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WALT & SKEEZIX

BOOK ONE

A handsomely mounted presentation for one of the 20th-century’s landmark cartoons.

First volume of a worthy project to reintroduce the world to the gang at Gasoline Alley.

In a move as ambitious as Fantagraphic’s encyclopedic reissuing of the entire Peanuts line, Drawn & Quarterly has inaugurated an ambitious series that will eventually reprint the entire Gasoline Alley strip, as written and drawn by the late Frank King. The series is edited and designed by the estimable Chris Ware (Jimmy Corrigan, 2000), who obviously owes a lot of the inspiration for his nostalgic renderings to the work of fellow Chicagoan King, an influential early-20th-century cartoonist. The lengthy and learned introduction by Jeet Heer provides valuable insight into King’s life, particularly important since his strip was highly autobiographical. Far from being a tortured artist, he grew up uneventfully in Tomah, Wis., and afterward held a series of increasingly respectable and well-paid drawing jobs, culminating with the 1919 launch of Gasoline Alley in the Chicago Tribune. Heer draws connections from various incidents to their later appearances in the strip, and Ware liberally sprinkles the text with a wealth of old family photos. Gasoline Alley is pure Americana, set in a neighborhood where all the men are infatuated with their automobiles, tinkering with and talking about them endlessly. Disrupting the calm murmur of shoptalk is Skeezix, an orphan left on the doorstep of the chubby and friendly Walt, one of the Alley’s only unattached men. The sections of the strip included here (from 1921 and 1922) follow Walt’s attempts to raise the kid on his own. They also deal with the attentions of Mrs. Blossom, the beautiful, newly single woman who’s catching the eye of the Alley’s men and worrying their wives. It’s all as innocent as can be, but given to occasional melancholy and strangely addictive: the characters actually change from day to day, and they even age, an unthinkable thing for most stuck-in-amber cartoons.

A handsomely mounted presentation for one of the 20th-century’s landmark cartoons.

Pub Date: June 15, 2005

ISBN: 1-896597-64-5

Page Count: 424

Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2005

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HERE

A gorgeous symphony.

Illustrator McGuire (What’s Wrong With This Book, 1997, etc.) once again frames a fixed space across the millennia.

McGuire’s original treatment of the concept—published in 1989 in Raw magazine as six packed pages—here gives way to a graphic novel’s worth of two-page spreads, and the work soars in the enlarged space. Pages unspool like a player-piano roll, each spread filled by a particular time, while inset, ever shifting panels cut windows to other eras, everything effervescing with staggered, interrelated vignettes and arresting images. Researchers looking for Native American artifacts in 1986 pay a visit to the house that sprouts up in 1907, where a 1609 Native American couple flirtatiously recalls the legend of a local insatiable monster, while across the room, an attendee of a 1975 costume party shuffles in their direction, dressed as a bear with arms outstretched. A 1996 fire hose gushes into a 1934 floral bouquet, its shape echoed by a billowing sheet on the following page, in 2015. There’s a hint of Terrence Malick’s beautiful malevolence as panels of nature—a wolf in 1430 clenching its prey’s bloody haunch; the sun-dappled shallows of 2113’s new sea—haunt scenes of domesticity. McGuire also plays with the very concept of panels: a boy flaunts a toy drum in small panels of 1959 while a woman in 1973 sets up a projection screen (a panel in its own right) that ultimately displays the same drummer boy from a new angle; in 2050, a pair of old men play with a set of holographic panels arranged not unlike the pages of the book itself and find a gateway to the past. Later spreads flash with terrible and ancient supremacy, impending cataclysm, and distant, verdant renaissance, then slow to inevitable, irresistible conclusion. The muted colors and soft pencils further blur individual moments into a rich, eons-spanning whole.

A gorgeous symphony.

Pub Date: Dec. 9, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-375-40650-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2014

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HEART OF DARKNESS

Gorgeous and troubling.

Cartoonist Kuper (Kafkaesque, 2018, etc.) delivers a graphic-novel adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s literary classic exploring the horror at the center of colonial exploitation.

As a group of sailors floats on the River Thames in 1899, a particularly adventurous member notes that England was once “one of the dark places of the earth,” referring to the land before the arrival of the Romans. This well-connected vagabond then regales his friends with his boyhood obsession with the blank places on maps, which eventually led him to captain a steamboat up a great African river under the employ of a corporate empire dedicated to ripping the riches from foreign land. Marlow’s trip to what was known as the Dark Continent exposes him to the frustrations of bureaucracy, the inhumanity employed by Europeans on the local population, and the insanity plaguing those committed to turning a profit. In his introduction, Kuper outlines his approach to the original book, which featured extensive use of the n-word and worked from a general worldview that European males are the forgers of civilization (even if they suffered a “soul [that] had gone mad” for their efforts), explaining that “by choosing a different point of view to illustrate, otherwise faceless and undefined characters were brought to the fore without altering Conrad’s text.” There is a moment when a scene of indiscriminate shelling reveals the Africans fleeing, and there are some places where the positioning of the Africans within the panel gives them more prominence, but without new text added to fully frame the local people, it’s hard to feel that they have reached equal footing. Still, Kuper’s work admirably deletes the most offensive of Conrad’s language while presenting graphically the struggle of the native population in the face of foreign exploitation. Kuper is a master cartoonist, and his pages and panels are a feast for the eyes.

Gorgeous and troubling.

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-393-63564-5

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

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