Crane was born in Abilene, Texas and grew up in nearby Sweetwater. When he was 14 years old, he took the C.N. Landon correspondence course in cartooning. He initially attended college at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene and later the University of Texas, where he was a member of Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity. At 19, he studied for six months at the Academy of Fine Arts in Chicago. His early career was a checkered one, including pitching tents for a Chautauqua, a seaman's berth, and a stint riding the rails. In 1922, he began his newspaper cartooning career on the New York World, where he assisted H.T. Webster.
In 1924, Crane approached C.N. Landon, who was then an editor at the Newspaper Enterprise Association (NEA). Landon agreed to let him try his hand at a humorous strip titled Washington Tubbs II, soon shortened to Wash Tubbs, which debuted on April 21, 1924. After about four months, Crane tired of the gag-a-day format and sent his diminutive hero off on a treasure hunt. The strip evolved into a rollicking adventure yarn, all the more so after the introduction in 1929 of the raffish soldier of fortune, Captain Easy.
Crane, an excellent draftsman despite his deceptively cartoonish style, established himself as a master of shading. He progressed from line drawings with cross-hatching to grease pencil on textured paper, then to Benday Dots, and finally to Craftint doubletone paper. The Craftint paper, when brushed with the right solutions, revealed either one or two layers of diagonal shading. Under Crane's brush, the technique yielded scenes of dramatic atmosphere, such as junglescapes fading into the misty distance. From time to time, Crane went on location to research his plot lines and visuals, as he had done with Wash Tubbs.
Today, Buz Sawyer has been resurrected digitally as one of the vintage strips in King Features' emailed DailyINK subscription service.
Crane was awarded the National Cartoonists Society's Reuben Award for Cartoonist of the Year in 1950, and their Story Comic Strip Award in 1965, both for Buz Sawyer. He was named a Distinguished Alumnus of the University of Texas at Austin in 1969. He progressively relinquished his cartooning to assistants, and died in Orlando, Florida in 1977.