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Boys' Papers

Entry updated 13 December 2021. Tagged: Theme.

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Although boys' papers could easily be dismissed as being of negligible literary value, perhaps unjustly since Upton Sinclair and other eminent authors found their footing there, they played an important role in the History of SF in the last three decades of the nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth century, by creating a potential readership for the SF Magazines and by anticipating many Genre-SF themes.

The prevailing style of US boys' papers was largely set in the 1870s and after by periodicals such as The Boys of New York and Golden Hours, which published serialized novels similar and often identical to those in dime-novel format (that is, one single short novel per issue); these are discussed in detail under Dime-Novel SF. Since US boys' papers were rare after World War I – American Boy was an exception (see also Carl Claudy), another being Boys' Life (which see) – the current discussion is UK-oriented.

Some sf did appear quite early in UK boys' papers. W S Hayward's novel Up in the Air and Down in the Sea (1865) was serialized circa 1863-1865 in Henry Vickers's Boy's Journal, as were its sequels. Nonetheless, the major impetus towards boys' sf in the UK came from abroad. Jules Verne appeared in UK periodicals with Hector Servadac (trans 1877 Good Things; 1878), The Steam House (trans 1880-1881 Union Jack; 1881) and 16 other serializations in The Boy's Own Paper. André Laurie was represented with "A Marvellous Conquest: A Tale of the Bayouda" (1888; trans 1889 The Boy's Own Paper; vt The Conquest of the Moon: A Story of the Bayouda, 1889), and US dime novels from the Frank Reade Library were reprinted in The Aldine Romance of Invention, Travel and Adventure Library.

UK authors soon followed this lead with a variety of themes. Several interplanetary adventures appeared in the mid-1890s in The Marvel and elsewhere; e.g., "In Trackless Space" (1902 The Union Jack) by George C Wallis, later a contributor to the sf pulps. Lost Worlds were prominent, notably Sidney Drew's Wings of Gold (1903-1904 The Boy's Herald; 1908) and the works of Fenton Ash (see Frank Aubrey). World Disaster appeared in the latter's "Doom" (1912 The Dreadnought), a vehicle capable of travel through the Earth in "Kiss, Kiss, the Beetle" (1913 Fun and Fiction), and an early Superman in "Vengeance of Mars" (1912 Illustrated Chips).

Overriding all these themes was the Future War story, previously a minor genre – and remaining so in US boys' fiction – but encouraged obsessively in the UK by Lord Northcliffe, head of Amalgamated Press. Between 1901 and the outbreak of World War One in 1914, numerous warnings of imminent Invasion were published, foremost among them the works of Sidney Gowing writing as by John Tregellis, who contributed Britain Invaded (26 May-17 November 1906 The Boys' Friend; 1910), Britain at Bay (24 November 1906-14 September 1907 The Boys' Friend; 1910), Kaiser or King? (1912 The Boys' Friend; 1913) and others.

When World War I did finally break out, many papers folded, but they were replaced shortly after the Armistice by new periodicals firmly rooted in the twentieth century. Among these was Pluck; subtitled "The Boy's Wireless Adventure Weekly", it published several sf stories linked by the common theme of radio. Among its stories were Lester Bidston's The Radio Planet (1923; 1926) and the first UK publication in 1923 of Edgar Rice Burroughs's At the Earth's Core (4-25 April 1914 All-Story Weekly; 1922); the latter contributed to the publication of Edgar Wallace's Planetoid 127 (4 September-23 October 1924 The Mechanical Boy; as title story of coll 1929; 1986) and adaptations of various stories in Sax Rohmer's Dr Fu-Manchu series (stories 1923-1924 Chums). Notable among the many other stories published were Leslie Beresford's "War of Revenge" (1922 The Champion), an account of a German attack on the UK in 1956 using guided missiles, Frank H Shaw's world-catastrophe novel "When the Sea Rose Up" (15 December 1923-10 May 1924 Chums) and Eric Wood's Dystopia The Jungle Men: A Tale of 2923 AD (1923-1924 The Boys' Friend; 1927).

Most popular of all were the Space Operas then appearing in Boy's Magazine (first published 1922). Typical was Raymond Quiex's "The War in Space" (1926), which was very reminiscent of the 1930s Pulp magazines with its story of Asteroids drawn from orbit and hurled as missiles towards Earth, manmade webs of metal hanging in space, domed cities on strange planets and giant insects stalking the surface of hostile worlds. Many similar stories appeared: time machines, androids, titanic war machines, robot armies and matter transmitters became commonplace.

When Boy's Magazine folded in 1934, its place was taken three weeks later by Scoops, the first UK all-sf periodical. In spite of its capable editor, Haydn Dimmock, and contributions by John Russell Fearn, Maurice G Hugi and A M Low, Scoops folded after only 20 issues.

Adult sf magazines were available in the UK, both native and reprint, to fill the temporary gap left by the demise of Scoops – and Comic books made their appearance in the later 1930s – but boys' papers continued to introduce young readers to sf concepts: Modern Boy with the Captain Justice series that influenced a youthful Brian W Aldiss, Modern Wonder with serializations of John Wyndham and W J Passingham, and the Sexton Blake Library, with pseudonymous contributions by E C Tubb, Michael Moorcock and others, are among the titles of the next few decades.

Sf has continued to play a role in boys' papers, with content modified to suit the times. In 1976, for example, an anonymous adaptation – as "Kids Rule, OK", from 18 September – in Action of Dave Wallis's Only Lovers Left Alive (1964) proved so violent that public outcry led to temporary suspension of the already heavily censored paper in October 1976; in retrospect, the adaptation (which was in fact by Jack Adrian) can be seen as a forerunner of such later favourites as Judge Dredd, while Action itself led directly to the 1977 launch of 2000 AD under Action editor Pat Mills. [JE]

see also: Boys' Friend Library.

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