Friday, August 31, 2018

Forgotten Books: WATERFRONT FISTS by Robert E. Howard (2003)

Breckenridge Elkins is one of my favorite fictional characters of all time. He does not appear in this book. What makes Waterfront Fists special is that we see Howard feeling his way along and learning to meld action and comedy into truly ripping yarns. 

Sailor Steve Costigan, the hero/narrator of most these tales, is a sort of proto-Breckenridge. He begins his fictional life as a pretty much standard Howard hero (not that there's anything wrong with that), and gradually develops the voice, personality and sense of humor that will become Elkins trademarks. The stories, too, reflect this learning process. The early tales focus almost solely on boxing matches, with page after page of flying fists. But as the series progresses, the slugfests shrink to a page or two, as window dressing to more complex stories. 

The Wildside Press collection Waterfront Fists and Others contains, in order of publication, fifteen of the twenty Costigan stories published between 1929 and 1934 in Fight Stories and Jack Dempsey's Fight Magazine. The other five, along with a good number of Elkins tales, appeared in Wildside's The Complete Action Stories. Another six stories and one fragment finally saw print in Howard fanzines and lmited edition hardcovers. 

And it gets more complicated. Howard converted several unsold Costigan stories into Dennis Dorgan stories, simply by changing the name of the character, his ship and his bulldog. The first of those Dorgan stories sold to Magic Carpet Magazine and appears in this book. All of them were finally published in the 1974 FAX collection The Incredible Adventures of Dennis Dorgan

Waterfront Fists, meanwhile, contains a weird boxing storing, Howard's longest boxing tale - "The Iron Man," and a couple of brief nonfiction tidbits. But the main attraction is definitely Steve Costigan. My favorite of the Costigan stories is "Circus Fists," which is about as perfectly executed as a Costigan yarn can be. I was so impressed that I posted the whole story yesterday, and invite you to read it HERE. Also of special note is "Texas Fists," in which Costigan finds himself on Howard's home ground and encounters the sort of larger-than-life characters that laster populate the Elkins stories. 


George said...

Robert E. Howard 's writing style is distinctive. And there's a little bit of Conan in all his work.

Shay said...

I've always liked Breck Elkins, too -- both because of his utter cluelessness as he walks through the story leaving utter shambles in his wake, but also because of his vocabulary. I once tried to write a story with a female protagonist who talked like Elkins but it turned out to be nothing much (except as a hommage to Howard).