Sunday, January 31, 2016

An Escape from The Depression: The Fantasy Fan, Marvel Tales & The Pulps by Todd B. Vick

The Great Depression was the longest lasting economic downturn in the history of mankind. It not only had a deep effect here in the U.S. but the rest of the world felt its squeeze as well. Despite its woes, those who lived through The Great Depression still had to get on with their lives and try and find a way to survive. By 1933 when the Great Depression had reached its nadir, some 15 million people in the U.S. alone were without work, almost half the banks in the U.S. had closed their doors, and Americans (as well as the rest of the world) were in dire straits. However, in the midst of this nadir, the entertainment industry was booming. People were trying to forget their troubles by turning their attention to films, sports (in large part boxing), books, magazines and other distracting things.

     In 1933 some of the greatest classic films were released: King Kong, Duck Soup, I’m No Angel, Queen Christina, Little Women, and others. The first drive-in movie theater was built in Camden, NJ that year, and MGM worked on gaining the rights to a film titled The Wizard of Oz. In June of 1933, Primo Carnera defeated Jack Sharkey in the sixth round (with a KO) to win the World Heavyweight Championship. That same year, Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster created the iconic character “Superman.” Underneath all these hugely popular events a seventeen year old teenager was hard at work developing the first fanzine for the weird fiction genre in hopes that it would attract some of the most popular writers in the Weird Fiction and Science Fiction pulp magazine industry.
Charles D. Hornig, from New Jersey, was a huge fan of weird fiction and science fiction. He was a regular subscriber to Wonder Stories and Amazing Stories. There’s no written history/information on why or where Hornig got the idea of beginning a fanzine. Even so, Hornig contacted the editor of “The Science Fic-Digest”—Conrad H. Ruppert—in an attempt to find out how such an effort could get off the ground. Ruppert guided Hornig in his endeavors, and in September of 1933, volume 1, no. 1 of The Fantasy Fan was first printed. It is believed that Hornig, a somewhat long time reader of Wonder Stories, sent a copy to its publisher Hugo Gernsback (who has been called the Father of Science Fiction). Through a series of circumstances, Gernsback had recently fired his editor, David Lasser, and after seeing Hornig’s first issue of The Fantasy Fan, hired Hornig. This is apparently confirmed in The Fantasy Fan Oct. 1933, Volume 1, no. 2 issue. “Managing Editor: Wonder Stories” is typed in that issue under Hornig’s name on the title page.  This would certainly explain how Hornig was able to get such high profile authors during The Fantasy Fan’s existence between Sept. 1933 to Feb. 1935.

     The first writers to jump on board Hornig’s fanzine were Clark Ashton Smith, H.P. Lovecraft, and August Derleth. Other writers would join the fanzine in its first year: Julius Schwarts (who would eventually make his name in the comic book industry), Forrest Ackerman (magazine editor and an agent for Sci-fi writers such as Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, L. Ron Hubbard, etc.), R.H. Barlow (author, poet, and previous executor of H.P. Lovecraft’s literary estate) and Robert E. Howard. In its second year, Robert Bloch made a contribution. The circulation of The Fantasy Fan is unknown. My guess is that it was fairly exclusive. Additionally, according to Wikipedia, here are some of the new stories from weird fiction authors that appeared in The Fantasy Fan,
First publication of several works by noteworthy authors occurred in The Fantasy Fan, including works by Lovecraft, Smith, Robert E. Howard, August Derleth, and Robert Bloch. Perhaps one of the magazine's greatest achievements, though, was the serialization of the revised version of Lovecraft's Supernatural Horror in Literature (October 1933-February 1935); the serialization proceeded until it had reached the middle of Chapter VIII and the magazine folded. The Fantasy Fan also saw the first publication of Lovecraft's stories: "The Other Gods" (November 1933) and "From Beyond" (June 1934) as well as reprints (from amateur papers) of "Polaris" (February 1934) and "Beyond the Wall of Sleep" (October 1934); it also published the poems "The Book" (October 1934), "Pursuit" (October 1934), "The Key" (January 1935), and "Homecoming" (January 1935) from Lovecraft's sonnet cycle Fungi from Yuggoth. Lovecraft was represented in no less than seventeen of the eighteen issues published. The October 1934 issue was dedicated to Lovecraft.

