Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Fistful of Legends: Special Pre-Pub Offer!

Right now, until January 11, you can get FISTFUL OF LEGENDS WITH NO CHARGE FOR SHIPPING. And you can get it NOW before it's even released -- perfect for a Christmas gift. Go to Dave Lewis' blog for the details. AND you can get its sister anthology, WHERE LEGENDS RIDE, as part of a package deal.

To get the info, click here. And tell'em Duane sent ya.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Fistful of Legends

Pal and writer of westerns Ian Parnham has posted some info at this blog, "The Culbin Trail," about a new anthology of western stories, A Fistful of Legends. It sports a cover painting that's nicely reminiscent of the cover paintings one used to see on the novels by the Piccadilly Cowboys -- the Edge series, the Steele series, the Undertaker series, Jubal Cade, and many others.

This anthology is the second released by the group of western writers who work together under a sort of umbrella imprint, Express Westerns. Many of these folks write western novels published by the British publisher Robert Hale Books under its Black Horse Western imprint.

I had a story in the first Express Westerns anthology, Where Legends Ride, and enjoyed the experience immensely. That first collection still is available at this URL:

Meanwhile, check out Ian's nice preview of A Fistful of Legends at this URL:


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

For the Brand

For the Brand, a Ralph Compton novel by David Robbins

First, a disclaimer: I’ve never read a Ralph Compton novel written by Ralph Compton.

Apparently I’m in the minority among western readers, because Signet Books wouldn’t continue to publish novels by other writers under Compton’s name unless people were buying them. It’s similar to the Robert Ludlum novels featuring Jason Bourne that Eric Van Lustbader is writing -- the Bourne film series has made the property valuable, so the publishers continue to pay writers to produce new novels about the character. Ian Fleming’s James Bond has experienced the same treatment.

Compton’s situation is a bit different, because from what I can tell, none (or maybe only a few) of the non-Compton novels feature characters created by Compton. But they all feature characters of the type that Compton wrote about: cowboys, drovers, ranch hands.

Actually, I think the non-Compton-penned Compton novels now outnumber the original Compton-authored books.

I’m curious how this all came about, because usually publishers want characters to continue to appear in new adventures, like Sherlock Holmes and the aforementioned Bourne and Bond. But in this case, Signet is selling Compton’s name as a brand.

It also seems curious to me that Bantam hasn’t done something similar with Louis L’Amour. Certainly L’Amour created plenty of characters who could be used in new stories. Certainly that was done for a number of Zane Grey’s characters for novelettes in Zane Grey Western Magazine. But perhaps the L’Amour estate is opposed to the notion, or perhaps L’Amour was simply so prolific and sells well enough without other hands touching his characters that Bantam has no need for new L’Amour novels written by (fill in the blank).

That preamble aside, let me say that I quite enjoyed this novel by David Robbins. Robbins has proven over and again his ability to portray convincing, enjoyable characters and believable action plots in frontier settings with his Wilderness series and other novels. This tale about a busted-up bronc buster, Willis Landers, and his awakening to the joys of living is well told. Robbins knows how to pace a story and people it with entertaining characters -- persnickety cowboys, hen-pecked ranch owners, stalwart lawmen, evil villains, and interesting women.

There are passages in For the Brand that seemed well-suited for translation to film or to a mini-series, like Lonesome Dove. The rivalries and loyalty of the drovers in For the Brand reminded me at times of McMurtry’s depiction of characters on the well-known trail drive. Robbins’ writing is convincing and sincere. Many times, that’s the best you can get from a western novel. Robbins delivers in For the Brand. Even if Compton got top billing.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Bleeding Horse wins international award

A book I illustrated, The Bleeding Horse and Other Ghost Stories, has recently been named winner of the Children of the Night Award by the Dracula Society.

The Bleeding Horse is the name of a pub. No animals were harmed during the making of this book.

I must admit, this book is not a western. Although Dublin is noted for its long history in keeping Western civilization alive.

The book was published by Mercier Press in Ireland.

The author, Brian J. Showers, is a native of Madison, Wisconsin, who lives in Dublin, Ireland. The dust jacket painting is by noted fantasy artist, Scott Hampton. I provided the black-and-white pen-and-ink interior illustrations, one of which I've included with this post. Three stories from The Bleeding Horse, "Favourite No. 7 Omnibus", "Quis Separabit" and "Father Corrigan's Diary", received honorable mentions by fantasy and horror anthologist Ellen Datlow in her Best Horror of the Year (2008) listing.

The stories blend fact and imagination about a series of actual sites along the Rathmines Road, which runs through Rathmines, a Dublin neighborhood that Showers now calls home. Showers' creativity in melding truth with fiction lends a verisimilitude that leaves the reader wondering if these stories are really true.

THE BLEEDING HORSE is available through Amazon.com at http://www.amazon.com/Bleeding-Horse-Other-Ghost-Stories/dp/1856355780/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1255538196&sr=1-1/thepulprack-20. If you purchase it through that link, I earn a few pennies.

Brian and I have collaborated on other works, including Literary Walking Tours of Gothic Dublin, a nonfictional look at the lives and haunts of three famed Dublin ghost story writers -- including Dracula author Bram Stoker -- and a story by each, illustrated by me. It was published by Nonsuch Ireland in 2006. Gothic Dublin is available through Amazon.com at http://www.amazon.com/Literary-Walking-Tours-Gothic-Dublin/dp/1845885236/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1255538246&sr=1-1/thepulprack-20.

We also have worked on hand-crafted chapbooks published by Brian through his Swan River Press. More information about those books are available at Brian's web site, http://www.brianjshowers.com/.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Fargo by John Benteen

Fargo is a character from the near-end of the wild western era, operating during the Mexican-American War, playing gun-runner or troubleshooter for whomever will pay him to do the dirty work.

Fargo (New York: Belmont Tower Books, 1971) is the first in this series. Hard-boiled, muscular, manly -- there's as much sentiment in these stories as Fargo has fat registering in his body mass index. Imagine Lee Marvin in a southern Texas-northern Mexican setting with a bandoleer of brass cartridges, bristling with arms like a rabid porcupine is prickly with barbs. Without using Lee Marvin's name, that's pretty much how the author -- Ben Haas, masked by the John Benteen pseudonym -- describes his anti-hero.

In this opening novel, Neal Fargo jumps right in on the Pancho Villa revolution, setting out to help some Yankees haul a pack-mule train of silver from their mine before the revolutionaries grab it. On the way, he encounters a sadistic Spanish land owner, some beautiful women, and some double-crossing Americans.

There's plenty of action, and the pace is quick, full of action. Reading this story is so manly you just want to build a fire and grill a steak and drink a beer with a tequila chaser while you turn the pages.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Stouthearted Men by R.C. House

New York: Pocket Books, 1995.

Finding on a used bookstore’s shelves a western by R.C. House that I haven’t yet read is a pleasure. I rather broadly categorize westerns into those focused on action and those focused on storytelling. The two categories don’t have to be mutually exclusive, but House’s novels I usually place in the Storytelling bucket.

There can be plenty of action in a Storytelling-focused western. For example, I’d place the O. Henry story about the Cisco Kid, “The Caballero’s Way,” in the Storytelling category, but while the yarn-spinning and attention to language is an important part of the tale, there’s plenty of murderous action in the story.

There’s action in Stouthearted Men, but clearly House loves the play with words, just as I note in my post about O. Henry’s story. The roll out of of the plot and action is far more leisurely than one would encounter in a paperback original from the Gold Medal, Ace, and Signet era of the late 1950s up through the '60s. House focuses on characters, their quirks, their ways of speech, and brings a smile or a frown as appropriate. The opening paragraph of Stouthearted Men:

"A killer and pillager deluxe named Bad-Face Ike Bodene broke jail for the second time and is on the prod. That's why I called together this posse commitatus of stout-hearted men. There'll be six of us against about three to one odds."

House can demonstrate a bit of the poet's DNA as well:

With dawn, night clouds turned themselves into glorious smears of rose paint against a gray sky fast ripening to a rich blue along the eastern horizon. Close to the still-dark land, silhouetted forms of six mounted figures loomed black as paper cutouts against the dim of daybreak, their heads bobbing sleepily on the trail out of Fort Walker.

I had the pleasure of making R.C.'s acquaintance through the miracle of e-mail, thanks to a virtual introduction by Robert Randisi. We corresponded a few months before he died. It was a pleasure to know him slightly before his death. It's a pleasure to read one of his books for the first time.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Limbo Pass by Marshall McCoy

Published in New York (Bantam, 1968).

Leonard Meares
was quite a writer of westerns, under a variety of pseudonyms. The Larry and Stretch series, which may run up to 400 novels, is very entertaining – action and humor combined into each novel quite comfortably. I’ve read several of the Larry and Stretch novels and enjoyed each one.

