Tuesday, February 19, 2013

An Ancient Comic Strip Turns Political

I've been reading the Gasoline Alley comic strip since I was a kid, first in the Chicago Tribune comics pages, and in later years, on the internet through gocomics.com.  This was the first comic strip to allow its characters to age in real time.  Baby Skeezix was left on the doorstep of then bachelor Walt Wallet on Valentine's Day in 1921, who then raised him. Like that would happen in real life today!

Skeezix Wallet is now 92 years old. Walt Wallet is something in the neighborhood of 112 years of age.  The comic strip "Blondie" by comparison allowed Dagwood and Blondie to age into their 40's over a span of 90 years.  "Nancy" and "Sluggo" are still little kids after 75 or so years. Dick Tracy is another ageless fellow on the comics pages. Charlie Brown, Lucy and the gang remained the same ages for over 40 years.

Created by artist Frank King in 1918 as part of a weekly full page of gags featuring a specific topic, it became a full time comic strip in 1919 and is still running in a few newspapers today through the Chicago Tribune Syndicate, Inc. It started with four guys tinkering with their automobiles in the alley behind their homes and turned into a family strip without ever changing its name. The Chicago Tribune dropped it from its own comic pages well over 25 years ago. The current artist and author is only the 4th in the long history of this strip. In bookstores, they sell compilations of the comic strip as it appeared in the 1920's and they make for interesting reading with far more clever story lines than the current strip.

Hey, what did you expect me to read in my spare time, Ayn Rand?  

OK, as you probably have figured out, I am a comic strip fan, although today's newer strips are pretty bland and uninspiring, and the older ones that are hanging on recycle the same jokes over and over. While I await the arrival of the next Calvin and Hobbes type of strip, the exception is Dick Tracy, who was relaunched with new artists and authors and suddenly became interesting again with different artwork and faster storylines.

When it comes to story lines, Gasoline Alley is more or less stuck in the early 1960's or late 1950's in a quaint sort of way. This Sunday, Gasoline Alley suddenly turned to a modern political topic in a cute way while celebrating "President's Day."

Way to go Gasoline Alley! Zinger!  Too bad only a handful of us read this!

Reading the daily strips also finds Gasoline Alley suddenly turning to another modern burning issue, marriage.  Rufus, who lives in a shack in a garbage dump, suddenly has inherited a $100,000 from a rich aunt he never heard of with a condition that he be married within 30 days. (A familiar comic story mined by Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Laurel and Hardy and even the Three Stooges over the decades.) After a few blind dates that didn't go so well, he goes to the office of his perpetual girlfriend Melba, who has been mayor of the town for roughly 40 years, after being introduced to the strip as a cleaning lady. (Her last name must be Daley.) Rufus and Melba have nearly walked that aisle on several occasions over the decades, only to face some interference.

Turns out Melba is out of town. Rufus, rather than using a telephone to find her, decides to marry "Becky," a donkey who pulls the trash cart for "Joel" who is just as old as Walt Wallet and also lives in his own shack in the same dump.  With this decision, a cute but tired story line got sillier.

Good thing I'm not writing the story lines for this strip. The only things I can draw are cards in poker games. I would have have Rufus marry Joel, which would infuriate most of my fellow Republicans, in a last ditch attempt to restore the once vast readership of this ancient comic strip. They are always together and are perpetual bachelors.

In the world of Gasoline Alley, get rich quick schemes usually fail, so I expect Rufus to somehow inherit the money, and after taxes are deducted and all the paperwork is signed, will walk away with roughly 45 cents, while stumbling onto his next adventure. The same thing happened to Laurel and Hardy and the Three Stooges in their little movies, right?

Rufus! Marry Joel! Grab the cash! Bury it in the dump before spend-a-holic Uncle Sam grabs it!

I know! I know!  I need a new hobby!

Time to go watch an old silent comedy!

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