With The Cimmerian preparing to embark on its fourth volume, let’s take a look at what the other Howard publications are up to.
Don Herron reports that Damon Sasser, editor of The Definitive Howard Fanzine has announced on the REH Inner Circle Yahoo! Group that his next issue is going to debut in five months at the 2007 Robert E. Howard Days festival (Issue #10 debuted at this year’s World Fantasy Convention). Damon has made a habit of bringing new Two Gun Raconteur‘s to Cross Plains each summer, which not only gives attendees something to look forward to — and to get signed by Damon and his contributors, many of whom attend the event — it also brings in much needed funds for Project Pride, who then uses the money to keep the Howard House in repair and to keep Howard Days running in the black.
Looking over his website, it looks as if he’s revamped most of it, adding more pages for his various products and starting up a mini-blog of sorts to clue readers in to new Howard books appearing. This is the sort of incremental use of the web I’ve been advocating for years — we need more Robert E. Howard fans either creating websites or posting to the ones already available. Just a little bit each day builds up into a mountain over time. If Damon keeps expanding his site’s content until it serves as more than a sales depot for Two-Gun Raconteur, we’ll have to put it on the Cimmerian Awards ballot for Best Website.
It says something about this new Howard Boom that Damon has now published more issues of Two-Gun Raconteur in the past three years than he did during his whole first run back in the 1970s. That he’s able to release new ones regularly even with several other competitors in the hunt for material speaks volumes about how content-rich Howard fandom is these days. The essay winners of the first Cimmerian Awards came from three different publications, all of them not named The Cimmerian, and while The Cimmerian cleaned up in that category last year it looks as if 2007’s Awards once again has lots of different venues threatening to take a Skull home to momma.
Damon’s textual discovery of the bastardized version of “Three-Bladed Doom” is not only competing in the essay category, but also the Black River Award category for Special Achievement. And Damon’s hat is in the ring for the Black Circle Award as well. Given his rock solid production at the start of this millennium, I’m guessing that Damon winning this highest of accolades is not a matter of if but when.
There’s some news over on The Dark Man website as well. Apparently the Board Members have finally had enough of Seele-Brennt’s endemic publishing delays, and as a result have pulled up stakes and moved elsewhere. This is the latest in a streak of positive moves for the journal. In the last year they have made strides in publishing fairly regularly, and their Christmas surprise issue focused on “Isle of the Eons” has received great reviews from everyone I’ve heard from. Recent Letters to the Editor have also merited attention, whether or not one agrees with the missives in question. Ed Waterman’s complete destruction of S. T. Joshi in their argument about REH and Philosophy is already legendary in knowledgeable Howardian circles, and new Board Member Jeffrey Kahan’s perverse obsession with homoerotic themes in Howard’s fiction provides many belly laughs for your Dark Man dollar, a refreshing change from the over-stodgy, self-important issues of old. That’s exactly what needs to be done to jump-start a moribund forum: think out of the box, dream up new ways to surprise and please your readers, and for Pete’s sake come out as often as possible. Dumping hapless Seele-Brennt for Lulu or some other instant publisher should go a long way towards making that happen.
The downside is that the format gets modified for TDM yet again, making those collectors who prize uniformity that much grumpier. But really, any chance at meeting that goal was blown several iterations ago, so one more change isn’t going to make it any worse. I would think, in fact, that an eclectic variety of looks might have its own appeal to collectors. Other mags like The Howard Review and Nyctalops made similar stylistic leaps over the years they were active. Besides, the Seele-Brennt format was fairly hideous to look at — one distributor told me about how it’s near-impossible for him to sell anything in that entire line due to the small, ugly footprint they make on a magazine rack or convention table. It can only get better from here, and it will be interesting to see what the Dark Man boys do to revamp their look. A more eye-pleasing design? Nicer fonts? Full color? Many possibilities to consider, and all of them doable on no budget these days.
As for the rest of the competition, there isn’t much to mention. Dennis McHaney has publicly stated that he’s winding down The Howard Review for good, with perhaps one more blowout finale before his final bow. Personal problems and severe gafiation has Joe Marek’s The Robert E. Howard Companion looking like a one-shot wonder. And James Van Hise’s Sword & Fantasy is coming out regularly but increasingly looks to be of little interest to Howard fans aside from the occasional reprint of some bit of lost fandom minutiae. (The day I start running hilariously inept Solomon Kane pastiches written by myself in TC, you have my leave to shoot me dead.)
Believe it or not, my dream is to see Mssrs. Sasser and Hall improve their publications to such a startling degree that they start winning Aquilonian Awards for Best Publication. It wouldn’t take much to make that category a horserace — just a slow but steady improvement in quantity and quality, issue by issue, one little nudge at a time. The Dark Man especially has made a noticeable jump upwards in this year’s Cimmerian Award voting, and given the right moves and some elbow grease, that trend could and should continue.