Essay on the 4th Dimensionality of Comics

The Temporal Nature of Comics:
Persistent and Fleeting Time in Frank King’s Gasoline Alley

Sunday3_1The comics of the early twentieth century were published in a variety of formats that convey their own inherent sense of time. Daily strips, Saturday single-gag panels, and larger Sunday strips are not only released periodically at different intervals, but their narratives, constrained by these formats, tick along at distinctive rates.

Many comic properties were locked into their separate (and inequitable) formats, not only by their artists’ creative limitations, but also by the expectations of the publishing syndicates and the national readership. After a brief description of the conventions of daily strips, single gag panels, and Sunday formats, my discussion will focus on Gasoline Alley, a cartoon property that, in its early iterations, exemplifies the limitations of strips, but then reveals the opportunities that arise when an artist steps over institutional boundaries. Drawing on examples from the recent publications of Sundays with Walt and Skeezix and reissues of King’s daily collections, this writing discusses how Frank King’s masterpiece, Gasoline Alley, evolved during its long publication and through various formats. In the strip’s early relegation to a niche market of technology and misogynistic car culture, and its eventual incorporation of the infant Skeezix, this strip transformed into a tender consideration of the passage of time. The introduction of this baby character forced King to abandon what would have remained a short-lived gag on car culture. Instead, the inclusion of Skeezix, who grew and matured in “real time,” demanded the breakdown of a stagnant, persistent temporal element. Through the story of a growing child, King’s own strip evolved, with a narrative that lasted a life span, and changed the way readers interacted with comic time.

This writing is about the nature of TIME in comics and how publication intervals, distribution, and story context can imply a sense of time and thereby affect the reader on a deeper, more meaningful level.

Saturday

Writing on fourth-dimensionality in, “The World of the Comic Strip”  by Pierre Couperie and translated Maurice C. Horn in 1968, stated;  “Time is a major element in the originality of the comic strip as a narrative art – by imposing a rhythm on its publication, it cadences its narrative. Only the comic strip can enable reader and character to live the same time; only the comic strip can continue a story for decades. Series published in complete “book/album” form are deprived of the rhythm of the genuine comic strip, and tend to be illustrated proto-books.”

As in any aesthetic, artistic choice, there are different ways to handle the passage of time in comics. Depending on the type of story the artist is telling, events in comics can unfold over time, shifting sands. We see this in series like Love and Rockets and other auto bio comics.

A different approach to time is to ignore it entirely, and maintain a static, persistent (yet wholey independent) world that remains unchanged for the readers and creators a la Batman.

To illustrate the persistent and fleeting nature of time in comics,  I’ll talk about Frank King’s Gasoline Alley as the primary example, which functioned under two distinct rhythms, changing it’s internal metronome after years of publication. At the strips outset, the tempo was static like a painted portrait.

And years later, King committed his strip to real time, and I argue, led to it’s unique position within the American comics canon.

Couperie and translated Maurice C. Horn continues, “[Time] introduces the factor of the hero’s aging. The customary solution is to have the children grow up normally, let parents remain unchanged or age more slowly than normal time.”

Mainstream comics which strive to live in our world suffer from the dilemma of handling time as inert. After following Peter Parker’s exploits for 30 years– myself and a generation of readers were all taken back to square one after a lousy deal with the devil, all in an effort to reinforce the static, latent hero image, all in the service to some easily forgettable “event” for Marvel Comics.  What I call “the lunchbox standard.” Choosing not to age their heroes, creators and the readers must face endless re-booted volumes, and convoluted continuities.  Despite the sales, the truth of these crossovers and historical reboots and ret-cons is that they spin off older readers, many never to return. The mainstream companies stand by their calculations however, maintaining that the kid with the lunchbox knows who Robin is to Batman imperpetuity.

In contrast to that model, the history of Gasoline Alley, at first a gag strip about car culture (the static and persistent) eventually transformed into, what fans called,  “the baby Skeezix comic” (real time, dynamic change).

