ALL PULP INTERVIEWS BLACK COAT PRESS!!! PULP LIVES WORLDWIDE!
JML: My wife Randy and I worked for Starlog and several French and British genre film magazines prior to becoming publishers. We also worked in comics, writing scripts for both Marvel and DC (Dr. Strange, Arak, Firestorm, Blue Beetle, etc.) We had, in fact, been translating a number of award-winning French comics for Marvel (the Moebius series) and Dark Horse (works by Tardi, Andreas, Schuiten and others). So moving into translating books was a natural extension. We had already co-authored over a dozen books about movies and television series, such as The Doctor Who Programme Guide, Into The Twilight Zone, Science Fiction Filmmaking In The 1980s and The Dreamweavers, the latter two from McFarland.
AP: You are a publisher. Tell us about Black Coat Press, both what you publish and the mission of your company?
JML: Black Coat Press was born in 2003 as a logical development in our desire to bring out the best of French popular culture into the English language. First, there was our massive French Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror & Pulp Fiction encyclopedia published my McFarland in 2000; then there was our www.coolfrenchcomics.com website, and finally our two non-fiction Shadowmen books which, with our translation of Doctor Omega, were the first books published by Black Coat Press. It had always been a source of profound frustration to us that, because of the language barrier, the knowledge of many outstanding French works was denied to the American public. The purpose of Black Coat Press was to help remedy this sad state of affairs by providing a fairly comprehensive selection of the best and/or the most representative works, with proper introductions, bibliographies, etc. Because science fiction, fantasy, etc. are often regarded as minor genres by “serious” scholars (on both sides of the Atlantic!), we felt that publishing works of this nature would be more useful than publishing classic or mainstream novels, for which there are at least a few outlets available.
AP: How does the history of pulps outside of the United States compare to its American sibling? When did pulps start overseas and what was the lifespan of the genre in France and the U.K.?
JML: In France the type of stories that were later published in pulps were originally serialized in newspapers. The Count of Monte-Cristo, The Three Musketeers, the Black Coats series, Rocambole — all the great pulp heroes of the 19th century first appeared in newspapers. Think that there was a time when French novels and French films were widely imported in the United States. People were mobbing the New York harbor waiting for the latest installment of Alexandre Dumas’ novels. Yet in the age of the global village, this cross-cultural exchange has shrunk to next to nothing, and I think America is the poorer for it. The apparition of magazines or booklets devoted to a single character really started in the 1890s and the very early days of the 20th century. That lasted pretty much until World War II. Truth to tell, there was always a lot of back and forth between serialization in newspapers; magazine-sized booklets, and cheap paperbacks. The three formats were pretty much interchangeable and stories would often appear in several formats.
AP: There seems to be a wealth of characters to choose from. Can you just give us the highlights on some of the characters that Black Coat is handling?
JML: We have published translations of Paul Féval’s BLACK COATS saga, including JOHN DEVIL, a multi-volume series about a secret criminal empire that thrives in the 1840s and is the first, ground-breaking series in the history of crime / conspiracy thrillers. We have also published translations of Arsene Lupin’s famous clashes against Sherlock Holmes and Countess Cagliostro, the first Rouletabille novel, which is an acknowledged classic in the mystery genre, Doctor Omega (a Dr Who lookalike), new translations of Phantom of the Opera and Monsieur Lecoq (Lecoq was an inspiration for and is quoted by Holmes), a collection of Sar Dubnotal (a mystic superhero) and Harry Dickson (a Sexton Blake-type character) stories, several never published before Fantomas novels and several novels featuring the Nyctalope and Doc Ardan, two proto-Doc Savage heroes. We have also published a five-volume series of works by Maurice Renard and a six-volume series of works by J.-H. Rosny Aîné, best known to English-speaking audiences for The Hands of Orlac and Quest for Fire, respectively, and which are both founding fathers of French science fiction after Jules Verne.
