Ralph Ellef Carlson was born March 9, 1907 in Minneapolis, MN. His father was Gustave C. Carlson, born 1874 in Sweden. His mother was Tonettie "Nettie" Bramby, born 1880 in Minneapolis of Norwegian ancestry. His parents met in Minneapolis and married in 1902. They had three children. His older brother Clifton was born in 1904 and his younger sister Doris was born in 1910. They lived at 3622 Logan Avenue North.
In June 1925 he graduated South High School of Minneapolis. He then studied art by mail order correspondence from The Federal Schools, Inc. of Minneapolis.
After receiving his diploma in 1928 he joined the art staff of Fawcett Publications in Robbinsdale, MN, where he became a lifelong pal of future pulp artists Norman Saunders, Allen Anderson, and Carl Buettner.
Carlson's nickname was "Hamlet" because of his moody nature.
From 1930 to 1934 he attended college courses at Minnesota State in Minneapolis, but he did not earn a degree.
He joined the Communist Party at this time, as did many Americans who were concerned by the hardships of laborers during the Great Depression, as well as the fascist tendencies of American industrialists.
In 1934 he moved to NYC to work as a pen & ink artist of interior story illustrations for Harry Donenfeld's spicy pulps, such as Saucy Movie Tales and Spicy Detective. He also worked for Harry Steeger's Popular Publications, such as Terror Tales, Horror Stories, Operator #5, and Dr. Yen Sin. He also drew story illustrations for Street & Smith's Clues magazine.
From 1940 to 1942 he drew for Camp Comics, Popular Comics, and Future Comics, for which he created an original adventure feature series, Rush Newton of the Newsreels.
On February 3, 1943 he was drafted and served in the Army during WWII. In 1944 He worked for YANK Magazine on the Paris edition.
After the war he went back to work for Fawcett Publications, but instead of interior pen & ink illustrations he drew some of their new comic books, including Rocky Lane Comics.
In 1953 he was subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee to testify as a cartoonist about his connection with the Communist Party. He refused to cooperate. He was jailed and blacklisted, which ended his career in comic books and publishing in general.
IN 1955 he returned to his hometown, Minneapolis, where his old faithful art instructor, Walt Wilwerding, hired him as an art instructor at the correspondence school he had attended from 1926 to 1928, which had since changed it's name to Art Instruction, Inc.
He never married and he had no children.
In 1972 he moved to a retirement community in Phoenix, Arizona.
Ralph Carlson died in Phoenix at the age of seventy-eight in January 1986.
© David Saunders 2009