggerel for the Sunday strips. Yeah, Jim Scancarelli is back. If I ever hear where he’d gone, I’ll pass that along to you. Thanks for checking in.

Next Week!

Mexico! Mysterious artefacts in the Yucatan! The strange and wonderful wildlife of Central America that we somehow haven’t killed yet! Maybe even a Sunday informational panel about cacomistles. All this and more in James Allen’s Mark Trail, if Nature hasn’t gone and killed us yet!

I Don’t Know What’s Happening With Jim Scancarelli But Gasoline Alley Looks Like It’s Out Of reruns


I still do not know what’s happening with Jim Scancarelli. However, Gasoline Alley for Thursday and Friday have been, as best I can tell, new strips. The comic strip had been rerunning a 2007 story in which Slim conks his head and has to get help for insomnia. In the 2007 run of this story Slim’s natural insomnia gave way to his being distracted by kids playing basketball in a court that had just gotten built. This turned into a story where, I swear, he bought a meteorite off eBay and arranged to have it dropped from a helicopter on the court in order to cancel basketball for the indeterminate future.

Dream Kiss Girl: 'Give us a great big kiss, Slim!' [ He does. ] Kiss Girl: 'Was that kiss 'partial' post?' Slim: 'Gosh, no! It was priority, first class!' [ In their bedroom ] Clovia: 'Girls? Kisses? SLIM! WAKE UP! Right now!' Slim, jolted awake: 'G-gulp! Clovia!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 15th of June, 2018. It’s a shipwreck fantasy and Slim and the Kiss Girls were playing post office, which isn’t something I ever did because I’m what the hep cats always called a ‘the square’.

This time around, after finally getting some sleep, Slim has dreams of being on a deserted island with a bunch of Kiss Girls, which gets him in trouble with his wife.

What I don’t know that this means the strip is going to full-time new comics. This could mark a transition to new stories, or at least new little joke strips. But this could also be Scancarelli going back to working part-time, slipping in new strips to a rerun arc. I haven’t got any information either way, and will have to wait for developments.

I have thought that the last several Sunday strips were new. There’ve been several featuring a Gasoline Alley centennial logo. Perhaps whatever has taken Scancarelli away from new work has passed and the comic can get back to normal. And, perhaps, even resolve the story of Rufus’s wooing of the Widow Emma Sue and Scruffy’s Mother. That story was left on hold when the comic went into unexplained reruns in November. It was held at a good pausing point, but there is unfinished business there yet.

And, for future reference, if you want my latest recaps of the current storyline in Gasoline Alley then please look to this page. I also recap the other syndicated story strips. They’re tagged by their various titles too, or you can look for the “story strips” tag to get the whole roster of them.

Gasoline Alley Is Still In Reruns, Probably Through June, Possibly To Late August


So, the 15th of May came and Gasoline Alley remained in reruns. I still haven’t heard anything about Jim Scancarelli’s condition. The new story is one about Slim Wallet. He’s the current owner of the auto care place that’s the gasoline alley the strip was built on before Skeezix changed everything.

The story that’s rerunning now, as it originally ran in 2007, was built on Slim having trouble sleeping. That story had a natural stopping point the 16th of June, 2007. So perhaps in a month Scancarelli — or someone else — might pick up new strips without leaving anything hanging. We’ll see the 18th of June this year.

If the strip continues in reruns after that, then we get into a storyline that became notorious, especially on Comics Curmudgeon. Eleven years on this is still one of the iconic references. This is the story where Slim realizes that kids are playing basketball late at night in the playground next to his house. Also that there’s a playground next to his house. This goes into crazypants territory. Yes, one of Scancarelli’s comics modes is the wacky sitcom. But this … well. Here.

Slim, on his computer, talking to himself and sneering ever-more-Snidely-Whiplash-y: 'There's a large meteorite for sale on the Internet! If I buy it and drop the thing on the basketball court --- I won't get the blame ... MOTHER NATURE will!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 16th of July, 2007. And possibly also for the 18th of July, 2018. We’ll see. Not to worry: as the plot progresses, Mark Trail comes in to correct some common misconceptions about the differences between meteors, meteoroids, and meteorites, only to get into a slugging match with Neil deGrasse Tyson. The winner: the entire reading audience.

I will refrain from spoiling you if you want to see this nonsense play out in real time. The end of that storyline came the 28th of August, 2007. So if these strips rerun the whole storyline, then the next chance to step on with a new story will be the 30th of August, 2018.

I don’t think there are any cases where, like, a Gasoline Alley Salutes Flag Day strip would need to be inserted that wasn’t there in 2007. Or that needs to be put in because it wasn’t observed the first time around. But this might throw the story’s end date off by a couple of days. Inserts for observing anniversaries in the comic strip are what keep the 2007 reruns from being perfectly in synch with 2018’s dates.

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? Does Anyone Know What’s Happend To Jim Scancarelli? February – April 2018.


I don’t know what’s going on with Jim Scancarelli and don’t know anyone who does, but we may know in two weeks and two days. I say this for people who want to know what’s the deal with Gasoline Alley but aren’t willing to read more than the preview text of this article. If I get any news, though, I’ll post an article that you can find at this link. Also, if you want a summary of the plot that’s relevant for later than about the 16th of May, 2018, it’ll be there if I’ve written one.

Also, on my mathematics blog I review the week’s comic strips for mathematics stuff they make me think about. Also I should go write that essay. Just a second.

Gasoline Alley.

February – April 2018.

Two questions are on the mind of everyone who knows that Gasoline Alley is still a comic strip and that it’s written and drawn by Jim Scancarelli. First: is it still a comic strip? Second: what’s happened to Jim Scancarelli? Since early November, and a major revelation in the story of Rufus’s courting of the Widow Emma Sue and Scruffy’s Mother, the strip has been reruns.

I’ve heard nothing. I’ve encountered nobody who knows who’s said anything. I hope that Scancarelli’s well. The centennial of the comic strip is this November. There would be something terrible in cutting down a comic strip so close to that milestone. And for Scancarelli not to draw the strip for that milestone would be cruel.

An old Atwater-Kent radio with wooden panels and a delightful dial and Art Deco styling for the panels and the speaker covering.
Gasoline Alley cartoonist Jim Scancarelli, born 1941, seen at the Pinball At The Zoo exposition in Kalamazoo, Michigan the 21st of April, 2018.

And yes, Gasoline Alley is an old-fashioned strip. Some of this is Scancarelli’s personal interests. He has old-fashioned interests. He’s an old-time-radio enthusiast. Or he makes way more references to Frank Nelson than average for a person in 2018. He also has a lot of riffs on Bob and Ray, but any reasonable person might do that. But some of this is also built into the structure of the comic. Gasoline Alley is that now-rare creature, the serialized comedy strip. Serialized comedies, in which there’s a long-running story but (pretty much) every installment is meant to be funny, used to be common. The style has fallen out of fashion; the last important serial comedy in the comics page that I can think of is Walt Kelly’s Pogo. Crockett Johnson’s Barnaby is also a great serialized comedy, and has recently got collected into some handsome books. Oh, yes, Popeye was serialized and mostly comedic. But that’s been in reruns ever since Bobby London did a three-week sequence in 1992 that made people aware Popeye was still running in 1992.

