Western Comics – Richard Sheaf

Many thanks to Richard for responding to Mike & Pete’s first round of the Comics Genre World Cup where Western was beaten by Crime.
https://comicartpodcast.wordpress.com/2020/04/02/episode-73-steve-macmanus/

Trying to realise just how popular the Western genre was in the 1950s is increasingly hard to do these days without the aid of an aged relative, and yet the ‘50s was the decade when the cowboy reigned supreme – whether in movies, books or comics . While in comics he might not have been at the very top of the popularity charts (a space reserved for Dan Dare and the weekly multi-million selling Beano) the cowboy certainly seemed top in terms of the quantity of material produced.

Take for instance this reference work above – this is an A5 sized guide to some of the Westerns comic produced by one publisher. Some of the comics. From one publisher.The photo on the left shows you the number of characters that had their own titles. The book is 250+ pages long, on many pages there are 9 images of different comics, on many pages there are 6-9 images of particular issues. Even allowing for their being only an average of 4 comics per page you’d still have 1000+ comics included in this book. Which is an incomplete guide to the western material that a single publisher produced. Amazing stuff. Below is a typical double-page spread from the book.

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While most of the material that Miller produced was American reprints there were ‘homegrown’ Western strips being produced in the UK. Foremost, and longest running, among these was the strip ‘Riders of the Range’ that ran in Eagle from 1950-62. Written by Charles Chilton the strip was an adaptation of his radio programme of the same name. When the strip began the main characters, Jeff Arnold and Luke, are cowboys associated with the 6T6 ranch and the stories are based around that range, however over time the stories expanded to see Jeff & Co. leave the range and travel all over the old west and become embroiled in adventures that featured real-life characters (Billy the Kid) and situations (The war with the Sioux).

Riders had 3 main artists – Jack Daniel, Angus Scott and Frank Humphris. Daniel’s style (below, left) was particularly distinctive with its thick black lines, big hats and an impressionistic style that was not to everyone’s taste.

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Artist Jack Daniel

Angus Scott succeeded Daniel and his style was more in keeping with what the readers might have expected a comic strip to look like, however Scott was only at the helm for a short while before the strip became the purview of artist Frank Humphris. Humprhris (like writer Charles Chilton) was a Wild West aficionado and his pages not only screamed historical authenticity (which wasn’t always the case with the stories) but they also looked gloriously bright (below). The clever use of red for Jeff Arnold’s shirt always helped him stand out amongst the brown hues of the men, the tents, the scenery and the native Americans.

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Artist Frank Humphris

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High-res sketch from one of Frank Humphris sketchbooks

Note not all western strips in Eagle were a triumph – the early strip ‘Seth and Shorty – cowboys’ features some particularly clunky dialogue…

Seth – Shorty! The redskins have broken out of the reservation. Come on!! Let’s find the boss!

Shorty – Gosh!! Won’t he rage!

…and didn’t last long in Eagle

Humphris would return to Eagle to illustrate the other long-running Western strip, Blackbow the Cheyenne, from the early 1960s to the end of the comic in 1969

Richard Sheaf – http://boysadventurecomics.blogspot.com/

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