Zorro – the Complete Classic Adventures volumes One & Two


By Alex Toth & anonymous (Eclipse Books)
ISBNs: 0-913035-41-6 and 0-913035-51-3

Alex Toth was a master of graphic communication who shaped two different art-forms and is largely unknown in both of them.

Born in New York in 1928, the son of Hungarian immigrants with a dynamic interest in the arts, Toth was something of a prodigy and after enrolling in the High School of Industrial Arts doggedly went about improving his skills as a cartoonist. His earliest dreams were of a quality newspaper strip like Milton Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates, but his uncompromising devotion to the highest standards soon soured him on newspaper strip work when he discovered how hidebound and innovation-resistant the family values-based industry had become whilst he was growing up.

Aged 15, he sold his first comicbook works to Heroic Comics and after graduating in 1947 worked for All American/National Periodical Publications (who would amalgamate and evolve into DC Comics) on Dr. Mid-Nite, All Star Comics, the Atom, Green Lantern, Johnny Thunder, Sierra Smith, Johnny Peril, Danger Trail and a host of other features. On the way he dabbled with newspaper strips (see Casey Ruggles: the Hard Times of Pancho and Pecos) but was disappointed o find nothing had changed…

Continually striving to improve his own work he never had time for fools or formula-hungry editors who wouldn’t take artistic risks. In 1952 Toth quit DC to work for “Thrilling” Pulps publisher Ned Pines who was retooling his prolific Better/Nedor/Pines comics companies (Thrilling Comics, Fighting Yank, Doc Strange, Black Terror and many more) into Standard Comics: a publishing house targeting older readers with sophisticated, genre-based titles.

Beside fellow graphic masters Nick Cardy, Mike Sekowsky, Art Saaf, John Celardo, George Tuska, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito and particularly favourite inker Mike Peppe, Toth set the bar high for a new kind of story-telling: wry, restrained and thoroughly mature; in short-lived titles dedicated to War, Crime, Horror, Science Fiction and especially Romance.

After Simon and Kirby invented love comics, Standard, through artists like Cardy and Toth and writers like the amazing and unsung Kim Aamodt, polished and honed the genre, turning out clever, witty, evocative and yet tasteful melodramas and heart-tuggers both men and women could enjoy.

Before going into the military, where he still found time to create a strip (Jon Fury for the US army’s Tokyo Quartermaster newspaper The Depot’s Diary) he illustrated 60 glorious tales for Standard; as well as a few pieces for EC and others.

On his return to a different industry – and one he didn’t much like – Toth resettled in California, splitting his time between Western/Dell/Gold Key, such as these Zorro tales and many other movie/TV adaptations, and National (assorted short pieces such as Hot Wheels and Eclipso): doing work he increasingly found uninspired, moribund and creatively cowardly. Eventually he moved primarily into TV animation, designing for shows such as Space Ghost, Herculoids, Birdman, Shazzan!, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? and Super Friends among many others.

He returned sporadically to comics, setting the style and tone for DC’s late 1960’s horror line in House of Mystery, House of Secrets and especially The Witching Hour, and illustrating more adult fare for Warren’s Creepy, Eerie and The Rook. He redesigned The Fox for Red Circle/Archie, produced stunning one-offs for Archie Goodwin’s Batman or war comics (whenever they offered him a “good script”) and contributed to landmark or anniversary projects such as Batman: Black and White.

His later, personal works included Torpedo for the European market and the magnificently audacious swashbuckler Bravo for Adventure!

Alex Toth died of a heart attack at his drawing board on May 27th 2006 but before that the kids he’d inspired (mostly comics professionals themselves) sought to redress his shameful anonymity with a number of retrospectives and comics compilations. One of the first and best was this Eclipse Books twin set, gathering his many tales for Dell featuring Disney’s TV iteration of the prototypical masked avenger.

In 2013, Hermes Press released a lavish complete volume in full colour but, to my mind, these black and white books (grey-toned, stripped down and redrawn by the master himself) are the definitive vision and the closest to what Toth originally intended, stripped of all the obfuscating quibbles and unnecessary pictorial fripperies imposed upon his dynamic vision by legions of writing committees, timid editors and Disney franchising flacks.

One the earliest masked heroes and still phenomenally popular throughout the world, “El Zorro, The Fox” was originally devised by jobbing writer Johnston McCulley in 1919 in a five part serial entitled ‘The Curse of Capistrano’. He debuted in the All-Story Weekly for August 6th and ran until 6th September. The part-work was subsequently published by Grossett & Dunlap in 1924 as The Mark of Zorro and further reissued in 1959 and 1998 by MacDonald & Co. and Tor respectively.

Famously, Hollywood royalty Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford read the ‘The Curse of Capistrano’ in All-Story Weekly on their honeymoon and immediately optioned the adventure to be the first film release from their new production company/studio United Artists.

The Mark of Zorro was a global movie sensation in 1920 and for years after, and New York-based McCulley subsequently re-tailored his creation to match the so-different filmic incarnation. This Caped Crusader aptly fitted the burgeoning genre that would soon be peopled by the likes of The Shadow, Doc Savage and the Spider.

Rouben Mamoulian’s 1940 filmic remake of The Mark of Zorro further ingrained the Fox into the world’s psyche and, as the prose exploits continued in a variety of publications, Dell began a comicbook version in 1949.

When Walt Disney Studios began a hugely popular Zorro TV show in 1957 (resulting in 78 half-hour episodes and four 60 minute specials before cancellation in 1961) the ongoing comics series was swiftly redesigned to capitalise on it and the entertainment corporation began a decades-long strip incarnation of “their” version of the character in various quarters of the world.

This superb set reproduces the tales produced by Toth for Dell Comics; firstly as part of the monumental try-out series Four-Color (issues #882, 920, 933, 960, 976 & 1003), and thereafter as a proven commodity with his own title – of which the restless Toth only drew #12. Other artists on the series included Warren Tufts, Mel Keefer and John Ushler and the Dell series was subsequently relaunched in January 1966 under the Gold Key imprint, reprinting (primarily) the Toth drawn material in a 9-issue run than lasted until March 1968.

Zorro – the Complete Classic Adventures Volume One opens with an effusive and extremely moving ‘Introduction by Howard Chaykin’ before steaming straight into the timeless wonder, but I thought that perhaps a brief note on the scripts might be sensible here.

As part of Disney’s license the company compelled Dell to concentrate on adapting already-aired TV episodes complete with florid, overblown dialogue and stagy, talking head shots which Toth struggled mightily – and against increasingly heated resistance from writers and editors – to pare down and liven up. Under such circumstances it’s a miracle that the strips are even palatable, but they are in fact some of the best adventure comics of the practically superhero-free 1950s.

Sadly, all the covers were photo-shots of actor Guy Williams in character so even that graphic outlet was denied Toth – and us…

One bonus however is that the short, filler stories used to supplement the screen adaptations were clearly generated in-house with fewer restrictions, so here Toth’s brilliance shines through…

The origin and set-up for the series came with Four-Color #882 (February 1958) in ‘Presenting Señor Zorro’. Retelling the first episode of the TV show, it introduces dashing swordsman Don Diego De La Vega, returning from Spain in 1820 to his home in Pueblo De Los Angeles in answer to a letter telling of injustice, corruption and tyranny…

With mute servant Bernardo – who pretends to be also deaf and acts as his perfect spy amongst the oppressors – Diego determines to assume the role of a spoiled and cowardly fop whilst creating the masked identity of El Zorro “the Fox” to overthrow wicked military commander and de facto dictator Capitan Monastario.

Shrugging off the clear disappointment of his father Don Alejandro, Diego does nothing when their neighbour IgnacioNachoTorres is arrested on charges of treason but that night a masked figure in black spectacularly liberates the political prisoner and conveys him to relative safety and legal sanctuary at the Mission of San Gabriel

The second TV instalment became the closing chapter of that first comicbook as ‘Zorro’s Secret Passage’ finds Monastario suspicious that Zorro is a member of the De La Vega household and stakes the place out. When the Commandante then accuses another man of being the Fox, Diego uses the underground passages beneath his home to save the innocent victim and confound the dictator…

Four-Color #920 (June 1958) adapted the third and fourth TV episodes, beginning with “Zorro Rides to the Mission” which became ‘The Ghost of the Mission Part One’ as Monastario discovers where Nacho Torres is hiding and surrounds the Mission. Unable to convince his lancers to break the sacred bounds of Sanctuary, the tyrant settles in for a siege and ‘The Ghost of the Mission Part Two’ sees him fabricate an Indian uprising to force his way in. Sadly for the military martinet Diego has convinced his bumbling deputy Sergeant Demetrio Garcia that the Mission is haunted by a mad monk…

Despite appearing only quarterly, Zorro stories maintained the strict continuity dictated by the weekly TV show. “Garcia’s Secret Mission” became ‘Garcia’s Secret’ in Four-Color #933 (September 1958) and saw Monastario apparently throw his flunky out of the army in a cunning plot to capture the Fox. Once again the ruse was turned against the connivers and El Capitan was again humiliated.

