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Beautiful Plagues: An Interview with John C. Hocking

Beautiful Plagues: An Interview with John C. Hocking

To help reveal the muses that inspire weird fiction and horror writers, this interview series engages contemporary authors on the theme of “Art & Beauty in Weird/Fantasy Fiction.” Recent guests on Black Gate broaching this topic have included Darrell SchweitzerSebastian JonesCharles GramlichAnna Smith Spark, & Carol Berg, Stephen Leigh, Jason Ray Carney. See the full list of interviews at the end of this post.

Today we corner John C. Hocking whose Conan pastiche we reviewed a few months ago.

John C. Hocking is an American fantasy writer who is the author of two well-acclaimed Conan novels and has also won the 2009 Harper’s Pen Award for Sword and Sorcery fiction for his story, “The Face In The Sea”. He lives in Michigan with his wife, son, and an alarming quantity of books. He is a nigh-obsessed reader and writer of lurid pulp fiction, the author of Conan and the Emerald Lotus, the “Black Starlight” Conan serial, and their time-lost companion, Conan and the Living Plague, and an obedient thrall of Tales From the Magician’s Skull.

For clarity, we’ll actually corner him twice. Firstly, here on Black Gate, we’ll cover his weird, pulpy muses & Conan pastiche; secondly, in a companion interview, we’ll cover his King’s Blade and Archivist series on the Tale from the Magician’s Skull Blog.

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Conan’s Father: William Smith, 1933-2021

Conan’s Father: William Smith, 1933-2021

William Smith

We all have our end-of-year rituals, those small ceremonies that prepare us to ring out the old year and ring in the new. For me, one of the most important is watching the current TCM Remembers, the annual short film with which Turner Classic Movies bids farewell to the film people that we’ve lost throughout the year. It’s always beautifully done, and it always makes me tear up, usually no more the thirty seconds in.

Some of its subjects — the more famous ones — come as no surprise, as I heard about their deaths when they occurred during the year. There will always be many people, though, that I only find out about when I watch the video, late in December. This year one of the people that I didn’t know was gone was William Smith, who died July 5th at the age of eighty-eight.

William Smith? Who was William Smith? Oh, you know him — I guarantee it. To say that he was a prolific actor is to greatly understate the case. He has two hundred and seventy-five movie and television credits listed on IMDB, the first a miniscule part in 1942’s The Ghost of Frankenstein when he was nine years old and the last in 2020, in the Steve Carell comedy Irresistible.

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By Crom: Roy Thomas & Conan the Barbarian

By Crom: Roy Thomas & Conan the Barbarian

One Black Gate series which I have started, but is still for somewhere down the line, is a look at the first dozen-or-so issues of Roy Thomas’ Conan the Barbarian comic. And even before running that series, I’ll write one for the second dozen-ish, so I can tie together the various overlaps. This was prompted by a combination of the over-sized Marvel hardback Omnibuses, and Roy Thomas’ TERRIFIC (now) three-volume memoir about the series from Pulp Hero Press.

I never read the series, growing up. I bought some of the Dark Horse collections, which I liked. And when Marvel reacquired the rights and put out that first door-stopper compendium, I bought it. And I liked it enough to get the next three. I was buying them in conjunction with Roy Thomas’ Barbarian Life. The first Thomas volume covered the genesis of the comic, and the first fifty-one issues – which happened to be the same ones included in the first Omnibus.

Thomas helmed the series for 115 issues – which is how many are covered by the first four Omnibuses (both series’ talk about other issues as well). So, Thomas’ three books complement the Omnibuses perfectly. I read a story, and then I read Thomas’ insights. Along with the relevant commentary in the Omnibus itself. It’s a real Conan treat!

Thomas would write do other color Conans for Marvel. And he would also contribute to Dark Horse while they had the rights. But it’s that first run, when he was Stan Lee’s right hand, and he made Conan a best-selling property for Marvel, which fans revere.

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John C. Hocking’s Conan Pastiches Emerald Lotus and “Black Starlight”

John C. Hocking’s Conan Pastiches Emerald Lotus and “Black Starlight”

Ken Kelly cover art for Conan and the Emerald Lotus

John C. Hocking’s Conan Pastiches

Conan and the Emerald Lotus by John C. Hocking emerged from Tor in 1995 (Ciruelo Cabral cover artist), and was reprinted in 1999 (with a Ken Kelly cover); both paperbacks are insanely expensive now (i.e. $500+ on Amazon, 2021 price). In 2019 Hocking released a 12-part serialized novella “Black Starlight” published in the back of the recent Conan the Barbarian comic (the comic portion was written by Jason Aaron), a direct sequel to “Emerald Lotus” that tracks Conan’s adventures as he returns from Stygia.

An indirect sequel novel by Hocking called Conan and the Living Plague was pulled from publication in 2019 at the last minute. Its future is unknown (by certain graces, the author did provide me with a copy of the manuscript, and we plan to discuss it in an interview planned for 2022).

This post covers Hocking’s Conan pastiche as it evolves from Emerald Lotus in “Black Starlight,” with hints of more.

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Weird Tales Deep Read: February 1936

Weird Tales Deep Read: February 1936

This installment of the Weird Tales Deep Read continues our examination of 1936 with the February issue, which would have ranked among the best ever if not for a terrible cover story that dragged the rating down to a still very respectable 2.1, making it the year’s second best issue. We see some very familiar authors, including C. L. Moore, Paul Ernst, Robert E. Howard (who managed to appear in ten of the eleven ‘36 issues, largely because of two serials), and H.P. Lovecraft (with a reprint).