There are plenty of comic strips that blend comedy and drama, or try to. The standard model for this is to pick a storyline for the week and do riffs on that, and then (usually) pick up a new storyline the next week. You saw this in Doonesbury. It’s still like that in Funky Winkerbean or Luann. It’s not much different from comic strips that don’t try to advance narratives, which will often do a week’s worth of riffs on a premise and then pick up a new one.

Gasoline Alley runs a storyline until it’s resolved, regardless of how many weeks that takes and whether it finishes midweek or not. That’s almost unique among syndicated comics. The only other humor strip I can think of doing this is Bill Holbrook’s Safe Havens. That strip began as the antics of a bunch of kids at the same daycare. Holbrook allowed them to age in roughly realtime and grow up. The comic strip, having picked up a few new cast members (a pop star, a mermaid, a time-travelling babysitter, the genetically-engineered revival of the dodo birds, an infant Leonardo da Vinci) has sent everyone off to explore Mars. It’s a bit of an odd strip when you stop and think about it. I’ve considered whether to start recapping its storyline in my rotation here.

Anyway, I don’t like institutions passing from the scene. I say this the weekend that my neighborhood is losing the Fish and Chips. It used to be an Arthur Treacher’s until the franchise shrank out of the area. They ripped the name ‘Arthur Treacher’ off the signage and carried on like before. Whether the lost institution is the serialized comedy genre or merely this one comic strip doesn’t make much difference. Oh, gosh, and now I realize I don’t know when I last went to the Kewpie Restaurant, and yes it’s a burger place based on Kewpie dolls. If that closes we might as well shut the whole city down.

(Yes, I’m aware web cartoonists do great work in serialized comedy stories, except that no web cartoonist has ever finished a serialized comedy story. Um. Hi, my friends who are web cartoonists. I say hurtful things out of love because we’re all friends? Besides, most comedy web strips do finish their first long-form story, and their second. It’s the third that doesn’t make it.)


And yet there are signs that someone is at work at Gasoline Alley Master Command. The first ambiguous sign was the 14th of February, and a panel celebrating the birth of Skeezix. His discovery on Walt Wallet’s doorstep made Gasoline Alley, as he aged in roughly real-time and his story made the comic must-read stuff. The strip copyright was 2018. But there wasn’t anything to it that couldn’t be a modified reprint from an earlier birthday.

Chef Meworice: 'Allo! Allo! Chef Meowrice here! What aire you 3 Blind Miceketeers going to sing?' Miceketeers: 'A tribute to Gasoline Alley's up-coming 100th anniversary!' Meowrice: 'So this song is dedicated to Gasoline Alley's centennial? Letter go, boys!' Miceketeers: o/` Well, a hundred years from now we won't be cry-ing! A hundred years from now we won't be blue! Chef Meowrice's cat food is freeze-dried through and through! So cats can eat it up -- a hundred years from now! o/` Joel, watching on TV: 'Rufus! What's that got to do with Gasoline Alley's centennial?' Rufus: 'Dogged if I know!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 25th of February, 2018. Yes, it is a baffling song to go along with this, but that’s because you underestimate Jim Scancarelli’s craft. Trust me.

The stronger sign was an exciting Sunday, the 25th of February. It’s a musical number from the Three Blind Miceketeers. It’s a running thing; the singing trio of mice do old-time-radio/50s-live-TV style advertisements for Chef Meowrice’s Cat Chow. Yes, Chef Meowrice is a white cat in a chef’s hat. Anyway, this is a song dedicated to Gasoline Alley’s centennial. Signed by Scancarelli. Looks like his line art, to my (I grant) inexpert eye. I wondered if it were a reprint from an earlier anniversary, the 90th or 95th or 85th or so, but couldn’t find it. It seemed to be a new comic. Hopeful sign that Scancarelli might be back once the ongoing daily-comics story reached its end.

And last Sunday, the 22nd of April, was another new comic. This with a logo for the comic strip’s centennial, and a song to go with it. It’s presented as a musical performance by the Molehill Highlanders. One of the GoComics commenters said the Molehill Highlanders are a band Scancarelli was in. I can’t find corroboration for that, but the mention, and the more-realistic drawing of the Highlanders, make this sound plausible to me. Also according to Wikipedia, Jim Scancarelli is a well-known bluegrass fiddler. And a onetime prizewinner for the Old Fiddler’s Convention in Galax, Virginia. He’s also a model railroader. The only thing that would make this bundle of facts about him less surprising would be to discover he has a ham radio license.

Rufus: 'Howdy, folks! We're th'Molehill Highlanders an' we're gonna sing a tribute t'Gasoline Alley's upcoming 100th anniversary!' Rufus: o/` Well, a hundred years from now we won't be cry-ing! A hundred years from now we won't be blue! Chef Meowrice's cat food is freeze-dried through and through! So cats can eat it up -- a hundred years from now! o/` Guy in Audience stands up: 'Hey! What's that got to do with Gasoline Alley's centennial?' Rufus: 'Dogged if I know! We learned it off a Chef Meowrice cat food commercial!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 22nd of April, 2018. See? Check those publication dates. I admire a cartoonist who’s willing to let two months go between the setup and the punch line. I choose to believe that was on purpose rather than that he meant it to run the next Sunday and wasn’t able to finish the strip for some reason.

And there was this jolt a week ago Tuesday. The cook, T-Bone, complained about the incompetent dishwashers Corky’s hired. He asks, “Why not do your presidential imitation and say his famous phrase?” When the strip ran the 19th of April, 2007, the future disgraced former president was identified by name. Why the change? Haven’t the faintest. I don’t see what improvement they were trying to make by editing T-Bone’s word balloon.

The Sunday strips are new work. The modified daily strip implies that someone is at least reading the comics before sending them out for reprinting. So the comic isn’t wholly on automatic pilot. Will Scancarelli get back to writing the strip soon? I don’t know.

But: if the storyline from 2007 continues reprinting each strip, without insertions or omissions, then it’ll wrap up the 14th of May, 2018. This would be a natural time for Scancarelli to resume the strip. That’s not to say he will. If he’s had some problem keeping him from working, then making new Sunday strips while recuperating, or finding help, would make sense. There are plenty of reruns that could fill the daily strips. I am interested in what we’ll see the 15th of May.

(I’ve also wondered if GoComics is going to start running Gasoline Alley Classics, showing the strip from decades ago on purpose. I understand if they don’t want to run the strip from the 1918 start. Strips from that long ago take a lot of restoration and curation to publish. And then it always turns out there’s some impossibly racist figure in a small, unavoidable part. But from, say, World War II? From the 60s or 70s? It would let people better appreciate the comic strip as it was read at the time.)


