The 20th volume in editor Tom Pomplun’s series of “Graphic Classics” collections, Western Classics (Eureka Productions) boasts the appearance of two long-established comics names. Al Feldstein, known for his years as the artist/writer/editor for EC and editorship of Mad magazine, is represented by a lovely color illo accompanying a piece by cowboy poet Arthur Chapman, while Dan Spiegle, who once drew the “Hopalong Cassidy” comic strip, makes a substantial showing with a 16-page adaptation of an early Hoppy short story.
If the presence of these two old pros serves to hint that the contents in the new graphic storytelling collection will be a trace more visually conservative than, say, some of the selections in Gothic Classics, that’s arguably in line with the material being adapted this time. Pomplun and collaborators are tackling some fairly straightforward tales of the American West, after all, not opening up the deranged nightmares of an E.A. Poe. That’s for the next “Graphics Classics” set.
The book opens with a retelling of Zane Grey’s Riders of the Purple Sage, a core genre work that remains the popular western writer’s best-selling book. As adapted by Pomplun and illustrator Cynthia Martin, the piece is a respectful take on this dense western work, though at times the multiple threads from the novel lead to some dialog-heavy pages. Scripter Pomplun downplays one of the novel’s most striking features — its use of Mormons as story villains — though the theme is still there for those who know to look for it. If Martin’s renderings of the cast and setting may occasionally look a bit too pristine, it’s in keeping with the early 20th century novelist’s style.
A grittier, unshaven take on the genre can be found, surprisingly, in Tim LaSiuta and Dan Spiegle’s Hopalong Cassidy tale. For those who grew up on the clean-cut movie and TV versions of the character, this 1913 Clarence E. Mulford tale is a revelation: the original version of the character was rough-hewn and gimpy legged. Mulford’s “The Holdup” is a simple yarn about Hoppy and friends’ disruption of a train robber, but if the story is pretty basic, Spiegle’s art (which at times brought of memories of Jean Giraud’s magnificent Lieutenant Blueberry comics) is not. Ninety years old, and, damn, can that man draw.