Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Tarnished Pulp Western: BLUE RIBBON WESTERN

BLUE RIBBON WESTERN was a pulp issued by Blue Ribbon Magazines, an imprint of Columbia Publishing. There were only two issues in its first year, 1937, in July and October. This pattern of meager offerings continued until all the way until 1944, when the magazine abruptly picked up steam and started printing issues almost every other month. This continued until its last year, 1950, when only two issues were released.

BLUE RIBBON, in my mind, is mainly memorable for what was said about it in the pulp collector's Bible, THE BLOOD N THUNDER GUIDE TO COLLECTING PULPS. In there, Ed Hulse makes no bones about how he feels about this magazine and others released by Columbia:

We list these titles only to warn you off them. Columbia was the bottom of the pulp-industry barrel, a house that single-handedly proved the validity of Sturgeon's Law: ninety percent of everything is crap.

Looking at it a little more philosophically, you could look at BLUE RIBBON WESTERN as a good example of how publishers were willing to print anything to cash in on the pulp phenomenon. You could also acquire BLUE RIBBON if you're particularly interested in examples of stories written by some of the most prolific Western writers of the time, like Archie Joscelyn.

Archie Joscelyn wrote for what seems every single Western pulp that ever existed. Many of his stories appeared in WESTERN STORY, and may have had the longest career starting in 1926 and continuing until 1957. Not only was Joscelyn a prolific pulp writer (100+ stories), he also wrote 54 Phoenix Press Westerns, 49 novels under his own name, a hundred more under the pseudonyms, Lynn Westland, Al Code, and Tex Holt. He also wrote over 200 romance, mystery, and juvenile novels.

Bill Pronzini writes in SIX-GUN IN CHEEK, which is a wonderful poke at the horrors of the pulp Western and those who wrote them, about Joscelyn:

"A native Montanan, Joscelyn was once quoted as saying: "I chased cayuses from the back of others; smelt burning hair from the branding iron and rode all day behind half-tamed dogies with the barbed wire steadily encroaching. And then I tried to put some of it down on paper - to catch something of that lingering whisper out of the past, a bit of the remaining glory of a golden age.

To a certain extent, he succeeded in his aim."

BLUE RIBBON also printed many stories by Kenneth C. Wood, who wrote for many other, more respectable pulps like SHORT STORIES and ARGOSY in the 1930s. Indeed, Wood was a regular with SHORT STORIES until the 1940s, when it seems that he went exclusively Western.

You may not be familiar with the name Ben Gardner, but if you've picked up a Western pulp, you've probably seen the name Gunnison Steele, his pseudonym. Gardner was probably as prolific as Joscelyn when it came to pulp stories, if not more.

There also many examples written by Chuck Martin, a loyal friend of my grandfathers and a character in his own right, and T.W. Ford. In addition, BLUE RIBBON reprinted stories occasionally, such as Harry Sinclair Drago's "Wanted!" that originally appeared in MUNSEY'S December 1927 issue.

Indeed, BLUE RIBBON WESTERN is a prime example of the sunset years of the Western pulp magazine of the late 1940s, rather than the golden years of the 1920s and 30s. But, like some late WILD WEST WEEKLY issues, some of the stories may sound like they were written while the author was sleepwalking, and I bet that's not far from the truth for many of these writers who wrote 24/7 for years, even decades.

BLUE RIBBON has its place in pulp history just like WESTERN STORY, WILD WEST WEEKLY, and DIME WESTERN. I'm sure that amongst the manure, there are some stories that are like tarnished silver - they just need some appreciation and a positive outlook on the part of the reader to shine. Reading BLUE RIBBON can also be good for current Western writers to learn what not to do when writing a Western.

BLUE RIBBON may not be found all that easily, but then they probably won't cost much. Many times you can find pulps like this in a lot of pulp Westerns being sold on eBay.

But the best bet for finding obscure pulps like these is to come to one of the conventions, like PulpFest next month in Columbus. I can tell you from experience that there will be countless bins of pulp Westerns (along with romances and other genres) that can be bought quite cheaply, many times only for a buck or two each. So the conventions aren't just about the rare and expensive pulps like THE SPIDER, DOC SAVAGE, DIME DETECTIVE, and BLACK MASK. It's a place where any and all titles can be found, regardless of their place in the hierarchy of quality.

Here are some other BLUE RIBBON WESTERN covers.