Oh yes, so, the story. When I left off Senator Wilmer Bobble was evicting Corky from his diner, the better to build a ten-story parking garage. Everyone’s heartbroken at the loss of the institution and has a teary Last Day of Business.

While tearing out a countertop, Suds discovers an envelope with … The Lost Deed To Corky’s Diner. Pert Bobble, before his death, had deeded the diner and its land over to Corky. And so Wilmer Bobble was not the land owner and had no right to evict Corky. With the bulldozer at the front door Corky rushes to a lawyer to figure out whether this long(?)-lost deed is valid.

Guy on bulldozer: 'Hey! Take your time in there! I'm on the clock out here!' Wilmer Bobble, with the sheriff, staring down T-Bone and Suds inside the diner: 'These scoundrels are impeding progress! Sheriff! Do your duty!' Corky, rushing in with a sheet of paper: 'Not so fast!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 6th of March, 2018. I don’t know whether the bulldozer guy is supposed to be sarcastic here. I choose to take it as he’s sincerely telling everyone to take their time. It fits the sort of cartoon-existentialist mode you get in minor characters from sitcoms and cartoons of the 50s and 60s.

Now, um. I can imagine circumstances in which this might ever hold up. They amount to: you live in the world of an old-time radio sitcom. Or a sitcom from the 50s or 60s. It happens Jim Scancarelli’s characters pretty much do. It’s an old-fashioned sort of storyline resolution. If you accept the conventions of the genre then this is an acceptable way to save Corky’s Diner. If you don’t, well, then the story’s lost on you. Sorry for you, but it’s good news for the oatmeal shortage. I don’t know what to call this genre. But there is a kind of story this is an example of. And this resolution works for this kind of story.

(Okay, I can imagine another way this could work. The first element is if Pert transferred over the deed recently so that the place isn’t too far in arrears on property taxes. Or if in a fit of generosity he paid the property taxes anyway. The second if is Pert died recently enough that his estate’s still settling. I don’t see offhand a reference to when Pert died, or when the new deed was written. So there’s a possible thread by which this resolution could kind of work. If you need to have that instead.)

Bobble tries to bribe the sheriff into ignoring the deed, and that doesn’t go over well. The sheriff concludes Corky has a good title to the diner and the land it’s on. Not sure that’s the sheriff’s job. But someone has to tell the bulldozer driver what to do. They run Senator Bobble out of town and have a merry reopening.

And then the past month’s story, roughly: Suds, the dishwasher, is missing. After a couple of spot-joke interviews Corky hires a pair of young women, Joy and Dawn. They giggle a lot. They’re overwhelmed by the number of dishes. Also they’re kind of dumb. There’s a couple sitcom-class fiascos. Mostly broken dishes. Also putting enough soap in the dishwashing machine to cause a 50s/60s-sitcom-style mountain of suds.

Joy and Dawn in a kitchen overflowing with bubbles: 'The dishwasher's gone nuts! Giggle! It's belching out nothin' but suds!' Suds pokes his head up through the foam: 'Shumbuddy menshun my name?'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 4th of April, 2018. I am glad there’s a comic strip writing in the old-fashioned-sitcom genre. I know that I sound sarcastic here. I don’t know how to help that. But while I wouldn’t want everything to be in that genre, I’m glad some things are.

And this brings Suds back into the picture. He got “shick” after “shellebratin’ Corky gettin’ t’own th’diner” and you get the picture. So Joy and Dawn are incompetent, but Suds is unreliable and only intermittently competent. Who keeps the dishwashing job? This turns into a contest to see who can clean the most dishes. Joy and Dawn using the dishwashing machine, or Suds by himself using sink and scrub brush? Who! Will! Win? That’s where the story stands as of the 28th of April.

It’s got two weeks more to play out. If you are aware of the genre Scancarelli writes in you have a fair guess how this is going to play out. But if you want to know before mid-May, I’ll not stand in your way. I would like to know what’s happening after that, myself.

Next Week!

Will Mark Trail die at the hands of Dirty Dyer? Will he die at the airport when a vehicle of some kind explodes from under him? Will he die at the hands of a flock of inadequately counted prairie dogs? There’s no telling, not until next Sunday when I look at what’s going in in James Allen’s Mark Trail.

Yes


Let me just get all this stuff answered yes:

  1. Yes, I am very aware of the past week’s developments in Mary Worth (21 more panels, 13 with explicit muffin content, bringing the year to a total of 61 muffin panels out of 154 possible) only to interrupt all the wonderful goofy muffin content with actual assault.
  2. Yes, poinsettia that’s still technically going from Christmas is probably in its last days and spending them waiting until it’s quiet in the house so it can drop a shriveled leaf in exactly the way to make the biggest, loudest rustle possible. So yes, our poinsettia is a drama queen is what I’m saying.
  3. Yes, Funky Winkerbean has spent two weeks and counting establishing the fact that Wealthy Comic Book Collector Chester Hagglemore Yes That Is Too His Name wanting to talk with former comic book guy Mopey Pete without saying what he wants to talk about. (I’m guessing it’s Hagglemore Thank You The Theoretical Lead Of The Strip Is Named “Funky Winkerbean” So Let’s Just Carry On And Get Through This Quick As Possible is figuring to restart the whole Batom Comics lineup and he wants Mopey Pete to write them all so we can see all kinds of strips where Mopey Pete can’t finish stuff on deadline.) Also yes, it is a retcon to say Mopey Pete used to write for Batom Comics, since he was previously shown to write for Marvel and then DC. And the strip sure had been running like Batom Comics was a long-gone publisher brought back to memory by one of its properties being made into a movie.
  4. Yes, niacin was first synthesized in the 1860s, decades before anyone even suspected vitamins were a thing and long before anyone would imagine it had any nutritional value. It was used as a photographic chemical under the name “nicotinic acid”.
  5. Yes, that sure seems like it has to have been a new Gasoline Alley this past Sunday but then I don’t understand why it ran now when November is the centennial.
  6. Yes, you’re reading Luann correctly. Tiffany’s scheme to foil Ann Eiffel in Luann doesn’t make a lick of sense and is barely even anything.
  7. Yes, that house across the street still has a little pile of snow in the front yard even though it’s been another four days above freezing.

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? And What Happened To Jim Scancarelli?


[Edited the 1st of October, 2018 to add] Jim Scancarelli is back, and writing the strip again. The current storyline is a nostalgic tour of the comic’s history, ahead of its centennial. There should be a full recap of this posted around the 15th of October, barring surprises. ]


So I say this for people in my future who’re looking for information about Gasoline Alley, the venerable, long-running serial-comic strip. If I learn more about what’s going on in it than I do now, the first weekend of February in 2018, I’ll post it here. Somewhere above this article on the page should be some more current idea of what’s going on.

