For a comic strip that has been around as long as it has, Arlo & Janis is blessed with a steady influx of new readers, especially on the Web. Occasionally, when events skip from the title characters to their son and his family, many of those new readers are left asking, “Who th’ heck are these people, and where is Arlo & Janis?” Now this will be a snooze for most of you, who’ve been reading A&J for a long time, but I thought it would be fun to take time on the blog today to introduce those other people in Arlo & Janis.
We must begin, of course, with Gene. Simply, Gene is the son of Arlo and Janis. For years in the strip, he was an almost daily presence, playing the role of the precocious little boy. But the characters age in A&J, if not in real time something close to it. Eventually, he went off to college, but he spent his summers working in a seafood restaurant “on the coast” that belonged to the family of a childhood friend. You might rightly ask, “What coast?” It’s never specified, but I grew up visiting the beaches of the northern Gulf Coast, from Gulfport to Apalachicola, so I suppose influence from that area is inevitable. You are free to insert the coast of your choice.
That childhood friend was Mary Lou. Mary Lou grew up on the beach, and she and Gene first met when they both were about 12 years old. They may have been the same age, but when it came to “precocious,” Mary Lou was far beyond young Gene. Yet, they bonded as friends. For several years, Gene would return to the beach with his vacationing parents and renew his acquaintance with Mary Lou. However, “Lou,” as she’s sometimes called, was destined for a life crisis of her own, and the two drifted apart briefly. The age of digital communication being what it is, though, they never lost touch completely, and by the time Gene the college boy arrived to work at her family’s restaurant, they were in love. Having weathered her crisis, Mary Lou played a large role in the day-to-day running of her father’s restaurant and initiated Gene into the demanding business of hospitality.
That “life crisis” was Meg, Mary Lou’s daughter. An intelligent and good-natured only-child, she literally grew up in the family business. She spent many hours doing homework and coloring in her grandfather’s cluttered office, and she sometimes lagged for quarters with the bus boys behind the restaurant. To further amuse herself, she would sit in a booth at slow times and bundle silverware and napkins. To be sure, she inherited the family work ethic, but the child in her took immediately to the child in Gene. They’ve been buds from the time they met. And, no, Gene is not Meg’s biological father, since it often is asked.
Gus is the patriarch of the coast clan, Mary Lou’s father and Meg’s grandfather. Starting from nothing, “Pop” has owned and operated a series of motels and restaurants along the coast. He owned the motel where Gene’s family stayed on several of their vacations, which is why Mary Lou was living at the beach when she and Gene met as children. Actually, Gus’ real business all along was real estate, as he sold one concern and purchased another. That beach property you wish you’d bought back when it was dirt cheap? Well, Gus did buy it, and he’s done quite well. After the kids married, Gus made Mary Lou and Gene partners in his popular restaurant, and when he sold the site to developers he rewarded their hard work generously. It was this largess that is bankrolling their current dream of living for themselves on their small farm. A no-nonsense man with an infinite love for his daughter and granddaughter, Gus is one of my favorite characters.
Well, that’s about it! I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief recap. I would like to remind everyone that there’s one more week in the Kickstarter campaign to resurrect the parsonage in Camp Hill. If you’re interested, click on the link below. If nothing else, check out the video! I worked a long time on that sucker, believe it or not!