« This is how you disappear… » — Scott Walker, Rawhide
No foolin’, honest: today is the birthday of cartoonist Frank M. Borth III (April 1, 1918 – August 9, 2009), who worked on such Golden Age features as Phantom Lady, Captain America, Skypilot, Spider Widow, colleagues Captain Daring, Captain Battle and Captain Fleet… he kept busy.
Then, at the close of the 1940s, he began a long association with Catholic publisher George A. Pflaum, chronicling (among others) the rollicking adventures of one Frumson Wooters, aka The Champ, a stereotype-bucking chubby kid who’s at times scatterbrained and clumsy, but also wise, determined, resourceful, and humble to boot. Written by Captain Frank Moss and radiantly illustrated (and later, also scripted) by Borth, the feature ran for two decades in Treasure Chest of Fun and Fact, a publication distributed to parochial school students between 1946 and 1972 and generally avoided like any of the Ten Plagues of Egypt by your average comic book fan, but — wouldn’t you know it? — chock full of excellent work by the likes of Bernard Baily, Fran Matera, Bob Powell, Reed Crandall, Joe Sinnott, Graham Ingels, Joe Orlando, Murphy Anderson, Jim Mooney, Marvin Townsend, Paul Eismann… I’ll stop now.
I was going to feature a gallery of favourite Borth pages from all over the place, but instead decided it might be more interesting to highlight his ability to break down an action sequence, since that’s the palpitating heart of an adventure yarn. Therefore, here’s chapter 4 of “The Champ’s Treasure Hunt“, published in TCOF&F volume 15, No. 4 (Oct. 22, 1959).
I intended to direct interested readers to an autobiographical essay Borth penned late in life, but it’s gone — well, retrievable if you try hard enough, but to avoid losing it altogether, I’m going to quote it in full:
FRANK BORTH, syndicated cartoonist was born in Cleveland, Ohio and graduated from Cleveland School of Art in 1940. Frank had earned his tuition by painting price signs in tempera paint for butcher shops, grocery stores, Green Grocers, etc. from 11th grade on until he left Cleveland to get employment as an illustrator in New York City. Where he worked as a free-lance illustrator and writer for comic book publications.
Frank was drafted into army and assigned to the Transportation Corp training Center at Indiantown Gap Military reservation to produce training aids where he rose to the rank of T/Sgt. In 1944 Frank painted a 52-foot mural for the Service Club that is still there today. Frank married Barbara Stroh of Harrisburg, Pa in 1944 and was discharged in 1946.
Frank came back to New York to find work and an apartment; he found neither, but his landlady offered him the summer use of some unheated rooms over garage of a large house she planned to rent to roomers out in Montauk. Frank and Barbara moved in May 1st for the summer as Montauk was by then once more a summer resort, and he found employment by painting murals in bars and sign work at the Yacht Club. Frank entertained members every Friday night at a dinner with chalk talk and other inspiring skits. Finally Frank decided to create a new comic-adventure strip about a two-masted schooner available for hire and an agent in the audience offered to try to sell it in New York.
Frank’s little family really lived on the money he had saved up in the three years in the army. He went back to Cleveland however due to the death of his father and worked for a small ad agency. The following spring the agent told him that he had sold the yachting script and Frank went back to Montauk to work on the strip “Ken Stuart” for three years; but couldn’t get it syndicated inland. Frank was not saved by the bell but by a Catholic publication called “Treasure Chest” who mailed him a script to illustrate in ten chapters of six pages each, a fiction story about the Priest of Shark Island. This led to steady interesting assignments for 25 years. The magazine was in comic book form, and was published every two weeks during the school year, twenty in all. Since they didn’t print in the summer, Frank would use that time to write scripts on his own. In those days they corresponded by letter and the editor and Frank soon became pen pals. Frank made sure that he delivered always on time and produced exactly what they were looking for.
The Borth family, they had produced two children a son and a daughter, they bought property in Montauk and built a house. Frank had joined the volunteer fire department and also volunteered to be one of the crew on our new ambulance as well. You can imagine that he did a lot of artwork for the fire department and other civic organizations. He taught Sunday school and was elected an Elder of the Montauk Community Church. Barbara, Frank calls her lovingly Bobbie, became a Girl Scout leader and also sang in the choir, they no longer were “summer people” but full time residents of Montauk. Bobbie became a schoolteacher and also attended Southampton College and earned a Masters degree.
Frank was asked to become a republican committeeman, which led to Frank being elected a Town trustee, and to the office of Councilman on the East Hampton Town Board in 1968. At the conclusion of the four-year term Frank choose to give up the part time position that had by then turned into a full time commitment. Shortly after retiring from politics, Warren Whipple, a long time friend (The artist who drew the syndicated cartoon feature “There Oughta Be a Law”) called to asked Frank if I would take the job of writing the plot and dialogue of each cartoon as the original creator of the strip wanted to retire. Frank said OK, as he had done almost as much writing as drawing with his own labors. The syndicate approved Frank taking over and for the next ten years, Whipple and Frank Borth were a team.
Frank took over the entire production of writing and drawing the strip until February of ’83 when he turned 65 and terminated the production. The Treasure Chest Publisher also went out of business due to the rapid closing of a lot of parochial schools. Another publisher tried to sell it on the newsstand but failed. Frank turned out about 50 when another acquaintance talked him into getting back into production doing crazy assignments for Cracked Magazine which he had done for a period of time until they switched editors and all they were interested in was using famous people’s names.
Frank concluded his second career and retired to doing art and posters for local organizations like the Fire Department, Lighthouse, and the Town. Since he had created the Town seal of east Hampton as well as the Bicentennial seal, he also drew up the tricentquinquagenary seal as well. He still does things for the Library, church, and other local organizations until I lost the vision in his left eye which has deprived him of depth perception. Frank still writes but cannot draw as I used to. Oh, well. 84 is a reasonable time to retire, he chuckles. Frank’s retirement is spent in painting Montauk land and seascapes.