In order to take the discussion further, I want to briefly orient you to the historical and cultural context in which Frank King was working. I’ll touch on the strip’s autobiographical elements, its early relegation to a niche market while riding a wave of technology and misogynistic car culture, and finally, the eventual incorporation of an infant that signaled the strip’s transformation into a family-focused and tender consideration of the passage of time.

In the NOTES from Masters of American Comics, John Carlin and Paul Karasik talk of the familiar cartoon elements; pictures, design and text. “… Within pictures, one would analyze characters, props, backgrounds. Within Design, one would analyze line work, color, composition and panel arrangement. With text, one would analyze the prose style, SFX and sonic mood. All this is the basic grammar of comics but – a fourth dimensional quality – time, duration and pace is a subtle and important element of comics. The relationship of individual strips over the days and months to indicated a narrative continuity, [was] perhaps Kings greatest contribution to comics.”

ColorSunday01

Cartoons were high profile, marquee attractions for newspapers and the search was always afoot for talented artists. Many publishers were hungry for reliable, vibrant cartoonists who could meet deadlines and capitalize on the recent sophisticated color printing techniques. Newspapers wanted to attract as many readers as possible and, additionally, the readers of the era were looking for cartoon strips that would speak to their own experiences and newly-discovered leisure time. All in all, Frank King’s mild commentary and nuances of the burgeoning leisure class was perfectly suited to the mass medium of newspapers during the 1920’s.

Frank King’s Gasoline Alley, first appearing on November 24th, 1918 – in the Chicago Tribune – as a single panel, part of a larger black and white Sunday page called The Rectangle. “Gasoline Alley,” refers to a back alley, behind a row of suburban Midwestern homes, where the main characters share a common garage. The grease monkey characters, Walt Wallet, Doc, Bill and Avery routinely discuss the bugs and gremlins associated with early automobile ownership that had only recently begun to spread beyond hobbyists to a majority of Americans at the beginning of 1920’s.

The Rectangle

The humor stems from slice of life anecdotes but also tongue-in-cheek remedies to common automotive problems. It appealed to the both the readers and the newspaper publishers, and less than a year later, Gasoline Alley became an independent feature. (August 24, 1919) but it was a sitcom.  And like a television sitcom or a persistent trademark, the characters, world and storylines often lead nowhere, circling around to where it all started, refreshing and recharging the elemental basics of the cartoon. It was a static and reliable property.

Eventually it became a daily, Saturday and Sunday feature. A brief but important sidebar is the tempo of these editions. From a publisher’s standpoint, the readership was considered different. And thematically, the target audience would shift. Daily strips were aimed at the routine worker, commuter, businessman. Anyone with the routine of reading the newspaper would expect something – a constant.

FrankKingThis is Frank King but that is NOT a blackberry.

Frank King was quite adept at the standard four panel gag strip..He could reduce the joke to tight two panels if need be…And when appropriate, would sometimes use the entire real estate of the daily strip for a single panel scene.

Speaking of single panels and tempo…

Saturday strips had a different audience. Saturday’s audience was considered even more casual and disconnected. Readers might catch a quick glance between chores or after lunch with friends. The Saturday edition was a single panel gag strip that stood alone with abridged commentary on society and daily life. These Saturday “strips” were not customarily a part of the ongoing stories that connected the weekly strips’ narratives.

Especially in Gasoline Alley, the Saturday panel was a standard pat gag strip, tending to a base common denominator. A quick-witted crack.

Different still, the Sunday strips, for which Frank King is primarily known, were full-page broadsheets that allowed the artists to flex their creative muscles, and featured a full palette of colors to dazzle the readers. Aside from all of those differences, I believe thematically the Sunday strips are worlds apart from the dailies.

I see them functioning at a different metronome than the dailies or Saturday strips. As did the newspaper syndicates. The Sunday strip, from a newspaper syndicate’s perspective, was intended to appeal to a family audience. The Sunday edition was for children and adults alike, as many Americans still observed a weekend Sabbath, and were able to spend time together, often spread out on the floor or dining room table reading newspaper cartoons.

