'Boner's Ark' (13 June 1976).

Frank B. Johnson was an American comic artist, best-known as an assistant of Mort Walker. He is remembered for the gag comic 'Boner's Ark' (1968-2000), originally created in collaboration with Walker, but soon completely written, drawn and credited to himself. Johnson also made his own newspaper gag comics. The longest-running feature was 'Beany' (1963-1979), about a boy and a dog. The shortest, 'Miss Caroline' (1963), scripted by Gerald Gardner and based on a fictionalized version of Caroline, the oldest daughter of John F. Kennedy: it was instantly cancelled after J.F.K.'s murder. Together with scriptwriter Jay Heavilin, Johnson also made the children's adventure comic 'Einstein' (1964-1965). Between the 1950s and 1970s, he was additionally a versatile and productive artist for Charlton Comics' humor and TV tie-in lines. From 1981 until 2000, he became the final artist to draw George McManus long-running newspaper comic' 'Bringing Up Father' (1981-2000). 

'Li'l Tomboy' #92.

Early life and career
Frank Johnson was born in 1931 in Miami, Florida. After his military service, he started off working on various children's comic books for St. John Publishing, Fago Comics and most notably Charlton Comics in the period 1956-1960. Most dealt with peculiar kids who cause havoc wherever they go, such as Charltons' 'Rock and Rollo', 'Li'l Genius', 'Li'l' Tomboy' and 'Li'l Rascal Twins', St. Johns' 'Double Trouble' and Fago's 'Li'l Menace'. Other comic books featured funny animals (Charlton's 'Tom Cat') or a ghost kid (St. John's 'Li'l Ghost'). Johnson also drew for 'My Little Margie's Boyfriends', Charlton's comic book series based on the TV sitcom 'My Little Margie' (1952-1955). 

Rock and Rollo by Frank Johnson
'Rock and Rollo' #14.

In 1963 Johnson created the newspaper gag comic 'Beany' (1963-1979), about a boy and his dog. It was published vertically in the Sunday editions of newspapers syndicated by the Chicago Tribune, though not every week. It usually alternated with Roy Fox's gag comic 'Tweety-Pie'. 'Beany' ran until 19 August 1979. 

Miss Caroline
In January 1963, Johnson and scriptwriter Gerald Gardner launched the newspaper gag comic 'Miss Caroline: The Little Girl in the White House'. The gags were slightly based on U.S. President John F. Kennedy's real-life daughter Caroline (°1957), who was five years old at the time. In the comic, Caroline makes innocent but unintentionally funny remarks and questions, related to international and U.S. politics. While the tone is satirical, the comedy is mild. John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline were never caricatured. Readers only saw their bodies, never their faces. Johnson and Gardner also avoided controversal topics.  At first, 'Miss Caroline' was published in paperback format, distributed by Gold Medal. After becoming a bestseller, more newspapers were interested in turning it into an actual daily comic. In the fall of 1963, the San Francisco syndicate Advox Associates bought the series. The first episode appeared in print on 4 November 1963. As fate would have it, Kennedy was assassinated on 22 November, leading to the comic's instant cancellation. Gardner later went on to become scriptwriter for the TV comedy series 'Get Smart' (1965-1970). All gags of 'Miss Caroline' have been collected in the compilation book 'Miss Caroline: The Complete Camelot Collection' (About Comics, 2020). 

'Einstein' (25 September 1964).

On 6 January 1964, Johnson made a new gag comic, 'Einstein', scripted by Jay Heavilin and launched by the George Matthew Adams Service. The children's story revolved around a little boy, Leroy, and his genius dog Einstein (who were comparable to Jay Ward's 'Sherman and Mr. Peabody', though Einstein was not as arrogant). Leroy and Einstein met a little Arab prince, Tim, who suffered from amnesia. They tried helping him out and bring him back to Bagdad. Each episode ended on a cliffhanger, but also a riddle or a puzzle which readers were asked to solve. 'Einstein' ran little over a year and ended on 13 February 1965.

'Boner's Ark' (11 April 1976).

