Frank King (cartoonist)

Last updated
Frank King
Frank O. King (ca 1916).jpg
BornFrank Oscar King
(1883-04-09)April 9, 1883
Cashton, Wisconsin
DiedJune 24, 1969(1969-06-24) (aged 86)
Winter Park, Florida
Area(s) Cartoonist
Notable works
Gasoline Alley

Frank Oscar King (April 9, 1883 June 24, 1969) was an American cartoonist best known for his comic strip Gasoline Alley . In addition to innovations with color and page design, King introduced real-time continuity in comic strips by showing his characters aging over generations.


Born in Cashton, Wisconsin, King was the older of the two sons of mechanic John J. King and his wife Caroline. When Frank was four years old, he moved with his parents to 1710 Superior Avenue in Tomah, Wisconsin, where they operated their family general store. He started drawing while growing up in Tomah, where he graduated from Tomah High School in 1901. [1]

He entered country fair drawing competitions; a sign he drew for a hotel bootblack earned him only 25 cents, but it was seen by a traveling salesman who learned it had been drawn by the son of one of his customers. The salesman arranged an interview for King with a Minneapolis newspaper editor. King began earning $7 a week at the Minneapolis Times , and during his four years there, he doubled his salary while creating drawings and doing retouching. He also worked as a courtroom sketch artist. [2] On March 17, 1905, he gave a chalk talk at a Minneapolis St. Patrick's Day celebration. [1]

Chicago cartoonists

In 1905-06, he studied art at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. [3] After a spell at an ad agency and a brief time at the Chicago American , he spent three years with the Chicago Examiner , where he worked next to cartoonist T. S. Sullivant. In 1909, King left the Examiner to work at the Chicago Tribune , where, according to his friend, Chicago cartoonist Lew Merrell, he increased his weekly pay 50 cents. [4] [5] At the Tribune he worked alongside Clare Briggs, Dean Cornwell and Garrett Price. [6] In 1910, he began a short-lived daily comic strip, Jonah, a Whale for Trouble, which ran in the Tribune from October 3, 1910 until December 8, 1910. He followed with a Tribune Sunday strip, Young Teddy, which was seen briefly from September 10, 1911 to October 6, 1912. His funny frog Sunday strip, Hi-Hopper, ran from February 1, 1914 until December 27, 1914. [1]

On February 7, 1911, King married Delia Drew, also from Tomah. They were both 28 years old and moved into a series of apartments on the South Side of Chicago. Delia gave birth to a stillborn daughter in 1912, and in 1916, a son, Robert Drew King, was born. It was at this time that the family moved to 533 Madison in Glencoe, a somewhat affluent suburb on Lake Michigan north of Chicago. [6] In 1916, King's salary from the Tribune was $5000. By 1925, this had grown to $22,500, a princely sum that was augmented by royalties from Gasoline Alley books and toys. [6]

The Rectangle

Detail from The Rectangle (April 8, 1917), two days after the U.S. entered WWI. King rectangle detail-8Apr1917.jpg
Detail from The Rectangle (April 8, 1917), two days after the U.S. entered WWI.

The Rectangle began as a Chicago Tribune page featuring a variety of cartoons and serial features. King's Rectangle Sunday page, usually printed in black-and-white outside the comics section, was a late addition to a page that ran for years in the Tribune. On January 9, 1913, King introduced a bounded rectangle containing themed single-panel gags (beginning with a page headed Hints to Husbandettes), but pages in that format did not appear with any regularity until February 1914. The Rectangle title was finally introduced on December 27, 1914.

King created several recurring strips, including Tough Teddy, The Boy Animal Trainer, Here Comes Motorcycle Mike, Hi Hopper (about a frog) and his first successful full-page comic, Bobby Make-Believe (January 31, 1915 to December 7, 1919). [4] [7] During World War I, King was overseas drawing scenes of the war for publication in American newspapers. [1]

Bobby Make-Believe, Here Comes Motorcycle Mike, Hi Hopper and other pre-Gasoline Alley comic strips by King was reprinted by Sunday Press Books in a hardcover titled: Crazy Quilt by Frank King: Scraps and Panels on the way to Gasoline Alley, Comics from 1909-1919, (2017), ISBN 978-0-98355-045-7

Gasoline Alley

On Sunday, November 24, 1918, the bottom quadrant of The Rectangle featured Walter Weatherby Wallet and his neighbors Bill, Doc and Avery as they repaired their automobiles in the alley behind their houses. The corner was titled Sunday Morning in Gasoline Alley.

