Ferdinand Johnson (December 18, 1905 – October 14, 1996), aka Ferd Johnson, was an American cartoonist, best known for his 68-year stint on the Moon Mullins comic strip.
Born in Spring Creek, Pennsylvania. Johnson’s youthful interest in cartooning had the support of his family after he won an Erie Dispatch Herald cartoon contest: “I think I was 11 years old. And then I won a newspaper cartoon drawing contest, and I think the prize was two or three tickets to Peck’s Bad Boy, and that got my dad to thinking, and he gave me a $28 correspondence course. I went through that and worked on the high school yearbook all the time. I did lots of drawings there. At 13, I sold my first cartoon for money to a railroad magazine. It paid me $10 a month for years and years.”
He began hanging around the Chicago Tribune offices when he was 17. After graduating from high school in 1923, he attended the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts for three months. He dropped out and became Frank Willard’s assistant at the Tribune two months after Willard launched Moon Mullins in 1923. Johnson worked at the Tribune as a color artist and sports illustrator.
When he was 19, he was hired by Joseph Patterson to do a cowboy strip, Texas Slim, and he was promoted by the Tribune as the youngest cartoonist in American newspapers. Syndicated beginning August 30, 1925, Texas Slim ran for three years, and Johnson launched another strip, Lovey-Dovey in 1932. On Moon Mullins, after starting on the lettering and backgrounds, Johnson gradually progressed to the point where he was handling the entire operation.
On March 31, 1940, he revived Texas Slim as a Sunday half-page in Texas Slim and Dirty Dalton (with the companion strip, Buzzy), which ran for 18 years. It was only after Willard’s death that he began signing Moon Mullins. When Willard died January 11, 1958, the Chicago Tribune New York News Syndicate hired Johnson as Willard’s logical successor. Johnson recalled, ”Texas ran until 1958 when I took over Moon completely. Up to then I was working on both Moon and Texas and some advertising work, and taking some time off to eat and sleep.”
Like Willard, Johnson had a natural gift for funny, slangy dialogue. He stayed with the strip until it concluded in 1991. In 1978, his son, Tom Johnson, signed on as his assistant (drawing the Sunday page and assisting on the dailies). Ferd Johnson worked on Moon Mullins for 68 years–a stint that probably stands as the longest tenure of an artist on a single feature in the entire history of American comics.
9 strips 1943