WALT & SKEEZIX in the Roanoke Times, Virginia

“'Gasoline Alley,' Familiar and Timeless” / Roanoke Times / Mason Adams / September 4, 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.


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