“Heard this afternoon that Charles Saunders died in May from natural causes,” Morgan “The Morgman” Holmes told me a couple of months ago. “Hopefully it was a quick heart attack and not cancer or kidney failure. I last heard from him around a year ago. He was excited to tell me that some entity was interested in adapting Imaro, I believe for cable T.V. I was beginning to wonder about him as I had not heard anything since then. Now we know.”
Kevin Cook got in on the news, saying “What would be ironically awful would be for Imaro to become a screen sensation after Charles Saunders’ death. From what I have been reading, he had become something of a recluse in his last years after the newspaper he was writing for shut down. No telephone, no cell, no wifi, his only contact with others being a weekly use of a library computer to send emails.
“He told no one about his declining health either.
“I was following his work in Dark Fantasy and The Diversifier and similar small press zines back in the day, mid 70’s onward — with Imaro finally coming out from DAW Books in 1981. I also corresponded with him back then. He did tell me that his favorite correspondent was Karl Edward Wagner because of their mutual interest in boxing. After he stopped writing fantasy he was writing biographies and proposed screenplays about some neglected black Canadian boxers from early in the 20th century.”
Morgan and Kevin both carried on a correspondence for awhile, even I exchanged a few letters when I wrote an article Charles wanted on the topic of Bran Mak Morn pastiches for a zine he was editing. Real letters back then, with stamps and stuff.
Leo Grin of The Cimmerian Press was just telling me that he had a run of back-and-forth emails with Saunders, launched in the wake of Steve Tompkins’ death — Tompk had given Saunders’ work especially close critical attention.
If something like full-fledged Saunders Studies ever get going, I bet lots of background material lurks out there.
Looking over some of the current online writeups, one thought did suddenly surface.
Saunders fled to Canada to avoid the draft for Viet Nam. Not that I care — no one will ever convince me that the Viet Nam War was anything but stupid — nonetheless the thought:
“Kind of odd that a draft-dodger would end up writing all this violent Sword-and-Sorcery fiction. I guess that’s why they call it fantasy.“
But for being buried under the sprint to the finish on Haefele’s Lovecraft: The Great Tales the last few weeks or months, I would have mentioned the fact that Bill Breiding pubbed another ish of his new zine on August 17 — Portable Storage 4. The immediate highlight is the bright colorful robot cover by Brad Foster.
Bill asked if he could pick up some images from back in the day, the era circa 1974 into some point in the 80s when I was perhaps better known as a fan artist than as a purveyor of litcrit. He needed some pics to illustrate an article on Sword-and-Sorcery Cheryl Cline had sent in. He knew he could find something in old zines.
I said, sure, go ahead. Doing S&S-esque illos was one of my mainstays, that and Lovecraft-based sketches. I can’t recall the exact number offhand, but I did either the front covers or the back covers for something like five or six (or seven or eight) zines for the monumental thirteenth mailing of the Esoteric Order of Dagon amateur press association — by far the largest mailing that Lovecraftian apa had done, and for all I know still the largest. Did the cover for Dirk Mosig’s The Miskatonic. Number 13? A cover for Chris Sherman’s St. Toad’s Mutterings (no 4?) — and others. At that milestone in its early history, I was all over the EOD.
And what does Bill do except pull four random and not especially good illos to reprint!
I honestly thought he’d do better — after all, I did the quite good mock Frazetta cover for his brother Sutton Breiding’s zine Black Wolf (no. 10?). Lots of others. But since I didn’t have a moment to spare to dig in archives, I guess I can’t kick too hard.
However, I will pointedly gripe for a moment about the two illos on pages 90 and 91. Think they appeared in some long-ago Bill zine, where he got some fan artist pal of his (Vic Kostrikin?) to ink over my pencils. VK had that feathery touch which does nothing for me — looking at them again, it’s like unto seeing Vince Colletta inking Jack Kirby’s panels for Thor (but on a less cosmic scale). Jeez.
The Cheryl Cline article “The Road to Cimmeria” I found the most interesting piece in the ish. Most of the contents are about this or that, like picking up an issue of The Atlantic. Yeah, it might have something you’ll enjoy, but it’s a crap shoot. If you don’t have anything else to do, hey, read away. . . .
The Cline, though, is on a topic of interest to me. Enjoyable to read — if only current Robert E. Howard zines used material like this instead of the boring academic tripe they demand. Starts with how Cline in her 50s finally got around to reading the Conan stories, liked them, still kind of likes them (however politically incorrect it must be to like them). She mostly goes off into writers following REH, first Fritz Leiber with his Fafhrd and Gray Mouser saga, and from Fritz into Joanna Russ. Samuel Delaney (although her blurbage doesn’t make it sound as if Delaney is in any way actual S&S writing).
The section most S&S fans would like best is on Charles Saunders and his Imaro series. If you write pieces on S&S you need it to quote from. My favorite line: “The landscape of Imaro shimmers with weirdness like a heat-mirage.”
