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Texas Ranger
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excellent writing
skilled art
historical bonus 4
total score 9
Back Cover
Table of Contents
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AVERAGE SCORE 7
Texas Ranger
Volume 77 Number 5
Only Printing / February 1963 / 36 pages / Texas Student Publications, Inc.
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The Texas Ranger began as a student humor magazine in the fall of 1923 on the University of Texas (UT) campus in Austin. The university already had a daily newspaper, The Daily Texan, so the Texas Ranger addressed the more playful student interests that the official newspaper would not indulge (e.g., humor and girls). The Daily Texan was no slouch when it came to staffers with talent, as several editors graduated to long and successful careers in politics and journalism. But the Texas Ranger has its own storied history that produced its own legends, including Frank Stack, Jack Jackson and Gilbert Shelton, and its circle of friends included even more acclaimed celebrities like Janis Joplin.

For the first couple decades of its existence, the Ranger delivered topical humor, witty articles and cartoons that did little to upset the university. But as the years rolled by the magazine increasingly ruffled the university's feathers, including a 1947 article that instructed students on "how to cheat." The magazine's staff, known as the "Rangeroos," grew even more rowdy as the Beat generation emerged in the '50s, leading the magazine to deliver satire with more bite.

The staff from the early '50s included Rowland Wilson, Liz Smith and Robert Benton. Wilson became a highly successful cartoonist for the New Yorker and Playboy, Smith became an internationally known gossip columnist, and Benton won an Oscar in 1980 for directing Kramer vs. Kramer (the award should have gone to Francis Ford Coppola for Apocalypse Now, but I digress).

But in the mid '50s, the Texas Ranger was suffering from low circulation and staff turmoil, resulting in three editors leaving the magazine within one year for various reasons. Enter Frank Stack. He enrolled at UT in 1956 as an art student and almost immediately joined the Ranger as a staff member and cartoonist. He experienced the magazine hitting its low point and contributed to its resurrection in 1957 and '58. Stack became editor of the Ranger for the 1958-59 school year and published Gilbert Shelton's first cartoons in the magazine in 1959, when he was a sophomore majoring in social sciences.

Stack tried to put out a mag with sharp but factual satire in the manner of the New Yorker and The Harvard Lampoon, as opposed to the bawdy tone of Playboy, but good intentions wouldn't keep him out of trouble with the Texas Student Publications Office at the university. In an interview with Richard Holland, author of The Texas Book, Stack said, "Under my editorship I tried to work around the censors, and was annoyed by the censorship system.... But there were some staffers, then and later, who relished the challenge of sneaking dirty stuff through."

Those sneaky staffers encountered major trouble after Stack stepped down as editor at the end of his junior year. A couple years later, the entire 1961-62 staff was fired after the university discovered that they'd slipped the word "fuck" into an illustration for an article about freedom of the press. The incident was really just the straw that broke the university's back, as the Rangeroos were continually pushing the envelope and breaking policy.

Fortunately, Gilbert Shelton had already graduated and was in New York at the time of the mass firing. But after a few months of editing minor automotive magazines in the cold winter of the Big Apple, he returned to Austin in the spring of '62 and published his first two Wonder Wart-Hog stories in Bacchanal, an off-campus humor mag launched by some of the same staffers who'd been fired from the Texas Ranger.

Shelton re-enrolled in UT in the summer of '62 to pursue his graduate studies as a history major. It was primarily a ploy to get a student deferment and avoid the draft, but it also gave him a chance to become editor of the Texas Ranger for the 1962-63 school year. When Bacchanal folded after only two issues, Shelton needed a place to publish his Wonder Wart-Hog comics, which were beginning to pick up steam. Just weeks before Shelton began publishing his superhero satire in the Ranger, the character was profiled (based on its Bacchanal appearances) in an issue of the national magazine Mademoiselle.

The 1962-63 year of the Texas Ranger represents the pinnacle of its run as a cartoon magazine, as every issue but one (the annual issue that parodied Playboy) features at least one multi-page Wonder Wart-Hog story. Shelton had assembled a terrific staff that produced excellent work, including Lieuen Adkins, Tony Bell and Bill Killeen (the founder of Charlatan, another great humor magazine that would later publish many Wonder Wart-Hog stories). Killeen, who was never actually enrolled at UT, had scripted Shelton's first Wonder Wart-Hog story for Bacchanal and Bell, a talented cartoonist himself, helped illustrate several Wart-Hog stories. Shelton's roommate Joe Brown, a drama major at UT who wasn't officially on the Ranger staff, also helped write some of Wonder Wart-Hog's adventures through the years.

Under Shelton's editorship, the Texas Ranger also published early works from Jack Jackson, who was majoring in accounting. Shelton was the one who bequeathed Jackson with his nickname "Jaxon" while working on the Ranger staff. Jackson would later produce the seminal God Nose comic book in Austin just after quitting his job as an accountant in the State Capitol.

As much as anything, Shelton's reign as editor took the tradition of staff parties to a new level. Of course, parties were nothing new to groups of college students or to the staff at the Ranger, but as soon as Shelton returned from New York in the summer of '62 he led the way to epic beer bashes and elaborate escapades, like three-hour water balloon fights and a group excursion to the border town of Laredo, where he and his friends painted the town red.

