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Parental wisdom from classic comic "Walt & Skeezix"

Updated June 14, 2012


Walt and Skeezix: Book Five 1929-1930
By Jeremy Estes 14 March 2012

Popmatters.com
Up to the Challenge

Becoming a parent changes a man, transforming him into a person he never dreamed he could be. “Person” is the the correct pronoun, because there’s a part of you which transcends traditional gender roles, a part which detaches itself from the spiritual realm and becomes an observable, if not measurable, part of one’s experience. It’s not a case of a mother being stern or a father being nurturing, it’s those moments when we become idealized versions of ourselves, when we rise to meet the day’s challenges with dignity, compassion and reason. In real life, of course, this doesn’t always happen. Luckily, there’s always the comics.

In this fifth volume of Drawn and Quarterly’s fantastic Walt and Skeezix series, Walt Wallet faces the biggest challenge of his parenting life. Skeezix is set to inherit the fortune of his estranged father, Henri Coda, and a crooked lawyer named Abie S. Corpus puts plans in motion to make sure he gets his hands on it first. Corpus pits Walt and Skeezix’s birth mother, Mademoiselle Octave, against one another, plants a spy in Walt’s office and enlists the help of a couple of enforcers.

This long melodrama dominates much of the story from 1929-1930, and throughout it all Walt can think only of Skeezix’s well being, of the good future his inheritance will afford him. Even as his wife, Phyllis, gently reminds him that the money will help them, too, Walt brushes her off, insisting he will only be the caretaker until Skeezix is old enough to manage it himself. Walt is a pen and ink version of an ideal parent: caring, thoughtful, and quick to apologize when he’s anything less.

The saga of the Coda will drags on and on through probate court both in the US and UK, and Walt is subjected to multiple meanings with his lawyer and jokes about his newfound wealth. The story become tedious and repetitive, but there are bright spots throughout, including a blossoming romance between Skeezix and a lisping little girl and Alley regular Avery’s road trip in his custom-built mobile home.

Despite the tedium, the mind goes somewhere when reading these strips, even when Walt’s going back and forth with his lawyer about parcels of Brazilian rain forest. All serials distill the boring and mundane down to a dramatic core, and the endless monotony of life disappears in the gutters between panels, but even when he’s boring, artist and writer Frank King’s work gives us a real place to visit rather than just a thing on page.

King’s art is rarely flashy, but there are some wonderful single-panel strips where King shows a sunset whose colors still shine through the black and white. His women characters all bring to mind images of flappers and silent film stars, an interesting contrast to the caricatured style of the men in the strip. The best strips show Walt listening and reacting to something someone, usually Skeezix, is saying. The humor and emotion King wrings out of a few lines is masterful. To reread a strip and only look at Walt’s face is to see the character come to life.

Series editors Jeet Heer and Chris Ware have designed this series as a biography of King as much as a showcase for his work. Heer’s essay on King, illustrated by work from the artist’s sketch book and numerous family photos, is placed a the front of the book, and it colors one’s reading of the strip. This is more than just supplemental odds and ends, this is the raw material King used to create the Wallets’ world.

Part of this material is included on a DVD filled with King’s home movies. There’s footage of King’s wife, Delia, and their son, Robert, horsing around in the snow, as well as numerous films from their vacations around the US and Europe. The best video was produced by The Chicago Tribune in 1925 as a promotional film for the paper. In the segment included here we see many cartoonists of the day working at their drawing boards, including King and Little Orphan Annie creator Harold Gray.

The King family’s first child was stillborn, Jeet Heer writes, and after that tragedy the cartoonist, “...used his art to explore parental anxieties about separation and loss.” King’s explorations led him to Walt Wallet and the rest of the Gasoline Alley gang, but his cartoon family wasn’t a substitute for the real thing. King’s art helps us understand the strange territory of family, and with the right guide there’s no finer place to find yourself.
 
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  WALT & SKEEZIX on AV Club for January

Updated January 9, 2012


January 9, 2012
Noel Murray

From the start, Chris Ware and Jeet Heer have stated their intention to use Drawn & Quarterly’s collected Gasoline Alley series to serve both as an epic graphic novel and as a comprehensive biography of the strip’s creator Frank King. Ware and Heer’s fifth Gasoline Alley volume Walt & Skeezix: 1929-1930 (D&Q) takes the King bio to someplace new, adding a DVD of home movies that King shot around his home and on vacations throughout the ’20s. The significance of those films is explained more in Heer’s introduction, in which he describes the King family’s move to Florida in 1929, and how the cartoonist made the decision to keep Walt and Skeezix and The Alley Bunch in the same Northern suburb they’d always lived in—a place documented in a lot of those films on the DVD. But King did still allow his real life to bleed into the strip, whether by having Walt take trips that King and his wife and kids had previously taken, or having Walt deal with an unexpected and borderline-embarrassing windfall, as King himself did when the strip made him richer and richer in the midst of the Depression. As always, it’s that personal touch, combined with the sense of daily life passing, that makes these Walt & Skeezix volumes one of the highlights of any comics fan’s year. …
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Library Journal reviews WALT AND SKEEZIX: 1927-1928

Updated November 16, 2010


by Julia Cox, Penticton P.L., BC
Library Journal

King, Frank. Walt and Skeezix: The Complete Daily Strips, 1927-1928. Drawn & Quarterly. 2010. c.400p. ISBN 978-1-897299-39-5. $39.95. GRAPHIC NOVELS

This is the latest volume in Drawn & Quarterly's ongoing anthology of daily strips from the famous and long-running Gasoline Alley. The comic was distinguished by a continuing story arc that saw its characters age and change, providing daily snapshots of American life. With the 1921 introduction of Skeezix, a baby left on the doorstep of good-natured bachelor Walt Wallet, the focus became the gentle and realistic relationship between father and adoptive son. In this volume, that relationship is threatened when shallow, opportunistic Mme. Octave and her ex-husband try to claim Skeezix as theirs. Along the way, King explores the question of what really makes a family?blood or loving care. Biographical notes and archival photos round out this well-designed presentation.

Verdict: Classic comics fans and history buffs (along with those who know the present-day strip) should find this fascinating. Although it can stand alone, it would be enjoyed most with the earlier volumes. One negative note: while the stereotypical portrayal of the Wallet family's African American servant is very much of its time, it may be jarring for modern readers.
 
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Walt and Skeezix: 1927-1928 (Volume Four)




  Rob Clough at TCJ reviews WALT & SKEEZIX BOOK FOUR

Updated September 22, 2010


Wheelhouse: Walt & Skeezix Book Four: 1927-1928

by Rob Clough

After a four-year hiatus, Drawn & Quarterly has once again started to release new volumes of Gasoline Alley reprints. Of all the classic comics strips that have been reprinted in the last decade, the Walt & Skeezix books have been the biggest revelation and have benefited most from collecting material chronologically. That’s not only because it is a true continuity strip where characters grew older, and the events of the strip reflected the events of the day; but also because the accrual of quotidian moments become more poignant when read all at once. In a time when most strips went after anarchic gags or pursued adventure stories, King sought to create a world that was easy for anyone to relate to, as well as inspired by events from his own life.

The archival material that series editors Jeet Heer & Chris Ware have put together is nothing short of astonishing for anyone interested in the minutia of King’s life and how it affected the strips. Heer’s commentary on what influenced King to embark on certain storylines is especially useful. Heer notes this King was perhaps influenced by the melodramatic flair and political subtext of Harold Gray’s Little Orphan Annie; he seems particularly on point here, as the latter strip was one of constant separation of child and parent figure, rollicking adventure and eventual reuniting…only to start the cycle all over again. Gasoline Alley couldn’t have been more different up to that point, focusing on foundling Skeezix and his adoptive father Walt Wallet.
While the first cycle of stories — wherein young Skeezix is kidnapped by his birth mother Mme. Octave — in the previous volume pack a certain thrill, that is partly because the notion of a cross-country search filled with dead-ends and mysteries is a novelty for a strip that is otherwise solely concerned with the ups and downs of daily life and parenting. The eight-month sequence in 1927 that features the emergence of Skeezix’s birth father, Col. Coda, and a prolonged custody battle drags interminably. The problem with this storyline is that it is neither fish nor fowl. King excelled in portraying small moments and their concomitant emotions. The extended Coda sequence, which expands to include veiled political commentary about the Soviet Union and isolationism, not only takes the characters (and the reader) out of that familiar sphere, it does it in a way that isn’t very exciting.

Indeed, most of the “battles” in the custody hearings take place off-panel. In-panel action mostly consists of lawyers making long speeches. Heer is forgiving of this storyline, noting that King’s humanism even extended to making Mme. Octave and Col. Coda characters with some redeemable qualities. That is true to an extent, but King was careful not to tip the balance too far in their favor, making Octave a gold-digger and implying that Coda was mostly interested in Skeezix for political reasons. If King was trying to provide a fair hearing for the “nature v. nurture” argument, he pretty clearly stacked the deck in favor of his preferred side.

The real problem with the storyline is the way King yanks the reader back and forth: first Skeezix is in danger of being taken away, then he wasn’t, then something melodramatic happened and put the family’s harmony in danger once again. King simply wasn’t adept enough at melodrama to make these twists interesting over an eight-month period. If this story was being fueled by his own personal life, as Heer suggests, then King lets readers down in dragging the storyline out.
Once that storyline is settled once and for all, the strip not only evolves in a slightly different direction, it attains a level of day-to-day quality that is simply astonishing. The protracted legal battle took a toll on Walt Wallet’s finances, forcing him to find a job. That simple change not only makes Walt a more sympathetic and relatable character, it creates a new set of daily dynamics from which King is able to draw gentle humor. 1928 cemented once and for all Gasoline Alley‘s status as a strip about a particular family (the Wallets) as opposed to a strip about the increasing popularity of automobiles and a group of neighbors who gathered around to talk about them.

The strip is still built around the relationship between amiable goof Walt and Skeezix, now a rambunctious and clever 7-year-old. King’s line is at its best when portraying these two. Walt is pear-shaped and hulking, his blobby physique informing his status as a wonderfully funny-looking character of good humor and kindly nature. The reader can’t help but root for him, nor take their eyes off of him, as his size tends to make him the focus of every panel (especially with his ever-present black pants). Skeezix is always in motion, his body language practically screaming his fidgety nature when he tries to stand still. King’s mastery of gesture is readily apparent, especially in how to accurately depict children. That duo stands out a bit oddly when one considers Walt’s now-wife, Phyllis, who is drawn in a realistic (and somewhat idealized) fashion, consistent with many artists of the age. One simply doesn’t want to linger very long on Phyllis, which is somewhat problematic considering that she became a key character in the series.

King further cemented the familial nature of his strip when he introduced Corky, Walt and Phyllis’ first natural-born son, and Lora, Walt’s teenage cousin who came to live with him. Corky not only brought back the cute factor of having an infant in the strip, it also gave King a chance to explore sibling dynamics. Skeezix was depicted as feeling ambivalent toward his baby brother, eventually expressing his feelings of being abandoned to his parents, who were able to make him feel better. Lora was an equally interesting case. A country girl, she added an additional feminine presence to the strip while also providing a rough-and-tumble older sibling surrogate for Skeezix.

Adding these new characters gave King a wealth of new material and characters for the audience to identify with. Adults could empathize with Walt worrying about money, down to trying to playing the risky stock market in a desperate attempt to come up with extra cash. Children could enjoy Skeezix’s antics and antipathy toward homework and saving money. What is important is the way King makes the reader care about trips to visit one’s mother, being scammed out of money, sitting around a fireplace with one’s family and the general vicissitudes of life.

For the modern reader, King’s depiction of African-Americans is troubling at times. There is no defense for the visual depiction of Walt’s live-in maid Rachel (the stereotypical “mammy” character speaking in dialect), even if it was of its times. Though she was depicted visually as a stereotype, King took great pains to flesh her out as a character. She has a tight bond with Skeezix (castigating Walt for claiming to have raised him on his own), fiercely defending his right to stay with Walt in court. She visits her family down south (acknowledging the Great Migration to Chicago) and in general gets much more face time than the members of the Alley Gang, who mostly receded into the background much of the time.
Thanks to his real-time aging of his characters, King was able to keep himself on his toes with stories that had to evolve simply because his characters were changing. He was able to dip back into older stories by introducing new characters appropriate for such ideas. In 1928, he got away from melodrama, which didn’t suit his talents, and instead further explored the rich tapestry of family life. Considering that the stock market crash and Great Depression were just a year away, I’m intensely curious to see how that particular turn of events affected the Wallet family.
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Walt and Skeezix: 1927-1928 (Volume Four)




Pop Matters praises WALT AND SKEEZIX 1921-1922

Updated September 9, 2010


Walt and Skeezix 1921 &1922 by Frank O. King

by Jeremy Estes
Pop Matters

The automobile is an omnipresent image in American culture. To put it another way, we get a lot of mileage out of the car as a symbol of everything from social status to physical health. We run out of gas at the end of the day; we put on the brakes if a relationship is moving too fast. These descriptors are so prevalent, so convenient, it’s as if cars were invented primarily as vehicles for metaphors instead of as modes of transportation.

Frank King understood the importance of the automobile as both metaphor and mode of transport as early as 1918, when his Gasoline Alley comic strip first appeared in The Chicago Tribune. The strip started as one-panel weekly gags about cars and by 1919 evolved into a daily strip that explored the lives and automotive obsessions of the denizens of four friends. Bill, Doc and Avery were three married men whose troubles with their wives often prompted Walt, the confirmed bachelor of the group, to proclaim, “Girls! I’ll say I know when I’m well off!” Walt’s single life changes forever when, on Valentine’s Day 1921, a baby is left on his doorstep. The baby, whom Walt calls Skeezix, soon becomes the center of Walt’s life.

What King does next, though, is astonishing. The strip evolves in real time, meaning that the years that pass in the real world also pass in the Alley. Throughout King’s 41 years on the strip and on into the present day, the characters have changed and aged, and they’ve experienced marriage, birth and death—the same as real people.

This book covers the first two years of Walt’s life with Skeezix, from 1921 to 1922, and it’s a terrific introduction to these wonderful characters and Frank King himself.

In his introduction, Jeet Heer writes that King was “among the most autobiographical of cartoonists”, and that to understand the artist is to understand the strip. This lengthy introduction is supplemented by photographs from King’s granddaughter, to whom the book is dedicated. These photos are of the people and places that inspired King’s work, and images of a carriage on a snowy street or a beautiful old home feel like missing chapters of the long, unfolding stories of the stories committed to paper over the years.

Heer notes the a disconnect one often feels when looking at old photographs, particularly from the 19th and early-20th centuries. Most people look stern, uncomfortable. Here there’s a series of pictures of King himself hamming it up for the camera, with caption written by the artist himself describing the exaggerated looks on his face. Captions like “indigestion” and “DTs” show a wonderful sense of humor that he was able to translate into the best of his work.

As a biographical sketch of a legendary comic strip artist, this book is invaluable, but the meat of the book is two years worth of Gasoline Alley. There’s a month and a half of pre-Skeezix strips filled with good car gags that even non-gear heads will appreciate.

Skeezix’s arrival sets off something in both the reader and also in King, who uses Walt’s car-centric world view as a springboard for some solid jokes about infant care. “I’ve got to keep your tank full,” Walt tells Skeezix after yet another feeding. When he holds up the slouchy infant Walt says, “I wouldn’t say you were streamlined for pep and flexibility.” After mastering the art of diaper changing, Walt proclaims, “I’m getting so I can shift smoothly and everything.” Not all the strips are about cars, but everything is filtered through the lens of car references.

A single man caring for an infant now is something of a rarity, but it must have been virtually nonexistent in 1921. Walt never hesitates in his care for Skeezix, immediately recognizing the baby’s need for a parent. It’s sweet to see Walt caring for Skeezix, heating a bottle, taking him to the doctor. Walt’s appreciation for the proper care and maintenance for a car transfers easily to a child, and he approaches the job with innocent curiosity, never anger or frustration.

While some of the humor and references are obviously dated, jokes like Walt checking his supply of “home brew” after Skeezix breaks out in hiccups still feel fresh. What’s most dated about the strip is the stereotypical African American nanny character, Rachel Brown. She’s introduced over two days, her face hidden in the first strip before being revealed in the final panel of the second. She’s drawn with pitch black skin with a large white oval for a mouth, a typical depiction found in comics (or most anywhere) up until the ‘50s.

Rachel is typically just a supporting character rather than a springboard for racist jokes, but those are included, too. It’s unfortunate, but eliminating those strips from the collection would be dishonest, and including them doesn’t mean one has to like them.

Cars get us from one place to another, but without people they’re just hunks of metal and plastic and rubber. They’re a means to an end, but we still get attached to our cars. Even if you know nothing of internal combustion or gaskets, you still remember that time you hydroplaned on the freeway or got sick in the back seat of your grandma’s gigantic car. In one strip, the Alley gang looks at a car Avery wants to sell and they all reminisce about all the places the car has taken them. “That car is its own diary,” Avery says. Our things tell stories, but few more so than our cars.

“Gasoline Alley,” writes Jeet Heer, “is a comic strip by a father intensely aware that time moves on and childhood could easily be lost.” It’s the same with family and friends. The limitations of memory don’t allow us to remember everything, but sometimes the most insignificant details pop up when a loved one sneezes or wears a certain shirt.

Raising a child must be like this too, because you know your child from the very beginning of their lives (or, in Walt’s case, almost the beginning), and you amass a lot of miles together in a lifetime. These first two years of Gasoline Alley capture this feeling perfectly, and leave the reader only looking forward to more on down the road.

Rating: 9/10
 
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  WALT AND SKEEZIX 3 in The Washington Post

Updated January 17, 2008


WALT AND SKEEZIX
Reviewed by Dougas Wolk
Sunday, January 13, 2008
WASHINGTON POST

FICTION | COMICS
Extra, Extra: Vintage Strips Rise Again

SLIDESHOW Previous Next

Walt and Sheezix: Feb. 13, 1925: Unca Walt celebrates the anniversary of finding baby Skeezik on his doorstep, now "the most wonderful" 4-year-old. (Frank O. King)


Aficionados of classic comic strips used to have a tough time of it: If you wanted to read Milton Caniff's "Terry and the Pirates" or Chester Gould's "Dick Tracy," you had to track down ancient, hopelessly rare newspapers or rely on fragmentary and butchered repackagings. The last few years, though, have seen a cluster of smartly designed, comprehensive reprints of vintage comics, going all the way back to the beginning of the 20th century -- and, in one notable case, earlier.

WALT AND SKEEZIX 1925 and 1926 By Frank O. King | Drawn & Quarterly. 400 pp. $29.95

The loveliest rediscovery of the vintage-comic-strip renaissance is Frank King's "Gasoline Alley," in which characters aged in real time, growing and changing. The third volume of Walt and Skeezix, collecting King's daily strips from 1925 and '26, marks a gradual but enormous transformation in the series: Chubby, cheerful bachelor Walt Wallet falls in love, heads toward marriage and slowly learns how to let go of the single life that he's outgrown. The "Skeezix" of the title was an infant left on Walt's doorstep in 1921; he's 4 and 5 years old here, and the barriers between his imagination and his real environment are still permeable. Designer Chris Ware also contributes a fascinating overview of the merchandise based on the strip.
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Walt and Skeezix: 1921-1922 (Volume One)
Walt and Skeezix: 1923-1924 (Volume Two)
Walt and Skeezix: 1925-1926 (Volume Three)




WALT AND SKEEZIX 3 reviewed by Booklist

Updated December 21, 2007


Adult: GRAPIC NOVELS IN BRIEF
Walt & Skeezix: 1925 & 1926
Olson, Ray
1 December 2007
Booklist

Walt & Skeezix: 1925 & 1926. By Frank King. Ed. by Chris Ware. 2007. 400p. illus. Drawn & Quarterly, $34.95 (1-896597-64-5). 741.5.

