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Geeks With Books
by Rick Klaw

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Joe R. Lansdale
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Aggiecon
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Roger Zelazny
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Mojo Press

The Secret History of Weird Business
Part III: The Hard Part

New Worlds #142
New Worlds #143
New Worlds #144
New Worlds #145
Joe R. Lansdale had already started contacting the "name" talent, and it was my turn to reach out to some of the people that I had met at conventions. Weird Business was an "open" anthology, meaning we accepted submissions from anyone. As you can imagine, I was flooded with submissions. I was able to bring in a few big names on my own1, most notably the legendary Michael Moorcock.

Moorcock was a literary hero of mine, and his work at the helm of New Worlds (ed. note: beginning with issue #142) inspired my editorial career. We met at Aggiecon2 and hit it off. Turns out that we're both Captain Marvel fans. I'm talking about the character that most of you think of as Shazam.3 We also have similar tastes in our science fiction reading. The idea of us working together wasn't too far fetched. If only I could find him.

When I decided to contact Moorcock about being in Weird Business, no one knew where he was. Moorcock had decided to move to Texas, and he was in transit between London and Austin. I made a few phone calls, left a few messages. Finally someone directed me to Ed Kramer. Apparently Kramer had represented Moorcock on a few deals and if anyone would know where he was or who his agent was, it would be Kramer. I called him. It went something like this.
"Mr. Kramer?"
"Yes?"
"I'm looking for Michael Moorcock or his agent, and I was told you might know."
"I'm his agent. What do you want?"

At this point Kramer really pissed me off. He was very rude and short with me. Not very professional. I always thought that an agent's job is to be friendly and encourage business.

I gave him my spiel. "...and it's a comic book."

"Mr. Moorcock does NOT like comic books and is NOT interested." He was very emphatic. This confused me since Moorcock and I had discussed his love of comics and he had even spent some time making his living as a comic book scripter. Kramer asked some other questions like how much we were paying, and continued to get more and more rude. I hung up. Before I could consider what an ass Ed Kramer had been, the phone rang.

It was Bob Wayne, direct marketing VP for DC Comics. Lewis Shiner had introduced me to Wayne years before and we had stayed in touch. He had also written the introduction to the First Comics' Sailor On the Seas of Fate comic adaptation. (For a man who "does NOT like comic books," Moorcock certainly has had a fair number of comic adaptations.) Wayne wasn't sure how to get in touch with the man directly, but he had the number to his COMIC BOOK AGENT Mike Friedrich. Doesn't like comics, but has an agent that handles nothing but his comics?4

I called Friedrich, who had no idea where Moorcock was but said that if I could find an address, he'd be glad to negotiate the deal. You'd think I was looking for Carlos the Jackal. How hard could it be to find the world famous bearded Londoner?

Often when I run out of options, I use the geek hotline. It's not a hotline in the Batman sense. No red phones. No Commissioner Gordon. Rather, I send email to everyone I know asking them to ask everyone they know. Usually you find what you seek. The problem with using this system is that now everyone knows I am looking for someone with the stature and importance of Moorcock. If he decides to pass on Weird Business, it could hurt my geek cred and possibly affect interest in the book.

Within 24 hours of sending out my plea, I received an email from Bradley Denton. Until that time, Denton and I had never exchanged emails though we had met on several occasions. He had Michael Moorcock's new address in Texas! I quickly called Mike Friedrich, who asssured me that he would send a letter to Moorcock immediately. Now all I could do is wait.

Things began to progress quickly as Robert Bloch, F. Paul Wilson, Charles de Lint and Roger Zelazny all signed onto the project. I began to read through the slush pile.5 Then I got the call.

"Hello?"
"Is Rick Klaw there?"
"Speaking."
"Rick, this is Michael Moorcock and I would love to be in your anthology."
Just like that Moorcock was in.

He went on to explain how Friedrich had contacted him, and even though he didn't have time to write something original, we were welcome to adapt one of his short stories. My only problem with that was that I was having trouble finding his short stories. Moorcock understood and said he would send me a few stories to choose from.

