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Geeks With Books
by Rick Klaw

Other Geeks With Books Columns
To discuss this column or other things Klaw...
For more information, you can try the following:
Joe R. Lansdale
Bookstop (and its founder Gary Hoover)
Steve Jackson Games
Dark Horse Comics
Poppy Z. Brite
Norman Partridge
Neal Barrett, Jr.
Nancy A. Collins
Bill Crider
Mojo Press

The Secret History of Weird Business
Part I: Hotter Than the Sun Itself

"If you're tired of the same ole business. If you want something unique. If you think comic book swim suit issues are the dumbest thing since Jesse Helms, then here it is, a hot bundle of short stories, á la graphic novel style."
—Joe R. Lansdale, from his introduction to Weird Business
Art: Dave Dorman
Weird Business

Anyone who knows me or Joe Lansdale wouldn't be surprised to find out it all started with a conversation. We're what you call talkers. Lansdale thought it would be cool if someone produced a comic book anthology with some of the biggest names in fantasy and horror fiction. This was in 1994 before the comics collapse of the late 90s, and the only thing hotter than comics was the sun itself. Always one to seize an opportunity, I suggested that WE edit the anthology. I figured that with Lansdale's connections and my savvy, we could create one kick ass book. Besides, it looked like it'd be fun. Lansdale hemmed and hawed as he always does when it comes to editing. He has edited or co-edited five anthologies and two non-fiction books, and every time he says it's gonna be the last. I don't recall if I convinced him or he talked himself into it, but either way, we decided to put together a hardback comic book anthology -- graphic novel style. Now all we needed was a publisher.

For years I had been selling books to Ben Ostrander. At the time I was working for Bookstop.1 Ostrander would stop in the store 3-4 times a week. After seeing a customer so frequently, any decent bookseller would learn their interests and buying habits. I eventually began putting books aside for Ostrander between his visits. He bought about 90% of my selections. I was even responsible for his renewed interested in comic books after a twenty year hiatus. (If you can convince a SF fan to read Watchmen, you usually have 'em hooked.) Ostrander would even begin to recommend books to me. Along the way, we discovered similar interests and became friends.

Years before, Ostrander was a professional freelance photographer and the art director for MetaGaming.2 When I met him, he had been an ophthalmology photographer3 for quite some time. Ostrander expressed his desire for a career change. He had approached me with the idea of opening a science fiction specialty shop. It was scrapped for several reasons including Ostrander's belief that if Clinton got elected, the economy would go to shit. (He missed the boat on that one.)

Art: Darrin LeBlanc
Creature Features
Lansdale and I were getting nowhere fast in our search for a publisher. Dark Horse looked at us like we each had grown another head. At that time, no one had ever tried such an ambitious project. The still untitled project was creating a buzz among the genre communities though. Lansdale began to contact possible contributors. In her excitement to work with Lansdale and to write a comic story, Poppy Z. Brite sent me a script before we had a publisher, or even contracts for the contributors! Everything began to happen all at once. Fantastic writers such as Norman Partridge, Neal Barrett, Jr., Scott Cupp, Nancy A. Collins, and Bill Crider committed themselves to the project. We needed a publisher quick.

Ben Ostrander claims he has kept my original Weird Business proposal -- the one that called for a 100 page hardcover book and a budget that was roughly ten percent of what the finished book eventually cost. He agreed to the terms with nary an arm twist. The deal that ultimately created Mojo Press was sealed in the hotel bar of the 1994 Armadillocon.4

Lansdale and I agreed to make mere pittance with most of the money going to the creators of the individual tales. Besides, the book was only going to be 100 pages. Yeah right. Somewhere, somehow, we lost control of the book. It grew to become the 420 page, two and half pound monster that bends many a bookcase.

Ostrander and I were neophyte publishers. Even though I wasn't officially an employee of Mojo Press,5 it was obvious from the beginning that I would handle the editing duties6 and Ostrander would be the publisher, dealing with printers and distributors, etc. (including writing the checks!). Luckily Ostrander and I were quick studies, and we had the perfect test book lying around in the already finished Creature Features.

To be continued in Part II: Blackbird.

1 Then, a regional chain of super stores. Now, a subsidiary of Barnes & Noble.

2 The precursor to Steve Jackson Games, creators of GURPS and Illuminati.

3 Ostrander is one of a handful of people in Texas with the highly specialized skill of photographing retinas.

4 Armadillocon is a long-running speculative fiction conference, right here in Austin. It is famous for it's ratio of pros to fan: three fans to every pro. (Much better ratio than most cons.) And the pros often party with the fans there. I've been going for ten years or so.

5 I didn't actually become an employee until after the fourth Mojo Press book. For the first four, Ostrander and I would negotiate a deal each time. We both decided it would just be easier to make me a part of the company. It was at that point that I became managing editor. I edited all but the last three Mojo Press titles.

6 No, not the copy editing. That is an entirely different job. A book editor develops projects and talent. Copy editors do things like proof manuscripts, look for spelling mistakes, punctuation errors, and the like. I'm terrible at it. A good friend often reminds me that I've never met a comma that I like.

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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