Thursday, March 31, 2022

George Frese: Archie’s Forgotten Artist


From the cover of Archie's Girls Betty and Veronica #3 (1951)


If one had to name the most underrated artist in Archie Comics history, it would undoubtedly be George Frese.  Ask any Archie fan who the top penciler was during Archie’s classic era, and you’ll hear names like Bob Montana, Dan De Carlo, Harry Lucey, Samm Schwartz, and maybe Bob Bolling.  But for a time in the early 1950s, Frese outshone them all – at least in the comic books.  That he was well-regarded by editor Harry Shorten is evident in the fact that, in 1949 and 1950, Frese was chosen to help launch Jughead, Betty and Veronica, and Reggie in their own titles, often penciling the entire contents of their early issues.  He also drew stories for the Archie title, Archie’s Pals ‘n’ Gals, and Ginger (sort of a female version of Archie).

But despite his prominence in early 1950s Archie comics, Frese has received little recognition from historians.  Though scans of his comics are readily found on the web, there’s very little biographical info out there.  Lambiek Comiclopedia’s entry for him consists of a scant three sentences, most of it regarding his work.  Its only biographical information is a year of death.  The Grand Comics Database has place and date of death but nothing else.  Even the book Archie: A Celebration of America’s Favorite Teenagers (Yoe Books, 2011), which devotes a minimum of two pages each to artists like Montana, De Carlo, Lucey, Schwartz, and Bolling, only mentions Frese twice in passing when discussing other artists.  There is no Wikipedia entry for Frese.

Perhaps the snub is due to the fact that Frese died early, before comics fandom showed much interest in Archie history.  In any case, it’s clearly time to pay him some attention.  With that in mind, and armed with subscriptions to and, I’ve attempted to paint a more detailed picture of Archie’s forgotten artist.  For the record, I’ve been unable to find a single photo of Frese.


Gallery of Frese Artwork

George Frese was the artist chosen to help launch several of Archie’s most prominent characters in their own titles.  Pictured here are the covers of Archie’s Pal Jughead #1 (1949), Archie’s Rival Reggie #1 (1949), and Archie’s Girls Betty and Veronica #1 (1950).


Left: Some clever cartooning by Frese.  Notice how, at the bottom of the page, Reggie's left arm spills over into the adjoining panel.  And there’s some real craziness in placing an ad for Jughead comics right in the middle of the story!  From Archie’s Rival Reggie #2 (1950).  Right: Some classic “Archie being insensitive toward Betty and incurring her wrath.”  From Betty and Veronica #1 (1950).


One of Frese’s favorite techniques was exaggerated running, something that his successor Harry Lucey would later adopt.  From Archie Annual #2 (1950-1951).


Biographical Data

Name: George Joseph Frese

Born: August 16, 1910, Brooklyn, NY

Married Audrey Phyllis Blantz (1915-1970), April 25, 1936, Brooklyn, NY

Died: May 17, 1956, Wantagh, NY of hypertensive heart disease

Buried: St. John Cemetery, Queens, NY

Parents: Mathew (1880-1960), Catherine (1879-1956)

Siblings: Lillian, Paul, Alexander, Catherine, Eugene

Children: George Joseph Jr. (1940-1998), Steven Robert (1944-1968)

George J. Frese was the son of Mathew Frese, a lithographer of German descent, and Catherine Frese, a homemaker whose parents were Irish.  In addition to his Archie work, George Frese was a stage actor, a salesman at Lambrecht Creamery in Jamaica, New York, and an artist at Republic Aviation Corporation and the Coca Cola Company.  He was married to Audrey Blantz, and they had two children, George Jr., a soldier, artist, and personnel director, and Steven, an Army infantryman who died in the Vietnam War.  After George Sr. died in 1956, Audrey went to work as a controller at Gertz Department Store in Hicksville, NY.


Supporting Documents

George’s World War II draft registration card, which shows us his full name, address, exact date and place of birth, wife’s name and address, and employer’s name and address.  George and Audrey lived at 244-50 88th Drive in the Bellerose neighborhood of Queens, NY at the time.  In the absence of any photos, this card gives us a good description of George: he was 5’8” tall, weighed 163 pounds, had black hair and gray eyes, with a dark complexion.  To top it off, we have a genuine George Frese signature.


Lambrecht Creamery label.  Lambrecht was George’s employer in 1940.


1940 U.S. Federal Census, showing George and his wife Audrey, and giving their birthplaces as New York and Wisconsin, respectively.  George is listed as a salesman for a butter and egg company.  They lived at 130-34 171st Street in Queens, NY.

1930 U.S. Federal Census.  George at age 19 is shown with his parents, Mathew and Catherine, as well as his siblings Paul, Catherine, and Eugene, who range in age from 11 to 24.  Mathew is listed as a lithographer for a printing company, while George is an actor in a theatre.  Paul is a clerical worker for a potash company.  The family lived at 107-17 142nd Street in the Jamaica neighborhood of Queens, NY.

1920 U.S. Federal Census.  George at 9 years old with his parents, Mathew and Catherine, and siblings Lillian, Paul, Alexander, Catherine, Eugene, ranging in age from 2 to 16.  We see that Mathew’s parents were born in Germany, while Catherine’s were from Ireland.  Mathew is a lithographer in a printing plant, and Lillian is a stenographer in a lawyer’s office.  The family lived at 245 Wilson Avenue in Brooklyn, NY.

The New York City Extracted Marriage Index, 1866-1937 shows that George J, Frese and Audrey Blantz were married on April 25, 1936 in Kings County (Brooklyn), NY.

