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 Frank O. King  (1883 - 1969)

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Lived/Active: Illinois/Wisconsin      Known for: cartoonist

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Ad Code: 3
Frank O King
from Auction House Records.
Gasoline Alley Hand Colored Sunday Comic Strip Original Art
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Frank King, born in Cashton, Wisconsin, and raised in nearby Toman, is best known as the creator of Gasoline Alley. He was also the first to show the aging of comic strip characters. After high school, King spent four years working with newspapers in Minneapolis. He then studied for two years at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts while working Saturdays at the Chicago American. Following a short stint at an advertising agency, he joined the art department at the Chicago Examiner for three years.

In 1909, King went to work at the Chicago Tribune in search for a better salary. In 1911, he started a daily cartoon feature called Motorcycle Mike, and a Sunday color comics page, Bobby Make Believe. He later filled in for John T. McCutcheon when the Tribunes celebrated front-page editorial cartoonist went to Europe to reconnoiter the outbreak of war. In addition to his Sunday color strip, King was doing a black-and-white Sunday feature a miscellaneous collection of topical cartoons, grouped together in a single large panel called "The Rectangle." There, on November 24, 1918, King introduced a new cartoon department about automobiles. "Cars had character in those day," King once said, "and there was plenty to discuss." There was plenty of interest in the subject and Kings treatment of it. In eight months, Gasoline Alley had outgrown "The Rectangle" and was a daily feature by itself. King had found his lifes work.

Kings graphic style was not particularly distinguished -- linework embellished with routine cross-hatching and shading but it was competent and suited to the unpretentious, homey, everyday preoccupations of the strip. In the daily strips, King seemed quite content to watch his characters grow older and explore the everyday concerns of small-town America. But, on the Sunday pages in the 1930s, his graphic imagination bubbled to the top. He produced some of the most inventive strips in the history of cartooning. Once Walt and Skeezix strolled through the countryside of modern German expressionism; another time, they walked through a woodcut autumn. King once drew a full-page, birds-eye view of the Wallet neighborhood, and then, by imposing the usual grid of panel borders on the scene, he created 12 independent vignettes. The result was a portrait of backyard society in double-exposure. Overall, the page showed us the geography of the neighborhood while the characters, in actions and words in each panel, enacted the life of that neighborhood.

King did not make his mark in comic strip history with such rare and spectacular displays, but through the more mundane device of aging his characters. This was his shorthand way of referring to the life he breathed into them, life that seemed real to readers. He built a devoted readership that followed the strip even after he died no small accomplishment.

(Information on the biography above is based on writings from the book, "The Encyclopedia of American Comics," edited by Ron Goulart.)

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