Rocky introduces himself. Artist: Jimmy Swinnerton.


Medium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: King Features Syndicate
First Appeared: 1941
Creator: Jimmy Swinnerton
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Cartoonist Jimmy Swinnerton, whose Little Bears & Tykes was, arguably at least, the first comics series in newspapers, was a giant in the field of comic strips. But he never made much of a mark in …

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… non-humorous comics features. It was only after soap operas like Gasoline Alley, melodramas like Little Annie Rooney, shoot-'em-ups like Red Barry, etc., were ongoing concerns, that he made his first step in that direction, and it turned out to be only a minor one.

Decades earlier, Swinnerton had moved from New York to Arizona for health reasons. The change in setting had clearly shown in his work, from Somoli, the Navajo supporting character in Little Jimmy, to his feature in Good Housekeeping magazine, Canyon Kiddies. In the late 1930s he dropped the Little Jimmy daily strip, and in 1941 he put the Sunday on hiatus. He replaced them with Rocky Mason, Government Marshal, on Sunday, August 24, 1941.

Like most of Swinnerton's earlier work for publication, Rocky was distributed by King Features Syndicate, whose ongoing non-funny comics included Secret Agent X-9 and Mandrake the Magician. The western genre had been established in comics with Broncho Bill, Little Joe, Red Ryder and the like; and King, characteristically, was trying to set itself up as the industry leader in that area. In 1934, King launched Way Out West, by Vic Forsythe (Joe Jinks,); in '35 it started King of the Royal Mounted, promoted by Steven Slesinger (Winnie the Pooh); and in '39 it licensed The Lone Ranger. Getting a cartoonist who was becoming known for the genre to make a shift in his output seemed part of the program.

Critics often blame the failure of Rocky Mason at least partly on the fact that Swinnerton used the same cartoony art style as on his usual humorous features. But cartoony art doesn't seem to have bothered Dick Tracy, and a more likely explanation may lie in Swinnerton's flat characterization and his use of hackneyed plot devices. Possibly, he simply didn't have much affinity for "serious" comics. In any case, Rocky ended in 1945, and Swinnerton went back to Little Jimmy.


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Text ©2010 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Jimmy Swinnerton estate.