Kirkus Reviews WALT & SKEEZIX

First volume of a worthy project to reintroduce the world to the gang at Gasoline Alley.

Kirkkus Reviews    |    Kirkus Reviews Staff    |    June 13, 2005

In a move as ambitious as Fantagraphic's encyclopedic reissuing of the entire Peanuts line, Drawn & Quarterly has inaugurated an ambitious series that will eventually reprint the entire Gasoline Alley strip, as written and drawn by the late Frank King. The series is edited and designed by the estimable Chris Ware (Jimmy Corrigan, 2000), who obviously owes a lot of the inspiration for his nostalgic renderings to the work of fellow Chicagoan King, an influential early-20th-century cartoonist. The lengthy and learned introduction by Jeet Heer provides valuable insight into King's life, particularly important since his strip was highly autobiographical. Far from being a tortured artist, he grew up uneventfully in Tomah, Wis., and afterward held a series of increasingly respectable and well-paid drawing jobs, culminating with the 1919 launch of Gasoline Alley in the Chicago Tribune. Heer draws connections from various incidents to their later appearances in the strip, and Ware liberally sprinkles the text with a wealth of old family photos. Gasoline Alley is pure Americana, set in a neighborhood where all the men are infatuated with their automobiles, tinkering with and talking about them endlessly. Disrupting the calm murmur of shoptalk is Skeezix, an orphan left on the doorstep of the chubby and friendly Walt, one of the Alley's only unattached men. The sections of the strip included here (from 1921 and 1922) follow Walt's attempts to raise the kid on his own. They also deal with the attentions of Mrs. Blossom, the beautiful, newly single woman who's catching the eye of the Alley's men and worrying their wives. It's all as innocent as can be, but given to occasional melancholy and strangely addictive; the characters actually change from day to day, and they even age, an unthinkable thing for most stuck-in-amber cartoons.

A handsomely mounted presentation for one of the 20th-century's landmark cartoons.

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