Feb 16, 2016

Skeezix of Gasoline Alley: 1930s Gay Icon

When I was a kid in the 1960s, Dad would call me Skeezix when I misbehaved:
"Put down that comic book and clean your room, Skeezix!"

Particularly when my misbehaving had some connection to same-sex desire, like when Bill and I became a "mama and a papa", when I was disappointed at the lack of muscles at A Little Bit O'Heaven., or when I asked for a statue of a naked man for Christmas.

He never used that name on my brother or sister, just me.  I had no idea why.

Many years later, I stumbled upon a book in my Aunt Nora's attic, starring a boy named Skeezix.  Turns out that he was from the long-running comic strip Gasoline Alley (1918-).  Originally about four buddies who hung around in an alley to talk about cars, it took a domestic turn on February 14, 1921, when Walt Wallet found a baby on his doorstep, and named him Skeezix.

The strips were now about a single dad raising a small child -- who aged in real time.

By the late 1930s, when my father was a kid, Skeezix was a teenager, and the undeniable star of the comic strip.  He sold toys, clothes, shoes, ice cream, coloring books, pin-backs, sheet music, and a full line of big little books.

He starred in three radio series and two movies (played by Jimmy Lyndon of Tom Brown's School Days fame, with the bisexual Scotty Beckett as his brother Corky).

The strip was not known for beefcake -- Walt was rather pudgy -- but Skeezix got some shirtless and underwear shots, and displayed a nice physique.

And he had a buddy to bond with, Spud, who accompanied him on the adventures Skeezix in Africa (1934) and Skeezix at the Military Academy (1938).

So my father connected my homoerotic hijinks to the  shirtless, buddy-bonding, arguably gay Skeezix of his childhood.

The gay symbolism didn't last.  Skeezix got a girlfriend, Nina Clock.  He graduated from high school, served in World War II, and returned to run the gas station.  He married Nina, and had two kids: Chipper and Clovia.

Clovia grew up, managed the gas station, and married Slim Skinner.  They had two kids: Gretchen and Rover (born in 1978).

Rover grew up, graduated from high school, and married Hoogy Boogle.  They had a son, Boog, in 2004.

And so on and so on.  In fact, you'd be hard pressed to find anyone in the six-generations of the Wallet family to date who isn't involved in a hetero-romance.  There are no confirmed bachelor uncles or maiden aunts anywhere to provide queer subtexts (except for the outsider characters Rufus and Joel).  Gasoline Alley remains a holdout from the time when gay people were assumed not to exist.

Yet for kids growing up in the 1930s, there was Skeezix.

See also: Was My Grandfather Gay?