The third opulent volume re-presenting the great comic strip Gasoline Alley in chronological order foregrounds the courtship and marriage of Walt Wallet and Phyllis Blossom. Of course, there's always time and space for the darnedest things and activities of Skeezix, the little boy left as a newborn on Walt's doorstep a few years back, who's in the middle of kindergarten year when this volume ends on New Year's Eve, 1926. King's artwork continues to flower (see especially the nocturnal March 30, 1926, strip: gorgeous), and his flair for finding the affective kernel in each day of his characters' lives never flags. -Ray Olson


 

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  WALT AND SKEEZIX mentioned by The Oregonian

Updated November 30, 2007


OREGONIAN
Steve Duin

Before I surrender the mike, however, here are the 10 best books I read in a rather pedestrian year. The deeper you go into the column, the more I liked them:

"Walt & Skeezix Vol. 2" (Frank King) -- It's hard to say which is more impressive, the values expressed in these 1923-24 comic strips or the production values in Drawn & Quarterly's reprint edition. "Gasoline Alley" was the rare comic strip that unfolded in real time.

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WALT AND SKEEZIX reviewed by The Post Standard/Herald-Journal

Updated November 30, 2007


COMICS
"SHAZAM' DISPENSES HEALTHY DOSE OF FUN AND ADVENTURE
JEFF KAPALKA
18 November 2007
The Post Standard/Herald-Journal

Not into superheroes? Drawn and Quarterly's got you covered with another two years worth of Frank King's "Walt and Skeezix." Covering the years 1925-1926, this third volume of "Gasoline Alley" reprints finds Walt finally marrying Phyllis (despite the machinations of Mme. Octave), going on a honeymoon, and settling in to domesticity.

Not exactly edge-of-the-seat adventure, but King has a way to make us care for the characters and want to follow their lives. King was a pioneer in comics, as he was one of the first (if not the first) creators to have his creations age in real time. (Skeezix started out in 1921 as a foundling babe. In this volume, he celebrates his fifth birthday. In another 8 volumes, he'll be fighting in WW II. Today, he's collecting Social Security.)

If nothing else, the "Walt and Skeezix" books are nifty little snapshots of life in an America a long time ago.

 

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  MOOMIN 2, WALT AND SKEEZIX reviewed by The Onion A.V.

Updated October 26, 2007


WALT AND SKEEZIX 3

After the breakneck drama of Drawn & Quarterly's second Gasoline Alley collection—which saw the orphan Skeezix kidnapped by the mysterious Mme. Octave, and his adoptive father Walt engaging in a cross-country race—Walt & Skeezix: 1925 & 1926 slows back down to the rhythm of day-to-day life, playing to the real strengths of creator Frank King. The strip's biggest development in the mid-'20s involved Walt's long-delayed engagement to Phyllis Blossom, and the wedding that followed. Once Walt finally musters the courage to propose, Gasoline Alley becomes about the many sweet, awkward ways a confirmed bachelor tries to express affection. (Walt: "Phyllis, I like you awfully well." Phyllis: "I'm glad Walt, because I've heard you say as much for french-fried potatoes.") King also begins to experiment more with his art, working with silhouettes, shadows, and close-ups as his characters gradually begin to outgrow the dusty alley garages that used to be the strip's reason for being. Also available now, for the more hardcore fan: Sunday Press' Sundays With Walt And Skeezix, which collects nearly 200 Gasoline Alley Sunday strips at full 16"-by-21" newspaper-page size. As with the D&Q series, Chris Ware's design of the Sundays package presents King's work sensitively and stylishly. But the work itself is the real attraction, especially on the many Sundays when King would have Walt and Skeezix take a walk or a drive through a colorful, magical everyday world. It's hard to call any $100 book a must-own, but it's sure hard to imagine a happy life without Sundays With Walt And Skeezix… Both: A

MOOMIN 2

Drawn & Quarterly resumes another of its welcome archival projects with Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip, Volume Two. Jansson's near-stream-of-consciousness adventures involving various single-minded woodland creatures is pitched to a narrower sensibility—those with a yen for the outrageously fanciful, basically—but the precisely designed, kid-friendly art is marvelous, and the extended storylines have a steady rhythm that becomes pleasantly lulling the more they're read. This book is perfect for perusing right before bedtime, to ensure unusual dreams… B+
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Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip, Book Two




WALT AND SKEEZIX reviewed by Gutter Geek

Updated October 25, 2007


Frank O. King, Walt & Skeezix, 1925 and 1926
GUTTER GEEK
October 2007

After three years, Cap’n Joe decided that Gasoline Alley needed to expand its audience. Popular enough with adolescent and adult male readers, the strip, Patterson reasoned, could, with a strategic turn of plot, attract a faithful mass following of women and children, too. He called King in and told him to add a baby to the main storyline. And to let the baby slowly grow up; women are interested in babies, Patterson told King, and children like comic strips about other children.

So on Valentine’s Day, 1921, somebody left a four-day-old infant on Walt’s doorstep. Astonished and apprehensive at first, something clicked for Walt very soon after the baby’s arrival. Naming him “Skeezix” (cowboy lingo for “motherless calf”), the young bachelor proceeds to raise the foundling, often analogizing between what cars need for maintenance and what babies probably need, and with the help of a live-in mammy named Rachel, supported by the wives and mothers of the Alley. Before very long at all, Walt has developed a ferocious love for the infant and has grown intensely protective and possessive about him. He is sometimes troubled by the arrival of lavish gifts for Skeezix that make him worry that rich and powerful relatives may sooner or later appear and claim custody of the child.

Not long after the arrival of Skeezix, another figure of mysterious and questionable origins appears in the Alley: a young woman called Mrs. Phyllis Blossom, who is as willowy chic as Walt is rotundly downstyle. The men in the alley act more like gentlemen when Mrs. Blossom is about, and their wives gossip about exactly what kind of “widow” she may be. Walt and Skeezix and most of the other characters are drawn in a winning combination of comic-cute and what would become classic clear-line style. (King’s incisive way with his pencil is said to have been determinant in Hergé’s development of the latter style in Tintin two or three decades later). In contrast with this cute/clear style, Phyllis Blossom appears to have migrated onto the Alley not just from a different comic strip, but almost from a different styleworld altogether—with her bobbed hair and flapper silhouette, all silk daygowns and chiffon overjackets, she looks (somewhat incongruously) like a paper doll out of early Vogue that some Henry Darger (a faithful collector of Tribune strips) has collaged into the frame.

Readers may be disturbed by the now-painfully obvious way in which the svelte desirability of Phyllis Blossom is implicitly “underwritten” by the strip’s only descent into the grotesque in King’s depiction of Walt’s housekeeper and Skeezix’s mammy Rachel—all malapropisms, mobcap, raccoon eyes, and dumpy, dotted mammy dress. King is sometimes able to recuperate the now glaring stereotype by consistently honoring the venerable narrative convention of clown as truthteller and exposer of the blindness of others (as when Rachel overhears Walt, as he’s in the process of falling in love with Phyllis, tell a neighbor that his house and his adopted son certainly could use “a woman’s touch,” and Rachel pointedly mutters that she wonders that he doesn’t seem to notice how much both house and child already benefit from the “woman’s touch” she provides).

As has been the case with the two previous volumes in this reprint series so far, Phyllis Blossom, the mysterious female alien from the fashionable world, brings with her all kinds of plot-generating trouble to the other, more down-home characters. Despite her and Walt’s growing affection for each other, Phyllis maintains her friendships in her “other world,” including a powerful, intimate, and fairly illegible bond with a leading European opera star, Madame Octave, whose protegé Phyllis appears to remain even after settling into the neighborhood of the Alley and beginning to accept Walt’s carefully paced courtship.

In the latter part of the 1924 strips, the toddler Skeezix is kidnapped by agents of Madame Octave, who hopes to extend her celebrity status to the States by pulling the publicity stunt of adopting Skeezix away from Walt. Although King does everything he can to suggest that Phyllis herself remains a good person at heart, he also makes it obvious that she is to some degree complicit in the kidnapping and in the other troubling goings-on around Skeezix. After a prolonged courtship, Walt and Phyllis first become engaged and then marry in a big June wedding in the present volume, and then spend a full summer’s honeymoon dude-ranching it out west.

Madame Octave repeatedly tries to woo Phyllis back from her fat fiancé, threatening for awhile to reveal the younger woman’s sordid past to Walt in order to break them up. Phyllis is finally driven to tell Walt herself that she and her opera-star friend worked together as nurses during World War I, and that Phyllis had married a dashing young officer for whom she felt pity as well as infatuation. The callow young man betrays her into taking the fall for a malfeasance of his own, getting her in trouble with the law, before his own untimely death. Over the weeks during which Octave is trying to keep Phyllis from escaping her clutches and marrying Walt, the strip reaches one of its most interesting narrative peaks. King draws the melancholy and imperious Octave with conspicuous smudge marks under her eyes—vampish mascara or the signs of a chronic insomniac or habitual masturbator? The mid-1920s was the heyday of Theda Bara and Pola Negri and other kohl-eyed film temptresses of a certain age, and it is striking how openly King depicts the strength of Octave’s woman-on-woman-dominatrix hold over Phyllis, and Walt’s accepting attitude toward his fiancée as she forms deep bonds with him and Skeezix without by any means entirely relinquishing her earlier bond with this powerful older woman.

Clearly, people who mistakenly think early comic strips were all funny animals and slapstick nerds have yet to pick up on the sado-lesbian frequencies of Gasoline Alley throughout the spring of 1925. While that vibe isn’t the main one, it’s certainly a notable and juicy part of the mix. While King has long been recognized as one of the most influential draughtsmen in comics history, we have just begun to recognize his originality and strength as an architect of extended serial narratives derived from an incoherently rich array of visual and narrative styles. With its combination of the comedy of single fatherhood and everyday domestic life with the sentimental melodrama of adoption and kidnapping and young women with “pasts,” Gas Alley was one of the first very successful and longrunning (ninety years and still counting) soap operas—along with The Gumps, a model for the radio soaps that started broadcasting a decade later, in the early Thirties. Is Skeezix Phyllis’s biological child? Madame Octave’s? Or did he come from somewhere (someone) else in Madame Octave’s glamorous and shady international circle—or from yet somewhere else? I don’t know about you, but I’m planning to tune into the next volume of Walt and Skeezix next year and see if I can find out.

—Michael Moon
 
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Featured artist

Frank King

           Featured product

Walt and Skeezix: 1925-1926 (Volume Three)




  WALT AND SKEEZIX on Inkstuds

Updated October 19, 2007


Colin and I were delighted to be joined by Chris Ware and Jeet Heer to discuss the great works of Frank King. King’s work with Gasoline Alley, a strip dating back nearly 90 years is still felt on some of my modern favorite cartoonists. From Shulz to Matt, King masterful craftsmanship and storytelling have influenced many. Not only is Gasoline Alley excellent, it is also the longest running real time comic strip, ever. Under the title of Walt and Skeezix after the main characters, Drawn and Quarterly have published 3 collections of his daily strips, as well as the ginormous Sunday’s collection from Sunday Press Books. This has been one of my most favoritist shows in the 2 years of doing the Inkstuds, and you will enjoy it as well.
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Featured artist

Frank King

           Featured product

Walt and Skeezix: 1925-1926 (Volume Three)




WALT AND SKEEZIX in Bark

Updated September 28, 2007


BARK
October 2007
 
click here to download the PDF (162.89 KB)


Featured artist

Frank King

           Featured products

Walt and Skeezix: 1921-1922 (Volume One)
Walt and Skeezix: 1923-1924 (Volume Two)
Walt and Skeezix: 1925-1926 (Volume Three)




  Walt and Skeezix in Geist

Updated June 1, 2007


GEIST
Adorable Melancholy
By Sam Macklin
05/16/07

Walt and Skeezix: 1921 & 1922

"...these books are fitting testaments to King's incredible illustrative talents"
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Featured artist

Frank King

           Featured product

Walt and Skeezix: 1921-1922 (Volume One)




Walt & Skeezix in the New York Times with Joe Matt!

Updated January 18, 2007


The New York Times
Sunday, January 14th, 2007

Art & Design

Comics
See You in the (Restored, Reprinted) Funny Papers

Drawn & Quarterly
Below, a strip from “Walt & Skeezix,” a collection of Frank King’s “Gasoline Alley.”

[image]


By BEN SCHWARTZ
Published: January 14, 2007
LOS ANGELES


A NIGHTMARE,” Joe Matt sighs. “All those years, all that money, all that work. None of which I’ll ever get back.” Mr. Matt, the graphic novelist best known for his absurdly self-centered autobiographical comic “Peepshow,” is sitting in a prefab booth at Daily Donut in Los Feliz, a neighborhood spot favored by quiet elderly customers and infrequent rushes of teenagers seeking afterschool snacks. He is speaking of his quest for the perfect collection of Frank King “Gasoline Alley” comic strips, from 1921 to 1960. Mr. Matt, who owns no home, car, computer or cellphone, estimates he has spent upward of $15,000 on his mission since 1994.

“I found dealers in comics magazines and ordered the years I wanted,” he says. “A year runs about 312 dailies, of which you can get about 290 or more. Times that by 40, at $50 each. And there’s always missing strips. I’d have to order the same year again and again just to get a few missing days. God help you if you drop them, because you have to sort 300 undated strips by story line. Then I found that different papers ran the strip at different sizes, or with better printing presses. It was maddening.”

It’s a habit Mr. Matt has had for some time. He clipped his first strip, a “Li’l Abner,” at the age of 9, in 1972. He now seeks out obscure work with little chance of getting reprinted, and Mr. King is a prime example. His collection forms the bulk of “Walt & Skeezix” (retitled from “Gasoline Alley” for licensing reasons), a decade-long, multivolume reprinting of Mr. King’s complete works published by D&Q (Drawn & Quarterly). (Volume 3 arrives in June.)

Mr. Matt is not unique among collectors. Peter Maresca, whose day job is creative director of GoComics/uClick Mobile, self-published his own collection of “Little Nemo” Sunday tearsheets as “So Many Splendid Sundays.” Fantagraphics’ “Popeye” and “Krazy Kat” series are made possible by the archivist Bill Blackbeard, and IDW’s “Complete Dick Tracy” relies on a legion of fans, since no single run is known to exist.

Their compulsion to own an artist’s every strip — sometimes 15,000 or more — and to clip, preserve and organize them all, has helped rescue a disappearing corner of American popular culture. After decades in which comic-strip syndicates and libraries have been purging themselves of paper archives for microfilm, their collections are often all that’s left.

“We couldn’t do it without them,” said Kim Thompson, co-founder of Fantagraphics, the publisher of popular graphic novels like Daniel Clowes’s “Ghost World.” Fantagraphics began issuing “complete” projects in the 1980s, with multivolume collections of “Popeye” and “Prince Valiant,” and currently with George Herriman’s “Krazy Kat” (as “Krazy & Ignatz,” for licensing reasons), an improved “Popeye” and Charles M. Schulz’s “Peanuts.”

Mr. Thompson has resorted to making pleas on the Internet for rare strips, and fans turned up what he needed: “Even with ‘Peanuts,’ where Schulz maintained an archive, we have one fan, Marcie — yes, same name as the ‘Peanuts’ character — who compiled a database on her own that lets her plug in the date of any strip, and it tells her wherever that particular strip has ever been reprinted.”

Until recently the market for many of these projects was limited to other collectors, and weak sales doomed some earlier multivolume series like “Little Orphan Annie” in the middle of their runs.

But today’s collections show more commercial promise, thanks in large part to graphic literature successes like “Maus,” “Jimmy Corrigan,” “Ghost World” and “Persepolis.” Fantagraphics says it has sold about 100,000 copies of the first volume of “The Complete Peanuts” since 2004, and it issues new volumes twice a year. The publisher has also sold 10,000 to 16,000 copies each of the first three “Krazy & Ignatz” collections and is issuing an eighth volume next month. “The Complete Dick Tracy” sold out a 7,500-copy printing last October; a second printing is due in late February, with Volume 2 scheduled for April.

“There’s a younger audience that’s grown up during this renaissance in cartooning,” said the cartoonist known as Seth who designs “The Complete Peanuts.” “Probably in their early 20s, they grew up reading, say, ‘Eightball,’ as teenagers. So they’re well prepared for this, and it’s not a big stretch for them to embrace comics history.”

That history is refreshed by today’s top graphic novelists, who design art-book quality presentations, often contribute historical essays and cleverly rework the art into endpapers. Chris Ware, the creator of “Jimmy Corrigan,” designs the “Krazy & Ignatz” and “Walt & Skeezix” series, while Adrian Tomine designs a series of work by the Japanese cartoonist Yoshihiro Tatsumi.

Jeet Heer, a historian who edits the Herriman and King sets, said: “They make them seem fresh and alive, not just something of antiquarian interest. Those earlier reprint series — ‘Terry and the Pirates,’ ‘Flash Gordon,’ ‘Prince Valiant’ — appealed largely to men in their 50s and 60s who wanted to relive their boyhood. The new crop of books aren’t being read by people who have a nostalgic memory of first reading them.”

Chris Oliveros, the publisher of D&Q, said: “Artists like Ware and Tomine make it possible to bypass the superhero-dominated comic book shops for the general reading public. We’re introducing this as good work that should have an audience.”

To do so, the work is emphasized, not the kitsch merchandising that the more popular strips often generate. Seth’s “Peanuts” covers are minimal, for example, focusing on the emotions of Schulz’s strips rather than the crowd-pleasing imagery of Snoopy’s Red Baron or Lucy’s psychiatry booth.

“The world of Charles Schulz at the drawing board is an entirely different world from the Charles Schulz in stores, television, theaters or Japan,” said David Michaelis, the author of the forthcoming “Schulz: A Biography.” “What Seth has done is take a diamond out of its old setting, polished it and reset it in a way that makes it sparkle more.

“He’s gone into Schulz, with a camera eye, deeply into the images, and pulled out passages and expanded. That’s not Schulz, that’s Seth. It doesn’t take away. It builds it back up. He’s remaking him. It’s one of the more generous gifts one graphic artist has ever given another.”

Ted Adams of IDW said he hoped to reintroduce readers to the dark, brutal imagination of Chester Gould. “People first asked me, ‘Dick Tracy?’ Why are you reprinting that? It’s so vanilla,’ ” he said. “I think their memories come from the Warren Beatty movie, which I like. But that’s not Gould.”

“This is a 1930s police procedural about a cop who does what it takes,” he continued. “It’s not vanilla. It’s ‘The Shield.’ ”

Physical restoration of the strips is aided greatly by digital technology: missing letters are “cloned” from other word balloons, faded colors balanced and missing backgrounds transposed from similar panels.

“It wouldn’t have been possible 5 to 10 years ago,” Mr. Thompson said. “The results are so much better. Back then we shot photostats from tearsheets and then repainted corrections by hand. Now it’s scanned into the computer and fixed with Photoshop.”

For Mr. Maresca, the self-publisher of his “Little Nemo” collection, it comes down to “the high tech saving the low tech.” He founded Sunday Press Books in his home, restored his own tearsheets using Photoshop and reissued them at original newspaper size. For the first time in a century Winsor McCay’s “Little Nemo” appears as intended, in a coffee-table book. It sold out a 5,000-copy print run, and Mr. Maresca plans a similar Frank King Sunday book with Mr. Ware.

Perhaps the best example of the renewed interest in classic cartooning is Mr. King’s “Gasoline Alley,” now renamed “Walt & Skeezix” after its father and son protagonists. Obscure to even devoted comics fans, the strip’s only real selling point today is Mr. King’s storytelling.

