Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Gasoline Alley Explores Comic Abstractions

Comic artist Frank King was fascinated by the way comics translate reality into abstract 2D graphic conventions such as word bubbles and panels.

In this Sunday Gasoline Alley page, he had fun with the idea with characters becoming silhouettes. 

Walt and Skeezix become cutout people who eventually contemplate the holes in the paper they were cut out of. 

This page uses a high viewpoint where the background continues from panel to panel as Walt walks across the beach. The panels suggest changes in time as well as space.

In this one, they draw everything with a compass (even the word bubbles).

In a previous post I shared how comic artists satired the strange abstractions of modern painting all the way from the early 1900s to Calvin and Hobbes. In case you missed it, here's another Gasoline Alley page where Walt and Skeezix explore the distorted worlds represented in abstract painting.

In art school, I had a perspective teacher who critiqued our student artwork as if the worlds we portrayed were an objective reality that we had to inhabit. "I wouldn't want to live in that building," he'd say. "The floors aren't level and the walls look like they're going to fall down." 

These Gasoline Alley pages take that premise of living inside your pictures to its logical extreme.

Collector Mel Birnkrant says: "I was slow to appreciate the greatness of Gasoline Alley...It all seemed so polite and sweet, and the level of stylization was not extreme. It was not until I finally examined some of the Gasoline Alley Sunday pages that I tuned in to the understated genius of Frank King. I was amazed to realize that many of these Sunday pages are excursions into surreal fantasy. Such flights of fancy were to be expected in Winsor McCay's Slumberland, but they are stunning when encountered in what purported to be day to day domestic reality."


Robert Cosgrove said...

I think it has been a while since one of those "Complete Sundays" volumes has come out; I hope that sales have not been such that we wind up with Incomplete Complete Sundays . . .

Judy P. said...

I'm amazed at the level of vision, skill and winking sophistication to the Modern Art world that are in these comics! I love thinking how this art was always meant for the masses, and that their elevated standards surely enriched people's lives. That's the problem with museums- most folks are reticent to enter them, like they can't relate to the work inside. But for the cheap price of a newspaper this wonderful world becomes a regular part of their everyday. When I was a kid I loved the single pane of the old Dennis the Menace comics, and the Popeye cartoons looked so exciting. It was only when I got older did I understand concepts like Notan, then I realized how great those black lines and design were in Dennis the Menace. I'm a painter now, and like to think I started my education way back, with the comics.

Drake Gomez said...

Used to love reading Gasoline Alley. The second page is fascinating, with Walt and Skeezix composited into the uniform landscape. This was a favorite device of Renaissance painters, perhaps most famously Masaccio in his Tribute Money fresco. There's probably a name for it, but I don't know what it is.

Roberto Quintana said...

At the risk of getting to philosophical… so much of painting has to do with the question of how to depict the illusion of reality on a 2-dimensional surface. Masaccio was playing around with time and space way back in the early renaissance. After his ‘Tribute Money’ fresco in which he tells a cinematic story by depicting the passage of time in plaster, he painted his ’Trinity’ fresco for the church of Santa Maria Novella, in Florence (1428), in which he creates the illusion of a 3-dimensional barrel-vaulted space, with the use of perspective, and then transforms that space into a transcendent space, by deliberately breaking the rules of perspective and painting God-the-Father standing at the far distant back wall, while supporting the crucified God-the-Son in the very front of the barrel-arch on the cross! Totally Surreal! He did all this and much more, before he died at the age of 26! Amazing!! -RQ