Bill (left) rehashes a recent adventure. Artist: Harry O'Neill.


Medium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: United Feature Syndicate
First Appeared: 1928
Creator: Harry F. O'Neill
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The Chicago Tribune Syndicate's Little Joe, which ran practically four decades, almost covered the entire tenure of the western genre in American comics. But a few were still left when it …

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… folded, and a very few actually predated it. Of the ones that came before, probably the most successful was Broncho Bill, from United Feature Syndicate (Gordo, Tarzan). It never achieved great fame or circulation, but it did last long enough for a generation to grow up reading it.

Bill went back as far as 1928, but his name was different at first. He and his comic strip were called Young Buffalo Bill. It was a couple of years before he got a first name of his own, and even then, it wasn't quite right — Buckaroo Bill. In 1932, he assumed the monicker by which he remained known for the rest of his comic's existence. He was created by cartoonist Harry O'Neill, who handled him from beginning to end, under all his names.

The hero was blond-haired and very youthful, to the point where readers tended to regard him as not fully grown despite the presence of a girlfriend, Nell, giving evidence of maturity. Young as he was, he was he-man enough to have served as a sheriff at one time. When that gig ended, he gathered together a vigilante group called The Boy Rangers. According to comics historian Ron Goulart, this outfit behaved like "bloodthirsty Boy Scouts".

Broncho Bill never made it into media-extravaganza-hood — an earlier series of more than 100 silent movies about "Broncho Billy" was unrelated — but he, like Ella Cinders, Nancy and other United Feature stars, did get reprinted in Sparkler and/or Tip Top Comics. He mostly just hung around the newspaper page, tho his range there expanded as a Sunday page was added in 1933. (Its topper, Bumps, was about a boy growing up as a circus acrobat, a reflection of O'Neill's own earlier life.)

Bill defeated an endless stream of Injuns, cattle rustlers, bank robbers and the like, cavorting through an era-unspecific (looked like 1860s to 19-aughts) Western landscape, all the way through World War II and a little beyond. But the postwar world was not kind to comics with serious storylines. It folded in 1950.


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Text ©2007 Donald D. Markstein. Art © United Feature Syndicate.