The New York City Marriage License Indexes 1907-2018 show that a marriage license for George and Audrey was issued in Brooklyn on March 30, 1936.  (Note that Audrey’s surname is misspelled as “Blautz.”)


The New York State Death Index 1957-1970 shows that George J. Frese died on May 17, 1956.  The cause of death code is given as “443.”


The International Classification of Diseases, Revision 7 was published in 1955 and was the current edition at the time of George’s death.  It shows that the cause of death code “443” translates to some kind of hypertensive heart disease.

George’s obituary in Newsday, Suffolk County Edition, Friday, May 18, 1956, provides a great deal of info, including the fact that he was Roman Catholic, worked for Republic Aviation Corporation and Coca Cola, had lived at 2107 First Street in Wantagh, NY for 10 years (and died there), was an active member of his community, and was survived by his wife Audrey, his sons George and Steven, his parents Catherine and Mathew, and siblings Lillian, Catherine, Paul, and Alexander.  (The article seems to conflate the last two names into one.)

Republic Aviation Corporation, where George worked as an artist in the engineering department until about 1944.


In this obituary from Newsday, Nassau County Edition, Wednesday, November 28, 1956, we see that George’s mother Catherine died just six months after he did.

Audrey Frese’s obituary from Newsday, Nassau County Edition, Friday, August 14, 1970 tells us a bit about her post-1956 years and surviving family.

George’s father Mathew’s World War I draft registration card shows us that Mathew was a lithographer at Sackett & Wilhelms in Brooklyn.

Sackett & Wilhelms Lithographing & Printing Company in Brooklyn, where Mathew Frese worked.

Obituary for Steven R. Frese, George’s younger son, who died in Vietnam.  From Newsday, Nassau County Edition, Wednesday, September 18, 1968.

Obituary for George J. Frese Jr., George’s older son.  From the Chicago Tribune, Saturday, January 17, 1998.

Signature of George Joseph Freze Sr., from his 1940 draft registration card.

ADDENDUM, 5/1/2022

Ron Zoni managed to locate George Frese's gravestone and took a picture of it.  His help is much appreciated!

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Superman on Radio in 1939!

History tells us that, following successful runs in comics books and comic strips, the new, wildly popular Superman character started appearing on radio in 1940.  Michael J. Hayde, author of Flights of Fancy: The Unauthorized but True Story of Radio & TV’s Adventures of Superman, is certain of that date, noting in an interview, “Just last year, a radio-themed book mentioned a ‘limited regional run’ of ‘Superman’ radio shows during 1939. That’s a myth. The four episodes that have been cited as ‘evidence’ of such a run were audition recordings that never aired. Superman’s radio debut was during the week of February 12, 1940, period.”
But maybe this question deserves a closer look.  It appears that there were three broadcasts of the Superman radio show on station KSD in St. Louis in 1939, months before the program’s official premiere the following February. The specific dates are September 5 and 6 and November 4, 1939. Why those dates? The answer is that the St. Louis Post-Dispatch was getting ready to start running the Superman daily comic strip on Monday, September 11 and the Superman Sunday comic strip on Sunday, November 5 and used the broadcasts to promote the strips.
The tie-in was obvious, as a display ad run in the Post-Dispatch on Friday, November 3 announcing the Sunday strip urges readers to “be sure to hear SUPERMAN on KSD at 6:00 P.M. Saturday, Nov 4.” 

And the Post-Dispatch’s radio listing for the show describes it as a “special dramatization of the thrilling adventure strip that starts in color in the Sunday Post-Dispatch tomorrow.” KSD, by the way, was owned by the Post-Dispatch.

And here are the two earlier listings for radio broadcasts tied to the launch of the Superman daily comic strip on September 11.

So what did these radio dramas consist of? The first thing that comes to mind is the aforementioned four audition shows, well-known to Superman aficionados, recorded in 1939 to convince advertisers and radio stations to sponsor and carry the show. But these recordings would have had some problems, for example the fact they mentioned a bogus sponsor (“Blank Corporation”) and products (“Blanko” and “Blankorene”), not to mention the cliff hanger endings. Editing out such extraneous content would have been more difficult in those days, as recordings were made direct-to-disc. And everything I've ever read about the auditions says they never aired.
It’s possible that these were live shows with different actors that used the same scripts as the auditions. But that’s just speculation. Without further evidence it’s impossible to know.  What we can say, though, is that Superman appeared on radio on a local St. Louis station in 1939, months before his show’s official start in February 1940.

Stan Lee in the 1940 Census

As most true comic fans know, Marvel's former editor-in-chief Stan Lee was born Stanley Martin Lieber and grew up in New York. Here he is in the census, dated April 8, 1940, when Stan was 17 years old. It shows that he lived at 1720 University Avenue in the Bronx with his father Jack (Jacob), mother Celia, and brother Larry (Lawrence), who would go on to write and draw for Marvel. Celia was the one who provided the census taker with the information. The family rented their home for $43 a month. The parents were Romanian immigrants and naturalized U.S. citizens. Stan did office work, making $150 in 1939 for 12 weeks of work. He had completed his 4th year of high school. (We know from other sources that Stan graduated from Dewitt Clinton High School in the Bronx in 1939 at the age of 16½.)

Here's the full census page.

Here's the detail from the page.

And here's a photo of the building Stan and his family lived in (1720 University Avenue) as it looks today, as well as a photo of the family dated 1932 (left to right: Stan, Jack, baby Larry, and Celia).