Bronc socks it to a foe. Artist: Fred Harman.


Medium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: John F. Dille
First Appeared: 1933
Creator: Fred Harman
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Mention the name "Bronc Peeler" to the average fan of the western genre in comics, and the response will probably be either "who?" or "isn't that cowboy slang, like 'bronco buster', for a man who breaks in horses?"

Yes, it is. But a more knowledgeable fan will know it's also …

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… the name of one of the very early western stars in comics. Bronc began in 1933, the same year as Little Joe, who is remembered as western comics' first successful character. What keeps Bronc from claiming the distinction is that he wasn't very successful. But he's still worth recalling — not so much for his own sake, as for the fact that he paved the way for a character who succeeded very well indeed, Red Ryder.

Cartoonist Fred Harman, formerly of Disney's animation studio (where his brother, Hugh, played a role in the hijacking of the early Disney star Oswald the Lucky Rabbit), was either running a ranch in Colorado or producing western stories and paintings in Iowa (depending on your source of information) when he took it into his head that he'd like to put his cartooning experience to work on a newspaper comic about a western hero. He began self-syndicating Bronc Peeler about the time The Chicago Tribune started syndicating Little Joe. But running the entire business doesn't work for everybody, so he soon hooked up with John F. Dille, the syndicator who had already made a success of Buck Rogers. It worked well enough as a daily strip to warrant adding a Sunday page on Oct. 7, 1934.

Bronc was a red-headed young man who was good in a fight, with either fists or a six-gun, and equally good on a horse. He put his skills to use against Injuns, cattle rustlers, rapacious city slickers, bandits and other villain types of the western adventure pulps. He had a rugged westerner's drawl, and a rugged westerner's attraction to the ladies, to whom he was unfailingly polite. His first sidekick was an old desert rat named Coyote Pete, but Harman decided (at his wife's suggestion) to reach out to young readers by dropping Pete in favor of a kid. Bronc adopted a Navajo boy named Little Beaver following the death of the tyke's father, Chief Beaver. Little Beaver was destined to outlast Bronc.

Bronc Peeler managed to get himself into a Big Little Book, and was reprinted in a few early comic books, but wasn't doing so well that Harman was overwhelmingly committed to him. In 1938, Harman dropped the strip in favor of an illustrating job with promoter Steven Slesinger, who handled merchandising rights to Winnie the Pooh and comic strips such as King of the Royal Mounted. It was through Slesinger that he sold Red Ryder, also a red-headed western good guy with a young sidekick named Little Beaver, to Newspaper Enterprise Association (Major Hoople, Captain Easy).

Red Ryder went on to movies, radio shows, etc., and Harman never looked back at Bronc Peeler.


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Text ©2004-06 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Fred Harman estate.