Walt & Skeezix

By Frank O KingWalt And Skeezix_1
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly
ISBN: 9781896597645

You may well know nothing of Walt & Skeezix, but you may have heard of the cartoon strip Gasoline Alley. This was a strip told in real time, so whereas Peanuts would see Linus in the pumpkin patch every year for several decades, the characters in Gasoline Alley aged as the years went by, as did the world around them. The title of the strip came from the road four friends had their garages situated on, a place where they could tinker with their big boys’ toys. This collection covers the years 1921 and 1922, so for the first few weeks of the strip it’s all very much about the cars, people’s fascination with them, and getting to grips with being a mechanic. Almost all the gags are vehicle related and reflect the huge difference the motor car made to the average person at the time. But the real reason the collection covers these two years in particular (it had been running a short while before then) is because the lead character of the strip, Walt, a bachelor, discovers a baby left on his doorstep. He takes the baby in and chooses to raise the baby as his own, naming him Skeezix, thus changing the tone and direction of the strip forever more.

Considering these strips are almost a century old, they are instantly relatable, funny and poignant, with only the occasional colloquialism betraying the age of the work. That, and their portrayal of Walt’s black maid, Rachel, who is drawn in a detrimental style that continued throughout comics and animation for a few decades to come. Frank O King doesn’t mean to be disrespectful – she gets some good lines and is more than competent in her job – but it certainly jars with modern sensibilities.

With the arrival of Skeezix Walt continues his bachelor lifestyle, often exclaiming that he knows when he’s well off when his fellow Alley inhabitants are given a rough time by their wives, and although he refers to himself as Uncle Walt to Skeezix he becomes a doting and thoughtful father full of love and generosity. The strip’s fixation with the car continues, and even charts the rapid changes taking place and the freedom it offers, but always it returns to Walt and Skeezix as we watch the baby go from helpless infant to toddler.

Are wonderfully curated collection, overseen by the brilliant Chris Ware, this is a slick and comprehensive introduction to the strip and its creator that demands your time and attention. It’s by no means cheap, but is a beautiful and rewarding book to behold.

And if you liked that: More collections are available from Drawn & Quarterly

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