Cowboy Actors Immortalized in Comics

by Patrick Bain

Cowboy-Actors-Immortal-1024x536 Cowboy Actors Immortalized in ComicsWhen cowboy actors are immortalized in comics, does the sun never set on their fame?  After they pass, do the fictional heroes based on their likenesses continue to thrive like our imaginations of the Old West?  Or, are those pardners headed for the last roundup?

Cowboy Actors in Comics: Let’s Ride!

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I think it would be strange if someone published a comic called Tom Cruise Impossible Missions or Chris Pratt Space Adventures.  Would Schwarzenegger Action Stories or House of Hemsworth Comics be too weird? And yet, back in the Forties and Fifties, many actors got comics named after them.

There’s Abbott and Costello, Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis, and Bob Hope.  For this article, cowboy actors like Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, and Tom Mix sat tall in the saddle of their own comics after wooing film audiences for years.  Let’s sit around the ole campfire and talk about these brilliant Silver Screen heroes.  We’ll ask if these real actors turned fictional heroes are ‘done fer’ as investments or if they will forever ride?

From Film to Four Color

Tom-Mix-4-214x300 Cowboy Actors Immortalized in ComicsTom Mix appeared in almost 300 films prior to his death in 1940.  You could count on two hands his “talkies”.  In 1948, Fawcett published the series Tom Mix Western.

Before that, Ralston-Purina gave away three comics in 1942 featuring Tom Mix in a WWII setting.  Raise your hand if you’ve seen one of Tom Mix’s films or own a comic from his Fawcett series.

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Gene Autry was a huge star from the Thirties to Fifties in movies, television, and music.  His name graces FIVE stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  Autry pioneered Country music, first recorded Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and owned the Anaheim Angels for four decades.

Fawcett began publishing Gene Autry Comics in 1941, and Dell continued for over 100 issues.  Raise your hand if you are under 50 and collecting Gene Autry Comics or his vinyl.

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Roy Rogers made his first comic appearance in 1944 in Four Color 38.  That was also the first photo cover.  Rogers had over 100 films and according to Roy Rogers Film site, 88 co-starred actress Dale Evans.

The site promoting his new film claimed sales of 1.3 million comics EACH issue during his heyday.  If you best remember Roy Rogers from his guest appearance on the Wonder Woman ’77 TV show with Lynda Carter, raise your hand.

And What About…

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Tom Mix, Gene Autry, and Roy Rogers are some of the most famous film cowboys.  But that’s only some that made their way from film to four color comic books.  Add in Bob Steele, Bill Boyd (but better known in his Hop-a-Long Cassidy role, Gabby Hayes, Rex Allen, and Tim Holt.

I’ve saved my favorite and the biggest Western star for last, “The Duke”, John Wayne.  The funny thing is, I googled “top movie cowboys” or something like that.  Only John Wayne showed up.  Most of the film cowboys were more modern-era actors with NO comic book series titled with their names.  Do you see where I’m headed?

Western Art

GabbyHayesWestern-e1672461647400-222x300 Cowboy Actors Immortalized in ComicsLet me take a brief excursion into original art featuring these film cowboys.  First, I didn’t find a lot out there.  Second, recent sales finished cheap with a few notable exceptions.  Take as an example TWO Gene Autry pages from the 1950s.  These were described as larger than twice-up scale.  That means image size was bigger than modern art pages AND bigger than a lot of the early Silver Age art.  Final price on this art lot attributed to Nicholas Firfires: $180.  That’s not $180K; it’s just a little less than two hundred dollars.

Gabby Hayes was a comic sidekick for MANY Western stars.  An oversize splash page by Jack Sparling from Gabby Hayes Western #1 sold for $144.  A page from John Wayne Adventures 5 attributed to Charles Sultan (1950) sold today for $408.

John-Wayne-Adventures-7-Al-Williamson-Frank-Frazetta-199x300 Cowboy Actors Immortalized in ComicsI mentioned some recent sales that were notable exceptions.  Al Williamson and Frank Frazetta beautifully illustrated some of the early John Wayne Adventure Comics stories including An Invitation to Murder in issue 7.  A page from that story that borders on “good girl art” sold for over four grand in 2020.

Other pages by these artists sold recently for around two grand.  I would suggest that even for the greatest of film cowboys, the allure of Frank Frazetta, not John Wayne, pushed those prices upward.

The Last Roundup on Cowboy Actors

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So, what put a “burr under my saddle” to drive me in this direction?  I recently noticed a very nice bound collection of Roy Rogers comics on eBay.  I’m not personally interested in Roy Rogers, but at the right price it would be a nice collectible.  Reviewing past similar sales on HA, a similar book sold for $1,200 in 2007.  The same book sold later that year for $227.  So perhaps someone failed to complete the purchase.  Other recent sales have NOT been strong.  For the one on eBay, ten bidders including myself drove the final price up to $304.

That leads me to my thesis for this article.  Comic titles featuring real people as fictional characters is not a sustainable model for LOOOOONG-term investment.  Because, after a while, people forget the entertainers of past eras in favor of contemporary entertainers.  By the way, historical people who have become fictional characters (Wyatt Earp, Billy the Kid, Jesse James, etc.), I think they will endure longer.

Now it’s time for the shootout, and you come out guns a-blazing if you disagree.  I see fictional cowboys comin’ to town again soon, maybe on the next stagecoach.  Even though actors like Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Tom Mix, and Hopalong Cassiday may slip from our corporate comics conscious, fictional heroes like Kid Colt Outlaw, the Rawhide Kid, and Two-Gun Kid will saddle up evermore.  Westerns will eventually return, maybe when Disney decides to make them part of the MCU.  See my article on Marvel’s Western Kids for more ideas.

Upgrade2_Footer Cowboy Actors Immortalized in Comics*Any perceived investment advice is that of the freelance blogger and does not represent advice on behalf of GoCollect.

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2 comments

Randy W. DeBower January 3, 2023 - 8:57 am

It would take a lot for values on movie/TV related westerns to come out of hibernation. Prices have been stagnant for 30 years. Most issues sell for far less than Overstreet prices. Superhero and Horror will probably continue to dominate that era for a long time. I wish that it would change since I’ve got some nice westerns from the late 40’s to early 60″s. –But I’ve owned them since the mid 80’s when they were considered great collectables. Time has been most cruel to them, my friends. –Don’t get me wrong, they still look great, but they are now just quaint old books. Few young people will have much interest in those old gun-slingers unless “Horse Operas” have a Renaissance in film and TV. Then it might just bring them back into the spotlight that they deserve!! Unfortunately I don’t see that happening for a while!!

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Patrick Bain January 3, 2023 - 11:38 am

Well put, Randy. I flipped through old Overstreets to say the progression on Roy Rogers 13-24 and observed exactly what you are saying. But I have a sense of nostalgia for some of these old guys, so I hope they don’t disappear.

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