The first volume, which has sold over 10,000 copies since 2005, begins in 1921, when Mr. King reluctantly sent his only son off to boarding school. Soon after, he dropped the infant Skeezix on Walt’s doorstep.

“This suggests that the strip is essentially King’s imaginary life with a son who was no longer there,” Mr. Ware says. “King’s strip took the formal structure of the regular, daily appearance of the comic strip and used it as a real-time medium to tell an almost 50-year long story about American middle-class life. Children grow up, get married, go to war, have children of their own and then have grandchildren.”

Surprisingly, Mr. King’s revival has found a dissenter in his No. 1 fan, Mr. Matt. “Kind of a drag, isn’t it?” he said. “I mean, I love the books, but where’s my compensation?”

He said he wasn’t talking about the $540 that D&Q paid for his collection, or about credit, although he makes sure in the new “Peepshow” to remind readers who introduced D&Q to Mr. King’s work. No, he sees himself as the victim of an O. Henry-type twist ending, one in which his collecting defeated its own purpose.

“I never intended to put out the books,” Mr. Matt said. “I did it so that I could read Frank King whenever I wanted. I concentrated on him because I thought he’d never be reprinted. I mean, what are the odds? Of course they’re reprinting ‘Peanuts.’ But King? Now anybody can buy one.”
 
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Featured artists

Joe Matt
Frank King
Yoshihiro Tatsumi

           Featured products

Abandon The Old In Tokyo
Walt and Skeezix: 1923-1924 (Volume Two)
Peepshow #14




  Walt & Skeezix in the Edmonton Journal

Updated January 17, 2007


The Edmonton Journal
6 January 2007

C5
Culture

Comic strip reprints appeal to graphic novel fans: Gasoline Alley, Popeye, Walt and Skeezix and other classic daily strips finally get the recognition they deserve

Gilbert A. Bouchard


EDMONTON - A wave of beautifully designed books collecting famous comic strips makes it a great time to be a fan of the classic craft, particulary as it was practised in the first half of the 20th century.

Artists and strips such as Frank King's Gasoline Alley, George Herriman's Krazy Kat, E.C. Segar's Thimble Theatre (Popeye the Sailor) and Charles Schulz's Peanuts are finally being given the artistic respect they deserve.

Leading the charge to reposition King as a seminal cartoon artist is Montreal's Drawn and Quarterly Press, who just released Walt and Skeezix: The Complete Daily Comic Strips by Frank King, 1923-1924. This is the second volume in their ongoing project to reprint the long-running strip that started its run in 1919.

"Frank King had been forgotten about for many years and was never considered to be in the same league as Alex Ross (the Flash Gordon artist) or Hal Foster (the Canadian-born artist behind Prince Valiant)," says Jeet Heer, one of the three editors of the collection.

As opposed to the aforementioned adventure strips drawn by Ross and Foster, King's long-running comic was a modest domestic strip, focusing on the relationship between the garage-owning Walt and his adopted son Skeezix.

The more subdued dramatic nature of King's work meant that he was passed over when more action-oriented and exotic strips were getting reprinted in the early '70s. But King still ended up being highly influential to a whole new generation of artists thanks to a comprehensive history of newspaper comic strips published by the Smithsonian in 1977.

"That book had a big impact on artists like Seth, Joe Matt and Chris Ware (the famous cartoonist, book designer and one of the other editors of Walt and Skeezix) -- these alternative cartoonists who were also doing work about regular people and real life," says the Toronto-based Heer.

Matt in particular was so moved by King's work that he started to collect all the Gasoline Alley dailies.

Heer says Matt eventually gave his collection to Drawn and Quarterly publisher Chris Oliveros, the third editor of the Walt and Skeezix book, who decided to assemble the work into a handsome series of hardcover books carefully designed by Ware to attract fans from both back in the day as well as younger readers weaned on modern graphic novels.

"Since the '70s, people's sense of comics has changed, and readers of these new adult-oriented graphic novels, many of which have autobiographical and domestic themes, are looking for historic ancestors for these new books. These strips were the graphic novels of the 1920s."

One of the most prolific publishers of historic comic strips is Fantagraphics Books. The Seattle firm is currently publishing, among others, reprint editions of Peanuts, Krazy Kat, Dennis the Menace and E.C. Segar's Popeye: I Yam What I Yam!

Kim Thompson, one of the editors on both the Popeye and Peanuts books, has been pleasantly surprised with how popular the collected adventures of Charlie Brown have been.

Thompson credits the 2004 launch of the Peanuts reprints with the wholesale salvation of the publishing house. It had been struggling because of a series of financial setbacks, including heavy losses taken by Fantagraphics when its bookstore distributor went under.

"For our most recent books (the series is on volume six), we've been moving 50,000 to 60,000 units per volume and the first books actually made it to the New York Times bestsellers list. This is real comfort-food reading."

Thompson is convinced new readers will be impressed with how well written the early adventures of Popeye were as well as how daring the early '50s Dennis the Menace strips actually were.

"Dennis lost his edge over the years, but in the strips we're reprinting from the early '50s, he was a real rat-bastard of a child and his dad was much more of a horn-dog."

Photo: Supplied / Part of a page from Popeye, I Yam What I Yam!, by E.C. Segar, Feb. 22, 1931; Photo: Supplied / Cover of Popeye, I Yam What I Yam!, by E.C. Segar; Photo: Supplied / Walt Skeezix cover

Featured artist

Frank King

           Featured products

Walt and Skeezix: 1921-1922 (Volume One)
Walt and Skeezix: 1923-1924 (Volume Two)




WALT & SKEEZIX in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Updated December 21, 2006


News
Comic books make wham-bang gifts; From Superman to the Perhapanauts, there's lots for your list
WILLIAM J. DOWLDING

9 December 2006
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, B6


What's better than words for the person on your gift list who likes to read fiction?

Easy: words and pictures.

Take us up on our suggestions for a graphic novel or comic book from this year's collection and you, too, could be a superhero (these books can be found at area comic book stores):

[D+Q excerpt:]

Strip mining

Walt & Skeezix: Book Two (Drawn & Quarterly, $29.95) collects humorous Gasoline Alley strips from 1923-'24 by Wisconsin native Frank King. Walt was a big lug and Skeezix was a baby that was the first strip character that aged in real time.
 

Featured artist

Frank King

           Featured product

Walt and Skeezix: 1923-1924 (Volume Two)




  SHENZHEN and WALT & SKEEZIX 2: Holiday Gift Guide

Updated December 13, 2006


San Antonio Current

Framed
By: John Defore
11/28/2006

We know that not everyone on your shopping list this holiday season is a comics fan. But you might be surprised — especially after checking out the range of options on bookshelves now. Let the mind-expansion begin with these stocking-friendly new releases.

For the geo-politically curious: Shenzhen by Guy Delisle (Drawn and Quarterly); To Afghanistan and Back and Silk Road to Ruin by Ted Rall (NBM): Readers of altweeklies know Rall’s work quite well. His smart-ass, authority-questioning voice uses these two volumes to go beyond armchair critique and try hands-on journalism for a change, in some of the world’s most dangerous places. Delisle’s memoir, on the other hand, risks boredom instead of beheading; this chronicle of one tour of duty in a Chinese animation studio captures the mixed emotions of having too few skills to engage with an exotic locale.

For the newspaper-strip enthusiast: The Complete Peanuts 1961-1962 by Charles Schulz (Fantagraphics) and Walt and Skeezix 1923-1924 by Frank King (Drawn and Quarterly): No surprises here. If your loved ones care about the history of strip cartooning they’ll want to dig into these beautifully reproduced tomes, which leapfrog past mere nostalgia to focus on the brilliantly idiosyncratic authors.
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Featured artists

Frank King
Guy Delisle

           Featured products

Walt and Skeezix: 1923-1924 (Volume Two)
Shenzhen: A Travelogue From China




Walt & Skeezix 2 reviewed in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Updated November 29, 2006


Buyer's Edge
Graffiti: Games, gadgets and graphics: WORDS AND PICTURES: Heroes, humor make holiday bright
ED HALL, FRANK C. RIZZO

25 November 2006
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, FE2

IDEAS FROM . . . ED HALL, ehall@ajc.com


Walt and Skeezix, 1923 & 1924. By Frank O. King. Drawn & Quarterly Books,
$29.95. All ages.

Last year we praised the initial book in this series, the first collection of early "Gasoline Alley" comics strips. This second volume is equally excellent. Two sequences stand out: a 1923 cross-country car race between Walt and Avery, and the 1934 kidnaping of Skeezix by the mysterious Mrs. Octave and Walt's efforts to find the boy.



Looking for something special as a holiday gift for your favorite comics fan? (Even if it's yourself?)

The perfect gift depends on the individual's specific interests, of course. But if you're at a loss for ideas, two of our in-house comics fans suggest some special books that should light up anyone's holiday.

 

Featured artist

Frank King

           Featured product

Walt and Skeezix: 1923-1924 (Volume Two)




  WALT #2 in the Syracuse Herald Journal

Updated September 27, 2006


COMICS
Stars

COMICS BLUR THE LINES BETWEEN GOOD GUYS AND BAD GUYS
JEFF KAPALKA CONTRIBUTING WRITER

24 September 2006
The Post Standard/Herald-Journal


"Walt and Skeezix: 1923 & 1924"
Drawn and Quarterly Books; $29.95.

Moving slightly inland, Drawn and Quarterly Books has just put out the second volume of Frank King's family epic, "Walt & Skeezix," collecting his "Gasoline Alley" daily strips from the years 1923 and 1924. But even though the Alley is located in the MidWest, young Walt Wallet and the foundling Skeezix find themselves having adventures in Utah and Nevada, not to mention Walt's New York to California car race with neighbor Avery.

Oh, and Skeezix gets kidnapped. (The nationwide search for the absent infant even includes Syracuse!)

This volume shows us King growing as an artist, as well as Skeezix growing as a child. "Gasoline Alley" is one of the few strips that allowed their characters to age at a (more or less) natural rate, and so the newborn baby from the first strips is actually talking in complete sentences by the end of this volume.

The strips herein are classic pieces of early 20th-century Americana, letting us in on the attitudes and interests of just plain folk of the 1920s (politically incorrect warts and all). Essentially a soap-opera on paper, King's characters continue to captivate, even after more than 80 years.

And if two years' worth of a classic comic strip isn't enough, the book includes massive amounts of information and photos designed to put the strip in historical perspective, an endnote section explaining terms and references that modern audiences might not be familiar with (I was glad to finally find out what a "grass widow" was), and an extended sequence from Sidney Smith's "The Gumps," the original soap-opera strip, and an influence on King.

Jeff Kapalka

Featured artist

Frank King

           Featured product

Walt and Skeezix: 1923-1924 (Volume Two)




D+Q Nominated for 9 Eisner Awards!

Updated April 7, 2006


The 2005 Eiser Nominations have been announced, and D+Q has received a record 9 nominations.

Best Reality-Based Work: Pyongyang, by Guy Delisle (Drawn & Quarterly)

Best Writer/Artist: Guy Delisle, Pyongyang (Drawn & Quarterly)

Best Writer/Artist: Adrian Tomine, Optic Nerve #10 (Drawn & Quarterly)

Best Writer/Artist—Humor: Seth, Wimbledon Green (Drawn & Quarterly)

Best Graphic Album—New: Wimbledon Green, by Seth (Drawn & Quarterly)

Best Graphic Album—Reprint: War’s End, by Joe Sacco (Drawn & Quarterly)

Best Archival Collection/Project—Comic Strips: Walt and Skeezix, by Frank King (Drawn & Quarterly)

Best Publication Design: Walt and Skeezix, designed by Chris Ware (Drawn & Quarterly)

Best Publication Design: Wimbledon Green, designed by Seth (Drawn & Quarterly)

 

Featured artists

Seth
Frank King
Guy Delisle

           Featured products

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea (hardcover)
Wimbledon Green
Walt and Skeezix: 1923-1924 (Volume Two)




  Old Time Comics on the CBC Sunday Edition

Updated January 24, 2006


Jeet Heer recently did a radio interview with the CBC, talking about Frank King's Walt & Skeezix and other comic strip reprints. It's under the title "A Conversation with Jeet Heer about Old Time Comics (Jan 8/06)" on this website:

http://www.cbc.ca/thesundayedition/audio.html

click here to read more


Featured artist

Frank King

           Featured product

Walt and Skeezix: 1921-1922 (Volume One)




Best of 2005: St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Updated January 16, 2006


St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Best Books of 2005 Survey

Headline: GRAPHIC LITERATURE
Publish Date: Sunday, 12/4/2005
Sections: A&E
Editions: Third Edition
Page: F8

Body Text:

[D&Q mentions]

Walt and Skeezix: Book One by Frank King
(Drawn & Quarterly, 424 pages, $29.95).

Lovingly designed by Chris Ware, with a lengthy biographical essay by Jeet Heer, this is the first volume in a planned series encompassing all 50 years of King's epic run on "Gasoline Alley." The book introduces the title characters, the endearingly plump auto mechanic and his foundling child, and begins a family saga in which time realistically passes and characters age. King's ravishing Sunday pages -- which will be featured in separate volumes -- are more formally inventive, but the gentle humor and observational skill of the daily strips offer their own special rewards.

War's End: Profiles From Bosnia 1995-96 by Joe Sacco
(Drawn & Quarterly, 80 pages, $14.95).

A welcome supplement to Sacco's "Safe Area Gorazde" and "The Fixer," this volume collects two more extraordinary pieces of graphic journalism from the Bosnian war: "Soba," an extended profile of a musician caught in the conflict, and "Christmas With Karadzic," an anecdotal account of a brief encounter with the Serbian strongman. Sacco displays his usual reporting skill, and his artwork is especially remarkable, employing his familiar obsessive cross-hatching in "Soba" but using a lovely gray-toned wash in "Christmas."
 

Featured artists

Joe Sacco
Frank King

           Featured products

Walt and Skeezix: 1921-1922 (Volume One)
War's End: Profiles from Bosnia 1995-96




  San Antonio Current Best of 2005

Updated January 12, 2006


Arts
Framed
John DeFore on comix
01/11/2006

2005 in graphic novels

Fans of comics and graphic novels had another good year in 2005. Pioneering cartoonist Chris Ware was awarded a weekly feature in The New York Times Magazine (he’s less pioneering there than usual, but it’s early); the supply of high-quality reprint titles turned into a near-glut; and those of us with a nostalgic love for a certain pointy-eared superhero watched with joy as Hollywood atoned for its past misdeeds with Batman Begins. In this first installment of a monthly column devoted to graphic novels, comic books, and assorted other manifestations of the cartoonist’s art, here’s a recap of the best book-length comics of the year:

[D&Q mentions:]

Wimbledon Green by Seth (Drawn & Quarterly). Ice Haven has a little fun with adults who obsess over comics; Wimbledon Green makes them the sole subject. A hilariously sarcastic tale that will sting any self-aware collector who ever dreamed of having a fortune to spend on rare comics — and which has parallels to the real-life tale of rare-map thievery recently told in The New Yorker — it contains the kind of dead-on potshots that can only be nailed by an author who sees a lot of himself in his targets.

Pyongyang by Guy Delisle (Drawn & Quarterly). Not at all the dull political travelogue you might expect from a book subtitled “A Journey in North Korea,” this dryly funny novel recounts the author’s adventures as a temporary supervisor in one of the North Korean animation studios that do the grunt work for European cartoons.

Walt and Skeezix by Frank King (Drawn & Quarterly). Back in the “labor of love” reprint category, this handsome volume is the first devoted to Gasoline Alley, the newspaper strip that ran for decades and (unusual for the funny pages) allowed its characters to age and its storylines to mature over the years. May it be greeted by the throngs of welcoming fans who embraced the high-profile Peanuts and Krazy Kat series.

By John DeFore
click here to read more


Featured artists

Seth
Frank King
Guy Delisle

           Featured products

Walt and Skeezix: 1921-1922 (Volume One)
Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea (hardcover)
Wimbledon Green




WALT & SKEEZIX in the New York Times

Updated January 5, 2006


December 4, 2005

Comics Chronicle
By JOHN HODGMAN

"Do you wanna see a great new comic strip?" Charlie Brown asks Patty, running up with a distinctively oblong sheet of drawing paper. "It's about these two guys in an office, see?" he explains. "One guy offers the other guy this piece of English toffee, see? Then this other guy says, 'Thank you very much. I'll eat this during toffee-break!' Get it?"

But Patty just stares, her mouth one of those Charles Schulzian unadorned lines, the shortest distance between befuddlement and contempt. Charlie Brown walks away, the comic strip over his shoulder. "There's nothing worse than being 50 years ahead of your time," he says. That was in 1957, and even then comic strips got no respect.

While it is true that many older comics are being collected into increasingly glorious and weighty oblong treasuries - that particular strip, in fact, comes from THE COMPLETE PEANUTS 1957-1958 (Fantagraphics, $28.95), the recently published fourth book in a series - it is simultaneously a given among a certain readership, generally of former comics-page addicts, that the current funnies are banal and artless, microscopic in both size and ambition: unfunny, irrelevant and irredeemable. Not even worthy of skimming over toffee break. One popular Web site, "The Comics Curmudgeon" (www.joshreads.com), formerly known as "I read the comics so you don't have to," regularly ridicules the creaky war horses like "Hagar the Horrible" and "Mary Worth," the opaque woolgathering of "Ziggy," the dull crypto-evangelism of "B.C."

"At this point, it's standard operating procedure to rail against the homogeneity and unnerving jokelessness of the American comics page," Stephen Thompson, a former editor of The Onion, writes in his introduction to Max Cannon's latest collection, RED MEAT GOLD: The Third Collection of Red Meat Cartoons from the Secret Files of Max Cannon (St. Martin's Griffin, paper, $11.95). "Red Meat" has run in The Onion since 1993, and in other alternative weeklies since 1989, and the strip is presented here quite consciously as a bracing, bitter tonic - the antidote to comics-page malaise, albeit one that might kill before it cures.

This is a classic ensemble comic, full of suburban archetypes - the smiling dad, Ted; his long-suffering son; his straight man neighbor. There are also some distinct weirdos: Johnny Lemonhead, who is named with grotesque physical accuracy; the gym teacher who jogs around the supermarket naked to quit smoking; a dead, decomposing clown. The joke is that none of the latter are as deranged as smiling Ted, with his 50's haircut and pipe, blandly drinking cough syrup, indulging his bizarre sexual fetishes and tormenting his family.

Cannon even lampoons the old "Family Circus" gag of having "little Billy" take over the strip for a day, replacing Cannon's almost mechanically precise dark-line drawings with crude sketches. But the outcome in this case is typical of the baroquely dark imaginings that make Cannon's work more than a tiresome anti-comic. "Honney, have you seen my car keyes?" Ted asks his offstage wife. "I hadd them when I took the kids to the lake." His wife asks if he left them in the car. "Maybee," he replies. "But Im not swiming to the botom of the lake to find out."

A far healthier father-son relationship is found in WALT & SKEEZIX 1921 & 1922 (Drawn & Quarterly, $29.95), the beautiful first volume of the projected complete "Gasoline Alley," created by Frank O. King. "Gasoline Alley," which has been published continuously since 1918, is exactly the sort of strip a curmudgeon might curmudge about: long running, on its fourth artist, its real estate safeguarded by nostalgia, not required to amuse but only to reassuringly show up. I recall as a child finding it simply impenetrable, perhaps because I had missed out on the last few decades' worth of the story.

For the uninitiated, the eponymous alley refers to a string of Chicago garages populated by an affable gang of friends who share the then-novel hobby of automobiling. The story did not really pick up until 1921, when the bachelor of the group, Walt Wallet, finds a baby on his doorstep, whom he calls Skeezix - slang for a motherless calf. Walt is instantly besotted, and his adaptation to fatherhood is documented sweetly and slowly. Its decency is marred by one racial caricature, Walt's maid, who is outlined in Sambo contours. Yet even she is a complex human character, fully drawn.