AP: Black Coat publishes a ten story anthology yearly. What is the concept behind TALES OF THE SHADOWMEN?
JML: Since 2005 we have indeed released six volumes (so far, Vol 7 will be out in December of this year) of this annual anthology of tales paying homage to the greatest heroes and villains of popular literature. The concept is based on the notion of crossover — the more outlandish, the better — between various characters from pulp fiction, always treated with respect and in continuity. For example we have had Doc Savage meeting The Little Prince or Lecoq Dr. Loveless; this year we have an encounter between Jean Valjean and Zorro. We have had a number of talented and well-known authors participate, such as Robert Sheckley, Kim Newman, John Shirley, Paul DiFilippo and others and this year we’re proud to have a story by mystery author Sharan Newman. We’ve also published stories by new/aspiring writers, who have since gone on to sell stories into other markets. We are also the only truly international anthology who publishes stories from non-English writers: we’ve published tales translated from Belgian, Chilean, Italian, French and French-Canadian authors.
AP: What sort of weight do the concepts from international pulp carry, if any, with today’s audience? Why go through the effort of producing new stories for these characters, some of which are long forgotten or never even known beyond their own country?
JML: Obviously, the answer is — because we love it. But personally I think the popular media (literature, comics, film & TV) are far more reflective of their times than mainstream literature. One will learn more about what 19th century France was really like by reading the BLACK COATS than from history books. I think this is a tradition worth preserving, which is why we put so much effort in preserving those somewhat forgotten classics from long ago and making sure they’re still accessible today.
AP: What are the primary similarities between American pulp characters and international characters? And , of course, the follow up question to that, what are the major differences?
JML: One might argue that there’s nothing new under the sun, and the archetypes of heroic fiction remain the same and go all the way back to the Round Table, the Greek mythology (Hercules, the Argonauts etc) and ultimately Gilgamesh. Our French Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror & Pulp Fiction encyclopedia published my McFarland in 2000 starts in the Middle Ages — when French language became formalized — and you will find a bevvy of very modern concepts: werewolves, vampires, monsters, femmes fatales, evil masterminds, super-powered heroes, magical weapons, it’s all there already. Same in the 17th century where writers created hollow earths, journeys to other planets, lost worlds with prehistoric creature… Honestly, you’d been amazed to see how little new stuff we have invented. They could not conceive of computers and cyberspace — that’s a truly new notion — but you’d be amazed to see how truly ancient some of the notions we still use today are. The romantic vampires goes all the way back to Lord Ruthven (1819); Paul Féval wrote a virtual Buffy novel with Vampire City (1867), already predating Dracula by 30 years. Examples abound. If one wants to understand the roots or genesis of pulp fiction, you have to back much earlier in time. We specialize in French-language works, but obviously other cultures are just as interesting.
AP: Science Fiction seems to be a mainstay at Black Coat? Is this a significant genre overseas within the pulp field and how does it compare to American science fiction?
JML: We consider SF one branch of popular literature, just as interesting as pulp, mystery, crime, horror and fantasy, so I wouldn’t say we treat it with more favor, but we do endeavor to publish translations of genre classics unknown in the English language. I mentioned Rosny and Renard above but we have also released other ground breaking works such as Félix Bodin’s The Novel of the Future (1834), Didier de Chousy’s Ignis (1883), C.I. Defontenay’s Star-Psi Cassiopeia (1854), Charles Derennes’ The People of the Pole (1907), Georges Le Faure & Henri de Graffigny’s The Extraordinary Adventures of a Russian Scientist across the Solar System (1888-96), Gustave Le Rouge’s The Vampires of Mars (1908), Henri de Parville’s An Inhabitant of the Planet Mars (1865), Gaston de Pawlowski’s Journey to the Land of the 4th Dimension (1912) and Albert Robida’s The Adventures of Saturnin Farandoul (1879), all absolutely outstanding works essential to the history of the genre. We have also published a few modern works including two collections by Jean-Claude Dunyach, novels by Kurt Steiner, G.-J. Arnaud, Richard Bessière, André Caroff , Gérard Klein, Michel Jeury, Xavier Mauméjean and two horror thrillers by Philippe Ward, but to a large extent those already reflect and incorporate the influence of American science fiction which was translated and exported right after World War II — so almost any French works after that are already playing in the same ballpark. The modern works we select tend to be original concepts; I try to avoid publishing something which would read just like another American or English work. But still, you can’t get away from the influence. Whereas the works listed above all predate AMAZING STORIES, etc. and are truly unique.
