Stan Lynde, creator of the iconic cowboy comic strip “Rick O’Shay,” died Tuesday of cancer in Helena. He was 81 and leaves behind his wife, Lynda.
In a talk in December 2012 at the Western Heritage Center in Billings, Lynde read excerpts from his latest book, “The Big Open,” one of eight novels Lynde wrote featuring U.S. Marshal Merlin Fanshaw. But it was his famous cartoon cowboy, Rick O’Shay, and his sidekicks, Hipshot Percussion and Tom Foolery, that got the crowd excited.
Chas Weldon, director of the Yellowstone County Museum, was there to finally meet his hero.
“I lived Rick O’Shay,” Weldon said Tuesday. “I thought I was him.”
During his WHC talk, Lynde announced his plans to move to Ecuador, where he said it would always be spring.
“The sun comes up at 6:30 and goes down at 6:30 all year long,” Lynde said.
Lynde and his wife Lynda returned to Helena in late spring after he became ill. He is also survived by his children and his two sisters.
A memorial service is scheduled for Sept. 6 at 3 p.m. at the Spring Meadow Lake Pavilion in Helena. He will be buried at Mountview Cemetery in Billings.
Lynde was born in Billings on Sept. 23, 1931. He was raised among cowboys, sheep men and Crow tribal members. He began drawing cartoons in high school and attended the University of Montana until he joined the Navy during the Korean conflict. In the Navy, Lynde created the comic strip “Ty Foon.”
In December, Lynde said he used to read comics in The Billings Gazette, viewing them “as natural wonders like Old Faithful.”
“When I found out people created them, I thought, ‘That’s what I’m going to do,’ ” Lynde said.
A drawing Lynde made of a bronc has served as Senior High’s school logo since the 1970s. In 2004, Lynde designed the new patch for the Montana division of the U.S. Marshals Service.
Lynde’s talk in Billings was one of his last public performances before he and Lynda moved to Ecuador in January. Weldon joined about 50 other folks at the talk and Lynde sold so many books there that he ran out of a bound volume of Rick O’Shay cartoons.
Weldon, who grew up in the Blue Creek area, said his mother would make outfits for him to compete in the annual Rick O’Shay look-alike contest in Billings. He never won one, but it was fun to tuck his jeans in his boots and put on a tin star to become Rick O’Shay for a day.
“Stan’s artistic creativity was one of the big contributors to shaping my future life,” Weldon said.
In the 1950s Lynde moved to New York, where he worked for the Wall Street Journal. Lynde began publishing Rick O’Shay in 1958 because he said he wanted to spoof the “celluloid West.” He used puns to name his characters “because I like puns.” The comic strip ran for 20 years with an average daily readership of 15 million.
Lynde returned to Montana in 1962. He also created the comic strip “Latigo,” which ran from 1979 to 1983.
Weldon said part of Lynde’s strength as an artist was the fact that he got all the details just right.
“He was so precise. The guns were real guns and the saddles were real saddles,” Weldon said. “It made you learn history.”
Julie Dial, of the Western Heritage Center, called Lynde a kind and authentic man.
“In his work he captured the spirit and history of the West in a unique, accessible way,” Dial said. “We are deeply saddened and our thoughts are with his family.”