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BLOOD ‘N’ THUNDER #45 Preview

Posted in Blood 'n' Thunder on June 26, 2015 @ 4:52 pm

The Summer 2015 issue (#45) of Blood ‘n’ Thunder will debut in August at this year’s PulpFest, and here’s what you can expect to find inside:

The cover story/feature article takes a detailed look at the classic Munsey and Popular Publications pulp Famous Fantastic Mysteries.  Frankly, I was stuck for a lead article, but after several people commented on the FFM blog entry I posted a few weeks ago, I decided to expand it into one of the comprehensive surveys for which BnT is well known.

Did you know that, of all the years in which motion pictures have been made, one far outstrips the others in the number of blood-and-thunder films released?  It’s true and easily demonstrable, as you’ll see in “32 from ’32: A Banner Year for Fantastic Cinema.”  The piece covers many familiar titles, but I’m betting that most of you will be introduced to must-see movies you never heard of.  And all 32 films mentioned — even the scarcest, almost forgotten titles — are available on DVD.  We’ll tell you where and from whom.

Rick Lai is back with “The Secret Son of Bran Mak Morn,” an ingenious bit of Wold Newton-ish scholarship that draws a heretofore undetected connection between Robert E. Howard’s barbarian protagonist and other figures of fantastic literature.

Our “Tricks of the Trade” department reprints a 1940 Writer’s Digest article by veteran pulpateer James W. Egan on the feasibility of pulps priced at five cents.  “Cliffhanger Classics” examines the 1937 Universal serial Radio Patrol, based on a popular King Features comic strip of the Thirties.  In this issue’s installment of “Adventurous Airwaves” Martin Grams Jr. tells the story behind the all-but-forgotten radio dramatization of King Kong.  There are several other department installments as well.

Finally, this issue’s “Blood ‘n’ Thunder Reprint” is a 1934 adventure yarn by future SF editor Sam Merwin. “The Hornet Strikes” seems to prefigure a certain crime-busting hero of Old Time Radio fame, and we think you know who we mean.

All told, we think it’ll be another bang-up issue of BnT.  If you’re not already a subscriber, why not go here and sign up now?

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7 Weeks to the 7th PulpFest

Posted in Conventions,PulpFest on @ 4:20 pm

Seven weeks from today, the pulp-fan cognoscenti will descend upon Columbus, Ohio, for the seventh annual PulpFest.  Launched in 2009 to continue the tradition of a summer show for readers, scholars and collectors of vintage rough-paper magazines and related items, PulpFest quickly made its mark on the hobby with a concentration on informative and entertaining programming, and this year’s convention should live up to the high standard set by its predecessors.

Two anniversaries will dominate PulpFest programming in 2015: the 125th birthday of Weird Tales favorite H. P. Lovecraft and the 115th birthday of Leo Margulies, editorial director of the “Thrilling Group” pulp line.  A blue-ribbon of pop-culture scholars (including yours truly) will participate in panel discussions and solo presentations covering some aspect of the Lovecraft-Weird Tales and Margulies-Thrilling Group connections.

As always, separate programming tracks will be devoted to Farmercon, the annual gathering of Philip José Farmer devotees, and the various New Pulp luminaries who also will be exhibiting their wares in the spacious dealer’s room.

Speaking of dealers, you’ll find plenty of them at PulpFest.  Whether you collect pulps, pulp reprints, vintage paperbacks and hardcovers, fanzines, comics, or other examples of reading matter printed on paper, there’ll be lots of desirable items available no matter how limited your budget.  There’s always a surfeit of action in a PulpFest dealer room and very few attendees manage to canvass the entire space during the convention’s three days — but it’s so much fun to try.

For everything you need to know about PulpFest — dates, registration prices, hotel information, programming schedule, dealer list — just go to the con’s website here.  You’ll see the Murania Press tables as soon as you walk through the front door, so don’t forget to stop by and say hi!

