Brand Echh: Lobo #1

The 1960s was a time of social change, as the fight for Civil Rights for black Americans was constantly in the headlines of the era. Marvel gets (and takes) big props for their progressiveness in introducing the Black Panther, a dark-skinned super hero, in FANTASTIC FOUR in 1966–and in fairness, that was still an accomplishment to tout. But Marvel wasn’t the first to feature a black lead hero in his own series. No, that crown must be given to Dell Comics, for its short-lived series LOBO. While the book only ran for two issues–apparently, it ran into exactly the kinds of distribution problems that Marvel’s Martin Goodman was always worried about with the Panther, unable to get racking in many places, especially in the South.

LOBO #1 went on sale in August of 1965, and followed the exploits of a nameless black soldier who goes west after fighting for the Union during the Civil War. In the manner of so many other western heroes of the period, he is wrongly accused of a murder and is forced to constantly travel from place to place. He adopts the name of Lobo as an extension of his new condition, and he always gets involved on the side of the underdog and the little guy in whatever situation he comes across. In many ways, LOBO was a by-the-numbers western character–apart from his pigment.

Lobo was the creation of writer/editor D.J. Arneson and artist Tony Tallarico. In later years, when the renowned of what they had created came to be more widely recognized, both men individually claimed to have been the primary if not only creator of the character, with the other man coming on board after the fact to simply handle that part of the job. I’m not going to try to parse the conflicting stories here, so for our purposes, we’ll accept that Lobo was the joint work of Arneson and Tallarico and leave things at that.

I can’t say that LOBO made much of an impact on fandom when it first came out. It was a western title, and most of the active early fans were all about super hero comics, for all that they might purchase an occasional western if it appealed to them. And as I mentioned earlier, it ran for only two issues (with a sizeable gap between the two) thanks to pushback at the distributor level. It’s also a bit of a crude effort, to be honest. Tallarico had a long career working in comics, but he was never a huge fan favorite, and his art had a built-in cartooniness to it that didn’t always work on adventure strips such as this one. There’s almost a coloring book quality to his work here on LOBO #1.

The one thing that was interesting about LOBO in retrospect was the fact that, throughout all of his stories, no mention is ever really made about his skin color or background. He’s simply accepted just as he is, no different than any of the other soldiers or characters who inhabit teh strip. His color is made no issue of at all–which is a pretty progressive manner in which to handle things. An argument could be made that this whitewashes Lobo’s story somewhat–that his experiences are depicted as being interchangeable with those of any white soldier of that time. I’m not really someone best equipped to speak to those arguments. But I can appreciate the fact that Lobo’s creators simply put him out there and allowed his very presence to be the only statement they needed to make.

8 thoughts on “Brand Echh: Lobo #1

  1. As we’re going through Marvel month-by-month, it seems like there’s an editorial mandate that kicks in around 1965-66 to feature more ethnic diversity in the books. Obviously there’s the debut of the Black Panther in ‘66, but Marvel’s supporting cast and background characters start becoming noticeably more diverse around this time, really ramping up by ‘68-‘69. It feels like Marvel was ahead of other publishers at the time, but I’m not sure how accurate that is. I haven’t read a great behind-the-scenes account of how and why that came about, so if you have any additional info to share in an upcoming essay (or could point us toward a good resource), I’d love to read it.

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    1. We’d also seen Gabe Jones in SGT. FURY starting back in 1963.

      And Steve Ditko had drawn black characters in backgrounds, including as Daily Bugle staff, though Joe Robertson didn’t get introduced as a character until 1967.

      It seemed like Kirby and Ditko knew what they wanted to see, and drew it in, but Stan didn’t really start thinking about it until later. The Panther was apparently Kirby’s idea, and the Falcon was Colan’s, because he liked drawing black faces and suggested to Stan that they create a character. That suggests that Willie Lincoln, from DAREDEVIL 47, may have been a Colan idea too.

      Over at DC, Bob Kanigher seemed to have been the most proactive on race, introducing Jackie Johnson into the Sgt. Rock series in 1961, and doing multiple anti-racism stories with him (though Kanigher would also create the thankfully-unpublished Black Bomber in the 70s). And there was Jack Schiff’s Ralph Jackson in the Johnny Everyman series in 1945, who I re-used in POWER COMPANY, but he wasn’t an ongoing character.

      For a good rundown on DC’s history of the time, check out:

      www fanzing com/mag/fanzing32/feature1 shtml

      [I’ve taken the periods out just in case the filters here don’t like links, but put them back in and it should work.]

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      1. Thanks, Kurt! That was a great article. Hope to be able to have you join us on Marvel by the Month sometime. We had a great conversation with Tom about the Prowler the last time he was on.

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  2. As simplistic as Tallarico’s art sometimes seems, it’s hard to believe that he almost always, as here, worked over the uncredited pencils of Bill Fraccio! At Warren, the pair adopted the name “Tony Willamsune.”

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  3. The comic never discusses or makes an issue of his race, yet just from his picture on the cover, distributors and newsstands in the South didn’t want to carry the comic.

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    1. I feel I should note that editor/writer DJ Arneson was a bit perplexed by Tony’s belief that distributors were rejecting the comic due to the lead character being black. He had not heard anything like that and believed it was killed due to low sales. I’m not sure where Tony got that info from and that’s something neither I or Jim asked him, but probably should have. He could absolutely be right though and it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if he is.

      Although I am surprised that Dell published a 2nd issue if the reaction the first one was as bad as Tony said.

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      1. It’s worth noting, of course, that distributors (in the South and maybe elsewhere, in 1965) declining to distribute a book would mean that, while some of them might contact the publisher to say “We’re not putting this on racks, are you crazy?), others would simply leave it on the trucks and then send it all back as returns.

        [This is why DC and Marvel both didn’t put the issue number on most first issues in the late 50s/early 60s. They thought that books that were too obviously new and unestablished risked being left on the trucks in favor of books with higher issue numbers. How times have changed.]

        So it’s possible for both to be right — sales were bad in part because distributors didn’t put it out, in part because readers weren’t interested in a black cowboy and in part because it’s a dull-looking book (but with a pretty nice logo).

        And on another question that came up — Dell might have tried another issue because they had it in hand and the first issue may have done poorly, but well enough to cover costs, at least, so let’s put this second issue out to recoup the costs on that and then forget about it. Or the initial sales reports may have been bad but the final reports spiked a little in a few cities, and so they thought maybe it’d catch on. It’s hard to say, but there are possibilities.

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