Sunday, June 24, 2018

Swanson of Dakota By Karen Joan Kohoutek

Carl Swanson
with his wife, Evelyn
North Dakota, where I have lived for many years, is an under-represented state in the history of weird fiction. So one of my favorite footnotes is the elusive Carl Swanson (May 25, 1902 — November 16, 1974), who corresponded with Lovecraft, inspired The Fantasy Fan fanzine, and collaborated with Jerry Siegel, all while living in Washburn, ND. One of his best-known ventures is an attempt to start a magazine called Galaxy, although, judging by references in the letters of Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft, the idea swiftly rose and fell.

            Lovecraft commented on Swanson in several of his letters to Robert Barlow, starting in January 1932: “I am told that a new weird magazine is about to be started by one Carl Swanson of Washburn, North Dakota. I’ve sent in ‘The Nameless City’ & ‘Beyond the Wall of Sleep,’ but am doubtful about their acceptance” (21). Later that month, he added that he had “just heard from Swanson—the new magazine man. He has accepted both ‘The Nameless City’ & ‘Beyond the Wall of Sleep’” (22).

            In March 1932, Lovecraft provided more information. “Swanson’s plans are slowly taking form. The new periodical will be called Galaxy, & Derleth understands that the rate of pay will be about ¼ (cent) per word. The magazine will sell for 10 (cents), or $1.00 per year. Wright of W.T. is rather worried about the coming competition, & tends to resent the sale of reprinting rights to Swanson by his authors” (25).

            This would come up again in March 1935, when, speaking of Wright and reprint rights from Weird Tales, Lovecraft says, “The only smallness he ever displayed in a matter of reprinting was some years ago, when Swanson of Dakota intended to found a magazine of second appearances” (217). Also in March, Howard wrote to his friend Tevis Clyde Smith that “a man named Swanson is publishing a magazine in one of the Dakotas, on the weird order. I’ve neglected my chances, until I wonder if the thing’s about up ten years ahead. Lovecraft wrote me that he’d placed a couple of yarns, and evidently the old weird tale buccaneers have descended on it like a horde of vultures” (315).



Sunday, June 17, 2018

Howard Days 2018: A Trip Report by Todd B. Vick



This year was my seventh straight year to attend Howard Days in Cross Plains, Texas. Every year I meet new people and learn new things, and that alone keeps me wanting to come back the next year. But in addition to meeting new people and learning new things, there is so much else going on, trying to take it all in can sometimes be a bit overwhelming. This year’s theme was celebrating REH Fans and the keynote speaker was, Bill “Indy” Cavalier, long time Howard fan and OE (Official Editor) of The Robert E. Howard United Press Association (REHupa). Moreover, most of the panels this year were geared to the fandom of Robert E. Howard. Every year I can summarize the event itself usually in one word. This year that word is fellowship.

It may have simply been the group I spent the most time with this year, but there were a lot of people who knew one another via the internet but had never met before in person. So "meeting" for the "first time," so to speak was a prominent feeling and activity. That was the case for me with several online friends who also attended the event this year. David J. West, author and guest writer here at On An Underwood No. 5, whom I have known online for many years, attended this year’s event for the first time. We had previously discussed him possibly attending previous Howard Days, and I had explained that I could pick him up from the airport and we could always drive to the event together. This year he took me up on that offer, and I’m glad he did. Getting to meet David J. West and hang out with him this year was a highlight for me. Moreover, when we arrived in Cross Plains, West was looking for others whom he had met online but had not met in person, so we eventually crossed paths with author Keith West (a regular attender to Howard Days), Jason M. Waltz (Rogue Blades Entertainment), and eventually we connected with author Ty Johntson. I was also able to reconnect with other regular Howard Days attendees (e.g. Bobby Derie, Scott Cupp, Scott Valeri, Russell Andrew, and many others). I was also able to finally meet Rob King (and his wife) who has helped me a little in my current research.


Thursday, June 14, 2018

Hot (and a little bothered) Off The Press by Gary Romeo

A Critique of Patrice Louinet’s The Robert E. Howard Guide

Robert E. Howard Days 2018 saw the release of Patrice Louinet’s The Robert E. Howard Guide (Skelos Press, 2018).  It is in the tradition of Robert Weinberg’s The Annotated Guide to Robert E. Howard’s Sword & Sorcery (Starmont House, 1976) and Marc Cerasini and Charles E. Hoffman’s Robert E. Howard Starmont Reader’s Guide (Starmont House, 1987).  Patrice’s book is less weighty than either of these books in that it gives only brief commentary on the stories mentioned.

Most entertaining for me were the summaries of fifty great REH stories.  Patrice revisits the twenty best in Chapter 3, followed by thirty more in Chapters Four and Five.  It is always fun to remember why you love REH in the first place and the comments on these stories really do reemphasize why REH is a writer worthy of respect and study.

