Thursday, April 21, 2016

Robert E. Howard and the Amateur Press (Part 4) by Bobby Derie

4: Fan Press: Marvel Tales, The Fantasy Fan, Fantasy Magazine, and The Phantagraph

By the way—I enclose a circular from a new weird magazine to which Clark Ashton Smith and I [are] contributing. There is no pay for contributions, but we are glad of a chance to get printed copies of the tales all other magazines have rejected. [...] First issue of The Fantasy Fan came the other day. It looks sadly amateurish, though the editor promises better things to come.
— H. P. Lovecraft to Robert E. Howard, 24 Jun 1933, AMTF 2.620, 630

Robert E. Howard’s correspondence with H. P. Lovecraft introduced him into a wider circle than any he had ever known—professional writers and fans from across the United States, like E. Hoffmann Price, R. H. Barlow, August Derleth, and Clark Ashton Smith. As part of the “group,” Howard shared in the circulation of manuscripts, criticism of stories published and unpublished, and tips on the state of the industry and potential new markets for industrious pulpsters to splash...even if they didn’t always pay.

Pulps brought science fiction, fantasy, and weird fiction to the masses; while science fiction novels can trace their genesis to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), and dime-novels could reach a mass audience, pulp fiction created communities of fans who, instead of interacting solely through letter-columns, began to meet, organize in their own clubs and mailing lists...and publish. The products of the fan press are distinguishable from any other form of amateur journalism or literary “small magazines” only in focus, not in the material product produced, and must have reminded Howard clearly of the amateur papers produced by himself and his friends, if more ambitious and better-presented.

Charles D. Hornig produced the first issue of The Fantasy Fan in September 1933; the first of the fan magazines dedicated to weird fiction. Clark Ashton Smith sent Howard a copy of the first issue, and Howard replied in a letter from October that same year:

Thanks for the copy of Fantasy Fan. I subscribed for a year; a dollar is little enough to pay for the privilege of reading stories by Lovecraft, Derleth and yourself. I enjoyed very much your “Kingdom of the Worm”. It is an awesome and magnificent and somber word picture you have drawn of the haunted land of Antchar. (CL3.136, cf. 141-142)

Howard’s letter asking for a subscription was likewise full of praise for the magazine (which Hornig would quote in the November 1933 issue).

Thanks for the copy of The Fantasy Fan. I found it very interesting, and think it has a good future. Anybody ought to be willing to pay a dollar for the privilege of reading, for a whole year, the works of Lovecraft, Smith, and Derleth. I am glad to see that you announce a poem by Smith in the next issue. He is a poet second to none. I also hope you can persuade Lovecraft to let you use some of his superb verse. Weird poetry possesses an appeal peculiar to itself and the careful use of it raises the quality of any magazine. I liked very much the department of “True Ghost Stories” and hope you will continue it. The world is full of unexplained incidents and peculiar circumstances, the logical reasons of which are often so obscure and hidden that they are lent an illusion of the supernatural. Enclosed find my check for a year’s subscription. I shall be glad to submit some things, if you wish. (CL3.139-140, cf.145)

Frank Frazetta's artwork for
"The Frost Giant's Daughter"
Howard by this point was working full-time as a professional writer, but following Lovecraft’s suggestion of submitting “tales all other magazines have rejected” (AMTF 2.620), sent Hornig a “The Frost King’s Daughter”—which originally had been written as a tale of Conan the Cimmerian, entitled “The Frost-Giant’s Daughter” and submitted to Weird Tales, where it was rejected (CL2.315, 329); so he changed the hero to Amra and retitled it. Hornig accepted the story, which was published in the March 1934 issue of The Fantasy Fan as “Gods of the North.” Lovecraft wrote to Hornig in praise of the story (“Glad to see the interesting tale by Robert E. Howard” UL 13).

A few months later, Howard submitted some verse to Hornig, which was duly published in The Fantasy Fan in September 1934 as “The Voices Waken Memory,” and in January 1935 as “Voices of the Night: 2. Babel”, which caused Lovecraft to write to Richard F. Searight:

Yes—the Wooley & Howard material is really admirable. Both writers are genuine poets, & really ought to be able to have verse in the remunerative magazines right along. Most of Two-Gun’s verse has never been submitted for publication. Some of it really marvelous in its savage, barbaric potency. (LRS 48)

For the most part, however, Howard’s interaction with The Fantasy Fan was mostly as a subscriber who wrote the occasional letter in praise of his friend’s writings, praising the poetry of Clark Ashton Smith (CL3.149, 150) and William Lumley (CL3.195, 197), Lovecraft’s stories and article-series Supernatural Horror in Literature (CL3.192, 194, 274-275), the fiction of R. H. Barlow’s (CL3.215) and Emil Petaja (CL3.260), and sometimes several at once:

Smith’s poem in the March issue was splendid, as always. By all means, publish as many of his poems as possible; I would like to see more by Lumley, and it would be a fine thing if you could get some of Lovecraft’s poetry. (CL3.203)