Since it carries a current PC orientation (thank god Saunders was black, so he made the cut), a couple of weak moments come up. She decides that Fritz hews “a bit too close to ethnic stereotypes (Mingols? Seriously?).” While the PC crowd should NOT be reading any of this material — they WILL find offense — I think that coinage is pretty cool myself, a mashup of Ming the Merciless with the Mongol Horde.
(I wonder what Attila the Hun would think about the term Mongol Horde? I saw the great exhibit on the Huns that came through a few years ago, and my distinct impression is that Attila wouldn’t have gasped and clutched his pearls.)
Also, Cline is way behind the times on understanding REH as a person, thinking reading the successors she mentions would have given him the “fantods.” Check out his two volume correspondence with Lovecraft to get deeper insight. One of the tragedies of this literature is that REH killed himself in 1936, just as Fritz Leiber was beginning to write — and that Lovecraft died early in 1937 after the briefest exchange of letters with Fritz. Just think of what they all might have done, bouncing off each others stories.
But she’s just getting in on the action, so she’s got time. This piece could even nab a reprint in some current REH zine, especially since (in longstanding zine fashion) the last few lines or paragraphs of Cline’s essay are dropped in layout.
And as for that whole using my old art thing — seen at the top is one of my illos of Fafhrd and the Mouser, a smaller re-do of a poster-sized image I gave to Fritz in the 70s, which was pinned to his wall for several years.
Got a note from Terry Zobeck a week or so back, basically wondering if I was dead. I wasn’t offended. Not so long ago I popped the bookdealer Gavin Smith of Texas an email, saying “Yo, Gavman! I heard you died. Any truth to the rumor?”
I haven’t heard back from Gavin, so I suspect the worst.
In my case, I haven’t even contracted COVID or anything. However, I have been buried under the weight of my kid protégé John D. Haefele’s 750 page tome Lovecraft: The Great Tales. A few months ago we got down to the last few chapters, and I saw the Finish Line looming ahead. We can do it!
Just have to assemble Haefele’s Heretics and proof like hell. The Heretics have assembled, proofed, and gone their separate ways. I think the Lovecraftians among you will have a cool present for Xmas.
And meanwhile, even as weeks go past with no new posts, the staggering backlog of the archives seems to be keeping people busy. Got a note from Tony Jonick, who says, “Hi, I just wanted to say I’m enjoying your blog. When tours are open again, I hope to take one. I’m doing a very silly podcast with a thinly disguised Sam Spade character, and I’ve gotten a few bits of set dressing from your work. Thank you.”
That story carries its fame because it seems to be heavily influenced by the William Hope Hodgson masterpiece “A Voice in the Night” — and it’s good. Maybe not as good as Hodgson at his peak, but what is?
Brian didn’t have a signed cheque for “Fungus Isle” in his collection, so he used the one he does have, noting “Fisher is a rare autograph and, to me, desirable, for his Hodgson connection. It’s the only example I’ve ever seen — and I’ve looked.”
And then what happens but that the noted pulp and book collector Kevin Cook sends in a copy of the original cheque for “Fungus Isle” from his collection!
I’m thinking that between them Brian and Kevin must have every autograph ever scribbled.
Kevin says, “Dave Saunders tells me that the Argosy All-Story Weekly illustration for ‘Fungus Isle’ was by John R. Neill.
“An idea I had regarding Fisher was to point out that his service as a Naval Officer could have brought him into contact with the same stories and legends that William Hope Hodgson used as the basis for his own stories, and that ‘Fungus Isle’ and ‘The Ship of Silent Men’ were not necessarily inspired by or ‘stolen’ from Hodgson.
“Of course, the reverse argument is that his travels at sea might have brought him in contact with British magazines containing Hodgson stories. It should be asked, though, was there any circulation of books and/or magazines between the US and UK during the first World War? We would need more information including Fisher’s exact years of service and where the vessels he traveled on went to — probably more work than required for a small blog post.”
If you recall, Krabacher and Lupoff and I were all hanging out at an Edgar Rice Burroughs mini-convention not so long ago — the last time I would see Lupoff, as it turned out. Before that I attended the book release party for his autobio in Borderlands Books. Before that — who can say? I would see Lupoff fairly often for awhile, then a few years would pass. A few times I saw him at some convention, but then I don’t hit many conventions. I encountered him more often socially, usually at his house. He got a mention in the obit I did on Stan Sargent from one of those just-hanging-out sessions.
In the intro to the Robert E. Howard collection Tales of Weird Menace in 2010 I gave Lupoff credit for being a cornerstone figure in the sort of thing I ended up doing.