Independently of that, I try to track mathematically-themed comic strips. I discuss them on my other blog, the mathematically-themed one. You can tell it’s different because it uses a serifed typeface for article headlines. The most recent of the comic strip posts is right here. I try to have at least one a week. The past few weeks Comic Strip Master Command has been sending me lots of stuff to write about, although it’s mostly “a student misinterprets a story problem”. But you never know when the teacher in your life is going to need something fresh taped to the door. So give that a try, please.

Gasoline Alley.

13 November 2017 – 3 February 2018.

My last review of the plot in Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley came at a key moment in the storyline that’d been running since the 27th of April. Rufus was back from the circus after wrongly thinking another man had won the dear heart of The Widow Emma Sue And Scruffy’s Mother. The day after my last plot review, Rufus — out of his Human Cannonball outfit and back to his regular duds — remembered he needed to get to choir practice. He needs the practice. The Thanksgiving Oratorio is coming up this Sunday. I didn’t think anything particularly odd about this. The commenters on Gocomics.com did.

Holly Luyah: 'We've got to hurry and practice for our Thanksgiving oratorio! It's this Sunday, you know! OK! Let's take it from the top!' Rufus: ''Scuse me fo' protrudin', but th'top o'what?' Luyah: 'Your sheet music! It would help if it was right side up!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 16th of November, 2017. Also his strip for the 25th of March, 2013, with a slightly enlarged word balloon the first panel and some text replaced. From the way it looks I’m assuming the replacement text was stitched together from letters Scancarelli had written in other word balloons. Wikipedia says he doesn’t use a computer to draw or letter the strip, so, someone pasting in a replacement makes sense of the weird spacing and inconsistent line in that panel.

Because Rufus had hurried to choir before. In March and April 2013, he rushed to add his vocal emanations to what was, then, the Easter Cantata.

Holly Luyah: 'We've got to hurry and practice for our Easter cantata! It's this Sunday, you know! OK! Let's take it from the top!' Rufus: ''Scuse me fo' protrudin', but th'top o'what?' Luyah: 'Your sheet music! It would help if it was right side up!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 25th of March, 2013. The secret revealed! I understand the need to fiddle with the word balloon for the first panel; space just doesn’t allow otherwise. The minor differences in coloring intrigue me, though. I’m surprised whoever at Tribune Content Supply Company And Antique Screen Door Manufacturers Inc who’s responsible for the reprints didn’t just use the colorized version of the original. Or else they recolored it all, making mostly but not entirely the same choices. Maybe there’s a reference sheet saying that Holly Luyah should be wearing that color, but wouldn’t it also specify her hair color? And wouldn’t there be some guide to whether Rufus’s shirt ought to be white or yellow? Or whether he wears slacks or blue jeans? In short, everything about the colorizing of daily comics is a strange and unnecessarily complicated mystery.

Nothing had been announced about planned reruns. It’s not unprecedented for a cartoonist to put the strip into reruns a while. They deserve holidays as much as normal people do. Or they have personal crises — a health scare, a house fire, a family emergency — and only a capitalist would complain about their taking time to deal with that. It’s a bit unusual for there to be no news about it, though. This stuff might not draw the front page of the Newark Star-Ledger. But to hear that a cartoonist has had a medical crisis and had to take a few unexpected weeks off is why comics sites have blogs. Also, Lincoln Pierce, of Big Nate, is “attending to family matters” and that’s why that comic strip went into reruns for a month. There’s not any word about when he’ll be back. It does happen, though. Darby Conley, of Get Fuzzy, stopped drawing new dailies altogether without notice over a decade ago. In the middle of a story, too, although it was a boring story he’d done many times before. No explanation, and he’d keep drawing new Sunday strips, although those have tapered off too. Why? No one who knows, says. Jeff Keane’s The Family Circus has been nothing but reruns from the 70s, sometimes touched up with modernized captions. We’re supposed to pretend we don’t notice. Dan Piraro and Wayno will redraw some vintage Bizarro, usually remaking a weekday strip as a Sunday. But that’s a complete redraw. And Bob Weber Jr and Sr’s Slylock Fox reuses puzzles. Sometimes, like, the Comics Curmudgeon remarks on both printings of a strip.

So what’s going on with Jim Scancarelli? I don’t know. I haven’t found anyone who does know and says. It’s an unsettling silence. It’s easy to imagine things that might leave Scancarelli unable to write or draw the strip. Few of them are happy thoughts. Gasoline Alley is — or at least had been — the oldest (American) syndicated newspaper comic not in eternal reruns. It’s terrible to think that the worst might happen and Jim Scancarelli might not be drawing the comic strip when it turns 100 years old this coming November 24.

(If my research doesn’t fail me, the next-oldest is John Graziano’s Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, if that counts as a comic strip; it began the 19th of December, 1918. Then there’s John Rose’s Barney Google and Snuffy Smith, begun the 17th of June, 1919.)

I’m sorry to have so little to definitely say. If I get news, or even any good rumors, that aren’t made under a pledge of confidentiality, I’ll share. In my entire life I have exactly once ever gotten a tip about comic strip news, and that was in confidence. So I couldn’t even go into Usenet group rec.arts.comics.strips and make an accurate “prediction” about what would happen and then be all smug when it came true. In fact, I predicted the opposite of what would happen, because that reflected what I would have thought if I didn’t have inside information.


Still, perhaps somehow you weren’t reading Gasoline Alley with care in 2013 or didn’t remember the story. So what did happen? Rufus sings awful. Choir director Holly Luyah and Pastor Present work out that there is one note Rufus can sing, and hold him in reserve for exactly that note. He signs that note with enough power to break a stained-glass window. Rufus and Joel replace the broken piece with part of a beer sign, and then scrub the letters, and all the color, off the window.

29th of November: the next rerun story begins, with Slim Skinner working as a Santa Claus for the Bleck’s Department Store. That’s a plot which ran November and December of 2008. Slim’s not all that enthusiastic about the Santa Claus job, but it gives him the chance for a bunch of jokes about awful kids. Then he gets a sweet bug-eyed girl who wants something nice for her Mommy, since Daddy was killed in Iraq. The weepy melodrama sort of story that the comic does. This was also when I realized something was awry in the dailies. Playing Santa Claus for a grief-stricken impoverished family was where the Rufus and The Widow Emma Sue And Scruffy’s Mother started their storyline.

Slim, driving the truck with a tree and presents to a rickety old cabin. 'Look, Clovia! It's snowing!' Clovia: 'Slow down, Slim! There's the little girl's home!' (In the house) Mother: 'Go to sleep, Mary, and say your prayers!' Mary: 'Yes, mommy! Santa will be here any minute! He promsied!
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 23rd of December, 2017. As also seen the 24th of December, 2008, though back then not in color. The strip reads rather well in black and white. I’ve assumed that Scancarelli does the coloring himself; it seems like it’d fit his working style. But I don’t in fact know. Not answered: Slim got arrested breaking into a good-sized house in a “ritzy neighborhood”. How did he get that house mistaken for this?