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This Month’s Collectibles Update

Posted in Collectibles For Sale on @ 12:15 am

I’ve just added a slew of new items to the Collectibles For Sale section: pulps, pulp-story reprints, and pulp-related DVDs and reference works. There’s good stuff here for fans and collectors of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, H. P. Lovecraft,  Walter B. Gibson, and Jack Williamson, among others.  And I’ve put up the last uncirculated copy of the now out-of-print Blood ‘n’ Thunder Guide to Collecting Pulps, the 2007 predecessor of the Blood ‘n’ Thunder Guide to Pulp Fiction.  

As always, the list prices include shipping to buyers located in the United States. International buyers will have to kick in a little extra for postage depending upon the item’s weight and ultimate destination.  If you’re among the latter group and wish to purchase the item rather than risk losing it by inquiring first about postage charges, by all means do so — but be prepared to pay the additional cost with a second Paypal transaction.

Below are some of the newly listed items for sale.

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Centennial Alert: Julius Schwartz

Posted in Birthday on June 19, 2015 @ 5:36 pm

I don’t have enough time to research and write a post that does justice to Julie Schwartz, but I can’t very well let his centennial slip by without at least some notice.

Yes, exactly one hundred years ago today Julius Schwartz was born in the Bronx, New York, to parents who had emigrated from Romania not long before. One of several thousand boys and young men who avidly consumed pulp fiction and discovered science fiction via Hugo Gernsback’s pioneering Amazing Stories, Julie collaborated with local friend Mort Weisinger and California-based correspondent Forrest J Ackerman on The Time Traveller, a pioneering “fanzine” that offered extensive coverage of the genre.

By virtue of his work on Time Traveller Julie connected with numerous SF fans who hoped to write the stuff professionally. Gregarious and confident, he set himself up as an agent and peddled their early yarns to the pulp editors based in New York (which was most of them). Beginning in 1934 he represented such young but talented authors as Robert Bloch, Ray Bradbury, and Alfred Bester. Julie sold the last works of horror scribe H. P. Lovecraft and SF writer Stanley G. Weinbaum, titans in their respective fields, who died too early.

After a stint as editor for Ned Pines’ Thrilling Group, Julie’s former partner Mort Weisinger joined DC Comics and began guiding the destiny of Superman and other four-color favorites. Schwartz, who had counted on Weisinger to buy his clients’ yarns for Thrilling Wonder Stories, not only kept in touch with Mort but followed him into the comic-book business in 1944. Initially Julie edited books in the All-American line managed separately by M. C. Gaines and Sheldon Mayer, but within a few years he became an integral part of the DC organization.

Schwartz spearheaded the mid-Fifties superhero revival that gave birth to the Silver Age of Comic Books; after successfully reviving The Flash in Showcase #4 (October 1956), he commissioned staff writers to dust off such other old favorites as Hawkman, The Atom, and Green Lantern. Then he assigned writer Gardner Fox and artist Mike Sekowsky to bring back the Justice Society of America, which was rechristened the Justice League as part of its renovation.

Julie (seated) with DC artist Sid Greene in the mid Sixties.

Julie (seated) with DC artist Sid Greene in the mid Sixties.

Julie’s biggest challenge was adding luster to the badly tarnished Batman comics, which by the early Sixties were drowning in puerility. He rode herd over scripter John Broome and artist Carmine Infantino, who jettisoned the Bob Kane look ably imitated by ghost artist Shelly Moldoff. The “New Look” Batman won back old fans and the Caped Crusader’s magazines, Batman and Detective Comics, enjoyed a meteoric rise in circulation after the character’s ABC TV show became a pop-culture sensation in 1966.

Julie spent another 15 years editing the Superman titles handled for many years by his old friend Mort Weisinger. He retired in 1986 and stayed as active as his emphysemia would permit, attending conventions of comic-book and science-fiction devotees. He never forgot his early days as an SF fan and gladly reminisced about them with anyone who showed even a slight interest. Julie collected some of his favorite anecdotes in a 2000 memoir, Man of Two Worlds: My Life in Science Fiction and Comics, co-written with Brian Thomsen.

