Birthday: April 9, 1883
Died At Age: 86
Sun Sign: Aries
Also Known As: Frank Oscar King
Born in: Cashton, Wisconsin
Famous as: cartoonist
Spouse/Ex-: Delia Drew
children: Robert Drew King
Died on: June 24, 1969
place of death: Winter Park
U.S. State: Wisconsin
education: Chicago Academy of Fine Arts
awards: 1949 - Silver T-Square Award
1957 - Humor Comic Strip Award
1958 - Reuben Award
Frank King was a celebrated cartoonist best known for his comic strip ‘Gasoline Alley’. He was a very innovative artist who introduced many novelties to the concept of comic strip creation. His most popular creation was a soap-opera style comic strip that dealt with a group of automobile enthusiasts who meet in an alley. What differentiated King from other cartoonists of his time was that he was not afraid to innovate and try out newer things. He played with colour combinations and page designs, and introduced for the first time in comic strips, the concept of real time ageing of the cartoon characters. He was a naturally born artist who began drawing as a small child. As a teenager he once won a country fair drawing competition—one thing led to another and he was soon offered a job at the ‘Minneapolis Times’ when he was just 19 years old. Realizing that his life’s calling was in creating art, he went to study at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts before embarking on a career as a comic strip creator. He created many popular comic strips but the one that became his claim to immortality was ‘Gasoline Alley’ which became so popular that it ran successfully for decades.
Childhood & Early Life
Frank King was one of the two sons of John J. King and his wife Caroline. His father was a mechanic. The family moved to Tomah in Wisconsin to operate a general store when Frank was four years old.
He was an artistically inclined child and started to draw when he was quite young. He graduated from Tomah High School in 1901.
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As a teenager he entered a country fair drawing competition and drew a sign for a hotel bootblack. An acquaintance of his father saw the sign and arranged for him to have an interview with an editor of the ‘Minneapolis Times’.
He was hired for $7 a week at the ‘Minneapolis Times’ as a cartoonist. King was only 19 years old at the time. He worked with the paper for four years.
In 1905, he gave a chalk talk on St. Patrick’s Day celebration. Chalk talks are monologue presentations given by artists while they draw with chalk, crayons or pastels. Chalk talks were popular acts in vaudeville in those days.
He enrolled at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts to study during the 1905-06 session.
He worked for a short period at an advertising agency and at the ‘Chicago American’ before shifting to the ‘Chicago Examiner’. There he spent three years working next to cartoonist T. S. Sullivant.
He joined the ‘Chicago Tribune’ in 1909 where he worked alongside Dean Cornwell, Clare Briggs, and Garrett Price. The next year he created a comic strip ‘Jonah, a Whale for Trouble’ which was however very short lived.
His next comic strip ‘Young Teddy’, a Tribune Sunday strip, appeared from September 1911 to October 1912 while another Sunday strip, ‘Hi-Hopper’ ran from February 1914 till December 1914.
The ‘Chicago Tribune’ began featuring a page called ‘The Rectangle’ which carried a variety of cartoons and serial features. The page was usually printed in black and white and appeared regularly from 1914. King created several strips which included ‘Tough Teddy’, ‘The Boy Animal Trainer’ and ‘Hi-Hopper’.
He drew war scenes for publication in American newspapers during the World War I.
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King created a strip called ‘Gasoline Alley’ which began appearing on the bottom quadrant of ‘The Rectangle’ on Sundays from November 1918. It featured the characters Walt, Doc, Avery and Bill who held conversations about automobiles.
The characters in the strip were based on King’s real life acquaintances and the plot revolved around mild humour involved in simple day-to-day life. The strip became very popular and was made a daily comic strip from August 1919.
King introduced the concept of real time continuity in the strip where the characters age along with the passage of time. One of the main characters, Skeezix, introduced as a baby grew up to be a young man and later became a retired grandfather.
The ‘Gasoline Alley’ became so popular that it made King a millionaire. He retired from the Sunday strip in 1951 and from the daily in 1959. His assistants Bill Perry and Dick Moores took over the responsibility of running the strip.
The comic strip ‘Gasoline Alley’ is the second longest running comic strip in the U.S. and appears in more than 300 newspapers. The strip was critically acclaimed for its innovative ideas and has won several awards from the National Cartoonists Society.
Awards & Achievements
The National Cartoonists Society honoured him with three awards: Silver T-Square Award (1949), Humor Comic Strip Award (1957), Reuben Award (1958).
Personal Life & Legacy
He married Delia Drew in 1911. They had one son Robert Drew King.
During his later years he retired to Florida and spent time on his hobbies which included gardening, sculpting and collecting maps. He was found dead in his bathroom in 1969 at the age of 86.
The comic strip ‘Gasoline Alley’ has been adapted into two feature films.
The King’s highway in Florida is named in the honour of this great cartoonist.