The Nevada Jim – or Big Jim – series, published under Meares’ Marshall McCoy pseudonym, had intrigued me for several years, primarily because the Jim Bama cover paintings for the Bantam reprints of this Australian series had caught my attention. Finally I read an entry in this series, Limbo Pass. As anticipated, it was very enjoyable.

The humor that marks the Larry and Stretch series isn’t so obvious here. Instead, the focus is on action and drama arising from character conflicts. This novel, published as number 3 in the Bantam series, makes clear about Jim Gage’s Army background and his search for the man who murdered a friend. This sets up a good reason for Big Jim to roam from town to town for each novel’s setting. Another big character, Cheyenne Bodie, played by big Clint Walker on TV, roamed from place to place for each episode, but rarely had a good reason for doing so except in the first few episodes, when Cheyenne was helping with a scouting and surveying mission for the U.S. Army.

Picturing Clint Walker as Jim Gage is easy to do, thanks to Meares’ description of the character.

In this particular novel, Jim joins a posse after a gang of bank robbers who cold-bloodedly shoot down a few citizens during the course of the robbery. The antagonism among some of the posse members, plus the deadly ambushes executed by the robbers as they make their escape, set up the conflicts that make this short novel (only 90 published pages) a quick and satisfying read. Reading it is much like watching an episode of one of the Warner Brothers western TV shows from the 1950s: action, drama, all wrapped up quickly and satisfyingly by the final credits.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

O. Henry introduces the Cisco Kid

"The Caballero’s Way,” by O. Henry (William Sydney Porter), 1904. [The Mammoth Book of The Western says 1904, but the FictionMags index lists this story as first appearing in Everybody’s Magazine {v17 # 1} July 1907. Expert info requested and welcomed.]

Xenophobia, in our politically correct culture, has been charged against anyone protesting against providing the rights of U.S. citizens to those who cross its borders illegally. I mention this not to stir up political debates, but to note that crossings at the border between Mexico and the United States have been a contentious issue back to the time of the Lone Star Republic and before. How many western movies and stories have dealt with villains escaping U.S. authorities by crossing the Rio Grande? How many have told tales of renegades from south of the border coming north to rustle cattle or steal lives? The Border has always been a volatile demarcation in politics, real life, legend, and storytelling.

“The Caballero’s Way” takes place in Texas, north of the Rio Grande near the Frio River -- but O. Henry invests this story with all the mythic freight of Border Story, along with the effervescent delight in language that marks so many of William Sydney Porter’s tales.

This story, which introduces Cisco Kid, presents a figure quite different from the character we know from Hollywood -- the latter a clean cut, chivalrous and charming rogue. O. Henry’s Cisco Kid is a cold-blooded killer, a non-Hispanic sociopath who rides a horse, and the story’s climax hammers this point home even more strongly than the several thousand words leading up to the end.

And those words! Porter must have found a delight in language that only can compare to a youngster’s delight at being told he can eat his fill in an ice cream shop with no regrets. Here, for a sample taste, take a look at the first paragraph:

The Cisco Kid had killed six men in more or less fair scrimmages, had murdered twice as many (mostly Mexicans), and had winged a larger number whom he modestly forbore to count. Therefore a woman loved him.. . . .

. . . and and third . . .

Tonia Perez, the girl who loved the Cisco Kid, was half Carmen, half Madonna, and the rest—oh, yes, a woman who is half Carmen and half Madonna can always be something more—the rest, let us say, was humming-bird. She lived in a grass-roofed jacal near a little Mexican settlement at the Lone Wolf Crossing of the Frio. With her lived a father or grandfather, a lineal Aztec, somewhat less than a thousand years old, who herded a hundred goats and lived in a continuous drunken dream from drinking mescal. Back of the jacal a tremendous forest of bristling pear, twenty feet high at its worst, crowded almost to its door. It was along the bewildering maze of this spinous thicket that the speckled roan would bring the Kid to see his girl. And once, clinging like a lizard to the ridge-pole, high up under the peaked grass roof, he had heard Tonia, with her Madonna face and Carmen beauty and humming-bird soul, parley with the sheriff's posse, denying knowledge of her man in her soft mélange of Spanish and English.

Oh heck, here’s the sixth paragraph too, it’s so short:

Six feet two, blond as a Viking, quiet as a deacon, dangerous as a machine gun, Sandridge moved among the Jacales, patiently seeking news of the Cisco Kid.

The words roll along with that edge of humorous exaggeration that acts as verbal legerdemain to distract you from the dangerous knife edge of the Cisco Kid’s homicidal tendencies and Ranger Sandridge’s deadly sober responsibility as enforcer of the law. The mixed humorous/deadly quality of the narrative is a mark of the traditional western. For example, only recently I read a more contemporary western short story, “The Bandit,” by Loren D. Estleman, that demonstrates this same narrative balancing act. Published in 1986, the author describes a man released from prison in 1906 after being captive 29 years:

Jubal smiled. His teeth were only a year old and he was just a few months past grinning like an ape all the time.

The synchronal picture of a smiling primate and a death’s head rictus is sharp when considered as a foreshadowing of the tale’s end. Like Porter, Estleman is a master storyteller. In “The Caballero’s Way,” Porter disguises the deadly seriousness at the core of this story just as the Cisco Kid masks the ice of his heart with his charm and smile.

The story itself, stripped of its colorful word play and its climactic, obligatory O. Henry twist, offers little that a fan of western fiction or song hasn’t encountered hundreds (if not thousands) of times. But the story’s marvelousness is all in its telling -- here, as in nearly every mature tale by Porter, the storyteller is the star. But isn’t that true of most of the genre stories we fondly recall? Some other writer could tell the same story, but the end result would be far different, because the magic of “The Caballero’s Way” resides in how Porter tells the tale.

If someone already has written an article describing how O. Henry’s blue-eyed murderer was transformed by Hollywood, radio, and comics into a Western Robin Hood, I’d like to know about it to find out more.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Maynard Dixon and Ben Blair

Ben Blair: A Plainsman is a novel by Will Lillibridge published by A.C. McClurg & Co. in Chicago in 1905. It was published in the wake of the growing popularity of the western that followed Owen Wister's The Virginian (1902). (Just think -- that influential novel is more than 100 years old now.)

Like many westerns from the period, there is a heavy romantic element. From the opening of Chapter One, "In Rude Border-Land," the reader might think that all that lies ahead in the novel's 333 pages is rough-and-tough action:

EVEN in a community where unsavory reputations were the rule, Mick Kennedy's saloon was of evil repute. In a land new and wild, his establishment was the wildest, partook most of the unsubdued, unevolved character of its surroundings. There, as irresistibly as gravitation calls the falling apple, came from afar and near—mainly from afar — the malcontent, the restless, the reckless, seeking — instinctively gregarious — the crowd, the excitement of the green-covered table, the temporary oblivion following the gulping of fiery red liquor.

However, a glimpse at the last chapter's title in the Table of Contents gives away the book's secret: "Love's Surrender." On the book's last page, the hero says, "Florence! Florence! Florence!" and the heroine, Florence (good guess), gasps, "Ben! Ben! Ben!"

Oh dear.

Enough of that. We're here because this book offers the reader a single piece of art (not counting the cover), a frontispiece by Maynard Dixon, shown above. The bright contrasting colors, the statue-like solidity of the human figures against the spread of landscape that rolls away into the distance -- these are all the elements that will mark Dixon's more accomplished work in the coming years. Ben wears his gear like a man who knows his business -- although Dixon may have prettied him up a bit for the book's female readers. That hat just doesn't look bashed-in enough to be quite believable to me.

The book's cover includes a relatively simple figure -- a man's face with sombrero and bandana, mostly in shadow. The hat looks pretty authentic here. The decoration is simple, done in the sort of heavy lines that are typical of this sort of embossed book cover from the period, but there's clearly a knowing hand at work. The circular squiggle below the figure -- the artist's signature -- looks very similar to the sort of swirling D that Dixon used in signing some of his work, and I feel pretty sure this front cover design was executed by Dixon.

If you want to immerse yourself in the tear-stained melodrama of Florence and Ben Blair -- or if you want to check out the cover and frontispiece by Maynard Dixon for this novel -- you can find it over at Google Books. Just click here.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Manly Wade Wellman's Sergeant Jaeger Stories

Sergeant Jaeger stories in Fearful Rock and Other Precarious Locales: Selected Stories of Manly Wade Wellman Volume 3 (San Francisco: Night Shade Books, 2001.)

I've included this review here, and those folks who are familiar with Wellman's weird fiction might think that an odd choice. However, for these stories, the western category works.