I saw Julie at several conventions over the years and exchanged pleasantries with him a couple times. My early Blood ‘n’ Thunder cohort Mark Trost was trying to set up a formal interview for us when Schwartz began failing rapidly. Julie died at 88 shortly after being hospitalized for pneumonia. Right up to the time of his death he was still a much beloved figure in the dual fandoms to which he was so happy to have belonged.

Julie Schwartz, circa 2000.

Julie Schwartz, circa 2000.


Birthday Boy: Hiram S. Brown, Jr.

Posted in Birthday,Serials on June 16, 2015 @ 6:15 pm

Born on this day in 1909: Hiram S. Brown, Jr., whose career as a motion-picture producer lasted less than two years but gave us some of the finest serials made and released by Republic Pictures. Personally, I think he’s an unsung hero of serial history. A graduate of Princeton and Harvard Business School, “Bunny” (as he was known to friends) was the son of a former head of RKO. That probably helped him get a job at Republic, where he initially worked as a purchasing agent. In 1939 he was made producer of the studio’s serial unit, whose staff directors were William Witney and John English. Together they turned out eight classic chapter plays. They are, in chronological order, Zorro’s Fighting Legion, Drums of Fu Manchu, Adventures of Red Ryder, King of the Royal Mounted, Mysterious Doctor Satan, Adventures of Captain marvel, Jungle Girl, and King of the Texas Rangers.

In my opinion, Bunny has never gotten as much credit as he deserved for the unusually fine quality of these episodic thrillers. He pushed the writers to devise novel situations and inventive chapter endings whenever possible. He fought to use as villains such prominent A-list character actors as Henry Brandon and Eduardo Cianelli, even though they cost Republic more than the usual serial and B-picture heavies. He supported Witney and English when they asked for additional time and resources. He did battle with the front office to add another two weeks to the schedule of Drums of Fu Manchu, allotting the extra time to cinematographer William Nobles for eerie lighting effects on interior scenes. After making his first serial he eschewed use of the hated “recap chapters” (which included flashbacks to earlier episodes) to save money; instead he found other ways to economize. As World War II approached, Bunny left Republic to take a commission in the U.S. Signal Corps. He served with distinction but did not return to producing after the war’s end. But the eight serials he produced for Witney and English are still regarded highly by aficionados of the highly specialized form, and deservedly so.

L to R: "Bunny," Jack English, Louis Germonprez, Bill Witney.

L to R: “Bunny,” Jack English, Louis Germonprez, Bill Witney.


Birthday Boy: John W. Campbell

Posted in Birthday,Pulps on June 8, 2015 @ 11:00 pm

Born on this day in 1910: John W. Campbell, Jr., the writer and editor who, after Edgar Rice Burroughs and Hugo Gernsback, was almost certainly the most important man in the history of science fiction. That’s hardly a daring appraisal on my part; no less a giant of SF as Isaac Asimov once declared his former editor “the most powerful force in science fiction ever.” Campbell died in 1971, but the intervening four decades haven’t dimmed or diminished his achievements. In fact, he remains a towering figure in the genre’s history while SF’s New Wave, which prospered during his later years and for a time eclipsed the type of science fiction he championed, now seems quaintly dated—like free love and flower power.

Born in Newark, New Jersey (as I was), Campbell was something of a prodigy who attended MIT and began writing science fiction while still in his teens, breaking into Amazing Stories in 1930 before his twentieth birthday. His early yarns were space operas featuring the heroic trio Arcot, Morey, and Wade. Within a few short years he was producing stories of a more mature nature for Astounding Stories, then edited by F. Orlin Tremaine and published by Street & Smith. “Twilight” (November 1934), a melancholy short story published under the pseudonym Don A. Stuart (a name Campbell used for several years), posited the existence two millennia in the future of a triumphal human race slowly deteriorating for lack of challenge and curiosity. It was a remarkable piece of writing—thoughtful, provocative, far more stimulating than the usual pulp SF fare.

