Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

"Gunsmoke" Comic Book No. 1 (Dell No. 679).

The first "Gunsmoke" comic book, issued by Dell Publishing Co. in February 1956, was numbered 679 because Dell rarely gave a television spin-off book its own number until it knew there would be a No. 2, which usually happened only if and when the series was renewed. Instead, Dell used the next number in its generic, catch-all miscellanous numbering system, in this case 679.

"Gunsmoke" would indeed be renewed; it was the longest-running series in television history when CBS finally pulled it in 1975 after 20 seasons. (On April 29, 2018, "The Simpsons" passed "Gunsmoke's" record number of 635 episodes. It took Fox's animated series 29 seasons to do it.)

It's hard to imagine comic writer Paul S. Newman or illustrator Jim McLaughlin had seen "Gunsmoke" — which premiered September 10, 1955 — before they produced the first in what would become Dell's second-most successful TV Western comic series (after "Bonanza"). Their Marshal Matt Dillon looked nothing like actor James Arness, and their only other character from the show was Chester, whom they portrayed as an old man. In the TV version, Chester was Matt's younger deputy sidekick, played by Dennis Weaver.

The tagline on the cover — "His badge made him marshal, but his gun made him the law" — really doesn't express the character of the show.

The two stories inside are "The Decoy" and "Colts for Hire."

One redeeming quality of Dell's first "Gunsmoke" books, from a local history perspective, is that Arness posed for photos specifially for the Dell covers at Melody Ranch, which was "Gunsmoke's" home studio for outdoor locations until the ranch burned down in 1962. (Stage scenes were filmed at the CBS Studio in Studio City.)

Dell took its time in giving "Gunsmoke" its own numbering system. The second book was numbered 720 and came out in August 1956. Not until the sixth issue (Nov-Jan 1958), when it switched to quarterly production, did it get its own number (No. 6). And not until No. 15 (June-July 1959), when the Italian artist Alberto Giolitti took over, did it really start to resemble the characters who entered America's living rooms every Saturday night (until 1967, when they moseyed on over to Mondays and kicked "Gilligan's Island" out of the lineup permanently).

Principal source: "Comic Book Cowboys" by Boyd Magers, accessed October 2018.

LW3434: pdf of original comic book purchased 2018 by Leon Worden. Download original images here.


Legacy: James Arness
(SCVTV 2006)


James Arness 1950s


Prank Open 1955


Dennis Weaver, James Arness 1956


Dell No. 679 (Gunsmoke No. 1)


James Arness, Amanda Blake at Vasquez Rocks


TV Guide May 1957


Jim Garner and "Gunsmog" 1959


Memo: Use of Firearms 1974

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