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August 5, 2006

Robert Thaves, 1924-2006


Robert "Bob" Thaves, the pun-crazy cartoonist behind the long-running strip Frank and Ernest, passed away on August 1 at age 81. According to writer and comics historian Mark Evanier, the news was posted on the Frank and Ernest web site.

Thaves was an enthusiastic fan of cartoons as a youth, and a gifted mimic of popular features at the time. He published in college magazine while attending the University of Minnesota, where he graduated in 1950. It would be 22 years before Thaves became a fully syndicated cartoonist, in 1972, following years in industrial psychology. The notice from the family says the strip was tried out at the family dinner table. Frank and Ernest would achieve blockbuster status, with over 1000 clients, moving from NEA to United Media.

Frank and Ernest was always an odd strip, featuring two characters that continued from panel to panel, in various forms, in non-sequential sequences that existed in service of that day's joke. Thaves' work offered up a unique solution to the shrinking space newspapers afforded comic strips: it featured a one-panel format, usually centered around that single gag or pun. Thaves won the National Cartoonist Society's divisional award in Panel Cartooning in 1983, 1984 and 1986. In the 1980s there was talk around the newspaper industry that Frank and Ernest had benefited from a strange source: Gary Larson's mega-popular The Far Side, which trafficked in the occasional pun itself and was considered a "weird" strip like Thaves'.

For a late starter in terms of not having his work syndicated until the year he turned 48, Thaves allowed Frank and Ernest to become an early adopter of various digital opportunities common to strips today. It was the first major strip to feature its creator's e-mail address, it has an ambitious, content-driven web site, and claims are made on its behalf that it was the first to digitally color its Sundays and feature interactive strips on its web site.

Bob Thaves' son Tom will continue the strip. The younger Thaves has been working with the strip since 1997, affording the elder Thaves a semi-retirement.
posted 12:06 am PST | Permalink

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