Sunday, June 30, 2013

Michael Avallone (1924-1999)

Author, Editor
Born October 27, 1924, New York, New York
Died February 26, 1999, Los Angeles, California

I have written recently about a couple of authors--Murray Leinster and E.C. Tubb--who penned novelizations of television shows. Another in that group was Michael Avallone. Born in New York City on October 27, 1924, Michael Angelo Avallone, Jr., was an army veteran of World War II and a seller of stationery before he got into the business of writing fiction. Once in, he never let up. No one knows how many books he wrote, but it was upwards of 150. Part of the confusion comes from Avallone's use of more than a dozen pseudonyms. He called himself "The Fastest Typewriter in the East" and said that he would rather write than eat or sleep. Not bound to any particular genre, Avallone wrote science fiction, fantasy and horror, Gothic fiction, Westerns, thrillers, mysteries, soft porn, sports stories, children's books, and adaptations from television shows, including The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Hawaii Five-O, Mannix, and The Partridge Family. According to the Internet Speculative Fiction Database, Avallone's first published science fiction or fantasy was "The Man Who Walked on Air" in Weird Tales, September 1953. There doesn't seem to have been any moderate opinion on Avallone and his work. He was one of his own favorite authors. Not everyone shared that opinion. In any case, Michael Avallone, born a generation too late for the pulps, died in Los Angeles on February 26, 1999. He was seventy-four years old.

Michael Avallone's Story in Weird Tales
"The Man Who Walked on Air" (Sept. 1953)

Further Reading

Michael Avallone's first book was The Tall Delores (1953), a detective novel starring Ed Noon. I guess the low point of view on the cover illustration is to emphasize the woman's height. The tight, white sweater and the lifted arm emphasize her other physical qualities.
Avallone followed that book with The Spitting Image (1953), another Ed Noon mystery. This time there's a photo cover and the sweater is red. You can bet that the person handling a Luger in old movies and TV shows is a bad guy. It's no different here.
Avallone is well known for his novelized adaptations of TV shows and movies, but who knew The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was translated into French? (Shouldn't that be L'homme de l'oncle?)
If I'm not mistaken, Avallone's novel, The Doctors, was a tie-in to a daytime soap opera that ran on NBC-TV for about a gazillion episodes from 1963 to 1982. 
Michael Avallone is known for his turns of phrase. He may or may not not have written the blurb on the cover of Sex Kitten (1962), but that and the illustration shouldn't leave any doubts as to what you'll get when you read the book.
Michael Avallone became a pretty regular contributor to Tales of the Frightened with its first issue in Spring 1957. His story was "The Curse of Cleopatra." If I had seen this magazine on the newsstand, I would have snapped it up, if only for Rudy Nappi's cover.
Text and captions copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Richard Matheson (1926-2013)

Author, Screenwriter
Born February 20, 1926, Allendale, New Jersey
Died June 23, 2013, Calabasas, California

Richard Matheson died earlier this week and the Internet has started to notice. The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times printed obituaries four days ago. If the two Times are correct, then Wikipedia predictably has posted erroneous information on his place of death.

I'm not sure that I can offer more than what has already been written about Mr. Matheson. If you are from a certain generation or two, and if you watched television and movies in the genres of science fiction and fantasy, you have seen things sprung from his imagination: The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957); "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" from The Twilight Zone (1963); The Last Man on Earth (1964, remade as The Omega Man, 1971); Duel (1971); The Legend of Hell House (1971); The Night Stalker (1972, and its sequel, The Night Strangler, 1973); and Trilogy of Terror (1975). Wherever there was fear, terror, or dread of the most memorable kind, there was Richard Matheson.

I should have included Richard Matheson on my list of "More Authors of the Golden Age of Science Fiction," for his first published science fiction story came out in 1950. The story is called "Born of Man and Woman," and it originally appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in Summer 1950. I have not read "Born of Man and Woman" but a description of the plot makes me think of "The Outsider" and "The Dunwich Horror" by H.P. Lovecraft. Matheson's story was selected for inclusion in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 1971.

Richard Matheson had two stories printed in Weird Tales, "Wet Straw" and "The Slaughter House," both from 1953. He was friends with Ray Bradbury and Forrest J Ackerman, both of whom also contributed to Weird Tales. Another in his circle of friends was Charles Beaumont (1929-1967), who died on the day after Matheson's forty-first birthday of a weird and unknown affliction like something out of a science fiction story (or like The Incredible Shrinking Man). I have made a mental list of authors and artists who should have been in Weird Tales. Charles Beaumont is near the top of that list. (Others include Frank Frazetta and John Jakes.) In remembering Richard Matheson, we should also remember Charles Beaumont.

Richard Burton Matheson, son of Norwegian immigrants, died on June 23, 2013, at his home in Calabasas, California. He was eighty-seven years old.

