Tuesday, February 13, 2018

POLLEN'S WOMEN - The Art of Samson Pollen



POLLEN’S WOMEN
The Art of Samson Pollen
Edited by Robert Deis & Wyatt Dole
# new texture
135 pgs

One of the tragedies of the original pulp era was the lack of recognition given to the brilliant artists of that time. Every single week hundreds of pulp titles hit the newsstands, each graced with a gorgeous, colorful cover paintings and filled with dozens of wonderful black and illustrations. Whereas these populace magazines were snobbishly ignored by the purveyors of the uppercrust, academia including and no effort was made to save this amazing art. It has been reported that over 90% of all those great covers and illustrations were destroyed and lost to us forever, save in the fading pages of the actual mags, some eighty years or older today.

After World War Two, pulps evolved into comics for kids and two new adult formats to continue the publication of action adventure stories. One was the small paperback designed to be easily carried in one’s back-pocket and produced on the cheap. The other, and more direct descend of the original pulps, was the men’s adventure magazines, hereto referred to as MAGS. From the 50s to early 70s they proliferated in drugstores racks via dozens of titles all aimed at the World War II veterans looking for stories featuring rugged, individuals not afraid to take on the world. The MAMS catered to tales of war heroes, explorers, tough cops and rebel bikers. It was a cornucopia of he-man virility that oozed off every page.

Accompanying these tales was the macho art; a vital element of the entire package. Like their smaller, golden age predecessors, the MAMS were chock full of amazing illustrations, most done in long double page formats while offering up some of the greatest in-your face all action scenes ever put on a cover. Here were soldiers combating overwhelming odds, or treasure hunters battled savage beasts of every kind imaginable while at the same time protecting some half-clad buxom babe. They were simply men’s fantasies brought to stunning visual reality as created a dozen or so remarkable artists.

One such was Samson Pollen and now editors Robert Deis and Wyatt Doyle have collected dozens of his more spectacular pieces. Each is represented into versions; first showcasing the actual artwork alone and then the same image as surrounded as folded into the magazine’s layout with text and titles etc. It is a truly effective demonstration of the format challenges posed to Pollen and his peers. One of this book’s most intriguing parts is Pollen’s own memoirs which he shared with co-author Doyle. At 86, the veteran illustrator’s tales of his work-for-hire experiences as a professional illustrator are fascinating. Pollen never assumed he was creating anything but commercial art and his job, as he saw it, was to give the editors what they wanted. No matter how silly those requests often times appeared to be. He was told to draw this or that and he did. He was a workman artist.

Today, one gets the sense that he is happily bemused at how valuable his art has become and the status it has achieved in the scheme of things. In this day of digital art, illustrators are a dying breed and one wonders if future generations will ever see their like again. For now we can only tip our pulp fedoras to Mr. Deis & Mr. Doyle for saving work of this true master; Samson Pollen.

Friday, February 09, 2018

STRANGE VIEW FROM A SKEWED ORBIT



STRANGE VIEW FROM
A SKEWED ORBIT
(An Oddball Memoir)
By Ardath Mayhar
Borgo Press
159 pgs

Dear Readers, this certainly will not be one of my regular reviews. You see the subject matter is much too personal for me and we need to share much more than a few declarative paragraphs concerning this wonderful little book. So time for some history. In the early 80s, pre-PC and internet time, I had joined a group via snail-mail correspondence called SPWAO; the Small Press Writers & Artists Organization. We were made of up both amateur and professional creators all working in one fashion or another with small press. Among that group was Texas based professional sci-fi and fantasy writer Ardath Mayhar. If you’ll allow me to name drop here, the group also included among its ranks Charles Saunders, Richard & Wendy Pini and Kevin Anderson; all of which I’m sure you readily recognized.

We had officers, collected dues and published a monthly newsletter. At one point I was elected the President and responsible for putting out that newsletter. It was along this time that I began a friendly correspondence with Ardath not realizing it would soon become a life-saver for me. Note, members of SPWAO were set on achieving professionalism in various genres, from books to comics. Most of my energies directed towards the latter without much thought at all to novel writing.

Then came my divorce and my world turned upside down. Having three small children unable to comprehend exactly why their father was leaving caused me months of pain and anguish. At one point I let some of this out in a letter to Ardath, this kindly grandmother writer from Texas, as a way of maybe dispelling a little of the hurt I was dealing with. Her response was a rapid reply in which she suggested, “Why don’t we write a book together. It might help take your mind off the sadness.”  She even let me devise the subject matter and plot and we went at it. Six months later her agent sold “Trail of the Seahawks” to TSR’s new Windwalker paperback line and I was a published author. 

