Monday, November 24, 2008

Happy Anniversary...and Now I Shall Mock You

I suppose it is actually quite cruel of me to medievalise Gasoline Alley for the first time on the occasion of its ninetieth anniversary. Luckily, I am well on the way to building a reputation as someone who is quite cruel all the time. Congratulations, Gasoline Alley and its bevy of intergenerational creators. I respect your accomplishment. I also think it may be time for you to change or die.

In a way, Gasoline Alley is an anomaly among legacy strips. The demon Wikipedia tells us that Frank King began the strip as a Chicago Tribune Sunday feature involving a bunch of guys standing around talking about cars; it was popular enough that it spawned a daily comic. Through the years, the characters of Gasoline Alley have, unlike other creaky comic-strip characters such as Nancy or Hi and Lois, grown and changed. A baby who appeared on the protagonist's doorstep in 1921 is now in his late eighties; older characters have died, giving way to the younger generations. In fact, the comic has a great many characters. Unlike Blondie, a mere whippersnapper of seventy-eight, Gasoline Alley has the potential to have remained fresh throughout its run, as, for the most part, has Doonesbury, which has adopted a similar multi-character technique.

The problem is that Gasoline Alley has become so incredibly stupid that it has to be read to be believed. A relatively recent storyline involved the unbearable character Slim plotting to buy an asteroid and drop it on a basketball court that was bothering him because it was attracting perfectly polite basketball-playing teenagers who assaulted him with their NOISE, NOISE, NOISE, NOISE.* The fact that the perfectly polite basketball-playing teenagers were all black was pretty damned cringe-inducing, though admittedly, Slim is probably not meant to be a particularly sympathetic character. Lately, he has been displaying open greed, breathtaking arrogance, and utter self-centredness, not to mention hypocrisy, as he attempts to steal back a painting he had been given but thrown away because he thought it was worthless. A few months ago, there was a long, soul-deadening plot revolving around a cat-food commercial. It was probably meant to be whimsical. It wasn't.

In other words, though this strip was, in its time, innovative and amusing, it has dwindled to a shadow of its former self. The current creator can certainly draw, but his plots are rarely worth reading. It's really too bad.

As today's strip looks wistfully back into the past, it makes a good candidate for medievalisation. Gasoline Alley is, like other legacy strips, essentially past-focussed. It recognises that the twenty-first century is happening, but it kind of wishes it weren't.

Happy Birthday, Gasoline Alley. Maybe there is hope for you; it would be nice if there were. It would be nice, in fact, if a legacy strip would show the ability to move with the times...if the characters did not simply grow older but also grew up. Though you have become stupid, Gasoline Alley, perhaps there is hope for you yet. Do not go gentle into that good night.

P.S.: My translation of "Gasoline" is weird, but I stand by it.

*At this point, you should be imagining the Grinch grimacing as those little wee animated drumsticks pound at his ears.


Michael said...

I remember reading Gasoline Alley as a young boy in the 1960s. It was the only soap opera strip that I paid any attention to. It was good (that was during the Moores era). Recently I started reading it again on line.

The artwork is pretty good for a comic strip. Not at the level of early Apartment 3G* but better than most. The stories, however, have become both silly and trite.

*I admit it, when I was 16 I had a crush on Margo. Nowadays I hate to look at Margo, because she's such a hag.

K. Ivan said...

I lived in Houston for about twenty years, and I remember at one point the Houston Chronicle tried to cancel Gasoline Alley. The backlash was so sudden and loud that it was back in the paper within a week, along with a letter of apology from the Editor about it's removal.