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Medieval Marvels at the Museo Arqueológico Nacional, Madrid

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

Reccesvinth's crown from the Guarrazar Hoard. A collection of gold crowns and crosses dating between 621 and 672 AD, these masterpieces of Visigothic art show Late Roman and Byzantine influences. This crown, for example, has a reused Byzantine pectoral cross. It was popular for royalty, clergy, and leading civilians to donate crowns and crosses as votive offerings.

Reccesvinth’s crown from the Guarrazar Hoard. A collection of gold crowns and crosses dating between 621 and 672 AD, these masterpieces of Visigothic art show Late Roman and Byzantine influences. This crown, for example, has a reused Byzantine pectoral cross. It was popular for royalty, clergy, and leading civilians to donate crowns and crosses as votive offerings.

In previous posts, I’ve been exploring the newly renovated Museo Arqueológico Nacional in Madrid. We’ve looked at the museum’s Celtiberian and Roman collections, and now let’s see the museum’s other great collection, that of the medieval period.

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Support The Collectors Book of Virgil Finlay Kickstarter

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Space Police Virgil Finlay-smallI don’t often report on Kickstarter projects. But in this case, I’m making an exception — both due to the quality of the book and the people involved.

Bob Garcia’s American Fantasy Press is publishing The Collectors Book of Virgil Finlay, the first new Virgil Finlay art book in twenty years, featuring art from the extensive collections of Robert Weinberg, Doug Ellis, Glynn Crain, and Robert K. Wiener. The publishers have launched a Kickstarter Campaign to help defray some of the considerable costs in preparing and publishing the book. Here’s Donato Giancola, cover artist for Black Gate 15, on the artist:

Finlay’s dizzying compositions and incredible draftsmanship recall the dense compositions of Renaissance artists Hieronymus Bosch and Albrecht Durer, while at the same time embracing the modern aesthetics of abstraction. His black and white images are ground breaking, unforgettable, and reflective of a genius at play in the world of art.

From 1936-1971, Virgil Finlay illustrated an astounding amount of pulp fiction, including 19 Weird Tales covers and fabulous interior work for Amazing, Famous Fantastic Mysteries, Fantastic Novels, Fantastic Universe, Galaxy, IF, and many others. See samples of his work in Bob’s last article for us here, and a few of his covers here, here, and here.

The Collectors Book of Virgil Finlay is scheduled for release at this year’s World Fantasy Convention. It will contain 35 full color paintings, the largest collection of his color work ever assembled in print, plus another 13 pages of additional color work, over 150 pages of black and white artwork, and commentary on the artist by two of the field’s foremost pulp art collectors: Robert Weinberg and Doug Ellis. It is an oversized 9″ x 12″ hardcover, 208 pages.

The Kickstarter campaign is scheduled to end on Virgil Finlay’s Centenary Birthday: July 23, 2014; after just 10 days, the project is already fully funded. Get more information or contribute at the Kickstarter page here.

Vintage Treasures: Stephen E. Fabian’s Ladies & Legends

Thursday, June 26th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Stephen Fabian Ladies and Legends-thumbI brought home two boxes of treasures from the 2014 Windy City Pulp & Paper show in April. I’ve been very happy with my various finds, which included a rich assortment of eye-catching pulps, vintage paperbacks, classic anthologies, and hard-to-find fanzines and magazines. I’ve covered some of the more interesting items here in the past few months.

But I’ve saved the best for the last: a luscious collection of black and white artwork from one of my all-time favorite artists, Stephen E. Fabian.

A few years ago, Scott Taylor asked me to provide my list of nominees for his Top 10 Fantasy Artists of the Past 100 Years and I had Fabian right near the top, along with Wally Wood and Al Williamson. (None of those three made the list. Go figure.)