For Weird Tales
"Wet Straw" (Jan. 1953)
"Slaughter House" (July 1953)

Richard Matheson adapted the screenplay for The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) from his own novel published the year before (with a less sensationalistic title). The cover artist was Mitchell Hooks.
Matheson also co-wrote the screenplay for The Last Man on Earth (1964), adapted from his novel I Am Legend (1954) with apocalyptic cover art by Stanley Meltzoff.
Matheson also wrote thrillers and Westerns. Here's the cover of a British edition of Ride the Nightmare from 1959, artist unknown. 
Text and captions copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley

Thursday, June 27, 2013

More Authors of the Golden Age of Science Fiction-E.C. Tubb

E.C. Tubb
Edwin Charles Tubb
Author, Editor
Born October 15, 1919, London, Englad
Died September 10, 2010, London, England

If the Golden Age of Science Fiction ended in 1950, then E.C. Tubb missed the mark by a year. His first published science fiction story, "Greek Gift," showed up in the British magazine New Worlds in Autumn 1951. Hundreds more novels and short stories poured from his pen over the next half century, including not just science fiction but also Westerns, detective fiction, adventure, comic book scripts, and adaptations from television. According to Wikipedia, Tubb wrote more than 140 novels and 230 short stories and novellas. He also served as editor of Authentic Science Fiction in 1956-1957. Short on material, he wrote an entire issue himself using different pseudonyms. In fact, Tubb is known to have used fifty-eight different pseudonyms in his writing. His most well-known series, comprising thirty-three volumes, is The Dumarest Saga. I have not read these books, but the description of an Earthman far from home and seeking his mythical home planet sounds like it could have inspired Battlestar Galactica. Tubb was more directly involved in another 1970s science fiction show, this one about people wandering away from planet Earth: Space: 1999.

E.C. Tubb wrote one story published in Weird Tales, "Sword in the Snow," from the Fall 1973 issue under the editorship of Sam Moskowitz. In his introduction, Moskowitz favorably compared it to the work of C.L. Moore.

A lifelong resident of London, E.C. Tubb died in 2010 at age ninety.

For Weird Tales
"Sword in the Snow" (Fall 1973)

The Winds of Gath, the first volume in the saga of Dumarest of Terra in an edition from 1982. The illustrator was Paul Alexander. 
This is the first chance I have had to show a Turkish edition of a science fiction or fantasy novel. I couldn't pass it up: E.C. Tubb's novelized version of Space: 1999, date unknown.

So that brings an end to my list of "More Authors of the Golden Age of Science Fiction." What's next? I wish I knew.

Text and captions copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

More Authors of the Golden Age of Science Fiction-H. Beam Piper

H. Beam Piper
Henry Beam Piper
Laborer, Nightwatchman, Author, Gun Collector
Born March 23, 1904, Altoona, Pennsylvania
Died On or about November 6, 1964, Williamsport, Pennsylvania

We can add Henry Beam Piper to the list of writers and artists who died alone in a room, whether by their own hand or otherwise. He was born on March 23, 1904, in Altoona, Pennsylvania. The question of his Christian name--was it Henry or Horace?--is answered easily enough by referring to the U.S. census. Piper was self-educated and worked common jobs on the railroad. He was past forty by the time his first science fiction story, "Time and Time Again," was published in Astounding Science Fiction in April 1947. Piper wrote many more stories during his brief career, including one story for Weird TalesThe last entry in Piper's diary was dated November 5, 1964. His body was found on either November 9 or November 11. In between those two dates, H. Beam Piper shot himself with a handgun from his own collection. He was sixty years old.

To read more about him, see The H. Beam Piper Memorial Site.

For Weird Tales
"Dearest" (Mar. 1951)

The Cosmic Computer by H. Beam Piper in an Ace edition from 1964. The original title was The Junkyard Planet. I like that one better. The artist was Ed Valigursky.
Piper is probably most well known for his Fuzzy books. Little Fuzzy, from 1962, was reissued in 1976 with cover art by Michael Whelan.
Text and captions copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

More Authors of the Golden Age of Science Fiction-Margaret St. Clair-Part 2

Born in Kansas in 1911, orphaned with the death of her father in 1919, and removed to California with her mother in 1928, Eva Margaret Neeley, by then calling herself Margaret E. Neeley, matriculated at the University of California, Berkeley. She met a man named Raymond E. St. Clair there. In 1932 they were married. The new Margaret St. Clair graduated in 1934 with a master's degree in Greek classics. Two years later, the couple went on a trip to China. At the time they were still living in Berkeley. By 1940, the St. Clairs were in Contra Costa, California. They would remain in California the rest of their long lives.

Raymond E. St. Clair (who must have been the man "Eric" described in Margaret St. Clair's various biographies) was born on July 30, 1903, in Upland, California. Eight years older than his wife, he was, I suppose, either a graduate student, a teacher, or perhaps a staff member at the university when they met. Unfortunately I don't have any further information on him except the date and place of his death, March 10, 1986, in Mendocino County, California. St. Clair was a statistician by trade. His occupation makes it all the more odd that he and Margaret St. Clair were involved in witchcraft and were associated with British Wiccans Gerald Gardner and Raymond Buckland. The St. Clairs were also readers of Robert Graves and Dion Fortune. I can speculate that in her reading, Margaret St. Clair, a student of Greek classics, came upon Graves' theorizing on the existence of a White Goddess in ancient Europe and Middle East. The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth (1948) may also have led her to a certain brand of feminism, although her birth during the Progressive Era, in Kansas, a hotbed of Progressivism, moreover, her upbringing by her widowed mother, must have been a more powerful influence upon her. As for nudism (another of her interests according to Wikipedia), I would guess that came from Margaret St. Clair's involvement in Wicca. It's worth remembering that her parents were married on Halloween--Samhain in the Wiccan Wheel of the Year--and that her father was born on Lammas (Aug. 1). Wikipedia has one more note on the personal lives of the St. Clairs: that they "decided to remain childless." How or why they came upon that decision is anybody's guess.

Margaret St. Clair's first published science fiction was a short story called "Rocket To Limbo," published in Fantastic Adventures in November 1946. Writing under her own name or under the pseudonyms Idris Seabright and Wilton Hazzard, Margaret published several novels, collections, and essays between 1946 and 1985. Her greatest output was in a shorter form. Between 1946 and 1981, Margaret St. Clair saw scores of short stories printed in science fiction magazines. Her stories for Weird Tales were ten in number, all published between 1950 and 1954. Three of her tales were adapted to television.

