Huntington’s American Ranger: in person and on the page
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In late January of this year, during an open reading at Empire Books and News, a man introduced as “The American Ranger” took to the podium for the first time in front of an audience who might have questioned if they noticed his costume when they first walked in.
He carried a hockey mask designed in stars and stripes with welding goggles over the eyes, a wide-brimmed hat with the letter “A” presented on the front and his chest and shoulders were defended by shields dressed in red, white and silver, complimenting a much larger shield of the same design.
It was in this way Fred Langille Jr. debuted the manuscript of the first ever “American Ranger” comic. In place of art were descriptions of transitions and panels delivered like a one-man radio play.
Behind the mask, Langille is a retired Army captain at 67, who has lived in West Virginia for 25 years. He is also a fencing coach, a former journalist, an honorary Israeli and Canadian parachutist and a father. Portraying and developing The American Ranger character has been his hobby for the past several years.
In the story, The American Ranger is Peter Brady, who, after an incident visiting Ansted, West Virginia’s Mystery Hole, finds himself stranded in the year 1876.
In real-life Huntington, the Ranger is Langille’s original character he has cosplayed as at several conventions in Huntington, such as Tsubasacon and Tricon. The character comes with a complete portfolio of homemade identification, dossiers and documents made to explain his origins and history. All this, Langille said, serves to keep the character real and grounded.
“He’s not a secret identity or anything else,” he joked. “It’s just a fun thing and I know this.”
When it comes to reading comic books, Langille said he always has.
“Sometimes it didn’t go well with schoolwork and everything else, but I used to have a couple of big collections and I got rid of them,” Langille said. “I don’t collect them so much anymore.”
A notable entry in his former collection he mentioned was the first issue of “The Fantastic Four” which once sold at a record $300,000.
“I always had an idea of ‘wouldn’t it be neat if I could devise my own character somehow?’ And it was over four years ago when I saw this mask that I thought ‘hey I could do something with that,’” Langille said, tapping his flag-styled hockey mask, which has been modified to accommodate a hat, prescription lenses and light-up goggles.
“Well they’ve got a Lone Ranger and you’ve got Captain America, why not American Ranger? And it worked,” Langille said
Alongside the mask, many features of The American Ranger’s outfit have been designed with practicality and realism in mind, such as a bulletproof shield on his black cavalry shirt, designed in the stars-and-stripes.
“There are too many costumes that are out there that are very good and very fanciful,” Langille said. “But the idea is that if I was this character, really, how would I make it work? What could I do to make this look like it could be actually used?”
Long before he took to conventions in costume, Langille enlisted in the Coast Guard in 1970 and, four years later while on active duty, worked with the Associated Press as a radio reporter using his education as a broadcast journalism major at Indiana University.
For one year, he worked as an editor and at one point interviewed boxing champ Muhammad Ali. During his work for several different stations he also learned to write radio scripts, an ability that shows in his readings for the first “American Ranger” comic.
Langille was able to continue his education, eventually graduating on the Dean’s List with majors in journalism and history at what is now Rider University. Langille continued active duty, doing public affairs work for the Army until retiring from the Army and civil service at the age of 55.
After four years of portraying his character, Langille had to determine where to begin the written adventures of The American Ranger.
“You write about what you know and I’ve been here for 25 years,” Langille said. “So, I wrote about what I know and what I’ve been through.”
When the reader is introduced to Peter Brady in the first issue, he is signing autographs outside of a convention in Huntington.
“I didn’t know where to start this thing and then I thought, ‘wait a minute, I started at the comic con,’” Langille said.
“This had been running through my mind for over four years,” Langille said, explaining the process of writing his own comic book. “Once I got the start, the entire storyline had been in my head so long that it started to flow out — and it’s still doing that.”
“The only pausing I’m giving now is that I can’t get anything going on the computer at the library,” Langille said.
“The American Ranger” comic is being illustrated by artist Nicole Reeder, whom Langille met while portraying the Ranger at a local convention.
When it comes to donning the mask, Langille said he uses his character as a creative outlet.
“When you get older, you have to keep your mind working,” Langille said, referencing an article he once read, “and that’s what I’m doing.”
“I’ve done some pretty tough things, as a soldier and as a journalist,” Langille said. “Now it’s time to use my imagination a little bit, have a little fun and maybe get a little recognition for it. I’m enjoying the character.”
Langille’s cosplays have already earned him recognition in the world of Huntington’s comic conventions, where the American Ranger first debuted armed with business cards advertising himself as a “timemaster, solider, swordsman, historian” among many other things.
“Everyone at Tsubasacon loved it,” Langille said, mentioning a professional cosplayer who offered a singular critique: “She said ‘get a longer whip.’”
“The first two days, I went in costume, handed my cards out. I even came back with a souvenir,” Langille said, pointing to a Japanese pachinko game in his living room.
“The third day, I was in jeans and a t-shirt and I wore the Mystery Hole hat,” Langille said. “At the closing ceremony, they were passing around a microphone. I managed to get ahold of the microphone and told them I had a great experience. And people were looking at me like ‘Who is this guy?’ I figured I’d let them know who I was.”
Then Langille dropped his catchphrase: “I said, ‘Remember, I’m fighting the past and protecting our future.’”
“I got a standing ovation,” Langille said, calling the moment “unbelievable.”
Langille said he hopes to see the first issue of his comic released at the end of 2017, but will certainly be portraying The American Ranger at conventions in Huntington for years to come.
Austin Creel can be contacted at [email protected]