Sometimes I let comics sit around for a long time. Not my monthly comics that I go to the comic shop every week to buy but my hard and softcover collections. For a while there from about 2008 to 2011 I was buying more comics in book form than in comic form. But I prefer the variety of reading many different comics so often the collected editions would languish until I was in the mood to read six to ten issues in a row of something. Some are still languishing. Like some of my comic strip collections. And then time passes.

It was way back in 2007 that I wrote an appreciation of Gasoline Alley. There were two volumes of “Walt and Skeezix” out then but now there are five. Plus as volume of Sunday strips. All published by Drawn and Quarterly Book. Add to that a second series by Dark Horse of the Sunday strips except this time officially licensed as “Gasoline Alley”. It seems as if the strips from the 1920s are in the public domain but the name “Gasoline Alley” isn’t. At least that’s the way I remember it.

Though it’s not the officially licensed version D&Q’s has been working with the cartoonist Frank King’s family to put a whole bunch of family photos and family history into the “Walt and Skeezix” books. The fifth book even comes with a DVD of old family movies. I haven’t got to that volume though. It’s taken me long enough to get to volume four. As a matter of fact volume four came out in 2010 and apologizes in the introduction for it being three years since volume. That means it’s probably been four or five years since I read volume three. Where does the time go?

By volume four we’ve settled into the family aspects of Gasoline Alley. Volume one was the beginning all about men and their cars in the early 1920s. Then they introduced Skeezix who was a baby abandoned on on bachelor Walt Wallet’s doorstep. Since then the strip has professed in real time with Walt adopting Skeezix, learning to be a father, and Skeezix growing up. Volume three had the romance between Walt and Mrs. Phillis Blossom (Auntie Blossom to Skeezix) finally end in marriage so in volume four things settle down into a family strip. And then it turns into a courtroom drama.

It is amazing to me how many things Frank King does well in “Gasoline Alley”. It’s not a gag-a-day comic strip as most are nowadays but he’ll give you a gag strip often enough. Most of the time it’s slice-of-life humor though. You get the everyday interaction of the Alley gang and their cars, the Walt learning to be a father stuff, and the will Walt work up the nerve to really romance Mrs. Blossom angle. Then it turns into a road trip story when Walt and Skeezix take a drive across the country in what was then the early days of the automobile. In volume three we even get a look at their stay at a lakeside hotel for summer vacation. It is a real look at 1920s life that according to the intro articles was what was going on in Frank King’s own life.

In volume four, which I’m reading now, the strips are from 1926 and this is where it turns into a courtroom drama. Y’see since Skeezix was adopted six years ago his father has found out about him and is trying to get custody of him. For weeks we get lawyers plotting and planning and then facing off in the courtroom. There were huge chunks of word balloons with lawyers giving speeches in them. The strip become more dense and more of a page turner at the same time. I was hanging on every word and amazed at how well done it was. I can only imagine what is was like for people reading it in their daily newspaper back in 1926 waiting to see how things would turn out. It really is good stuff. Oh, and after that Walt has to get a job and it turns into a bit of a working man’s strip.

The Sunday strips don’t follow the plot of the daily ones. They’re also much larger and in full color. The newspaper people figured that Sunday only readers would be put off only getting a small piece of an ongoing story so they made Sunday strips their own thing. I began to notice that the Saturday strips were often stand alone too. I mentioned that I have two Sunday strip collections.

The first one is from D&Q and is called “Sundays with Walt and Skeezix 1921-1934”. It’s a giant of a book at about 16×21 inches but isn’t a complete collection of the Sunday strips. It’s listed at eighty six pages so in must have about 150 or so strips in it. I’ve looked through it but this one has also been sitting on my shelf for a couple of years because I didn’t want to get too far ahead of the daily strip. Or it just sat there like so many things do because there isn’t enough time in the day.

The other volume that I recently bought and read is from Dark Horse Comics is called “Gasoline Alley The Complete Sundays Volume One 1920-1922”. I see that volume two is comic out soon so I guess they plan to reprint them all in chronological order. At 12×16 inches it’s much smaller than the D&Q one but it’s still pretty big. In the “Restoration Notes” section they say that they are working with the King family too so as to get the best reproductions available to print from.

The Sunday strips are a lot of fun. They are less continuity based and more self contained. Fun gags and slice-of-life stuff happens plus it gets whimsical. There are dream sequences where anything can happen. Cartoonists in those days had a lot of room to work with in a Sunday strip and often liked to stretch their imaginations and show off their artistic talents and that’s what Frank King does with these. It’s fun to read.

So there you have it. I’m back on the “Gasoline Alley” bandwagon. They’re brilliant comic strips and I’m glad to be finally back to reading them again. And it blows my mind to think that they’re so old. I doubt anybody who had anything to do with making these strips is still with us and neither is their intended audience. But here I am all these years later reading them.