Boner's Ark
In the late 1960s, Johnson became a ghost artist for Mort Walker's signature series 'Beetle Bailey' and 'Hi and Lois'. On 11 March 1968, Walker created 'Boner's Ark' (1968-2000), a gag comic about a sea captain, Boner. Just like Noah, Boner travels the ocean with a large group of animals. It was never explained why there had been an enormous flood, nor why Boner only brought one animal of each species along? Nevertheless: they kept sailing for a solid 32 years. Contrary to most of Walker's other long-running series, 'Boner's Ark' initially wasn't a huge success. He correctly assumed it had something to do with the recurring cast. Originally new animals appeared every episode. Walker felt readers couldn't relate to a cast that was always changing. After a while he picked out all the characters which had comedic potential and dropped all others. Boner remained the only human on board. In terms of animals he only kept nine characters: Aarnie the aardvark, Duke the penguin, Rex the Tyrannosaurus, Cubcake the koala, Priscilla the Pig, Dum-Dum the gorilla and a duck whom everyone refers to as "The Doctor", since he is the ship's medical aid. Lookout the giraffe is the literal look-out who searches for new land. Also on board is an unnamed hyena who frequently complains about whatever irritates him about the ship.

'Boner's Ark' (24 May 1988).

Walker initially drew the comic strip personally, albeit under the pseudonym Addison - which is his second surname. From 1971 to 2000, he passed the pencil to Johnson, while remaining on board of the ark as scriptwriter. Until 1982 Johnson was uncredited, but afterwards his name finally appeared next to Walker's in the comic strip's heading. Despite a long run and translations in Norwegian, Swedish (both under the title 'Arken'), Danish ('Olsen's Ark'), Finnish ('Masan Arkki'), Italian and Dutch ('De Ark van Zoo'), 'Boner's Ark' never enjoyed the same worldwide popularity as 'Beetle Bailey' or 'Hi and Lois'. Boner and his animal passengers eventually went ashore on 27 May 2000. Blackthorne Publishing had released a 'Boner's Ark' collection with Frank Johnson stories in 1986. 

Dudley Do-Right by Frank JohnsonUnderdog by Frank B. Johnson
Cover illustrations for Dudley Do-Right (issue #5, April 1971) and 'Underdog' (issue #3, November 1970). 

Comics in the 1960s and 1970s
Besides newspaper comics, Johnson also remained active in the comic book industry. In the mid-1960s, Johnson made the moralistic feature 'The Etiquette Kids' with writer Sadie Costa for the Catholic bi-weekly comic magazine Treasure Chest, published by George A. Pflaum in Ohio. He continued to appear in a couple of humor and cartoon anthologies by Charlton in the 1960s, but worked more frequently for this publisher from 1970 onwards. He mostly drew comic book stories starring famous animated characters, including Hanna-Barbera's 'The Flintstones', 'The Jetsons', 'Huckleberry Hound' and 'Yogi Bear', Jay Ward's 'Dudley Do-Right' and W. Watts Biggers' 'Underdog'. He drew comic book stories with V.T. Hamlin's 'Alley Oop' and Bud Blake's 'Tiger' too, while creating comics based on Paul Terry's 'Heckle and Jeckle' for Western Publishing in the 1970s. Johnson allegedly also ghosted the 'Mutt and Jeff' strip for Al Smith somewhere in the 1970s.

'Bringing Up Father' (7 January 1985).

Bringing Up Father
Between 19 February 1981 and 28 May 2000, Johnson succeeded Hal Campagna and Bill Cavanaugh as the artist and writer of 'Bringing Up Father', originally created by George McManus in 1913. He was the final artist to continue it until its eventual cancellation by King Features Syndicate. Mort Walker occasionally wrote gags for 'Bringing Up Father' during this era too.

Other ghost-drawing contributions
Johnson is said to have also filled in on Walt Disney's 'Treasury of Classic Tales' (1982) and on Jack Tippit's 'Amy' strip.

In 1979 Johnson received a Reuben Award for "Best Humor Comic". 

Final years and death
With the assistance of his wife Millie, Johnson continued to help Chance Browne with the inking and lettering of 'Hi and Lois' until retiring in 2012. He passed away in April 2020, at the age of 89.


Frank Johnson on Ger Apeldoorn's blog

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