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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The original Cowboy Comics

Originally published 29 July; updated 11 September with some additional contents information for which I'd like to offer additional thanks to Graeme Cliffe. I'm still looking for contents of other issues, so if you have any or know someone who has, please let me know.

Shortly after the end of World War II, with paper rationing still in force, the Amalgamated Press found that they had a problem. In the 1920s and 1930s, they had found a steady market for their story papers and comics in Commonwealth countries like Canada, Australia and New Zealand. But with paper in such short supply, the home market could absorb all the copies the A.P. managed to print.

A thriving home-grown industry grew up in Canada. John Adcock's Yesterday's Papers blog often carries information on Canadian comics and it's thanks to John that I discovered 'Beyond the Funnies', a brief history -- but with a wealth of detail -- of Canadian comics. Well worth a read.

The folks at A.P. came up with a solution to the problem of supplying comics to Australia and New Zealand and produced a range of titles published in Sydney for the local market. I have a limited amount of information on these but, thanks to Graeme Cliffe and Kevin Patrick, I now have a slightly better knowledge of them.

There were five titles in all: Buck Jones, Kit Carson, Tim Holt, Thunderbolt Jaxon and Captain Flame. All were published in an oversized format running to 28 pages and were originally priced at 6d. Later issues of Buck Jones and Kit Carson were priced 8d.

Some of these titles did not last very long: Captain Flame is thought to have lasted only a single issue and Thunderbolt Jaxon (perhaps launched because Sydney-based K. G. Murray had discovered there was a market for Superman comics which they began issuing in 1947) lasted only 6 issues.

Tim Holt, reprinting stories from the Magazine Enterprises comic published in the USA drawn by Frank Bolle, ran for at least 16 issues. It was the two British-drawn western titles that lasted longest: Buck Jones ran for at least 35 issues and Kit Carson for 31 issues.

Dating the books has been a tricky task. None of the issues were dated or carried any publisher information, although Graeme has told me that it is believed by collectors in Australia that they were published by New Century Press. One issue, produced in c.1950/51, was printed by Sydney Land Newspapers. A series of (hopefully logical) guesses and presumptions has established that the two long-running cowboy titles were launched in late 1948 (probably between September and December, but this is only guesswork). The other titles probably began around the same time. Captain Flame, for instance, began a run in Knockout in November 1948 and the Australian comic probably dates from around the same time.

It is thought that quite a few (perhaps even the majority) of the stories that appeared in the western titles -- Buck Jones, Kit Carson and Tim Holt -- were resized and reprinted in the British pocket library series Cowboy Comics and I'm hoping that collectors who have copies of these Australian titles can help out. I've been able to establish that a number of covers were reused (for instance, the Australian Buck Jones no.19 [see pic at top] was reused on Cowboy Comics no.39) and some of the stories in the Australian Tim Holt also appeared in Cowboy Comics but I need more information -- a lot more information!

What I need to do is establish the titles that appeared in the Australian comics and, in the case of Tim Holt, where these originally appeared in the US comic. Also whether there are any internal adverts that might help establish a better idea of when issues appeared.

If anyone can help supply contents listings please let me know. Better scans of covers would also be welcome.

BUCK JONES

Buck Jones no.1 (c.1948, cover by George Cattermole)
The Diamond Clue
BJ & the Joker
BJ & the Framed Foreman

Buck Jones no.9 (c.1949)
BJ -- Wanted
BJ & the Stranger

Buck Jones no.23 (c.1951)
BJ & the Cyclone Kid
BJ & the Valley of Vanishing Men
BJ & the Boy Crook

Buck Jones no.25 (c.1951)
BJ & the War on the Range!
BJ & the Mystery Gang
BJ & the Rancher's Money Belt


CAPTAIN FLAME

Captain Flame no.1 (c.1949, cover by W. Bryce-Hamilton)
(4 stories drawn by Eric R. Parker)


KIT CARSON

Kit Carson no.1 (c.1948, cover by George Cattermole)
KC in Old Wyoming
KC & the Dillon Killers
KC -- King of the West

Kit Carson no.4 (c.1949)
KC & the Haunted Cavern
KC Gets His Man
KC & the "Pay or Die" Gang


THUNDERBOLT JAXON

Thunderbolt Jaxon no.2 (c.1948/49)
TB and the Frightened Lion Tamer
TB and the Mystery of Cavern Island
TB and the Honest Safe-Breaker

Thunderbolt Jaxon no.3 (c.1948/49)
TB and the Kidnapped Princess
TB and the Flying Wreckers
TB and the Kidnappers

Thunderbolt Jaxon no.4 (c.1948/49)
TB and the Island Princess
TB and the Queen of the Ice
TB -- Genie

Thunderbolt Jaxon no.5 (c.1948/49)
TB and the Golden Princess
TB and the Unknown Fair
TB and the Glamorous Cannon-Ball

Thunderbolt Jaxon no.6 (c.1948/49)
TB and the Mountain of Diamonds!
TB and the Bride of Tapu-Tapu
TB and the Precious Tennis Balls


TIM HOLT

Tim Holt no.2 (c.1948; cover by Geoff Campion)
(untitled, begins "When the masked riders of the Sleepy Gap Range rob...")
The Spur of the Conquistadore!
The Masks of Massacre Bend

(* My thanks to Graeme Cliffe for the contents of the above titles. Thanks also to The Book Palace for the pictures.)

2 comments:

Keith Chapman said...

Fascinating stuff, of which I wasn't aware. As well as paper shortages, I believe the Australian-produced pulp mags/comics were boosted by import restrictions in the '50s.

Some years later, I know that G.M. Smith/Micron's Combat Picture Library had New Zealand editions produced by the printing division of the major NZ books retailer of the time, Whitcombe & Tombs. Though he wasn't much involved in the day to day running of the pic libs, C. T. Eriksen (Micron director and managing editor) was most particular about getting his "art pulls" on thick, coated paper for sending overseas in lieu of the artwork. This was fairly standard practice in the syndication business in the days before reliable photocopying. Today I imagine it's all computer images.

The NZ books were slightly inferior to the UK ones, being single signature (one folded section), stapled through the back. Thus they did not have even the minimal spine of the British pocket libraries. In this respect they resembled their Aussie cousins. Strangely, in all the years I've now lived in NZ, I believe I've come across only one secondhand copy.

Enjoyed yesterday's memories of Reg Wooton's Sporty pages for Knockout, too. I have a few copies somewhere, also one annual. . .though for some unknown (to me) reason Knockout's annuals were called "Fun Books".

Steve said...

Hi Keith,

I think the Knockout Annual was launched as the Knockout Fun Book because of the wartime restrictions on producing new periodicals. Similarly, Gerald Swan published Albums rather than Annuals.