Obscurity of the Day: Rusty Rawlins, Cowboy

When Glenn Chaffin was bumped from his writing gig on Tailspin Tommy he teamed up with artist Irvin “Shorty” Shope and switched from aviation to a western setting for his next strip. The result was Rusty Rawlins, Cowboy, and it was distributed by the McClure Syndicate.

In the promo material for the strip Chaffin and Shope are both revealed to be Montanans, and their bona fides as honest-to-gum cowboys are offered. The strip they came up with from all this first-hand experience concerns a nineteen year old cowboy who has already distinguished himself  as a “top hand” at the Wagon Wheel Ranch. Rusty tangles with most of the standard western villains — gun-slingers, land-grabbers, and rustlers — in the time-honored oater tradition. I find nothing that sets Rusty Rawlins apart from other westerns, but then I have to admit to not being a fan of the genre. Shope’s art is merely adequate to the job, and becomes less and less finished as the series goes on.

The strip was numbered instead of dated so that papers could more easily pick up the strip out of step with the intial release. The earliest start date I have found so far is November 5 1934*, but promo materials about the release were available in August, so the true start date may well be a bit earlier.

The strip did not prove a big success, and is generally found running in rural papers. An odd exception to that is the Boston Evening Transcript. The Transcript was known as a sophisticated paper that appealed to the high society and old-money class of Beantown. Why the paper became a patron of this nondescript western is a mystery, but one that really tickles me. Finding Rusty Rawlins amidst the genealogical columns, society news and stock exchange analysis is a bit of a hoot.

Although pinning down the end date of this numbered western is impossible without a definite start date, I can report that it ended with strip number #431, a day short of 72 weeks**. The strip ends with Rusty’s best gal accepting his proposal of marriage. If November 5 1934 is the actual start date, that places the end date on March 20 1936. Using the same dating scheme, Irvin Shope left the strip shortly before the end, on February 22. He was replaced by a fellow named Tom Maloney, who managed to make Shope’s work look good by comparison.

By the way, this strip is written up in Maurice Horn’s One Hundred Years of American Newspaper Comics book. He misspells the name of the strip and the artist, and has the running dates wrong, so I’m taking everything he says with a chunk of Himalayan pink salt, but he makes the intriguing claim that the strip lasted until 1938, and from 1936 on was drawn by Bob Naylor. I believe where he has erred here is that he mixed up Rusty Rawlins with another even more obscure strip, Rusty and the Redskins, which was drawn by Raymon Naylor.

* Source: Pittston Gazette
** Source: Mauch Chunk Times-News

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