Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Gasoline Alley Sundays, Vol. 1

Walt with Skeezix.

“Such a large stressed out man — speeding around in an automobile, climbing roofs and fire escapes, leaping between buildings and running about with tiny Skeezix poised perfectly in the palm of one hand…”

by John Adcock

FRANK KING retired from drawing the Sunday Gasoline Alley in 1951, a year after I was born, so the strip I remember was mostly the work of Bill Perry. Perry was a competent cartoonist but the strip as I recall it was bland and ordinary, a small town soap opera done up in a semi-realistic style. In 1976 Avon produced a Gasoline Alley book by Dick Moores but the King pages, dailies and Sundays, were not collected in any great number until recently with volumes from Spec Productions, Drawn & Quarterly and Sunday Press.

ALL SUNDAYS. Dark Horse has entered the arena with the goal of collecting all of the astonishing Frank King Sunday pages in chronological order in beautifully reproduced full-size volumes. The large size (46.5 x 32.5 x 2.8 cm) makes it easy to enter and lose yourself in Walt and Skeezix’ world, and the book is designed to open flat without breaking the spine.

RESTORED. About half of the works used were drawn from bound volumes of King family proofs, the rest from the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum in Columbus, Ohio (Bill Blackbeard’s collection). The final restoration by book designer Zavier Leslie Cabarga is brighter than the originals but not overdone. The reproduction is crisp and clean, altogether pleasing on the eye.

The Introduction is by Russ Cochran. It is followed by a Jeet Heer essay Gasoline Alley, the Early Years, a page on Frank King in Fantasyland and Cabarga’s Restoration Notes.

A TREAT. It’s really a treat to see King’s beautiful drawings so well reproduced. It makes my fingers itch for pen and ink. Frank King drew in a light outline with wisp-thin lines, made minimal but effective use of black shadow, left some shadows blank for the colorist to fill in, and added faint bits of feathering to animals and nature. The natural world played a huge part in Gasoline Alley. The wind moves through his drawings, seasons turn, it rains and snows and the leaves change color.

Close-up, Sunday, April 9, 1922.
COMPELLING. King had an amazing ability to tell a compelling short story in twelve panels based on the slightest of ideas; a turkey in the yard, an encounter with a mirror, a child who resists going to sleep, a manic car chase to the end of a rainbow, a birthday celebrated, or the milking of a cow.

WALT. Walt sported a tiny head on a monstrous bow-legged body shaped like a pear and wore a tiny white sailor’s cap behind his cowlick. It’s funny to watch such a large stressed out man speeding around in an automobile, climbing roofs and fire escapes, leaping between buildings and running about with tiny Skeezix poised perfectly in the palm of one hand.

SKEEZIX. Skeezix was tiny, unconcerned, perfectly balanced even when tumbling down the stairs, the kind of kid who moves in ten different directions at once leaving Walt in fits.

DREAMS AND FANTASIES. The celebrated fantasy strips usually came about when Walt, exhausted by fatherhood, fell into a troubled sleep with vivid dreams, waking at the end to take up the fatherhood struggle once again. In my opinion these are among the most perfectly realized fantasy strips of all time, second only to Little Nemo in Slumberland.

EXCELLENCE. This first volume of King’s Complete Sundays is full of mad, endearing humor and fantasy, a quality production that should introduce a new generation to the work of one giant (among many) from the earliest days of comics when excellence of story and art was the norm. 

    Gasoline Alley;
By Frank King;  
    The Complete Sundays; Volume One; 1920-1922,
    hardbound, 128 pages.
A Russ Cochran/Dark Horse Book.

No comments:

Post a Comment