Contrary to how the Black Mask style as practiced by Dashiell Hammett and his hard-boiled confreres seemed to influence so pervasively popular fiction writing in the United States — Hammett's staccato, fast-moving style became common in the hero pulps, among some western and science fiction writers, and nearly the de facto style of Gold Medal authors and others during the paperback original novel boom — the horror tale and weird tale typically kept a more lush style because of the Weird Tales genre's reliance on atmosphere and building up of sensation. Robert E. Howard's sword and sorcery tales were something of a hybrid; but by the time Karl Edward Wagner was writing his Kane stories he had a style that was recognizably influenced by the hard-boiled and mainstream fiction styles.

In reading what editor John Pelan calls the Sergeant Jaeger stories — "Fearful Rock" (Weird Tales issues for February, March, and April 1939); "Coven" (Weird Tales July 1942); and "Toad's Foot" (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction April 1979) — Manly Wade Wellman clearly did not follow the laconic Black Mask style. If anything, Wellman's southern-influenced storytelling here almost seems leisurely, if I can go so far, and the horrific details he relates are all the more frightening because of the controlled manner he uses to relate these tales.

Joel Lane, a horror writer and a member of the Yahoo email group All_Hallows, which focuses on ghost stories and supernatural fiction (and is an e-mail offshoot of All Hallows, the journal of the Ghost Story Society), captured Wellman's style nicely with the word "quiet." He did so in this passage, part of a July 19, 2006 posting to the group:

" . . . the real centre of gravity of pulp supernatural horror belongs to the American writers of the 40s and 50s: Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Theodore Sturgeon, mid-period Bloch, Manly Wade Wellman, Joseph Payne Brennan, August Derleth and others. This was a quieter, more down-to-earth weird fiction than that of the earlier pulp writers. It was often regional, and had strong links to the crime genre as well as to the traditional ghost story."

Quiet and down-to-earth, oral-rooted storytelling is Wellman's mode of telling these tales. This mode fits, since these are historical fictions rather than contemporary narratives. All three have their beginnings during the U.S. Civil War, during which Jaeger served as a sergeant in a Union Army troop. The umbrella title of "Sergeant Jaeger stories" comes from Jaeger's participation in each tale.

"Fearful Rock" relates the weird happenings in the community of that name in "a great, trough-like valley just south of the Missouri-Arkansas border" when a Union troop skirmishes with Quantrille's guerilla raiders. The incident involves an abandoned house; two odd men — a father, Persil Mandifer, and his son, Larue — who would seem to fit better in the Garden District of New Orleans than on the western frontier; and Enid Mandifer, ostensibly raised as Persil's daughter, but who learns at the story's opening she was adopted for the purpose of marriage (read sacrifice) to some unnamed elder god or demon (which weakly links the tale to the Cthulu Mythos, one might argue) so that Persil and Larue's power and seeming agelessness may continue uninterrupted.

Coincidentally enough, the night of the skirmish turns out to be the night of Enid's marriage, so Persil's plans go awry — several troops on both sides are killed, along with Persil and Larue; the abandoned house is consumed by some bizarre blue flame; and Enid escapes her fate.

After the war, Kane Lanark — who had commanded the Union troops at the skirmish — returns to Fearful Rock to find Enid living alone and nearly destitute on the strangely barren Mandifer homeplace. He also finds his former sergeant, Jaegar, already returned to the community and set up as a preacher. Lanark finds Jaeger's reliance on folklore and other, seeming non-canonical methods of warding off evil — charms and odd books of wisdom — a bit disconcerting, and is not entirely trusting of his former comrade in arms. But he is willing to join Jaeger's efforts to put an end to the curse under which the community — and particularly Enid — dwell. This resolution is followed with a battle against dead men — men Lanark recognizes as rebel troops he killed during the war — and two figures Lanark recognizes as Persil and Larue, even though Jaeger discovers their discarded skins in the opened trench where Quantrille's dead troops were buried after the skirmish. The remains of the abandoned house and its contents again come into play, and Lanark and Jaeger end the demon's influence in the community. The story ends with the suggestion that Lanark and Enid will eventually be married.

"Coven" also opens during the Civil War, when Sergeant Jaeger relies on the help of a virginal youth — captured Confederate Infantry Private Cole Wickett — to track down the residing place of a vampire in a cemetery. After the war, Wickett coincidentally encounters Jaeger again, in Fearful Rock. Jaeger again uses Wickett, this time against a coven of witches, under the assumption that Wickett's wartime encounter with the supernatural provided him a sort of immunization against the effects of evil forces. During the course of the tale, the witches use an innocent young woman — Susan Dole — as bait for a trap against Jaeger; at story's end, Wellman again suggests that a marriage ceremony for Wickett and Dole will eventually take place.

The third of these stories — "Toad's Foot" — was written many years later, but Wellman maintains the mode of telling his tale of quiet horror that marked the earlier two. This story is something like a flashback to the first days Jaeger moved to Fearful Rock to set up preaching. Here, Jaeger must do battle with a witch, who exerts great influence in the community and who intends to remove Jaeger and any efforts to decrease her sway. Again Jaeger relies on his folkloric arcane knowledge and a drawn charm to defeat his enemy. Contrary to the denouements for the previous two Jaeger tales, there is no budding romance in this story, but the convention for such had become unnecessary by the time "Toad's Foot" was published in 1979. Further, Wellman depends on atmosphere rather than violence and action to carry this story — the witch's fate takes place off stage — and his descriptions of setting and landscape are very effective; the verisimilitude his details build removes the weight of unlikelihood that the story's fantastic elements would otherwise impose on the reader.

Other contemporaries of Wellman from the Weird Tales stable have had greater popular success and mainstream popularity; but Wellman typically crafted a story with atmosphere, with horror, in a quiet manner that didn't offer a lot of fireworks. His stories could be very effective and entertaining in a way that's far from the Shock Value Genre that began to mark a lot of horror writing in the 1970s and afterward. A reader can lose oneself in Wellman's storytelling as though the author is sitting nearby relating a tale aloud — and that's a good mark of a fine writer.

You can learn more about Wellman at The Voice Of The Mountains web site, which is devoted to Wellman and his works.

The Wikipedia entry for Wellman has some interesting info. Did you know that Wellman wrote stories about The Spirit while Will Eisner was in the Army?

You can purchase Fearful Rock and Other Precarious Locales: Selected Stories of Manly Wade Wellman Volume 3 at Amazon.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Trail of Whitened Skulls: The Cole Lavery Saga

The Trail of Whitened Skulls: The Cole Lavery Saga, by Tom W. Blackburn (Waterville, Maine: Five Star), 2006.

Cowboys! That’s what I wanted to read about by the end of last year. By the time the holiday season arrived I was ready for a cowboy-reading binge. So I started with a recent collection published by Five Star, The Trail of Whitened Skulls: The Cole Lavery Saga, by Tom W. Blackburn. To my knowledge, this is the first work by Blackburn I’ve read.

It’s quite good, and I recommend it. Five stories plus an informative Foreword by Jon Tuska. Blackburn lends a nice sense of history and authenticity to his tales by including appropriate details along with the characters’ awareness of their place as players in a larger tide of life.

For example, at one point Cole thinks, “The country was in Marta’s blood as it was in his, then. Time was the thing they had. Out of time and a little courage and a bright hopefulness, anything could be built.” (“Trail of Whitened Skulls,” 149) From a strictly critical aspect, such thoughts might seem sentimental, anachronistic or post-modern, but passages such as this lift these stories from mere action yarns to solid mainstream entertainment. They are the sort of messages one finds built into the western stories of Louis L'Amour and the western films of John Ford.

This sense of history and a character's place within its march is probably a good reason Blackburn was tapped to work on certain TV shows with historical settings, such as Walt Disney's Davy Crockett and Johnny Tremain, Daniel Boone, The Virginian, Maverick, Cheyenne, and others.

For Christmas I received from my brother the February 1949 issue of Zane Grey’s Western Magazine, which coincidentally included another Blackburn story, “Mother Lode Mutiny.” This tale is set in a California gold camp, where a trouble-shooter — similar in some ways to Cole Lavery — cuts his way into the success of a town by outsmarting a greedy, under-handed villain. Again, Blackburn imparts a sense of historical authenticity with details that place its fictional drama within the context of larger actual events.

This sense of historicity is apparently an element Blackburn included in his work throughout his career. He wrote a number of scripts for TV westerns and for various incarnations of Walt Disney's television show, including The Saga of Andy Burnett and Davy Crockett and the River Pirates. Considering this latter item, Blackburn also gets writing credit for "The Ballad of Davy Crockett" -- which has taken its place among the nation's folksongs.

You can find the paperback edition of The Trail of Whitened Skulls at Amazon.com by clicking here.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Max Brand at Somebody Dies

The Somebody Dies blog includes a look at a Max Brand (Frederick Faust) story, "A First Blooding." I haven't read this particular story -- actually an excerpt from an unfinished Civil War novel Faust was working on at the time of his death -- so I'm glad someone has brought it to my attention.