The last half of the issue saw a major plot development, however, as TV instalment “The Fall of Monastario” became ‘The King’s Emissary’ wherein the Commandante tries to palm off ineffectual Diego as Zorro to impress the Viceroy of California only to find himself inexplicably exposed, deposed and arrested…

The rest of this initial outing comprises a quartet of short vignettes commencing with ‘A Bad Day for Bernardo’ (Four-Color #920) wherein the unlucky factotum endures a succession of mishaps as he and Zorro search for a missing señorita and almost scotch her plans to elope, whilst Four-Color #933 provided the tale of youngster Manuelo, who ran away to become ‘The Little Zorro’. Happily Diego is able to convince the lad that school trumps heroism… in this case…

In ‘The Visitor’ (Four-Color #960, December 1958) Diego and Bernardo find a baby on their doorstep and help the mother to free her husband from jail before the volume concludes with ‘A Double for Diego’ (Four-Color #976, March 1959) wherein Sgt. Garcia – now in temporary charge of Los Angeles – seeks Diego’s help to capture Zorro, necessitating the wily hero trying to be in two places at once…

Zorro Volume Two leads off with ‘A Foreword’s Look Back and Askance’ by Alex Toth, who self-deprecatingly recaps his life and explains his artistic philosophy, struggles with Dell’s editors and constant battle to turn the anodyne goggle-box crusader back into the dark and flamboyant swashbuckler of the Mamoulian movie…

Four-Color #960 (December 1958) has TV tales “The Eagle’s Brood” and “Zorro by Proxy” transformed into visual poetry when a would-be conqueror targets Los Angeles as part of a greater scheme to seize control of California. With new Capitan Toledano despatched to seek out a vast amount of stolen gunpowder, ‘The Eagle’s Brood’ infiltrate the town, sheltered by a traitor at the very heart of the town’s ruling elite…

Made aware of the seditious plot, Zorro moves carefully against the villains, foiling their first attempt to take over and learning the identity of an untouchable traitor…

The saga resumed and concluded in ‘Gypsy Warning’ (Four-Color #976, adapting “Quintana Makes a Choice” and “Zorro Lights a Fuse”) as Zorro foils a plot to murder pro tem leader Garcia and stumbles into the final stages of the invasion of Santa Barbara, San Diego, Capistrano and Los Angeles…

With The Eagle temporarily defeated, short back-up ‘The Enchanted Bell’ (Four-Color #1003, June 1959) sees Zorro prevent the local tax collector confiscating a prized bell beloved by the region’s Indians to prevent a possible uprising, after which the lead story from the same issue details how ‘The Marauders of Monterey’ (adapting “Welcome to Monterey” and “Zorro Rides Alone”) lure officials from many settlements with the promise of vitally needed supplies and commodities before robbing them.

Sadly for them, Los Angeles sent the astute but effete Don Diego to bid for the goods and he had his own solutions for fraud and banditry…

After more than a year away Toth returned for one last hurrah as ‘The Runaway Witness’ (Zorro #12, December 1960/February 1961) found the Fox chasing a frightened flower-girl all over the countryside. Justice rather than romance was on his mind as he sought to convince her to testify against a powerful man who had murdered his business partner… This stunning masterclass in comics excellence concludes with ‘Friend Indeed’ from the same issue wherein Zorro plays one of his most imaginative tricks on Garcia, allowing the hero to free a jail full of political prisoners…

Full-bodied, captivating and beautifully realised, these immortal adventures of a global icon are something no fan of adventure comics and thrilling stories should be without.
Zorro ® and © Zorro Productions. Stories and artwork © 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961Walt Disney Productions This edition © 1986 Zorro Productions, Inc.

The Eldritch Kid: Whisky & Hate


By Christian Read & Michael Maier (Gestalt Publishing)
ISBN: 978-0-980782-35-6

There was a time, not so very long ago, when all of popular fiction was bloated and engorged with tales of Cowboys and Indians.

As always happens with such periodic populist phenomena – such as the Swinging Sixties’ Super-Spy Boom or the recent Vampire Boyfriend trend – there was a goodly amount of momentary merit, lots of utter dross and a few spectacular gems.

Most importantly, once such surges have petered out there’s also always a small cadre of frustrated devotees who mourn its passing and, on growing up, resolve to do something to venerate or even revive their lost and faded favourite fad…

After World War II the American family entertainment market – for which read comics, radio and the rapidly burgeoning television industry – became comprehensively enamoured of the clear-cut, simplistic sensibilities and easy, escapist solutions offered by Tales of the Old West; at that time already a firmly established standby of paperback publishing, movie serials and low-budget feature films.

I’ve often ruminated on how and why simultaneously, the dark, bleakly nigh-nihilistic and left-leaning Film Noir genre quietly blossomed alongside that wholesome rip-snorting range-&-rodeo revolution, seemingly only for a cynical minority of entertainment intellectuals who somehow knew that the returned veterans still hadn’t found a Land Fit for Heroes… but perhaps that’s a thought for another time and a different review.

Even though comics had encompassed Western heroes from the get-go (there were cowboy strips in the premier issues of both Action Comics and Marvel Comics) the post-war boom years saw a vast outpouring of titles with new gun-toting heroes to replace the rapidly dwindling supply of costumed Mystery Men, and true to formula, most of these pioneers ranged from transiently mediocre to outright appalling.

Despite minor re-flowerings in the early 1970s and mid-1990s, Western strips have largely vanished from our funnybook pages: apparently unable to command enough mainstream support to survive the crushing competition of garish wonder-men and the furiously seductive future.

Europe and Britain also embraced the Sagebrush zeitgeist and produced some extremely impressive work, with France and Italy eventually making the genre emphatically their own by the end of the 1960s. They still make the best straight Western strips in the world for an avid audience still possessing a vast appetite for them…

Fantasy and Horror stories, on the other hand, have never really gone away and this superb entertaining entry from Australian graphic raconteurs Christian Read & Michael Maier superbly blends time honoured tropes of the wild west with sinister sorcerous sensibilities to create a bewitching alternate reality where dark bloody deeds are matched by dire demonic forces and the decent guys called upon to combat them have to dabble in the diabolical too…

Following the tantalising Introduction ‘Our shadow goes where we go’ from author K. J. Bishop, the full-colour mystic mayhem begins with the recollections of an Oxford-educated shaman detailing his life following his return to the land of his birth.

Spring 1877 and the great Indian Wars are over. Custer is dead but so is Crazy Horse. The Whites are greedily covering the entire country and an erudite, educated man with the wrong coloured skin is reduced to playing scout for a bunch of barely literate morons wagon-trekking across the plains to California. They need him but regard their supremely capable guide with suspicion, disdain and barely-disguised disgust…

One particular incident of second-guessing his decisions involves a detour around a stony butte that simply reeks of bad magic. Accusing him of leading them into an ambush and other dishonourable deeds, the lazy, work-shy Christians drive him to ignore his instincts and better judgement and reluctantly check out the pinnacle personally…

Wicasa Waken, outcast Shaman of the Oglala Lakota, Ten Shoes Dancing of the mighty Sioux and lately graduated Master of Arts and Literature, Oxford, England 1875, always knew devil magic when he smelled it but, since his teachers taught him to treasure human life, he remained faithful to their training and climbs a mountain into hell…

At the top he encounters five-headed snakes and zombies and a strange white man they were taking their time killing…

Losing their lands to the pale invaders has soured many of his people and allowed a growth of bad spirits and corrupted medicine like the long-fled Bloody Knife to control many points on the map, but the man these horrors are torturing jangle the shaman’s mystic senses in way nothing ever has before.

Piling in he begins killing monsters and the “victim”, once freed, eagerly joins in, his accursed guns making short work of the ravening Heyokas. Soon they are all dispatched and Ten Shoes Dancing – after exorcising and sanitising the spiritually defiled butte – realises he has made the rather prickly acquaintance of a modern Western Legend…

The settlers are ecstatic to have celebrated dime novel hero The Eldritch Kid join their party and, whilst still treating his rescuer like a barely housebroken monkey, fête the grim gunslinger like a messiah.

It’s hard for even the most enlightened man to watch a surly, taciturn, creepy freak basking in hero-worship, hot vittles and wanton female attention…

It’s not just this becoming-nation America that is awash with blood and wickedness. The entire world is swamped with boggles, spectres and worse, but since the War Between the States the Kid has achieved a certain notoriety for dealing harshly and permanently with all things supernatural and predatory.

Nevertheless he’s a mean, mercenary bastard and a tough man to like for the philosophically inclined, poetry-loving Ten Shoes until the wagons arrive at a thriving prairie town that the shaman knows wasn’t there a month previously.

Opting to investigate the bustling hamlet together, the mismatched heroes are soon fighting for their lives against an army of hungry ghosts and the Lakota learns that although his personal patron god Lord Hnaska is grossly offended by the crawling things that hunger for human morsels, he is more worried by the cold, dark deity who sponsors his avatar’s gun-toting partner in peril…

A loveless alliance is forged in that ghastly spirit-trap and, as the wagon train proceeds towards California, the kid finally opens up enough to share the history that made him the most feared gunhawk in the West.

The story began in 1865 at Camp Elmira, New Jersey where Confederate prisoners were held. The detention centre was a hellhole even by human standards, but when a ravenous demon began taking the inmates, one of the terrified, beaten sitting duck captives was offered a deal by an invading ancient northern god…

This grim King of Death was unhappy with the beasts and night things increasingly infesting the Earth and offered a trade: power for service…

After a suitably painful and gory “offering” the prisoner was given just enough of a supernatural advantage to kill the monsters – human and otherwise – and escape. He has been doing his Lord’s work ever since…

At trail’s end the settlers naturally bilk the generally good-natured Ten Shoes who chalks it up to experience. However his new associate still has many secrets unshared and exacts his own brand of instant karma.

…And thus is born another legend of the Wildest West Ever…

Bleak, moody, spectacularly action-packed and cathartic, Whisky & Hate is a smart, blackly funny yarn that will astound lovers of genre fiction and witty mash-ups.

The Western tale has long been a part of world culture and perhaps that fact has relegated the genre in too many minds to the status of a passé fascination of a bygone generation. However this fresh, hypnotically beguiling look at an overexposed idiom prove there’s still meat to found on those old bones, and cow-punching aficionados, fear-fans, lovers of nostalgia-tainted comics and seekers of the wild and new alike can all be assured that this range-riding rollercoaster of thrills and macabre mystery proves that excitement and terror still lurk in those hills and on that horizon…

Black hats, white hats, alternate worlds, haunts and horrors, stunning visuals and macabre twists – what more could you possibly ask for?
© 2011 Christian Read, Michael Maier & Gestalt Publishing Pty Ltd. All rights reserved.