Science fiction encyclopedist John Clute characterized Margaret St. Clair as "elusive." Her elusive reply? "[I]t may be so." Margaret St. Clair died on November 22, 1995, in Santa Rosa, California. She was eighty-four years old.

For Weird Tales
"The Family" (Jan. 1950)
"The Corn Dance" (Mar. 1950)
"The Last Three Ships" (May 1950)
"Mrs. Haek" (July 1950)
"The Invisible Reweaver" (Nov. 1950)
"Professor Kate" (Jan. 1951)
"The Little Red Owl" (July 1951)
"The Bird" (Nov. 1951)
"Island of the Hands" (Sept. 1952)
"Brenda" (Mar. 1954)

Writing as Idris Seabright, Margaret St. Clair appeared in The Magazine of Science Fiction in September 1956 with her story "Stawdust." Note the suggestion of magical practice in the star drawn on the floor. The cover art was by Frank Kelly Freas.
The Green Queen, one half of an Ace Double from 1956 with a cover by Ed Valigursky. This time note the classical costume of the woman and her superior position over the man.
Another Ace Double from almost a decade later, Message from the Eocene (1964). The artist was Jack Gaughan.
Finally, an Ace Double from 1960, The Games of Neith, with cover art once again by Ed Valigursky. The figure of the woman suggests the birth of Aphrodite.
Text and captions copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley

More Authors of the Golden Age of Science Fiction-Margaret St. Clair-Part 1

Margaret St. Clair
Née Eva Margaret Neeley
Born February 17, 1911, Hutchinson, Kansas
Died November 22, 1995, Santa Rosa, California

Margaret St. Clair is a well-known author of science fiction and one of few women writers in the genre during the 1940s. I thought her biography would have been worked out by now, but that doesn't seem to be the case. I guess I'll just go step by step and try to clear up the misinformation or the lack of information on her life.

First, Margaret St. Clair was born Eva Margaret Neeley on February 17, 1911, in Hutchinson, Kansas. Her father was George Arthur Neeley, a Kansas lawyer and farmer. Neeley was born on August 1, 1879, in Detroit, Pike County, Illinois. His father, George W. Neeley, was a twice-wounded veteran of the Confederate army and at various times a merchant, U.S. marshal, judge, sheriff, deacon, and a farmer on 160 acres in the Cherokee Strip. George A. Neeley's mother was Mary Elizabeth Stephens.

The Neeley family was descended from Irish settlers of colonial North Carolina and a soldier in the Continental Army. The son, George A. Neeley, was educated in Joplin, Missouri, and Wellston, Oklahoma. He graduated from Southwestern Baptist University in Jackson, Tennessee, in 1902, and received his law degree from the University of Kansas in 1904. In 1908, he moved to Hutchinson, Kansas, and opened a law office. He also became active in business and acquired a large farm of 480 acres in western Kansas. (That's large at least for my home state. In western Kansas, that might be a pretty small spread.) Neeley ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1910 but lost. He won a special election shortly thereafter and served in the Sixty-Second and Sixty-Third Congresses, in session from 1911 to 1915.

On October 31, 1904, George A. Neeley married Elvira "Eva" Margaret Hostetter (or Hostetler), a teacher, in Mulvane, Kansas. She was the daughter of Jonathan Hostetter (or Hostetler), a Civil War veteran on the Union side and a merchant and farmer from Indiana. Her mother was Martha Fish Hostetter (or Hostetler). Eva was born on September 19, 1875, in Bedford, Indiana. Her sister, Estella "Stella" Hostetter (or Hostetler) married another Kansas politician, future governor Walter Roscoe Stubbs (1858-1929), who was, incidentally, also a Hoosier.

George E. and Eva M. Neeley had two children, George Newland Neeley, born August 5, 1905, and Eva Margaret Neeley, born February 17, 1911. The younger George died on December 21, 1907, before his sister was born. Margaret St. Clair grew up an only child. On the first day of January 1919, she became an orphan when George Arthur Neeley died in Hutchinson, Kansas. By the time of the 1920 census, Eva Neeley and her daughter, called Margaret E. Neeley, were living in Lawrence, Kansas. By 1930 they were in Santa Ana, California.

I have gone into all this detail because no one else has. In my genealogical research, I find that when something seems a little amiss, it probably is (or was) amiss. Margaret St. Clair shed her identity like her mother before her: Eva Margaret Neeley became Margaret St. Clair, just as Elvira Margaret Hostetter (or Hostetler) became Eva Neeley. (Eva Neeley seemed to have named her daughter after her own new identity.) After 1919, the two seem to have cut themselves adrift. Eva Neeley may very well have been independently wealthy upon the death of her husband. As she moved from place to place, she did not give any occupation. She and her daughter seem to have been two alone. Who now knows what their lives were like over those many years.

Nowhere that I have found does anyone point out that Margaret St. Clair was the daughter of a U.S. Representative. Eva Margaret Neeley became Margaret Eva Neeley and then Margaret St. Clair upon marrying in 1932. Her mother, Eva Neeley, died on July 12, 1958, in Alameda County, California, at the age of eighty-two. By then Margaret St. Clair had become a successful writer of science fiction tales. Yet she remained elusive.

To be continued . . .

Text copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley

Monday, June 24, 2013

Happy Birthday, Ambrose Bierce!