King would become an icon to comic artists like Chris Ware, one of the editors of this volume, for his full page Sunday strips, with their bold experiments in framing and pacing. But the hallmark of his daily strips are their unhurried depiction of quotidian life. King rarely went for a proper punch line, though he seems aware that he is perhaps expected to. When the infant Skeezix topples over in inadvertent imitation of the classic comic strip heels-in-the-air stumble, Walt laughs: "Very good, old top! You know what a comic paper ending should be all right!"

There is a lovely, often wrenching gravity to the strip. King knows how humans as well as cars work, especially toddlers. His unsentimental understanding of their moods and games, matched by Walt's sudden and unquestioned devotion to his adopted son, make this about as affecting a portrait of fatherhood as I've seen, not least because Skeezix grows. This is the great innovation and dark curse of "Gasoline Alley": the characters age.

A few other comics have done this, most notably Lynn Johnston's "For Better or for Worse" and Garry Trudeau's "Doonesbury." But both still glow with a kind of bloomer youthfulness. In the current strips, Skeezix is in his 80's, having grown up before our eyes, eventually, inevitably to die. It's hard to tell how much King was aware of what the seeming minor novelty of having Skeezix learn to walk would have on the strip. But while "Gasoline Alley" may seem reassuring today, it is in fact profoundly unnerving.

Two other recent books were never comic strips, but clearly were inspired by them. Daniel Clowes's ICE HAVEN (Pantheon, $18.95) is called "A Comic-Strip Novel" and flips darkly through the pages of a small town's secrets - its broken homes, anguished youths and loathsome amateur poets - through the virtuosic lens of various comic strip styles: the little kid strip, the detective strip, even the funny animal strip.

BLACK HOLE (Pantheon, $24.95), by Charles Burns, was serialized for more than 10 years in comic-book form, but it is invested with all the dudgeon of that often bewildering stalwart of the comics page, the soap opera strip. Burns's intricate, controlled and pulpy penwork (he is an alum of Raw magazine) is one of the most recognizable styles in comics, and "Black Hole" is his masterwork: an uncanny imitation of traditional comics at their most mannered and melodramatic, invigorated by the shock of the deeply human and the deeply weird. It follows Keith, the lovably dumb high school hunk, who pines for his biology lab partner, Chris - though he does not know she's got "the bug," the blatantly metaphoric virus that's going around town.

"The bug" disfigures different teens differently - some shed their skin, others wither into walking corpses, others grow a second, semi-vaginal mouth near their collarbones. Burns's is a world, like that of "Peanuts," without grown-ups, unless you count the older dudes who live with that girl who has a tail - think "Gil Thorp" via David Cronenberg - and the bug forces its victims into selfsufficient, lonely exile in a darkly shadowed magic forest. The bug is the stain of sex and of puberty, of the fear of difference and the dual curse/blessing of adulthood, when we realize we are all deformed.

Like "Red Meat," Tony Millionaire's "Maakies" does not appear on the comics pages of daily newspapers, but lurks darkly instead in our nation's alternative weeklies. Millionaire's new collection is called DER STRUWWELMAAKIES (Fantagraphics, $19.95), "Struwwel" being a reference to the grim German children's book "Struwwelpeter," and "maakies" meaning, well, "Maakies," a word that Millionaire has refused to define, and that would seem to refer to the crew of the ship MAAK, most notably its loutish animal mates: Uncle Gabby, a monkey; and Drinky Crow, an alcoholic crow.

Both are characters of pure, ginned-up id, engaging in high jinks that range from the boobish to the bizarre: making "booze cream" from the milk of drunken cows in one panel, going to prison to have time to read Swinburne in the next. The humor is often so lowbrow as to be subterranean. If "Gasoline Alley" is preoccupied with life's slow unfolding, "Maakies" is fascinated by its swift, violent ends. It is difficult to count the times Gabby or Crow have been mutilated, shot in the head, eaten, burned in hell.

And yet Millionaire, raised by an art-teacher by the sea, can draw the living spit out of a ship or a giant squid. It is just as likely that "Maakies" will feature one character vomiting into another's mouth as it will a wordless, befuddling, beautiful parade of intricately rendered church spires and tall buildings. It sways this way between the very low and the very high; the only applicable adverb here is drunkenly, for as the name might suggest, there is a lot of boozing in Drinky Crow's life. This may offend (or may be the least of the offenses), but I would bet if you counted Crow's tipples against the number of highballs the Lockhorns had consumed, it'd come out even. And in his surrealist impulse and draftsman's brio, Millionaire is the closest thing we have to George Herriman of "Krazy Kat."

But curiously, the most melancholic comic strip that I've encountered emerges neither from the alternative weeklies nor from the distant past, but from perhaps the most celebrated and mainstream of the mainstream comics: "Calvin and Hobbes." Though the strip has been rampantly collected in the past, THE COMPLETE CALVIN AND HOBBES (Andrews McMeel, $150) now arrives in three massive tomes encased in a box. It is so big and dense and beautifully printed and huge that I have real difficulty carrying it from one room to the next. It is worth the work, and worth every penny.

It is hard to understand why "Calvin and Hobbes" has developed so firmly a middlebrow reputation, though I suspect it has something to do with the countless decals of Calvin mischievously urinating on the back windows of S.U.V.'s. (All bootlegs, by the way. To his syndicate's chagrin, the creator Bill Watterson refused to sign off on any merchandising apart from books. "If I'd wanted to sell plush garbage, I'd have gone to work as a carny," he said in a rare interview he gave to Comics Journal in 1989.)

Maybe another reason is that it seemed so effortless. Watterson worked for years trying to develop a strip that a syndicate would buy, and the strip felt fully formed when the anarchic 6-year-old Calvin and his tiger, Hobbes, first started playing in 1985. The art was already skillfully naïve (that is, until it came time to unleash a sweeping and beautiful alien landscape in Calvin's imagination), the characters already real and endearing. It stayed that way, with only two breaks, every day for 10 years, and then ended.

Leafing through this volume, I found it hard to find strips that didn't at least raise a smile, and often something more. Open randomly to Page 131 of Volume 3, and here is a crystalline gag that is sly and poetic and still relevant more than 12 years later.

Hobbes: "Why is this snowman looking at a snowball?"

Calvin: "He's contemplating snowman evolution. Obviously, if he evolved from a snowball, it raises tough theological questions for him."

Hobbes: "Like the morality of throwing one's precursors at someone?"

Calvin: "Sure, and what about shoveling one's genetic material off the walk?"

The strip also had its share of unabashed sentiment, tiger cuddling and cocoa swilling. And like all comics, it relied on a certain number of stock gags. Most notable of these was "the flip," the sudden, jarring switch between Calvin's imagined world and the real world - between Hobbes, his living, tall, scruffy, tiger mentor, and Hobbes the stuffed toy that everyone else saw. Watterson was devoted to maintaining the reality of both of these worlds in the strip, and it could only be done this effectively in comics, with their photographic stillness and temporal elisions. Are those snowmen chasing Calvin in his mind? Or did he spend hours actually building them that way? And how did he tie himself up in that chair?

But reading this volume now, I suddenly got the grand, terrible flip of the entire strip: Calvin is, almost all the time, alone. And in this way, this is a book that not only could kill a cat if improvidently dropped, but break a heart in two.

There was an outcry when Watterson retired the strip in 1995. (In anticipation of this collection, it is being reprinted in a number of newspapers, probably to the curmudgeons' dismay.) Unlike Skeezix, Calvin didn't grow up. Christmas after Christmas passed, and he remained 6 years old. But unlike many comic strip protagonists, he seemed like a real character with a real inner life who could not go on believing in talking tigers forever. Any smart person, Watterson included, would recognize this situation was untenable if the strip was to feel honest.

Toward the last part of his run, Watterson had managed to wrestle from newspapers a full half page to play with on Sundays - creative control of a kind that hadn't been enjoyed since Frank O. King's tenure at "Gasoline Alley." But eventually the end would have to come, and not with a punch line. In the very last strip Calvin and Hobbes face a field of blank snow. "It's like having a big white sheet of paper to draw on," Hobbes says as they hop on their sled, leaving a blank space behind them - an invitation to follow. He knew what a comic paper ending should be all right.

John Hodgman's first book, "The Areas of My Expertise," was published this fall.

 
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Featured artist

Frank King

           Featured product

Walt and Skeezix: 1921-1922 (Volume One)




  D&Q wins 3 of TIME COMIX top 10 of 2005!

Updated January 3, 2006


Best of 2005: Comix
Posted Saturday, Dec. 17, 2005

TIME.comix columnist Andrew Arnold presents the top graphic literature of the year

- 4 -
Walt & Skeezix
by Frank King (Drawn & Quarterly)

Finally exposing the work of a nearly forgotten master cartoonist, Walt & Skeezix reprints the first two years of Frank King's deeply American comic strip "Gasoline Alley" in the debut of what will (hopefully) be an annual reprint series for the next twenty years or so. Famous for characters who age in real time, like Walt, the dedicated bachelor and his adopted son Skeezix, the strip amounts to a daily diary of an American family as it goes through the depression, WWII, the post-war boom and beyond. This first volume features many car gags, but they soon give way to King's fascination with the country life as Walt, Skeezix and the Alley gang go for a trip to Yellowstone. Every day they pass through a real town, with its name duly noted in the corner. Walt & Skeezix is a trip you won't want to miss.
A Bright, Well-lit 'Alley' 7/9/2005

- 5 -
Or Else
by Kevin Huizenga (Drawn & Quarterly)

Once only available as samizdat-style photocopied pamphlets, this year fans of Kevin Huizenga's comix have finally been rewarded with a regular, aboveground series. One of the most promising of a new generation of cartoonists, Huizenga's stories use a combination of the quotidian and the surreal to explore themes of science, nature, religion and family. One episode spends twenty pages interpreting a single moment when a character becomes blinded by the sun coming through a library window. Using whimsy to explore the metaphysical, Huizenga's Or Else, consistently surprises with its intelligence and artistry.
Get It 'Or Else' 4/1/2005

- 7 -
Pyongyang: a Journey in North Korea
by Guy Delisle (Drawn & Quarterly)

In 2001 Guy Delisle spent several months in North Korea's capital overseeing the production of a French animated TV show. While the show may be forgotten, his comix diary of the experience will not be. With a great deal of dry humor, Delisle examines the workings of the world's most hyper-controlled society, where the only lights in the city seem to be the ones focused on monuments to the "Dear Leader." Though it lacks the deep cultural penetration of some other memoirs, like Marjane Satrapri's Persepolis series and Joe Sacco's Balkan War books, Pyongyang provides a cartoon corrective to a place that too often gets characterized in "cartoonish" ways.
From Ming to Kim 9/23/2005
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Featured artists

Frank King
Kevin Huizenga
Guy Delisle

           Featured products

Walt and Skeezix: 1921-1922 (Volume One)
Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea (hardcover)
Or Else #3




Walt & Skeezix in the ONION'S best of 2005

Updated January 3, 2006


Reviewed by Donna Bowman, Noel Murray, Nathan Rabin, Tasha Robinson, Scott Tobias
December 28th, 2005

Here's a theory no one has floated to explain declining movie box-office receipts: More people are reading. Could it be? Probably not, but there was no shortage of memorable books in 2005. Here are a few of The A.V. Club's favorites.

Frank King, Walt And Skeezix
(Drawn & Quarterly)

Plenty of early comic strips are worth studying for their draftsmanship or their incidental socio-historical insight, but Frank King's Gasoline Alley is as witty as it is beautiful and relevant. This Chris Ware-designed collection of the strip's first two significant years—1921 and '22—caught even hardcore comics devotees flatfooted with its boundless wonders. The strip is rooted in the relationship between tubby bachelor mechanic Walt Wallet and his foundling adopted son Skeezix: a perfectly mismatched pair that King drew with a special eye toward how a big man cradles a little one. But just as enjoyable are the day-to-day accumulation of in-jokes and genteel observations on modern life, delivered by the denizens of a loosely wired, auto-obsessed Middle America.
 
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Featured artist

Frank King

           Featured product

Walt and Skeezix: 1921-1922 (Volume One)




  WALT & SKEEZIX and WAR'S END in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Updated December 13, 2005


St. Louis Post-Dispatch
A&E
GRAPHIC LITERATURE
4 December 2005

Walt and Skeezix: Book One by Frank King (Drawn & Quarterly, 424 pages, $29.95).

Lovingly designed by Chris Ware, with a lengthy biographical essay by Jeet Heer, this is the first volume in a planned series encompassing all 50 years of King's epic run on "Gasoline Alley." The book introduces the title characters, the endearingly plump auto mechanic and his foundling child, and begins a family saga in which time realistically passes and characters age. King's ravishing Sunday pages -- which will be featured in separate volumes -- are more formally inventive, but the gentle humor and observational skill of the daily strips offer their own special rewards.

War's End: Profiles From Bosnia 1995-96 by Joe Sacco (Drawn & Quarterly, 80 pages, $14.95).

A welcome supplement to Sacco's "Safe Area Gorazde" and "The Fixer," this volume collects two more extraordinary pieces of graphic journalism from the Bosnian war: "Soba," an extended profile of a musician caught in the conflict, and "Christmas With Karadzic," an anecdotal account of a brief encounter with the Serbian strongman. Sacco displays his usual reporting skill, and his artwork is especially remarkable, employing his familiar obsessive cross-hatching in "Soba" but using a lovely gray-toned wash in "Christmas."


Featured artists

Joe Sacco
Frank King

           Featured products

Walt and Skeezix: 1921-1922 (Volume One)
War's End: Profiles from Bosnia 1995-96




WALT & SKEEZIX in the Globe & Mail Book Review

Updated December 13, 2005


The Globe and Mail
Book Review
10 December 2005

GIFT BOOKS

A garland of gifties; Brilliant birds, tenacious travellers, fabulous photographs, astonishing art and architecture, dazzling designs, precious pets, lovely landscapes — there's something here for every taste

The genius of King's comic strip Gasoline Alley, beyond its warm-hearted mining of gags from everyday life, was to let the characters grow in real time. This finely crafted collection of all the strips from 1921 and 1922, first in a projected series, captures the seminal moment when plump everyman Walt Wallet finds a baby, Skeezix, abandoned on his doorstep. By the end of 1922, Skeezix is toddling and talking.

Drawn & Quarterly, $39.95
 

Featured artist

Frank King

           Featured product

Walt and Skeezix: 1921-1922 (Volume One)




  AMERICAN MASTERS in the SAN DIEGO TRIBUNE

Updated December 6, 2005


San Diego Union Tribune

'Masters': Gleeful crash course in comics
By Neil Kendricks

December 4, 2005

Too often, comics are dismissed as the illegitimate offspring of serious art and literature. The exhibition "Masters of American Comics," however, reflects the art world's efforts to catch up with the foregone conclusion that any of the medium's devotees can tell you: "Comics rule!"

Walking through "Masters of American Comics" at UCLA's Hammer Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, provides plenty of evidence to back up the argument that comics play an important role in America's cultural life, alongside music, film and the other arts. And anyone in the know about comics will agree that it's high time that the medium got the respect it so richly deserves.

The well-publicized "Masters of American Comics" won't go for want of media exposure since the show has already been covered in such high-art publications as Artforum and Modern Painters as well as notable mentions in Vanity Fair, among others. And for good reason, as anyone who experiences this exhaustive yet highly selective, historical overview can attest.

By focusing on 15 key figures in comics' still evolving history, the show examines how comics first emerged in newspapers, and gradually morphed into comic books and graphic novels expressing a dynamic range of aesthetic approaches and subject matter.

The Hammer's selection is divided among early trailblazers like Winsor McCay ("Little Nemo in Slumberland"), Lyonel Feininger ("The Kin-der-Kids"), George Herriman ("Krazy Kat"), E.C. Segar ("Thimble Theatre Starring Popeye"), Frank King ("Gasoline Alley"), Chester Gould ("Dick Tracy"), Milton Caniff ("Terry and the Pirates") and the one and only Charles M. Schultz, who needs no introduction for "Peanuts" fans.

DATEBOOK
"Masters of American Comics"

UCLA's Hammer Museum, 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 443-7000; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 250 Grand Ave., (213) 626-6222; Through March 12

The show's second half at MOCA picks up the medium's postwar trajectory to the present-day with such contemporary innovators as Will Eisner ("The Spirit"), Jack Kirby ("The Fantastic Four"), Harvey Kurtzman (Mad magazine), Robert Crumb ("Zap!" comix), Art Spiegelman ("Maus"), Gary Panter ("Jimbo") and Chris Ware ("The Acme Novelty Library").

"Masters of American Comics," with its handsome, comprehensive catalog, offers a crash course on comics' ongoing evolution and their impact on popular culture. Even novices will be able to see how McCay and Feininger's experiments with dream-like comics laid the groundwork for the medium's future. Their elegant compositions and creative page layouts in newspapers explored the medium itself as a fresh artist's palette perfect for the industrial age.

In one of McCay's self-reflexive "Dream of the Rarebit Fiend," from 1907, the cartoonist invents a character whose running commentary questions the artist's motivations for leaving ink smears on his well-tailored, albeit drawn, suit. The short narrative climaxes with the solitary figure swallowed up in a riot of black-ink marks.

McCay and Feininger weren't alone when it came to embracing the medium's ability to bend reality. Herriman joins the party with his great "Krazy Kat," where the artist radically arranged his comic strips' panels, sometimes diagonally across the page, to echo a story's anything-goes action.

Comics' narrative possibilities go through further metamorphosis with King's real-time chronicle of life in "Gasoline Alley" and Segar's introduction of his spinach-lovin' sailor Popeye in the "Thimble Theatre" stories. The exhibition demonstrates how artists like Caniff and Gould fuse cinematic influences into their art to suggest a range of expressive angles in the noirish scenarios of "Terry and the Pirates" and "Dick Tracy," respectively.

Of course, the enormous popularity and impact of Schultz's much-beloved "Peanuts" could be the subject of an exhibition onto itself. The creator of the eternally downtrodden Charlie Brown, the philosophical Linus and everyone's favorite beagle, Snoopy, remains the most important postwar American cartoonist, and his influence continues five years after his death.

At MOCA, the comics grow darker, showing the collective grip of malaise, dread and changing social mores in postwar American life as reflected in the art of Eisner, Kirby, and Kurtzman, among others.

The femme fatale in Eisner's 1947 "The Spirit" strip, "Il Dulce's Locket," could have wandered off the set of a film noir directed by Samuel Fuller, who was a skilled cartoonist himself. With her world-weary facial expression juxtaposed with her sensual curves, the woman wonders (in a dialogue balloon), "Really what is there about me that simply invites trouble?"

There is no shortage of trouble for the characters populating the Marvel Comics universe that Kirby helped to create with his bold, stylized drawings. Nothing is extraneous in his wonderfully kinetic drawings. They dazzle the eye while pushing the story forward with an undeniable, streamlined force.

In light of recent ecological disasters, Kirby's art for "Kamandi, the Last Boy on Earth" – showing waves battering a half-submerged Statute of Liberty in a postapocalyptic future – has a far darker resonance today than when the artist first created the 1972 piece. This end-time paranoid vibe is pushed even further in Panter's nightmarish, 1980s punk-driven "Jimbo" comics with their chaotic compositions gorged with writhing, ragged figures that delight in the jaded pleasures of riot surfing.

Where Kirby's art belongs very much to the mainstream comics tradition, the show makes an excellent transition with Kurtzman and Crumb as guiding lights veering away from the superhero realm, eager to explore riskier territory. One of Kurtzman's drawings from a 1954 issue of Mad sums up his penchant for satire with the pseudo-headline "Humor in a Jugular Vein."

