Thursday, March 29, 2007


Obscurity of the Day: Gene Autry

From an entertainment standpoint, the 1950s were the decade of the western. With a TV in every living room and broadcasters scrambling to fill airtime, the old 'B' western movies of the 1930s and 40s became a television staple. The public proved receptive to the genre so the networks also began to produce new television 'oaters' in massive quantities.

Newspaper comic strips, always a medium that embraces the latest fad, gave editors a vast array of new western comic strips to pick from, apparently under the assumption that what people watch on television they want on the comics page, too. The wisdom of the assumption was questionable, and most of the western comic strips had limited success.

Gene Autry, the singing cowboy, was first put into comic strip form in 1940 as Gene Autry Rides. That strip fell flat, but evidently Autry felt it was time for another try in the booming 1950s cowboy market. The new strip, titled simply Gene Autry, was syndicated through General Features starting on September 8 1952. Though a Bob Stevens was credited as writer I'm told that it was actually Phil Evans, with oversight by Albert Law Stoffel. The art was credited to Bert Laws, who, I am also told, is actually Pete Alvarado with an assist from Tom Cooke.

Whether the strip was any good I'll leave up to fans of the genre (personally I've always found westerns to be real snoozers). Good or not, it was undeniably handicapped by having General Features marketing it. General Features was a small syndicate with no sales force, and with the plethora of other western strips of the 50s being sold by travelling salesmen for the big syndicates it didn't stand much of a chance.

The early returns on the strip must have been half-way decent because a Sunday was added on April 26 1953. But that limited success was evidently short-lived because the strip ended on November 5 1955, a little over three years into the run. Between the lack of sales horsepower and the flooding of the western strip market it was a foregone conclusion that the singing cowboy would have to ride into the sunset.


Yeah! More fifties rareties!

If newspaper strips embraced all fads... was there ever a psychology strip?
You bet, Ger. How about "Doctor Katz", 1996-99. And the panel cartoon and column series "Let's Explore Your Mind".

Also, Alberto Becattini writes me privately with more info on Gene Autry's creators. He says that the art was initially done by Pete Alvarado in 1952, and that Mel Keefer took over in 1954-55. He says the Sundays shown on the blog are the work of Tom Massey.

wasn't Albert Law Stoffel the packager of the strip, rather than an artist?
or at least that's the way I recall him. I see he's credited with writing the Bugs Bunny strip for 15+ years... did he do that? or just package the strip?
Hi Steven -
You're right, Stoffel would be the writer. The confusion comes in with the apparently entirely pseudonymous credits. Stevens and Laws both don't exist as such is my understanding, and for some reason or other I assigned Stevens as the writer and Laws as the artist. But I guess that should be the other way around. The non-existent Laws should be credited as writer, and the non-existent Stevens should be credited as artist. Ah, what a tangled web we weave!

I think you mention Hy Rosen in your book as a third artist later on in the strip. I have seen some of those and feel they are a touch above the others. Could you expand on that sometime?
You mean Hy Mankin?
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