Browsed by
Author: Doug Ellis

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.

Read More Read More

Some of That Old School Gaming

Some of That Old School Gaming

SPI ad in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, November 1978

I’ve been spending some time over the past few months getting my SF digests back in order. While those on the shelves were in order, I had bunches in boxes that needed to be incorporated, so it’s been a bit of work. But it’s been fun to look at them as I’m organizing them (which of course just slows that process down!)

I’d remembered that the first SF digest I subscribed to was The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, but had forgotten that the first issue of my subscription was December 1976. My copy still has that helpful mailing labeled plastered over it. But on that copy at least, from the perspective of 45 years later, I don’t mind it being on there at all.

I’ve had great fun looking again at the various SF and fantasy gaming ads that were running in digests during that period. I think that the first game I ever ordered was TSR’s Lankhmar in early 1977 (being a Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser fan, I couldn’t resist!), while I was in eighth grade, followed later that summer by SPI’s Sorcerer and Metagaming’s Ogre. Once I’d ordered a few things, my name found its way on to many mailing lists, so I wasn’t limited anymore to what I saw advertised in the digests.

Read More Read More

The Art of Things to Come, Part 3: 1961-1963

The Art of Things to Come, Part 3: 1961-1963

Science Fiction Book Club brochure (1961)

As I related in the first two installments of this series (Part One: 1953-1957, and Part Two: 1958-1960), like tens of thousands of science fiction fans before and after me, I was at one time a member of the Science Fiction Book Club (or SFBC for short). I joined just as I entered my teen years, in the fall of 1976, shortly after I’d discovered their ads in the SF digests.

The bulletin of the SFBC, Things to Come – which announced the featured selections available and alternates – sometimes just reproduced the dust jacket art for the books in question. During the first couple of decades of Things to Come, however, those occasions were rare. In most cases during that period, the art was created solely for the bulletin, and was not used in the book or anywhere else.

Since nearly all of the art for the first 20 years of Things to Come is exclusive to that bulletin, it hasn’t been seen by many SF fans. In this series, I’ll reproduce some of that art, chosen by virtue of the art, the story that it illustrates or the author of the story. The first installment featured art from 1957 and earlier, while the second installment covered 1958-1960. In this third installment I’ll look at the years 1961-1963, presented chronologically.

Read More Read More

A Tale of Finlay, Part 2

A Tale of Finlay, Part 2

“The Conditioned Captain” illustration by Virgil Finlay
(from Startling Stories, May 1953)

In last week’s Finlay post, I told the tale of how, back in the last week of March 2005, I’d acquired 15 Virgil Finlay originals from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It was an incredible purchase, but within six weeks it led to my acquisition of five more Finlay originals. Needless to say, that six week period was the greatest Finlay run of my collecting career.

I’d bought the Midsummer Night’s illos from California bookseller Peter Howard of Serendipity Books. At the time I bought them, he told me that his consignor on these had a few other Finlay originals which he thought he’d be handling for him. A week later, on April Fools’ Day, I received an email from Howard offering three more Finlay originals.

Read More Read More

A Dream of Finlay

A Dream of Finlay

Virgil Finlay art from A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935)

To sleep, perchance to dream.

And if you’re lucky, perhaps that dream will come true. 

If that dream is to buy fifteen Virgil Finlay originals in one fell swoop, then mine came true on the first day of spring sixteen years ago. Thereby hangs a tale. Though with apologies to the Bard, ‘twas neither Hamlet nor The Taming of the Shrew, but another play that figures therein. 

Almost from the moment his work first appeared in Weird Tales – debuting in the December 1935 issue – Finlay was the greatest interior illustrator in the pulps. Enamored of his work, Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright immediately engaged Finlay’s services for a side project, even as that issue of Weird Tales was hitting the newsstands.