Today is Ambrose Bierce's birthday. He was born on June 24, 1842, along Horse Cave Creek in Meigs County, Ohio, not far from where I write this. I can say today is his birthday rather than the anniversary of his birth because nobody knows that he died. He just disappeared in late 1913. Some people place the year of his death as 1914. That seems like overconfidence to me. For all we know, old Ambrose is still wandering around out there somewhere. Charles Fort, for example, speculated that someone in the great universe is collecting Ambroses. If you have collected a perfectly good Ambrose, wouldn't you want to preserve it for as long as you could?

Today is also the birthday of flying saucers. On June 24, 1947, Kenneth Arnold spotted the first lot of them while he was winging his way past Mount Rainier. As everyone now knows,  the alien pilots of those flying saucers like to abduct people. The first experiences people had with saucermen were not abductions however, but contact. George Adamski was the first and most famous of the contactees. Many years before that, he had served in the U.S. Army on the Mexican border. I wonder if he would have encountered Ambrose Bierce in either one of those places, either in Mexico or on a spaceship bound for Venus. If he did, he never let on as far as I know.

Happy Birthday, Ambrose Bierce!

(And Happy Birthday to the Flying Saucers, too.)

Copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley

More Authors of the Golden Age of Science Fiction-Gardner F. Fox

Gardner F. Fox
Lawyer, Author, Comic Book Script Writer
Born May 20, 1911, Brooklyn, New York
Died December 24, 1986, Jamesburg, New Jersey

I have written about comic books and science fiction over the last few entries. Despite the fact that the two subjects are closely allied, few artists and writers have bridged the gap between them. In fact, if what my friend says is true, there are a lot of science fiction people who look down their noses at comics. I'm not sure how you can be interested in one without being interested in the other. Besides, how can science fiction fans, who have suffered from ridicule, derision, hostility, and just plain indifference from a wider world, begin to treat another likeminded group of fans the same way? Anyway, I would like to write about Gardner F. Fox, a rare author who was successful in both comic books and pulp fiction.

Any account of the career of Gardner F. Fox reads like a book of wonders. In a career spanning half a century, Fox wrote at least 160 books and 4,000 or more comic book stories, as well as short stories for Weird Tales, Planet Stories, Amazing Stories, sports pulps, Western pulps, and hybrid Western-romance pulps. According to one source, Fox wrote at least one novel per year between 1944 and 1982 (except for three years). He typically wrote three novels per year and in 1974 published an astonishing twelve novels. Fox created, co-created, or helped develop or revive The Flash, Hawkman, Sandman, The Atom, Adam Strange, the Justice Society of America, and Batman's utility belt, Batarang, and Batgyro. (One of my favorite Fox characters is Cave Girl.) During the 1960s boom in heroic fantasy, Gardner Fox penned several novels each of the characters Kothar and Kyrik. He also wrote stories of "the Lady from L.U.S.T." In fact, there seems to be little that Gardner F. Fox did not do as a writer. (1)

Gardner Francis Fox was born on May 20, 1911, in Brooklyn, New York. On his eleventh birthday, Fox received two of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars books. Like so many writers of his generation, reading those books changed his life. He became an avid reader and devoted fan of fantasy. More practically, he studied law at St. John's University and was admitted to the bar in his native New York in 1935. Although the worst part of the Great Depression had passed, a double dip was on the horizon. Luckily for Fox, comic books were entering their golden age and they needed writers. Fox began writing for DC comics in 1937. Over the next four decades, his stories appeared not only in DC (his main employer), but also in Marvel Comics, Warren Publications, and Eclipse Comics, the last in 1985. Fox held vast knowledge of the most arcane subjects. His reference library of books and files has become legendary.

Gardner F. Fox died on Christmas Eve in 1986 in Jamesburg, New Jersey, at the age of seventy-five. I'm happy to report, though, that people still read his works and probably will for as long as there are fans of science fiction and comic books.

For Weird Tales
"The Weirds of the Woodcarver" (Sept. 1944)
"Rain, Rain, Go Away!" (May 1946)
"The Rainbow Jade" (Sept. 1949)

(1) My sources are the online Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, the Speculative Fiction Database, and Wikipedia.

You could create a blog of its own with images related to the work of Gardner F. Fox. Instead I'll offer an image for each of four series he wrote during the 1960s and '70s. Chronologically, Kyrik, subject of four novels published in 1975-1976, came last. I'll put him first for no reason at all. Note the blurb, "In the Tradition of Conan." Between the mid-sixties and the mid-seventies, everything was in the tradition of Conan (or the Lord of the Rings). You've got to hand it to Fox and cover artist Ken Barr: Howard and Frazetta never depicted a rhinoceros drawing a chariot in their works.
Americans weren't alone in their tastes for sword-wielding barbarians. Here's an Italian edition from 1990 featuring Gardner Fox's Kothar, another spawn of Conan. Kothar appeared in five novels in 1969-1970. Note not one but two Frazetta swipes. 
Speaking of Frazetta, here's his cover for Warrior of Llarn, an Ace edition from 1964. It looks like Frazetta was still in his watercolor period when he created this illustration. The colors and the execution are dazzling. Alan Morgan of Llarn appeared in two books by Gardner Fox in 1964 and 1966. 
Finally, Gardner Fox writing as Rod Gray in one of four novels he wrote in the Lady from L.U.S.T. series. James Bond started it with SMERSH and SPECTRE. It's no wonder that CONTROL, KAOS, U.N.C.L.E., T.E.R.R.A., and L.U.S.T. followed. Gardner Fox wrote four books in the Lady from L.U.S.T. series in 1969-1970, all under the house name Rod Gray. The Copulation Explosion was his last. Fox must have known from his experience in comic books that gorilla covers sell books. Why not a gorilla photo cover for a soft-porn novel? Is that Bob Burns or is he just played by Bob Burns? Or maybe it's another Bob--Bob Heironimus.
Text and captions copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Science Fiction and Comic Books-Part 4