Stephen Fabian is one of the great craftsmen in all of fantasy. It’s not merely his command of the medium and his consummate technical skill… his art is genuinely beautiful (a characteristic I frequently find lacking with some of his contemporaries). Fabian has an unerring eye for composition, perfectly positioning his knights, mermaids, and grave robbers among moonlit ruins, floating fairy castles, and more imaginative settings.

He’s equally at home with humor, action, and horror, and all are on display in Stephen E. Fabian’s Ladies & Legends. He’s frequently at his best with pen and ink drawings, as he is here. This is a gorgeous book and, like the best fantasy artwork, it will set your imagination soaring.

Warning — some adult content ahead.

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Art of the Genre: The Art of D&D is Not Right for Lankhmar [and Most Other Fiction Settings]

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

Lankhmar Cover CompressI, like many folk of my age, category, and interest set, have many fond memories of Waldenbooks. I mean, as a kid there were basically two things you could be guaranteed were fun at any U.S. mall: Kay-Bee Toys and Waldenbooks. They were two oases in a desert of clothes outlets and anchor stores that your mother dragged you to on far too many occasions. Still, being able to go to those two stores somehow made it all worthwhile and I weep for the youth of today (and myself for that matter) that malls have now become all clothing & eateries, as both those wonderful chains are gone forever.

Yet I digress, as I’m writing today to speak a bit about a book I well remember purchasing at Waldenbooks back in probably 1987 (although the book’s production date is 1985). This gaming campaign setting, Lankhmar: City of Adventure, was produced by TSR after it acquired the license to Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd & Gray Mouser universe and it does an admirable job detailing the base game mechanics for driving a square peg (Swords & Sorcery) into a round hole (Dungeons & Dragons).

I was too young at the time to properly see this problem and simply enjoyed the game for what it was, another cool setting to have my characters visit (and more importantly steal Nehwon Throwing Daggers, which did 1D6 damage instead of the 1D4 of normal D&D daggers). This was also one of the more interesting cities designed by TSR, in that it is not only huge, but it has a series of square ‘blocks’ that are empty in the map and can be filled in by the DM to customize the city to your personal campaign.

Still, as I look at this large 95-page supplement today, I’m saddened by the thought of what could have been if this kind of development and money had been focused in the right direction. To me, Lankhmar falls well short of the mark because the world of Leiber is inherently NOT D&D, and therefore trying to statistically recreate Fafhrd & Mouser, or anyone or anything else in that universe, is going to fall dramatically short. It is for the same reason that Pete Fenlon developed Rolemaster, and thereafter Middle-Earth Role-playing, because he couldn’t play the world of Tolkien using the table-top mechanics of Gygax’s gaming opus, D&D.

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New Treasures: Planets of Adventure by Murray Leinster

Friday, June 20th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Planets of Adventure-smallThere’s lot of great new arrivals to tell you about this week. I’ve got them all stacked up beside my green chair, unread. Because the book I’m really excited about is Planets of Adventure by Murray Leinster, published by Baen Books over a decade ago.

That’s when I first bought it, too — over a decade ago. I went hunting for a copy as a birthday gift for my son last week, and was thrilled to find it was still in print. A fat omnibus of pulp science fiction from one of my favorite science fiction writers, still in print in mass market after nearly eleven years!

Just like that, my faith in humanity is restored. Here’s the back cover blurb, ’cause it’s awesome.

Breathtaking space adventure by a master of interplanetary science fiction. Including two complete novels, one of them a Hugo Award-winner.

The Planet Explorer: As humans spread throughout the galaxy, thousands of planets have been colonized. Often, the colonists discover too late that an apparently hospitable planet conceals a danger to their survival. The fate of these colonies scattered across the galaxy rests with one man, whose own fate is to race forever against looming interstellar disaster.

The Forgotten Planet: A ship is marooned on a planet whose existence has been mislaid by the galactic bureaucracy. And the planet’s ecology has gone wild, breeding deadly giant insects. The ship’s crew and passengers have no hope of rescue. Can they and their descendants survive? Tune in next millennium.

