Gasoline Alley, 4/12/11
Let me tell you a little story that has something to do with the genesis of this blog. In 2002, I moved to Baltimore and, as was the style at the time, got a print subscription to the local paper. The early ’00s Baltimore Sun had four glorious pages of comics every day, including relics that I had heard about but never seen — Mark Trail, Rex Morgan, Apartment 3-G, and, of course, Mary Worth. The last strip was in the midst of a plotline involving a cantankerous old cuss named Smitty Smedlap, and I came in the middle of a dinner he was having with Mary (and maybe Dr. Jeff too? can’t remember now) at the Bum Boat — a dinner that lasted weeks, and that seemed to me to be extremely awkward, and yet day after day it continued, with no reaction from the other characters indicating whether that was the intended reading. By the end of the dinner, I was hooked, and there’s pretty much a straight line from that joyful discovery to these words you’re reading today on the Internet.
I bring this up only because this awkward dinner in Gasoline Alley seems to me a a pale shadow of the depth of awkwardness that Mary Worth is capable of. Still, you have to kind of respect the strip for its current metahumorous gambit, in which we have a character whose sole identifying characteristic is that he tells bad jokes, and yet each day his unfunny gags are presented as the strip’s punchlines. Still, a little of this goes a long way, and it’s already gone quite far enough.
Like all artistic geniuses do eventually, Gunther has left behind conventional notions of what his chosen medium should do and has gone full-on into his experimental phase, just in time for Luann to be the most avant-garde contestant in Tiffany’s sham beauty contest. I like the fact that Luann begins the strip screaming in horror/aesthetic confusion, but by the time her parents arrive on the scene has settled into a state of droopy-eyed ennui. For is there anything more truly banal than a new artist’s first heavy-handed attempt to shock bourgeois sensibilities?
I don’t think I’ve ever met this bugilist before, but since he’s a character in Crock I assume he has an entire backstory established over the course of the strip’s 109-year run, which is now mostly forgotten by everybody but can still be glimpsed in some of his characteristics. For instance, that round red blob on his head: is it supposed to be a beret (indicating that he’s a jazz-trumpeting hepcat) or a turban (indicating that he’s a cobra-charming fakir)? Fortunately, this is Crock, so we can move on with our lives safe in the knowledge that this character will not reappear for decades and we’ll never really have to worry about it again.