Cowboy Sahib secures a proper mount. Artist: Leonard Starr.

COWBOY SAHIB

Medium: Comic books
Published by: American Comics Group (ACG)
First Appeared: 1952
Creators: Richard Hughes (writer) and Leonard Starr (artist)
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The American Comics Group (Spencer Spook, Nemesis) was mostly a small, fairly unimpressive publisher with lackluster characters like The Kilroys, Super Katt and Magicman — when it used continuing characters at all, which it often didn't — that was nonetheless capable of fielding an occasional breakout cult classic like Herbie. One that perhaps …

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… deserves somewhat wider fame than it actually had is an obscure little gem from the 1950s that defies genre classification, called Cowboy Sahib.

Joe "Cowboy" King was a World War II pilot from Wyoming, operating in and around India, who strongly displayed the personal style of a cowboy. From hat to boots, he wore a cowboy outfit only slightly modified to his military situation, and his plane had a bucking broncho painted on its side. The brass thought he was at best an insubordinate prima donna — they were particularly disenamored of the twin sixguns hanging from his hips — but there was no getting around the fact that he was the best pilot they had. After the war, smart money was on him getting back home pronto, but he suddenly fell in love with a horse that belonged to a local potentate, Sultan Malevo.

The sultan scornfully refused the offer of all his accumulated pay for the horse, but said if Joe could ride him — which, of course, Joe demonstrated he could — he was willing to gamble for what Joe called "that cayuse". In the poker game that followed, Joe won the horse, all of the Sultan's cash and a nice ring that happened to be tied to the throne of Larijuna, a small principality near Tibet. But the sultan was a poor loser, so Joe had to shoot his way out. In the fracas that followed, Joe was forced to kill the brother of Almita, a local showgirl he was sweet on, tho she'd betrayed him earlier; and despite her own love, she swore a blood oath against him. But he did get installed as ruler of Larijuna. When he told his subjects to call him Cowboy, they added the customary honorific and be became Cowboy Sahib. By the end of his first story, even Malevo was calling him that.

Tho not exactly a western, Cowboy Sahib did appear in a western comic book, in fact (not counting an occasional title change or discontinuity) the only one ACG ever published. His introductory story was in Hooded Horseman (formerly Blazing West) #26 (December, 1952). It was probably written by editor Richard Hughes (The Black Terror, Commander Battle) and definitely drawn by Leonard Starr (Doctor Thirteen, Little Orphan Annie.). From the very beginning, he took the cover away from the title character. In fact, he got the cover even before the beginning — that of #25 didn't show anything that was actually inside the issue, but touted Cowboy Sahib's upcoming debut instead.

Cowboy Sahib continued in the following issue, dated February, 1953, and even Almita continued as his love interest, despite the "issues" between them. Hughes and Starr continued as his creative team. But Hooded Horseman bit the dust with that issue, and that was the end of Cowboy Sahib.

But not yet a final one. The following year, ACG dropped a minor horror comic titled Out of the Night, in favor of bringing back the westerns (which also included a back-pages guy called Injun Jones, who came back under the name Johnny Injun). The first issue of that series under the new title was #18, dated December, 1954. This time, The Hooded Horseman himself was on the cover, and he remained there for the duration of the series. Cowboy Sahib, still by Hughes and Starr, was in each issue's back pages.

This time, the final issue was #22 (September, 1955). It wasn't revived again. The company folded in 1967. During the 1990s, its assets were acquired by entrepreneur Roger Broughton. Broughton has made occasional attempts to market some of his properties, but thus far, Cowboy Sahib hasn't been one of them.

— DDM

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Text ©2009 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Roger Broughton.