Monday, November 24, 2008

Gasoline Alley at 90

I've read the comic strip "Gasoline Alley" for most of my life. I started when Dick Moores was still the writer and artist (Jim Scancarelli succeeded him and continues on to this day).

When Frank King created the strip back in 1918, it primarily centered around a group of guys and their cars. The real storyline began, though, when Walt Wallet discovered an infant on the running board of his parked car in 1921. The relationship between Wallet, a bachelor, and the founding, Skeezix, was the backbone that supported all the other characters and storylines for the next 87 years.

(click on image to enlarge)

In many other comics, time is frozen. Marvin will always be a toddler; Dennis the Menace is always five; PJ will remain a baby in the Family Circus. But Frank King let his characters age, and in doing so made his stories more compelling. Early on, the young Walt Wallet and Skeezix established an autumn tradition of taking a walk in the woods to see the fall colors. Every year, each artist has continued that tradition, and it's become something of a bittersweet segment (especially for those of us who have been reading a while). Walt's now 109, and Skeezix is in his 80's -- and the reader knows the fall is coming soon when Skeezix will be making the walk alone.

And that's what gives this long-running strip it's appeal (at least to me). Just as families share stories of past times when they gather together, so too can readers fondly recall past friends and families of the strip. Walt's neighbor Avery, for example, was there at the strip's beginning, and all throughout the run he proudly drove his 1920's automobile (his obsession with his car was the subject of several sequences in the 1950's and 1960's). Avery's no longer around, but when Walt recalls the old gang, there he is on the panel -- and the reader remembers.

But perhaps its the blending of reality and fiction that's the charm. My father remembers reading of Skeezix's adventures as a G.I. in the Second World War. I remember reading about his daughter Clovia's courtship and marriage some twenty years later. We both enjoy the strip, and we've both spent a lifetime with these characters as they grow and age.

Congratulations to "Gasoline Alley" for hitting this important anniversary, and to its 90-year-long story of life's passing parade.

- Ralph

Day 157 of the WJMA Web Watch.

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