Lance gets a message. Artist: Warren Tufts.


Medium: Newspaper comics
Original distribution: self-syndicated
First Appeared: 1956
Creator: Warren Tufts
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Cartoonist Warren Tufts has given the comics-reading public science fiction, jungle adventure, funny animals and more. But most comics aficonados who know his work agree that his greatest contributions are in the area of westerns. His first syndicated comic strip, Casey Ruggles, won him considerable critical acclaim, and it was a business situation, not lack of quality, that led to …

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… its demise. After it folded, he dabbled only briefly in a different type of story before launching his second major western-genre newspaper comic, Lance.

Tufts opted for self-syndication on Lance, which helped him avoid the sort of problems that had led to the failure of the Ruggles strip, which had been distributed by United Feature Syndicate (Peanuts, Fritzi Ritz). But his contract with United called for his next work to be submitted to them before he could try it anywhere else.

He created The Lone Spaceman to fulfill that requirement, and when the syndicate obliged him by rejecting it, practiced self-syndication by distributing that strip himself, before getting down to the real business of doing Lance that way. When all was said and done, Lance first appeared in newspapers on Sunday, August 5, 1956.

"Lance" was the hero's first name, not his last — his full name was Lance St. Lorne. He was an officer in the U.S. cavalry at Ft. Leavenworth, Ks., in the 1840s, when his unit's task was to tame the western territories, making them safe for American settlers. The setting and the task provided plenty of scope for adventure — fighting the Sioux, interacting with real historical personages like Kit Carson, and whatnot.

Like Casey Ruggles, Lance was characterized by high-quality stories and art, but also by historical accuracy. Unlike, say, Lucky Luke, when Lance met someone who had really lived, that person was as old as he'd actually have been at the time, and in circumstances congruent with the known course of the person's life.

Lance started out in about a hundred or so papers. It was so successful, Tufts even did a daily version, as a companion. But his drawing was so meticulous, he was spending as much as 100 hours a week just producing the comic, leaving little time for such niceties as taking care of business. With United Feature, this had led to missed deadlines. With him responsible for the whole enterprise — something had to give. The daily didn't last long, and the Sunday, which had originally been drawn in the full-page format popular before World War II and not easily reformattable, shrank to a half page, and then smaller yet. Circulation began to fall.

About 1960, Tufts finally gave up on Lantz, and went to work at Western printing, publisher of Gold Key Comics, working on Space Family Robinson; Korak, Son of Tarzan; and other licensed or company-owned properties. He died in a 1982 plane crash, never working on his own comics creations again.


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Text ©2010 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Warren Tufts.