"Masters of American Comics" shows Kurtzman's lesser-known war comics like "Two-Fisted Tales" and "Frontline Comics" with stark depictions of war's violence reminiscent of the soul-ravaged imagery found in German expressionist George Grosz's World War I-inspired art.

It's not hard to see Kurtzman's influence evoked in Spiegelman's critically acclaimed works, 1986's "Maus: A Survivor's Tale" and 1991's "Maus II: And Here My Troubles Began," which won the Pulitizer Prize in 1992. Only, Spiegelman's autobiographical comics up the ante by reimagining his father's Holocaust experiences through the anthropomorphic lens of Jews as mice being tormented by Nazis depicted as cats. The story's variation on "Animal Farm" gives way to a larger allegory about the human condition.

Autobiographical comics are also ripe for probing their creators' personal idiosyncrasies and no one does that better than Crumb. By examining on his own neuroses with complete abandon, Crumb's first-person comics define the 1960s underground "comix" movement where no taboo was left untouched. The show displays a selection of his original comics art where the artist's sexually ravenous id runs amok in one drawing after another.

But the exhibition also shows a less anarchic side to comics' enfant terrible by including Crumb's music-inspired piece, 1984's "Patton," chronicling the life of Mississippi Delta bluesman Charley Patton.

From the medium's humble yet innovative origins to the cool elegance of Ware's melancholic "Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid in the World" and beyond, "Masters of American Comics" does a fine job of charting the wildly eccentriccourse that comics have taken since their inception a century ago.

Although the show's lineup of artists leaves out such luminaries as Frank Miller and Dan Clowes, along with their many female contemporaries, it succeeds in throwing a revealing light on the history of comics as a vital and distinctly American artform. Perhaps a sequel could fill in the gaps to the medium's epic story, which is still unfolding with the unspoken promise often found in the best sequential art: "to be continued."

Neil Kendricks, a San Diego artist and writer, is the film curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego.
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Featured artists

Chris Ware
Frank King
Gary Panter

          



WALT & SKEEZIX in the Austin American Statesman

Updated December 6, 2005


You're a good brand, Charlie Brown

The 'Peanuts' revival inspires publishers to look back at other classic newspaper strips

By Jeff Salamon
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Sunday, December 04, 2005

There's probably no pop-culture character more universally beloved than Charlie Brown. So it's an oddity of the publishing marketplace that until last year no one had ever bothered — no one had, apparently, even thought — to put together a complete and chronological collection of the "Peanuts" gang's decades-long perambulations.

Last year, the independent comic book and graphic novel publisher Fantagraphics finally got around to doing so, launching its multivolume hardcover "Peanuts" series with a fat, bricklike tome devoted to the strip's first three years. The result — 100,000 copies sold and counting — has drawn attention to other classic strips that are getting the same treatment. Fantagraphics has just launched a "Dennis the Menace" series, Canadian publisher Drawn & Quarterly has done the same with "Gasoline Alley" and Andrews McMeel found its original sales projections far outstripped by the quick success of its massive "Calvin and Hobbes" collection.

Why this sudden upsurge after decades of benign neglect? "I think part of it is simply that, for publishers like Fantagraphics and Drawn & Quarterly, only in the past few years have we had proper distribution in book stores," says Fantagraphics publicist Eric Reynolds. "Prior to that it was just comic shops, really, and the old-fashioned comic book shop isn't a real strong ground for comic strip reprints. For years we were publishing things like "Thimble Theater" and "Little Nemo" and we were only able to get them under the nose of superhero fans, and I just don't think there was enough of an interest from that audience."

It's not just methods of distribution that have changed in the past few years. "There's also been an upsurge in bookstores embracing comics," Reynolds says. Part of it is the attention that Hollywood adaptations of comics, ranging from "Ghost World" to "Spider-Man," have drawn to the form; part of it is the increasing critical respect given to ambitious works like Chris Ware's "Jimmy Corrigan"; and part of it is the exploding popularity of Japanese manga comics among teenagers.

"The comics market has just opened up so wide and far from where it was 10 years ago," says Reynolds. "Book buyers for major chains and independent stores are at least making a good effort to stock a wide variety of material."

As a result, the second and third volumes of Fantagraphics' "Peanuts" series have sold about 40,000 to 50,000 apiece, and its "Krazy Kat" reprints a more modest but still profitable 10,000. "That's huge, that's a great number for us," Reynolds says, recalling the company's earlier forays into comic strip reprints. "Something like 'Popeye' or 'Little Orphan Annie,' we were probably printing 4,000 each. And some of them are still in our warehouse 15 years later."

One big difference is packaging. Fantagraphics' "Popeye" and "Little Orphan Annie" books were big, floppy paperbacks designed with minimal artfulness. The new books are nicely bound, hardcover volumes smartly wrought by such alt-comic auteurs as Chris Ware and Seth. The packaging has made such a difference in sales and critical attention that Fantagraphics plans to reissue its "Pogo" and "Popeye" reprints in hardcover format.

Incidentally, it's not just readers and critics who appreciate these books. The estates of the various creators seem moved that, finally, the works of these golden age cartoonists are getting the respect they deserve. "Charles Schulz's people are really concerned with keeping the integrity of the property alive," says Reynolds. "They see us as a feather in the cap in a way I don't think they feel about, say, a Snoopy beach ball."


Walt & Skeezix: 1921 & 1922 (Vol. 1)
Frank O. King
Drawn & Quarterly, $29.95

Presumably, the reason this series is called "Walt & Skeezix" rather than "Gasoline Alley" is because it doesn't start in 1918, when Gasoline Alley debuted as a strip about a bunch of car buffs. Instead, it picks up three years later, just before Walt, a bachelor, finds a baby named Skeezix on his doorstep, turning a man-child obsessed with carburetors and pistons into a nurturing, if somewhat absent-minded, adult.

Actually, publisher Drawn & Quarterly intends, somewhere down the line, to reprint those early strips. But devoting their first volume to father and son seems like a wise move; those car gags wear pretty thin pretty quickly, and it's tough to imagine anyone plunking down $30 for more of Walt's adventures after suffering through his umpteenth travail with a wheezy transmission.

Once Skeezix showed up, King began to de-emphasize his sometimes less than stellar punch lines in favor of character development. More and more, the last panel of each strip evokes a sigh of recognition rather than a laugh. (Or sometimes a wince of recognition: The one truly jarring aspect of the strip is the portrayal of Walt's housekeeper, Rachel, which partakes of too many of the racial stereotypes of the era for modern readers to be comfortable with.)

King's great innovation was to create a daily strip where the characters age in real time. In the course of this first volume, Skeezix goes from infant to toddler and Walt undergoes his own, more subtle evolution. Even today, this is a rare choice; Garry Trudeau, though a very different cartoonist in countless ways, is in this sense a descendant of King.

Speaking of descendants, one of the more notable things about this collection is the realization that King's work must have been — speaking of very different cartoonists — a profound influence on Robert Crumb. "Gasoline Alley," like its predecessors "The Gumps" and "Mutt and Jeff," is drawn with what, today, looks like an excess of fine lines and busy cross-hatching. It's a style that Crumb — as much a nostalgist as a revolutionary — brought to his stories of acid trips and hippie orgies.

But in King's work the resemblance is occasionally astonishing. The slouching, bandy-legged figures, the prickly overcoats drawn as thickly as flesh and those Pinocchio noses could have come straight out of Crumb's early work. In one 1922 strip, Walt's gait looks like the model for Crumb's famous "Keep on Truckin' " pose.

"Gasoline Alley" was, by some accounts, the first soap opera, though it never went in for the over-the-top melodrama that characterizes televised soaps. King was too true to his characters to ever treat them like that; he simply kept his story-telling vehicle well-oiled and his hand on the wheel as it puttered on down the road.
 
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  TIME MAGAZINE comics feature

Updated November 28, 2005


Peanuts in the Gallery
Comics, slowly becoming appreciated as literature, are being celebrated in museums too

By RICHARD CORLISS
Posted Monday, Nov. 28, 2005

This is a tale so primal and pitiable that for many a former child it deserves to be retold on an analyst's couch. The boy has fallen in love with comic books; studied and memorized their narrative outrages, their graphic ingenuity; saved them in meticulous stacks or mold-resistant wrappers. Then he hears his mother say she was cleaning up the basement and "I threw that junk out." Junk! the child cries. Those yellowing pages of newsprint, those copies of Mad and Vault of Horror and Weird Science were my obsession, my vocation, my youth--my art.

It has taken 50 years, but what was dismissed as preadolescent fetishizing is finally being recognized as trailblazing connoisseurship. And if you don't believe it, go to a museum and see for yourself.

Two museums, in fact. The Los Angeles exhibition "Masters of American Comics," which opened Nov. 20, is an enterprise so synoptic and sprawling that it comes in sections: part at the Hammer Museum, the rest at the Museum of Contemporary Art. The show runs until March 12, then travels to Milwaukee, Wis.; Newark, N.J.; and New York City.

Some 900 works are on display in what John Carlin, a curator of the show, describes as "an art history of comics. When I started doing research, I felt this was a lost continent. Comics are one of the most important forms of artistic expression in America, and they were never given proper attention." To focus that attention, Carlin and fellow curator Brian Walker selected 15 artists who created their own visual languages and did so with distinctive graphic grace and power.

Several of the chosen 15 created enduring characters, styles and narratives from the golden age of the daily strip. Peanuts' Charles Schulz is represented, as are the creator-artists of Popeye (E.C. Segar), Dick Tracy (Chester Gould) and Terry and the Pirates (Milton Caniff). From the '50s, the emphasis segues to comic books and graphic novels. With Mad, Harvey Kurtzman virtually invented what would become the era's dominant tone of irreverent self-reference. He inspired several of the artists, including R. Crumb, whose exemplarily twisted panels first appeared in Kurtzman's post-Mad magazine Help!, and Art Spiegelman, whose Pulitzer-prizewinning Maus in 1992 cued a lot of people in to a belated appreciation of the form.

To the arbiters of art, comics had plenty of handicaps: they were disposable, popular, American and, worst of all, funny. Comics art got into museums only when reflected in the work of a "real" artist like Roy Lichtenstein. "I have all sorts of issues with the idea that a Lichtenstein painting of a comic-book panel is art, but the original comic panel it draws on is not considered art," Spiegelman says. Slowly, that attitude evolved as people learned to appreciate comics in all their uniqueness. "Comics require that the viewer read pictures, not look at them," says Chris Ware, author-artist of Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth and one of the medium's reigning grand masters. "This is a peculiar means of apprehension that really has no precedent in Western art."

The very first significant comics artist was Winsor McCay, who, just 100 years ago, published his first full-color page of Little Nemo in Slumberland. Here was a popular art at its onset and apogee: not a primitive Lascaux cave painting but a Sunday- supplement Hieronymus Bosch--a glorious otherworld of dreamscapes as phantasmagoric as they were funny. "He created a vocabulary for artistic creation in comics," Carlin says of McCay, "showing how they could achieve extraordinary, avant-garde things without undermining their popular appeal."

The coming generation of comics craftsmen needn't toil in the dark, nursing an inferiority complex or a grudge. "What comics are going through is like a civil rights movement," says Spiegelman. "This museum show will help." Like Hitchcock thrillers and rock 'n' roll, comics are obeying the tidal pull of pop culture. What was once forbidden is now mainstream; what was once junk is now classic.

So comics are art. Told you so, Mom.
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Frank King

          



WALT & SKEEZIX in Washington Post

Updated October 11, 2005


The uses of cuteness: kitties, ducks, babies and a ninja.

Reviewed by Douglas Wolk
Sunday, October 9, 2005; BW08

Back in the Alley

Babies, of course, are ground zero for cuteness, but they do complicate everything around them. Frank King's long-running comic strip "Gasoline Alley" began in 1919 as gentle but forgettable whimsy about a bunch of car buffs hanging around and chatting about their vehicles. On Valentine's Day, 1921, it changed (and improved) radically: The strip's chubby, good-natured bachelor, Walt, found a newborn baby abandoned on his doorstep -- literally a "stepchild."

Walt and Skeezix (Drawn & Quarterly, $29.95) reprints the daily strips from 1921 and 1922 in a gorgeous hardcover designed by "Gasoline Alley" buff Chris Ware and supplemented by a copiously illustrated essay about King and the real-life inspirations behind the strip.

Skeezix, as the baby is known, can't do much other than eat and cry at first, although he's talking and making some mischief by the end of the volume. (The strip's characters aged in real time -- they still do, actually, although King died in 1969.) Walt, on the other hand, has had his life turned upside-down; when his friends' wives demand their time, he still laughs it off with an "I know when I'm well off," but he also knows that being a devoted car enthusiast hasn't quite prepared him to be a father. When the community tries to set him up with a pretty young flapper near the end of the book, Walt is torn among his desire to put himself above his friends' machinations, his hormones and his longing to give the baby more of a family.

Walt and Skeezix doesn't include the Sunday strips in which King really got to show off his sense of design, but the dailies are visually splendid in their own right. He took obvious relish in drawing his characters, cars and settings, especially in a long sequence in which the cast takes a trip to Yellowstone Park. And as mild as King's wit usually is, he gets a lot of mileage out of the sense of desperation that any new parent feels in caring for something beautiful and helpless.

Douglas Wolk writes about comic books for Publishers Weekly and the Believer. He is the author of "Live at the Apollo."

©2005 The Washington Post Company

 

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  Booklist on WALT & SKEEZIX

Updated September 19, 2005


Walt & Skeezix

The enormously long-running newspaper strip Gasoline Alley began in 1919 by depicting neighbors who bonded in their enthusiasm for the then-new automobile. In 1921 the strip shifted gears when bachelor Walt Wallet found a baby boy on his doorstep. Thereafter, the strip transformed from a daily-gag to a "continuity" strip unreeling single story lines for weeks and months. It became famous as the sole strip whose characters aged rather than, like the perpetually preadolescent Little Orphan Annie, remained the same. This volume inaugurating a series aiming to present the strips entire run begins with the year that baby Skeezix appeared. Creator King's art is simple yet expressive in these daily installments-his visual brilliance would flower in the full-page, color Sunday strips-and the homespun charm of the characters is what makes these early installments worthwhile. The handsome collection is designed by alternative-comics maestro Chris Ware (Jimmy Corrigan), whose introduction rightly praises King for "capturfing] the texture of life as it slowly, inexorably, and hopelessly passes by."

-Gordon Flagg

King, Frank O. Walt & Skeezix. Ed. by Jeet Heer and others. 2005. 424p. illus. Drawn & Quarterly, $29-95 (1-896597-64-5). 741.973.

Copyright Booklist Publications Sep 1, 2005
Volume 102; Issue 1; ISSN: 00067385

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WALT & SKEEZIX in the Roanoke Times, Virginia

Updated September 19, 2005


'GASOLINE ALLEY,' FAMILIAR AND TIMELESS

4 September 2005

WALT AND SKEEZIX: Book One By Frank King. Drawn & Quarterly. 400 pages. $29.99.

The late, great Will Eisner once named "For Better or For Worse" as one of the best strips in the world of newspaper comics. The comic goes unmentioned in many discussions of comic strips, and that's due largely to its differences. Unlike standard "gag" strips, the characters in "For Better or for Worse" grow and age as the years go past. After a while, the strip feels less like a comic and more like a family member.

"For Better or for Worse" takes a lot of its cues from "Gasoline Alley," a strip by Frank King that started in the early 1920s and ran through much of the 20th century.

"Gasoline Alley" started as a fairly gimmicky strip about cars (which then required much more frequent do-it-yourself maintenance than now). That changed when little baby Skeezix showed up on the doorstep of bachelor and car lover Walt. From that point, the strip developed its cast, opening the door for more character-based humor. And those characters weren't static. Over time, people changed, had children and aged -- much as they do in real life.

That approach seemed to click with the American people. At its height, "Gasoline Alley" ran in 400 papers with a readership of more than 30 million. It's easy to see the appeal. Even 75 years after the strips reprinted in "Walt and Skeezix" ran, they're still fun to read. Sure, there's the occasional dated reference, but the comic exudes a rich warmth. I'm in my 20s and grew up on "Bloom County" and "Calvin & Hobbes," but I enjoyed these early "Gasoline Alley" strips as much as anything in the paper lately. Though they're new to me, they offered a reassuring, somehow familiar charm.

The actual strips are only one part of this 400-page book. The first 80 pages are in color and are dedicated to the life of Frank King, who both wrote and drew "Gasoline Alley." Designed by art comics guru Chris Ware ("Jimmy Corrigan," "Quimby the Mouse"), the biographical section offers a wealth of old photographs, drawn from the collection of King's granddaughter, to complement a long essay by Jeet Heer. Much like Fantagraphics' "The Complete Peanuts," Drawn & Quarterly plans to release regular collections of "Gasoline Alley" over the next few years. "Walt and Skeezix" is an auspicious start.



Reviewed by MASON ADAMS, a staff writer for The Roanoke Times.

Roanoke Times & World News

Copyright (c) 2005 Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved.
 

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  Harrisburg Patriot-News on WALT & SKEEZIX

Updated September 19, 2005


Arts/Leisure
GRAPHIC LIT

18 September 2005

"Walt and Skeezix: 1921-1922" by Frank King, Drawn and Quarterly, $29.95.

Everyone rightly acknowledges comic strips such as "Peanuts" and "Calvin and Hobbes" as classics. Equally deserving of that title, though largely ignored, is Frank King's "Gasoline Alley," a lovely, heartfelt strip that moved in real time, with the characters aging at the same pace as the reader.

Drawn and Quarterly and Chris Ware are now attempting to give King his due, thanks to this immense first volume in a projected series that will collect King's entire run.

What starts as a gag-a-day comic involving the early fascination with automobiles turns into something altogether different when main character Walt Wallet finds an abandoned baby on his doorstep. From there, the strip becomes a warm and funny look at parenthood and the simple joys of life. Extensive essays and archival photos of King sweeten the package. Do yourself a favor and pick up this lovely piece of early 20th-century Americana.

Christopher Mautner
The Patriot-News

© 2005 Patriot News Company. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights reserved.

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Playboy Spotlights WALT & SKEEZIX

Updated September 18, 2005


"Frank King's Gasoline Alley may be the best syndicated comic strip ever. Walt and Skeezix (Drawn and Quarterly) lovingly collects two years's worth of the strip."

article to come!
 

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  Walt & Skeezix included in GN Roundup

Updated September 12, 2005


09/08/2005

Arts
Young and young at heart

Its been a while since the Current took a look at that growing corner of the publishing industry where words and pictures combine for lack of a better term, the graphic novel. That certainly doesnt mean theres nothing going on.

Drawn and Quarterly publications has found a subject for its own long-term series of high-quality reissues: Walt and Skeezix begins Chris Wares dream project the first-ever collection of Frank Kings Gasoline Alley strip. Gasoline Alley is unique in that its characters age over the years. The series may have begun with simple gags about the then-new-fangled automobile, but it quickly developed into a heartfelt and charming look at one man who, out of nowhere, becomes responsible for a babys upbringing.


By John DeFore

©San Antonio Current 2005
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WALT & SKEEZIX reviewed by Shepherd Express

Updated September 7, 2005


Great American Cartoon

You could say “Gasoline Alley” is a great American novel—if your definition of great encompasses big or long and your concept of the novel embraces serial publication and graphics. The comic strip “Gasoline Alley,” created by Wisconsin native Frank King, has been entertaining America while reflecting its culture since 1919.

Walt & Skeezix: Book One (Drawn & Quarterly Books) is the first significant King collection and the first in a multivolume series that will reproduce every daily strip from its beginnings up through the 1950s. Book One covers 1921-22; subsequent volumes will also take in two-year periods as well as, separately, Sunday color strips.

