Introduction

Sailor Steve Costigan is a fictional character created by American writer Robert E. Howard. He is a merchant sailor on the Sea Girl and is also its champion boxer. His only true companion is a bulldog named Mike (after his brother and fellow boxer, “Iron” Mike Costigan).

Costigan, one of Howard’s humorous boxing pulp heroes, roamed the Asiatic seas with fists of steel, a will of iron, and a head of wood. A striking contrast between Howard’s barbarians and swordsmen, Costigan was a modern-day character, written in a humorous, Texas tall-tale style. The Sailor Steve Costigan stories were very popular in the pages of Fight Stories, Action Stories, and the short-lived Jack Dempsey’s Fight Magazine. In a career that was made up largely from writing short stories about recurring characters, Howard wrote more completed stories about Costigan and his pugilistic ilk than about any of his fantasy heroes except Conan the Barbarian.

Fictional character biography

Steve Costigan is an Irish American from Galveston, Texas (Texas Fists, 1931). He has one brother, Mike, who is also a boxer and has been more successful in this sport than Steve himself (The Bull Dog Breed, 1930). He left Texas to become a sailor, soon becoming an Able Seaman (AB) on the merchant ship Sea Girl (registered in San Francisco, California). While he has worked on other ships, he considers this to be his home.

He has been an amateur boxer since childhood. Steve always likes to be the champion of whichever ship or organization he is part of (Circus Fists, 1931). Subsequently, the only title he really holds is “Champion of the Sea Girl” (which he refers to as “The Fighten’est Ship Afloat”). He found his pet bulldog, Mike, as a stray in Dublin and named him after his brother (The Bull Dog Breed, 1930). Steve is a heavyweight boxer, weighing 190lb and standing 6 ft (1.8 m) tall. He has the “Black Irish” combination of blue eyes and black hair.

Style

Howard used understatement and misdirection to create humor. He established Costigan as a most unreliable narrator, a sailor who can’t admit when he’s had a lot to drink, doesn’t realize he is a terrible judge of character and acts before he thinks.

These character flaws are the heart of the boxing series and make Costigan as sympathetic as he is hilarious. Told in a jaunty first-person style and in the past tense, the Costigan stories are presented in a slang-riddled, colloquial fashion. Howard grew up in the storytelling tradition of the Southwest and the narrative structure of the Costigan stories mirrors this, especially in the endings, with their humorous stings, inappropriate life lessons, and outright punch lines.

Dennis Dorgan

When Magic Carpet Magazine opened up as a companion to Weird Tales, Howard took some of the unsold Costigan stories and submitted them to the potential new market. The editor of both Magic Carpet and Weird Tales, Farnsworth Wright, was already publishing one story by Robert E. Howard and requested the author use a pseudonym for the boxing story. Howard chose “Patrick Ervin” for himself, and then not wanting readers to question why someone named Ervin would write about Robert E. Howard’s Steve Costigan character from Fight Stories, decided to change his main character’s name as well.

Howard resurrected the “Dorgan” surname from an earlier boxing story that was changed to a Costigan yarn, and added the more alliterative first name of “Dennis.” Every other character in the story remained the same; the name of the ship, the crew, and the bulldog. Dorgan was little more than a disguise for Costigan. With the pseudonyms in place, Wright accepted four Dennis Dorgan stories. After the fact, Howard changed the name of the Sea Girl to the Python, and the Mike into Spike. Bill O’Brien, Mushy Hanson, and Sven Larson stayed the same.

Only one Dorgan story, “The Alleys of Singapore”, however, was published (renamed “Alleys of Darkness”) before Magic Carpet ceased publication as well. Jack Dempsey’s Fight Magazine started after that, and Howard managed to place three more Costigan stories before the magazine folded. Fight Stories, after a hiatus of two years, returned as a quarterly magazine in 1934 and continued to reprint the Costigan stories for years after Howard’s death, changing the titles and eventually crediting the authorship to their house pseudonym, “Mark Adam”.

