What’s Going On In Alley Oop (Weekdays)? What’s with the aliens at the pyramids? February – April 2020


And now let me catch you up on the main, weekday continuity for Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop. All my posts about the strip, Sunday and weekday, should be at this link. If you’re reading this after about August 2020 I should have a more up-to-date plot recap, too.

Alley Oop.

3 February – 25 April 2020.

I last checked in when Alley Oop was starting a new story. The gang had fled Time Jail and locked the other universes out of their, Universe-2, continuity for a year. So let’s see what they’re doing with that time.

Wonmug, in the house of a colonial Loyalist: 'I think I've made a terrible mistake. I really should go.' Loyalist: 'You're on the wrong side of history, my friend.' Wonmug: 'I've heard that one before.' Loyalist: 'God save the King! Taxation without representation is fine by me!' (As Wonmug flees) 'I'll never stop fighting for our dependence!'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Allison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 12th of February, 2020. Just on the off chance, I did check to see whether the Loyalist here — Phineas Bottleneck — was a real person and, no. This did, though, lead me to discover the “Free State of Bottleneck”, a small chunk of German territory west of the Rhine composed of territory not occupied by the British, French, or Americans. It had a quasi-statehood from 1919 until 1923, when the French occupied the Ruhr and made the other zones of occupation irrelevant. And it left behind stamps and currency, so that’s exciting for people who collect those things. Anyway I’m always delighted to learn of more obscure, short-lived microstates and Free Cities and stuff.

The team has a mission: get some tea from the Boston Tea Party. The billionaire Drew Copious wants some. All right. They zap back to Boston and have some trouble hooking up with the tea party. Falling afoul of Loyalists, not being able to find the right wharf, that sort of thing. But they find the spot, and join in tossing tea overboard, except for one crate that Alley Oop swapped out ahead of time. With success and tea in hand, they head back to the present.

Wonmug, Alley Oop, and Ooona arriving at Copious's manion. Oop: 'Here we are! Wait, where are we?' Wonmug: 'We're at the estate of new newest client, billionaire Drew Copious.' Ooola: 'Can I ask him how he got his money? Find out of it was by exploiting his workers or through the dumb luck of the genetic lottery?' Wonmug: 'Let's not lead with that.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Allison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 2nd of March, 2020. Such a naive question, Ooola! He’s a billionaire. He needed both.

Copious offers another mission. And promises wealth beyond their reasonable dreams if they finish his tests. The first: he wants proof that aliens built the pyramids. Ooola finds something fishy about all this, but Wonmug points out: money! You don’t get billions of dollars without falling for loads of racist pseudoscientific codswallop. So they’re off to Ancient Egypt.

They get to a pyramid construction site. Oop falls in with the brick-movers. Wonmug passes himself off as an architectural inspector, and while snooping around finds an alien! Sellomina is a creature from the planet Nu-Dell, and is … just … nothing. Kind of a clod. They’re only, maybe, six or eight weeks more advanced than humans. And that only in some areas. They bought a Marinarian spaceship to get here. And can’t even get the eight-track to work. (Explanation for younger readers: the eight-track was a thing that cars had in the seventies. It didn’t work.)

Wonmug, walking in the desert with an alien: 'So you didn't come to Egypt to share your infinite knowledge?' Sellomina, the alien: 'Oh my, no! But for you, I will share something you may find verrry interesting. You may not know this, but sometimes a pyramid is POINTY at the top!'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Allison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 6th of April, 2020. So one problem with the snarky tone of the strip is that it’s not obvious from one day’s panel that Sellomina here is dumb and not sarcastic.

Ooola, meanwhile, gets mistaken for the Princess Lula, and is whisked away to the royal apartments. Where the real Princess Lula also is. They’re somehow identical. Lula is not upset. She sees this as a great chance to set up a Parent Trap situation. Not the movie, which she doesn’t know about. No, she wants to put her parents in a trap, so she can get away and marry Pardel, an alien she loves. Ooola is up for this.

Lula's mother: 'All right, Lula, we're here. What is it?' Lula's father: 'We're standing on the X, just like you asked, not that we don't have better things to do.' Lula: 'Now!' and Ooola pulls a rope; a wooden cage drops on Lula's parents. Mother: 'What is the meaning of this?' Father: 'Let us out right this instant!' Lula: 'What are you doing?' Ooola, who was opening the cage: 'Sorry. They're royalty! I thought I had to do what they said.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Allison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 13th of April, 2020. And this is the end of the Lula storyline. She thanks Ooola for her help and gives her a jewel-encrusted scarab as a reward but we’re left to infer the rest of her whole story with Pardel, including whether they do ultimately marry.

So things work out for the player-characters. Ooola helps Lula trap her parents. Alley Oop finishes building a pyramid himself. Wonmug is convinced that the aliens were just in the way of building the pyramids. Sellomina gives Wonmug the highest piece of Nu-Del technology: a pencil. Used for cleaning gunk out of ears. Pretty sure the Nu-Del aliens don’t have ears.

