I was totally engrossed by Jeet Heer’s introduction to Walt and Skeezix: 1921 and 1922 (Drawn & Quarterly, 2010), and then spent the next three weeks trying to actually get into reading the cartoons themselves. Finally, it clicked. Maybe I was identifying with Frank King’s own struggle to build narrative momentum in the early days of the strip—but whatever the case, once over the hump, the ride was well worth it.
How little has changed in ninety years! Who knew that there were alarm clocks in 1921, that houses had thermostats even back when coal-fired furnaces were being used, or that roads were roughly patched over just as they are today, once natural gas lines to the houses were installed? These are but some of the small gifts that Walt & Skeezix inadvertently offers, simply as a lens into the past.
There are obvious superficial differences that are visible between then and now in Gasoline Alley (for example, fashion trends of the time are very well reflected in King’s portrayals of everyday life). But fundamentally, the heart of his strip—the relationships between Walt, Skeezix, Rachel, Miss Blossom and Walt’s cronies in the alley all stand the test of time. Recognized as the first strip in which cartoon characters aged in real-time as it was published, Gasoline Alley is also one of the longest-running newspaper strips of all time. We are fortunate that the likes of Chris Olivieros, Jeet Heer, Chris Ware and Joe Matt have championed the cause of reprinting these classics in their entirety.