. . . is the first published output of one of my most-admired authors, pulp cowboy and science fiction writer, JT Edson. You may not have heard of him: despite a canon of 136 published books selling more than 27 million copies, Edson ceased to be published in the UK from the 1990s, partly due to his somewhat politically incorrect views. He claimed that the American Civil War was about secession, not slavery. Drawing a bead on the Guardianistas, he avowed that ’liberals’ were almost certain to be intolerant of others due to their (unjustified) superiority complex. There is merit in these observations, though he loses me with his assertion that all ‘liberals’ are homosexuals. Unsurprisingly for a chronicler of the Wild West, he was also a vocal advocate of frontier justice and capital punishment.
Edson was typical of any middle Englander. Born in Derbyshire, he spent much of his later life in Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire, home of the pork pie. An erstwhile postman and fish and chip shop owner when he wasn’t writing, like Dr. Johnson, he claimed he only did it for the money. The writer of ‘A Horse called Mogollon’ and ‘You’re a Texas Ranger, Alvin Fog’ was wary of horses and claimed to have no particular affinity with the United States, though he was a fierce advocate of Texan values, up to and including his generalisation that Texans were discriminated against, specifically in Kansas.
His Wild West was hewn from his imagination, the product of an overdose of Randolph Scott, John Wayne and Audie Murphy pictures when cooped up in barracks during his stint as an army attack dog trainer. His Wild West Weltenschauen was as valid as anyone else’s: John Ford was 2nd generation Irish from Maine, John Houston was Irish, the great Hollywood studio bosses were New York Jews. JT just didn’t stray far from the badlands of Coalville. That’s all she wrote.
Edson’s oeuvre was not confined to westerns.He was also an admirer/imitator/plagiarist of the great Edgar Rice Burroughs, science fiction writer best known for Tarzan, who described his start in writing, (after a stint as a pencil sharpener) thus:
“…if people were paid for writing rot such as I read in some of those magazines, I could write stories just as rotten. As a matter of fact, although I had never written a story, I knew absolutely that I could write stories just as entertaining and probably a whole lot more so than any I chanced to read in those magazines.”
So it came to pass that another JT hero, James Allenvale ‘Bunduki’ Gunn, was adopted by Tarzan after his parents were murdered by the Mau Mau. Bunduki married Tarzan’s great-granddaughter, Dawn, a Roedean-educated martial artist related to Bulldog Drummondand John Wesley Hardin. The happy couple were transported to the counter-earth planet Zillikian where they fought baddies, wild west style, in the grand tradition of Buck Rogers. Dawn’s weapon of choice was a Randall fighting knife.
My favourite JT title, ‘Wagons to Backsight’ was recommended to me by my first boss, the brilliant schlock publisher Brian Babani, who employed me to put captions on Marvel Comic strips. Working from From our dream factory above the Owl Bookshop on London’s Kentish Town Road, I was Captain Jack, agony uncle/letters editor in ‘Forces in Combat‘, a weekly compendium of particularly violent comic strips – Deathlock the Demolisher, Rom the Space Knight, Nick Fury, Agent of Shield et al – and production manager/editor/colourer-in for the first Dr Who Comic.
I sat up late into the night, ruinously drunk, with comic artist legend, Paul Neary, letrasetting headlines such as ‘Together Again for the First Time’ to describe the merging of SpiderMan and Incredible Hulk strips in frequent showcase editions. It was left to me to fend off the tiresome protests of the Dr Who Appreciation Society, who had the power to annoy the BBC into suspending our merchandising licence, which hung by a slender thread. “What’s wrong with describing the Krynoid as a giant alien cabbage? That’s what it is. Now fuck off and get a life before I drop the lot of you out of a high window,” I’d tell the Who groupies, conveying the spirit of Brian’s message but omitting the defenestration part. What better use of a First in American Studies? I was proof positive of the value to society of a liberal humanities education.
Why oh why did I stray from the shining path of churning out words for money? JT was right: liberals ARE wankers. Look at them today, ruining the country, nancing about marrying Tories and running off with former lesbians while allegedly getting off driving bans by pretending to be their wife. To think for a time I did their bidding, drank their vinho verde. JT never had a problem with writer’s block. Neither did I in those halcyon times.
I left Marvel Comics for The Economist and lost my way. Since then, I have measured out my life with coffee spoons, writing economic and political analysis, indictments of savage regimes, describing ‘high level’ management malarky and penning books and arts reviews.
Belatedly, I now see all this as a lower category of war crime. Re-acquaintance with Edson has reminded me on which side of the line I stand. Henceforth, there will be more along the lines of robot shops, Yuri Gagarin, skull rings, Japanese esoteric Buddhism, whippet racing, the curse of the middle classes, aquarium kitsch, the folk art of ice cream vans. Maybe then I can write a title as compelling as ‘Hints on Self-Preservation when attacked by a War Dog,’ knock predictable flaneurs like Philip Roth off their perch and turn round the ailing fortunes of the British publishing industry.