King recalled, "My brother had a car that he kept in the alley with a fellow by the name of Bill Gannon and some others. I'd go to his house on Sunday, and we'd go down the alley and run into somebody else and talk cars. That was the beginning of Gasoline Alley." [8] After King began the daily Gasoline Alley strip (August 24, 1919), The Rectangle appeared sporadically and finally came to an end on February 8, 1920.

Gasoline Alley (November 24, 2008) Tmgas081124.png
Gasoline Alley (November 24, 2008)

King often credited his wife, Delia, for providing a "woman's angle" to Gasoline Alley. The central character of Walt was based on King's brother-in-law, Walter White Drew (1886–1941), and he used his own son, Robert Drew King, as the model for Skeezix. Tomah's Dr. Johnson was the inspiration for the character of Doc, and Bill in the strip was based on Bill Gannon.

King hired young Bill Perry from the Chicago Tribune's mail room and then trained him to work as his assistant. Although King leaned toward a homespun simplicity in his Sunday story situations, he also introduced some unusual experiments with time and space, as noted by comics critic Paul Gravett:

Other precedents from America’s newspaper supplements were occasional experiments by Frank King in his Gasoline Alley Sunday pages where he would turn the whole page into one continuous landscape. For example, on 24 May 1931, King uses an unrealistic, almost isometric perspective to turn the page into a single image, like a diagram viewed from above, of the neighborhood and its assorted residents. This angled aerial view he divides into 12 equal panels, each containing at least one fresh character to contribute their own moment of comedy. In more of an ensemble of jokes than a strictly linear narrative, no characters appear here more than once. King went further, however, in 1934 when over three consecutive weeks he used the whole page as one image to portray a house being built, from bare site to construction to finishing touches. The first of these, dated 25 March 1934, presents repeated images of Skeezix and his pal Whimpy as they play around the foundations dug out of their favorite baseball diamond and meet a local girl. Here the threesome move around 12 identical square panels and time unfolds in sequence, although jumping ahead sometimes by a considerable period from one to the next. [9]

The success of Gasoline Alley escalated until it was published in over 300 daily newspapers with a daily combined readership of over 27,000,000. [1] According to Lew Merrell, the strip and its merchandising made King a millionaire. [5]

Frank King's Gasoline Alley (December 6, 1936) Gasolinealley12636.jpg
Frank King's Gasoline Alley (December 6, 1936)

In 1929, the Kings moved to Florida. For 20 years, they lived between Kissimmee, Florida and St. Cloud at his Folly Farms estate on the northeast shore of Lake Tohopekaliga. The cartoonist's estate of 230 acres (0.93 km2) along the Lake is still there, hidden among the other houses in the Regal Oak Shores subdivision.

In 1941, King wrote, "Just what the future holds for Skeezix and Gasoline Alley nobody knows. If permitted a fanciful prophecy, I should say that Skeezix will eventually marry, probably raise a family and make Uncle Walt a happy foster grandparent. Skeezix's offspring will in turn grow up, marry and have children. They in turn will thrive and mature and repeat the customary cycle ad infinitum." [10]

At Folly Farms, during the 1940s, King spent time on his hobbiessculpting, collecting maps, playing the fiddle and raising amaryllis bulbs. He retired from the Sunday strip in 1951, letting his assistant Bill Perry to take over. King retired from the daily in 1959, turning it over to Dick Moores, his assistant since 1956. The strip continues until the present day. [11]

In later years, King lived in Winter Park, Florida. On June 24, 1969, Dennis Green, a King employee for many years, arrived to prepare King's breakfast. He heard King moving around the house and later found his body on a bathroom floor. [12] King was buried in Tomah's Oak Grove Cemetery beside his wife, Delia, who died February 7, 1959. [1] The couple's son, Robert King, lived in Des Plaines, Illinois.

Awards and exhibitions

King had one-man shows in Springfield, Illinois and Buffalo, New York, and his artwork is in the permanent collection of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum. In 1955, he was an honored guest at Tomah's Centennial celebration and presented with an Indian headdress. His desk is on display at the Tomah Area Historical Society Museum, and in 1969, Gasoline Alley signs were placed along Superior Avenue in Tomah.