Slim figures to forego his own family’s Christmas and instead use the money to give the poor kid’s family a proper full holiday. With a fully-decorated tree and bunches of presents he breaks into the kid’s house. Before he can enter, he’s arrested by the Gasoline Alley police, which is about average for a Slim Skinner plot. The people whose house he mistakenly broke into don’t prosecute, and the police donate something to the poor girl and her mother. The girl’s name was finally given as “Mary”, because of course it would be. Close out with some talk about Slim’s resolutions for the New Year and that’s that.

With the 2nd of January the next (and current) story began its rerun. It first ran in January of 2007. It’s got Skeezix hanging out at Corky’s Diner. After a couple gags about about the food story interrupts in the form of Senator Wilmer Bobble visiting. He reminds Corky of the part he played in getting his Uncle Pert to sell Corky the diner back in 1950 (“I’ll talk with you, Corky, but not if Wilmer is in the deal!”). And they think back to the buying and early days of the restaurant that for all I know are faithful reconstructions of how the storyline back then went. And Bobble explains that now that his uncle Pert has died, and deeded the land to him, he’s evicting Corky’s Diner. He notes that “nothing lasts forever”, which is a pretty good line for a longrunning syndicated newspaper comic strip. He’s hoping to build a ten-story parking garage. The bulldozers will be here in two weeks.

Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 24th of January, 2018. And also from the 27th of January, 2007. Put aside the whole “smoking in a public place? C’mon, was 2007 really that long ago oh my Lord it was wasn’t it” issue. Bobble blowing a triple-decker of smoke into Corky’s face as the papers fly off the table is a good, Walt Kelly-ish bit of emphasis and action in the midst of a talky scene.

And that’s the rerun story where it stands, as of the 3rd of February. (If they keep rerunning the story without interruption, the story will be here about seven more weeks. Spoiler: it doesn’t end unhappily for the core cast.)

Rufus: 'What yo'think my brother Magnus would like fo' Christmas?' Joel: 'Seein' how he's behind bars --- how 'bout some files?' Rufus: 'Naw! Ain't enough room in his cell fo' a cabinet!' [ And after the throwaway panels ] Rufus: 'Oh, man! This is fun ridin' th'elevator at th'mall! Ain't it, Joel?' Joel: 'Well, it shore got its ups and down!' Man getting in elevator: 'Four, please.' Joel: 'Er ... four what?' Rufus: 'Joel! Don't yo' mean, what fo'?' Man: 'Never mind! I'll do it myself! (Sniff, sniff) ... Whee-ew! Someone's deodorant isn't working!' Joel: 'Don't look at me! I don't use th'stuff!' Rufus: 'Me neither!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 10th of December, 2017. Possibly, maybe, the last original strip he’s published? The other Sunday strips from December 2007 were reruns from December of 2007. Must admit I’d rather the comic strip go out on a stronger installment than this. So, according to Wikipedia Jim Scancarelli is an expert model railroader and a prize-winning competitor in the Old Fiddler’s Convention. I mention this as they’re possibly the two least surprising things I could learn about Jim Scancarelli.

The Sunday strips have been the usual spot gags, not part of any particular story continuity. Sunday strips have a longer lead time than weekday strips do. So it’s likely that the most recently published Scancarelli comic was one of the recent Sundays. I don’t know which. Commenters on rec.arts.comics.strips (particularly D D Degg) and on the GoComics.com pages have identified most of the rerun dates. This strip from the 17th of December was a rerun from 2007, as the phone suggests. The last new strip might be that of the 10th of December, 2017. Can’t say for sure.

(Late-breaking addition, punishing me for getting this all written up like 30 hours before deadline: I can’t find where the strip for today, the 4th of February, 2018, ran before. The lettering, to me, makes me think the strip is another from around late 2007 or early 2008. But I can’t find the original if it is out there. Maybe we worried for nothing? Or Scancarelli had a couple strips almost done and was now able to do the Sundays at least? Even if he isn’t able to get the dailies done?)

I promise. If I get news, and can share it, I will.

Next Week!

Has Nature killed you, or anyone you know? Has it dropped parachuters onto any bank robbers? Have you ever counted the prairie dogs outside Rapid City, South Dakota? If the answer to one or more of these questions is “the heck are you even talking about?” please join me as I check back in on James Allen’s Mark Trail. Be warned: it does involve geographically implausible appearances of giraffes. Also be warned: it appears to build a story around things mentioned during but not directly related to a previous story. Also it’s been years since we saw a giant squirrel discussing the smuggling poachers. Just saying.

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? August – November 2017


I got back to Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley a bit quicker than I figured! Last time around I predicted I’d get back to this strip in December 2017, and here it is November 2017, way ahead of that. But the point I made in the preamble there stands. This is a recap of the comic strip’s most recent developments. But if you’re reading this later than, oh, let’s say April 2018 then the strip has moved on. I’ll be out of date. And I may have some more recent-to-you post about what’s going on. You should be able to find it at or near the top of this page.

If you like comic strips that aren’t necessarily story strips you might look at my mathematics blog. There I regularly discuss the recent syndicated comics that did something mathematical. Ideally I don’t ruin the jokes.

Gasoline Alley.

21 August – 11 November 2017.

Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley has, since the 27th of April, been running a very dangerous story. Not that the stakes in it are that high. But in that it’s a crossing of two of the strip’s styles of stories. One is the weepy melodrama. Poverty-stricken kids Emma Sue And Scruffy, and their widowed mother, The Widow Emma Sue And Scruffy’s Mom, moved into the abandoned mill. The kids ran across the curmudgeonly codger Elam Jackson, who softens when he meets them all. Elam Jackson starts repairing The Widow Etc’s mill. Also he begins acts of courtship with The Widow Emma Sue And Scruffy’s Mom.

The danger is that it’s crossed with another of the strip’s story types. This is the Joel And Rufus Story. Joel and Rufus are preposterous, silly characters. They’d make sense on Green Acres. They can have adventures easily. Attaching emotions to them, though? That’s a tall order. Still, Rufus had encountered Emma Sue and Scruffy. He and Joel played Santa for the impoverished kids, back before the August update. Rufus gave some newly weaned kittens to the kids. He’s also got romantic designs on The Widow Etc.

Rufus, to Emma Sue and Scruffy: 'I'll see yo' kids soon! Right now I'm goin' t'say bye t'yo'momma!' Emma Sue and Scruffy: 'Thanks fo' th'kitties! We love 'em, an yo' too!' Rufus at the mill: 'There's Mrs Ruffington over by th'mill wheel with m'friend Elam Jackson!' In the third panel Rufus sees The Widow Etc and Jackson kissing.
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 25th of August, 2017. The terrible moment that sends Rufus off to the circus, ultimately. Can’t fault him for being heartbroken after seeing that. But then we the reader know a bit more about what’s going on, such as — a few weeks later — the strips from the week of the 11th.
So this storyline has to balance its absurdist-clown streak with its weepy-melodrama streak. It’s tricky. Anything goes wrong and all narrative could collapse. When we left off Elam Jackson’s courting of The Widow Etc had reached the point of actually kissing, in silhouette, off where Rufus could see. Rufus immediately despairs, a state not at all natural for this goofball. He storms home, puts a note on his mailbox that “I’ve gone away! Ain’t comin’ back! Pleze hol’ my mail!” and even leaves his cats without supervision. Well, he leaves them to Joel, about the same thing.