Ooola: 'So aliens didn't help build the pyramids?' Wonmug: 'Oh my, no. I think they'd have trouble building something small and two-dimensional, much less something as monumental as the pyramids. From what I could ascertain, they've been no help whatsoever. Mostly just getting in the way and asking a lot of dumb questions.' Alley Oop: 'Hey, why are you guys looking at me?'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Allison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 18th of April, 2020. It’s an understated dramatic irony that off in his own neglected subplot, Alley Oop did build a pyramid without Wonmug or Ooola noticing.

A pencil isn’t much of an alien artifact, but it’s what they have. They return to the present and give Copious the news. He’s not disappointed to learn that aliens are dumb. He declares if there were intelligent life in the universe, it would have visited him. So, yeah, can’t fault the characterization here. He’s got more missions, and gives them the run of his mansion for a couple days off.

And, in private, does a thingy with the pencil. The image of an alien he calls Farfell appears. Farfell acknowledges Copious acquiring the device and asks if he’s ready to commence their plan. So that’s something.

I feel the last couple months have been strong ones for the weekday continuity. There’s been a solid enough story. While there have been side bits of nonsense, they’ve been kept short. Princess Lula talking about the Parent Trap, which seems like a reality-breaking joke, subverts that expectation. Having aliens be in Ancient Egypt, but just killing time there, is a fair enough joke. Having Copious and Farfell up to something makes the joke also a useful story element. I’d say this is reflected in how I see fewer complaints about what’s happened to Alley Oop. But I suspect the bigger factor is people wanting to know what’s wrong with Mark Trail suddenly. And after that it’ll be [spinning the wheel] what the heck happened to Gil Thorp.

Next Week!

The Ghost Who Walks, weekdays! It’s to be Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom and his mission of … punching out The Python, unless something interrupts. See you then.

Why I Am Not A Successful Secret-History Writer


I had gotten nearly one-third of the way through the logline for my next book before the reading group tackled me, sending the manuscript flying into the air and threatening a turnover and significant loss of yardage. But I reached up mightily and regained possession and while it didn’t help me gain the down any, I was able to eventually make my voice heard over the howls of preemptive and I think unjustified pain.

So it starts with ancient alien astronauts and see that’s about where my group started to scream. I didn’t even get to explain how I didn’t mean this in the racist way where we suppose that, like, the Egyptians of thousands of years ago couldn’t think of “pyramids” without help. I don’t see why anyone figures ancient peoples needed help thinking of the idea of “build stuff using stones”. It’s not like they had a stone shortage.

Anyway, my premise — stop tackling! — is how what if ancient astronauts did come to visit the Egyptians in the era of the great pyramid-building phase? Only the aliens don’t use their advanced technology to help the Egyptians build pyramids. Instead the Egyptians are able to use their pyramid-building skills to give the aliens much-needed guidance on how to get their advanced technology to actually work? And then came another round of tackling and a question about “the heck are you thinking” and “even if there is some non-offensive way to do this” and I know, I know. But I’m willing to do the work to treat this material responsibly. I’m like this close to looking up like what millennium was the great pyramid-building boom and getting a book about what Egypt was like as close to then as the branch library has, so you know my sociology would be not provably wrong and that demonstrates my story to be worth telling!

And I can answer questions about how the pyramid-building era of Egyptians could have stuff to tell alien astronauts about their technology. Who are we to figure that they wouldn’t have stuff to teach the other thems? I mean at a responsible, appropriate tutoring rate. I figure any species sophisticated enough to traverse the stars is too ethical to take someone’s consulting advice without fair compensation. If they don’t I don’t want them in my creative universe anyway.

So what do the aliens need help on? Oh, heck, I don’t know. It’s alien technology. It’d be futuristic even today. How am I supposed to go into details? Maybe something about sphere-packing. That’s a mathematics problem about how you can stack together balls of the same size so there’s the least possible wasted space between them. And the best way to do this turns out to imagine you’re the grocer seen in the comedy putting oranges out on a huge stack for the hero to send the villain crashing into. That is, make pyramids.

Now obviously I don’t mean to say the Ancient Egyptians had some supernatural powers of pyramid-building. I think we’ve got a decent idea of roughly how they went about pyramid-building. But imagine you’re an ancient astronaut and you’re put down somewhere with a big pile of stones and a sense that it’s important to start making pyramids. What would you start out by doing? Exactly. There’s all these little skills that you pick up by practice. You don’t just start out at the top of your thing-stacking game. You start out with what seems obvious and you share tips with outer people who want to do this stuff well, and you try some of what they do, and you get it a little wrong and maybe it works out all right. Eventually, you’re a master of the thing.

And that’s what I figure the Ancient Egyptians would be giving in this cultural exchange that I’m sure can be written up into a culturally sensitive and not at all insulting novel. I’m saying I think that issue of Skeptical Inquirer magazine was premature in leaping off the shelves and slapping me senseless and into a balled-up mound of flesh over by the board games. I bet my next draft changes everything.

Is this even secret history? I don’t know what to call it. I just mean stuff we don’t realize happened because there was a lot of stuff that happened and we can’t hear about it all.