Yet, Howard never became as involved with The Fantasy Fan as he was with The Junto, nor was he ever a prolific contributor—understandable, as he was working to write salable material at the time. An example of Howard’s distance from the magazine can be seen in how he kept out of the kerfuffle in “The Boiling Point” (The Fantasy Fan’s letter column) between Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, and a young Forrest J. Ackerman, limiting himself to a private comment to Lovecraft:

I’ve also been considerably amused by the controversy raging there, apparently precipitated by this Ackerman gentleman — I believe that’s the name. It’s always been a strange thing to me why some people think they have to attack fiction they don’t care for personally. If it was an article on government or sociology, dealing with some vital national problem, it might be different. But it seems rather absurd to me for one to attack a fiction story that has no connection with everyday problems at all. If Ackerman doesn’t like Smith’s stories, why, no law compels him to read them. (CL3.192)

The Fantasy Fan ran monthly from September 1933 to February 1935, running for 18 issues in total. Subscriptions for a year (12 issues) was a dollar; Howard subscribed around November 1933, and probably the first issue he received was December 1933. His subscription would then have run out around November of 1934, and apparently he sent another check to renew, but of course the publication ceased a few months later. Hornig, to his credit, sent Howard a “refund” on his subscription in the form of stamps covering the remainder, to which Howard replied:

I’m very sorry to learn that The Fantasy Fan has to be discontinued. I enjoyed the magazine very much, and had hoped that it would be able to carry on. It doesn’t seem quite fair for the editor of a fan magazine to have to bear all the financial loss of the magazine’s failure. In the case of my unfinished subscription, at least, let’s split the expense. I’m taking the liberty of returning half the stamps you sent me. I got all my money’s worth and more out of the pleasure I derived from the magazine. (CL3.305)

Having been involved in the amateur press a bit himself, Howard was probably very conscious of the cost of producing such periodicals, hence his magnanimous gesture.

In the fall of 1933, as Hornig was first issuing The Fantasy Fan, small publisher William F. Crawford was sending around a circular for a magazine to be titled Unusual Stories, soliciting material from Lovecraft and his correspondents, including Howard:

I hope Crawford has good fortune with Unusual Stories. I let him have a yarn entitled “The Garden of Fear”, dealing with one of my various conceptions of the Hyborian and post-Hyborian world. He seemed to like the story very well, and I intend to let him have some more on the same order if he can use them. I have an idea which I’d like to work out in a series of that nature. (CL3.136)

This was, like “The Frost-King’s Daughter,” another story that had been rejected by Farnsworth Wright when Howard had submitted it to Weird Tales. When Crawford’s magazine did appear, the name had changed to Marvel Tales, and Howard’s story appeared in the second issue (July 1934). Lovecraft’s assessment of the fanzine was frank (“ambitious size but rotten contents” AMTF 2.892), excepting Howard’s story (“I really can’t understand Wright’s rejection of that item.” AMTF 2.791) and other items. Howard’s opinion isn’t given, though he praised Emil Petaja’s poem “Witch’s Berceuse” (CL3.366, 369) and looked forward to Lovecraft’s “Some Notes on Interplanetary Fiction” (CL3.274).

The Fantasy Magazine had begun life as the Science Fiction Digest in 1932, and by 1934 had changed its name and come under the editorship of Julius Schwartz, who would go on to act as an agent for H. P. Lovecraft, and later would have an influential career in comics. Schwartz arranged several round-robins, the most famous of which is “The Challenge from Beyond,” which was serialized in the magazine and included contributions by Catherine L. Moore, A. Merritt, H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, and Frank Belknap Long; with Howard’s contribution appearing in the September 1935 issue. (LRS 64-65)

If Howard was otherwise a subscriber to the Fantasy Magazine prior to being approached for this endeavor, there is no evidence for it in his surviving letters, though as Fantasy Magazine advertised in The Fantasy Fan, he must at least have been aware of it, and it remains essentially his only contribution (though a portion of one of his letters was excerpted in the July 1935 issue as “A Biographical Sketch of Robert E. Howard”). “The Challenge From Beyond” stands out as Howard’s first original fiction created solely for a fanzine, as opposed to a previously rejected tale, and his only “collaboration” with Lovecraft et al. Lovecraft himself was enjoyed Howard’s section (“It amused me to see how quickly Two-Gun converted the scholarly & inoffensive George Campbell into a raging Conan or King Kull!” LRBO 163)

The final, and arguably most important, interaction between Robert E. Howard and the fan press occurred near the end of his life, when H. P. Lovecraft sent him a copy of a new fanzine:

And I got a big kick out of your sonnet in the current issue of the Phantagraph, which is the first copy of that publication I’d seen. A nice looking little magazine, and one which I hope will have a better future than many of such ventures. I believe of all the various clans of readers, the weird and scientific-fiction fans are the most loyal and active. (CL3.461)

Similar to how The All-Around Magazine and possibly even The Junto had grown out of the Lone Scout “tribe papers,” the Phantagraph had started out as The International Science Fiction Guild’s Bulletin, a fan club paper that first appeared in 1934, but was reincarnated in July-August 1935, under the editorship of Donald Wollheim (and actually printed by William Crawford of Marvel Tales).

