What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? What’s with this Terrence Smiles guy? August – November 2022


A good deal of September and October in Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley starred mall-based piano player Sir Terrence Smiles. He was illustrated with that odd specificity that inspires the question, was this based on some real person? And yes, it was. I admit I know this only because of a comment the 15th of September by charliefarmrhere over at GoComics, but I can pass that on. Sir Terrence Smiles is a riff on Terry Miles, a YouTube guy who plays boogie woogie at shopping malls. Here’s a five-minute video with one example of this. Seems like fun. Miles has a whole YouTube channel of this stuff and that’s all I know about him and his groove. I trust he’s flattered to inspire a comic strip character.

This should catch you up to early November 2022 in Gasoline Alley. If you’re reading this after about — wow — January 2023, or any news about the strip comes out, you might find a more up-to-date recap here.

Gasoline Alley.

22 August – 5 November 2022.

Boog’s fantasy of building a spaceship for Jimmy had faded, last I checked in, replaced with building a model. He impresses his would-be girlfriend Charlotte with the toy, and everyone gets excited to launch it. Polly the parrot even calls Gasoline Alley Television to get some media coverage for the model rocket launch. This doesn’t pan out to anything. They show up after the accidental launch. But it does foreshadow the Gasoline Alley media coming around for the current story.

Jimmy: 'I'm texting all the neighbor kids to meet us at the field up the road at three! We can't have a great rocket ship ascension without an audience!' Polly: 'Should we alert the news media too? Awk!' Jimmy: 'That's a good idea, Polly!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 27th of August, 2022. To say more direct nice things about Scancarelli’s artwork: Polly being drawn so large in the last panel is a great choice. Polly’s tail sticking over the boundary to the panel before makes for a neat transition between camera angles, and showing the bird so large supports how Polly’s dominating the story beat. It flows great. Also Scancarelli draws a nice parrot.

Polly sits on the remote control by accident, launching the rocket inside the house. It flies around, smashing up everything, just before Jimmy and Charlotte’s parents get home. They’re okay with this. Charlotte’s Mom says they were going to get new lamps and vases anyway, and jabs her husband in the gut until he agrees they totally were. You know how the women-folk be with the shopping.


So, the 14th of September, the story transitions from all the model-rocket stuff to the mall. Jimmy discovers Sir Terrence Smiles at the piano, playing boogie-woogie. Smiles is a relentlessly cheerful, enthusiastic person, and he encourages Jimmy to sit up and play with him.

This takes us onto a conflict-free patch of story. It’s all about Smiles and Jimmy playing together. Jimmy’s a novice; Smiles is a most enthusiastic … teacher isn’t the right word. But the person introducing him to piano-playing. This includes some fanciful scenes, the sorts of nonrepresentational mood imagery that Scancarelli does well but not enough. It’s a nice depiction of struggling to learn a little of playing music. And then we get into some silliness, Smiles’s getting his sock stuck in the piano keys somehow and going on from that for a while.

Jimmy and Terence Smiles playing on the piano; we see chains of the notes theyre playing, finishing with a picture of them on a music staff, Miles atop of chord helping Jimmy climb up the notes. Smiles says, 'You're climbing up the music ladder, lad!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 24th of September, 2022. And again, saying nice things about art: this is a great depiction of having fun while you struggle and learn a skill. Two great body language panels giving way to a non-literal representation. Good going.

Jimmy’s parents come over; he never answered their texts about it being time to go for ice cream. Smiles talks about how Jimmy’s got an impressive ability, and he goes with Jimmy and Charlotte and parents to the ice cream place.


And so, with the 10th of October, we start the current story. It’s a Walt Wallet story. He’s working on his bucket list, in the touching belief that he might someday die. He has a couple of the wide-eyed ambitions any of us might, like walking on the moon or skydiving. He’s also got one that seems so mundane it ought to be possible: riding on the back of a garbage truck. It’s one of those fanciful ideas that caught him in childhood, to the disapproval of his teachers. They didn’t like the idea of his being a cowboy, either.

