Cartoonist Frank Bolle was born on June 23, 1924 and passed away last month. He became a regular contributor to comic books in the last half of the 1940s after serving his country during World War Two. During his early comic book career he often partnered, and developed a lifelong friendship, with fellow cartoonist Leonard Starr.
above: 1947 comic book stories by Frank Bolle and Leonard Starr via Comic Book Plus.
The Bolle-Starr relationship is mentioned because Frank’s first comic strip work was assisting Leonard on the On Stage newspaper strip. From the 1957 debut to 1961 Frank worked on the Mary Perkins comic strip doing background art, and likely helping with character pencils and lettering.
Frank went back to comic books for a few years before he returned to syndication. That would happen when he started drawing Jon Uhle’s Quick Quiz panel.
These weekly educational panels appeared in 1965, and may have stretched into the surrounding years 1964 and 1966 (exact dates have not been pinpointed).
What is known is that also in 1965 Frank began working on the Children’s Tales Sunday-only page.
While doing the Children’s Tales adaptations, 1966 saw Frank begin drawing a daily and Sunday comic strip for the same McNaught syndicate.
Debbie Deere, starring an advice columnist, began May 30, 1966 and was written by Al Jaffee. Gary Poole took over as writer in 1968. The Bolle-Poole team apparently disagreed on the strip’s direction. From a November 1969 edition of The Palladium-Item:
Continuing Children’s Tales and comic book assignments, it took about a year for Frank to return with a daily comic strip.
Alexander Gate ran for almost a year, seemingly as much next to the astrological column as on the comics page, from December 1, 1970 (above) to September 18, 1971 (below).
Not long after Alexander Gate ended so did Children’s Tales (December 19, 1971) and Frank’s association with McNaught Syndicate. Though by this time Frank was already assisting John Prentice. Helping Prentice on Rip Kirby would be an on-and-off assignment that lasted decades. Alberto Becattini lists Frank’s contributions (pencils/inks/letters) on Rip Kirby during the years 1970-1977, 1987-1994, and 1998-1999. The strip and Frank’s work on it would end with Prentice’s death in 1999. Frank, in his own style, drew the last week of Rip Kirby under Prentice’s signature.
above: the last two strips of Rip Kirby ghosted by Frank Bolle (via Jim Keefe)
That first break in Frank’s Rip Kirby work may be due to his getting the assignment to illustrated Elliot Caplin’s Best Seller Showcase adaptations that began in August of 1977.
For the nuts and bolts of Best Seller Showcase we will again turn it over to Allan Holtz.
Not long after the August 1978 end of Best Seller Showcase Frank began another daily and Sunday comic strip based on a book. Frank’s illustrating of Encyclopedia Brown continued his partnership with Elliot Caplin and Universal Press Syndicate.
After Encyclopedia Brown ended in 1980 Frank came up on a rare time of not appearing on the funny pages for a couple years. This is not to say he was wanting for work – with children’s books, comic books, and assignments from magazines like Boy’s Life (below) Frank had a full plate.
Frank did interrupt his syndicate sabbatical when, in 1981 he was called on by the syndicate to help Mike Grell
who (I’m guessing) had been overtaken by the dreaded deadline doom. whose pages originally scheduled for those dates were lost in the mail.
Frank drew the Tarzan Sunday strips for September 13 and 20, 1981 in his best imitation Grell style.
The following year Frank would return to syndicated comic strips to stay – specializing in drawing comic strip women.
On June 20, 1982 (above) Frank took over the art on the long running Winnie Winkle, an assignment that would last for 14 years – until July 28, 1996 when the strip ended.
In 1985 Frank had taken over the writing as well as the drawing of the strip, calling on old friend Leonard Starr to help with the scripting. Leonard Starr by this time had taken over the writing and drawing of Little Orphan Annie. (In 1979 the adjectives had been dropped and the strip’s title was down to just Annie.) Turnabout being fair play Frank assisted Leonard on Annie during the years 1986-1994 (mostly lettering, some art).
By the time Winnie Winkle had ended Frank had already taken on The Heart of Juliet Jones seven years earlier (on May 22, 1989 imitating Stan Drake, he began signing the strip on January 1, 1990).
Frank would stay with Juliet and Eve until their end on January 1, 2000.
But in 1996 with only one seven-day-a-week comic strip to do Frank had time. So…
Frank began helping John Cullen Murphy on Prince Valiant. From 1996 to 2003 Frank assisted on Val doing either the layouts or the pencil art (sources don’t seem to agree on exactly what, though they do agree on the time period).
Elsewhere Brian Kotzky has said he never wanted to be a comic strip artist. He helped his father on Apartment 3-G for years and when Alex died Brian took over. After a few years he told the syndicate to find a replacement. The syndicate found Frank, already working on the syndicate’s Juliet Jones.
This may be why the Juliet Jones strip ended. Juliet Jones and Prince Valiant were King Features strips, once the syndicate dropped Juliet Jones Frank was free to take over the syndicate’s Apartment 3-G art chores while continuing to assist on Valiant. Frank, at age 75, began Apt. 3-G on December 6, 1999.
Frank took a temporary gig on one more comic strip. In 2008 Frank McLaughlin retires and Frank helped out the Tribune syndicate until they found a replacement on Gil Thorp. Frank had assisted/ghosted the Gil Thorp comic strip briefly in 1996, now, in 2008, Frank drew the strip for a month and a half until Rod Whigham came onboard. Not ghosting this time, Frank signed the daily-only strip from February 18 to April 5.
Frank continued drawing Apartment 3-G until age 91½, retiring in late 2015, at which time the strip ended on November 22.
By the end Frank’s abilities were affected by age, but he had offered up nearly 70 years of comic strip and comic book and children’s books and magazine art with most of it being high grade and professional. Frank Bolle should be remembered with fondness by all fans of the sequential arts.
I have been convinced to end this on something other than Frank’s last 3-G strip,
so above is a Prince Valiant drawing by Frank via the largesse of Thorsten Brümmel.
Hat tip to Allan Holtz’s American Newspaper Comics for most of the dates.