Monday, 9 April 2007

Motoring

T here's a beautiful collection of Frank King's Gasoline Alley sundays on the subject of Walt Wallet's annual Autumn walk with Skeezix at Roger Clark's art website.
And they are shown at a huge size too, which is something we so rarely see. (via Comics Reporter).
There are 38 beautiful pages celebrating the changing colors of nature and the disappearing American countryside. Here's a panel, left, from November 11 1934.
And if you're looking for more after that there's a much smaller selection at Bugpowder. The panel below is from August 25 1929 and the subject is still nature.



I'm glad to see the selection based on a theme other than the dream pages that are occasionally rounded up as appealing examples of the series. Lovely as those pages are , and they are certainly that, they are often presented, along with Krazy Kat and Polly and her Pals as the last flourish of fading pictorial beauty in the Funnies in the tradition of MaCay's Little Nemo. The real treasure in Gasoline Alley is elsewhere. It is in the sheer length of its attention to ordinary daily life in America in the first half or the twentieth century (it lasted much longer than that of course, but one always feels that its heart was in those years even when the events weren't). One of the best observers of the strip has been Donald Phelps, in an essay that appears in his Reading the Funnies:
"The kind of American epic, in muted tones, which King was to propose can be traced very early on, in affectionate fiddling with perspective; it emerges in King's work as a way , not of questioning the gravity or stance or aspect of the material, but, rather, of refreshing the reader's appreciation of it. Not of "penetrating" the ordinary, but of manipulating it, with a long-time tinkerer's patient adroitness. Ordinaryness is a given of Gasoline Alley's world; something not to be converted, but to be endured as gracefully, stoically, playfully, as circumstances, and one's moods and talents, allow."
(Phelps' writing itself invites the kind of analysis this fellow attempts in a review, at sensesof cinema.com, of the book just quoted)

The true appreciation of this great strip demands a reading of it as a daily event, not just a sunday day-off special. And Drawn and Quarterly are doing us the service of providing it. I have just noticed that I have not yet bought the second volume, and there's a third almost upon us.


One thing I love about the earliest weeks of the strip is that there is always one day in the week, not always the same, when it appears as a single-panel comic, a large panel in which each of the characters would be simultaneously giving his opinion on some aspect of motoring or car maintenance. The syndicates would soon do away with such irregularities in the great homogenisation of the comics format that was still to come, and in our own times the McCloudians would absurdly tell us that King was working in a different medium on those days. The one on the open page is from March 16 1921. If you look closely you'll notice I've pencilled 'weds' beside the date. I guess I might be the only person to whom such trifles matter.

These gorgeously produced books give the work an appreciation appropriate to this era of the 'graphic novel.' The cuttings were mainly provided by Joe Matt who was interviewed about his involvement in the New York Times of January 14 2007:
Comics: See You in the (Restored, Reprinted) Funny Papers
"'A NIGHTMARE,' Joe Matt sighs. 'All those years, all that money, all that work. None of which I’ll ever get back.' Mr. Matt, the graphic novelist best known for his absurdly self-centered autobiographical comic “Peepshow,” is sitting in a prefab booth at Daily Donut in Los Feliz, a neighborhood spot favored by quiet elderly customers and infrequent rushes of teenagers seeking afterschool snacks. He is speaking of his quest for the perfect collection of Frank King “Gasoline Alley” comic strips, from 1921 to 1960. Mr. Matt, who owns no home, car, computer or cellphone, estimates he has spent upward of $15,000 on his mission since 1994.
“I found dealers in comics magazines and ordered the years I wanted,” he says. “A year runs about 312 dailies, of which you can get about 290 or more. Times that by 40, at $50 each. And there’s always missing strips. I’d have to order the same year again and again just to get a few missing days. God help you if you drop them, because you have to sort 300 undated strips by story line. Then I found that different papers ran the strip at different sizes, or with better printing presses. It was maddening.”
His collection forms the bulk of “Walt & Skeezix” (retitled from “Gasoline Alley” for licensing reasons), a decade-long, multivolume reprinting of Mr. King’s complete works published by D&Q (Drawn & Quarterly). (Volume 3 arrives in June.)"


Isn't this a good time to be around?

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13 Comments:

Anonymous John C said...

Isn't this a good time to be around?

Truly we're in an age of overwhelming plenty. Quite amazing the amount of stuff that's around these days; I was saying to friend Jay recently that I'm running out of very obscure films to complain about being unavailable on DVD.

And I find I now have to remind people what it was like throughout most of the 1980s when albums from the 60s or 70s were very difficult to find if they weren't "classics" that had been reissued (on vinyl, not CD). You had to pay a lot of money to specialist dealers for original vinyl that you hoped would sound okay after having passed through the hands of several careless owners. Jay wrote an article about the subsequent CD reissue boom, noting how it's influenced new music. Bands now can not only acknowledge what's around them but also music recorded when their parents were kids.