Dalton City: Lucky Luke volume 3


By Morris & Goscinny, translated by Frederick W. Nolan (CineBook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-13-7

It’s hard to think of one of Europe’s most beloved and long-running comics characters being in any way controversial, but when the changing times caught up with the fastest gun in the West (“so fast he can outdraw his own shadow”) and the planet’s most laconic cowboy moved with them, the news made headlines all over the world.

Lucky Luke is a rangy, good-natured, lightning-fast cowboy who roams the fabulously mythic Old West, having light-hearted adventures with his horse Jolly Jumper and interacting with a host of historical and legendary figures of the genre.

His continued exploits over nearly seventy years have made him one of the best-selling comic characters in Europe (78 collected books and more than 300 million albums in 30 languages thus far), with spin-off toys, computer games, animated cartoons and even a plethora of TV shows and live-action movies.

He was created in 1946 by Belgian animator, illustrator and cartoonist Maurice de Bévère (“Morris”) for the 1947 Annual (L’Almanach Spirou 1947) of Le Journal de Spirou, before launching into his first weekly adventure ‘Arizona 1880′ on December 7th 1946.

Prior to that, while working at the CBA (Compagnie Belge d’Actualitiés) cartoon studio, Morris met future comics super-stars Franquin and Peyo, and worked for weekly magazine Le Moustique as a caricaturist – which is probably why (to my eyes at least) his lone star hero looks uncannily like the young Robert Mitchum who graced so many memorable mid-1940s B-movie Westerns.

Morris quickly became one of “la Bande des quatre” – The Gang of Four – which comprised creators Jijé, Will and his old comrade Franquin: the leading proponents of the loose and free-wheeling artistic style known as the “Marcinelle School” which dominated Spirou in aesthetic contention with the “Ligne Claire” style used by Hergé, EP Jacobs and other artists in Tintin Magazine.

In 1948 said Gang (all but Will) visited America, meeting US creators and sightseeing. Morris stayed for six years, meeting fellow traveller René Goscinny, scoring some work from the newly-formed EC sensation Mad and making copious notes and sketches of the swiftly vanishing Old West.

That research would resonate on every page of his life’s work.

Working solo until 1955, Morris produced another nine albums worth of affectionate sagebrush parody before reuniting with Goscinny, who became the regular wordsmith as Luke attained the dizzying heights of superstardom, commencing with ‘Des rails sur la Prairie’ (Rails on the Prairie), which began in Spirou on August 25th 1955.

In 1967 the six-gun straight-shooter switched teams, transferring to Goscinny’s own magazine Pilote with ‘La Diligence’ (The Stagecoach). Goscinny produced 45 albums with Morris before his death, from whence Morris continued both singly and with fresh collaborators.

Morris died in 2001 having drawn fully 70 adventures, plus the spin-off adventures of Rantanplan (“dumbest dog in the West” and a charming spoof of cinema canine Rin-Tin-Tin), with Achdé, Laurent Gerra, Benacquista & Pennac taking over the franchise, producing another five tales to date.

Moreover, apart from that very first adventure, Lucky (to appropriate a quote applied to the thematically simpatico Alias Smith and Jones) “in all that time… never shot or killed anyone”…

Lucky Luke first appeared in Britain syndicated to weekly comic Film Fun and again in 1967 in Giggle where he was renamed Buck Bingo. In all these venues – as well as the numerous attempts to follow the English-language successes of Tintin and Asterix albums from Brockhampton and Knight Books – Luke had a trademark cigarette hanging insouciantly from his lip, but in 1983 Morris, no doubt amidst both pained howls and muted mutterings of “political correctness gone mad”, substituted a piece of straw for the much-travelled dog-end, which garnered him an official tip of the hat from the World Health Organization.

The most recent attempt to bring Lucky Luke to our shores and shelves comes from Cinebook (who have rightly restored the foul weed to his lips on the interior pages if not the covers…) and Dalton City was the third of 50 albums (and counting), available both on paper and as e-book editions.

It was the 34th comic cowboy chronicle and Goscinny’s 25th collaboration with Morris, originally appearing in 1969 and featuring the first appearance of that most stupid of do-gooding doggy sidekicks Rantanplan. You have been warned…

The saga commences in Fenton Town, a city of utter depravity and villainy run by and for crooks, badmen and owlhoots by the cunning mastermind Dean Fenton; a mean man with the unsavoury hobby of collecting Sheriff’s stars… from their bullet-riddled bodies…

The night a lean, laconic lone rider ambled into town the murderous gambler’s fortunes changed forever, and when Luke spectacularly delivered the gang boss to justice, Fenton got 1223 years hard labour at Texas penitentiary, an imposing edifice already crammed with dozens of other varmints who failed to take Lucky Luke seriously.

And that’s where the trouble really starts…

Amongst the inmates are stupid sandbagging scallywags Averell, Jack and William Dalton and their smart, psychotic, bossy and short brother Joe, who had made things hot for our hero in the past. As they all crack rocks together the Dalton Gang are particularly influenced by Fenton’s tales of his little kingdom.

Contentedly ambling away from the prison, Luke and Jolly Jumper have no idea that an idiotic, incompetent telegraph operator is about to make their lives impossibly difficult. Handed a mis-transcribed message from the Governor to free inmate Joe Milton for Good Behaviour, the baffled Warden forcibly ejects the furiously insulted Dalton head honcho. Eventually calming down – at least as much as Joe Dalton ever can – the wily skunk promptly blows up an outer wall to liberate his scurrilous simpleton siblings and they all make tracks for the now-deserted Fenton Town.

Search parties of course trail them, but when vain, friendly and exceedingly dim prison hound Rin Tin Can absently-mindedly forgets himself and joins his quarry, the shame-faced guards have to return empty-handed…

Regretfully the Warden sends a telegram to Lucky Luke – again appallingly garbled – and the normally unflappable gunhawk is less than amused. It takes the pleadings of the Governor of Texas himself to convince him to go after his old enemies…

In the renamed DaltonCity, Joe and the boys have big plans. They’re going to operate a Mecca for all the criminals in the state: a safe place for badmen to hide and spend their stolen loot. Joe will be in charge, Jack will operate the hotel, William the stables and Averell will run the restaurant.

He even has faithful, omnivorous Rin Tin Can to test all his recipes on…

After much unlikely and unfamiliar had work the place is starting to come together when they get an even bigger boost by capturing their nemesis Lucky Luke spying on them. The hero had forgotten how stupid Rin Tin Can could be…

The hapless prisoner is then put to work testing their wares: surely if the service is good enough for Luke it will be perfect for the scum of the West? However the boys make the foolish mistake of listening to his suggestions for improvement…

The beginning of the end comes when Joe writes off to hire a singer and troupe of dancing girls. When the bombastic virago Lulu Breechloader and her associates Belle, Sugar Linda and Pearl arrive Lucky has all he needs to drive an amorous wedge into the solidarity of the felonious fellowship and, as an army of bandits and killers steadily roll into town looking for sanctuary and entertainment, they are invited to the wedding of the century…

The only persons unaware of the impending – and hard-fought for – nuptials of Joe Dalton and Lulu are the bride herself and her blithely unaware piano-playing husband…

In the ensuing chaos and explosive gunplay it isn’t hard for a smart cowboy crusader to make the biggest capture of wanted criminals in Texas’ history and ride off into the sunset with a new four-footed canine companion…

Once again the masterful wit and wicked deviousness of the indomitable hero triumphs in a splendidly intoxicating blend of all-ages action, seductive slapstick and wry cynical humour.

This is a grand old hoot in the tradition of Destry Rides again and Support Your Local Sheriff (or perhaps Paint Your Wagon, Evil Roy Slade or Cat Ballou are more your style?), superbly executed by master storytellers, and a wonderful introduction to a unique genre for modern kids who might well have missed the romantic allure of the Wild West that never was…

And in case you’re worried, even though the interior art still has our hero chawin’ on that ol’ nicotine stick, trust me, there’s very little chance of anyone craving a quick snout, but quite a high probability that they’ll be addicted to Lucky Luke Albums…

© Dargaud Editeur Paris 1969 by Goscinny & Morris. © Lucky Comics.

English translation © 2006 Cinebook Ltd. This is the new 4th printing, 2014.

Last of the Mohicans: Ten-Cent Manga Series volume 1


Freely adapted from the novel by James Fenimore Cooper by Shigeru Sugiura, edited & translated by Ryan Holmberg (PictureBox)
ISBN: 978-0-985195-6-6

Those of us in the know tend to believe that Japanese comics began with Osamu Tezuka in the years following the end of World War II – and indeed in most ways that assessment is reasonable.

However, as the superbly informative article bolstering this superb and timely translation attests, there has been a thriving manga business operating in Japan since the 1930s, and one of its greatest proponents was artist and author Shigeru Sugiura.

This superb black and white hardback volume re-presents one of his greatest triumphs as the initial volume in a proposed series of “Ten-Cent Manga” collections translated and edited by Ryan Holmberg which will highlight lost works displaying not simply indigenous Japanese virtuosity but also the influence of cross-cultural contact and pollination with other countries such as America.

In his erudite and lavishly illustrated essay and appreciation ‘Shigeru Sugiura and his Mohicans’ Holmberg describes in fascinating and forensic detail the origins of the project, the state of play in Japan pre-and-post WWII and the absorbing life and career of an artist who began as a jobbing strip cartoonist yet elevated himself to the status of Psychedelic, Surrealist Pop Art icon – one utterly addicted to American movies and comicbooks.

