Pulps and pulp comics
There has been quite a revival of interest in the old pulp heroes over the last year or two. Moonstone Books launched with the pulp-like exploits of Kolchak the Night-Stalker before adding characters such as The Phantom and The Spider, while Anthony Tollin has relaunched The Shadow and Doc Savage in two lines of facsimile reprint editions. In Hollywood, Sam Raimi has signed on to produce a movie about Doc Savage, the Man of Bronze. With so much renewed interest, we here at ComicMix thought we should dig a little deeper.
The energetic Joe Gentile has been running Moonstone Books for a decade now and has grown the line from a one or two comic books a month outfit to a burgeoning publisher of not only comic books but prose works. I chatted with him by e-mail to learn what’s been going on.
In the interests of full disclosure, I have written one story for Moonstone’s anthologies, with work beginning on a second, and ComicMix columnist John Ostrander has contributed a story to the recently released Kolchak prose anthology.
Robert: Joe, for those not in the know, what is Moonstone’s mission?
Joe: Well, we thought there were some niches that weren’t being filled in comics. We thought that if we could fill some of those, perhaps (with promotion and advertising, which we did a lot of at the beginning) we could bring either new people or readers who left the hobby, to come back to the comic shops. Great stories was always our #1 priority, all things else aside.
Robert: You can look at Moonstone several ways: creator owned material mixed with classic licensed characters or comic books mixed with prose. Is this intentional?
Joe: Well, it is now! Ha! No, really, it has become that through growth and change and opportunity. The way you have stated it looks to be “something for everyone,” which is not a bad thing. We still feel our initial mission holds true.
Robert: How are the prose works being received and are they selling well enough?
Joe: Prose is a different animal, that’s for sure. So far, we have published the two Kolchak volumes, with The Spider on the way in a couple weeks! So far so good, as we have lots of cool and unusual plans in that area.
Robert: You now have The Spider, The Avenger, Doc Savage…what’s the allure of the pulps?
Joe: This question has been asked to us before, which can be a nice way of saying “are you guys crazy” – which is also a valid question!
The allure is justice. I mean, in today’s world of powerlessness for the everyday folks like us, who wouldn’t want the bad guys being dealt with? Justice is done, of that, in these stories, there is no doubt! Nobody gets off on a technicality! You can look to the appeal of Indiana Jones or the novels of Clive Cussler (or the Destroyer novels) to see the same things done today. For pure thrills, the pulp stories is where it’s at!
Robert: In today’s super-heroic world, is there really a place for their predecessors, the pulp heroes?
Joe: Well, again, I think there is always room for justice being served, just as I think there is always room for escapist literature in its many forms!
Robert: What can we expect from the pulp anthologies?
Joe: We expect new stories of these iconic characters, with a big plus. These are told from writers of today, who are not pressed to write as much volume as the original pulp writers, so I honestly think, our stories have more care and depth. We sear in the action with some very good character stuff. So, on one hand, if you already are a fan of these characters, we’re not retreading the same old stories! Finally, there will be new adventures to tell! Plus, Moonstone’s little calling card of having illustrations in the book give it a certain fun look!
Robert: The authors you select for these are an eclectic mix from veterans such as Craig Shaw Gardner to someone like Trina Robbins, who is not known for her prose. How do you select your writers?
Joe: Actually that’s almost as fun as writing the stories! We have been flooded with writers who are chomping at the bit to do these! For many writers, it’s a fun trip back to their childhood, and it really shows in the emotion poured into these stories. Obviously, after publishing for 11 years, we have met many writers. We know a lot of people. And they know a lot of people. It’s that whole six degrees of separation thing…
And then, sometimes, we just go for broke and try to locate one of our favorite authors… I mean, we have nothing to lose, right?
Robert: The Phantom is receiving not one but two prose anthologies – this will be his first prose work since the novels of the 1970s. What’s his appeal?
Joe: The Phantom is timeless. Not only has he been around longer than any other costumed superhero, but he is unique. His “son takes over for the father” is not really seen anywhere else. And it has been happening for over 400 years! Like Superman, The Phantom is his real identity. He trains for it his whole life. As a character, he is an honest and tireless pursuer of good. How can that not be appealing?
Robert: With two Phantoms and two Kolchak collections, can we expect a steady stream from these two characters?
Joe: “Steady” is relative…We are looking to do an annual Kolchak volume, which is all I can say at this point.
Robert: What about actual novels featuring these characters in addition to anthologies?
Joe: There are Kolchak novels already in the works! Other characters are a big “maybe” right now.
Robert: What’s this I hear about Captain Midnight joining the roster?
Joe: That’s true. Captain Midnight presents a unique challenge, as we try to meld the best of all his incarnations into one!
Robert: Do we have a schedule for the book line?
Joe: Upcoming prose: The Spider, Doc Savage, The Avenger, Werewolves, Vampires, plus, hopefully, some real big surprises! I think the schedule will come… to me in a dream… right after I get some sleep! No set schedule yet, as there are questions to be answered first.