Friday, April 9, 2010

Frank King - Epic Tale of Gasoline Alley

Born April 9, 1883, "Gasoline Alley" creator Frank King would have been 127 years old today.

Gasoline Alley began running in newspapers in 1918 and still runs through present day. Originally begun as a Sunday feature "Sundays in Gasoline Alley" it was a single panel in a larger strip King did called "The Rectangle".

Here's some samples of early Frank King Sunday features. Even at this early stage you can see what a master he was of page layout. The pages below never seem cluttered and he never seems forced in trying to fill out this all seems to naturally flow out of him and exist in just the proper space.

"Gasoline Alley" began as a joke at the new "Automobile Hobbyists" that were popping up all over urban and rural America. Guys with their model T's and model A's and Stanley Steamers who would spend 10 or 20 fold the amount of time tinkering with keeping their new "toys" running as they ever spent behind the wheel. It was mainly Walt Wallet, Doc and Avery needling each other about what buckets of bolts the other had while their ace motor cars were the real deal.

Quickly the strip turned to a daily Monday-Saturday format, and that's where King really took off and broke the mould. The characters in Gasoline Alley actually AGE. Unlike every other strip (one notable exception being the modern "For Better or For Worse") where Charlie Brown, Little Orphan Annie, Nancy and Sluggo, Dick Tracy and the rest are perpetually the same age for decade upon decade, the children of the alley grow up, go off to war, get married, have children of their own and their children do likewise.

It's a little pressed nowadays, as Walt would be pushing 110, but for the most part the characters have been experiencing real time. At least 4 generations of the Wallet family have moved through their lives in the paper right along with the rest of the country.

I can hardly do justice to the time-line/story-line here in this blog, but what I can do is show you another earmark of King's work.

Even as the weekday continuity took hold, Frank Kings great talent with a Sunday page was still a work of art. Masterpieces of composition, page layout, intricate panel interplays, and brilliant works with color that worked WITH the limits of newsprint rather than against.

Check out a few below. And take the time to seek out more of these works of art on your own. It's worth it!

Gasoline Alley and Frank King's tenure on the strip (which lasted until 1951 for the Sunday and 1959 for the daily) aren't as flashy as Buck Rogers or Tarzan, aren't as melodramatic or tawdry as Little Orphan Annie or Dick Tracy and because of this are not as well remembered.

Gasoline Alley lived in a quieter, more real-world with the rest of us. And because of that, maybe a little closer to it's readers hearts and minds. Those that do remember living through the depression of the 1930's, the war years of the 1940's and the booming economy of growing middle America of the 1950's, can remember deeply doing it right alongside Walt Wallet and family. Very, very closely I'm sure.

Thanks Frank! For doing work that is as solid as it gets. For ignoring the flashy for the real!


Wings said...

Great post! I started reading when I was a kid, in the late 70s/early 80s, thanks to my mom, who had been a fan of the strip since SHE was a kid! It is different than all the rest, and while you are right, having Walt still there is pushing it, I can see how hard it is for them to let him go. It would be hard for millions to lose him!

Jeff Overturf said...

Thanks Wing.

Yes, it would be tough. It's one thing to capture that aspect of real life in a comic by adding the dynamic of aging and changing roles, quite another to elliminate a prominate character.

It didn't work for Superman, Jason Todd, Electra or even Bucky Barnes.

The magic of comics. The only true way to beat death is to become a cartoon.

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