Roger Bollen, creator of 'Animal Crackers' comic strip, dies at 74
Roger Bollen, writer and illustrator of the "Animal Crackers" syndicated comic strip, artist of dozens of children's books and producer of television shows, died Saturday at Hillcrest Hospital. He was 74.
Bollen, who lived in Chagrin Falls, was a prolific creator who started out in newspaper comics strips and went on to illustrate more than 50 children's books with his second wife, Marilyn Sadler. He later created shows for the Disney Channel that included "Zenon, Girl of the 21st Century," "Handy Manny" and an animated version of "Animal Crackers."
He was a private person. His listing on IMDb (Internet Movie Database) does not include a picture of him.
"He ate out at restaurants in Chagrin Falls every day and no one knew he was a television producer," said his daughter, Melissa Ellsworth of Rocky River, who has his work on her Facebook page. "He never wanted his age to be known because he didn't want anyone to think he was too old to work. That is just how he was."
Within the past weeks, Ellsworth said her father told her he was doing another series with the Disney Channel.
"But he would not tell me the name of it because he said Disney did not want to announce it yet," she said.
Ellsworth said her father suffered a stroke in April followed by heart failure, but he seemed to be doing better.
"He went into an assisted-care facility in June and walked out after two days," she said. "He said it was the worst two days of his life. He wanted nothing to do with it."
Bollen was born in East Cleveland and graduated from Shaw High School and Kent State University, where he was given the Distinguished Alumni Award from the School of Art in 2000.
Tom Batiuk, creator of the Funky Winkerbean comic strip, said Bollen was a friend and inspiration.
"When I was in college at Kent State, I got his phone number," Batiuk said. "I called and said I wanted to meet him and ask his advice on the comic business. He refused. I called again and he refused. I called a third time and he said okay. He later told me he always turns down people the first two times to make sure they are serious."
Batiuk said Bollen offered excellent advice and became a good friend.
"He was a very funny guy. He always made me laugh," Batiuk said. "At one point he was doing three strips at once. I later was also doing three strips at once and he called and said 'Hey, you don't have to copy everything I do.'"
His first comic strip was "Animal Crackers," a series set around a group of animals living in a jungle called "Freeborn." The strip appeared in The Plain Dealer for many years.
"He bought a plane ticket home from New York because he felt he could now afford it," said his daughter.
Bollen lived in several cities in the Greater Cleveland area, including Moreland Hills, Shaker Heights and Kirtland Hills.
It was in Kirtland Hills that he suffered a setback when a fire damaged his new studio in his half-million dollar estate in 1991, destroying much of his art. Even more art was lost when workers tried to repair damages from the first fire and accidentally started a second blaze.
Bollen also created the strip "Catfish" with Gary Peterman, and "Funny Business," which were also syndicated.
His daughter said he stopped writing and drawing "Animal Crackers" in 1992 because "he just got tired of it and wanted to work on television."
He soon got his wish when "Animal Crackers" moved to television from 1997-99. He created a live action show for girls on the Disney Channel called "Zenon, Girl of the 21st Century" in 1999 and followed it with a show for young boys called "Handy Manny,"which ran for 34 episodes from 2006-09.
The more than 50 children's books he illustrated with his former wife, Marilyn Sadler as the writer, include the series "P.J. Funnybunny" and "Alistair's Elephant" and many more.
Besides his daughter Melissa and her husband Tom, Bollen is survived by his wife, Audrey Curran of Chagrin Falls; and two grandchildren.
Private funeral services will be held at Stroud Lawrence Funeral Home, 95 S. Franklin St., Chagrin Falls. Memorial contributions may be made to the Kent State University art program.