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Cowboy Cartoonists and Contemporary Cowboys

 

J. R. Williams was a jack-of-all-trades before he settled down as a cartoonist, one of those was ranch hand. As the cartoonist of the Out Our Way panel Williams portrayed several different settings, one of those was the ranch. These were not rough and tumble adventures as seen in Fred Harman’s Red Ryder nor the romantic Old West of Warren Tufts’ Lance. J. R. Williams’ westerns were the modern version, not shoot-’em-ups and certainly not sentimentalized.

Forrest Fenn describes Williams’ panels:

His usual fare is served with no cultural apologies offered, but with a promiscuous disregard for easterners and others who wore coats and ties…most of which had a melancholy air and the stark, grim, face of home-cooked authenticity.

His amiable wit was no random act of chance because he illustrated what he had been: an impish boy, a factory worker, a family man and a calloused ranch hand that had seen everything.


above: some claim this 1925 cartoon is the first to show dead bodies on the comics pages.

J. R. Williams may be the most famous, and the most successful, of the cowboy cartoonists dealing with contemporary cowboy life. But there were others.

Stan Lynde, famed for his Rick O’Shay and Latigo comic strip westerns, was raised in cattle country. His turn at this type of cartooning was Grass Roots. As seen above Stan was very fond of the cowboy life, but he was aware of the realities.

 

 

Perhaps second only to J. R. Williams as a cowboy cartoonist illustrating the modern life of cowboys was Ace Reid. Or maybe J.R. is second to Ace.

Raised as a cowboy, Ace Reid received his training on 4,000 acres of old pasture and sorta studied in the school of hard knocks under very, very droughty conditions. After years of shocking wheat, breaking horses and fixing fences on his father’s ranch at Electra, Texas, the 6-footer decided it was easier to draw cowboys than to be one.

Remembering the drought, Ace says he was 21 years old before he saw a fat cow.

I can’t imagine anyone not enjoying Ace Reid’s Cowpokes. Some really funny stuff, even finding humor in the tragic. Ace made a fine career out of his Texas cowboys for decades.

 

 

These days there are still a couple of cartoonists illustrating the life of present-day cowboys. Mike Scott’s Cowtoons appears weekly in the Clovis Livestock Market News.

 

Far from being discarded, the brand seems as popular as ever. Some have even been lassoed. Newfangled cowboy and cowgirls cartoonists have even been corralled into an organization of sorts. Cowboy Cartoonists International has the work of some very talented cartoonists.

The motivation for all the above was a column by cowboy writer and poet Baxter Black professing his admiration for cowboy cartoonists.

I’m constantly amazed that these agriculturally afflicted cartoonists can give their animals expressions-surprise, confusion, malice, boredom, contentment, intelligence and pshaw. They make it look simple. Usually black and white line drawings that we see in all our cowboy magazines and ag trade papers. But it ain’t simple.

Let it be noted that Baxter Black is no stranger to country comic strips.

He partnered with his brother Bob Baxter to write one.

 

 

 

 

Community Comments

#1 Mike Peterson
February/25/2019
@ 5:09 pm

Much as I love JR, and I truly do, Mike Scott got me with the reference to “Ranch Rodeo.”

I’ve seen high-scale and low-scale PRCA rodeo, but there’s nothing as wonderful as watching local teams from local ranches go up against each other in contests of practical skills. If you ever get a chance, be there!

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