17 July 2005
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.
WALT & SKEEZIX review in Syracuse Post-Standard
17 July 2005