Unveiling the Legacy of Frank Johnson: The Secret Pioneer of Ameri…

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Unearthed from anonymity, the comic strips of Frank Johnson, a shipping clerk and former musician from Chicago, now shine in the limelight, decades after their creation. The discovery of 2,300 pages of comics, bound and stored in notebooks, unfolded posthumously, revealing a hitherto unknown and intriguing facet of Johnson’s life.

A Treasure Trove Revealed

The comics remained unseen until 2003, long after Johnson’s demise in 1979. Following his widow’s death, the notebooks found their way into the hands of comics expert Dan Nadel. Amidst the pages, Nadel discovered a vast collection of comics, amounting to a graphic novel, meticulously crafted from 1928 to 1979. The magnitude and depth of Johnson’s work were captivating, presenting an intimate glance into his creative genius.

From Notebooks to Publication

It took until 2016 for Nadel to collaborate with editors and a publisher to bring Johnson’s work to print. The anthology, titled ‘Frank Johnson: Secret Pioneer of American Comics,’ was edited by Chris Byrne and Keith Mayerson and published by Fantagraphics Books, Inc. Recently released, the book presents Johnson’s comics as they were originally created, mostly in pencil, preserving the intimate feeling of journeying through his notebooks.

The Comic Strips: Gags and Grit

The comic strips, primarily featuring gag stories about ‘Wally’s Gang,’ are surprisingly accessible and commercial. However, ‘The Bowser Boys,’ a series from 1946-1950, offers a stark contrast with its depiction of a group of destitute alcoholics. This series reflects a period in Johnson’s life when he battled alcoholism, capturing his struggle and eventual recovery through Alcoholics Anonymous. Keith Mayerson’s Introduction lauds Johnson as a forerunner of indie comics and graphic novels, and a folk cartoonist hero.

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