Sixty years ago this week, sometime during the night as 1952 gave way to 1953, Hank Williams died in the back seat of his baby-blue Cadillac, en route from Tennessee to a New Year’s Day concert he was supposed to play in Canton, Ohio. Some say Hank Williams was the greatest songwriter who ever lived, and you can’t argue that during his brief career he changed country music in profound ways. But this is a comics blog, so I’m here to talk about his connections to comics.
Although Hank sang every song as if it had happened to him personally, he got his ideas from all over, including romance comics. Here’s Hank’s contemporary, DJ and songwriter Merle Kilgore, talking about it:
He would read True Romance comic books. My sister had True Romance comic books, and I’d say, “What do you read those sissy comic books for, Hank?’ And he said, “Sissy, hell! Where do you think I get my ideas from? Listen to this line, ‘Why I can’t I free your doubtful mind and melt your cold, cold heart.'”
That last bit may be a little much, but several biographers mention that Hank liked to read comics (Joe Palooka and Ozark Ike among them), and Don Helms of the Drifting Cowboys would bring him comics during his periodic stays in the local sanatorium. I haven’t yet been to the Hank Williams Museum (it’s on my bucket list) but supposedly there’s a display of the comics that inspired his songs.
Given the drama in his own life, it’s surprising that there is only one comic about Hank (that I could find, anyway) in English: Dylan Williams and Gabrielle Gamboa’s sadly unfinished bio-comic, which was collected in Jambalaya. There are two chapters, which you can download at the link, but through the kind permission of Dylan Williams’ widow Emily Nilsson, and Gamboa, we are presenting the second chapter here.
“Dylan was a huge Hank Williams fan, he had a lot of his recordings and was very interested in his life story,” Nilsson told me in an e-mail. “We started dating in 1996, and he was still talking about wanting to do a whole book on Hank. I think he just had so many ideas and things he was working on that he moved on to other things. By 1997 he was working on what would become the Reporter series, and he had other projects too.”
So settle in, queue up “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” and greet the new year with a comic. I’m sure Hank would approve.