The best of issue once again comes down to Howard and Moore, and Howard again gets the nod by a hair. Of the 11 stories eight (73%) are set in the United States, and one each (9%) on Mars and an unnamed Jovian moon, China and other Asian territories, and in a fictitious realm. Eight (73%) are set in contemporary times, two in the past (18%) and one (9%) in the future.

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Discovering Robert E. Howard – The Series

Discovering Robert E. Howard – The Series

Back in 2015, because I didn’t know any better, I thought I could reach out to Robert E. Howard experts and fans from around the world, and convince them to contribute essays about Robert E Howard, for a Black Gate series. Yeah, I know: “Who are you, Byrne? Why do you think you can pull this off?” Because I don’t have the common sense that God gave a rock. Also – I can’t even sing as well as a rock (Bible reference there). So, without a clue (GREAT movie!), I reached out to a few folks, got pointed to a few more, and with the Black Gate name behind me, rounded up a VERY knowledgeable and talented group.

Howard was much more than just the creator of Conan (who I LOVE). He, of course, wrote many other characters, and for many other markets and genres. He lived an interesting life as well. And some generous folks contributed some tremendous essays!

It was a fantastic series, nominated for a Robert E. Howard Foundation award. The Howard community loved it, to no one’s surprise. The wide-ranging look at REH, covering his life and his works, was a superb addition to REH scholarship. It also planted the seeds for a follow-up series at Black Gate, Hither Came Conan, which was an even bigger hit! And you fans of either series, it will be a trilogy, as we’ll be emulating Hither Came Conan with another Howard character. But I’ve got another non-Howard series to put together first.

Here below is the entire series (which included a blog series being done separately by Howard Andrew Jones & Bill Ward). I intentionally minimized the Conan content, as the goal was to paint a broad REH picture. And we covered Conan in depth with Hither Came Conan. Click on a few links and explore the amazing world of Robert E. Howard. Some tremendous stuff, which Black Gate was proud to bring together.

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Weird Tales Deep Read: January 1936

Weird Tales Deep Read: January 1936

Another Brundage Pastel

I’m going to change the focus of the Weird Tales deep read slightly, to hopefully give a somewhat more coherent view of the magazine by focusing on a particular year, while still maintaining the month-at-a time format. First up is January 1936, followed by the ten subsequent issues published that year. (One issue was bi-monthly, and I’ve already covered the July issue, so you can just check that particular installment in the link provided below if you’re so inclined).

The January ‘36 WT is full of familiar names. Seabury Quinn, August Derleth, Paul Ernst, C. L. Moore, Robert E. Howard, and H. P. Lovecraft (with a reprint) all appear in the line up. The issue grades out to a respectable 2.44, largely avoiding poor stories but also scoring only a few outstanding ones. The two vying for best of issue were Moore’s Jirel and Howard’s Conan, the second installment of the longest Conan tale he was to write. Howard gets the nod on a toss-up.

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Hither Came Conan wins REH Foundation Award!

Hither Came Conan wins REH Foundation Award!

frank-frazetta-conan-the-barbarian1_small

Hither Came Conan, Indeed!

I think it was early in 2015, I decided I wanted to gather a bunch of folks who know more about Robert E. Howard than I did (THAT was an endless list!) and have them write about all kinds of different facets of Howard and his life. Sure, there would be a little Conan, but I wanted to minimize that. I wanted to introduce folks (and further teach others) about various aspects of this amazing writer. And so was born Discovering Robert E. Howard; almost three dozen essays by an All-Star cast of REH experts and fans. Here’s the final post in the series, with links all the prior ones.

It went over great, and I got to know the REH community a lot better than I did before. Inspired by an irregular series I was writing about Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe stories (I’m a gargantuan fan), I thought it would be fun to ‘round up the usual – and unusual – suspects’ (if you know me, you know that’s from my favorite movie of all time) and tackle Conan. Each contributor would explain why that story was the best of REH’s original Conan tales (no pastiches here). The twist was, each story was randomly assigned! I used an Excel spreadsheet and did a blind assignment – the modern technology equivalent of names out of a hat.

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Conan in the Land of the Rising Sun

Conan in the Land of the Rising Sun

The Coming of Conan (SF 14), Japanese edition (1971). Cover by Takebe Motoichiro

Although everyone’s favorite Cimmerian trod a wide path in his adventures, Conan never sailed to the shores of the ancient equivalent of Japan. Or at least he never did so in the tales penned by Robert E. Howard. I’m not versed enough regarding every pastiche or comic adaptation to know if he might have ventured there in one of those.

However, this didn’t stop Japanese editions of the Conan stories from appearing in the early 1970’s. I’d been unaware of these until late 2017, when I received a set of them from the estate of Glenn Lord. For decades, Lord had been the literary executor of the Howard estate, and some of his collection was going to be auctioned at the 2018 Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention. I’m one of the folks that runs that convention, and I was in charge of preparing that auction.

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Lin Carter’s Imaginary Worlds #2 World Building and Naming

Lin Carter’s Imaginary Worlds #2 World Building and Naming

Imaginary Worlds (Ballantine Books, June 1973). Cover by Gervasio Gallardo

So I had great fun reading Carter’s snarky, anecdotal, history of the Fantasy genre, Imaginary Worlds (1973), but I had actually come to the book for his thoughts on writing the Fantasy, and in particular Sword and Sorcery.

In hindsight, perhaps this was more of by way of exorcism.

Carter was adamant that Sword and Sorcery should have no content whatsoever: “It is a tradition that aspires to do little more than entertain and stretch the imagination a little.

We can certainly agree that Sword and Sorcery doesn’t handle topical themes well. The clue is in the name.  Though I myself know many people with swords on their wall and grimoires on their shelves, I will admit that I am not entirely typical in this regard. The secondary worlds of the Sacred Genre are too far removed from modernity to explore it directly.

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