2013: The Year of the Super Story
This year, two of my long-time dream projects have been published: the first, an anthology of all-new Canadian
superhero fiction, as Masked Mosaic: Canadian Super Stories (Tyche Books); the second (this one not
specifically Canadian), a retrospective of the best previously published superhero fiction,
as Super Stories of Heroes & Villains (Tachyon Publications). Not to short-change the ten other anthologies I've
edited or co-edited in the past dozen years, but these two are my favourites among those books with my editor byline.
I spent years pitching these projects to any and every publisher whose ears I could bend. Now that both of these
have finally found, nearly simultaneously but perhaps not so coincidentally, the right publishers, I thought I'd
discuss how these books -- one a volume of original fiction, the other an assemblage of reprints -- were put together,
from initial idea to final product.
MASKED MOSAIC: CANADIAN SUPER STORIES
The initial idea for this one was simple -- new superhero fiction set in Canada by Canadian writers; the title, not
so much. I wanted to avoid using clichés such as "North" while also making the book sound clearly Canadian. The
solution came from my co-editor, Camille Alexa. We were brainstorming titles until she hit on that alliteration. I added
the descriptive subtitle to her catchy phrase, and our baby had a name.
Camille came on board this project because we were discussing the possibility of editing a book together; of all the
ideas we both brought to the table, this was the one that we felt would be the most fun to collaborate on. Plus,
having read Camille's two kick-ass superhero stories, "To Heroboy, from Tiffani" and "Pinktastic and the End of the
World" (the latter of which is reprinted in my other super-story anthology, Super Stories of Heroes & Villains), I
knew she had the right stuff when it came to understanding what makes a good super story tick.
Having done both solo and collaborative anthologies of original fiction, I've learned that I prefer having a co-editor
to bounce ideas off of, to argue with. Someone who will defend and fight for stories I might otherwise reject. Someone
who will question my judgment, my assumptions, and my decisions. I like the back-and-forth, the constant clash of
preferences and opinions. I think it makes for a richer final product. (Not more than two editors, though -- therein
lies the lowest-common-denominator effect of committee editing.)
I'd just recently worked with new Alberta publisher Tyche Books; they'd invited me to contribute to their debut release,
the anthology Ride the Moon. I loved what they did with that book, so I pitched them our superhero project, and they bit.
So we had a willing publisher and two enthusiastic editors; next, we needed to get stories. We sent out invites to a few
dozen Canadian writers whose work we like. But Camille and I both agreed we didn't want Masked Mosaic to be an
invite-only anthology, so those were soft invites. Once submissions started rolling in from both the invitations and the
open call, every story was treated equally. We both prefer to have as many stories to choose from as possible, rather
than be limited to authors we already know. Where's the fun in that? There's a thrill in discovering new and unexpected voices.
In total, there were 134 submissions to Masked Mosaic. Ten of the twenty-four stories that made the final cut came
from the pool of invited submissions; the other fourteen were complete surprises. The book includes several debut
stories: Kristi Charish's "Canadian Blood Diamonds" (a comedy in the vein of The Venture Bros.); Patrick T.
Goddard's "Giant Canadian Comics" (a pitch-perfect pastiche of All-Star Comics #3, the first appearance of
the Justice Society of America, with everything Canadianized); Lisa Poh's "The Seamstress without a Costume" (which
so charmingly captures the notion of the Canadian cultural mosaic); and Jason Sharp's "Lonesome Charlie Johnstone's
Strange Boon" (a supervillain origin story set in the Yukon Gold Rush).
We arrived at the final contents by consensus. There's not one story in the book that, ultimately, we're not both proud
of having in there. Without consciously aiming for that, the final selection ended up just about evenly split among
stories I championed, stories Camille championed, and stories we both loved right off the bat. And here's where having a
co-editor is most rewarding: for both of us, some stories among our personal favourites are submissions that we'd
initially passed on but that were rescued by our co-editor. The other's passion for several submissions opened our
eyes to a new reading, and in the end the book benefits from that interactive process.
Another result of the intense negotiation process (yes, there were tears) between the two co-editors was that we ended
up including stories that stretched the definition of the superhero story: Kevin Cockle's cyborgs-and-capitalism
tale "Circe and the Gunboat"; David Nickle's weird Arthurian urban fable "Knife Fight"; Emma Faraday's steampunk-and-aliens
adventure "The Man in the Mask"; Emma Vossen's secret history of Superman's Canadian co-creator, Joe
Shuster, "'Not a Dream! Not a Hoax! Not an Imaginary Story!'"; and the mythic "Sea and Sky" by Rhonda & Jonathan Parrish.
We'd called the book Masked Mosaic in reference to the Canadian cultural mosaic, but, surpassing our expectations, the
book also ended up being a genre mosaic, looking at the super story from a diversity of facets far beyond what we'd initially imagined.