Sources for this post:

THE ADVENTURE HOUSE GUIDE TO THE PULPS (Ellis, Locke, Gunnison; Adventure House, 2000)
SIX GUN IN CHEEK (Bill Pronzini, Crossover Press, 1997)

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Deka Black said...

Being memorable for being a example of the ASturgeon's Law... what a "honour2 .

Jokes aside... You want prolific writers? In the spanish pulp era were a single wordsmith who penned 500 adventures of a female spy. And like... 2000 stoies more in a wide varietyof genres. he's still alive, but, from what i know, retired from writing.

Walker Martin said...

One of the big reasons that Columbia was at the bottom of the pulp publishing industry was because they paid the lowest rates per word. All the writers knew that you had to be crazy to submit a story to Columbia first because the other pulp markets paid better rates. Everything about the magazines reeked of low quality effort and budget. Doc Lowndes, who edited many of the Columbia pulps, begged his SF friends to let him have their rejects. He even talked some good SF writers into writing westerns. However most of the westerns and crime fiction written by the SF writers read like poor quality rejects.

James Reasoner, a writer who hosts the WesternPulpMags Group on Yahoo, has an excellent blog called ROUGH EDGES. Every Saturday he discusses a western pulp and on June 18, 2011 he talked about the April 1949 issue of BLUE RIBBON WESTERN. So take a look at for more about this title.

Laurie Powers said...

Deka, the amount of output of some writers is incredible. It makes me tired just thinking about it.

That's wild that James just did that post, Walker, because I had no idea. I haven't had time or the energy and the health to keep up my own blog, much less read others. Hopefully I can get back in the groove now that I'm feeling better. Thanks for the tip on James' blog post on BLUE RIBBON.

Richard R. said...

Still not so patiently awaiting the news about the book publication, when can I get my hands on a copy??

Laurie Powers said...

The book was just proofed and shipped off to Matt on Monday. Softcover will be ready for PulpFest at the end of July, and will be available on amazon shortly thereafter.

Laurie Powers said...

Jeez, you guys: no "welcome back," no "nice post," no "glad you're back?" And here I was, feeling bad because I haven't been around. :)

Ron Scheer said...

Well, let me be the first to say "nice post," which I was thinking all the while I was reading it. Obviously written with a lot of care, and well researched. The covers are actually not "crap" at all. I like them.

Deka Black said...

Yeah, is said Anonymous is the most prolific of all. But they say also he (or she, or it) is inmortal :P

Barry Traylor said...

Welcome back! This is a nice piece you did on Blue Ribbon Western.

Ed Hulse said...

My well-known, oft-quoted disdain for Columbia pulps increases every time I read one. With the sole exception of Robert E. Howard's "Vultures of Whapeton," I've never come across a truly memorable Western story in Columbia/Blue Ribbon/Double Action pulps. That goes for the earlier titles edited by Abner J. Sundell and the later ones edited by Doc Lowndes. Readable -- yeah, okay, I suppose. But memorable? Uh-uh. I wrote the first BnT GUIDE five years ago, and since then I haven't read any Columbias that would prompt me to change my appraisal for the second edition (on which I'm now working, by the way).

Anyway, allow me to add my congrats on a fine post. Good to have you back!

Laurie Powers said...

Thank you, Ron, Barry and Ed. Glad you appreciate it. Thanks Ed for your input too - and as always all the hard work you put into BnT. BTW, and this is probably NOT what you want to hear, but have you thought of eventually doing a new edition?

Richard Prosch said...

Like Ron, I liked the covers quite a bit --especially the first one which seems like cover art ahead of its time. Great post! And too, my best hopes for your continued phys. therepy --having a good thought for you.

Richard R. said...

Say, Laurie, nice post! Welcome back, glad you're feeling better! No, really.

Laurie Powers said...

Richard and Richard, thank you!

Anonymous said...

Just ordered a few based on this post, honestly I had never heard of this title. I do enjoy Wild West Weekly, maybe a bit too much. Kind of a "comfort food" pulp.

Todd Mason said...

Welcome back, Laurie. Robert Lowndes was able to publish some interesting work in his sf magazines and in his crime-fiction magazines (Edward Hoch never forgot Lowndes's early encouragement and purchases), but I don't think RL cared much for the work involved with the westerns. And, as Ed Hulse might note, it shows...but some of those covers strike me as handsome, as well. (As I recall, Lowndes was able to not edit the romance pulps as his colleague Marie Park took those on.)

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