Beginning as early as the 1930s, the popularity of western comics was on the rise. These comics typically featured scripts about cowboys, gunfighters, lawmen, bounty hunters, outlaws and Native Americans. One such comic strip launched in 1933 and ran for several decades. Do you know which strip this was?
Little Joe, created by Ed Leffingwell, debuted in the Chicago Tribune Syndicate on October 1, 1933. The Sunday strip followed the misadventures of the 13-year-old Joe Oak. Joe was an only child, whose father had been murdered when he was much younger. Together, Joe and his mother ran the Oak Ranch by themselves. They were often assisted by a white-mustached man named Utah. Utah, who was revealed to have been a gunslinger in his younger days, was their foreman. In tougher times, he was also their only employee. He stepped into the father role when it came to teaching Joe how to be a man, and the survival skills he'd need to become one.
In addition to following the relationship between Joe and Utah, the strip often featured outlaws, corrupt businessmen, politicians, and Indians. Eventually, an old friend of Utah’s known only as “Ze Gen’ral” joined the cast. This charming rogue often helped the protagonists out of jams, while also taking advantage of opportunities to cheat them. Later on, Ze Gen’ral served as a topper strip above Little Joe.
Ed Leffingwell worked on Little Joe for three years, but following his death in 1936, his brother Robert stepped in to continue the strip. Little Joe ran for four decades, until its conclusion in 1974. In 2002, a CD-ROM reprinting early Little Joe strips was released. Although Little Joe Oak hasn’t been around for several decades, his impact on the western genre continues to this day.