Hawkshaw & Howard Essay
The February 15, 1923 issue of Brownwood High School’s student newspaper, The Tattler, introduced readers to one of Robert E. Howard’s very first (maybe, the first) series characters, Hawkshaw the Detective. With the Colonel, his blundering sidekick, Hawkshaw appeared in three stories: “Unhand Me, Villain!” “Aha! or The Mystery of the Queen’s Necklace,” and “Halt! Who Goes There?”; this last published in The Yellow Jacket, Howard Payne College’s newspaper, in 1924. For those not familiar with the tales, they are detective parodies along the lines of the Fu Manchu spoofs that appeared in some of Howard’s letters, though these poke fun at Sherlock Holmes and Watson, instead. At least I thought that was where the idea came from.
I was thumbing through an old copy of the Comic Book Price Guide the other day, looking for comics I used to have, when the following title caught my eye: The Adventures of Hawkshaw. “Huh,” I muttered, and then read the following note: “See Hawkshaw the Detective.”
First published in 1917, Hawkshaw the Detective is a 48-page collection of “Sunday strip reprints” by Gus Mager. In 1994 it was worth $160 in near mint condition. A print-on-demand version of this is available at lulu.com.
Robert E. Howard would’ve been eleven years old in 1917, seventeen in 1923 when his first Hawkshaw story appeared in print. I don’t doubt that Howard was reading things in 1917, but would he have remembered a comic book six years later? Well, he didn’t have to. According to Don Markstein’s Toonopedia, Hawkshaw the Detective, the newspaper strip, ran from 1913 to 1922; so, if Howard had access to one of the newspapers that ran the strip, he’d easily remember it a few months later.
The term “hawkshaw” was fairly prevalent in the 1920s and was synonymous with “detective,” so it would be easy to write these two Hawkshaws off as a coincidence, but when you throw in the sidekick Colonel, it becomes unlikely. Have a look and see if the comic strip posted here doesn’t match Howard’s description of the duo from “Unhand Me, Villain!”: “One was a tall, thin man and the other a short stocky man.”
I think it’s safe to assume that Howard, as well as readers of The Tattler, were familiar with the characters from the comic strip long before they appeared in the stories mentioned above. Add Gus Mager to the list of Howard’s influences.
Oh, and Hawkshaw’s fame is enduring, apparently. Hawkshaw the Detective: A Morally Uplifting Melodrama by Tim Kelly was published in 1976 by Hanbury Plays and was recently performed at the Golden Chain Theatre “in scenic Oakhurst,” California.