AP: Is Black Coat’s focus solely on the pulp genre? If not, what other mediums are you involved in? Any blending of mediums, say having comic characters appear in pulp stories, etc.?
JML: We are unabashedly devoted to popular literature — as I said, that includes SF and pulp, but also mystery, crime thrillers, fantasy and horror. We do have a small line of comics, translation from French/Italian comics of the 1960s and 1970s, but there are not too different from, say, the DC Comics of the same period.
AP: We’ve established you are a publisher What about as a writer? Can you talk to us about your writing background, especially as it relates to the pulp field?
JML: As I mentioned above, Randy and I have written for comics, and also animation. We did a DUCK TALES and several REAL GHOSBUSTERS as well as a few more forgettable shows like BIONIC SIX etc. One of the GHOSTBUSTERS episodes makes use of the Headless Horseman and Ichabod Crane so to that extent it is part of the pulp universe, as it were. Quite a few of our comic book stories betray the same influences. We wrote a crossover between Superman and Asterix in ACTION COMICS (drawn by Keith Giffen) and had the Teen Titans’ characters cross into the Tintin universe. We’ve done a couple of novels in France which we translated into English and published at Black Coat Press, including one THE KATRINA PROTOCOL, in which the modern-day descendant of Van Helsing faces a zombie invasion in New Orleans during Katrina, and another novel, EDGAR ALLAN POE ON MARS which is a historical fantasy in which Poe meets Edwin Arnold’s Gullivar Jones. (When we do books in France we usually retain the rights to do our own English translations and publish them here.) We also have a collection of short stories, PACIFICA, which contains all our “Shadowmen” tales as well as some comics, TV fanfic crossovers, etc.
AP: Is Black Coat’s purpose simply to bring these awesome pulp characters from outside of the United States some much needed exposure? Or do you feel these characters have had or can have an impact on what pulp is now and what it will be in the future?
JML: Who knows what the future might bring? So far I’m happy that we are making a wealth of French material heretofore unknown to scholars and fans alike available in English. If that’s our only contribution to the field, I’ll be pleased.
AP: So, what projects are coming from Black Coat Press? Any from your pen specifically?
JML: Volume 7 of TAKES OF THE SHADOWMEN will be out in December. Next year, we expect to publish the last volume in the BLACK COATS saga as well as continue the translations of the MADAME ATOMOS series, a French pulp from the 1960s which was then a new and much harder edged reinterpretation of the old “yellow peril” archetype; the ATOMOS series was really ahead of its times in terms of foreseeing modern terrorism, etc. We expect to be publishing more classics of proto-science fiction from the 19th century as well as a truly visionary work of the 18th century, LAMEKIS, which already foreshadows PELLUCIDAR and other similar fantasy novels. If Bill Maynard finishes it in time, we’ll have a second fully authorized original FU MANCHU novel later in the year and Randy and I plan to translate the classic last Fantomas novel, THE DEATH OF FANTOMAS, never translated before into English. As far as our own work is concerned, we’re supposed to have a story in the next Moonstone’s AVENGER collection and one in the WORLDS OF PHILIP JOSE FARMER collection, plus some other works published in France that we mean to translate.
AP: Jean-Marc, thank you so much for this interview! ALL PULP wants the world to know all about Black Coat Press!!