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Frank Frazetta Covers Ghost Rider on Tim Holt #17, Up for Auction

Frank Frazetta is perhaps the most famous and acclaimed fantasy artist of the past century, and while it might be hard to imagine that much of his work is little-seen and underappreciated, his Ghost Rider covers for publisher Magazine Enterprises might just fit that bill. The character combined elements of horror with a classic western action hero in a way that suited Frazetta extremely well, and his cover for Tim Holt #17 from 1950 is one of the best of the bunch.  That issue also turned out to be a pivotal moment in the Tim Holt franchise at Magazine Enterprises, and there's a Tim Holt #17 (Magazine Enterprises, 1950) CGC VF+ 8.5 Off-white pages up for auction in the 2022 August 21-22 Sunday & Monday Comic Books Select Auction #122234 at Heritage Auctions.

Tim Holt #17 (Magazine Enterprises, 1950)
Tim Holt #17 featuring Frank Frazetta Ghost Rider cover (Magazine Enterprises, 1950)

If you're unaware that there was a Ghost Rider character before Marvel's versions, the typical explanation goes something like this: This comic book version was created by Dick Ayers under the direction of Magazine Enterprises editor Vincent Sullivan. "Vin would come in and sit down and describe what he wanted in The Ghost Rider," Ayers later recalled. "He told me to go see Disney's Sleepy Hollow — Ichabod Crane, the Headless Horseman — and then he told me to play the Vaughn Monroe record, "Ghost Riders in the Sky." And then he started talking about what he wanted the guy wearing."

But that's only part of the story. There are several examples of highly similar characters from the pulp and dime novel eras.  They were sometimes even called Ghost Rider.  The nod to a Headless Horseman gives us another clue as to where the Ghost Rider legends come from, but it's not exactly about Sleepy Hollow. The true roots of the Spirit of Vengeance can be firmly traced to the American West.

One part of the inspiration for this tale can likely be attributed to a legend surrounding Texas Ranger Creed Taylor. The story goes that he and others had a skirmish with horse thieves, and after killing one of their band, beheaded him and sent his corpse off into the night tied to his horse, as a warning to other bandits.  Another telling of the incident has the rider keeping his head, and becoming a sort of cloaked, spectral figure with glowing eyes, and still others where the horseman becomes a protector rather than a warning. But the Spirit of Vengeance aspect of the historic Ghost Rider characters is also likely inspired by the terrible exploits of Felipe Espinosa, who brutally killed 32 people in Colorado in 1863 on a mission of what he characterized as divinely-inspired vengeance, and was ultimately killed and by legendary tracker Tom Tobin. Espinosa's legend also grew to include a night-riding spectral horseman over time. Thinking back on Espinosa, which clearly troubled him his entire life, Tobin said: "It occurs to me that the question is not whether a choice exists between bad and good, but whether certain men are even aware of the difference. At what point, I wonder, does it stop being revenge?"

Magazine Enterprises launched the Tim Holt comic book in 1948 with expectations that they would sell half a million copies per issue.  The prior year, Holt's casting in John Huston's The Treasure of the Sierra Madre alongside Humphrey Bogart for Warner Bros had RKO's Dore Schary vowing to make Holt an A-list star.  RKO did just that, releasing five to seven Tim Holt westerns for the next few years starting in 1948.  It seems to be this rising wave that Magazine Enterprises hoped to catch.  However, the increasing popularity of television soon put a damper on these films at the box office, and the evidence suggests that Holt's comic book star power faded along with those falling box office fortunes.  While Ayers's Ghost Rider stories had begun in Tim Holt #11, Frazetta's Ghost Rider cover for Tim Holt #17 was the first issue that relegated Holt himself to a small photo in the corner of the cover.  The next issue would feature Holt's last photo cover for the series. By Tim Holt #20, Magazine Enterprises had introduced a sort of Lone Ranger-style western hero masked persona for Tim Holt to assume called Red Mask, which further minimized the movie cowboy's profile in his own comic.

Ghost Rider was soon spun off into his own series, which also included some Frazetta covers. But Tim Holt #17 is one of Frazetta's best covers featuring the character, and there's a Tim Holt #17 (Magazine Enterprises, 1950) CGC VF+ 8.5 Off-white pages up for auction in the 2022 August 21-22 Sunday & Monday Comic Books Select Auction #122234 at Heritage Auctions. If you've never bid at Heritage Auctions before, you can get further information, you can check out their FAQ on the bidding process and related matters.

Tim Holt #17 (Magazine Enterprises, 1950)
Tim Holt #17 (Magazine Enterprises, 1950)

Tim Holt #17 (Magazine Enterprises, 1950) CGC VF+ 8.5 Off-white pages. Ghost Rider/branding iron torture cover by Frank Frazetta. Story art by Dick Ayers. Overstreet 2022 VF 8.0 value = $1,242; VF/NM 9.0 value = $2,121. CGC census 8/22: 5 in 8.5, 4 higher.

CGC Grader Notes:
light spine stress lines to cover
very light foxing to cover
very light staining to cover

View the certification for CGC Certification ID 2708171001.

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Mark SeifertAbout Mark Seifert

Co-founder and Creative director of Bleeding Cool parent company Avatar Press. Bleeding Cool Managing Editor, tech and data wrangler. Machine Learning hobbyist. Vintage paper addict.
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