While I know a lot about the Golden Age of Comic Books, I was always under the impression that the first western comic books came about in the mid or late 1940’s. I also assumed that the first title was probably Tom Mix, The Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers or Hopalong Cassidy. As it turns out, I was wrong on all counts! While the late 1940’s saw an explosion of western comic book titles (almost too many to count), the first western comic books actually appeared before the “official” start of the Golden Age of Comic Books and the age of the superheroes that began with Superman in Action Comics #1 in 1938.
In fact, there are two titles that tied as the first western comics to hit the stands about a year before Superman flew onto the scene.
In February, 1937, Comics Magazine Company published the first issue of Western Picture Stories. Interestingly, this comic book featured some very early art by the great Will Eisner, the creator of The Sprirt. This series ran for only four issues until June, 1937, and featured Eisner art in each issue.
The book that tied for the honor of the first western comic book, was Star Ranger #1 (February 1937). This title was published by Chesler/Centaur Publications (starting with issue V2, #10), and ran for 12 issues. It later became Cowboy Comics with issues #13 and #14, and then the title was again changed to Star Ranger Funnies, which ended with issue V2, #5 in October 1939.
Dell comics wasn’t too far behind with the second western title, Western Action Thrillers #1 (April 1937), although this title only ran for one issue. This was a square bound comic that sold for 10 cents and was a whopping 100 pages.
As I mentioned at the start of this post, there were many western comics in the Golden Age, but most started in the mid to late 1940’s. Today, the most sought after by collectors are those featuring photo covers of such greats as Tom Mix, The Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers, Hopalong Cassidy, Lash Larue, Rocky Lane and many, many others. The first western photo cover was of none other than the singing cowboy, Roy Rogers on his first comic book appearance in Dell’s Four Color Comics #38 (April 1944). This was one of the longest running western comics in the Golden Age, and after 13 Roy Rogers issues in Four Color Comics, Roy got his own title with Roy Rogers Comics #1 (January 1948). This title continued all the way to issue #145 in September-October, 1961. It features photo covers on each issue.
In August, 2008, Dark Horse published Roy Rogers Comics Archives, volume 1, featuring the Roy Rogers stories from Four Color Comics 38, 63, 86, 95 and 109. The book is a nice hardback issue with a dust jacket and has a cover price of $49.95.
If you are a fan of western comics (or cowboys in general), the Golden Age has a lot to offer. Although there were not many western titles until the mid-1940’s, eventually every publisher jumped on board and was selling western comics, many of which ran well into the Silver Age of Comic Books.