Rediscovered: Chinese Gordon’s Last Stand

Yesterday’s Autograph Hound Saturday was pretty cool — so what’s up for Autograph Hound Super-Sunday?

Brian Leno has been keeping his eye on the calendar, too — 135 years slips past so quickly!

Adventure, John Hancocks, Last Stands. . . .

Here’s Brian with a quick history lesson:

I ordered a book from Paris the other day — an 1866 copy of Irving’s The Sketch Book which was signed by George W. Joy, a pretty famous English painter. Joy is the guy that did the great painting of General Chinese Gordon’s Last Stand at Khartoum in 1885.  

Joy didn’t do any illustrations for Irving’s book yet he still signed it March 13, 1869 and added the name of the Paris hotel where he was probably staying. Possibly his own copy.  

A cool thing about the Joy signature is that, on Wikipedia, it states the painter was living in Paris from 1868 to 1870, which really validates the autograph.

Gordon’s life and the Siege of Khartoum came to an end on January 26, 1885. The stuff of legend. One of my heroes from the earliest reading days of my childhood.  

The signed note by General Gordon is from January 29, 1875, and is one of two items I have with the brave man’s scribble.

I’ve seen a few Gordon signatures out there, but he isn’t cheap.

Autographs of tough bastards should never be purchased cheaply.

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Rediscovered: Kevin and Karl

“How It All Began”

— and by chance, captured on film! Much like the first meeting of me and Bill “The Voice of Noir” Arney, the noted book and pulp — and autograph — collector Kevin Cook has found evidence of his primordial origins.  

On the left in the photo above, an 18-year-old Kevin gets a paperback inked by fantasy and horror writer Karl Edward Wagner. Sunday January 25, 1976. Forty-four years ago today. The Durham mini-con in Durham, North Carolina.

Kevin (“I have hair!” Kevin says) approaches Wagner and asks him to sign a copy of Death Angel’s Shadow.

“While Karl was signing,” Kevin reports, “the photograph was taken which explains his inscription in the book,

Preserved in Cinematic brilliance on this occasion.

“The inscription without the photograph makes no sense,” Kevin says, “but it actually took decades before Dave Kurzman found the photograph, recognized what it was, and passed it along to me.

“It now rests inside the book opposite the inscription. This simple event, obtaining an inscribed paperback, was the first episode in what has led to a lifelong obsession.”

The first book Kevin ever had signed. Wagner — his first John Hancock. The veteran autograph collector now has hundreds of signed books stockpiled in his library.

Thinking about that moment, Kevin notes, “For some reason, memories of that date come clearer recently. Not only did I meet Wagner for the first time, but I also met David Drake and Stuart Schiff.

“The afternoon ended with Wagner, his wife Barbara, myself, one of the Murray boys —either Edwin or Terry — and another guy whose name I do not recall, in the Murray house watching a college basketball game on television between Maryland and North Carolina.

“Manly Wade Wellman, then a professor at UNC, did not attend the con because he was at the basketball game.

“Weird that this stuff comes back to me now 44 years after the fact.”

Wellman, of course, was the literary lion of that circle, a grizzled contributor to Weird Tales. Wagner, like Kevin, was just starting on his path.

That first inscription follows — and for comparison yet another of several early releases Kevin got personalized by the creator of Kane.

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Frisco Beat: Legend, Hero or Heartthrob?

For anyone keeping track, I just showed up in Dale Fehringer’s new book, San Francisco: Legends, Heroes & Heartthrobs.

Came out at the end of last year. Guess that means I made the cut with blurbage in two books about The City in 2019, with Ruth Carlson edging her book in first.

I appear with Jack London and Hammett, DiFi and Harvey Milk, Janice and Jerry, Santana, and lots more — a pretty solid roster of locals, then and now.

Dale slips me in toward the back of the book — but what the hell, I’m in a section with Carol Doda and Father Guido Sarducci, so that’s cool.