The treatise is fully supported by documentary excerpts from the 1950s magazines and strips Sugiura scrupulously homaged and swiped from: Jesse Marsh’s Tarzan, Alex Toth’s Johnny Thunder, and particularly Fred Ray’s Tomahawk being the most common amongst a wealth of graphic treasures synthesised and transformed into something fresh, vibrant and, most crucially, relevant to the entertainment-starved kids of occupied Japan.

Also included is an article by the artist himself, written in 1988 and describing his life-long passion for and debt of influence to American cinema – most especially ‘Silent Movies’

However, although scholarly and revelatory, the text portions of this delightful tome pale beside the sheer exuberant energy and B-movie bravura of James Fenimore Cooper’s text…

Shigeru Sugiura (1908-2000) studied painting before becoming an art assistant to comics pioneer Suihō Tagawa. By 1933 he was creating his own strips for the gags and boys’ own adventure style comics that proliferated prior to the war. He returned to the industry when hostilities ended, producing more of the same but now influenced far more by the ubiquitous comicbooks of the occupying G.I.s than the silent Westerns and baggy-pants comedies he had voraciously consumed in his youth.

His blended comedy/action stories for children achieved great success throughout the 1950s, based on well known characters such as the ninja Sasuke Sarutobi or Chinese classics like Journey to the West, and he adapted modern themes like wrestling, science fiction and even Gojira/Godzilla to his fun-filled weekly pages in a most prolific and influential career.

…And Westerns; he did lots of rootin’ tootin’ shoot ‘em up cowboy stories…

He very loosely adapted Last of the Mohicans in 1953 (when it was already a very familiar tale to Japanese readers) for Omoshiro Manga Bunko – a line of books presenting world classics of literature in comics form – albeit not exactly in any form recognisable to literary purists…

He retired in 1958 but returned in 1970, reworking old stories and creating new pieces from the fresh perspective of a fine artist, not a mere mangaka earning a precarious living.

In 1973 he was already refining and releasing his classic tales for paperback reprints when he was approached by Shōbunsha to update another. The 1953 Mohicans became the latest re-released tale, slyly reworked as a wry pastiche which kick-started Sugiura’s second career as a darling of the newborn adult manga market…

One word of warning: This is not your teacher’s Last of the Mohicans, any more than The Shining resembles Stephen King’s actual novel or the way the musical South Pacific could be logically derived from James Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific – or indeed how anything Alan Moore wrote could be found in films like From Hell or League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Sugiura’s updated 1973-74 iteration forms the majority of this chronicle; a fast-paced story of non-stop adventure, greed, pride, tragedy and whacky humour where both the heroic frontiersman Leatherstocking and noble savage Chingachgook are re-imagined as bold young lads in bad times, their desperate quest punctuated with weirdly clashing moments of slapstick, creative anachronism, cross-cultural in-jokes and plain outright peculiarity…

It all works impossibly well, beginning with the introduction of Hawkeye, ‘La Carabine Kid’: a young but doughty colonial scout and spy for the British.

The Empire is at war with the French for possession of the New World, and the Kid and his companions have suffered many reverses at the brutal hands of the Mingos – a tribe allied to France and responsible for reducing the mighty Mohicans to two survivors; Chief Chinga and his son Uncas

The plot thickens when the Mingo Chief and his manic son Magua threaten to abduct Cora and Alice, daughters of British Colonel Munro, in an attempt to force the soldier to surrender his command East Fort to the French.

After a savage assault, Hawkeye, the Mohicans and dashing Major Duncan decide to escort the girls to the safety of Fort Henry, with the hostiles close behind…

En route they pick up itinerant preacher Father Gamut, before fighting their way on through wilderness and repeated Mingo attacks, always one step ahead of ‘Magua’s Pursuit’.

The struggle is not one-sided. The wily fugitives manage to blow up a French fort and even link up with a war party of Delas who subsequently reduce the ravening Mingos to scattered remnants – but not before the pursuers succeeding in carrying off ‘The Abducted Sisters’

The scene is set for the heroes to rescue the girls and end Magua’s threat forever – but the showdown is costly and there is a high price to pay in ‘The Sad Ending’

Sheer graphic escapism, spectacular storytelling and a truly different view of a time-honoured masterpiece make this an unmissable treat for all lovers of world comics.

This book is printed in ‘read-from-back-to-front’ manga format.

© 2013 the Estate of Shigeru Sugiura. Translation and essay © 2013 Ryan Holmberg. All rights reserved.
Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: An ideal present for comics connoisseurs… 8/10

Heroic Tales: The Bill Everett Archives volume 2


By Bill Everett and others, edited and complied by Blake Bell (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-600-3

Thanks to modern technology there is a superabundance of collections featuring the works of too-long ignored founding fathers and lost masters of American comic books. A magnificent case in point is this second superb chronicle revisiting the incredible gifts of one of the greatest draughtsmen and yarn-spinners the industry has ever seen.

You could save some time and trouble by simply buying the book now rather than waste your valuable off-hours reading my blather, but since I’m keen to carp on anyway feel free to accompany me as I delineate just why this tome needs to join the books on your “favourites” shelf.

He was a direct descendent and namesake of iconoclastic poet and artist William Blake. His tragic life and awe-inspiring body of work – Bill was possibly the most technically accomplished artist in US comicbook industry – reveals how a man of privilege and astonishing pedigree was wracked by illness, an addictive personality (especially alcoholism) and sheer bad luck, nevertheless shaped an art-form and left twin legacies: an incredible body of superlative stories and art, and, more importantly, saved many broken lives saved by becoming a dedicated mentor for Alcoholics Anonymous in his later years.

William Blake Everett was born in 1917 into a wealthy and prestigious New England family. Bright and precocious, he contracted Tuberculosis when he was twelve and was dispatched to arid Arizona to recuperate.

Thus began a life-long affair with the cowboy lifestyle: a hard-drinking, smoking, tall-tale telling breed locked in a war against self-destruction, described in the fact-filled, picture-packed Introduction by Blake Bell which covers ‘The Early Years of Comics: 1938-1942’, ‘The Birth of Marvel Comics’ and ‘The Comic Book Production System’, before ‘The Heroes’ precedes a full-colour selection of incredible prototypical adventure champions with a brief essay on the set-up of Centaur Comics, Novelty Press, Eastern Color Printing, Hillman and Lev Gleason Publications…

Accompanied by the covers for Amazing Mystery Funnies volume 2 #3, 5 and 6 (March, May & June 1939, Centaur) are three outer space exploits of futuristic trouble shooter Skyrocket Steele, whilst Tibetan-trained superhero Amazing-Man offers a transformative triptych of titanic tales spanning war-torn Europe, augmented by the covers to Amazing-Man Comics #9-11 February-April 1940.

Everett’s deeply held western dreams are covered next with a brace of rootin’ tootin’ yarns starring Bull’s-Eye Bill from Novelty Press’ Target Comics #3-4 (April & May 1940) whilst from #7-9 (August-October 1940), the author smoothly switched to sophisticated suspense with master of disguise The Chameleon crushing contemporary criminals in scintillating escapades from Target Comics’ answer to The Saint, the Falcon and the Lone Wolf.

Thanks to his breakthrough Sub-Mariner sagas Everett was inextricably linked to water-based action, and Eastern Comics hired him to create human waterspout Bob Blake, Hydroman for the bimonthly Reg’lar Fellers Heroic Comics. Here, spanning issues # 6-9 (May-November 1941, with the covers for #6 and 7), are four spectacular, eerie, offbeat exploits, covering an extended battle against foreign spies and American Fifth Columnists, after which Red Reed in the Americas! (created by Bob Davis & Fitz) offers the first two chapters in a political thriller wherein a college student and his pals head South of the Border to fight Nazi-backed sedition and tyranny in a stunning tour de force first seen in Lev Gleason’s Silver Streak Comics #20 & 21 (April & May 1942).

A section of Miscellaneous and text illustrations follows, blending Western spot drawings with the eye-catching covers from Amazing Mystery Funnies volume 2 #18, Target Comics #5 and 6, Blue Bolt (vol. 1 #11, vol. 2 #1, 2 and 3) and Famous Funnies #85.

The Humorous and More describes Everett’s forays into other markets: niche sectors such as licensed comics, comedy and romance, and even returns to pulp and magazine illustration as he strove to stay one step ahead of a constantly shifting market and his own growing reputation for binges and unreliability.

‘What’s With the Crosbys?’ is a superbly rendered gossip strip from Famous Stars #2 (1950, Ziff-Davis) whilst a stunning monochrome girly-pin-up of ‘Snafu’s Lovely Ladies’ (from Snafu #3 Marvel, March 1956), and the cover of Adventures of the Big Boy #1 (also Marvel, from the same month) lead into the Back Cover of Cracked #6 (December 1958, Major Magazines) and other visual features from the Mad imitator as well as the colour cover to less successful rip-off Zany (#3, from March 1959).

Everett’s staggering ability to draw beautiful women plays well in the complete romance strip ‘Love Knows No Rules’ (Personal Love #24, November 1953 Eastern Color), and this section concludes with a gritty black and white title page piece from combat pulp War Stories #1, courtesy of Marvel’s parent company Magazine Management, September 1952.

The Horror concentrates on the post-superhero passion for scary stories: an arena where Bill Everett absolutely shone like a diamond. For over a decade he brought a sheen of irresistible quality to the generally second-rate chillers Timely/Atlas/Marvel generated in competition with genre front-runners EC Comics. It’s easy to see how they could compete and even outlive their gritty, gore-soaked competitor, with such lush and lurid examples of covers and chillingly beautiful interior pages…

Following a third informative background essay detailing his life until its cruelly early end in 1973, a choice selection of his least known and celebrated efforts opens with tale of terror ‘Hangman’s House’ (Suspense #5, November, 1950): a grim confrontation with Satanic evil, followed by futuristic Cold War shocker ‘I Deal With Murder!’ and a visit to a dark carnival of purely human wickedness in ‘Felix the Great’ (both culled from Suspense #6, January 1951).

