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
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.)
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.
Art: Darrin LeBlanc
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.
Then, a regional chain of super stores. Now, a subsidiary of Barnes & Noble.
The precursor to Steve Jackson Games, creators of GURPS and Illuminati.
Ostrander is one of a handful of people in Texas with the highly specialized skill of photographing retinas.
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.
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.
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.