WAYNE ROGERS - MASTER OF MAYHEM
Introduction to SATAN'S SIN HOUSE and Other Stories
The Weird Tales of Wayne Rogers
The masters of the weird menace yarn . . . Hugh B. Cave, Arthur J. Burks, John H. Knox, Wyatt Blassingame, Arthur Leo Zagat, and of course, Archibald Bittner . . . Wait, Archibald Bittner??? Yes, after spending the 1920s working various stints as an editor on general fiction magazines, Bittner re-invented himself in 1933 as “Wayne Rogers” and became one of the most dependable authors of the weird menace tale.
Wayne Rogers wasn’t the earliest of the weird menace authors, but he was in the second issue of the genre with “Disappearing Death” in the November, 1933 issue of Dime Mystery Magazine, thus precedes such luminaries as Arthur J. Burks, Wyatt Blassingame, and Arthur Leo Zagat. And unlike many of his colleagues, he was still in top form as the genre was fading away at the dawn of the 1940s, with two of his strongest pieces “Dracula’s Bride” and “March of the Homeless Corpses” appearing in 1941.
Rogers was popular enough with editor Rogers Terrill that as early as 1934 a pseudonym was required in order to include two stories by Rogers in a given issue and “H.M. Appel” was born. The Appel pieces were usually short, filler stories, but are remarkable for their quality. While these short pieces may lack the impact of his longer works, they are all competently written and as effective as one may expect from a short trick ending type of tale. By 1935, he added the nom de plume of “Conrad Kimball”. It’s quite obvious from the numerous issues where Rogers had the cover story that editor Terrill believed that the Rogers name on the cover sold copies. Sadly, this issue by issue sales data isn’t available to us today, but all indications are that from 1934 to 1941 Wayne Rogers was thought of as one of the big names in the weird menace genre, ranking with Arthur J. Burks, Hugh B. Cave, John H. Knox, Arthur Leo Zagat, and Wyatt Blassingame.
We also know that he was one of the most dependable of the pulp wordsmiths and that editors could always count on him, whether it was to pinch-hit on a popular series character such as The Spider, or quickly produce a lead “novel” as he often did for Terror Tales, Horror Stories, or Dime Mystery Magazine. Despite an obvious interest in the supernatural yarn, Rogers frequently broke the “rule” of having seemingly supernatural events rationalized. Often as not, the supernatural events in a Rogers tale were inexplicable by any scientific explanation. Despite this rule-breaking, Rogers was in high enough demand that he never needed to resort to slumming in the lower-paying markets for supernatural stories such as Weird Tales or Strange Tales
When Rogers did appear outside of Popular Publications “Big Three”, it was often as the author of the lead novel or cover story. Remarkably prolific, he was frequently featured in Thrilling Mystery, a venue that published one of his finest tales; “Hell’s Brew”, recently reprinted in High Adventure. (Opinions do differ on this one; the late Robert Jones refers to the tale as “a vile mixture”. I found it to be a very clever story and well-worth reading; as we’ve included it in this volume, you are invited to judge for yourself). There was also one of his forays into the realm of the supernatural, published in Mystery Adventures, “Buried Alive”, an excellent take on the theme of the dead imposing their will on the living.
One of the things that stands out regarding Rogers writing was that from very early on he was not afraid to push the envelope. While he’s never quite as graphic as Russell Gray, from the earliest he wasn’t afraid to push the boundaries and put his own unique spin on things. In this present volume’s “Temple of Torment” Rogers uses Grand Guignol excesses years before the genre really focused on sadism. In other works such as “The Mummy Pack Prowls Again” he anticipates the trope of portraying women and children as the antagonists, in this case beautiful women are transformed into shriveled fiends consumed by a desire to shred the flesh of their victims.
By the late 1930s, the concept of casting women or children as the menace was in vogue as typified by John H. Knox’s brilliant “Playground of the Tiny Killers”, but Wayne Rogers was well ahead of the curve with tales such as the aforementioned and “Beast-Women Stalk the Night (to be featured in a future volume, either from DTP or in the Altus Press “Terror Triplets” series.)
Rogers had anticipated the demand for a higher level of sadism and sexual innuendo, where many of his contemporaries had to ratchet things up a notch or two in order to appease a growingly jaded audience, Rogers didn’t need to change a thing. In many ways he was the Edward Lee of his time, always extreme, but the excesses of violence were always integral to the story and never just plastered on as an after-thought. In fact, his contributions to the Spider saga, while not as outrageous in scope as the usual apocalyptic visions of Norvell Page, they are most certainly as violent. What Rogers understood better than many of his contemporaries was how to blend the elements of the standard mystery story with scenes of graphic horror. When dealing with the formulaic rationalized supernatural tale called for by editor Terrill in the “Big Three”(Dime Mystery Magazine, Terror Tales & Horror Stories), the mystery elements are always logical (if perhaps a bit far-fetched) and the scenes of torture are always a necessary element to move the plot forward.
In both “Substitute Corpses” and the titular tale, “Satan’s Sin House”, you see Rogers at his very best as he lays out a compelling mystery woven into a thriller that proceeds at a breakneck until all the threads are brought together in the final two pages in conclusions as explosive as they are surprising. One may find the graphic depictions of violence to be a bit excessive, but I do find them to be essential to the flavor of the stories.
Rogers joins masters of the form such as Blassingame and Knox in remaining at top form for the entire duration of the weird menace genre until its demise in 1941. However, unlike the aforementioned contemporaries, at about the same time that the US entered WWII, rather than adapt to the changing market conditions, Rogers just bowed out entirely and left the pulps to manage a chain of movie theatres in Florida. Perhaps two decades of low pay and frantic deadlines was just too much. After all, Rogers was far more experienced in the fiction factory game than many of his colleagues and nearly twenty years was probably more than enough.
We can’t really bemoan Rogers’ decision to leave the field when he did. After all, rather than burning out and contributing sub-standard material, as did some of his peers such as Arthur J. Burks (whose post-1937 work in the weird menace genre is markedly inferior to his earlier work), or mellowing out as did both Knox and Blassingame; (both of whom went on to write fairly standard detective tales), he chose to walk away at the top of his game. The volume and overall quality of his work remains something to marvel at. This is the first of at least three volumes collecting his short stories and novelettes; and there will also be at least two volumes of his novellas issued by Altus Press in the “Terror Triplets” series.
This volume presents a mix of his longer pieces as “Wayne Rogers” and his short stories as “H.M. Appel”. The next collection will present all three faces of Archibald Bittner: “Wayne Rogers”, “Conrad Kimball”, and “H.M. Appel”. While all three pennames served different purposes, the quality of the work shines through. If this is your first exposure to the work of Archibald Bittner, you’re in for a treat . . . If you know of “Wayne Rogers” only as the back-up author of The Spider or Operator #5, you know his capabilities at plotting and pacing . . . However, here you get to see him at his most creative . . . Enjoy!