Adventures into Weird Worlds #4 (Spring 1952) offered a laconic, sardonic glimpse into ‘The Face of Death’, whilst from the next issue (April 1952) ‘Don’t Bury Me Deep’ tapped untold depths of tension in a moodily mordant exploration of fear and premature burial. Hard on the heels of the cover to Journey Into Unknown Worlds #14 (December 1952) comes one of its interior shockers as ‘The Scarecrow’ helped an aged couple solve their mortgage problems in a most unusual manner.

The Marvel madness then concludes with a cautionary tale of ‘That Crazy Car’ from Journey into Mystery #20, December 1954, concluding a far too brief sojourn amidst arguably Everest’s most accomplished works and most professionally adept period.

This magnificent collection ends with a gallery of pages and one complete tale from the end of his career; selected from an even more uninhibited publisher attempting to cash in on the adult horror market opened by Warren Publishing with Eerie, Creepy and Vampirella.

Skywald was formed by industry veteran Israel Waldman and Everett’s old friend Sol Brodsky, tapping into the burgeoning black and white market with mature-reader and supernatural magazines Hell-Rider, Crime Machine, Nightmare, Psycho and Scream. Offered an “in” Everett produced incredible pin-ups (included here are three from Nightmare (#1, 2 & 4, December 1970-June 1971), ‘A Psycho Scene’ (Psycho #5, November, 1971) a stunning werewolf pin-up from Psycho #6 and one of revived Golden Age monstrosity ‘The Heap’ from Psycho #4.

Most welcome, however, is a magnificent 10-page monochrome masterpiece of gothic mystery ‘The Man Who Stole Eternity’ from Psycho #3, May, 1971.

Although telling, even revelatory and concluding in a happy ending of sorts, what this book really celebrates is not the life but the astounding versatility of Bill Everett. A gifted, driven man, he was a born storyteller with the unparalleled ability to make all his imaginary worlds hyper-real; and for nearly five decades his incredible art and wondrous stories enthralled and enchanted everybody lucky enough to read them.

© 2013 Fantagraphics Books. Text © 2013 Blake Bell. All art © its respective owners and holders. All rights reserved.
Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Perfect for art lovers, Marvel Zombies and addicts of pure comics magic… 9/10

The Wild West Show


By Joe R. Lansdale, Lewis Shiner, Neal Barrett Jr., Sam Glanzman, Doug Potter & many and various. Edited by Richard Klaw (Mojo Press)
ISBN: 1-885418-04-3

Once upon a time, not that very long ago, nearly all of fiction was engorged with tales of Cowboys and Indians.

As always happens with such periodic popular phenomena – such as the Swinging Sixties’ Super-Spy Boom and the recent Vampire/Werewolf Boyfriend trend – there was a tremendous amount of momentary merit, lots of utter dross and a few spectacular gems.

Most importantly once such surges have petered out there’s also generally a small cadre of frustrated devotees who mourn its passing and, on growing up, resolve to do something to venerate or even revive their lost and faded favourite fad…

After World War II the American family entertainment market – for which read comics, radio and the burgeoning television industry – became comprehensively enamoured of the clear-cut, simplistic sensibilities and easy, escapist solutions offered by Tales of the Old West; already a firmly established favourite of paperback fiction, movie serials and feature films.

I’ve often pondered on how almost simultaneously a dark, bleak, nigh-nihilistic and oddly left-leaning Film Noir genre quietly blossomed alongside that wholesome revolution, seemingly for the cynical minority of entertainment intellectuals who somehow knew that the returned veterans still hadn’t found a Land Fit for Heroes… but that’s a thought for another time and different review.

Even though comic books had encompassed Western heroes from the very start – there were cowboy strips in the premier issues of both Action Comics and Marvel Comics – the post-war years saw a vast outpouring of anthology titles with new gun-toting heroes to replace the rapidly dwindling supply of costumed Mystery Men, and true to formula, most of these pioneers ranged from transiently mediocre to outright appalling.

With every comic-book publisher turning hopeful eyes westward, it was natural that most of the historical figures would quickly find a home and of course facts counted little, as indeed they never had with cowboy literature…

Despite minor re-flowerings in the early 1970s and mid-1990s, Cowboy comics have largely vanished from our funnybook pages: seemingly unable to command enough mainstream commercial support to survive the crushing competition of garish wonder-men and the furiously seductive future.

Europe and Britain also embraced the Sagebrush zeitgeist and produced some pretty impressive work, with France and Italy eventually making the genre their own by the end of the 1960s. They still make the best straight Western strips in the world.

Happily however an American revolution in comics retailing and print technologies at the end of the 20th century allowed fans to create and disseminate relatively inexpensive comicbooks of their own and, happier still, many of those fans are incredibly talented creators in other genres. A particularly impressive case in point is this captivating lost treasure from independent creator-led outfit Mojo Press, which published some amazing and groundbreaking horror, fantasy, Western and science fiction graphic novels and books between 1994 and their much-lamented demise in 1999.

Released in 1996, The Wild West Show was Mojo’s sixth release, a black and white anthology which celebrated the classical iconography of the genre whilst gleefully playing fast and loose with the content and running roughshod over the traditional mythology of the medium.

After the informative and educational ‘Two Fists, Four Colors and Six Guns’ – a history of Western comics by Scott A. Cupp – the wide-screen wonderment begins with Joe R. Lansdale’s beguiling short story ‘Trains Not Taken’ (adapted by Neal Barrett Jr. & John Garcia) as American Ambassador-to-Japan Bill Cody strikes up a casual conversation with businessman James Hickock on a Iron Horse trip to the Dakotas.

Among the many topics are the captivating single woman both find impossible to ignore, the Japanese/American union and recent massacre of a combined US Cavalry/Samurai force by Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull,

The tragic loss of both Custer and Yoshii and other matters of great import pass the time, but the weary Hickock is too distracted to concentrate fully. His mind is filled with the troubles of his aging alcoholic wife and the disturbing dreams of another life: one where he was a buffalo hunting scout and deadly gunslinger. But those are just frustrating fancies of trains not taken. It’s all too late now – or is it…?

Lewis Shiner’s ‘Steam Engine Time’, illustrated by Doug Potter, is another glorious genre-bending snippet set in Austin, Texas in 1898, where an anonymous lad with a dream and a guitar tried to get the white folk interested in his new kind of music. Even though the far-more-welcoming Negroes in the Colored Quarter hadn’t heard of “The Blues” they accepted his unique squalling and bizarre pelvis-led dancing and understood his impatience. The kid wished that somehow he could get electricity into his guitar. Someday, maybe…

Veteran comics craftsman Sam Glanzman then turned in a silent masterpiece of action and bleak, black humour in ‘I Could Eat a Horse!’ after which Paul O. Miles and artists Newt Manwich & Michael Washburn adapted Donn Webb’s hilarious saga of a far from ordinary sidekick in ‘Cowboy Dharma’, whilst Norman Partridge & Marc Erickson revealed the West’s affinity for grotesque horror in the terrifying tale of The Head – but not much else – of murdering bandito Joaquin Murrieta in ‘For Neck or Nothin’

Short and bittersweet, ‘Custer’s Last Love’ is a smart parable of the battle of the sexes from Steve Utley & Kevin Hendryx, and the whole shooting match ends on a lyrical high with the fact-based historical drama of settler Maggie Gosher whose ‘Letters from Arizona’ in 1889 are here transformed into a powerful and memorable strip by Joe Preston, John Lucas & Martin Thomas.

The Western tale has long been a part of world culture and perhaps that fact has relegated the genre in too many minds to the status of a passé fascination of a bygone generation. However these fresh looks at an overexposed idiom prove there’s still meat to found on those old bones, and cow-punching aficionados, fans of nostalgia-tainted comics and seekers of the wild and new alike can all be assured that there’s a selection of range-riding rollercoaster thrills and moody mysteries still lurking in those hills and on that horizon…

Black hats, white hats, alternate worlds, great pictures and macabre twists – what more could you possibly ask for?
The Wild West Show © 1996 Richard Klaw. All material contained herein © its respective creators. All rights reserved.

Casey Ruggles: The Pearl Galleon


By Warren Tufts (Western Winds Productions)
No ISBN

Warren Tufts was a phenomenally talented illustrator and storyteller born too late. He is best remembered now – if at all – for creating two of the most beautiful western comics strips of all time: this one and the elegiac, iconic Lance.

Sadly the artist began his career at a time when the glory days of newspaper syndicated strips were gradually giving way to the television age and an era of ostensibly free family home entertainment. Had he been working scant years earlier in adventure’s Golden Age he would undoubtedly be a household name – at least in the dusty, book- stacked shacks and basements of comics fans…

Born in Fresno, California on Christmas Day 1925, Tufts was a superb, meticulous draughtsman with an uncanny grasp of character, a wicked sense of storytelling and a great ear for dialogue whose art was effective and grandiose in the representational manner, favourably compared to both Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant and the best of Alex Raymond. On May 22nd 1949 he began Casey Ruggles – a Saga of the West as a full-colour Sunday page, supplementing it with a black and white daily strip on September 19th of that year.

Tufts worked for United Features Syndicate, owners of such popular strips as Fritzi Ritz and L’il Abner, and his lavish, expansive tales were crisply told and highly engaging, but – since he was a compulsive perfectionist – he regularly worked 80-hour weeks at the drawing board and often missed deadlines. This led him to often use assistants such as Al Plastino, Rueben Moreira and Edmund Good. Established veterans Nick Cardy and Alex Toth also spent time working as “ghosts” on the series.

Due to a falling-out over rights and property exploitation, Tufts left United Features and his first wonderful Western creation in 1954. Thereafter Al Carreño continued the feature until its inevitable demise in October 1955. The departure came because TV producers wanted to turn the strip into a weekly television show but the syndicate demurred, suggesting the “free” show would harm the popularity of the strip.

