Exceptional People


I was reading The Year We Had No President, Richard Hansen’s early-1960s study of the United States’s inadequate constitutional provision for a disabled or incapable President because … uh … I don’t know. I guess I interrupted a fairy circle and they enchanted me to be like this? Well, whatever. The point I got to this choice quote about President Garfield’s administration:

Except for Secretary of State [ James G ] Blaine and the young Secretary of War, Robert T Lincoln … the names of the Cabinet members are forgotten by all save historians.

Now. I will concede that Robert Todd Lincoln is a little bit remembered. He was at his father’s deathbed when President Lincoln died. He witnessed Charles Guiteau’s shooting President Garfield. And he was right outside the building at the Pan-American Exposition when Leon Czolgosz shot President McKinley. So everyone who got way too into Ripley’s Believe It Or Not as a kid remembers him.

But James G Blaine? Yes, of course I remember Blaine, Blaine, James G Blaine, Continental liar from the State of Maine (PS Burn this letter). But that’s because I’m a freak who merged with this college-level US history text I somehow got hold of as an eight-year-old. Even granting that Richard Hansen was writing sixty years closer to the events? I’m going to say he was way overestimating the non-historian recognition of James G Blaine.

Maybe I am wrong. Maybe in 1962 James G Blaine leapt to the average person’s tongue the way Cordell Hull’s or Henry Stimson’s do today. I want to see Hansen’s citation is all.

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.

Yes, I’m Still Trying To Work Out ‘Graffiti’ And It’s Not Going Well


All right, so, wait. I got myself all ready to believe that Gene Mora’s Graffiti has got to be in reruns because at the top it reads “Copyright 2018 UFS Dist. by Andrews McMeel for UFS”. And UFS here is the United Feature Syndicate, which hasn’t been around since 2011. It had sold its licensing over to Iconix Brand Group, whose Wikipedia page claims they could get licensed products into Sears, KMart, and JC Penny’s. So I’m sure these are people who can handle the future of licensed Fort Knox merchandise. And then it sold the rest of itself to Universal Uclick, as part of that stage of pre-revolutionary capitalism where every thing is divided up between the bigger company and the smaller company. So it’s got to be reruns, with the copyright date just changed because somehow they can do that when they reprint comic strips for some reason. And fine. But then I got looking at one of John Graziano’s Ripley’s Believe It Or Not strips from last week.

1. While digging the Metro Red subway line in Los Angeles, crews uncovered fossils containing 39 species of newly discovered extinct fish. 2. The municipal police in Madrid, Spain, have successfully trained a service dog to demonstrate CPR. 3. A negative Kelvin temperature is actually hotter than a positive one.
John Graziano’s Ripley’s Believe It Or Not for the 2nd of August, 2018. The thing about negative Kelvin temperatures touches on my mathematics specialty. I wrote on my other blog about what negative absolute temperatures are, and why they’re real legitimate things, and why they are actually quite hot. I like to think it’s accessible to a normal person. HemingwayApp rated the prose at about a sixth-grade reading level. Give it a try, please. I love the topic. Also it still weirds me out to write “Graziano’s Ripley’s Believe It Or Not”.

OK, and that’s also got a Distributed by Andrews McMeel for UFS sticker on it. And that strip talks way too much about quirky oddball news items, printed one lead-time after everybody heard about them, for them all to have been made before 2011. Unless John Graziano’s Ripley’s Believe It Or Not is eight years into the most astounding string of forecasts of future mildly quirky events ever known to humanity and they’re saving that to reveal on the comic strip’s centennial this December.

That or both Gene Mora and John Graziano got like ten thousand “Distributed by UFS” stickers printed up and they’re not going to waste them until they’ve used every one of them up. Or someone at Comic Strip Master Command decided to keep the name UFS around, as a sentimental thing for fans of comic strip syndication companies. Which, all right. So that’s something for me and maybe like nobody else in the world ever.

So in short I don’t know what’s going on with this weird minor comic strip. And if I ever find out, it’ll probably be a little bit disappointing.