If there were a category here for "Just Barely a Hoosier," Frank O'Neal, creator of the widely admired comic strip Short Ribs, would qualify. Born in Springfield, Missouri, on May 9, 1921, O'Neal moved around a lot as a child, living in Arkansas, Tennessee, Indiana, Louisiana, California, Michigan, and Washington, D.C. After serving in World War II, he studied cartooning with Jefferson Machamer for three years and started selling gag cartoons to The Saturday Evening Post in 1950. After six years as a freelancer, O'Neal got a job drawing storyboards for television. That lasted a year and a half. By the late 'fifties, he was ready for a shot at syndication. His spare but clever gag strip, Short Ribs, made its debut as a daily strip on November 17, 1958. A Sunday version showed up a few months later, on June 14, 1959. Short Ribs included a revolving cast of characters, including a king and his knights, a witch, cowboys and Indians, baseball players, ancient Egyptians, and even a pair of Russians living under communism. When O'Neal left the strip in 1973, his assistant, Frank Hill, took over with hardly a break in style or appeal. Frank O'Neal continued working in advertising and commercial art. Married with children, O'Neal enjoyed cars and sailing. He died on October 10, 1986, in Pacific Groves, California. I don't know if Tom K. Ryan (another Hoosier cartoonist) knew O'Neal personally, but I wouldn't be surprised to find out that Tumbleweeds was influenced by Short Ribs. If that's the case, maybe the influence has survived in the work of Mr. Ryan's assistant, Jim Davis of Garfield fame.
|A gag cartoon by Indiana cartoonist Frank O'Neal (1921-1986), probably from the 1950s.|
|And the cover of a paperback collection with an altogether appropriate and informative title: The Name of This Book Is Short Ribs (1961).|
Text and captions copyright 2011 Terence E. Hanley