At that time most cartoonists and syndicates feared the new medium (correctly as it turned out), convinced it would cause the destruction of their particular form of mass entertainment…

During a year spent creating the political satire feature ‘Lone Spaceman’, Tufts formed his own syndicate for his next and greatest project, Lance (probably the last great full page Sunday strip in American newspapers, and another series crying out for a high-quality collection) before moving peripherally into comic-books, working extensively for West Coast outfit Dell/Gold Key, where he drew various westerns and cowboy TV show tie-ins like Wagon Train, Korak son of Tarzan, The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan and a long run on the Pink Panther comic. Eventually he quit drawing completely, working instead as an actor, voice-actor and eventually moved into animation on such shows as Challenge of the Super Friends.

Tufts also had a lifelong passion for flying, even to the point of designing and building his own planes. In 1982 whilst piloting one, he crashed and was killed.

The Pacific Comics Club collected many “lost strip classics” during the 1980s, including six volumes (to my knowledge) of Casey Ruggles adventures. This fifth stupendous black and white compilation (approximately 15 inches x 10 inches), edited as ever by Dr. Henry Yeo, contains stories that highlighted Tufts’ splendid grip on taut plots, passion for bold adventure, grasp of irony and love of comedy; showing the author at the height of his creativity from early 1953 to January 1954. Although nobody knew it, the wonderful series’ days were numbered…

Casey Ruggles – a Saga of the West used authentic Western motifs and scenarios to tell a broad range of stories stretching from shoot-‘em-up dramas to comedy yarns and even the occasional horror story. It debuted as a centenary tribute to the California Gold Rush and its ever-capable hero was a dynamic ex-cavalry sergeant and sometime US Marshal making his way to that promised land to find his fortune (this was the narrative engine of both features until 1950 where daily and Sunday strips divided into separate tales), meeting historical personages like Millard Fillmore, William Fargo, Jean Lafitte and Kit Carson in realistically gripping two-fisted action-adventures and devastatingly wry and sharp light comedy episodes.

Here, however, the drama opens with an enthralling and timely conspiracy thriller as our hero, freshly sacked as a US Marshal, takes a job ferrying hides from Mexico for slick businessman Cal Naglee. Although deeply suspicious, the hero can’t find anything amiss in the scheme until he is arrested for causing the deaths of a dozen miners.

Whilst in jail he discovers that an unknown mastermind has been selling the packing material protecting the worthless animal skins – something called “coca leaves” – as a health supplement labelled “Ruggles Patented Leaves of Strength”…

The wonder herb, when chewed, enables workers to endure arduous 18-hour shifts and many unscrupulous mine owners have been forcing their underpaid wage-slaves to consume the stuff in their greedy efforts to increase productivity.

However when men and women started dying all the blame somehow settled on Casey’s broad shoulders. Nobody but the sheriff believes the hero when he uncovers the true villain behind the plot, somebody with a deep and abiding grudge against the former Marshal, and as damning “evidence” continues to pile up around him, Ruggles is indicted and held for trial.

With due process utterly thwarted and his hidden nemesis trying to stir up a lynch mob, Casey has no choice but to break jail and take matters into his own capable hands before justice is done and the true villains exposed…

‘Leaves of Strength’ originally ran from May 25th to August 22nd 1953, and was promptly followed by a delightful high-adventure romp as Tufts seamlessly switched tone and timbre to craft a yarn as imaginatively fanciful as any conceived by H. Rider Haggard or Rudyard Kipling.

‘The Spanish Pearl Galleon’ ran from August 24th to December 5th and introduced a new twist on the concept of romantic interest as the still-itinerant and unemployed Casey hauls food to a ship moored at the San Francisco pier and discovers the good ship Dolphin conceals a woman held captive.

The gallant soon frees desperate aristocrat Julalee from her perilous situation and is promptly embroiled in her impossible quest for a fabled treasure ship which somehow foundered in the Colorado Desert. The wreck was carrying a huge consignment of pearls and men have hunted it for centuries, but she and her brother had a map – at least until the scurvy Captain Angel killed her sibling and took it…

With the ruthlessly persistent rogue hard on their heels, the new partners resume her mission and head into the deep desert, encountering and overcoming incredible threats as they continually clash with the pursuing Angel and the worst the elements can offer before, in true adventurers’ fashion, they win less than what they wanted whilst the villains get all that they deserve…

With the epic trek over, however, Julalee is reluctant to head home…

The final tale in this stupendous monochrome collection, originally running from December 7th 1953 to January 2nd 1954, is a marvellously sentimental and devilishly funny crime-caper with a gloriously rough-and-ready seasonal twist as ‘Santy Claus’ came to town and robbed the brand new bank where Julalee had stored the few pearls she had salvaged from her recent quest. He also took all the ready cash his big sack could hold.

As Julie and Casey trail the old reprobate and his ill-gotten gains to the Indian orphanage he tirelessly struggled to keep open, the Sheriff didn’t fret much. After all, that sweetly cantankerous old coot did it every year and no one ever got hurt…

Human intrigue and fallibility, bombastic action and a taste for the ludicrous reminiscent of John Ford or Raoul Walsh movies made Casey Ruggles the ideal western strip for the discerning post-war audience and all of its brilliance and charm remains, happily undiminished by time or today’s post-modern sensibilities.

Westerns are a uniquely perfect vehicle for action, drama and humour and Casey Ruggles is one of the very best produced in America: easily a match for the generally superior European material like Tex or Lieutenant Blueberry.

Surely the beautiful clean-cut lines, chiaroscuric flourishes, sheer artistic ingenuity and easy veracity of Warren Tufts can never be truly out of vogue? These great tales are desperately deserving of a wider following, and at a time when so many great strips are finally being revisited, I’m praying some canny publisher knows another good thing when he sees it…
© 1949, 1950, 1953 United Features Syndicate, Inc. Collection © 1981 Western Winds Productions. All Rights Reserved.

Golden Age Western Comics


By various, compiled and edited by Steven Brower (PowerHouse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-57687-594-0

There was a time, not that very long ago, when all of popular fiction was engorged with tales of Cowboys and Indians.

As always happens with such periodic phenomena – such as the Swinging Sixties Super-Spy Boom and perhaps the more recent Vampire/Werewolf Boyfriend trend (too soon to tell, but I’m sharpening stakes, stocking silverware and having some cola and Perrier blessed, just in case…) – there’s a tremendous amount of dross and a few spectacular gems.

On such occasions there’s also generally a small amount of wonderful but not-quite-life-changing material that gets lost in the shuffle: carried along with the overwhelming surge of material pumped out by TV, film, comics and book producers and even the toy, game and record industries.

After World War II the American family entertainment market – for which read comics, radio and the burgeoning television industry – became comprehensively enamoured of the clear-cut, simplistic sensibilities and easy, escapist solutions offered by Tales of the Old West; already a firmly established favourite of paperback fiction, movie serials and feature films.

I’ve often pondered on how almost simultaneously a dark, bleak, nigh-nihilistic and oddly left-leaning Film Noir genre quietly blossomed alongside that wholesome revolution, seemingly for the cynical minority of entertainment intellectuals who somehow knew that the returned veterans still hadn’t found a Land Fit for Heroes… but that’s a thought for another time and different graphic novel review.

Even though comic books had encompassed western heroes from the very start – there were cowboy strips in the premier issues of both Action Comics and Marvel Comics – the post-war years saw a vast outpouring of anthology titles with new gun-toting heroes to replace the rapidly dwindling supply of costumed Mystery Men, and true to formula, most of these pioneers ranged from transiently mediocre to outright appalling.

With every comic-book publisher turning hopeful eyes westward, it was natural that most of the historical figures would quickly find a home and of course facts counted little, as indeed they never had with cowboy literature…

Europe and Britain also embraced the Sagebrush zeitgeist and produced some pretty impressive work, with France and Italy eventually making the genre their own by the end of the 1960s. Still and all there was the rare gleam of gold and also a fair share of highly acceptable silver in the American tales, and as always, the crucial difference was due to the artists and writers involved…

With all the top-line characters and properties such as Tomahawk, Rawhide Kid, or the Lone Ranger still fully owned by big concerns, this delightful and impressive hardback compilation gathers a broad selection of the second-string (call ‘em Sunday matinee or B-movie comics if you want) material and, although there’s no Kinstler or Kubert or Kirby classics, what editor Steven Brower has re-presented here in lavish, scanned full-colour is a magnificent meat-and-potatoes snapshot of what kids of the time would have been avidly absorbing.

Sadly records are awfully spotty for this period and genre but I’m cocky enough to offer a few guesses whenever the creator credits aren’t available and I’m relatively sure of my footing…

After an informative introduction from Christopher Irving and an introductory essay by Brower, the rip-roaring yet wholesome fun and thrills begin with Texas Tim, Ranger (from an undesignated issue of Blazing West in 1948), part of writer/Editor Richard Hughes’ superb American Comics Group line, and a veritable one-man band of creative trend following. In this sadly uncredited yarn (perhaps drawn by Edmond Good).

Hughes is an unsung hero of the industry, competing with the Big Boys in spy, humour, western, horror and superhero titles well into the 1960s and writing the bulk of the stories himself.