The blog's URL is http://somebodydies.blogspot.com/. Go take a look.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Russ Heath and Atlas Comics

Atlas-Timely Comics (the name of the publisher changed from one to the other) was/were the precursor of Marvel Comics before the superhero boom of the 1960s took hold. During the 1950s, Atlas published the gamut of genres -- westerns, war, horror, crime, romance, humor, you name it.

Among the many great artists who appeared in these books was Russ Heath. He would really make his mark in DC's war comics during the 1960s -- particularly with The Haunted Tank series -- and with the Sea Devils comic. A few years back, he inked a Shadow graphic novel published by Marvel, 1941: Hitler's Astrologer.

Heath has a remarkable style that combines clean lines, realism, and the expressionist traits of Joe Kubert. This is particular evident in his war comics, but one can see traces in his great western work for Atlas-Timely as well.

The Golden Age Comic Book Stories blog recently featured a scan of a Russ Heath-drawn cover for Frontier Western (Issue No. 5, October 1956). It's followed by stories drawn by the great Reed Crandall, Jack Davis, and covers by Joe Maneely.

You'll find the Russ Heath cover heading the rest of the items in the post here:

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Max Brand: Exemplary American Author?

Do I contradict myself?
Very well, then, I contradict myself;
(I am large—I contain multitudes.)

- Leaves of Grass, 1871-72 edition
Walt Whitman

The Good Gray Poet, Whitman, perhaps best summed up the contrary nature of the American character with these lines. In many ways, these lines also capture the contradictory artistic personality of Frederick Faust, better known to his audience as Max Brand.

Before I continue, let me briefly clarify my use of exemplary in the title of this essay. Here I use the word's definition, "serving as an illustration," not necessarily the typical definition, "worthy of imitation."

Frederick Faust publicly disdained the popular fiction he wrote. Yet he pounded out millions of words of it on reams of paper on a manual typewriter for years, and lived “high on the hog” (as one of his cowboy characters might say) thanks to that same writing. And while he was a very prolific creator of popular fiction in a variety of genres with a huge readership, he focused what he considered his true artistic skills on sweating for hours just to create two lines of classically styled poetry per day...poetry that had nearly no audience and – at best – a lukewarm critical reception.

He supported his family by publishing the bulk of his work printed on rough pulp paper in popular fiction magazines disdained by the literati (no matter what Frank Munsey said to buck the trends*); yet he peopled his stories with the same sort of heroic figures and conflicts that filled myths, legends, and romances of the Western canon. (That's Western as in Western Civilization.)

He banged out first-draft pulp, but read the classics. He entertained literary intellectuals at lavish dinner parties, yet published his work in magazines aimed at entertaining a common, mass audience.

Faust embodied the classic American conflict between the high and low culture, between intellectual pursuits and mass entertainment. It was a conflict that raged within his own psyche.

It's a conflict that continues today, represented by the minor flapdoodle raised by high-brow academic critic Harold Bloom when the National Book Awards gave a Lifetime Achievement citation to Stephen King.

As Timothy Burke writes in defense of King (which you can read at Burke's site, whose URL is http://www.swarthmore.edu/SocSci/tburke1/perma91603.html),

The culture which matters most is not merely the culture that aesthetes praise as worthy, but the culture which indures [sic], inspires, circulates, and is meaningful and memorable for many people, to the widest audiences. Sometimes that involves the adroit manipulation of archetypical themes and deep tropes of the popular culture of a particular time and place, and King does both of those things.

Burke might as well have been writing about Faust and his popular fictions filled with characters with the skills, abilities and emotions of demi-gods and the daily concerns and attitudes of the common man.

* What did Frank Munsey say?

Here's what he said:

"[Magazines (at the time Munsey got into the publishing business)] seemed to be made for an anemic constituency -- not for young, energetic, red-blooded men and women. Editors edited these magazines for themselves, not for the people. That is, they gave their readers what they (the editors) thought they ought to have. They were like architects who build a building for the outside rather than the inside -- build it for their own glory, rather than to make it serviceable for the uses for which it is designed.

These editors were not men of the world. They didn’t mingle with the world -- didn’t get down to the people and mix with the people. They lived in an artificial literary world, where they saw everything through highly-colored spectacles. There was a woeful lack of up-to-dateness about these magazines -- a woeful lack of human interest.


That's what Frank Munsey, creator of The Argosy and Munsey's Magazine, said.

You can read the entire article, "A Great Event for The Argosy," from the December 1907 issue, online at Larry Estep's great PulpGen site. Here's the URL for the article:


Peter Haining, pulp collector and anthologist, mentions Frank Munsey in his article about the pulps and his coffee-table book, The Classic Era of American Pulp Magazines, at the Crime Time magazine site. Click here to read the article.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Five Fabulous Blogs

James Reasoner tagged me with this, and while I don’t always respond to these challenges, this one is easy because I read so many fine blogs.

Here are the rules:

You must include the person that gave you the award, and link it back to them.
You must list 5 of your Fabulous Addictions in the post. You must copy and paste these rules in the post. Right click the award icon & save to your computer then post with your own awards.

Here are Five Fab Blogs:


My five fabulous addictions:

Pulp magazines
Gold Medal paperbacks
Ice Cream

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Blue Book Artists

I want to pass along some links to a dandy blog I visit on a frequent basis, Today's Inspiration. It focus on illustration -- for magazines, books, whatever -- and the illustrators who have made their mark in our cultural awareness of our world. Many of them toiled away, basically unknown -- not everyone became a household word like Norman Rockwell.

My reason for pointing to this blog today is that its creator, Leif Peng, has focused a number of posts on illustrator Austin Briggs. Briggs toiled in the pulp magazines -- primarily Blue Book -- and followed Alex Raymond as artist on the Flash Gordon newspaper strip, before moving to the slicks.

Peng looks primarily at Briggs' work for the slicks, then launches into profiles of artists who worked on Blue Book. This latter was a pulp magazine -- bibliographer Mike Ashley has called it a slick in pulp clothing (I may be misquoting here, but you get the idea) -- that published a lot of western fiction, including by big western names like Max Brand and Luke Short. (To be honest, I'm not sure off the top of my head whether Max Brand/Frederick Faust published any westerns in Blue Book. I don't have my Max Brand Companion close to hand to check the bibliography there, but I know he published at least two adventure stories there -- at least one a serial, Luck of the Spindrift.)

Here are the links to Today's Inspiration's posts looking at Briggs.

AUSTIN BRIGGS at Today's Inspiration:
The Obstinate Briggs Standard

Development Through Struggle

Merciless in his Scrutiny

Regarded an an Important Young Illustrator

The Discovery of Self

BLUE BOOK ARTISTS at Today's Inspiration:

The Artists of Blue Book: John Fulton

The Artists of Blue Book: Hamilton Greene

The Artists of Blue Book: Maurice Bower

Friday, February 13, 2009

Maynard Dixon, The Thunderbird

Maynard Dixon is one of my favorite western artists. Maybe he’s just my favorite western artist. (These things change depending on what I’m looking at when I’m saying things like this, of course.) But maybe because his work isn’t so seemingly ubiquitous as that of other artists of the west -- like N.C. Wyeth or Fred Remington or Charlie Russell -- that when I again see a piece by Dixon, I’m just gob smacked.

When I come unexpectedly across a piece of art by Dixon, I’m awestruck by the epic sense it emanates -- like the vast Romantic landscapes of the Hudson School of painters, or the way John Ford used Monument Valley as a backdrop for his western films, or how Aaron Copland so zealously captured the grandeur of the American continents’ scope in his compositions (for the western zest of this distinctly American composers’ music, listen to Rodeo or Billy The Kid, both available on a disc conducted by Leonard Bernstein, available at The Spur & Lock’s Spinner Rack).

I was reminded of my amazement at seeing new (to me) pieces of Dixon art when someone posted a scan of a Sunset Magazine cover on an email group. There was Maynard’s mark, in all his glory. It’s not clear which year this issue was published in, although someone suggested between 1913 and 1915, because Sunset took over Pacific Monthly magazine in 1912, and its title is still incorporated in the logo for the magazine. The juxtaposition of bold colors is the Maynard Mark for me -- and although there may be some folks who remember or collect Herman Whitaker (the author whose novel gets this cover treatment), this Dixon painting is sure to outshine the story.

I first learned about Dixon when I saw his illustrations for an early -- maybe the first -- edition of one of Clarence Mulford’s Hopalong Cassidy novels. I quickly found out he had also illustrated many other books, including some westerns by Dane Coolidge. He later left illustrating for publishers to be a fine artist with quite a career. He became known as The Thunderbird among friends. A century later, Dixon is still illustrating books: A recent Penguin edition of Zane Grey’s Riders of the Purple Sage features a piece of classic Dixon art on the cover.

There are several web sites on Dixon. MaynardDixon.org is a fine one to start. The site’s page on Dixon’s magazine art is a nice followup to the scan I’ve posted with this post. Also nice is a site dedicated to a documentary about Dixon. Visit that site, and you can watch a clip of the film. Very nice.

You can check the Spur & Lock Spinner Rack’s Maynard Dixon category for some items focusing on The Thunderbird.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Woody Guthrie, Cowboy Singer

Woody Guthrie has been so long and so strongly co-opted by the protest song/social justice folksinging performers of the music industry that it’s sometimes hard to imagine that Guthrie had a presence as a performer beyond that narrow niche. He participated willingly and enthusiastically in writing and performing songs promoting social progress, but that is still just one facet of his oeuvre. Indeed, Guthrie -- something of an icon in American music -- roamed freely among the folk-singing genres and traditions of the United States. One such territory in which he stepped was the cowboy/western song tradition.

During the 1940s, Woody Guthrie performed during a number of recording sessions for Moses Asch, founder of Folkways Records. The Smithsonian Institution’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage houses Asch’s archives and master recordings. The Institution has released all manner of LPs and CDs of these recordings, and among them is Woody Guthrie: Buffalo Skinners -- The Asch Recordings Volume 4. (Clicking the link takes you to the CD at Amazon.)

The Western-themed songs in this collection includes some standards -- “Red River Valley,” “Chisholm Trail,” “Go Tell Aunt Rhody,” “I Ride an Old Paint,” “Whoopie Ti Yi Yo, Get Along Little Dogies” -- and some songs that may not be familiar to those who aren’t intensive cowboy-song audiophiles. Many were written by Guthrie, including “Ranger’s Command,” “Pretty Boy Floyd,” “Dead or Alive (Poor Lazarus),” “Train Blues,” and “Slipknot.”

All these tunes were remastered for this compilation, and the sound quality is excellent. Listening to these songs puts me in mind of sitting around a campfire by the chuck wagon at roundup time. Highly recommended.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention

The ninth annual Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention is scheduled for May 1 through 3, 2009, at The Westin Lombard Yorktown Center in Lombard, Illinois. The Windy City has quickly become the largest convention of its type, focusing on pulp magazines and related media. The organizers typically feature a great art show and film program. Another big event at this year's show is an auction of the pulp collection and art work from the Frank Hamilton estate. Frank was a much-loved artist of pulp fandom, and many were saddened by his death this past year.

For more info, visit the con's Web site at this URL: http://windycitypulpandpaper.com/estate_auction.htm

Friday, January 30, 2009

Celluloid Pulp: Max Brand's and Tom Mix's Alcatraz

I became interested in translations of Max Brand's stories to film after purchasing a VHS tape at a local flea market. I bought a tape that included two Tom Mix silent westerns: Just Tony and Sky High! I'd never seen a Tom Mix movie before, and I thought it was time to mend that gap in my pop culture knowledge. I liked the dynamic line art illustrating the package, and these two movies were the oldest the dealer had on hand (Just Tony: 1922; Sky High!: 1922).

While watching, I noticed that the credits for Just Tony attributed Max Brand's novel Alcatraze (sic) as the basis for the film. So I thought a comparison was in order.

Before continuing, please let me express my thanks to the Interlibrary Loan departments of the Louisville Free Public Library and of the Berea College Library. Through their efforts, I was able to get hold of some photocopies of covers and sample pages from the novel's magazine publication. Also, thanks to Mike Ashley, Brian Earl Brown, Mike Chomko, Tom Roberts, and Ray Skirsky for info on The Country Gentleman magazine.

I. The Serial
Frederick Faust's novel Alcatraz first appeared under his Max Brand pseudonym as a serial in The Country Gentleman magazine. At this time its frequency was weekly. According to Tom Roberts, it was considered a second-tier slick, comparable to Liberty, with lower circulation than magazines like Colliers or its sister slick, The Saturday Evening Post.

Seeing that TCG's subtitle was "For the American Farmer and His Family," I thought this weekly periodical might be similar to a magazine my family used to receive when I was a boy, Progressive Farmer. After seeing a few cover illustrations and learning that fiction was a regular part of this magazine, my thought changed. Apparently top writers and artists appeared there, among them Erle Stanley Gardner, Hugh Cave, Ben Ames Williams, Zane Grey, John Howitt and N.C. Wyeth.

And the magazine's subtitle might suggest that this magazine would not fall strictly within the parameters normally defining "pulp." But Brand has been called the King of the Pulps often enough that the appearance of his work anywhere deserves consideration by the pulp community. Besides, at least one other writer familiar to pulp readers appeared in TCG's pages during the run of Alcatraz: William MacLeod Raine's story Iron Heart began in the same issue that wrapped up Brand's serial.

Curtis Publishing owned TCG, and the editor at this time was John Pickett. The serial ran in five issues, from that dated June 17, 1922, to July 15, 1922. For its first installment, the novel was featured on the magazine's cover with a painting by Harvey Dunn. (I have only a photocopy of the illustration, but just from the looks of that poor reproduction, I'm sure the actual painting is quite striking.) The story was accompanied by three illustrations drawn by John S. Curry in each issue except for the first installment, which featured four illustrations.

The cover by Dunn shows that his work is clearly aligned with the American school of rugged illustration founded by Howard Pyle and carried on most famously by N.C. Wyeth and others who came out of the Brandywine Valley school. Dunn took classes there with Pyle. The other cover illustrations during the serial's run in TCG are more poster-graphics styled, capturing Americana tableaux -- two farm wives listening in to a party line telephone conversation; boys at play; a stand of hollyhocks. These latter scenes are executed by Harold Brett (June 24, 1922), Frederick Lowenheim (July 1), Herbert Brown (July 8), and E.M. Jackson (July 15). Don't get me wrong, these paintings show off the skills of the artists just as much as Dunn's work. But because of the differences in style and subject matter, Dunn's painting seems superior to the others' works. But that's definitely a subjective response and probably just my illustration snobbery speaking out.

Snobbery or not, Dunn captures perfectly the sense Brand imparts in his initial paragraphs -- with the eagles soaring behind the horse standing atop a mountain (Brand names the ever-present mountains in this story the Eagles), the artist expresses the royalty that the author invests in his equine creation.

A quick scan of the few magazine pages available to me shows evidence that the serialized novel differs from the book version. (I received only a few photocopied pages of the serial thanks to Interlibrary Loan. I compared these to the large print edition of the novel published by Thorndike Press in 1991. [The first book publication was in 1923 by G.P. Putnam's Sons.]) The magazine version appears to be shorter than the book version. Whether an editor at The Country Gentleman abridged Brand's novel or Brand added to the story for book publication is unclear from the limited comparison I can make with these materials. Jon Tuska's "A Frederick Faust Bibliography" doesn't note an abridgment for the book publication, and Faust rarely worked on a story after its completion, so the likely answer is that a TCG editor made the changes, or both a TCG editor and a Putnam's editor tinkered with the manuscript for their own publishing purposes.

An in-depth textual comparison between the magazine and book editions is not the purpose of this article. But a quick look at the story's first three paragraphs will provide a good notion of the differences that exist in the serial and novel forms.

Paragraph One: The phrase "Arab explanation" in the serial appears as "Arab belief" in the book. "Says the sheik:" appears at the end of Paragraph One in the serial.

Paragraph Two: "Says the sheik:" appears at the beginning of Paragraph Two in the book.

Paragraph Three: The third paragraph of the book starts out with this passage:

Marianne had known thoroughbreds since she was a child and after coming West she had become acquainted with mere "hoss-flesh," but today for the first time she felt that the horse is not meant by nature to be the servant of man but that its speed is meant to ensure it sacred freedom. A moment later

The third paragraph in the serial begins with the sentence starting "A moment later"

The differences within this paragraph continue between the second and third sentences that appear in the serial: "That glimpse of equine perfection had been an illusion built of spirit and attitude; when the head of the stallion fell she saw the daylight truth; this was either the wreck of a young horse or the sad ruin of a fine animal now grown old. It was once a rich red chestnut, no doubt;"

In the book, between the two sentences just quoted, this passage appears:

He was a ragged creature with dull eyes and pendulous lip. No comb had been among the tangles of mane and tail for an unknown period; no brush had smoothed his coat.

Further differences continue to appear in just this paragraph alone. But the examples I've listed should give you a good idea of the sort of changes made either before the original serial publication or between that appearance and the book publication.

The novel appeared in this fashion in The Country Gentleman (some pages are unnumbered, and I don't have complete installments):

June 17, 1922: pp. 9 - 11
June 24: pp. ?? - 16
July 1: pp. 8 - 14
July 8: pp. ?? - 14
July 15: pp. ?? - 26

II. The Novel

Brand begins this story, as he does many, with a mythic tone: Marianne Jordan is caught up by the sight of Alcatraz, a horse whose physical form manifests the concepts of freedom and speed. Alcatraz is the epitome of Horse: majestic, fast, untamed and untamable. But he is controlled by a petty and vicious owner, Manuel Cordova, who nearly starves the horse, beats and mistreats him, and races him for the money he wins from those betting against such a worn-looking beast.

Marianne Jordan has come to the Glosterville fair to purchase a string of thoroughbreds in the hope of reviving the bloodlines of her ranch stock. Marianne is running the ranch in place of her father, who -- following a debilitating injury -- has lost any will to take a leading hand at the ranch. When Marianne returned from the East to take over management, she earned the scorn and resentment of Lou Hervey, ranch foreman, who had been running the spread after Jordan's collapse. Marianne hopes to prove her mettle to Hervey by purchasing the string of blood horses. However, she knows she's pinning a lot on this action: The ranch's fortunes will be ruined if her gamble doesn't work.

Brand introduces his hero in the second chapter: "Red" Jim Perris. He displays typical Brand-hero traits -- he's free and easy, with a desire to roam, untied to any geographical or emotional anchors; he's fair to all men; he's not shy about battling an injustice or anything else he sees as being counter to fair play; like some manifestation of wild nature itself, Perris has an easy rapport with animals, and even those beasts that seem untamable will surrender to his strength, intelligence, and goodness; and by golly he can handle a gun like nobody's business.

Marianne sees Perris in action, and she is both taken and repelled by his cowboy brashness. A sure sign that these two are doomed to romance.

Marianne buys her horses; Alcatraz stomps Cordova seemingly to death and escapes into the wild; Perris displays his natural man/hero traits and continues on the trail of a man who, in a drunken rage, shot Perris during a card game and ran off. Unknown to both Perris and Marianne, the assailant was the girl's father. Old Jordan regrets his actions, but Hervey -- who was with Jordan at the time and who encouraged him to vamoose after the shooting -- manages to use this event to his advantage in retaking control of the ranch and its finances.

Alcatraz takes over leadership of a band of wild horses that have been plaguing the Jordan ranch. Hervey and his crew shoot down as many of the horses as possible, but Alcatraz escapes. The crew begins building a legend that Alcatraz is a devil immune to bullets.

Marianne hires Perris to kill the wild horse. This move further galls Hervey. Once Perris sees the majesty of Alcatraz in the wild, he vows not to kill the horse but to capture it.

Alcatraz seemingly meets his match when Perris traps him and manages to climb aboard. A myth-sized battle follows, and Alcatraz seems ready to submit when Perris is knocked unconscious from his mount by a tree limb.

Later Perris saves Alcatraz from drowning, and the horse saves the man when Hervey's crew tries to kill the two. In the end, Perris and Marianne acknowledge their love, the elder Jordan admits his wrongdoing and he and Perris reach a peaceable agreement; Hervey's mischief is discovered and he is banished from the ranch, and Alcatraz and Perris -- neither able to surrender to the other -- become partners.

III. The Movie
The William Fox Film Corp. released the silent film JUST TONY, directed by Lynn Reynolds, in 1922. This was just one of nine Tom Mix movies released that year, and one of five movies directed by Reynolds for that year -- all five starred Mix. Reynolds adapted the script from Max Brand's novel Alcatraz.

This 70-minute film was shot in the Alabama Hills near Lone Pine, California. The Alabama Hills have been a popular location for shooting movies and TV shows -- particularly westerns -- since the filming of The Roundup in 1920. It remains in use today. Part of the appeal is their Sierra Nevada backdrop, which includes Mt. Whitney, one of the highest points in the continental U.S. Movies shot here include Gunga Din, The Three Godfathers, Broken Arrow, The Four Feathers, Gladiator, Hi-Yo Silver, Hopalong Rides Again, and Joe Kidd.

While the secondary characters in the movie retain their names from Brand's novel, Tom Mix's character gets a slight name modification from Perris to Ferris.

Tom Mix was the top cowboy in moving pictures at this time. As a result, Tom's horse, Tony, was the top equine star in Hollywood. So marketing-wise, a movie named for Tony would surely pull in more viewers than a film titled Alcatraz. Thus Tony got the starring role AND the picture title.

Mix is perfect to play the part of Ferris, one of Brand's bigger-than-life cowboy heroes. Mix's background is not that of an actual working cowboy. Instead, he came from the world of the rodeo, wild west show, and circus-styled cowboy -- the sort who specialized in shooting tricks, riding stunts, and fancy-dress clothes (the type of wardrobe that we associate with William Boyd's Hopalong Cassidy, Gene Autry and Roy Rogers). Unlike William Hart, Mix's contemporary who supposedly worked to make his western films look authentic, Mix was a true Hollywood cowboy, whose behavior on and off screen was based on spectacle and entertainment.

The square-jawed and hawk-nosed Mix made sure his public image was larger than real life, the hero of movie-watching boys everywhere; he was well suited to portray a myth-sized character who could have stepped out of folklore as easily as he strode through a Brand-penned novel.

The film opens with a panorama shot of majestic mountains in Nevada, the Eagles. Next we see a wild horse herd. Jim Perris, a cowboy from Utah, admires these fine, free animals. They are led by a four-year-old colt, "a mimic of the desert whirlwinds," according to the title card. Jim marvels at the horse. It could be his dream horse.

But foremost in his thoughts is an account he wants to square: The movie flashes back to a saloon scene. Jim is playing a banjo; a drunk gets tired of hearing it and shoots Jim, then leaves.

The man who shot Jim, Oliver Jordan, later bought a ranch at the foot of the lofty Nevada mountains. Since then, Jordan has suffered an injury to his legs, and the ranch has fallen on hard times. His daughter, Marianne, comes home from the East to run the ranch. Hervey, the ranch boss, is unhappy about that. Since Jordan's injury, Hervey has replaced the older ranch hands with hard characters.

A bad winter kills much of Jordan and other ranchers' stock. A lot of wild horses are captured as they seek food. One of the captured horses is Tony. Manuel Cordova owns this one-time herd leader. He whips and mistreats the animal.

Marianne, at the local rodeo for stock, sees Manuel abuse Tony. Jim also sees, and he whips Manuel in a fight. Jim recognizes Tony as the horse he saw on the desert plains. He gives Tony "the first caress he has ever known."

At the rodeo, Marianne watches the race that features Tony and the eastern mares that she's come to buy. Only if Tony wins will the mares' price be low enough for Marianne to afford them. Jim learns that Manuel has bet heavily against Tony and plans to lose. Jim enters the race so "Tony will get a fair deal." Sure enough, Manuel holds Tony back, but Jim races up and cuts the reins. Tony wins the race!

Marianne offers Jim a foreman's job, for she doubts Hervey's motivations. But Jim explains he has two other jobs that take priority: finding the man who shot him, and somehow claiming Tony as his own.

When Manuel starts to beat Tony again, the horse breaks free, stomps Manuel, and escapes to the Eagle Mountains. He takes over another herd of horses, and lures domestic stock from the Jordan ranch, including the newly purchased mares.

Marianne sends for Jim, telling him he can have Tony if he can capture the horse.

Hervey warns Jordan away, telling the old man that Jim is gunning for him, and that Hervey will take care of everything. Meanwhile, Hervey and his crew raid Jordan's stock and blame the disappearances on Tony. But Jim figures out what's going on.

Jim captures Tony and manages to ride him until the saddle cinch breaks and Jim hits the ground, unconscious. Tony is tempted to stomp Jim just as he trampled Manuel, but he remembers that first caress. He sees Jim as a man to be trusted, "his new master!" He trails Jim to his line cabin after the man awakes.

There, Hervey ambushes the cowboy. Marianne overhears Hervey tell Jim that Jordan was the man who shot him. She gets the lowdown on the crooked ranch boss just as he's about to murder Jim. She runs him off, and Hervey leaves to clean out the stock from the Jordan ranch.

Jim and Marianne follow, and Tony follows them. But some of Hervey's men hang back to chase the hero and his gal. When they shoot Jim's horse out from under him, Tony arrives to carry him to safety. Then Jim and Marianne hurry to Jordan's hideaway, where Jim and Jordan bury the hatchet.

After affairs with Hervey are settled (off screen), Jim and Marianne lead Tony to the desert to release him. The horse wanders off, but returns to Jim. Marianne says, "He loves you more than -- freedom!' Fadeout.

IV. Sum Up
The film differs from the novel in some ways, but captures the heart of the story -- the untamed spirits of both Jim and Tony calling to one another. Most of Brand's novels contain more action or incident than would have fit into a movie of this sort; so some condensing for a film version works just fine. The romance between Jim and Marianne becomes a secondary issue, and young viewers were far more interested in knowing that Tom Mix would survive Hervey's crooked scheming and end up with such a swell horse, not whether he got to kiss the girl. The filmic Jim sees Alcatraz/Tony first instead of Marianne. Hervey is perhaps more despicable in the movie, although he's more of a secondary character there than in the book. In the novel, Jim is shot while playing cards; in the film, he's playing an apparently obnoxious tune on a banjo. (See the lobby card photo accompanying this article.)

