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Frank King's Gasoline Alley and That Phoney Nickel (March 12, 1933)

Gasoline Alley is a long-running comic strip created by Frank King and first published on November 24, 1918.

Widely recognized as a pioneering comic strip, Gasoline Alley was perhaps the first comic to depict its characters aging as the years progressed.[1]

Contents

Early years

The strip grew from a weekly panel on the Chicago Tribune's black-and-white Sunday page, The Rectangle, where staff artists contributed one-shot panels, continuing plots or themes. One corner of The Rectangle introduced Frank King's Gasoline Alley, where characters Walt, Doc, Avery and Bill held weekly conversations about automobiles.

This panel slowly gained recognition, and the daily strip began August 24, 1919 in the New York Daily News.[2]

Sunday strips

The Sunday page was launched in 1921. The 1930s Sunday pages did not always employ traditional gags, but instead sometimes presented a gentle view of nature or imaginary daydreaming with expressive art. Reviewing Peter Maresca and Chris Ware's Sundays with Walt and Skeezix (Sunday Press Books, 2007), comics critic Steve Duin quoted another writer:

"Unlike the daily strips, which traced narratives that went on for many months, the Sunday pages almost always worked as discrete units," Heer writes. "Whereas the dailies allowed events to unfold, Sunday was the day to savor experiences and ruminate on life. It is in his Sunday pages that we find King showing his visual storytelling skills at their most developed: with sequences beautifully testifying to his love of nature, his feeling for artistic form, and his deeply felt response to life."[1]

Skeezix arrives

Promotional art by Frank King (c. 1941), highlighting Skeezix's marriage proposal to Nina Clock.

The early years were dominated by the character Walt Wallet. The Tribune's editor, Captain Joseph Patterson, wanted to attract women to the strip so it was decided to introduce a baby. The only problem was that Walt was a confirmed bachelor. This obstacle was overcome when, on February 14, 1921, he found an abandoned baby on his doorstep.

The baby was called Skeezix (slang for motherless calf), and he called his adopted father Uncle Walt. Unlike most comic strip children (like the Katzenjammer Kids or Little Orphan Annie) he did not remain a baby or even a little boy for long. He grew up to manhood, the first occasion where real time continually elapsed in a major comic strip over generations. By the time the United States entered World War II, Skeezix was a fully-grown adult, courting girls and serving in the armed forces. He later married Nina Clock and had children. In the late 1960s he faced a typical midlife crisis. Walt Wallet himself had married Phyllis Blossom and had other children, who grew up and had kids of their own.

During the 1970s and 1980s, under Dick Moores' authorship, the characters briefly stopped aging. When Jim Scancarelli took over, the natural aging was restored.[1]

Recent years

The strip is still published in newspapers. Walt Wallet is now well over a century old, while Skeezix has become an octogenarian. Walt's wife Phyllis, age an estimated 105, died in the April 26, 2004 strip, leaving Walt a widower after nearly eight decades of marriage. Walt Wallet appeared as a guest at Blondie and Dagwood's anniversary party, and on Gasoline Alley's 90th anniversary Blondie, Dennis the Menace and Snuffy Smith each acknowledged the Gasoline Alley anniversary in their dialogue. Snuffy Smith presented a character cross-over with Walt in the doorway of Snuffy's house where he was being welcomed and invited in by Snuffy.[3]

History of artists and awards

Gasoline Alley for November 24, 2008.

Frank King (1918-1959)
Bill Perry (Sunday strips only, 1951-1975)
Dick Moores (1956-1986)
Jim Scancarelli (1986-present)

King was succeeded by his former assistants, with Bill Perry taking responsibility for Sunday strips in 1951 and Dick Moores, first hired in 1956, becoming sole writer and artist for the daily strip in 1959. When Perry retired in 1975, Moores took responsibility for Sunday strips as well, combining the daily and Sunday stories into one continuity starting September 28, 1975. Moores died in 1986, and since then Gasoline Alley has been written and drawn by Jim Scancarelli, former assistant to Moores.[3]

The strip and King were recognized with the National Cartoonist Society [NCS] Humor Strip Award in 1957, 1973, 1980, 1981, 1982 and 1985. King received the 1958 Society's Reuben Award and Moores received it in 1974. Scancarelli received the Society's Story Comic Strip Award in 1988. The strip received an NCS plaque for the year's best story strip in 1981, 1982 and 1983.

