Unexpected Comic Strip Creators - Zane Grey

King of the Royal Mounted

The story of our next unexpected comic strip creator will probably sound similar in many ways to the one I wrote about Dashiell Hammett. In fact, this post would more appropriately be called "Unexpected Comic Strip Bylines", because although Zane Grey was involved in the production of a comic strip for a short while, his name was used to promote it, as well as other products, for quite a long time after he left.

Zane Grey was best known for writing western novels which generally depicted a romanticized version of the Old West, with larger than life cowboy heroes and noble but savage Native Americans. His books were extremely popular, influenced many writers after him, and were adapted into all different types of media, including radio, film, television, and a comic strip. The comic strip began in 1932, and began as an adaptation of his most popular novel, "Riders of the Purple Sage." Seven of his novels were adapted over the course of its two year run, and while Grey himself did not write any of the words that appear therein, his name always appeared in the byline. The strip itself was never extremely popular, probably because its target audience had either read the books already or would enjoy the books more, or both. By the time the strip ended, there were only a handful of newspapers still running it, and that seemed to be the end of Grey's comic strip career.

That is, until Stephen Slesinger stepped in.

Slesinger was a comic strip producer, and was known for creating comic characters who he would hire others to draw and write. In 1938, he produced another western character, the famous Red Ryder (who I've written about before) with Fred Harman. Before that, though, he created a bit of a different character, Corporal Dave King, who was a Canadian Mountie. Similarly to how King Features Syndicate hired Dashiell Hammett to write Secret Agent X-9 mainly for the name recognition, Slesinger sought out various famous western writers to write his strip, and finally settled on Zane Grey. He called it "King of the Royal Mounted," and it debuted in 1935.

It's not clear that Grey wrote any of the actual captions or dialogue for the strips, but he was certainly involved, at least for the first year or so of publication. Grey's son, Romer Zane Grey, who was a western writer himself as well as an animator, wrote the strips based on story outlines from his father. Grey's involvement ended in 1936, though Slesinger and his son continued collaborating on it for some time after that. Grey died in 1939, and it was soon passed on to other writers and artists, and lasted as a comic strip until 1955. All the while, it carried the name "Zane Grey's King of the Royal Mounted," despite Grey's departure long before. After the strip ended, it even carried that name for years in the Dell comic book series, as well as the various other marketing tie-ins. It was popular in its time, and certainly more popular than the earlier comic strip adaptation of his novels, but it's hard to say whether that's due to the quality of the strip or the name attached to it.

For more information:

The Zane Grey Comic Strip at The Stripper's Guide

King of the Royal Mounted at Toonopedia

Comics Based on Zane Grey Works at Zane Grey's West Society

Vintage King of the Royal Mounted strips at Comics Kingdom

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