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April 6, 2009

Frank Springer, 1929-2009


Frank Springer, a talented illustrator who contributed work to a wide variety of comics works over a long and prolific career, passed away on Thursday in Maine from causes due to prostate cancer. He was 79 years old.

Springer was born in Queens. A fan of the great magazine illustrators of the 1930s and 1940s, he earned an art degree from Syracuse University in 1952. Springer was then drafted and served a tour of duty in the US Army where he was diverted from infantry training into a sting making maps and doing other commercial-style art work while stationed at Fort Dix. He was granted his release in 1954, and moved into freelance art work. From 1955 to 1960, he assisted cartoonist George Wunder on Terry and the Pirates, a few years removed from its World War II heyday, but still one of the most beautifully drawn of the comic strip dramas.

He moved into comic books in the early 1960s, working on a number of covers and interior pages for publisher Dell on books throughout that decade. This included titles Big Valley, Ghost Stories, Brain Boy, Charlie Chan, Tokay, Jungle King and Flying Saucers. His cover work in particular embraced a wide array of approaches, from simple figure drawing that popped out against some of the primary colors utilized to more traditional paperback book-style science fiction paintings.

imageIt was a side project published in 1965-1966 that would become his signature work: a largely satirical, and as much as copious nudity and abuse of said naked person is sexy arguably sexy adventure serial for The Evergreen Review called Phoebe Zeit-Geist, done in collaboration with Michael O'Donoghue, who would go on to become a vital figure in comedy writing at National Lampoon and NBC's Saturday Night. franchise. Evergreen Review was owned by Grove Press, who would publish a book version of the work in 1968, making Phoebe one of the very first works of its type published in a traditional book format.

He would as "Lance Sterling" do Frank Fleet And His Electronic Sex Machine for Evergreen Review, serialized in 1969-1970. This time he was working with "Dick Strong," which I'm guessing was also a pseudonym.

In the late 1960s he began to work for DC Comics, beginning an almost two-decade run for the bigger mainstream American comic book companies as a pencil artist and inker on a variety of second-run titles, such House of Mystery and the "Dial H For Hero" feature at DC; Spider-Woman and Transformers for Marvel. His work with Frank Robbins on a smattering of World War II superhero titles were about as close as the Noel Sickles/Milton Caniff approach to comics art ever had a workout in the pages of mainstream comics. Springer also worked on a number of projects from companies that aspired to the market decision held by the increasingly dominant Big Two, including Atlas/Seaboard, Charlton and Continuity.

The '70s were a particularly busy decade as Springer also returned to newspaper comics with runs on Rex Morgan, MD, Marvel's short-lived stab at an Incredible Hulk feature and Virtue of Vera Valiant. He was perhaps most famously during that period a contributor to National Lampoon's comics efforts, working under a variety of pen names for the bulk of the magazine's newsstand life. I believe his entry into National Lampoon was re-teaming with O'Donoghue on the fondly-remembered Tarzan of the Cows. He would go on to collaborate with a number of that publication's talented writing contributors, such as the late Doug Kenney.

Offers from Marvel and DC began to dry up for Springer in the late 1980s, a move on their part that Springer would later say he didn't regret as much as a similar youth movement may have hurt friends and more devoted comic book people such as Don Heck. In recent years, Springer rediscovered painting, worked on the occasional newspaper effort, did illustration for clients such as Sports Illustrated and did commissioned drawing work for fans. He and his wife moved to Maine in 1995 after several years on Long Island. They had planned on a return to the area before the cartoonist fell ill.

Springer was president of the National Cartoonists Society from 1995 to 1997, having become involved with the group in the late 1980s. He was an active and founding member of its famed Long Island chapter "The Berndt Toast Gang" and won divisional NCS awards three times.

Frank Springer is survived by a wife of 52 years, three sons, two daughters and seven grandchildren. He was preceded in death by a sister. A memorial service to be held in Long Island is in the planning stages.

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