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Sunday, 31 July 2011

Wild West eMonday - Archive's Sunday Comics: TheTrain Robbers and a whole lot more

Today's Sunday Comic is wild west themed to keep in the spirit of   Wild West e-Monday.

Our main strip, The Train Robbers was written by Keith Chapman in 1966 and published late summer 1967 in Boys' World Annual 1968. Keith (best known to us today as western novelist Chap O'Keefe) says, "It has nothing to do with the 1973 John Wayne movie written and directed by Burt Kennedy
except that the movie picked up the same title."

The simple, four-page comic-strip was very much a late entry in a tradition of UK-produced, boys' western comics that had been dominant in the 1950s before they were all but swept away by the growing popularity of World War II comics.

British kids and their parents in the late '40s and early '50s probably were not ready to see war as something to read about for fun.
At worst, the revived memories of war could involve the loss of loved ones, homes, and property. At best, war was  associated with shortages and rationing, which continued for luxuries like "sweets" (chocolate and candy) years after the war was over. Even story papers, comics and books had been affected by multiple closures and limitations on new periodicals; all print-and-paper production had been shaped by "authorized war economy standards".

The Wild West was a safer, mythical world of action and derring-do; a removed and different kind of "bang and he's dead." Among the new, post-war comics were the photogravure Sun and Comet, originally published in 1946 by J. B. Allen in provincial Cheshire but soon taken over by the London-based Amalgamated Press. In their early years, they published serial strips printed in distinctive green and red inks and sometimes based on Hollywood movies. Examples we show here from 1950 were based on the now-classic westerns A Ticket to Tomahawk and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon.

Elsewhere at the AP's Fleetway House in Farringdon Street, other staff turned their attention to a new format: monthly pocket-book comics of 64 pages containing complete stories, often featuring heroes who also starred in serials in the Fleetway weeklies. The digest size was probably chosen instead of US standard measurements for monthly comics because the company's presses had produced for years text-story "libraries" in the more compact, saddle-stitched format.

Cowboy Comics was launched in April 1950 and its initial stars were Buck Jones and Kit Carson. In mid-life, in 1957, the series title was changed to Cowboy Picture Library. By 1962, with many readers lost to War Picture Library and its like, the line was struggling. It folded in September of that year after 468 issues.

Meanwhile, midget rival publisher Micron Publications was launching a Western Adventure Library to fill the gap left by CPL. Its storylines didn't feature stock heroes but reflected the general run of adult western fiction. Under the editorship of Keith Chapman, who joined Micron from Fleetway, the scriptwriters for these new 64-page comic books included Vic J. Hanson (later a prolific Black Horse Western author) and Jacques Pendower, a veteran author of all kinds of genre novels, including westerns as Penn Dower and T.C.H. Jacobs. Western Adventure Library was quickly joined by a companion Cowboy Adventure Library, doubling the publisher's westerns to four books a month, thus matching output of its Combat Picture Library war series. Though the artwork was commissioned from the beginning through Spanish agencies, Micron's financial difficulties eventually led to its sourcing, translating and reprinting Spanish-language western comics produced by Barcelona publisher Editoral Ferma.

By late 1964, the ownership of Micron had changed, too, to its comics' overall detriment, and Keith Chapman was working for Odhams Books ... which brings our story back neatly to that company's Boys' World and The Train Robbers.

And because the Archive is the place where you always get more please enjoy these two pages that are sure to delight western fans, and then scroll down to read The Train Robbers. Don't forget you can click each image for a larger version.

And now The Train Robbers

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