"Super” Duper isn’t just one of Jimmy Olsen’s favorite interjections. It’s also the title of a Sunday strip by Rolf Ahlsen and Bill Kresse that ran exclusively in the New York Daily News in the late 1960s and into the ’70s. Mr. Duper was the jolly, red-haired superintendent of a groovy apartment building whose residents included the curvy Miss Mini and the not-so-prim Miss Biddy.
Kresse (whose name rhymes with “messy,” a word that may describe his memorabilia-filled studio, but not his style) found employment at Terrytoons right out of high school, inking animation cels. It sounds like a dream job, but Kresse found it unfulfilling. Others performed all the creative work, and he wasn’t happy merely tracing their lines. Other jobs followed: mechanical drawing for a conveyor belt designer, illustrating charts and maps for the Associated Press, drawing features for the Archie's Madhouse comic book, each of which taught him new skills, but none of which fully satisfied his creative urge.
While taking a cartoon course at New York University, Kresse, 74, became friends with the instructor, Dave Breger, creator of Private Breger. Breger sponsored Kresse for membership in the National Cartoonists Society, where Kresse made connections that led to a job at the Herald Tribune, and later at the Daily News. There he met Ahlsen, a layout artist who had been an assistant on Terry and the Pirates and Winnie Winkle. When an editor announced that he was looking for a new feature for the Sunday comics page, Kresse and Ahlsen pitched their idea for a strip about a bumbling apartment building super.
“Super” Duper began in 1968 and ran in the News for more than five years. Its popularity created even more opportunities for Kresse, who was invited in 1972 to be a regular on NBC’s The Everything Show, a Saturday-evening variety program for kids, hosted by a 13-year-old Irene Cara. Kresse presented weekly cartoon lessons on the show for about a year. He made several appearances on Joe Franklin and other talk shows, where he would sometimes draw caricatures of celebrity guests.
Around this time, Ahlsen and Kresse also collaborated on Scratch, a short-lived strip about a cute canine and the family he lived with. Scratch was credited to “Krahlsen,” and, like "Super" Duper, was a Daily News property and was never syndicated.
Kresse remains very active as a freelance cartoonist and illustrator. His jobs have varied over the years. He has designed coloring books and wrote an instructional book for kids, An Introduction to Cartooning. He created a series of pins for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics (including a collection of 12 “I Survived the Blast” pins that were conceived, drawn and rushed to the manufacturer in under four hours). He has designed lines of state-themed souvenir-shop items such as keychains, collectors’ plates, and Zippo lighters. And he still contributes cartoons to a number of publications.
Kresse and his wife, Lorraine, recently celebrated their golden anniversary. They live in an apartment in Jackson Heights, New York, with their schnauzer, Willie. He is an active member of the Knights of Columbus and the Berndt Toast Gang (the Long Island chapter of the NCS). He can often be found at the Gang’s monthly luncheons, entertaining his fellow cartoonists with his harmonica, sometimes solo and sometimes accompanying Al Scaduto’s operatic vocals.
“Don’t ever be afraid to try something new” is a rule that Bill Kresse lives by. “You will learn from it, use it, and hopefully, profit from it.” It’s certainly worked for him.
[Originally published in Hogan's Alley #15]