Sabbath

Frank King’s legacy is commonly recognized in the experimental Sunday strips, where three-quarter perspective was employed to create a cohesive master shot composed of individual, sequential panels. Like Winsor McCay, these Sunday strips were works of art, and could consume the rest of this presentation and then some. Much has been written of King’s mastery of the form, line work, grasp of modernism and color palette…

But, I believe, none of King’s greatness would’ve materialized, until he changed the timing and cadence of the strips.

For over two years, the car talk and respectful banter continued daily and, to that point, the strip seems to have one or maybe two repetitious beats. It is difficult to see how this station of male dominion would attract readers of all ages and sexes or could have sustained any wider cultural impact.. And the characters would have remained unchanged, working the same issues over and over again and history would record gasoline alley in a single snap shot.

SinglePanelAlley

“Gasoline Alley? Oh, it’s that car comic…” Gasoline Alley may have been a quiet footnote in comics’ history, locked in its own orbit – a world not quite our own. A frozen, captured world.

Until Valentine’s Day (February 20th), 1921, King did a daily strip that forever changed the tone and purpose of Frank King’s strip from a niche car culture gag to a transcendent study of life’s anxieties and joys. The standard four-panel strip was simply drawn with a conventional plot gag. But the ramifications forever changed the comic’s trajectory. When this daily strip was published – Everything about Gasoline Alley was altered when Walt Wallet opened his front door and found baby Skeezix on his porch step.

This is the moment that changes the route for Gasoline Alley from a slice-of-life cartoon with narrow appeal to a deeply resonating character study reflective of American family’s most precious moments. Whether Frank King knew what he was getting into when he placed Skeezix on Walt’s doorstep is a matter of further research, but according to Karal Ann Marling in Masters of American Comics” and “…’legend has it that circulation-conscious publisher wanted to appeal to ladies as well”

“Frank King recounts the evolution of this creation; ‘I had started with a popular interest: automobiles. Then I hit on an interesting human situation: Walt and Skeezix. Then I stumbled on the whole idea of growing up characters.”

This is a pivot point for the comic. The characters MUST age since their relationship to the fast-growing Skeezix has been strongly established from Day One of his arrival.

ValentineWk

Since the tempo and tone of Gasoline Alley is radically altered at a specific point, a moment within the time frame collected in the Walt And Skeezix, 1921-1922, I have focused my analysis on this edition, studying the PS (Pre-Skeezix) and AS (After- Skeezix) epochs.Walt And Skeezix, 1921-1922 – the complete daily strips, Drawn and Quarterly’s collection of the originally titled Gasoline Alley features all the daily strips, including a selection of single panel Saturday editions, from January 1st, 1921 through December 30th, 1922. It is complete in storyline and chronology except for the Sunday strips, which began on October 24th, 1920. The writer and artist for this collection is the strip’s creator, Frank King. The formal distances between single panel Saturday, four panel weekly and twelve to fourteen-panel Sunday strips are more than a broad leap and the dour absence of the larger format Gasoline Alley Sunday strips in this collection is tangibly felt.

In the early quarter of the Twentieth Century, newspapers were publishing cartoons in a variety of formats. Daily cartoons, appearing Monday through Friday, were typically segmented into four-panel strips. These daily strips where episodic in nature and serialized the lives of the characters day in and day out. Saturday cartoons were single panel gag jokes or editorials and like the daily strips were published in black and white. The Sunday strips, however, were full-page broadsheets that allowed the artists to flex their creative muscle and featured a full palette of colors that dazzled the readers. The Sunday strip, from a newspaper syndicate’s perspective was intended as a family affair. The Sunday edition was meant for families, children and adults, as many Americans still observed a weekend Sabbath and were able to spend time together, preferably spread out on the floor or dining room table reading newspaper cartoons.

