« I have stuck to my simple art style while the smart illustrative men were snapping in their shadows all around me, because I believe that my story is more clearly told with a minimum of picture distraction. » — the wise, but absurdly humble Frank King (1959)
Gasoline Alley (1918-) is the second longest-running comic strip of them all. The Katzenjammer Kids (1897-2006) still tenuously clings to first place, but Gasoline Alley, boasting the advantage of still being around, should overtake it by 2027. Of course, that’s all academic and fairly irrelevant to us, because the strip’s originator, Frank Oscar King (1883-1969), is no longer guiding its destiny.
The collective memory being woefully short, if Gasoline Alley is likely to be remembered, it will be for its central innovation: characters age in real time, growing up and old and passing away, its cast and its world ever changing and evolving, in a small-town America sort of fashion. However, the strip’s original star, Walt Wallet, is still around, well into his second century.
Today, we’re digging deep, returning to those long-ago dinosaur days when newspapers were gigantic and so were the comic strips they featured, particularly on Sundays. And the Sunday Gasoline Alley was indeed something special.
I couldn’t possibly put it better than Chris Ware did in 2000, in tribute to King:
Reserving his five daily strips for more complicated storylines, King’s full-color Sunday pages often presented Walt and Skeezix simply wandering the countryside of America, idly remarking about natural landmarks, the quality of the sky, or the colors of the seasons.
Frequently, these pages were richly-textured experiments in form and style, often having no joke or ‘punchline’ at all, only a quiet, sustained tone of serenity and gentleness.
And you know, since these are so gorgeous and just as seasonal, let’s be indulgent, broaden our scope the tiniest bit and take in some of King’s paeans to sweetest Autumn.
Incidentally, a lovely collection (designed by Mr. Ware!) of King’s finest Gasoline Alley Sundays from the strip’s first fifteen years was published a couple of decades ago: Sundays with Walt and Skeezix (2000, Sunday Press)… and, wonder of wonders, it’s still available from the publisher.