COMICS WITH PROBLEMS (Issue #70 September/October 2015)
Very interesting item for you this month. With the nice news about Ta-Nehisi signing on to write Black Panther for Marvel, we have a cool item - the first black character to have his own comics series - Dell's cowboy LOBO, from 1965. Below you'll find both issues available for download as high-resolution PDFs.
Not only is LOBO the first series to be driven by a black lead character, the issues deal directly with themes of slavery, the Civil War, other hot-button stuff. Very peculiar topics to appear in a 1965 newsstand comic book. It's said that most of copies of LOBO were rejected by store owners at first sight. While that isn't proven, the bold move to put a black cowboy hero, holding a gun, on the cover of his own comic in the mid-sixties (distributed all around to the country's small towns) is a provocative and rather wonderful thing to come from Dell Comics. Dell was nearing bankruptcy at this point, and it's one of the more culturally interesting things they ever did, even if it was only driven by a desperate interest in finding a title that would succeed. LOBO only lasted two issues. We have both of them here.
Don Markstein's TOONOPEDIA does a nice job about justifying the significance of the LOBO series:
By the mid-1960s Dell Comics had settled into the habit of throwing property after new property against the wall, tho very few of them were sticking. For every modest success like Linda Lark or Ghost Stories they'd had a half-dozen like Millie the Lovable Monster or Private Secretary. In 1965, they had even less than the usual commercial success with Lobo, but in doing so created a landmark in comic book history. Lobo, the first issue of which was dated December, 1965, was the very first black character to star in his own comic book.
That's right. Before Black Lightning, before Luke Cage and long before Fast Willie Jackson — there was Lobo. Before that, the closest things comic books had to black series stars were Li'l Eight Ball (a badly stereotyped Walter Lantz character, who took up residence in the back pages of New Funnies for a little while); and Waku, Prince of the Bantu (who shared covers of Marvel's mid-'50s Jungle Tales with Jann of the Jungle, Cliff Mason, both white folks; and "The Unknown Jungle", which wasn't even about human beings).
The story was written by Don Arneson (Super Heroes) and drawn by Tony Tallarico (Son of Vulcan). In a later interview, Tallarico said he'd created the character in 1964, then approached Arneson, a Dell writer and editor, as go-between to sell it to Dell president Helen Meyer. Meyer went for it, then Arneson wrote the script from Tallarico's plot and Tallarico drew it.
But when it came time for distributors to return the unsold copies, the publisher found most had never been put out for sale. In fact, they hadn't even been taken out of the box. Distributors shied away from the product just because it had a black man alone on the cover, tho except for his skin color, no notice was made of the fact, there or throughout the issue. Over 90% of the print run came back.
By that time, the second issue was well advanced in the production process, and it had become less trouble to finish and release it than just to drop it then and there. But enthusiasm for the sure money-loser had waned, and it was ten months before the second issue was released. There wasn't a third, tho Tallarico said some pages had been drawn for it.
Western Fictioners on Lobo, a Comics First
and this item: Woodbury Man's Comic Book Has Impact Long After Its Creation
Scans for this item arrive from the regarded comics historian Dr Bill Foster (William Foster III) and cultural librarian Martha Cornog (author of the cleverly titled "For SEX EDUCATION, See Librarian") - Thanks, both - This was a nice post to put together.
Download PDFs of each issue below. Have a nice October, Ethan
LOBO in BRANDED FOR LIFE (issue 1)
LOBO vs THE "KING" (issue 2)