All in, Frank King’s mild commentary and nuances of the burgeoning leisure class was perfectly suited to the mass medium of newspapers during the 1920’s. With confident line work, King sincerely delves into widely held frustrations of early twentieth century America. The characters are drawn broadly, with consistent nib lines. The spotting of blacks is usually hatching and there are no gutters, only lines between the panels. Frank King used the four-panel grid in most cases but confidently used single panels when they were called for. The characters are not realistic but are so loose as to allow the readers to see themselves in the story. The hopeful characters are grounded in reality and don’t employ any fantasy, physical gags or super-heroics. King’s work seems as if it were inked on composite board on his lap and, in fact, he sometimes had to work on the road or car fender. The art is humble yet nimble, clear and concise. These were qualities that he and his readers possessed.  Although the art is relaxed and comfortably approachable, this reader would not say it was the strip’s brightest feature; that would be the writing and introduction of Baby Skeezix.

Until October 24th, 1920, Gasoline Alley was only published daily, in typical four panel layouts. The Saturday edition was a single panel gag strip that stood alone with abridged commentary on society and daily life. These Saturday “strips” were not customarily a part of the ongoing stories that connected the weekly strips’ narratives. The Walt and Skeezix 1921-1922 daily strip collection includes the daily four-panel narrative and the single Saturday anecdotes but regrettably excludes the Sunday strips. This collection, either because of restrictions in format differentials or tonal discrepancies, cannot reconcile the smaller daily strips with the larger format Sunday strips. This is regrettable because Frank King’s legacy was in primarily forged in the experimental Sunday strips, where three-quarter perspective was employed to create a cohesive master shot composed of individual, sequential panels. Frank King’s unique Sunday strips have become the trademark ofGasoline Alley and a part of the American comic masterpiece canon. This collection is bereft without the inclusion of the larger scale strips.

In the early twentieth century, newspapers were the main form of entertainment as radio was still a niche hobby and television had yet to be invented. The summation of being the leading entertainment source and the increasing middle class meant newspapers were constantly in competition for readers. Cartoons were high profile, marquee attractions for newspapers and the search was always afoot for talented artists. Many publishers were hungry for reliable, vibrant cartoonists that could meet deadlines and capitalize on the recent sophisticated color printing techniques. Newspapers wanted to attract as many readers as possible and, additionally, the readers of the era were looking for cartoon strips that would speak to their own experiences and newly-discovered leisure time. Frank King’sGasoline Alley, first appearing on November 24th, 1918, appealed to the both the readers and the newspaper publishers. It was undeniably a success story as the strip continued on into the 1960’s.

Gasoline Alley is unique among comics of its time because it is autobiographical. The characters and the situations come directly from Frank King’s life. Frank King was a technophile and enjoyed the modern devices of the era. He was a shutterbug and enjoyed the sounds and study of mechanics. If produced today, Gasoline Alley would be about iPods and Segues. Instead Frank King offers his readers road trips, camping, fishing and dabbling in the stock market. During a delightful storyline about a trip to Yellowstone Park, Frank King writes and draws about his own experiences on the road as readers around America could follow along his [characters] route. From August 12th, 1921 through October 13th, 1921, King signed each strip with a location tag. Nevada, IA, Omaha Neb, Hastings Neb, Overland Park, Denver, Yellowstone Park and so on, every day for eight straight weeks. Just like a bone which Bud Fisher was throwing to daily horse racing gamblers inMutt and Jeff ten years prior, Frank King gave a nod to outdoor enthusiast of the 20’s. They were not only the places Frank King had visited himself, but was also likely observing the real-life gag that occurred there! It feels very real, that on September 26th 1921, Walt reads aloud from a brochure while visiting the Mormon tabernacle in Salt Lake City “without a single nail in it,” and then, in the final panel, returns to the parking lot to find his front tire flat “with a single nail in it.” The realism in Gasoline Alley almost brushes into the realm of photojournalism. In fact, Frank King worked as an illustrator to accompany newspaper reports early in his career. His personal stamp of observation and interpretation are unmistakably Kings. The gags, especially in the early years, are inside jokes for and of auto enthusiasts and wrench monkeys.