In memoriam, here is the excerpt:
By the time I edited The Dark Barbarian in 1984 I had plenty of models to work from, Starrett among them. But where as a kid in Tennessee could I have gotten even the glimmer of the concept that that you could do a whole book about a favorite author, especially a writer like Howard? I must have known that books had been written about someone like Ernest Hemingway, but I didn’t want to do books about Hemingway— I had something to say about the prolific pulp fictioneer from Cross Plains, Texas.
I realized that the answer to this mystery was right under my nose as soon as I saw that Howard’s short novel Skull-Face anchors this collection.
Oh, yeah. . . Lupoff. . . .
I cannot imagine that a Howard fan of my generation could hear the title Skull-Face and not think instantly of Richard A. Lupoff’s Edgar Rice Burroughs: Master of Adventure and his surprising assessment of that work — how the young Texan managed to out-Fu Fu-Manchu! The first edition of that book-length study of the creator of Tarzan and John Carter of Mars appeared in hardcover in 1965 from Canaveral Press, but it would be several more years before I began adding hardbacks to my own collection. The edition I read, along with everyone else, blazed into print in paperback from Ace Books in 1968, that bright red cover by Frank Frazetta recycled from an earlier Ace paperback of Burroughs’ The Beasts of Tarzan. And of course it was a Frazetta painting that had drawn my eye to Conan the Warrior the year before — Frazetta, a cornerstone figure for that era.
In addition to profiling the many series launched by the prolific Burroughs, Lupoff looked at the extent of his influence and the many imitations that sprang up using Tarzan as a model. “These illegitimate descendants of Tarzan do raise a serious question concerning the matter of successor authors,” he wrote. “After having read a number of stories of various sorts by successor authors, over a period of years, I had prior to the past few months concluded that their products were universally inferior to the original. To the extent that a successor author maintained fidelity to the original his work was superfluous. To the extent that it varied from the original, it tended to fracture the structure of imagination created by the original author. Either way, the successor’s work would suffer.” Then Lupoff got to Robert E. Howard:
I have come across one exception to this principle. It is Skull-Face, the title of the 1946 collection of Howard stories. Skull-Face was serialized in Weird Tales in 1929. . . a pastiche of the Fu Manchu stories of Sax Rohmer. Skull-Face is Dr. Fu just as clearly as he can be, portrayed as well as Rohmer ever portrayed him. Howard’s hero, the American Stephen Costigan, is far superior in conception and presentation to any of the men Rohmer ever put up against Fu. To the extent that Howard maintains fidelity to the original, his work is superior.
To the extent that Howard does not rely upon Rohmer, he goes beyond Rohmer, extending rather than destroying the structure of the original author’s work. Rohmer had never fully explained the origin of Fu, although he often hinted an Egyptian identity of incredible antiquity. Howard carries back beyond Egypt, makes Skull-Face a survivor of sunken Atlantis, and brings the whole audacious thing off perfectly!
Yes. You could do literary criticism on Howard. You could do entire books on writers very much like Howard. That moment in Master of Adventure was exactly what I needed to see as a teenager to spur on dreams of doing criticism of the Texan of my own. And as a statement from 1965, it ranks in the forefront of modern reappraisals — recognizing that Howard was far more talented a writer than the mere pulp hack many commentators had dismissively portrayed him as being, if they mentioned his name at all.
Plus some ads from Allentown blurbing an October 1938 reprint for this primo Op adventure in that paper.
I recall some guys making a point of how Carroll John Daly with his Race Williams PI stories kept turning them out through the 30s while Hammett — off to Hollywood, books coming out — had disappeared from the pulp detective scene — and by extension, the public mind. (Of course, as soon as the Bogie The Maltese Falcon came out in 1941, Hammett became the most influential hardboiled detective writer of all time, if there was still any question about it.)
But you know how these guys think. It’s story for story with them. One story in a pulp, then another and another, more important than bestselling books and a few classic movies.
Yet if it’s story for story, I’m wondering if with all these newspaper reprints whether Hammett may not have grabbed more eyes than someone like Daly. At this moment, we still don’t know how many of the Op series got reprinted (again, and again), but it’s beginning to seem like a floodtide.
A note rolled in just now from longtime guest blogger Terry Zobeck, always trying to keep the Hammett facts straight. He spotted a wrong detail in the Morgan Holmes bit about what kind of .32s the Op carried in “Corkscrew” — and I thought, yeah, that one nagged at my memory even as I quickly threw the link up. But I forged ahead anyway.
So, to clarify, here’s Terry:
I went to the link on the Op’s armament. Interesting article, except for the mistake about only one Op story appearing outside of Black Mask. As you know, there are two: “Who Killed Bob Teal” in True Detective Stories and my personal favorite “This King Business” in Mystery Stories.
In 1977 Don Herron began leading The Dashiell Hammett Tour, now the longest-running literary tour in the nation. On this site you’ll find information on current walks — dates, where to meet, arranging tours by appointment — plus a hard-boiled blog with news, reviews of books and film, and a dash of noir.