Rufus and Joel, junk dealers, are glad to give Walt a ride on their mule-pulled wagon. But that’s not the fantasy, which is to ride a garbage truck like Denzel Washington rides in the movie Fences, which I never saw. Rufus and Joel ask their friend DC, who’s in the city Refuse Department. DC would be glad to, if that were possible. The city’s garbage trucks don’t have running boards or grab bars anymore. The yard waste trucks do, but they’re not used, and anyone letting someone ride on them would get fired fast. Even if that person weren’t eight years older than the number zero.

Joel: 'Well, how 'bout it? Can yo' fix it up t'give Mr Walt a ride on th'back of yo' truck?' Yard Waste Guy: 'We'd admire to do so, but if our supervisor found out we'd be terminated so fast between the words 'you're' and 'fired'!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 2nd of November, 2022. I did not catch the yard waste guy’s name, although since his friend with the refuse department was DC I’m going to guess this guy is AC? Anyway, the comments in this whole segment of the story have been people discovering their local garbage trucks don’t have running boards anymore. Ours have those robot arms that I’m amazed can grab garbage bins and, even, the paper bags used for bagged leaves. I’ve watched this happen over and over and still can’t believe it works.

All may not be lost, though. Hulla Ballew — failing for once to identify herself as Bob and Ray reporter Wally Ballew’s sister — hears something’s up and wants to know what it is. She also forgets one time that she works for the Gasette, introducing herself as working for the Gazette instead. How will this lead to a happy conclusion? Is there a happy conclusion possible? We’ll see over the next couple months.

Next Week!

Is a shirtless Rex Scorpius going to get himself eaten by a tiger or trampled by a rogue elephant? Lots of endearingly odd developments to recap in Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail, next week, I hope!

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? Shouldn’t Boog be like 18 by now? June – August 2022


The story in Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley starred Boog Skinner, one of the fifth generation of the comic’s central family. He was born in September 2004, implying that he should be eighteen. But anyone can see he’s not. I’m not sure how old to peg his age, since I’m at the age where every kid looks either three, ten, or sixteen. I’d put him at ten. He’s old enough to be interested in the idea of girls, at least. And to be able to build a plastic scale model without comic mishaps. I couldn’t claim he wasn’t fourteen or so, but he’s not leaving-high-school old.

What’s going on is that while the identifying gimmick of Gasoline Alley is the characters aging, they don’t age in real time. It’s not as static as it was in the 1970s and 80s, when the aging froze. But it is slower than real time. Given that a story can take a month or more of reader time to do a couple days of character time that seems a fair way to show enough of characters’ lives. Reasonable people may disagree.

So this should catch you up to late August 2022 in the comic strip’s story. There’s likely a more useful plot recap if you’re reading this after about November 2022. And if any news about the comic breaks I’ll share it at that link too.

And over on my mathematics blog I look at comic strips, now and then, and here’s one of those essays. I figure to have another Reading the Comics post tomorrow, all going well. You might be interested.

Gasoline Alley.

5 June – 20 August 2022.

Rufus and Joel got to Hollywood to take up their movie jobs. Only it was the wrong Hollywood. They were in Florida, by a mistake we might have seen coming. They give their last 50 cents to a beggar and immediately find a loose $20 in the street. They notice it’s 11:11 and wonder if the vanished beggar might have been an angel, reflecting a superstition I never heard before. I’d checked the GoComics comments to see if anyone knew more about it. One of them this was the same kind of thinking that brought that Comet Hale-Bopp cult to kill themselves. This is what happens when you take seriously the Skeptical Inquirer articles about Society. Stick to the articles about how, like, these chupacabra sightings were more likely a raccoon with mange.

Joel: 'Rufus! Good thing you don't work fo' NASA!' Rufus: 'How's that?' Joel: 'If you navimagatd a rocket ship t'Mars --- it'd end up so'where like yo'head!' Rufus: 'How's that?' Joel: 'It'd be in a empty black hole in space! See?' (He points to the back background of the scene.) Rufus: 'I don't see nothin'!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 7th of June, 2022. Hey, wait a minute … navigating a rocket ship to Mars? That’s foreshadowing! We never get foreshadowing!