In the timeline of Frank King’s extended tome, Gasoline Alley began as a niche gag strip about car culture. As Jeet Heer comments in the collection’s introduction, “the cartoon was kith and kin to today’s Car Talk on NPR.” “Gasoline Alley” refers to a back alley, behind a row of suburban Midwestern homes, where the main characters share a common garage. The grease monkey characters, Walt Wallet, Doc, Bill and Avery routinely discuss the bugs and gremlins associated with early automobile ownership. Frank King’s characters develop creative jerry rigging solutions for cars, which, at the beginning of 1920’s was only beginning to spread beyond hobbyists to a majority of Americans. The humor stems from slice of life anecdotes but also tongue-in-cheek remedies to common automotive problems. The characters razz each other in period dialogue about each other’s car dilemmas yet the daily strips aren’t funny in a wahka-wahka vain. The characters make fun of each other, but the ribbing remains delicate, and the characters never descend into harmful insults or painful aspersions. The characters that populate Gasoline Alley stayed profoundly humane and oblige each other’s lives and those of the readers. This is especially thoughtful considering the forty-year span of the strip’s publication.

For over two years, the car talk and respectful banter continued daily and, to that point, the strip seems to have one or maybe two repetitious beats. If left unaltered, the strip could easily be distributed in many of the car magazines of Hemmings Publications. The material mileage King gets from a strip driven on custom culture alone seems on fumes, however. The auto references run thin like the rubber on Walt’s “old bus” tires.  A strong secondary runner in the Alley was the battle of the sexes. The characters of Doc, Avery and Bill are all married while Walt Wallet was a bachelor. The unbearability of women is a thread of humor, which for this reader peters out quickly, but for Frank King it seems to hold an endless tickle. There is a strong gender divide in the strip, which by today’s standards caroms dangerously close to sexism. The bachelor and main character, Walt, issues the punch line “I know how well off I am” after witnessing his friends badgered by their respective wives with such regularity that this reader stopped counting. The “I know how well off I am” [without women in my life] gag was employed as a runner throughout the series at a frequency of five to six times a month. At one point, a woman rents a garage in the alley and Walt admits (to the reader) that he can now relate to Belgians whose lands were recently overrun by the Huns in World War I. Given the gender bias of the age in which King lived, it is incalculable whether King himself was merely a product of his era or was going overboard trying to reach male readers, belittling or disregarding the any female readers. The scenes that do feature the wives, whose names King actually gets wrong a few times, (Heet, pg 24 of Introduction from collection) present the women as caddy gossips who are expensive to their husbands and vain to their vanity mirrors. It is difficult to see how this station of male dominion would attract readers of all ages and sexes or could have sustained any wider cultural impact.

Gasoline Alley may have been a quiet footnote in comics’ history until a daily strip that was published on February 20th, 1921, forever changing the tone and purpose of Frank King’s strip. This is the moment that changes the comic for King as he took his characters to places most comics creators at that time, or since, would ever venture; into the future.

The character of Skeezix was based on King’s own son, Robert, just as the characters of Walt and Doc and others were incarnations of King’s personal friends. King’s introduction of Skeezix transforms the cartoon’s existing static (and arguably limited) characters and forces them to face their timely mortality. King’s characters must age since their relationship to fast-growing Skeezix was strongly established from his arrival on Day One.

This means that the characters, especially Skeezix, grow up in real time. Hence, at the end of this collection, Skeezix is eighteen months old. By the time the series finishes its run in the 1960’s, Skeezix has grown up and raised a family of his very own. Through the plodding publication of daily and Sunday strips, the readers couldn’t help but watch their lives ticking away, growing older and enduring total generational shifts. King was capturing moments in time, as with nostalgic photography, that would add up to a fictional characters total lifespan. The aching acknowledgment of the passage of time creates a tension and a sadness when reading the strip. I think the dilemma of measuring time through panels while holding onto the past is aptly summarized by Donald Phelps, “King was very aware of the dual nature of comic strip time; the combination of frozen moments and sequential time.” For King and the readers of his comic, it was a bold experiment in which to take part, acknowledging the individual moments so sincerely, that recognition of both the past and the future were compulsory.

