“Comic Art” Exhibition: Exploring the History of a Beloved Format

While recently viewing the Library of Congress exhibition, “Comic Art: 120 Years of Panels and Pages,” I was struck by the effective storytelling Frank King employed in a cartoon drawing for his Gasoline Alley comic strip. In the cartoon, the main character Walt Wallet is depicted as a father whose well-meaning plans to introduce his son to the beauty of the great outdoors have gone awry.

<em>Gasoline alley. Walt, I'm going up the canyon</em>. Drawing by Frank King, 1921. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.10592

Gasoline alley. Walt, I’m going up the canyon. Drawing by Frank King, 1921. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.10592

After an uneventful start to his hike with his son Skeezix, Walt begins to suspect that his friend Doc is sneaking up on the two of them. Walt teasingly says “You can’t fool us!” before realizing they are actually being approached by a bear. A comical slide down a mountain into a river ensues, concluding the narrative. I particularly like how the frightening scene in the top panel alludes to the story’s conclusion.

Curator Sara W. Duke provided me with further context: “At the time this comic strip was created, each comic strip appeared on a separate tabloid page, which gave the artists plenty of room to use the title panel as a prelude to the story. While Walt and Skeezix encounter only one bear, Frank King imagines a much more menacing interaction.”

Cropped section from Gasoline alley. Walt, I’m going up the canyon. Drawing by Frank King, 1921. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.10592

Gasoline Alley first appeared in print in 1918 and in 1921 became the first cartoon to show its main characters aging contemporaneously with its readers. It is also the longest running cartoon strip still in production in the United States. The exhibition provides these and many other facts and insights from the history of the art form.

For those of you unable to visit Washington to see the exhibit, please enjoy the online version, which includes digital copies of nearly every item displayed in the physical exhibit space. If you are able to visit the exhibition in person, you will have the luxury of seeing many original drawings close up.

Learn More:

Frances Benjamin Johnston’s Hampton Album: A Researcher’s Exploration

The following is a guest post by Micah Messenheimer, Curator of Photography, Prints & Photographs Division. Conversations with visiting researchers that lead to new appreciation for the many interconnections among Library of Congress collections are one of the pleasures of my job as a photography curator. The following interview was done with Jane Pierce, Carl […]

Planting Victory

In the wake of Veterans Day, when we honor those who have been willing to place themselves in harm’s way to serve their country, it feels appropriate to highlight the efforts of civilians who supported service members’ work during war time by doing their bit at home. Barbara Natanson, head of the Prints & Photographs Reading Room, recently pointed […]

Honoring Veterans, Telling Stories of Service Through Handmade Paper Art

The following is a guest post by Katherine Blood, Curator of Fine Prints, Prints & Photographs Division. As moderator for the Veterans Art Showcase’s Combat Paper panel, she would like to thank the participating panelists and artists for sharing their knowledge, art, and stories. The extensive Library of Congress collections of art and documentation related […]

Step Right Up! Circus Posters for Your Viewing Pleasure

The following is a guest post by Jan Grenci, Reference Specialist for Posters, and Shaunette Payne, Processing Technician, Prints & Photographs Division. Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages, please direct your attention to the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog, and join us in celebrating the recent digitizing of the Library’s circus posters! The Circus […]