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Roger Langridge’s Murder Ballads brawl

By Paul Slade
Murder Ballads
Secret London
Miscellany


I love Roger Langridge’s art. Best known for his American comic books featuring The Muppets and Bill & Ted, he’s simply one of the best out-and-out cartoonists you’ll find working anywhere today. I’m a big fan of his self-published stuff like Fred the Clown too, so when Britain’s Covid lockdown gave me the chance to commission some Langridge art for PlanetSlade, I jumped at it.
Here’s an extract from the request I sent Roger in October 2020:

“I’ve written a lot in recent years about the true stories behind a whole range of murder ballads, including Stagger Lee, Tom Dooley, Knoxville Girl and so on. What I’d like you do you is draw a full-on saloon brawl with guns, knives, chairs busted over heads etc, featuring as many of the real-life killers from these songs as you can cram into the picture.
“What I’m looking for here is a depiction of the fight with all the cartoony mayhem you can muster. Think of the saloon brawl in Roadhouse or - better yet - in an old John Wayne movie. The saloon itself should be a rough-ass old place, consistent with the late 19th/early 20th century period when most of these murders took place. Maybe throw in a terrified barman trying to keep out of harm’s way as the violence erupts all around him?
“Each character would need some signifier to identity them: a Stetson hat for Stagger Lee, say, a Confederate soldier’s uniform for Tom Dooley and a sexy Victorian red dress for Frankie Baker. My one specific request is that Hattie Carroll’s killer William Zantzinger should be getting the worst of it from Frankie Baker. It seems only right to have a Black woman dishing out the punishment there.”

I sent Roger a list of the nine killers I had in mind, together with a quick description of each one and a note of their trademark weapon. Was this a job he’d be happy to take on for the cash I had available? “It might take a little time to do” he replied. “There’s a fair bit of research as well as the actual drawing - but I don’t see why not.” We made a couple of tweaks at the pencils stage – adding an anchor tattoo to one character’s arm to underline the fact he was a sailor, for example – and four days later the finished art arrived. As you can see, it fulfils the brief magnificently. Thanks, Roger!

For more background on all these songs, use the blue menu at the top of this page. To see much more Roger Langridge art and buy his books visit hotelfred.com.