Howard and Lovecraft had apparently discussed the Phantagraph some months prior to the Texan ever seeing an issue; though those specific letters don’t survive, we have a letter dated 9 July 1935 from Lovecraft to Wollheim suggesting he solicit Howard for material, and providing the Lock Box 313 address (LRBO 313), and Howard duly sent his contribution along to Lovecraft to forward to Wollheim:

Here is something which Two-Gun Bob says he wants forwarded to you for The Phantagraph, & which I profoundly hope you’ll be able to use. This is really great stuff—Howard has the most magnificent sense of the drama of “history” of anyone I know. He possess a panoramic vision which takes in the evolution & interaction of races & nations over vast periods of time, & gives one the same large-scale excitement which (with even vaster scope) is furnished by things like Stapledon’s “Last & First Men”. (LRBO 319, cf. LRS 69)

“The Hyborian Age” was a lengthy historical essay that served as kind of historiographic background to Howard’s stories of Conan the Cimmerian, starting in dim prehistory and proceeding up to the roots of known history, and apparently never intended for publication. Wollheim began to serialize the essay in the Phantagraph, publishing the first three parts of the essay in February, August, and October 1936—the latter two published after Howard’s suicide in July of that year—but left it incomplete after only three installments.

The critical importance of Howard’s work in the fan press is less the fiction he produced, than the simple interaction with the burgeoning fandom. As a professional writer during this period, Howard was growing more prolific and profitable, writing less weird fiction but splashing western, spicy, and other markets with some regularity, and most of his efforts went to paying markets, usually through his agent Otis Adelbert Kline. Yet part of the enduring popularity of Robert E. Howard is due in no small part to his legion of fans, and the Texan’s contribution to the fanzines and interaction with the burgeoning fandom left a legacy that was felt after his death.

Charles D. Hornig
  The Fantasy Fan (vol. 1, no. 4) - Dec 1933 - letter (CL3.142, cf.139-140)
  The Fantasy Fan (vol. 1, no. 5) - Jan 1934 - letter (CL3.145)
  The Fantasy Fan (vol. 1, no. 7) - Mar 1934 - “Gods of the North”
  The Fantasy Fan (vol. 1, no. 9) - May 1934 - letter (CL3.149)
  The Fantasy Fan (vol. 2, no. 1) - Sep 1934 - “The Voices Waken Memory”
  The Fantasy Fan (vol. 2, no. 5) - Jan 1935 - “Babel”

William L. Crawford
  Marvel Tales (vol. 1, no. 2) - Jul 1934 - “The Garden of Fear”

Conrad H. Rupert
  Fantasy Magazine (vol. 5, no. 2) - July 1935 - “A Biographical Sketch of Robert E. Howard” (based on a letter from Robert E. Howard, cf. CL3.287-288)
  Fantasy Magazine (vol. 5, no. 4) - Sep 1935 - “The Challenge From Beyond”

Shepherd & Wollheim
  The Phantagraph (vol. 4, no. 3) - Feb 1936 - “The Hyborian Age” (part 1)
  The Phantagraph (vol. 4, no. 5) - Aug 1936 - “The Hyborian Age” (part 2)

  The Phantagraph (vol. 5, no. 1) - Oct 1936 - “The Hyborian Age” (part 3)

Works Cited

AMTF  A Means to Freedom: The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard (2 vols., Hippocampus Press, 2009)
BT       Blood & Thunder: The Life and Art of Robert E. Howard (REH Foundation, 2013)
CL       Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard (3 vols. + Index & Addenda, REH Foundation, 2007 – 2015)
CLIH    Collected Letters of Dr. Isaac M. Howard (REH Foundation, 2011)
HAJ     The History of Amateur Journalism (The Fossils, 1957)
LC       The Last Celt: A Bio-Bibliography of Robert E. Howard (Berkley Windhover, 1976)
LRBO  Letters to Robert Bloch and Others (Hippocampus Press, 2015)
LRS     Letters to Richard F. Searight (Necronomicon Press, 1992)
LS        “Robert E. Howard and the Lone Scouts” by Rob Roehm, in The Dark Man (vol. 7, no. 1; 2012)
LSL      Lone Scout of Letters (Roehm’s Room Press, 2011)
PWM   Robert E. Howard: The Power of the Writing Mind (Mythos Books, 2003)
SFTP   So Far the Poet & Other Writings (REH Foundation, 2010)
THA     The Hyborian Age Facsimile Editions (Skelos Press, 2015)
TJ        The Junto: Being a Brief Look at the Amateur Press Association Robert E. Howard Partook In as a Youth” by Glenn Lord, in Two-Gun Bob: A Centennial Study of Robert E. Howard (Hippocampus Press, 2006)
UL       Uncollected Letters (Necronomicon Press, 1986)
WGP   Robert E. Howard: World’s Greatest Pulpster (Dennis McHaney, 2005)

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

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