Welcome to the three hundredth and twenty-ninth in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. This week, learn about the Donald Duck comic book story that Disney wouldn't let you see! Discover what would have been the ending of the 1990s Spider-Man cartoon series! And marvel at what comic book creator coined the famous Lone Ranger/Tonto joke, "what you mean...we?"
Click here for an archive of the previous three hundred and twenty-seven.
COMIC LEGEND: E. Nelson Bridwell coined the famous Lone Ranger/Tonto joke "what you mean...we"?
STATUS: Apparently True
A very popular joke during the 1960s involved the Lone Ranger and Tonto. The joke goes as follows (this is a quote):
The Lone Ranger and Tonto are watching a horde of Indian braves bear down on them in full battle fury. "Looks like we're in trouble, Tonto," says the Lone Ranger to his pal. "What you mean 'we,' white man?," Tonto responds.
It has become very popular in recent years as a rhetorical device for essay writers who wish to write about situations where someone takes for granted that someone is his/her ally.
And amazingly enough, this joke appears to have been coined by a classic Silver Age comic book creator.
However, you'd be hard pressed to imagine WHICH one, as it was written by E. Nelson Bridwell, longtime assistant editor to Mort Weisinger at DC Comics! Before Bridwell went to work for DC (where he helped introduce a number of innovations when it came to the world of comic book continuity), he wrote gags for Mad Magazine. And the Lone Ranger joke was one of them.
Reader Matt L. wrote in to ask me if this story was true. I've seen it before (our own Greg Hatcher mentioned it in a piece a few years back), but I've never looked into it.
As it turns out, in 1958's Mad #38, Bridwell did a bit on things you'll never see on various popular TV series. Joe Orlando did the artwork.
Here is the one for the Lone Ranger...
I've examined this pretty heavily (and I've seen other people at etymology sites do so, as well) and I have yet to find any other published version of this joke anywhere else that predate 1958. Mad certainly was a very popular magazine at the time, so the notion of the joke becoming so prolific from the pages of Mad is not so hard to believe. That said, I would not be shocked at all if the joke predated Bridwell's usage. Still, since I can't find any other published reference to it that predates Bridwell's, I think it is fair to give him the credit. I also asked Mark Waid (who knew Bridwell late in Bridwell's life when Waid was just starting in comics) what he thought about it, and he said he believed that it was Bridwell's gag, noting that Bridwell was a gifted gag writer. So if it is good enough for Mark Waid, who am I to disagree?