And of course, as Ardath was well aware, the rest of my life did settle out. My weekly visitations with my wonderful children eventually proved to them my continued love and devotion and within the next few years some kind of normalcy returned to all of us. Oh, and Ardath and me went on to write two more books together, “Monkey Station” and “Witchfire.” I would have loved to have done more, but she was then in her late 70s and let me know I was good enough to fly on my own, whereas she still had too many of her own tales to tell in whatever time she had left.

That’s the personal stuff.  Now here’s the clinical.  Ardath Mayhar Feb 20 – 1930 to Feb 1st 2012 (aged 81) began writing professionally in 1979. She was nominated for the Mark Twain Award and won the Balrog Award for a horror narrative poem in Masques 1. In 2008 she was honored by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America as an Author Emeritus. She wrote over sixty books ranging from sci-fi to horror to young adult to historical to westerns; with some work under the pseudonym Frank Cannon, Frances Hurst, and John Killdeer. Mrs. Mayhar also shared her knowledge and skills of writing with many people through the Writer’s Digest correspondence courses.

Recently I learned that in 1996 Ardath compiled a rambling, intimate memoir of her life after having been pestered by friends to do so. That book is “Strange View From a Skewed Orbit.”  It is a truly wonderful glimpse into the heart and mind of a remarkable woman who was descended of pioneer stock. It is a glimpse of both the rugged landscape of East Texas but also of a culture that prides individualism and old fashion grit. In the book’s final few essays, Ardath lambast the wishy-washy nonsense that is today’s feminism, decrying pampered women who have swallowed the entire hogwash philosophy of victimhood. In her own words, “It is not the function of government to make life easy for anyone, rich or poor, male or female, black white, yellow or red. That is a sure route to dependency. We are our own motivators, and if we do not use our strength, our intelligence, and our determination to achieve what we are capable of doing, the fault lies with us, not some anonymous “white male establishment.””

It is one of my life’s major disappointments that we never actually got to meet in this world. But believe me, that is a meeting that will certainly take place in the next. Till then, every time I sit down to write, I know I’ve a friend looking down from on high.
God bless you, Ardath, and thanks.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

THE OBSIDIAN CHAMBER



 THE OBSIDIAN CHAMBER
(A Pendergast Novel)
By Preston & Child
Grand Central Publishing
437 pgs

We make no bones that we are devoted fans of this new pulp series. Special Agent Pendergast and his revolving cast of supporting characters are truly colorful and memorable. In this, the sixteen entry, the authors pick up from the dramatic cliffhanger they ended book fifteen, “Crimson Shore.” We won’t tell you what that dangling question was on the off chance some of you are playing catch up and have yet to read it.

Rather we will say the tale opens with Pendergast away from his home on Riverside Drive in New York City, leaving his ward, Constance Greene, chauffeur and bodyguard Proctor and household keeper, Mrs. Trask, to fend for themsevles. Not a good thing when his younger brother, supposedly dead, invades the domicile, subdues Proctor and kidnaps Ms. Greene. Here we should let you know, Diogenes is as great a villain as his brother is a hero. A psychotic genius whose level of cruelty is beyond measure and the one true advisory our protagonist has yet to adequately best.

And with that kidnapping begins a globe trotting chase around the glove, as a frantic Proctor, whose responsibility it was to protect the girl, spares no effort or money to go after them wherever they are bound. That this madcap race takes up the first quarter if the entire book will tell you at what a frenetic pace “The Obsidian Chamber” is propelled. By the time our hero does arrive on the scene, having barely escaped the clutches of a gang of drug smugglers off the coast of Maine, we readers are whipping through pages faster and faster. How on earth is Pendergast ever going to get up to speed? And therein lays the talent of this superb writing team in that they set out that solution so logically via what past books have established; that he is no mere mortal. Pendergast is a man of superior intellect and imagination and he how he employs those talents to solve the most bizarre challenge he has ever faced is the delight of this book.

As with all series pulp adventures, some often time feel like obligatory fillers and are soon forgotten when a new chapter arrives. While others, like “The Obsidian Chamber” hit so many right notes as to create a melody masterpiece of plotting and pace so spectacular that the tune will reverberate in your minds long after you’ve finished the last page.