Thursday, February 23, 2006

Decompression Can Be a Powerful Tool

Case in point: Drawn and Quarterly's Walt and Skeezix, Book One .

I took this book out of the local Public Library, and have been nearly overwhelmed by the sheer pleasure of reading it. It collects (more-or-less, skipping a bit of the earliest material) the first couple of years of the oft-forgotten (but much-acclaimed) Gasoline Alley newspaper strip by Frank King.

The strip, which began as a gag panel dealing with the earliest age of automobile enthusiasts, really gets cooking when perennial bachelor Walt finds a baby on his doorstep.

From this point on the continuity that King has applied to the strip becomes more evident, as the baby (Skeezix) gradually ages in "real-time". And yes, if you read the current installments of the strip, Walt is just over a hundred years old, and Skeezix is in his eighties. It's really quite an achievement.

There are seasons, holidays, birthdays, just about everything that could be expected to occur in a year. But there are also strips that feel much like those countless days when nothing much of import happens. Days where the only thing you might retain is an interaction with a friend, or something funny you saw out of your window.

I'm only about half-way through this collection, and it already feels like I've been reading it for weeks. It's kind of mind-blowing to think that there are about 86 years worth of strips that have yet to be collected.

I have a kind of obsession with Caniff's Terry & the Pirates, but Gasoline Alley is satisfying in such a different way. It's the perfect book to read while laying in a hammock. It's a book best read without haste, taking the time to really appreciate each panel.

So hopefully, the second volume will be realeased by mid-June, which will probably be my first opportunity to laze outside. Hurrah, Winnipeg!


Blogger Jake said...

About two or three years ago, Gasoline alley pulled off a decompression feat that would make Brian Michael Bendis blush. Peter David actually acknowledged it on his site as a "and people say I stretch things out" thing.

It began with Skeezik (I think)'s uncle and his relatively-new wife going home after dinner at Skeezik and family's house.

The next day is three or four black frames, the final one with a word bubble that says, "Oh, no! NO!!!"

The next day is a few black panels with a phone ringing sound effect. In the final panel, Skeezik turns on the light and answers.

The next day, Skeezik says "What happened?" Next frame: "Oh, no!" Last frame: "Uncle Walt (or Bob or Fred or whoever!"

The next day, Skeezik and his wife are at the hospital. Talking about how unexpected this is and "we were just having dinner with them both a few hours ago.... makes you think."

The next day, a doctor comes out and says, "There was nothing we could do." He explains the heart attack was too sudden. Skeezik somehow manages to say something like "Dead?" or something else non-gender-specific ("He/she's dead?")

For the next FOUR WEEKS, they go through funeral arrangements, mourning, the viewing, the funeral, and god knows what else, all without ever revealing whether Skeezik's "Oh, no! Uncle Walt!" was in response to Uncle Walt telling him his wife was dead or Uncle Walt's wife telling him Uncle Walt was dead.

After about a month, Uncle Walt finally made an appearance at the funeral, revealing the answer to the question that gripped the minds of people 75 and older and took them on an emotional roller coaster.

11:47 AM  
Blogger Jhunt said...

See, now that's just funny. Cruel to the strip's elderly readers, admittedly, but d**n funny.

And at least nobody's paying 4 bucks a pop to get jerked around for another month.

Still, four weeks? Heh.

12:15 PM  
Blogger Melchior del Darién said...

Nice post, Joel. King's comic surely is a leisurely pleasure. While I haven't read the Fantagraphics collection, Drawn and Quarterly published a run that included some really amazing dream sequences.

10:03 PM  
Blogger Jhunt said...

thanks for the kind words, melchior!

..oh, and it is indeed the recent inagural colume of DRAWN AND QUARTERLY's Walt and Skeezix which I am enjoying so much, and the blog entry has been edited to give credit where credit is most certainly due.

If the dream sequence strips to which you refer are the ones that appeared in the Drawn and Quarterly anthology in a few volumes, I've read them as well, and they are gorgeous.

10:31 PM  
Blogger Melchior del Darién said...

Yeah, those are the ones that I saw. When I was a kid I had one of those irrational "I don't like" reactions to Gasoline Alley. (Probably because my sister liked it.) Those D&Q anthologized strips were a total revalation for me.

12:49 AM  
Blogger Jhunt said...

I had somehow managed to avoid any exposure to Gasoline Alley until I saw those Sunday pages in D&Q, which I think was a very good thing. I've read some of the more recent strips, and they just don't have that "Frank King magic".

It is kind of interesting to note how the artstyle has had to change (for the worse) in order to fit the confines of the ever-shrinking comics page.

9:12 AM  

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