Comic books and superheroes drew heavily from the pulps. Comic books were replete with science fiction superheroes (Superman), detective superheroes (Batman), weird fiction superheroes (The Spectre), plus magicians, adventurers, aviators, historical heroes, and other kinds of pulp characters. Pulp writers also wrote for the comics, among them, Henry Kuttner (All-American ComicsGreen Lantern), Manly Wade Wellman (Captain MarvelBlackhawk), Fritz Leiber, Jr. (the Buck Rogers newspaper comic strip), Jack Williamson (the Beyond Mars comic strip), and Otto Binder (hundreds of stories for DC Comics, including key Superman stories). (1) Far fewer artists made the crossover, for drawing comic books would have been a step down for most pulp artists. One exception was Virgil Finlay, but then Finlay was reduced to drawing illustrations for astrological magazines in the 1960s. Far more artists went from comic books to illustration. Frank Frazetta was a perfect example of that.

In taking anything from the comics, science fiction would only have been borrowing from itself. After all, the superman (or the super-powered mutant), super-science, aliens, time travel, and so many other staples of  the comic book story originated in science fiction. Science fiction borrowed some writers from the comics however. Harry Harrison, who drew comics for EC, is the first to come to mind. I can think of one instance when comics got the scoop on science fiction, and that's when the first landing of a man on the moon was broadcast on television in the fictional confines of the comic strip Alley Oop (in 1947, twenty-two years before the real event). Up until then, no science fiction author had imagined such a thing. I'm sure there were other developments in science fiction that took place in the comics, but I don't know of any offhand. That's a question worth some study.

I'll make just one more observation. As I said, the integration of words with pictures is essential in formulating and understanding comics. The standard science fiction story is of course devoid of pictures. The words carry the story. I can think of one science fiction story that is richer for its unique visual content. I think it's one of the very finest science fiction novels, a tour de force that I can recommend to people even if they don't like science fiction. The novel is called The Stars My Destination. It was written by Alfred Bester, a former comic book scriptwriter.

I have written all this as a lead-in to one of the last writers on my list of "More Authors of the Golden Age of Science Fiction," the prolific and multitalented Gardner F. Fox. His biography is next.

(1) Incidentally, Buck Rogers also originated in the pulps, in the novelette Armageddon 2419 A.D. by Philip Francis Nowlan (Amazing StoriesAugust 1928). Less than six months later, the comic strip Buck Rogers in the 25th Century A.D. made its debut. On the same day--January 7, 1929--Tarzan also appeared in the comics for the first time. Ten days later, another now famous character made his debut in the comic strip Thimble Theatre. Comic strip historian and Weird Tales contributor Bill Blackbeard made a case that "the first genuine, unshootable, unpoisonable, door-smashing, house-lifting comic strip superham of them all [was] Elzie Segar's Popeye."

Text copyright 2013 by Terence E. Hanley

Science Fiction and Comic Books-Part 3

Science fiction is a genre. Comic books are a medium. You'll need some apples and oranges if you're going to compare them. Science fiction was popularized in the medium of pulp magazines. We know when they began. The date was October 1896. The venue was the first all-story issue of Argosy printed on rough pulp paper. I suspect that science fiction appeared in the pages of pulps almost immediately after that. Eighteen ninety-six was after all plumb in the middle of H.G. Wells' four-year streak of successful science fiction novels. In any case, science fiction became a staple of the pulps, and by the 1930s there were at least half a dozen titles devoted exclusively to the genre.

Comic books lagged behind science fiction (and pulp magazines for that matter) by a generation, but when they finally hit the newsstands in the 1930s, they were almost fully formed. Titles very quickly proliferated. By the postwar period, millions of everyday Americans--and not just children--were reading comic books every month. We would find their numbers almost unbelievable. Print runs in the hundreds of thousands were not unheard of. Like science fiction fans before them, comic book fans wrote letters to their favorite magazines, published fanzines (beginning in the 1950s and early 1960s), and held comic book conventions beginning in about 1964. (I hope someone can help with more accurate dates.) Although comic books can carry any number of genres, today they are identified almost exclusively with the genre of superheroes, Superman being their Adam. Superman however did not originate in comic books but in the genre of science fiction.

In his first incarnation, Superman was a bald villain. Created by Cleveland teenagers Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the character made his debut in a story called "The Reign of the Superman," printed in Siegel's self-published fanzine, Science Fiction: The Advance Guard of Future Civilization #3, in 1933. (Once again, this is an anniversary year: eighty years since Superman's earliest incarnation and seventy-five since Action Comics #1.) Superman's two creators spent the next several years developing their character and attempting to get him in print. They succeeded beyond their wildest dreams when Superman became one of the most popular and recognizable characters in the world. Superheroes poured out of the woodwork during the late thirties and into the forties. It's hard for us to imagine now, but Superman was truly something new. The superhero genre might never have gotten off the ground without him.

To be concluded . . . 

