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August 8, 2013

Stan Lynde, 1931-2013


Stan Lynde, the iconoclastic western cartoonist behind the long-running comic strip Rick O'Shay, died on August 6 in a hospital in Helena, Montana. The cause of death was cancer.

Lynde was born to a sheep ranching family in Montana in 1931 -- the work available to Lynde's father at the height of the Great Depression. They lived on Montana's Crow Indian Reservation. His mother was an artist, and encouraged him to draw -- to keep him occupied and out of trouble, according to family legend. Lynde made his first comics for the high school paper. He had learned that people made a living doing newspaper cartoons, which he would later and in multiple interviews call a revelation, and had thereafter set his sights on landing that gig himself when he got older. He even thought he might write about the cowboys and other figures he met through his father. Among those cartoonists he admired were Al Capp, Milton Caniff and Fred Harman; he considered Hal Foster an exemplar.

Lynde attended Montana State University in the late 1940s, where he studied art and journalism. He joined the US Navy in 1951. While in the Navy, Lynde drew a recurring feature, Ty Foon, for his base's newspaper.

Lynde left the Navy in 1955. He did some ranching and worked for a time in journalism in Colorado Springs. He moved to New York approximately a year later. He found work at the Wall Street Journal and attended art classes. In 1958 he sold Rick O'Shay to the Tribune-News Syndicate.

imageRick O'Shay was a sometimes light-hearted, sometimes more serious western set in the town of Conniption. It enjoyed a unique creative pedigree. Rick O'Shay (sound it out) initially started as a humor strip, with a greater tie-in to the Hollywood version of the Old West with which people were familiar in movie theaters and on TV. It was only over time that Lynde's comic became more a standard continuity feature. In addition to its sunny-faced protagonist lead of the same name, Lynde introduced a number of memorable, colorfully named supporting characters such as Mort Gage (a banker) and Ouyat Burp. "I like puns," he would later say. Lynde's most memorable character may have been the gunslinger sporting the wonderful appellation of "Hipshot Percussion." The strip was a solid performer, and Lynde moved back to Montana in the early 1960s when the strip hit the 100-paper mark. The feature's bigger clients included the Chicago Tribune and the Philadelphia Inquirer. It would stay around that client level for much of its run.

"I grew up reading the comics pages as a kid, and Rick O'Shay ran in the Houston Post," the writer Robert Boyd told CR. "I was a devoted reader. When I started reading it, I was too young to realize that almost all the characters' names were puns. I was reading it in the early '70s, by which time it had morphed into an almost totally straight continuity strip. I had no idea about its humorous beginnings. Has there ever been any other strip that made this transition? It would be like BC gradually changing from a gag strip to a serious depiction of paleolithic life."

Stan Lynde would work on the strip until 1977, when differences with his syndicate forced him to leave the feature he created. It lasted only a couple more years without him, coming to an end in 1981. Lynde's strip not only engaged first comedy and then more forward dramatic narrative, it was frequently contemplative about nature and man and various values Lynde ascribed to the old West. "I think being able to express myself and express ideas and to connect with people through the western stories were important," he told an NBC news affiliate in November 2012. "I have a strong feeling about our western history. I think the Western and the values of the west are American values and what makes our country unique."

In 1979 Lynde created a second western comic strip, Latigo, for Field Newspaper Syndicate, which ran until 1983. The artist and writer Buzz Dixon, a tremendous fan of Rick O'Shay, also enjoyed the later work but recognized that it had even less of a chance in the modern marketplace. "One of the key distinctions between Rick O'Shay and Latigo, and one that perhaps explained the latter's failure to gain the same traction Rick enjoyed, was that Rick O'Shay was first cousins with Gunsmoke and The Rifleman and other family-/community-oriented TV Westerns of the 1950s while Latigo was more akin to A Man Called Gannon," Dixon wrote at his site in a tribute to the late cartoonist.

imageLynde worked a variety of comics, illustration and prose gigs over the last three quarter century. After Latigo faded, Lynde made a weekly panel called Grass Roots which ran in the mid-1980s and was revived in 1998. His later work also included a revival episode of Rick O'Shay called Rick O'Shay And Hipshot: The Price Of Fear, comics for Fantomen in Sweden including Chief Sly Fox and Rovar Bob. In recent years Lynde set up shop in Helena where his Cottonwood Publishing put out on the market eight different prose novels, including seven in the Merlin Fanshaw series. He maintained an author's blog here. In recent months he had made local news for a plan made public that he and his wife were to relocate to Ecuador. They returned this Spring when Lynde became sick.

Boyd was also a fan of how Lynde saw to his own comic-strip legacy. "What's great about Lynde is that after he left the strip and retired to a ranch in Montana, he started publishing book collections of the strip and new material. Rick O'Shay, Hipshot, and Me: A Memoir by Stan Lynde is a key text -- it really lead me to rediscover the strip and see how it evolved. I've reread that book many times -- it's so pleasurable. The book is itself very reminiscent of 10 Ever-Lovin Blue-eyed Years With Pogo, which mixed autobiographical sketches with comics." Boyd noted that among his Cottonwood Graphics effort was a two-issue Rick O'Shay color comic series, The Price of Fame.

Lynde won the Western Writers of America's 2009 SPUR Award for the original audio book of the novel Vendetta Canyon, which he later called the award he was most proud of.

Lynde donated some of his original art and even his well-known cowboy hat to the Montana Historical Society before departing for Ecuador. Some of Lynde's original were destroyed in a fire.

Stan Lynde was 81 years old. He is survived by his wife, Lynda, their eight children, and two sisters. A memorial service is planned for September 6 in Helena. He is to be buried in Billings.

posted 5:35 pm PST | Permalink

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