Sunday, February 7, 2016

From My Collection: BLUE BOOK, September 1935

Blue Book probably was always the classiest of pulp magazines. It certainly was the most lavishly illustrated. Its cover stock seems to be thicker than that of most pulps, and the page edges are trimmed to eliminate the rough edges and overhangs typical of pulp. Blue Book was published by the McCall company as a companion to Redbook, which then was much more fiction-oriented than it is today. It defied the dwindling trend of many rival pulps. While this 144 page 1935 issue represents a reduction in size from 160 pages earlier in the decade, the magazine would expand dramatically to 192 pages in 1939. Blue Book went bedsheet in September 1941, and if you still want to call it a pulp at that point, then it became probably the most beautiful pulp ever produced. If the bedsheet Argosy of 1941 metamorphosed into a moth, then Blue Book was Mothra. It helped to have an unmatched stable of interior illustrators -- not to mention iron man cover artist Herbert Morton Stoops, who moonlighted inside as Jeremy Cannon -- some of whose work you'll see as I begin to scan stories from this issue. Speaking of that, what have we to choose from?

Blue Book was unafraid to credit writers with more than one story per issue. One of their star writers, William Makin, scores twice this time with two series characters, the British Intelligence agent known as the Red Wolf of Arabia and the gypsy detective Isaac Heron. H. Bedford-Jones didn't like to see his name more than once on a contents page, no matter what Blue Book's policy was. That doesn't matter here since this is a Jones-lite issue by Blue Book standards. In a good month -- for him -- you might see stories under his most popular aliases, Gordon Keyne and Michael Gallister. A Bedford-Jones series might range all over history in search of tales to fit his theme of the moment. However prolific he was, you could depend on his for variety and solid story construction. Another Blue Book star, Robert R, Mill, starts a new series about G-Men this issue. He was best known for his more enduring series about "Tiny" David, a New York State Trooper who proved more clever than his oafish appearance suggested. From 1935 to 1938, Blue Book's flagship writer was William L. Chester, their in-house Edgar Rice Burroughs. Blue Book and Argosy competed for Burroughs stories constantly, and this issue announces a Tarzan story for the next issue, but Burroughs was flighty and pricey. Chester gave them a secure twist on the Tarzan formula with Kioga of the Wilderness, a white youth raised in a lost Native American tribe in the far north who had increasingly fantastical adventures during Chester's meteoric career.

As for the rest of this issue's contributors, I discovered Sidney Herschel Small through his Collier's stories in the trove. His specialty was the adventures of white people in Asia or in American Chinatowns. While they may not be "politically correct" by current standards, Small's stories were far less offensive than a lot of pulp chinoiserie, and they're usually crisply entertaining. Short novel contributor Leland Jamieson wrote a series of adventures about Coast Guard fliers, and "The Pirate of Vaca Lagoon" is quite a good one, as well as numerous flying stories before dying way too young of pancreatic cancer in 1941. William MacLeod Raine was a western writer whose career dated back to the 19th century and continued into the early 1950s. "The Triple Flip" is the first and only Blue Book appearance by Laurence Jordan, who published about a dozen stories overall in the first half of the 1930s. The "Prize Stories of Real Experience" are usually pretty entertaining, too, whether the stories were real or not.

To my mind, Blue Book sometimes got a little too high-toned or Anglomaniacal for its own good, but true pulp was always close to the surface, and you'll see some samples of what I mean in the near future as I scan stories from September 1935 for your convenience. Until then, this issue of Blue Book was brought to you by...

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