Text copyright 2013 by Terence E. Hanley

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Science Fiction and Comic Books-Part 2

If you're looking for the first comic strip in the format we recognize today--a sequence of images in which words and pictures are integrated in the telling of a story--then comics probably date from the 1890s. Sorry, Rodolphe Töpffer. (1) The origins of modern day science fiction are less discrete. One argument might be just as good as another. But why don't we start with the 1890s and the publication of H.G. Wells' novels The Time Machine (1895), The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896), The Invisible Man (1897), and The War of the Worlds (1898)? In a period of four years, Wells produced a time travel story, a story of monsters and mutation, the tale of an invisible man, and--for all practical purposes--the first narrative of an invasion from outer space. All would be fodder for science fiction writers of the twentieth century. And we shouldn't forget that the first pulp magazine was published in 1896.

If science fiction and comics were born in 1895-1896, they didn't quite grow up together. Newspaper comics became enormously popular, and (despite later claims to primacy made by European intellectuals) a truly and uniquely American art form. Book publishers cashed in on the popularity of newspaper comics by issuing bound collections of reprints. These were supposedly the first comic books and the mark of the so-called Platinum Age of Comic Books. (Comic book fans have shown themselves to be far more thorough systematizers than science fiction fans.) The first comic books in the format we recognize now were printed in 1933, but these, too, were reprints. The first comic books with original material didn't show up in print until 1935.

Science fiction on the other hand evolved in the pages of pulp magazines, from the early scientific romances, through planetary romance, "Scientifiction," and space opera, to the science fiction of the 1930s. Edgar Rice Burroughs was instrumental in popularizing science fiction. One Golden Age author after another attributed his or her interest in the genre to first reading Burroughs, especially the Martian novels, which began with the pulp serial "Under the Moons of Mars" (1912), published in book form as A Princess of Mars in 1917. The next two decades saw the first publication of an all-fantasy magazine (Weird Tales in 1923), the first all-science fiction magazine (Amazing Stories, 1926), the invention of the term science fiction (1929), the first science fiction fan clubs (ca. 1929), and the first science fiction fan magazine (The Comet, 1930). The first science fiction conventions followed in the 1930s. By the time the Golden Age of Science Fiction began in 1938 (or even 1933), the die was cast. Science fiction was more or less what we know today.

To be continued . . .

(1) The important point here is the integration of words and pictures. Rodolphe Töpffer and other European cartoonists even to this day separate their words, in the form of captions, from their pictures. Prince Valiant is a good example of the European approach. (It's the reason why I think that Prince Valiant may not be a true comic strip. It's worth noting that Hal Foster, the creator of Prince Valiant, was Canadian, hence closer in some ways to Britain than to America.) Some early American newspaper comics used the same approach, but most switched to using word balloons after the example of Richard F. Outcault in his drawings of the Yellow Kid. Although the Kid made his debut in 1895, it took about a year before Hogan's Alley (the name of the feature in which he appeared) evolved into what we would call a comic strip. Historians argue over the date of the first American newspaper comic strip. Some say 1895, some 1896. That's close enough.

Copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley

Monday, June 10, 2013

Science Fiction and Comic Books-Part 1

The Golden Age of Science Fiction is said to have begun in 1938 when John W. Campbell, Jr., assumed full editorial control of Astounding Stories (thereafter renaming it Astounding Science-Fiction). The previous editor, F. Orlin Tremaine, asserted that the Golden Age, or at least a Golden Age, began in 1933 when he himself took over at Astounding. I won't quibble with Tremaine or with the science fiction authors and fans who claim 1938 as their beginning date. In either case, this year is an anniversary year for science fiction, a diamond jubilee if the year was 1938, an eightieth anniversary if the year was 1933.

Two thousand thirteen is an anniversary year for the beginning of another Golden Age. And again, there is disagreement as to when that Golden Age--the Golden Age of Comic Books--began. Some say 1938, and for good reason, for that was the year Superman made his debut in comic books. Others claim 1933 as the beginning, for in that year comic books in their present form first appeared. Again, this year is either the seventy-fifth or the eightieth anniversary of the beginning of a Golden Age. (1) Again, I won't quibble. I'll just say Happy Anniversary.

Although there could not have been science fiction until there was such a thing as science, historians of the genre trace its origins back thousands of years. Likewise, historians of the comics look to ancient (or even prehistoric) sources for the origins of their medium. You can make a good case that science fiction predates comics. If you do, you might use Mary Shelley's romance Frankenstein (1818) as Exhibit A. (2) The earliest examples of what we might recognize as comic strips were the work of Rodolphe Töpffer (1799–1846) and date from 1827. (3) But what about science fiction and comics in their present form? When did they originate?

To be continued . . .

(1) If 1938 was the year, and the first Campbell issue of Astounding and Action Comics #1 were the two periodicals that kicked off their respective Golden Ages, then we are, as I write this, in what you might call a two-month anniversary period: John W. Campbell became editor of Astounding with the May 1938 issue, while Action Comics #1 was dated June 1938.
(2) According to Wikipedia, Brian Aldiss has argued in Mary Shelley's favor.
(3) If Frankenstein was the first science fiction story and Rodolphe Töpffer the first comic strip artist, then maybe Switzerland should claim both science fiction and comics as its own: Frankenstein was conceived beside Lake Geneva; Töpffer was born in Geneva.

Copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley

Saturday, June 8, 2013

More Authors of the Golden Age of Science Fiction-Damon Knight

Damon Knight
Author, Editor, Critic, Artist, Cartoonist, Science Fiction Fan
Born September 19, 1922, Baker, Oregon
Died April 15, 2002, Eugene, Oregon

Damon Knight was the youngest by far of my current batch of authors of the Golden Age of Science Fiction. He may have been the most precocious among them as well, becoming as he did a science fiction fan at age eleven and publishing his own two-issue fanzine as a teenager. Born in 1922, Knight was only seventeen when his first cartoon was published in Amazing Stories in May 1940. That same year, Knight also had his first fiction ("The Itching Hour," Futuria Fantasia, Summer 1940) and his first non-fiction (one or more pieces in 1939 Yearbook of Science, Weird and Fantasy Fiction) published. The record of his career, which started off so auspiciously, is extraordinary.

