Monday, August 29, 2005


I recently checked out of the library and read Walt and Skeezix, which collects the daily "Gasoline Alley" strips from 1921 and 1922 (the first years where Skeezix appeared), and which will be the first volume in a complete reprinting of Frank King's daily strips. Presumably Drawn and Quarterly, the publisher, hopes to duplicate the success of Fantagraphics' Complete Peanuts, which rescued that company from perpetual financial jeopardy. I wish D & Q well, but I don't think that's likely to happen.

Up until mid-1922, when Mrs. Blossom, Walt's love interest, arrives, the volume is frankly boring, consisting mainly of endless gags about automobiles and about a bachelor crazy about automobiles trying to raise a baby on his own. Once Mrs. Blossom (there apparently is no Mr. Blossom) shows up -- well, it's still pretty dull, though the contrast with the first half makes it seem more interesting than it is. At the end of the volume, though Walt has been the primary focus of two years' worth of strips, there is as yet little more to his character than a nice guy who dotes on Skeezix; and the other characters are even less characterized. While Jeet Heer's introduction lauds King's depiction of Walt's gradually falling in love with Mrs. Blossom as showing King's "unique combination of comic delicacy and psychological realism" (26), it struck me as thoroughly conventional, even cliched. And it may be sacrilege to say this, but I don't think King's art in this volume is good, though a couple of strips foreshadow the formal experimentation of the later Sunday strips.

Should this review attract anyone's notice, no doubt the strip's fans will respond (once they stop sputtering) that it gets better later on. I'm sure it does. In fact, given its status as a classic, I'd be shocked if it didn't. However, it's the 1921-22 strips that are on offer now; and at a hefty price, too. If you can't read the book for free, as I did, I'd at least recommend sampling it in the bookstore before buying it.

For some much more favorable opinions of the book, along with links to various reviews, see this thread on the TCJ message board. (Again, this thread won't be around forever.)

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