Tremaine published more yarns by Campbell and “Stuart” before making the young writer his assistant editor in 1937. Campbell worked in that capacity for a handful of months, buying most of the magazine’s fiction before becoming Astounding‘s chief editor in early 1938. His high point as Don A. Stuart was reached in the August 1938 issue with the classic “Who Goes There?”, about a shape-shifting alien systematically laying waste to a colony of scientists conducting research in the Antarctic. Most pulp aficionados know that this suspenseful novella has been filmed three times to date: in 1951 as The Thing from Another World, and in 1982 and 2011 as The Thing. Although the latter two are marginally more faithful to Campbell’s original, the first version is by far the most satisfying of the three adaptations.

The next five years saw a flurry of activity that not only made the newly rechristened Astounding Science-Fiction tops in its field but also altered the genre’s history. During this period Campbell bought the first SF stories by writers who would dominate the landscape for decades, among them Robert A. Heinlein, Theodore Sturgeon, Lester del Rey, L. Ron Hubbard, and A. E. van Vogt, to name just a handful. He eschewed the puerile space opera that had filled Astounding‘s pages when it was owned by the Clayton pulp line, demanding that his contributors produce tales which would pass muster for their solid craftsmanship as well as for their grounding in scientific principle.

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Occasionally Campbell received from his stable of writers stories that were exceptionally absorbing and well written but utterly lacking in hard science. Some were out-and-out fantasies laced with irony or whimsy. To create a market for these, he persuaded Street & Smith to launch a magazine titled Unknown (later Unknown Worlds), which he also edited. Between 1939 and 1943 this outstanding magazine published some of the finest fantasy and horror stories ever to see print on pulp paper. Loved by its readers and widely respected throughout the industry, Unknown was not a top seller and fell victim to the same wartime paper shortage that forced Astounding‘s reconfiguration to digest size.

As I’ve written in The Blood ‘n’ Thunder Guide to Pulp Fiction, Campbell was most influential between late 1937, when he began buying stories for Astounding, and late 1943, when Unknown went under and Astounding began its long, slow decline. Which is not to say that the digest issues didn’t offer many great stories; they did. But the Golden Age had come and gone: Campbell had already introduced and nurtured most of the field’s superstars.

The visionary editor’s judgment began to fail him in the late Forties. In 1949 he fell for L. Ron Hubbard’s “Dianetics” scam, which led to the formation of the Church of Scientology. He also became obsessed with the “fringe science” of psionics, which encompassed such phenomena as psychokinesis and mental telepathy. Despite the absence of hard scientific evidence to support belief in “psi” abilities, Campbell encouraged his regular contributors to submit yarns built around psionics. Some, fearful of losing a well-paying regular market, complied willingly. Others became disenchanted and deserted Astounding for such competing digests as Galaxy and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Street & Smith had discontinued its line of pulp magazines in 1949, with only Astounding still being published when Condé Nast bought the company in 1959. The following year Campbell changed the magazine’s title to Analog Science Fact/Science Fiction. (This was accomplished after a transition of several months in which each cover’s graphics depicted a different stage of the metamorphosis.) Strong-willed and increasingly didactic, he alienated some former supporters and contributors as the magazine’s prestige diminished. When Campbell died in 1971 he was succeeded by Ben Bova, who in 1978 relinquished the editorial reins to Stanley Schmidt, who held them until 2012. Analog survives still, with this month’s issue being number 1,000. And its legacy, overall, is a fine one—thanks to John W. Campbell, who ushered in the Golden Age of Science Fiction.

Campbell at the 1968 World Science Fiction Convention.

Campbell at the 1968 World Science Fiction Convention.