Knight wrote reviews, essays, memoirs, editorial content, and of course fiction in his six decades in science fiction. I won't go into his accomplishments when you can read them in other sources. Being an artist myself, I would like to mention that Damon Knight drew illustrations for several science fiction and fantasy magazines. There aren't many writers of science fiction and fantasy who are also artists. Weird Tales may have had more than its share with C.L. Moore, Hannes Bok, Virgil Finlay, and Damon Knight. Also, I would like to point out that Knight was married to another science fiction writer, Kate Wilhelm (b. 1928).

According to Wikipedia, Damon Knight attributed the term "idiot plot" to James Blish but helped to popularize it in his own critical essays. We have all seen and suffered through movies and TV shows with idiot plots, although we may not have known there was a term for such a thing. An idiot plot, simply enough, is a story that depends on the stupidity of its characters: if they weren't so stupid, the story would come to an immediate end. I have complained for years that the people in a movie or TV show can't be and shouldn't be less intelligent than the people watching it. If they are, the show is in real trouble. Some examples of idiot plot devices: "There's a psycho killer on the loose--let's split up." Or, "There's a Tyrannosaurus rex trying to find us and eat us--let's draw attention to ourselves by shining a flashlight in his eyes." Or, "These aliens speak in metaphors instead of words, but we're too stupid to figure that out in the first five minutes of the show the way our viewers have." (That last example is from Star Trek: The Next Generation, an idiot plot champion if there ever was one.) Damon Knight seems to have been a crusader against bad writing. I'm glad he stood against the idiot plot and other sins.

Finally, Damon Knight wrote "To Serve Man" (Galaxy Science Fiction, Nov. 1950), a sort of idiot plot turned inside out. That story became one of the most memorable episodes from The Twilight Zone and a very fine in-joke from Naked Gun 2-1/2. It was also won a Retro-Hugo Award in 2001, a year before the author's death.

For Weird Tales
"Ghouls Feeding" (poem, Mar. 1944)

Illustrations for Weird Tales
"Herbert West: Reanimator: The Scream of the Dead" by H.P. Lovecraft (Nov. 1942)
"The Dead World" by Clarence Edwin Flynn (poem, Nov. 1942)
"Seventh Sister" by Mary Elizabeth Counselman (Jan. 1943)
"Quest Unhallowed" by Page Cooper (poem, Mar. 1945)
"The Haunted Stairs" by Yetza Gillespie (poem, May 1946)

Damon Knight became a member of the Futurian Society, based in New York City, in 1941. Among the group's other members were Isaac Asimov, Frederick Pohl, Cyril Kornbluth, James Blish, Judith Merril, and Donald A. Wollheim. "Seven marriages and five divorces took place within this group," Knight remembered. "Like the members of any other large family, the Futurians sometimes found they couldn't stand each other: there were quarrels, feuds, factions, even a few more or less serious murder threats." Knight wrote about the group in his memoir from 1977, The Futurians. Despite the occasional or frequent enmity among the members, I have a feeling they looked back on their days in the Futurians as a kind of golden age.
Damon Knight had just turned twenty when this illustration for "Herbert West: Reanimator" was published in Weird Tales in November 1942. The model for West was Knight's friend, Jean Michel (1917-1969).
Text and captions copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley

Friday, June 7, 2013

More Authors of the Golden Age of Science Fiction-Fredric Brown

Fredric Brown
Author, Journalist, Television and Movie Scriptwriter
Born October 29, 1906, Cincinnati, Ohio
Died March 11, 1972, Tucson, Arizona

Like Anthony Boucher, Fredric Brown was a writer of science fiction and mystery stories. Both also used a good deal of humor in their work. One difference is that Brown was supposedly an atheist, while Boucher was a devout Catholic. Boucher was a great admirer of Fredric Brown, as were Philip K. Dick and Mickey Spillane among others. Brown's story "Arena" was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame by the Science Fiction Writers of America. It was also adapted to television in an episode of Star Trek.

Also like Anthony Boucher, Fredric Brown died at a relatively young age (sixty-five for Brown vs. sixty-six for Boucher). The two were rough contemporaries. Though born in Cincinnati, Brown worked in Milwaukee for many years as a newspaperman. Brown joined the Milwaukee Fictioneers Club. Robert Bloch was also a member, as were--at various times--Stanley G. Weinbaum, Ralph Milne Farley, and Raymond A. Palmer. I haven't found a complete source of information on the Milwaukee Fictioneers Club. I suspect other well known authors were involved or connected in some way, including Jim Kjelgaard. Fredric Brown was also associated with the science fiction fans, writers, and artists of Los Angeles.

According to the online Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, Brown's first published science fiction story was "Not Yet the End" from Captain Future, Winter 1941. (He had published mystery or detective stories before that.) He would go on to write many more science fiction and mystery stories during his thirty-year career. Brown wrote three stories for Weird Tales published between 1943 and 1950. The first is called "The Geezenstacks." The last is called--fittingly--"The Last Train."

You can read about Fredric Brown on the Internet Speculative Fiction Database, the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, Wikipedia, and other sources. For the full story you will--as always--have to turn to a book.