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Two-Gun Bob: In a Pulp — In a Movie!

January 22. Birthday number 114 for the Texas pulpster Robert E. Howard (1906-1936), one of the favorite tough guy writers here on These Mean Streets.

What could we do to fire up an ebony candle to his memory?

I didn’t have anything particular in mind, but then pulp expert John Locke jumped into the fray.

“One of my sub-hobbies is spotting pulp mags in movies,” John just wrote to inform me. “My latest is a doozie.

“It shows a Navy man reading a Fight Stories.

“Better yet, the issue has a Sailor Steve Costigan story by Howard.

“Therefore, in the alternate reality of Planet Celluloid, this is film of an actual sailor reading a Sailor Steve story fresh in 1930.”

Got that? A copy of Fight Stories for March 1930 — containing the tale of fisticuffs “Sailor’s Grudge” featuring Costigan.

Showing up hot off the presses in the Robert Montgomery movie Shipmates, released in 1931.

A Robert E. Howard pulp in a movie — in his lifetime.

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Hammett: Would You Believe?

Yeah, sure, Hammett gets mentioned on Jeopardy! all the time.

But do you think that’s his only link to the pop culture?

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Rediscovered: A. Merritt’s Ishtar

The fantasy writer A. Merritt was born on this date in 1884 and to commemorate the occasion Kevin Cook, noted book and pulp collector, decided to trot out yet another John Hancock from his trove of Merritt signatures.

Kevin spills with the verbiage:

“Most Merritt enthusiasts, old and new, consider The Ship of Ishtar to be his finest novel.

“Here is a signed copy of the first edition of that novel from G.P. Putnam’s Sons in 1926.

“It was Merritt’s second book following the earlier publication of The Moon Pool.

“Although this first edition is what attracts book collectors, anyone who just wants to read the story should avoid it at all costs because the text was mangled by an unsympathetic editor whose abridgments even changed the novel’s ending.

“The preferred text to read is the edition published by the Borden Publishing Company in 1948 with a ‘corrected’ text. 

“Avoid all the Avon paperback editions because they contain the corrupted text as well.”

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Rediscovered: The Self-Driving Car in 1963

I pretty much knew doing the little article on David (Kavin’s World) Mason for the new Bill Breiding zine would rekindle my interest in researching that largely forgotten San Francisco writer. Stumbling across my file of info from the early 1980s, however, was a matter of pure chance.

Dumb luck.

But I had it in hand the last time I chatted on the horn with my frequent co-conspirator Brian Leno, and read off to him otherwise unknown factoids. Then Brian jumped on the net and pursued the leads.

Turns out we have discovered two additional porn novels, both released under a pseudonym. Amazing what a good clew can lead to!

Plus Brian poked around for links to the handful or so of short stories Mason did for the fiction mags of the era, and connected me to the sf/horror yarn “Road Trip” from the January 1963 issue of Worlds of If — if interested, check it out. Only a couple of pages long, kind of like a Twilight Zone episode.

You could glance at it if only to see how accurate Mason’s prognostications about self-driving cars were, back when a few of the big cars on the road still sported vestigial fins.

Spoiler: truly prescient.

I guess the Change Winds have blown through, and what was science fiction fifty-seven years ago is now everyday reality.

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Rediscovered: A Line or Two on Fiction Mag Word Rates

And John Locke sent in some thoughts on the large trove of Munsey cheques from which we’ve run any number of samples in recent months.

“Weinberg used to auction batches of those checks,” John says, “at Windy City and Pulpcon. Sadly, they contain an enormous quantity of data that would be priceless in pulp research, but it’s all been scattered to the wind.”

Yeah, dates sold, titles changed — lots of info.

Kevin Cook — noted book and pulp collector — agrees, but he adds an interesting extra wrinkle he noticed: “The other thing that the checks tell us is how much the author was paid, word-rate.

“For example, did you notice the increase George Allan England received for ‘Beyond the Great Oblivion’ compared to ‘Darkness and Dawn‘?