Another Milestone for Murania Press

Posted in Blood 'n' Thunder,Murania Press,Special Sale on June 5, 2015 @ 5:01 pm

I’ve just finished looking at the monthly sales report for May and am happy to report that, as of last month, more than 1,000 copies of The Blood ‘n’ Thunder Guide to Pulp Fiction have now been sold. That’s not bad for a small-press “niche” product released a year and a half ago with no significant advertising or promotional effort.

Sales of the Guide were quite strong for the first six months, then lagged for a little while only to pick up again last year for reasons unknown. Approximately 15 percent of the sold copies have gone to international buyers. As one would expect, most of those went to English-speaking countries—Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom—but quite a few have found their way to European Union and Pacific Rim companies as well.

Although I’ve personally sold hundreds of copies via the Murania Press site, wholesale customers, and pulp-collector conventions, the book’s availability on Amazon has played a big part in achieving this milestone, especially with regard to those international orders. (It certainly helps that the Guide to date has elicited nothing but five-star reviews there.)

I’m also been gratified to see the Guide to Pulp Fiction being used as a text in college courses (and not only because that results in individual orders of two dozen or more copies). It was always my hope that this tome—like its predecessor, The Blood ‘n’ Thunder Guide to Collecting Pulps—would become a trusted reference work as well as a hobbyist’s handbook. The community of pulp collectors might be dwindling as innumerable reprints and facsimile obviate the necessity of purchasing the vintage magazines for reading purposes, but with interest in the fiction growing slowly and steadily, the need for a reliable, comprehensive guide is arguably more pronounced than it ever was.

Having reached this milestone somewhat earlier than I expected, I’m now more eager to see the Guide reach a wider audience. Beginning today, I’m going to offer it at $19.95—two-thirds of its stated retail price—to first-time subscribers to Blood ‘n’ Thunder. You can take advantage of that deal here.

Copy #2,000, here we come!

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Unfairly Dissed and Dismissed: FAMOUS FANTASTIC MYSTERIES

Posted in Collectibles For Sale,Pulps on June 4, 2015 @ 11:28 pm

You see copies everywhere. At conventions for collectors of vintage pulps, practically every dealer has some among his stock. They appear on eBay in vast quantities; many weeks you can find multiple listings of the same issue. They even pop up in places you rarely find old fiction magazines anymore: garage sales, antique stores, flea markets. No doubt about it, as vintage pulps go, Famous Fantastic Mysteries is darn near ubiquitous. And it’s this omnipresence that prevents today’s science-fiction fans and collectors from taking the magazine as seriously as it deserves.

Famous Fantastic Mysteries was launched in 1939 by the Munsey organization (then operating under the brand name “Red Star Publications”) to capitalize on the sudden boom in science-fiction pulps that in little more than a year had already spawned Planet Stories, Startling Stories, Science Fiction, Marvel Science Stories, and Dynamic Science Stories. The editorship of FFM was entrusted to 42-year-old Mary Gnaedinger, a long-time Munsey staffer. As the once-mighty company had fallen on hard times and was struggling to hold market share, Gnaedinger was instructed to fill the new pulp with old stories—fantasy, horror, “scientific romance,” and lost-race adventure—culled from early issues of such venerable Munsey titles as The Argosy, The Cavalier, and (most prominently) The All-Story and its successor, All-Story Weekly. Only the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs were off-limits to her; ERB had cannily retained reprint rights to his imaginative adventure yarns.

FFM‘s first issue (September-October 1939) featured seven complete stories, including two fan favorites: A. Merritt’s “The Moon Pool”and Ray Cummings’ “The Girl in the Golden Atom.” The second issue began Merritt’s novel-length sequel, “The Conquest of the Moon Pool,” which was serialized over six issues.

In fairly short order Gnaedinger reprinted well-remembered yarns by some of All-Story‘s best-known contributors of fantastic fiction: George Allan England, Garrett P. Serviss, Homer Eon Flint, Austin Hall, J. U. Giesy, Francis Stevens, Garret Smith, Ralph Milne Farley, Charles B. Stilson, and Edison T. Marshall, to name a few.