Wright wanted to bring out an eight volume set of William Shakespeare’s plays in inexpensive editions (under the banner “Wright’s Shakespeare Library”), profusely illustrated. In Finlay, he felt he’d found the perfect partner for his project. He commissioned the then 21-year old Finlay to draw a total of 25 illustrations for the first volume, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Finlay completed this work in the last two months of 1935, and the volume saw print at the end of that year.

Read More Read More

The Shadow Knows A Good Pulp Painting When He Sees It!

The Shadow Knows A Good Pulp Painting When He Sees It!

Detective Story Magazine, December 2, 1919. Art by John Coughlin

I thought that today I’d tell the tale of a painting by the talented and prolific John Coughlin, which was used as a pulp cover not once but twice.

Its first appearance was over a century ago, as it graced the cover of the December 2, 1919 issue of Street & Smith’s Detective Story Magazine. At that time, it illustrated “Eyes of Blue” by Arthur P. Hankins. But its more famous appearance came a dozen years later.

Street & Smith created the character of The Shadow to narrate “The Detective Story Magazine Hour” on radio. That weekly program was launched on July 31, 1930 to promote Detective Story Magazine, and dramatized a story from the current issue. The character of The Shadow was a huge hit, and listeners began asking their news dealers for copies of that Shadow magazine. Sadly for Street & Smith and their prospective customers, there was no such magazine.

Not surprisingly, they soon decided to rectify this and publish a Shadow pulp to cash in on this interest, but uncertain of its prospects, they made it a quarterly. They also didn’t want to incur the expense of buying new cover art for the first issue, dated April 1931. So they decided to recycle a painting in their inventory that featured a Chinese man – Modest Stein’s cover for the October 1, 1919 issue of Street & Smith’s The Thrill Book. Author Walter Gibson was then told to set part of the first Shadow story (“The Living Shadow”) in Chinatown, and they used Stein’s old cover, adding a shadow to the cover in production.

Read More Read More

The 1940 Chicon Auction, or, “My Kingdom for a Time Machine!”

The 1940 Chicon Auction, or, “My Kingdom for a Time Machine!”

Virgil Finlay painting for George Allen England’s “Darkness and Dawn” (Famous Fantastic Mysteries, 1940)

For decades, beginning with the very first Worldcon in 1939, held in New York City, science fiction magazine publishers sent art to the convention, to be auctioned off to fans to help raise money for the con. Particularly in those early years, so much art was sometimes sent that the con didn’t have time to auction it all, and at the end of the auction original interior illustrations from the likes of Virgil Finlay, Edd Cartier and Frank R. Paul would be tossed into the audience for free.

Sadly, no one has ever thrown a free Finlay at me.

The tradition that was started at Nycon 1 continued in 1940 at the second Worldcon, held in Chicago from September 1-2, 1940 – Chicon 1. One of the attendees, and a man who was actively involved in organizing that Chicon, was legendary fan and SF author Wilson “Bob “ Tucker. At the time of the con, Tucker was in the midst of publishing his classic fanzine, Le Zombie, and in issue #40 (July 1941), he posted the results of the Chicon auction. In his list, Tucker identifies (where he knows) the artist, the piece, the fan who bought it and the selling price. I include that list below; I think it’s a fascinating glimpse at the earliest days of SF art collecting.

Not every item was a piece of original art; some books, magazines, fanzines and ephemera were auctioned also, but the vast majority of it was art. Tucker notes that his list is missing some info, as the auction moved so fast and he was rapidly taking notes as each piece was being auctioned. He also notes that the list is only for the Sunday night auction (September 1, 1940), but he did not make the same sort of notes for the continuation of the auction the next night.

Read More Read More

My Greatest Antique Fair Find

My Greatest Antique Fair Find

The Master Mind of Mars (A. C. McClurg & Co, 1928).
Cover by J. Allen St. John

Today, I thought I’d share the story of our greatest antique fair find.

