I've been looking at a lot of different comic artists this week and think my focus is nicely narrowing down. One artist in particular is astonishing and as luck would hve it there's a collection of work by him out now. Gasoline Alley is fairly well know in America but not so much over here, Frank King created it in 1919 and within a year or so he hit upon the main idea that would fuel it until he died in 1969 when it was taken over by one of his assistants (a common practice and not one that I'm sure I like, even if the person who takes a strip over is great I'd rather see them do something original...anyway), that idea was real life. Walter was the adoptive parent of Skeezix (who turned up on his doorstep) and they just.... did stuff, and as time wore on they got older and older, aging as they would if they were real living people. I've not bought the recent collection (I will, but it's a £20 h/b and I'm broke at the moment) which features the daily strips, however I do have 2 issues of the Drawn and Quarterly anthology which reprint many of the breathtaking Sunday full page full colour strips. King used the Sunday format to have fun and Walter and Skeezix would walk through reality to fantasy and back again through some spellbinding artwork. King used a very simple open style (imagine Crockett Johnson and Herge funneled through a delictate hand) and filled those lines with georgous colours carefully selected to contrast and compliment. In one strip Walter explains to Skeezix that the forest isn't dead just sleeping, throughout the following panels Walter explains the change the months will bring to the forest and King illustrates it, time stands still for Walter and Skeezix as it moves on around them in a display of fiery autumnal colours to vibrant summer colours. Quite a few stories use dream logic to tell a silly but engaging yarn, but the most impressive thing King did was pre-empt the likes of Chris Ware. Ware designed the new collection of Gasoline Alley thereby repaying a debt as his artwork owes quite a bit to King but also because Ware has become (rightly) well known for his dazzling graphic skills a few of which were lifted from King. What King would do was to draw one large image, then lay the comic panel grid over the top and then draw the characters interacting from panel to panel around this one image. So, for instance, looking at a series of panels seperately we can see several characters playing around on the frame of a soon to be constructed house, but looking at the whole page we can see the full house frame. Like all King's work it's a lovely simple idea presented in a simple and unpretentious way. It's a technique, like the speeding up of the months, that Ware has used and built upon and he is not ashamed to aknowlegde his debt.
There's quite a few comic artists like King (Walt Kelly, Winsor MCay, George Herriman Otto Messmer, E.C. Segar etc) greatly hailed praised in their time and slowly forgotten (although some not as much as others) as comics fade, but thanks to publishers like Drawn and Quarterly releasing Gasoline Alley (under the name Walter and Skeezix for legal reasons) and Fantagraphics with Peanuts (ok, so not every great cartoonist is forgotten, but Schulz is surely some sort of exception!) in such handsome volumes perhaps those names will last a little longer.