Luke astride Jolly Jumper. Artist: 'Morris'.


Original Medium: Comic books
Published in: Belgium
First Appeared: 1946
Creator: Maurice De Bevere ("Morris")
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The mid-century popularity of stories set in the American West of the 1800s, found in comic books like Two-Gun Kid, newspaper comics like Casey Ruggles, TV animation like Lariat Sam etc., wasn't just an American phenomenon. In Europe, stories starring Lt. Michael "Blueberry" Donovan, by …

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… Jean-Michel Charlier and Jean "Moebuis" Gerard captivated an international audience for many years. And as early as 1946, a comedy/parody western character named Lucky Luke appeared in the Belgian comic book Le Journal de Spirou, which later gave the world Smurfs.

Luke first appeared as the hero of a story titled "Arizona", in Spirou's 1947 annual, which went on sale during December, 1946. He was created by cartoonist Maurice De Bevere, who, sojourning in the U.S. during the 1950s, did a little work for the early Mad. He did his Lucky Luke work under the pseudonym "Morris", an anglicized version of his first name.

While in America, Morris met René Goscinny, also a French-language comics creator, who was working briefly at the studio run by Harvey Kurtzman (Goodman Beaver). Goscinny, who later became famous as the co-creator of Asterix the Gaul, joined Morris as Luke's writer. From August 25, 1955 until his death in 1977, Goscinny wrote the scripts for Lucky Luke. Before that date, Morris had handled the whole job himself.

Luke was one of those cowboy heroes who roam from town to town doing good, like The Rawhide Kid or The Wyoming Kid, capable of drawing a gun faster than anybody else around — in Luke's case, even his own shadow. At the end of most stories, he rides his noble steed (Jolly Jumper, the smartest horse in the world) into the sunset, singing (in English) "I'm a poor lonesome cowboy, and a long way from home."

Like another comics adventurer of the past, Prince Valiant, who at one time or another has met most of the real-life historical figures of the 5th century, and a lot from the 4th and 6th, it isn't clear exactly when Luke's adventures take place, other than sort of vaguely in the 19th century. When his path crosses that of a real person who lived back then, it can happen at time during the century.

Luke himself is always about the same age, no matter when a particular story takes place. Also ageless are The Dalton Brothers (Joe, William, Jack and Averell; not the real-life Dalton Gang), a bunch of incompetent desperados Luke would repeatedly defeat. The Daltons looked as much alike as Heckle & Jeckle, or Donald Duck's nephews, except in height, from the tallest, oldest and stupidest, Averell, to the shortest, youngest and meanest, Joe. They often start a story in a jail cell guarded by Rantanplan (like Rang-a-Tang, named after Rin-Tin-Tin), who usually offers little impediment to their escape. After they're out, you can tell where they are by looking where Rantanplan is not pointing, except that he'll eventually find Joe, whom he regards as his master. (Joe doesn't acknowledge the relationship.)

Morris and Goscinny did one Lucky Luke story after another (each collected into album, or graphic novel form which would then be translated into over two dozen languages, all over the world) for Spirou. In 1967, Luke switched over to Pilote, where Asterix starred. After Goscinny's death, Luke's adventures were carried on by Bob De Groot (Chlorophylle), Raymond "Vicq" Antione (Fleurdelys) and others. After Morris's own death in 2001, Luke was written by Laurent Gerra ("Those Mutts Who Rule the World") and drawn by Hervé "Achdé" Darmenton (Woker).

In 1983, a Lucky Luke animated TV series was produced by Hanna-Barbera for 26 episodes. In 2001, another 26 episodes were added. He was done on live-action TV in 1992, with "spaghetti western" veteran Terrence Hill as Luke, a follow-up to two live-action movies made in 1991. Starting in 1990, he was in four animated movies, the first of which was released in America by Disney.

With movies, TV shows, video games etc. established and — especially — with a new generation of creators making his comic books, Lucky Luke seems a going concern into the 21st century.


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Text ©2010 Donald D. Markstein. Art © "Morris".