Despite these characters having different names, Costigan and Dorgan are the same character. They act, speak, and fight in exactly the same way, much like how there is no discernible difference between Howard’s humorous western characters Breckenridge Elkins and Pike Bearfield. “Dennis Dorgan” is counted as a separate character only because a number of the unsold Costigan stories were published by Darrell Richardson in the 1970s. Howard himself never really considered that the name Dorgan to be anything other than a pseudonym for Costigan, and went back to Costigan more than once.

The Crew

Name

Description

The Old Man

The Welsh owner and captain of the Sea Girl. He is most familiar with the South Pacific and South China Sea. He frequently makes bad bets whilst drunk, which often adds to Steve's problems.

Mike

Steve's white bulldog and best friend. He has killed several people, often by ripping their throat out. Steve has trained him not to interfere with fights in the ring and not to attack women. Mike largely mirrors Steve's personality.

Bill O'Brien

Another Irish-American sailor/boxer aboard the Sea Girl. He is Steve's best (human) friend.

Mushy Hanson

A Danish sailor/boxer aboard the Sea Girl. Mushy is an amateur poet and keeps a collection of Dime novels. (Over 6 ft (1.8 m), 200 lb)

Sven Larson

A Swedish sailor/boxer who constantly challenges Steve for the title of Champion of the Sea Girl. (Champ of the Forecastle) - (6 ft 4in, 245 lb)

Opponents

Name

Description

Size

Bat Slade

Champion of the Dauntless. (The Pit of the Serpent)

5 ft 10in, slightly less than 190lb

Bert Harper

A sailor acting as a stunt-double in Hollywood. (Sailor's Grudge)

6 ft 1in, 198 lb

Big John Clancy

Bouncer at Ladeau's American Bar. (The Sign of the Snake)

6 ft 1¾in, 230 lb

Biff Leary

Champion of the Bueno Oro mine. (Texas Fists)

5 ft 10in, 195 lb

Bill Brand

An English boxer from the King William. (Hard-Fisted Sentiment)

6 ft, 190 lb

Bill Cairn

The Ironville Blacksmith. Title contender from Ironville, Nevada. (Circus Fists)

6 ft 1¼in, 210 lb

Bill McGlory

A sailor on the Dutchman. (Blow the Chinks Down!)

6 ft, 190 lb

Black Jack O'Brien

Sailor/boxer from the Water Snake. Has black hair and blue eyes like Costigan. (Night of Battle)

6 ft, 190 lb

Bucko Brent

The brutal, Australian mate of the Nagpur. (The TNT Punch)

6 ft 1¾in, 189 lb

Frenchy Ladeau

A French kickboxer from the S.S. de Comte. Specializes in savate. (Hard-Fisted Sentiment)

6 ft 1in, 180 lb

Hakon Torkilsen

Danish champion of the Viking and "Pride of Denmark". (Vikings of the Gloves)

6 ft 1in, 185 lb

Joel Ballerin

General Ironfist: Australian mercenary who leads a Chinese rebel army under the name General Feng. (General Ironfist)

6 ft ½in, 200 lb

Limey Grieson

Fighter at Ace's. (Breed of Battle)

6 ft, 189 lb

Panther Cortez

A sailor on the Water Snake. Has a reputation for fighting dirty. (Winner Take All)

6 ft 1in, 185 lb

Red McCoy

Fighter from the Whale. (Alleys of Peril)

5 ft 8in, 185 lb

Red Roach

Champion of the Ruffian. A redheaded, cross-eyed southpaw. (Waterfront Fists)

6 ft 3in, 193 lb

Shark Murken

Smuggler who controls the island of Barricuda. (By the Law of the Shark)

6 ft 2in, 215 lb

Tiger Valois

The heavyweight champion of the French navy. (The Bull Dog Breed)

6 ft 1½in, 205 lb

Battling Santos

The Borneo Tiger. Once famous Solomon Islander boxer. (Fist and Fang)

6 ft 1½in, 200 lb

Other

Iron” Mike Costigan: (5 ft 11in, 195 lb) Steve’s brother. He is mentioned but doesn’t directly appear in the Sailor Steve Costigan stories.

Artwork by Guillaume Sorel
Howard Works - Costigan For a complete list of stories and where they appear go to Howard Works.

Every boxing story Howard wrote and we know of is collected in the collection from REHF Press. Check out the contents to each book below:

Source: Alchetron, Wikipedia.