Ah Lucky Luke! What can one say about Lucky Luke, that lonesome cowboy who couldn’t quite ride into the sunset of comic book glory? It’s a bit unfortunate! But well, that’s how the cookie has crumbled for him.
Lucky Luke is the tragic hero of European Comics, a potential main-eventer who never got the push so much so that he had to contend himself with his name being mentioned in passing
by those who doesn’t want to stop with just Asterix and Tintin while talking about European Comics; but sadly not mentioned in the same vein. A raw deal for one of the most flamboyant comic book characters ever created. Heck, I can’t remember anyone more flamboyant!
Luke may not have been as imaginative as Asterix used to be, or as ingenious as Tintin was; but heaven knows, Luke was brilliant! The very genius that catapulted the Gaul to superstardom was at work on Luke as well (to say nothing of Morris’s art work which was as distinct as that of Uderzo’s or Herge’s, if not aesthetically clean.) Imagine re-imagining Billy ‘the Kid’ as actually a kid!
So what’s he ain’t got that they got?
Any attempt at drawing comparisons with Tintin must be discouraged as they belong to entirely two different sub-genres. Tintin is ‘adolescent fiction narrated and illustrated in the style of comic books where as Lucky Luke is, just like Asterix, head to toe a pure comic book as in it doesn’t lend itself to other media. (Please refer the article Asterix Vs Tintin for more on this.)
That leaves us with the Gaul. Yet notwithstanding the similarities, even this might be gently prevented. You can write about as many cowboy heroes as you want, but a Gaul, that’s trespassing!
In Europe, the Gun-totter was immensely successful. But world over, the reception was as low as that of a cowboy flick in the 30s. Was it the due to the lack of exposure on account of being a European comic? One might argue! But I am not certain if the inherent lack of exposure on account of Luke’s European roots can be blamed for this misfortune. Brilliance outshines the setting!
Perhaps it was the creators’ presumption that the world was au fait with the Wild West that worked against Lucky Luke. As one can clearly see, the indigenous elements play far too crucial a role in the development of the plot. And one can’t appreciate the series and its subtle and sometimes ostentatious humour unless one has a working knowledge of the Wild West legends like the cattle ranchers, the gold miners, the ghost towns and names like Billy ‘the Kid’, Calamity Jane, Jesse James and the ilk.
So would it have worked for Luke had the world been familiar with the exploits of the West? I don’t think so! If being familiar was the requisite, one might have seen a huge market for Luke in US. So why did he miss out?
My reckoning is that Luke didn’t make it big in US (and subsequently in the World) due to what could be termed as “Bringingcoaltonewcastle Syndrome”. Trying to sell Westerns to Americans? That’s a laugh!
For a country that has produced more Wild West novels and comics and movies than the rest of the world put together or can ever put together, Luke was just another wannabe! That he comes in Album format doesn’t make any difference as the themes, the characters, the history were all done to standoff!
So I guess…. well, Luke was never destined for greatness. What seems like his strength seems like his weakness too.
By the way, did I tell you, I like the name Buck Bingo better!