There is little new here for older REH fans but there may be things for older and newer REH fans to digest and argue about.  Especially Chapter One where Patrice discusses common misconceptions about Howard. 

Chamber of Darkness #4
The first myth brought to task is that Howard was convinced Conan had really existed.  Patrice rightly destroys this notion mostly originating from John Milius.  It has always been my opinion that Milius may have read Chamber of Darkness #4 (Marvel Comics, 1970).  This issue contains a very good story by Roy Thomas and Barry Smith entitled “The Sword and the Sorcerers.”  The story features a sword & sorcery author named Len Carson.  Len is having nightmares about his Starr the Slayer character and decides to kill him off.  Starr materializes from the ether and kills off Len before Len can kill him in his story.  This is a great tale about a sword and sorcery author and is easily morphed into it being about Robert E. Howard if you are so inclined.


Sunday, June 3, 2018

The Blunders of One Weird Tales Artist: Curtis Charles Senf by Todd B. Vick


Curtis Charles Senf
The September 1931 Weird Tales had, perhaps, one of the most farcical blunders ever committed by a magazine illustrator, and it happened to one of Robert E. Howard’s most popular and prized characters, Solomon Kane. The artist was Curtis Charles Senf (C.C. Senf), who at the time, lived in Chicago and began drawing covers and interior illustrations for Weird Tales. His debut cover was the March 1927 issue. In fact, Senf did 8 of the 12 covers for Weird Tales in 1927, and 11 of the 12 covers for 1928. His numbers tapered off a little after these two years, but over-all, Senf was the artist for 45 covers at Weird Tales. In addition to this, he drew hundreds of interior illustrations for The Unique Magazine. To say he was a seasoned magazine artist and illustrator is a slight understatement. However, and this is a pretty big however, he eventually stopped reading the stories he illustrated, and the results were laughable, and even angered some of the writers for Weird Tales.

Curtis Charles Senf was born on July 30, 1873, in Rosslau, Prussia. In 1881, when he was a boy of eight, the Senf family emigrated to America on the S.S. Wieland. They landed in New York City on June 28 and then ultimately settled in Chicago, Illinois. His father's occupation was listed only as "workman."[1] C.C. Senf attended public school and upon graduating high school, he enrolled in the Chicago Institute of Art. Following his art studies at the Chicago Institute of Art, Senf became a commercial artist and lithographer. Eventually Senf opened an art agency called Senf & Company with Fred S. Gould. This venture failed and eventually was forced to file bankruptcy in 1903. There are no other details about employment for Senf until he becomes a regular artist for Weird Tales. By the time he landed the job of cover and interior artist for Weird Tales, Senf was almost 54 years of age. 

"The Bride of Dewer"
Given the fact that the cover art for Weird Tales prior to 1927 was average to downright terrible, Senf was a welcomed edition to the magazine. Even H. P. Lovecraft, who was often picky about weird art (and weird fiction), expressed hope that this new artist might create better cover art than previous artists had for the magazine. In a January 1927 letter to August Derleth, Lovecraft declared, “I shall welcome the new cover artist, & can feel sure at least that he can’t be any worse than those who have hitherto messed up the magazine.”[2] His hope would be short lived, by June of that same year, Lovecraft told Derleth, “. . .the present ‘artist’ Senf has no sense of the fantastic whatever.”[3] While Lovecraft is not necessarily incorrect in his over-all opinion about Senf’s work, Senf “could do a truly weird cover, one of his best being for ‘The Bride of Dewer,”[4] and there were a few others. In fact, a little later in this article, we will look at another truly weird cover Senf did (and perhaps one of his best works) toward the end of his career at Weird Tales.  Moreover, in 1927 Senf was reading the stories and illustrating them according to their content, so this last sentiment by Lovecraft was merely a stylistic complaint on his part. Senf’s artwork, for the most part, was “better” than the work of previous artists for the magazine, his style was that of late 19th century artists, with nice detail, color, and vivid scope, and he excelled when the story was a period piece. Even so, in many ways, Lovecraft was correct, Senf’s sense of the fantastic and/or weird was not the greatest. 



