Walt Before Skeezix by Frank King, Drawn & Quarterly, 540 pages, $44.95
Gasoline Alley is famous for being the first comic strip to watch its characters age in real time, following the discovery of baby Skeezix on bachelor Walt Wallet’s doorstep in 1921. Those early years as Skeezix grows have been the subject of several handsome editions designed by cartoonist Chris Ware, which have helped to win Alley creator Frank King a new generation of devotees, charmed by his gentle, agreeable rhythms. This latest volume demonstrates that King had mastered that easy cadence and benevolent outlook even before Skeezix arrived, when the strip still centred around a cast of automobile enthusiasts who congregated in a Chicago back alley. In these pages, dating from 1918 to 1920, Walt and his pals merely tinker with cars, play golf, brew illicit hooch, and tour the countryside. But even in this chronicle of men in the off-hours, King instills the proceedings with his signature brand of kindly, leisurely warmth, and true fellow-feeling.