King's Highway in Florida is named to honor Frank King; it runs south from Neptune Road to King's Folly Farms estate. Mr. Enray, the banker in Gasoline Alley during the late 1940s, was based on Kissimmee's real-life banker N. Ray Carroll. When Carroll was a state senator, he had the road named after King by a resolution of the Florida Legislature. [13]

He was twice honored for his work by the Freedom Foundation, and he received awards three times from the National Cartoonists Society. [3]

Related Research Articles

Comic strip Short serialized comics

A comic strip is a sequence of drawings arranged in interrelated panels to display brief humor or form a narrative, often serialized, with text in balloons and captions. Traditionally, throughout the 20th and into the 21st century, these have been published in newspapers and magazines, with horizontal strips printed in black-and-white in daily newspapers, while Sunday newspapers offered longer sequences in special color comics sections. With the development of the internet, they began to appear online as webcomics. There were more than 200 different comic strips and daily cartoon panels in American newspapers alone each day for most of the 20th century, for a total of at least 7,300,000 episodes.

<i>Gasoline Alley</i> American comic strip created by Frank King

Gasoline Alley is a comic strip created by Frank King and distributed by Tribune Content Agency. It centers on the lives of patriarch Walt Wallet, his family, and residents in the town of Gasoline Alley, with storylines reflecting traditional American values.

<i>Moon Mullins</i> 1923-1991 American comic strip

Moon Mullins is an American comic strip which had a run as both a daily and Sunday feature from June 19, 1923 to June 2, 1991. Syndicated by the Chicago Tribune/New York News Syndicate, the strip depicts the lives of diverse lowbrow characters who reside at the Schmaltz boarding house. The central character, Moon, is a would-be prizefighter—perpetually strapped for cash but with a roguish appetite for vice and high living. Moon took a room in the boarding house at 1323 Wump Street in 1924 and never left, staying on for 67 years. The strip was created by cartoonist Frank Willard.

Roy Crane American cartoonist

Royston Campbell Crane, who signed his work Roy Crane, was an American cartoonist who created the comic strip characters Wash Tubbs, Captain Easy and Buz Sawyer. He pioneered the adventure comic strip, establishing the conventions and artistic approach of that genre. Comics historian R. C. Harvey wrote, "Many of those who drew the earliest adventure strips were inspired and influenced by his work."

A pet peeve, pet aversion, or pet hate is a minor annoyance that an individual identifies as particularly irritating to them, to a greater degree than would be expected based on the experience of others. The phrase analogizes that feeling of annoyance as a pet animal that one does not wish to give up, despite its objective lack of importance.

Frank W. Bolle was an American comic-strip artist, comic book artist and illustrator, best known as the longtime artist of the newspaper strips Winnie Winkle and The Heart of Juliet Jones; for stints on the comic books Tim Holt and Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom; and as an illustrator for the Boy Scouts of America magazine Boys' Life for 18 years. With an unknown writer, he co-created the masked, Old West comic-book heroine the Black Phantom. Bolle sometimes used the pen name FWB and, at least once, F. L. Blake.

A daily strip is a newspaper comic strip format, appearing on weekdays, Monday through Saturday, as contrasted with a Sunday strip, which typically only appears on Sundays.

Sunday comics comic strip section carried in most western newspapers

The Sunday comics or Sunday strip is the comic strip section carried in most western newspapers, almost always in color. Many newspaper readers called this section the Sunday funnies, the funny papers or simply the funnies.

Richard Arnold Moores was an American cartoonist whose best known work was the comic strip Gasoline Alley, which he worked on for nearly three decades.

Jim Scancarelli cartoonist

James Scancarelli, known professionally as Jim Scancarelli, is an American cartoonist and musician. Since 1986, he has been writing and drawing the syndicated comic strip Gasoline Alley for Tribune Media Services. In that role, his predecessors were Frank King, Bill Perry and Dick Moores. He had served as an assistant to the latter for several years before taking over. Scancarelli is also a prizewinning bluegrass fiddler.

<i>Toots and Casper</i>

Toots and Casper was a long-run family comic strip by Jimmy Murphy, distributed to newspapers for 37 years by King Features Syndicate, from December 17, 1918 to December 30, 1956. The strip spawned many merchandising tie-ins, including books, dolls, paper dolls, pins, bisque nodders and comic books.

