Lank Leonard is best remembered for his police comic strip 'Mickey Finn' (1936-1976), which ran uninterrupted for 40 years. This light-hearted newspaper humor comic was a rare example of a police series that was more preoccupied with showing the regular, every-day life of its protagonist than any sensational action-packed stories. Its friendly, wholesome and heartwarming tone guaranteed popularity with the general public, but also respect from fellow cartoonists such as Charles M. Schulz who named it one of his favorites.
Frank E. Leonard was born in Port Chester, New York, in 1896. Inspired by Rudolph Dirks' 'The Katzenjammer Kids', Winsor McCay's 'Little Nemo in Slumberland', Frederick Burr Opper's 'Happy Hooligan' and Richard F. Outcault's 'Buster Brown' he wanted to become a cartoonist himself. His first steps into that direction was his work as the art editor of his local school newspaper. As a bookkeeper at a local factory Leonard found time to draw cartoons for their in-house magazine. Leonard studied at a business college between 1914 and 1915. When the United States entered World War I in 1917, he got drafted. Back in civilian life his design of a new type of suction sole basketball shoe got him a job as a salesman for a sportswear company.
He worked as a travelling salesman for many years until a meeting with famous newspaper cartoonist Clare A. Briggs - best known for 'A. Piker Clerk' - changed his life. While travelling by train from Sioux City, Iowa, to Omaha, Nebraska, Briggs took a look at Leonard's drawings and confirmed he had talent. He brought Leonard in contact with Carey Orr, political cartoonist for The Chicago Tribune, who adviced him to take a correspondence course in cartooning. Leonard did this, later following it up with evening courses at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Art Student League in New York. By 1925 Leonard quit his job and became a full-time cartoonist. Leonard was an animator at John Randolph Bray's animation studio, J.R. Bray Productions, for a while and drew sport-themed cartoons for a baseball magazine, the George Matthews Adams Syndicate, The New York Telegram and the New York Sun. In 1933 he had a gag-a-day comic named 'Hector Hicks', about a wrestler. The strip ran through the George Matthew Adams Syndicate, but it is unknown in which papers.
On 6 April 1936, his best known comic strip, 'Mickey Finn' made its debut. It was distributed by the McNaught Syndicate and appeared in more than 300 newspapers for more than four decades. 'Mickey Finn' was a daily comic strip about a New York police officer of Irish decent. The series had a homely atmosphere. Unlike other police comics 'Mickey Finn' never touched upon violence or any serious crimes for that matter. Finn was a bumbling but well-meaning, sympathetic cop who helped out everybody in his neighborhood. He got along with everybody, even other patrolmen. 'Mickey Finn' also offered a look at the protagonist's family life. Mickey still lived at home with his widowed mother, Ma, and her brother, Uncle Phil. He had a girlfriend, Kitty Kelly, whom he would eventually marry over the course of the series. When Mickey wasn't at home reading his newspaper he went to the office to talk with Sergeant Halligan or to the bar to have a chat with bartender Clancy. Such recognizable everyday events and overall nice, wholesome image did well with readers and allowed 'Mickey Finn' to remain a mainstay of "the funnies" for four decades. Leonard based Mickey Finn on a real-life Irish-American police officer named Mickey Brennan, whom he once saw helping children cross a street. Yet most of Leonard's inspiration came from his own life. Just like him Mickey was a decorated war veteran and many of his family members were based on the creator's own relatives.
Much of the comedy in 'Mickey Finn' came from Uncle Phil, who grew out to become the series' break-out character. Uncle Phil was a joyful, but naive man who frequently said and did stupid things that got him in trouble. He was an easy target for con-men and practical jokers. Only a month after the series' debut he already received his own Sunday spin-off comic, 'Uncle Phil', on 17 May 1936. The character proved so popular over the years that Mickey eventually became a side character in his own series. 'Mickey Finn' also ran with a moralistic topper strip, 'Nippie: He's Often Wrong!' (1936-1946). As the title suggests it dealt with a stubborn young boy who always ignored warnings from his parents, relatives, teachers and friends and thus inevitably hurt himself badly in the process. Other educational toppers which came with 'Mickey Finn' were 'Know Your Navy' (1943-1945), 'Know Your Merchant Marine' (1945) and 'Know Your Sports' (1945-1946).
'Mickey Finn' ran in many newspapers and was also collected in comic books, such as 'Famous Funnies' (Eastern Color Printing), 'Feature Funnies' (Quality Comics) and 'Big Shot' (Columbia Comic's Corporation). Leonard worked with assistants during his long career. First in line was Morris Weiss, who helped him out until 1943. A string of brief assistants followed: Ray McGill, Johnny Vita (early 1940s), Allie Vita and Larry Tullapano. From 1945 to 1950 Tony DiPreta worked along, followed by Mart Bailey between 1950 and 1959. When Bailey became victim of a mugging his head injury was so bad that he couldn't continue the franchise any longer. Weiss took his place and eventually became Leonard's successor. Severely ill, Leonard retired in 1968 and passed away two years later. His signature series survived him for another six years until Weiss called it quits on 31 July 1976. The Sunday 'Mickey Finn' strip had already ended on 21 December 1975.