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.

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