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Imagine finding the original artist on Solar and imagine he wants to meet with you to talk about it! My dream came true when I got a chance to meet Frank Bolle.

Interview With Frank Bolle


Original Artist on Gold Key Doctor Solar
ARTICLE COPYRIGHT JOE PETRILAK

Let me preface this interview. This is a dream come true. Imagine finding a great book like Doctor Solar, a book which came out over 30 years ago for the first times Then imagine finding the original artist on Solar and imagine he wants to
meet with you to talk about it! My dream came true when I
got a chance to meet Frank Bolle.

Frank Bolle is a quiet man. From his looks you could hardly know he is one of the most prolific artists in comic books of all timel Frank Bolle's comics career started in 1946 after serving
in World War II and exploded into the comics scene with "Tim Holt", a popular Western comic and he has been drawing comics non-stop right up to today!

Solar Man by Frank Bolle

Frank was all too happy to meet with me. In fact, this would be his second ever interview (the last was well over 15 years ago). He was there when comics were the norm for every kid on every corner in America; he was drawing those books for them.

My biggest surprise was his incredible body of work that includes Doctor Solar right up to today with Prince Valiant. In fact, he worked on so many popular and successful comics over the years that remembering Frank Bolle as the artist on Doctor Solar is like remembering Jack Kirby as 'that guy who did those Eternals comics a while back'.

Frank was there when the greats were nobodies; he was one of them rubbing elbows with the likes of Gardner Fox, Dick Ayers and Dick Giordano and struggled just like the rest of them, but with his incredible talents there was always work for him to pencil and ink and he made a living.

Yet for all his successes over the decades, Frank lives a modest quiet life content to create art for his audience. This interview focuses on a young talented artist growing up loving comics and getting a chance to live the dream of making them and making that dream come true for all of us. This is Frank Bolle.

How did you first hear of Gold Key Comics?

I first heard from friends in the business, perhaps some cartoonists I knew, that they were looking for new artists. I had just finished penciling a strip for someone and I was no longer doing it, so someone heard about this and said 'Hey Frank- why don't you go up and to Western Publishing'. So I made the appointment to go up and see them. This is when they were located in New York City...

I thought they were located in Poughkeepsee New York because that's what the comics read...

Well, maybe they had their printers in Poughkeepsee but their office was on 3rd Avenue between 50th and 51 st Street I think and I remember it was a beautiful new building. I went in and it was impressive: it was all marble- marble floors and marble walls and it had statues on either side of the lobby, so I went into the elevator. As I was standing there and I was all alone and I pushed the button for the 18th floor where they were. I was looking at the panel and they weren't buttons; they were like little pieces of square glass with numbers inside them and I looked at them and thought "gee- a beautiful shiny building with marble and everything and they've got these `dusty numbers' on the panel" not realizing they were not dusty- they were frosted glass, so I started wiping the numbers with my thumb; I went up and down and they all lit up and got bright and as people walked into the elevator they were wondering what was I doing and I didn't realize that I was pushing the button for every floor! So we stopped at every floor. If I was a coward I would have gotten out at the second floor and walked my way up but I stayed right until the 18th floor and got all the funny looks from everybody (laughs).

So I guess shortly after that someone invented the "cancel button" for the elevator!

I guess so (laughs)! I brought my portfolio and samples with me and I met with Matt Murphy (Editor In Chief), Wally Green and Bill Harris (both Editors). They presented me with a dilemma: they needed an inker to finish up an issue of Doctor Solar, I don't remember the number. There were about 4 pages to do and the deadline was looming. I took a look at the pencils and said 'no problem', but they were apprehensive about it. They suggested I ink on transparent paper over the pencils and return both my inks and the separate pencils to them but I thought that was just silly and double the work. So I turned in the inks for those pages and they liked what they saw. After that I had the job.

So when they liked what they saw did they sign you up under contract; did they do in those days?

No- no just a handshake, that's how they did it in those days. Then you'd come in and get the work and eventually they would not have work for you anymore, but I was lucky (Frank Bolle is perhaps the most underrated and most prolific pencilers of all time in comics with a body of work stretching over 50 years and continuing today). I would bring stuff in and they would say 'we don't have any more scripts' and that was it, but they always had something else- I did Boris Karloff for them and The Twilight Zone and Ghost Stories and other comics they put out. By that time I think I started signing my work because it seemed to be the thing to do at that time as they got teams together to do books, so those were the ones I did sign (much of his earlier work is unsigned).

When you were the regular, did you pencil and ink?