FFM introduced a new generation to these classic stories but also fired the enthusiasm of veteran pulp readers who deluged Gnaedinger with requests for dimly remembered stories initially published 10, 20, and even 30 years earlier. As many of these were book-length tales, she persuaded Munsey president William T. Dewart to launch a companion magazine, Fantastic Novels, in which to spotlight the longer stories. Eventually, FFM too ran novels complete in one issue, forcing Gnaedinger occasionally to cut excess wordage. This practice earned her the undying enmity of some SF purists, but in truth some of those stories benefit from the trims.

The sure-handedness of Mary Gnaedinger’s stewardship of FFM led Popular Publications president Harry Steeger to retain both her and the magazine when he bought the Munsey line from Dewart in late 1942. With a more generous editorial budget than she had been allotted previously, FFM‘s editor expanded the magazine’s horizons by purchasing reprint rights to works not originally published by Munsey. Within just a few years she had ushered into its pages such fantastic-fiction luminaries as Arthur Machen, Lord Dunsany, H. G. Wells, Robert W. Chambers, H. Rider Haggard, and William Hope Hodgson.

The first handful of FFM issues sported no cover artwork, instead merely listing authors and story titles. This approach, common to literary journals, hadn’t worked for editor Arthur Sullivant Hoffman when he tried it on Adventure in 1927, and it didn’t work for Gnaedinger. Pulp-magazine buyers looked for exciting, colorful covers. She hired Virgil Finlay and Frank R. Paul, already known by SF fans for their work in Weird Tales and Amazing Stories respectively, to provide full-color cover painting as well as black-and-white interior illustrations. After moving to Popular Publications she also acquired the services of Lawrence Sterne Stevens and, later, Norman Saunders and Rafael de Soto.

In its last few years—the early Fifties—FFM continued to reprint top-notch fiction by Talbot Mundy, Sax Rohmer, H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, and more contemporary favorites such as Ray Bradbury, Theodore Sturgeon, and Robert E. Heinlein. The final issue (June 1953) even featured yarns by Ayn Rand and Franz Kafka alongside those of Howard and Bradbury!

I’m often asked by beginning collectors to recommend titles they should go after. I can’t think of a better one than Famous Fantastic Mysteries. The fiction is often first-rate, being reprints of classic stories, and the artwork is of similarly high quality. Moreover, as mentioned at the outset of this piece, copies are plentiful and therefore easily affordable. Not a single one of the 81 issues is rare, or even scarce. And with few exceptions each can be had, even in high grade, for less than the price of today’s average hard-cover book. I have some nice samples in my Collectibles For Sale section now.

The August 1941 issue of FFM, with a Virgil Finlay cover.

The August 1941 issue of FFM, with a Virgil Finlay cover.


Join Us for a New Installment of the ART’S REVIEWS Podcast!

Posted in Uncategorized on @ 8:04 pm

Those of you who have 39 minutes to spare could do worse than listen to the May 22 installment of the popular podcast Art’s Reviews, on which yours truly was interviewed by host Art Sippo. Our wide-ranging conversation touched on various subjects near and dear to the hearts of pulp-fiction fans. I talked at some length about the recent Windy City Pulp and Paperback Convention and plugged the upcoming PulpFest. We also discussed the current state of the pulp-collecting hobby. And, of course, I described in considerable detail the new triple-sized issue of Blood ‘n’ Thunder (which, by the way, bids fair to establish a new record for single-copy sales) and soon-to-be-released volumes in Murania’s Classic Pulp Reprints series.

Art’s Reviews began last year as a continuation of the long-running Book Cave podcast started by Ric Croxton. For the last several years I’ve appeared on Cave ‘casts to promote PulpFest and Murania Press, and it’s always been a pleasurable experience. Art often joined Ric in conducting Book Cave interviews of writers, artists, publishers, collectors, and convention organizers, so he’s an old hand at the podcast game.

You can listen to our most recent conversation here….

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