Jackson: 'I'm sure hot and thirsty, Leela!' The Widow Etc: 'Oh Elam! I appreciate all the work you're doing on the mill! How can I ever repay you?' Jackson: 'How about a kiss?' The Widow Etc: 'How 'bout some iced tea? It'll quench your thirst and COOL you off!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 11th of September, 2017. A fair sampling of the ways The Widow Emma Sue And Scruffy’s Mom politely but unmistakably turns any talk away from romance. Which, given how much she turns away kisses this time, makes one ask what the heck was going on in the previous strip? That the embrace is in silhouette allows for all kinds of mistaken-identity shenanigans. But they also require putting in some character who hasn’t been in the story so far. So, you know? The heck?
The news of Rufus’s disappearance spreads slowly. Scruffy recovers from his bike accident and with Emma Sue visit Rufus’s place to find him missing. They go back home to hear Elam Jackson talking seriously about marriage with The Widow Etc. The worldly Scruffy explains how he knew it was coming to that. But Jackson’s leading questions are left hanging in the air, the 16th of September, and we have not seen these characters since.

But Joel knows things are awry, and so, starting the 19th of September, begins searching in the logical place: other comic strips. Joel and Rufus are at the core of this slapsticky, absurdist, fourth-wall-breaking streak of the comic strip. Why can’t he pop over to Dick Tracy if he likes? So Joel meets up with Tracy slapsticky hillbilly character B O Plenty and then the super-scientific detective himself. Tracy has enough of this within a week and sends Joel back to his own comic strip, right where he left off.

Dick Tracy: 'Joel! What're you doing in my comic strip ? Are you lost?' Joel: 'No! Rufus is! I was lookin' for 'Mr Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons', but reckymembered WE and HE ain't on radio no mo'!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 25th of September, 2017. Mister Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons ran on the NBC Blue Network/ABC from 1937 to 1947, and then CBS from 1947 to 1955. It’s mentioned because Jim Scancarelli is trying to get himself installed as an exhibit in the Museum of Old-Time Radio. Also, yes, Gasoline Alley was on radio several times. In 1941 (NBC, Red and then Blue) the daily serial even adapted the then-current storylines to the air. It also ran in 1948-49 in transcribed syndication. There’s some evidence that it was produced in regional radio as early as 1931, but John Dunning’s On The Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio doesn’t pin down where or when. Also, Dick Tracy ran as a kids’ police serial, starting on NBC New England stations in 1934, then bouncing between CBS, Mutual, NBC, and NBC Blue/ABC through to 1948. And this doesn’t matter but there was from 1932 to 1935 a syndicated comedy-mystery serial titled Detectives Black and Blue, about a pair of shipping clerks in Duluth who try for something more.
Just in time, too, since he’d left Becky (his mule) right by a poster for the circus. And Joel knows what this means. He hasn’t become one of YouTube’s top hosts of ‘Let’s Play’ JRPG videos without learning how to recognize the plot rails. He makes his way to the circus tents to see if he can get the next plot point going. It’s hard work, including swinging hammers around, sleeping with the elephants and mules, being haunted by visions of Rufus at all the sideshow posters, and being pressed into clown duty by owner P T Beauregard’s son, a Young Ralph from Sally Forth. This sends Joel to an encounter with another of the Gasoline Alley universe’s many Frank Nelsons. Also it offers some name-drops of Emmett Kelly, Otto Griebling, and (in Joel’s confusion) Walt Kelly. And gives Scancarelli an easy extra 25 points in his bid for installation into the Museum of Old-Time Radio.

Joel, on his mule-drawn wagon, looking very small amidst close-up pictures of tiger and lion and elephant and giraffe heads, while the ringmaster continues his spiel about the circus's offering: 'Lions, tigers, an elephant or two; this isn't all --- it's our pre-view!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 26th of October, 2017. Part of the entry of the gladiators and all that, and taken less because it’s key to the plot and more because I like the composition. There’s not enough craft in the drawing of newspaper comics and I’m glad Scancarelli resists the considerable pressures to put up simple, functional panels.
The show begins! And we get a good week or so of acts and animals and Joel cringing before some well-rendered lions and the like. And then, finally, the 27th of October we learn what’s come of Rufus. He’s the Human Cannonball, like it or not, and over Halloween he’s shot out of the cannon, through the Big Tent’s walls, and into Joel’s haystack. He explains: after seeing Elam Jackson kissing The Widow Emma Sue and Scruffy’s Mom he was heartbroken, ran away from home, and joined the circus. Along the way to the human cannonball job he’d been the beareded lady, the thin man, the four-legged dog, all the stuff Joel saw posters for. It’s not that complicated a story, but it had been two months since readers last saw Jackson or The Widow Etc or the kids. I don’t blame Scancarelli for giving a recap like that.

This week Rufus, deciding he’s had enough of the circus, rides with Joel back to the normal Gasoline Alley continuity. And Joel has hopeful news for Rufus. After getting the mill up and running again, The Widow Etc “done canned yo’ ex-‘fr’end, Elam!”. This is consistent with my reading of The Widow Etc’s reluctance and talking around Jackson’s questioning. It also raises some good questions. For one, how could Joel know that? Based on what we’ve seen on-camera, anyway? For another, what is the difference in pronunciation between “fr’end” and “friend”?

So that’s how the comic balanced the weepy-melodrama and the goofy-slapstick sides of things. Stepping out into another comic strip is going to work for some readers. Doing a month of circus jokes should work for others. But it forgot the weepy melodrama for several months. That’s probably as best as can be done. I’m not sure Rufus (or Joel) can sustain the pain of unrequited love. His getting shot out of a cannon fits him more easily. I’m surprised that Elam Jackson seems to be getting sent back to the primordial xylem of supporting characters from which he came. But I was also surprised to learn Rufus considered him a friend. I had supposed they were people in town who didn’t have much reason to interact.

The story reads as though it’s coming to its conclusion. This extends the strange synchronicity between story strips concluding stories around my recaps. (Of course, a story ending two or three weeks before or after my recap seems “around” my essay. With a margin like that it’s amazing a strip is ever not in synch with my recaps.)

The Sunday strips, not in continuity, have been the usual bunch of spot gags. Can’t say that any of them really stand out. And there’s no story, so, if you want to read one just go ahead and read it; you won’t be confused.

Next Week!

Prairie dogs are making a comeback. Mark Trail came to South Dakota to count these coming-back prairie dogs and blow up vehicles. And he hasn’t got near a prairie dog yet. Stop in here next week to, I hope, see bank robbers, abandoned mining towns, and vehicles exploding, all the important pieces of James Allen’s Mark Trail. Also, never ever EVER go outside. The parts of nature that aren’t trying to kill you are filled with weird life forms that can poison you or be really, really eerie. And the parts that aren’t trying to kill you and aren’t full of horrible lifeforms? The parts that are adorable little creatures like quaggas or obscure variations on hamsters or sharks that look like puppies? They’re dying. (Recommended soundtrack: Sparks, “Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth”.)

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? May – August 2017


Do you know what time it is? Or what day it is, anyway? Because if it’s later than about December 2017, this isn’t an up-to-date report on the current plots of Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley. I’m writing this in mid-August 2017 and try to avoid making unfounded guesses about where stuff is going. So if it’s gone far enough that I’ve written a newer story summary, it should be at or near the top of this page. Thanks for reading.

Also thank you for reading my mathematics blog, where I reviewed some comic strips which had mathematical topics about six hours ago. There’ll be more.

Gasoline Alley.

29 May – 20 August 2017.

The Gasoline Alley for the 29th of May, 2017, shows Santa Claus getting tossed in the air by a water wheel. There’s reasons for this. One of Jim Scancarelli’s stock plots is the weepy melodrama, and that was in full swing. Comic-relief dopey characters Joel and Rufus had run across a desperately poor family living in the old mill and decided to bring them Christmas presents as Santa Claus Running Late.

In accord with the Law of Christmas Mysticism, the attempt to play Santa Claus crashes on the shoals of physical comedy. But a mysterious figure dressed as Santa Claus and explaining that of course he didn’t forget about the children delivers a pair of bicycles. But wait, you say, Joel is still dressed as Santa Claus and stuck on the water wheel! Who was that mysterious Santa-y figure giving presents to children? Hmmmmm?

Santa: 'I brought you two bikes! I hope you like them! Ride Safely!' Emma Sue And Scruffy: 'Wow!' (Crashing noise.) Emma Sue: 'What's that?' And Scruffy: 'It's Mr Rufus and some ol' geezer!' (Joel, dressed as Santa, caught on the water wheel) 'Ol' geezer?'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 3rd of June, 2017. This features one of the rare times I don’t think Scancarelli drew the comic very well. From the staging, it seems like Santa must have been visible to Joel and Rufus. The earlier strips suggest that too. But Joel and Rufus go on not knowing who that strange Santa-like figure giving away presents might have been. I’m not sure how to stage the action so that the reader could have been misdirected about which Santa was on-panel while the characters wouldn’t see what was up, I admit. Maybe there’s nothing to be done but this.

Hm. Well, Rufus goes back home to find his cat’s had a litter of kittens. Emma Sue And Scruffy, the poverty-stricken kids he tried to give bikes to, see them too. Rufus’s reasonable answer to whether they could adopt them (“you have to ask your mother”) inspires Joel to ask why he doesn’t try marrying The Widow Emma Sue And Scruffy’s Mom. Rufus tries to dodge this plot by going fishing. Emma Sue And Scruffy do too, biking to the fishing pond.

There they find a codger, drawn realistically enough that when he tells them to scram they scram. Or they do until And Scruffy drives his bike down the embankment and learns it was a mistake not to also ask Santa Claus for bike helmets. Rufus did warn them about biking without protection, and honestly, when Joel and Rufus are the voices of wisdom …

Codger Elam Jackson, talking to camera: 'Many problems will solve themselves if we just forget them and go fishing!' He sees the accident-stricken And Scrffy. 'Hey! What's that up there? A head? It looks like a problem I won't be able to forget!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 10th of July, 2017. Oh, I don’t know about this problem not being one to forget, Elam. Have you ruled out staying at home and eating sheetcake?

Emma Sue goes seeking help. The codger, bringing his fish back through the fourth wall, finds And Scruffy. This promptly melts his heart, so the codger picks up the crash-victim and moves his spine all around bringing him back to the old mill. The codger — Elam Jackson — introduces himself and offers the fish he’d caught for a meal. Plus he offers to cover the medical bill to call a doctor for And Scruffy.

The Widow Emma Sue And Scruffy's Mom, to Elam, who's working on their water wheel. 'Why are you doing all this work around here, Elam?' Elam: 'The Good Book says we are to look after widows and orphans ... and that's what I intend to do!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 10th of August, 2017. I don’t try often to project around here where stories are going to go. Usually, if a plot development seems directly to follow, I’m happy to let the writer try and fool me, or choose to do the obvious thing in an entertaining way. A story doesn’t have to surprise me; it has to be interesting. Still, at this point, I became convinced that Elam and The Widow Etc should be expected to set up home-making together. Rufus can try winning the affections of Miss The Widow Etc. But he’s one of the long-standing comic-relief characters. He’s not getting married off, not to someone who’s been in the strip less than three months.

Rufus calls Chipper Wallet in from the Physician’s Assistant public-service storyline. Chipper examines, judging And Scruffy to be basically all right, and leaves without charging. This short-circuits the attempts of both Rufus and Elam to win the heart of The Widow Emma Sue And Scruffy’s Mom by paying her family’s medical bills. Rufus shifts to bringing two of the kittens as gifts to Emma Sue and Scruffy. Elam shifts to fixing the water wheel, offering The Widow Etc the chance to grind cereals as the public needs. I admit I’m not sure whether The Widow Etc and family are actually legit tenants of the old mill or if they’re just squatting.

And that’s where the plot stands at the moment.

Walt at the gates of heaven: 'Excuse me! Am I at the Pearly Gates?' Angel Frank Nelson: 'Oooh, yesss, indeedy! What's your name?' Walt: 'Walter Weatherby Wallet! Are you Saint Peter?' Frank: 'No! He's stepped out for a millennia! I'm filling in for him! Let's see! Waldo ... Walnut ... Ah! Here you are ... Walter Wallet! Now! What's the password?' Walt: 'Password? I didn't know you need one to get in here! Uh! Will my phone, computer, or credit card passwords work?' Frank: 'I'm afraid not!' Walt: 'What can I do?' Devil Frank Nelson: 'Psst, bud! We don't need passwords to get in down here!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 6th of August, 2017. So, things I like here: That topper panel with the angel dog, cat, and mouse sequence. Angel Frank Nelson’s halo being this head ring. And the heaven-as-a-bureaucracy thing that was kind of popular-ish in movies and industrial shorts and stuff in the 30s through the 50s. What I don’t like: there’s no time for a good Frank Nelson-y put-down of Walt Wallet? ‘He’s stepped out for a millennia [sic]’ could be delivered nasty, but it’s not an insult by itself. What’s got me baffled: with an entry line like “psst, bud!” how is that devil not Sheldon Leonard? I am curious whether Scancarelli started out with the idea of Jack Benny’s Racetrack Tout trying to lure Walt Wallet to a warmer fate, which seems like a good premise. But maybe the setup took too long however he tried to write it, and Scancarelli figured to switch over to a Devil Frank Nelson to avoid muddling the surviving joke? I am not being snarky here; I’m genuinely curious how the idea developed.

