Frank and Ernest, by Bob Thaves 2002

Bob Thaves was an American newspaper cartoonist, who created the long-running gag-a-day series 'Frank & Ernest' (1972). While it appears to be a one-in-a-dozen humoristic newspaper comic, 'Frank and Ernest' was quite a novelty at the time. It was drawn within one long panel, used block-print lettering and had no clearly defined setting. Every episode, the two main characters appear in a different era, environment or physical form. This generated endless possibilities for storylines and jokes and ensured the series' longevity, even long after the death of its creator. Thaves was furthermore a pioneer of Internet comics and introduced many innovations which are nowadays common place with every syndicated comic strip online. Together with William Moulton Marston he is also one of the few comics artists who worked as a psychologist.

Robert Lee Thaves was born in 1924 in Burt, Iowa, as the son of a local small-town printer who owned, edited and published various weeklies. The family later moved to Minnesota, where Thaves received most of his education. From an early age he was interested in comics and cartoons and published them in his high school paper. During World War II Thaves joined the army and fought in Europe. Back in the USA he studied psychology at the University of Minnesota, and graduated both with a bachelor's and master's degree in the field. As a student he published daily cartoons in the student newspaper The Minnesota Daily and the humor magazine Ski-U-Mah, often shortened to Skum. Even when he found a job as an industrial psychologist in L.A. Thaves still pursued his goal of creating his own newspaper comic.

Frank & Ernest, by Bob Thaves

In the late 1960s his signature series 'Frank and Ernest', was first published in local magazines, including a publication named True. It was picked up by the Saturday Evening Post, Cosmopolitan and Saturday Review as well. On 6 November 1972 it was deemed commercially interesting enough to be syndicated all over the United States. At the peak of its success it was carried by over 1,300 newspapers worldwide through Newspaper Enterprise Association (now Universal Uclick). 'Frank and Ernest' is a one-panel gag cartoon series, occasionally making use of more comic strip-like panels too. The two main characters are beggars who wander around the world. Frank is the tall one and usually does most of the talking. Ernest is his more soft-spoken sidekick, but once in a while able to have a funny line too. Like their names imply Frank is indeed a frank man and not afraid to speak his mind, while Ernest is earnest and serious in his opinions. Thaves loved verbal jokes like these and featured numerous puns in his work. Enough even to be proclaimed as the "Punster of the Year" in 1990 by the International Save the Pun Foundation. Contrary to many other humoristic newspaper cartoons 'Frank and Ernest' does not have one permanent setting, nor one specific topic it routinuously makes jokes about. The main characters appear in different locations, time periods and even physical forms (animals, objects, extraterrestrial aliens...) each episode. This allowed Thaves a great amount of creative freedom and the ability to continue his series for decades without every facing writer's block over the limits of his characters' universe. The downside is perhaps that the general public is unable to pigeonhole its style, which might explain why 'Frank and Ernest' hasn't been merchandized as much as other newspaper comics.

Still, the series does hold some historical significance. Together with Morrie Brickman's 'The Small Society' (1966-1999) it was the first American newspaper comic to be drawn within one long panel. On first inspection it looks like a comic strip since it makes uses of sequences, but it could easily be described as an one-panel cartoon too, since all individual scenes have no separate panels in between. Another novelty at the time was Thaves' use of large block print for his lettering. He didn't want to use speech balloons and felt a large block print was more in line with the overall tone of his cartoons. To him it fitted the light-hearted tone he was aiming for and was more liable to get readers' attention. 'Frank and Ernest' was also one of the first comics to go online when the Internet went public in 1992. In 1995 it became the first comic to use digital coloring for its Sunday editions. It was among the first to receive an official website and have an archive which is searchable by keyword. Thaves also made use of new technologies, like interactive comics and 3-D comics.

'Frank and Ernest' also originated a very famous quote about iconic Hollywood actress and dancer Ginger Rogers, best known as Fred Astaire's most frequent dance partner. On 3 May 1982, Thaves drew his characters while they observe a poster for a Fred Astaire film festival and mention: "Sure, he [Fred Astaire] was great, but don't forget that Ginger Rogers did everything he did... backwards and in high heels." Since then this quote has been repeated in numerous articles, books and documentaries about Ginger Rogers, often without giving Thaves credit. When the Hollywood legend passed away in 1995 it was already well known enough to be included in numerous newspaper obituaries around the world.

'Frank & Ernest' has been collected in several books, such as 'I Feel a Pun Coming On!' (1991), 'The Frank and Ernest Manager' (1991), 'Frank and Ernest Career Advice: How To Make Your Job Work For You' (1990), 'Are We There Yet? A Frank and Ernest History of the World' (1988), and 'Batteries Not Included' (1983). Apart from 'Frank and Ernest' Thaves also drew another gag-a-day series named 'King Baloo' (May 1988-April 1989), but this wasn't such a huge success. 'King Baloo' centered around a monarch, his family and his people. Despite having a medieval-looking setting the series featured references to 20th-century society and culture too.

Thaves frequently received prizes for his work, including the National Cartoonist Society Newspaper Panel Cartoon Awad (1983) (1984) (1986) and the H.L. Mencken Award for Best Cartoon (1985). Thaves drew his comics alone, but to think up gags he often asked suggestions from others, including Writer's Market. By 1997 he retired and named his son Tom Thaves his official assistant and successor. Tom also took over 'Frank and Ernest' when Bob Thaves passed away in 2006.

Frank and Ernest by Bob Thaves

www.gocomics.com/frankandernest

Series and books by Bob Thaves in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:

X

If you want to help us continue and improve our ever- expanding database, we would appreciate your donation through Paypal.