The ambitious undertaking by Montreal’s Drawn and Quarterly will take years, and some might ask, “Why bother?” “Gasoline Alley” is, after all, just a comic strip, and comic strips have always been a low estate.

This delightful volume is its own answer. The strips are a treat to read, both for themselves and as historical documents; the accompanying commentaries delve into the background and values of “Gasoline Alley” and the life of a great, but overlooked, American cartoonist. Dozens of photos from a trove of memorabilia provided by King’s granddaughter enhance the text.

“Gasoline Alley” first appeared in the Chicago Tribune in November 1918 as a section of another feature drawn by King called “The Rectangle.” It was launched as a daily continuity strip in August 1919, and its tone shifted sharply in a domestic direction in February 1921 when a baby boy, later called Skeezix, was left on the doorstep of the main character, bachelor Walt Wallet.

In a helpful and informative introduction, Jeet Heer says he believes this unusual cartooning development grew out of a personal sorrow. King and his wife—he married his childhood sweetheart, Delia Drew—suffered the loss of their first child to stillbirth in 1912.

It was the first strip in which characters age in real time, a characteristic that makes it attractive as a chronicle of American life. In a preface, Chris Ware, author-illustrator of the popular novel-in-comics “Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth,” says he admires “Gasoline Alley” for trying to “capture the texture and feeling of life as it slowly, inextricably, and hopelessly passed by.” Ware also praises its “vaguely detectable feeling of melancholy” and “evocation of complex emotions.”

Some of this is detectable in the early strips shown in Book One. Reading them, you gradually sense how slow-moving, gentle and mundane the strip is—and talky. Those were the days when newspapers printed strips big and there was room for lovely—and loving—detail and expansive speech balloons.

This neatly illustrates a point that Heer makes. The reason “GA” hasn’t been hailed for artistic values like “Peanuts” and “Krazy Kat” have, he notes, is that it “needs to be read in bulk to be appreciated,” which takes time and effort. (Not unlike a novel, we might say.) It is “ruminative and cumulative.”

To read “GA” over time, Heer observes, is to see reflected King’s concerns for family and worries about children, not just over their health or possible loss, but their growing up and growing distant. “In his strip King clung to happy memories as tightly as possible, using his masterly pen-work to limn fleeting moments.”

This is understandable, for King is “among the most autobiographical” of cartoonists. King “gave” Walt Wallet his own background, and from time to time over the years Walt would recall with fondness his Wisconsin childhood and make references to the Kickapoo Valley.

King acknowledged that his wife’s brother, Walter White Drew, was the model for Walt Wallet, and that other “GA” regulars—Avery, Doc and Bill—had their origins in Tomah residents. “Gasoline Alley” itself was inspired by a Chicago neighborhood near where King lived.

Though King is strictly speaking a native of Cashton, where he was born in 1883, he has always been associated with Tomah, to which his family moved shortly after his birth. There he grew up with his younger brother Leland. His father, John J. King, had worked as a carpenter before becoming co-owner of the King Bros. General Store in Tomah.

King’s artistic talents flourished early. He drew for the high school newspaper and for the Tomah Herald. Before turning 19 he was a staff artist for the Minneapolis Times. In 1905 he began studying at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts while working weekends at the Chicago American. A serious artist, he was always experimenting in all genres of art and illustration and kept abreast of art trends.

He worked at the Chicago Examiner from 1906 to 1909, when he went to his final newspaper home, the Chicago Tribune, whose syndicate distributes “Gasoline Alley” to this day. Before hitting on “Gasoline Alley,” he tried several strips, working alongside others who also later became famous, such as Sidney Smith, originator of “The Gumps.”

(Smith is another cartoonist with Wisconsin connections; a statue of his comic character, Andy Gump, stands on the grounds of his former estate in Lake Geneva. For that matter, the boyhood home of still another well-known cartoonist lay not terribly far from King’s Tomah: H.T. Webster, creator of Caspar Milquetoast, grew up in Tomahawk.)

Will “Gasoline Alley” make it to 100? Hard to say. Its circulation is way down from the hundreds of newspapers it appeared in during its heyday, though it has a fiercely dedicated, vocal and critical readership, as postings on a Web site bulletin board reveal.

Frank King retired from the strip in the early 1960s and died in 1969. Two other cartoonists had already begun taking over some of the cartooning chores: Bill Perry on the Sunday strips and Dick Moores on the dailies. Jim Scancarelli has written and drawn “GA” since 1986. Though he often takes it far from its original characters and setting, now and again he wanders, seemingly compelled, back to its roots. It is good to have this volume, and its successors, to learn how deeply they reach into America.
—Roger K. Miller
 
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  WALT & SKEEZIX review in Syracuse Post-Standard

Updated August 31, 2005


SOME STORIES AGE BETTER THAN OTHERS

"Walt and Skeezix: Book One," Drawn and Quarterly Publications; $29.99.

JEFF KAPALKA CONTRIBUTING WRITER
17 July 2005
The Post Standard/Herald-Journal


Whenever anyone creates what turns out to be a long-running series (either in prose or comics format), there's always the problem of what to do about the characters aging. James Bond started spying in the 1950s, but you'd never know it by looking at him. Superman started up in 1938, and yet remains an eternal 29 year old. The Phantom began even earlier, yet still fits into his purple tights.

The passing of time is pretty much ignored for pop-culture icons. Exceptions include "For Better or Worse," the first decade and a half of "Blondie" and the surviving granddaddy of all continuity strips, "Gasoline Alley."

Frank King's "Gasoline Alley" began in 1919 as a once-a-week gag panel centering on the nation's latest craze, the automobile. And then, in 1921, one of the denizens of the alley, Walt Wallet, an amiable bachelor, finds a baby (who he names "Skeezix") on his doorstep. This begins an ongoing family chronicle that continues to this very day. Drawn and Quarterly Publications has now started an ambitious project: to reprint King's 30-plus year run on this episodic novel.

And it is a novel. People grow and change. The infant Skeezix of the strip's initial years will eventually grow up, go to war, marry, have children and grandchildren of his own.

"Walt and Skeezix: Book One" introduces us to the Wallet family saga, detailing their trials and tribulations of growing up in the 20th century. The strip is a gentle reminder of the way things used to be.

Oh, I have some minor quibbles with the book: the biographical text is set with too small a typeface (or that could be just me showing my age), and there are certain ethnic portrayals that are not what you'd call politically correct (although never mean- spirited). The strip is a record of its times in more ways than one.

I can't wait for further volumes.


© 2005 Syracuse Newspapers, Inc. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights reserved.

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Nashville City Paper reviews WALT & SKEEZIX

Updated August 19, 2005


Web only column: Dead cowboys and Moore
By Wil Moss, wmoss@nashvillecitypaper.com
August 19, 2005

Walt and Skeezix
By Frank King
(Drawn & Quarterly Books)
www.drawnandquarterly.com
It’s a good time to be a fan of classic comic strips. There’s the current reprint series of Peanuts and Krazy & Ignatz, in October we’ll see the release of the complete Calvin & Hobbes, and now Drawn & Quarterly is reprinting one of the longest running comic strips of all time, Gasoline Alley, in this collection called Walt and Skeezix.
Created by Frank King in the 1920s as a humor strip about the new automobile “fad,” the strip evolved into a decades-long narrative about its cast of characters who age in real time. For every year that passes by in our world, so does one in theirs.
The hook of this collection is Walt, a good-spirited bachelor who finds a baby on his doorstep and raises him as his own son. Naming the kid Skeezix, over the course of the book’s first two years Walt goes from solving Skeezix’s problems by applying the same methods he would use on a car to really caring and becoming a father to the kid.
This parallels the life of then-new papa King, which is thoroughly covered in Jeet Heer’s fascinating 80-page introduction, making the book more than just a reprint of comic strips — it’s an examination of Frank King, both through his life and through his work.
Edited and designed by longtime King admirer Chris Ware, a cartooning giant in his own right, Walt and Skeezix is a lovely package. Considering these are strips from more than 80 years ago, it’s remarkable how so little of the work seems dated. Frank King’s Gasoline Alley is a welcome addition to the growing ranks of comic strip archives.


Review copies can be sent to:
The City Paper
Attn: Wil Moss
P.O. Box 158434
Nashville, TN 37215-8434

 
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  BOSTON PHOENIX - WALT & SKEEZIX

Updated August 18, 2005


Everyday dreams

Frank King’s Gasoline Alley comes to hardcover
BY WILLIAM CORBETT

Walt and Skeezix
By Frank O. King | Edited by Jeet Heer + Chris Oliveros + Chris Ware | Drawn & Quarterly Books | 400 pages | $29.95


In Frank King’s Walt and Skeezix, editors Jeet Heer, Chris Oliveros, and Chris Ware have produced a handsomely designed, sweet-souled book. They intend to continue their labor of love through a multi-volume set that will put into print all of Frank King’s Gasoline Alley comic strips. The "longest story ever told" in American comics, it still appears under the pen of Jim Scancarelli. In his preface, Ware states that the project means to address the "mystery" of why Gasoline Alley has run for so long. But the editors, I’m happy to say, do not attempt to answer this question. They seem to believe that those who look at the strip will have plenty of their own thoughts. One quick one is that Gasoline Alley proceeds day by day. It’s more a novel — the editors’ word for it — than a collection of self-contained stories or adventures.

Born in 1883 in Cashton, Wisconsin, King grew up in nearby Tomah, where, as he revealed in a 1955 essay, he first got to know the real people on whom he based Gasoline Alley’s characters. Since the introduction to Walt and Skeezix is illustrated with photographs, you can see for yourself the spot-on resemblance between Gasoline Alley’s Walt Wallet and King’s brother-in-law Walter Drew. They have the same cowlick of hair falling over their foreheads — it’s a cartoonist’s dream, like FDR’s jutting chin and Richard Nixon’s ski-jump nose, the instantly identifiable feature. Both also have plump, pear-shaped bodies. Walt Wallet looks like a child — the other characters smoke and he doesn’t — in a man’s body. He’s not mature so much as overgrown. His weight is often referred to in the strip, and his bachelor’s figure is clownish and endearing.

King began Gasoline Alley on New Year’s Day 1921, and baby Skeezix got left on Walt’s doorstep on Valentine’s Day that same year. Over the life of the strip, Skeezix, like the other characters, ages. I have no reason to doubt the editors’ claim that this is unique in American comic strips. I do remember that Dick Tracy, Prince Valiant, and Terry and the Pirates were unchangeable, immortal like the gods.

Skeezix is at the center of the strip. He takes it out of the alley where Walt and his friends Avery, Bill, and Doc tinker with their cars into the larger domestic world. Because of him, Walt’s mother, black maid Rachel (of the Stepinfetchit genre of comic American negro characters), and Phyllis Blossom, who has designs on Walt, have roles that move the strip out of the man’s world and open up comic possibilities. But to my eye this is not the answer to the "mystery."

One place to look is King’s drawing. He’s in the line of American comic-strip artists descending from Krazy Kat’s George Herriman who in the space of a single panel can bring to life recognizable characters in action. All of King’s characters, but especially pinch-faced Doc and Bill, cigar-chomping Avery, and baby-faced Walt, have the quirky features that are the core of the cartoonist’s art. They communicate the way the figures in so many Quattrocento frescoes do. How like comic-strip faces are the crowds in Giotto’s Arena Chapel! King’s drawing is both easy to read and physically present, the very quality that appealed to Pop artists.

When King puts this easy presence at the service of daily life as lived by ordinary men and women, Gasoline Alley feels like our world, but we happily accept that it isn’t. No one lives a life in which every day brings a domestic comic disaster, embarrassment, or triumph. We watch daytime soap operas because we love the formula if it is done with a straight face, and King, as this book shows, took pains to make his strip like life yet not quite. He does us the honor of not winking, of not reminding us that it’s a fiction.

That’s just one partial answer to why Gasoline Alley has endured. The volumes to come may provide others, but my feeling is that this "mystery," like the melancholy the editors find in the strip, doesn’t require explanation. We like to be told the same old stories, the stuff of our common anecdotal lives, again and again, so long as the telling is fresh. King had the gift. Leave it at that.
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Walt & Skeezix in the Belleville News-Democrat (IL)

Updated August 18, 2005


Gasoline Alley has a proud history

10 July 2005
Belleville News-Democrat (IL)


Fans of the comic strip Gasoline Alley would have to be around the century mark themselves if they remember seeing the very first panel in the Chicago Tribune on Nov. 24, 1918.

At that time, the paper ran a page on Sunday called The Rectangle, which featured various single-panel cartoons by staff artists. The vast majority came and went with little notice, including Pet Peeves, Science Facts and It Isn't the Cost, It's the Upkeep.

But Frank King used one small corner of The Rectangle to introduce a weekly panel about Walt, Doc, Avery and Bill and their love for cars. He called it Gasoline Alley, and, since the public's fascination with cars then was like its love of high-tech gadgetry now, the strip's popularity took off like an Indy racer.

Within months, it became a daily panel which then grew into a strip. Still, Tribune Publisher Captain Joseph Patterson wasn't satisfied. He wanted what was an obviously masculine strip of guys tinkering with their autos to grab the interest of women, too.

"Captain Patterson decided there had to be a baby in the strip," King once recalled. "I pointed out that, as Walt was a bachelor, it would take quite a little time to bring this about, what with a courtship, marriage and all. But Captain Patterson said he was in a hurry to get the baby in the picture. He wanted a baby NOW!!!"

So, on Valentine's Day, 1921, Walt Wallet found baby Skeezix on his doorstep, and the rest is history. Over the next 25 years, King kept fans running for their papers each day as he told of Walt's single fatherhood, his blooming relationship with Phyllis Blossom, the birth of their own son, Corky, and the adoption of their daughter, Judy.

It was, by all accounts, the first comic strip in which characters aged normally and was, perhaps, the first soap opera of its kind anywhere. Almost fittingly, then, King died on June 24, 1969, at age 86 -- 43 years to the day that Walt and Phyllis married.

By that time, the strip was in the capable hands of Bill Perry and Dick Moores. Saying he could teach anyone to be a cartoonist, King had snatched Perry from the Tribune's mail room as his assistant. By 1951, Perry had taken over the Sunday strip.

Five years later, King hired Moores, who had helped Chester Gould on Dick Tracy in the 1930s and had drawn Mickey Mouse comic books in the 1950s. Once King retired in 1959, Moores continued the strip until his death in 1986, always equalling or, some say, surpassing his mentor's level of quality.

One episode particularly shines through. Although he reportedly opposed the Vietnam War, Moores had Chip Wallet proudly serve his country. In one particularly harrowing episode in 1969, Chip, guided only by radio instructions, found himself operating on a dying Viet Cong woman. Moores built on the plotline by having Chip become a doctor when he returned to the United States.

Little wonder, Gasoline Alley was named the year's best story strip in 1981, 1982 and 1983. And, there appears no imminent end of the road. Just a few weeks before Phyllis died, Hoogie -- the wife of Walt's great-grandson Rover -- announced that she was pregnant.

Or, if you want to go back to the very beginning, don't miss "Walt and Skeezix: Book One," Chris Ware's compilation of the first Gasoline Alley strips. The 400-page hardcover, which may be the first in a historical series, is just $19.77 at Amazon.com.

(c) Copyright 2005, Belleville News-Democrat. All Rights Reserved.
 

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  WALT & SKEEZIX reviewed in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Updated August 10, 2005


WORDS AND PICTURES
Your guide to new manga, graphic novels and comics

Collection offers perfect chance to appreciate ‘Gasoline Alley’

Walt and Skeezix, Book One, by Frank O. King. Drawn & Quarterly Books, $29.95. All ages.


Words and Pictures began a year ago, with a review of “The Complete Peanuts,” the initial volume reprinting Charles Schulz's classic comic. So it's appropriate that our second year begins with another classic strip, albeit one that's now nearly forgotten.

Frank King created “Gasoline Alley” in 1918 as an occasional sketch in a Chicago Tribune feature. Based on the new craze for automobiles, it showed Walt Wallet and neighbors Bill, Doc and Avery repairing their jalopies in the alley behind their homes.

“Walt and Skeezix,” the first in a series collecting King's work, reprints the 1921 and 1922 dailies. (Sunday strips, which did not tie into the daily story lines, will be done separately.) The auto-centric focus becomes a minor subplot after Walt finds an abandoned baby on his front stoop. He takes in the boy and calls him Skeezix.

The travails of a rotund bachelor raising a baby was much more interesting than four guys messing with cars, and “Gasoline Alley” soon had 30 million readers in 400-plus newspapers. King allowed all the characters to grow older in real time, so by the end of this book, Skeezix is walking and uttering his first words. Meanwhile, women are bobbing their hair, and men are losing money in phony oil stocks. An automobile trip to Yellowstone by Walt, Skeezix, Doc and his wife is an adventure in back roads, mudholes, blown tires and roadside tent camping in an era before nation-spanning highways. Walt revels in being a bachelor, but when the mysterious and attractive Mrs. Blossom rents a garage in the alley, Skeezix adores her — and soon Walt is falling for her, too.

“Walt and Skeezix” is designed by cartoonist Chris Ware (“Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth”), who has often cited King's influence on his work. Ware calls the strip “one of the most individual, human, and genuinely great works in the history of comics.” A solid introduction by comics expert Jeet Heer — replete with family photos from King's scrapbooks — puts the strip in historical and artistic perspective. The only flaw is the typeface — tiny and light — which makes the text a strain to read. But what counts are the strips — crisply reproduced, two to a page, they’re easy to follow.

“Gasoline Alley,” which peaked in the 1960s and now runs in only a handful of newspapers (although it's drawn with style and humor by Jim Scancarelli), is usually not cited with such classics as “Peanuts,” “Krazy Kat” or even “Dilbert.” This, Heer says, is because “as a strip that dwelt on the daily travails of ordinary people, ‘Gasoline Alley’ needs to be read in bulk to be appreciated.’ ”

Now it can be. “Walt and Skeezix” is a jewel of a book, a treasure just waiting to be discovered.

— Frank C. Rizzo, frizzo@ajc.com

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WALT & SKEEZIX in Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Updated July 27, 2005


Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Comic strip collection a chronicle of American life

"Walt & Skeezix: Book One," by Frank King; edited by Chris Ware
Drawn and Quarterly Books, $29.95, 424 pages.

By Roger K. Miller
FOR THE TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Sunday, July 24, 2005

You could say "Gasoline Alley" is, if not the, then a, Great American Novel -- if, that is, your definition of "great" encompasses "big" or "long" and your concept of the novel embraces serial publication and graphics. The comic strip "Gasoline Alley," created by Frank King, has been entertaining while reflecting America since 1919.

This is the first significant collection of the strip and the first in a multivolume series that will reproduce every daily strip from its beginnings up through the 1950s, the peak years of King's work. "Walt & Skeezix: Book One" covers 1921-22; subsequent volumes will also take in two-year periods as well as, separately, Sunday color strips.

The ambitious undertaking by Drawn and Quarterly, a Montreal specialty publisher, will take years, and some might ask, Why bother? "Gasoline Alley" is, after all, "just" a comic strip, and the comic strip has always been a low estate -- perhaps now more than ever, what with shrinking newspapers continually shrinking their comics pages.

This delightful volume is its own answer. The strips are a treat to read, both for themselves and as historical documents; the accompanying commentaries delve into the background and values of "Gasoline Alley" and the life of a great, but overlooked, American cartoonist. Dozens of photos from a treasure trove of memorabilia provided by King's granddaughter, Drewanna King, enhance the text.

"Gasoline Alley" first appeared in the Chicago Tribune in November 1918 as a section of another feature drawn by King called "The Rectangle," a men's milieu capitalizing on a postwar car craze. It was launched as a daily continuity strip in August 1919, and its tone shifted sharply in a domestic direction in February 1921 when a baby boy, later called Skeezix, was left on the doorstep of the main character, bachelor Walt Wallet.