The most notorious member in Shelton's group of friends was Janis Joplin, who enrolled in UT as an 19-year-old art student in 1962 and soon joined the folk music group The Waller Boys (turning that duo into a trio). Joplin was wandering around the UT campus in July of '62 when a Daily Texan staffer spotted her and found her such a peculiar sight that he snapped a photo and wrote a brief article about her. The article's headline declared She Dares to Be Different and opened with this: "She goes barefooted when she feels like it, wears Levi's to class because they're more comfortable, and carries her Autoharp with her everywhere she goes so that in case she gets the urge to break into song it will be handy. Her name is Janis Joplin."

Joplin stayed at UT less than a year, but like Shelton's stint as editor, it was a memorable and historic year. She lived in an old wood building on Nueces Street that used to be a World War II Army barracks. The housing was commonly known as the Ghetto and the rent was $40 a month. Anyone who was a social outcast in the monied student community at UT found kinship in the Ghetto. Bill Colleen and several other Rangeroos also lived in the Ghetto, and almost every night the entire staff would gather there to party.

Joplin was, by all informed accounts, a sexually ravenous young woman. Her publicist and biographer, Myra Friedman, wrote that Joplin "defined men sexually, as she defined herself, and then went at her one-night stands and sometimes orgies under the cover of a liberated style of life." Pat Brown, the first woman editor of the Ranger and former girlfriend of Shelton, described Joplin's coming to Austin that summer: "Within a few months of arriving, she had sampled relationships with Powell St. John [fellow member of the Waller Creek Boys], Bill Killeen, Gilbert Shelton, and rather a lot of others."

The Waller Creek Boys played blues and folk music at a lot of parties the Rangeroos frequented and had a regular gig at a tiny Austin club called Threadgill's that was a converted Gulf gas station. The trio performed there every Wednesday for $6 and all the Lone Star beer they could drink, and the Ranger's staff was in attendance more often than not. For a couple of issues, Joplin was even listed on the masthead of the Texas Ranger as a staff member, though she never contributed anything to the mag.

But Janis Joplin's destiny could not be contained by Austin, Texas for long. Though she found fellowship with the Rangeroos and other hippie types (before the word hippie was even widely known), the misfit freshman didn't fit in with the button-down crowd on campus. Inexplicably, the fraternities decreed an annual "joke" award for the "Ugliest Man on Campus" and orchestrated a dirty campaign to have Joplin win the award. The fact that they succeeded only reinforced Joplin's feelings of alienation with her home state. She fled in January of '63 to San Francisco, though she was still a few short years from hitting the big time.

The same can be said for Rangeroos Frank Stack, Jack Jackson and Gilbert Shelton. Stack went to the University of Wyoming to get his master's degree, but it got interrupted by a tour in the army (a tour based entirely in New York, fortunately). He'd already been working for years as an art professor at the University of Missouri (where he continued for four decades and is now a cherished Professor Emeritus) before he began moonlighting with underground comics in 1969.

Even after Jack Jackson produced and sold a thousand copies of God Nose in 1964, he bummed around for the next couple years before landing a job as a bookkeeper and art director for Chet Helms' Family Dog Productions in 1966. It wasn't until Zap Comix #1 came out in 1968 that Jackson entertained the thought of cultivating his own passion for cartooning, which he did to great success.

Gilbert Shelton had the most direct route to fame after the Texas Ranger. His Wonder Wart-Hog cartoons were regularly published in Charlatan and Harvey Kurtzman's Help! magazine in 1964 and '65, followed by a two-year run in Drag Cartoons from '66 to '68, which culminated in two lush quarterly magazines featuring Wonder Wart-Hog. Those two mags, along with Big Daddy Roth magazine, almost bankrupted Pete Millar, the publisher, but they propelled Shelton right into San Francisco with a car load of Feds 'n' Heads. Within months Shelton was a member of the Zap Collective. Over the course of the next forty years, no underground artist except perhaps Robert Crumb (and Bill Griffith with Zippy?) made more money than Shelton.

As for the Texas Ranger itself, its days were numbered after Shelton left. He served as an art director in the '63-'64 school year and the magazine remained popular for a couple more years, but nothing could replace the enormous talent the mag had from the mid '50s to the early '60s. As the Vietnam War grew more serious in the late '60s and the hippie movement exploded across the country, the staff at the Ranger was ever-more hamstrung by the all-powerful Texas Student Publications Office. The magazine became a mere shell of its former self, without the satiric fire or incisive wit it was known for, and limped into the history books after 1972.

But for a brief moment in time, like Janis Joplin with Big Brother and the Holding Company, the Ranger unleashed a blaze of glory that would deeply influence future generations of humorists. While it's deplorable that the University of Texas at Austin didn't find a way to keep such a venerable and revered institution as the Texas Ranger viable and pulsing with life, at least its current students have another resource for youth-oriented parody and humor. Today's UT college humor magazine is The Texas Travesty, founded in 1997 and thriving with popularity. Long may it reign.
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keyline
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HISTORICAL FOOTNOTES:
The Texas Ranger's circulation ranged from a low of about 1,500 in the mid 1950s to a high of 12,000-15,000 in the early '60s. Though many stories within the magazine were reprinted elsewhere, the magazine itself has never had a compilation or a book written about it. It would surely make a good centerpiece for an enthralling profile of the times or a documentary.
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COMIC CREATORS:

Gilbert Shelton - Editor-in-Chief
Tony Bell - Associate Editor
Hal Normand - Art Director
Lieuen Adkins - Circulation Manager
Gerald Peacock - Joke Editor