Outlaws 'R' Us

by cowboylands

Badlands, by Bennett Foster
cover illus. Norman Saunders
Bantam Books, late 40s, early 50s
from the collection of ES

“They Branded Him an Outlaw!” says it all. This dynamic man is the “little guy,” the proverbial clever tailor who can knock down an armed giant/gunman with a flip of his lariat. Go ahead and try it, any of you. Unless you’re a rodeo star, you’ll put your eye out.

The hero’s red shirt blazes with righteous indignation; his straight teeth are gritted with determination; his aim is sure. He will prevail against this gunman, although he himself has no gun. What bully would fire on an unarmed man? Easy! “Man branded outlaw” must mean western plot #3, in which the innocent hero is bullied by (take your pick) big business ranchers or greedy bankers.

Wouldn’t it be nice if, when faced with foreclosure and no recourse, the plucky hero in all of us could channel frustrated impotence and fight? And win? And let the big guy take the fall for once? But that’s not the only reason these tales were so alluring to the “little guys” of the forties and fifties: the hero not only won, but also got the girl and a ranch. His own spread! Meaning he could someday be a big business rancher or banker himself. So that’s how it goes:

If you can beat them, then join them.

Badlands is clean, crisp western penned by Bennett Foster, and this Bantam edition is crowned with a swirl of action from one of the great pulp and paperback illustrators, Norman Saunders. His compositions are always dynamic; this one’s Day-Glo vibrancy highlights a climactic moment in the book, when the hero of the story, in Laocoön-style composition (but without the grisly death), frees himself of his tormentor. Squint, and you’ll see the resemblance.
photo: Jean-Christophe Benoist, 2007
Saunders illustrated a wide range of paperback covers, specializing in vamps and virile men of noir and western genre. Like Stanley, Saunders often used himself as a model. He studied under Harvey Dunn in Minneaopolis (as did Norman Rockwell) and in the thirties and forties worked on pulps like True Confessions, then turned freelance. This fine illustration is one of ten western covers he did for Bantam.


4 Comments to “Outlaws 'R' Us”

  1. Now that you point it out, I can see the resemblance.
    “If you can beat ’em, join ’em.”

    I like the parallel to modern life, from the days when the drugstores served ice cream sodas and had a whole rack of paperbacks with covers like that.

    I notice this copy is well-thumbed.

    Western plot #3?

    Of course the hero is handsome and has good teeth.

  2. We don’t have racks of paperbacks with covers like that anymore, do we. Life was maybe more colorful then. I keep this one tucked in a plastic sleeve so Ms. or Mr. Western Reader made this the well-thumbed copy it is. The story was good. That much I recall, but the book is so well tucked away I can’t find it in the stacks and racks in my own collection.

    Ah yes. Western plot #3! *rubbing hands together gleefully* God bless The Six-Gun Mystique and Sixguns in Society, both of which detail these plots. I have to admit I made up the number. But it’ll be another post. Western plots # 1-10. Ten Best Western plots?

  3. There was a western which stared a women and the name that was used was Black Whip. My friend watched it all the time back in the fifties so I would like to get a video of it for her. I think the weastern star was dressed in western clothes and she would go into a cave or under a waterfall into a cave and come out as the Black
    Whip. She would fight the bad guys and use her whip to defeat them.
    I hope you can help me.
    Thank You, Carolynn

  4. Excellent question! She’s the beautiful and powerful Linda Stirling, from Republic’s 1944 Zorro’s Black Whip. Here’s a great site: http://www.zorrolegend.com/zorrosblackwhip/zorrosblackwhip.html

    I introduced her to Cowboylands on the post http://blog.cowboylands.net/2008/07/22/fight-like-a-girl/

    Thanks for the question! A cave figures prominently in the serial. And it also is part of the hero’s journey in general, which goes to show that a hero can be man or woman.

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