The Cartoonists by Susanna McLeod

Bob Thaves, Creator of Frank and Ernest

2 November 2001

When fans think of Frank and Ernest, do they picture them as scruffy tramps, sitting on a bench in a windy park? Perhaps as blue-collar workers sitting in front of their television? Maybe they think of the characters as angels conversing with God or as planets, dodging rockets from earth. Or do readers see Frank and Ernest as pre-historic men or futuristic spirits? Any of those incarnations would be correct. Frank and Ernest could be absolutely anything their creator desires.

Bob Thaves has taken an unusual path with his comic panel. He places Frank and Ernest in varying roles, from humans to talking bugs, and anything imaginable between heaven and earth. To get his humourous message across, the characters could appear in any shape, almost any form. The changeability of his characters allows Thaves enormous leeway for his dynamic brand of humour, using puns and twists of phrases to get giggles and smiling nods of agreement from the readers.

 Frank and Ernest has a slight resemblance to cartoon characters Mutt and Jeff, and to Laurel and Hardy, but the faint similarity stops with stature. Frank, the tall character, and Ernest, the rounder of the two, have distinct personalities that take them boundlessly through time and space.

"Frank and Ernest" by Bob Thaves

Bob Thaves is a self-taught cartoonist. He began drawing as a young boy and worked his way up comics chain, starting with high school publications. He snagged his first cartoon sale to a magazine when he was a college student and from there grew into larger markets.

Cartooning was not Bob Thaves' main career goal. He earned a Master's Degree in Psychology from the University of Minnesota and worked for many years as a consulting Industrial Psychologist in California. Throughout his corporate career, he continued drawing and submitting his cartoons with much success. His work has appeared in The Saturday Review and The Saturday Evening Post, among other magazines. Syndication came as a natural progression.

Newspaper Enterprise Association accepted Thaves' first submission of Frank and Ernest for syndication. (It is a rare and wonderful occurrence to be accepted on a first attempt.) Frank and Ernest began as a daily publication on November 11, 1972. The Sunday feature began on April 1, 1973. Bob Thaves was 48 years old.

Eventually, cartooning became Bob's full-time endeavour. His efforts with Frank and Ernest have earned him three Reuben Awards for Best Syndicated Panel from the National Cartoonists Society in 1983, 1984 and 1986. In 1985, he was awarded the H. L. Mencken Award for Best Cartoon from the Free Press Association. He was voted Punster of the Year by the International Save the Pun Foundation in 1990. Frank and Ernest now tickles the funny bones of over 25 million fans and appears in more than 1,300 newspapers world-wide.

The Frank and Ernest panel has taken the lead in cartooning advancements. Thaves was the first to use digital colouring for his Sunday strip. The colourful cartoon website was the first to offer 3-D interactive characters and navigable virtual reality files using QuickTime. The site also has a searchable and downloadable database of archived comic strips. You can find the very first week of Frank and Ernestfrom 1972, then check on today's panel. Visitors can enter contests and play games; kids of all ages can find a new "slider puzzle" to try each day.

  • Bob Thaves treats his cartoon panel as serious business. Here are a few of the guidelines he follows that could be useful for any new cartoonist*:
  • Try! Trying makes the difference. Don't give up too soon.
  • Cartoonists should have a broad education, not only through schooling, but through reading, travel and experiences.
  • Make your cartoon unique, individual.
  • Keep your copyright and use a lawyer to help with the legalities. You can then licence your cartoon for syndication and promotion with losing control of your property.
  • Make use of the computer for cartooning. It is no longer just a print world. Bob uses the computer to letter Frank and Ernest. He programmed his own hand lettering as a font into the computer and applies it to the wording onto the panel. He draws the cartoon by hand and uses his computer to add backgrounds and shading. Thaves then sends his work to the syndicate by modem.
  • Enjoy your work. If you don't, the readers won't.

Frank and Ernest collections are available in several books and can be found on promotional items such as t-shirts and greeting cards. Bob Thaves and his wife Katie have two grown children. They live in Manhattan Beach, California. Thaves includes his email address on each Frank and Ernest panel, now distributed through United Media. He has received thousands of fan emails in response.

 Cartooning news: Bob Thaves died on August 1, 2006 of respiratory failure in a Torrence, California hospital..  The beloved cartoonist was 81 years old. His son, Tom Thaves, continues the legacy of the Frank and Ernest strip.


*How to be a Successful Cartoonist" by Randy Glasbergen. North Light Books, 1996. Pg. 33, Pg. 72.

Read more about Bob Thaves in: The Encyclopedia of American Comics, edited by Ron Goulart. Promised Land Productions, 1990.

The home site of Frank and Ernest:

Daily strips and information on Frank and Ernest

© Susanna McLeod 2001

(Originally published in The Cartoonists on