Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Number 2515: The cowboy and the artist

The internet biographies of comic artist Russ Heath say that his father had once been a cowboy, so young Russ took to admiring Western artists, especially Will James and Charles Russell. When he went to work as a comic book artist his first assignments were  in the Western genre.

Dale Robertson, actor, was born in Oklahoma, and was a cowboy. After his service during World War II (where he got the Purple Heart for being wounded on two separate occasions), he went to Hollywood and became an actor.

The two men, the cowboy and the son of a cowboy, crossed paths when Heath illustrated a Dell Four Color series comic book of Tales of Wells Fargo, a popular Western television show. The show starred Robertson, and was on the air from 1957 to 1962, for 202 episodes. They are still being shown today on at least one pay cable network and one nostalgia channel on basic cable.

Robertson had a presence as an actor; tall, handsome and as his war record showed, just shy of bullet-proof. He was mucho macho. Heath was perhaps one of the top comic book artists of the era after World War II, when he worked for Timely/Atlas, and then freelanced for many years, doing a lot of war comics, among others. Heath’s art style was dynamic. He had studied art, and he could draw. Robertson became an actor without studying acting.

Both Robertson and Heath are now deceased: Robertson in 2013, and Heath in 2018.

Gaylord Dubois, who also wrote the comic book Tarzan for Dell, wrote “Thunder Over Lost Soldier Gulch.”  

From Tales of Wells Fargo #1215 (1961):


Daniel [] said...

I remember Robertson mostly for his portrayals of Melvin Purvis in the mid-'70s.

I'm against truly needless killing, but need is determined by objective, and putting innocent lives at risk in an attempt to take homicidal villains alive is one of my pet peeves in fiction. Of course, on television or in comic books in 1961, the only people whom heroes were allowed to kill with impunity were German or Japanese soldiers in stories set in World War II, unless “It was him or me!”

Rick said...

Russ Heath was always one of my favorite comic illustrators especially his work on Sgt. Rock in Our Army at War and the Haunted Tank in GI Combat. You could practically feel the heat and smell the gunpowder coming off the page whenever a tank or aircraft exploded within those books.

rnigma said...

The Grit network (almost all Westerns) runs the show, 5 episodes a day. "Tales of Wells Fargo" was basically a detective show in Western dress, and early on, Hardie encountered plenty of legends like Billy the Kid, Belle Starr, Doc Holliday and the James brothers.
In the last season (1961-62), the show expanded to an hour and was filmed in color; Hardie started his horse farm Haymaker Ranch in the town of Gloribee, where he spent time between (and often during) his Wells Fargo assignments. William Demarest was added to the cast as ranch foreman Jeb Gaine, for a bit of comic relief.
Robertson co-produced (with Walt Disney's niece) the animated Western feature "The Man from Button Willow," voicing the hero, Justin Eagle. His last TV series was "J.J. Starbuck," playing an oil tycoon turned P.I.

Wheez Von Klaw said...

Spectacular Heath art! Love it.

Pappy said...

Wheez, my feeling also. I also loved Heath's work in National Lampoon, and some of the jobs he did later for Warren made my jaw drop.

Pappy said...

rnigma, five times a day, you say? I get Grit, but five times a day of anything means they are showing reruns of the reruns.

Despite that, thanks for doing the research. Just many TV shows brought in William Demarest as comic relief? He also showed up in My Three Sons..

Pappy said...

Rick, and I missed a lot of that because I wasn't buying war comics during the time Heath had his work in them. My loss. Thanks for the comment.

Pappy said...

Dan'l, feel free to demonize when someone becomes an enemy. Then you can do anything, even drop nuclear bombs on them!

U.S. soldiers and Marines in World War II were warned not to underestimate the Japanese soldiers, who did not surrender and fought to the death. I guess a good motto might have been shoot them first, because they sure as shootin' will shoot you.

Fables of the American wild West are just that. Non-fabled people worked hard when populating the West, my ancestors among them. That work usually isn't told or shown because it's boring. Shooting someone, that's not boring.

rnigma said...

Pappy, since MeTV snapped up most of the better, longer-running Western shows (Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Rifleman, Big Valley) Grit's pickings were slimmer (Tales of Wells Fargo, Death Valley Days, Laramie) and they get run oftener.