Here the Texan lawman tracks down rustlers and foils a plot to frame an innocent man in a rollicking 8-page romp after which movie star Lash LaRue solves the case of ‘The King’s Ransom’ in an adventure stuffed with chases, kidnapping, fights, framed Indians and prodigal sons, originally from #56 (July 1955 and perhaps drawn by John Belfi or Tony Sgroi) of his own licensed title. Fawcett had a huge stable (I said it and I ain’t sorry, neither) of Western screen stars, and when they quit comics in 1953 the gems that didn’t go to DC – such as Hopalong Cassidy – went to Capitol/Charlton Comics who purchased the bulk of retired comics publishers inventory during the 1950’s…

Charlton was always a minor player in the comics leagues, paying less, selling less, and generally caring less about cultivating a fan base than the major players. But they managed to discover and train more big names in the 1960s than either Marvel or DC, and created a vast and solid canon of memorable characters, concepts and genre material. Almost all their stuff was written by Joe Gill or Pat Masulli, although in the 1960s young tyros like Roy Thomas, Steve Skeates, Dave Kaler and Denny O’Neil all got a healthy first bite of the cherry there, and I’m fairly certain “King of Comics” Paul S. Newman was the regular Larue scripter…

‘Magic Arrow Rides the Pony Express’ hails from Youthful Publications’ Indian Fighter (1950) illustrated by S. B. Rosen and detailing how the young Seneca chief and all-around “Good Injun” saves the famed postal service from unscrupulous badmen armed only with his quiver of enchanted shafts.

Fawcett also published screen star Tom Mix Western and from #15, 1949 comes ‘Tom Mix and the Desert Maelstrom’ probably drawn by Carl Pfeufer and John Jordan – as most of the strips were – wherein the legendary lawman braved a stupendous sandstorm to capture bank-robbers and save a wounded rodeo rider from destitution.

Lots of publishers had Jesse James series and the one sampled here comes from Charlton’s Cowboy Western Comics #39, (June 1955, probably written by Gill & illustrated by William M. Allison). In it the always misunderstood gunslinger was framed for a stage hold-up…

Magazine Enterprises produced some the very best comics of the 1950s and from Dan’l Boone #4, December 1955 comes the stirring saga of pioneer America ‘Peril Shadows the Forest Trail’, wherein the mythical scout and woodsman ferrets out a murderous white turncoat in a timeless thriller illustrated by the hugely undervalued Joe Certa.

‘Buffalo Belle’ also comes from the 1948 Blazing West and again displays Hughes’ mastery of the short story strip as a miniskirt-wearing agent of  justice deals with a dragged-up bandit in a terrific yarn possibly limned by Max Elkan or even Charles Sultan…

Also from that ACG title are the lovely ‘Little Lobo the Bantam Buckeroo’ – illustrated by Leonard Starr in his transitional Milton Caniff drawing style – depicting the tempestuous boy’s battle against fur thieves, and the charming ‘Tenderfoot’ (by a frustratingly familiar artist I can’t identify, but who might be Paul Cooper) with the sissy-looking Eastern Dude dispensing western vengeance to bullies and bandits alike…

‘Little Eagle: Soldier in the Making’ also comes from Indian Fighter – illustrated with near-abstract verve by Manny Stallman – and heads firmly into fantasy as a youthful brave equipped with magic wings tackles renegade brave Black Dog before he sets the entire frontier ablaze with war…

Avon Books started in 1941, created when the American News Corporation bought out pulp magazine publishers J.S. Ogilvie, and their output was famously described by Time Magazine as “westerns, whodunits and the kind of boy-meets-girl story that can be illustrated by a ripe cheesecake jacket.”

By 1945 the company had launched a comic-book division as fiercely populist as the parent company with over 100 short-lived genre titles such as Atomic Spy Cases, Bachelor’s Diary, Behind Prison Bars, Campus Romance, Gangsters and Gun Molls, Slave Girl Comics, War Dogs of the U.S. Army, White Princess of the Jungle and many others, all aimed – even the funny animal titles like Space Mouse and Spotty the Pup! – at a slightly older and more discerning audience and all drawn by some of the best artists working at the time.

Many if not most sported lush painted covers that were both eye-catching and beautiful.

Six of their titles had respectable runs: Peter Rabbit, Eerie, Wild Bill Hickock, outrageous “Commie-busting” war comic Captain Steve Savage, Fighting Indians of the Wild West and their own magnificently illustrated fictionalised adventures of Jesse James.

‘Terror at Taos’ comes from Avon’s Kit Carson #6 (March 1955, but reprinted here from Fighting Indians of the Wild West) and pits the famed scout against corrupt officials and traitorous wagon masters in the Commancheria territory, all lavishly rendered by the superb Jerry McCann.

Next is ‘Young Falcon and the Swindlers’ from Fawcett’s Gabby Hayes Western #17 (April 1950) by an artist doing a very creditable impression of Norman Maurer, wherein the lost prince of the Truefeather Tribe tracked down crooked assayers who bilked him of his rightful pay, after which ‘Annie Oakley’ (Cowboy Western Stories # 38, April/May 1952) finds the famed sharpshooter hunting bandits in a canny 4-page quickie illustrated by Jerry Iger under the pen-name Jerry Maxwell.

Charlton’s back catalogue also provided ‘Flying Eagle in Golden Treachery’ from Death Valley #9 October 1955, as the noble brave foils white claim-jumpers togged up like Indians, and ‘Cry for Revenge’ (Cowboy Western #49 May/June 1954) saw old Fawcett star Golden Arrow hunt down more murderous whites posing as Red Men to drive settlers off their land in a gripping (Gill?) yarn illustrated by Dick Giordano & Vince Alascia.

‘Chief Black Hawk and his Dogs of War’ was a historical puff-piece also from the aforementioned Kit Carson #6 with artist Harry Larsen delineating the rise and fall of the legendary Sauk war chief after which Giordano & Alascia’s ‘Triple Test’ (Cowboy Western #49 May/June 1954) laconically describes the dangers of marrying in a rare, wry light-hearted tale from an age of shoot-and-swipe sagas…

Gabby Hayes Western #17 also provided an adventure of the World’s Most Successful Sidekick himself (seriously: Hayes was the comedy stooge to almost every cowboy in Tinsel Town, from Roy Rogers and Hopalong Cassidy to Randolph Scott and John Wayne).

‘The Big Game Hunt’ is a fun-filled riot as the garrulous old coot takes the wind out of snobby globe-trotting safari addict and saves the life of a cantankerous moose in a charming rib-tickler probably written by Rod Reed or Irwin Schoffman and illustrated by Leonard Frank.

The last tales in this tome are from Charlton; starting with the Giordano & Alascia ‘Breakout in Rondo Prison’ (Range Busters #10 September 1955) wherein hard-riding trio Scott, Chip and Doodle were framed for robbery in a pokey cow-town and forced to fight their way to freedom after which the action ends with a superb costumed cowboy thriller ‘For Talon’s Nest’ from Masked Raider #2 (August 1955) wherein the mystery gunslinger is forced to defend his pet Eagle’s honour in a classy classic drawn by Mike Sekowsky (and possibly inked by Standard Comics comrade Mike Peppe?)

Sadly there’s no inclusion of Charlton’s superb and long-running Billy the Kid, Gunmaster or Cheyenne Kid features but hopefully there’s the possibility of a follow-up volume dedicated to them…?

Within these pages cow-punching aficionados (no, it’s neither a sexual proclivity nor an Olympic sport) and all fans of charming and nostalgia-stuffed comics can (re)discover a selection of range-riding rollercoaster rides about misunderstood fast-guns or noble savages compelled to take up arms against an assorted passel of low-down no-goods and scurvy owlhoots, and all the other myriad tropes and touchstones of Western mythology. Black hats, white hats, great pictures and traditional action values – what more could you possibly ask for?

Text, compilation and editing © 2012 Steven Brower. Foreword © 2012 Christopher Irving. All rights reserved.

Casey Ruggles: The Marchioness of Grofnek


By Warren Tufts (Western Winds Productions)
No ISBN

The newspaper strip Casey Ruggles – a Saga of the West used Western motifs and scenarios to tell a broad range of stories stretching from shoot-‘em-up dramas to comedy yarns and even the occasional horror story.

The strip debuted in 1949, a centenary tribute to the California Gold Rush, and it’s ever-capable hero was a dynamic ex-cavalry sergeant and sometime US Marshal making his way to that promised land to find his fortune (this was the narrative engine of both features until 1950 where daily and Sunday strips divided into separate tales), meeting historical personages like Millard Fillmore, William Fargo, Jean Lafitte and Kit Carson in gripping two-fisted action-adventures.

Warren Tufts was a phenomenally talented illustrator and storyteller born too late. He is best remembered now – if at all – for creating two of the most beautiful western comics strips of all time: Ruggles and the elegiac, iconic Lance.

Sadly he began his career at a time when the glory days of newspaper syndicated strips were gradually giving way to the television age and ostensibly free family home entertainment. Had he been working scant years earlier in adventure’s Golden Age he would undoubtedly be a household name – at least in comics fans’ homes.

Born in Fresno, California on Christmas Day, 1925 Tufts was a superb, meticulous draughtsman with an uncanny grasp of character, a wicked sense of storytelling and a great ear for dialogue whose art was effective and grandiose in the representational manner, favourably compared to both Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant and the best of Alex Raymond.

On May 22nd 1949 he began Ruggles as a full-colour Sunday page and supplemented it with a black and white daily strip on September 19th of that year.

Tufts worked for the United Features Syndicate, owners of such popular strips as Fritzi Ritz and L’il Abner, and his lavish, expansive tales were crisply told and highly engaging, but – a compulsive perfectionist – he regularly worked 80-hour weeks at the drawing board and often missed deadlines. This led him to use many assistants such as Al Plastino, Rueben Moreira and Edmund Good. Established veterans Nick Cardy and Alex Toth also spent time working as “ghosts” on the series.

Due to a falling-out with his syndicate Tufts left his first wonderful western creation in 1954 and Al Carreño continued the feature until its demise in October 1955. The departure came when TV producers wanted to turn the strip into a weekly television show but apparently United Features baulked, suggesting the show would harm the popularity of the strip.