As the readers became invested in “the upbringing” of Skeezix, they must also recognize his growth, maturity and the melancholy of days gone by. Any parent knows that their baby will grow into a toddler and from a toddler to an adolescent and these moments are gone forever, but for photographs, letters and keepsakes. King was a master of capturing magically simple moments and connecting with his readers. Day after day, the characters observe, practically paying respects, to that specific instant in time. The strip holds an obvious appreciation for the quiet tones that forced the reader to stop and absorb the placid stillness of life and the unbearable beauty of the natural world. King, in many strips, seems to be winking at the reader, calling attention to the brief commonalities that every American was universally experiencing in the 1920’s.

A reoccurring theme in Gasoline Alley and a chapter of Frank King’s life is the idea of losing a child. King and his wife, Delia suffered a stillborn birth early in their marriage and the character of Walt frequently wakes from night terrors of losing Skeezix. Again, King returns to autobiographical realms. There is the ever-present concern of Skeezix biological mother coming to retrieve him, and robbing Walt of his cherished bond. The theme of child lose is handled gently and was rendered most cogent in the fleeting moments between father and an ever-growing son.

AdoptSkeezix

For many generations, Gasoline Alley was known by many readers as “the Skeezix comic.” Balancing the dual full-time occupations of child-rearing and automobile maintenance seems to be the main source of humor in the strip. Many strips compare Skeezix baby stroller to a supped up hot rod and many others gauge Skeezix belly as if it were an empty fuel tank. Also, in less obvious foils, such as the cartoon on July 25th 1921, Walt evades a speeding ticket by explaining to the investigating officer, “I had Skeezix on my knee and he’s growing so fast I didn’t realize he was so heavy on the gas pedal.” Shockingly, at least by modern standards, the officer lets Walt off with a warning.

“Walt and Skeezix, the complete daily strips 1921 -1922,” collects a pivotal time in Gasoline Alley, a newspaper strip which reflected and shaped America. It provided a necessary sense of place and ultimately time in America’s history. The strip beats with a liveliness that exists beyond the proscenium of the panel borders.

For King and the readers of his comic, compulsorily acknowledging the individual moments so sincerely, in recognition of both the past and the future, was a bold experiment in which to take part.

Once King started down this path, he had to abandon what would have remained a short-lived gag on car culture. Instead, the inclusion of Skeezix, who grew and matured in “real time,” demanded the breakdown of a stagnant, persistent temporal framework.

King’s introduction of Skeezix transforms the cartoon’s existing static (and arguably limited) characters and forces them to face their timely mortality. If Skeezix was introduced at the beginning of the cartoon as a baby, he could have remained a baby. Like Maggie Simpson. Or taking Coupeir’s suggestion; “let parents remain unchanged or age more slowly than normal time.”

But Gasoline Alley didn’t fight against time, it embraced it. King observed normal everyday life and his characters registered with readers daily, weekly, yearly…

Following the metronome of real life and real time well-suited King’s sensibilities and professional practice. Early in his career, he worked as an illustrator to accompany newspaper reports. King’s personal stamp of observation and interpretation are unmistakably his own, and although rarely recognized as auto-bio, Gasoline Alley is most certainly is a prime example of early comic auto-biography. In Comic Art in America. From 1959 Stephen Becker. Observes, “The characters are not caricatures. No strenuous effort to grab laughs or indulge in fiction.”

FamilyTree

 

Becker continues, “Nothing ever happened to Skeezix that didn’t also happen to a majority of Americans. He doesn’t have adventures, but he makes an adventurous life for himself. A fixture of American journalism.”