Mark J. Cohen Realtor

Mark J. Cohen was a realtor and a collector of comic books and comic book art, and a prominent cartoonists' agent and dealer in original comics art. He was an occasional contributor to the Gasoline Alley comic strip.

Lank Leonard American comic strip artist of "Mickey Finn"

Frank E. Leonard, better known as Lank Leonard, was an American cartoonist artist who created the long-running comic strip Mickey Finn, which he drew for more than three decades.

Bill Holman (cartoonist) American cartoonist

Bill Holman was an American cartoonist who drew the classic comic strip Smokey Stover from 1935 until he retired in 1973. Distributed through the Chicago Tribune syndicate, it had the longest run of any strip in the screwball genre. Holman signed some strips with the pseudonym Scat H. He once described himself as "always inclined to humor and acting silly."

Bill Perry (cartoonist) cartoonist

William Miles Perry was an American cartoonist, known as an assistant on, and later a primary artist for, the Gasoline Alley comic strip.

<i>Red Barry</i> (comic strip) detective comic strip by Will Gould

Red Barry was a detective comic strip created by Will Gould (1911–1984) for King Features. The daily strip about two-fisted undercover cop Barry began Monday, March 19, 1934, as one of several strips introduced to compete with Dick Tracy by Chester Gould. A Sunday strip was added on February 3, 1935. The daily strip ran for three years, until August 14, 1937, and the Sunday page ended almost a year later, on July 17, 1938.

Frank Willard American cartoonist

Frank Henry Willard, was a cartoonist best known for his syndicated newspaper comic strip Moon Mullins which ran from 1923 to 1991, working alongside assistant Ferd Johnson. He sometimes went by the nickname Dok Willard.

The Sunday Funnies is a publication reprinting vintage Sunday comic strips at a large size (16"x22") in color. The format is similar to that traditionally used by newspapers to publish color comics, yet instead of newsprint, it is printed on a quality, non-glossy, 60 pound offset stock for clarity and longevity. Featured are classic American comic strips from the late 19th century to the 1930s. The publication's title is taken from the generic label often used for the color comics sections of Sunday newspapers.

Gasoline Alley was an American radio sitcom based on the popularity of the newspaper comic strip Gasoline Alley by Frank King. It first aired in 1931 under the name "Uncle Walt and Skeezix".

Walt and Skeezix is a hardover book collection of the daily comic strips of Gasoline Alley, an American comic strip written and drawn by Frank King, originally syndicated in newspapers by Tribune Content Agency between 1918 and 1969. The collection is published by the Canadian publisher Drawn and Quarterly, the first volume of the series was released in 2005.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Stripper's Guide
  3. 1 2 Encyclopædia Britannica Online. "Frank King".
  4. 1 2 Lambiek Comiclopedia. "Frank King".
  5. 1 2 "Frank King, Gasoline Alley Creator, Dies". Dayton Beach Morning Journal, June 25, 1969.
  6. 1 2 3 Heer, Jeet (2009) "Drawn from Life", in Ben Schwartz, ed., The Best American Comics Criticism, Fantagraphics Books, Seattle.
  7. Holtz, Allan (2012). American Newspaper Comics: An Encyclopedic Reference Guide. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press. p. 77. ISBN   9780472117567.
  8. Stiles, Steve. "On the Road with Gasoline Alley".
  9. Gravett, Paul. "Gianni De Luca & Hamlet: Thinking Outside The Box", European Comic Art, Spring 2008.
  10. Sheridan, Martin. Comics and Their Creators. Ralph T. Hale and Company, 1942, ASIN B000Q8QGC2
  11. Gasoline Alley at Don Markstein's Toonopedia. Archived from the original on August 1, 2016.
  12. "Gasoline Alley Creator Frank King Dead at 86".Sarasota Herald-Tribune, June 25, 1969
  13. Robison, Jim. "Kissimmee Banker Was Mr. Enray of 'Gasoline Alley'". Orlando Sentinel, May 12, 2002.
  14. National Cartoonists Society. "The Silver T-Square".
  15. National Cartoonists Society. "Humor Strips".
  16. National Cartoonists Society. "The Reuben". Archived from the original on 2007-07-04.