Anyway they phone home to learn they were fired and there’s nothing to do but return to Gasoline Alley. They do, along the way spotting a meteor that serves as transition to the current story, which started the 1st of July.


Boog Skinner and his girlfriend Charlotte are stargazing and making a wish on the falling star. Charlotte’s little brother Jimmy comes in to remind us he’s not dead yet. Jimmy we met a couple years ago. He suffers from Tiny Tim Syndrome, suffering an unspecified fatal illness that some new treatment helps. He’s still getting better. Boog has the idea to build a rocket ship for Jimmy, who’s not only a train enthusiast but also a spaceships guy.

His grandfather Slim Skinner offers his help, and his metal junk pile. The building of a Flash Gordon-esque rocket goes swiftly. In days they have something ready to launch. Ah, but Rufus and Joel, getting home just in time, ask with what fuel? Slim offers his El Diablo Fuego-hot jalapeño chili pepper chews. That’s not enough to fuel a rocket. But add a bit of Joel’s cousin Zeb’s high-potency medicinal home-brew “koff medicine”? Well now you’ve got something ready to take off before you can even say “lunch not launch”.

Looking over the homemade, Flash Gordon-style rocket; Polly is flying near the cockpit and awks at it. Jimmy: 'Will it fly, Boog?' Boog: 'We don't know! It's not been tested!' Then everyone turns as smoke pours in from off screen. Boog: 'What's that noise?' Charlotte: 'Uh-oh!' Jimmy: 'It's shakin' an'quakin!' Rufus: 'It's blastin' off!' Slim: 'But we didn't do the countdown yet!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 30th of July, 2022. Joel later says that ashes from his pipe started the ignition so don’t worry, the rocket liftoff is explained and Jim Scancarelli is way ahead of us snarkers.

So it does! The homemade contraption lifts off and soon passes the Moon. And, according to the news, soars to Mars, NASA calculating it’ll arrive in minutes. Boog’s rocket lands on Mars in sight of Percy, the Perseverance rover that landed on Mars back in 2021. (Here I learned something; I thought ‘Percy’ was the comic strip’s jokey nickname for the rover. Not so.) And, more amazing, Perseverance detects life inside the rocket. Through its porthole we see Polly, Charlotte’s parrot, begging to be let out.

It’s a dream, of course, as Polly tells Boog over the TV feed. Boog wakes up, regretting only that he has to do it all over again. But if it was all a dream, why does he have Slim’s bag of jalapeño chews?

Joel: 'How did that parrot get inside the rocket?' Boog: 'How did she survive the trip to Mars?' Jimmy: 'It's like a dream!' Polly, from Mars, heard over the TV footage on Jimmy's tablet: 'AWK! Awk! It IS A DREAM! Wake up, Boog! Get me outta here!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 11th of August, 2022. I like this as a way of declaring the dream over and it even matches real experiences where noticing you’re in a dream can end the dream. Also, uh, I guess Polly’s female? I didn’t know that.

Anyway he rebuilds his rocket, as a kitbashed model this time, and brings it to Jimmy. And that’s where things stand now.

Next Week!

Who’s responsible for soaking the Lost Forest in so much toxic lawn chemicals that it’s making the local pets sick, and why is it the Sunny Soleil Society? Are we not going to chase a rogue elephant? And why is a nature-show streamer in danger of being slurped up into a roadside zoo cult? All this and Canada geese in Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail, next week’s story strip, if things go to plan. See you then.

60s Popeye: Operation Ice-Tickle, and I don’t get what that’s a pun for either


So, first, Stephanie Noell of the OOC Popeye Twitter feed published a new pay-what-you-will zine, The Rainbird. This collects a Thimble Theatre story from 1939-40, by Tom Sims, Doc Winner, and Bela Zaboly. Popeye, having decided at last to marry Olive Oyl, sets out to Neutopia to find the magic rainbird that controls its weather. His reasons for this make sense in context. In the grand tradition of Thimble Theatre the action peters out with the original incident forgotten. Fun, though.