“Journalism” I hear you scoff – but it is a thorough comic recording of Americana. For example, during a storyline about a trip to Yellowstone Park, Frank King writes and draws about his own experiences on the road, using real-world locations that allowed readers around America to follow his characters’ route. From August 12th, 1921 through October 13th, 1921, King signed each strip with a location tag. Nevada, IA, Omaha Neb, Hastings Neb, Overland Park, Denver, Yellowstone Park and so on, every day for eight straight weeks.

They were not only the places Frank King had visited himself, but also allowed him to observe and incorporate the real-life gags that occurred there! It feels very authentic, that on September 26th 1921, Walt reads aloud from a brochure while visiting the Mormon tabernacle in Salt Lake City “without a single nail in it,” and then, in the final panel, returns to the parking lot to find his front tire flat “with a single nail in it.”

Because of its real-world locations, the realism in Gasoline Alley almost brushes into the realm of photojournalism. Not to mention it’s a funny gag. And in the bottom you can see he has stamped it with the actual location “Salt Lake City.”

The strip holds an obvious appreciation for the quiet tones that forced readers to stop and absorb the placid stillness of life and the unbearable beauty of the natural world. Further, in many strips, King seems to be winking at the reader, calling attention to days slipping by.

The combination dilemma of measuring time through panels while holding onto the past is aptly summarized by Donald Phelps in Sundays With Walt and Skeezix, who writes, “King was very aware of the dual nature of comic strip time; the of frozen moments and sequential time.”

Walt raised Skeezix, married Phyllis, with whom they raised two more children. Skeezix grew up, married Nina and had a multigenerational family of his own.

King was a master of capturing magically simple moments and connecting with his readers. Day after day, his characters observed, practically paying respects, to specific instants in time in America’s history. The strip provides a necessary sense of place and ultimately, of REAL time.

Becker continues, “ Also, the most important difference; [with Gasoline Alley] the characters aged, day by day as the strip progressed. The continuity is not limited to one sequence or episode. The continuity is permanent. Reflection of life is therefore not momentary, it is constant. A long sequence over – by now – ninety plus years…”

King was capturing moments in time, as with nostalgic photography, that would add up to a fictional characters total lifespan. The aching acknowledgment of the passage of time creates a tension and a sadness when reading the strip.

Frank King was awarded the Reuben in 1958 stopped doing G.A. one year later.

The strip was eventually taken over by Bill Perry and Dick Moores, and is currently written and drawn by Jim Scancarelli who took over in 1986.  In 2004, Scancarelli let Walt’s wife Phyllis, at the estimated age of 105, pass away.  Which left Walt a widower after nearly eight decades of marriage.

Here lies the beauty, artistry and gift of Gasoline Alley;  An ongoing, real time history of cartoon characters featuring births, marriages, deaths. Not a copy of real life, but a wistful reflection of the country’s collective experience.

So it is my conclusion that Gasoline Alley, evolved during its long publication and through various formats but became a masterpiece because of King’s adjustment in temporal connection to the readers.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

List of work referenced

Pierre Couperie and Maurice C. Horn. “The World of the Comic Strip” pg 169 A History of the Comic Strip. Crown publishers, Inc. New York, 1967, 1968 translation.

Stephen Becker. Comic Art in America. Simon and Schuster, New York, 1959.

Heer, Jeet. Introduction from “Sunday’s with Walt and Skeezix” Sunday Press Books, 2007

Heer, Jeet, Introduction from “Walt and Skeezix” Montreal, Drawn and Quarterly Books, 2005

Phelps, Donald. The Boys of Winter “Sundays with Walt and Skeezix” Sunday Press Books, 2007

Brian Walker. The Comics. Abrams, New York, 2004.

In the NOTES from John Carlin and Paul Karasik’s Masters of American Comics. Yale University Press, 2005.

Karal Ann Marling. “Walt Wallet Lives!” in Masters of American Comics. Yale University Press, 2005.

 

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