It was the first strip in which characters age in real time, a characteristic that makes it attractive as a chronicle of American life. In a preface, Chris Ware, author-illustrator of the popular novel-in-comics "Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth," says he admires "Gasoline Alley" for trying to "capture the texture and feeling of life as it slowly, inextricably, and hopelessly passed by." Ware also praises its "vaguely detectable feeling of melancholy" and "evocation of complex emotions."

Some of this is detectable in the early strips shown here. Reading them, you gradually sense how slow-moving, gentle and mundane the strip is -- and talky. Those were the days when newspapers printed strips big and there was room for lovely -- and loving -- detail and expansive speech balloons.

This neatly illustrates a point made by Jeet Heer in his helpful and informative introduction. The reason "GA" hasn't been hailed for artistic values like "Peanuts" and "Krazy Kat," he notes, is that it "needs to be read in bulk to be appreciated," which takes time and effort. (Not unlike a novel, we might say.) It is "ruminative and cumulative."

To read "GA" over time, Heer observes, is to see reflected King's concerns for family and worries about children, not just over their health or possible loss (his wife lost their first child to stillbirth ), but their growing up and growing distant. "In his strip King clung to happy memories as tightly as possible, using his masterly penwork to limn fleeting moments."

This is understandable, for King is "among the most autobiographical" of cartoonists. He was born in 1883 in Cashton, Wis., but grew up in Tomah. King "gave" Walt Wallet his own background, and from time to time over the years Walt would recall with fondness his Wisconsin childhood and make references to the Kickapoo Valley.

King acknowledged that his wife's brother, Walter White Drew, was the model for Walt Wallet, and that other "GA" regulars -- Avery, Doc and Bill -- had their origins in Tomah residents. "Gasoline Alley" itself was inspired by a Chicago neighborhood near where King lived.

Will "Gasoline Alley" make it to 100? Hard to say. Its circulation is way down from the hundreds of newspapers it appeared in during its heyday, though it has a fiercely dedicated, vocal and critical readership, as postings on a Web site bulletin board reveal.

Jim Scancarelli has written and drawn "GA" since 1986. Though he often takes it far from its original characters and setting, now and again he wanders, seemingly compelled, back to its roots. It is good to have this volume, and its successors, to learn how deeply they reach into America.

Roger K. Miller is a Janesville, Wis., freelance writer for the Tribune-Review.
 

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  New Jersey Star-Ledger Review: Walt & Skeezix

Updated July 27, 2005


Funny how life goes on

Sunday, July 24, 2005

When I was a kid reading the Sunday funny pages in the'60s and'70s, "Gasoline Alley" was a mystery that seemed to contain nothing so enticing as mystery. It was one of those strips, like "Prince Valiant" (with its typeface reeking of school) and "Mary Worth," that had been around forever. It was plain and, even worse, old.

I'd probably still be in the dark about "Gasoline Alley" if it weren't for "Walt and Skeezix: 1921 & 1922," the first volume of comic-art publisher Drawn & Quarterly's ambitious projected reissue of the entire run of the comic strip under creator Frank O. King. ("Gasoline Alley," now in its 87th year, is currently drawn by Jim Scancarelli. King drew the strip from its inception in 1918 until 1956.)

Some background: King began his strip at the Chicago Tribune in 1918 as a set of one-panel gags about four buddies tinkering with their jalopies at a neighborhood garage. In 1921, King's main character Walt Wallet, a bachelor soft in heart and build (based on King's brother-in-law), discovers a foundling left on his doorstep. Walt takes the baby in and names him Skeezix. Life continues much as before, only now with Walt as a daddy.

That simple adaptability is, I think, both the genius and the beauty of King's strip. It captures the way life goes on, even amidst the most momentous changes. It's that quality that has defined much of what's admirable and much of what's lamentable in American life. In "Gasoline Alley," it's admirable -- and life does go on. In what now stands as a radical innovation, but one that must have seemed entirely reasonable to the cartoonist, King made the decision to age the characters of the strip in real time.

Think about that for a moment. In order for most ongoing series -- whether they are comic strips, detective novels, movie franchises -- to have a commercial shelf life, and to give audiences the reassurance of familiarity, the characters must stay frozen in time and traits. Bertie Wooster will always be a genial ass and Jeeves his mandarin guardian angel. Modesty Blaise and Willie Garvin will always be ultra- competent soulmates united in the face of deadly enemies. Lucy will always be a fussbudget, Charlie Brown will always be Charlie Brown. (TV series, which now almost all opt for limited runs and progress in their story lines, are an exception. Similarly, this doesn't apply to something like the Harry Potter books, which were conceived to cover a specific period of time.) King's characters exist outside of this pop Neverland.

In his introduction, the comic artist Chris Ware calls "Gasoline Alley" "one of the most individual, human, and great works in the history of comics." What can be seen in this volume certainly qualifies it as one of the most loving and lyrical evocations of everyday life in American literature.

To open "Walt and Skeezix" is to be handed our collective past and to feel that past come alive in front of you. I don't just mean the past in terms of slang or dress, or in the way a home is furnished, though that's part of it. This is a time before television or talkies, when radio still has the feel of a novelty, when the automobile is beginning to transform the mobility of Americans without yet having dominated national life.

It's not xenophobia or ignorance that keeps Walt and his buddies focused on their neighborhood -- that's where they turn to for comfort in a world that still feels vast, incapable of being encompassed. The characters stand in a passage between the country's past and its present. And even this world does not offer security. Walt frets over losing custody of his newfound "son." King knew that fear. His wife, Delia, had given birth to a stillborn baby girl in 1912. Skeezix is based on his son Robert Drew, born in 1916.

Loss as a condition of life enters into "Gasoline Alley" in a much more concentrated way for us than it must have for readers who followed the strip daily as it appeared. An artist who is attempting to capture life as it unfolds, rather than in retrospect, cannot foresee what lies ahead. You watch Walt and his friends fiddling with their autos, taking the odd swipe of home brew (Prohibition was in effect), giving a passing woman the once-over, and you know that life holds complications that their creator couldn't have foreseen -- the 1929 stock market crash, the Depression and World War II, in which Skeezix, by then a young man, enlists. (Skeezix celebrated his 75th birthday in the strip in 1996.)

Ware's exquisite, detailed design for this volume (with graceful touches everywhere, from the inside of the dust jacket to the gold- embossed outline of Skeezix on the spine) lavishes upon the strip the love of a family heirloom. (The volume has been generously illustrated with King family photos thanks to King's granddaughter Drewanna, to whom Ware has dedicated this entire project.)

The complete "Gasoline Alley" will appear in volumes, with each comprising two years of the strip. Collections of the Sunday color strip will appear in separate volumes. That may seem in commercial line with the ongoing reissue of the complete "Peanuts" or the recent issue of the complete "The Far Side." As with DVDs presenting TV shows season by season and CD sets of an artist's entire output for one label, it may seem part of the cultural vogue for completeness.

But what Chris Ware and Drawn & Quarterly have embarked on is, apart from the loving care of their presentation, the best tribute Frank King could have hoped for. What was to King and his characters the flow of life is, for us, a finite journey. And since the complete reissue will take two decades, anyone who embarks on reading "Gasoline Alley" will be experiencing their own sense of time passing. (I'll be in my mid-'60s when the final volume appears.) The ineffable grace and infinite gentleness of King's art takes on an increasing poignancy as you make your way through this volume. It's life presented as a gift, slipping away bit by bit each time you turn the page.


Charles Taylor is a writer who lives in Brooklyn. High & Low, a column on popular culture, appears monthly.
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MoCCA SPECIAL EVENT AUGUST 1st - NEW YORK

Updated July 27, 2005


You are cordially invited to a special event on August 1st at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art.

This coming Monday, August 1st, Jeet Heer and Kent Worcester will discuss their book Arguing Comics: Literary Masters on a Popular Medium (University of Mississippi Press), an anthology of twenty-seven essays on comics by major twentieth century literary figures, including Umberto Eco, Dorothy Parker, Irving Howe, Clement Greenberg, Leslie Fiedler, C.L.R. James, Robert Warshow, and many others. The essays take up comics as a point of entry into wider debates over modern art, cultural standards, and mass communications. Tom Spurgeon says that "If you've ever had a halfway serious thought about comics, there's probably something in Arguing Comics for you to read. It should be a foundational book for all sorts of comics readers for years to come."

Jeet Heer will also discuss his extensive work on Walt and Skeezix, the first of a multivolume reprint project of Frank King's legendary comic strip, Gasoline Alley. The book was designed by Chris Ware, and it has received glowing reviews. A question and answer session will follow the presentation, and the authors will have copies of both books on hand for purchase and signing with a portion of the proceeds going to MoCCA. Free refreshments will be served, and admission is also free.

The Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, MoCCA, is located at 594 Broadway, just below Houston Street, in lower Manhattan, in suite 401. The special event starts at 6:30 pm and will go until 8:00 pm.
 

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  Time.com Spotlights WALT & SKEEZIX

Updated July 13, 2005



Saturday, Jul. 09, 2005
A Bright, Well-lit 'Alley'
TIME.comix on Frank King's forgotten masterwork
By ANDREW D. ARNOLD

In troubled times, people often turn to nostalgia for relief — well, certain kinds of people anyway. Comic fans may be a prime example, with their almost instinctive need to horde their favorite titles and authors to keep the golden moments of the past close at hand. In what may be a comment on our times, comic publishers have begun catering heavily to this market with such complete reprint series as Fantagraphics' Krazy and Ignatz, reprinting George Herriman's "Krazy Cat," and their best-selling Complete Peanuts line of hardcovers. Now, Montreal's Drawn & Quarterly has joined in with perhaps the most nostalgic reprint yet, Walt and Skeezix (400 pages; $30), the first volume of the complete daily strips of Frank King's "Gasoline Alley." Wonderfully warm and humane, the book should come with a warning not to mix it with alcohol or old-timey music lest you lapse into irreversible reverie.

Best known for the way its characters aged in real time, "Gasoline Alley," which continues to this day, was about as popular with the World War II generation as "Peanuts" would later be with their kids. Incredibly, it has never before been reprinted. Edited and designed by the meticulous cartoonist Chris Ware, who is also behind the George Herriman series, this is the first volume of a projected 20-years-long series that will reprint the strip in its entirety up through the early 1950s when King started turning over duties to assistants. Walt and Skeezix volume one begins with the full 1921 and 1922 run, excluding color Sunday strips, the period when "Gasoline Alley" had just started to appear as a four panel strip after beginning in 1919 as a series of single gag panels. Gorgeously designed and printed on heavy, off-white paper Walt and Skeezix also comes with a rich trove of photos and archival background material, making this weighty brick of a book a revelation. "Gasoline Alley" clearly belongs in the cannon as a deeply American masterwork of cartooning.

King (1883 - 1969) studied art and spent his adult life in Chicago, and "Gasoline Alley" is ostensibly set there, though you would never know it. It takes the form of a small town comedy, based primarily on King's memories of Tomah, Wisconsin, where he grew up. Centered on an alley of garages and a core of auto buffs, the early years of the strip now read like a priceless snapshot of America's burgeoning car culture. The central group of four friends are constantly patching tires, cleaning spark plugs and trading in their old Lizzies for newer models. One clever strip has an entire conversation in car-related numbers: "34 x 4 1/2?" "95 x 5" "Do 70?" "Do 80!" "3,000!" "Offer 2250!" But the real heart of the strip began beating on February 14, 1921 when the central character, Walt Wallet, a rotund confirmed bachelor with a sharp cowlick of hair sticking out the top of his oval head, opened his door to discover a baby left on his doorstep.

This arrival, named Skeezix, instantly changed the nature of the strip from a boys-only car-centered daily to a domestic comedy that reflected America's collective self-image. For the first time ever, Americans could watch a set of characters growing up just as they did. Not until the advent of television would there be any equivalent mass media experience. The Wallets will go through the boom of the 20s, struggle through the Great Depression, after which Skeezix will join the military and fight in the Second World War until he comes home and raises a family of his own during the 1950s. Based heavily on King's own life, as evidenced by the archival materials provided in the book, "Gasoline Alley" would essentially become an illustrated daily diary of an American family in the 20th century.

Besides Walt and Skeezix, the cast of central characters includes Avery, the penny-pincher, Bill the affable mechanic, and Doc, "adviser to the alley both as to physical ailments and mechanical ills." Women, at least at first, have only minor roles, with two exceptions. Mrs. Blossom, an attractive young lady of mysterious background appears halfway through this first volume to create some tension with the determined bachelor Walt. These sorts of plot developments — another involves a phony oil futures huckster — give the strip a narrative drive that take it well beyond a mere joke a day about cars and kids and into soap opera territory. The other major female character arrives after Walt goes through several comically inadequate nannies. He settles on Rachel, an unfortunately stereotypical black "mammy" character. Yet, taken objectively, even the caricature of Rachel is in keeping with the pervasive racism of the era, affirming the series as a faithful record of the prevailing attitudes at the time among the Main Street Americans from whose point of view the story is told.

These very early strips in Walt and Skeezix set the charming, humane tone of the series to come. Much of the humor derives from Walt's application of car mechanics to the raising of a baby. In one amusing strip, he tricks out the baby carriage with, "a bumper, windshield wings, spotlight that reels out…an awning and a set of snubbers to take the rebound out the springs." The scenes with Walt and Skeezix together are filled with genuine warmth that seems almost totally absent from many of today's family entertainments. King would even occasionally sacrifice a gag just for the sake of creating a mood. One remarkable, wordless strip shows silhouettes of the two inside a tent, as Walt wakes up in the night to feed the baby. That's it. Just like life.

This particular strip appears during the book's best sequence, about a trip to Yellowstone National Park. What could be more American than a road trip to Yellowstone? A month and a half's worth of strips detail the adventures, with each daily location noted in the lower corner, "Cedar Rapids, IA … Hastings, Neb. … Yuma, Col.," etc. It may be the first ever cartoon travelogue. King's interest in America's pastoral wilderness would become a recurring theme in the series, especially in the color Sunday strips. (The publisher intends to reprint them separately.) The color Sundays reveal King's extraordinary visual imagination, often incorporating entirely fanciful, dreamlike scenarios and bizarre layouts that counter the quotidian nature of the daily strip. Even so, the black and white dailies, reprinted at more than twice the size of today's average strip, reveal King's remarkable penmanship and eye for detail.

No fan of comics, pop culture, nostalgia or the American experience should miss Frank King's Walt and Skeezix. "Gasoline Alley," with its gently paced melodrama, its charming humor, its caricatures, its cars, its countryside and its cityscape, fairly overflows with American iconography. Ideally, it should be taken out on a back screen porch on a warm afternoon, with a glass of cool lemonade and an old Western Electric circulating fan to thrum back and forth. But even without these accouterments, you will be swept away to another, bygone world.

Please note that I will be taking TIME.comix on a summer break for vacation and to focus on other projects. It will return in early September.

Copyright © 2005 Time Inc. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited. Privacy Policy

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The Hartford Advocate Features WALT & SKEEZIX!

Updated July 13, 2005





Classic Strips
A gentle satire of America´s infatuation with the automobile, and channeling anxiety into feline fantasies

by Alan Bisbort - July 14, 2005
IMAGES COURTESY DRAWN & QUARTERLY BOOKS

We all have elderly relatives who will, at the drop of Fred Astaire's top hat, regale us with reasons why the old days and their antiquated ways were better than all things newfangled or modern. While this old saw can get pretty rusty, in the case of the comic strip what those old geezers say is demonstrably true. Not opinion, but fact.

Take Frank O. King's "Gasoline Alley," the strip that began tentatively in 1918 and became by the 1920s the most popular daily cartoon in the country. Or take George Herriman's "Krazy Kat," the strip that ran daily and Sundays from 1914 to 1944, pitting Ignatz the Mouse against the lovestruck feline who worshiped him and completely redefined the comic art genre. Without King or Herriman or their contemporary Winsor McCay -- creator of the equally mind-altering and long-running "Little Nemo in Slumberland" -- everything from "Mutts" and "Far Side" to "The Boondocks" and "Zippy the Pinhead" would be unthinkable, if not impossible.

So, if you're looking for a project to ward off the summer doldrums, two of the finest comic art publishers in the world, Montreal-based Drawn & Quarterly and Seattle-based Fantagraphics, have provided the perfect way to rediscover these classic strips. Drawn & Quarterly has begun a monumental task with the first volume of the collected works of King. Entitled Walt & Skeezix , it picks up "Gasoline Alley" in 1921 and carries it through to the end of 1922. This handsome hardcover, sumptuously designed by Chris "Jimmy Corrigan" Ware, is an obsessive's delight and a must-have for any public library's reference shelf. In 424 lavish pages, it contains every single strip, in sequence, as well as a detailed biographical sketch of King by Jeet Heer, archival photographs and appendices that supply the context by which to judge King's achievement.

King's strip began as a gentle satire on the car craze that swept America after World War I and became, in Ware's words, "the longest story ever told in comics." These early strips chronicle the life of Walt, a pudgy unmarried nerd and cheapskate whose car (named Peggy) is always breaking down. Walt has taken it in his head to raise Skeezix, a baby he found on his doorstep one morning. Though the strip is a paean to King's own small-town Wisconsin boyhood, the nostalgia is tempered with a creepy darkness: Walt is terrified of losing Skeezix, the foundling, who has given his otherwise pathetic life meaning. As Ware notes, this is the first strip to show characters aging, a "horrible fact of life" that gives it the power of a literary saga. It also offers a glimpse of the soul of America "as it slowly, inextricably, and hopelessly" passes into the ether of history.

Fantagraphics has undertaken the same sort of project with Krazy & Ignatz, 1935-1936: A Wild Warmth of Chromatic Gravy , reprinting Herriman's complete full-page "Krazy & Ignatz" comic strips, from start to finish. Theirs is a less sumptuous but equally exhaustive undertaking, and the oversized paperbound volumes are also designed by the ubiquitous Ware, arguably the finest American contemporary comic artist. The series, which began with Herriman's first Krazy Kat strips in 1925, is now on its sixth volume, taking it up to 1936. The "chromatic gravy" of the subtitle refers to the fact that Krazy Kat didn't begin its color Sunday strips until June 1935. The volume also contains an essay by Heer and archival material from the life of Herriman, a complex man who channeled his anxieties into his wild feline fantasies.

The "gravy" of the subtitle could also refer to the unpredictable surrealism that spewed daily from Herriman's ink bottle. While King was a journeyman artist, comfortable within his set boundaries, Herriman was a true original, even a visionary. In the words of Michael Chabon, "One of the very great artists, in any medium, of the 20th century."

Walt & Skeezix, 1921 & 1922 , by Frank O. King; designed by Chris Ware; Drawn & Quarterly Books, $29.95

Krazy & Ignatz, 1935-1936: A Wild Warmth of Chromatic Gravy , by George Herriman; designed by Chris Ware; Fantagraphics, $19.95.

 
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  The Onion Reviews WALT &SKEEZIX!

