Frank Johnson, Secret Pioneer of American Comics Vol. 1 cover image
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Frank Johnson, Chris Byrne, Keith Mayerson

Frank Johnson, Secret Pioneer of American Comics Vol. 1: Wally's Gang Early Years (1928-1949) and The Bowser Boys (1946-1950)

On sale date: February 6, 2024

An astonishing historical and artistic discovery: a 2300 page proto-graphic novel begun by a “weekend cartoonist” in 1928 and continuing over the next 50 years!

When Frank Johnson, an itinerant musician and shipping clerk, died in 1979, he left behind a startling discovery: more than 2,300 notebook pages of comics and 131 unbound drawings, among them a massive, continuous story line beginning in the earliest surviving notebook dated 1928 — before the existence of comic books! — and following the exploits of his own cast of characters across 50 years until Johnson passed away. In the course of this lifelong project, Johnson invented in private many of the conventions and tropes that define comics storytelling, effectively enacting an alternative secret history of the comics medium.

This collection is the first ever publication of Johnson’s work and includes: Wally’s Gang, his 50-year magnum opus chronicling the humorous, cliff-hanging adventures of a group of bachelor friends; The Bowser Boys, a seamy, darkly slapstick depiction of bohemian street life that could be considered the first underground comic series; and Juke Boys, absurd, self-reflexive graphic experimentation.

Curator and historian Chris Byrne and fine artist and graphic novelist Keith Mayerson have brought this astounding work into the light of day and provide historical background and analysis.


"This eccentric archival collection introduces outsider artist Johnson (1912–1979), a shipping clerk who secretly produced more than 2,000 pages of original cartoons in composition books dating back as far as 1928. Classic comics aficionados won't want to miss this gem." — Publishers Weekly

"[Johnson's work is] distinguished by robust penciling and a cumulative air of obsession. ... That obsessiveness made him a fascinatingly dutiful chronicler of mid-20th-century life; in this hefty omnibus, tidbits of a bygone way of life accumulate into something sad and strange and huge." — The New York Times

"Utilizing a voice and talent all his own, Frank Johnson is an American original, a folk cartoonist hero for the century that birthed American comics." — Keith Mayerson

"Frank Johnson was a working stiff with a drinking problem who secretly created a decades-long comic strip better than almost anything that ran in a daily paper in the 20th century." — Hyperallergic

"It's a fascinating project ... a sprawling graphic novel, of surprising skill." — Boing Boing


Paperback / Softback
Full color.
7.1" × 9"