Sunday, May 27, 2018

The Coincidental Friendship of H. Warner Munn and H. P. Lovecraft by Todd B. Vick




In “The Eyrie” of the March 1924 issue of
Weird Tales, H. P. Lovecraft wrote, “Popular authors do not and apparently cannot appreciate the fact that true art is obtainable only by rejecting normally and conventionality in toto, and approaching a theme purged utterly of any usual or preconceived point of view.”[1] A bold statement, to say the least, especially in a magazine whose byline is The Unique Magazine. But Lovecraft demanded his fiction to be unconventionally ‘other than,’ and as original as possible. For him, crafting a story was an art form. In this same letter, Lovecraft goes on to declare:

Wild and ‘different’ as they may consider their quasi-weird products, it remains a fact that the bizarrerie is on the surface alone; and that basically they reiterate the same old conventional values and motives and perspectives. Good and evil, teleological illusion, sugary sentiment, anthropocentric psychology—the usual superficial stock trade, and all shot through with the eternal and inescapable commonplace.[2]
 
Had Lovecraft accepted the job as editor when J. C. Henneberger offered it to him back in 1924, he would have likely been a harsh editor, and the magazine would have taken a decidedly different path. Much of the fiction Edwin Baird and Farnsworth Wright accepted would have, no doubt, been rejected by Lovecraft. But alas, we were rewarded the benefit of Lovecraft the writer. There is no telling exactly which stories or authors Lovecraft was disparaging in this letter to Weird Tales’ editor at the time, Edwin Baird. They may have not been Weird Tales’ authors, though it is likely most were. Even so, Lovecraft is making a valid point regarding breaking away from conventional story writing, creating an original tale, thinking outside the box. At least his creative mind demanded as much. Something he also expected, or at least wanted other writers to do. Some of the readers of The Unique Magazine demanded the same, at least they demanded their stories weird, if not ‘original.’

H. P. L
So, in an effort to promulgate something weird and original, Lovecraft made this suggestion: “Take a werewolf story, for instance—who ever wrote one from the point of view of the wolf, and sympathizing strongly with the devil to whom he has sold himself?”[3]

Those of us who love the pulps and their writers (we all have our favorites, of course), probably know that H. Warner Munn attempted to answer Lovecraft’s request with, “The Werewolf of Ponkert,” Munn’s first published short story. About Munn’s story, Farnsworth Wright claimed, “It was the popularity of Mr. Quinn’s werewolf story[4] that led us to feature The Werewolf of Ponkert, by H. Warner Munn, in last months’ issue.”[5] (italics is Wright’s) “The Werewolf of Ponkert” was the cover story for the July 1925 issue of Weird Tales, the same issue in which Robert E. Howard made his debut with “Spear and Fang.”

Lovecraft, as far as I’ve been able to determine, never responded to Munn’s story in “The Eyrie” of any of the subsequent Weird Tales issues. It’s possible that when “The Werewolf of Ponkert” was first published, Lovecraft did not put two and two together and notice that his March 1924 letter in “The Eyrie” was Munn’s inspiration. In fact, it may be that Lovecraft never knew that fact until after he met Munn, and Munn confessed as much. However, there is some evidence from Munn himself that Lovecraft may have recognized Munn’s efforts on behalf of Lovecraft’s letter:


Sunday, May 20, 2018

Dear Mr. Jacobi; Cordially, Robert E. Howard by Bobby Derie

Carl R. Jacobi
While a freshman at the University of Minnesota in 1928, one of Carl Richard Jacobi turned in a story he had previously written and published in The Quest, and received an “A+”—and so the anecdote goes:

In a subsequent quarter, one of his fellow students also turned in a previously written composition—not his own work, however, but a pulp story by Robert E. Howard. It too received a top grade. On the last day of class, Jacobi approached the instructor. “I’d like you to know who I’ve been competing against,” he announced. “A professional writer.” “That often happens,” was the professor’s bemused reply. (LRH 9)

Carl Jacobi’s classmate, like Jacobi himself, encountered Howard’s prose in Weird Tales; Howard’s prose hadn’t been published in any other pulp by 1928. After selling “Spear and Fang” (WT Jul 1925), “Wolfshead” (Apr 1926), and “The Lost Race” (Jan 1927), Howard exploded in 1928 with “The Dream Snake” (Feb), “The Hyena” (Mar), “Sea Curse” (May), and the seminal Solomon Kane tale “Red Shadows” (Aug). Perhaps taking the hint, Jacobi’s one first professional sale to the pulps followed in 1928. (LRH 12)

In the fall of 1931, Jacobi’s “The Coach on the Ring” appeared in the Dec 1931/Jan 1932 issue of Ghost Stories, a weak but enduring competitor to Weird Tales. The confessional style of Ghost Stories gave it a poor reputation, but was still a paying market that occasionally attracted good writersRobert E. Howard had placed a story in there two years previously: “Apparition in the Prize Ring” (GS Apr 1929). Jacobi’s freshman effort was sufficient to attract the notice of August Derleth, who in turn brought him to the attention of H. P. Lovecraft. (ES2.440, 442) Jacobi attained real attention when he landed another story: “Mive,” which appeared in the Jan 1932 issue of Weird Tales. Although it wasn’t voted the most popular tale in the issue (Clark Ashton Smith’s “The Monster of the Prophecy”), the story was highly regarded by Lovecraft, who expressed his enthusiasm to Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright. (SL4.24) Robert E. Howard wrote a little later:

