Rang-a-Tang. Artist: Ed Smalle.


Medium: Comic Books
Published by: MLJ/Archie Comics
First Appeared: 1939
Creators: Will Harr (writer) and Norman Danberg (artist)
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Stories about dog heroes never exactly dominated all the storytelling media — or any of them for that matter — but they've always been around. Probably the first (and certainly the first successful) one in comic books was Rang-a-Tang, who debuted on the cover and in the first story of Blue Ribbon Comics #1 (November. 1939), with the blurb "The Wonder Dog" already plastered on the …

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… first panel. Blue Ribbon was the first title published by MLJ Comics, the company that later changed its name to that of its biggest star. So Rang has the distinction of having been the very first cover-featured star at Archie Comics.

When first seen, Rang was wandering the streets, homeless, an escapee from a cruel dog trainer — who, despite Rang's obvious low opinion of him, seems to have done a good job. Rang had exceptional abilities for a dog, as would start being demonstrated before the first page was over. Rang stumbled on an attempt to rub out police detective Hy Speed, and instantly knew the contract killers were the bad guys. Showing an ability to understand complex instructions given by a stranger, Rang saved Hy's life and helped him subdue both the would-be killers and the guy who'd hired them, Blackie Blade — the company's first evil mastermind, such as he was. Hy called him Rang-a-Tang, but didn't give any indication why he'd pulled such an odd-sounding name out of thin air.

But he hadn't pulled it out of thin air, and nobody thought he had. Everyone knew of Rin-Tin-Tin, the dog star who'd been working at Warner Bros. (producer of the Looney Tunes) since 1922, and whose radio show had started in 1930. It would have been hard to hear "Rang-a-Tang" applied to a canine hero without thinking of Rinty, and it's hard to imagine a reason to choose the name, other than hope of riding Rinty's coattails.

Naturally, Hy and Rang were partners in adventure from then on. But his original creative team — writer Will Harr (The Wizard) and artist Norman Danberg (whose other comic book credits are few-to-nonexistent) — was replaced early on by writer Joe Blair (Madam Satan) and artist Ed Smalle (Congo Bill). And they acted immediately to expand the cast and get Hy and Rang away from the formula of urban crime adventure.

In Blue Ribbon #4 (June, 1940) they had an adventure on the way to Hollywood. In #5 (July) they captured a criminal trying to destroy Mammoth Pictures, then Hy signed a contract with the studio. In #6 (September) they hooked up with a former child star, now hanging around the studio and playing minor parts, named Richy Waters, formerly known as Richy the Amazing Boy. From then on, Richy was part of the team, and the stories were no longer about urban crime.

Rang shared the early Blue Ribbon covers with Corporal Collins and, once, The Fox,. But starting with #9 (February, 1941) the covers were monopolized by superheroes, first Mr. Justice and then Captain Flag. After that, Rang never got the featured spot again.

Rang did, however, remain in the back pages as long as Blue Ribbon Comics lasted, a total of 22 issues, the last dated March, 1942. Which doesn't make him the most successful dog hero in comic books. That would be the Dell Comics adaptation of Lassie's television show, followed by DC's Rex the Wonder Dog. Even Dell's adaptation of Rin-Tin-Tin's 1950s TV show lasted longer and was more prominent. But Rang-a-Tang is still remembered for his primacy at Archie Comics.


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Text ©2008 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Archie Comics.