Friday, May 28, 2010

Howdy Pardner

You look like you been waitin’ a while. Travelin’ in these parts ain’t easy, so I admire a fella like yourself who don’t mind the blisterin’ sun, the bitin’ wind, and the sudden cold of such desolate landscapes as you no doubt discovered just waitin’ in this here way station.

I take it you’re here because maybe you’ve had your fill of two thousand page medieval fantasy quests, or four-color slugfests featuring ageless, tights-wearin’ caricatures, or creature features where beautiful teenagers in a small-town are bein’ gobbled up by some Dracula wanna-be, or filmed outer space spectaculars that are as empty as the environment in which they occur.

As entertainin’ as those things are capable of being, they tend to crowd around me like city folk, and when that happens I hit the trail for some breathin’ room and start searchin’ for stories that aren’t confined by popular genre conventions—stories by storytellers who are bold enough and brave enough to explore the limitless possibilities to be found in fantasy.

That’s why I come West. There’s history out here and folklore that stirs the imagination of many writers, artists, and filmmakers. That’s not to say that Western stories don’t have their shortcomings with their gunfights and bandits and gunfights and greedy railroad barons and gunfights and schoolmarms and gunfights and Indians and gunfights and saloon brawls and did I mention gunfights?

That’s why I like my West to be Weird—cowboys on clockwork horses, magic wand-slinging desperadoes, war parties comprised of the spirits of slain Indians—stories in a Western setting fused with science fiction, fantasy, and horror elements.

It’s actually a perfect era for such tales. The Old West existed during the Industrial Revolution, which boasted such scientific and technological advances in communication and transportation as the telegraph and steam engine. The large wilderness of such extreme climate conditions might as well have been the landscape of another world—populated as it was by such alien cultures as Indian tribes and their mythologies comprised of Trickster Tales, ghost dances, animal totem spirits, rituals, and medicine men.

Weird Westerns are the offspring of their 1800s forefathers—the stories that came to be commonly known as Tall Tales. Told by word-of-mouth, these bizarre and humorous adventures featured such fictional characters as Deadwood Dick, Pecos Bill, and Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox—and a folklorist could argue that their superhuman attributes and abilities qualify them as America’s first superheroes. Even the real-life personas of the time—Wild Bill Hickok, Buffalo Bill Cody, Jesse James, and Billy the Kid—found their exploits being exaggerated by dime novelists in far-fetched tales.

So now that you know I ain’t sellin’ you snake oil, why don’t you climb aboard the Strangecoach, and I’ll take you into the Far West where you’ll learn all about the good, the bad, and the ugly of the Weird Western in prose, comic books, and film and television.

I hope you brought a pillow for your backside. This ride gets kinda bumpy…

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