Skewed Comic Strip

I’m a big fan of newspaper comic strips and collect reprint volumes of classic ones from the 20s, 30s and 40s. Some of these old strips are still alive, most of them now far less interesting than their classic versions.

One of the exceptions is Prince Valiant, which has stayed true to the original vision of Hal Foster long after his death in 1982, despite having been shrunk drastically in size from the full-page original.

But Frank King’s original Gasoline Alley was much more interesting and thoughtful than the contemporary version. However, lately it’s been livening up the story by creating bit parts for characters from the distant past. One Sunday strip featured appearances by or allusions to Little Orphan Annie (also featured recently in Dick Tracy), Li’l AbnerLum and Abner, and—oldest of all—The Yellow Kid.

Jim Scancarelli'’s Gasoline Alley has introduced a truly obscure character: the obnoxious store clerk originally played by Frank Nelson who I remember vividly from his many appearances on Jack Benny’s show. He’s not nearly as obnoxious here as in his heyday.

The storyline involves an attempt to return a phone charger to a department store, and Walt asks him to look up the item by its “skew number.”

The correct term is of course “SKU number.” The abbreviation stands for “stock keeping unit.”

Since this is an expression more often printed than spoken, it’s not surprising that relatively few people use the wrong spelling, but it’s not hard to find examples on the Web.

Web example: “Just ordered an iphone4s on ATT and looked at the skew number or order number off iPhone is the same as the unlocked iPhone 4s apple sends out.”

Twitter example: “ How dont u know the skew number for the Louis Vuitton satchel i want for xmas.”

There are legitimate uses for “skew number”—most of them highly technical—involving skewing of one kind or another, but it’s a mistake to use this spelling for a store inventory number.

So why does Walt use the wrong spelling in the strip? Is it supposed to be a joke about his ignorance? But he’s speaking, and the two versions sound identical. Or is it Scancarelli who’s confused? The fact that so far no joke has been made about the mistake makes me suspect the latter.

To experience the original Gasoline Alley, check out these books:

Walt and Skeezix: Book One, 1921 & 1922 

No comments: