Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Favorite Western Pulps

A while back someone who commented on one of my favorite Western author posts suggested that I write about some of my favorite Western pulps. Here's a list of ten, in alphabetical order, with the usual caveat that if you asked me tomorrow, I might change my mind about some of them. But I think such a list is always going to include quite a few of these:

DIME WESTERN – One of the longest-running Western pulps in terms of years, although it was never a weekly so some of the other titles far surpass it in number of issues. But DIME WESTERN with its distinctive yellow covers was consistently good and was also the first attempt by editor Rogers Terrill to force the Western pulps to grow up. High quality and historical significance are easily enough to land DIME WESTERN on the list.

EXCITING WESTERN – Some people aren't that fond of the Western pulps published by Standard Publications and Better Publications, really the same outfit that can be lumped together as the Thrilling Group. But I like them. I've really only become a fan of EXCITING WESTERN in recent years, primarily because that was the home of the long-running Tombstone and Speedy series by W.C. Tuttle. This series about a couple of inept but lucky range detectives features Tuttle's trademark blend of humor, action, and complex plots. The Tombstone and Speedy stories are a burlesque version of Tuttle's much better known (and better) Hashknife and Sleepy series, but they're a lot of fun in their own right.

RIO KID WESTERN – I was introduced to the Rio Kid series by the paperback reprints from Curtis Books and Popular Library in the Sixties and Seventies, but I went on to read quite a few of the pulps as well, and it became a favorite series of mine. It follows the adventures of Captain Bob Pryor, a Texan who fought for the Union during the Civil War, and his sidekick Celestino Mireles. The series' gimmick is that all the stories feature historical characters and incidents, and as such they form a sort of alternate history or secret history of the Old West. Tom Curry created the series and wrote many of the novels, but other top pulpsters such as Walker A. Tompkins, C. William Harrison, and Gunnison Steele contributed Rio Kid novels, too.

SPICY/SPEED WESTERN – I have to lump these two together since SPEED WESTERN was a retitled and slightly toned-down version of SPICY WESTERN. The stories in both versions follow the Trojan Publications formula of fast action and female characters losing their clothes, as was often reflected on the covers. Sure, the stories by authors such as E. Hoffmann Price, Laurence Donovan, James P. Olsen, Robert Leslie Bellem, and others writing under a myriad of house-names, were very formulaic and you certainly wouldn't want to read too many of them back to back. But taken in small doses, I find them to be very entertaining.

STAR WESTERN – Along with DIME WESTERN, STAR WESTERN was one of the flagships of the Popular Publications Western line. It always sported a cover with a red background and featured more novellas than DIME WESTERN, something I like because I'm very fond of that length. There was a lot of author crossover among the Popular magazines. Walt Coburn, Harry F. Olmsted, Tom Roan, Ed Earl Repp, and many others appeared in all the Western pulps from Popular Publications, with stories often garishly retitled by the editors. (Those over-the-top titles are a particular joy of their own, I've found.)

TEXAS RANGERS – The Jim Hatfield novels from TEXAS RANGERS were really the first pulp Westerns I read, if you don't count Max Brand novels (which at the time I didn't know came from the pulps). I've written before about reading paperbacks in study hall when I was in high school, and one of them was GUNSLINGER'S RANGE by Jackson Cole, published by Popular Library. I still remember how much I enjoyed it and how I started picking up more of the Jim Hatfield novels whenever I found them. Now, of course, I know that GUNSLINGER'S RANGE was a retitled reprint of a novel from the TEXAS RANGERS pulp (I don't recall the original title at the moment) and the actual author was Tom Curry. I went on to read all the Hatfield paperbacks and also put together an almost complete collection of the pulp. Those copies went in the fire of '08, but since then I've gotten my hands on almost all of the issues again. And eventually I'm going to read all the ones I haven't already read, if I live long enough.

THRILLING WESTERN – Another pulp from the Thrilling Group, and another that I enjoy primarily for one series that ran in it, the Walt Slade, Texas Ranger stories by Bradford Scott. I first started reading Walt Slade novels in paperback in the Sixties, when I was reading those Jim Hatfield reprints as well, and even then I was struck by some of the similarities. Those similarities were to be expected, although I didn't know that at the time, because "Bradford Scott" was really A. Leslie Scott, who created the Jim Hatfield series and wrote many of the novels under the Jackson Cole house-name. Some of the Walt Slade stories from the pulp were expanded into paperbacks later on, although most of the paperbacks were original. Well, as original as they could be considering that Scott used basically the same plot for almost every one of them, varying only the details. But you know what, in 1967 I didn't care, I just enjoyed all the great action and the colorful prose, and just because I can see some of the flaws now doesn't mean that I don't still enjoy them as good yarns.

WESTERN ACES – As I've mentioned before, WESTERN ACES and it's companion magazine WESTERN TRAILS were considered low-level salvage markets, but despite that I've enjoyed all of the issues that I've read. There were contributions by a bunch of solid Western pulpsters, and for years nearly every issue featured at least two stories by one of my favorites, J. Edward Leithead, one under his name and one under his pseudonym Wilson L. Covert.

WESTERN STORY – The granddaddy of them all, of course, the Western pulp with the most issues, and the home of numerous novels and stories by Frederick Faust, better known as Max Brand and a host of other pseudonyms. But WESTERN STORY also published every other top writer in the Western pulps, including many excellent authors who are now all but forgotten like Frank Richardson Pierce. Yes, WESTERN STORY could be a trifle stodgy at times, but the sheer volume of excellent stories is overwhelming. The only real drawback, to me, is the large number of serials, that bane of the pulp reader and collector.

WILD WEST WEEKLY – WILD WEST WEEKLY, like WESTERN STORY, was published by Street & Smith and could be considered WESTERN STORY'S rambunctious little brother. Deliberately aimed at a slightly more juvenile audience, it featured an abundance of series characters like Sonny Tabor and Kid Wolf (both written by Paul S. Powers under the Ward Stevens name), Tommy Rockford and the Border Eagle from Walker A. Tompkins, the White Wolf from Hal Dunning, and the Oklahoma Kid by Lee Bond (who also wrote a long-running and entertaining series of back-up stories about an outlaw named Long Sam Littlejohn in TEXAS RANGERS). Despite its reputation, there were plenty of serious stand-alone stories in WILD WEST WEEKLY, too, especially in the late Thirties and Forties. I've read a lot of issues, and I've enjoyed every one of them.

There were plenty of good Westerns that appeared in such general fiction pulps as ARGOSY, ADVENTURE, SHORT STORIES, and BLUE BOOK, but I've confined this list to magazines that specialized in the genre. Also, I'm sure there were lots of Western pulps that might have made the list if I'd just read more of them, such as Dell's ALL WESTERN. I've read only two issues of that title, but both were excellent. So consider this list a starting place, I guess, a cross-section of a vast genre that has much to offer. Some people have said that everything from the pulps worth reprinting has already been reprinted. Not as far as I'm concerned. I think we've just started to scratch the surface.

11 comments:

Walker Martin said...

I definitely agree with having STAR WESTERN, DIME WESTERN, and WESTERN STORY on the list. I would add WEST which lasted over 20 years but was mainly a quality publication during the years that Doubleday published it, 1926-1935.

I also like ALL WESTERN and would add the Clayton pulps, ACE HIGH and COWBOY STORIES during the 1920's and early 1930's.

You are right about the general fiction pulps having a lot of good western fiction. ADVENTURE, BLUEBOOK, SHORT STORIES, ARGOSY, and POPULAR MAGAZINE had many fine westerns.

James Reasoner said...

Walker,
WEST is one of those pulps I've never read much and none of the issues from the Doubleday run, only the later ones when it was part of the Thrilling Group. Never read an issue of COWBOY STORIES, and the single issue of ACE HIGH from the 20s I've read I didn't like much, despite the presence of a Leithead novel in it. So just not enough exposure to those three for me.

Walker Martin said...

Too bad you can't do a similar list for the digest western magazines. You can sum up the quality titles by listing two:

ZANE GREY WESTERN
GUNSMOKE

ZANE GREY lasted for many issues but GUNSMOKE only lasted for two issues, despite being the companion to the very successful MANHUNT.

Now we don't have any western fiction magazines at all. Fortunately we can still collect the western pulps which are still fairly easy to find and inexpensive.

Beb said...

Any opinion of Action Stories? They published a lof of Les Savage, Jr. and Dan Cushman.

Beb

James Reasoner said...

Even though ACTION STORIES probably ran more Westerns than anything else and the covers reflected that, I don't think of it strictly as a Western pulp but rather a general adventure pulp. However, I've liked everything I've read from it. Definitely an excellent magazine.

Shay said...

Over the years Collier's published a lot of Haycox as well as other Western fiction writers.

Walker Martin said...

Shay brings up a good point that I've noticed over the years. The slicks often printed western fiction. I still have my Sat Eve Posts from the 40's through the 60's and have read many. I've noticed that Colliers had the same policy. Many pulp writers eventually went on to higher paying careers writing for slicks.

Richard Moore said...

I've neglected Western Story and regret not noticing the duplicates Walker sold at the last PulpFest for bargain prices.

I agree with your praise of Frank Richardson Pierce. Has anyone compiled a list of his No-Shirt McGee series, which I've always enjoyed.

James Reasoner said...

There's a list of No-Shirt McGee stories on the Fictionmags Index, but I don't know if it's complete:

http://www.philsp.com/homeville/FMI/f95.htm#A3488

Charles R. Rutledge said...

I picked up a couple of Rio Kid books after learning of him here and really enjoyed them. So thanks!

James Reasoner said...

That's one of the great things about blogging, helping people find more books they enjoy.