Less fun: the next King Features Popeye in their YouTube channel’s order is the Jack Kinney-produced Spinachonara. It opens with Popeye offering Swee’Pea an “Oriental-type kind” of fairy story so uh yeah yikes. I trust they meant to respect that non-white-people should get to be the stars of stories too. But I’m not paid to deal with Jack Mercer, Jackson Beck, and Mae Questel doing their Japanese Or Chinese Or Whatever Accents. You want me to do 600 words on that, ask for my PayPal.


Next cartoon, then. That gets us safely back in Paramount Cartoon Studios territory. Story by Joseph Gottlieb, with direction and production by Seymour Kneitel. Here’s the 1961 short Operation Ice-Tickle.

What we have here is another Popeye-and-Brutus compete cartoon. This time not to do a job but complete a task. That task? Bring back the North Pole. This because they happen to be in front of a statue of Admiral Peary when Olive Oyl has enough of Popeye and Brutus’s quarreling. The reward? A date with Olive Oyl, you know, like the one Popeye had been on when Brutus interrupted. All right. Popeye and Brutus are lucky they weren’t in front of the Science Center’s Planet Walk model of Saturn.

The premise is a bit goofy. Brutus buys a very slow rocket from a surplus store. Popeye hits up the surplus store too, getting an 1886 hot air balloon. And somehow this is not the only cartoon that I have reviewed that’s about flying a balloon to the North Pole. What the heck?

There’s this absurdity at the heart of the cartoon. At many of the details, too. Like, Popeye takes his burst balloon, builds a replacement using an inner tire and a car engine, and catches up with Brutus’s rocket? But it’s all well-constructed. The more I think of the story the more impressed I am with its fitting together. Like, does a kid notice the absurdity of a hot air balloon catching up with, and overtaking, a rocket? That is a joke they wanted us to notice, right?

Popeye rests in a hot-air-balloon basket, which hangs from a giant overinflated rubber-tire doughnut, and propelled by a small car engine hanging off the back. Through the center of the doughnut is the candy-cane-striped North Pole. On the top of the North Pole (in front of Popeye) is a frozen Brutus.
“Now there’s something you don’t see every day, Chauncey.”

“What’s that, Edgar?”

“Lighthouse making a home delivery.”

And then there’s little bits of crafting. Like, Popeye secures the North Pole by landing his doughnut-tire airship around it. There’s some foreshadowing there, as Brutus tries to pop this second balloon but misses because his rocket slides through the hole. (I assume that’s how we’re supposed to read that scene. The animation skimps on what we do see.) Or, when Popeye’s trapped in ice? He’s freed by the little flame of his own homemade engine. That flame’s there because Brutus is stealing his balloon, but doesn’t know how to work it. That’s a good reason for Brutus to have the flame pointed at Popeye and not turn it off. And, of course, it’s a thing that couldn’t have come about if Brutus hadn’t popped the original hot air balloon.

This is in the upper tier of the King Features shorts. The premise is absurd and if you can’t get into that, there’s nothing for you here. But grant the premise and the story makes solid sense. The animation’s the typical Paramount Cartoon Studios competence. There’s a couple of nice shots, like seeing Popeye and Olive Oyl and Brutus walking together from a camera above their heads. The closing joke is a weird one, but it does get everyone out in good order.

The Stan Freberg Show: the twelfth show, with three major sketches


If you’re fascinated by early space race stuff you’ve probably seen Colonel John Stapp. His face anyway. He’s the guy there’s this black-and-white footage of a man being accelerated so fast that his face becomes this rippling, fluid shape. He was a physician and flight surgeon who became famous-in-the-right-circles for his work in understanding what acceleration (and deceleration) does to human bodies. He tested this, including on himself. In December 1954 he took a deceleration of 46.2 times the force of gravity. And lived through it, and thought human bodies could take even more than that. Much of what we understand about how to protect the human body from crashes traces to work he was part of.

