When I was hired to work on staff in the Comic Art bullpen at King Features back in 1989 my immediate boss was Production Supervisor Frank Chillino (1920-2007).
Frank worked under a number of Comic Art department heads – among them…
Sylvan Byck (1904-1982): Head of the Comic Art department from the 1950s until 1978.
Bill Yates (1921-2001): Head of the Comic Art department from 1978 until 1988.
Jay Kennedy (1956-2007): Head of the Comic Art department from 1988 until 2007.
Frank Chillino was the guy at King Features who made sure the trains ran on time. He also devised and implemented the standardized system to format strips for newspapers that’s still used today – a template where a strip drawn in a half page format could be reformatted to a third or quarter page quickly and efficiently. It helped streamline the process saving countless hours of production time (and money) for King.
He was there with the pioneers of the industry – Chic Young, George McManus, Harold Foster, Alex Raymond, Jimmy Hatlo, Roy Crane, Milton Caniff, Fred Lasswell and Bela Zaboly just to name a few.
In a feature piece in Cartoonist Profile he recalled, “When I joined the bullpen in January 1944, I was twenty four years old. Brad Kelly, who was the comics editor, hired me and placed me at a drawing table next to Bud Saggendorf who was then handling production. For my first assignment, Bud sent me to the supply room for a bucket of benday dots which were used on daily strips for grey tones. Being young and naive I did what he requested. Irving Winters who handled supplies said, “Hey kid, he’s pulling your leg! There’s no such thing as benday dots, only a benday acetate sheet with dots printed on it.” Was my face red! When I brought back the sheets and an empty bucket we all had a good laugh. This was the beginning of a lasting friendship between Saggendorf and myself… About a year later Sag was assigned to draw the Popeye comic books. With his suggestion to Brad Kelly I was appointed comic art production supervisor.”
Some other of Frank’s recollections…
“King had a room set aside for visiting cartoonists then, which offered us the opportunity to watch them at work. These guys could ink their strips without penciling. Roy Crane worked on craft tint paper and when he brought the tones up with his brush on backgrounds, the strips would virtually explode with action.”
“Jose Luis Salinas was brought up in 1950 to pen The Cisco Kid which I lettered for 18 years. He was one of our finest illustrators. Alex Raymond, also a great illustrator, idolized Salinas work. Whenever Alex came to KFS he would sit and watch Salinas pencil and brush through his Cisco strips for hours at a time. Jose worked in our bullpen for about six months before he returned to Argentina.”
“There was an aura about them (the cartoonists) when they visited the bullpen. They were fun guys always playing jokes on one another.”
Frank once wrote of his job at King, “I always believed that maintaining a rapport with our (King Features) cartoonists was of utmost importance. Letting them know we cared, and knew that they were out there doing their thing for us – drawing cartoons.”
When he retired in 1990 he had 45 years at the Syndicate under his belt.
The following piece ran in Cartoonist Profiles #88, December 1990 (cited above) and pretty much encapsulates the history of the syndicated newspaper strip.
Frank Chillino – Truly one of King Features’ greats!