For Weird Tales
"The Geezenstacks" (Sept. 1943)
"Come and Go Mad" (July 1949)
"The Last Train" (Jan. 1950)

Despite the fact that this is one of the most iconic images in American science fiction, Frank Kelly Freas' cover for Astounding Science Fiction, illustrating Fredric Brown's story "Martians, Go Home," can be hard to find on the Internet. The original was published in September 1954. I've had to resort to the British version from February 1955. This may be a hairless self-portrait. Mr. Spock (who early on had green-tinged skin) may have been an offspring of Freas' Martian. Even by 1955, the image of the Little Green Man was a cliché. The Little Gray Man is a newer incarnation of this very old type.
Text and captions copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Before the Golden Age-Anthony Boucher

Anthony Boucher
Pseudonym of William Anthony Parker White
Aka William A. P. White, Herman Mudgett, Herman W. Mudgett, H. H. Holmes
Editor, Reviewer, Critic, Translator, Radio and Television Scriptwriter, Author, Poet
Born August 21, 1911, Oakland, California
Died April 29, 1968, Oakland, California

William A.P. White was just fifteen years old when his story "Ye Goode Olde Ghoste Storie" was published in Weird Tales in January 1927. That must make him among the youngest authors to have contributed to "The Unique Magazine." A generation later, he contributed two more stories to Weird Tales under his pseudonym Anthony Boucher. That's the name by which most readers knew him during his short life and by which they know him today.

William Anthony Parker White was born on August 21, 1911, in Oakland, California. He graduated from the University of Southern California, and received his masters degree from the University of California, Berkeley. The Internet Speculative Fiction Database doesn't have his credits quite right. According to that website, White, using the name Anthony Boucher, composed a poem called "Sonnet of the Unsleeping Dead," which was dated 1935 but not published until 1947. In fact, that poem was first published under the name Parker White in Weird Tales for March 1935. The ISFDb gives Boucher's earliest credit as the mystery novel The Case of the Crumpled Dead from 1939. In actuality, The Case of the Seven of Calvary, from 1937, preceded it. Anthony Boucher's first science fiction story was apparently "Snulbug" from Unknown Worlds from December 1941. The editor of that magazine was John W. Campbell, Jr.

If you would like to read more about Anthony Boucher you might start with the Internet Speculative Fiction Database and the sites to which it is linked, and from there to Wikipedia and the sites to which it is linked. Suffice it to say that he was an indispensable editor, reviewer, critic, author, scriptwriter, and friend. Boucher contributed to a number of science fiction and fantasy magazines and founded one of his own, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, with J. Francis McComas, in 1949. The magazine is still in print after sixty-four years.

Boucher died of cancer on April 29, 1968, in Oakland. In a remembrance published the following year, McComas wrote:
Anthony Boucher died last April. He has been gone over a year now, and as James Reach wrote in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, "How shall we manage without him?" The answer is that we haven't managed too well.
In his remembrance, McComas mentioned Boucher's devout Catholicism. Wikipedia skips over that part, either out of negligence (likely) or that curious squeamishness or outright contempt people have these days towards religion. It seems to me that mention of Boucher's religion is essential in any discussion of the man and his work. For example, Boucher wrote two stories for Weird Tales under his pseudonym, "Mr. Lepescu" (Sept. 1945) and "The Scrawny One" (May 1949). "The Scrawny One" is a truly (and literally) diabolical story. I wonder if a casual believer or a non-believer could have imagined a character as evil, tricky, and--in Marvin Kaye's words--"nasty" as the title character. If you're looking for an equal to Screwtape, you might begin with Boucher's "scrawny one."

One last note: William A.P. White also used the pseudonyms H.H. Holmes and Herman W. Mudgett. That was a fiendish joke, for Holmes was the pseudonym of Mudgett, a monstrous serial killer of the nineteenth century, a man who should be as notorious today as Jack the Ripper.

And a bibliographical note: Anthony Boucher's papers are located at the Lilly Library at Indiana University.

For Weird Tales
"Ye Olde Ghoste Storie" (as by William A.P. White, Jan. 1927)
"Sonnet of the Unsleeping Dead" (poem, as by Parker White, Mar. 1935)
"Mr. Lepescu" (as by Anthony Boucher, Sept. 1945)
"The Scrawny One" (as by Anthony Boucher, May 1949)

The Magazine of Fantasy (retitled The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction with the second issue) made its debut in Fall 1949. The co-editor was Anthony Boucher, who also contributed a story under another pseudonym, H.H. Holmes. In my introduction to the current series of authors, I quoted Isaac Asimov, who stated that the Golden Age of Science Fiction came to an end in 1950 when Astounding was no longer the only science fiction magazine (or the only one worth reading I suppose). The implication is that The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction brought the Golden Age to its end. I'm not sure Asimov meant to say things in just that way. F. Orlin Tremaine claimed that the Golden Age began before 1938. Admirers of Anthony Boucher and of science fiction of the 1950s might request that its ending be extended to a later date, perhaps 1958, when Boucher left The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and the old pulp magazines were breathing their last.

Bill Stone is credited as the cover artist, but that's a photo cover. Was Stone the photographer, the technician who created the montage, the designer, or all three?
Beginning in 1952, Boucher and McComas edited an annual collection of the best stories from their magazine. This is the cover of that first collection with art by the greatest of space artists, Chesley Bonestell. By the way, Boucher and Bonestell both bore names with tricky pronunciations. Boucher is pronounced to rhyme with voucher. Bonestell is pronounced Bonn-es-stell.
Text and captions copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley