Roy Rogers was, and is, the “King of the Cowboys” for millions of people. He rode, roped, and sang his way across the silver and small screens with his lovely wife, Dale Evans, and had a healthy run in the world of books, comic books, and comic strips.
Roy Rogers: The Collected Daily and Sunday Newspaper Strips from Hermes Press is a is beautiful and well-put-together collection of comic strips that ran between 1950 and 1958. Its over-wide pages lay flat when the book is open, and rather than sliding down into the page’s gutter, the text and art are surrounded by clean, white space.
The strips are reproduced at a good size and run two to a page–except in the case of the Sunday strips, which run one strip per page. This arrangement of strips on the page makes for an easy and pleasant reading experience.
The book opens with a note from Roy Rogers, Jr. and is followed by a section that covers not only the basic biography of Roy Rogers, Sr., but also the careers of the various artists and writers who worked on the comic books and strips that featured the King of the Cowboys.
Following the collection of strips is a section dealing with the legendary Alex Toth’s work on the Roy Rogers material, which is well illustrated and contains some discussion of Toth’s techniques. The book is also liberally illustrated with color photographs of Rogers memorabilia–everything from movie lobby cards to watches to lunch boxes is displayed–reminding readers that Rogers and Evans were entertainment juggernauts.
As for the strips, they’re highly enjoyable. You don’t see art like this on the funny pages anymore. At least not in my local paper, you don’t. Rogers’s likeness is easily recognizable within the illustrations, but supporting cast members often have a more caricaturized look. However, the work never tumbles into unbelievability. Often there will be five to seven people in the panel, but all are unique individuals who easily identifiable.
The background detail is also beautiful. The level of craft on display is something else, as horses look like horses and guns look like guns. Furthermore, the action is easy to follow and dynamic. You can see where bullets hit and where rocks fall, and within the confines of three (occasionally four) panels each day, the artists continually change perspective on the scene to create a sense of movement.
Additionally, the illustrations show a great command of the strengths of the black and white strip. The use of black to block out the scene is stunning. The Sunday color strips are just as beautiful, with colors that range from soft and dusty shades to bold and brilliant hues.
The strip’s writers kept Rogers as he was presented in the movies and his television series. He’s a straight-talking man of action with a strong code of ethics. He’ll help a friend in trouble–and he’ll also help an enemy. In one sequence Rogers tries to save a man who has robbed him, burned a farm community’s crops and homes, blown up a train trestle, and destroyed a dam. Saving the man puts Rogers’s own life in danger not once, but twice, yet he saves the villain anyway because it’s the right thing to do.
Talk about a hero.
The supporting cast is pretty much made up of stock characters–the honest sheriff, the plucky girl, the comic relief sidekick–but they all play their parts well. In a comic strip, there’s not a great deal of room for deep characterization, so an archetype is the best way to go. In these strips, the writers quickly reveal the characters through actions that keep the story moving.
The basic plots will be familiar to fans of B-Westerns and cowboy TV shows. Rogers stops a range war, saves a friend from a gold-digger and her rotten brother, tracks down thieves, and solves other mysteries. They are fast moving and well-written tales.
I’d love to see Hermes Press do a stripped down, cheaper version of this volume for younger readers; the mix of action, adventure, and mystery would appeal to them.
Roy Rogers: The Collected Daily and Sunday Newspaper Strips is a wonderful collection that can be enjoyed not only by fans of iconic Hollywood hero, but also readers who like B-Westerns or adventure strips in general.