The Cowpoke Humor of Ace Reid, Cowboy Cartoonist
Western fans everywhere have probably seen Ace Reid’s work, even if the name doesn’t ring a bell. Author of Cowpokes, his sparse pen and ink drawings accompanied by brief, humorous captions encapsulate what it was like to be a cowboy in the 20th century – and Ace Reid would know, because he was a cowboy himself.
Born March 10, 1925, Reid was raised on a ranch in Electra, Texas. Severe droughts during his adolescence in the Dirty Thirties had a strong influence on his artistic style; his characters both animal and human tend towards the anemic, which became Reid’s signature. After a stint in the Navy during World War II and an attempt at running his own ranch through two bad years, Reid said he decided “it was easier to draw cowboys than to be one”. In 1949 his first published cartoon appeared in the West Texas Livestock Weekly, and Cowpokes was born.
In the 1950s the publishing industry was not as organized as it is today. Reid went paper to paper syndicating his work, something that had never been attempted before. He and his wife Madge purchased their ranch, the Draggin’ S, in Kerrville, Texas with the proceeds. Reid became a part of a loose Texas creative coalition including Western luminaries Slim Pickens and Hondo Crouch, continuing to draw for his self-created syndicate of papers as well as a series of self-published anthologies.
Cowpokes continues in syndication, and it’s proof of Reid’s dry cowboy wit that his captions continue to draw laughs and stand alone even without his incredible artwork:
“The Doc said to go on a diet and he started by lightening my wallet fifteen dollars!”
“The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence when your neighbor owns two banks and a dozen oil wells.”
“I’m shore learnin’ the livestock business, it took five years ‘fore I went broke this time!”
“No, you can’t deduct a banker and three feed salesmen as your dependents.”
Reid passed away on November 10, 1991, a cowboy to the last. John R. Erickson, author of Hank the Cowdog, said of Reid, “he blazed the trail for us.” Ace Reid’s collected works are available through eBay and Amazon – his legacy isn’t over by a long chalk.