If I were to express a preference for any one of the tales, I believe I should name Derleth’s “Those Who Seek”—though the stories by Smith, Long, Hurst and Jacobi could scarcely be excelled. In the latter’s tale especially there are glimpses that show finely handled imagination almost in perfection—just enough revealed, just enough concealed.
— Robert E. Howard, Weird Tales Mar 1932 (CL2.302)

Before long, Lovecraft wrote a letter of encouragement to Jacobi…whether prompted by a letter from Jacobi or Derleth isn’t clear, but Lovecraft volunteered one important piece of information:



Thursday, April 19, 2018

Conan and the Acolyte: Robert E. Howard and F. T. Laney by Bobby Derie

I had previously read the January or February 193[7] WT with a Rimel story in it, and had been utterly unimpressed.— F. T. Laney, Ah, Sweet Idiocy! 2


Weird Tales, Jan. 1937
Duane W. Rimel’s story “The Disinterment” appeared in the January 1937 issue of Weird Tales; if Francis Towner Laney read the magazine through to ‘The Eyrie’, the letters pages of the magazine, he would have run across Clifford Ball’s “In Appreciation of Howard”—an homage to Robert E. Howard, the Texan pulpster who had died the year before. That would likely have been his first introduction to Howard.

F. T. Laney occupies an odd place in Howard scholarship. He missed the period when Howard was actively writing and didn’t come to pulp and fantasy fandom until about 1939. He rose to prominence in the early-to-mid 1940s as a member of the Los Angeles Science Fiction Society, the Fantasy Amateur Press Association (FAPA), and as editor and publisher of The Acolyte fanzine (1942-1946), which was devoted primarily to H. P. Lovecraft. Yet being where he was when he was, and a vocal part of fandom, Laney ended up being at the confluence of a good deal of Howardian interest and ended up playing a silent but important role in Robert E. Howard’s legacy.

In the course of being an editor of a Lovecraft-oriented fanzine and searching out material, Laney came into contact with a number of Lovecraft’s correspondents, including Clark Ashton Smith, Duane W. Rimel, F. Lee Baldwin, Emil Petaja, Fritz Leiber, H. C. Koenig, Nils H. Frome, R. H. Barlow, August Derleth, Donald and Howard Wandrei, F. J. Ackerman, E. Hoffmann Price, and Stuart M. Boland; many of whom were also correspondents with Robert E. Howard, and it was largely through these contacts that Laney became in contact with things Howardian.

Laney got in touch with F. Lee Baldwin through their mutual friend Duane W. Rimel, and beginning in December 1942 Baldwin began working on material for The Acolyte, both in terms of a regular column (“Within the Circle,” a continuation of Baldwin’s column from The Fantasy Fan in the ‘30s), and writing to former pulpsters and their correspondents for material. (Laney 13) As part of this mailing campaign, in early 1943 Baldwin contacted Robert E. Howard’s friend F. Thurston Torbett, looking for information on Howard for a potential article, which can be read in F. Thurston Torbett and F. Lee Baldwin on Robert E. Howard. The correspondence stretched into 1944, and Baldwin’s article on Howard never appeared, nor did he mention the Texan in any of his other articles in The Acolyte.

CAS, Laney, & Bob Hoffman, circa 1940s
In November 1943, Laney moved to Los Angeles, California, where he met pulpsters like Emil Petaja and Fritz Leiber, and fans like Forrest J. Ackerman. Robert H. Barlow, the young literary executor of Lovecraft’s estate, had moved to San Francisco in 1938-1939, where he began attending university and indulging in fan projects, including one small press-effort to publish a collection of Robert E. Howard’s poems. Barlow began contributing to The Acolyte with the Summer 1943 issue, though his only direct contribution regarding Howard would be the Barlow-Lovecraft satire “The Battle That Ended the Century” (The Acolyte Fall 1944); more on Barlow and Howard’s can be read in The Two Bobs: Robert E. Howard and Robert H. Barlow.

E. Hoffmann Price had returned to his native California in 1934, stopping along the way to visit Robert E. Howard in Cross Plains, Texas, and settling near San Francisco. He became a friend and correspondent with Barlow; who even visited Price accompanied by an aged James F. Morton in 1939. (BOD 53, 355-357) It is not clear when exactly Laney got in touch with the native Californian but a letter from Price to Laney, dated 22 July 1944, on the subject of Robert E. Howard, was published in The Acolyte #9 (Winter 1945). This may have been inspired by Price’s essay “Robert E. Howard” in the fanzine Diablerie #4 (May 1944), as Laney was a friend of the publisher Bill Watson (Laney 31), or maybe it came from the same place as F. Lee Baldwin’s questions to F. Thurston Torbett.

Whatever the case, Price began contributing letters to The Acolyte, beginning with The Acolyte #7, then the letter concerning Howard in #9, and letter in #10 (Spring 1945) announcing the death of Dr. Isaac M. Howard: