Fleetway Picture Library Classics Presents Larrigan (book review).

A long while back I did query the Book Palace about seeing some of the other books they published and they included two others with this month’s issue of ‘Illustrators’. The first, ‘Fleetway Picture Library Classics Presents Larrigan’ is a western series illustrated by Spanish artist Arturo Del Castillo (1925-1992). Here we have all four stories showing his cowboy life with some interesting art, right down to the detailing of the pattern on his shirt.

These are complicated to do with single illustrations, taking into account creases but to do in a comicstrip well gets my respect. Lesser characters appear to have shirts textured with commercial tone (in the USA, they would call it zip-a-tone). In many respects, a western story is somewhat ageless and still readable today.

It’s a shame there is no reference to who wrote the stories. These picture library books were around A5 size so you’re seeing the art a bit bigger and better produced than from its original time period.

The first, ‘The Pay-Off’, was published in 1961’s Lone Rider Picture Library # 1 and reprinted under a different title 5 years later. Larrigan is sent ahead of a cattle drive to ensure the money is waiting to pay for them. The banker shows himself to be having some problems with some former colleagues when he used to be a bank robber and ends up sorting out the mess.

The second story, ‘Born To Kill’, was published in 1961’s Lone Rider Picture Library # 3 and reprinted under a different title 6 years later, has Larrigan being nice to another traveller, Ben Harman, in the desert, who then turns on him for food. Larrigan doesn’t believe Harman to be a killer and they sort of get along until the latter gets killed in an Indian attack. Before he dies, Harman tells how he was framed for an armed robbery and Larrigan promises to get to the bottom of it. This story would have made an interesting film with twists all along the way.

The third story, ‘Troubled Town’, was published in 1961’s Lone Rider Picture Library # 9 and reprinted under a different title 6 years later and back to its original title 10 years later. Hardly surprising as it’s a good story. Larrigan helps out the local blacksmith when he is being beaten up and although he doesn’t want to be drawn into local politics, ends up having no choice. After he left town, the town mayor’s men beat him up, steal his guns, money and horse. That doesn’t make Larrigan very happy. The mayor also has hired in a stone-cold killer as well. There is an amazing sequence of gunplay towards the end making for an intense read.

The final story, ‘Mark Of A Gunman’, was published in 1962’s Cowboy Picture Library # 463 and reprinted under a different title 7 years later. Larrigan is disturbed to discover a cattle drive he was hired for is done with stolen livestock. He refuses his payout and curious as to why they were banned from the nearby town of Powder Springs.

It seems that its leading man there, Vic Cameron, wants no one to know about the rustling. The team leader, Burt Skirrow, draws a gun of Larrigan but pulled up by another of his men, Eddie Shafto, who joins him. Things get pretty ripe in town and Larrigan gets a severe beaten while Shafto joins Cameron’s team. If you thought these western stories followed dispensable plots here, you will be mistaken. The action sequences are worthy of any film from that period, indeed the overall stories avoid cliché.

Arturo Del Castillo was a class act and the samples from ‘The Three Musketeers’ at the end of the book shows he could turn that skill to any genre. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started this book. Good art, yes. The fact that they also had good stories that have stood the passage of time even more remarkable. Just don’t try to draw faster than Larrigan.

GF Willmetts

September 2019

(pub: The Book Palace, 2019. 272 page softcover limited edition of 500 copies. Price: £25.00 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-907081-79-8)

check out website: www.bookpalace.com

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