Marvel Tales w/Slipcase
The Fantasy Fan
Fortunately, a little over 5 years ago (in 2010), Lance Thingmaker put together an extremely nice hardback facsimile of The Fantasy Fan. The collection was limited to 100 copies and sold rather quickly on Ebay. In its heyday, The Fantasy Fan was a way for fans and writers to connect. Also, for those people who were reading the pulps and various science fiction and fantasy magazines, this was just another way for them to find a little escape from the hardships of the Great Depression.

     In the same year that The Fantasy Fan ceased publication, another fanzine called Marvel Tales began publication.  Marvel Tales was edited by William L. Crawford. He was the first to use the name Marvel Tales which would be subsequently used again several times after Crawford’s zine ended. William Crawford was a publisher and editor who also wrote science fiction stories. Crawford lived in Everett, PA and had been an ardent science and weird fiction fan. He was also responsible for the inception of another non-paying weird fiction zine titled Unusual Stories. His Marvel Tales zine had a very short run, all of 5 issues. However, he was able to garner a few top-notch fantasy and science fiction authors of the day to contribute: H.P. Lovecraft, August Derleth, Robert E. Howard, and Frank Belknap Long.

     Marvel Tales has a more mysterious history and demise than The Fantasy Fan. After the fifth issue, the magazine announced with great enthusiasm that its next issue would be on newsstands. After this last mention, no other issues were printed. It disappeared. This was probably due to its non-professional (non-paying) status and the high costs of publishing such a zine in the 1930s. It also never gained a strong enough readership to keep it alive. There is scant material written about Crawford’s Marvel Tales. Even so, in 2012, Lance Thingmaker, after the success of his facsimile for The Fantasy Fan, created a facsimile for Marvel Tales. Thingmaker did a 300 print run with the first 100 books tagged, numbered, and placed in nice slipcases.
In the 1930s, if fans of the pulps were fortunate enough to hear about these two fanzines, they would have access to original stories written by some of the more popular pulp writers. Moreover, the paper quality of these fanzines was a notch better than those of the pulps. Like films and sporting events, these fanzines and especially the pulp magazines were a nice inexpensive escape from the troubles that stemmed from the Great Depression. 1939 fanzines more or less fell by the wayside to World War II, dime novels, and the comic book industry. However, weird fiction and science fiction fanzines made a strong comeback in the early 1970s, but eventually faded again toward the mid to late 80s. Fortunately, the stories have survived through the years and are enjoying a steady growth today with a surge of new fans.

Friday, January 22, 2016

On the 110 Anniversary of Robert E. Howard's Birth by Todd B. Vick

On this day (January 22nd) back in 1906, Hester Ervin Howard gave birth to Robert. Just prior to Robert's birth, the Howard's were living in an area called Dark Valley. Toward the time Hester was to deliver, Dr. Howard took her to a little bit bigger community, Peaster, Texas to give birth to their boy. At the time of Robert's birth, the attending doctor documented the wrong day—January 24th, 1906—as seen in the Register of Births pictured below. Damon Sasser has two great posts about this issue at his blog (Two-Gun Raconteur) that can be read here & here.

Parker County's Register of Births - notice the date is incorrect.

Interestingly, the date from the Register of Births—January 24th, 1906—also appears on the historical marker that sits next to the Howard Family headstone in the Greenleaf Cemetery, Brownwood, TX. Apparently, according to Damon Sasser, the person who wrote the application for the marker took the erroneous date from de Camp's biography, Dark Valley Destiny. The Historical Society of Texas declared that they could replace the marker for a sum of $1200.00. Perhaps a fundraiser for this cost can be performed and a new marker with more accurate verbiage can be created.