Updated June 28, 2005


Frank King
Walt And Skeezix

Over the course of three decades, Gasoline Alley creator Frank King put his stamp on comic strips, influencing the likes of Peanuts, For Better Or For Worse, Calvin And Hobbes, and others in ways that have never been properly acknowledged. But like a lot of strips of the early 20th century, Gasoline Alley started as a little bit of nothing, until King settled on a voice and a concept. The first Gasoline Alleys in 1919 were one-panel trifles with inside jokes about cars and car enthusiasts. The panel became a strip, and on Valentine's Day 1921, its lead character, bachelor mechanic Walt Wallet, discovered a baby on his doorstep. A year later, the baby, Skeezix, was a year older, like Walt and all the other denizens of Gasoline Alley. King had created the first comic strip where the characters aged and changed.
That seemingly minor creative breakthrough proved major. Lots of strips in the '20s and '30s told long, involved stories, but when the stories ended, the status quo returned. Walt Wallet had comparatively tamer adventures—selling a car, taking a motoring tour through the West, and so forth—but because life could be irreversibly altered for King's heroes, even reaffirmations of the norm had meaning. Every day that Walt was able to put Skeezix to bed well-fed and healthy was a plenty good day.
King had the right art style for such a gently humorous examination of the everyday. His figures and vehicles were rounded and exaggerated, but his poses were natural, and he knew just how to draw a little kid slung affectionately over a big man's shoulder. King's senses of language and character were even keener. Gasoline Alley's residents had trouble seeing past their own obsessions, but their failings complimented each other, making for a misshapen but sustainable and practically idyllic society, where the worst insult one man could heap on another would be to point out that his "cubist rear tire is a chapter on misplaced confidence."
Following the model of Fantagraphics' bestselling The Complete Peanuts, Drawn & Quarterly has announced plans to collect King's complete Gasoline Alley run over the next 20 years. The first volume, the handsome, Chris Ware-designed Walt And Skeezix, follows life in the Wallet household just before and after the foundling's arrival. The Complete Peanuts was justly heralded, because comics fans had been waiting decades for Charles Schulz's strip to get the deluxe treatment. Drawn & Quarterly's Gasoline Alley project should make those fans just as happy. It's a real gift: the kind we didn't even know we wanted. —Noel Murray

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Boston Globe Features WALT & SKEEZIX!

Updated June 28, 2005


Family business
The bittersweet story of fathers, sons, and comics

By Jeet Heer  |  June 12, 2005

Cartooning has been a family business in more ways than one for Mort Walker and the late Dik Browne. In 1954, after creating the strip "Beetle Bailey," Walker launched an equally successful follow up, "Hi and Lois." Cocreated with Browne, "Hi and Lois" steered away from the comic strip convention of bickering couples and offered a gentle and cozy take on suburban family life. Riding the baby boom wave, "Hi and Lois" became the model for many other family strips, including Browne's "Hagar the Horrible," featuring a domesticated Viking.

The family arrangement prevailed not only in the funny pages but also in real life. Now age 81, Walker presides over a nest of strips worked on by his sons, as well as the sons of Dik Browne. It takes a complicated chart to trace this family tree, but, in a nutshell, "Hi and Lois" is now produced by Brian and Greg Walker and Chance Browne, "Beetle Bailey" by Mort Walker and Greg Walker, and "Hagar the Horrible" by Chris Browne.

"Dik Browne used to call it his cottage industry," jokes Brian Walker, interviewed by phone from his studio in Wilton, Connecticut. Brian points out that the family business model of the Walkers and Brownes is typical of how things are done in the still predominantly male world of the comics page. Father-and-son teams produce many popular strips, including "Blondie" and "Ziggy" (which carries the signature "Tom Wilson and Tom II"). Meanwhile, cartoonists from Hank Ketchem ("Dennis the Menace") to Lynn Johnston ("For Better or for Worse") have taken bits of their family life and used them as fodder for strips that get read in family newspapers and stuck to family refrigerators all across America.

Yet in the cartooning world, as in life, there's a more complicated side to father-son relationships. Many of today's most popular and accomplished graphic novelists, like their counterparts among conventional novelists, portray family life as a source of emotional pain and fathers as overbearing or absent.

. . .

For Brian Walker, being the son of a cartoonist meant having a closeness to his father's work that is denied to most children today. "One of the real perks of being a cartoonist is that you can basically work at home or close to home," Walker observes. "I'd come home from school, my father would be there. I'd feel sorry for other kids: ‘You mean your father is not around all the time like mine is?' " Looking over old Hi and Lois strips, Brian is often amazed at how much they resemble a diary of family life, with his boyhood love of stealing cookies and arguments about strict school dress codes immortalized in four colors.

Now in his mid-50s and happily married, Brian Walker has replicated the lifestyle enjoyed by his father, working in a studio not far from home. "As a modern father, I feel that there is this expectation to do everything," Walker says. "To be involved in child rearing, change the diapers, give the kids rides, go to the baseball games. My father did all that stuff, because he was around. Most of the fathers of his generation didn't do that kind of stuff."

Cullen Murphy, who collaborated for more than 25 years on the medieval adventure strip "Prince Valiant" with his late father, John Cullen Murphy, grew up in Cos Cob, Conn., amidst the same sort of suburban bohemianism as the Walkers and Brownes. "Like Brian Walker, we were all part of a fairly large cartoonist ghetto in Connecticut," Murphy remembers. "So this was in my own blood from childhood on."

Murphy suggests that a significant number of strips have stayed in the family in part because the practice of cartooning is akin to a kind of medieval guild. "It's a kind of craftsmanship and sensibility that is picked up by being in close association with people who are doing it," he says. "If you are part of a cartoonist's family, you get caught up into that world."

The younger Murphy, the longtime managing editor of The Atlantic Monthly, gave up writing "Prince Valiant" last fall, shortly after his father's death. (Murphy's sister Meg also worked on the strip, doing the lettering and coloring. Today, the strip is being carried on by writer Gary Gianni and artist Mark Schultz.) "I realized after Dad died how much I was doing it really just to be working with him," he says.

But not all cartoonists have used comics as a way to cozy up to the family hearth. For many of today's graphic novelists, they have just as often been a way to work through difficult relationships with their fathers.

"This is something I found really fascinating when I met Chris Browne," says cartoonist Art Spiegelman of one of Dik Browne's sons. "It's so different from anything I experienced. It was the first time I had ever met a son who had only good things to say about his father."

Growing up in an immigrant household, Spiegelman, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his graphic novel "Maus," received little encouragement to be an artist. "I became a cartoonist because my father couldn't read comics," he remembers. "It was not to please a father, but to run away from one. In a sense I let myself . nd Mad Magazine as my American parent. It was a way of understanding my country that wasn't available to me in the household."

Which isn't to say that Spiegelman and his father weren't collaborators of a kind. "Maus" recounts the troubled history of his parents, who were both Holocaust survivors. (The first volume, "A Survivor's Tale" (1986), is subtitled "My Father Bleeds History.") His mother committed suicide in 1968 when Art was 20 years old, while his father kept sane and alive by developing a hard shell of irascibility. As Spiegelman points out, Maus is about "the oedipal mystery of how the hell I got born with two parents who were supposed to be dead."

In telling his father's story, Spiegelman healed some of the wounds of estrangement between him and his father, who saw some of the early chapters before his death in 1982. "Certainly just by drawing my father and having to inhabit him, there was a way of trying to understand him and trying to come to terms with him," he says.

Many other younger cartoonists have followed in Spiegelman's footsteps in using comics to explore the darker side of the father- son relationship. Chris Ware, raised by his mother, met his father for the first time while he was working on "Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth" (2000), a semi-autobiographical account of a hapless soul whose father abandoned the family when he was young. Dan Clowes's "David Boring" (2000) features another young man who turns to an old superhero comic book to discover clues to his missing father. And working in collaboration with his father, John Gallant, the Canadian cartoonist Seth has created an illustrated picture book, called "Bannock, Beans and Black Tea" (2004), in which Gallant recalls a harrowing childhood at the hands of an abusive father on rural Prince Edward Island during the Depression.

"I sometimes think about sending Art a Father's Day card," jokes Ware, a reference both to Spiegelman's influence, as well as his role in nurturing young cartoonists as an editor. In a more serious vein, Ware points out that for many young boys, cartooning can be a substitute for parental attention. "When I was a kid, I would spend hours filling up my sketchbook with muscle-bound superheroes," he says. "It seems obvious to me that characters like Superman and Batman are father-figures."

. . .

As he grew up, he also looked for cartooning fathers in such early masters as Winsor McCay ("Little Nemo"), George Herriman ("Krazy Kat"), and Frank King ("Gasoline Alley"), whose understated mastery he discovered in the 1977 Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics. Reading through yellowing clippings of the old daily strip of "Gasoline Alley," Ware says, he found a deep affinity with an artist who "tried to capture the texture and feeling of life as it slowly, inextricably, and hopelessly passed by."

Recently, Ware and I (along with Drawn & Quarterly publisher Chris Oliveros) undertook a project to bring King's "Gasoline Alley" back into print in its entirety. As we researched the project, we began to see a persistent theme of father-son love (and its absence) in both the strip and King's life. In 1916, after suffering the stillbirth of one child, King andhis wife gave birth to a son, Robert, who appeared five years later in "Gasoline Alley" as an impish young boy named Skeezix, the cherished adopted son of his "Uncle Walt." But a year later, even as Skeezix played with his adoring father, Robert was sent away to boarding school and saw his parents only in the summer. According to his daughter Drewanna, the adult Robert never talked about the strip that represented an idealized version of his own boyhood.

One "Gasoline Alley" Sunday page from 1930 offers a typically bittersweet moment. As father and son take a walk in the fall, Skeezix asks Uncle Walt why the leaves change color. (King was the first cartoonist to forgo the convention of comic strip time and let his characters age.) The answers that Walt provides are less important than the tone and texture of the scene, a leisurely communion between parent and child marked by an undercurrent of sadness, the feeling that even when the idealized world of comics brings fathers and sons together, they will not be together forever.

Jeet Heer is a frequent contributor to Ideas. "Walt & Skeezix" -- the first volume of his complete edition of Frank King's "Gasoline Alley," created in collaboration with Chris Ware and Chris Oliveros -- has just been published by Drawn & Quarterly.  


 
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  PW gives a "starred" review to WALT & SKEEZIX!

Updated June 27, 2005


 Walt and Skeezix: Book One
King, Frank (Author)
Ware, Chris (Editor)
ISBN: 1896597645
Drawn & Quarterly
Published 2005-06

Comics & Graphic Novels | Comics & Cartoons
Reviewed 2005-06-27
PW


Chris Ware edited and designed this volume of Frank King's classic comic strip Gasoline Alley , but this collection doesn't quite begin at the beginning, 1919. Instead, it starts when the strip abruptly got really interesting, a few years later. King's protagonist Walt is a good-natured, roly-poly bachelor with a fondness for cars; as this book begins, he acquires a "stepchild"--an infant abandoned on his doorstep named Skeezix. The great innovation of this strip was that all of its characters aged and grew in real time. A lot of the early jokes about Skeezix have to do with Walt trying to keep the baby happy the same way he keeps cars running smoothly, and the strip's main tone is calm amusement about parenthood's lighter side. But there's a melancholy undercurrent: who will become a mother figure to Skeezix, and what will that mean for Walt's independence and relationships with his car-enthusiast friends. The daily strips reprinted here don't have the glorious visual inventiveness of King's Sunday pages (which will appear as separate volumes), but they're still lovely. The book includes an extensive introduction by Jeet Heer, featuring drawings and photographs from King's archives. (June)


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New York Magazine Spotlights Walt & Skeezix on their "Approval Matrix"

Updated June 23, 2005


"Brilliant...offering a serenely witty portrait of Wisconsin woking-class life."
 

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  The Washington Times Features Walt & Skeezix!

Updated June 20, 2005



A comic strip that reflects American life since 1919
Published June 19, 2005


WALT & SKEEZIX: BOOK ONE
    By Frank King and edited by Chris Ware
    Drawn and Quarterly, $29.95, 424 pages, illus.
    REVIEWED BY ROGER K. MILLER
    
    You could say "Gasoline Alley" is, if not the, then, a Great American Novel -- if, that is, your definition of "great" encompasses "big" or "long" and your concept of the novel embraces serial publication and graphics.

    The comic strip "Gasoline Alley," created by Frank King, has been entertaining while reflecting America since 1919. This is the first significant collection of the strip and the first in a multivolume series that will reproduce every daily strip from its beginnings up through the 1950s, the peak years of King's work. "Walt & Skeezix: Book One" covers 1921-22; subsequent volumes will also take in two-year periods as well as, separately, Sunday color strips.

    The ambitious undertaking by Drawn and Quarterly, a Montreal specialty publisher, will take years, and some might ask, Why bother? "Gasoline Alley" is, after all, "just" a comic strip, and the comic strip has always been a low estate -- perhaps now more than ever, what with shrinking newspapers continually shrinking their comics pages.

    This delightful volume is its own answer. The strips are a treat to read, both for themselves and as historical documents; the accompanying commentaries delve into the background and values of "Gasoline Alley" and the life of a great, but overlooked, American cartoonist. Dozens of photos from a treasure trove of memorabilia provided by King's granddaughter, Drewanna King, enhance the text.

    "Gasoline Alley" first appeared in the Chicago Tribune in November 1918 as a section of another feature drawn by King called "The Rectangle," a men's milieu capitalizing on a postwar car craze. It was launched as a daily continuity strip in August 1919, and its tone shifted sharply in a domestic direction in February 1921 when a baby boy, later called Skeezix, was left on the doorstep of the main character, bachelor Walt Wallet. It was the first strip in which characters age in real time, a characteristic that makes it attractive as a chronicle of American life.

    In a preface, Chris Ware, author-illustrator of the popular novel-in-comics "Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth," says he admires "Gasoline Alley" for trying to "capture the texture and feeling of life as it slowly, inextricably, and hopelessly passed by." Mr.Ware also praises its "vaguely detectable feeling of melancholy" and "evocation of complex emotions."

    Some of this is detectable in the early strips shown here. Reading them, you gradually sense how slow-moving, gentle and mundane the strip is -- and talky. Those were the days when newspapers printed strips big and there was room for lovely-and loving-detail and expansive speech balloons. This neatly illustrates a point made by Jeet Heer in his helpful and informative introduction. The reason "GA" hasn't been hailed for artistic values like "Peanuts" and "Krazy Kat," he notes, is that it "needs to be read in bulk to be appreciated," which takes time and effort. (Not unlike a novel, we might say.) It is "ruminative and cumulative."

    To read "GA" over time, Mr. Heer observes, is to see reflected King's concerns for family and worries about children, not just over their health or possible loss (his wife lost their first child to stillbirth ), but their growing up and growing distant. "In his strip King clung to happy memories as tightly as possible, using his masterly penwork to limn fleeting moments."

    This is understandable, for King is "among the most autobiographical" of cartoonists. He was born in 1883 in Cashton, Wis., but grew up in Tomah. King "gave" Walt Wallet his own background, and from time to time over the years Walt would recall with fondness his Wisconsin childhood and make references to the Kickapoo Valley. King acknowledged that his wife's brother, Walter White Drew, was the model for Walt Wallet, and that other "GA" regulars -- Avery, Doc and Bill -- had their origins in Tomah residents. "Gasoline Alley" itself was inspired by a Chicago neighborhood near where King lived.

    Will "Gasoline Alley" make it to 100? Hard to say. Its circulation is way down from the hundreds of newspapers it appeared in during its heyday, though it has a fiercely dedicated, vocal and critical readership, as postings on a Website bulletin board reveal. Jim Scancarelli has written and drawn "GA" since 1986. Though he
    often takes it far from its original characters and setting, now and again he wanders, seemingly compelled, back to its roots. It is good to have this volume, and its successors, to learn how deeply they reach into America.
    
    Roger K. Miller, a former newspaper book review editor, is a freelance writer, reviewer and editor.
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Kirkus Reviews WALT & SKEEZIX

Updated June 13, 2005


Walt & Skeezix: Book One
Author: King, Frank

Review Date: April 15, 2005
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly
Pages: 424
Price HC: $29.95
Publication Date: 5/15/2005
ISBN (HC): 1-896597-64-5
Category: Fiction
Classification: Graphic Fiction

First volume of a worthy project to reintroduce the world to the gang at Gasoline Alley.

In a move as ambitious as Fantagraphic's encyclopedic reissuing of the entire Peanuts line, Drawn & Quarterly has inaugurated an ambitious series that will eventually reprint the entire Gasoline Alley strip, as written and drawn by the late Frank King. The series is edited and designed by the estimable Chris Ware (Jimmy Corrigan, 2000), who obviously owes a lot of the inspiration for his nostalgic renderings to the work of fellow Chicagoan King, an influential early-20th-century cartoonist. The lengthy and learned introduction by Jeet Heer provides valuable insight into King's life, particularly important since his strip was highly autobiographical. Far from being a tortured artist, he grew up uneventfully in Tomah, Wis., and afterward held a series of increasingly respectable and well-paid drawing jobs, culminating with the 1919 launch of Gasoline Alley in the Chicago Tribune. Heer draws connections from various incidents to their later appearances in the strip, and Ware liberally sprinkles the text with a wealth of old family photos. Gasoline Alley is pure Americana, set in a neighborhood where all the men are infatuated with their automobiles, tinkering with and talking about them endlessly. Disrupting the calm murmur of shoptalk is Skeezix, an orphan left on the doorstep of the chubby and friendly Walt, one of the Alley's only unattached men. The sections of the strip included here (from 1921 and 1922) follow Walt's attempts to raise the kid on his own. They also deal with the attentions of Mrs. Blossom, the beautiful, newly single woman who's catching the eye of the Alley's men and worrying their wives. It's all as innocent as can be, but given to occasional melancholy and strangely addictive; the characters actually change from day to day, and they even age, an unthinkable thing for most stuck-in-amber cartoons.

A handsomely mounted presentation for one of the 20th-century's landmark cartoons.

 

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  Globe & Mail Highlights Walt & Skeezix & Paul Moves Out

Updated January 4, 2005


Weekend Review

Live in 2005

Books; Batman's back, U2 is touring for the first time in four years and our theatre critic is suggesting you reserve early for a play called The Dishwashers. Here's what to look forward to in the new year . . .

REBECCA CALDWELL
460 words
1 January 2005
The Globe and Mail
R1
English
All material copyright Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc. or its licensors. All rights reserved.

The beginning of the calendar year is usually a chance for those in the publishing industry to do some much-needed hibernating after the abundant harvest of the fall season and the overindulgences of the holidays. This year, however, starts with a bang, as well as some happiness and heat.

First, in January, there's Stephen Marche's Raymond and Hannah (Doubleday Canada), a distinctly modern love story about a couple whose intense one-night stand turns into the affair of a lifetime.

February brings Anne Giardini's The Sad Truth About Happiness (HarperCollins Canada), a comic novel about one woman's quest for contentment confounded by her sisters.

In March comes Kristen den Hartog's Origin of Haloes (McClelland & Stewart), a story about a pregnant young gymnast whose lies about the identity of the father of her child change her life. Later that month sees the release of Camilla Gibb's third novel, Sweetness in the Belly (Doubleday Canada). Set in Thatcher's London, it's the story of a white Muslim woman who flees her native Ethiopia and her lover during the revolution.

Perhaps the most anticipated book of next season arrives in April: Joseph Boyden's debut novel Three-Day Road, achronicle of the experience of two native Canadians serving as snipers in the First World War. For many publishers, it was the book that got away from them during manuscript-auction time, finally ending up at Penguin Canada.

Another big book to appear in April is the non-fiction title Confessions of an Innocent Man: Torture and Betrayal in a Saudi Jail (M&S), by William Sampson. His account of his gruesome 21/2 years in prison awaiting execution also offers a probing analysis of 21st-century geopolitics, particularly U.S.-Saudi relations.

Two mysteries to look for in April: Sugarmilk Falls (M&S), expected to be a breakout book for crime writer Ilona van Mil, about a clash over the ownership of a strip of Ontario sugarbush; and a third in the John Cardinal series, Blackfly Season (Random House Canada), by Giles Blunt.

In June, Montreal's Drawn & Quarterly will release Walt & Skeezix, the first in a series of Frank King's legendary Gasoline Alley strips, edited and designed by Chris Ware with an introduction by Jeet Heer. D&Q will also release Michel Rabagliati's latest Paul tale, Paul Moves Out, the sequel to 2003 fave Paul Has a Summer Job.

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