Tex Willer, Italian Cowboy Hero

Western themes and characters are very popular around the world, not only in the United States. Throughout my travels around Europe, Africa and Mexico, I have always encountered this interest and marveled at the reach and durability of these images. Tex Willer is a fine example of this.

tex willer

The cover of a Tex Willer toy package, showing Tex riding his trusty and powerful horse, Dynamite.

Tex Willer is Italy’s most popular comic book character. When I was an English teacher in Milan, some of my students were surprised that I was not familiar with Tex Willer. They thought I would surely know the man in the yellow shirt who rode a horse called “Dynamite” and who fought for justice with his friend Kit Carson (who is only very loosely based on the historical figure). But I had never encountered Tex, since he is entirely an Italian creation not known here in the US.

Tex was first published in 1948 and is still one of the most popular Italian comic book characters of all time. He is an archetypal good guy cowboy, a strong man who fights for justice, a straight shooter, a good poker player, and so on. Tex has all of the personal characteristics of a follower of Gene Autry’s Cowboy Code, even as he is the creation of writers and artists based in Italy’s creative capital of Milan. Tex was created by Gianluigi Bonelli and drawn by Aurelio Galleppini, who signed his designs “Galep.” They flourished in the second half of the 20th century and they are both gone now. The Bonelli family still runs the business and several of the best artists in Italy have drawn Tex. The publishing house of Bonelli was built into one of Italy’s largest on the strength of Tex Willer sales.

Tex Willer’s face and expressions were at first based on those of the actor Gary Cooper, which shows how Tex comes from American Westerns more than from the American West itself.

We Americans, of course, have plenty of Western characters, such as Tom Mix, Wyatt Earp, Lash Larue, the master of the bullwhip, The Lone Ranger, Zorro and of course the most famous singing cowboys, Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. We are also familiar with the “spaghetti westerns” of director Sergio Leone, such as The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Il buono, il brutto e il cattivo in Italian) because even if they were filmed on location in the desert-like lands of northern Sardinia, they had American stars (such as Clint Eastwood and Eli Wallach) and they were shown in movie theaters in America. But we have never really had the chance to meet Tex.

How Tex Willer could bring more Italian visitors to the Autry

The Milan Museum of Comics exhibition The Legend of Tex. Click the picture to view the page in a new tab.

There is a museum in Milan called “WOW Spazio Fumetto – il Museo del Fumetto” (WOW Space for Comics – The Museum of Comics) which held an exhibition dedicated to Tex Willer, from October 2014 to January 2015. It included 200 cover designs for the large format Tex publications, several famous panels, special commemorative designs, original raw storyboards and more.

I think there are good grounds for a cooperative publicity deal between the Autry Museum and the Bonelli Publishing house and/or the Milan Museum of Comics, based on Tex Willer, that would attract visitors from Italy to the Autry Museum. If Bonelli could be persuaded to donate some Tex Willer art to the museum, that would make news in Italy and inform Tex Willer’s vast fan base in Italy about the Autry Museum. The news that Tex would be in the Autry Museum in Los Angeles would be very interesting in Italy. There were about 830,000 Italians who visited the U.S. in 2012 (1)  and a large number of Italian visitors pass through Los Angeles every year. We could reach them through Italian media coverage of Tex Willer coming to “Il Museo Autry dell’ovest americano” in the Italian media, including publications for the general public and others dedicated to fans of comics. 

(1) International Business Times, 6/11/13.