Illustrator Murphy entered the Army in 1940, joining the 7th Regiment. He spent several years in the Pacific, beginning in Australia and ending in Tokyo. During the war, Murphy continued to illustrate, sending work to the Chicago Tribune and painting portraits of military figures. Returning to the United States in 1946, he resumed his art career, illustrating for magazines, including Columbia, Liberty and Sport.
Characters and story
In 1950, writer Elliot Caplin (brother of Li'l Abner cartoonist Al Capp) suggested that Murphy illustrate a boxing comic strip he had in mind. The strip followed the adventures of boxer and journalist Ben Bolt. Murphy was the artist of Big Ben Bolt from 1950 to 1978. Comics historian Don Markstein wrote:
- King Features Syndicate launched Ben's daily strip on February 20, 1950 and the Sunday version on May 25, 1952. The character's name was probably taken from Thomas Dunn English's poem, "Ben Bolt", which has remained popular since it first appeared in 1843. This wasn't the first cartoon to appropriate that name—there was also a single-panel feature titled Ben Bolt, by cartoonist Fanny Young Cory (Other People's Children, Little Miss Muffet), which started in 1916 as a parody of English's "Ben Bolt". It didn't last long and was quite forgotten by the time Caplin and Murphy came along. Ben himself ran against stereotype. Instead of a big, dumb hitting machine, he was an articulate college graduate who had chosen a boxing career because he enjoyed and was good at it (winning the world heavyweight championship early on), not because other fields weren't open to him. In fact, when, in 1955, an injury took him out of the ring, he went into journalism. For decades, his adventures revolved around writing about, rather than practicing, his chosen sport.
Murphy occasionally used assistants, including Al Williamson (Flash Gordon), Alex Kotzky (Apartment 3-G), Neal Adams (Deadman), John Celardo (Tarzan) and Stan Drake (The Heart of Juliet Jones). In 1971, Murphy took over Prince Valiant, and Gray Morrow stepped in to draw Big Ben Bolt, eventually signing the strip starting August 1, 1977. Big Ben Bolt ended during the first half of 1978.
King Features' email service, DailyINK, began carrying Big Ben Bolt in June 2010.
- Strickler, Dave. Syndicated Comic Strips and Artists, 1924-1995: The Complete Index. Cambria, California: Comics Access, 1995. ISBN 0-9700077-0-1