Comic's Darkest Villain Wasn't A Character, It Was Artist Len Lawson
In the 1950s, comics artist Len Lawson was on top of the world ... or the bottom, we guess, since he lived in Australia. Lawson wrote and drew the best-selling The Lone Avenger comic, which was basically The Lone Ranger but with weirder animals in the background. At one point, his comic's popularity was said to rival Superman's. But then, Lawson went and ruined everything in the most tragic and gruesome way possible. Content warning: Everything.
Lawson created (well, "created") the Lone Avenger as a teenager in the '40s. By the next decade, his character was so beloved that kids could join a "Junior Lone Avenger Club" and win Lone Avenger gun belts and Lone Avenger costumes by answering the monthly Lone Avenger Quiz. These prizes came with a Lone Avenger's Code that "included pledges to worship God, venerate the Queen, be kind to animals, study hard and follow the law." This was already kinda creepy before everyone learned it was written by a monster.
Besides creating several other characters like The Hooded Rider, Diana Queen of the Apes, and Spencer Steele, "Adventurous Young Scientist of Great Genius," Lawson was also a successful photographer. In 1954, he hired five young models to pose for a calendar, drove them to the middle of nowhere, and "produced a rifle and told them he was suffering from cancer and wanted to die." He raped two of the girls and sexually assaulted the others, then drove them back to the city, paid them, and let them go, like that was all just a regular part of producing a calendar.
Lawson was promptly arrested and sentenced to death. Confirming his complete disconnection from reality, he asked to continue drawing The Lone Avenger while in jail, but the authorities said no way. They did, however, end up reducing his sentence from "death" to "14 years" and from that to "7 years" because he was a model prisoner whose religious paintings reportedly impressed a justice minister. Once he was out, Lawson promised he'd devote his life to art and to living like a good Christian. Only the "art" part was accurate. Pictured: a famous pervert, and also Len Lawson:
Somehow, Lawson managed to convince another girl to pose for him alone, with even more tragic results. Only a few months after being released, Lawson tied up, raped, and murdered another teenage model, then wrote "God forgive me" on her torso with eyeliner. He then drove to a school and took several girls and teachers hostage with a rifle, demanding to see a nun who'd visited him in prison, "the reigning Miss Australia," and "the Olympic athlete Marlene Mathews." Instead, he was visited only by cops. While struggling with the teachers when the cops arrived, Lawson shot his rifle and killed another 16-year-old. He went back to jail, and a judge marked his file with "Never To Be Released."
But he wasn't done ruining lives yet. Once again, Lawson impressed officials with his artistic talent and pleasant personality, so in 1972, he was allowed to organize a charity concert at a prison chapel decorated with his paintings. When they invited him to come up on stage and give thanks to the performers, he grabbed one of the dancers, put a knife to her throat, and told everyone else to leave the room. The other inmates saved the girl, but according to several sources, she was traumatized and committed suicide six years later. For our own sake of mind, we're gonna go ahead and assume that this part was made up by a tabloid writer somewhere who felt this story wasn't depressing enough already.
Lawson's life was like one of those absurdly dark horror comics that came out while he was in his heyday, except there was no ironic supernatural retribution at the end. He died peacefully at age 76. Near the end of his life, he was interviewed by the Aussie version of 60 Minutes, where he came off as a repentant old man who believed he was "redeeming" himself a little bit by donating his paintings to charity. Nice try, but hard pass. May he rest in piss.
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Top image: Len Lawson