And here’s the rundown:

Start Time Sketch
00:00 Open. No pre-theme sketch this time again. There’s also no introductory comments; they go right into a sketch.
00:55 Rocket Sled. Herman Busby (which I think is a new name here) interviews Leroy Straddle, hoping to bring reactions to Colonel Stapp’s rocket-sled experiment. Stapp’s admirably uninterested. The premise is that Straddle hopes to run alongside Stapp and the sketch commits to being about that. And then Busby’s spotted in Portland, Oregon. This initially made me think they were doing a follow-up to that UFO bit where Orville came from the Moon. I’m not sure what point Herman Busby serves in framing this sketch, except that it lets Straddle describe what he means to do in the face of Stapp’s indifference. But then why not write the sketch so Stapp is at least a bit interested?
05:10 Introductory Comments. Maybe? Freberg lays out the “agenda” for the show.
05:32 Billy May playing “Five Foot Two, Eyes Of Blue”, a song I mostly know from Allan Sherman’s parody.
07:20 Faucet Repair. Sketch about the “average American husband” fixing a faucet. June Foray gets to play a nag. The faucet repair turns to actually making a wrench, a nice bit of expansion on the premise of following repair directions. There’s a weirdly big laugh at 09:33; maybe one of the performers had a great expression. It turns into Freberg trying to buy an electron microscope. There’s also a bit about the peculiarity of buying something cash. There were a lot of jokes and science fiction stories about credit cards in the 50s and it seems to reflect a cultural attitude about these exotic means of finance. The diversion from home-repair-going-awry to cash-as-a-threat-to-commerce seems weird and I’m not sure they didn’t stitch two half-written sketches together.
15:15 Peggy Taylor sings “I’ll Buy You The Moon” (I’m guessing).
18:26 Robert Tainter is back. Freberg introduces him by mentioning his research behind Paul Revere’s Ride, Washington Crossing the Delaware, and his grandfather at Custer’s Last Stand. There are several more Tainter sketches not mentioned here; I think his might be the most-done sketch in the show’s run. Tainter feigns not knowing Freberg. Tainter’s gone from exposes to something “even lower”, going into labor racketeering and demanding payment from Freberg for whatever he’s doing. I think this is riffing on Estes Kefauver’s televised investigations into organized crime. This was six years in the past by the time this episode aired, but they did make an impression.
23:09 Sh-boom. Adaptation — after several weeks of putting it off — of the comedy record. It’s also a commercial for Freberg’s album compiling a dozen comedy bits. The premise here is that a successful song has to be much less comprehensible. It does all get pretty raucous and fun to my ear. June Foray’s character is named Stella, I’m going ahead and guessing to make a Streetcar Named Desire joke.
27:50 Closing Remarks.
28:14 Closing Music.

My recaps of all the episodes of The Stan Freberg Show should be at this link. Let me know if you see one that isn’t.

An Apology In My Dreams


So to the seagull in my dream who was trying to apologize by delivering a fully functional rocket to my backyard: I appreciate the gesture. It’s a most impressive gift. And I do appreciate the work gone in to getting a Saturn I — not a V, not even the more hip I-B but an actual Saturn I as used in flight testing and development from 1961 through 1965. It’s a true connoisseur’s choice of rocket vehicle. Nevertheless, while I’ll accept presents as tokens of reconciliation they are not, by themselves, reconciliation. It is harder to deliver a simple “I’m sorry” from your own beak, but it would mean something that no present ever could, and I promise to accept it with as much grace as possible given our history. And I do thank you for the gesture.

Still, on another level, I can’t see any way to launch the blasted thing from my backyard, what with how the goldfish pond isn’t nearly deep enough a water trench for the necessary sound suppression. Not to mention not being deep enough for the goldfish to come out well afterwards. Plus who’s got a launch gantry in mid-Michigan anyway? I’ve got too much stuff just hanging around to show to accept something that hasn’t got practical use.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

Traders showed a sharp loss of confidence today when they learned that contestants on The Price Is Right are not drawn randomly from the audience but are instead screened while entering to see if they’d probably look good on camera and have a bunch of people cheering specifically for them.

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