For the introduction, we called upon Mark Shainblum, creator of the seminal Canadian superhero comics
series Northguard. To my mind, Mark's name is nearly synonymous with "Canadian superheroes" -- he had to be
involved somehow in this book, the first-ever all-Canadian prose anthology of superhero fiction.
We struggled to select the right cover art and design, until Tyche Books found Steve Thomas, who created a superb cover
for our book (I love it so much, that I use it as the background art for my twitter account).
Already I'm wondering: if we were to do a second volume, would some of these writers write the further adventures
of the all-new, all-different Canadian heroes and villains introduced in Masked Mosaic?
SUPER STORIES OF HEROES & VILLAINS
A different iteration of this reprint project almost saw the light of day, circa 2007-08, co-edited by Paul Di Filippo. I'd
approached an acquisitions editor at an established press, and he loved the idea. Like me, he was so sure that the idea
had such obvious commercial appeal that he immediately gave us the go-ahead, a (quite generous) budget, and a
deadline... until we hit a snag: to everyone's surprise, the marketing department could not see the commercial
viability of the volume and killed it.
The idea floundered for a few years while I approached a number of other publishers, until Jacob Weisman of Tachyon
called me to say that he was now interested in making this book happen. By then, I'd decided that I was not willing
to sacrifice Paul's terrific pulp hero story, "The Jackdaw's Last Case," so I went ahead with Paul as a contributor
rather than co-editor.
I already had in mind enough good stories to fill up an entire mammoth book, but I knew that wasn't sufficient to make
the book as varied and startling as I wanted and believed it could be. In addition to the thirty-something stories on
my initial shortlist, I decided on three other avenues to help broaden the pool of stories I could select from: reprint
submissions, recommendations, and further research.
I briefly considered including essays as part of the mix, but, even limiting myself to work from the 80s and
forward, there was simply too much good fiction, and I couldn't bear to give up those pages to nonfiction. Some readers
might question: but what about the contributions by Win Scott Eckert ("Philip José
Farmer's Tarzan Alive: A Definitive Biography of Lord Greystoke") and Jess Nevins ("The Zeppelin Pulps")? Well,
those two pieces might look like nonfiction, and they do indeed contain some verifiable facts, but ultimately they are
very clever metafictions, incorporating fictional conceits within an ostensible essay framework.
In fact, there was so much good fiction to choose from that the publisher graciously agreed to up my word count from the
original projection. In the end, Super Stories of Heroes & Villains contains 28 stories, filling up 419 pages: from the
original pool of thirty-something shortlisted stories I already knew and loved, only fifteen made the final cut;
five more stories were chosen from the 100+ received submissions; two others were selected from suggestions by readers;
and a final six were uncovered through further reading and research.
The 80s and 90s each yielded three stories, including two essential classics -- stories that have been among my very
favourite tales for years -- which bookend the contents: Kim Newman's "Übermensch!" and Gene Wolfe's "The Detective of Dreams" (it's
only after the fact that I noticed several thematic links between the two texts, strengthening the bookend effect). The
bulk of the book -- nineteen stories -- is culled from the first decade of the new millennium, reflecting the vigorous
upswell of superhero fiction in recent years. To round things out with a dose of freshly minted fiction, there are
three stories from the 2010s.
The book could easily have been even more massive than it is now. Cutting down the potential contents to 170,000 words
proved to be much harder than I initially believed. There are many more fantastic super stories out there begging to
be anthologized, and more being written and published every year. I'm already eager to do another anthology of super stories.
Unlike Masked Mosaic, this retrospective anthology is not Canadian, but that doesn't mean that I eschewed Canadian
content. I'm proud to have included several stories by fellow Canucks: the kinetic and amusing "They Fight Crime!" by Leah
Bobet; the contemplative "Faces of Gemini" by A.M. Dellamonica; Cory Doctorow's satire of the Canadian way, "The Super Man
and the Bug Out"; and Camille Alexa's aforementioned "Pinktastic and the End of the World," which recalls the Locas stories of Jaime Hernandez.
Superhero fiction -- with its colourful characters and complex worldbuilding -- lends itself to ongoing series; alas, such
stories are often notoriously tied up in tangled rights situations, making them hard to anthologize. Nevertheless, although
most of the selections in Super Stories of Heroes & Villains are one-offs, the book does include a few examples from
popular series: a Hellboy story by Christopher Golden & Mike Mignola; and two selections culled from George R.R.
Martin's Wild Cards shared-universe saga, a mosaic of short pieces by GRRM himself and a novella by Carrie
Vaughn. Also: Tim Pratt resurrects Rangergirl (from his novel The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl) for another quirky and
thrilling strange adventure.
Finally, Elizabeth Story of Tachyon designed and illustrated the book -- cover and interiors -- making it a fun, eye-catching pop artefact.
Would you like to have a copy of Super Stories of Heroes & Villains? Then answer this question:
To whom is Super Stories of Heroes & Villains dedicated? Now click this email link to
and enter the answer. Rick will choose winners from those entries containg the correct answer and he will send out copies.