In honor of Joseph A. West’s ninety-second birthday, I present one of the many wonderful illustrations to be found in his 2012 collection, Aim High. Mr. West, or “Grusemus Weirdfield” as he is affectionately know, is one of a kind. At ninety-two, he has lost none of his grace, humor or wit. This is JAW’s rendering of Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright and a “friend”.
It was with profound sadness that I learned of the death of Jack Koblas this past Friday. Mr. Koblas was 70 years young and was the author of numerous books, primarily in the historical and weird fiction vein. He was a member of The Magpies (a group of musicians recently inducted into the Music Hall of Fame), a co-editor of the seminal small press magazine Etchings & Odysseys, a close personal friend of Donald Wandrei (and various other members of the Lovecraft Circle), and an all-around fascinating individual. Last year he was the recipient of the Minnesota Fantasy Award for Lifetime Achievement, and saw the release of two new books: Ghost Stories and Other Dark Tales (see my review here) and The Lovecraft Circle and Others. Both of these volumes had been in the works for over a decade and were greatly anticipated by many in the Lovecraft community. While the former collected nearly all of Mr. Koblas’ fantasy/horror/weird fiction, the latter contained interviews and reminiscences of numerous authors connected in some way to the Lovecraft Circle. Both are fascinating reads, and each hold a prominent place in my Weird Library.
I first met Mr. Koblas over twenty years ago, when I was invited to join a writing group devoted to Lovecraft and various other matters. And while the time I spent with Mr. Koblas might be considered limited in the scheme of things, I have and continue to draw inestimable inspiration from him. In a roundabout way, I consider him my mentor. Many years ago, when I learned of his intent to use the opening line of one of my early (and quite forgettable) horror tales in a writing course he was teaching, I was dumbfounded and elated both. But this was the type of writerly generosity Mr. Koblas was known for, as I am sure numerous of his other friends can attest — particularly those who found themselves cast as the protagonist in one of his tales.
Of late, I too found myself fictionalized into a story which Mr. Koblas was planning to include in a new collection of horror fiction. It is entitled “Mere Image” and still resides in a first draft stage, but it is more than a fitting keepsake. Rereading it this past weekend brought tears to my eyes, not for the selfish reason that it will most likely never see print, but because of the cold, hard fact that the Old Scrivener, my friend and my mentor, has been silenced, and far too soon.
But, oh, what a stunning oeuvre this Literary Lion did roar!
Thank you, Jackal, for everything….
In honor of Joseph A. West’s ninety-first birthday today, I present to you one of his absolute favorite illustrations, penned in 1995. This, along with hundreds of other such illustrations, can be found in his newest collection, “Aim High.” Those wishing to meet JAW in the flesh will have the opportunity to do so on January 26th at DreamHaven Books.
I am happy to report that Aim High is now available for purchase. This marks the culmination of a nearly year-long project undertaken by myself and A. M. Decker. For this weird scrivener, it has been the project of a lifetime.
From the front flap: “The wonderfully weird work of Joseph A. West has graced the covers and interior pages of many a small-press magazine over the years, but until now it has never been collected in a single volume. Aim High exhibits the majority of Mr. West’s poetry, prose and artwork. Weird, macabre, morbid (call it what you will) no one does it quite like the inimitable Joe West. Horror and humor intermingle to stunning effect in this monumental collection by one of the true masters of the field.”
Aim High is a trade paperback just under 300 pages and is being sold for $20 (plus $5 s/h). Each is manufactured and sewn by hand. If you are interested in obtaining a copy, please email me for ordering information.
October has always been a favorite month for this weird scrivener, and this year it has been enhanced tenfold with the release of Jack Koblas’ exceptional Ghost Stories and Other Dark Tales. Winner of the 2012 Minnesota Fantasy Award for Lifetime Achievment, Mr. Koblas is no stranger to us North Country folk. In fact, he is a bit of a local legend. And while he is perhaps best known as a writer of historical non-fiction, it is his influence in the dark fantasy scene of the 70s and 80s which is beyond compare, co-founding no less a publication than Etchings & Odysseys, as well as being the core architect (with Eric J. Carlson) of MinnCon, an annual convention begun in 1971 and which continues to this day under the name Arcana.
Reading through the forty-seven offerings in Ghost Stories, I was struck first and foremost by the absolute command of language, and second by the sheer diversity of the tales. While there are numerous Lovecraftian nightmares, here too you will find history, sci-fi, outlaw fiction, and a few gems that would make Rod Serling proud. Mr. Koblas’ range is utterly astonishing. Here is an author who has studied and learned well from past masters, and who has fashioned tales which can stand right alongside the masterworks of the last century. Mr. Koblas knows his craft inside and out, and in addition to this he is an exceptional poet. One particular tale, “The Pond”, contains a line which I find, in context, absolutely haunting: “It [the pond] was like an eye of the earth, lined with lashes of dark dead stands of wavering birch and pine…”
But not only is the writing stylistically exceptional, the command of material is second-to-none. Whether the tale be centered in the Wisconsin backwoods, a movie theater with John Dillinger, the Himalayas, an observatory in Anoka, a cavern in New Mexico, an elevator in the Empire State Building, or on some distant inhospitable planet, Mr. Koblas has done his research. We not only receive terror-inducing chills, but a history lesson as well. Not many writers have the ability to both terrify and edify, but we find these qualities in spades in the dark and inimitable fiction of Jack Koblas.
Ghost Stories and Other Dark Tales is available from George A. Vanderburgh’s Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, a Canadian small press which has also released another Koblas gem — the enticingly titled The Lovecraft Circle and Others.
Both of these titles are available locally at DreamHaven Books.
It seems only appropriate to wish the old gent from Providence a happy 122nd birthday. As tribute, I include a lovely piece of artwork from the soon-to-be-published Aim High by Joseph A. West (see Books page for additional information). This drawing was originally published in 1974 for a special H. P. Lovecraft issue of The United Co-operative, and soon thereafter graced the cover of the second mailing of The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis.
I was thrilled to learn recently that Fedogan & Bremer is making a return to publishing. They are, of course, responsible for many gorgeous volumes — two of which, Colossus and Don’t Dream, I hold as very special treasures indeed. F&B’s newest book will be a Robert M. Price anthology entitled Worlds of Cthulhu, featuring a delightful Gahan Wilson cover. It’s so good to see the return of this exceptional publisher, and it will be equally thrilling to discover what the coming years have to offer.