Plus more exciting adventures of men and women against the hostile stars.

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Vintage Treasures: Weird Tales #290

Monday, June 9th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Weird Tales 290-smallI’m still unpacking all the treasures I brought home from the 2014 Windy City Pulp & Paper show in April. Although, as my wife Alice points out, things would go a little faster if I didn’t fondle everything for 20 minutes.

I found the artifact at right buried in a box of magazines and fanzines from the 70s and 80s I acquired at the show. It’s the 290th issue of Weird Tales, covered dated Spring 1988 — the Sixty-Fifth Anniversary issue, a landmark, and one of my favorite issues of perhaps the most famous fantasy magazine of all time.

Issue 290 was the first issue of Weird Tales from Terminus Publishing, under editors George H. Scithers, John Gregory Betancourt, and Darrell Schweitzer. It’s special to me because the Terminus era was my favorite incarnation of Weird Tales.

I suppose some folks will find that odd. Certainly the early pulp era of the Grand Old Lady of fantasy was its most fertile and famous period — the late 20s to mid-thirties, when it routinely published groundbreaking work by Robert E, Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Edmond Hamilton, and many, many others. Those issue are highly prized by collectors and key copies in good condition from that era routinely command hundreds of dollars.

But the Terminus years, which began in my mid-20s, marked the resurgence of Weird Tales as a vibrant, important and thoroughly modern fantasy magazine, publishing short fiction by the top fantasy writers of the time. It was also the first time I was able to enjoy it as a contemporary publication, rather than a highly collectible relic of a distant era, and I appreciated that very much. I had a subscription, and looked forward to each issue eagerly.

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Calvin and Hobbes Creator Bill Watterson Draws Pearls Before Swine

Saturday, June 7th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Bill Watterson draws Pearls Before SwineBill Watterson, the legendary creator of Calvin and Hobbes, is one of the most famous cartoonists in the world. He’s also one of the most private. After he retired from comics in 1995, he vanished from public life. He made Time Magazine‘s list of Top 10 Most Reclusive Celebrities (at #7) a few years ago (and Time accompanied the piece with one of the only known photographs of him.) For years, fans have been wondering what his next project would be.

It turns out that it’s already been published — and, typical for Watterson, in a surprisingly understated fashion. Stephan Pastis, creator of the bestselling Pearls Before Swine comic, revealed on his blog this morning that Watterson has been co-writing and co-drawing the strip with him for much of the past week:

I emailed him the strip and thanked him for all his great work and the influence he’d had on me. And never expected to get a reply. And what do you know, he wrote back. Let me tell you. Just getting an email from Bill Watterson is one of the most mind-blowing, surreal experiences I have ever had. Bill Watterson really exists? And he sends email? And he’s communicating with me?

But he was. And he had a great sense of humor about the strip I had done, and was very funny, and oh yeah… He had a comic strip idea he wanted to run by me…

What followed was a series of back-and-forth emails where we discussed what the strips would be about, and how we would do them. He was confident. I was frightened. Frightened because it’s one thing to write a strip read by millions of people. But it’s another thing to propose an idea to Bill Watterson.

You can see the entire sequence drawn by Watterson here, and this morning’s article by Michael Cavna’s  at The Washington Post that broke the story here.

Doctor Strange Gets a Director

Thursday, June 5th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Strange Tales 110 Doctor Strange-smallI’ve been getting cranky waiting for progress on Marvel’s Doctor Strange movie, and as the wait has stretched out, I’ve been getting progressively more pessimistic (see my March post, Hurry Up With That Doctor Strange Movie, Marvel.)

The property has enormous potential to be something completely original in the superhero genre — namely a faithful rendition of Steve Ditko’s playful (and totally bonkers) inter-dimensional setting, which is what first blew away so many readers of Doctor Strange in the 1960s. A hero whose adventures routinely took him to gorgeous, bizarre, imaginative, and frequently monster-filled realms where normal concepts of space and distance were useless was something totally new, and readers thrilled to it — and it took Ditko’s unique genius to really make it work.