Reprint collections

Examples of the full page Sunday strip were printed in The Comic Strip Century (1995, reissued in 2004 as 100 Years of Comic Strips), edited by Bill Blackbeard, Dale Crain and James Vance. Dick Moores' dailies and Sundays have appeared in Comics Revue monthly, as have the first strips by Jim Scancarelli. In 1995 the strip was one of 20 included in the Comic Strip Classics series of commemorative US postage stamps.

In 2003 Spec Productions began a series of soft-covered collections titled Frank King's Gasoline Alley Nostalgia Journal, reprinting the strip from the first "rectangle" panel from November 24, 1918. To date, four volumes have appeared:

  • Volume 1, Nov. 24, 1918 to Sept. 22, 1919
  • Volume 2, Sept. 23, 1919 to March 2, 1920
  • Volume 3, March 3, 1920 to July 25, 1920
  • Volume 4, July 26, 1920 to December 31, 1920

In 2005 the first of a series of reprint books, Walt and Skeezix, was published by Drawn and Quarterly and edited by Chris Ware. The first volume covers 1921–22, beginning when baby Skeezix appears. These reprint only the daily strips, with Sundays to appear in another series:

  • Walt and Skeezix: Book One, 1921–22, ISBN 1-896597-64-5
  • Walt and Skeezix: Book Two, 1923–24, ISBN 1-896597-99-8
  • Walt and Skeezix: Book Three, 1925–26, ISBN 1-897299-09-5
  • Walt and Skeezix: Book Four, 1927–28, ISBN 1-897299-39-7 (Spring 2010)

In 2007 Sunday Press Books published Sundays with Walt and Skeezix, which collects early Sunday strips in the original size and color.

Dick Moores' work on the strip was published in three different collections, all currently out of print:

  • 'Gasoline Alley: Comic Art as Social Comment: Changing Life in America Over More That Half a Century as Seen Through the Eyes of a Unique 'First Family'–22, ISBN 0380007614, published in 1976 by Avon/Flare includes a brief overview of the strip's history, and several continuities from the 1970s.
  • The Smoke from Gasoline Alley–22, ISBN 0836206703, published by Sheed and Ward, 1976.
  • Rover from Gasoline Alley–22, ISBN 0932629008, published by Blackthorne, 1985, collects the strips introducing Slim and Clovia's adopted son Rover.

Radio

Frank King's Gasoline Alley (1931)

There were several radio adaptations. Gasoline Alley during the 1930s starred Bill Idelson as Skeezix Wallet, with Jean Gillespie as his girlfriend Nina Clock. Jimmy McCallon was Skeezix in the series that ran on NBC from February 17 to April 11, 1941, continuing on the Blue Network from April 28 to May 9 of that same year. The 15-minute series aired weekdays at 5:30 p.m. Along with Nina (Janice Gilbert), the characters included Skeezix's boss Wumple (Cliff Soubier) and Ling Wee (Junius Matthews), a waiter in a Chinese restaurant. Charles Schenck directed the scripts by Kane Campbell.

The syndicated series of 1948-49 featured a cast of Bill Lipton, Mason Adams and Robert Dryden. Sponsored by Autolite, the program used opening theme music by the Polka Dots, a harmonica group. The 15-minute episodes focused on Skeezix running a gas station and garage, the Wallet and Bobble Garage, with his partner, Wilmer Bobble. In New York, this series aired on WOR from July 16, 1948 to January 7, 1949.[4]

Films

Gasoline Alley was adapted into two feature films, Gasoline Alley (1951) and Corky of Gasoline Alley (1951), replacing the Blondie film series which ended in 1950 with Beware of Blondie. The films starred Jimmy Lydon as Skeezix, known at that time for 1947's Life with Father and his earlier character of Henry Aldrich.[5]

Listen to

References

Frank King's Skeezix Out West (Reilly & Lee Co., 1928)

External links








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