Lucky Luke, the Belgian Cowboy
Sometimes you have to look east to find the Wild West.
The myth of the cowboy and legends of the Wild West play a huge role in defining American cultural identity. Though the historical timeline of the Wild West was relatively short – just 25 years from 1865 to 1890 – the influence of the period has lasted much longer. Our idea of the Old West may have been created by dime store novels and Hollywood movies out of nostalgia for a lost frontier, but it lives on in countless reinventions.
However, while Americans tend think of these legends as particularly homemade stories, of interest mostly to American audiences, the cowboy myth is really an extension of older European legends, especially knights from the Middle Ages. As a result, the buckaroos and gunslingers of the Wild West continue to enchant American and European audiences alike.
From the Winnetou novels of Karl May (still one of the best-selling German authors) to the spaghetti western, cowboy stories have long had a place in European entertainment. In the world of comics, that place is held by the Franco-Belgian cowboy Lucky Luke.
First published in Le Journal de Spirou in 1946, Lucky Luke was created by Belgian cartoonist Maurice De Bevere (otherwise known as Morris). One of the most popular and best-selling series of comic books in Europe, Lucky Luke has been translated in over 25 languages, and continues to be published even after Morris’s death in 2001. Not one to be fenced in, Lucky Luke’s popularity has roamed off the page and onto screens. Eight feature films have been produced, four animated and four live-action, and five TV series have chronicled his exploits.
Lucky Luke is the cowboy hero who bests the bad guys thanks to his fast thinking and even faster gunslinging – he’s said to “draw faster than his shadow.” He’s accompanied by Rantanplan, “the stupidest dog in the universe,” but he rides Jolly Jumper, “the smartest horse in the world.” So he breaks even, I guess.
At the end of each story, Lucky Luke rides off into the sunset, singing “I’m a poor lonesome cowboy, and a long way from home…” Maybe he’s not really so far from home though. Looks like the Wild West is big enough for all of us.