However, Marvel Studios took a huge step forward this week, announcing that they had selected a director for the film: Scott Derrickson, writer/director of the terrific little horror film Sinister, perhaps the best horror flick of 2012. Derrickson has an impressive resume as a writer/director, including The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005) and the upcoming Deliver Us from Evil (July 2014). He was also the director of the 2008 remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still.

If you’re getting a strong horror vibe off  Derrickson’s resume, you’re not alone. Matt D. Wilson at Comics Alliance did a fine job of articulating my own feelings on the announcement yesterday:

Seriously, though, that’s pretty interesting, considering that Doctor Strange has never been what I’d call a horror character, despite his many dealings with supernatural forces, demons, dark magic, and so forth. But his stories have always tended to be more fantastical, while other Marvel characters, such as Son of Satan, Werewolf By Night, and, you know, Dracula, have tended to be more horror-focused. The decision perhaps suggests a tone that won’t necessarily please Doctor Strange fans, but may be very palatable to general movie audiences, who made the low-budget Sinister a surprise hit back in 2012.

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Everything’s Coming up Aces: All the Covers of Galactic Derelict

Monday, May 26th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Galactic Derelict 1961-big Galactic Derelict 1971-small Galactic Derelict 1978-small

Click any of the images to see the complete wrap-around covers.

Last week I wrote a brief Vintage Treasures article about Andre Norton’s classic SF adventure novel Galactic Derelict. Here’s what I said about the book’s printing history:

Galactic Derelict was published in 1959 by the World Publishing Company and has been reprinted in eight different editions over the last half-century. It first appeared in paperback from Ace Books in 1961. It is 192 pages in paperback, priced at 35 cents. The cover is by Ed Emshwiller. If I have a few moments this weekend, I may assemble some of the other covers to display them here.

Well, on this leisurely Memorial Day weekend, I finally have a few minutes to pull together half a dozen covers from the book’s five decades in print, and here they are.

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New Treasures: Voodoo Tales: The Ghost Stories of Henry S. Whitehead

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Voodoo Tales The Ghost Stories of Henry S. Whitehead-smallI continue to collect the Wordsworth Editions Tales of Mystery & The Supernatural, which I’ve found to be an inexpensive way to gather a diverse range of early horror writers on a single bookshelf.

My latest acquisition was Voodoo Tales: The Ghost Stories of Henry S. Whitehead, which I bought because it was huge (691 pages!), inexpensive ($3.90!), and ’cause it had voodoo in it (voodoo!). What can I tell you, it was a compelling combo.

I’ve never heard of Henry S. Whitehead, but apparently he was an early Weird Tales writer who had two Arhkam House collections. You’d think I’d be more on top of an author who had a pair of Arhkam House collections, but no. This genre keeps finding more ways to surprise me.

I’m guessing that Whitehead wrote mostly voodoo tales, but I won’t know for sure until I dig into the volume. Until then, I’m relying on the cover and the text on the back, and I’m definitely picking up a voodoo vibe.

“And behind him, like a misshapen black frog, bounded the Thing, its red tongue lolling out of its gash of a mouth, its diminutive blubbery lips drawn back in a murderous snarl…”

Let Henry S. Whitehead take you into the mysterious and macabre world of voodoo where beasts invade the mind of man and where lives of the living are racked by the spirits of the dead. In this collection of rare and out of print stories you will encounter the curses of the great Guinea-Snake, the Sheen, the weredog whose very touch means certain death, the curious tale of the ‘magicked’ mirror, and fiendish manikins who make life a living hell. Included in this festival of shivering fear is the remarkable narrative ‘Williamson’ which every editor who read the story shied away from publishing.

With deceptive simplicity and chilling realism, Whitehead’s Voodoo Tales are amongst the most frightening ever written.

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