The Marker at Robert E. Howard's grave site
Little did the Howards know at the time of their son's birth, he'd grow to be a world renown writer, creating some of the most memorable characters and several sub-genres in adventure and heroic fantasy. Because of Isaac M. Howard's occupation, a family doctor, the Howards moved around quite frequently until Robert was thirteen, in 1919 when the family settled in Cross Plains, Texas. At the time the Howard family settled in Cross Plains, it was in the midst of an oil boom. During these oil boom periods, the town would see a strong surge in population. Once the boom abated, the population would drop back down to the regular residency size. These oil booms had a strong impact on young Robert. He would encounter some unusual and wild characters, fodder for his future writing career. Later in adulthood, Howard discussed these oil booms in his correspondence with fellow writer H.P. Lovecraft.

In his later teen years, Howard had some success at writing which helped to prompt him to submit stories for some of the magazines he was reading at the time.  In July 1925, at the age of just nineteen, Howard's story Spear and Fang was published by a struggling pulp magazine called Weird Tales. This was all it took, Howard would spend the next eleven years creating stories around memorable characters such as Solomon Kane, Bran Mak Morn, Kull, El Borak, sailor Steve Costigan, Cormac Mac Art, Breckinridge Elkins, Buckner J. Grimes, Pike Bearfield, and of course, Conan the Cimmerian along with many others; one of my personal favorites is Corcoran. Howard also was a prolific poet, writing some 700 or so poems.

Howard's most popular character, Conan the Cimmerian, has crossed several pop culture boundaries. Conan can be seen in books, comic books, movies, television shows, board games, role-playing games, graphic novels, and video games. In the last 80 plus years, Conan's popularity has only increased. Another of Howard's characters, Solomon Kane, has also seen the silver screen in a relatively recent film titled after the character's name. Michael J. Bassett placed the character in a European film that garnered so much success the film was able to make a U.S. debut on August 24th, 2012. While the character and story line in Basset's film was different from Howard's Kane, at least, the film helped various viewers who had no idea who Robert E. Howard was, find out about the author. One such person was Anne Rice, who on her Facebook wall announced that she saw the film and wanted to read more works from Robert E. Howard. I promptly sent her titles of the Del Rey books and she thanked me for providing them to her.

With a new multi-million dollar board game on Kickstarter to an upcoming documentary titled Riddle of Steel about Conan the Cimmerian, Howard's popularity is ever increasing. So, on this day of days for Robert E. Howard, raise a glass, read a few lines from one of Howard's poems, or pick up your favorite Robert E. Howard story in celebration of his 110th birthday!

Happy Birthday, Robert E. Howard.  Cheers!

January 22nd, 1906—June 11, 1936

A picture of the Howard Family Bible
Notice the date of birth for REH
Jan 22 1906

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Howard Days 2016

This was recently announced on the Robert E. Howard Days Facebook Page . . .

The Robert E. Howard Foundation and Project Pride of Cross Plains, Texas are proud to announce the dates and Guest of Honor for the 2016 version of Howard Days, to be held June 10th and 11th at the Robert E. Howard Museum in Cross Plains.

This year’s Guest of Honor is Michael Scott Myers, screenwriter for the movie The Whole Wide World, the biographical film based on the book One Who Walked Alone, which recounted the relationship between Robert E. Howard and Novalyne Price. We are happy to welcome Michael as our GOH, as he is the perfect person to blend with our Howard Days theme this year, Anniversaries.

2016 finds us with a number of important Robert E. Howard Anniversaries: 110 years since his birth, 80 years since his death, 70 years since the publication of Skull Face and Others, 50 years since Conan the Adventurer from Lancer, 40 years since Glenn Lord’s The Last Celt, 30 years since Novalyne Price Ellis’ One Who Walked Alone and 20 years since the movie The Whole Wide World (which was based on Novalyne’s book).

Michael’s involvement with The Whole Wide World began with his being a student of Novalyne Price Ellis in Lafayette, LA. Having read her book about Howard, he knew what a wonderful movie it would make. So, our Guest of Honor is doubly qualified this year and we’re thrilled to have him.

There is lots more information to follow and you can read about it here and at the Howard Days blog. While the cold winds of January are blowing now, make plans to come to Texas in June where the warmth will be in both the air and in the fellowship of Robert E. Howard fans!

If you have not yet attended Howard Days, try your best to make this year's event. I can tell you from personal experience it is the highlight of my year, well worth the trek. This year's Howard Days is already starting out exciting. I hope to see you there!