Conqureing America's Wild West has always been a symbol for an aspiring society, where fortune favours the brave – and the strong ones rule. In this world danger lurks around every corner and needs to be averted at all costs – a concept that seems to fuel America, "till the day".
European entertainment has always hugely featured the American western genre. Film icons such as Sergio Leone are still influencing our imagination of the Wild West and the „poor lonesome Cowboy“ – a lonely fighter for justice and against wild bunches of evil bandits. It is a cliché, established and written in stone since the early fiction of Karl May (1842-1912).
American western comics developed quite early in the last century. US publishers dominated the scene during the 50s, featuring series like „John Wayne Adventure Comics“, or „Outlaw Kid“ that further shaped the image of the uncompromising hero and the shady outlaw. Naurally this world attracted European comic book artists, too: In the 40s Belgian Morris – aka Maurica De Bevere (1923-2001) – came up with his quite unforgettable adventures of Lucky Luke, his horse Jolly Jumper and Rantanplan, his most stupid dog.
With a new exhibition, „Going West“, Cartoon Museum Basel is now looking westwards, dedicating much attention to this beloved comic book genre.
„Going West“ follows the development of US and European western comics, displaying exhibits that shaped over 100 years of comic book history: Next to „Lucky Luke“ European classics such as „Tim in America“ or „Leutnant Blueberry“ are on display and offer a fascinating perspectice on the evolution of drawing techniques and different artistic viewpoints that shape our modern perception of the American West.
The American Western Comic – once upon a time in the West and how it all started...
In the 1920s US illustrators like George Herriman („Krazy Kat“), James Swinnerton („Little Jimmy“) or Frank King („Gasoline Alley“) were among the first artists to transform their adventures of extensive horseback expeditions at Grand Canyon and Monument Valley into comic strips. They depicted the grand lanscapes, as well as the Native Americans' daily routine – therefor making these aspects public and presenting them to a wider audience.
Early Belgian comic book writers and artists discovered the Wild West only some 20 years later. While Hergés „Tim in America“ was mainly based on ficiton and research of contemporary photos and literature, others, such as Jijé, André Franquin, and Morris actually travelled to the United States in the 1940s to gather a more personal viewpoint. Hergé did not follw them until 1971.
Especially Jijé, who returned to Belgium in 1950, and Morris, who followed him back home in 1955, both met with a great impact on their work: Jijé developed his Cowboy Jerry Spring, while Morris enriched European pop culture with his immortalized character of Lucky Luke, leading the genre towards new humouristic heights. They both prepared the ground for later European western comics, such as Hermann's „Comanche“ or the great Jean Giraud's „Leutnant Blueberry“ – a 1980s offcut of a Jean-Paul-Belmondo-style western hero.
Renowned Swiss illustrator Derib aka Claude de Ribaupierre (1944, La Tour-de-Peilz, Waadt) has also been focussing on North American culture, landscapes, and nature. His considerable and stylistically diverse body of work features a sophisticated viewpoint on the clash of Native Americans vs. immigrants.
His well-liked kids comic „Yakari“ and his saga featuring Trapper Buddy Longway are, of course, also depicted in this exhibition suitable for all ages. Some parts of the section on Derib are stage-mamaged to especially attract kids, and a mulitcoloured program at Cartoon Museum Basel offers some great Western entertainment. There are Sunday guided tours and special events for kids throughout July and August, such as workshops to learn stop motion techniques with artist Julia Tabakhova. The wednesday-matinee „How the West Was Won“, features curator Anette Gehrig speaking with ethnologist and director of NONAM (Nordamerika Native Museum) Zürich, Heidi Loeb, about the dreams and nightmares of the Wild West. Derib is expected in Basel on October 26, 2014 visiting his exhibition and offering a book-signing between 2 and 5 pm at the museum's Cartoon Forum.
Find out more about Wild West comics in our archive: archive.bilderundworte.de