Let's Talk Comics

Let's Talk Comics
With Rob Lamberti
Cowboys once ruled the range.
Their six-guns blazing under a hot sun, roping bucking broncos and trying to control women wilder than the territory.
But now, cowboys barely get respect.
Tough nomads who roamed the dusty trails with six-shooters and guitars once commanded a large section of the comic book shelf, but today the genre barely gets a nod.
Indeed, many of the big names of the 1940s and ‘50s, like Gene Autry, ruled the movie houses, the radio airwaves and the comics and pulps. But today characters like Gabby Haynes and the Cisco Kid invoke blank stares except among those aficionados steeped in American folklore.
Indeed, in 2012, guide values of the top western genre books either saw no increase, or decreased in value. The top western comic, Gene Autry Comics 1, remained static at $10,000 in near mint, while the second most valuable, Hopalong Cassidy 1 dropped by an astounding 20 per cent to $6,000 guide. A near mint minus slabbed copy of Hopalong 1 sold at a Heritage Auction for $2,868 last year.
The horseshoes fell off another loser, Red Ryder Victory. A very fine copy of Red Ryder Victory Patrol 1943, a promotional comic for Langendorf Bread which guides for $2,000 in near mint and about $825 in very fine, sold in a January auction go for $657.
But of course there are exceptions. Marvel Golden Age westerns seem to hold their value and push beyond guide prices for third party appraised books. Two-Gun Kid 1 is gaining in importance as a key book, and Rawhide Kid 1, too, is holding its value. Both demand multiples of guide value if slabbed.
An online comics dealer listed his top 50 sellers, and they include all comic eras, but the tally doesn't include one western title. Granted, while the genre will be more popular in certain parts of the continent, particularly where cowboys still roam, the decline in interest is disappointing.
Some of the best comic artists worked in the genre, including Russ Heath, Jack Kirby, Syd Shores, Dick Ayers, Joe Maneely, Doug Wildey, John Severin, Russ Manning, John Buscema, Alex Toth, Joe Kubert and Frank Frazetta. That only scratches the surface of the talent that drew the dusty West.
But a soft market presents an opportunity for collectors who want to delve into the genre. There are many titles worth exploring for story lines and artwork. DC Comics has a long history in westerns, such as All-Star Western and Weird Western Tales, as does Marvel, including The Rawhide Kid and Two-Gun Kid.
But some of the best work belongs to other companies, including Dell and Gold Key. Those two companies focused much of its westerns on movie or television titles, including The Wild, Wild West, Bonanza, Maverick, The Lone Ranger and Western Roundup. Dell also included a number of renditions of stories written by prolific Western genre writer Zane Grey.
The names of the genre’s heroes include Gene, Dale Evans, Roy Rogers, the Cisco Kid and many others. They have longevity and are ingrained and intertwined in American folklore. Many Canadians remember listening to singing cowboys and watching black-hatted bandits fire their six-gun shooter about 15 times at a fleeing white hatted hero on their grainy black and white televisions. And Europeans love a good western yarn.
Comic companies keep the characters alive because although the markets for golden and silver age books have weaken, the stories continue to resonant with readers. The genre may not be on the top of most collectors’ lists, but for those with a desire to travel along the trails, it's a great time to explore the Wild West in four colour.
Next column: Collector's Illustrated
Let's Talk Comics with Rob Lamberti, who started collecting comics when the going price was 12 cents an issue and Peter Parker really was a teenager. He dabbled in the comic convention circuit in the Toronto area for a while, but stopped to concentrate on his career as a not-so-mild- mannered crime reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, where he hoped he managed to record a little bit of history the past three decades.
You can reach Rob at lamberti@cogeco.ca
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