The Sunday strips have been mostly the usual grab-bag of spot jokes. The one curious, possible exception: on the 6th of August we see Walt Wallet at the Pearly Gates, being checked out by Angel Frank Nelson. It’s hard to believe that Jim Scancarelli would allow for the death of Walt Wallet, one of the original cast of a comic strip that’s 99 years old, to be done in a single Sunday strip that’s mostly a spot joke. The strip hasn’t got most of the signifiers that something is a dream or a fanciful experience, though. On the other hand, neither did Slim Skinner’s encounter with a genie. And Walt turned up again just today, anyway, talking about the advantages of dying at an early age. So, I guess Sundays really are just a day for merry gags.

Next week: I check in on how nature or car-rental anecdotes will kill us all, in James Allen’s Mark Trail. Call your friends, if your friends know any prairie dogs! Word is that prairie dogs are making a comeback.

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? February – May 2017


And as with my other low-daisy-content story strip reviews, this one might be out of date. This post should be good for explaining plot developments in the couple of months before late May of 2017. If it’s later than, oh, August 2017 when you read this, then if all’s gone to plan I have a new post updating things further. My most recent Gasoline Alley posts should be at the top of this link. Thanks for reading and I’ll do my best to be not too wrong in describing the goings-on.

Gasoline Alley, 27 February – 26 May 2017.

Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley has four major kinds of storyline, with many variations possible in those types. Three have been seen since late February. The missing one is the magical-fantasy storyline, wherein Walt Wallet or crew visit the Old Comics Home or something similar. The kind of story that just warps what reality could be. That hasn’t been around the last few months.

The second time is your classic old-style sitcom, ah, situation. The kind where one of the main cast has some scheme that gets advanced and then falls apart. You know, every sitcom from the 50s and 60s, and many of the radio sitcoms from the 40s. It’s an old-fashioned format but it’s still a perfectly workable one. Last time we looked at Gasoline Alley they were coming near the end of one of these. Walt Wallet had been invited to the TV show Shark Bait to pitch inventors his idea: put every household appliance together in one big raging appliance monster. The millionaire or billionaires (the strip made a point of raising confusion about this) don’t see how it would work, and one of them finds that exactly this idea was patented by the Hotenkold Appliance Company in 1935 and still makes the things. As predicted by everyone who’s encountered stories before, Walt Wallet does not go home wealthy. (The strip didn’t pay off the millionaire-or-billionaire question.)

'Skeezix! Do you think it was worth the embarrassment going on the 'Shark Bait' TV show?' 'Well, you're richer by $500 and a case of cereal, Uncle Walt!' In the other car: 'Boog! I want Chipper to look at you when he checks out Aubee!' 'Can he multitask?'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 7th of March, 2017. One storyline gives way to another. Yes, Boog is the kid’s name and yes, much of the online comics snark-reading community is horrified by his name and his appearance but that’s just because he has those huge devouring-void black dots of eyes that suggest the Mirror Universe Dondi.

The strip passed things off to Hoogy Skinner and her kids Boog and Aubee, for a medical check. This led a couple of weeks of pediatrician jokes and let us follow the Physician Assistant, Chipper Wallet, into the third of the stock Gasoline Alley plot kinds. And I’d like to mention the smoothness of the segue: we followed Walt Wallet out of the TV show plot, passed off by switching from one car to the next with characters that brought us to Chipper Wallet, and from that into his story. It’s all smoothly done; I wonder if daily readers even notice they’re being passed on like that.

Chipper: 'I love my kids and am proud they decided to go into the medical field ... ' 'Excuse me, Chipper! I hate to interrupt, but there's someone here to see you!' 'Who's that, Reg?' 'You'll see.' In the distance a barely visible woman approaches.
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 18th of April, 2017. I never spend time discussing this in the main articles so let’s take some here. Boy does Scancarelli draw well. The scenes are well-composed and nicely balanced, and look at how good Wallet’s hair and beard look in the second panel there. The third panel is also a treat; comic strips rarely get to display depth of field, but here it is, used for good dramatic effect.

Anyway, this third kind of storyline is the public service announcement. Chipper Wallet leaves the office to drive to Durham, North Carolina, where he’s to speak at the dedication of the Veteran’s Memorial Garden of the Physician Assistant Society. Wallet gets waylaid by some car trouble and meets Reverend Neil Enpray and mechanic Don Yonder whom I’m just going to assume are from the Earth-2 Gasoline Alley. They gave me the vibe of being established characters but I don’t know the canon nearly well enough to guess. But it’s mostly a chance for the characters to explain to the reader about what they are, what they do, why they’re important. The story ends with Wallet being reunited with a woman he, as a Navy Hospital Corpsman in Vietnam, helped deliver a child. As I say, a bit of story and a good bit of public service announcement. It’s also a chance to fundraise for the historical society.

Scruffy: 'I ain't ate since yestidy!' Rufus: 'Well, hadn't yo' better run home an' get yo' momma t'feed you'? 'T'aint my day t'eat! It's my sister's turn!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 12th of May, 2017. I know this is my own peculiarity, but: oh, I’m not looking forward to this. Not because I expect the story to end badly. I project it turning out pretty well for Scruffy and his family. But just because I know, deep down, there’s a depressing number of real-world families going through this and the story will end without things getting better for most of them, and that’s the sort of thing that breaks my heart. It’s not Scancarelli’s fault, and I certainly don’t blame him for telling a story about one of those sadly realistic problems and having it turn out well for his characters. But it does make me think of deep down what a rubbish job we do at having a society.

And this led into the current storyline, one of the fourth type. It’s the weepy melodrama. It stars Joel and Rufus, two of the (bluntly) stupider adults in the strip. They’re usually busy with more outlandish hijinks and misunderstandings. (The segue for this story was Rufus bringing his cat in to see Chipper Wallet on the grounds that of course he’s a vet; he served in the Coast Guard.) Rufus has just met Scruffy, a kid whose family just moved into the abandoned old grist mill and is so poor they can only use parts of the Walt Kelly Pogofenokee comic-strip-southern dialect. The story’s in its earliest days so not much has been established past that the family’s desperately poor. I expect this is going to lead Rufus and Joel in a story in which they make some grand and slightly overcomplicated gesture to help that which misfires but still results in their being a little better off. (At this stage it’s playing Santa Claus Running Late. This may evolve.) That’s the kind of story Gasoline Alley does.

The Sunday strips have all been one-off jokes, mostly characters setting up and delivering corny old gags well, and not part of any continuing storylines. That’s fine and pleasant but there’s no context I can usefully give to them. They’re whole on their own.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose eleven points as everyone was relieved to learn everyone else had clicked on that silly clickbait ad about ten ways to earn money from your hobby and there was no reason everyone should feel ashamed that, like, apparently there’s people whose hobby is investing in real estate? I mean, come on. Anyway the index is at 210 and that’s not even an all-time high and isn’t that amazing too? It’s amazing, yes.

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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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