What I find interesting is that the film viewer never sees justice catch up to the bad guy, Hervey. Jim and Jordan shake hands and agree to fight no more, but no mention is made of Hervey after Tony rescues Jim. Odd. But I suppose providing thrills and chills was uppermost in the minds of the people making these movies; providing complete closure to all plot lines before the final reel ended was a secondary consideration. On the whole, though, Just Tony does good by the main concepts and action in Brand's novel, Alcatraz.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The WWWA reads The Youngerman Guns by Lewis B. Patten

This is the second novel by Patten the The Woodstove Whittlers and Wrangling Association read.

(Once an Association member finds something he likes, he sticks with it. For example, Sam Strange, Jr., has a short, hanging shelf with fourteen Louis L'Amour books on it -- thirteen stand upright from one end of the shelf to the other, and the fourteenth lays on top of the others, because Sam didn't like the idea of having thirteen of anything in his bedroom because of the possibilities of bad luck might ensue. Anyway, whenever Sam finishes reading those fourteen L'Amour books, he starts over reading them again. Because he likes L'Amour and sees little reason to travel beyond what he knows he already likes. And even though Louis L'Amour wrote more than fourteen books, Sam has only fourteen because that's how many fit on his shelf. Well, really, only thirteen fit, but we've already coddled that bit of Sam's strangeness.)

Again, as the WWWA noted about The Cheyenne Pool, The Youngerman Guns is a good, solid western. This one is about Dan Youngerman (what’s with the name Dan? see the Association's notes on The Cheyenne Pool), a deputy in a small town for the past seven years, who (unknown to the townsfolk) is also related to the leader of the dreaded Youngerman gang. Patten clearly bases the Youngermans loosely on the actual James-Younger gang -- as reflected in the “Youngerman” name. Dan had split with his vicious brother Sam during the Civil War after the infamous raid in Lawrence, Kansas. Sam vowed to kill Dan after the war when Dan married Sam’s childhood sweetheart.

(The Association's discussion of Sam's desire for vengeance was rather muted, and more than one member cut a surreptitious glance around the woodstove at Waldo Grinter and Adolphus Husky, for Adolphus was known to be sparkin' Jeanette Curry before he went off to join the Army as a young man; Waldo took up with Jeanette and they were married before Adolphus returned home. More than once we'd heard Adolphus complain that he wouldn't be hearing comments from his wife, Renee, about his belt size if he were married to Jeanette. So things were on the cusp of being skittery while talking about Dan and Sam Youngerman, but neither Adolphus nor Waldo got twitchy, and discussions remained civil and calm. All the same, a couple of the boys remarked to me afterward they were glad the Association was done with this book.)

Back to Patten's novel. Dan learns that the gang plans to raid his small town and rob the bank -- and perhaps kill Dan in the process. The townspeople learn of Dan’s relationship to the gang, and their fear and indignation lead to some ugly scenes all the way to the big shootout at the book’s climax. [A note from the Top Hand: More than one of Patten's books have that High Noon scenario, with a lone man wronged or wrongly judged by a (usually self-righteous) crowd. Although the situation appears more than once in his work, Patten handles it nicely each time, and there's no sense of deja vu.]

This Patten novel offers a solid tale. I could imagine both it and The Cheyenne Pool as the basis for a couple of fine B-western films during the 1960s. (Surprisingly -- when you take into consideration how prolific Patten was -- the IMDB site lists him for only four entries.)

Overall, the Association readers were pleased with this novel, and likewise pleased that no real disruptions popped up during the course of the gab session. More than one member noted, however, that Adolphus and Waldo didn't line up for the snack table together, nor did they sit on the same side of the room. But before the meeting broke up, Waldo complimented Adolphus on his new belt buckle from the Corn Palace Stampede Rodeo, and Adolphus recommended a new brand of feed for Waldo's veal calves.

Sometimes life is funny; sometimes it's hard as a Montana blizzard. Mostly, life just is.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Pulp Panel at New York Comic Con

Ed Catto, one of the "Retropreneurs" behind the relaunch of Captain Action into pop culture, has recruited a panel of pulp fiction a-fiction-ados to discuss Pulp Fiction at the New York Comic Con.

The Con runs February 6 through 8 and features a ton of programming with many guests from the comic book industry. The Pulp Fiction Panel will run Friday afternoon. Ed will moderate the panel, and among its experts will be . . .

Anthony Tollin : Pulp Historian, Publisher - Nostalgia Ventures, reprinting The Shadow, Doc Savage, The Avenger and The Whisperer

Joe Gentile : Publisher- Moonstone Books and Author

F.J. DeSanto : Co-Producer - the new Shadow and Doc Savage feature films, comic/manga Writer

Ron Fortier : Publisher - Airship 27, and prolific comic/pulp Author

Charles Ardai : Editor and Founder - Hard Case Crime, Author and Entrepreneur

Mark Halegua : President- Gotham Pulp Collectors Club, Pulps1st

Stephen H. Segal : Editorial and Creative Director - Weird Tales

Will Murray : Author/Historian, and Writer of seven Doc Savage novels (under the Kenneth Robeson byline)

The New York Comic Con is held at the Javits Center in New York City February 6 – 8, 2009. The Pulp Panel will be held in room 1A21 on Friday, February 6th from 4:30- 5:30 PM. No pre-registration is required for this panel.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Longest Running Pulps

By Mike Ashley

[Editor’s note: Mike Ashley is an indefatigable bibliographer, anthologist, and historian of fiction magazines. He’s sort of a genre fiction bon vivant. If you’ve ever walked through the fiction aisles of a bookstore, you’ve probably seen at least one of his many Mammoth Book Of anthologies of stories. The only topic I can think of he hasn’t tackled is an anthology of stories about international covert plumbers. Ahem. I may be wrong. He has written The biography of ghost-story author Algernon Blackwood and a trio (at this count) of books narrating the history of science fiction magazines. A recent book written for the British Library, The Age of the Story Tellers: British Popular Fiction Magazines 1880-1950, is the definitive history of magazine fiction during its heyday. I must admit, I enjoy just about everything Mike puts his hand (or typewriter) to.

Mike wrote the following article for the Pulp Era Amateur Press Society (PEAPS), a collection of pulp fiction fans, collectors, and readers. Mike very graciously provided permission to publish it here, and I am very, very happy to do so.

I’ve noted elsewhere that Westerns probably accounted for more ink on pages than any other genre. Keep that in mind as you read the following essay. We’ll take up the topic again at the end.]

By Mike Ashley

I'm an inveterate list maker and am always fascinated by statistics, such as which pulp magazine had the most issues. It becomes complicated by those magazines that survived beyond the pulp age, such as Argosy turning into a men's semi-slick magazine, or indeed Analog and Weird Tales, still around today though far removed from their pulp origins. Nevertheless, they survive, and I thought it might be interesting to put together a list of those magazines which saw the most issues. Hopefully I haven't missed any. I've drawn for data upon a variety of sources but most significantly what is known as “The Big List: maintained by Phil Stephensen-Payne from an earlier version which was cobbled together by David Pringle and myself. You can view The Big List at http://www.philsp.com/ .

For the following, therefore, I have taken the complete run of a magazine provided that it was in pulp form for at least a significant part of its existence. Analog has, of course, been non-pulp for more than sixty years, and was only ever a pulp -- as Astounding -- for thirteen years, but I don't think anyone could deny that those were thirteen significant years. It's more of a problem with a magazine like Railroad Stories, which came and went, and which continued as a non-fiction enthusiasts' magazine for years after its original pulp life. It's one I've therefore queried below.

I haven't included Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine or The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, since they were never pulps, but if you want comparative figures, as of December 2008 their totals are respectively 624, 781 and 673. It has become a habit to have double-month issues and number those as a double issue -- for subscription purposes. I have only counted these once, though, since they remain a single issue. So the numbers cited are physical issues you would count on your shelf.

One of the main problem areas are when pulps continued from original dime-novel series, such as Wild West Weekly or Detective Story Magazine. I've applied certain criteria depending on each publication and have noted accordingly below.

I've drawn the line at those publications exceeding 500 issues. I've included British pulps. The figures quoted for current magazines are as at December 2008.

1. Argosy, 2,578 issues from 9 December 1882 to Spring 2005.
This includes the original tabloid weekly as The Golden Argosy, the subsequent men's magazine "slick" issues, and the various incarnations since the original magazine folded in 1979. The pulp issues proper run from December 1896 to August 1943, a total of 1,532 issues.

2. Wild West Weekly, 2,118 issues from 24 October 1902 to November 1943.
This began in dime novel format and remained so until August 1927. Its first pulp issue was 13 August 1927, and it saw 824 issues in that format.

