The Gene Pool

(Cartoonist’s note: This is embarrassing. This post was supposed to have gone up Friday morning, but apparently I failed to push the last and most important button. It’s not the first time. This is another old post, but I’m trying to make it up to you with volume. This post was the beginning of a Geneathon, remembering little Gene.)
This week we’re celebrating son Gene. Since
Arlo & Janis premiered in the summer of 1985, the title characters have undergone dramatic transformations in appearance. They both have completely different hair styles today, and—as I’ve learned to draw—they don’t look so weird. Appearance aside, however, Arlo and Janis have not changed so much. They’ve mellowed a bit, progressing from a young married couple to an older married couple, but that’s about it. Gene, their son, is another story. He has grown up.

Gene is a young man in the strip today, about to graduate from college with plans of his own. This week, in the newspaper and on this Web site, we’re going to look back at Gene through the years. Below, we’re starting with 10 comic strips from the 80s. A few have appeared on the internet, but many have not been seen since they were published in newspapers over 20 years ago. I hope you enjoy seeing them again as much as I enjoyed digging them out of the closet.

While it is true Gene has undergone more substantive changes than his parents, he also has changed more in appearance. Anyone who has raised a child shouldn’t find this strange. Here he appears as he did when the strip began.

See? He’s already changing. Notice the flip thing going on with his hair. This is typical of the little-kid humor that young Gene inspired. Generic as it might be at times, it was fun, and I miss it.

The humor in this strip is more subtle and original, more Arlo & Janis, if you will. I swung freely between the broad kid humor and more sophisticated dialog between Gene and his parents, particularly his dad.

Young Gene wasn’t always the butt of the joke. Sometimes, it takes fresh eyes—and ears—to perceive things as they are, and sometimes things are pretty banal.

I was stretching myself as an artist in this strip. In particular, note the camera angle in the first panel. This sort of thing proved to be a lot of work, however, and I decided only Walt Kelly can draw a tree.

There was a combination of inspirations for this strip, as there often is. I knew a little kid about this time, the son of friends, who was an absolute freak about Star Wars. Also, I remembered crawling under the house with my dad to change the filter. That’s nice brick work if I say so myself; I wish I could lay real bricks that well.

The more things change, huh? The cordless telephone represented the cutting edge of consumer communication technology about this time, and—as now—I was more than happy to make fun of it.

I may have been a relatively young man when I started drawing Arlo & Janis, but I came from an era when games such as Pick Up Sticks were considered fun. It required supreme patience and a surgeon’s deft touch. No wonder video games were so well received when they came along.

Speaking of video games, it’s hard to believe, but not every kid had one when this strip first appeared. Every kid wanted one, though.

Don’t be gone too long! We’re going to do this some more tomorrow.

Buy the new book, "Beaucoup Arlo & Janis!"Today's "Arlo & Janis!"

24 responses to “The Gene Pool”

  1. For a few years I was a telephone installer. One of the perqs (perks?) was a key to open pay phones which allowed us to make calls without paying. I can’t believe how much I appreciated that perq. I also can’t believe how quickly pay phones disappeared.

  2. Lots of what John D. MacDonald called “The Good Old Stuff” and extended commentary. For that, you can be late in posting, Jimmy. Thanks for the background you give us here. It’s like an annotated book or those DVD’s with the director’s running commentary.

  3. I remember playing “pick up sticks” with my older sister and a parental unit!! It was back in the forties. As I recall, one simply held the group of sticks vertically with one end on the table, then removed the hand and let the sticks fall as like a flower opening. Many sticks remained intertwined. Had one dropped the batch of sticks from a height as Arlo is shown doing, they’d have scattered far and wide, with many totally away from the others, and, thus, easy pickings.
    Such would lessen the amount of deftness required.
    For those not in the know, the game required removal [“picking up”] the individual sticks without causing any motion in the non-selected sticks. If other movement occurred, the turn passed to another player. Greatest number of sticks successfully removed determined the winner. It might have included specially colored sticks for bonus points, but that detail escapes me.
    Thanks for the memory.

  4. PS: The sticks were very slim and tapered so that, were one to depress the end of a given stick against the table top, the opposite end would rise up and be grabbable. This was the basic method of removing a stick lying upon others but with one end on the playing surface. If the stick was totally off that surface but atop other sticks, skillfully applying one finger tip to each end, simultaneously, often allowed for a vertical removal without disturbing the remaining sticks.

  5. My sister and I used to play pick-up-sticks as youngsters when visiting a cousin in a nearby town. (Her mom, our aunt, had a children’s day school in her home.) I recently heard from that cousin, who now lives in Arizona. She had just returned from a trip to Australia.

    My, how times change.

  6. Good morning, Villagers. Emb, thanks SO much for the bird seed article. Jim and I both read it with great interest, and I even printed it out. We have a finch feeder that we fill with thistle/niger seed, where we get lots of goldfinches and house finches—and occasionally larger birds who get into very interesting contortions and flappings as they try to eat from something not made for them. The house finches will also sometimes eat the seed we scatter on the patio just outside our big window (though not the goldfinches–I don’t remember ever seeing one of them on the ground), but we get by FAR more mourning doves and (and seasonally white wing doves) than anything else. And we have been using the Pennington Classic from Walmart. We do also get quite a lot of Gambel’s quail, which we love, and a good sprinkling of other birds (I’m up to 37 on my backyard list). But we are far from crazy about the doves, so when this seed is gone, we’ll get something else and see what the results are.

  7. What a treasure trove of Gene strips, WITH commentary!!!

    My brother and I also used to play Pick Up Sticks.

    If any of you are birder life-listers, you can come visit me to see a bronzed cowbird–a very limited range. I have seen them here before, and this year we seem to have a pair who frequently visit.

    Ghost and Jackie, remember that when you can travel again, you’re supposed to visit Ghost’s cousin and me here in Tucson, Arizona. (Maybe you’ll get to see a bronzed cowbird–whee!)

  8. @JoninDenver: Recently what few pay phones we have here in New Brunswick, Canada(usually public buildings like hospitals), well the cost of a local call went from $0.25 to $0.50.

  9. Not only did we play pick-up-sticks, I still have them – complete with directions! They didn’t fall into as complicated a pile as I remember when I took these pictures however. The directions are a little wrinkled; I hope you can read them.

  10. Yes, Nancy Kirk in AZ, the commentary–agreed, it sure is nice to read! Yes, TTown Mark, it is verily like a DVD commentary or book annotations! Fascinating that Jimmy was so fond of drawing Gene’s “flip thing going on with his hair.” A forelock.

    Easier to draw than the previous ‘do. And that gave the poor kid a forehead.

  11. I love the Gene strips. I remember the very first A&J that I read in the Memphis Commericial Appeal. Every few years I get on here and needle Jimmy about posting it. Arlo is on the phone. He hangs up. Gene asks with a very worried look if that was the police. Arlo says no. The last panel is Arlo glaring at Gene who is trying to look innocent. I’ve been a fan ever since. Although I rarely post, I have read this blog from the beginning and I always hold out hope on seeing that strip again. Thanks.

  12. Nancy,

    I find it interesting that the two most popular feeding spots for house finches around me (central Texas) are the hummingbird feeders and the mineral block in the calf pasture. They seem to REALLY enjoy both the sweet and salty!

  13. I think it unfortunate that House Finches, native to the West Coast, were inadvertently released from a pet store [I think in Long Island] back mid-20th c. They have since spread across the country, apparently displacing or at least reducing the numbers of Purple Finches.


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