Deb and I enjoy going to flea markets and antique shows when the weather is nice. Even if we don’t buy anything, it’s a fun way to spend a couple of hours walking outside while looking at a wide variety of items for sale. We’ve been lucky enough on several occasions to get some good pulp and paperback buys at these shows.

Our greatest find at one of them happened over 20 years ago, when Deb and I went to an antique fair in Chicago.

The Windy City was a hotbed of pulp activity in the first half of the 20th century, with several publishers based there. As a result, many artists and authors also lived there. Among the pulp artists who called Chicago their home were Margaret Brundage, Harold McCauley, Harold DeLay, Hugh Rankin, Jay Jackson, Curtis Senf, Robert Gibson Jones, Joseph Tillotson (also known as Robert Fuqua), Julian Krupa, Malcolm Smith, James Settles and Rod Ruth.

Perhaps the greatest of all of the pulp artists that lived in Chicago was J. Allen St. John. His name immediately brings to mind the stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs, as he illustrated many of Burroughs’ novels of Tarzan, John Carter and others in pulps, slicks and hardcovers. For many years, St. John had his studio in the Tree Studio Building on Ohio Street in downtown Chicago. (Incidentally, my law firm held an event at Tree Studio a few years ago, and it was very cool to be able to walk around it, though we weren’t able to go into St. John’s old studio.)

Read More Read More

The Art of Things to Come, Part 2: 1958-1960

The Art of Things to Come, Part 2: 1958-1960

The Fantastic Universe Omnibus, featured in the
September-October 1960 issue of Things to Come. Art by Virgil Finlay

As I mentioned in Part One of this series, like tens of thousands of science fiction fans before and after me, I was at one time a member of the Science Fiction Book Club (or SFBC for short). I joined just as I entered my teen years, in the fall of 1976.

The bulletin of the SFBC, Things to Come, which announced the featured selections available and alternates, sometimes just reproduced the dust jacket art for the books in question. However, in many cases the art was created solely for the bulletin, and was not used in the book or anywhere else. Nearly all of the art for the first 20 years of Things to Come is exclusive to that bulletin, and as a result hasn’t been seen by many SF fans. In this series, I’ll reproduce some of that art, chosen by virtue of the art, the story that it illustrates or the author of the story. The first installment featured art from 1957 and earlier, while this installment covers 1958-1960, presented chronologically.

Read More Read More

Our Most Unusual Pulp Adventure

Our Most Unusual Pulp Adventure

10 Story Mystery, April 1943, and The All-Story Detective, October 1949

Based on my experience, I think that non-collectors often view us collectors as somewhat crazy. They just don’t approach things the way we do, particularly when it comes to whatever particular obsession drives us. They don’t understand why we collect, and they don’t understand what we do to collect, and they don’t understand that the desire to collect can often override what most folks would consider to be common sense.

Case in point: Many of my non-collector friends are often horrified when I relate to them the tale of our most unusual pulp collecting adventure.

On a late fall day about 15 years ago, I read an ad in an antiques magazine regarding an upcoming auction in a neighboring state. The auction mentioned pulps and showed a few. So Deb and I got up very early the day of the auction and drove for several hours. The auction was being held in a large, unheated building, and both of us were quite cold the whole time. We’d arrived with enough time to quickly browse through the material – there were several lots of pulps among the hundreds of lots being auctioned, but most of the material was non-genre, everything from tools and hardware to furniture to farm equipment to household items to architectural salvage. None of the pulps were particularly rare, but many were in nice condition.

I think the auction began around 11:00 a.m. Unfortunately, there was no order to it. Whatever item happened to strike the auctioneer’s fancy at any given moment would be auctioned off, with no rhyme or reason as to when something would be coming up. After a while a few pulp lots came up, which I won, but then he moved on to other things, leaving most of the pulp lots still to come. Every hour or so, he’d get to a few more pulp lots, and then switch to something else. Needless to say, it was extremely frustrating.

Read More Read More