3. Western Story Magazine, 1,286 issues from 12 July 1919 to August/September 1949.
This also took over from a dime novel series, New Buffalo Bill Weekly, and as it kept the volume numbering, then strictly the dime novel issues ought to count -- especially as the name change happened before (12 July 1919) the first pulp issue (5 September 1919). The series had started as Buffalo Bill Stories in May 1901 and ran for 591 issues before changing to New Buffalo Bill Weekly for a further 356 issues. This would produce a total of 2,233 issues. What's more, the magazine was revived by Popular Publications in October 1952 and ran to June 1954, a further 11 issues. So the true total is 2,244.

4. Love Story Magazine, 1,158 issues from 1 August 1921 to February 1947.
This was also revived by Popular Publications and ran for a further 14 issues from June 1952 to September 1954, giving 1,172 in total.

5. Short Stories, 1,114 issues from June 1890 to August 1959.
A complicated magazine to monitor, which went through various incarnations. The pulp issues proper ran from March 1910 to June 1953, a total of 849. Phil Stephensen-Payne has pointed out that although the final issue bears the number 2014, there was a numbering error in December 1948, which added 900 to the running total and was never corrected.

6. Detective Story Magazine, 1,057 issues from 5 October 1915 to Summer 1949.
Here we have the same problem as with Western Story. Detective Story was a continuation of Nick Carter Stories -- itself a continuation of Nick Carter Weekly, which was a continuation of Street & Smith's very first dime novel series, Nick Carter Library, which began on 8 August 1891. Those three series had a total of 1,261 issues, making the full run 2,318 issues. In addition, Popular Publications revived Detective Story for six more issues from November 1952 to September 1953, giving 2,324 issues in total, of which 1,063 were pulp.

7. Astounding/Analog, 935 issues from January 1930 to date.
A valiant survivor from the pulp days, though its last true pulp issue was in October 1943, including a run of 16 issues in the larger flat format (erroneously called “bedsheet”). That means its total pulp run was only 155 issues.

8. Flynn's/Detective Fiction Weekly, 923 issues from 20 September 1924 to August 1944.
It was revived briefly from January to July 1951 for six more issues, giving an overall total of 929.

9. Adventure, 881 issues from November 1910 to April 1971.
The last true pulp issue was in May 1953, though it had toyed with both some slick issues and digest issues earlier. Nevertheless, the magazine's life was continuously evolving from a men's adventure magazine to a men's adventure magazine! The number of pulp issues total 756.

10. Ranch Romances, 863 issues from September 1924 to November 1971.
The last surviving continuous pulp.

11. Cassell's Magazine, 789 issues from April 1867 to December 1932.
This is the first British magazine. It started as a large standard Victorian magazine, upgrading to a slick in December 1896 to match the popularity of The Strand. However, in April 1912 it converted to an all-fiction pulp magazine and remained so for the next twenty years, with occasional attempts to improve the paper quality. This final incarnation saw 249 pulp issues.

12. Railroad Man's Magazine, 782 issues from October 1906 to January 1979.
This is another complicated one. Its first incarnation lasted until January 1919, when it merged with Argosy. It was revived in December 1929 and was taken over by Popular Publications in January 1942, remaining a pulp until December 1942. Its total pulp life, therefore, was 315 issues. It continued as a semi-slick until January 1979. It was revived as a railroad enthusiast's magazine in May 1979, with no fiction at all, and retitled Railfan and Railroad. I've no idea how many issues of that have appeared and perhaps we can treat that as another entity entirely.

13. Red Magazine, 620 issues from June 1908 to September 1939.
The second British magazine and the first that was a pulp throughout its lifetime, although its format varied slightly, and at times it ran better quality (and often thicker) book paper. Nevertheless, few would argue that it was a pulp.

14. Blue Book, 613 issues from May 1906 to May 1956.
I’ve called Blue Book a “slick in pulp clothing,” because for many of its issues it seldom felt like a pulp. Twice it shifted to the large flat format, and it switched to a men's service magazine in February 1952. The paper, though, didn't change. There were slight variations in quality, but it was essentially pulp to the end. The magazine was revived in October 1960 as Bluebook for Men, this time as a man's magazine. I've never been interested in this incarnation and am not sure how many issues appeared. The last I know of is January 1975, and if it was monthly all that time that would be an additional 172 issues.

15. Popular Magazine, 612 issues from September 1903 to October 1931
This began as a boy's magazine, more an outgrowth of the dime novels, but soon switched to true pulp format and lived up to its name as a popular pulp until it merged with Complete Stories in 1931. The short-lived magazine Hardboiled, also from Street & Smith, changed its name to The Popular in March 1937, but I believe that was a digest-size series full of reprints. I'm not sure how many issues appeared.

16. Amazing Stories, 609 issues from April 1926 to March 2005.
The final issue was published only as a webzine. Amazing went through various changes in its final years with some rather impressive slick issues. Its last pulp issue was in March 1953. Strictly speaking, its early Gernsback issues weren't pulp, as these were on special quality book paper -- but let's not get too technical. There were 284 pulp issues, including the early large flat-format ones.

17. Top-Notch, 602 issues from March 1910 to Sep/Oct 1937.
The first seven issues were in the dime novel format, but thereafter all are standard pulps.

18. The Argosy, 571 issues from June 1926 to February 1974.
This is the British Argosy, no relation to the US pulp. The British Argosy was mostly a reprint magazine, but it did run occasional new stories. It began on slightly good quality book paper but soon devolved to pulp. Its pulp run ended in January 1940 after 164 issues. After that, wartime restrictions caused the magazine to shrink, first to a large digest, and then to digest, and finally pocketbook format. Nevertheless it was a continuous-run story-magazine.

Those are all the ones with more than 500 issues. The 19th is All-Story with 444 issues, and the 20th is Young's Magazine with, I think, 441 issues, though I'm not entirely sure how many appeared.

Supposing, though, we just took pulp issues alone, and not those in any other format. What does the top 20 become? Well, it changes quite a bit. For this list I have excluded everything which is digest, slick, or dime novel, though have kept in “bedsheet” size issues because it's an argument I'd never win either way!

1. Argosy, 1532 issues
2. Western Story Magazine, 1289
3. Love Story Magazine, 1172
4. Detective Story Magazine, 1063
5. Flynn's/Detective Fiction Weekly, 929
6. Ranch Romances, 863
7. Short Stories, 849
8. Wild West Weekly, 824
9. Adventure, 756
10. Red Magazine [UK], 620
11. Blue Book, 613
12. Popular Magazine, 609
13. Top-Notch, 595
14. All-Story, 444
15. Sport Story Magazine, 429
16. Grand MagaZine [UK], 422
17. Novel Magazine [UK], 393
18. Breezy Stories, 370+ (I'm not sure of the final total)
19. The Story-teller [UK], 361
20. West, 361

So, in come some new titles, such as the British Grand Magazine, The Novel and The Story-teller, and other pulps, such as Sport Story Magazine, West and Breezy Stories. I'm not too sure just how many issues there were of Breezy Stories in its final few days, and its total could be as high as 422.

It's possible I've missed out something or miscalculated somewhere along the line, so I'd welcome any comments and corrections.

One final thought. The above list accounts for almost 14,500 issues, which would be an impressive collection in its own right. But I wonder what proportion that is of the total pulp issues ever published? Anyone want to take that on?!

©2008 Mike Ashley

[Editor’s note: Take a look again at Mike’s two lists. In List 1, the three western-only titles (Wild West Weekly, Western Story Magazine, and Ranch Romances, at positions 2, 3, and 10, respectively) capture a total of 4,267 issues. You can assume a lot of pages were also devoted to westerns in the general-interest magazines in that list: Argosy, Short Stories, Adventure, Railroad Man’s Magazine, Blue Book, Top-Notch, The Argosy (UK), and All-Story. Perhaps the western pages from these titles would end up totaling at least a few hundred issues of what we might call a Generic Western magazine.

If you look at list 2 -- the pulp-paper-only issues -- the number of western titles increases, but the number of issues falls by nearly a thousand to 3,337: Western Story Magazine, Ranch Romances, Wild West Weekly, and West. The general-interest pulps in this second list changes slightly -- Argosy, Short Stories, Adventure, Blue Book, Top-Notch, All-Story, and The Story-Teller. (I’m not sure if westerns appeared in this last title, but I bet at least one slipped into an issue sometime.) Again, you would still probably be able to assemble a few hundred issues of what we might call a Generic Western magazine just from the western pages of these titles. I'm not sure if this haphazard and non-scientific tallying I'm doing tells us westerns had the lion's share of pages, but it's fun to do, anyway.

Again, many thanks to Mike
for allowing me to share this essay. You’ll find a selection of his great books listed at the Spur & Lock's Spinner Rack under the Mike Ashley Anthology-a-Rama category.]