Frank and Ernest – A Fifty Year Partnership

Frank and Ernest celebrate their 50th anniversary, having first appeared on November 6, 1972.

Frank and Ernest was created by magazine cartoonist and psychologist Bob Thaves.
It was Bob’s first attempt at a comic “strip” and, in a rare occurance in the syndication world, it was accepted on the first submission.

Here are the first six “strips” with the innovative big, bold, block lettering:

The word strip is in quotes above because though in a strip format it was a panel,
but not, as some have claimed, the first of its kind (see: the small society for one).

From the Frank and Ernest FAQ:

When it debuted in 1972, Frank and Ernest was the first panel presented in a strip format and the first comic to employ variety in settings and character manifestations, eschewing an ongoing story in one setting.

Technically, taken as a whole, that is a correct statement. NEA stablemate Alley Oop travelled through time but was always Alley Oop the caveman. And Short Ribs, also NEA, would be set in various time periods but the characters were distinct to their eras.

From the very beginning Frank and Ernest would be shown in different professions or, frequently, in no occupation at all. But within two months Bob Thaves would make a shift that would prove pivotal.

At first time the buddies were a part of the modern world, but on January 1, 1973 they showed up in The Middle Ages. After that Frank and Ernest could be cavemen, Revolutionary statesmen, Biblical figures, or placed in whatever time period the gags took them. It was then a short jump to them appearing as whatever the joke made them: school children, aliens, robots, whatever.

“Appearing as whatever” did have a limit. From Don Markstein’s Toonopedia:

In fact, even their personal nature is fluid. They’ve been depicted not just in every walk of life, from ambassadors to slaves, but also as dogs, cats, reptiles, insects, amoebae, space aliens and inanimate objects. Among the few things they haven’t been is women — trans-gender stuff, Thaves said in a 2002 interview, is just a little bit off-limits. But they do have girlfriends, Francine and Ernestine, who turn up on rare occasions in the Sunday strip. Other than that, the two title characters are the only ones the series has — but the fact that they can be so many different things makes additional characters less necessary.


What must be the most famous Frank and Ernest panel from May 3, 1982:


While shooting down originating the single panel in a strip format claim Toonopedia continued:

Where the Frank & Ernest feature actually did innovate was in computer-generated digital color, which had become common in comic books but wasn’t seen in the Sunday funnies until Thaves introduced it in 1995[*]. Now, lots of syndicated comics use it. Thaves was also a pioneer in computer-generated lettering, using a font of his own design, and in electronic delivery of the work to the syndicate. And, of course, in making such variety possible with such a small cast.

([*] About the same time Wiley Miller was changing the coloring of the Sunday Funnies.)

The mid-1990s saw Bob Thaves ease his workload and pass the comic to his son Tom.
Frank and Ernest has evolved (devolved?) over the past five decades
but retains all the properties that made it a hit from the beginning.

Frank and Ernest then and now © Thaves 


further reading:

Bob Thaves at Lambiek Comiclopedia

Bob Thaves at Susanna McLeod’s The Cartoonists

Frank and Ernest at The Writing Rag (malaprops)





6 thoughts on “Frank and Ernest – A Fifty Year Partnership

  1. “When it debuted in 1972, Frank and Ernest was the first panel presented in a strip format and the first comic to employ variety in settings and character manifestations, eschewing an ongoing story in one setting.”

    They were published in magazines rather than newspapers, but Burr Shafer’s J. Wesley Smith cartoons had also previously featured a title character who could show up in any setting in any historical time period. He was, however, the same basic person, whether dismissing the wheel as a fad or second-guessing the Gettysburg address.

  2. Huh, I’d never seen the older art style. I like it.

    It’s wryly amusing, though, that they could be planets or amoeba, but never women,

  3. I have been a Burr Shafer fan ever since I got The Wonderful World of J. Wesley Smith at a grade school book fair.
    You are right Paul, and I’m mortified I didn’t think of him.

  4. Thanks for the memories.

    Wish I could find more about Tom Thaves.

    When was he born?

    Where did he study?

    What did he do before assisting his father?

    Does Tom do the artwork?


  5. Paul, the best I can suggest is to contact Tom’s sister Sara Thaves (The Cartoonist Group) and request contact information from her. There is certainly more about Sara than Tom on the world wide web.

    Otherwise – I have your Comic Strip Project bookmarked by way of The Wayback Machine, but does it have an active site?

  6. Thanks!

    I’m glad the pages are archived.
    No, there is currently no active site.
    Maybe some day I can upload to a new host.

Comments are closed.