“Obviously the popularity of the first novel dictated that the readers wanted a sequel and Munsey was willing to pay more for it.

“Good for England; one can hardly ever complain when an author gets paid more money for his writing.”

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Hammett: Locke’s One-Liner on Rhea/Wilmer

After John Locke hit the Up and Down These Mean Streets scene late last year, I got to steer him to various interesting moments in the extensive backlog of posts. One of them was to the bizarre idea that Gutman’s daughter Rhea in the novel The Maltese Falcon was also — dressed in male drag — the little gunsel Wilmer Cook.

John said, “I’d forgotten Rhea Gutman, I read the book so long ago.

“If she was Wilmer, Hammett wouldn’t have wasted a twist (both meanings) like that!”

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Mort: The Late Great Joseph A. West

Today would have been birthday number 98 for Joseph A. West, who sometimes signed his funky eldritch art as Joe West, and often as JAW.

Old Uncle Joe didn’t quite make it, passing away on December 11, 2019. As I’ve said elsewhere, one of the all-time favorite people of my acquaintance. Met him when I moved to St. Paul, Minnesota in 1975 and 76 — part of the old MinnCon group of Lovecraft and weird fantasy fans, along with Richard L. Tierney, Count Koblas, Eric Carlson, and such totemic local figures as Donald Wandrei and Carl Jacobi.

After I moved back to San Francisco in 1977, Joe came out for visits two or three times, and in the early 90s it chanced that we got to hang out in London and mope about some ancient English graveyards. Nothing much Joe and I liked better than wandering in a boneyard, or thinking about a boneyard.

Scrambling around for images to toss up, I really wanted to find some of my own fan art, in particular a piece I did in tribute to Joe. Think the title was “Dry Work” — it featured a Westian geezer in a bowler hat busily excavating a grave by flickering lamplight, with a bottle or two of wine wedged into the heap of dirt.

Another one spotlighting Joe featured us cruising through a flooded cemetery in a canoe, referencing some canoe action we engaged in, but only on regular rivers. I did find the one at the bottom with some ghouls dining in a necropolis — on me. You’ll notice the letters JAW on one of the tombstones.

Perhaps we leaned a trifle toward the morbid, but we had fun.

For the image at the top I found a typical enough JAW piece, used as the inside back cover of Nyctalops no. 9 — Nyct 9 was where my first piece of writing appeared, something to reprint one day in some collected essays and reviews. Another full-pager in Nyct — no. 7, I think — featured one of Joe’s goofy protagonists sitting at a desk, up to necromantic mischief. On a shelf a book bore the title DEATH. A box next to it bore the word CANDY.

Candy and Death. Definitive JAW.

Joe did have a couple of collections of his art and poetry appear from The Strange Company back in the day, and further collections later. He didn’t do a lot of memoirs, but recorded for posterity a visit he made to Sauk City, Wisconsin to meet August Derleth of Arkham House.

In a July 4, 2017 holograph letter, Joe wrote, “Now, of course at 95, old age is not fun-fun-fun.” He mentioned that his brother and a pal in England “are both dead, past away and gone.” Then he switched pens to green ink for emphasis, and added: “And they are no longer alive.”

Of our long-time favorite author Joe said, “I am not much on H. P. Lovecraft now at 95. I mean his weird tales. He is still a fascinating person. I like about six (6) of his weird stories.”

I asked which six and JAW replied September 21, 2017: “I liked The Lurking Fear, The Hound, Dunwich Horror, In the Vault, The Shunned House, The Innsmouth Horror, The Rats in the Walls, one I can’t remember about a New York City neighborhood, etc.”

I think he simply forgot at that moment the title “Pickman’s Model,” with scenes of ghoulish graveyard humor that surely tickled his funny bone. The New York one probably was “The Horror at Red Hook,” but I suppose we can’t discount “He.”

“So many of our friends are now gone,” Joe noted in the September letter. Too true.

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