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Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Town Tamers

The Town Tamers
by Jeremy Briggs

Following on from Steve's charity shop find of Willie Blaine's novel Witch’s Blood comes another DC Thomson related novel courtesy of a charity shop. Unlike Witch’s Blood, which was written by a DC Thomson staffer on a subject unrelated to Thomson's titles, The Town Tamers is a novel written by a DCT freelancer based on a comic strip from DCT's The Victor.

Born in 1928, JT (John Thomas) Edson was one of Britain's best known and best selling western writers in the Seventies with over 130 western novels to his name. As the interest in westerns declined throughout the Eighties he continued to write although his later novels were only published in the United States. Whilst best known as a novelist, earlier in his career he had written comic strips and text stories for Thomson's boys adventure comics. These mainly appeared in The Victor beginning with the text story "The Dogs Of Kwang" in 1962 and continuing with such ongoing series as "The Sheriff Of Rockabye County" and "Johnny Orchid, White Hunter".

Victor issue 191, dated 17 October 1964, began a 13 issue run of a western story called "The Town Tamers". In it the characters of Dusty Fog, the Ysabel Kid, Mark Counter, Waco and Doc Leroy rode into Trail End to bring justice to a lawless town—to literally tame it. With Dusty Fog as Marshall and the rest of the team as his deputies, they went about cleaning up the more wayward of the town's citizens. "The Town Tamers" also appeared in the 1966 Victor Book For Boys as an eight page comic strip.

As well as their appearance in The Victor, Edson wrote about the same group of characters in many of his adult novels with the series that "The Town Tamers" characters appeared in being known generically as the Floating Outfit books. This series eventually totalled 66 titles. Edson was well known for using the same characters or their extended families in most of his novels leading to a very densely interconnected set of books with heavy continuity between them. Indeed the first chapter of The Town Tamers novel references nine other Edson books as footnotes. Since he did not always write the different titles in chronological sequence, books written later in Edson's career can be set chronologically earlier in the series continuity, so a listing of the Floating Outfit books in their reading order varies greatly for a listing of the same books in their publishing order.

The Town Tamers novel first appeared in paperback from Corgi in 1969 with the copyright assigned to JT Edson himself. Other titles in the Floating Outfit series date back to 1961 with Trail Boss published by Brown Watson, which means that Edson was writing comic strips using at least some characters from his already published novels. As such The Town Tamers comic strip is effectively a tie-in to the Floating Outfit series of novels rather being than a wholly original Victor comic strip. That said, as the printed credit to Thomson's at the beginning shows, it is still a novelisation of the comic strip albeit much expanded and with more adult themes that would ever have been possible in a mid-Sixties children's comic. Whilst fights and saloons appeared, the comic strip characters would not have been heading for the local brothels to spend their gambling winnings as at least one of the novel’s characters does.

The Edson novels were popular enough to eventually attract Hollywood's attention and, while not directly associated with the comic strip, there are two TV movies (or possibly a miniseries split in two for home video release) based on Edson's novels and both include main characters from The Town Tamers. Guns of Honor and Trigger Fast were both released on video in 1994 and were based on the Floating Outfit novels The Ysabel Kid and Trigger Fast. They featured three of the five Town Tamer characters from Victor with the role of Dusty Fog played by Christopher Atkins while Todd Jensen played the Ysabel Kid and Gerard Christopher played Mark Counter.

Returning to the comic version of the story, in 1989 JT Edson was interviewed by Alan Smith in The Illustrated Comics Journal issue 35 and briefly discussed "The Town Tamers" strip. In the article Alan Smith indicated that Edson actually got two novels out of "The Town Tamers" stories that he wrote for The Victor. One of them was obviously The Town Tamers but that means that there is another Victor tie-in novel out there still to be found.

So pardners, strap on your gun belts, saddle up your horses and join the posse—we have another title to track down.

(* Town Tamers comic strip © D. C. Thomson)


Norman Boyd said...

My dad was an absolute obsessive for westerns and couldn't understand a son who at the time was an obsessive for comics...maybe we did have soemthing in common after all!!!

What a wonderful connection to find, thanks guys


Very informative piece -I've just bought a massive pile of Edson's and was looking to find out more about him. Thanks so very much for this article as the info on the net is sparse.