Oh yeah, I always did my own stuff. In fact for these (Doctor Solar books) I did the lettering as well because it would save a trip for me from going in and picking it up again because the letterer did it. You know Dick Ayers? He was one of the early guys I remember when I was doing Westerns that not only penciled and inked his own stuff, but lettered it too and everybody used letterers and I was so naive coming out of the army not knowing- I thought everyone used a letterer, you HAD TO use a letterer, so I thought he had some special dispensation from the pope or something to ink and do his own lettering- I was so impressed!

So then you did your own lettering as well.

Yes in most cases. When I did my own lettering I could always fit it wherever I wanted to fit it, like if I wanted a full figure I could push the lettering to the side and I could lay out pages with things like that and legs and arms in mind knowing as I was doing it where I was going to put the lettering.

So you worked off full script then? Do you remember who wrote them?

Yes, full script. Most of the Doctor Solar issues were written by Paul Neuman, not the actor. I met Paul once or twice as he would be leaving the office and I'd be coming in and I'd say 'hello Paul'. He was another one of those hack writers who would always hand in good work and then they'd switch him to Boris Karloff stories or Ghost Stories and they'd plug him in where they needed him; he was always there.
I also remember a fellow named Gardner Fox that used to do a lot of writing for them. He was a good hack writer- he would constantly turn out one good story after another it was a compliment because he was a good hacking artist's writer who did one story after another and it was all good. I remember him from those days and we worked on other Gold Key projects over the years.

Who did the coloring?

They did- I have no idea- someone in the office did. They had a bullpen of young people who would do coloring.

How much freedom did you have with the work you handed in?

Oh- I had all the freedom. They always looked at it but they always liked it. in fact one of the Editors commented that when they had a story that was a little weak or a little implausible, that I would make it plausible.

Do you remember the first comic book you worked on?

The first job I got... I had some samples I did for a little tiny outlet called Crown Comics where I wrote some stories and I started out by doing a filler- they had a 48 pager but they had space in the back, so they needed a one page story. I said 'if you need it Monday I'll bring it in on Monday' and I wrote a cute little story and they printed it on the back and that was my first sample (laughs). (NOTE: Frank also penciled Crown Comics #11, 13-16,18 and 19 circa 1946/47). Those were the first books I worked on when I got out of the service after World War II I was 21 or 22.

What work have you done prior to Gold Key?

I took my early Crown Comics work around to other people and brought it to Magazine Enterprises (a comic book company from the 1940's/1 960's) where I met Ray Crank who is a terrific Editor. I showed him a that and few drawings and he gave me a script about some kind of CIA agent and I liked that- guys in trenchcoats and a spy story. So when I brought that in, it was 7 pages, he liked it so much he fold me 'we're doing a thing on rim Holt- it's a Western' and I said OK and that's how it started. For them I also did The Best Of The West and The Black Phantom and a whole bunch of other comics. I did a whole series of Robin Hood stories for them as well.

NOTE: Frank was artist on Tim Holt issues # 1-41 starting in 1948 including several of the covers in there, in fact the "newcomer' Dick Ayers came on later to that series with Frank. Also Best Of The West #9, Black Phantom- One shot in 1954 with Dick Ayers. Robin Hood- artist in all 8 issues.

Do you like doing Sci Fi books or do you lean towards Westerns? Which did you like doing more?

I liked both- I started out with Westerns but the Sci Fi stuff didn't come out until later and I was happy to do that as well. I liked doing them both as long as there were nice figures to draw and people in action I had fun doing it.

Did you have any difficulty in going from Westerns to Sci Fi books?

No- none at all.

{I read him his credits from the Overstreet Price Guide}

How do they know all that?
(Laughs) I'm surprised that's ALL they know! These books are important historical books and publishing was different back then. Today you go into any comics store and they have 3 million books for you to choose from, back then there were 10, 20, 30 books per month out and every kid bought them, every kid had them. They printed hundreds of thousands of copies of these books and they got well read. For such little info as is the case to survive all these years is sad. Hopefully we can connect some dots here today.

Did you look to go into comic books?

Yeah, because I enjoyed them since I was a kid. In fact in high school I used to get a sketch book and draw panels in it and write a story and illustrate it and every Monday I'd bring it to school and show it to my best friends and they'd follow the story I drew. I'd also like to write stories and I used to copy Flash Gordon which I was very impressed with and Prince Valiant so I always had an interest in comics.

So you set out to pursue it as a professional career?

