Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Gasoline Alley's Revisionist History

Current Gasoline Alley writer and artist Frank Scancarelli sometimes references the strip's rich past for stories (see Return to Gasoline Alley). In a sequence from April, 2014, Skeezix is hypnotized and taken back to his childhood. But what's depicted in 2014 isn't the same as it was in the original 1922 panel.

Here's the original version (click on images to enlarge) as drawn by series creator Frank King:

From left to right: Doc, his wife Hazel, Bill, his wife Amy and son "Shorty," Skeezix, Walt Wallet (Skeezix's adoptive father),  Avery's son Elmer and wife Emily, Avery, and Rachel (Walt's cook and housekeeper).

And here's how Skeezix "remembers" it 82 years later, as drawn by Frank Scancarelli:

Some of the changes are due to the realities of newspaper comic strips, which are allotted a fraction of the space they had in the 1920's. There simply isn't room to show everyone at the table with their word balloons.

Originally, "Gasoline Alley" centered around the adventures of Walt Wallet , his three neighbors (Doc, Bill, and Avery) and their extended families. In the 2014 version, the third-tier characters are gone, and of the core supporting cast, only Doc and Bill remain.

More significantly, perhaps, is that Rachel's been updated. Not only have the racial stereotypes been removed from the character, but her race as well! Rachel's now white, and has been given Walt's dialog, delivered in a dialect-free voice.

There's no question that Rachel had to be redrawn, but I think it's a shame her race was changed. Although drawn in the racist caracture style of the day, Rachel never acted in the demeaning way African-Americans were usually portrayed in comics and film.

She wasn't lazy, ignorant, nor superstitious. Instead, Rachel was consistently shown to be resourceful, hard-working, quick-witted and quite capable of managing Walt's household. It would have been nice to see a sympathetic depiction of Rachel as an African-American.

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