That comment about the changing America in the comic strips reminds me of my sport of watching old films for their period detail. Comedies from the silent and early sound era are fascinating since you can see them building Los Angeles in the background.

9 April 2007 1:32:00 pm GMT-5  
Anonymous John C said...

I love this one:

http://www.rogerclarkart.com/art/ga/1929-img-1929-10-20Full.html

9 April 2007 3:49:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

John

I'm noting how in the sixth panel on that page you can see how the platemaker has gradated the oranges on the foliage. Milt Caniff often mentioned how good the platemaking crew was at the NY news/ Chicago Trib syndicate, how they were tradtional old craftsmen kind of people and how that skill had faded from the business (by the '70s when he was being interviewed ).
While on technical issues. I was visiting a pal yesterday and saw for the first time that my sidebar disappears completely on Netscape. So I've widened my whole page by 50 pixels to see if that cures the problem. I don't know yet if it has, but I see that the pictures from a few days ago that had spread into the sidebar have now corrected themselves. well at least on mac/ safari they have, which is what i presume you're working with. I also notice some of my other typographical adventures didn't work on Firefox.
What ya gonna do?

Eddie

9 April 2007 4:09:00 pm GMT-5  
Anonymous John C said...

Yes, indeed. I bet he'd really value printers he could trust, would have given him more flexibility within the limitations of the medium. Remarkable stuff, those Gasoline Alley pages. Anyone who thinks comics aren't art, or comics-as-art is a new thing, should be forced to look at them and recant.

Your pictures have corrected themselves in my Safari world. I wouldn't worry overly much about Netscape, although you no doubt want your pal to see the pages okay. My web stats say that only 0.5% of users visiting my site use Netscape which is even less than use Opera. Such unpredictability is one reason I now refuse offers of web work. Print is better--you know what you're going to get and that everyone will get the same thing. And a good printer helps, as Milt Caniff knew.

9 April 2007 8:19:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

John
I only just brought in a stats counter. I see that Firefox is the big one these days, with more than 50% of my visitors using it. I'd never heard Of it until i started the blog.

and I used to have a few of those old Trib/News supplements. They really were gorgeous to look at. Colors were rarely flat. there was always stuff going on inside them King appears to have constructed these Autumn pages to make the best advantage of it.

Eddie
Eddie

9 April 2007 8:25:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger HemlockMan said...

I was using Firefox until I bought this new computer. For some reason I can't recall, I decided not to install it. (It may have been because my wife and son were having trouble using it, although I liked it just fine.)

9 April 2007 9:45:00 pm GMT-5  
Anonymous Robin said...

The Walt and Skeezix collections are excellent. I think they are really important, in the influence of Frank Kings style on so many future alternative creators. And contrary to most early strips, they are a great read, not just pretty. This summer, I am going to do an interview with Jeet Heer all about the collections with a review of the history. It should be really interesting, Jeet is a super smart knowledgable guy.

10 April 2007 3:41:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

Robin,
let me know when and where it appears and I'll shout it out.
Eddie

10 April 2007 4:15:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger HemlockMan said...

The current artist of Gasoline Alley lives just south of here. Jim Scancarelli. I assume the strip is still being published?

10 April 2007 6:32:00 pm GMT-5  
Anonymous Domingos said...

I understand the appeal of these Sundays (gosh, could those engravers get their hues right!). My only complaint is that I find Gasoline Alley just a bit too sweet for my taste.

10 April 2007 6:48:00 pm GMT-5  
Anonymous Robin said...

Thanx Eddie, that would be great. Until then, I recommend listening the interview I did with him last year, were we discuss the work of George Herriman. Some great comix goodness. http://www.inkstuds.com/?p=35. It is re

10 April 2007 8:19:00 pm GMT-5  
Anonymous Slim Jankel said...

The current artist of Gasoline Alley lives just south of here. Jim Scancarelli. I assume the strip is still being published?

If it's not, what does Scancarelli do?

10 April 2007 8:38:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Mike said...

Scancarelli is indeed still doing the strip and last year killed Walt's wife Phyllis off - she was the older 'widow' woman with a mysterious past when Walt met her, and he's already 105 or so, so no surprise there, but many of us thought that Walt was going to get it. Earlier this year, Walt wandered off and into the home for retired comics and that looked like it for him too, but he wandered back out again. I'm afraid I've never appreciated Scancarelli as much - I don't really like the characters he brought in.

10 April 2007 9:22:00 pm GMT-5  

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