Lobo astride Midnight. Artist: Tony Tallarico.


Medium: Comic books
Published by: Dell Comics
First Appeared: 1965
Creators: Don Arneson (writer) and Tony Tallarico (artist)
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By the mid-1960s Dell Comics had settled into the habit of throwing property after new property against the wall, tho very few of them were sticking. For every modest success like Linda Lark or Ghost Stories they'd had a half-dozen like Millie the Lovable Monster or Private Secretary. In 1965, they had even less than the …

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… usual commercial success with Lobo, but in doing so created a landmark in comic book history. Lobo, the first issue of which was dated December, 1965, was the very first black character to star in his own comic book.

That's right. Before Black Lightning, before Luke Cage and long before Fast Willie Jackson — there was Lobo. Before that, the closest things comic books had to black series stars were Li'l Eight Ball (a badly stereotyped Walter Lantz character, who took up residence in the back pages of New Funnies for a little while); and Waku, Prince of the Bantu (who shared covers of Marvel's mid-'50s Jungle Tales with Jann of the Jungle, Cliff Mason, both white folks; and "The Unknown Jungle", which wasn't even about human beings).

But Lobo was a hero people could look up to, and he had the comic all to himself. His series was set a full century in the past. Free from his duties as a Union soldier during the recent war, he headed West with his horse, Midnight (whom he'd bought for a sack of flour), looking for a life without killing.

Instead, he walked in on the aftermath of a robbery and murder, and was framed for the crime. From then on, he had difficulty making friends, especially among law enforcement people. The name "Lobo" came from his accusers calling him a lobo, or lone wolf. He decided that was appropriate and adopted it as his name. Before that, he hadn't been called anything at all.

He had a schtick even more striking than The Lone Ranger's habit of flashing silver bullets wherever he went. He had a stash of gold coins minted with a wolf and an "L" insignia, which he'd give out like a glad-handing salesman gives out business cards. They came from an old prospector named Tompkins, also on the run for a crime he didn't commit.

Tompkins originally had dreams of going back and clearing himself, but didn't strike it rich until he was too old for the trip. He hoped to make up for it by financing Lobo's commitment to spend his life helping others, thus proving he wasn't the kind of man who would do what he was accused of.

The story was written by Don Arneson (Super Heroes) and drawn by Tony Tallarico (Son of Vulcan). In a later interview, Tallarico said he'd created the character in 1964, then approached Arneson, a Dell writer and editor, as go-between to sell it to Dell president Helen Meyer. Meyer went for it, then Arneson wrote the script from Tallarico's plot and Tallarico drew it.

But when it came time for distributors to return the unsold copies, the publisher found most had never been put out for sale. In fact, they hadn't even been taken out of the box. Distributors shied away from the product just because it had a black man alone on the cover, tho except for his skin color, no notice was made of the fact, there or throughout the issue. Over 90% of the printrun came back.

By that time, the second issue was well advanced in the production process, and it had become less trouble to finish and release it than just to drop it then and there. But enthusiasm for the sure money-loser had waned, and it was ten months before the second issue was released. There wasn't a third, tho Tallarico said some pages had been drawn for it.

By the way, the later DC Comics non-hero with the same name — no relation. They didn't even come from the same planet.


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Text ©2008-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Dell Publishing Co.