Thursday, April 5, 2012
Not The Vigilante (Really)
So this image popped up on my Tumblr dashboard the other day, posted by a fella named Dudesmacdougal. It set off alarm bells immediately. For one, that cowboy looks suspiciously like DC's Vigilante. For another, that pulp magazine is called Leading Western? Seriously? If you're familiar with DC's Golden Age, you know that one of the books that featured the Vigilante was Leading Comics.
Obviously, someone was working us. This cover had to be a fake - a relatively recent piece of artwork. Someone had skillfully doctored it up and made it look vintage. Heck, I've been party to a few fake covers myself! The cover was awesome, but there was no way something so "on the nose" could be real.
I went looking for the artist. That's what I do when I find something unattributed that I think is cool. Trouble was, nothing really came up. I even tried searching for some of the "clues" embedded in the piece. No dice. All I found was the cover in someone's Flickr account. But I did learn that there really WAS a "Leading Western" pulp. Huh.
Out of curiosity as much as anything else, I joined the Western Pulps group. I brought the cover to them and asked them to clear up the mystery for me. If nothing else, they could confirm for me that there was no real pulp like this. Things didn't turn out the way I had anticipated.
Holy cow, it's real! Specifically, this is Leading Western V.2, #5 (Nov. 1946). That means that about one year after the Vigilante disappeared from the pages of Leading Comics (which switched to funny animals and ultimately evolved into Leading Screen Comics), an identical cowboy was featured on cover of Leading Western! The mind wobbles!
Is this just a crazy coincidence? Apparently, yes. The Vigilante was still a year away from his highest profile (starring in his own Columbia serial), so I cannot see this as being a deliberate allusion to the character. Or is it? The artist (still don't know who it is) could have conceivably modeled his cowboy after Vig. After all, it's a powerful look. But there's also a little fact about Speed Publications, Leading Western's publisher, that I either didn't know or had forgotten. "Speed" was an imprint that had been used by Culture/Spicy Publications after they needed to change their name due to some legal unpleasantries. Trojan (the name of the company by 1946) was owned by Harry Donnenfeld and Jack Leibowitz.
You know, the same two guys who then owned what we now think of as DC Comics.
Mysteries within mysteries. Still, it really does fill my heart with happiness to know the world is crazy enough that, somehow, this pulp magazine cover is totally real. I had it pegged as something modern, but am happy to be proven wrong.
EDIT: Commenter Joe Moore revealed that the cover artist is Joseph Szokoli. Given Szokoli's connections, it sure seems likely he was at least aware of the Vigilante. Furthermore, this painting is featured in Illustration Magazine #35 (Fall 2011), reproduced from the original art!