Yes- I was too naive to know there was any other way of going. I grew up in Brooklyn and no one knew anything about art or museums or things like that and it was a secluded sort of thing for me growing up where I never left my block.
I never went to camp, in fact when I heard about kids going to camp I thought the parents were too poor to keep them home for the summer! So one of my teachers in Junior High School insisted I go to The High School Of Music And Art and I had never even heard of that school. She said I should go because I had talent, so she wrote up the application for me and I had to go and take a test because it's a special school and I got into The High School for Music and Art. There I met a lot of kids who came from private schools and came from all parts of the city- some came in taxis which was unheard of for me and some even came in limousines and they came from these private schools and they would talk about where they went to summer camp and when they said they went horseback riding and canoeing I thought maybe I had the wrong impression of what "going away to camp" was (laughs). So I thought maybe I was missing something.
That was a great school to go to because it opened up a lot of things for me that I was unaware of like different cultures. I grew up in Brooklyn which is full of nice hard working people and there was not that much emphasis on any kind of culture so I learned a lot there. I always liked drawing figures- that was my big thing even in school I was the best one in the class when it came to pulling from the bottle', I went to Pratt on the GI Bill and in 3 years graduated and went on to doing comics.
My understanding from those days is that the real money for artists was in illustrating books and manuals and magazines and such, not necessarily comics and the objective of being a comic book artist was to pay the bills and hopefully get some "professional work".

Did you encounter any of this or was it different for you?

No- I always had work to do and it paid the bills for me. I was just happy doing the thing I always wanted to do and they always had other things for me to do so I was always busy and I loved my work.

I see you listed as being the artist on about half of the Solar issues and the art was just simply amazing for that time...

I don't remember any of it and I haven't seen them in so long- I have all the books somewhere, but as time goes by and you shuffle things around things tend to end up in a box somewhere and I have worked on so many books over the years it's hard to remember any one book.

{I show him some original issues...

I remember doing things like this- that stands out in my mind, and these (pages)..., I think I remember these... I also did Flash Gordon (issues 21-22) and Buck Rogers (issues 2-3 plus the movie special) for gold Key (other sci fi comics)... I also remember doing Magnus: Robot Fighter too (in the three last Doctor Solar issues (#29-31), Magnus was a back-up feature to Dr. Solar). The art is defiantly me and I remember the style, but not drawing the actual pages.

Who did the Professor Harbinger insert (4 page insert in nearly every issue of Dr. Solar)?

I don't know- it was not me- this is a whole different style... I know I didn't sign a lot of my work but later on I did try to put "FWB" somewhere, usually in the front splash, but other times they went unsigned; I was always such a modest person. I would recognize my work from the styles and lines, but as a whole I don't have too many memories of drawing Solar.

I also did Encyclopedia Brown which is like a teenager Sherlock Holmes for a few years, that was a very popular series of books for teenagers. Then I got involved with the syndicates (syndicated newspapers for comic strips) so later I was doing mostly syndicated work and some book and magazine illustrations.

Which comic strips did you work on?

I started out doing a strip called "Debbie Dear" and she was a lonely heart writer and she would get involved in some of the letters she got. I did that for about 4 years. Then I did "Alexander Gates". He was an astrologist, I did that for a couple of years. Then one I enjoyed really was a thing called "Children's Tales" and it was just a Sunday page where I illustrated some classics like Cinderella and Rumplestilskin and I did them in 3 parts so they would appear in 3 Sundays. And in between that I would also write original stories, so I wrote about 12-15 original stories then I would switch back and forth from classics to originals. Then I did "Winnie Winkle" for the Chicago Tribune. I did that for 20 years and that ended a few years ago. Today, I work on the "Prince Valiant" strip- I do some of them. it's funny- I grew up reading, admiring and copying Prince Valiant and today I'm the one penciling them!

Have you followed Solar at all from when you stopped doing the art?

No- once I finished with it I went on to other projects and it was years later that I remembered seeing it that someone had revived it.

{I show him some Valiant Solar comics)

Yeah, this looks like the new kind of art. I did some penciling and inking for Marvel and DC at one time but I never enjoyed it as much. When I did the pencils I had Dick Giordano do the inking, Heard of him? He used to say he liked inking my pencils the best, but I was uncomfortable doing other people's inks and it never suited me. I think if I laid all my pages end to end, I think it would go from here to the moon!

What comic stands out most for you?

I don't know- they're all so different and they're all so interesting, I enjoyed them while I was doing them. I did Winnie Winkle for 20 years and when they told me 'you have 90 days to wrap it up' because they were discontinuing it I felt terrible, but after I finished it ! didn't even miss it. I was depressed because I lost a good job, but I just didn't miss it. Maybe it was the routine of it every week I didn't miss, but I have a lot of good memories of doing that strip.

What else do you like do to?

I like painting today and I look forward to it- it's a great feeling. in fact, whenever I walk into one of the rooms where I keep my paintings and my easel, even though I may not go in for painting, ! may be just putting something there, I get a great feeling; a feeling of contentment being there. That is my great hobby.

So you have no plans on slowing down then?

None at all-I'm always looking for new projects to do.

Well I want to thank you for your time and thank you on behalf of literally millions of people who have seen, read and enjoyed your work over the years.

You're most welcome.

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