From the strip for April 10, 1922: “Ma Has a Word to Say.”
A recent reference query led to the rediscovery of almost 300 original Gasoline Alley comic strips in the Archives, donated to the library by the strip’s creator, Frank King, in 1954.
Mr. King (1883-1969) was born in Cashton, Wisconsin, and attended the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. He began the strip in 1918 at the Chicago Tribune. It was innovative in that its characters aged and developed over the years. But its popularity was most likely due to its depiction of a kind of family life that was familiar to many Americans and a reflection of the times.
The main character, Walt Wallet, was a kindhearted fellow who talked cars with his friends–Doc, Avery, and Bill–in an alley, like so many car owners did at that time. (In those days, garages commonly opened onto alleys in the back.) Walt was the group’s only bachelor, but his quiet life would change dramatically in February 1921.
On February 14 of that year, Walt discovered a baby left on his front porch. He adopted the boy, naming him Skeezix. Not everyone approved of his decision to become a single parent, however, as the panel above shows.
“Uncle Walt,” as Skeezix called him, later married Phyllis Blossom and added two more children to his family, Corky and Judy. As time went on, Skeezix grew up, fought overseas in World War II, and married while on leave in June 1944. Walt’s grandson, Chipper, served in the Vietnam War.
Frank King came to Central Florida in 1921, and moved to Winter Park in 1949. In 1939, he appeared onstage at the College’s Animated Magazine, alongside such nationally known figures as author James Branch Cabell and New York Times publisher Arthur Hays Sulzberger. In Mr. King’s talk, “Life With Skeezix,” he spoke of the ongoing nature of a cartoonist’s work, noting that he had completed “a drawing a day for 7300 consecutive days.” In contrast to most authors, he said, “The continuity cartoonist . . . avoids an objective and hopes he never gets there. His is a book with a front cover only.”
In addition to the comic strips, Mr. King gave the Rollins Library over 500 copies of Puck magazine and more 200 books, including rare 17th- and 18th-century works. A Book-a-Year Memorial was established in his name after his death in 1969.
Professors William Svitavsky and Julian Chambliss, whose scholarship includes the study of comics, have noted the significance of this collection. As Prof. Svitavsky writes, “Frank King depicted growth and change in typical middle class life with this pioneering comic strip. The rediscovery of these strips in our archives – some of which might never have been reprinted in a collection – is like finding a buried treasure.” And Prof. Chambliss notes that “The discovery of such a large and extensive collection of Frank King’s Gasoline Alley offers us the opportunity to revisit the impact of the newspaper cartoon script and its relation to contemporary comic culture in the United States.”
After Mr. King’s death, his friend and associate Matthew Straub described him as “a man of love–love for his family and friends of all ages” (Orlando Sentinel, 6/27/1969). “In through the mind, out through the heart, he waves to us from across generations.” His gift to Rollins will benefit students and researchers for many years to come.
~ by D. Moore, Archival Specialist