Created by Frank King (1883-1969), Gasoline Alley began in 1918 as a single panel gag strip about that wacky new fad, automobiles. Since cars were here to stay, Gasoline Alley stuck around too, and soon expanded to a full-length daily comic strip. In 1921, King decided to take his strip into new territory and had his main character, bachelor Walt Wallet, find an abandoned baby on his doorstep. The baby, Skeezix, was based on King’s own son. King examined middle-class family life and the storylines became more involved and complex. One of King’s innovations was to have the characters age normally (since keeping Skeezix a permanent infant seemed unnatural to him); this might seem obvious but was new to the comics page. (Dagwood and Blondie, for example, have probably only aged 20 years in the last century.)

While the daily strip resembled a soap opera, in the color Sunday strip King had his characters wander around landscapes or dreamscapes, voicing their observations about America, life, nature, or anything at all. Unfortunately, few of these have been reprinted since their original appearances. A couple appear in The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics, while the latest issue of the comics anthology Drawn and Quarterly (vol. 3 no. 1 – I just bought mine) reprints 30 of them.

Gasoline Alley continues after King’s death in the hands of lesser artists and is gradually disappearing from many newspapers, even from the Chicago Tribune where it first appeared.

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