How the biggest name in screen cowboys wound up at Toby Press in ‘49 rather than Dell or Fawcett, the two major comic book companies who were snagging the rights to most of our cowboy heroes, is completely unknown, but it was a significant coup for Toby.
Elliot A. Caplin, brother of Al Capp, creator of Li’l Abner, began Toby Press with a firm background in writing both comic strips and comic books, specializing in soap opera strips such as “Abbie and Slats”, “Dr. Kildare” and “Heart of Juliet Jones”. He’d also been the editor on TRUE COMICS. The first comic book Caplin published at Toby was, not surprisingly, his brother’s LI’L ABNER, following that up with JOHN WAYNE ADVENTURE COMICS, their only movie based western except for one oddball issue of GABBY HAYES in ‘53.
JOHN WAYNE ADVENTURE COMICS began with #1 in Winter ‘49 (just after several of his mightiest screen triumphs like “Fort Apache”, “Red River” and “Three Godfathers”) and lasted through #31 (May ‘55).
Photo covers, all taken from movie stills such as “Dakota”, “Sands of Iwo Jima”, “Hondo”, “Fighting Kentuckian” etc., were on #1-12, 14, 17, 25-31. All were western except #3, 12, 14 which featured photos from the Duke’s war films. Note the cover to #26 is simply a “closeup” of #11. #31 was the most unusual, sporting a still from an early Warner Bros. B-western. Drawn covers, usually not very good, were on #13, 15-16, 18-24. There are back cover and inside cover photos on #1-3.
Issues #1-12 were strictly western themed and are the most desirable collectively. #12 had two western stories and an unusual western/war combo story. #13 was all western again. Wayne often was supported by a grizzled sidekick called Bonanza Bill. Beginning with #15 the artwork deteriorated greatly, even though #16-19 were all western (note #18 is all reprints).
#1-19 included a banner above the title, “The Greatest Cowboy of Them All” which was dropped as of #20 which initiated the comic’s “adventure” format and found Wayne working on an oil rig, as a big game hunter, government agent, bridge builder in the jungle, sportsman of some sort, etc. Very few western stories appeared from here on, altho #25 features a “Hondo” cover photo with a two page comic “excerpt” from the movie. The final issue, #31, included three western reprints.
Artists varied throughout the entire 31 issue run—Jack Sparling, Tom Gill, Frank Bolle, Myron Fass, Mel Keefer, Marty Rose, Gerald McCann, Leon Winik, Al Williamson, Ben Brown, Sam Citron, David Gantz, William Martin, Charles Sultan, Martin Thall. Some were able to capture Wayne’s likeness, others never came close, especially from #15 on.
Stories were primarily written by Bob Haney (‘26-‘04) who mostly worked at DC. A few were scripted by Carl Memling, Bruce Hamilton and Lyle Stuart.
#1 commands around $490 in Fine; #2-4 go for $215; #5-31 range from $110 to $155 depending on the artists involved.
Additionally, Toby’s BIG TEX #1 (6/53) reprints three Wayne stories with his name changed to Big Tex. Toby’s WITH THE MARINES 1 (5/53) reprints a Wayne war story from #14 (4/52). Six pocketsize giveaways were distributed by Oxydol-Dreft through the mail as a set in ‘50. #4 reprinted Toby Press Wayne westerns. Pre-dating Toby, Charlton’s TIM McCOY #16 (actually #1, Oct. ‘48) featured a terribly rendered adaptation of “Red River”. Even earlier, National’s MOVIE COMICS #2 (5/39) adapted “Stagecoach” in 10 page picto-fiction form. Most of Wayne’s later movies were adapted into comic form by Dell and Gold Key, usually with slapdash or amateurish art bearing little resemblance to Wayne. Dell’s Four Color series printed “The Conqueror” (FC 690), “The Searchers” (FC 709), “Wings of Eagles” (FC 790), “Rio Bravo” (FC 1018), “Horse Soldiers” (FC 1048), “North to Alaska” (FC 1155), “The Comancheros” (FC 1300) while Dell MOVIE CLASSICS issued “Sons of Katie Elder”, “El Dorado”, “War Wagon”, “Circus World” and “Hatari”. Gold Key’s MOVIE COMICS adapted “McLintock” and “How the West Was Won”. In Fine, the Dell/GK movie adaptations range from $35-$65 with the popular “Searchers” reaching $70.