During a year spent creating the political satire feature ‘Lone Spaceman’ Tufts formed his own syndicate for his next and greatest project, Lance (probably the last great full page Sunday strip and another series crying out for a high-quality collection) before moving peripherally into comic-books, working extensively for West Coast outfit Dell/Gold Key, where he drew various westerns and cowboy TV show tie-ins like Wagon Train, Korak son of Tarzan, The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan and a long run on the Pink Panther comic.

Eventually he quit drawing completely, working as an actor, voice-actor and eventually in animation on such shows as Challenge of the Super Friends.

Tufts had a lifelong passion for flying, even designing and building his own planes. In 1982 whilst piloting one, he crashed and was killed.

The Pacific Comics Club collected many “lost strip classics” at the start of the 1980s, including six volumes (to my knowledge) of Casey Ruggles adventures. This fourth stupendous black and white volume (approximately 15 inches x 10 inches) contains stories that highlighted Tufts’ splendid grasp or irony and love of comedy…

The first, however, is a stirring and chilling cowboy thriller featuring a legendary Western figure return of an old foe. ‘A Real Nice Guy’ originally ran from 5th January to 23rd February 1953, and found Ruggles and old scout Christopher “Kit” Carson heading towards Shasta City in a deadly snowstorm just as a devoted and loving wife murders the sheriff to free her murderous husband from the brand new Jail. As the blizzard hits hard the fugitives take refuge in a line-shack also sheltering Carson and Ruggles…

When the storm subsides the killers steal the heroes’ guns, horses, boots and even Carson’s trousers to combat the cold, leaving them to die as they flee. However the determined lawmen break free and track the pair through horrific polar conditions in a tense and deadly race to survive before the next lethal ice storm strikes…

The second adventure jumps from fraught life and dearth to something far more serious as ‘The Marchioness of Grofnek’ arrives in Shasta in all her resplendent, Eastern European glory, with an army of nobles, pots of cash and jewels and a burning desire to marry again…

This surreal and hilariously wry yarn ran from February 24th to 11th April and brilliantly depicted the true nature of friendship as Carson tried to get Ruggles hitched and the canny Marshall countered every ploy with one oh his own…

The final tale in this stupendous monochrome collection is a marvellous slapstick wheeze which completely ignores the titular hero to feature the further exploits of a returning “villain”.

Running from 13th April – 23rd May 1953, ‘The Highwaymen’ marked the reappearance of Old Ancient (a grizzled dime-store owlhoot and wicked parody of silver screen cowboy William Boyd whose super-sanitized Hopalong Cassidy wowed generations of movie and TV viewers who might perhaps have been better served by picking up a history book instead) who offered to help out destitute blacksmith Cyril by teaching him the finer points of hold-ups, stage robbing and banditry. Of course the mouthy old coot had no chance of making a success of his criminal crash-course but did provide some of the most side-splitting cock-ups ever seen on a comics page.

Equal parts Keystone Cops, Destry Rides Again, Buster Keaton’s Go West and Carry on Cowboy, this delightfully fast-paced and razor-barbed spoof perfectly closes this charming, twice-lost comicstrip treasure-trove…

Human intrigue and fallibility, bombastic action and a taste for the ludicrous reminiscent of John Ford or Raoul Walsh movies make Casey Ruggles the ideal western strip for the discerning modern audience. Westerns are a uniquely perfect vehicle for drama and comedy, and Casey Ruggles is one of the very best produced in America: easily a match for the generally superior European material like Tex or Lieutenant Blueberry.

Surely the beautiful clean-cut lines, chiaroscuric flourishes and sheer artistic imagination and veracity of Warren Tufts can never be truly out of vogue? These great tales are desperately deserving of a wider following, and at a time when so many great strips are finally being revisited, I’m praying some canny publisher knows another good thing when he sees it…
© 1949, 1950, 1953 United Features Syndicate, Inc. Collection © 1981 Western Winds Productions. All Rights Reserved.

Lucky Luke volume 2: Ghost Town


By Morris & Goscinny, translated by Luke Spear (CineBook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-12-0

It’s hard to think of one of Europe’s most beloved and long-running comics characters being in any way controversial, but when the changing times caught up with the fastest gun in the West (“so fast he can outdraw his own shadow”) and the planet’s most laconic cowboy moved with them, the news made headlines all over the world.

Lucky Luke is a rangy, good-natured, lightning fast cowboy who roams the fabulously mythic Old West, having light-hearted adventures with his horse Jolly Jumper and Rantanplan (“dumbest dog in the West” and a charming spoof of cinema canine Rin-Tin-Tin), interacting with a host of historical and legendary figures of the genre.

His continued exploits over more than 66 years have made him one of the best-selling comic characters in Europe, (78 collected books and more than 300 million albums in 30 languages thus far), with spin-off games, computer games, animated cartoon and even a plethora of TV shows and live-action movies.

He was created in 1946 by Belgian animator, illustrator and cartoonist Maurice de Bévère – AKA Morris – for the 1947 Annual (L’Almanach Spirou 1947) of Le Journal de Spirou, launching into his first weekly adventure ‘Arizona 1880′ on December 7th 1946.

Before then, while working at the CBA (Compagnie Belge d’Actualitiés) cartoon studio Morris met future comics super-stars Franquin and Peyo, and worked for weekly magazine Le Moustique as a caricaturist (to my eyes Lucky Luke looks uncannily like the young Robert Mitchum who graced so many mid-1940s B-movie Westerns).

He quickly became one of “la Bande des quatre”, or Gang of Four, which comprised the creators Jijé, Will and his old comrade Franquin, and who were the leading proponents of the loose and free-wheeling artistic style known as the “Marcinelle School” which dominated Spirou in aesthetic contention with the “Ligne Claire” style used by Hergé, EP

Jacobs and other artists in Tintin Magazine.

In 1948 the Gang (all but Will) visited America, meeting US creators and sightseeing, and Morris stayed for six years, meeting René Goscinny, scoring some work from the newly-formed EC sensation Mad and making copious notes and sketches of the swiftly vanishing Old West. That research would resonate on every page of his life’s work.

Working alone until 1955 when he reunited with Goscinny, Morris produced another nine albums worth of affectionate sagebrush parody before, working in perfect unison, Luke attained the dizzying heights of superstardom, commencing with ‘Des rails sur la Prairie’ (Rails on the Prairie), which began in Spirou on August 25th 1955.

In 1967 the straight-shooter switched teams, transferring to Goscinny’s own magazine Pilote with ‘La Diligence’ (The Stagecoach). Goscinny produced 45 albums with Morris before his death, from when Morris continued both alone and with fresh collaborators.

Morris died in 2001 having drawn fully 70 adventures, plus the spin-off adventures of Rantanplan, with Achdé, Laurent Gerra, Benacquista & Pennac taking over the franchise, producing another five tales to date.

Moreover, apart from that very first adventure Lucky, to appropriate a quote applied to the thematically simpatico Alias Smith and Jones “in all that time he never shot or killed anyone”…

Lucky Luke first appeared in Britain syndicated in the weekly comic Film Fun and again in 1967 in Giggle where he was renamed Buck Bingo. In all these venues as well as the numerous attempts to follow the English-language successes of Tintin and Asterix albums from Brockhampton and Knight Books, Luke had a trademark cigarette hanging insouciantly from his lip, but in 1983 Morris – no doubt amidst both pained howls and muted mutterings of “political correctness gone mad” – substituted a piece of straw for the much-travelled dog-end, which garnered him an official tip of the hat from the World Health Organization.

The most recent attempt to bring Lucky Luke to our shores and shelves comes from Cinebook, with Ghost Town the second of the 28 (and counting) available albums, originally collected in 1965 as La Ville fantôme, the 25th adventure and Goscinny’s 16th collaboration with the artist.

As Luke rides the range he encounters two tarred-and-feathered gamblers Denver Miles and Colorado Bill. Despite instantly assessing their scurrilous natures – and of course they do try to rob him – he gives them assistance and a ride to the nearest outpost of civilisation.

That happens to be the deserted mining town of Gold Hill where they encounter an embittered old miner dubbed Old Powell who chases them off at gunpoint.

A little further on they reach Bingo Creek where they discover the mad old coot was once the victim of a gold-salting scheme (hiding gold on worthless land and getting a sucker to buy it) but stubbornly refused to quit, convinced that somewhere in his mountain the motherlode still lay hidden…

Denver and Colorado are incorrigible crooks and after Lucky exposes their fleecing of the townsfolk the bent gamblers try to backshoot him, only to fall foul of Powell’s skill with a rifle…

Eternally grateful Lucky determines to befriend and assist the irascible old coot, despite his surly protests, whilst Denver and Colorado plan the perfect revenge by attempting to steal his mine and then re-salt it before selling it to some other sucker…

To this end they try buy up the claim, have Old Powell hanged for witchcraft, frame him for cattle-rustling and even plant the stolen cash-register from the saloon in his mine.

But they haven’t reckoned on the ingenuity of Lucky Luke; a man so swift and sharp that he can outdraw his own shadow… Against the masterful wits and wicked wits of our indomitable hero the gamblers are ultimately helpless in this splendidly intoxicating blend of all-ages action, slapstick and wry cynical humour.

Although the dialogue is still a bit dry in places, this is a grand old hoot in the tradition of Destry Rides again and Support Your Local Sheriff (or perhaps Paint Your Wagon, Evil Roy Slade or Cat Ballou are more your style?) superbly executed by master storytellers and a wonderful introduction to a unique genre for modern kids who might well have missed the romantic allure of the mythical Wild West.

And in case you’re worried, even though the interior art still has our hero chawin’ on that ol’ nicotine stick, trust me, there’s very little chance of anyone craving a quick snout, but quite a high probability that they’ll want more Lucky Luke Albums…
© Dargaud Editeur Paris 1971 by Goscinny & Morris. © Lucky Comics. English translation © 2006 Cinebook Ltd.