Art: Dave Dorman
Cover Rough for Weird Business
Original Weird Business Cover Sketch

A few days later a package arrived from Michael Moorcock. Within was a copy of his short story collection Earl Aubec complete with a page long letter inscribed on the end papers of the book. Moorcock invited me to pick any story, and even made a few suggestions. Although I found many other brilliant stories in the book, I was no dummy and chose "Jesting With Chaos," an Elric tale.

Art: Dave Dorman
Weird Business

We decided on Steve Bissette to produce the cover. Bissette is best known for his stint on the Alan Moore run of Swamp Thing and his own comic Tyrant. Bissette produced several interior illustrations to one of Lansdale's limited editions and was eager to work with him again. Not only is Bissette a talented artist, but he's a horror fan as well. He edited the influential horror comics anthology seriesTaboo6 and wrote a regular "B" movie column for Video Watchdog. Steve Bissette seemed like the perfect choice.

Producing a cover for a book like Weird Business is a daunting task for any artist. The book ultimately contained 23 stories by 56 different creators, all with different styles and subject material.7 Only a fraction of the stories were completed or even known when we asked Bissette to paint the cover. We need something to promote the book.

When Bissette turned his cover in, it was a surprise to all of us, since unlike many artists Bissette doesn't like to do cover sketches before he paints. The painting was beautifully eerie, but a little too gross. We all loved it. The only problem was that it was totally wrong for the project. Ultimately, we decided to pass on the cover. Now we were without a cover and an artist8 to create one.

Luckily, Lansdale knows a lot of people. Dave Dorman is one of the most popular cover artists in the history of comics. His paintings have graced covers for every major comic publisher as well as many book publishers. He is best known for his Star Wars and Aliens covers and paintings. Ironically, he had illustrated the Stoker award-winning novella Aliens: Tribe written by Steve Bissette. Dorman was excited about the project, and after seeing his initial sketches, we knew we had our cover artist.

There were other adventures, mishaps and even tragedies along the way. Norm Partridge dragged himself out of bed while he had chicken pox to write "Gorilla Gunslinger," which became the most popular story in the book. One month before the book was due at the printer, I had to fire the artist on my very own story. One week later, I fired the artist off the Roger Zelazny story. I mediated plenty of creative differences. Some things no one could fix. Robert Bloch died several months before the book went to press, and Roger Zelazny died soon after its release. The book took 18 months out of my life that I wouldn't trade for the world. At the time of its publication, Weird Business was the single largest comic book of original material ever published in English.

To be concluded in Part IV: Shock and Confusion


1 Including Nebula winner Howard Waldrop and popular comic book artist Michael Lark.

2 Another long running Texas convention, but this time on the campus of Texas A&M.

3 Shazam is actually the wizard who gave young Billy Batson the powers to become Captain Marvel when he uttered the word "Shazam!" When DC acquired the rights to the golden age character, they called the new comic Shazam! to avoid any possible conflict with Marvel Comics.

4 For years after Weird Business came out, Ed Kramer routinely approached me at conventions to pitch anthology proposals. Every time, I would smile politely and take his proposal. As soon as he would leave, I'd pitch it in the trash. I doubt to this day, that Kramer remembers our phone conversation.

5 The slush pile is the stack of contributions from everyone that you didn't specifically invite into the book. In the case of Weird Business, we had both writers and artists.

6 The original home of Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell's classic From Hell.

7 I actually had someone tell me at a convention that they didn't like any of the art in the book. None of the styles grabbed him. Go figure.

8 Bissette wasn't angry with us. He knew the risks of producing the cover without sketches. When Weird Business came out, he was one of its biggest supporters and proponents.

Hotter Than the Sun Itself | Blackbird | The Hard Part | Ahead of the Curve

Copyright © 2007 Rick Klaw

Since the demise of Mojo Press, Rick Klaw produced four years of his popular monthly column "Geeks With Books", and supplied countless reviews, essays, and fiction for a variety of publications including Moving Pictures, The Austin Chronicle, The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy, RevolutionSF, King Kong Is Back!, Conversations With Texas Writers, Farscape Forever, Electric Velocipede, and Cross Plains Universe. MonkeyBrain Books published the collection of his essays, reviews, and other things Klaw, Geek Confidential: Echoes From the 21st Century, where this essay originally appeared in a slightly different form.


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